Saturday, September 28, 2013

Winding Up Banned Books Week 2013


As we wind up Banned Books Week 2013 I want to leave you with two quotations:

If you are not free to choose wrongly and irresponsibly, you are not free at all. - Jacob Hornberger

Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education. - Alfred Whitney Griswold

Follow this link to report book challenges to the American Library Association.


'Til next year. Have a good one.

Welcome Greece!

Oh, I'm so excited! This chilly, rainy Saturday afternoon it is my privilege to welcome Greece to Texas. Kαλώς Ορίσατε (Kalós orísate)! 



Friday, September 27, 2013

Welcome Kenya!

This Friday morning it is my privilege to welcome Kenya to Texas. Kuwakaribisha!  


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Free People Read Freely - Texas Edition

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has produced a report on attempted book banning by Texas school districts for the last seventeen years. Although attempted bans rose during the 2012-2013 school year, I am delighted to report that actual bans decreased. According to responses to an open records request, only ten books were banned in Texas schools during the 2012-2013 school year. One caveat: for some reason this report only covers 63% of the total school districts in Texas. And there are more than a thousand of them!

Pflugerville ISD led the way with the most challenges in the 2012-2013 school year, but retained all thirteen books at their schools. They held the line against multiple challenges to the Captain Underpants series by someone who apparently lacks any sense of humor whatsoever and defended the integrity of their AP programs. Clear Creak ISD took the lead in actual bans: two of the three books challenged were removed. The results of this report are below and include the reasons given for each challenge, which makes for some amusing reading. Sometimes I just want to shake somebody and holler "Get a grip!" In addition, some people seem to believe their kids are never nude.

Special mention for an outstanding job: Elkhart ISD and Bastrop ISD - Thank you for sticking to your guns in the interests of free speech.

Special mention for spineless pandering: Brazosport ISD  - way to cave on the Cave y'all!

Special mention for causing me a face-palmThe Ehrhart School - for banning The Princess Diaries

Special mention for being totally clueless - The parent who wouldn't let their kid read Of Mice and Men because they felt the story/plot was depressing

LIST OF BANNED BOOKS (books removed from library shelves or class reading lists):

Paintings from the Cave, Gary Paulsen
Talking in the Dark: A Poetry Memoir, Billy Merrell
Fade; Book 2 of Wake Trilogy, Lisa McMann
Ransom My Heart, Princess of Genovia, Mia Thermopolis
World War Z, Max Brooks
Smile of a Dolphin, Ed. Marc Bekoff
Amy and Roger Epic Detour, Morgan Matson
The Olympics: Smitty II, Bill Gutman
The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
Zombies vs. Unicorns, Holly Black

LIST OF RESTRICTED BOOKS (books restricted to readers based on age, reading level, parental permission, etc.):

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Indiana Jones and the Tomb of the Gods, Rob Williams
Been To Yesterdays: Poems of a Life, Lee Hopkins
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Blubber, Judy Blume
Hide and Seek, Ida Vos
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
Liar, Liar, Gary Paulsen
Deadtime Stories: Grave Secrets, Annette & Gina Cascone
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root
The Collector, John Fowles
The People Could Fly: The Picture Book, Virginia Hamilton
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I Am J, Chris Beam
Say Cheese and Die, R.L. Stine
Draw Me A Star, Eric Carle

All Challenged Books (by school district):

Bartlett ISD
School: Bartlett High School
Book: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Reason Cited: Offensive to religious sensitivities
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)

Bastrop ISD
School: Cedar Creek Middle School
Book: I Like Him, He Likes Her; Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reason Cited: Mention of lesbian marriage
Action Taken: Retained

Belton ISD
School: Sparta Elementary
Book: Indiana Jones and the Tomb of the Gods, Rob Williams
Reason Cited: Profanity, other objectionable material
Action Taken: Use restricted
Note: Book moved to middle school library

Brazosport ISD
School: A.P. Beutal Elementary School
Book: Paintings from the Cave, Gary Paulsen
Reason Cited: Profanity; sexual content or nudity; politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Banned

Clear Creek ISD
School: Gilmore Elementary
Book: Talking in the Dark: A Poetry Memoir, Billy Merrell
Reason Cited: Drugs or alcohol, mature content inappropriate for elementary
Action Taken: Banned
Note: Reviews recommended 9th grade+ and the book was reassigned to high school

School: Whitcomb
Book: Bionicle #8: Legends of Bara Magna, Greg Farshtey
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Restricted to the individual child by parent request

School: Seabrook Intermediate
Book: Fade: Book 2 of the Wake Trilogy, Lisa McMann
Reason Cited: Profanity, public speaking (public speaking? what?)
Action Taken: Banned
Note: Based on review (SLJ 9+), the whole trilogy was reassigned to high school

Comal ISD
School: Garden Ridge Elementary
Book: Draw Me A Star, Eric Carle
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Content changed or deleted (WHAT? By whom?)

School: Freiheit Elementary School
Book: Say Cheese and Die, R.L. Stine
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Use restricted

School: Timberwood Park Elementary
Book: The Ranger’s Apprentice, John Flanagan
Reason Cited: Profanity
Action Taken: Decision pending
Note: Parent did not follow through with her complaint specifying where the words “damn” and “hell” are located in the book (yep, you read that correctly)

The Ehrhart School
School: The Ehrhart School
Book: Ransom My Heart, Princess of Genovia Mia Thermopolis (Pardon me, but isn't this The Princess Diaries?!)
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Banned

Elkhart ISD
School: Elkhart High School
Book: A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, Tanya Lee Stone
Reason Cited: Profanity, sexual content or nudity, drugs or alcohol
Action Taken: Retained
Note: The review committee found that the book met educational need and community standards

Flour Bluff ISD
School: Flour Bluff Intermediate
Book: Video Content – “Remembering September 11th”
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Decision pending
Note: Informal request at principal/teacher level; individual voiced concerns through national television media; video currently still in database

Frankston ISD
School: Frankston High School
Book: World War Z, Max Brooks
Reason Cited: Profanity, violence or horror
Action Taken: Banned
Note: After reviewing this book, the librarian felt it was inappropriate for the high school library

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD
School: Grapevine High School
Book: I Am J, Chris Beam
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Use restricted
Note: Book title removed from summer reading list. Book remains in librarian’s office for check out as requested (not on shelves)

School: Colleyville Heritage High School
Book: To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)
Note: Student given an alternate assignment and worked in the library when class discussions were held

School: Colleyville Elementary School
Book: Bone (Series), Jeff Smith
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Did not meet district criteria for removal; parent given opportunity to mark child’s library record card to prevent check out

Hallsville ISD
School: North Elementary
Book: The People Could Fly: The Picture Book, Virginia Hamilton
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Use restricted

School: North Elementary
Book: Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root
Reason Cited: Offensive to religious sensitivities
Action Taken: Use restricted

Harper ISD
School: Harper Elementary
Book: Deadtime Stories: Grave Secrets, Annette & Gina Cascone
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Use restricted

School: Harper Elementary
Book: Liar, Liar; Gary Paulsen
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Use restricted

School: Harper Middle School
Book: Anima 1, Natsumi Mukai
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Retained

School: Harper High School
Book: Smile of a Dolphin, Ed. Marc Bekoff
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Banned

Ira ISD
School: Ira High School
Book: Amy and Roger Epic Detour, Morgan Matson
Reason Cited: Profanity, sexual content or nudity, violence or horror, offensive to religious sensitivities, drugs or alcohol
Action Taken: Banned

Junction ISD
School: Junction High School
Book: Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
Reason Cited: Profanity, sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)

Keller ISD
School: Friendship Elementary
Book: More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz
Reason Cited: Violence or horror
Action Taken: Retained

School: Whitley Road Elementary
Book: Bone: The Great Cow Race, Jeff Smith
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Retained

Kemp ISD
School: Kemp High School
Book: Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)
Note: parent felt story/plot was depressing; student was provided with another book to read

La Porte ISD
School: Rizzuto Elementary; Lomax Elementary
Book: Hide and Seek, Ida Vos
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Use restricted
Note: The reconsideration committee voted to move the book to the junior high school libraries

Lake Dallas ISD
School: Lake Dallas Elementary
Book: Blubber, Judy Blume
Reason Cited: Profanity
Action Taken: Use restricted
Note: 3rd grade parent challenged because of language; book was not in library, was in Guided Reading Room and now is marked for 5th grade only

School: Lake Dallas Elementary
Book: The Olympics: Smitty II, Bill Gutman
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Banned
Note: Book was moved to middle school

School: Lake Dallas Elementary
Book: The Strange Case of Origama Yoda, Tom Angelberger
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Page with “#?!!**” standing for cuss words (Damn that's stupid!)

Lamar CISD
School: Dickinson Elementary School
Book: The Bad Kitty Christmas, Nick Bruel
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Parent’s objection to the lesbian partners holding a child and that it is unsuitable for elementary school; the parent did not appeal the district’s decision

Liberty-Eylau ISD
School: Liberty Eylau High School
Book: Fade, Lisa McMann
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Banned

North East ISD
School: Driskoll Middle School
Book: The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
Reason Cited: Violence or horror, offensive to religious sensitivities
Action Taken: Banned
Note: Book only removed from this middle school

Paint Rock ISD
School: Paint Rock School (K-12)
Book: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: 1 person thought the book was too adult content for the younger students; review showed that no younger students had even checked it out only older kids. We had 1 copy then, now we have 2; popular book

Pegasus School of Liberal Arts and Sciences
School: Pegasus
Book: Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya
Reason Cited: Profanity, offensive to religious sensitivities
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Challenge by teacher (!)

Pflugerville ISD
School: Wieland Elementary
Book: The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zoobie Nerds), Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Wieland Elementary
Book: Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers, Dav Pilkey
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Spelling errors, grammar errors, objectionable story lines/scenes, undesirable/unsafe behavior

School: Hendrickson High School
Book: The Collector, John Fowles
Reason Cited: Profanity, sexual content or nudity, violence or horror, offensive to religious sensitivities
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)
Note: There are a number of alternate books that can be used at the AP level

School: Hendrickson High School
Book: The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Reason Cited: Profanity; politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)
Note: There are a number of alternate books that can be used at the AP level

School: Hendrickson High School
Book: The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
Reason Cited: Profanity, violence or horror
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Provide advanced disclaimer of potential offensive material and “opt out” policy

Randolph Field ISD
School: Randolph High School
Book: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Reason Cited: Sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)

Rapoport Academy Public School
School: Quinn Campus Middle School
Book: The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
Reason Cited: Offensive to religious sensitivities
Action Taken: Alternate book allowed (curriculum only)

Richardson ISD
School: All Richardson ISD High Schools
Book: Creation Myths—Mande, Wahungwe; Author Unknown
Reason Cited: Sexual content and nudity
Action Taken: Decision pending
Note: The District’s English Language Arts department will review the 8th grade curriculum over the summer to determine how to proceed

School: All Richardson ISD Elementary Schools
Book: Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life, Lee Hopkins
Reason Cited: Profanity; politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Use restricted, alternate book allowed (curriculum only)
Note: Elementary English department removed the book from the curriculum and set of poetry books in the classroom and will replace

Southwest ISD
School: Scobee Middle School
Book: The Book of Lists for Teens; Choron, Sandra, and Harry
Reason Cited: Sexual content and nudity
Action Taken: Retained

Texas College Preparatory Academies/Premier High School
School: Open-enrollment charter high schools operated under the above charters
Book: U.S. History teaching materials, Responsive Education Solutions
Reason Cited: (none given)
Action Taken: Decision pending
Note: References to religion; review committee will meet over the summer to review and revise as necessary to ensure compliance with state and federal law

UME Preparatory Academy
School: UME Preparatory Academy
Book: CSCOPE (curriculum framework), Various authors
Reason Cited: Politically, racially, or socially offensive
Action Taken: Retained
Note: Challenge was informal and did not result in any formal action (we continue to use CSCOPE materials)

Westlake Academy
School: Westlake Academy
Book: Zombies vs. Unicorns, Holly Black
Reason Cited: Profanity, sexual content or nudity
Action Taken: Banned


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Welcome Taiwan!

Tonight I am thrilled to welcome Taiwan to Texas. Huānyíng!

Welcome Netherlands!

This evening I am delighted to welcome Netherlands to Texas. Welkom! 


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Books Week 2013 - Classics


According to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. A few of my very favorite books in the world are on this list: The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Gone With the Wind. The idea that I might never have been able to enjoy and learn from these treasures is antithetical to everything I value in this life. How many of these books have you read?

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell

11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin

38. All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren

40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

48. Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie

57. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron

64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence

66. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike



Sunday, September 22, 2013

BANNED Books Week 2013


Amendment One to the Constitution of the United States of America:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan (one of my personal heroes), in Texas v. Johnson (it would be Texas), said,
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” 
Book challenges and bans are typically based on one (or more, sometimes all four, sometimes "Just because I don't like it and neither should you") of these four bugaboos: sex, profanity, religion and racism. Challenges are usually brought by parents in an attempt to protect their children from influences they view as harmful. Parents just doing what they ought to be doing, guiding their children, yes? No. Parents have every right to guide their own children but no one has the right to control what other people read, be they nine years old or ninety.

The ten most-challenged and/or banned books, so far, in 2012-2013:
Please refer to this bibliography for a list of books challenged, restricted, removed or banned in 2012-2013, as reported by the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. It is estimated that up to 85 percent of actual challenges receive no media attention and go unreported. Challenges are on the rise. Follow this link for ideas, resources, how to report challenges, and ways you can get involved. 

Many, many thanks to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom for what you do every day. Now y'all go be subversive! Read a book of your choosing. And those people over there? Let them read what they choose. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Welcome Philippines!

This gorgeous autumn-like afternoon I am delighted to welcome Philippines to Texas. Mabuhay!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Welcome Luxembourg!

I get to welcome two new countries today. This afternoon I am pleased to welcome Luxembourg to Texas. Y'all have three official languages, so here goes: Bienvenue! Willkommen! Wëllkomm!

Welcome Argentina!

This cool, rainy Friday afternoon I am delighted to welcome Argentina to Texas. Bienvenidos!
  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Welcome Spain!

Be still my heart! Number one on my I-have-to-go-there-or-I'll-die list. This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Spain to Texas. And for once I don't have to look up how to say this. Bienvenidos! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Welcome Egypt!

It's a good day when I get to welcome a new country and today I get to welcome two. This evening I am privileged to welcome Egypt to Texas. Marhaba! 


Welcome Switzerland!

This afternoon I am thrilled to welcome Switzerland to Texas. Y'all have four official languages, so here goes: Accueil! Willkommen! Benvenuto! Bainvegni! 


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mother, Mother

By Koren Zailckas
Crown Publishers (Random House), 366 pgs
978-0-385-34723-5
Rating: Read this book

"She's the kind of woman who lives for others - you can tell the others by their hunted expression." - C.S. Lewis

She, Josephine Hurst, lives for others in that she's a narcissist and sees the self as something reflected back at her by the hunted, in this case, her family: husband Douglas, daughters Rose and Violet, and son William. If the hunted didn't exist, neither would Josephine. There's no "there" there.

Mythology: Narcissism is a term that originated with Narcissus in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. The hunted are that pool of water. The modern expression of that pool of water is Facebook, but I digress.

Definition:
nar·cis·sist [nahr-suh-sist], noun: a person who is overly self-involved, and often vain and selfish - Dictionary.com

Narcissistic personality disorder:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism. - Mayo Clinic

Mother, Mother begins with the morning after the evening that sent Violet (16) to a locked psyche ward and William (12) to the emergency room. Violet is sixteen and rebelling in all the ways a teenager should; it's not her fault that she has more to rebel against than most teens. Bad-trippin' on morning glory seed tea, Violet cannot reliably recall what did or did not go down last night. All she knows is that she's wearing hospital pajamas with no drawstring and people keep asking her why she wanted to hurt her little brother. William is twelve and recently diagnosed with Aspergers and "comorbid epilepsy." Does twelve seem a little late in life to get an autism spectrum diagnosis? No matter, back to that later. William, with stitches in his chin and a splint on his right hand, had a seizure in the middle of the third act and the attendant blackout renders his memory, well, absent. He doesn't have one. Rose (20, sort of) wasn't around (at least, we don't think she was, though Violet claimed to have seen her in the foyer) because she walked out the door a year ago and hasn't been seen or heard from since. Douglas was physically present that night, however he is a recovering alcoholic who chose this particular night for a relapse. He suffers a blackout, so his memory, too, is unreliable when it works at all. Conveniently, this leaves Josephine as the only witness but she is the narcissist referenced above. So what the hell happened that night and how did they all get to this place?

Mother, Mother is about the search for truth and how slippery that can be. Is there such a thing as absolute, verifiable truth? Or does truth morph with perspective? Is there a single true story about any particular set of facts that everyone could get behind and say: "Yep, that's what happened. And this is how and why it happened." Or is truth subject to personality, character, will, disease and psychedelic substances? I am reminded of one of my favorite lines: "This was bullshit in Russian-nesting-dolls form,..." In other words, lies wrapped in fabrications, nestled in deceptions, surrounded by distortions, and finally jammed inside mendacity so insidious and pervasive as to be, in a word, evil. Warning: that's not hyperbole. Josephine takes Munchhausen's-by-proxy to extremes never before seen, all without raising her hand to anyone. Josephine recognizes no boundaries, physical or psychological. Do you see?

Koren Zailckas's first book is the internationally best-selling memoir Smashed. This is the author's first work of fiction. As such, it is remarkable. The characters are fully realized and consistent. They stay firmly in character, especially when you wish they wouldn't. There is a dangerous imbalance here, a hall-of-mirrors, fun house atmosphere, developed gradually, organically engendering confusion, shock, disgust, and finally horror, in the reader. There is no hyperbole here; it's not necessary. The plot begins with a kind of hazy, unfocused quality that reflects the shaky memories of what happened that night. As the plot thickens, the pacing (almost imperceptibly at first) begins to build momentum until it is relentless, like a flood or an avalanche. The author knows exactly when to add the eye of newt and toe of frog to the brew. Bring on the toil and trouble. The climax is a twisted surprise, as it should be, and the resolution satisfying.


My only problem with this book is the last couple of chapters. Someone should have combined them and titled it "Afterward." Reminds me of the afterthought tacked onto the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, both graceless and gratuitous. For some reason Zailckas, or perhaps an editor, found it necessary to wrap up the future in a bow and present it to the reader. It is unfortunate that the single misstep in the entire work occurs at the end and as such is your last impression. But never fear, that last impression is not the lasting impression of Mother, Mother.

Your exhausted brain and heart will skip right over the end when you remember this novel. What you will remember is how the characters became full-fledged individuals and how you empathized with Douglas's struggle for sobriety, authority and relevance in his own family. You'll remember the determination of Violet as she pulls herself back from the brink and discovers a will to the future and the strength to save what is left of her family. You'll remember Will's utter dependence on his mother and what it costs him emotionally for the rest of his life. I think it's entirely possible, in fact highly probable, that if there were a sequel to Mother, Mother (please DON'T), Will would turn out to be the monster to Josephine's Frankenstein. See page 330 for all the proof you'd need of my theory. Um...you won't remember much about Rose. And you will never forget Josephine: the bad, the worse and the bat-shit crazy. As Violet noted, sometimes it is better to be hated than to be ignored, especially by someone you love. After all, if you are hated you still exist.

Welcome Norway!

On this Sunday morning I am delighted to welcome Norway to Texas. Velkommen! 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Welcome Hong Kong!

This afternoon I am thrilled to welcome Hong Kong to Texas. Fùnyìhng! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Welcome Japan!

This is the best part: this afternoon I am delighted to welcome Japan to Texas. Kangei! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Welcome Romania!

Also, this afternoon I am pleased to welcome Romania to Texas. Bun venit! 

Welcome Lithuania!

This is one of my favorite parts: this afternoon I am delighted to welcome Lithuania to Texas. Laukiamas!