Friday, October 31, 2008
random post of pretty
Happy Halloween!



Thursday, October 30, 2008
the art of terror
In honor of Halloween, my film class has been studying the art of the horror movie, so - and as you can probably imagine - it's been a pretty fun couple of days. Sure, far too many of my kids think that the Saw franchise is *awesome*, but I'm proud to say that when pressed, most of my students will concede that the most satisfyingly creepy and unsettling scenes from the genre aren't necessarily determined by the level of violence, depravity and gore strewn across the screen, but rather by the mood a truly skilled filmmaker can create through an artful application of his craft.

Naturally, this all got me thinking about what my favorite non-gory and yet still completely freaky moments are in cinema, and so here's my personal picks. Enjoy.

28 Days Later: Jim Wakes Up

I'm a person who's far more scared of things that actually might happen than she is of the supernatural, and thus 28 Days Later - a film set four weeks after a viral holocaust has decimated the city of London - totally gets under my skin.  In a film full of violence and gore, one of the most disturbing scenes is as devoid of blood as it is of people.  It's when Jim - freshly awoken from a coma - wakes up to discover that the world has come to an end while he slept.  His slow, confused walk through the vacant London streets reminds one of how the unknown can be more terrifying that the monsters you can see.  Boyle's use of silence in the beginning is truly eerie, and then his slow musical  build coupled with his sweeping long shots over the empty streets and hazy sky is as gorgeous as it is creepy.  (And yes, that's a German accent you hear.  The only version I can find was dubbed in German, but all he says is "hello," so I figured it wouldn't matter much.)

Silence of the Lambs: Clarice and Buffalo Bill Face Off

Silence of the Lambs definitely has its fair share of gross-out scenes, but the scariest ones for me have always been the moments that are purely psychological.  Hannibal Lecter is creepy for sure, but the scariest moment of the entire film comes at the end, when Agent Clarice Starling realizes that she is in the home of the serial killer whom she has been hunting - totally alone and with no backup coming to her rescue.  The decision to cut the lights and film the majority of the scene from Bill's nightvisioned point of view was a stroke of terrifying brilliance, and no matter how many times I watch it, the sound of Foster's panicked breathing and the helpless sweeping of her hands through the darkness, mere inches away from the monster himself, always makes me hold my breath in nervous anticipation.

The Shining: All Work and No Play...

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining very well may be my favorite scary movie of all time, and it's right up there with my favorite films of all time as well.  And in a movie full of horrifying moments, one of the freakiest is also one of the simplest.  Wendy, suspecting that not all is well in paradise, decides to sneak a peek at the novel that Jack's been plugging away at for months, only to discover that it's hundreds of pages of pure madness.  Her husband hasn't just cracked, he's been cracked for quite some time, and the close up on Shelley Duval's face as she helplessly flips through the manuscript, coupled with Kubrick's masterful use of frantic music is just brilliant.

Misery: The Hobbling Scene

Annie Wilkes is the perfect argument for why madness trumps monsters in the scariness department.  Paul Sheldon, a writer whose biggest fan unfortunately happens to be a total loon, has recently been caught trying to escape from her terrible care, and so Annie decides that she must teach him a lesson.  You know, to keep him safe!  Because I'm a big baby, I always cover my eyes the moment she swings her hammer into Paul's ankle, but maybe the scarier moment is the one after the deed is done - when she looks at him with complete adoration and total sincerity and says, "God, I love you," as "Moonlight Sonata" plays ever so softly in the background.

Feel free to share your favorite scary moments if you'd like to play along, and Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008
stuff i made: halloween edition
Our annual Halloween party is this Saturday, and since I've recently had more than the usual amount of time and nervous energy on my hands, I've decided to get crafty. Observe:

Although country cabin is the polar opposite of my typical decorating aesthetic, I have a bit of a soft spot for seasonal door wreaths.  Unfortunately, they have a tendency to be pricey and I have a tendency to be cheap.  Thus, I made my own out of discounted ribbon and a $4 wreath form.  It's pretty cute, fairly inexpensive and wasn't too much of a time commitment:

These festive votives - constructed from baby food jars, crepe paper and glue - were a messy pain in the arse to make, but the end result is so adorable that it was ultimately worth getting decoupage in all sorts of surprising places in both my house and on my anatomy. I can't wait to see them outside and all lit up!:

And although I haven't made this Halloween garland yet, I'm thinking that I'm gonna: (Assuming I can get my house properly cleaned in time, that is...)

(All ideas via Craft.  Follow the links for more specific directions, should you desire them.)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
weekly book review, halloween edition: the terror, by dan simmons
On May 19th, 1845, British bombships Erebus and Terror set sail from the Thames River stocked will three years worth of food, 126 men, and the mission of seeking out the elusive Northwest Passage. Being that they are traveling on the first steam-powered vessels ever to explore the icy Arctic waters, the men think they have every reason to be confident, but by 1848 all passengers were presumed dead and neither ship was ever seen again. Unsuccessful expeditions charged with finding the missing ships produced clues as to how the men may have met their end, but to this day the individual fates of the men of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are at best a speculation.

Dan Simmons blends what little is known of this doomed Arctic excursion into The Terror - a fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin's final voyage. Simmons' story opens on Francis Crozier, Captain of the HMS Terror, who has been landlocked in a frozen landscape for the better part of a year thanks to Franklin's poor decision making. Beset by ice, Crozier and his fellow captains had hoped for a summertime thaw that never came, and so are in the middle of their second winter spent trapped on their quickly failing ships. As if things were not bad enough, their dwindling food supply is feared to be contaminated by poisonous lead, several restless sailors are in danger of becoming mutinous, and they are being slowly stalked by a supernatural polar bear-ish monster that is methodically hunting and eating the crew. One-by-one, the men of Erebus and Terror begin to meet their terrible ends - victims of either the elements, their poisonous rations, or the strange monster that seems able to appear and disappear from the ice as if by magic. It eventually falls on Crozier to led these men off their ships and into the barren landscape, desperate for a chance at a salvation that seems impossible.

With Halloween just around the bend, my craving for a scary book led me to The Terror, despite approaching it with some hesitancy due to the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of historical fiction, frankly couldn't care less about nautical journeys, and - weighing in at a whopping 771 pages - The Terror looked like a beastly tome requiring the sort of time I wasn't really sure I was willing to commit. But it quickly became clear that the time it would take to tackle The Terror would be time well spent, as I quickly found myself drawn into the world of Crozier and his men.

Ultimately, The Terror reads like two separate novels - one a nautical disaster and the other a supernatural thriller -and while I can understand why some would see this as a point of critique, it totally worked for me. I loved the supernatural element every bit as much as I loved reading about the trials and tribulations of the doomed exhibition. For me, the presence of the monster really elevated a misadventure story into something much more imaginative and unique, and although it didn't terrify me exactly, it certainly provided me with a fair share of moments that made my hair stand on end.

All and all, I've never read anything quite like The Terror. It's a tale of survival, of adventure, of horror and of Inuit mythology, and it's also an immensely satisfying read. I can't recommend it enough.

The Terror
Dan Simmons
771 pages, 2007

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Monday, October 27, 2008
hello, cupcake!
I'm hosting a party this weekend, and since eating large pieces of food at a cocktail party can be a cumbersome, irksome and altogether awkward experience, I decided that I wanted to experiment with tiny things.  Figuring that I should also aim for something appropriately autumnal, I came up with this:

The result?  A tiny little bite of deliciousness that's stupidly easy to make and perfect for a fall party.  And did I mention that they're adorable?  Because they are.

(Cake recipe via Martha Stewart, Frosting recipe via Cupcake Bakeshop)

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random posts of pretty
The Rainy Day, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008
in the spirit: halloween edition
Ordinarily, I loathe it when people dress up their animals, but I'm not going to even try to pretend that I didn't spend upwards of an hour perusing Martha Stewart's Halloween pet costume contest submissions. Good God there's some cute stuff over there, so even though it was difficult to choose, here are five of my favorites:

And no, my Chloe won't be dressing up this year. I made a half-hearted attempt to do her up as a witch a few years back, but it turned out to be a total exercise in futility, as she immediately removed all traces of the costume, shook the ever loving life out of them, and then humped them. As is her custom.


Friday, October 24, 2008
random posts of pretty: portishead's "roads"
It took me a bit longer than normal this year but I'm really starting to get in a Halloween state of mind, and Portishead is one of my favorite bands to listen to when the days get shorter and the landscape becomes increasingly dreary. "Roads" has the perfect amount of melancholy for a gloomy late October day, and although it's more than ten years old, it's aged surprisingly well:

Damn, but that string section slays me!

(And have a happy weekend, you. Embrace the gloom, and keep it creepy...)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008
musings of a fake american
That’s right; I’m a fake American. Sure, I was born here, work here, was educated here, vote here, and pay taxes here, but no matter. I’m still a fake American.

Why? Well, first of all, I wasn’t born in, nor do I currently reside in, a small town. And according to Sarah Palin, she and John McCain "believe that the best of America is in these small these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America...hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation." Now while it might be true that I once briefly resided in one of those “wonderful little pockets” of rural America – a magical place where no one was ever mean, apple pie grew on trees and everyone was as white as the driven snow - my tenure there was brief, as we had to leave it all behind for the big city – a terrible place full of Democrats, terrorists, Christian-haters, good schools, and jobs. Shudder!

But in addition to where I live, I’m also a liberal, and according to GOP Representative Robin Hayes, “liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God.” And while it’s true that I – a fake American – also work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God, I am also a liberal, and so I guess this means that I only love my fellow fake Americans who work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God. But just the fake ones. Not the real ones. I freaking hate the real ones.

Finally, I’m also a feminist, and as such I’m a part of – as McCain called it – the “liberal feminist agenda for America.” And while I’m not entirely certain what is officially on the liberal feminists’ agenda, I’m guessing that it has something to do with not using air quotes when referring to women's health, properly funding the Violence Against Women Act, and not making victims of sexual assault purchase their own rape kits. And since I think those things all sound pretty terrific, then there you go. Strike three. Fake American.

So even though the evidence is clearly overwhelming, I must admit that I’m having a rather difficult time coming to grips with all this. See, I’ve always figured myself for a real American, so the discovery that I’m actually a fake one comes as a bit of a shock. I always thought that being a real American meant embracing democracy, being inclusive rather than exclusive, taking care of one another other, and having the freedom to worship how I want, think what I want, and love whomever I choose. Furthermore, I also thought that being a real American meant NOT CALLING SOMEONE UN-AMERICAN SIMPLY BECAUSE HE OR SHE HAPPENS TO DISAGREE WITH YOU.

But clearly I was wrong. Clearly, that’s just what us fake Americans believe in. Whoopsie. My bad!

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attack ads got you down?
Then this should make you smile.  Here's what it might look like if McCain were to hire John Woo, Kevin Smith and Wes Anderson to direct his campaign ads. My personal favorite is Wes Anderson's, but you probably could have guessed that...


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
random posts of pretty
Being that I live in a highly industrialized area and often find myself driving through sites that are the direct opposite of pretty, I have a special appreciation for Dave Bullock's gorgeous Industrial Landscapes series:

Personally, I have a hard time finding the beauty in old factories, soot, concrete and the grime, but it's clearly there. Just hiding.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
parents, please - a few small things that you really need never mention at parent/teacher conferences:
Your child often reads the books I've lent him while sitting on the toilet.

The whens and whys and hows of your divorce

Your child's former best friend (and my current student) has recently turned into a total hussy and will sleep with almost anyone.

You think that reading is a silly waste of time.

Let's just say you wouldn't be opposed to the idea of trading money and/or goods for an A in my class.

Your recent graduate is adjusting quite nicely to college, and applying those hard-earned English skills honed at ___ High School by writing and selling essays to her friends for $50 a pop. 

You think all elective courses - regardless of what they are - are silly, unimportant "blow-offs," and the fact that your child is not earning an A in one means that the teacher is "ridiculous."   (I'd particularly recommend you avoid saying this if the teacher to whom you are venting happens to also teach elective courses.)

The particulars of your child's fairly benign, yet still sort of gross medical condition

That your child thinks I'm cute

That you think I'm cute

Thank you.  That is all.

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Monday, October 20, 2008
file under: awesome
There's something about watching McCain supporters stand up to the ignorant hate mongers who have been flocking to recent rallies like flies to a cow patty that just makes my heart feel good.

Go on and watch.  Make your heart feel good too:


this one's for my fellow Project Runway fans...
...of which I know there are at *least* two of you.  

So,  remember in the finale how Nina was all, "Kenley, your work is pretty, however awfully familiar."  And Kenley was all, "Oh no you didn't!  Don't you be calling me a plagiarist.  My shit's legit!" 

Well, so much for legit, Kenley.  Boo!


monday book review: oryx and crake, by margaret atwood
Oryx and Crake is the story of a dystopic future that feels alarmingly similar to our real-world present - a time when global warming is a worrisome reality, when genetic experimentation is a issue of much debate, and when scientific advancements often reach further than our ability to fully comprehend their future effects. Taking her inspiration from these current concerns, Atwood focuses her eleventh novel around this central question: What will happen to humanity if our scientific advancements are allowed to proceed unchecked? And her answer - while gripping - ain't pretty.

Oryx and Crake begins shortly after the apocalypse, and shifts back and forth between present and past to reveal how things fell apart. The story opens on Jimmy, a man who believes himself to be the last surviving member of the human race. Starving, alone and dangerously exposed to the elements, Jimmy spends most of his time foraging for remnants of food, alcohol, and protection from the garish sun. The remainder of his time he spends looking over The Crakers - a new race of man, created by science to be perfectly adapted to the harsh environmental conditions and humanity's only hope. Jimmy has been hiding out on the outskirts of the Crakers' community, waiting for the terror that has been released upon humanity to run its course, but the fear of starvation ultimately forces Jimmy to leave the Crakers - for whom he has become something of a god - and return to what remains of the world he left behind. His journey back sparks the memories that reveal how the present came to be, unfurling a story that's King's The Stand meets Huxley's Brave New World.

As a fervent fan of both Margaret Atwood and dystopic literature, it goes without saying that Oryx and Crake was right up my alley. Atwood never fails to impress me with her imagination, skill, and thoughtful critique, and this novel had all of those things in spades. Oryx and Crake is a troublesome warning for our present, a reminder that just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean that we should, and an example of Atwood at her finest. I highly recommend you give it a gander.

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood
2003, 376 pages

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Sunday, October 19, 2008
sunday song
This one goes out to the great Levi Stubbs, who died Friday, peacefully and in his sleep. My parents have given me a number of invaluable gifts in my thirty years, and a deep love for Motown - The Four Tops in particular - nears the top of the list. 

Rest in Peace, Mr. Stubbs.  You were one class act:


Friday, October 17, 2008
know hope
It's only Friday and so technically I'm still on my blogging sabbatical, but after a week fraught with frustrations and worries it sure was nice to click on over to Andrew Sullivan's blog and read this:
"I'm 84 years old. I had a lot of good colored people. They didn't bother me. I didn't bother me. They was good to me; I was good to them. That's all I can say,"  - Steve Nagy, retired miner in West Virginia, to David Greene of NPR.
Am I disgusted, appalled and frankly a bit terrified of some of the hateful venom that certain desperate factions are spewing? Of course.  But at the end of the day, I remain confident that this election will ultimately be more about how far we've come rather than how far some of us still need to go. 

And I'll be back to my version of normal on Monday, but in the meantime have a restful weekend.  Missed you and junk.

Monday, October 13, 2008
gone fishin'
I currently have several things that need attending to both at work and at home, and thus I'm taking the week off in an effort to keep my attentions focused where they need to be. Enjoy the beautiful weather, and I'll meet you back here next week.

Friday, October 10, 2008
isn't it "ironic"
Today, after reading all of this:

I used to sneak outside after curfew to "play" with the next door neighbor.

Overall, I think that Michael Moore is a excellent "filmmaker."

John Proctor was a tragic "hero" in 'The Crucible'.

I "believe" that prejudice is one of the worst "flaws" a person can have.

I know I "wrote" that essay. I just forgot to turn it in.

'Grizzly Man' depicts Timothy Treadwell, a "man" whose obsessions ultimately led to his "death."

....I am left to assume one of two things is true:

1) Many of my students are operating in a wholly ironic world where all meaning is merely figurative,


2) The vast majority them have absolutely no stinking idea how to properly use quotation marks.

Either way, I'm "concerned."


Wednesday, October 08, 2008
random posts of pretty
Recently, I was able to catch the film Fur, a marvelous, cinematically lovely, and fantastically bizarre "imaginary portrait" of famed photographer Diane Arbus. The movie is certainly worth your time, if for no other reason but than to see Robert Downey Jr. playing a man suffering from a condition that covers his entire body in a thick coat of fur. (And yet he somehow remains dead sexy. That man is one rare specimen, no?)

Anyway, watching Fur piqued my interest about the true life and work of Diane Arbus, so I thought I'd do some investigating. What I discovered is that her photographs are every bit as unsettling, unique and - yes - lovely as the film they inspired. And I absolutely lurve them.

Here's a sampling of some of my favorites:

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hello, cupcake!
So, this very well may be one of *the* most unique things I've ever made, but in honor of my husband - a man born without a sweet tooth - it was the perfect birthday treat:

(Recipe via Michelle of Fine Furious Life)

Level of Ease: Very

Tastiness Factor: Well...excellent! Despite the unconventional form, this is perhaps one of the best meatloaf recipes I've ever stumbled across. And as a added bonus, don't the pink mashed potatoes just scream manliness???


Tuesday, October 07, 2008
as a woman who once named a pair of pet treefrogs "patsy and edina"...
...this is the worst. idea. ever.

Seriously, if ideas could somehow become tangible and I were somehow capable of lighting things on fire with my mind, then the American version of Absolutely Fabulous would be going up in flames.  I mean, come on people - stop f@#ing with the things I love!

I'm presently about as busy as a one legged man in an ass kicking contest, but I did want to take a quick second to point out that today is my beloved's birthday. Perhaps you should send him some well wishes, yes?

(And I'm thinking he'll need them considering the fact that I'm attempting to make him these for his birthday dinner tonight. Maybe a quick prayer that I don't burn the house down is in order as well.)

Monday, October 06, 2008
monday book review: water for elephants, by sara gruen
The New York Times bestselling Water for Elephants is one of those sorts of books that finds me conflicted from the outset. On one hand, the subject matter is such that it's hard to imagine me not liking it. Since childhood, elephants have always been one of my favorite animals, and thanks to Carnivale (a television series that I loved more than most) I'm now a sucker for Depression-era circus stories. Based on those two points alone, this book appeared to have Mrs. White written all over it.  But on the other hand, Water for Elephants has become one of those "book club" reads, the vast majority of which are so often at odds with my personal tastes. (See, for example, my feelings regarding Jodi Picoult.) But winning the admiration of legions of middle-aged suburban housewives really shouldn't be reason enough to immediately dismiss something out of hand, so I gave it a shot in the hopes that the word "gritty" on the front cover was an apt descriptor.

And so was it? Well...sort of.

Jacob Jankowski, on the cusp of earning his Ivy League degree in veterinary medicine, suddenly abandons it all and joins the circus after the sudden, violent death of both of his parents.  But the fact that he never completed his degree is of little concern to The Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth, as he quickly lands himself a job as the official vet of the circus menagerie.  But despite the glitter and the glamour, it doesn't take long for the dark underbelly of the circus to reveal itself to Jankowski, and the pinnacle of this darkness takes the form of August - the troupe's paranoid schizophrenic head animal trainer.   Predictably, August is married to a beautiful, animal-loving woman, for whom Jacob is immediately smitten.  And since August is violently unhinged, this forbidden romance proves to be a very Bad Thing.

I'd like to start by saying that had it ended as well as it began, then this review would have been a rave one.  Sure, Gruen's prose isn't anything to write home about, but I was so engrossed by the story she was weaving that, though I noticed it,  it never particularly bothered me.  But while I devoured the first one hundred or so pages, about mid-way through things took a bit of a turn.  Suddenly the gritty circus drama I had so been enjoying turned into a romance novel - pure and simple, and that's when I began to lose interest.  See, it's not that I mind romance novels exactly, but it wasn't what I was expecting, and I suppose I would have been willing to go along with it had  I been able to buy into the chemistry between Marlena and Jacob.  Though Jacob was fully-formed, Marlena's character felt flat to me, and I found myself not really caring whether or not those two crazy kids would ever get together.  Instead, I just really wanted more scenes involving Rosie the Elephant.  

And so in sum, Water for Elephants is a quick, easy, and fairly engaging story that had the potential for being a great book, but instead settled for merely being good; however, if you're a fan of the circus, historical fiction and romance novels, then it comes highly recommended.

Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen
2006, 335 pages

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Sunday, October 05, 2008
"i believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers"
In case you missed it, I think Tina Fey may have done her best Palin yet on last night's SNL. She's pitch perfect, hilarious and I can't freakin' wait to get my Halloween costume together:


Friday, October 03, 2008
random posts of pretty
Holy smokes, those MIT students can fold some serious origami. How they did all these with only one sheet of paper I have no idea.

Mind. Blown.


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Thursday, October 02, 2008
a few things that, if they were to actually happen, would mean that the events of tonight's vp debates will have met my absurdly high expectations
Sarah Palin enters the stage walking a dinosaur on a leash.

Joe Biden, in an effort to not come off too tough on Palin, enters wearing a fluffy, pink bunny costume.

When asked about his foreign policy experience, Joe Biden begins outlining a brief history of his tenure on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, but somehow ends with an explanation of how many Tanzanians there are in his home state of Delaware, and how he can’t so much as enter a dollar store without tripping on one.

Sarah Palin, when asked about her foreign policy experience, attempts to create a diversion by revealing that her mysterious lesbian friend is Clay Aiken.

Moderator Gwen Ifill, afraid of showing bias, doesn’t correct Palin on the status of Aiken’s gender and instead pulls out a puppy, asking, “Gov. Palin, wouldn’t you agree that this is the cutest puppy ever? Please spend a moment explaining just how cute this puppy is.”

In a desperate effort to make up some of the ground he lost to the puppy, Joe Biden starts to perform a slow strip tease.

Sarah Palin, quick to defend her status as ‘the hot one’ in this Presidential race, removes her power suit to reveal a glittering red bikini, the top of which is decorated with tiny pistols fashioned out of rhinestones.

Moderator Gwen Ifill, afraid of showing bias, tells both VP candidates that they both look “quite nice.”

In an attempt to show how totally, absolutely, unarguably not racist he is, Joe Biden caps off his summary statements by announcing that his mother was Pakistani, then gives the Black Power salute.

Not to be outdone, Sarah Palin looks straight into the camera and reassures America that one of her very best friends is black, and while that isn’t a decision she would make for herself, she respects her friend’s choice.

Seriously folks, I'm positively giddy. There will be popcorn.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008
in celebration of banned books
Being Wednesday, today brings us smack dab in the middle of banned books week, and though it's depressing to think that we're living in a time where such a recognition remains necessary, necessary it nonetheless remains. So let's recognize, yes?

Here is the ALA's list of the most frequently challenged books of 2007/2008, and though I haven't read them all, I have read most of them. In fact, three of the titles on the list happen to comprise my favorite three young adult works of all time: Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Copies of all three books currently reside in my classroom library, and I frequently recommend and lend each title to my students. So, does that make me an irresponsible adult? Well, I guess it depends on who you're asking. But since there are those who would deem me irresponsible, I suppose I deserve the right to defend myself by defending the aforementioned titles.

And so defend I will. *Ahem*

The Chocolate War is #2 on the list, and is awarded that "distinction" for being sexually explicit, as well as containing offensive language and scenes of violence. And I will assure you that it does indeed contain all of those things. (Well, assuming you think a subtly written and very brief masturbation scene is reason enough to declare an entire book "sexually explicit." And maybe you do. Because you're a Puritan, perhaps.)

As far as young adult authors go, Cormier was one of the most intense. His books are dark, complex, and troublesome. They focus on subject matter such as the dangers of mob mentality (The Chocolate War), anger and revenge (Heroes) and insanity (I Am the Cheese). But underneath the violence lies an important message: Life is hard. Evil people exist. But, you do not need to become one of them! Be strong. Be brave. Be better. Who wouldn't want their child to hear such a message? Furthermore, how can this message be realistically delivered to a fourteen or fifteen-year-old kid in a story devoid of violence and offensive language? You can't have a resurrection without a crucifixion, folks. Cormier, particularly in The Chocolate War, speaks to the importance of personal responsibility and the dangers of mindless conformity. And really - this is something we should be protecting teens from?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 10th on the list, is charged with containing homosexual characters, being sexually explicit, containing offensive language, as well as being unsuited to its age group. With the exception of the latter, I again assure you that all accusations are true. But the language is more realistic than gratuitous, and the "sexual explicitness" is largely due to the fact that the protagonist eventually reveals himself to be a victim of molestation, an issue which is handled tactfully, honestly, and not particularly graphically. And unfortunately, 15 out of every 100 Americans is either a victim or a victimizer of child molestation, so failure to address this topic isn't doing any of us any favors.

And yep, there are homosexual characters in the book. Just like there are homosexual people in life! You know that idyllic small town you grew up in where everyone was "normal"? Well, hate to break it to you, but it didn't exist. There is no normal, diversity isn't scary, and the faster kids learn all that the better off we all are in the long run. Do you know what happens when homosexuality is connected with hatred and fear rather than understanding and empathy? Matthew Shephard happens. Think on it.

Finally, and perhaps most bizarrely, is The Golden Compass, reaching #4 on the list for its "religious viewpoint." Ahhh, where to begin... So author Philip Pullman is a self-proclaimed atheist. So freaking what? The book is a fantasy, and unlike other famous fantasy stories before it (*cough!* TheLionTheWitchandtheWardrobe *cough!*) it is not a particularly religious (or anti-religious) book. But so what if it was? If your faith is such that it can be shaken merely by reading a fantasy fiction book penned by an atheist, then I hate to break it to you - your faith was pretty damn weak to begin with.   

Nevermind that the dissenters aren't even pretending to separate the author's life from his work. We live in a scary time when an artist's religious affiliations (or lack thereof) are sufficient grounds for the censorship of his work. In the words of Pullman himself, banning a book on religious grounds is "the worst reason of the lot," and "destroying intellectual freedom is always evil." 

And what are the critics protecting our dear little children from by keeping them away from Pullman's trilogy? A epic adventure where the young female protagonist is depicted as being daring, tough, brave, intelligent and wholly capable. Nope. We wouldn't want our young girls (and boys, for that matter) reading that garbage...

To conclude, I would sincerely recommend any of the above titles to readers both young and old. Each is beautifully written, moving, and has brought something fresh, complex and incredibly valuable to the table.

And let's be honest - banned books are simply just more fun.

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