Sunday, September 26, 2010


"THINK for yourself and let others do the same."

That is the slogan of the American Library Association (ALA) for the annual event celebrating the freedom to read. September 25-October 2, 2010 celebrates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s significance and value with this Banned Books Week (BBW). This annual event is held during the last week of September to emphasize:

“the benefits of free and open access to information, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular
...while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”

Featured books have been subjected to attempted bannings. Librarians, teachers, booksellers and community members efforts have prevented many more books from being censored or restricted, so they remain in library collections. ALA office records show hundreds of ban attempts each year.

ALA reports “Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.”

The ALA website provides short concise explanations of the difference between a book challenge and a banning, why books are challenged and who does so. Information is provided as to why specific books are banned. Especially interesting are ALA pages listing: Frequently Challenged Books by year, Authors(by year,) Authors of Color, Statistics, by decade, a list of banned and challenged classics.

You can examine the top ten banned or challenged books of the 21st century to determine if your favorite book is listed.

Some of the most frequently challenged authors books may not appear on the list. The example ALA provides is if each of Judy Blume’s books were challenged, but only once, she would make the Most Challenged Author list, but her books would not make the top 10 list. Five of her books are on the 1990 to 1999 Most Frequently Challenged Books list.

The 20th Century’s top 100 novels banned or challenged are listed including some of author John Steinbeck’s novels (see my preceding two blog posts.) I learned I had read many of the 100 books. Here are the first 9 and a special favorite of mine. I’m surprised Madame Bovary isn’t still on the list which I read at age 10 or under.

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
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell

You may read books challenged there but consider:

”The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges. Research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported.”

A small example from the ALA list of authors I've not already mentioned here whose writings have been banned or challenged between 2001 to 2009 include:

J. K. Rowling
Stephen King’
Maya Angelou
Maurice Sendak
Mark Twain

I recall reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, seeing a special emotionally moving interview Bill Moyer’s conducted with her on PBS, and seeing her in person in a strikingly enlightening one-woman presentation about her life with an added social commentary. Her book described, and a segment in the TV interview was recorded in, a community where she lived as a young girl in a similar area that I had shockingly encountered in my youth, so I knew first hand how true her words to be. The idea that anyone could even remotely consider challenging, or wanting her book banned I believe is misguided.

Her book, ranked 31, is one example demonstrating the book information ALA provides:

“31 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Reason for challenges: racism, homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group”

There is a bibliography listing books, “...challenged, restricted, removed, or banned in 2009 and 2010 as reported in the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom from May 2009-May2010.” Author(s), book title, publisher are listed, followed by a paragraph summary explaining who made the complaint and why, coupled with a brief description of the offending story.

Following are a few of the listed books, their author(s) and one abbreviated example of content:

And Tango Makes Three
By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
“The illustrated book is based on a true story of two
male penguins that adopted an abandoned egg
at New York City’s Central Park in the late 1990s.”

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
By Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff

The Bean Trees
By Barbara Kingsolver

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
By Anne Frank

I recommend you visit the American Library Association's website by clicking on their name here for a direct link. Reiterating the BBW slogan:


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The book “The Other Side of Eden” by John Steinbeck IV and Nancy Steinbeck, I reviewed in my previous article that you may easily access by scrolling back to there. Considerable interest in this book has been expressed to me both in comments, private emails and verbal discussions with people I’ve encountered in my daily life. For that reason, I have chosen to share additional links to Internet websites I subsequently initiated researching in response to that interest.

In my previous article titled, “Choosing Books We Read – Steinbeck IV,” I described the varied route I followed which resulted in my selecting this particular book. After the book’s selection, I took note of the fact John Steinbeck IV was the son of a famous parent who was recognized world-wide with notable awards for his writing. I became particularly intrigued with how being the child of such a recognized figure could, and sometimes does, impact some children. I could name numerous children of famous public figures and celebrities whose lives have been positively and/or negatively affected by their parents’ status, as probably many readers could also. Naming or making comparisons with these children is not the focus of what I write.

My particular interest centers on the informative, sensitive account of how John IV perceived his life that he wrote about in his uncompleted autobiography before his unfortunate premature death. There may have been several “uncompleteds” in his life at certain stages. We each must make our own way through this world on a sometimes barbed and thorny, occasionally crooked rutty road, fraught with detours, even dead ends. Only the naive fail to recognize the challenges in making this journey, which is more difficult for some than others, for a multitude of reasons both within and beyond our control.

When we’re children we are especially vulnerable to adult influences that can contribute to complicating the rest of our lives. His untimely death is doubly tragic since not only was he deprived of life, but his wife, children, and family missed his love and companionship. His friends, plus those who recognized and appreciated his talents and skills, would no longer benefit from the further materialization of his unknown potential.

Who of us does not see life through varying lens at age 20, then 40, next 60, again 80 years and, for some, even 100 years or more? Actually, even life view changes at 30, 50, 70 and 90 can be significant. John IV was sharing his observations in this book from the viewpoint of a mature adult in his mid-forties who had many unique experiences throughout his life. One of his writing achievements when in his twenties is the highly acclaimed Vietnam memoir, “In Touch.” Since we have his perceptions at mid-life, he might even have wanted to share an account of a further evolved life viewpoint about which he could have been motivated to write in the following years.

His wife compiled “The Other Side of Eden” knowing of his intent to have his writings published. She wrote additional chapters to augment his and their life narrative, specifically noting at the beginning of each chapter the ones he wrote, those she wrote and any that might be a combination of his views, as she knew them, coupled with her own knowledge and perspective.

Co-author Nancy Steinbeck’s website can be reached with a click HERE for the book jacket description and reviews.

She reads from the book HERE.
This 9 min. reading requires you to download a RAM file and follow the written instructions to access.
There is also a slide show on the site that requires a Real OnePlayer to watch but if you do not have a necessary plug-in or helper application you can download a free one there.

For anyone interested in John Steinbeck IV’s father’s legacy through his award-winning novels (discussed in my preceding article,) I suggest this link to The National Steinbeck Center.

John IV’s brother, Thomas, serves on the Board of Directors, there in Salinas, California, in the heart of the story setting for some of John Steinbeck’s novels. The city is a scenic 17-mile drive from the popular vacation spot, Monterey, for those who might want to plan an interesting travel experience to both places. There are some spectacular colorful ocean scenes along the coastal Monterey area on writer, Thom’s web site HERE, which also contains information about his books beginning with his first, "In The Shadow of the Cypress."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


How do we choose the books we read? That question intrigues me when I consider the books I most recently chose. I realize my selection approach has varied through the years, but here’s what happened this time.

Deciding to write a short July 4th blog piece, I was reminded of a novel set on that date that I enjoyed reading the summer after my high school graduation prior to starting college in the fall. A quick Internet search for that book (future topic here) resulted in my encountering reference to a 1950's John Steinbeck Jrs. novel, East of Eden. That reference led me to an interesting sounding title, The Other Side of Eden written by Steinbeck’s son, John IV. Ultimately, I was intrigued to read this book when I recalled the considerable controversy, especially in the Steinbecks’ Salinas, California home community, surrounding his family story revelations. One of the son’s less offending observations about his father in the book:

“He was a total bullshit artist on some levels and often that makes a great writer. But if you don’t walk like you talk, it’s not a great character trait.”

The Other Side of Eden by John Steinbeck IV and wife, Nancy, was published in 2001. Steinbeck IV began writing his autobiography to understand the influences shaping his maturation. His life had been adversely affected by alcoholic family members, coupled with probable abuse by them and some of their adult friends. These and other revelations contrasted significantly with his father’s public image, both personal and professional.

John Steinbeck Jr., the father, had been catapulted into the public eye with the 1939 publication of his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1940, the same year as the release of the book’s movie version. In 1962, the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

His novel’s and film’s storyline is set during the Great Depression, and follows a desperate but hope-filled family along famed U.S. Route 66, then ultimately to California’s Salinas Valley. The black and white film is listed at AMC Filmsite as being among the 100 Greatest Films. Tim Dirks, editor and writer, provides extensive particulars about the film’s plot including:

“The plight of the Joad family is universalized as a microcosm of the thousands of other tenant farmers during the country's time of crisis, who suffered from oppression imposed by the banks and big mechanized farm interests. The dispossessed, migrant family’s departure…[depicted those] who were evicted and uprooted from their "Dust Bowl" farm land, and forced to search westward in the inhospitable Eden of California for jobs and survival with thousands of other migrant workers.”

Recent years’ unexpected devastating U.S. financial difficulties, adversely affecting even middle class individuals and their families, resonate in this film which the critic also notes in this New York Times video of an original 1940 movie trailer. (13 sec. commercial at the beginning.)

Here’s another original 1940 movie trailer showcasing the excitement surrounding Steinbeck’s work:

Grapes of Wrath novel has not been without controversy having been banned by school boards from public schools and libraries beginning in Steinbeck’s Kern County in 1939. On two separate occasions the book was burned in Salinas, location of his parents and his home. The American Library Association reports from 1990 to 2004 Steinbeck to be one of the ten most frequently banned authors. Another of his novels, Of Mice and Men ranked sixth of one hundred books banned in the United States. (Up date: 8/28/12 since link above no longer connects -- refer to current ALA Link.)

Contrarily, many of Steinbeck’s writings have continued to be on numerous required American high school reading lists. His novel Of Mice and Men is a key text used in the United Kingdom for select English Literature examinations. A United States study by the Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature found the novel to be one of the ten most frequently read books in public high schools as noted at Wikipedia.

Favorites of mine, Steinbeck, Jr. (note he probably dropped the Jr. after his father died) novel and movie, East of Eden, both occur in Steinbeck’s California Salinas Valley. This story set in 1917, just prior to WWI, is generally described as a re-telling of the biblical Cain and Abel story – good versus evil, favored versus unfavored sons. Dirks again provides extensive film specifics including this description:
(8/28/12 Dirks link up date.)

The story “...portrays the relationship between insecure, tortured, neurotic loner Caleb "Cal" Trask (James Dean, his first major role and film) and his dutiful, favored brother Aron (Richard Davalos) - twin sons. Their father is a stern, hardened, devoutly religious, self-righteous man, Adam (Raymond Massey), a lettuce farmer living with his family in Salinas, California.
The characters in this story, particularly, are noted by John Steinbeck IV as being based on more than one generation of his family. Most notably he relates that his perception is the novel’s brothers relationship with each other, and with their father, as being much like that of his and his older brother’s. Both brothers engaged in writing professionally as adults. They sustained erratic contact throughout their lives but Steinbeck IV’s wife, Nancy, is of the impression the brothers’ personal time together generally resulted in her husband experiencing serious setbacks in attempts to overcome his demons, including alcohol and drugs.

Here’s a link to John Steinbeck Encyclopedia which provides a brief summary of older brother,Thomas’(Thom’s,) life and writing accomplishments for anyone interested in further information about him.

John Steinbeck IV served six years as a soldier in the Vietnam War. He was an award-winning journalist for an acclaimed 1969 Vietnam memoir In Touch. He received an Emmy for his work on a 1968 CBS documentary “The World of Charlie Company.” Here’s Part 1 of 5, each part can be viewed on YouTube, about 10 minutes each in length:

The Other Side of Eden, subtitled “Life with John Steinbeck,” (referring to Steinbeck, Jr.) was compiled by John IV’s wife, Nancy, after her husband’s death. Some chapters are attributed to having been written by her husband from his unfinished autobiography and notes; others she designates as having written herself incorporating her own recollections. Nancy writes considerably of her perspective about her husband’s life, sometimes lending a professional view as a former therapist who worked with hard-core delinquents and drug addicts. She augments her husband’s writings extensively with those of her own describing the circumstances of their initial 1960s meeting in Boulder, Colorado, as followers of a popular Buddist leader at the time. This is a revealing startling story about such spiritual groups and their gurus. She and John were both separately seeking life answers as their honestly described activities, significant life events reveal.

Nancy, in describing their relationship, explains the vows they took with which I can singularly identify for reasons quite different than hers, plus I’m not a Buddhist, that to some degree must account for sustaining their marriage. She wrote:

“Buddhist wedding vows are not about ‘til death do us part.’ We promised to extend transcendent generosity, morality, patience, exertion, contemplation, and wisdom and always be a friend to the other.”
The two of them, a few years later, experiencing a spiritual dilemma prompts her to write of a meeting with the Dalai Lama whose clarifying efforts explained:

“It is not good for a person to change from the religion into which they were born. Very difficult to understand the religion of a foreign culture. Much better to stay with the one you know.”

Nancy later writes:
“Now there is evidence that meditation can exacerbate emotional problems, and may even prove dangerous.”

The value in reading this book, for me, does not necessarily center on the celebrities with whom the Steinbeck IV’s lives were intimately enmeshed, such as the “Beat Generation’s” Jack Kerouac, Abbie Hoffman, and William Burroughs. My thoughts were stimulated to think about the influences experienced by some children growing up in a home with an iconic parent, in this case a Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel Prize winning author with his numerous books becoming award-winning Hollywood star-studded movies. Tragically, the author’s son was exposed to substance abuse and other violations including in his family environment as he matured. Descriptions of this son’s coping mechanisms and evolution through adulthood provides a cautionary tale about the challenges facing individuals who become well-known public figures with the impact their fame and fortune may have on some family members.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering. . . . . .

Remembering innocent lives sacrificed because of hate and fear.....

Our greatest tribute is to not act from similar feelings.....

Lest we be like those who caused the devastating events.....


Almost a decade ago.....

Twenty first century tragedy

Monday, September 06, 2010


Collector item voices are likely going to be coming to my house soon. Maybe yours, too. I'm anticipating my answering machine is going to begin having a real work-out after Labor day, continuing until the November elections. The device has only now cooled down, recuperated, after being bombarded by automatically dialed calls with recorded messages left on my machine before the Primary Elections earlier this year. I think about all the money candidates and other well-known public figures expend recording these messages, then calling my phone number.

Do candidates know that when I play back any message on my answering machine that the split second I recognize it's one of those automatically dialed pre-recorded messages, which I can usually determine no later than after the 2nd or 3rd word, I hit the delete button? The voices I've deleted have included former U.S. Presidents, Congressional Senators and Representatives and other public figures from more local level offices, also a few celebrities. Maybe I should have saved them like people do who collect autographs. Perhaps my recordings would be collectors items with monetary value for future generations.

I've listened to part of some messages in the past and find they're full of all the vague grandiose goals that are always promised. Seldom do they define how they hope to accomplish these goals that the incumbent and the office holder before him or her also said they would achieve and didn't. I get frustrated listening to them and want to respond with comments like, "Give me some facts. Tell me how you attempt to make these needed progressive changes."

Another type recorded message to which I'm subjected is as repugnant and repelling to me as what I see in snail mail flyers, brochures, letters and television ads which are increasing now. They're often negatively full of attack mis-truths, distortions and omissions. Thank heavens the senders don't have my email address but I would simply treat any such emails as spam.