On Not Getting Lost in the Wilderness (or Dying)

Quebec Run Wild Area. Photo by author.

Quebec Run Wild Area. Photo by author.

 “I was in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a 75-minute train ride northwest of Tokyo, with half a dozen other hikers out for a dose of shinrin-yoku,or forest bathing. The Japanese go crazy for this practice, which is standard preventive medicine here. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods.” Florence Williams, in an article in Outdoor Magazine

I’ve been trying to exercise more lately, but I’ve had a hard time finding something that I like to do that doesn’t feel like a chore. I’ve tried running, but have never been able to get into it (probably due to poor lung capacity, laziness, or both). I’ve always liked hiking though, and while searching for new hiking trails I came across a backpacking class offered through the Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh. Backpacking! Finally, something that appealed to me. I checked my schedule and signed up for the class without a moment’s hesitation.

I’m really glad I did. One thing I love about backpacking is that it can be done by a broad range of people, regardless of athletic ability, age or skill level. The trick is to pack carefully and go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. There are plenty of great day and overnight hikes within a 100 miles of Pittsburgh and there’s sure to be a trail for just about everybody out there ( I recently even discovered this really cool Braille Trail in North Park).

Not being a great athlete, I was quickly won over by one of the more surprising aspects of backpacker culture—it’s nerdiness. Even if you are not a very skilled hiker, you can become an A+ packer. The idea is to include everything that is essential, but to keep your pack as light as possible. There is even a class of extreme backpacking called Ultralight, and these hikers will go as far as cutting the handle off their toothbrush to lessen their load. I’ve already learned a lot from the folks in the Explorer’s Club, although I don’t anticipate becoming an Ultralight extremist. Still, there are other sub-genres of backpacking to get into if you want to get nerdy in the woods. You can become an excellent map reader by joining an Orienteering Club, or a gourmet backpack cook by pouring over tons of blogs and books, or become a master of survivalist skills by taking a wilderness survival course.

Whatever your interest or skill level, there are tons of resources available to get you started. Here are just a few:

Books

The Backpacker’s Field Manual

This was the textbook for my backpacking class with the Explorer’s Club, and I found it indispensable. This book covers all the basics.

The Complete Walker

I’ve been told that this is the old stanby for backpackers. It covers all the basics, with some additional philosophical musings.

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Pittsburgh 

These are mostly days hikes, but if you’re just getting started hiking around Pittsburgh, I can think of no better book to begin with.

Websites

Keystone Trails Association 

A vital website for any Pennsylvania hiker or backpacker.

Venture Outdoors 

These guys are great, and can help get you started with everything from hiking and camping, to kayaking and snow-shoeing.

R.E.I. 

A great place for gear and maps, and also a few classes.

Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh 

A volunteer group that currently offers once-a-year classes in backpacking, rock climbing, and mountaineering. The also have gear available for rental for first timers.

DVDs

Appalachian Trail 

This National Geographic special highlights this great trail, which runs all the way from Georgia to Maine.

Mile Mile & A Half 

This documentary follows five friends who leave their daily lives behind to hike California’s historic John Muir Trail, a 211 mile stretch from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney.

Tell it on the Mountain

This documentary follows a dozen thru-hikers who try to complete the Pacific Coast trail–a trail that is over 2,663 miles long.

Be safe and happy exploring,

Tara

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Let’s Read a Banned Book!

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Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

One of the books that has appeared on the Top 10 list of banned books, compiled by the American Library Association, for each of the last 5 years is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is a young adult novel (as so many of the books on these lists are) about a teenage Native American boy who chooses to attend school outside his home on the reservation. This decision leaves Junior, or Arnold as he’s called off the reservation, shunned by his people, as well as trying to fit in and on the outskirts of his new community. It is an honest portrayal of his life in high school – girls, bullies, fights, sports, and parents. Junior must learn to cope with a lot of loss in his family and embrace what’s good in his life.

Alexie’s book is most often challenged in libraries and schools due to its themes of sexuality, racism, use of drugs and alcohol, and offensive language. Many of these objectors feel that its content is unsuitable for the age group for which it is written. Considering that I have two teenagers at home who are dealing with and making personal decisions about all of the issues listed above, I find it hard to believe that some people don’t seem to understand what really happens in high school. But I shouldn’t judge, I’m sure they have their reasons. I’m more grateful that there are books like this available to my teenagers, so they know that what they’re going through is typical. They are not abnormal or weird. Being able to relate to a book’s characters and to recognize yourself in their struggles is one of the most important things a book can impart to an adolescent in the throes of indecision and hormones and peer pressure. But that’s just one person’s opinion. Happily for me and mine, those librarians and educators who fight against the banning of books must feel the same way.

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Our librarians who lead the Let’s READ English book discussion group at the Main Library have decided that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is also a good vehicle for those who are learning to read and speak English as a second language. As well, it can serve as a catalyst for discussion about life in America amongst this group of foreign language speakers. The Let’s READ English discussion group will be talking about this book at their program on October 10th at 2pm. If you know someone who is looking to improve their English language skills, please have them stop by the library and check out a copy of the book prior to the discussion day.

Today is our last post for Banned Books Week 2014. However, through programming and book recommendations, libraries continue the fight against censorship every week of every year.

Now go out and continue to read banned books all year long!
-Melissa M.

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Are You There, Reader?

Graphic courtesy of the American Library Association.

Graphic courtesy of the American Library Association.

My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don’t have censorship, we have, you know, freedom to read, freedom to write, freedom of the press, we don’t do this, we don’t ban books. But then they did.

Judy Blume, The Guardian (July 2014)

I read Forever by Judy Blume in the 6th grade. (Incidentally, that’s the same year I discovered the Flowers in the Attic series. I’m eternally grateful that I read Forever first; who knows what I would have thought of sex otherwise.) Of course I passed it along to my friends. One friend in particular kept getting “caught” with it (seriously, worst hider ever.) Her mother returned it to me twice. She told me if I gave it to her daughter again, she’d tell my mom. And I was like, “Lady, who do you think gave it to me?”

She wasn’t the first friend not allowed to hang out with me and she wouldn’t be the last.

Forever

Written in 1975, Forever is the very real, very intimate love story of high school students, Katherine and Michael. They meet at a party and rapidly fall in love. Can their love last? (Of course not, they are 17.) It was written at the request of her teenage daughter, Randy.  Blume says, “She was reading all these books, where a girl succumbed [to sex], she would be punished, sometimes she would die. And Randy said, ‘Couldn’t there ever be a book where two nice kids do it and nobody has to die?'”

Michael and Katherine “do it” and no one dies!

WOW, does that make people angry! Forever is Blume’s most banned/challenged book (and this is the lady that wrote Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? and Deenie!)

Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Frequency of sexual activity and sexual descriptions
  • Use of “four-letter” words
  • Does not promote abstinence
  • Does not promote monogamous relationships
  • Demoralized marital sex
  • Disobedience to parents is shown
  • Talks about masturbation
  • Talks about birth control
  • Sexuality
  • Lack of moral tone
  • Sexual passages inappropriate for young people

So. I guess it’s the sex. Thankfully for every censorious jerk, there are a million women who were educated and touched by her books. And a lot of those women became librarians, who write letters. Get your Kleenex.

Amanda Palmer wrote a song about Judy Blume!

Now go read something sexy!

suzy

 

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Short List Of Banned Sci-Fi

Get your ray-guns ready! I’m going to list my three favorite banned sci-fi and fantasy titles.

F-451-cover Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This one marks a double-threat–great book and a great movie version (you can watch it at CLP’s Downtown & Business location on October 21st)! Working at the height of his powers, Mr. Bradbury takes us to a dystopian future where fireman start fires instead of putting them out! The ultimate anti-censorship book suffered the terrible irony of finding itself on more than one banned book list since its publication in 1953, and even the publisher itself released expurgated versions removing what certain editors considered to be objectionable content. Fahrenheit 451 remains such an important work, it’s at the center of this year’s Big Read.

Neverwhere-cover

 Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. People sometimes challenge the most innocuous things. Mr. Gaiman’s Neverwhere has a bit of violence, a bit of sex, and a lot of really uplifting and incredible stuff. Of all the things from a high school reading list a parent might challenge, this book should fall near the bottom. According to complaints, one particular sex scene did this one in. If you can get beyond this,  you’ll find a story that effortlessly blends the worlds of modern London and a subterranean shadow-plane of magic, mystery, and adventure. While Neverwhere’s sex and violence quotient seems quite tame to me, I guess I can at least understand why someone might object to it, but learning the last book on this short list had been banned flummoxed me.

Hobbit-cover The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, that Hobbit. Some accuse the book of promoting smoking. As an individual who has been rabidly anti-smoking his whole life, but also loved The Hobbit since at least first grade, I don’t see it. Fictional characters smoking a fictional pipeweed (even one as pure as Old Toby) never caused me to waver. Then there’s the folks who identify Tolkien’s work as irreligious. The man was a devout Catholic and his work is suffused with Christian symbolism. I think his Christian bonafides remain pretty unimpeachable.

Folks will come up with all sorts of reasons to ban the books we love. Genres like sci-fi often take it on the chin from would-be censors. All we can do is call them out.

Sunshine remains the best remedy for ignorance.

–Scott P.

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The Colors of Challenge

Last week author Malinda Lo published a blog post that raised some disturbing questions:

If a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison is challenged because it is “sexually explicit” and has a “religious viewpoint” and contains “violence” (these are the stated reasons for its challenges in 2012), is it simply accidental that Beloved is also a novel about an African American woman, written by an African American woman?

I wondered if there was a correlation between books with diverse content — that is, books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people — and book challenges, so I decided to take a look at the data available from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and see what emerged.

After looking at a variety of data points (including several lists from the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom) and creating a number of revealing pie charts, Lo came to the following conclusion:

It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo. This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists — as a majority — is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

I strongly urge you to read Lo’s entire analysis (you really need to see those pie charts) and examine her data-crunching, which she has made publicly available here and here. Once you’re done with that, I invite you to celebrate Banned Books Week this year by checking out any of the titles Lo analyzed, or the following suggestions, which are taken from the ALA’s list of Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color, 1990-1999:

Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabane. Protests. Boycotts. Fear. Hunger. A true tale of life under apartheid in South Africa, told by a man who suffered through it first-hand, eventually escaping to became a well-known tennis player. Most often challenged for homosexuality and explicit sexuality in general.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Newbery medal-winning novel tells the story of Cassie Logan and her family, who are struggling to hold on to the land they own in Mississippi, despite the challenges of the Great Depression. Most often challenged for offensive language. Also available in OverDrive.

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende. Meet the Trueba family, three proud, passionate generations of them. The Truebas are known for two things: the psychic giftedness that seems to run in their bloodline, and their political involvement, which frequently puts them at odds with fellow family members. A long, sweeping saga that is most often challenged for being sexually explicit, and containing offensive language.

Always Running, Luis Rodriguez. By the time he was twelve, Rodriguez was already a battle-scarred veteran of L.A.’s gang wars. The power of words led him to complete his education, become a poet, and leave his former life behind him…at least, that is, until his own son joins a gang. A New York Times notable book, and winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, Always Running  is most often challenged for being sexually explicit and containing offensive language.

If you’d prefer to keep to this year’s theme, banned and challenged comics, you can explore diverse works like Alison Bechdel’s  Fun Home, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, or Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth. But what I’d really like you to do is go back and read (or re-read) Malinda Lo’s essay, and then tell two friends, who will hopefully tell two friends, and so on, and so on. It’s a whole new (albeit appalling) way of thinking about book bans and challenges, and it will be interesting to see if there is an even stronger correlation over time (though we librarians will do our best to ensure that doesn’t happen).

Keep your reading diverse and colorful!

Leigh Anne

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Celebrate Banned Books Week With Your Favorite Comic

Comics Code Authority Seal

Almost all comics published between 1954 and the 2000s bore this seal, indicating they met a set of rigid standards pertaining to sexuality, violence, and other things.

Yesterday began this year’s Banned Books Week, and lists maintained by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the American Library Association show that comics are as susceptible to banning as their prose cousins.

In a way, it’s flattering to the medium that comics and graphic novels are being challenged and banned in public school systems and libraries each year alongside well-known literary classics (“challenged” means someone wanted the book removed but was unsuccessful in their bid, and the book remained on the shelves).

It means kids are reading these books, that they’re making it onto curricula and reading lists, and that they’re making people uncomfortable.

But kids have been reading comics since adults have been publishing them. And the history of censorship and banning comics goes back almost just as far. Church groups and educators attacked crime and adventure comics for their content as early as the 1930s, according to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Comic book censorship would have remained on the fringe, though, if not for noted social scientist and psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, who believed comics harmed children and turned them into delinquents.

Seduction of the Innocent by WerthamWhen Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent came out in 1954, America rallied behind his crusade to ban comics, including superhero comics, which he thought harmed children by making them believe incredible and fantastical things.

A round of congressional hearings later that year resulted in comic book publishers agreeing to self-regulate to avoid government legislation. Publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America and the Comics Code Authority, which had to approve every single comic that went up for sale on newsstands. Newsstands refused to sell any book that didn’t display the Comics Code Authority seal (remember: comic shops didn’t exist yet!). If you’ve ever bought a comic, you’ve probably seen the black and white seal that reads “Approved by the Comics Code Authority.”

Among other things, sexuality, corrupt police and government officials, too much violence, and things like werewolves, ghouls and zombies were banned from comics altogether. Read a 1940s Batman comic and then a 1960s Batman comic, and you’ll see the difference immediately. 1940s Batman has a lot more in common with contemporary Batman — he’s pretty darn dark.

The code went through numerous revisions as times changed, and was finally rendered obsolete when the last two major publishers printing the seal on their books — DC and Archie — dropped it in 2011. Changing distribution channels helped comics out greatly in overcoming this form of censorship — not many books are sold on newsstands anymore, for example. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has since acquired the intellectual property rights to the CCA seal.

This issue of Saga wasn't sold in the Apple store immediately upon publication, but appeared later, after protests.

This issue of Saga wasn’t sold in the Apple store immediately upon publication, but appeared later, after protests.

But that doesn’t mean comic creators are free from worry. In addition to challenges in school districts and libraries, censorship comes from unexpected places–like Apple. In 2013, Bleeding Cool reported that Apple required French publisher Izneo to pull 1,500 comics the tech giant considered “pornographic” (even though the comics were meant for adult audiences).

2013 also saw a huge hullabaloo over issue 12 of Saga involving digital comic distributor ComiXology, the Apple Store, and portrayals of gay sex.

Thankfully, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund stands ready to help fight censorship of comics where it can, not to mention the scores of librarians and level-headed adults who stand up for books of all kinds in their cities and towns across America. The future of comics looks pretty great from where I stand.

Even award-winning graphic novels are challenged and banned.

Even award-winning graphic novels are challenged and banned.

To celebrate how far we’ve come, and to remind ourselves of how far yet we have to go, why not pick up one of these “banned” comics this week from your favorite Library?

–Kelly

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I (and my family) Read Banned Books!

Clip art courtesy of the American Library Association

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

This is the time of year that your librarians are getting ready to school you on the fact that there are many books challenged or banned by the public every year, and some of these attempts are even successful at getting books pulled off the shelves of your favorite library. Public, school and higher ed. libraries will be putting up displays on tables, in cases and on websites alerting users to the annual event,  Banned Books Week (September 21-September 27). You may even come across the Library Bill of Rights, which many of you outside the world of librarianship may not even know exists, but which many libraries and librarians ascribe to, which helps in the purchasing of materials, the planning of programs, and is the foundation for this very important week.

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The wonderful thing about the annual Banned Books Week, is that it is an event promoted by librarians around the country who share together in the philosophy of the Library Bill of Rights. This upcoming week provides an opportunity to inform library users that some of their fellow community members find certain reading material objectionable, and that those same community members have taken steps to try and prevent others from reading those materials. The sad fact is that there has been a Banned Books Week year after year for more than three decades, and that there continue to be new books added to the banned and challenged list within our county where “freedom rings.” While this yearly challenging and banning can seem to be a sad statement on how some may try and squash others’ freedoms, I would suggest that we take the opportunity of this upcoming week which celebrates the freedom of information and look at it as a positive thing, a way to discover some new reads and to begin some lively conversations over books and their possible controversial subject matter.

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For professional and personal reasons, I scan the list of banned books every year, looking for those I’ve read.  As a parent, I compare the list with what I’ve seen on the reading lists of my kids and wonder at whether I’m a bad parent or not for allowing my children to have read that particular banned or challenged title. As it turns out I don’t feel bad, in fact I feel proud at having had the opportunity to read a particular book or allowed my children to experience those stories. If anything, especially in terms of children and teen books, these challenges provide an opportunity to have some really important conversations with your children regarding certain subject matters that some might find difficult to talk about, but are often experiences that they or friends they know may have had in their real life.

Obviously, there are some books that include subject matter that may be more appropriate for a  reader depending on their age and experience, and parents should definitely keep that in mind in terms of supervising their own children’s reading habits, but what I think is the most important thing to remember during the upcoming week, and throughout the year, as we all encounter new and challenging books, is that it is an individual’s choice as to what to read, and not something to be dictated by others.

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Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Here are some of my favorite Banned Books:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
  4. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
  5. Harry Potter(series), by J.K. Rowling

- Maria J.

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