Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Banned Books Controversy

Apparently, this week is Banned Books Week.  Or it was.  Last week.  The literary regions of the Twitterverse have been all abuzz with it.  Which is a way of saying that I don't really know what is going on but, between sips of coffee and copious amounts of Aristotle, I've snorted at a few rebellious and passionate banned book lover tweets and then moved on with my collegiate life.

It's kind of ironic that there are actual lists of books that have been marked inappropriate for various age groups or demographics or just anyone.  Because how does a culture of relativism and self-expression which denies the existence of an objective code of moral or natural law come up with a set of standards to determine what makes a book worthy of banishment?

I support the automatic condoning of any book decried as banned by a subjective and consistently changing set of [some kind of] standards [made up by the American Library Association which has no power to enforce the ban anyway]! Rawr!

I'm trying not to get too personally invested in the whole banned books controversy.  It doesn't really seem to be worth the energy, honestly.  The whole movement reeks of arbitrary standards and consequent angsty teenage rebellion (in adults).  But I will say this much.  Leave the kids out of it and don't do this.

Despite the existence of our culture's somewhat arbitrary standards, some books are censored for a reason, especially when it comes to a childhood audience.  I love The Giver, but I don't believe it should be read by the twelve year olds for whom it was written.  I think The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most important books written this century, but I don't believe it should be read by middle schoolers, no matter what John Green says.  The Catcher in the Rye is an incredible exploration of the modern young adult, modern society, and the human condition, but it should not be read by depressive teenagers or even minorly suicidal or unstable adults. (However, I have nothing to say in defense of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid which should be wiped off the face of the earth and from all records of history for the sake of the self-image of any and all present and future children.)  There is a reason you don't read Greek tragedy or Crime and Punishment (or The Invisible Man or Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or even Pride and Prejudice) in kindergarten. There is a reason you don't read these things in fourth grade.  There is a reason these books should not be read in middle school.  Some books are censored. For certain audiences. For a reason.

And, really, there are a bunch of reasons why cracking the shells of naive middle schoolers is a bad idea, but for goodness sake don't shove literature down the throats of kids who won't be able to appreciate it just because you feel the need to rebel against society's (or the American Library Association's or whomever's) book ban.  Or because you think it's your responsibility to expose the kids in your sphere of influence to the Real World.  You need a better reason than that.

Because, really.  Who are you rebelling against, anyway?  Why do you really teach banned books?

People--kids--need therapy.  Not exposure to books which are more often than not just as confused as the kids are themselves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Show People You're An English Major (without even trying)

I speak from experience, my friends.  I do this without even trying and then I repeatedly and epicly fail number five.  So learn from my learning.  Listen to the words of the wise.

1.  Sport a Great Literary Quotes book tote.

Jonathan Adler Booked Bag Canvas Navy Tote (14x14)
yeah, so I own this and somehow it escaped me how much this screams BOOK NERD

2.  Host Story Time Teas in your dorm room every Sunday.

Displaying photo.JPG
a la Kathleen Kelly Storybook Lady

3.  Incorporate bookish quotes into normal everyday speech.

Fandoms, merge!!

4.  Obsessively analyze The Lizzie Bennet Diaries with your other nerdy friends in the front row of your English class and get your English professor interested in watching it while simultaneously making all the other students hate you.

probably. eh, well.

5.  Don't be too surprised when other people catch on. 
Because that defeats the whole dang purpose.

embrace it

Welcome back to school, internet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Bias

c'est ne pas un lapin brun avec une pipe

Sometimes, I get really fired up about things.  Symbolism is one of those things.  An inappropriately handled medical emergency situation is another.  But, this week, what got me most fired up was a misappreciation of The Fault in Our Stars.

Let me be clear about something.  You do not have to like a book in order to appreciate its value.  You do not have to like reading all 7 billion pages of Les Miserables to realize that it is one of the most tragic yet triumphant stories ever penned by a human being.  You do not have to like reading through all of Mark Twain's impractical descriptions of a 17 year old girl, saint or no, in order to appreciate what a literary masterpiece his Joan of Arc is.  You do not have to like the grammar choices of John Boyne to appreciate the haunting similarities between our own times and the time of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  And you do not have to like the existential self-indulgence and Last Good Day Before the Last Good Day of Amsterdam in order to realize that The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most important things that has happened to twenty-first century literature.

One of the emerging themes in my conversations with Emily (as we make our way through teenagey angst, school drama, and minor/major family crises) is that perspective is everything. Perspective is literally everything. In preschool, wetting your pants feels pretty much like the end of the world and, when your mom comes in with a back-up stash of pull-ups, your three-year old pride sardonically laughs to itself that you will never speak to your mother again. Whereas, twenty year old you doesn't even remember who your fellow preschoolers were let alone the days they inevitably wet their pants during story time, and thank goodness you still speak to your mother because how would you have survived middle school without her. Wetting your pants in preschool is not the end of the world. In fact, wetting your pants when you're forty-five isn't the end of the world either. Because when you're on your deathbed, you and everyone else will be thinking and talking about a lot of other things relating to you. Dying, not an embarrassing self control mishap, is the end of the world. The end of the world for you. In a sense. So, yeah. Perspective.

The Fault in Our Stars is many things, and it has many things to offer. A perspective on life is one of the things it offers. There are other things which TFiOS doesn't offer, such as answers--or, I should say, truly substantial answers (in my humble opinion) to the deep questions that it asks. Uh, I prefer not to think that my life is completely and irrevocably run by the stars, the fates, the weird sisters, like I'm some side character in an ancient Greek epic and that all I can do is #yolo before I inevitably #yodo at the fates' discretion. (This is just me.)  But TFiOS does ask incredibly poignant questions and it offers perspective and it gives us a lot to think about.  As far as I'm concerned, those are three things that make up a very good book and three things that our century could definitely use more of.

Now, it is my belief that every book, just like the man or woman who penned it, has some fault or weakness. It's kind of inevitable. I mean, none of us is perfect, so none of us can write a book that is perfect.  And because of personal, professional, emotional, educational, maturational biases or the lack thereof, some people are going to be better than others at spotting the faults in any given book. But just because you see the fault in a book doesn't mean that that book isn't extremely important to read.  And it doesn't give you any excuse to walk away from that book without considering (albeit, possibly disagreeing with) the message that it's sending. It doesn't give you any authority to discredit the book's value in literary history.  It would be a lonely world out there, and a very uneducated one, if we were all perfectionists in our choices of friends and books.

So, please, before you dis The Fault in Our Stars because it is somewhat faulty, popular, obsessively swooned over by teenage girls, or not your cup of tea, just remember to take a step back and look at it through the big round glasses of perspective.  Because when your grandkids are reading it for English class fifty years in the future (and you know they will be), you can pat yourself on the back that it's not the first time you considered the literary significance of a book that will go down in history as a symbol of our era and that will continue to influence the way people contemplate their own experience of the human condition for generations after you're six feet under.

GAH symbolic perspective! Alright, I'm done.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An English Nerd Sedated Is Still an English Nerd

[Darn it, is there a way to strap this bag of frozen peas to my face so I can see the computer screen and type with both hands while also continuing to ice my chipmunk cheeks? Oh, there we go. Shoulders. I knew we had shoulders for a reason.]

d'aw. i can guarantee i don't look this happy.

Yesterday at 7:30am...
[Nurse comes into operating room and places the white heart rate monitor clip on Ally's finger. Ally listens to the infernal beeping noise that now echoes throughout the room.]
Ally [to herself, trying not to look at the scary dentist tools on the wall]: Hey, I wonder what would happen to the beeping noise if I stopped breathing... heeeeeey, if I stop breathing for seven seconds, the heart rate monitor freaks out. Lol, listen to it panic. Wait, now let me try breathing really fast.  Oooh, there it goes again! 'Panic! Sound the alarm! Abnormal heart rate!' Hhhmmhmhmhehehe...

Yesterday at 8:00am...
Oral Surgeon: So here are all the bad things that could happen to you during and after wisdom tooth extraction.  Let's see.  Jaw bone could crack, sinus cavity problems, dry sockets, nerve damage, uncontrollable bleeding, nausea and vomiting, serious infections from the IV needles, and you could die. Oh, and chapped lips. Apply chap stick as needed.
Me [looking at all the scary dentist tools on the wall]: Ok, great.
Oral Surgeon: Initial here. Sign at the x.
[As Ally signs, she reveals that she is nervous by chattering more than is normal. Oral Surgeon tries to distract Ally.]
Oral Surgeon: So do you know what's in that bag? [points to IV bag]
Ally: Um, I should, because I was in nursing school, but I forget.
[Nurses titter.]
Oral Surgeon: I'll give you a hint. Starts with a 'b.' Does that help? [at least, Ally thinks he said "b"]
Ally: O_O
Ally: Uh, no, not really. [Ally becomes conscious of the tingly feeling of IV fluid going into her veins. Or maybe it is anesthesia.]
Oral Surgeon: It's B--- [name of stuff in IV bag doesn't register with Ally]. So what's your major now?
Ally [slowly slipping]: English ...

Yesterday at 9:15am...
[Ally's mother hands Ally the sheet of post-op instructions and guides her out of the clinic to the car. Ally climbs into the car and stars blankly at the post-op instructions. After five minutes of staring blankly at the paper, Ally lifts up her head.]
Ally [points to a sentence on the paper and holds it up to her mother]: Mmmfft, shhooo beeebeaffffttt.
Ally's Mother: O_O
Ally's Mother: Um, what?
Ally [points to paper again]: Iz gwammaw. Izz wong.
Ally's Mother [glances more closely at the paper]: Oh, uh, you're right. That should be "breath," not "breathe." Yeah, that is a mistake.
[Ally nods and smiles stupidly to herself {since real smiling is impossible}, happy in the knowledge that she is not so out of it as to not notice a grammar mistake.] 

Ah, Ally.  Always the editor.  Even on a sedative.

even if chipmunk cheeks aren't
{this shirt and more grammar buff stuff of the same caliber right here}

Now that I'm confident that grammar buffiness is inherently a part of me, I can sit back on the couch and nurse myself back to health with no qualms.  Until the next time I make my personal most common grammar mistake: you're vs. your.  It's my greatest downfall.  Ask Marlene.

Honestly, though, one of the best parts about being sick and/or confined to the couch because of oral surgery is that it is one more experience of the human condition that you can write about.  And I don't mean just reenact it on your blog. :} I mean that suffering makes you a more empathetic writer.  Suffering and paineven pain as common place today as that of wisdom tooth surgeryclues you in to yet another part of the human experience. Your exposure to suffering forms you and opens your eyes a little wider to what life is. Inevitably, this will be incorporated into your writing. There's really nothing like experiencing something yourself in order to tell other people what it's like.  No, heh, really.  There isn't.  That's sort of the whole point of writing.

So, basically, what I'm saying is embrace whatever suffering comes your way.  You may not have the immediate reward of catching a grammar mistake while partially sedated, but your heroics will be rewarded in the end.  Alright, switching peas to other shoulder.  Ally out.