Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banning the Bible?

Many a writer has had his works banned from schools and libraries. Only a few were considered so dangerous, so heretical to orthodox cultural norms, that they had to pay with their lives.

One who did pay the ultimate price was William Tyndale. Born in Tudor England, Tyndale graduated with a Masters in theology at Oxford and was ordained into the priesthood shortly thereafter. Fluent in eight languages, Tyndale bounced around from job to job as private tutor, chaplain to the rich, and eventually found his passion in translating classical and religious works into English.

Under the influence of some of the Reformation’s greatest thinkers (he may have studied with Erasmus), Tyndale came to challenge the belief that the study of Scripture was the sole privilege of clerics. Finding no sympathetic ear to his ideas in England, he traveled to Germany, where he continued his work. Even on the Protestant mainland, however, Tyndale was considered too democratic, too populist a reformer to be ignored. England’s king, Henry VIII, asked the Emperor Charles to extradite him, and Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in Belgium. He was burned at the stake, after being mercifully garotted beforehand. His books were burned in the streets.

His crime? Translating the Latin bible into English without permission of the authorities.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Banned Books Week meets Marian the Librarian

I love that song from The Music Man, "Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little," where the good ladies of River City accuse Marian the Librarian of advocating dirty books:

"He left River City the Library building
But he left all the books to her

Marian meets with their disapproval, because she kept the books on the shelf.

I have to admit I’ve never read Rabelais or Balzac, but having read Canterbury Tales in high school and beyond, I find it hard to believe Chaucer’s writings were once considered scandalous. Yet even today, people get all in a twitter about books they want to protect the rest of us from reading.

In recognition of Banned Books Week, our library is displaying a few of the hundreds of books that were challenged or banned during the past year. These include Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Grendel by John Gardner, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

We are also hosting a Banned Books Panel to read from and discuss challenged and banned books this coming Wednesday, September 30 at 7:00 p.m. Readers for the panel discussion will be Doug Hoffman, media specialist for Lincoln County Schools; Lori Tobias, writer for the Oregonian; Bernice Barnett, former Lincoln County District Attorney; Matt Love, writer and English teacher at Newport High School; Wyma Rogers, former Newport Library director, and Andrew Rodman, poet and editor of In Good Tilth. Each person has selected a book that has been challenged or banned, and will read an excerpt from the book.

In the spirit of Marian the Librarian, we invite you to come into our library and check out a 'banned book.' Don’t let the censors take away your freedom to read!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Warm fuzzy serial killer?

Serial-killer characters make for popular plots because the stakes get raised again and again, keeping the reader in suspense as the body count goes up. The flip-side of this popularity is that the genre has gotten pretty formulaic; every little twist has already been exploited, and the authors have nothing left to fill in but new and exotic methods of death.

Then along comes Dexter. Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Dearly Devoted Dexter, Dexter in the Dark, and now, Dexter by Design. He's not a serial killer with a heart, exactly; he's a serial killer with a witty and cutting (no pun intended) internal dialogue, whose adoptive father found him a niche in which to flourish. Dexter survives in a kind of symbiosis with humanity (humanity=people with souls), where he camouflages himself as a normal if somewhat geeky blood-spatter technician, until he identifies prey. Child molesters, killers, torturers; others who were born without the spark that makes us human, or lost it somehow along the way. And then Dexter, you know, knocks them off. (I skim over those paragraphs, so I'm not entirely sure how he does it-- I know there's a knife, and a saw, and garbage bags, and that's enough for me.)

If you were a Star Trek: Next Generation fan, you may recognize the feeling you get for Dexter: it's almost the same feeling you get for the android Lieutenant Commander Data-- keep trying, buddy, you're almost a real boy (except for that nasty hunger of yours)! Dexter is charming despite himself; he's devoted to the memory of his adoptive father and he conscientiously watches out for his sister; he even finds a sweetie, and shows concern for her children. He's almost, almost, almost . . . but his Dark Passenger, the thing he has instead of a soul, is always there, curled up inside and waiting eagerly for a chance to strike.

These books are original, darkly funny, and well-written. Click on the titles above to see them in our catalog.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Philadelphia story

Because the Pennsylvania State Legislature has been unable to balance its books, the public libraries of the lovely city of Philadelphia – all of them – will close.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that has not managed to pass a budget. Unless they do so, when the doors of Philadelphia libraries close on October 2, they will stay closed. All programs, including classes, after-school activities, and community meetings, will cease. All books and other items will be due.

For more information on this story, click here. We at the Newport Library are thankful for the support we get from our Newport and Lincoln County patrons.

UPDATE: I blogged too soon! The Pennsylvania Senate has passed a bill that will keep Philadelphia's libraries open. If you follow the link above, you'll see the news.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lessons learned from a "banned book"

If I had known one of my favorite banned books was a banned book when I read it as a grade schooler almost 50 years ago, I wonder if it would have made the read different. Would I have hidden it or myself away, so as not to be found out, or would I have been defiant, making sure everyone could see what I was reading?

A Wrinkle in Time, a story by Madeleine L’Engle, almost didn’t get printed. It is filled with questions and issues not usually found in children’s literature at that time. When I first read the challenges many years after the first read, I had to go back and read the book again to look for the objections. If anything it made me look and find even more meaning and brought me more understanding.

A few of the many things I learned from this book: Time is relative. Science is amazing. People are easily led. Courage is often scary. The ugly duckling story can come true. A person grows into each challenge if given the opportunity. And above all, love is healing. Now, I have to admit it has taken years for me to realize some of these gems and I’m almost certain more are hidden in the pages, and will be there when I need them.

I read this title and many of L’Engle’s others every few years. I think this is a book everyone should read, but you should have that choice, to read or not to read. - Jan

Friday, September 11, 2009

Affinity by Sarah Waters

The year is 1874, and Margaret Prior, an unhappy spinster mourning a failed love affair, decides to embark upon a course of good works. She begins to visit the inmates of Millbank Prison, hoping to bring comfort to the women incarcerated there. She makes an instant connection with a lovely prisoner named Selina Dawes, whom she first sees holding a violet to her lips. How did a prisoner manage to get a flower into the stony precincts of Millbank?

Margaret falls deeply under the spell of Selina, so much so that she comes to believe that there is a supernatural connection between them. How else to explain the objects that vanish from her room, only to appear in Selina's cell? Or the flowers that Selina seems to send to her from prison? Best of all, Selina tells Margaret that, in the spiritual realm, male and female don't matter: only love. Margaret dares to believe that she might have a happy future with Selina. But there is much that Margaret doesn't understand.

Affinity flawlessly captures the Victorian period and its fascination with spiritualism. It is also a riveting suspense story. The secrets that surround its hapless protagonist unfold slowly but remorselessly, leaving Margaret (and the reader) breathless with shock. If you enjoy historical novels, ghost stories, or books in which everything is not as it seems, don't hesitate to check out this marvelous novel.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman's The Magicians has been called "Harry Potter for grownups", which is accurate in terms of page-turnability (high) and some similar plot elements, like a magic school and a protagonist whose family is, while not dead, not exactly the warm cozy center of his existence.

However, forget about Hogwarts; by the time you get over the idea that there's a magical prep school right in upstate New York, you'll have come to realize that The Magicians is much more dependent on C.S. Lewis's "Narnia" books (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, et cetera). I really don't want to give anything away, but I will clarify that it's not any kind of unseemly plagiarism; it's a peculiar homage to the reality that fantasy worlds can take on in the collective imagination, especially when they're planted young.

The story is very well-structured, its elements coming into play in different ways as you move forward. Quentin Coldwater, the teen-aged protagonist, is abruptly rescued from his dreary life in Brooklyn by a note from a murdered man, packaged with a lost manuscript from Quentin's favorite boyhood fantasy series. The note brings him to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, a place peculiarly British in its affectations despite its location. The school environment is fascinating and fully-realized, and populated with fusty professors whose independent lives are glimpsed by the teens like landmarks of adulthood through a veil of hormones and alcohol.

Quentin's quest to find a place, or a way of being, or another person that can truly make him happy is far more difficult than learning magic; finally it brings him face to face with the person he always wished he really was, and costs him nearly everything. What's left, of course, is the rest of his life. I will leave you on that hopefully mysterious note-- click here to reserve The Magicians in our catalog.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Check Out Our Book Sale: Where There's Never An Overdue!

Since I started working at Newport Library ...... years ago (sorry about the computer glitch), I probably haven’t purchased more than a dozen books. Who needs to when I can get just about any book I want right here at the library, either locally or through Interlibrary Loan?
But sometimes as I’m walking by our Newport Library Foundation book sale (on the main floor next to the public internet computers), I may spy something amazing, like a pristine copy of number 12 in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian and I have to have it. And as most hardcovers sell for $2.00 and most paperbacks are $1.00 or less, I can even pick up that slightly used edition of the Audubon Guide to Western Birds and not bust my budget. The sale is restocked weekly (usually on Thursday) by library volunteers, so stop by regularly to see the latest on offer.
The library’s book sale is the perfect place to shop for birthday or holiday gifts, round out a collection, or perhaps stumble upon that long out-of-print but reasonably priced book you’ve always wanted. And you can feel good knowing that your purchases help fund materials and programming at your community library.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

30,000 Years of Art

Each page of this monumental 1,063 page book features one color plate of one work of art.

The artworks come from all six inhabited continents, and they are arranged in chronological order. The first item is a sculpture in mammoth ivory carved circa 28,000 B.C. The last item is a 1995 abstract painting.

The chronological arrangement of the book lets you see exactly what was going on in different cultures during the same period. For instance, if you turn to the first century BC, you will see three completely different sculptures of human beings: the familiar Greek marble statue of the Venus di Milo; a man-shaped clay pipe made by one of the mound-building peoples of North America; and a Chinese bronze lamp, gracefully shaped like a kneeling servant. It is fascinating to see the different styles of art produced in different places at approximately the same time.

30,000 Years of Art is a delight to browse through, a treasure trove for serendipitous flipping. Check it out!