BCN – January Reading Questions

Hello! Here it is already the last day of January. We are 1/12 into the new year! It still feels like Christmas was yesterday and that probably has nothing to do with the boxed decorations that are still sitting in the living room floor.

I want to keep the questions for the Book Club for Non-Readers short and simple. It’s not supposed to be school, it’s supposed to be fun. Let’s get to then, shall we?

  1. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?
  2. Both titles have been challenged* for different reasons listed in earlier posts. In your reading do you think the challenge was justified or not?
  3. The books are autobiographical. What did you learn about the author that was surprising?
  4. Do you feel any part of the story could have been left out? If so, do you think leaving out that part of the story would have changed the recommendation to ban the book?
  5. Did the book give you any new perspectives on life?

See? Simple and painless. The BCN isn’t one of those book clubs that makes you compare the literature to Proust or the Crimean War. These are questions you should get in the habit of asking yourself when you finish a book you enjoyed.

Another habit I’ve just started getting into is writing the significant quotes down. I don’t know to what end, but sometimes I enjoy reading a particular sentence so much, or it is so meaningful, that I don’t want to forget it.

Here’s what I captured from The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian:

So hunger is the not the worst thing about being poor.

He goes on to say tell the story of his sick dog, his best friend, and how the family doesn’t have any money to take him to the vet.

“Who has the most hope?” I asked.
Mom and Dad looked at each other. They studied each others eyes, you know, like they had antennas and were sending radio signals to each other. And then they both looked back at me.”Come on,” I said. “Who has the most hope?”
“White people,” my parents said at the same time.

The idea that hope is thing that can be measured is one thing. That is belongs, in the overwhelming majority to white people, is another thing. It gives perspective to this story so easily. And when you relate it to the earlier story about the dog, you can see how the pervasive lack of hope has woven its way through the generations of the Indians on this reservation.

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I’m looking forward to next month’s science fiction theme – two of my favorite titles are up: Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.


BCN – Banned Books!

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 3.19.10 PMSo, the way I decided to do this is not like an assignment or anything. Reading is supposed to be fun. At the end of the month I will just post some questions that you can think about and apply to the book you just read.

I do want to say that I really enjoyed The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. There is a movie adaptation of one of his books, Smoke Signals, that I saw several years ago and quite liked. I also found myself a bit puzzled as to why the book was challenged. According to the ALA (American Library Association) the book is frequently challenged:

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

As the book is semi-autobiographical I find this odd on several levels. The “depiction of bullying” is harsh, yes, but it is also something a lot of kids can relate to. In school you are frequently the bullied, the bully-er, the one who ignores the bullying or the one who tries to stop it. Most kids will move through at least two of these phases throughout their school years. The hero of our book is the bullied. To discount a person’s story as “unsuited for age group” not only dismisses the author, but also dismisses the redemption of the story.

The claims of cultural insensitivity and anti-family are statements about the narrator’s adjustment to his life off reservation and how they compare to his life on res. He talks about how Indians have been treated in the past and he also talks about how Indian’s see white people. I thought it was very appropriate. To distance yourself from this story because of those reasons is a bit ludicrous. If you don’t let your children read and experience injustice, how will they learn to fight it and how will they learn what it is like to be “other”? How will they learn to be compassionate?

The anti-family bit is just straight out ridiculous. The narrator has a wonderfully supportive family. Their existence is harsh and there is definitely a lot of grave reality that he has to deal with but at the core, his family cares for him as best they can. His best friend, however, lives in an abusive home. Some kids do, you know. Just because a character lives in an “anti-family” household doesn’t mean that the book is anti-family. If I recall, the same statement was said about the Harry Potter books.

I believe one of the reasons a lot of people don’t read is because what they were assigned as children was woefully lacking in self-identification. It’s hard to get excited about reading if every book tells the story of happy, well-adjusted children who go on to do great things. If you’re a kid who is living in foster care because your mother is a drug-addict and you have changed schools 4 times in a year is reading about some girl who finds out she’s a princess going to be something you really relate to? Not to exclude the great escapism that is reading, but sometimes you just want a little proof that you exist; that you are seen. And if you’re black or Indian or Chinese or Hawaiian or Welsh or Greek – whatever – you can grow weary of reading about white Americans all the time. Books help us explore other cultures. We can see what is different and what is the same about us. Books help us grow.

Ugh. I totally didn’t want to get on my soapbox now. This is what happens when you’re passionate about something – you want to share it with others. Like, in a big way. Sorry. You’ll get used to it. 🙂

Anyway, please check back on the 30th for a list of the questions for both books. I hope you enjoyed the read!

BCN – Online Resources

A short addition to yesterday’s post. I forgot to include where I sourced a lot of the titles on the reading list and sites for tracking your books/reading.

I encourage you to create an account on GoodReads or Library Thing. GoodReads is to review and keep track of the books you have already read or want to read. You can also post reviews, enter drawings for free books, discuss books with others and get recommendations based on books you enjoyed. I haven’t used Library Thing in a very long time, but I started it as way to categorize my craft books. In looking at the site just now I see there are discussion threads and book lists which help the community aspect. Choose whichever one works best for you. Or don’t. No pressure.

Might as well include the information for January’s books here while I’m at it.

The theme for January is Banned Books. Did you know there is a week in September celebrating banned books? I love that the ALA (American Library Association) sponsors it. Books are often challenged by for a variety of reasons usually related to someone’s idea of what is suitable for people under the age of 18.

I don’t remember my reading being censored at all as a kid so the idea of banning a book seems rather silly to me. I read anything I might find interesting. Judy Blume? Check. S E Hinton? Check. Sidney Sheldon? Check. I was a kid with a high reading level so when adults got excited about a title, I was likely to look into it and read it if I thought it sounded interesting. It made for some colorful school book reports, I’m sure. Although, to be fair to myself – no one ever challenged me on my reading material so I never even thought twice about the appropriateness of it.

I chose two books for January. Helen Keller: The Story of My Life as well as her other 11 titles were burned by the Nazis for promoting “un-German” ideas. After the publication of her first autobiography Helen started college at Radcliffe. The influences of her education and her friendship with Anne Sullivan and Anne’s husband, John Macy, brought justice to the forefront of Helen’s mind and she remained an activist for social reforms until her death in 1968. She became a socialist. She was a founding member of he ACLU. She was heavily involved with the NAACP. She campaigned for the rights of women (including birth control) and the disabled with fervor.

Keller was a radical. She held strong beliefs and was not afraid of challenges to those beliefs. While Americans did not seek to ban her books she did meet with some disfavor after she joined the Socialist Party with some detractors saying her disabilities hindered her thinking. She was quick to set them straight.

The Story of My Life is available for free at Project Gutenberg and at the Digital Library Project and most libraries will carry at least one copy. If you have access to a reader or an iPad I strongly recommend getting the OverDrive app. Once you are a library member you can get access to checking out audio or eBooks for free. Also, some books are available through Amazon Unlimited for free once you sign up for the $10/month fee. The link above is for a $2.25 paperback or a .99 kindle copy. There is also an audio copy on Amazon, but since you get a free trial of Audible for one week, I would suggest saving that for a month with a more difficult book, say September or November.

The other book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has been on my TBR pile forever. I know virtually nothing about it other than it is semi-autobiographical. It was challenged for language, sexual references, alcohol use and bullying. It was Alexie’s first YA novel and it is illustrated, sort of like a graphic novel. I found it through my library via OverDrive.

Other books on our reading list that have been challenged:

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • The Color Purple
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • A Wrinkle in Time

I chose to start with a banned book theme because, first, those are always the most fun to read. Secondly, these books are challenged mostly because someone gets their knickers in a twist when they see it in the library or on their kid’s reading assignment and they decide that they are now the moral barometer for everyone on earth and no one should have access. I think it’s one thing to say the book is inappropriate for your child, and a whole different kettle of fish to say no child should read it.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them. You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds.”   Helen Keller to “the Student Body of Germany” in 1933.