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Books-to-Film: Jonathan Tropper's "This Is Where I Leave You" -- Watch the Movie Trailer

When Jonathan TropTropperper's novel This Is Where I Leave You was published in 2009--and soon after named one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year--our reviewer, Daphne Durham, described the book as "wickedly funny ... as much about a family's reckoning as it is about one man's attempt to get it together."

Tropper's protagonist is now being portrayed by Jason Bateman, in the film of the same name, which is releasing this weekend. It also stars Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.

Listen to Durham speak with Tropper in this audio podcast.

At the time, Tropper described his protagonist as a man "dealing with the complete unraveling of his life ... he just wonders how much further he has to sink before he starts climbing back up."

In her review, Durham called Tropper "a master of the cutting one-liner that makes you both cringe and crack up.

"But what elevates his novels and makes him a truly splendid writer is his ability to create fantastically flawed, real characters who stay with you long after the book is over."

The Richard M. Nixon Ex-Presidential Library

On the evening of August 8, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon, drowning in scandal and facing almost certain impeachment, announced his resignation as President of the United States. Though he vacated office the following day, Nixon still casts a long, victory-sign-waggling shadow--not just politically, but in the publishing world, as well. Though we'll have to wait another decade for the 50th anniversary and the flood of books sure to come, the Ruby Anniversary offers some interesting new perspectives on the affair, including some from principals of the administration. Here's a look at a few of the most prominent titles.

[Hypothetical Richard M. Nixon Customer Reviews are provided for each title. He said all of these things, but obviously in different contexts.]


The Nixon Defense

The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It by John W. Dean

As White House Counsel for Nixon from 1970 to 1973, Dean was instrumental in both the Watergate burglaries and their cover-up. He was also the first to turn, plea-bargaining for a lesser sentence in exchange for his testimony. In his latest effort, Dean has drawn on his own extensive archive of conversations and documents to answer the titular question.


One StarI am not a crook.

By Hypothetical Richard M. Nixon on August 8, 2014
When the president does it, that means that it's not illegal.

The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Richard Perlstein

Though technically a Reagan biography, the follow-up to Nixonland recounts the tumultuous events of the 70s, starting with the resignation. Perlstein contends that rather than leading to a humbler style of politics--which many predicted--they set the stage for Reagan's ascension to the pinnacle of power, as well as his doctrine of American exceptionalism that influences policy to this day. [Note: This book is currently the subject of its own scandal.]


 Three StarsBureaucrats.

By Hypothetical Richard M. Nixon on August 8, 2014
Any change is resisted because bureaucrats have a vested interest in the chaos in which they exist.

The Greatest Comeback

The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority by The Patrick J. Buchanan

Nixon's trusted advisor (and eternal loyalist) Buchanan documents Nixon's remarkable revival following his twin disasters of the 1960 presidential and 1962 Californial gubenatorial elections.


Five StarsSock it to me?

By Hypothetical Richard M. Nixon on August 8, 2014
Defeat doesn't finish a man. Quit does. A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.

The Nixon Tapes

The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 by Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter

Acutely aware of his position as an important historical figure, Nixon (in)famously outfitted his White House with voice-activated tape recorders. What could go wrong? Luke Nichter's Herculean effort to digitize and transcribe much of the material finally offers a glimpse not only into the events of Nixon's presidency (SALT I, the opening of China, and the landslide re-election), but also the mind of the man in the eye of the storm.


Three Stars[REDACTED]

By Hypothetical Richard M. Nixon on August 8, 2014

Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate

Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate by Ken Hughes

Bob Woodward calls Ken Hughes "one of America's foremost experts on secret presidential recordings, especially those of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon." In Chasing Shadows, Hughes, drawing on his own extensive research of thousands of hours of declassified recordings, illustrates how events and behavior starting with the 1968 election led to the paranoid strategies that ultimately brought Nixon down.


One StarWell...

By Hypothetical Richard M. Nixon on August 8, 2014
I screwed it up real good, didn't I?

All the President's Men

 More on Richard Nixon

Poet Laureate and Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou, celebrated author of more than 30 books spanning poetry, essays, plays, novels, and a series of autobiographies, died Wednesday night, May 27, at the age of 86.

Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou experienced life fully and uniquely, working as a young woman in strip clubs, on a cable car, as an actress, and as a journalist. She wrote a series of seven autobiographies, beginning with perhaps her best known work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).

Though she never went to college, she held more than 30 honorary doctral degrees. She was a nominee for the Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize; she was a winner of the Grammy Award and the National Medal of the Arts, among many other honors.

President Bill Clinton, who felt a connection with Angelou having also grown up poor in Arkansas, asked her to read at his 1993 inauguration, where she recited "On the Pulse of the Morning." A life-long civil rights activist and icon, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2011.

May Spotlight: "No Place to Hide" by Glenn Greenwald

In May of 2013, Edward Snowden, a young systems administrator contracting for the National Security Agency, fled the United States for Hong Kong, carrying with him thousands of classified documents outlining the staggering capabilities of the NSA’s surveillance programs--including those designed to collect information within the U.S. There Snowden arranged a meeting with Guardian contributors Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill, and so began the most explosive leak of classified material since the Pentagon Papers over 40 years ago. Two new books recount the Snowden affair from the reporters' perspectives, and both are revelatory and vital.

No Place to Hide

No Place to Hide
by Glenn Greenwald

Hardcover | Kindle

David and Goliath

The Snowden Files
by Luke Harding

Paperback | Kindle

No Place to Hide --Amazon's Spotlight pick for the Best Books of May--opens with the tense account of Greenwald's initial encounters with Snowden in Hong Kong. He almost missed the story: Snowden contacted him anonymously via instant messenger, requesting that Greenwald install cryptographic software before he dropped a bombshell of a story in the reporter's lap. As the regular recipient of many similar messages (and not versed in privacy software), Greenwald procrastinated. It wasn't until award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras confided in Greenwald that she was holding her own cache of sensitive material--also from Snowden--that he lit out for China with Poitras and the scoop of their lives. It's some serious cloak-and-dagger stuff: clandestine rendezvous, secret passphrases, and back-passage escapes from hotels as the media (and presumably the U.S government) closes around Snowden.

The book's core describes the NSA’s vast information-collection apparatus, including reproductions of some of the “Snowden files” themselves. Anyone who's read James Bamford's excellent books on the NSA will probably be unsurprised by their ambition (they've tapped telecoms and undersea cables for ages, well before the modern Internet), but seeing the scale of the operations--enabled through the compulsory participation of tech behemoths like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo!--one begins to understand that NSA director Keith Alexander's stated goal to "collect it all" might actually be achievable, if it isn't already. The alphabet soup of agencies and project code names can be confusing and alternately funny and ominous (BLACKPEARL, BLARNEY, and STORMBREW, to name three), but Greenwald succinctly explains the purpose and reach of each.(Observation: It's amusing to see that bad PowerPoint presentations--unfortunate font choices, banal jargon, scattershot logos and seals--are not limited to the corporate sphere.) Minds will, or should, be blown here.

In the third act, Greenwald tells you why it matters. Wherever you come down on the spectrum of national security vs. Constitutional freedoms, Snowden's breach has forced a reckoning, and Greenwald carries strong opinions. To those who argue that they have nothing to hide, he points out that everyone has something to hide: though you might not be cooking meth in your garden shed, you will act differently when you know you are watched than when you have a notion of privacy. This possibility of being observed--a modern application of Bentham's panopticon--creates a system of control, of behavior modification. To those who say "it's only metadata" (e.g. the information about a phone call, rather than the content of the conversation itself), Greenwald points out that it's simple to draw a picture of behavior based on who you're calling and when, and--if you had a choice--you might not be amenable to sharing that information. This might be effective in combating terrorism (there's debate about that), but "collect it all" means just what it says: everything on everybody, not just terrorists. And there is so much more: blanket government warrants rubber-stamped by secret courts, establishment media complicity. It goes on.

No Place to Hide will anger readers on both sides of the conversation--some for Snowden's transgression, some for its revelations about the government reach. A more straightforward narrative, The Snowden Files: This Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man--published in February--provides the play-by-play of the Snowden affair with a bit less opinion (Greenwald is a columnist, after all). Luke Harding, another Guardian correspondent, has amassed an incredible amount of detail and transformed it into 333 pages of gripping thriller. Harding has more perspective from the newspaper side: where Greenwald occasionally thought the Guardian resisted publishing his stories, Harding witnessed first-hand the intimidation at the hands of the Government Communications Headquarters, the NSA's British counterpart and collaborator. In one memorable scene, a pair of GCHQ agents oversee the destruction of Guardian computers as a compromise for not handing over the Snowden documents. "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." It's as if Dickens had written The Trial. Both books are excellent, possibly essential, but The Snowden Files gives more of itself to the history of NSA and GCHQ surveillance, Snowden's backstory and possible future, and the intricacies of intelligence-sharing among the "Five Eyes" allies, who together cast a world-wide surveillance net.

This is far from over. Greenwald recently told GQ that he's been saving the biggest stories for last. Whether you consider Snowden a whistleblower crying foul on government overreach, or a self-aggrandizing traitor who put national security at risk, both books are taut and enlightening, marking a bellwether moment in a crucial debate.


Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

Gabriel Marquez Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian-born author known for his stories that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality--as well as the lines between tragedy and comedy--has died following a bout with pneumonia. As the author of novels including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, "Gabo" was instrumental in introducing Latin American literature to a worldwide audience, and was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts." García Márquez was 87.






George R.R. Martin Drops By Before Advance Screening

George R.R. MartinAuthor George R.R. Martin is in New York City this week to promote season 4 of Game of Thrones. The festivities began Tuesday with an official premiere at Lincoln Center.

Last night, he dropped by HBO for a private publishers' advance screening where he introduced the first episode of the season, "The Swords," before heading out to Brooklyn, where 7,000 fans were gathered to watch the same episode at Barclays Center.

"Some have paid $5,000 to be there," he noted with some awe. "Think of how many books they could have bought."

Martin, who typically writes once per season, identified the second episode, "The Lion and the Rose," as his. "But you won't be seeing that tonight," he teased.

Season 4, which draws from the second half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, begins April 6 on HBO.

People, he said, often ask him, "Did you expect all of this," he told the crowd. "No, I didn't expect it," he answered with mock indignation. "But I like it."


Enter the Amazon Books Treat Yourself Sweepstakes

Treat Yourself

The holidays can put a serious dent in your piggybank. But maybe you can get gifts for everyone on your list plus what you really want (books, right?)!

We're randomly drawing one lucky Amazon Books fan's name, and the winner will receive $5,000 in Gift Cards.

Our Amazon Books Treat Yourself Sweepstakes ends 12/9/13, so ENTER NOW for your chance to win.

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Good luck!

JFK: 50 Years Later

On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet as his motorcade rolled through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, violently ending the era of American self-assurance. It is the quintessential Where were you? moment, maybe the most written about event ever, but the moment and circumstance were pivotal, so let’s revisit: America’s post-WWII supremacy was being challenged on multiple fronts as communism crept into her backyard, and the embarrassing failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion indicated that while America might be the planet’s most powerful and influential nation, it couldn’t control events just 90 miles south of Key West. Not long after, the Soviets were installing missiles in Cuba, and while that crisis was “won,” Americans became fully aware of the stakes of an escalating Cold War. Ich bin ein Berliner. At home, the country edged toward the cultural seachange of the ‘60s and Vietnam War backlash. Everything won seemed to be crumbling into chaos.

CamelotsCourtJFKConservativeAt the top of it all sat one of the most charismatic (or at least photogenic; ask Nixon) president the country had seen, at a time when media, especially television, was coming into its own as tool to spread (and homogenize) information on a mass scale. He was the first president who wasn’t dad (or at least an inscrutable uncle), the first president to bring an aura of glamour to the White House, with his attractive family and rumored dalliances with famous blondes. Oswald’s ringing shot heralded a new world, one in which all rules seemed destined to be broken and America’s future hung in the balance.

  So there’s no mystery why Kennedy, his brief administration, his personal life (both secret and otherwise), and—of course—the assassination have inspired tens of thousands of books, including several new novels and children's books. The 50th anniversary of his death has spawned dozens more, several taking fresh looks at the inner workings of Kennedy’s White House. Robert Dallek—author of what many consider the definitive JFK biography, An Unfinished Life—penned the best of that bunch: Camelot’s Court shifts focus to Kennedy’s trusted advisors and their influence on the administration’s successes and failures, revealing the often sharp fractures sustained in the arena of clashing ambitions and ideologies. It's an ambitious Team of Rivals approach, but Dallek provides a fascinating, one-of-a-kind look inside the messy mechanics of policy.

LettersOfJFK KennedyYearsNYTFor a lively, challenging reconsideration of that policy, Ira Stoll’s JFK, Conservative examines Kennedy’s legacy through a red lens, concluding that the liberal lion had more in common with Ronald Reagan than many liberals would prefer—or remember. While Democrats point to his progressive stances on health care and education, Stoll notes that his positions on tax cuts (for) and communism (staunchly against) would have rung like church bells in conservative ears.  It’s a clever and audacious spin.

Beyond governmental nuts and bolts, The Letters of John F. Kennedy collects correspondence from the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, spanning notes to and from cultural and world leaders (including Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Truman, and Nikita Krushchev) as well as children and private citizens that demonstrate a warmth not often associated with Commanders in Chief. Those looking for salacious details of his private life best look elsewhere, but editor Martin W. Sandler’s selections track Kennedy’s development as a leader in an insightful, personal, and unprecedented way.

LIFEJFKFKennedyYearsMemoiror some, it’s the image of Camelot that endures. Like so many rock stars, JFK died before he got old, before his legacy was tarnished or torn down, and well before the shriek-cycle of modern “journalism,” which builds and destroys political careers sometimes within weeks. Several new volumes revisit the Camelot years in pictures. The Kennedy Years: From the Pages of The New York Times reprints many of the newspaper’s articles and photographs from its coverage of the administration and the events that surrounded it—fascinating for real-time assessments of historically significant events. For a glimpse behind Camelot’s curtain, The Kennedy Years: A Memoir captures unguarded “off-camera” moments through the snapshots of JFK’s personal photographer, Jacques Lowe, accompanied by his personal account to provide a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective, independent of political spin. JFK: A Photographic Memoir by influential photographer (and selfie pioneer) Lee Friedlander poignantly captures public reactions to JFK, from impromptu celebrations of his election to despairing memorials following November 22. For a dramatic record of November 22, 1963, LIFE: The Day Kennedy Died presents its coverage of that fateful day in Dallas, including the recollections of many celebrities, as well as reproductions of every frame of the infamous Zapruder film that launched countless conspiracy theories about the assassination.

Dallas EndOfDaysSpeaking of which: the grassy knoll. Magic bullets. Castro. LBJ. Jack Ruby. CIA. JFK assassination theories are a roiling alphabet soup of plots and motives, and rather than diminish the hysteria, the fifty years since the assassination have given them room to multiply, becoming ever more convoluted.  Those books are well represented in 2013’s new crop, including wrestler/governor/actor/special-ops bad-ass Jesse Ventura’s  They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK and the Little Book of JFK Conspiracies, available in a deluxe edition for the discerning conspiracy theorist. Then again, maybe it was LBJ, after all.

But the most interesting new angle isn’t a conspiracy theory at all. Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis casts the city as a character in the plot, a place made inherently dangerous to JFK by so many enemies of the administration—political, religious, criminal, and in the media—that the environment itself was hospitable to tragedy, and perhaps invited it. It’s a dramatic cautionary tale about how extreme ideologies can combine to create a toxic brew. While Dallas 1963 takes in the view from on high, James Swanson hits the streets for a blow-by-blow account of events. End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy begins three days before Dealey Plaza through Oswald's shocking, audacious murder at the hands of Jack Ruby on November 24. Like his previous book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, End of Days reads like a thriller while providing meticulous detail--the true-crime counterpart to Don DeLillo's masterful, speculative novelization, Libra.

JesseVentura LittleBookJFKKennedy warned that “those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” As it turns out, this is not true for Kennedy himself. There are still lessons to be learned within JFK’s story, lessons about tragedy and resilience, dogma and pragmatism, and what can be achieved when politics of inclusion are chosen over exclusionism. The books will keep coming as long as interest in Kennedy’s ideals and achievements—real or perceived—persists, and as long as we ask What might have been?


See more new JFK titles in:

New Chapters for "The Billionaire and the Mechanic"

The Billionaire and the Mechanic Whether or not you follow boating as a sport, you've likely caught the news that history was made this week when the America's Cup was awarded to American billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA. The 19-day match (the longest in the competition's 162 years) ended in a 9-8 win against New Zealand, marking a stunning comeback for Oracle, who won 8 straight races to overcome a 1-8 score.

Why are we book people so excited about a sports story?

In May this year, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Julian Guthrie published The Billionaire and the Mechanic, the story of how Ellison found an unlikely partner in car mechanic Norbert Bajurin and together they prepared for exactly this moment in time.

The timing was perfect; the book came out just in time for this year's competition. But, of course, now there's so much more of the story to tell... and Guthrie intends to tell it. The paperback and Kindle editions of The Billionaire and the Mechanic, due out the end of November, will include two new chapters covering this extraordinary development.

The paperback edition is already available to preorder here. And, in the spirit of the moment, we've rounded up three more books that boating fans might enjoy.

Grand Ambition
by G. Bruce KnectGrand Ambition


Sailing on the Edge
by Bob Fischer
Sailing on the Edge
It's Simply...SAILING
by Cali Gilbert
Sailing on the Edge

Defending the Greats For Banned Books Week

For us, cracking a new spine, turning another page, and letting ourselves be transported by the written word is crucial to our happiness. Which is why it's so painful to hear the words "challenged," "banned," and "burned."

It's Banned Books Week Sept. 22-28, and in celebration of the freedom to read, Amazon has compiled an extensive list of book's that have -- in some way, at some time -- been under attack.

For our part here at Omni, each editor has selected one book from the list and has written a "defense," or reaction to the mere thought of its being banned.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on those we chose and more. Offer a defense of your favorite banned book in the comments section below.

Snow Falling on Cedars

Banned Book: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Defended By: Sara Nelson

I guess I don't get why Snow Falling on Cedars is on the Banned Books list in the first place. I mean, I get it: it's about a relationship between a white boy and a Japanese girl. But c'mon, guys: even though the story is set in the mid 20th century, it was published in 1995, something like 30 years after the repeal of the miscengenation laws that had prohibited such interracial marriages. (The kids in the book were never even married, but never mind.) Anyway, I love this book because my son's father is Japanese (I am not) and I have some experience dealing with American attitudes toward that quaint but not forgotten old word MISCEGENATION, and with race in general, I guess. Which even in this so called liberated day and age isn't nothing. So maybe I do get why the book was banned, but I'd like to think we've moved on to a time where if they even had to ban books, they wouldn't even think to ban this one. It offends no one and should move nearly everyone, with its beautiful writing, the compelling mystery at the center of the story, and its irresistible characters.

The Glass Castle

Banned Book: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Defended By: Chris Schluep

It's ironic that people would seek to ban a book about the banning of books. There's a weird circular logic at work. (Like eating all the pretzels out of the Chex mix because you don’t like pretzels.) I once had a discussion with Ray Bradbury about what he was thinking when he wrote Fahrenheit 451. I told him that I thought it was a response to the excesses of McCarthyism. He told me, "I wasn’t thinking about McCarthy so much as I was thinking about the burning of the library of Alexandria 5,000 years before." He wrote the book in a typing room at UCLA in the early '50s -- he said, "I would walk through the stacks at UCLA, look at all those books, and think about more recent events in Italy and Germany, and the rumors about Russia during the war. What could endanger all those books?" Turns out normal, well-intentioned people can.

The Call of the Wild

Banned Book: The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Defended By: Neal Thompson

The Call of the Wild goes like this: a domesticated St. Bernard mix named Buck becomes sled dog in the Yukon and, indulging his wild tendencies, battles other huskies to become the pack leader. A memorable scene is the death match against a foe, from which Buck emerges the bloodied champ, "the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and found it good." Any kid who's been in a schoolyard fight (I can recall three – never bloody, though I once broke my hand) can relate to Buck's desire to beat the bully, to impress his peers, to win. Call of the Wild is hardly the man's-best-friend story some people assume it to be, which is why the book has sometimes been deemed inappropriate for younger readers. Interestingly, the violence and brutality are precisely what the New York Times predicted, in its 1903 review, would lead to its popularity -- "it will satisfy the love of dogfights apparently inherent in every man." Call of the Wild faced it's harshest opposition in totalitarian Yugoslavia, Italy, and Germany, where it was banned and burned in the late 1920s and early 1930s, due to the author's socialist and "radical" views. The themes of individuality and self-reliance that London promoted were apparently dangerous ideas. Schoolyard boys might just get the idea they could someday become a leader.

The Sun Also Rises

Banned Book: The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway
Defended By: Jon Foro

As far as banned books go, The Sun Also Rises has a lot going for it: sex, bad words, unsuccessful sex, a girl with a boy’s name, Paris, Pernod--these are just a few of the louche particulars that tend to bunch staid underpants. And, predictably, those underpants were bunched, landing Hemingway’s landmark novel on banned lists in Boston, California, and Ireland at various points since its 1926 publication (we might also assume it was banned in Hemingway’s mother’s house; she reportedly called it "one of the filthiest books of the year," which is better than "of all time," I guess). But the Nazis took it one step further, burning the book along with some of his others (A Farewell to Arms), either because Hemingway was a decadent communist or for his accurate depictions of war (apparently depravity is in the eye of the beholder). It’s unclear. But here’s the thing: while it was banned in Boston in 1930, Ireland (1953) and Riverside, CA (1960) took offense after the Nazis. When anyone bans a book, or burns a book, or takes violent action against the author of a book, they are probably not asking themselves Hey, the Nazis did this. Should we be doing this, too? As for the book itself, some love it while others find it insufferably self-absorbed (I can understand both; I loved it as a young man, though that’s a gray memory and I haven’t tried it recently). But its impact on 20th Century literature is undeniable, even if Hemingway’s terse, direct style has taken its hits over the years. There’s risk in being successful and inimitable: many people will imitate you, and when they can’t, they resort to parody, which at this point is an overtold joke. You think you can do better? Isn’t it pretty to think so?
Slaughterhouse Five

Banned Book: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Defended By: Robin A. Rothman

I'll own up to a bias for all things Vonnegut. He's my all-time favorite author, and it's not just because I grew up in Indiana, his home turf. It's his imagination, his ability to laugh in the face of tragic events, his ability to craft a perfectly timeless sentence that makes everything okay: "So it goes." But no, not "So it goes" when I think of kids at the age I was when I first discovered him who are denied the opportunity to read him. It seems obscene to me that this book should have to be defended at all, but I can do it in one word: War. Slaughterhouse Five is the satirically sci-fi story of a WWII soldier who's captured by the Germans and held in a slaughterhouse as a POW during the Dresden bombing. But it's not the time-jumping that has caused schools to ban and even burn this classic practically since its publication in 1969. Critics of the book will cite any number of excuses to deny young people the right to read it: violence, profanity, religious irreverence, etc. Again, one word: War. In fiction, these "inappropriate" elements often fall within creative license. But it's even more justifiable here since much of what Vonnegut describes, historically speaking, happened... to him. Which is to say, he witnessed the Dresden firestorm, from a slaughterhouse, as a POW, because he fought against (known for their book-burning skills) Nazis. Too bad for everyone the war wasn't PG-13.

The Glass Castle

Banned Book: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Defended By: Mari Malcolm

I'll bet that the parents who raise a stink in an effort to protect their honors-English high schoolers from Jeanette Walls's memoir, The Glass Castle, don't see the irony of their behavior: Walls and her siblings overcame their chaotic, often dangerous childhood and went on to thrive as adults largely because they read widely and learned the power of stories. Books were their survival maps. When I saw this one on the Banned Books list, I honestly couldn't remember the passages that so offended these parents. I did remember being deeply disturbed by the kind of hunger Walls describes, how she had to sneak half-eaten food from her school garbage cans after hours, how the shame of being hungry ate at her, how her mom let her kids go hungry while saving a chocolate bar for herself. And I remember being in awe of her tenacity, the way all of those kids saved themselves and still managed to love their parents. I've been fortunate enough to never go hungry, but one in four American kids goes hungry every day, including a lot of smart teenagers who might feel uplifted and less alone while reading The Glass Castle.


Banned Book: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Defended By: Kevin Nguyen

Last March, the Chicago Public Schools banned Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis, which followed her upbringing during the Iranian Revolution. "Banned" is actually putting it a little strongly. The group, led by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, deemed the book inappropriate, removing the comic memoir from the seventh-grade curriculum because it included several panels involving torture. And yet, there are plenty of books dealing with similarly controversial themes that don't draw the same negative attention. I recall reading Lois Lowry's Number the Stars in fourth grade during a unit about World War II. Lowry's Newbury Award-winning novel has never, to my knowledge, been banned, despite being about, well, the Holocaust—a subject that might be as objectionable as torture (and perhaps moreso). According to Byrd-Bennett, it was Persepolis's "powerful images of torture" (emphasis mine) that led to its removal from the curriculum. Persepolis, by virtue of being a comic (and a great one!), is composed of strong visuals. If we are teaching our kids about the Iranian Revolution, should we pretend that torture wasn't an important part of it? Should torture not be a powerful image?

Seira Wilson discusses three banned books for young readers in this week's YA Wednesday.

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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