Banned Books Week: A Look Back at the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2010

Banned Books Week is August 24 – October 1 this year.

Infographic: Top Ten Banned or Challenged Books of 2010 (via The Huffington Post)

A visually impressive and illuminating infographic, indeed. Interesting to see that among repeat challenge favorites–like the nefariously adorable gay penguin family picture book, And Tango Makes Three–there are also some surprising (to me, at least) entries, such as Brave New World and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

As a side tangent, based on this handy break-down of the most challenged books and the most-cited reasons that they were challenged: Many people tend to think of censorship challenges as only coming from ‘conservative’ individuals, but as the chart reveals, these challenges come from all sides of the religious/political/social spectrum. Books here are being challenged because they are “inaccurate,” or “racist,” or “insensitive,” or strongly represent a “religious viewpoint.” (These things may be true about each book, of course, although it doesn’t necessarily follow that you then ban that book.)

I actually had an assignment in library school where, pretending to be the head librarian at a school library,  I had to draft a response to a group of parents who wanted to challenge books glorifying gun violence. In this hypothetical scenario, the parents said that they tell their children to borrow the books from the library, and simply not return them. I think they even said they’d pay the late fines. Apparently, this is a very common way that people choose to self-censor in libraries.

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Anonymous Book-Loving Book Artist Leaves Sculptures in Libraries All Over Scotland

I think every country needs to have a bibliophilic book artist to brighten up our libraries…

Mysterious Paper Sculptures Pop Up in Libraries and at Book Festivals All Over Scotland (via Central Stn)

I just love this. Starting in March, an anonymous, book-loving book artist started secretly dropping off incredibly intricate and absolutely lovely paper sculptures in libraries and at book-related events all over Scotland. They were left with messages stating the artist’s “support of libraries, books, words, ideas” first at the Scottish Poetry Library, then at The National Library of Scotland, then at the Filmhouse, then the Scottish Storytelling Center, then the Edinburgh International Book Festival, then the Central Lending Library.

Never once did the artist name him/herself, although various media outlets claimed to have figured out the person’s identity. The original post at Central Stn has many more pictures, so check it out. You’ll also find links to The Guardian‘s coverage, as well as links to the sources that say they figured out who the artist is. I for one, do not want to know. Leave it a mystery for me!

A Tangential (and Reassuring) Moment re: Danish Linguistics in Jo Nesbø’s New Novel, Headhunters

Image courtesy of The Copenhagen Post

I was sitting on the subway reading Jo Nesbø’s newly translated stand-alone novel Headhunters today when I stumbled over an interesting tidbit about the Danish language that just had to be researched further. The main character, a Norwegian man named Roger Brown (British father), is having an affair with a Danish woman. During a morning tryst, he recalls:

“This morning…she had whispered something Danish in my ear that I didn’t understand, since from an objective standpoint Danish is a difficult language–Danish children learn to speak later than any other children in Europe…”

In terms of the novel, this is a bit of a tangential aside, but it didn’t seem like a factoid that Nesbø would just make up completely. So I did some light googling and voila! I easily found an interesting and brief article on this very subject published recently in The Copenhagen Post: “The Danish Language’s Irritable Vowel Syndrome.” According the (amusingly titled) article,

“A 15-month-old Croatian child understands approximately 150 words, while a Danish child of the same age understands just 84 on average.

It’s not because Danish kids are dumb, or because Croatian kids are geniuses. It’s because Danish has too many vowel sounds, says Dorthe Bleses, a linguist at the Center for Child Language at the University of Southern Denmark.”

The article goes on to explain that there are nine vowel sounds in Danish, but to make matters even more difficult, much of Danish pronunciation is swallowed. (I can personally attest to this: one of my Danish instructors remarked that in order to correctly pronounce a word in Danish, you had to follow the “three potato rule”: pretend you have three potatoes in your mouth and then say a word. That’s when you’ve got it right. I only ever made it up to one/one and a half potatoes, I am sorry to say…)

The linguist in the article, Dorthe Bleses, compared the rate at which children growing up with seven different languages–Danish, Swedish, Dutch, French, American English, Croatian, and Galician–learn to speak their native tongue. And Danish definitely gave children the hardest time. But never fear, says Bleses. The Danes do catch up:

“‘…the difference between the Croatian child and the Danish child doesn’t persist. Once the children have reached the third or fourth grade, the linguistic code has been cracked, and then other things have significance for whether the student learns well,’ she added.

In other words, according to the linguist, it takes Danish children with Danish parents until they are nine or ten years old – in the third or fourth grade – to “crack the code” of the Danish language.”

So head’s up for those of you learning Danish as adults: it’s a long, hard road–even for native speakers–but you’ll get there!

St. Mark’s Bookshop is in Trouble

A quick piece of local bookstore-related news: it seems that St. Mark’s Bookshop, an East Village institution since 1977, is in danger of closing due to rent increases that have become rather burdensome. The bookstore rents its space on 3rd Ave. between 8th and 9th streets from the Cooper Union, and is hoping to collect 15,000 signatures (they have 10,710 as of this writing) to support its request for a rent decrease. The petition, which you can sign here reads as follows:

“The St. Mark’s Bookshop, a vital Lower East Side cultural institution, needs a rent low enough to survive. Join the Cooper Square Committee petitioning Cooper Union, the bookstore’s landlord, to give St. Mark’s Bookshop a lower rent.

The St. Mark’s Bookshop has a long tradition in the Lower East Side and serves an admirable and increasingly rare function. St. Mark’s is struggling to pay the market rent that Cooper Union is charging them at 31 3rd Ave. A significant rent concession by Cooper Union could save this irreplaceable neighborhood institution.”

Now I know that everyone’s rents are high and many small businesses aren’t getting rent breaks from their landlords, but I still think that it’s worth supporting this petition. St. Mark’s is not only an independent bookstore that has continued to be successful even as big bookstore giants like Border’s go under–it’s a store that really seeks to reflect the interests and culture of the neighborhood it exists in. The artfully-curated selection in the store reflects the surrounding neighborhood in its many art books, its wide-ranging books about music and East Village history and culture, and also diverse fiction, much of which is written by New York-based authors. Perhaps St. Marks could relocate to another, cheaper neighborhood, but that would mean a real and unfortunate change to the fabric of the East Village and a shift in what makes St. Mark’s–and its stock–a unique and valuable bookstore.

So, if you’re interested in preserving this genuinely local institution, sign the petition, or just stop by and purchase a couple books. A little goes a long way.

NBCC Reads: Favorite Comic Novels

For the last four years, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) has had a regular feature on their blog, Critical Mass, called “NBCC Reads.” For this feature, NBCC members are asked to share their “bookish expertise” on a variety of topics. This spring’s question was “What are your favorite comic novels?” My own answers–along with those of  Bob Grumman, the editor at Runaway Spoon Press, and Chelsey Philpott, the associate editor of book reviews at the School Library Journal, were featured in this week’s post, which you can read here.

I’ll leave the (admittedly brief) explanations for my choices for you to check out on the NBCC blog, but for shorthand, I voted for Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, and Halldór Laxness’ Under the Glacier.

All of the member answers to the question–some of which are more in-depth–are archived on Critical Mass here.

Fun Reads for Friday (And the Long Labor Day Weekend)

Although this first one is more dispiriting than fun:

Book Loving City Forgoes Free Ones for a Week.” William Yardley for the New York Times, August 31, 2011.

“The Seattle Public Library, a beloved civic trophy in a book-loving city, whose directors are plucked away for plum jobs by presidents and philanthropists and whose buildings are often beacons of design, is closed all week — yet again. The furlough, intended to save about $650,000 from the system’s $50 million budget, has become something of a late-summer tradition in recent years, hardly as welcome as the weather.

“It’s an unfortunate tradition,” said Marcellus Turner, who started as the city librarian on Aug. 15 and promptly got a few days off, unpaid.

“Library Closed Aug. 29 — Sept. 5 Due to Budget Cuts,” say the bold red signs on the doors at the central library, a jolt of glass and steel by the architect Rem Koolhaas.”

The article also touches on an interesting trend that I was unaware of: “In Seattle…being the city librarian has become something of a launching pad.” It seems that several of the Seattle Public Library directors have been plucked from their positions by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and President Obama for other high profile librarian gigs.

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Is BookLamp’s ‘Book Genome Project’ the Future of Discovery?” by Edward Nawotka at Publishing Perspectives, August 24, 2011.

Hailed by some as the “Pandora for Books,” BookLamp aims to break a book down by its essential elements and use those to hyper-scientifically make recommendations to its readers. The program

“…breaks a book up into 100 scenes and measures the ‘DNA’ of each scene, looking for 132 different thematic ingredients, and another 2,000 variables.”

So say, for some bizarre reason, you really want to read a book that is just like The Da Vinci Code. Says BookLamp CEO Aaron Stanton:

“We have found that it contains 18.6% Religion and Religious Institutions, 9.4% Police & Murder Investigation, 8.2% Art and Art Galleries, and 6.7% Secret Societies & Communities, and other elements — we’ll pull out a book with similar elements, provided it is in our database.”

Now I actually really enjoy Pandora–not having a really fine-tuned ear or a lot of in-depth awareness of music composition (although I have some), I like being able to enter a song or artist or composer and have Pandora tell me that I’m responding to the key that the music is in, or the fact that there is a strong male vocalist, or that there is a repeating structural element that is standing out. For books, somehow–and I’m guessing that this is more a function of my own relationship to literature and my general faith in my ability to select books I’ll like–the project seems a little cynical. Perhaps I’d like to think that there isn’t some formula that a computer program can use to dissect a novel and what someone responds to in it.

But I’m inclined to ignore my gut reaction on this and consider that for someone who doesn’t have piles of “books to have read” strewn haphazardly around the house, this might be a great way to learn not only about new books, but also develop a better sense of what qualities she, the reader, is enjoying in a book. And what’s not to like about more self-aware, informed readers?

New assignment: I’m going to try out BookLamp in the next week and report back on the qualities considered in each book, and the types of recommendations yielded. Perhaps I’ll get some good book recommendations myself.

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Jo Nesbø’s novel Headhunters (first published in 2008) will be released in English this month.

Lots of interest here. Firstly, this is not a Harry Hole book. (Nesbø has a number of non-Hole titles to his credit, including a variety of stand-alones and the “Doktor Proktor” series, which starts with the novel Doktor Proktor’s Fart Powder. These are for kids—see here.)

Secondly, it came out in 2008 and is only now being released in English here, even though it was apparently a big deal in Norway when it was first published–it won the Norwegian Book Club Prize for Novel of the Year in 2008. (The delay is also not that surprising, really. The Hole novels have been a hit here, so perhaps the publisher didn’t want to overflow the market with too many Nesbø books at once?)

But thirdly, and most interestingly, with the publication of Headhunters in 2008, Nesbø established the “Harry Hole Foundation” which will receive “[a]ll proceeds from Headhunters, in all editions and formats including the movie adaptation…” (The movie has already been made–it came out in Oslo last month.)

Nesbø talks about his decision to start the foundation here:

I also made a decision that was very important for me. But not until Greedy Jo had had a serious discussion with Decent Jo. The decision was that all the income from Headhunters, domestic and international, would go towards a plan I had been mulling over for a while: basic reading and writing classes for children in the third world. My motivation was principally twofold. I have been privileged enough to be able to travel all over the world, and what this traveling has taught me is that the ability to read is a basic prerequisite for citizens to find their bearings in society so that genuine democracy can exist and so that those same citizens can create a better life for themselves and their families. Besides, I had also realized that I did not have—and would never have—a lifestyle that matched what was gradually becoming a rather large amount of money in my bank account. And there were surely plenty of other very human motives there, too: feelings of guilt that things had gone absurdly well, the need to be liked, to buy myself karma, an indulgence, redemption, etc. But I do not imagine that self-analysis by an overpaid Norwegian writer is very important to an Indian girl who receives ten years of schooling and can return home to her village afterwards, perhaps as a teacher, and be a role model for other girls and mothers.

So we set up a foundation, the Harry Hole Foundation, which would award an annual prize called A Decent Guy or A Decent Lady, and a stipend that the prizewinner, with the help of a committee, would invest in literacy projects. And the following year, in 2009, we did just that. The Decent Guy prize went to a prison chaplain, Odd-Cato Kristiansen, and the stipend went to the Naandi Foundation that helps provide schooling for deprived girls in India.

So yeah. Jo Nesbø: Decent Guy. Read more about Headhunters on Nesbø’s website here and feel free to feel good about going out and buying a new book for yourself when it comes out.

Enjoy not working on Monday!