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The Censorship Monster

Yesterday, author Saladin Ahmed tweeted this: “Censorship in America is less about making books illegal and more about a status quo that ensures certain stories never get a wide audience.”

As an avid reader, a good story is better than chocolate for me. I WANT TO READ EVERYTHING YUMMY. So this statement gets under my skin because it means I might be missing out on perfectly good stories because I never hear of them; or worse, they’re never even published.

A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview on the Sword and Laser podcast with author Cherie Priest, a Chattanooga native who’s published many popular steampunk novels, like Boneshaker. She mentioned how her agent had approached Scholastic with a middle-grade novel she’d recently written featuring a girl space pirate. Everybody likes space pirates, right? Especially 10-14 year olds? But Scholastic turned Priest down, along with several other publishers, saying that there was no audience for such a book—girls don’t read sci-fi, and boys don’t read books with girl protagonists. And this is in 2015. If publishers turn down authors like Priest, with many publications and awards, then what about all the other novels I’m missing out on? I like space pirates!

I’ve heard other horror stories- a woman author rejected by agents multiple times until she pretended to be a man; how The New York Times Book Review reviews almost exclusively white male writers; the difficulties of publishing while black. This isn’t to say only women and people of color have trouble publishing; I’m sure examples exist of white male writers being censored before an excellent story can land in the hands of readers, but it does seem like the industry’s weighted against them. What also seems evident is that there are plenty of examples of how readers’ choices are being censored without us even being aware of it.

Certainly Banned Book Week should honor the many classics that are frequently banned by schools and libraries—like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Ulysses—but these books, despite being banned in some places, are readily available for reading in the US. What worries me more, as an avid reader, is that my choices are being censured before I even know there are choices. And what can we, as readers, do about it? There are nifty book challenges, like this one from Book Riot, that challenge readers to find books and authors outside their comfort zones. Readers can also be more aware of the authors they’re reading—while I read about 50-50 male and female writers, I read too few books by people of color. Being aware of this prejudice, even if it’s subconscious, means I’m more likely to pick up an awesome sounding story by a person of color. And maybe if we buy more of these books, reviewed them, recommend them to our friends, then the publishing industry will start listening. This should be our market. Let’s tell the publishers that we want good stories no matter who writes them.

Kingsbury Author Pic

Margaret Kingsbury’s short stories and poems have appeared and/or are forthcoming in The Devilfish Review, Pulp Literature, NonBinary Review, and Expanded Horizons. She lives in Nashville, TN where she teaches at Lipscomb University and, of course, works at the Nashville Mckay’s. You can follow her on Twitter @MargaretKWrites


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Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, but what does that really mean beyond the possibility of a three-day weekend? Here is what I found out…

Firstly, Memorial Day should not be confused with Veteran’s Day, which honors the service of all our men and women military veterans. Memorial Day started as “Decoration Day”, originating after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died – today, Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring ALL those who died while serving our country.

Did you notice an American flag this morning?

On this day of memorial, the flag will be raised to the top of the staff and then lowered to the half-staff position which is in remembrance of the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service. At noon, the flag is raised back to the top of the staff where it will remain for the rest of the day. This act symbolizes raising the memory of the dead and declaring that their sacrifice was not made in vain. Our departed service members did their duty and more, it is up to us to continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Did you also notice, as you passed by a cemetery today, an abundance of flowers laid on the graves?

This practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers, is actually an ancient custom, one that took on greater cultural significance after the Civil War. After the government began creating national military cemeteries, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves took shape. Caring for the landscaping around the graves is another simple way to say thank you and to pay your respects.

And if you would like to leave flowers, I would recommend poppies. The remembrance poppy has been used since 1921 to revere soldiers who have died in war. This was inspired by a poem written in 1915 after the Second Battle of Ypres in World War I. The opening lines of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” refer to the fields of poppies that grew among the soldiers’ graves in Flanders. Three years later, Moina Michael, considered the Memorial Day Poppy Founder, wore a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed dozens more at a War Secretaries’ conference.

I hope this gives you a new solemn respect for this day, I know it certainly did me.

“Better than honor and glory, and History’s iron pen,
Was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.”
~Richard Watson Gilder

Recommended books for adults:

–Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery: Where War Comes Home by Robert M. Poole

–Offerings at the Wall: Artifacts from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection

by Thomas B. Allen

–Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars by George L. Moss

Recommended books for children:

–The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler

–In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae by Linda Granfield, illustrated by Janet Wilson

–The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Walsh, illustrated by Layne Johnson

~Eliza G.

Eliza G

 

When she is not being a responsible adult and working at McKay’s, Eliza fills her time with numerous creative pursuits including: jewelry-making, etching, and crocheting. When she’s not crafting, reading, writing or plotting to take over the world, you’ll probably find her napping with her dogs.


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‘Tis the Season

It is that time again.

The nights have gotten longer, the days have gotten colder; you’re making a list, checking it twice and desperately trying to figure out where the year has gone. Seriously, I can’t be the only one wondering that, can I? It is the season for traditions ­­– whether they are time honored or brand new, and an occasion to stop and reflect on the events that have shaped your life and the people that matter most to you.

My mother spent more than thirty years as a school teacher and more time than that as a lover of books. As an elementary teacher, her preferred tool for teaching simple and complex ideas to children were picture books. As my mother, she showed me that just because a book is written and illustrated for children does not mean that adults cannot be moved, inspired or taught something about themselves. That idea motivated me to start my own collection of children’s books while I was still in high school and my collection now is well over 100 picture books. I want to make it clear though, that these books are not for any future children I might have; this collection is just for me…future children will get their own copies to drool over. Whenever I’m feeling bummed out or unmotivated, I’ll pull some of my favorites off the shelves, lay down on the floor and read. Words are inspiring to me, but at my core I remain a very visual person and the easiest way to put a smile on my face it to put a book in my hands that was drawn by my favorite illustrator: David Catrow.

I wanted to introduce you to David Catrow (if you are unaware of his work) during this holiday season because my love of his work began with a Christmas book I discovered nearly 15 years ago. My sister and I were wandering around our hometown bookstore waiting for our mother as she systematically perused books when we picked up a copy of “How Murray Saved Christmas” written by Mike Reiss, illustrated by David Catrow. I was instantly hooked. “How Murray Saved Christmas” is an absolutely delightful and hilarious retelling of the immortal ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem.

murray

Inept, yet loveable Edison Elf accidentally knocks out Saint Nick on Christmas Eve with his “Jack­-in-­the-Boxer” toy. Oh no! How is he going to get all the toys to the good girls and boys? Enter Murray Kleiner, owner of Murray K’s Holiday Diner. It doesn’t go perfectly; Murray has to deal with an ill-­fitting suit, fight against sleigh­-sickness, and has a tendency of falling down the chimneys and landing tush-­first. Disheartened and losing the Christmas spirit, Murray is confronted by a six-­year-­old boy. After convincing the boy that “Oh, Santa is real, kid. It’s wrestling that’s fake,” Murray really embraces his role as a Saint Nick substitute…even bringing toys to the not-­so-­good kids and saving Christmas.

Reading it the first time, my sister and I were laughing aloud so hard we had tears in our eyes and were getting peculiar stares from other shoppers. We couldn’t help it. It’s a hysterical book and 15 years later I laugh just like I did the first time. You really must read it and see the illustrations to get the full effect. It’s a perfect union of words and pictures and there is actually quite a bit of humor that parents and other adults would appreciate. (Mike Reiss has won several Emmy Awards for his work on the first seven seasons of the Simpsons and was the co-­creator of “The Critic”.)

santa claustrophobia
And if you like “How Murray Saved Christmas,” I’d recommend the follow­up: “Santa Claustrophobia,” also written by Mike Reiss with pictures by David Catrow. In this story, Santa’s therapist, Doc Holiday, sends Saint Nick on vacation in hopes that the time away will help him get over his newly developed fear of chimneys. Doc enlists the help of the other holiday celebrity inhabitants in the town of “Stinky Cigars” to make sure Christmas still happens…things do not go well. Election Day Donkey and Elephant can’t decide who should be in charge, the Easter Bunny paints trucks, planes and trains like they’re Easter eggs, and Groundhog eats the “Naughty & Nice” List. Don’t worry though, all does work out in the end.

I could continue to praise David Catrow well into the New Year, because when you combine the right writer with Catrow’s distinct and stunning illustrations, you get magic. To see more images of his work, see a complete listing of his books and to learn more about this incredibly talented man, visit his website. If you’re looking for a special present for a child, a parent or a friend, I would like to leave you with my top five David Catrow books, and wish for you to have a wonderful holiday.

1. Cinderella Skeleton written by Robert D. San Souci

2. Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon written by Patty Lovell

3. Our Tree Named Steve written by Alan Zweibel

4. I Like Myself! written by Karen Beaumont

5. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share written by Mike Reiss

~Eliza G.

Eliza G

 

When she is not being a responsible adult and working at McKay’s, Eliza fills her time with numerous creative pursuits including: jewelry-making, etching, and crocheting. When she’s not crafting, reading, writing or plotting to take over the world, you’ll probably find her napping with her dogs.