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Posts Tagged ‘Liz Michalski’

This post talks about censorship, sex and drugs.  You’ve been warned.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s appropriate for kids to read.  Partly, it’s because I have a book of my own out, and I’ve seen Evenfall listed as YA (Young Adult) in a couple of places.  Every time I see that, or read about a high school kid wanting to read it, my Catholic school-raised innards give a very uncomfortable twist inside and suggest I  reach through the computer, snatch the book out of their hands, and hand them a nice copy of Little House in the Big Woods or Voyage of the Dawn Treader instead.

Part of it is because my daughter, at nine, is reading at a high school level, and we’re having lots of conversations along the lines of “Just because you can read something, doesn’t mean you should, and that particularly applies to my book, thank you very much.”

And part of it is that I’ve become more conscious lately of the books I’ve read that are coming under fire from parents who would like them removed from schools and classrooms.

If you haven’t read it, Evenfall has a love scene.  It’s short, but it’s definitely steamy.  It’s that scene I’m thinking about when someone I know says “I read your book!” and smiles at me in the carpool line at school.  It’s that scene I’m thinking about when I read that someone in high school has added Evenfall to their ‘to read’ pile.  And it’s that scene I’m definitely thinking about whenever my daughter makes moves to read past the first chapter.

But.  But. But. But. Growing up, my parents were strict.  Stricter than most of the parents I knew (hi Mom!  Stop reading now!) in every way but one – they never told me what I could or couldn’t read.  In third grade, my mom wrote me the note that gained me access to the entire school library.  (When I picked a book and Sister A asked me if it had any sex in it, I didn’t know what the word meant but I was smart enough to say no.)  By fifth grade I was exchanging books like Evergreen with my favorite nun, and The Thorn Birds followed shortly thereafter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading pretty much everything I can get my hands on. Books with drug scenes.  With sex scenes.  With magic and profanity and time travel and murder and baseball.

Yet here I am, all these years after I picked up those books, a writer and mother and mostly sane person.  I don’t do drugs.  I don’t sacrifice animals.  I don’t time travel and I sure as hell don’t play baseball. (I apparently do swear, though.)

One of my favorite writers, Barbara Kingsolver, has a scene in which one of her characters is a teacher who decides to hold an impromptu, unapproved sex education class after one of her best students shows up pregnant.  She rationalizes by saying something like this: “Just because you know how to use a fire extinguisher doesn’t mean you’re going to burn your house down.  But if your house is on fire, kiddos, it just may save your life.”

And that’s how I think about books.  Just because you read about drugs, or sex, or baseball, doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and do those things.  But knowing those things are out there may help you make more informed decisions down the line. It might give you the vocabulary to hold a conversation with the adults in your life.  It might help you navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.  It might give you the life line you need to get through them.

A few months ago, my book club chose a book written by a young man about his experience as a drug addict. It’s graphic and although it in no way glamorizes drug use, it’s definitely realistic. When I went looking for it at my local library, I was a little shocked to find it in the YA section.  Would I want my daughter reading it as a third grader? No.  But for some kid in middle school with no trusted adult to talk to, it could be a life saver.  Just because a book isn’t right for my child doesn’t mean it’s not the absolutely critical book at that moment for someone else’s.

If you object to your kid reading about drugs, or sex, or baseball, that’s your right.  But insisting a book be removed or banned for everyone presumes to make that choice for MY child, and that’s stepping on MY rights as a parent.

Will I let my third grader read Evenfall?  Not on your life.  But will I let her read it as a sixth or seventh grader?  There’s a good chance I will, or that she’ll have found a way to read it no matter what I say.  (If  I’m lucky, it will spark a conversation about sometimes, when adults fall in love, they have sex.  If I’m unlucky, she’ll roll her eyes and refuse to talk to me for a few days for embarrassing her in front of her friends.)

So where do you stand on all of this?  I’m really interested to hear.  Comment before Monday and you’ll be entered to win Wake, a book that came under fire when a parent requested it be removed from school because she objected to the adult language and felt it promoted drug use and sexual misconduct. Her request was denied and for now, it remains on shelves.  (For the record: I’ve read it and in my opinion it does no such thing.)

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I was a reader well before I was a writer, and curling up with a good book is still one of my favorite activities.  I usually have a stack of books scattered around the house.  (And now that my daughter is just like me, those stacks are precariously high.)  If I had to choose between reading and writing, it would be hard, but reading would win.  (I could still TELL stories in this deal, right?)

Although I must confess I’ve downloaded ebooks (mostly when pressed for time) I still prefer to buy them in the old-fashioned format.  I like to wander the aisles of a bookstore and stumble upon an author I’ve never heard of before.  I like to open a new book and have the world around me disappear, to stand, barely breathing, until the voice or the shadow of another customer jostles me back to reality.  I like taking that book to the counter and hearing the clerk say “Oooh, you are going to love this.  And have you read X?” and then having a 15 minute talk about our favorite authors.  I don’t want that to go away.

That’s why I’m so happy that places like The Andover Bookstore and RJ Julia exist.  And why I was so happy to do my first two readings at these stores.

Sitting after wearing heels is a lovely thing!

Here’s the scoop on the first reading at the Andover Bookstore –  I was nervous.  So nervous that I could literally feel my knees shaking.  (The high heels I was wearing didn’t help much either.)   I looked out and saw so many people I couldn’t breathe for a second.  But then the big blur turned into individual faces — my family, my friends, my children’s teacher, my husband  — and I found that if I could look at each person, not at the crowd, it was okay.  And then I looked up — The Andover Bookstore has a second story with a balcony — and I saw my daughter and her best friend, waiting for me to start, and suddenly I was just a reader in the aisles, sharing a bit of a book with my favorite fellow book lover. And I took a deep breath and was able to begin.

If you came that night, thank you.  If you’ve been to the Andover Bookstore before, you know it is a cozy kind of place, with cookies and coffee, deep armchairs and a fireplace.  If you’ve never gone, do me a favor and check it out.  You may even find me there, hidden in the aisles with my daughter.  Make sure you come over and say hi, because we might not see you.  We’ll be reading.

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That missing chunk of ear just makes him more manly, right?

I know, I’m really stretching out my five minutes of fame here, aren’t I?  It is just that it’s been a little chaotic lately.  For those of you have e-mailed me, Harley is fine, truly.  His ear still splits open and bleeds, but I think it bothers me much more than it bothers him. And he’s still happy-go-lucky when it comes to playing with other pups — he did everything but stand on his head to get a little pug to pay attention to him today.

So, about last week … my second appearance on television was slightly more relaxing.  It was at the very civilized hour of 11 a.m., for starters.  And it was in a location I actually had been to, which always helps. (That geography thing?  I wasn’t kidding.) Finally, it was taped, which made me much less anxious.  (Although I did ‘borrow’ half of my sister’s closet looking for what to wear again.  Now I have an outfit for any occasion – thanks, sis!)

The hosts, Smoki Bacon and Dick Concannon, were gracious and charming, and my interviewer, Susanne, was wonderful — she had a list of interesting questions.  But the best part for me was after the show was finished.  Guests were treated to lunch (Lobster roll!  French Fries!  A COKE, for goodness sakes!) and encouraged to mingle and talk.  Given that my average lunch date is six years old, and my average lunch conversation revolves around Scooby-Do, this was quite a challenge for me.  However, I persevered.

Just listening to everyone was a serious treat.  Guests included human rights activist, author, and film producer Jen Marlowe, who has witnessed unimaginable acts of brutality yet still managed to remain one of the nicest, kindest people I have ever met.  She’s witty and funny and I cannot wait to read her new book, The Hour of Sunlight.

Dr. Susan Pories, a surgeon at Mount Auburn Hospital, was also there.  Her new book — Cancer, Biographies of Disease — is an accessible textbook-type resource, written especially for teens who might be interested in both the disease and the science behind its treatment.  She has another book out as well, which I thought sounded particularly interesting:  The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death. It’s a collection of essays written by doctors in training about the situations they face as they encounter real world medicine for the first time.

So yeah, between these two women, Smoki’s tales of Boston and society, and the other guests, it was a little intimidating, but really fun as well.  (And did I mention the french fries?  And the coke?  Two foods that never make an appearance in my house?)  And though it’s back to PB&J and conversations about Scooby -Do at lunch this week, I’m okay with that.  Although I have to admit, I do kinda miss the lobster roll.

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Good morning!  (See, my early tv show experience has made me perky before noon!)  I have lots more to tell you about last week, but today I am over at the fabulous Tartitude for the second part of my interview with Jan O’Hara.  There’s lots there about Harley too, and a cute picture in which both his ears are intact. (There’s also another chance to win my book!)  If you get a chance, please head over and say hi!

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I am not doing writerly things this week.  (Writerly things roughly translating to mean hiding in my office in my pajamas until noon, attempting to put down words and surfing the internet in hopes of inspiration.)  I am out and about doing the opposite of writerly things, and I promise to share those things with you later this week.

In the meantime, my blogging self is also acting the part of gadfly.  Today you can find me over at Writer Unboxed, one of my very favorite writing sites.  I’m thrilled to be a small part of it.  Take a gander and let me know what you think.  I promise to return soon.

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Evenfall's natural habitat

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One of us is not tired of winter.  One of us is still excited every time the door opens and the white stuff is glimpsed.  One of us cannot wait to run outside, to frolic and leap with boundless abandon.  One of us caused my son to do a perfect face plant in about three feet of snow.  (He came in, wiping his face.  “What happened?” I asked.  “I don’t want to tell you — you’ll laugh.”  He was right.)  One of us may be looking for a new home soon.

Tiggers are wonderful things

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