Thursday, September 30, 2010

Highlighting Banned Books Week

Last week I posted about Banned Books Week and Speak. I want to hit on the subject again today and take a bit more time to express why I oppose banning books.

My issues with censorship are two-fold:

First, no one has any right to tell me what I can or cannot read. What I read is a personal choice. Often times, censorship happens because we wish to abdicate that responsibility to others who "know better." Step up and take control of your life. Look at the books that are being challenged and think for yourself.

Second (and more importantly), censorship restricts knowledge. Books hold true power; new ideas can challenge even our most strongly held opinions, forcing us to grow, think, and change. That change is what most book-banners fear. 

When The Rejectionist and Taherah announced a banned books blogfest, I already had a stack of books ready to review. I finally chose one of my favorites to highlight today. You'll notice I haven't commented on why it was banned, and there's a reason for that. Books are about more than one person's narrow view of them, and when we focus so much on countering that one opinion we can miss what made them awesome in the first place.

I first read Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green during my World War II obsession. Patty's strong voice drew me quickly into her world--I felt like I actually lived in this small Arkansas town. With my youthful naïveté, I immediately decided my own small Midwestern town needed a prison. Clearly, that would be the only way to add some excitement into our lives.

The first person POV meant that I experience everything along with Patty. The loving friendship she shared with Anton became my own. I cherished those moments we were able to spend with him, and I was just as devastated as she was when he died. I remember closing the book and thinking, Maybe he didn't die... maybe he was only wounded and recaptured. Alas, that was not the case and I cried once more when Ruth visited Patty at the end of the book and confirmed his death.

Now that I'm an adult and a writer, I have new things to love about this book. Greene did a fantastic turning stereotypes on their ears. With the exception of Ruth, Anton--the Nazi--is the first person in Patty's life to appreciate who she is. In a perfect world, her parents would have loved her and affirmed her special abilities but hers instead seem to take pleasure in demeaning her. Her father in particular is both verbally and physically abusive, and it is only when she sees herself through Anton's eyes that she learns she has true worth.

Her use of first person is incredible. It keeps the narrative tight and completely focused on Patty and what she's feeling. Tweens and teens often complain to me that they can't relate to books. From this book (and others), I know that writing in first person is a powerful way to make the story real to them.

I suppose I should thank the people who've banned this book. I hadn't really thought of it for several years until I chose it to blog about, but now I have the chance to rediscover an old favorite.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trying to speak naturally

By this, of course I am referring to Dragon, NaturallySpeaking. I have been plagued by wrist problems for the last 2 1/2 years. Given that typing is such a large part of my life, it didn't seem like this is ever going to get any better. In many ways, it is similar to somebody who has a chronic sprain. Because they continue to walk on it, the problem continues to get worse and worse rather than better. They need rest in order to heal.

With this in mind, I chose to take matters into my own hands. (Or perhaps I should say, my own voice.) I purchased the program about a month ago, but it is only in the last week that I have been able to to train it. There are still a few kinks; for instance, the software just tried to say Kenyans rather than kinks. However, I am learning to compose what I want to say in my mind before I can actually say it. This will take some time but once I have it down, I should be able to deliver a full stream of thought all at once without pauses. My hope is that I will be accustomed to the software by the time NaNoWriMo rolls around in November.

All the reviews for the software were glowing, filled with phrases like "I wrote this whole blog post just by using Dragon, and it was fantastic." I think those people must've had some experience with voice-recognition software. I am not as lucky. I did write this entire blog post using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. However, I had a lot of errors to correct--simple little typos that didn't take much time. The bigger issue for me was learning to think with the software.

I like to think of writing as an adventure, and I suppose this is simply the next leg on that journey.

PS: I am very amused that the software correctly transcribes its own name.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Speaking out on a tough subject

"Parents and guardians are responsible for the selection choices of their own minor children."

That quote comes from the back of my library card. It does three things: 1) It states clearly that the library will not stop anyone from checking certain books out based on age-appropriateness; 2) It places that responsibility squarely on the parents' shoulders; 3) It implies that this responsibility only goes as far as their own children, not to other library patrons. That last item refers to censorship, which is what I want to talk about today.

Every year, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week during the last week of September. This year it runs September 25-October 2, but it got an early start thanks to Wesley Scroggins of Republic, MO. On Saturday, he wrote an opinion piece in which he highlighted three novels he wants taken out of the school libraries: Slaughterterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. Though I don't think any book should be censored, I want to focus on Speak.

For those of you who haven't read the book, I'm about to spoil one of the main secrets. If you read Scroggins' piece linked above (which you should) you already know this anyway. 

Speak is about rape. The main character, Melinda, was raped at a party over the summer. She called the cops on the party but didn't tell them about the rape. That remains her secret--something she doesn't tell anyone, even when the whole school is shunning her because she snitched. The book is about her realizing that what happened to her was not her fault and that she needs to speak out.

There are teens who need to hear this. They need to hear it because like Melinda, they've been raped. They need to hear it because their parents abuse them, or because they cut, or or or--there are as many reasons teens need this book as there are teens. We want to believe that things like this will never happen to our kids, to the teens that we know, but unfortunately that is not reality. Aren't we supposed to be preparing teens for the real world? How can we do that if we don't let them read books that depict it?

However, my anger at this censorship stems from a deeper issue. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. These victims are afraid to speak out. Some fear retribution from their assailant, but many of them fear being ostracized by society. Even if we've moved past the mentality that rape is the victim's fault, which is debatable, it is still seen as something dirty that shouldn't be talked about.

This is why I was so angry that Speak, a book that is about finding the courage to report rape, would be silenced. How can we censor something that is about fighting self-censorship? The irony is deep. Scroggins' opinion piece equates the rape scenes in Speak with soft pornography, dirty and wrong. If I was a teen rape victim in Republic, MO, I would then assume that my own story is dirty and wrong. I said it earlier and I'll say it again: Teens need Speak. They need to know they are not alone; they need to know they will be heard if they will just... speak.