The Controversy over Book Censorship

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The Harry Potter book series, written by J.K. Rowling, has been a popular culture sensation since the first book was released in 1997. Since then, more than 400 million copies have been sold. Kristen Spicker, senior at Ohio University, began reading the books at a young age. Spicker claims that reading the Harry Potter books expanded her vocabulary and taught her that she could read large books without becoming discouraged.

Spicker believes that the Harry Potter books are valuable to readers of all ages. “You can read them when you’re in third grade or when you’re 30,” says Spicker.

But not everyone agrees. Some Christian fundamentalist and conservative groups think that the books are immoral and should not be read by younger children. In 2010, Roberta Combs, parent and president of the Christian Coalition of America, called for a ban on J.K. Rowling’s book series because, as she says, the books lead children to practice witchcraft and magic. Combs also argues that because one of the book’s characters, Albus Dumbledore, is said to be homosexual, the Harry Potter series “encourages homosexuality” and “is not a good example for children.”

The banning of books has been a controversial issue since the beginning of literature. According to Greek mythology, as early as 450 B.C., Greek philosopher Anaxagoras wrote that he thought the sun was a white-hot stone and that the moon reflected the sun’s rays. After reading Anaxagoras’s work, the Greek gods forced Anaxagoras to leave Athens and then burned all of his writings.

As shown by this tale, those in authority have forever been trying to control what people should and should not read. In America today, a huge part of the book banning and censorship debate centers on whether or not books containing explicit material should be allowed in public school curricula and libraries.

Proponents of book banning, like Combs and other pro-censorship activists, argue that restricting and removing books is a necessary action that must be taken to keep children from being exposed to vulgar content. On the other hand, opponents of book banning argue that literature should not be censored and that everyone has the right to read.

The book censorship activists use two main methods to censor literature: banning and challenging. Currently, there are no books banned in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped people and organizations from trying.

Though Combs’s proposed Harry Potter series ban has not been approved, Combs is now considering calling for a ban on the Twilight saga by Stephanie Meyer. Combs notes that vampires are not good role models and that the Twilight books promote teen marriage. Combs says, “These Twilight books are very disturbing books for family values.”

Though there are no banned books in the United States, organizations like Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (PABBIS) challenge books in schools and libraries with the hopes that schools and libraries will have to remove the material. Their ultimate goal, they say, is to protect children from explicit material when parents cannot be in the schools to monitor. The parents involved with PABBIS have challenged over 164 books in West Virginia schools. Some of the top challenged books in 2012 include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, My Mom’s Having a Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide by Dori Hillestad Butler and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. According to the PABBIS website, the censorship activists don’t necessarily believe in banning books, although they do believe that schools should not violate a family’s values by allowing young students to read age-inappropriate or obscene material.

Opponents of book banning believe that censorship is wrong and that everyone should have non-restrictive access to literature. One organization that strongly opposes censorship is the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA Code of Ethics states, “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”

Amy King, librarian at the local Athens County Public Library, says that while some customers complain about material found in books, the library has not removed any of the books from the shelves. “We review every issue. Sometimes we’ll move books from one collection to another, like from the children’s section to the teen section, but we’ve never removed any books,” says King.

While parents involved in PABBIS and other pro-censorship organizations argue that children must be protected from vulgar material when the parents cannot monitor, King believes that books containing age-inappropriate material do not hinder children’s learning. King says, “I believe that people read and absorb at the level they’re ready for. If something is beyond someone’s capacity, they’ll just skim over it and it doesn’t register.”

The activists in the ALA believe that the right o read any book, no matter the content, is a fundamental right. According to the ALA website, the organization was created to “enhance the learning and ensure access to information for all.”

Their anti-censorship beliefs are so strong that they even have an entire week dedicated to celebrating our freedom to read. This week, known as Banned Books Week, takes place during the last week in September and attempts to draw attention to the dangers that could occur when people try to control the availability of of information in our democratic society.

The book censorship debate will continue as long as books are published. some Americans think that schools and libraries should not censor books and control the information children are exposed to while others argue that all citizens, including children, should have access to a full range of information.

Spicker’s life might not have changed drastically had she not been able to read the Harry Potter book series, but she was able to make her own decision to read and, in turn, found a series that she loved. Spicker says, “Im glad I chose to read the Harry Potter books because they were entertaining and introduced me to adult themes without being overpowering.”

I put together a slideshow about Banned Books Week because I think the topic deserves to be elaborated on.

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Let’s Take a Tour of The Wizard’s Guild

I put together an informative slideshow about The Wizard’s Guild comic book store in Athens, Ohio. I added voiceover to tell you readers more about The Wizard’s Guild and the customers since the store offers much more than comic books and is a great atmosphere where you can go and spend the day. You can check out the store at 19 W. Washington street or via the store’s Facebook page.

Legendary literature

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Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Massachusetts on March 2, 1904. In his college years at Dartmouth College, Geisel worked on the college’s humor magazine, Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern. One night, Geisel was found drinking alcohol with friends in his dormitory and the college dean insisted that Geisel resign from the magazine. In order to continue working on the Jack-O-Lantern, Geisel began working under a pen name: Seuss. And that’s how the world came to know the great poet and children’s book author, Dr. Seuss.

One of Dr. Seuss’s most notable successes came from his 1960 book Green Eggs and Ham. After writing The Cat in the Hat using fewer than 225 words, Dr. Seuss’s publisher Bennett Cerf bet Dr. Suess that he could not write a book using only fifty words. And that’s exactly what Dr. Suess went on to do.

So what are the 50 words used in this famous book? Alphabetically: A, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

Green Eggs and Ham is now the fourth-best selling English children’s book ever. Dr. Suess was an author who achieved what no other person had before. In the famous words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Check out this YouTube read aloud if you want to hear the whole story!

Books vs. E-books: The Debate

In a survey that I conducted using Surveymonkey.com, I learned that 65.5 percent of people most often buy their books from Amazon.com, a website where you can buy and sell new or used books. While there are plenty of bookstores where I live, even I prefer to use Amazon. Why walk uptown and pay more when I can sit on my couch and buy books for cheaper prices?

Amazon also originated and owns the Kindle and Kindle Fire. With printed and digital book sales, Amazon is quickly becoming more dominant in the book world each year. The website is starting to overshadow local and chain book stores as well as other ebook businesses, such as Apple’s iPad and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

Since Amazon is gaining popularity and sales, they have taken business away from other book sellers. Due to decreasing printed book sales, more and more bookstores, including Boarders, have had to file for bankruptcy.

From January 2010 to December 2011, The Association of American Publishers (AAP) tracked the statistics on print and digital books. According to an article published on paidContent.com in February 2012, the AAP found that in the 2011 year, publishing companies sold 489,800 fewer books than in 2010.

The article also states that e-book sales for 2011 increased by 117.3 percent from 2010. However, in only the adult genre, publishers still sold almost 2.5 million books in 2011. In the same year, e-books sold fewer than 1 million books.

When I read that e-books increased sales by over 100 percent, I was shocked. Though e-books have absolutely become more popular in recent years, I know many people who still prefer to purchase printed books to e-books.

That’s when I decided to conduct a survey to find out from where and in what form people buy their books.

Through Surveymonkey.com, I asked people about their book-buying habits. According to my results, people aren’t turning to e-books as their main source for books. When asked in what form most people got their books, only 3.4 percent say that they buy e-books and 79.3 percent say they buy printed books (some obtained their books from libraries or other sources). One survey taker even commented and said, “I prefer printed because I get distracted with e-books.”

Also according to my results, 100 percent of people know someone who owns an e-book while less than 21 percent actually own one.

No matter how people want to read their books, all of this information leads back to the same place: Amazon. The website is a one-stop shop for everyone’s book needs and are taking away from traditional book sales.

In an article from The New York Times, David Streitfeld, author of the article, talks all about Amazon. He tells readers that many stores, including Wal-Mart, Target and Barnes & Noble, refuse to support Amazon and have stopped selling Amazon products in favor of creating their own e-books.

Streitfeld also makes a bold statement in saying that Barnes & Noble struggles to remain relevant in Amazon’s shadow.

In the article, Streitfeld quotes Michael Tucker, owner of a Books Inc. chain store, who says, “Amazon wants to completely control the entire book trade.”

A Conversation About Comics

Meet Samuel Berlin, Wizard’s Guild comic book store employee

Jackson: How long have you worked here?
Berlin: About six years

Jackson: How long has the store been around?
Berlin: Since the late 80s. The first owner, Skee, had it as Comics From Hell and then it became Universe of Superheroes- a guy named Tom Green owned it for a while, throughout most of the mid- to late-90s and early 2000s. He co-owned it with a guy named Todd Grace who’s now the current sole owner.

Jackson: Is this the only comic book store in Athens?
Berlin: Pretty much. There are a couple of bookstores that will carry the occasional odd comic, you’ll find some back issues in antique stores but as far as getting in new comics on a regular basis, this is the only one.

Jackson: Do you know how many comics are in the store’s inventory?
Berlin: Single issues or graphic novels?

Jackson: Both.
Berlin: Graphic novels, probably a little under a thousand. Individual issues, about 12,000

Jackson: What do the prices range from on the comic books?
Berlin: New issues are generally $2.99 to $3.99. Back issues run anywhere from our dollar boxes down at the bottom to under $10. We have boxes of our more expensive ones that go up to $45.  We don’t have that much of a back stock anymore – There was a big fire around ’06-’07 that took all of our inventory.

Jackson: What’s the most valuable or most asked-for book?
Berlin: The most asked for new book is probably The Walking Dead. That’s a big seller. Most valuable… we have a few the Optimus hardcovers which will run $50-100. Single issues… we’ve got the first appearance of Alpha Flight that runs about $40.

Jackson: What other items are sold in the store?
Berlin: A lot of our business now is Magic the Gathering cards, it’s a collectable trading card game. We hold tournaments on Fridays. We have Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing books. We do Warhammer and Warmachine—that’s miniature war gaming– and we have some board games, a few action figures, and a couple other random things like a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit and a couple of t-shirts.

Jackson: How many people come to Friday night Magic games?
Berlin: It varies. We’ve been getting close to 30. Generally about 12-18 during the school year.

Jackson: How do the Magic tournaments work?
Berlin: We have two different types of tournaments: Standard and Draft.With Standard, you come in with a deck already made, a 60 card deck, and you play those. Draft, you buy the cards here and you open them, pick one out, pass it to the next person and you put together a deck on site.

Jackson: Do you have any other events going on?
Berlin: We have a Pokémon gameday Saturday. We’re trying to set up a couple other Magic leagues. I think we’re doing a trick-or-treat thing tonight!

Jackson: And the owner, Todd Grace, is he in here a lot?
Berlin: Yep. He comes in and out through the hidden door behind one of the bookcases. That’s not a joke.

Top 10 Best Selling Books of 2012

For this post, I have compiled a list of the top 10 bestseller books and novels so far in 2012, according to Amazon.com. I would suggest these bestsellers for readers, because obviously people find them interesting and/or exciting so hopefully you will too!

1. Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James

When 22-year old Anastasia “Ana” Steele meets Christian Grey, she is immediately attracted. Little does she know at the time that she is about to enter into a BDSM relationship. Can she handle the requirements to the relationship or will she become too overwhelmed?

2. Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James

Ana and Christian reunite under new terms and rekindle their affair. Ana learns more about Christian than she ever thought she would and Christian struggles to deal with his past.

3. Fifty Shades Freed, E.L. James

When Ana asks for commitment from Christian, he agrees. Their newly romantic relationship proves to be a challenge to both of them as Ana must learn to deal with Christian’s lifestyle and Christian continues to struggle with his past.

4. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Cover of the novel, showing the title in white text on a black and grey background, above a depiction of a gold pin featuring a bird in flight, its wings spread and an arrow clasped in its beak.

In the post-apocalyptic world of Panem where The Capitol rules everything, The Hunger Games evokes fear in everyone. Twelve districts must choose one boy and one girl ages 12-18 from a lottery to enter the annual Hunger Games and compete to stay alive.

5. StrengthsFinder 2.0, Tom Rath

An in-print sequel to the online assessment StrengthsFinder. The book helps readers discover their top five talents and offers strategies for applying their strengths in the everyday world.

6. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

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The Capitol hosts it’s 75th Hunger Games and it comes with a twist: Twenty-four previous victors must now re-enter the arena and once again fight to stay alive. Katniss and Peeta continue to rebel against The Capitol and discover a secret about Panem.

7. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Katniss becomes Panem’s “Mockingjay” and symbol of the rebellion against The Capitol.

8. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden, Matt Bissonnette
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A memoir by “Mark Owen,” former member of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, who participated in the raid that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden.

9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

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On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears from their home. Nick’s lies and behavior place all eyes on him, but did he really harm his wife? The book begs the question: Who can you trust?

10. A Song of Ice and Fire (Books 1-4: A Game of Thrones, A Feast for Crows, A Storm of Swords, Clash of Kings), George R. R. Martin

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An epic fantasy book-series about a power-struggle for the Iron Throne of the fictional continent of Westeros after their king, King Robert, dies. There are many fictional leaders and territories who all want to be in control. So who will win?

Amazon.com’s list of bestsellers for readers offers a wide variety of books. Now that the holiday season is upon us, these books could be the key for holiday gifts and relaxing, cold evenings. If you or someone you know is an avid reader, take the time to check out one or all of these books.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

On her 16th birthday, Caitlin and her family discover that her sister Cass has run away. Soon after, Caitlin meets a mysterious, compelling young man at a car wash. She is drawn to him immediately.

Rogerson Biscoe shows Caitlin a world that she has never before experienced. She falls into a world of drugs and sex as she tries to forget about her missing sister and her family’s sorrow.

When their relationship becomes more serious, Rogerson gets jealous, protective and becomes more physical. Caitlin falls into a dreamland, where she can’t seem to control her life and nothing seems real.

Dreamland is a seductive (not 50 Shades of Grey seductive, sorry readers!) and undeniably moving book. It demonstrates real-life problems that readers can relate to: being shown a different side to life, loving someone so deeply that you can’t escape and facing your problems no matter how troubling they may be. Sarah Dessen writes with such strong emotion and precision that I couldn’t put the book down. I had to keep reading and when I finally finished the book (in one day…), I wanted more!

 

I’ve read every book written by Sarah Dessen. She connects all of her books in some strange but interesting ways. Her words, dialogue and plots are realistic yet unpredictable. If you love books that make you smile, cry and laugh along with the characters, check out Sarah Dessen’s other books:

What Happened to Goodbye
Along for the Ride
Lock and Key
Just Listen
The Truth About Forever
This Lullaby
Keeping the Moon
Someone Like You
That Summer

Athens Book Club!

As 14 women walk into a room full of books, coffee and sugar cookies, they each take a seat in a circle of chairs. The women greet each other and make small talk until it is time to begin. When the time comes, the women go around the circle introducing themselves and telling the group their favorite books and genres.

When introductions are over, each woman pulls out a copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. The monthly non-fiction book club held at the Athens Book Center on East State Street is now in session.

Connie Davidson, one of the organizers of the non-fiction book club, first was a member of a fiction book club. “The fiction club is in its fifthth year. It’s the same format and a lot of those who belong to that club belong to the non-fiction club,” says Davidson.

Susan Phillips, who also helps run the book club, notes that she loves reading books that are realistic so, after four years in the fiction club, she went on to become a part of a non-fiction club.

At the first meetings of the year, the biggest item on the agenda is deciding on what books to read. Davidson says, “We ask everyone to come with a title or two and introduce them to the group. Then we vote on what books we read.”

When the books are chosen, each woman has one month to read the book and be ready for discussion. Tonight’s discussion focuses on a Chinese mother and author, Amy Chua, whose book , Battly Hymn of the Tiger Mother, talks about motherhood in different cultures.

About the book, one woman, Connie Davidson says, “It’s not a serious book but yet she raises serious issues.”

The women talk back and forth about the issues raised in Chua’s novel such as the belief that the Chinese mothers are better at raising their children than those in the West. The women talk about their experiences as mothers and their views on motherhood. But even the members of the book club who are not mothers still gave input. “Everyone seemed to have an opinion even if they weren’t parents because everyone could reflect on how they were raised,” says Phillips.

The discussion goes on to talk about the difference between American mothers and Chinese mothers. The group agrees that American parents focus on the happiness of their children while Chinese mothers believe that happiness comes from excellence so they require sacrifice and extreme measures to make their children ‘the best.’

According to the women of the book club, Amy Chua demanded too much of her children while raising them. In one part of the book, Chua tells about a time where she used harsh methods to make her daughter learn a piano piece.  When her daughter kept messing up, Chua threatened to donate her dollhouse to the Salvation Army piece by piece and also threatened her with no lunch, dinner, Christmas or Hanukkah presents and no birthday parties. Chua made her daughter keep practicing without dinner, water or bathroom breaks until she could play “The Little White Donkey” perfectly.

Since the formation of the club, the women have discussed many books. Phillips states that some of her favorite books and discussions have been Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin and The Story of a Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.

Some people like to read books in the coziness of their own homes and reflect on the books by themselves. Anna Franzreb, avid reader, says does not necessarily like discussing books with a group. “I like it when it’s just me and the book, not me and other people who have read the book,” Franzreb says.

However, the women in the book clubs disagree. The book clubs meet and discuss books because they can feed off of each other’s thoughts. “It’s always interesting to hear the perspective of others after reading the same book,” says Davidson. “One [person] will notice the language, another will have insights into a peripheral character or someone else will point out a pivotal scene which many missed.”

The women in the book club sit and discuss books for hours. The night has fallen dark and there are only 3 hours left in the day when the women leave the Athens Book Center to head home and read the next book on the list: Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.

The book club meets the third Wednesdays of every month at 7:00 p.m. To join the book club, cost is $15 per year and you have to be a member of Athens Friends and Neighbors.

Susan Phillips, left, discussion leader for this month’s book club


Members of the book club discussing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother



The book club group

Meet Crissa Cummings

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As an avid reader throughout her whole life and now an employee at the Athens Book Center, Crissa Cummings has been surrounded by books for as long as she can remember.

Cummings began working at the Athens Book Center in April 2012. Some of her duties in the store include stocking the shelves with the thousands of books inside the bookstore, ordering books for customers, making tea, coffee and smoothies at the coffee bar and helping customers pick out books that suit their needs and desires.

Selling, reading, experiencing and loving books on a daily basis is what makes Cumming a creditable source on the matter.

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Below is the dialog from a video interview between Cummings and me… The full video can be seen at the end of this post.

Jackson: What other items are sold at the Athens Book Center?

Cummings: Well we also have a coffee bar- we have coffee tea and smoothies. We have Folkmanis puppets and other stuffed animals and puppets. We have toys for kids, mostly that help facilitate learning, like puzzles. We sell a couple of local Athens gift items, like the Athens Block, cards, maps.

 

JacksonWhat makes the Athens Book Center Unique from other bookstores?

Cummings: Well, it’s a used and new combined so we have both new books and used books on the shelf right next to each other. It’s a cozy store with a friendly staff, very focused on customer service and we frequently end up developing very close relationships with the customers – we know many of them by name – and are able to do special orders for the customers including some rare and hard-to-find things.

 

Jackson: What kinds of events are held at the Athens Book Center?

Cummings: Most of the events that we have are author readings, frequently local authors. We also have a book club that’s meeting here once a month currently, and we’ve had others in the past.

 

Jackson: How long have you worked at the Athens Book Center?

Cummings: I started working at the Athens Book Center in April so it’s been around six months now.

 

Jackson: When did you develop a passion for books?

Cummings: If my parents are to be believed I’d say about 3. I’ve been a varicious reader my entire life.

 

Jackson: What is it that draws you in to books?

Cummings: It depends on the book. I’m one of those people who likes to know a little bit about everything so I like particularly well-written non-fiction on any subject. And then with fiction it can vary anything from escape to being transported into another culture or life or class or time period and getting to make sense of those things.

 

Jackson: Do you have a favorite book genre?

Cummings: I have leanings without actually having a favorite book genre. I would say that I tend to read mostly contemporary fiction, some science fiction, mystery, some classics… And then within non-fiction I like a lot of the science writing.

 

Jackson: Do you have a favorite author or authors?

Cummings: A lot of people ask me that and I cannot nail it down to a single one. So I would say right now… it’s kind of a toss up tie between Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Proulx, Mary Calmes. And then in terms of non-fiction, Michael Pollan, again Barbara Kingsolver and Jared Diamond.

 

JacksonHow do you think that products like the Kindle and eBooks have affected local bookstores?

Cummings: It doesn’t seem to have had as big of an impact as the chain books sellers and online book sellers have had. I think a lot of the people who still support local bookstores tend towards reading paper books and enjoy looking at the books that they’re buying. Probably the Kindle and the eBook readers are mostly taking from the chain bookstores because they’re the ones selling the devices.

 

Jackson: What makes local bookstores unique from chain bookstores?

Cummings: Definitely the people that are employed at them. So the book selection is going to be very much tailored to the communities that they’re in and customers that come in will end up finding books in local bookstores that you never see in a chain store, and the selection is going to be a reflection of the staff that are there. So the sense of community, maybe, would be the way to sum all that up.

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Full video interview!

Eventually…

This blog will be dedicated to improving myself as a writer, creative thinker and journalist.