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

5 Things I Can’t Afford to Try on Social Media in March

Although I have made some good friends via social media and it does provide a way to stay in touch with old friends or relatives who live far away, social media stresses me out. If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you already know that.

I just want to sit at my computer and write, but the publishing world tells me that I have to have a brand and I must keep my brand in front of my potential readers. I’m being told this is important before I even try to get my first novel published. It’s exhausting!

In an effort to simplify social media for myself, I have looked into a number of websites that offer to do just that. There is an old adage that says, “You get what you pay for.” If I were independently wealthy, I could purchase all kinds of services that promise to put my social media life on Easy Street. That is not the case, though. If I had a multi-million dollar business, these services might make sense. They would be business expenses. I don’t make enough money from my writing yet to need big tax write-offs.

Below, I’ve listed what I found out about five social media services that I can’t afford to try. Just because I can’t afford them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. I’m not endorsing any of them, but I’m not trying to denigrate any of them either. Each Tweeter and blogger must decide for himself because each person’s situation is unique.

  1. Tweepi

The Ultimate Guide to Generating Leads on Twitter, a downloadable document by Steve Arnold, (steve.arnold@markethub.io) recommends Tweepi to, among other things, keep up with which of your followers are actually looking at your content. This allows you to drop followers that are just boosting your followers count. They aren’t interacting or helping you and you aren’t helping them. Unfortunately, the cheaper of the two plans Tweepi offers is $10.75 per month when paid annually or $12.99 per month when paid monthly. I can’t afford that, even though I recognize it would be somewhat beneficial to subscribe to a service like Tweepi.

My conclusion:  My world does not revolve around Twitter. I’m sure some of my “followers” are no longer “following” me. If they aren’t interested in books, writing, or an occasional political Tweet from me, that’s okay. I understand that literary agents and book publishers may want to have a clear idea of how many interested followers I have on Twitter, but it’s just not important enough to me right now to pay to get that information. It’s something to reconsider when I’m closer to getting a novel published.

  1. MarketHub

Mr. Arnold, of course, recommends that bloggers use MarketHub, since he is the company’s founder. His downloadable referenced above under Tweepi, states, “MarketHub pumps out extremely high value curated tweets on your behalf.” MarketHub offers a 14-day free trial. I hesitate to sign up for free trials because sometimes they’re difficult to cancel before a subscription fee kicks in. I have no idea if that’s the case with MarketHub, and I haven’t been able to find out how much MarketHub charges after the free trial period.

My conclusion:  I don’t really want a computer somewhere writing Tweets for me. I’d rather do my own writing. Period.

  1. Commun.it

With a free account, Commun.it will send out automatic weekly “Thanks for following me” Tweets; however, those Tweets include a flashy advertisement for Commun.it. I learned that the hard way. That was embarrassing! This has continued even though I went to the website and deactivated this feature which I admit I should have been aware of when I signed up. I’m still trying to determine how to best manage social media. I can’t afford a Business Account on Commun.it.

My conclusion:  I don’t know how to get rid of Commun.it. Maybe if I ignore their e-mails long enough, they will stop sending out “Thank you for following me and, by the way, don’t you also want Commun.it to send out Tweets on your behalf without your knowing it?” e-mails.

Chris Andrews, a writer in Australia who reads my blog and I read his, advised me a few days ago to look into using Clicky.com. It’s a free service that should help me with this. I signed up for it, but there’s a glitch somewhere in a code so it’s not up and running for me yet. Stay tuned. Thanks again, Chris.

  1. Moz.com’s Keyword Explorer

I keep reading online that if I’m going to have a successful blog, I must use the trending keywords in my posts and in the posts’ titles. Otherwise, my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) won’t be good. In other words, no one will find my blog.

Moz.com has a service called Keyword Explorer that helps a blogger find keywords that would be most advantageous for him or her to use in order to drive more traffic to their blog. I don’t mean to bad mouth moz.com, but their cheapest plan would cost me $948-a-year, if I chose to pay annually. If I chose to pay monthly, my annual cost would be $1,188. Ouch! That’s more money than I’ll make this year from my writing. A lot more.

My conclusion:  Keep looking.

  1. Google Keyword Planner

I looked into using Google Keyword Planner, another service that would find the best keywords for me to use in my blog post titles. Surely, it would be cheaper than Keyword Explorer. If I understood the adwords.google.com website correctly, they will “help” me for free as long as I spend at least $10-a-day on ads. No thanks! I don’t have a published novel to advertise yet.

My conclusion:  As of November 21, 2016 – just four months ago today – my blog had 220 followers and had been visited by people from 32 countries. As of 11:30 last night, I had. . . drumroll, please. . . 1,000 followers and my blog has been visited by individuals from 42 countries. I must be doing something right, and I’m not spending an arm and a leg to generate traffic.

Proof of my 1,000th blog follower on March 20, 2017!

My general conclusions today about social media

I keep a daily check on my blog and my accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. As long as my follower numbers steadily increase, I’m happy. And I must admit that I love seeing the flags appear on my blog’s sidebar as people in different countries visit the site. (See, I’m not completely against social media, and I’ve always loved geography!)

Social media should be fun. It should bring people together – even people who don’t agree with each other on the topic being discussed. I will continue to blog and use Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I might continue to use Google+. Two weeks ago, I created an account with Instagram. I might even use it someday.

Until my next blog post

Rest assured that I do my own writing. That’s what writers do. They write.

It upsets me when someone takes my words and claims them as their own.

It upsets me when someone writes words and claim that they are mine.

For the time being, except for those pesky Tweets commun.it keeps sending out, I plan to write my own Tweets, figure out my own keywords for my blog post titles, and refuse to stress out over who is following me on Twitter. Life is too short!

I take Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, as my example. She didn’t play by any of the rules dictated by the publishing industry in her lifetime. I’ll play by the rules as necessary, but I’m not going to let social media control my life.

This blog post makes me sound angry. I’m not angry. Just venting some frustration. Not ready to draw a line in the sand.

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

P.S.  Relax. My next blog post will be a sample of my writing. With any luck, it won’t be controversial and won’t contain any rants or venting.

Save

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Rocky River Readers Book Club discussed both of Harper Lee’s novels — To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman — earlier this week. Little did we know when planning the year’s reading that this discussion would come just three days after Ms. Lee’s death. Illness prevented my attending the meeting but, in light of Harper Lee’s recent death, I wanted to post a blog in tribute to her.

Rereading To Kill a Mockingbird is always a pleasure. One can read it just for the story. One can read it for the skillful writing. One can read it for the slice of American history on which it sheds light. One can even read it for the humor. I tend to forget Scout’s sense of humor between my readings of To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the Scout in that book.

The grown-up urbane Scout/Jean Louise of Go Set a Watchman is not as easy to love. The young adult Scout struggles — really struggles — to understand and accept Atticus. The child Scout put her father on an impossible pedestal. The adult Scout sees prejudices in him that don’t jive with the Atticus of her childhood who withstood public outcry when he represented a black man in court. She is conflicted. Throughout Go Set a Watchman I yearned for her to work through her concerns and not turn her back on Atticus.

Both of Ms. Lee’s novels give as much food for thought and fodder for discussion today as they did when they were hot off the press. Harper Lee set the bar high for great American literature. Her novels will, no doubt, be read in the United States and around the world for centuries to come.

A Tribute to Harper Lee

My blog post today is a tribute to Harper Lee on the occasion of her 89th birthday. Born in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28, 1926, she finished writing To Kill a Mockingbird in 1959 at the age of 33. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has been translated into approximately 40 languages.

What an iconic book of 20th century American literature! The book makes an indelible impression on just about everyone who reads it. The story shines a light on racism in a powerful way and, in so doing, reminds us that racism still exists today in every part of the United States. It is my hope that To Kill a Mockingbird will prompt everyone who reads it to strive to stamp out racism in his or her own life and community.

In honor of Harper Lee’s birthday today, I challenge you to read To Kill a Mockingbird again. Take it to heart. Put yourself in the place of each of the main characters. Get inside their skin and their hearts.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the racial unrest happening today in Baltimore, Maryland. Our country has come a long way, but there is much work to do. There are lessons for each of us to learn. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou:

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
― Maya Angelou