Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", My Read for Banned Books Week 2012.

To help decide what to read for Banned Books Week, I looked over a book called, appropriately, Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle.  Doyle's book is itself quite interesting and full of intriguing tidbits.  For example, in 1981 the novel Don Quixote was banned by the Chilean military junta for supporting individual freedom and attacking authority.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (hereinafter "Wallflower") warranted in its Banned Books listing about a column and a half of commentary.  The picture below shows photocopies of the listing.  The book is about a young man in his first year of high school and Wallflower's target audience is the high school age reader.  As a result, the challenges were mainly to the book's inclusion on summer reading lists and in school libraries.  Two particular listings transformed this book into an instant must read for me.

First, in 2005 the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote school district superintendents and principals "asking them to make sure that the book is no longer available to minors or any other students."  Oh, Arizona.  What shall we do with you?

Second, a Wisconsin group called West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries worked for four months to have Wallflower (and other books) moved from the community library's young adult section to the adult section and labeled as containing sexual material.  The library board voted unanimously to keep the book in the YA section and rejected labeling or restricting access to it.

So, controversial in Wisconsin.  Banned in Arizona.  And based upon everything I read in Banned Books, I concluded that Wallflower's plot ventures into all the hot button issues of adolescence: sex, drugs, suicide -- even awkwardness.

In sum, it is perfect reading for Banned Books Week.

So I read.  And I'll post more thoughts on The Perks of Being a Wallflower later in the week.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Malice of Fortune" Holds No Riches for Me

I'm finding Malice of Fortune, a murder mystery set in 16th century Italy, to be very slow going.  This is disappointing because I enjoy mysteries and historical thrillers.  But alas, despite the promise of corrupt Popes, Machiavelli, and even Leonardo da Vinci, I'm not finding this story to be exciting.  Since I have a huge stack of other promising books, I am giving up on Malice of Fortune.

If you are looking for suspenseful historical fiction to read, check out Company of Liars by Karen Maitland.  Set in England during the Middle Ages, it is about a group of strangers who travel together trying to outrun the plague.  It's a good story.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Banned Books Week: September 30 - October 6, 2012.

Banned Books Week starts next Sunday, September 30th.  To mark the occasion I've read Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which has just been released as a movie. With respect to the book, more thoughts later.  Suffice it to say for now that it's amazing.  Consider reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower yourself to celebrate Banned Books Week!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall Reading: Books with Buzz.

Although autumn doesn't start officially until September 22, it feels like it is already here with kids back in school, football on television, and leaves falling in the yard.  It's sad to see the summer end.  However, we can take solace in the fact that as the weather cools and the days continue to get shorter, there will be more time for reading and lots of interesting new books available.

Here are a few books that are already getting a buzz, and which I will likely read in the coming weeks:

  • J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is releasing her first book written specifically for adults, The Casual Vacancy.  If The Casual Vacancy is even close to being as interesting as the Potter books, I'll be happy.
  • Lee Child has another Jack Reacher book available, A Wanted Man.  Although I skipped Reacher's last outings, The Affair and a Kindle-only story, Deep Down, I'm ready for another Reacher yarn.

  • Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.  McEwan writes beautifully.  I enjoyed the experience of reading Atonement and Saturday and look forward to this new work which The Irish Times described as an espionage novel and love story that is readable and funny.  
  • Sutton by J.R. Moehringer.  A novel about one of America's most famous bank robbers, Willie Sutton.  J.R. Moehringer was a correspondent for the L.A. Times and is the author of the memoir The Tender Bar.  

  • The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.  Art thieves, obsessed collectors, forgery:  It all sounds exciting to read about.

  • Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf.   I'm a big fan of Chris Knopf's books, including the recent Ice Cap.  In the reviews I've looked at of Dead Anyway, Knopf reportedly goes in a different direction with this book.  I'm looking forward to checking it out.

  • The Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammet.  Two novella-length stories by Dashiell Hammet, this book was mentioned by Otto Penzler in an LA Times article last spring.  I absolutely love the Thin Man movies and definitely plan to read this book.  
If there is a particular book, new or otherwise, that you are planning to read this fall, let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Exciting Mystery from Howard Owen: "Oregon Hill"

Author Howard Owen hits it out of the park with his new novel, Oregon Hill. The protagonist in this fast-paced mystery is Willie Black, a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper reporter.  Black's drinking, and attitude towards management, has gotten him busted down from covering the state capitol to covering the night cops' beat.  But he is a wily 30-year veteran of the newspaper business and when a university student is found murdered, Willie Black is on the story.

What Black doesn't expect is that the story will take him back to his days growing up in Oregon Hill, the tough neighborhood where his mother still lives.  After the police make an arrest in the murder case, Black's local knowledge and connections - including an ex-wife who represents the defendant - make him question the case built by the cops.  And as it turns out, questioning the cops is a very dangerous thing.

Oregon Hill is truly a page turner.  But in addition to being an exciting read, Howard Owen folds in many engaging stories, ranging Willie Black's life growing up as a mixed-race kid in a tough, all white neighborhood, to the decline of the newspaper business, and Black's spin through three marriages.

Willie Black is smart and likable.  I hope there are more books featuring this character in the future.  But for today, check out Oregon Hill.

A special thank you to my husband, Bill, who suggested this book to me.