Monthly Archives: September 2010

Speak out against banned books

It’s Banned Book Week and I have a bone to pick.  Why are books banned?  Some are banned from school libraries because of certain subject matters (i.e. drug use and sexual content) or language.  But who gets to decide what books are “okay” for young adults to read and what is deemed “inappropriate”?  Usually it is a select few who easily take offense to topics and/or language, present their case to the school or library board, and when they make enough noise, they win the ban on the book.

Check out the American Library Association’s 2009-2010 list of banned and challenged books.  How many times does the phrase “a parent complained about…” (or ” parent was appalled”, “a parent’s belief,” etc.) appear within the document?  Out of the 53 books, 11 contained that phrase.  Eleven.  These books were banned (or close to being banned) because a parent (that’s right, just one) complained.  One person is fighting for your right not to read.

One parent even challenged the dictionary in a school library because a child came across the term “oral sex.”  Seriously, the dictionary?  Are children no longer allowed to look up words they don’t know because they may come across, oh, I don’t know, INFORMATION?  God forbid we let our children grow up with a healthy vocabulary!  Let’s just pluck them all down in front of the Disney Channel and pray that they become smart, fulfilled, happy adults.  That should do the trick.

***End of sarcastic tirade***

Some schools don’t ban controversial books but restrict them to a certain age or with written consent from a parent.  It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still taking freedom of choice away from young adults.  One book that was restricted in Beardstown, Illinois is Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.  The reason for the restriction was because the book “describes sex, uses foul language, and contains other ‘R-rated’ content.”  I’ve read Nineteen Minutes and the sexual content is minuscule and occurs only in a few scenes.  I’m guessing that whomever wanted the book banned had a major problem with two teenagers having sex.  Okay, I get that, but here’s a reality check: teens have sex.  I’m not saying it’s right but it happens.  The book can actually be used as a good example of why teens shouldn’t have sex.  The girl who has sex later has to come to grips about possibly being pregnant – a very real consequence to sex.

For those who haven’t read it, the premise of Nineteen Minutes is about a lonely boy who goes to school one day and shoots his classmates and teachers.  The book also goes into the events of the boy’s life leading up to the shooting, and his trial after the shooting.  If anything, I think that the book could be a learning tool for both teenagers and adults.  Parents can discuss the issues brought up in the book: bullying, depression, suicide, teen sex, abusive relationships.  They may be difficult topics, but ones that should be discussed between parents and kids.  Books like Nineteen Minutes can be a good starting point to get the conversation rolling.

Sadly, a lot of books that can teach its readers a valuable lesson are the ones most often challenged.  One of my favorite books, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, is one of them.  A pastor in Missouri recently wrote an opinion piece to News-Leader of Springfield because he thinks it’s “soft pornography.”  The book follows Melinda through a year of not speaking until she finds the courage to stand up and confront her rapist.  Yes, there are a few rape scenes but as Anderson pointed out in her blog, “The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Also, young women need role models (whether they are real or fictional) of strong women.  They need to see that rape victims do not have to revert into themselves and become shells of the person they once were.  They can stand up and speak out against their rapist.

The more books that are banned, the greater disservice we are giving future generations.  Books that can help our youth grow and develop into mindful, ethical, and well-rounded adults need to stay on our shelves.

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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Literature, Rants


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The best part of waking up is feeling inferior

It’s early morning.  An older man is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper.  A younger woman comes in and pours herself a cup.

“You were out late last night,” the man says.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” says the twenty-something daughter.  “I was with David.”

“I just want to make sure you’re safe.”

“Well, you won’t have to worry anymore.”  The daughter pulls her left hand out from behind her mug.  A diamond ring is on her ring finger.  The father and daughter hug and go back to sipping their coffee.

This is a commercial for Folgers that is currently running on TV.*  Every time I see this commercial, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  Apparently, a twenty-something woman is incapable of protecting herself.  Her father sees himself as her safeguard and will only relinquish control when another man is ready to take his place.  From father to fiancé, this woman is passed off and treated as frail and unable to defend herself.  When did it become 1950?  Let’s upgrade to present day, Folgers, to a time where women can think and act for themselves.  How about this for a commercial instead:

It’s early morning.  An older man sits at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper.  A younger woman comes in a pours herself a cup.

“You were out late last night,” the man says.

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore, Dad,” says the twenty-something woman.  She pulls her left hand out from behind the mug.  She is grasping brass knuckles.  The father and daughter hug and go back to sipping their coffee.

Women don’t need their coffee company telling them that they are the weaker sex, inferior to men who are the only ones strong enough to protect them.  We get enough of that bullshit from mainstream media and other sources.  The one place that shouldn’t be handing out sexist propaganda is a coffee company.  Wake up and smell your own product, Folgers.  This is 2010 and women can not only vote, but also own land, go to college, or even become a justice of the Supreme Court.  I know it’s a hard concept to grasp, but you’re going to have to accept it.  The time’s they are a-changin’ and your commercials need to do the same.

*The dialogue is not exact but it’s the basic gist.

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Posted by on September 19, 2010 in Rants


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My apologies

I just wanted to write a quick apology for not posting much lately. I’ve been sick with a nasty cough and fever and it has rendered me practically useless. I have some drugs I’ve been taking so hopefully things will get back to normal soon. Until then, feel free to reread your favorite posts and share them with friends.

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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in I don't know how else to categorize this


Because I don’t talk enough about books

Usually I read 2 or 3 books at the same time.  Some people may find that confusing but I don’t.  It’s not as if I can’t concentrate on one book.  It’s more like I am eager to read so many books that if I don’t have 2 or 3 going, I feel like I’m falling behind.

So, here’s some books I’ve recently read and a few that I’m currently reading.  Enjoy!

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
In her latest book, Quindlen steers the reader through the everyday life of Mary Beth Latham and her family: twin boys who are as different as night and day; Ruby, the eldest, who has the confidence and grace of a woman twice her age; and Mary Beth’s husband with whom she steals time alone when possible.  Of course, nothing is perfect.  One of the boys becomes depressed and starts seeing a psychiatrist.  Ruby’s had her issues, too, and her latest one is a boyfriend who just won’t take the hint.  Then, right as the reader is feeling settled in the pace of the novel, a drastic turn is taken; a violent act shakes the Latham family dynamic and is forever changed.  Quindlen’s writing, as it has in years past, tugs at the heartstrings.  As with her other books, the reader will be compelled to continue reading, despite the hard subject matter.  I wanted to cry throughout the last half of the book.  It was both heartbreaking and gut wrenching but ultimately, Mary Beth’s strength, when she finds it, was comforting.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Fans of Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells will enjoy this book.   Just before her 9th birthday, Rose discovers she possesses the power to taste people’s feelings through the food they cook.  It starts with her mother’s lemon cake in which Rose tastes despair.  Her mother seems perfectly happy on the outside, but as Rose continues to eat her mother’s meals, she realizes how unhappy her mother really is.  At school, Rose eats out of vending machines because they’re stocked with factory-produced food that won’t depress her.  Machines, after all, don’t have feelings.  Still, she has to endure dinner with the family and all her mother’s feelings along with it.  A few years go by and when Rose bites into her mother’s dinner one night, she discovers euphoria and guilt mixed together.  Her mother, Rose discovers, is having an affair.

The book is not just about Rose and her special skill.  Joseph, her older brother, retreats into himself throughout the years, so still and quite that it’s like he’s just a piece of furniture in the room.  Her oblivious (to the affair, at least) father slowly opens up to Rose, although he still holds his past closely to his chest, protecting it.  Throughout the book, Rose tries to run from her skill, but in the end she begins to find a way to make it work for her and not against her.  The plot alone is compelling but what’s even more compelling is the little quirks the characters pick up along the way.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
I just started this book yesterday but it has already captured my attention.  Laurel wakes up in her cookie-cutter house in her cookie-cutter neighborhood one night to find a girl standing at the end of her bed.  The girl leads Laurel to the window that overlooks the backyard.  There, Laurel sees someone floating face down in her pool.  She rushes downstairs and finds that it is the same girl who was in her bedroom.  (Cue dramatic music.)  This is about as far as I’ve gotten but already Jackson has hinted that there has been an “accidental” death in Laurel’s past and I’m eager to see if my theories are right.  So, while I don’t have much to say about this book yet, I do want to say that I’m enjoying it so far and the writing is pretty decent (I’ve never read Jackson before).

Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter
I’ve mentioned Ally Carter before and recommended her Gallagher Girl series.  This is the 4th and latest in that series.  In this adventure, Cameron and her friends are trying to figure out why a society called The Circle of Cavan is after Cameron.  They also want to know why their old teacher Mr. Solomon is suddenly wanted by the CIA.  And they’re trying to figure out just who killed Cameron’s father and why.  Who can be trusted?  Mr. Solomon?  Zach, the cute boy from the boys’ spy school Blackthorne?  The MI6 operative who has taken over Mr. Solomon’s class?  Cameron and her friends aren’t sure but something tells me that they’re going to find out.

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Posted by on September 10, 2010 in Literature


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In lieu of filling your Christmas Jar with Pepsi

On my bookshelf by my front door sits a jar filled with coins.  Come December, in the days leading up to Christmas, I will give the jar anonymously to someone in need.  I don’t know who that will be yet, whether it will be someone I know or a random stranger I see on the street.

Christmas Jars is a book by Jason Wright.  In the book, Hope, a journalist, receives a Christmas jar the same day her apartment is robbed.  Eager to find who sent it to her, she begins researching, only to find others’ stories of their own Christmas jars received and given.  It is an inspiring story about giving and selflessness.

My friend and coworker Laurie first heard about the book when a customer came into our bookstore and requested it.  Intrigued, she bought one for herself.  She was so inspired by the story that she told every coworker and customer who stepped foot inside the door.  The next year, she made it a goal to sell 500 copies of the book, which she did, and she even gave out a few empty jars for others to fill.  She contacted the publisher, who sent her jar wraps to give away as well.

But that wasn’t enough for Laurie.  She wanted to get the whole country involved.  So she set out on a goal: distribute 1,001 Christmas jars within a year, with at least one in every state.  Throughout the year, Laurie met, talked, and emailed people about Christmas Jars.  She sent empty jars to people and about half also received books.  Not only did she get jars distributed to every state, but she also had jars in 11 different countries!  She believed in the Christmas jars so much that she paid for everything out of her own pocket.  I remember her saying to me one day, “I’m basically working to support the project.”  That’s how much she believed in it.

Countless lives have been touched by Laurie’s determination and own inspiration.  I received a jar one year, gratefully.  I’ve given as well.  Earlier this year another coworker fell ill and was out from work for a few months.  My coworkers and I all chipped in and gave what we had in our Christmas jars already to help our coworker with mounting hospital bills.  (Even Fred pitched in some cash, even though he’d only met the woman once.)  I was there when she received the check.  She was overwhelmed by the kindness of the people who loved her.  I’m not sure about my other coworkers, but I wouldn’t have had the money set aside to help her if it hadn’t been for my Christmas jar – if it hadn’t been for Laurie.

Now, imagine if you will, how much more good Laurie could do if her project were funded by an outside source.  That’s exactly what she’s trying to do through the Pepsi Refresh Project.  With the money, Laurie would like to buy and distribute jars and books so that more people can hand out their own Christmas jars.  But she needs everyone’s help.  Please vote for her by clicking here or you can text the number 73774 with the message 102016.  One person has already helped so many.  Now it’s time for us to help her.

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Posted by on September 9, 2010 in Literature


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If copper skin is realistic…

There is a suburb just north of the city in which I live, that has an Arts and Design District.  Now, the suburb is pretty ritzy to begin with but the Arts and Design District makes the rest of the suburb look like the ghetto.  The streets are built up so that apartments sit on top of business that run along the main streets.  I once looked into one of these apartments, just for fun.  It was quite expensive for such a little place, although it was very nice and had vaulted ceilings.  Anyway, you get the picture.

Throughout the Arts District there are statues.  There’s an old man sitting and reading a paper on a bench, a woman carrying a grocery bag outside of the butcher shop, and a man playing a violin by the music store, just to name a few.  Some have flesh-colored skin but others have copper skin.  It’s far from life-like.  Recently on the radio there have been commercials for the Arts District in which the woman exclaims how she loves the statues because “they are so life-like!”  What, is she blind?

One that always creeps me out, though, is a little kid watering flowers (or dirt, depending on the season).  First of all, I can’t tell if it’s a girl or a boy.  Second, it is one of the statues that has the copper skin and that just creeps the shit out of me.

So, one time when Jess was visiting, we went to the Arts District for lunch.  After, we came upon the little kid statue.  Jess jumped when she saw it.  It gave her the creeps, too.  “I just want to kick that kid every time I see it!” I told her.  Jess whipped out her camera.  “Go for it!”

Thus a tradition was born.  Jess and I went around to all the statues and posed with them.

As the Arts District continues to grow, more statues are erected.  Whenever Jess visits, we take a trip to the Arts District and pose with the new statues.

This was actually just one picture of a series we took where I go through all the emotions of seeing this guy (my supposed boyfriend) kiss this chick.  It ends in me kicking the girl.

Here’s my favorite:

As soon as Jess and I saw this statue, there was no need to discuss what had to be done.  Why else would a cop put his hand out like that?  Okay, so the plate says its name is “Hello there” so maybe he’s waving to a kid.  But, come on!  Doesn’t it look like he should be slapping someone’s ass?

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Posted by on September 8, 2010 in Entertainment


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Imagination is good, but this is too far

I’ll admit it: I love watching children’s movies.  One of my favorite movies ever is Follow That Bird with the Sesame Street cast.  Another all-time favorite of mine is The Chipmunk Adventure in which Alvin, Simon, and Theodore race the Chipettes around the world and unknowingly smuggle diamonds to various countries.  One movie I like even more than both of those together is Polly, which stars Keshia Knight Pulliam.  It’s a twist on the Pollyana story, set in the South in the 50s and includes, in my opinion, a lot of good music.

So I’ve seen my fair share of children’s movies in my lifetime.  I wanted to see Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs when it came out (I liked the first two) but Fred refused to go.  I tried to persuade him again when it was released on DVD but he stood his ground.  Recently, though, he started back at school, which guarantees me two nights a week of being on my own.  So I rented Ice Age 3 and eagerly sat down to watch it.

I should have listened to Fred.

It was bad.  Really bad.  For those who haven’t seen it (don’t!), the basic plot is that Sid the Sloth finds dinosaur eggs and decides to take care of them.  They hatch and mama dinosaur tries to get her babies back but in the process kidnaps Sid.  She takes him underground and the rest of the gang follows to try to rescue him.

Here’s the thing: I knew that dinosaurs were dead before the Ice Age but I thought the movie would have just one or two who somehow survived and perhaps they could explain away the little “glitch”.  Nope.  Not even close.  When the gang goes underground to find Sid, they pass through tons of feet of snow and then, ta-da!  They’re magically in an underground world where there are all kinds of dinosaurs, plants for them to eat, and even a sun which rises and sets like the one above Earth.

Really?  How stupid do they think their audience is?  I know that it’s a children’s movie but children need adult supervision when going to the movies, so let’s say about a third of the audience is going to be an adult.  And from what I remember from my childhood, a lot of boys in elementary school loved dinosaurs and read everything there was printed about them.  So I think we should give a little credit to the younger audience’s knowledge.  But for the rest of the crowd who doesn’t know the scientific impossibility of the movie, it has done a huge disservice to their education.  Oh, they may find it funny (though I didn’t laugh a single time), but the image of a secret dinosaur land during the Ice Age is stored in their observant little brains.  What happens when they learn about dinosaurs and the Ice Age later?  Are they going to stubbornly think that they coexisted because of a movie?  I hope not, but it is possible.*

I let myself fall asleep during the movie so I don’t know how it ended and, frankly, I don’t care.  If you have kids, I suggest you keep them away from this movie.  If it’s just you, I suggest you stay away from it as well.  There are a lot of other movies out there; movies that encourage imagination and knowledge of the world.  Don’t waste their time or your own.

*More possible than an underground world with its own sun.


Posted by on September 7, 2010 in Entertainment, Rants


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