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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stalker Girl, August 2010

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sherman Alexie Takes a Meeting

Sherman Alexie--who is on Amazon's list (probably, you know, somewhere at the top of the list) of *most-requested* authors whose fiction is not available electronically--has generously agreed to meet with Amazon officials and listen while they beg him to reconsider.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Two Questions for Sherman Alexie

From today's NYTimes: "At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author of 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,' said he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices 'elitist' and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, 'I wanted to hit her.'"

What I would like to ask Sherman Alexie today:

1. Did you have an iPod, iPhone or laptop on you at the time that you found yourself wanting to hit the woman using her $359 Kindle?

What I would like to ask him ten years from now:

2. Still refusing to let publishers put your books in digital form?

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Movie Rating Ridiculousness

Last night, my husband and I waited for our nine-year-old, music-loving, piano-playing, song-writing daughter to go to sleep before watching the movie Once, which the MPAA in its reactionary wisdom slapped with an R rating. Normally we try, as much as possible, to make up our own minds about these things. We realized a few years ago with Bend it Like Beckham , which is rated PG-13 (apparently for sports bras, a kiss, and the word “lesbian”) that we wouldn’t let them decide what was and wasn’t appropriate for our kid, at least when it came to PG v. PG-13. I’d lazily assumed that an R meant at the least some serious sex or violence.

Well, this beautiful film, made on a budget of a hundred-thousand Euros, is rated R purely for language. A few Irish-style f**ks fer f**k’s sake. Most American ears can’t even hear them. Among the movies currently in theaters which the MPAA thinks more appropriate for my kid (and yours) are:
The Kite Runner, which involves the
rape of a child.
I Am Legend, a sweet, post-apocalyptic tale about the last man on earth trying to avoid being eaten by “virus-crazed ex-humans.”
Juno, which is wonderful and probably rated right at PG-13. But Once, where no one has sex, or hits anyone is worse?
Lars and the Real Girl. Starring a sex mannequin.
This is too easy . . .

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Four Paragraphs

Novelist and memoirist Diana Abu-Jaber visited the college where I teach yesterday where she told us the story of her recent experience with a high school in Texas. The parents of three students objected to the teaching of her novel, Crescent, which has been praised for, among other things, presenting Iraqi-American characters "as real people."

This wasn't what bothered the parents, though. Rather, it was the presence of four paragraphs of sexual content.

The principal at the school ordered the teachers to stop teaching the book. The teachers protested and were offered a compromise: black out the four offending paragraphs and you can still teach the book. The teachers asked Abu-Jaber's permission to do so, arguing that while they were loathe to succumb to such pressure, they felt that there was so much else to be gained from this book, they hoped she would understand and assent to the practice.

As she considered the bargain, Abu-Jaber consulted with writers and "publishing people." The writers were adamant in their insistence that she say no. The publishing people, and even her own husband urged her to accept the compromise.

In the end, she came up with a compromise of her own. She would not give her permission, but she would not stand in the way if the teachers themselves wanted to do the blacking out. And if they did choose to black out the paragraphs and continue teaching Crescent, she would post the excised text on her web site.

Here's the story, straight from Diana Abu-Jaber's website:
Awful as censorship is, I’d always thought there was a reassuring familiarity about banned books—Huck Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lolita—classics powerful enough to frighten people into wanting to silence them.

After all, isn’t that’s what censorship is all about—fear—of controversy, sexuality, difference, of questioning the status quo?

Then I received a sensitive, beautifully-written email from Texas. It was from a high school teacher, informing me that my novel, Crescent, had been banned from her school due to the objections of the parents of three students over the sexual content of four paragraphs in the book.

Her principal was behind the ban, but after teachers protested he offered a compromise. This is an excerpt from the teacher’s letter:

“If we obtain your permission to black out the four offending paragraphs … we are allowed to include the book in our curriculum….I am willing to ask you to do the unthinkable – will you allow us to mark through these four paragraphs in the interest of introducing a discussion of a culture so frequently demonized and belittled in our part of the country? Will you help me bring into a politically conservative community a sympathetic view of Iraq and Iraqi people?”

And so, after much thought and much asking-for-advice, I thought I’d share the response I gave the teacher:

October 2, 2007

Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful email. I've spent several days considering your question.

Ultimately, I find that I can't condone your principal's offer to censor my novel in order to make it more acceptable. That said, you do have my permission, to do what you think is right for your students.

In a strange way, I suppose, I think this discussion is an encouraging thing. I find it fascinating that, in our culture of war, macabre violence, and shocking cinema, a literary novel could still carry enough of an impact as to make someone want to silence it.

My husband pointed out that censors are always with us, determining the limits of morality and conventions, in every source of art and information, from books to film to music. He argues, along with you, that it’s better to allow students to read some of a book—indeed most of a book—rather than none at all.

Even though I see the excellent sense of this argument, I couldn’t find a way to feel right about crossing out text. I became a writer in large part because I felt like I couldn’t otherwise make my voice heard. To agree to blackening out such passages feels like colluding in my own silencing.

I once had a debate with a student from Saudi Arabia. I’d complained to him that the problem with America was that nothing was sacred. He’d laughed at me and said, on the contrary, that the great thing about America was that nothing was sacred.

I worry, though, that the American problem is that the wrong things are sacred.

I won’t belabor pointing out the obvious irony of blacking out scenes of love-making in a book that’s concerned with the depiction and the violence of unjust wars and dictatorship. We all already know this—in America, love gets bleeped, the violence stays. The two main characters in Crescent are in love, the few sexual passages in the book are far from graphic. Indeed, the scenes in which they cook and eat together are nearly just as suggestive as the contested passages.

But a friend, upon hearing about this debate, postulated that the real reason the students’ parents are upset is because the book gives a human face to Arab Muslim people.

That might be the part of this that unnerves me the most – and like so many forms of subtle discrimination and racism, we’ll never really know if that’s the case or not. The people who want the book banned may not even be entirely conscious of it themselves.

So I thank you for giving me the chance to think out loud a little about such an important issue. If you decide to proceed with blacking out hte passages, I'll be happy to post the offending text on my website, so those students who might be curious, can decide for themselves if they'd like to see what the fuss is about.

Please feel free to share my response with your principal, the parents, and even with your students. It’s a wonderful object lesson in the free and open exchange of ideas vs. book banning, especially during this, Banned Books Week.

With great respect for wonderful teachers, like yourself,

Diana Abu-Jaber

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Compare and Contrast

How much do I love this girl for letting the New York Times take this picture for an article about the perfect, "amazing girls" of Newton, Mass? The admissions committees at the colleges where she's applied ought to let her in just for this. And hats off to her mother for getting out of the way.

I have a feeling the mother in this picture wasn't so relaxed fifteen minutes before the photographer arrived.

The article was so depressing, for so many reasons. Chief among them the knowledge that were I applying today, I'd never get into my alma mater. Not even on the wait list.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Difficult First Novel

The UK version of too many writers, too little readers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I'm Not J.K., and This Isn't The Balmoral, But

I'm not J.K. Rowling, and this isn't The Balmoral, but I've just finished my work-in-progress, Stalking Taylor Deen, in room 2225 of the San Jose Holiday Inn and I'm leaving some (temporary) J.K.-inspired graffiti to commemorate the occasion.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Three Cheers for Kate Winslet

When a tabloid claimed she was seeing a diet doctor, she sued and won a settlement and is donating it to an eating disorder charity.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Talk

Listen to this smart, funny radio piece by a teenager from Maine. It's about "The Talk" and how even "great" parents like hers are failing to talk to their teens about sex.

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