Friday, August 22, 2014

The Library, the Book Club & the Banned

Reading is vitally important for becoming a writer and reading a wide range of well written books provides an excellent background of skills to draw upon. But for the past few of years, I focused my reading into a narrow range: first novels. I wanted to see how the author started out. How a series began. Get an idea of how they developed their craft. It was helpful, but limiting.

Last January, in an effort to read more of a variety, I joined two groups—one for books and one for short stories—both meet at the Fairmont branch of the Davenport Public Library.

The group that gets together for the discussion of short stories also serves up sweets, hence the name, Shorts and Sweets. Food must bring out the best in people, because attendance is always high and so is the participation. I’m exposed to so much thoughtful literary introspection I could swear I’m in a college class. I always learn something. The treats are a nice bonus.

I can’t fault the selection. I’ve liked some of the short stories so much that I’ve had to share them with others. Free Radicals by Alice Munro was a recent example. The way the elderly protagonist turned the tables on her adversary still makes me smile. A very clever treat.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is another example of good writing that impresses, stirs the imagination, and satisfies the need to be exposed to quality writing.

My favorite passage: “Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.”

To me, that quote speaks volumes about writing, the unique journey between the beginning and the end, and why every book has value.

However, instead of discussing artistic merits of The Book Thief at the last meeting of the West End Book Club, we spent most of the time on the topic of banned books.

The young protagonist of The Book Thief rescued a banned book from the ashes of a Nazi bonfire. The image of flames brought the group’s discussion to the recent riots in Missouri and how the banning of books still goes on there and in many other states and communities in our free country. Here are a few lists to check out:

I’ve read quite a few of those books. Some made no impression and I have to wonder why they were ever found offensive. Others have disturbed me. And others have stretched my world and challenged my definition of right and wrong, good and evil. I’m not the worse off for having read any of them. I’m still a mild-mannered Midwestern soul who will say “Hello” to anyone who crosses my path.  

I am thankful that Davenport, my new home, is not on any of those lists. 

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