No Banned Books Week celebration

They’ve been popping up all over my reader all week, and I’m sure they’re all over yours too. Impossible not to notice them. I’m talking about references to the Banned Books Week. (If you don’t know what that is, do click through on that link and/or on the badge below. The issue is censorship, and I do feel that we should all be more aware of it.)

Banned Books Week badge by ALA.org

Wonder why I didn’t take part in the celebration? I’ll tell you:

I do not agree with Banned Books Week.

There. I said it.

Now, before you bite my head off, let me say right from the start that I am not an advocate for censorship, not at all.

No Censorship badge by EFF.org

I firmly believe in freedom of speech, which means that everybody has the right to say what they think, and to write it in a book, and to see their book published, and everybody has the right to buy and read those books, and to share them and talk about them.

Which is not yet the case in so many places. I assure you that I am well aware of it. And I commend ALA (and many other library associations) and I can even commend the Banned Books Week for their work in unveiling censorship in all its forms. For raising awareness about those books that are censored and challenged and banned in our so-called very liberal Western society. It is important, we do need to keep our eyes open.

So the Banned Book Week is good. Right? Right.

But.

But there are reasons that make me want to distance myself from it. Two reasons, mainly.

Reason #1: Just Because It’s Banned, Doesn’t Make It Good

The badge by epicreads.com, below, sums up the whole of my point here:

“Someone banned me, so read me maybe?” Errr… no? When I choose to read a book, it’s because I hope it’s good (don’t we all?) and being challenged or banned does not necessarily make it so.

If you look at the “most frequently challenged books” lists, there are masterpieces like The Call of the Wild by Jack London, but there are OK books like The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and there are awful books like His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. (I know not everybody will agree with my classification here, but I’m sure you can find books you love and books you hate on those lists too.) Therefore no, being challenged is not a parameter I will take into consideration when choosing my next book.

Reason #2: Not All Bans Are Created Equal

The Banned Books Week celebrates all the books that are somehow challenged or banned, but I believe there is a huge difference in nuance. Take for instance:

  1. an author that is completely banned from a country because of what he has written
  2. a library that removes books by a certain author because they are on different sides, politically
  3. a movement that calls for book burning of a very specific title for any given reason
  4. a parent that challenges the teacher’s decision to read a certain book in class, because he/she thinks that his/her son is not ready yet for that kind of content.

Do you think these are all equal? Because I don’t.

And when you look at the Banned Books Week stats page and cross the data, you’ll see that most challenges classified there are like my #4: initiated by a parent, against a school, because a book is supposedly unsuited to age group or sexually explicit. And guess what? I believe parents are still the ones in charge of educating and guiding their children, which includes guiding them through good books that are suitable for them.

Uhm… maybe not these parents.
Cartoon by XKCD

I know I’m walking a thin line here. I know it’s a risk, I know how a narrow-minded parent could ban any and every book from their children and raise them as fundamentalists. I know there are many unreasonable people like that out there. But I still believe there is a greater risk in the opposite way, in ruling against parental control and parental decision.

And I am not a mother (yet), but if I went to my teenage daughter’s school and found the 50 shades books on the shelves, then yes, I would challenge them.

That’s why I don’t totally agree with this week celebration.

Will you tell me I’m wrong?

Chance literary encounters

My (too short) vacation this year did not have any literary connection. So imagine my surprise when I met this little man:

The first night, then, I went to sleep on the sand, a thousand miles from any human habitation. I was more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Thus you can imagine my amazement, at sunrise, when I was awakened by an odd little voice. It said:
“If you please– draw me a sheep!”
“What!”
“Draw me a sheep!”
I jumped to my feet, completely thunderstruck. I blinked my eyes hard. I looked carefully all around me. And I saw a most extraordinary small person, who stood there examining me with great seriousness.

Let me back this story by saying that husband and I, while we don’t have “our song”, we do have “our book”, and it’s Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. A couple of weeks ago, we were vacationing in Madeira and we were lucky enough to see our book transformed into wall and door art. All the important details were there. The fox:

“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

The lamplighter:

The fifth planet was very strange. It was the smallest of all. There was just enough room on it for a street lamp and a lamplighter. The little prince was not able to reach any explanation of the use of a street lamp and a lamplighter, somewhere in the heavens, on a planet which had no people, and not one house. But he said to himself, nevertheless: “When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower. When he puts out his lamp, he sends the flower, or the star, to sleep. That is a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful.”

The sheep, the baobab, and the snake:

“Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince. “But why do you always speak in riddles?”
“I solve them all,” said the snake.
And they were both silent.

And more still:

The painting was part of an art project transforming walls and doors in historical Funchal into art pieces. You can find more about the project The arT of oPEn doORs here and more pictures of this painting by Francisco J. V. Fernandes and Maria Luisa Freitas Spinola (to be seen at the following address: Travessa do Pimenta, 7) here.

Quotes taken from this online version of The Little Prince (translator not stated).

Book: Prose Edda

The book: The Younger Edda, by Snorre Sturleson,

The edition: free e-book by Dodo Press of the 1879 edition edited by Rasmus B. Anderson, 216 pages. It includes an English translation of the Foreword, the Fooling of Gylfe, the Afterword, Brage’s Talk, the Afterword to Brage’s Talk and passages from the Skaldskaparmal, plus and introduction, notes and vocabulary by the editor.

About the book: this is one of the main original sources for Nordic mythology, and includes a telling of cosmogony and gods’ feats.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: back in my university days, I had to study the Edda from a linguistic point of view, and was fascinated, but never read the whole of it (which I regretted deeply while reading American Gods). Now that I finally got around to it I cannot say I’m satisfied.
Of course I wasn’t completely ready. The Edda was written in the XII century and storytelling was completely different. I did expect some of it, but it was harder than I thought. It reminded me of the Catholic Catechism of old, with its questions and answers.
I guess this is one of those books that you (or at least I) don’t read for the sake of it, but more because of all the other works that refer back to it. And I’m glad I’ve read it, and I surely do know more about Norse mythology now than I ever wanted to, but I cannot say that the details will stay with me.
Also, I was very sad to discover that the part I studied was not included in this edition, although I do agree that when the editor had all the reasons to do so:

We have not translated any of the Hattatal, and only the narrative part of Skaldskaparmal. The parts omitted cannot possibly be of any interest to any one who cannot read them in the original. All the paraphrases of the asas and asynjes, of the world, the earth, the sea, the sun, the wind, fire, summer, man, woman, gold, of war, arms, of a ship, emperor, king, ruler, etc., are of interest only as they help to explain passages of Old Norse poems.

Still, that was the part that fascinated me and I was sad that it was not included.

What I liked: in the middle of a description of the end of the world, they would stop and insert rules for good living. It cracked me up, every time, such as here:

[During the Ragnarok] the ship that is called Naglfar also becomes loose. It is made of the nails of dead men; wherefore it is worth warning that, when a man dies with unpared nails, he supplies a large amount of materials for the building of this ship, which both gods and men wish may be finished as late as possible.

… so be good and take care that your nails are short at all times! LOL

Also, I loved deciphering the details Tolkien took directly from here to draw his world. For example, did you know that Gandalf was the name of a dwarf, originally, part of a list that included Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Thorin?

What I didn’t like: this is a 19th century edition, and it shows. There is a lot of praising the “Teutonic race” and it grated on me. Things like:

Such marriages [i.e. incestuous marriages] were not allowed among our Odinic ancestors. Our ancestors were never savages!

Language & writing: I loved that these people had a myth about the origin of poetry (see the mead of poetry on Wikipedia, as it’s longish to tell here) and that their “catechism” included definitions for poetry itself:

Then said Æger: In how many ways do you vary the poetical expressions, or how many kinds of poetry are there? Answered Brage: There are two kinds, and all poetry falls into one or the other of these classes. Æger asks: Which two? Brage answers: Diction and meter. What diction is used in poetry? There are three sorts of poetic diction. Which? One is to name everything by its own name; another is to name it with a pronoun, but the third sort of diction is called kenning (a poetical periphrasis or descriptive name); and this sort is so managed that when we name Odin, or Thor or Tyr, or any other of the asas or elves, we add to their name a reference to some other asa, or we make mention of some of his works.

In the author’s own words: just let me share this passage about the name of Norway. This is from the notes, but I find that the characters’ names are interesting, because they give a good insight on the kind of world the authors of the Edda were used to in terms of weather:

The third son, Kare, had a numerous offspring. He had one son by name Jokul (iceberg), another Froste (frost), and Froste’s son was named Sna (snow). He had a third son, by name Thorri (bare frost), after whom the mid-winter month, Thorra-month, was called; and his daughters hight Fonn (packed snow), Drifa (snow-drift), and Mjoll (meal, fine snow). All these correspond well to Kare’s name, which, as stated, means wind. Thorri had two sons, Nor and Gor, and a daughter, Goe. The story goes on to tell how Goe, the sister, was lost, and how the brothers went to search for her, until they finally found him who had robbed her. He was Hrolf, from the mountain, a son of the giant Svade, and a grandson of Asa-Thor. They settled their trouble, and thereupon Hrolf married Goe, and Nor married Hrolf’s sister, settled in the land and called it after his own name, Norvegr, that is, Norway.

Links to better understand this book:

Counts as: I wanted to read this for so long, but I had to make it count for a whole host of things before I actually got to it. So it counts for the Medieval Challenge (my first read!), Classic Double challenge, Semi-charmed Summer Challenge (a book I was supposed to read in school, in a way), my personal goal of reading mythology, and the Travel with books project for Norway. Weeee!