Monday, October 22, 2007

Banned books

We recently came through "Banned Book Week". Did you have the traditional celebration where you are? The proper way to observe "Banned Book Week," of course, is to display a collection of banned books and encourage people to read them, as demonstrated by this blog entry from the Office for Intellectual Freedom. You may ask, If the books are banned, how will my local library be able to display them? This would be a very good question in my opinion. However, it seems to be a question that never occurs to anyone at the American Library Association. I subscribe to an active listserv for librarians and in all the discussion leading up to the big week, not a single person raised that most obvious question. I was tempted to give up my lurker status to address the question, but decided I had better things to do in life than deal with the flood of heated responses that would likely result from such a post on a library listserv. I'll stick to posting here and take my chances with the search engines.

Of course, the way that libraries can display "banned" books is because they aren't banned. There are no banned books in the U.S. The week's title is a misnomer. The lists used for "Banned Books Week" trace back to challenges from people who would like to see a particular book taken off the library shelf. There is no requirement that even one of those challenges be successful and result in the book being made inaccessible to anyone. The proper name for the list is "most frequently challenged books". One would think that people who worship the god of intellectual freedom would also go in for honesty, but, unfortunately, honesty has never fared well in the world of marketing and there's much marketing involved in "Banned Books Week".

We have few book challenges at the public library where I work. However, we did have one recently. A parent returned a book with the comment that it was not at all appropriate for children and did not belong in the children's area. When the report of the protest reached my desk, I was curious and decided to read the book. The title? The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix, first published in 1967. Wikipedia says of it: "The novel's plot is extremely different from the Disney film's. It should be noted that the novel is much more complex than the Disney version and was originally intended for an adult audience." Well, yes, this book is not a happy-ending Disney story. It's a glimpse into the life of a fox and the efforts of a hound to track it down, told from the point of view of both animals in turn. There's much fox lore within its pages and I found it quite interesting. I've been compulsively sharing little tidbits from it the way other people seem compelled to tell me about television documentaries in which I have no interest.

Was it offensive and inappropriate for children? Well, that depends on your setting. Is it offensive for animals to walk around naked? Is it offensive to introduce children to the mating habits of animals and teach them correct terminology for animal anatomy? Is it offensive to include death in a story about a wild animal? I'm not sure children were sheltered from such subjects and vocabulary in 1967 like they are today. How has our society become so much less open about the sexual activities of animals and the life-and-death reality of wild animals while becoming so much more open about human sexuality in movies and television shows? I guess those shows aren't shelved in the children's section of the library.

I decided to move the book to the adult shelves even before I read the Wikipedia article saying it was intended for adults. I think it would be an excellent book for anyone wanting to learn about the life of foxes, but the reading level is better suited to teenagers or adults than the 8- to 12-year-olds who generally browse the shelves where it has sat for at least the thirteen years since the card catalog was automated.

It's too bad that people of any age have been allowed to read this book over the years. It's rather the worse for wear. I see that copies in good condition sell for $50 to $150 at Abebooks. That's unusually high for used books. Maybe we should lock it up to protect both the value of the book and the innocent minds of children who might discover it over in the adult section of the library and learn the raw truth behind such cliches as "sly as an old fox".

Things can get pretty dangerous in the public library.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talking vs. Listening

I’m not getting around very fast this morning - as usual. Thus far, I have spoken to five people – one in person, four by phone. I initiated two of the phone calls, a high count for any day. If it were up to me, our telephones would all have like-new keypads. Two calls (one received, one initiated) were strictly business-related information exchanges. The other two were less formal.

Meanwhile, I’m mulling over a meeting I sat in on last night. During the two less formal phone calls, I alluded to that meeting. However, neither party was interested in hearing my thoughts on it. In fact, neither one seemed particularly interested in hearing my thoughts on much of anything. The one who called me was more interested in talking – and had interesting tales to tell me, so that was all right. The one I called was more interested in responding to whatever it was I needed and then getting off the phone and back to other things. That was all right, too.

So I sit here alone with my thoughts and can’t think of a single person who wants to hear them. And maybe there would be no value in sharing them, at least not outside of my ‘prayer closet’, where I share them with the One who truly cares for me.

Yet, here you are at the bottom of my post. You now know more about what’s going on in my life this morning than any of those five people with whom I have interacted in real life.

I wonder. Am I more interesting in print than in person? Would you like to hear my thoughts about last night’s meeting?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Are you still looking for something new here?

It turns out the blogs have a life of their own. This morning I noticed an e-mail from Bravenet (the people running my hit counter). It was a rather cryptic message saying that someone had used my e-mail address to access my account. They wanted to know if this was really my e-mail address and if I had "initiated this action". Huh? Yes, it is my e-mail address but I haven't accessed my account lately. Anyway, I followed the link and ended up signed onto Bravenet where I discovered that my blog is still getting a steady flow of 'hits' - an average of five per day in the last week. Most of them are people coming off the search engines, generally looking for information about "front porches". I've never figured out why they follow the link to my ponderings on the subject but if I were getting paid for every hit, that one entry would account for most of my income to date. MSN picked it up first. Now it's usually Yahoo that sends them here.

So, anyway, since the e-mail from Bravenet enticed me to first visit my counter stats and then wander over here, I figured I may as well update my reading list. I finished a book this morning. That's a rare event that calls for some sort of celebration. The book was Prayer by Philip Yancey. As usual with his books, it was written exactly where I live and I enjoyed it very much. I'm tempted to add a study of the book at a local church to my already crammed schedule. It started last evening and I already had three other events competing for my time. Next week is out, too. Why am I even considering this idea?

As to the book, there are many types of writing that are far beyond me, that I don't have the imagination or creativity or even desire to emulate. There are other types of writing that I'm arrogant enough to think I could produce on my own but wouldn't bother -- using flowery language to state the obvious. When I read books by Philip Yancey, I see the gap between his writing ability and mine as having more to do with experience and effort (research and diligence in writing) and the editorial process than anything else. His writing is the type I think I could do when I grow up if I would put my mind to it. He puts into words the wordless concepts that float around in my head simply waiting for release and gives me a goal for my writing aspirations.

I once saw a collection of book titles by Christian authors. There were two lists. I'm going by memory here, but I think the first list was of classic works about Christianity. Alongside it was a list of bestselling present-day writing in the Christian market. Philip Yancey was the only author who made both lists. Classic Christian writing that is enjoyed by today's consumers. What a talent!

Anyway, writing that requires initiative on my part (as opposed to responding to someone else's thoughts) isn't fitting into my life well. The three-month gap between this post and the last might lend credence to that statement, if anyone is inclined to doubt it. But my reading list is now updated and here's something for you to read if you happen to come here to see what's new rather than to read about front porches. Thank you for persisting!