2013 Challenges, Allen Ginsberg, American Lit, banned books, censorship, Classics, Classics Club, Drugs, Events, Fiction, Gay Lit, Giveaways, GLBT, Jack Kerouac, LGBT, Literature, Read-Alongs, Reading Challenges, Reading Event, Sexuality, William S. Burroughs

The Beats of Summer: A Reading Event! (Sign-Up Post)

Welcome to the sign-up post for:

BeatsOfSummer-ButtonThe Beats of Summer: A Reading Event!

Summertime is coming, and what better time than Summer to immerse ourselves in the works of the most rebellious, daring, and “hot” generation of American writers??

For this event, the goal is to read as many pieces of “Beat Generation” literature as you want to, from June 1st through July 14th. Audiobooks, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction all count, as long as the writer is considered to be a part of the Beat Generation.  Memoirs, biographies, essays, theory/criticism or other works of non-fiction written about The Beats are also acceptable!

Update: We are looking for volunteers to provide Guest Posts and/or offer Giveaways throughout the event. If you would be interesting in participating in this capacity, please fill out This Form. And Thanks!

What is the Beat Generation?

“In American in the 1950s, a new cultural and literary movement staked its claim on the nation’s consciousness. The Beat Generation was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic. The Beat Generation saw runaway capitalism as destructive to the human spirit and antithetical to social equality. In addition to their dissatisfaction with consumer culture, the Beats railed against the stifling prudery of their parents’ generation. The taboos against frank discussions of sexuality were seen as unhealthy and possibly damaging to the psyche. In the world of literature and art, the Beats stood in opposition to the clean, almost antiseptic formalism of the early twentieth century Modernists. They fashioned a literature that was more bold, straightforward, and expressive than anything that had come before.”  –The Literature Network

I will post throughout the event to  discuss different subjects related to The Beat Generation, its writers, and its influences on later movements in literature, film, and music, as well as my own reviews of the Beat Generation books that I finish.  I will also be offering giveaways, and I am hopeful that some participants will be interested in writing guest posts or hosting giveaways of their own, to make this more interactive!

Below is a  list of writers and works of The Beat Generation.  This list is by no means comprehensive, it is simply a starting point.

Major Writers:
Richard Brautigan
William S. Burroughs
Neal Cassady
Gregory Corso
Diane DiPrima
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Allen Ginsberg
John Clellon Holmes
Joyce Johnson
Hettie Jones
Jack Kerouac
Joanne Kyger
Gary Snyder
Carl Solomon

Important Works:
Dharma Bums
Gasoline (poetry)
Howl (poetry)
Minor Characters (memoir)
Naked Lunch
On the Road
Queer
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (memoir)

Affiliated Writers/Biographers:
James Campbell (This is the Beat Generation)
Carolyn Cassady (Off the Road)
Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Brenda Knight (Women of the Beat Generation)
Matt Theado (The Beats: A Literary Reference)
Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

In the meantime, if you would like to host a giveaway or provide a guest post, please: CLICK HERE.

And if you want to sign-up to participate in The Beats of Summer (yay!), just leave a comment on this post saying YOU’RE IN! Maybe include some of the books you hope to read.  I plan to read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.

Please also post the button somewhere on your blog (in an announcement post or in your blog’s side-bar) so that we can spread the word, gather excitement, and encourage participation.  It goes without saying that this is meant to be a positive, fun, and educational event – it’s an at-will project, so negativity is a no-go!

Sign-ups are open from now through June 15th.  If you sign-up after June 15th, you can still absolutely participate, but you may not be eligible for some of the early giveaway prizes.

To Share/Discuss on Twitter, Use Hashatag #BeatsOfSummer

Standard
banned books, censorship, Saturday Uncensored, William Faulkner

Saturday’s Uncensored – William Faulkner

“We do not fear censorship for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue.” – D.W. Griffith

Welcome to to another installment of Saturdays, Uncensored! the only weekly meme hosted here at RBR.net.  The purpose of this weekly feature is to bring continued scrutiny and awareness to the on-going, destructive practice of censorship and banning books.

Also important to mention this week are two major events coming soon to Roof Beam Reader.  The first is a Literary Giveaway Hop, hosted over at Leeswamme’s Blog.  I believe there is still time to sign-up, if you would like to host a Giveaway on your own blog. The only caveat is that the Giveaway must be “literary” in nature (so nothing strictly YA, sub-genre fiction, paranormal romance, etc.).  I will be hosting a powerhouse giveaway here at RBR.net, with a few different “themed” prize packs, so definitely mark your calendars for February 19th!

The second event is a guest post by Laura Kreitzer, author of Phantom Universe.  She will be here to talk about her book and the darkly terrifying realities which inspired it.  The book comes out on February 15th, and Laura’s guest post will be available here at RBR.net on release date. Definitely stop by on Feb. 15th to read her very powerful and enlightening post, and interact with me and the author about it all.

Okay! Now that all of the little details about this month’s activities are out of the way, it is on to the good stuff!  This week, in Saturdays, Uncensored!, we take a look at a work by one of America’s greatest writers, William Faulkner.

William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is an exploration of family, society, and mortality.  The Bundren family, led by their bumbling but ultimately calculating father, travels by horse and buggy from their small farm into the city of Jefferson, Alabama to bury their dead mother.  The trip takes days, due to weather and various calamities, and what the reader learns about each character, and the characters about one another, ends up being the redeeming trait for a would-be-simple trip gone wildly awry.

All-in-all, I found this to be one of Faulkner’s more accessible novels.  For literature lovers who are interested in reading Faulkner but who have been dissuaded by reviews/descriptions of his more ambitious works or who have perhaps started those novels and given up, this might be a substantive, meaningful compromise.  While I did find some fault with the novel, particularly in the lack of “meaty” scenes and character interaction, I was still generally happy with characterization itself, as well as the story and it’s ironic, darkly humorous ending.  The last few lines of the novel, when Mr. Bundren’s ultimate purpose and decision are revealed to his family and the reader, reminded of a Vonnegut-type wit and total exasperation for humankind.  This, of course, was right up my alley, and it made a “good” read, for me, pretty great in the end.

According to the American Library Association, As I Lay Dying was banned or challenged at least four times between 1986 and 1994. The most common reasons for these challenges were that the book “questioned the existence of God” or had “obscene passages.”  The “obscene” passages most at issue were mainly two: one which dealt with a character contemplating abortion, and the other a passage about masturbation.Now, I don’t know what high school was like in the 1980s and 1990s, but from what I remember of it- masturbation was was talked about constantly, at least by the male portion of the student body, so wouldn’t the presence of it in a classic, heralded text do something to, I don’t know, validate the human condition? I’m also disturbed that this book would be challenged over its inclusion of abortion, because the way that this particular book dealt with that issue is one of the most honest and moving examples I can recall.  It paid great attention to the “thought process” and physical/emotional strain on the mother. As for the primary complaint, that the book “questions the existence of God” and “uses God’s name in vain,” come on. Really?  I mean, I can understand that there are still some wing nuts out there who would not want to read a book for these reasons, but that a public school district actually banned the book for it?  I am flabbergasted by this, and it leaves me wondering why the few nutters who shout the loudest are continuously allowed to be the ones making decisions for all the more moderate, sensible parents.  Where are the reasonable arguments – and why aren’t they resonating just as loudly down the school hallways?

Standard
Alan Gribben, censorship, Mark Twain, NewSouth Books, Saturday Uncensored

Censoring Mark Twain: A Literary Embarrassment

Censoring Mark Twain: A Literary Embarrassment

NewSouth Books is publishing an edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn that removes every occurrence of the “n-word” and replaces it with the word “slave.” I am outraged by this desecration of a classic American masterpiece – the editor specifies readers’ “discomfort” and possible book banning as reason enough to censor the book, but my question is: Where have all the teachers gone?

Mark Twain wanted us to be uncomfortable, that’s the whole point. He wrote the story to reflect the attitudes and situations of the people – to force Americans to look this problem in the face, reflect on it, and deal with it. My hope is that everyone who cares about honesty in American history and the liberty and protection of writers, will speak up and out against Blair Publishing and this asinine, spineless censorship.

The work is provided with an Introduction by Editor Alan Gribben, who attempts to explain his reasoning behind censoring all 217 occurrences of the word nigger, as well as other racial slurs against Native Americans. The intent, based on Mr. Gribben’s argument, is not to replace the original work, which scholars and the literati will no doubt continue to prefer, but to make the book more accessible to less-learned or more sensitive readers, by excluding one of the English language’s most hateful descriptors.

As my readers know by now, I am a staunch opponent of any type of censorship.  I can certainly understand where Mr. Gribben is coming from – his hope, as a Twain scholar – is to make the book (truly, the defining piece of American literature) more commonly listed amongst school reading lists and more confidently taught in classroom settings.  This is admirable, to be sure, but at what price?  My questions are as follows:  1) Who gives anyone the right to alter the original intent of an author, particularly one as paramount to American literature as Mark Twain; 2) How is it not plain to see that, by removing the word and its overall sentiment, you dilute the meaning and intent of the work; and 3) When does shielding a sensitive public from the truth of a time, place, or particular sentiment, do the people any justice?

Let me take a walk through Mr. Gribben’s introduction (found here), point out areas of disagreement, and explain my own reasons for being so utterly outraged and fearful for the future of American literature, if its masters’ origins –the foundations for all American writers to follow- are in peril.

On page eleven, Gribben points out that “Twain scarcely had to concern himself about the feelings of African American or American Indian readers.”  What Gribben does not mention, though, is the actual reason why Twain was only concerned with white readers, which is this: It was the white reader’s mentality and attitudes which Twain was calling into question.  Twain was not concerned about offending anyone, because he was hoping to rattle the cages, to get people worked up, annoyed and, ultimately, reflective.

On page twelve, Mr. Gribben reminds us that Huck Finn was said to have been a boy of “’sound heart and a deformed conscience’ – in other words, someone reared amid such pervasive prejudice that he had a hard time seeing through its premises.”  I agree with Mr. Gribben on this point, but I would ask – how, then, by denying the reader the opportunity to truly live in Huck’s world, to see first-hand the complete and utter disrespect and debasement with which Huck’s “role-models” treat the minority races, can the reader get this sense of Huck’s internal struggle?   He goes on to say that the “implications of permanent inferiority . . . repulse modern day readers,” at which, I assume, Twain would stand up and cheer!  Thank goodness these words and actions repulse modern readers – they should!  And they should be there, always, as a reminder of a time when we, as a society, were not repulsed, so as not to ever forget and thereby repeat the damaging mistakes of our past.

When we get to page thirteen, Mr. Gribben mentions how he is “unable to utter the racist put-downs spoken by numerous characters” in the book, when giving lectures or public readings, then seems surprised that the audience, too, would feel discomfort.  The audience, like the classroom, will take its cue from the speaker (as Mark Twain well understood).  The solution, then, to this “nagging problem with the text” is not resolved, as Mr. Gribben asserts, by simply removing the words – it is only masked.  The key is not to turn from these feelings, but to embrace and examine them – to explain the text, as it is, and as it was meant to be.  Open up a dialogue, learn from one another.  Will it get uncomfortable?  Probably.  Will some be hurt, others saddened, and still others hardly affected at all?  Absolutely, yes.  But by masking the true nature of the work, and the intent of the author, we do a great disservice to Twain’s bold and near-revolutionary stance on social conscience – and that is the lesson we should be teaching, the point we should be getting across.  Mr. Gribben seems to forget that the language of this novel is not a “problem,” as he concludes, but is in fact the key element of the story, without which it would not stand as the beacon of American literature that it is today.

On page fourteen, Mr. Gribben reasserts a notion he had been signifying throughout the initial portion of the Introduction, which is that Huckleberry Finn has long been considered the “mandatory statement about American slavery.”  I would argue, though, that the book is not about American slavery, it is about the American conscience, and Mark Twain, by making use of genuine dialect, slang, and inflammatory language, was needling at his readers’ consciences from start to finish.

We arrive at page fifteen, wherein Gribben empathizes with teachers who are weary of assigning the beloved classic “because of the hurtful ‘n word.”  Gribben asserts that this is “proof that a single debasing word was overwhelming every other consideration.”  If this is true, then the tragedy is not the presence of the hurtful word in this great American text, but in the lack of courage in our teachers.  Where are our Aristotles? Our Platos?  Who is teaching our teachers how to teach, and why have they become so afraid of facing American history realistically and explaining to our future generations where we came from, who we were, and what we have tried to become?   There is no “here” without a “there” and it was the river-boat journey in-between which carried us ever-onward.

Gribben goes on to state that “the term ‘slave’ is recognized globally as an affront to humanity.”  Yes, as it should be – but Huckleberry Finn can hardly be read “authentically,” as Gribben asserts, if this stated attitude, and Huck’s journey itself, is diluted by the censorship of its most offensive language; the counter-sentiment to Huck’s cry: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell!” when he chooses to stand by Jim despite the “civilized” beliefs of his society (that the Christian thing to do with a runaway slave is return him) must be there in full-force, or we reduce that most momentous of literary moments to something fleeting and inconsequential.

On page seventeen, Gribben makes a valid point about how teachers become misguided in their attempts at teaching this text.  He says that, “some teachers go so far as to write the offensive word in large letters on the board and encourage their students to exchange opinions about it.”  Of course, this approach could be disastrous, if the dialogue is not carefully and sensitively planned and guided, with previous historical insight into the presence of the word in the text, where it comes from, and what Twain was doing with it.  I once had a Biology teacher who would throw out similarly provocative words, related to anatomy rather than literature, in an attempt to “break the ice” and get her students more comfortable with the “naughty words.”  Did it work?  Not really – but that was largely because the teacher did not treat the words as seriously as they should have been, as the teacher with the large letters on the board probably had not done.  But to erase the word completely is equally harmful to our understanding of the work itself, and to the possibility for further progress and growth as a people who are capable of learning from and lamenting the past, without having to be mired in its shames without opportunity (the opportunity being social and personal maturity).

Later in the Introduction, Gribben somewhat paradoxically claims that if the “allusions to an inhumane institution” (slavery) make readers uncomfortable, it is a fortunate thing.  He goes on to ask: “Would we rather have a novel written about the American South of the 1840s that entirely avoided the existence of slavery?”  How does one distinguish, then, which aspects of the American South of the 1840s are worthy of inclusion, or deserving of exclusion?  There are current attempts at re-writing that history, excluding the existence of slavery from classroom textbooks, for instance, which Gribben would seemingly oppose vehemently, based on his assertions above.  But how does he disassociate that question from this one: Would we rather have a novel written about the American South of the 1840s that entirely shies away from the existence of derogatory slurs and very real social sentiments of that time, negating any of the progress we have made to-date?  It seems Gribben makes this argument by focusing again only on slavery as the issue in Huckleberry Finn but it is not just slavery being berated by Twain – it is racism and the human conscience. Twain is begging his audiences to WAKE UP, not to roll over, cover their eyes and ears, and hope that all the bad words go away.

Similarly, Gribben points out the importance of the oft-debated and somewhat offensive “sometimes comically ungrammatical dialect.”  On page twenty-seven, Gribben argues that “Jim speaks with an untutored dialect because it was against the law in most slave states to allow slaves to attend school or otherwise learn to read and write.”  This is an interesting argument, and one with which I agree and have made in my own defense of authentic dialect in this novel.  Yet, if the dialect is so offensive to many, how can Gribben be for leaving it in the text while being for excluding what was then a very real, common, and authentically used term?  These are two sides of the same coin, both equally important, but to argue in favor of one and in opposition to the other is a blatant double-standard, and one which needs serious re-evaluation.  I agree completely with Mr. Gribben’s point that the dialect must be left genuine, and my argument is the same for the use of natural, if highly offensive language.  How do we justify honoring the contentious grammar, but then completely remove the controversial language?  Why cannot we teach the importance of both, in parallel, in the same way?  It seems by removing the heated language from the natural dialogue, we are deflating a balloon – the item retains its vivid color, and is certainly something to be held in one’s hand, but with very little purpose.

Gribben concludes by speaking to the impact Twain’s writing (Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in particular) had on modern American literature.  He mentions that, by affording us a naïve and rather unreliable (by virtue of being uneducated) narrator in Huck Finn, the reader is then made “to carry out most of the task of constructing its meaning.”  He furthers this by noting that the book “prompts readers to check on whether or not they are succumbing to social pressures in order to avoid admitting that a pervasive practice might be tremendously wrong.”  He relays this information in direct correlation to the reasoning behind many nations’ attempts at banning or censoring the book (fear of revolution) – though he does not see that he now is the one “succumbing to social pressures” (31) by censoring the greatest of all American novels because it is preferable to causing offense and it is easier than explaining true intent by forcing readers to search for deeper meaning.  Gribben mentions that it is “conformist and cowardly of us to assume that prevailing laws and customs, no matter how solidly established, are too sacrosanct to be skeptically examined and tested.”  Fortunately, the pendulum of explicitly racist dialect has swung far from its arc of the 1840s; unfortunately, however, what is now “sacrosanct” is the view that any racist language, regardless of purpose and intent should be barred on the grounds of preserving dignity and righting historical wrongs – this, sadly, misses the obvious: Twain, by being scrupulous and meticulous in his prose  – language, dialect, and narrative voice – was the original champion for the idea of alike humanity and common decency.  Censoring his work, diluting the errors and passions of the characters, and ignoring the truth and reality of the time only furthers the misunderstanding that the work in some way perpetuates racist feelings.   Upon correct reading and careful guidance and instruction, one realizes that this book does just the opposite, and rather than taking the simple road out – away from the sensitive spots – we should, instead, fight for confident, competent, and courageous teachings of these socially and historically significant works.

*As a side-note:  I am particularly bothered by a certain bit of logic that Mr. Gribben attempts to use, in support of his argument.  At one point, he tells an account of how he, at a Mark Twain conference in Pennsylvania, had to cross a line of picketing parents to get into the venue.  The parents were there, reportedly, because one teacher had asked an African American boy to read the part of Jim, the slave. This, not unexpectedly, caused an incident and flamed the protest; yet, one must ask – how exactly does this relate to the book itself?  One teacher’s ineptness at presenting the material, or one group of parents’ potential over-reaction, has nothing to do with the power of the book.  It is duplicitous to infer that these parents were there protesting the book, based on its language or anything else, when they were, in actuality, protesting the apparent discrimination in the classroom, which could have been, through proper use of Twain’s text, a learning experience for all.  The use of this anecdote is a flawed logic and should be dismissed, as the two arguments (one against the events in the classroom; the other against the book) have nothing to do with each other.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain

Standard
ALA Banned Books Week, banned books, censorship, Saturday Uncensored

Saturdays, Uncensored! Thoughtful Musings

Good Day, Readers:
 

Since I have the honor of working tomorrow, I will probably not be able to do my typical Saturdays, Uncensored! post.  So, instead, I am cross-posting my guest post on censorship and banned books, which you can also find at Smash Attack Reads.  It generated a great dialogue amongst her followers, so I’m hoping my readers are equally interested and willing to dive in! Also, since the ALA’s annual Banned Books Week begins next Saturday, September 25th, I figured this was a great way to get ourselves ramped up.

 Censorship: What’s With the Expurgation, Mr. Bogus?

 

In this day and age, the idea of censorship in books seems almost laughable. Most people certainly tend to believe that censorship in fiction went out of fashion in the 1960s (or sooner). Sadly, this just isn’t the case. Books continue to be challenged on a regular basis, particularly by parents who want the books pulled out of school district libraries. So, why should we care?

Well, for me it is a philosophical stance – an argument for personal freedoms. It is fine to censor what you or your children read – that is your right as a conscientious adult and caregiver, but does your right to choose your own reading material supersede the right of an author to present his or her thoughts? Should this ever be the case?

What comes to mind for me at the moment is the rather heated debate that has been surrounding the author Ellen Hopkins lately. I recently read my first Hopkins book, Tricks, and while I loved the prose and the plot, I found myself understanding the desire some parents might have to “protect” their children from the “bad” things. Interestingly enough, when reflecting on this epiphany, I realized that as a junior high or high school reader, I would have loved and devoured the book, but, on the other hand, if I had children of that age, I would probably want to keep them as far away from these books as possible. The automatic urge, then, is to push the bad things away; to make things better; to hide what we don’t want our children to see or learn too soon. This urge is the noble monster, though, which ultimately takes us astray and distracts us from being proactive in educating our kids in relation to the world so that they will be prepared. When we hide things from them, what good does it really do? Ultimately, the argument should be stripped down to individual tastes and choice and not to anybody’s “right” or power over another’s ideas. There exists within each of us no inherent right to censor someone else’s thoughts, dreams, or opinions, but there does exist in us a right to choose what is best for ourselves. This is the heart of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the sentiment, at its core, was born with man’s first thought.

There are limits, of course. Should we be allowed to print the names and addresses of real people, for instance, and slander them politically, socially, or culturally? No, I think not – but this isn’t so much a case for censorship as it is a testament of common human decency and respect for others’ privacy (another American social protection, though this one perhaps even more at risk – but I digress!). This is why biographers have such a strict code of ethics and why they are scrutinized so very closely by their critics and peers.

Banned Books: Let’s Talk Some Trash.

 In fiction, though, in the land of make-believe, as long as reality-based characters are shrewdly disguised in parody and satire, and social opinions are handled with a respectful nod to dialogue, rather than a goading incite toward violence, then authors should have the freedom to express what they feel should be expressed! Let’s not forget Mark Twain, that clever so-and-so, whose greatest work of fiction, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, at first could not get off the ground because the publishers were forced to abandon sales of the book due to its many challenges by the public (and private) interests. Twain went door-to-door to sell his first printing of the novel (oh, if I could only get my hand on one of those!) because he knew it was important and, thankfully, the rest of the country and the world eventually picked up on this fact as well. Shockingly, Huckleberry Finn still holds a place on many of the “banned and challenged books” lists today. The reasons cited for challenges recently tend to be for depictions of violence and for what some call a derogatory depiction of class and race. These people are wrong, of course, but at least the argument has moved from the original inane charges of “use of slang” and “depictions of slavery as inhuman.”

Basically, this is my long-winded way of saying – fight censorship and the practice of banning books because it’s the right thing to do. Great works of literature (and, yes, bad ones too) will always be challenged for some reason. Many of the greatest books in history were censored at one point and an insane number of English-language novels were banned from publication in or shipment to the United States. While censorship laws of the 1960s and 1970s eventually opened the flood-gates, the risk still pervades and those who do the challenging take different approaches and tactics, making new claims to request censorship of the same books. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, “Constant Vigilance!”

Comments?

So, do you agree with my sentiments? Do you disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject. Obviously, censorship and banned books are often lumped into the same category, but they are different things and it is feasible that some of you may be okay with censorship but not okay with altogether banning books (or vice versa). Some of you might agree with me that it is up to adults to choose their books based on their own tastes and to monitor their children’s reading, while others might find it perfectly acceptable for schools to pull books that are deemed inappropriate off of their library shelves. So – share! Leave a comment below and let’s get a dialogue going!

You can read the full guest post here.

 

Standard