The Storyteller Reports: Banned Books Week, and Stories That Are Worth Telling

Happy Wednesday. As always, for those of you who who aren’t hopelessly addicted yet, I’m back with my weekly storytelling news/commentary, and my storyteller of the week. Read to your heart’s content!

RANT OF THE WEEK: It’s Banned Books Week…

… and I am laughing my rear end off.

All across America, libraries are bravely taking a stand and honoring those books that dared to challenge social norms, scare traditional parents, and anger those stupid Bible-thumping Christian lunatics*. Even to this day, we carry on the valiant fight against ideological oppression, as indicated by a recent scandal in a Missouri library, and a glorious triumph in Massachusetts.

It’s touching, and in fact it would make me cry if it wasn’t for the fact that censorship has no more meaning in 21st-century America. I publish e-books. I know what the Internet’s capable of. You can’t control what’s on there. I can guarantee that with the click of a button, kids can find much more disgusting stories than the toilet passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses. The times they are a-changin’. At least the MPAA still makes sure that no disturbing movies get rated PG-13…

The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)

… never mind.

All jokes aside, there’s no point to celebrating banned books when most media in the world don’t even know what the term “banned” is. As author Sarah Ockler puts it…

“In a country where the daily news media spotlight more violent, sexualised and sensationalised images than a teenager could ever find in the school library, does anyone truly believe that forcing students to ask parents to check out their books is appropriate? We don’t prepare teens for coping with life’s challenges by hiding information or pretending that the issues explored in books don’t exist. Grief, death, war, sex, heartbreak, loss – these things happen in life. By this time next year, some of these students could be serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. Yet they need mum’s permission to check out a library book?”

Last week, I published a short story with a lot of nastiness. Torthan the freedom fighter goes on a quest for vengeance, and at every step he leaves a trail of blood and corpses. I didn’t try to make it gratuitous, but I didn’t pull any punches either. Neither did Mel Gibson or Flannery O’Connor, but they convey much more profound things about the human race than any cliche “feel-good” story.

Now that censorship is no longer a problem, let’s focus on celebrating the stories that are truly worth retelling.

*= As a Roman Catholic, I feel compelled to mention that I use this term in sarcasm. For the record, J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor were both stupid Bible-thumping Christian fanatics. This does not seem to have had a detrimental effect on their literature.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

J.C. Martin, please stand and be recognized.

When I went blog-hunting at the start of this summer, J.C. Martin’s “Fighter Writer” site was one of the first destinations I found. J.C. was my introduction to indie literature. She had a free short story on Smashwords called “A Thousand Tears”. When I finished the last page, I leaned back and blinked a couple of times.

“Whoa,” I said, “I need to step up my game.”

“A Thousand Tears” astounded me. It remains the most memorable short I have read with nameless characters. When J.C. announced a full-length novel called Oracle, I paid attention. You should too. She has her feet in several projects right now- including the most creative blogfest I have ever seen in my life. Find out what she’s up to at her official site.*

Especially considering this Banned Books Week nonsense, it’s a relief to see writers like her practicing their craft. Why celebrate a fight that has been won already when you can celebrate stories like “A Thousand Tears”? There’s a deep literary theme in that story, the progression of which is nothing short of enlightening to witness.

My fellow storytellers, let historians deal with the past. Let us not ignore history, but let us not lose ourselves in it either. Let us join J.C. at the tip of the spear, and write some new meaningful tales for a new generation.

Get “A Thousand Tears” for free from SmashwordsApple or Kobo. And even if you don’t do that, please give her a storyteller’s salute.

*= Some of her projects involve erotica. If you are opposed to this genre, there are references to it on her official website.

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8 responses to “The Storyteller Reports: Banned Books Week, and Stories That Are Worth Telling

  1. Book banning is far more serious in the digital age. Reaching out to pluck a book off the shelves in my home would require considerable effort. Removing a book from all Kindles, everywhere, can be accomplished with the push of a few buttons in Seattle: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18amazon.html

    • Thanks for sharing this, Mike. I hadn’t thought of this power in digital publishing, and I have should have realized it long before.

      Frankly, this frightens me. The precedent that it sets reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If you haven’t read it, it’s basically a country where books are banned in order to get people to stop fighting with each other on grounds like philosophy. Considering the “political correctness” movement in America, and the fact that compromise is essential to our system of government… you have left me a very worried storyteller.

  2. Pingback: J.C. Martin, Fighter Writer » Mythology 101: Q IS FOR…? by Caz Jones + THANK YOU…Yes, YOU!!

  3. Thank you so much for the flattering write-up! You’re a sweetheart! I posted about how it made my day on my blog: http://jc-martin.com/fighterwriter/2011/09/mythology-101-q-is-for-by-caz-jones/

  4. First I’d like to remark on the remark made about the MPAA. The Dark Knight was rated PG-13 for, “for intense sequences of violence and some menace”. Which in this particular movies case was pretty accurate, and I don’t think that the goal of a PG-13 movie was to be kiddie friendly, merely teenager friendly. Regardless of this, I do agree and appreciate the fact that book banning is redundant and problematic. I do however, offer two questions that I am quite curious about. The first question is whether or not you think that books should have some form of rating system or age requirements much like a movie. A thirteen year old could easily pick up a book filled with foul language and questionable themes because there are no restrictions. Yet the very same teenager would be hard pressed to buy (supposing the retailer does check age) a movie with foul language and questionable themes presented in an R rating.

    My second question is related to this subject. Do you believe that movies cannot have the same impact that books have?

    • Dutch, that was in the back of my mind as I wrote it. I couldn’t resist ignoring it for the sake of humor. I do believe that the MPAA has not done a good job differentiating R-rated content and PG-13-rated content. In fact, I maintain that the primary use of MPAA ratings at this point is branding. If you’d like to discuss this more, I’d be happy to. I might even devote a post to that next week.

      You have good questions. I would welcome a ratings system, but only if it is used properly. The Wall Street Journal ran an article a couple months ago about the rise of violent and disturbing content in young adult novels. I won’t get into the gory details. It’s nasty enough to warrant a warning. Not everyone wants to read it. What worries me about a rating system is that it will loosen like the MPAA.

      Question #2 is perhaps even more important than the first. I have made and watched movies, and I have written and read stories. There are things that you can do with a camera that you cannot do with words. Likewise, there are things you can do with words that a camera cannot match. Movies do not have the same impact as books, but does NOT mean they are inferior. I can go into more detail with this as well, if you’d like. For now, this undergraduate has his studies to attend to.

  5. Pingback: J.C. Martin, Fighter Writer » Writer Wednesday…One Day Early: Sean McGuire

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