Friday, September 28, 2007

Banned Books Week?

September 29 - October 6 is the American Library Association's Banned books week - so read a banned book today! In fact, you probably already are reading a banned book, because the list of books which have been banned by various groups and organizations over the years is amazingly large.

According to the ALA, these are the top ten banned books from 1990-2000:
  1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
  8. Forever by Judy Blume
  9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
The ALA has lots of ideas for how we can assert our intellectual freedom to read what we want because ignorance is not the way to justice or peace in the world. For some background, check out "Banned Books Online" from the University of Pennsylvania. Whether politically or religiously (or morally?) motivated, some people who want to control others by limiting their access to ideas. Everyone - not just teachers - should resist attempts to limit our knowledge.

Many readers champion Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 as a call to preserve freedom to read. According to Wikipedia, this is not Bradbury's intent:
Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which ultimately leads to ignorance of total facts.[1]
And of course Bradbury is correct with the problem of dumbing down as an effective tool for controlling people's thoughts ( maybe a bit also like Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" from Welcome to the Monkey House where those who can think are intentionally burdened with handicaps to keep them from thinking ) because if people don't even want to try to think or can be sufficiently discouraged from thinking, then those in control don't even have to go to the trouble of banning or censoring ideas.

Note: Image comes from "Jovial Cynic" at


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Books for All Ages

When I worked at the bookstore, we had a children's book section. Libraries, also, have books categorized by adult and children (also sections for teens and Young Adult). Yet as Deidre Baker argues in "Not a childish pursuit: Children's literature a vital part of our literary tradition" from the University of Toronto Bulletin, we should resist such labels. Many authors - such as Ursula LeGuin and J. K. Rowling - have written books that are popular across all age groups. Says Baker: "It never occurred to my father that he shouldn’t read children’s books just because he was an adult." And I agree -- a good book transcends age groups and categories.

Baker continues:
So many friends of mine — doctors, lawyers and business executives — take avidly to the practice of reading children’s books that I am always surprised when someone balks at it. It seems especially peculiar if that person is involved professionally in the study of literature. "Thanks so much," someone will say when I make them a gift of a novel by Brian Doyle, Sarah Ellis, Alan Cumyn or Julie Johnston or perhaps Leo Yerxa’s Last Leaf First Snowflake to Fall. "My children/grandchildren will love reading this." Maddening, absolutely maddening

Do some people feel "too grown up" for these books? I heard that the early Harry Potter books were issued with both children and "grown up" covers, lest adults should feel awkward. Baker explains:
When Harry Potter took off in the U.K., its adult audience merited a special, more "mature" looking cover — and it wasn’t just more marketing. The lively characters and cheery colours of the original cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were, I guess, thought to be professionally compromising to some of its readers, adults "shamefully" engrossed in a children’s novel.

After the first one or two novels, however, I should think that became unnecessary. In fact, it may be that older readers want to look (and be) really hip and up with pop culture! Though I think Baker's point is partly -- and I agree -- that the books are classics (whereas I guess I think - am I wrong? - that pop culture is not classic or at least classic in a different way). Or maybe the classic books supersede categories. Consider C.S. Lewis's Narnia novels. As I think, I'm noticing that the classics are often fantasy/allegories. And that may be because "human societies need myth and legend" according to Kyl Chhatwal's article in The Record. And in fact Chhatwal's article focuses on Rowling and Harry Potter, connecting that to University of Toronto professor Northrop Frye. And since Baker is also from the Univ of T, we come full circle.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Gentle Reader

One concept we teach in writing class is the difference between "writer-based prose" - writing the writer does with only herself in mind, and "reader-based prose" - writing with an audience - often a particular audience in mind. Many bloggers - I include myself particularly, here - post prose that is too much writer-based. Not that it isn't interesting, but that it may not work hard enough to keep readers interested. (I'll try to do better)The goal of keeping "gentle reader" following along on the journey is addressed nicely in today's column "The Care and Feeding of the Reader" by Rachel Toor for Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Says Toor:
"Gentle Reader" was both a direct address, and an expression of keen insight on the part of 18th- and 19th-century authors who knew that you can't hector someone into reading your work. If we are to find our readers, we must be gentle with them, keep them in mind as we write, help them along. We need to think about their pleasure, not just our information.

Anyone can publish. But not everyone will produce work that more than a small number of people will read. The art and craft of publishing a good article or book is being able to write what you want, while at the same time keeping in mind what the reader needs. It's a dance. We've all seen people dancing by themselves, hearing a tune that plays only in their own heads. It can be amusing to watch for a while, but, ultimately, most of us turn away to look for a partner."

That's a great goal. (By the way, the articles that appear with Chronicle Career column nearly always educate and amuse. Well worth checking.)


Friday, September 07, 2007

Propaganda Posters

Here's a great resource for teaching Visual Rhetoric: The US Government Propaganda Posters from WWII collected in the library of Northwestern University.

This one on the right: "He eats a ton a year" (credit: ID:
is typical of the friendly type that try encouragement and an appeal to patriotism and helping rather than guilt or fear tactics. The posters from earlier in the war, such as this one from 1942, have a simpler color scheme. Later full color would be used.

Students are usually surprised and intrigued that the US government would use propaganda to rally the citizens to the war cause. Nowadays, it's all TV newsbites. However, WWII was not the first. Here's a British enlistment poster "At the Front" from the first World War.

At the top is a Russian poster. Can anyone translate this? And look at the remarkable Russian poster of Martin Luther King Jr. with the American Flag.

I apologize for the layout - I don't know how to move the images around in the post.


Monday, September 03, 2007

The great map flap

A fan of geography though not beauty pageants, I was unaware until I read Steve Duin's "Unable to find empathy on the map" in yesterday's Oregonian, that Caitlin Upton flubbed the question part of the Miss Teen USA competition. Then, this morning, I saw that my friend Michael had posted on "This Map Stuff has Hardly Gone Far Enough" both the video of Caitlin's flubbed answer and a great YouTube excerpt from The West Wing on the Peters Projection Map (something I definitely want to know more about - espec1ally in light of the obvious point that the Mercator maps do in fact distort relative size of countries and relative centrality (favoring Europe of course). However, not everyone agrees with the Peters Projection. See this discussion on "". That also links to further discussion of Mercator, and the key point that of course no flat square representation of a globe can be accurate. Matt T. Rosenberg recommends alternatives:


Non-rectangular maps have been around for a long time. The National Geographic Society adopted the Van der Grinten projection in 1922. The Van der Grinten encloses the world in a circle. In 1988, they switched to the Robinson projection, on which the high latitudes are less distorted in size (but more so in shape). In 1998, the Society began using the Winkel Tripel projection, which provides a slightly better balance between size and shape than the Robinson projection.

Compromise projections like the Robinson or Winkle Tripel present the world in a more globe-like look and are strongly encouraged by geographers. These are the types of projections you'll see on maps of continents or of the world today.

But what ever happened to the map that looks like a pealed orange? Apparently that is called "Sinusoidal." Read about it here.

Last Christmas on the bargain book table, I found and bought Island of the Lost Maps, a true story of "cartographic crime." Sadly I haven't read it yet - but now I am inspired to do that.

Credits: Map on top left from Carlos Furuti

Map at top right = Mollweide (Sanson Flamsteed flattened map) from Colorado State