No one is going to tell me what I can’t read!

I recently read a startling article about the government authorities in Turkey ordering the destruction of more than 300,000 books because they contained the name of a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, with whom the leaders of Turkey disagreed.

Turkey maintains that Gulen instigated a failed coup attempt in 2016. He now lives in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America. This widespread destruction of books even went so far as to include any book in which the word “Pennsylvania” appeared.

I gasped!

This is Banned Books Week in the United States.

The last week in September is a time set aside for us to give thought to the dangers of the banning and destruction of books. Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association to bring attention to what is at risk if books are censored. The association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom publishes a list of the top 10 books that are challenged each year.

According to the http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10 website, “The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 347 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2018.” The site says that 483 books were challenged or banned in 2018.

Examples of banned or challenged books

Here are just a few books that have either been banned or were threatened with censorship since 2009, along with the reasons given on the ALA website:

Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple;

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide;

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam”;

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word;

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”);

The Holy Bible
Reasons: religious viewpoint;

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”;

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group;

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit;

Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence;

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, nudity, racism, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit;

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group;

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence; and

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Which book on the list surprised you the most?

I was most surprised to find My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult on the list. I’ve read eight of her novels. My Sister’s Keeper deals with organ donation. Jodi Picoult’s novels make the reader think. The protagonist usually faces a moral dilemma.

I’ve read most of the books on the above list. It’s frightening to see a list like this – to know that someone thought a particular book was so offensive to them that they thought NO ONE should have the opportunity to read it.

It’s human nature to do what one is told not to do. I understand that when a parent or other community member asks for a book to be removed from a middle school or high school library, the fuss usually brings so much attention to the book that the students will go to great lengths to read it.

If you live in a free society, you may read anything you want to read. That is a precious gift your government protects for you, so never take it for granted.

Since my last blog post

I took a week off from writing, blogging, and all forms of social media and went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was unseasonably warm and dry, which doesn’t bode well for the coming “fire season.”

It was great to get away to a place where development is outlawed – to drive for miles and miles and see nothing but mountains and trees. To be in a place that was so quiet you could hear a babbling brook. I’ll blog more about my trip at a later date and share some photos.

Until my next blog post

Do a Google or other search engine search for “banned books.” Select one you’ve never read, and read it. Or reread one you’ve read and try to identify what someone else found offensive about it. Celebrate your right to read!

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Bookshop at Water’s End, by Patti Callahan Henry. It’s the book for discussion tonight at Rocky River Readers Book Club. If you’re local, feel free to join us at 7pm at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, 7940 Rocky River Road, Concord, NC.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. After a week of vacation, I need to get back to my writing this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What’s your favorite banned book? Do you remember the first banned book you read? Were you aware that it had been banned on some level, and was that the reason you read it?

Janet

Works That Last

You’ve heard the saying, “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” That’s one of those old sayings that will always ring true. I was reminded of that saying a couple of weeks ago as I read Perennial Seller:  The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday.

9780143109013
Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

As a writer, the book spoke to me, but it can be applied to any walk of life. By “work that lasts,” Mr. Holiday refers to a creative work or product that isn’t a “flash in the pan.” It is a work that might not be an overnight sensation, but it steadily draws an audience or buyers. It is a book that you want to read again. You recommend it to friends. It does not depend on hype or fancy advertising, but rather builds a fan base via word of mouth.

Part 1 – The Creative Process

Mr. Holiday quotes his mentor, Robert Greene, as saying, “ʻIt starts by wanting to create a classic.’” Mr. Holiday maintains that this doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when you study the classics in your field, and it demands that you know your purpose in creating the book, the painting, or a gadget that will someday make people wonder how they lived without it.

While creating your work, Mr. Holiday says you must ask yourself, “What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it?”

He also writes about identifying your audience, and the importance of aiming at that target audience instead of the masses. For instance, in my case, I need to be able to say, “I am writing The Spanish Coin for these people. I can’t wait until I have finished writing the novel (or even the outline) before knowing for whom I am writing. I would love to think that everyone will want to read my book, but if I write it with that in mind, Mr. Holiday says I will have written it for no one.

“Who is this for?” is just one of the questions you must ask yourself during the creative process. Another question you must answer is, “How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?”

Mr. Holiday takes it another step as he offers a list of four more questions that go deeper. They are along the lines of, “What sacred cows am I slaying?” The writers of classics don’t play it safe!

Part 2

The second part of Perennial Seller:  The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts addresses “Positioning:  From Polishing to Perfecting to Packaging.” This cannot be left to chance. If not positioned for success by making it the best you can make it and packaging it in the best possible light, your hard work of creating will be for naught.

For a writer, this means that the editing of your book will take a long time. Your manuscript means a lot to you. You have to make sure it will also mean a lot to others – for years to come. You want it to stand out.

Mr. Holiday talks about the importance of a writer finding a good editor and being able to take constructive criticism. He writes, “Only you know how to fix it – but you’ll only find out what’s wrong if you open yourself up to collaboration and input.”

I should make a sign that features that quote and put it by the computer where I do my writing. Along with that, I need a sign with the following quote from Mr. Holiday’s book:  “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.”

The book goes on to address the writer or inventor being able to succinctly fill in the blanks in the following sentence:  “This is a ______ that does _______. This helps people ______.” You must know into which genre your book falls. If you aren’t clear in your own mind how to fill in these blanks about your manuscript, you need to “adjust either the audience or the product until there’s a perfect match. The intended audience is the final blank” in the above two-sentence exercise.

Until you determine who your book is for and what it will do for them, you are aiming at a target you can’t see. Chances are, you won’t hit the target.

Once you identify your target audience, you need to find them and quantify them. I found Mr. Holiday’s personal example for this a bit off-putting. He wrote, “Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing?” It’s daunting to think of 1,000 people who will want to buy my novel, but I read on and it got worse.

Mr. Holiday wrote, “For books the superagent and publishing entrepreneur Shawn Coyne (Robert McKee, Jon Krakauer, Michael Connelly) likes to use ten thousand readers as his benchmark. That’s what it takes, in his experience, for a book to successfully break through and for the ideas in it to take hold.”

With those numbers in the back of my mind, I will continue to work on the scenic plot outline for the rewriting of my manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. Another important point Mr. Holiday makes is that the book you write is not only competing with every other book that’s ever been written but with every book that will be written in the future. It’s enough to make me want to throw away my keyboard and concentrate on reading, sleeping, eating, and sewing.

Today’s blog post has hit just a few highlights of Perennial Seller:  The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday. If you aspire to be a writer, artist, or an inventor, I recommend you read this book. (Disclaimer:  I have not been compensated in any way for endorsing this book. I read it and got a lot out of it. Come to think of it, word of mouth is important!)

There’s a Part 3?

In this blog post I didn’t even get to Part 3 of the book. Part 3 is about marketing, where he says people do actually judge a book by its cover and the writer must put as much energy into marketing or they do in creating the book. Most writers would rather spend their time writing and leave the marketing to salespeople, but that’s not the way it works. Even bestselling authors have to make personal appearances and pitch their latest books.

And Part 4?

I didn’t get to write about Part 4 of Perennial Seller:  The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts, by Ryan Holiday in today’s blog. It’s about “Platform: From Fans to Friends and a Full-Fledged Career.”

Ryan Holiday packs a lot into a relatively small (231-page) book — far too much for me to cover in a blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m finishing The King of Lies, by John Hart, for tonight’s meeting of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. If you’re in the Harrisburg/Concord area, you are welcome to join us for our discussion tonight at 7pm at Rocky River Presbyterian Church at 7940 Rocky River Road, Concord, North Carolina  28025.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

I’m told that I need to start building a mailing list. If my blog disappears, I want to be able to communicate with you. I promise not to burden you with a bunch of e-mail. In the event I have an announcement to make or I start writing a newsletter, I want to be able to send it to you. Please fill out the contact form found below. At least, I hope it appears below. (You know I’m not computer savvy!)

Janet

1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment

On the 20th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “T.” Most people don’t enjoy reading about taxes, but today I am blogging about the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment. I can safely say that there is only one Cabarrus County in the United States, and it is located in the southern piedmont of North Carolina.

What’s so special about it?

Cabarrus County is one of the few North Carolina counties for which the 1863 Tax Assessment records exist.

It is sobering to read the pages of the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment. It is a list of every slave owner in Cabarrus County, North Carolina at that time, along with the name, age, physical condition, and monetary value of each of their slaves. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to read this tax document through African American eyes.

I was pleased to find these records in 2003 when I was compiling a list of the 1,000+ slaves and free persons of color who were members of or were baptized at Rocky River Presbyterian Church between Concord and Harrisburg in Cabarrus County prior to 1870. I was able to supplement the church’s records with these tax records for my privately printed-on-demand booklet, “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870.”

The following is a slightly edited version of one of my local history newspaper columns published in 2006 in Harrisburg Horizons weekly newspaper. The name of my column was, “Did You Know?” The original version of the article can be found on my website at http://janetmorrisonbooks.com/1863%20tax.html.

Did You Know?

Did you know that Cabarrus County is one of the few counties in North Carolina for which the 1863 Tax Assessment records exist? It wasn’t until I inquired in Charlotte and at the State Archives in Raleigh that I learned that no such records survived for Mecklenburg County.

“What’s the big deal?” you may ask.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America passed Statute 177 on August 19, 1861, which authorized the levying of a tax to help finance the Southern states’ government and military during the American Civil War. A tax rate of fifty cents per $100 valuation was established.

Taxable property included “real estate, slaves, merchandise, stocks, securities, money, and other property.” Subsequent legislation expanded the list in April, 1863, to include agricultural products, many occupations and trades, some businesses, and income.

The Cabarrus County Board of Assessors met at the courthouse in Concord on April 9, 1863. The Board increased the values of thirteen pieces of property in District (now Township) One and then recorded the names of all taxpayers by district.

The 1863 Cabarrus Tax Assessment records list each property owner in alphabetical order by district. The districts of 1863 essentially coincide with today’s townships. There are columns for number of acres of land owned, value per acre, and total value. The river or creek on which the land lay is also indicated.

In 1863, real estate in what is now Township One (the township in which Rocky River Presbyterian Church is located) ranged in value from $6 to $400 per acre. Most land was valued in the $6 to $20 per acre range. One of the exceptions was the half acre of land owned by Howie and Johnston, mercantile business partners in Harrisburg. Although their store closed in 1858, the property was valued at $200 in 1863.

It is interesting to read about the old land values and to think how things have changed, but the most intriguing part of the 1863 Tax Assessment records for me is the list of slaves. Under each slave holder is a list of their slaves by name. The age of each slave is given, along with their value. In cases of physical or mental disability, the type of disability is listed.

Pattern in slaves’ monetary value

There is a definite pattern in how the slaves were valued. Male children were generally valued at the rate of $100 for each year of their age, while female children were valued at $50 less. Slaves less than one year old were valued at $100. Young adult female slaves were typically valued at around $1,400, while young adult male slaves were valued around $1,600. The value of a slave in his or her late 30s began to decrease.

Two slaves listed as being blacksmiths were valued at $1,800 each, which was the highest value of any slaves in Township One.

It is sobering to read the names of the slaves and to see a monetary value placed on them. As an amateur genealogist and historian, I see tremendous value in the records.

Sources I used

1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment List on microfilm at the Lore Local History Room, Cabarrus County Public Library, Concord, North Carolina

The Confederacy:  A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America, by Henry Putney Beers, 1968.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (After reading one-third of Bittersweet, by Colleen McCullough, I decided I wasn’t interested enough in the story to finish the book. I’m reading The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth.)

If you are a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Mudhouse Sabbath

I just read Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren F. Winner. Dr. Winner is a Jewish Christian. In Mudhouse Sabbath, she explores various facets of the Jewish faith and practices in which she grew up and makes comparisons with her current Christian faith. Each of the 11 chapters looks at a different practice or ritual, including keeping the Sabbath, prayer, fasting, candle lighting, and weddings.

Dr. Winner misses some of the practices that gave her comfort when she was a practicing Jew, and she looks for ways to incorporate them or similar activities into her life now as a Christian.

Mudhouse Sabbath is an easy read in that it is written in layman’s terms and in a personal style that has the feel of sitting and having a conversation with Dr. Winner. Although it can be read quickly, it will leave the reader with a number of things to ponder.

Rocky River Presbyterian Church near Concord, North Carolina, will begin a Lenten study tomorrow based on Mudhouse Sabbath. It promises to be a thought-provoking study as we examine some of our practices and beliefs as compared to those of the Jewish faith out of which Christianity grew.