Banned Books Week: Be Proud to be Banned

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Today, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite authors: Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison’s work to me has been these haunting tales of loneliness, sacrifice, desperation, and turmoil. Set during some of the most difficult times for black Americans, Toni Morrison has this incredible way of making you feel and understand what it must have been like for black and African American people. You’re transported there and you gain more consciousness.

And obviously, her works have been banned or challenged.

I absolutely love banned books week. I think it’s because I’m a perpetual questioner of the rules of engagement. I always have to test things out for myself and go against what the popular thinking is. I blame my mother, who has been subversive my entire life.

But I love banned books week and I love checking out all the books that have now been banned. Can you imagine in 2017 books are still being banned because they have themes like homosexuality, teenage girls getting pregnant, drug abuse, mental illness, and…magic?!

I’ve been going through the list of books and there are so many favorite authors where everything they write is banned or challenged. Toni Morrison happens to be one of them where most of her books have been challenged or banned in some way.

I thought to myself what must authors think to see every single book they’ve written is challenged or banned?

In my mind, I hope it’s a state of pride. I imagine them puffing their chest and standing very tall knowing that they challenge something for people. They make adults uncomfortable. Their books are deemed inappropriate even if they’re written for children. And not just one book. All of their books.

Authors like JK Rowling who’s books were deemed too magical and magic is some form of satanism so that’s bad. John Green’s books are also banned or challenged too. It’s probably all those kids dying of cancer and falling in love in the final days of their lives. Who knows?

It must give them a sense of pride to know their books challenge the way people think.

And if they aren’t proud, they should be. We’re creating a world where what we say can influence what other people think. It’s a massive form of power and while not every book needs to hone that power in, those who have been judged and misunderstood should continue to do what they do.

Keep pushing the envelope and talking about those taboo topics people are so keen on sweeping under the rug. It’s important to the kids in the world and the adults who are interested to know that someone is speaking up.

Be proud of your work! Be proud to be banned or challenging. Continue to challenge the social norms of this country or your country and hopefully we’ll be all proud to say they’re not longer challenged or banned books.

Welcome to Banned Books Week!

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Happy Banned Books Week and it’s going to be a good one.

This year’s theme is “the freedom to read,” which feels oddly relevant given that everyone has been talking about. Censorship is always around us telling us what to do and what to think and how to say things. It’s the faceless folks that tell us that something is too edgy and pushes the envelope. It’s the inability to discern for yourself if something is good or bad for you. It’s the fodder for amazing books that make you think for yourself and that’s a wonderful feeling (as long as you can cope with the anxiety).

On Instagram each day this week, I’ll be posting a book that’s been consistently banned or challenged in the past. While I’ll be highlighting one book, they’re representative of the many books in that genre that undergo scrutiny everyday. I know that the people who make these decisions aren’t doing it to harm young readers. In fact, they would argue that they are protecting them from it.

The choice for children to stay children, but sometimes you have to understand that children grow up. When they grow up without exposure to these banned and challenged books, then they face a world where it isn’t friendly and it isn’t kind and what they think could possibly be more dangerous than helpful.

Of course, I come prepared with an infograph from the American Library Association website on who these big whigs tend to be:

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Freedom should be celebrated. We do it every year in July where we remember our fore fathers who came to this country to free themselves from the censorship and persecution. We can pray to whatever God we want, but we can’t read books? Bit of a double standard.

So let’s celebrate our freedom to read! We’re one of many countries that allow it, but I do want to remind people that that’s not the case for a lot of people and still a concern for us as a country. So let’s ring those bells of freedom and get to reading.

If you’d like to participate in Banned Books Week with me, here’s some ways you can easily join in!

1. Read and share a banned book

While for some people this is easy as pie, for others it might not be that easy. It could be because their families don’t like it when you read these kinds of books or it could be because you don’t know what books are on the banned books list.

If you’d like to read a book that’s been banned or challenged in the past, check out this comprehensive list of books provided by the American Library Association.

The most important part about this one is to share those reads. If you learn anything from the book you choose or if it opens your eyes in ways you didn’t think it would, then share that love! Books aren’t meant to be stuck on a shelf and kept to yourself. They’re like living and breathing animals that need to let go and available for someone else. Don’t let what you’ve learned only stick with you.

2. Donate to ACLU or to ALA

While you may not be a reader, reading is considered one of the many freedoms protected by our first amendment. If you believe that we should have the freedom to read or even the freedom of speech, then donate whatever you can to the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU is doing everything they can to ensure that we, as a people, continue to speak freely, practice religion without any issues, and always always read books that may make you look at your world a little bit differently.

If you’re not into civil liberties, then perhaps you’ll be into reading books. The American Library Association is also always taking donations to help with keeping libraries across America open. If you ever complained that you don’t have enough money for books, then obviously you haven’t been to a library. Free books! All you need is a plastic laminated card.

3. Share with the bookish community

I emphasized this once, but I’ll emphasize this again. We should all be sharing our love of books with each other. It’s so important to share especially when it’s considered a community. Don’t be afraid to read your books and don’t be afraid to talk about them.

I hope that we’re loving and open enough to accept anyone and their beliefs. The only way our community will be able to make a difference is to share these reads and be empathetic to those who don’t want to read them and hope that they will.

Don’t keep your books locked up on a bookshelf. These may be yours, but the written words are for everyone. Buy another copy of your favorite banned book and leave it on the train or in the park. Donate your old copies of banned books to the local library. Books are physical copies of an amazing journey and you can always take that journey again. Let’s let someone else walk down that path for the first time.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

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I picked up Joan from the bookstore the day before it was supposed to appear on the shelves of every bookstore in the country. I searched through Strand because it wasn’t something displayed just yet on the mounds of book tables in front of the store. No, Joan was a little secret left to those who already knew the book was about to publish.

Throughout the weeks beforehand, I had heard rumblings across the bookish universe about how amazing this book was. How insightful and surprising it is for a first novel from an unknown author. I felt intrigued by that alone and as the stubborn mule that I am, I had to check it out for myself before I can make a discerning comment.

What I found to be a compelling novel about a writer and obviously a book written for writers. I’ve always believed that I would one day become a published author.

I did myself a huge disservice by trying to read this book too quickly. I was trying to be as quick about reading this because I had so many others waiting for me to read them, so I panicked. However, Joan is not the type of person to be rushed. I think that can be clearly expected from her, but I rushed her and the following points I bring up which brought my review to a 4/5 are probably because I didn’t give her the full, calm, and extended attention she deserved.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is the story about a woman who already had a promising writing career ahead of her. The book begins with article clippings of praise for Joan’s already published short story collections. Then all of a sudden, she disappears from public eye and this is where her story begins.

This is an extremely detailed story of a woman who struggles to find balance between the dreams she made for herself prior to having a family and the reality of raising two kids with an almost absent husband. Suffice it to say, this wasn’t Joan’s plans for herself.

I know a lot of women who would argue that you’re able to have a fulfilling and lasting career even with having kids. I’m pretty sure Beyonce is one of those women. However, if you’ve ever written anything and aspired to be a writer there’s a certain amount of sacrifice you make in order to write that book. The few years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo I don’t remember going out with friends or having conversations online. I would just sit at my desk and type words that would fall out of my head in hopes of making heads or tails of it in the future.

And it’s completely possible to be a writer and be a mother. I think this is just one truth Joan Ashby refused to see and it was clear she never saw that throughout the story. It really is the novel for writers about writers and writing. It’s about the sacrifices you need to make in order to let your art shine. What I found to be a really interesting style I’ve never seen before is how Cherise Wolas spent so much of her time writing several different stories into one giant behemoth of a novel.

First, she’s writing the story of Joan Ashby’s life, then she has long excerpts from the books Joan Ashby has written. She also has pieces of writing from Joan Ashby’s books while she was living her life. Finally, she also has the stories Joan’s children carried with them as they uncover the truth of their mother. Like how do you get yourself into the mindset of not only your own voice, but Joan Ashby’s voice, and then the voices of her kids. It’s an incredible dissection of a writer and what goes into writing and it’s almost the inception of books. A writer writing about writing and writing a novel while living her life. Anyone who writes can understand it and can resonate powerfully with it.

I think my favorite part of this book is when she finally takes her trip to India. She pulls an “Eat, Pray, Love” to escape from the ongoing life she’d been living at the most pivotal point in the story. Her time in India was inspiring; almost like hitting the reset button on your life and starting anew in a different world with different people other than the ones you’ve felt were damaging your spirit.

However, I will say that the passages including excerpts of Joan Ashby’s work were quite long. They’re all so expertly written and the story can’t really move forward without them but it almost felt like I was reading five books at once and I found it a little bit exhausting at times. For example, there’s an entire section of this novel read from the point of view of Joan’s son Daniel. He reads his mother’s work for the first time and not only do you read the perspective he gains from her work, but how that plays into some of the decisions he makes for himself. It’s really powerful, but something I could have done with less of or truncated. Why did Joan need to be such a verbose writer?

While I wish I can give this story a full five stars, there were a couple of flaws that I didn’t really like. One of which is the constant reminder to the reader that this life Joan Ashby was currently living was not the one she chose. She repeats throughout the novel how she didn’t want to get married, how she didn’t want to have kids, and how she was basically stymied the great career she could have had because of them. Yes yes, we understand that this isn’t the life Joan Ashby wanted for herself and I believe she tried to do her best as a disconnected mother, but I don’t think it needs to be repeated over and over again.

I think this book can resonate not only with writers but with women who may have sacrificed a little bit too much in order to take care of their children and raise their families. They’re all noble decisions to make, I assure you, but what happens when the kids are all grown up? What happens to the Beyonce lurking behind the 5AM wake up calls and the trips to soccer practice or violin lessons? That’s what I think this book is about.

I placed Joan up on the shelf prominently displaying amongst my other books, and one day I’ll have the time to sequester myself with her and her story. Don’t take the last two points I brought up as hugely disparaging of you reading this novel. I think you should and I think you’ll understand why everyone believes in Joan.

You can pick up a copy of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel on Amazon.com

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

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For my second YA novel of this month, I chose You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan.

I picked this book up last year in hopes of learning more about sexual identity and preference. It was way before I started reading diverse books, but even then I was curious as to stories like this. I was afraid of approaching people and still afraid to this day to say something stupid or make someone feel uncomfortable, so I decided to look for books that talked about being gay or questioning your identity. I definitely knew I didn’t want to be the dolf that said “so what does being gay mean?”

The great thing about You Know Me Well is the subtly of the subject. It’s not this big shout to the void screaming I AM GAY AND I HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT. The story begins with the characters already knowing this about themselves and they blossom like flower buds to fully incorporating their lives with the new knowledge that they have.

I had read Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay a few months back and she was able to do this subtle conversation about sexual preference in that novel as well. It didn’t read about a girl who is trying to figure out if she’s straight or gay. It read like a story of a young woman lost from the tragedies bestowed on her life and how she found solace in her first soulmate ever. It was beautiful.

I think the important lesson about sexual preference and identity is normalization. Asking questions and trying to understand why someone was gay are all in the past. At this point, in 2017, you either are or you’re questioning and your sexual preference doesn’t define you. Your friends are your friends because you like them and you get along. They’re not there to be your “gay best friend” or have the word “gay” put in front of phrases like “bestie” or “shopping buddy.” We’re at the point where no one should be defined by their sexual preference unless they want to.

But let’s get into the details of the story and stop talking politics.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book written by two people, but somehow these two authors are able to seamlessly combine their two stories into one. Honestly, it felt like one voice the entire time coming from one author, but what each author brings is a sense of authenticity. You’re the gay jock that’s in love with your best friend or you’re the girl in love with a crush for so long it’s almost surreal to be with them in real life. Mark and Katie dealt with things only teenagers go through and they were able to find each other to help figure this out on their own.

I loved that after a night of knowing each other Mark and Katie were just best friends. They were looking to each other for advice and trying to help each other as if this was something they did all the time.

Mark was in love with his best friend, so it made it difficult for him to discuss things with him that he wanted to talk about specifically about their relationship. Katie was in love with her best friend’s cousin and while she was secure with her feelings for her, she somehow managed to mess it up at every turn.

It was quite cute and beautiful at the same time. The writing is effortlessly easy to get through and a lot of it was conversational. I think that’s the great part about YA sometimes. You don’t get too caught up in making the language something out of an AP English class, but you make the subjects hard hitting ones where the people they’re meant to attract will learn a little bit about society.

You can find a copy of You Know Me Well: A Novel on Amazon.com

Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert

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Imagine you’re in high school.

Now imagine you’re in high school coming to terms with your sexual preference, your decisions for school, your religious identity.

Now imagine that you have a brother who is bipolar and you love him to death and you want to make sure he’s okay.

LITTLE AND LION by Brandy Colbert is a novel about mental health, understanding your sexual identity, being in love, feeling responsibilities of being an adult, being a teenager, and being yourself. It’s jam packed with excitement all within 250 pages.

Suzette (aka Little) is your narrator for the story and from her point of view alone you get a myriad of different questions and thoughts that I don’t even know I was thinking when I was sixteen.

The story begins with her returning from school in New England. She was sent there out of concern that her brother’s behavior will affect her. First, she’s struggling with her sexual identity. Is she gay? Is she straight? Is she bi-sexual? She can’t know for sure. Then, she’s struggling with her friendships with her friends prior to leaving for school. Finally, she’s struggling with protecting her brother who seems to have it together, but she believes she needs to be closer to him and help him out.

Lionel (aka Lion) seems like your average sort of guy, except last summer he was having a hyper manic moment leading to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and testing out different medications before deciding that he was going to quit them cold turkey.

This was at the same time Suzette came back from school to finally spend a summer with her brother. They were very close for step-siblings, but Suzette’s concerns for Lionel pulled them apart eventually changing their relationship forever.

I’ve known some very bi-polar people in my life including my cousin who went from partying all night long to waking up and asking Jesus for forgiveness for the sins she committed during the evening (she just danced. I was there, God). I’ve dated people struggling with their anti-depressant medication and how the medication made them feel listless. They didn’t have any more interest in what they were doing. They hated the person they were without them.

The world for people struggling with mental illness is tough. I should know; I struggle with it myself. But in order for us to feel normal, we need to be treated normally. We need to feel that our diagnosis isn’t us; that we aren’t the mental illness people tell us we have. We need to feel that our medications don’t define us either; that anti-depressants are there to help us normalize not make us feel like monsters.

However, these are two areas that a lot of people who don’t struggle with mental illness don’t understand. This is where Suzette’s perspective comes in. I believe this story is great for a lot of reasons, but I think the most important reason is that it gives light to the perspective of those who have loved ones with mental illness. Suzette’s reactions to Lionel’s behavior feels on par with someone who hasn’t adjusted yet to knowing or being around someone with mental illness.

I think something valuable that you get out of this story is that you learn that people with mental illness are trying their best to put on a smiling face everyday and feel like the person they were before they were diagnosed. Our jobs as loving friends and family members are to always make sure they feel included; don’t approach us with kid gloves. We may be struggling, but we’re not fragile porcelain dolls.

It’s just so funny how Brandy Colbert approaches the topic. While yes, a part of the story is about Lionel, but a lot of the story is also about Suzette. I think in her own way, Brandy Colbert is trying to tell us that you should continue to live your own lives. Don’t get caught up in making sure your loved ones feel comfortable, fall in love and go out and have a great life. We’re trying to do the same thing too.

So if you’re new to knowing someone with mental illness or if you want to better understand why some people act the way they do towards people with mental illness, then I would recommend reading this book. It’s good to show you how people approach different challenges in their life and the most important lesson you can take away is that mental illness is an extremely personal struggle.

Buy it on Amazon: Little & Lion

September 2017 TBR

I mentioned a little bit about this over Instagram on the weekend, but I hate TBRs. Something about planning your books ahead of time and sticking to the plan seems rigid to me. Then again, I’m a rule follower and things like TBRs bug me because I am always following some rule or another. I like variety when I read and sometimes my tastes and moods decide what I read too.

So I decided to do something a little bit different. Instead of choosing five books to read over a month, I’ve just given myself a theme and going to run with it. Since this month is back-to-school for a bunch of people, I decided it might be fun to do a Young Adult/Middle Grade TBR.

However there are some setbacks to this plan. Being a book reviewer, I do have some books I need to read and some “adult” books that I want to read. How is a girl to choose?

Well first off, I’m going to try and read two books at once. Not at the same time, obviously, but I’ll be choosing one adult book and one not-so-adult book. This will keep my reads variant and also it’ll be fun to run this like a little experiment.

Secondly, I’m not going to beat myself up if all I read this month is one book. Life, if you’re not reading for a living, is a jerk sometimes and some days all you want to do is read but you have to go to work and sometimes weekends are packed with things and errands to do. Sometimes you just want to collapse on the couch after a hard day of working and just watch TV until you’re brain is numb. I’m not going to make myself feel bad for not reading enough when life gets in the way.

Alright, without further ado, here’s my TBR for September (links all lead back to Amazon to find out more about the book):

My “adult” reads:

  • The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas (my current read)
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
  • Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter
  • Book of Judas by Linda Stasi
  • Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

My young adult and middle grade reads:

  • You Know Me Well by Nina Lacour and David Levithan (my current read)
  • Dreamology by Lucy Keating
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
  • The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. OBrien

Now that I think about it, I might have gone a little overboard with my choices. #lifeofareader

My First Amazon Books Experience

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I was walking to the train the other day from a bridal shower my sister threw for me. The shower was a great time and we walked around and looked at expensive clothes I can never be able to afford.

And as I was making my way down to the train station, I walked across the Amazon Bookstore that recently opened. Oh whoa, this thing is already open? I asked myself as I moseyed to the front door. A security guard open the door for me and I entered the space. Of course I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to check out a major brand’s bookstore. I’ve been buying books with Amazon since Amazon was only about books, but now that Amazon is about everything it just seems a little short sighted to open just a book store.

Nevertheless, I continued into the brightly lit space. I felt like one of the new customers walking into Joe Fox’s “Fox Books.” Everything was beautifully displayed, clean, and covered in books. The coffee from the cafe connected to the store wafted through the air providing the atmosphere with some sort of sensory trigger. Paper and coffee; a deadly combination to any good-willed reader.

The entire experience made me think of You’ve Got Mail and the battle for bookish territory between an independent bookstore and a major corporate book outlet. However, there were some obvious differences between Fox Books and Amazon Books.

I didn’t get the vibe that Fox Books was trying to set up. Yes, there was coffee and books but the store was a little bit cramped. Given the fact that they’re right in front of the Empire State Building, they’re getting way more foot traffic than Joe Fox was getting at his store in the Upper West Side.

I was a little squished against some other book browsers. Moms and dads just watching their kids playing on the Kindle Fires. The aisles were a little cramped and not even two people can pass casually without a few “excuse me”s and “i’m sorry”s. There weren’t floors of books where you can hide out and read for hours without anyone interrupting you. There wasn’t a huge selection of novels from every genre here. I didn’t even see an Amazon Books mug! I would have been all over that.

But I think the biggest and most interesting thing about this store was the selection. I read somewhere that Amazon Books would only stock novels that have been rated and reviewed the most on Amazon and Goodreads. If you’re the social reader that reads a good book every six months, then this will be the store for you. You get to see a great compilation of best-reviewed novels throughout all the genres.

However, if you’re an avid reader getting in about 25-50 books a year you might find this store to be a little underwhelming. All the books I saw on display were novels I’ve already heard of and seen. Some I’ve already read. And as attractive as that is to the average consumer, it’s not that attractive for a daily reader.

The other downside of having only best-rated or best-reviewed is that you’re not going to get those hidden gem novels. You’re not going to find the mid-list novel here. This is really a drawback especially since my mission in life is to share great diverse reads and some of those reads aren’t being read by the hundreds of thousands.

And of course, you can buy any of the Amazon products right at the store. That is if you can get an opportunity to pry a kid off the Kindle Fires to see how they work.

There was definitely one plus, though. You can pay with your Amazon account and if you’re a Prime member, you can get a discounted price. You know when you’re shopping for books on Amazon and you see the retail price  with a strikethrough and a discounted price? Well, that’s what you can get to pay here. To pay with your Amazon account, all you have to do is scan a QR code with your phone and then the cashier just scans your phone. I didn’t even take my wallet out once and contemplate the remorse I would feel from buying six books.

Overall, I think this might be a good hangout for me while I wait for the train. There’s coffee and books for me to browse, but it’s not going to be my go-to spot for books. It was fun and I’ll probably go in there again, but I’m not going to hold my breath that this will replace any other bookstore in the world.