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Archive for January, 2009

Banned Book Challenge 2009

January 27, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Lists

As I mentioned earlier, there will be two weeks this year that are set aside to highlight the issue of banned and challenged books.

The first is being hosted by the Pelham Public Library, Fonthill, Ontario. To learn more about the challenge, please visit their blog: Fahrenheit 451: Freedom to Read.

The second will be held the last week in September by the ALA.

As I already have so much on my plate, I’m only committing to reading three banned/challenged books between Feb. 22 and Jun. 30. They are:

  • The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Seeing as this is a challenge I try to do every year, I have decided to make this a perpetual personal challenge. I plan to keep an updated list at all times of banned/challenged books. The project will always be listed on my sidebar for future reference. Please feel free to bookmark it if you find it useful.

As a side note, here is a list of banned books I have already read throughout my life. I know it’s long, but if you read through it, you will see why I’ve made it. Who would’ve thought? (Books I’ve reviewed on this blog are linked).

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • A Light In the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (currently reading)
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
  • A Time To Kill by John Grisham
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara

Be aware that the lists I use are for books challenged world wide, not simply in my home country, although the lists I refer to first are made up by Canadian and American libraries.

If you’d like to see why some of the above have been banned or challenged, please see this list compiled by the University of California, San Diego.

Review: "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H.Lawrence

January 25, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence (1926)

First published July 1926 in Harper’s Bazaar.
Reprinted in The Dark Descent by permission of Laurence Pollinger, Ltd. the Estate of Mrs. Freida Lawrence Ravagli, and Viking Penguin, Inc.

Why is it that every short story I’ve read so far this year has me asking myself all sorts of questions? Such as these that I noted while reading D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”:

What is luck? Is it something you make for yourself, or what you make of those things that come your way? What is the cost of putting yourself completely into the hands of fate, not making any effort to take responsibility for your actions or become accountable for their consequences?

What of the suffering in dealing with the stress, the anxiety of waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen? What of the stress in being one who strives to make it happen, but for all the wrong reasons, and with so much effort, it ultimately costs them their sanity and their life.

In this story a son tries to make his mother happy, for “Although they lived in style, they felt always an anxiety in the house.” – a house that becomes haunted by the unspoken phrase, “There must be more money! There must be more money!”

The young son becomes haunted too, in a way possessed; raised in a world where one‘s self-esteem and social status was judged with a materialistic measuring stick.

I was saddened, and a bit taken aback, by his mother’s abdication of responsibility – for not being accountable for what was going on with the household finances. But, considering the times in which this story is written, I cannot be too harsh. However Lawrence captures this issue marvelously, so much so I feel this story transcends time and can still teach us something today.

The son takes it to heart; literally it seems, to find the luck his family is lacking.

He does find a way to make money – lots of it through a supernatural ability to guess the winners of important horse races.

“But what are you going to do with your money?” asked the uncle.
“Of course,” said the boy, “I started it for Mother. She said she had no luck, because Father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it might stop [the] whispering.”

At one point, Lawrence uses a description of the son that I found chilling: “big, blue eyes that had an uncanny cold fire in them.” As if he had a fire with no true heat; a heat that does not burn, warm, or nurture. It only consumes until there is nothing left to feed it. The boy is driven to succeed, being consumed by a need to provide something he feels will solve all his, and his mother’s problems.

Another telling episode is when the son arranges for his mother to receive a windfall on her birthday in order to help her pay off her debts. Of course, this does not happen; instead, she takes actions that only put the family into an even more financially precarious position.

Sound familiar? How many people refinanced homes to get money to pay for nicer cars, take expensive vacations, rather than pay down a debt they would not be able to pay if the economy turns for the worse, which it has? How many people have more than five credit cards in their wallets that are maxed out? Granted, not everyone lives this way, but some have, and are paying for it – or actually, unable to pay for it and thus why many are in so much trouble now.

I am not trying to disparage these people, only to point out how easily one can be caught up in trying to keep up. But with what? And why?

In the end, the son pays the ultimate price for his efforts to please someone who could not be pleased and to achieve a goal that in reality could never be realized.

This is an allegorical story, and a cautionary one at that. Of course this is my own opinion as the forward I read mentioned the allegory being about something else. I can see that because of the interactions between the son and mother. However, I read so much more into this, and as a reader this is my prerogative.

I will leave it to you to decide what you see in this story.

I am giving it a 5 Star rating as I went right through it and actually had to re-read it in order to ensure I didn’t miss anything. As with Philip K. Dick, D.H. Lawrence is not an author with which I am very familiar, however after reading this, I will definitely be on the lookout for more of his work.

And in a way, that is what these challenges are all about, not only reading more of a particular genre, but also introducing me to writers I’ve never read before. So far so good!

Mark Your Calendars

January 25, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

Not sure you are like me, but at the beginning of each year, I mark my calendar with important events so that I will not forget them.

There are two items that mean a great deal to me as a reader and I would like to post about them now so that if you have participated, or would like to participate, you can note down these very important dates.

The Canadian Freedom to Read week runs from February 22nd to the 28th this year. To learn more about it and what you can do, please visit the blog, Fahrenheit 451: Freedom to Read. If you look on their sidebar to the right, you will links to resources that will give you the information you need if you choose to consciously read banned books this year, regardless if you join the challenge. It wasn’t until I looked at one of their lists that I realized I had read several, and one of them, To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorites. How many have you read? How many will you read? Check it out. What you find may surprise you.

Banned Books Week (BBW) is hosted by the American Library Association (ALA) every year during the last week of September. This year, it is being run between September 26th and October 3rd. To find out more, please visit the ALA website. This year will be BBW’s 28th, yes that’s 28th, anniversary.

Both events remind us that reading is a freedom we cannot take for granted. Books are challenged, sometimes banned, each and every year. Books such as Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, A Light In The Attic by Shel Silverstein – the list goes on. And on.

Each of us have a right to form and express our opinions, even if they are unpopular with others, including the supposed majority. But that is the truly beautiful aspect of a democracy, the freedom to express ourselves through words, speech, and art.

If this is a subject that means as much to you as it does me, please note those dates above and make plans to participate in some small way – or big one, whichever suits you.

I know the Canadian blog will host a challenge, however I am not sure what is planned on the American side. If someone knows of a blogger who will be hosting a challenge for that week, or month, please leave a comment below with a link if you have it.

Perhaps if no one is hosting one this year, I may bite the bullet and try doing one myself. In fact, if you think that is a better idea…gulp…let me know.

Sunday Salon: LD Sunday. At last!

January 25, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

Yes, my Lazy Day Sunday looks like it’s finally going to happen.

Me + Comfy Sweats + Book/Short Stories + NHL All-Star Game = Very happy Brat.

Oh, and then there’s this:


This is Jolie, the newest addition to our family. Adopted from the SPCA, she has immediately made herself at home not only under our roof, but in our hearts.

I knew she had finally adjusted when she jumped up on my desk and decided the keyboard on my laptop had a very interesting texture and proceeded to browse through my RSS feeds. Thank goodness for the Back button as they somehow all ended up being marked ‘read’, which they were — just not by me.

Thanks to C.B. and John, I am reading more short stories than ever. I had tried the Short Story Challenge last year, but failed miserably. However, I like the idea that I’m not challenging myself to read more of these, but have the option from week to week whether or not to participate. It seems this suits me much better.

Today I plan to go through a couple of anthologies I have to find one or two stories that catch my eye. I just can’t figure out if I want to go with contemporary fiction, horror, or fantasy as those are my choices. Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

Also I must get to Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry because next weekend the Slaves of Golconda will be discussing it. For some reason I keep procrastinating about picking it up. Well, no more. I will prevail! If you’d care to join in, just click on the link provided. A special forum has been set up for us to chat and it looks great.

Well, off to snuggle into my couch with a book or two, hopefully to be joined by a little, furry lap warmer.

Ah, the joys of living with a cat. I’d nearly forgotten.

Review: A Little Something for Us Tempunauts by Philip K. Dick

January 19, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

“A Little Something for Us Tempunauts” by Philip K. Dick (1974)
Originally printed Final Stage (1975)
Reprinted in The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell (1987)

Read for Short Story Monday over at The Book Mine Set

“Every man has more to live for than any other man…It’s not what you have to live for; it’s that you want to live to see it, to be there – that’s what is so damn sad.” – Tempunaut Benz

Caught in a time loop, knowing they would die over and over again, three ‘tempunauts’ try to figure out how not to. One of them thinks he has the solution. Is it a solution to a real problem, or has he gone mad?

What does eternity mean to you: living throughout time watching everything change around you while you remain the same? What if the only “eternity” you can guarantee, is to pick a section of time and re-live it forever? Would this be a gift, a blessing – or a curse? If you had to decide, which would you chose?

This short story examines the possibility and the choice but in such a subtle way, it wasn’t until after re-reading it, then letting it mull over in my mind that I came up with those questions. Perhaps you will see something different.

According to the author:

In this story I felt a vast weariness over the space program, which had thrilled us so at the start — especially the first lunar landing — and then had been forgotten and virtually shut down, a relic of history. I wondered, if time-travel became a ‘program’, would it suffer the same fate? Or was there an even worse possibility latent in it, within the very nature of the paradoxes of time-travel?

That is the great thing about good stories such as this. To wonder about the potentialities of what the author was writing about; given just enough information to think about things and not have the author tell me what I should be thinking all along.

Rating short stories for me is always a challenge as I must tweak my system a bit to accommodate the format. They must be more intuitively derived. As such, I am giving this story a 4 Star rating as I cannot truly say it knocked my socks off. But I loved the writing and the fact the author did not get too technical thus distracting the reader away from the story.

This is my first time reading Philip K. Dick. It will NOT be my last.

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