Sunday, October 10, 2010

Clutch Your Pearls with Robin Benway

Today we have one of my favorite people in all the world, author Robin Benway. She is the author of Audrey, Wait! and more recently The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June. She has worked at Ballantine, Knopf, Borders, and Book Soup in West Hollywood. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California with her family while having a love affair with music. Here she is with what promises to be my favorite post this month:

Banned and challenged books. How I just loooove banned and challenged books. Do you know why? Here, come closer, I'll tell you a secret.

 There is no quicker way to get a kid to read a book than to tell them that it's banned.

I'm serious! If you had told little 12-year-old Robin Benway that she couldn't read a book because it had sex or violence or drugs or, I don't know, giant vermicious Knids or something, I would not have rested until I read that book. That book would have been mine and I probably would have loved it even more because it was (say it with me now) BANNED.

However, I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where books weren't banned. Like, at all. The only book I remember being not okay was a Sesame Street storybook and I was the one who banned it. (I saw a picture of Mr. Snuffleupagus, slammed it shut, and ran out of the room. Consider yourself banned, book!) I was so young when I read "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" that I honestly thought that Margaret's period was just her imaginary friend. I was genuinely thrilled when she finally got it! Like, "Oh, yay, now she AND Nancy both have imaginary friends! How nice!" I got busted in 6th grade for reading Suzanne Somers's epic autobiography "Keeping Secrets" in school, but I wasn't in trouble with my parents. I was in trouble with the teacher, which faded pretty quickly when she realized that my mom had checked it out for me at the public library.

And as you can imagine, after reading all of these "oooh, controversial!" books, I grew up to be a pretty okay person. I mean, I wash my sheets regularly, I've never done drugs, dogs and babies think I'm awesome, and funnily enough, I became a writer. The response to my books Audrey, Wait! and The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June has been pretty fabulous and has made me extremely happy with my career choice. Every now and then, though, I get an email about the language in "Audrey", which is fair. It's not for everyone, just like some people don't like alcohol. Or dragonflies. Or Mr. Snuffleupaguses.

When thinking about Banned Books Week, I realized that most of my favorite books have been challenged in some way. My apartment is positively teeming with them! Thank goodness I don't live in "Fahrenheit 451" or the whole place would go up in flames. Here's why I love them, here's why others don't, and here's why I think they should be read anyway.

James & the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

#56 on the ALA's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, "James" was challenged at the Deep Creek Elementary School in Charlotte Harbor, Florida (1991) because it is "not appropriate reading material for young children." It was challenged at the Pederson Elementary School in Altoona, Wisconsin (1991) and at the Morton Elementary school library in Brooksville, Florida (1992) because the book contains the word "ass" and "promotes" the use of drugs and whiskey. Dahl's book was almost removed from classrooms in Stafford County, Virginia schools (1995) and placed in restricted access in the library because the story contains "crude language" and "encourages children to disobey their parents and other adults." (via)

I...don't even know what to say to this. A book where a little boy is rescued from his abusive aunts encourages children to disobey? Well, I should hope so! Those aunts were crazycakes! Free James! I'm also sort of amazed that in a book where insects talk, and, oh yeah, A GIANT PEACH FLIES THROUGH THE SKY WHILE ATTACHED TO 502 SEAGULLS AND THEN GETS ATTACKED BY SHARKS, the word "ass" was even noticed. These challenges are fifteen to twenty years old, so let's just hope that this is just an example of adults being ridiculous in the 1990s.

"Not far away, in the middle of the garden, [James] could see the giant peach towering over everything else. Surely it was even bigger tonight than ever before? And what a dazzling sight it was! the moonlight was shining and glinting on its great curving sides, turning them to crystal and silver....

And then all at once, little shivers of excitement starting running over the skin on James's back.

Something else, he told himself, something stranger than ever this time, is about to happen to me again soon. He was sure of it. He could feel it coming."

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

"Part-time librarian and graduate student Meagan Albright decided to focus on gay, lesbian, and transgender themes as part of a University of South Florida course called Multicultural and Special Population Materials for Children and Young Adults. She created a display honoring GLBTQ books and authors. The display was presented at the West Gate Regional Library, and Albright received an A from her professor. Subsequent protest from three visitors to the library prompted attacks on the books, as well as a town ordinance prohibiting county government from acknowledging or promoting gay pride and events." (via) (via)

Florida, you're killing me. I think my favorite part of this story is that the protesters didn't even read the books. The mere appearance of these books was enough to incite them into a persecuting frenzy. Have you ever noticed that whenever a book gets challenged or banned, the person who initially raises a concern hasn't even read it? The irony just slays me. Anyway, I love this book. Its writing is gorgeous and evocative and makes me homesick for Los Angeles, a city I already see every day. If you read this and only notice its "controversial" issues, rather than the tale of people forging a family out of their friendship, then you're missing the very best parts of the story.

"The reason Weetzie Bat hated high school was because no one understood. They didn't even realize where they were living. They didn't care that Marilyn's prints were practically in their backyard at Graumann's; that you could buy tomahawks and plastic palm tree wallets at Farmer's Market, and the wildest, cheapest cheese and bean and hot dog and pastrami burritos at Oki Dogs; that the waitresses wore skates at the Jetson-style Tiny Naylor's; that there was a fountain that turned tropical soda-pop colors, and a canyon where Jim Morrison and Houdini used to live, and all night potato knishes at Canter's, and not too far away was Venice, with columns, and canals, even, like the real Venice but maybe cooler because of the surfers. There was no one who cared. Until Dirk."

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Since its publication in 1999, Stephen Chbosky's book has been one of the most frequently banned & challenged books of the 21st century. Critics have protested its references to (get comfortable, this could take a while) alcohol, drug use, gay sex, masturbation, explicit language, sexual behavior, suicide, abortion, and physical & sexual abuse. (via) (via)

This book will probably break your heart at least once. It's beautifully written, with passages that put a lump in your throat and make you ache without really knowing why. And yes, it covers very, very difficult subjects. Nothing about any of its topics is easy, but you know what? Neither is high school, and there is nothing is this book that isn't already happening in almost every major high school in the United States. I'm sorry, book-banning grown-ups, but being a teenager isn't like starring in a Sunny Delight commercial. It's painful and confusing, and yet the most wondrous thing about it is that even the middle of all the chaos, it still has the potential to be amazing. Just like this book.

"Patrick started driving really fast, and just before we got to the tunnel, Sam stood up, and the wind turned her dress into ocean waves. When we hit the tunnel, all the sound got scooped up into a vacuum, and it was replaced by a song on the tape player. A beautiful song called "Landslide." When we got out of the tunnel, Sam screamed this really fun scream, and there it was. Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder. Sam sat down and started laughing. Patrick started laughing. I started laughing. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."

You can also read another post by Robin here.

Huge thanks to Robin for doing this for me. I really appreciate her taking the time to write such an amazing post! I challenge you guys to go out and pick up these three books and read them for yourself! You'll never regret it!

1 comment:

  1. You're totally right, Jeremy! This is definitely one of the best posted so far! :)