Thursday, September 27, 2012

First they banned the books

Banned Books displays often elicit impassioned responses. “Why are you banning books?” “Who would want to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?” “Don’t people know this is how Hitler started?”

All of these are valid questions, and I’d like to take a few moments to address each one.
  1. Our library is not banning books; we have a display about books that have been banned. Our annual recognition of Banned Books Week highlights our belief that freedom in reading is closely tied to freedom of thought and speech.
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been challenged and banned since it was written. It was banned in Concord, Massachusetts in 1895 as “trash and suitable only for the slums,” excluded from the children’s room of the Brooklyn Public Library in 1905 on the grounds that “Huck not only itched but scratched, and that he said sweat when he should have said perspiration,” and for the past sixty years it has been challenged for its “liberal use of racial slurs.”
  3. Throughout history, authoritarian leaders have tried to control how people think, and one of the methods is to prohibit books that represent alternate viewpoints. Akhenaton, a pharaoh who tried to introduce monotheism to ancient Egypt, ordered books on polytheism burned. William Tyndale, the first person to translate the Bible into English from its original Hebrew and Greek, was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1536, along with copies of his Bible. Most infamously in modern history, on the pretext of affirming traditional German values, the Nazi German Student Association burned upwards of 25,000 “un-German” books.

Not every banned book necessarily leads to a totalitarian society, but the loss of one right can make the next loss easier to accept, until at some point, the freedom once taken for granted cannot be regained. That is the message of precautionary stories like George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the reason we highlight Banned Books Week every year.

The American Library Association has a list of the most frequently challenged or banned books in the 21st Century.  Are any of your favorite books on the list?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Journey to Home

The Immigration Information Response Team (IIRT) and the Newport Public Library will host an opening event for the traveling photo exhibit Borderless Stories on Saturday, October 6, 2:00 p.m. at the library.

Borderless Stories was created by the Immigrant Family Advocates (IFA) in Central Oregon, who interviewed and photographed members of eight immigrant families, documenting why they left their home country, the challenges they have faced, and why they chose Oregon as their new home and community. Sue Nell Phillips of IFA will attend the opening event as guest speaker.

Ann Miller, IIRT member and contact for the Borderless Stories Project in Newport said, "It's not only IIRT that celebrates the full racial gamut of who we are as a town; our Newport Public Library is hosting the Borderless Stories Project to dovetail with Dos Culturas-Una Comunidad, two months honoring Latino culture through the arts, at the Newport Visual Art Center.

Miller encourages the engagement of all immigrants. "Everyone in our community is invited to contact us with their immigration story, and most of us are immigrants. Some will then become part of the current Borderless Stories Project as it continues to travel throughout Oregon, and all will become part of an archive to deepen our knowledge of the full history of our own cultural diversity here in Newport."

Both IIRT and IFA are member groups of the Rural Organizing Project (ROP), a statewide human dignity organization.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A thriller for football season

Thrillers and football don’t seem to go together, so perhaps Michael Koryta's The Prophet is unique in intertwining a somber-toned tragic suspense story with the life and philosophies of a football coach and an ex-star player.

Adam and Kent Austin are brothers who lost their sister to a psychopath when they left her to walk home on her own one day back in high school. Now in their forties, guilt colors both of their lives, and they have each taken very different paths to cope with it. Bail bondsman Adam keeps a shrine to sister Marie and won’t get close to anyone. Football coach Kent visits prisoners in jail, bringing them a religious message and the story of his own forgiveness for the man who killed his sister.

When Adam tracks down an address for a high school girl who wants to meet and forgive her ex-con father, another murder occurs. The address belongs not to her father but to someone who created an intricate and deadly trap. But who is the trap really for, and why? Adam and Kent are forced to confront their demons and question the choices that have carried them into the present, separately and together.

 As someone who is completely and deliberately ignorant of all things football, I was surprised by the complexity and intensity of the men’s interaction with the game: how they viewed the strategies and carried them into other parts of their lives, how they tried to keep the game in perspective and use it as a tool for better living. I didn’t become a football fan, but I was able to understand better why some people are. Kind of an odd takeaway for a thriller!

Koryta’s writing succeeds in creating a heavy atmosphere of guilt and redemption. I wasn’t that fond of the two supernatural thrillers of his I read previously (The Ridge and So Cold the River), but The Prophet works much better, with more sympathetic characters and a plot that hangs together.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Heart of a Samurai

Manjiro is a teenaged Japanese fisherman working with four other villagers when a great storm comes up, destroys their boat and leaves them shipwrecked for 5 months on a small island. It is the 19th century and Manjiro knows that there will be no return to Japan, even if they should be saved by a passing ship, for Japanese law at the time forbade the return of anyone who left Japan, even unwillingly.

An American whaling ship finds the boys and the captain takes a liking to Manjiro, taking him aboard as a galley boy. Manjiro returns to New Bedford, Maine with the ship and for ten years works on the captain’s farm and on his ship before returning to Japan where he spends time in prison before finally reuniting with his family.

Preus’s debut novel is a testament to the power of research when writing fiction. Her descriptions of life aboard a whaler, the village of New Bedford, the racism Manjiro faces no matter where he was and life in pre-contact Japan give the reader everything needed to transport herself to that time and that place. Manjiro is made of staunch hero material, after all he does fancy himself a samurai in spite of his humble birth, rising to every challenge with a stout heart. Preus's deftness in writing is especially evident in two poignant scenes, one in which Manjiro realizes the similarities between Japanese and American people and the other when he reunites with his Japanese family.

An excellent bibliography, historical notes and glossary help flesh out this fictionalized version of the same story told in Rhoda Blumberg’s Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy.

Heart of a Samurai was a 2010 Newbery Honor Book and is one of the titles on the 2013 Oregon Readers Choice Awards nominee list.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman

Christopher Hawk’s wife left him three years ago, taking their teenage daughter with her to rural Minnesota. Since then, Hawk has buried himself in his big-city legal practice, trying to keep up a long-distance relationship with his daughter via cell-phone. Now a call comes from his ex-wife out of the blue: sixteen-year-old Olivia is in trouble. She’s the prime suspect in the murder of another teenager, and Hawk is determined to exonerate her.

Olivia Hawk and the victim, Ashlynn Steele, were on opposite sides of a feud between two small towns. Barron, Minnesota, is the prosperous home of Mondamin, a cutting-edge research facility. St. Croix, Minnesota, is right across the river, a tiny town where cancer is having a field day. When a prominent epidemiologist found no possible connection between the cancers and the company’s research, the lawsuit brought against Mondamin by the families of the stricken failed and the feud began. No one in St. Croix can accept that it’s just random chance that so many loved ones are dying; and the teens of Barron won’t put up with the accusations. Graffiti, vandalism, and assault have become common, and Ashlynn’s murder seems like another bloom on the same poison tree.

Hawk digs beneath the surface of the feud despite the strong evidence pointing Olivia’s way, and slowly uncovers proof of something even darker than murder, which threatens the lives of his family and the populations of both towns.

Spilled Blood is Edgar Award-winner Brian Freeman’s latest psychological suspense novel. With plenty of twists and an interesting issue at its heart, it’s well worth checking out. I also recently enjoyed The Bone House, Freeman’s previous book, where a teacher accused of misconduct is the perfect fall-guy for a murder.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Death Benefits by Thomas Perry

In Death Benefits by Thomas Perry, John Walker is a color-within-the-lines kind of guy who never wanted anything more than stability and respect. He keeps his head down at the upscale insurance company where he works as a data analyst, believing that eventually he’ll move up the ladder, thanks to his hard work and reliability. But one day he gets noticed by insurance investigator Max Stillman, who chooses Walker to accompany him on a fraud investigation. Walker’s life will never be the same.

Stillman didn’t pick Walker out of a hat. Walker’s ex-girlfriend signed off on a life insurance payout to a man claiming to be the only son and sole heir of a rich man, and then she disappeared before the legitimate sole heir showed up. Stillman’s hope is that Walker will lend him insight into the missing woman: was she complicit in the fraud, or was she duped? Might Walker have some idea where she would go?

The plotline becomes slightly ludicrous, but it is fun, with lots of action and odd twists and turns. It’s a cheesy, formulaic action movie just waiting to happen, complete with a smart and gorgeous love-interest spinning her wheels until Walker comes along to impress her. (Spoiler warning: Literally. The character literally walks away from her job and her whole life when he shows up. Unbelievable.)

My favorite part of the book is the relationship that grows between Stillman and Walker, as the roguish older investigator finds in Walker the potential to be more than a lonely workhorse, and Walker unexpectedly finds a mentor in Stillman. (Walker also finds a heretofore undiscovered penchant for fistfights and gunplay. Maybe every insurance agent has an action hero inside him, just waiting to get out.) Perry also has a gift for throwing in the occasional literary description or observation: while they can’t save the plot from its predestined cheesiness, they redeem it somewhat.

Death Benefits is a stand-alone novel. Perry is also the acclaimed author of The Butcher’s Boy series and the Jane Whitefield series, along with many other stand-alone mysteries and thrillers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A lady's disgrace

Isabella Robinson was not happy. She told her diary that, although she loved her sons, she regretted her marriage and felt suffocated by her husband. She longed for companionship, affection, and (shockingly), sex. The year was 1860, and respectable married ladies weren’t supposed to long for those things.

They certainly weren’t supposed to put it in writing.

In 1858, the laws that governed divorce in Great Britain were loosened to make it easier for people to unshackle themselves from miserable marriages. Two years later, Henry Robinson sued Isabella for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Also named in the suit was her lover, from whom Henry hoped to win damages for the ruination of his now-unwanted wife. The true story of this shattered marriage and extraordinary lawsuit is told in Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady, by Kate Summerscale.

Summerscale explains that, even under the more permissive 1858 law, divorce could not be consensual; two people couldn’t just decide to call it quits. Someone had to be wronged, and it was easier for a husband to be wronged than a wife. A man could divorce his wife for adultery, cruelty, abandonment, or bigamy; for a woman to divorce her husband, she had to prove that he had done two of those things.

What made Isabella’s divorce extraordinary was the diary, in which she poured out her misery, her sense of failure as a wife and mother, and her yearnings for other men. During the divorce case the diaries were presented as evidence, and large, deeply private sections were printed in newspapers and pored over by the public. People chatted about Isabella’s innermost agonies over the breakfast table: Was she a vile seductress? Or mad? Did she have some kind of uterine disorder that made her feel this way?

The case opens a window onto a time when the world was quite different, when any sort of challenge to the social status quo had the potential to be enormously degrading. Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace is as fast-paced as a domestic novel, full of betrayal and scandal; but for one unfortunate woman, the stakes were real.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Tana French’s Broken Harbor draws you in with apparent brash simplicity, and then makes you second guess everything even as you hang desperately on to the narrator’s single central truth—Scorch Kennedy’s a good cop. Isn't he?

Irish police detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy lives by the rules. He’s a thorough cop with a great clearance rate, even on the tough cases, and that means everything to him. When a family of four is attacked in their home in a failed and nearly abandoned “luxury development” on the coast of Ireland, Scorcher and rookie detective Richie Curran think it’s going to be an easy one—mom or dad must have been into drugs or gambling, and made one of the usual suspects homicidally angry. Then the false notes begin to add up—holes in the walls, wounds that may have been self-inflicted, and a neighbor boy with flat eyes and something to hide. The only surviving family member is the mother, and when she regains consciousness, it makes the case even murkier.

When Scorch was a kid, his family visited the coast for two weeks every summer, just about where the “luxury development” is now, and working there brings back memories, for him and for his unbalanced sister. The memories illuminate the events that made Scorch the man he is today, and cast doubt on his current interpretation of events and the motivation behind his actions. When everything is taken into account, is Richie Curran a loyal and gifted partner, or a twig waiting to snap? Is the prime suspect the father, the best man, or a stranger?

Broken Harbor is an intense 450 page mystery, twisting through the mad ins and outs of the case and Scorcher’s life, and you will be fascinated if you like mysteries, police procedurals, Ireland, or just plain good writing. (Unless you only like cozies, or pet detectives.) Get on the wait list!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Early Literacy Classes for Preschoolers

Christina and Jack Simonsen join Helyn and Quinten Layton at
the Storytime craft table.
Newport Public Library offers four programs each week that help preschool children gain the skills needed to learn to read and develop lifelong reading habits. The free programs, held in the library’s Hofer Children’s Room, feature readings, songs, and activities led by early literacy professionals. Programs begin this week.

Research shows that preschoolers who have the library in their lives are better prepared to become readers and it is the readers who succeed in this technologically complex world. In addition to the obvious language and listening skills, children also develop cognitive skills, fine motor skills, early math concepts, and social skills at the library’s preschool programs. A bonus for parents and caregivers who bring their children to the library is the opportunity to socialize with other adults who have children the same age.

Toddlertimes for little ones up to age 3 are held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Storytimes for preschoolers ages 3 to 6, are held on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. (bilingual Spanish) and on Friday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. No registration is required. If you have questions about the program, please email us or give us a call at (541) 265-2153.