Daily Prompt: Quote Me


Although I’ve followed WordPress‘s Daily Prompt for many months, I have not often jumped on board and followed up with a post. They may rattle around in the back of my mind and inspire me days, weeks or even month’s later. But this one stopped me. This is easy I thought.

I love quotes. I Pin quotes. I Google Quotes. I eagerly await the Daily Quote from Goodreads. I stop what I’m reading to copy quotes.

But a quote to which I return over and over? That challenge narrowed the field considerably. I have several quotes about reading and books, but they are not where I turn for inspiration or motivation. When I’m in a bad place, or in need of a push, I turn to the brilliant Toni Morrison.

If you wanna fly

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: My Favorite Banned Books

My (almost) Wordless Wednesday tribute to just five of my favorite frequently challenged or banned books, in honor of this week’s celebration of our Freedom to Read. I’ve chosen just one of the numerous recent challenges provided by the American Library Association.

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

  • Removed from required reading lists and library shelves in the Richmond County, GA. School District (1994) after a parent complained that passages from the book are “filthy and inappropriate.”

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Challenged at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of “language and sexual references in the book.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

  • Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.”  The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

  • Challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA High School honors class (1984) due to the work’s “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.”

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

  • Banned from the George County, MS schools (2002) because of profanity. Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High Schools (2003) because the books contains “racial slurs, profanity, violence, and does not represent traditional values.”

All images of book covers are from Goodreads.

What are your favorite banned books?

Preparing for Banned Books Week

First of all, credit goes to lifeofabookjunky.tumblr.com for the excellent image, which I found, unsurprisingly on Pinterest.

Here’s the thing. I can do this. I can read until I feel better. That is my right and my privilege. I can pick up any book, of any style, in any format and read to laugh, or to cry, or to escape, or to wonder. That means a lot to me this week as I grieve and it should mean a lot to everyone, every day.

Next week is Banned Books Week (http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/) and the internet is all aflutter with images, displays and lists of banned or censored books. I don’t use my blog to push politics or draw people into debate, but censorship (especially of books) is another matter. This issue is my particular soapbox, so up I climb.

I’ve never intentionally set out to read books that others have tried to censor, but a quick glance at the American Library Association’s list (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedclassics) of most frequently banned books shows that my reading taste must just veer toward the controversial. I’ve read most of the top 20, including such shocking titles as Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple.

It is no exaggeration to say that my life would be radically altered had I not read the above mentioned books.

Of Mice and Men is the first work of fiction I truly devoured. As a freshman in Mrs. Kirtley’s English class, I pulled apart, outlined, questioned, considered and reassembled this amazing piece of American literature. Steinbeck taught me that fiction could be socially responsible, that fiction could take me deep inside a stranger’s soul and teach me about history. Steinbeck showed me the glory of good writing.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Who can possibly take exception to this book? Scout Finch taught me all about smart young female narrators. (How did that change my life? Well, since I was smart young girl, I could identify.) Seriously, I believe I learned more about courage and integrity from Scout and Atticus than I did from any person I had ever met in real life.

The Color Purple was my first foray into African-American literature, and certainly if I had never read Walker, I would have never read Toni Morrison. The Color Purple opened up a world I knew nothing about and triggered a desire in me to learn more about our own country’s complicated history.

I could go on (and on and on), but I’ll stop here. Instead, I’m going to take a closer look at that list and see what other “illicit” titles I might want to investigate. If the rest of the titles are anything like the top ten, crazy people out there are trying to squash the best books around.

I leave you with some other great images from Pinterest and ask you to consider a “Banned Book” for your next reading choice.

Monday Quote: I want to fly

You wanna fly, you got to get rid of the shit that weighs you down.”

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Yes, I want to fly.

Not in an Icarus kind of way, but I do want to soar in this life. I want to succeed in my career. I want to write with passion and wit. I want to raise my sons to be fine men. Mostly, I want to embrace endless possibility and run with it instead of running away.

So, via the brilliant Toni Morrison, I ask myself, “What kind of shit is weighing me down?” I can easily identify the two biggies.

  • Self-doubt. I spend too much time asking myself, “Can I do this?” instead of just going for it. I know I have passed up opportunities to fly because I was afraid. I stage long internal battles with my own doubts and fears, giving myself pep talks and motivational speeches.
  • Worry. Different than self-doubt, worry is my favorite form of procrastination. Step by step I worry over every detail that can go wrong. Intellectually, I understand that worry is a useless emotion because it accomplished nothing, but my vivid imagination can be a curse in this department. I can come up with paralyzing lists of what could go wrong. Those possibilities sit in my head, holding me down.

It is time for me to let these bad habits go. I need to drop them on the ground so that I can rise up.  I will stop doubting that my wings will carry me. I will not worry about the turbulence.

I want to fly.

Home — not the Toni Morrison I know and love

book cover from Goodreads

Toni Morrison speaking at "A Tribute to C...

Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe – 50 Years Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart'”. The Town Hall, New York City, February 26th 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Full Disclosure: I am a huge Toni Morrison fan – like the read all of her novels, follow her on Facebook, order her new releases months in advance kind of fan. My English teacher assigned Song of Solomon when I was in high school and I’ve been hooked ever since. Fellow readers have told me time and again that they just don’t get my obsession. They claim her books are messy and unfocused, too much that’s unbelievable, language that’s too dense. “What’s the story,” they’ll ask. These are the very reasons I adore her. Before I knew the term magical realism, I understood Morrison’s mysticism. I fell in love with her language and never looked back.

So with all that baggage, I should not be surprised that her new slip of a novel could disappoint me. Set around the Korean War, the Money siblings just can’t seem to catch a break. Frank has watched his best friends die in war and returns home unable to face reality or return to his hometown.

In Lotus you did know in advance since there was no future, just long stretches of killing time. There was no goal other than breathing, nothing to win, and save for somebody else’s quiet death, nothing to survive or worth surviving for.”

Only when he finds out his beloved little sister Cee’s life is in danger is he able to take some action. From this premise, Morrison weaves her story in no specific chronological order, with alternating perspectives and bits and pieces of historical context. None of those devices are out of character for her, but in this case, it took me far too long to care about these characters.

I wanted to love Frank and be invested in his journey. Morrison gives us a glimpse into his soul —

As she stretched, her dress of a soft cottony flowered fabric rose up, exposing that seldom noticed, ooo-so-vulnerable flesh. And for a reason he still didn’t understand, he began to cry. Love plain, simple, and so fast it shattered him.”

But she pulls the story away from Frank before I can connect. The same is true of his trauma in Korea. We get so little of what could really have been an amazing book.

What died in his arms gave grotesque life to his childhood…They argued, fought, laughed, mocked, and loved one another without ever having to say so.”

Morrison hints at the bond shared by Frank and his friends, but I never truly understand the bond or its importance to him.

But, just as I was beginning to despair that I would never love this book, she pulls magic out of her hat. Through Cee’s journey the kinds of characters and language I identify so strongly with Toni Morrison begin to appear.

Misery don’t call ahead. That’s why you have to stay awake — otherwise it just walks on in your door.”

The wisdom in the mouths of older, uneducated black women felt familiar and right. Perhaps I felt like I’d read this section of the book before, but with so many pages leaving me without any footing, I was thrilled to take comfort in the ending.

Glad I read it, but not rushing out to recommend it.

Food for literary thought

BEFORE YOU READ THE REST OF THIS POST, close your eyes and think about your favorite authors. I’m talking your “go-to” writers, the ones you’ve read and possibly reread. Can you say, “I’ve read almost everything written by so-and-so?”

This morning, the moderator of one of my Goodreads Book Clubs asked this very question. (Thanks Deb at Bound Together.) Without having to think too hard, I immediately answered.

I have several adored authors. If I had to choose a few whose books consistently blow me away, I’d go with:

Toni Morrison whose latest book in coming out in May. I know she’s not for everyone, but I love her voice and the way magic and ghosts and folklore are just woven into every story.

Ann Patchett because she’s smart and her settings are incredible and she can really craft a sentence.

Geraldine Brooks for historical fiction. No need to say more.

Aimee Bender is a newbie for this kind of list. But her books and short stories take me to such interesting places that I can’t wait to see what she has in store next.

As I prepared to post my comment, I realized that I had chosen all female authors. Frankly I was surprised. If you had asked me yesterday whether I preferred male or female authors, I would have refused to answer such a ridiculous question.  Of course I also have male authors I follow closely – Colum McCann and Dennis Lehane come to mind immediately.

I want to believe I read blindly when it comes to an author’s gender. But I’ve read multiple articles in the past month on the gender gap in literature and they have me questioning my own literary assumptions.

In a wonderful New York Times article by Meg Wollitzer, On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women – NYTimes.com, she writes:

But the top tier of literary fiction — where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation — tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male. Will the literary habits of a culture change as younger readers take over?

I certainly don’t classify as a “young reader,” but I do believe I buck the male dominated trend.

  • According to my Goodreads stats, 51 of the 88 books I read in 2011 were by women. (I realize this is only one year of reading so it doesn’t prove much, but it’s all I’ve got.)
  • 9 out of the 10 books on my “Best of 2011” list are by women. https://alenaslife.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/bestbooks2011/ Again, it’s one year of many, but those are the numbers.

I want to believe that none of this matters. I want to assume that the above-mentioned authors are not my favorite because they are women, but because they are fantastic writers. But it’s given me food for thought today.

Now think back on the authors you chose as your favorites. Are they all one gender? Or, did you have some of each? Does it matter?