Monthly Archives: September 2010
You may have noticed the site has a new, creepier, header that just went up.
Well, friends, that’s because it will be October in a matter of hours.
October is the best of all possible months, when Halloween begins to dominate thoughts. As the leaves change colors and then meet an untimely end, horror becomes all the rage. Dracula, Frankenstein, Zombies, Werewolves, it’s all of their time to come out and play.
There’s a lot of horror literature in the world – and a lot of it is really fantastic.
For the 31 days of October, I’m celebrating this concept.
There will be book reviews, movie reviews, theatre reviews, guest blogs, and other features all revolving around horror literature.
In addition, I’m spending the month directing a short adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” so you know… expect some Poe.
Stay tuned — It should be a lot of (creepy crawly) fun!
I’d be surprised if anyone in the world (over the age of twelve, maybe) didn’t know the names Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. “Gone With the Wind” as a film is such a deep part of cinematic history that it’s nearly unthinkable to me that people aren’t aware of its existence. Personally, I love practically everything* about the film, but hadn’t read the book prior to this week.
Margaret Mitchell’s book is frequently challenged, and often lands on the Banned Books list, which is why I chose to read it this week. I’ve encountered several people this week who were blown away that the book is banned.
So – Why is it often banned?
Well, Mitchell writes the slave characters as one-dimensional, and often as stupid or dishonest. Prissy is a little twit of a girl, who lies and dawdles and whines. Even Mammy gets nothing more than stubborn as a character description. (Bless Miss Hattie McDaniel for injecting humanity into a character that wasn’t written with any.) Dilcey, Pork, Uncle Peter, and the other servants of the O’Haras and other families don’t fare much better.
Not to defend Mitchell in her racism, but she was a daughter of the south. In order to read the novel and not be affected by the strongly-held belief in white supremacy, you have to understand that fact and read the book as history: These things happened. People felt this way. Slavery was, unfortunately, a thing.
However, yeah, the book definitely slants to the racist side. Ashley and Frank are actually members of the KKK (which was smartly removed from the movie) but that doesn’t bother Scarlett and Melanie as much as the fact that as the Klan rushes into Shantytown, they get wounded. In the context of the novel, those pesky KKKers are more a bother than something to rise up against.
The second thing that gets the book challenged is the leading lady herself, Scarlett O’Hara (or Katie Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler, if we’re being honest.) Scarlett is a fantastic example of a female anti-hero. Though the reader cares about her and it’s riveting to follow her actions, she’s not particularly likable, and should just be referred to as a terrible person. She lies, deliberately breaks up relationships, doesn’t care about her children, and manipulates people on almost every page. She’s a hypocrite, stubborn, and gets away with murder. (Literally.) Though it’s fine for a male character to do all these things and worse, I’m sure having a cultured lady doing them set some people on edge.
Fortunately, GWTW is more than just a story of a rude woman living in racist times.
It’s also a really, REALLY good book.
It’s a grand epic of the fall of a society based on manners, charm, and magnolias, and it’s perfectly written in it’s description of the world of the South pre-and-post Civil War. Mitchell wrote this book like she expected it to be an epic cinematic masterpiece, and the language crosses states and fields with splendor and grace. The novel spans twelve years, and does so with surprising ease.
Other than the slave characters, the other characters are written wonderfully, and are all believable. After reading the book, my crush on Rhett Butler has only intensified, and my appreciation for characters who got a bit of the shaft in the movie (due to time constraints, largely) such as Gerald O’Hara, India Wilkes, and even dear, stupid Frank Kennedy. As the characters grow from silly southerners to adults dealing with hardships and the struggles of survival, you really feel for them. You love them, sometimes despite themselves.
It’s not a breeze of a read, (deciphering the “dialect” Mitchell created for the slave characters is sometimes a chore) but the 1000+ pages pass quickly. I’m going to come clean and admit I think the book might even be better than the three-hour movie. Mitchell takes up as many pages as she wants in telling her story.
(*If you’re wondering what I don’t like about the movie, it’s the casting of Ashley Wilkes. While he’s written as pretty bland in the book, in the movie he practically blends into the background, which makes Scarlett’s unrelenting love for him hard to believe at some points. Vivien Leigh does everything she can, but next to Clark Gable, the actor playing Ashley Wilkes mopes around like a stupid-emo fourteen year old.)
(For the week of September 30th, 2010 – Morgan M., Chicago, IL)
Morgan, What are you reading?
I’m currently reading Sin and the Second City by Karen Abbott, which my stepmom gave me. This is a non-fiction book about a very seedy and fascinating underground world in the earlier part of 1900s Chicago. It’s about the Everleigh sisters who started “the most famous brothel” in American history. Minna and Ada Everleigh basically built an empire that originated from stories of young girls being abducted and forced into “white slavery”. That particular chapter of the book is super creepy. There were some raging pervs back in the day! They wanted to open a club where girls were paid handsomely, were kept healthy, fed well, treated well by their clientele, all the while being…well, whores. Admittedly, I haven’t gotten very far into the book, but the fact that this is an historical account of women who, at a time were mostly oppressed wives and daughters, took the reigns on their lives in an, albeit, unconventional way is AMAZING and surprisingly inspiring, not to mention kinda funny.
What was the last thing you read?
In honor of banned books week, a friend posted this to my facebook.
I thought I’d share.
Read something someone thinks you shouldn’t, dude.
I can’t locate much more information on this yet, but I saw it mentioned in the new edition of the Chicago Reader:
10/5 – “A three-course Ernest Hemingway inspired dinner (complete with Hemingway-inspired martinis) will be served to celebrate the release of Diane Gilbert Madsen’s new mystery, Hunting for Hemingway. Each guest receives a copy of the book, and Madsen will read excerpts during dessert. Advance reservations required.”
Sounds amazing, right?
900 N. Franklin
($37.50, taxes and tip not included)
(I always like to begin with a disclaimer, in the interest of honesty.)
I met her through my time in Chicago theater, and have always been impressed by her works – from full-length plays to 10 minute pieces in short play festivals. I think she has a really unique and modern voice, full of humor and brains. Her pieces are consistently the highlight of any festival they appear in. If the best writers write what they know, she’s on the right track – writing about young urban-ites and their lives. As the recipient of several awards for her plays, clearly she’s doing something right.
However, she’s also a self-published author.
As I fully believe that reading is not limited by massive publishing houses, or constricted to what is traditionally considered a “book,” I am delighted to be able to review “Geography: A Love Story.” Essentially a short story, it clocks in at only 25 pages. Good things come in small packages though, and this tiny work is a gem.
Our unnamed narrator tells the tale of their parents meeting, separation, re-meeting, and struggle to stay together. They begin on a mountain and venture in their different directions to the city and the sea, eventually being brought back together on the mountain – the halfway point, and the only place that works.
“Geography” reminded me a little of being younger and being told stories. There’s no endless attention to detail and years, no description of the shoes worn on the day the two lovers meet. No, you’re being told a story. In fact, it’s practically like being told a fairy tale, albeit without magic elements. It wouldn’t be a far stretch at all to see this work as a one-person performance piece.
For more information on “Geography” and the career of Miss Chelsea, visit her website.
A few weeks ago, the good people at Quirk Classics allowed me to give away a copy of their latest release – “Night of the Living Trekkies.”
So, to launch the blog, I held a contest — to see who’d have the cleverest way of inserting Zombies into a classic novel.
The winner, after much excitement, is Sean C. of Chicago, IL., who went above and beyond and blew my mind! Below is his wonderful entry, which I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
Of Mice and the Undead, by Sean C.
“Two migrant field workers in California during the Great Depression —George Milton, an intelligent and cynical man, and Lennie Small, an ironically-named man of large stature, immense strength, and a gray tint to his skin but limited mental capacity, slurred speech, and an affinity for human brain tissue—come to a ranch a to “work up a stake.” They hope to one day attain their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie’s part of the dream, which George seems to constantly overlook, is merely to tend to (and eat) the brain matter of any man, woman, or child in the vicinity of the farm. George protects Lennie in the beginning by telling him that if Lennie gets into trouble George will not let him “eat the brains.” George does not take this saying at its word, assuming he is merely telling Lennie he will not be allowed to pet soft animals. They are fleeing from their previous employment where they were run out of town after Lennie’s love of what he refers to as “braaaaains” resulted in an accusation of attempted cannibalism when he gnawed on a sleeping woman’s arm..
At the ranch, the dream appears to move closer to reality. Lennie, motivated only by the prospect of a farm ripe with workers, lifelessly performs his ranch duties. However the dream crashes when Lennie kills and eats the young and attractive wife of Curley, the ranch owner’s son, after she asked him if he’d like to stroke her hair. A lynch mob led by Curley gathers. George, realizing that Lennie’s behavior is in fact the result of early-stage zombification, decides to spare Lennie a painful death at the hands of the vengeful and violent Curley. He shoots Lennie in the back before the mob can find him. George, having not realized that shooting a zombie in the back only aggravates its desire for human flesh, finds himself having one last dream of owning his own land, while the soft tissue of his brain is feasted upon by the undead corpse of his large friend.”
Sean will be receiving a copy of the book direct from Quirk Books shortly.
Thanks for playing!!
Go get this book and read it.
Finding a copy won’t be hard, just look on any table by any door at any Borders or other bookstore, and you should be fine. (It’s a book that’s generating mega-buzz and is shortlisted for the Booker prize this year.)
Simply, it might be the best book I’ve read in months.
“Room” is the story of Jack, our five year old narrator. He lives in one room with his Ma. He has never been outside. “Room” and it’s inhabitants – like “Bed” and “Rug” – are his friends, and all he knows. Yes, they’re being held there…..
Writing about this book without spoiling things is nearly impossible, so I’m going to stop.
Let’s just say it takes a few pages from recent news-worthy events, but it’s a story all Ms. Donoghue’s own and it rises above being based off tabloid fodder. Jack is a wonderful narrator, and his voice is pristine and powerful. He’s a character you won’t forget, and nor is Ma. You can’t help but put yourself in her shoes and imagine what you’d be capable of in this situation.
It’s an amazing accomplishment, and I was sad when it ended. I wanted years more of Jack and Ma’s lives.
For more information, Janet Maslin of the New York Times did a wonderful write-up:
I’m not generally one who reads a lot of Young Adult Literature. No offense to the great writers who produce the stuff, but it’s just generally not my taste. I didn’t enjoy high school enough to want to revisit it, you know?
However, after attending the Banned Books Week 2010 Readout last Saturday, I stood in line and got a signed copy of “Deadline” by event emcee and frequently-challenged author Chris Crutcher himself.
So I read the book. And really sincerely enjoyed it.
Pint-sized Ben Wolf is about to enter his senior year of high school. He runs track, and during his preseason physical, he finds out he’s got a blood disease and probably has a year to live. Rather than tell people and go through painful (and probably not helpful) treatment, he invokes his right to confidentiality – being eighteen – and proceeds to spend his last months living the life he wanted: Joining the football team, challenging teachers set in old-school ways, and by going after a super-cool and popular girl.
The book is actually a lot darker than I expected it to be. There’s no happy last-minute ending for Ben, the super-cool girl has sincerely dark secrets of her own, and the town drunk Ben befriends turns out to have a seriously dark past of his own. There’s talk of sex, lots of foul language, pedophilia, and racism.
No wonder Crutcher finds himself banned a lot.
That said, I think it’s a book high-school me would have really enjoyed. Being a teen isn’t rosy and filled with joyous homecoming dances. It’s really hard stuff, and I think if young people can find comfort in Young Adult literature, then more power to them.
I’d definitely be interested to pick up another Crutcher book down the line.
Yesterday (a chilly but bearable early fall afternoon) a friendly crowd of book-people gathered in the Bughouse Square park across from Newberry Library to kick-off Banned Books Week 2010 with a read-out of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2009.
For those of you who think this sounds vaguely dull, consider this — one of the most contested books of the year was a childrens picture book about two male penguins who find themselves taking care of a neglected egg. These “gay penguins,” and the book they’re from (“And Tango makes three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) have been causing controversy for two years now. In 2o08, they were the most contested book of all. This year, they’ve fallen to the #2 spot, but still — it’s all about the gay penguins.
Presented by the American Library Association, The Newberry Library, and the McCormick Foundation, the read-out was a lot of fun and privided a lot of food for thought.
After some opening statements from Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library association, a young man (who was not credited in the program and who’s name I sadly didn’t catch) was brought onstage to read passages frmo one of the most famously challenged books of late: The Qur’an.
He read passages, while encouraging the audience to read the whole thing — not as a religious text ordering people to do things, but as a complete work – and it made sense. Hey, if you’re going to be anti-book banning, you really do need to fight against the banning of all books – regardless of personal feelings. While I have no problems with the Qur’an, I’d personally like to trash every copy of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” I can get my hands on, but… that’d be censorship, too. If someone wants to read Palin’s (cough, ghostwritten) book, who am I to stop me? Just like who are you to stop me from reading about… say, gay penguins.
But I digress…
Our emcee for the afternoon was author Chris Crutcher, an author of young adult literature who frequently finds his works challenged and banned. Crutcher is a funny, affable man and a clear fighter for the freedom to read. He made a great host for the event.
Each of the ten books was presented and a section of the book was read. (And in each case where I haven’t already read the book being presented, I now want to read the book. So there, people who tried to ban them.)
#10 — The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier.
Brad Lash, the technology coordinator of the McCormick foundation, read the section from this book – which is apparently about a high school student being pressured and bullied. The book seems smart and clever, though apparently there’s sexually eplicit talk later on and it’s deemed unsuitable for young readers.
#9 — The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.
Elizabeth Taylor (Literary Editor of the Chicago Tribune) read sections of this masterpiece. The Color Purple is a mature novel, no joke, but rather than banning it why not talk about the issues it presents?
#8 — The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler.
Carolyn Macker could not attend, but a statement from her was read by Nanette Perez (Progam Officer of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual freedom, and the event organizer for the day) about how many young girls have written her letters telling her that the book gave them hope. Then, members of CityLit theatre read selections from the book, which seems really clever and just made it’s way onto my “gotta read” list.
This is probably going to make me (and my friend Chelsea) sound like book snobs, but whatever….
When Roberta Stevens, president of the ALA, finished reading the segment of the Jodi Picoult novel about a girl born primarily to serve as a bone marrow donor for a sister with leukemia, we looked at each other. Then Chelsea said, “I think I actually have to read that book now.”
(Please note: I am still NOT seeing the movie. That is that.)
If there was a highlight of the speakers of the day for me, it would have to be Rick Kogan of WGN talking about the stupidity of banning books, and then reading a selection from Salingers infamous novel – the section in which Holden Caulfield talks about sex and the prostitute. Kogan is a great speaker, a brisk newspaperman who knows the power of words. He spoke about doing work in southside schools and how there was a little girl he met who, living in a concrete and violence world, simply wanted to see a tree. Really, energy is being expended on banning books?
If Kogan were to record Catcher in the Rye as an audiobook, I’d buy it. Done and Done.
While I find the Twilight books to be boring and sloppily written, there’s REALLY no need to ban them. Nothing happens, other than a lot of passionate longing.
Actors from CityLit theatre presented a reading of a section of the book in which Edward sneaks into Bella’s room, and it garnered a lot of chuckles from the audience — especially the actor playing Edward, who did a surprisingly good Robert Pattinson impression.
#4 — To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Mockingbird is the best book ever, and it turned 50 this year.
It’s still on the most challenged list, per usual.
Kent Oliver, president of the Freedom to Read foundation, read not only a section of the book (which made me want to re-read the book) but also a letter that Harper Lee wrote to a local newspaper when she learned a school board was trying to ban her book. [That clever lady sent a donation so the school board could enroll themselves in 1st grade to learn to read. Oh, Snap.]
#3 — The Perks of being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Kristin Pekoll, a young adult librarian, talked about the challenges she and her library faced recently when a group of concerned citizens decided to target young adult literature, including this book, at her library – calling it “pornographic” and “criminal.”
Take heart: At the end of the day, the vote was 9 to 0 to keep the book in the library and place no restrictions on it’s availability.
Pekoll then read a section of the book about being teenaged and dating, as well as learning that your also-teenaged sister is pregnant. Heady stuff, but it’s also real-life stuff that happens.
(Also – Stephen Chbosky could not attend, as he was on the set of the movie version of his much-challenged book. Bring it.)
#2 — And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Finally, it was gay penguin time.
The picture book – in it’s entirety – was read to the audience by the adorable duo of Jessica and Sydney Krug, who are the granddaughters of the former president of the ALA.
Hearing these two innocent girls read this sweet story about family was a lovely, and made the challenging of the book seem ridiculous.
(Also, the girls clearly practiced their performance – one read and the other showed the artwork from the book, like a well-oiled machine. Well done, ladies!)
#1 — ttyl: ttfn: l8r: g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle
First of all, Lauren Myracle is all kinds of adorable.
Her first act of business was to apologize for knocking the gay penguins out of the #1 spot.
She’s also a passionate speaker and a joy to listen to. When she first made the most-challenged list, she apologized to her ediot, who told her to “be proud.” You can tell she is. She, like many of these other writers, write about kids and teenagers as they really are – and that’s sometimes tough.
As a finale, CityLit presented readings from her series, the most challenged of the year.
Post-event, both Chris Crutcher and Lauren Myracle signed and gave away free copies of their books to the crowd. I was fortunate enough to get to meet Mr. Crutcher as well as get a signed copy of his novel, “Deadline” which I cannot wait to read. (And will absolutely write about in a post this week.)
Lovely, smart people gathered for a wonderful cause.
The weather could have been warmer, and I probably should have brought a hot beverage, but I have absolutely no other complaints.
Banned Books Week 2010
September 25-Oct 2nd.
Celebrate your freedom to read.