ALA: record number of unique book titles challenged in 2023

joy in diversity

In March 2024, the American Library Association reported a record number of unique book titles challenged in 2023.

“The number of titles targeted for censorship surged 65 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching the highest levels ever documented by the…ALA.” The numbers “show efforts to censor 4,240 unique book titles in schools and libraries. This tops the previous high from 2022 when 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship.”

My irritation with this trend should be no secret to anyone who knows me or has read this blog for a while. Public libraries are, and I’m going to use some highly technical language here, “really cool.”

The Binghamton (NY) Public Library embedded in Daniel S. Dickinson School in Binghamton, NY had, at some point, the Dylan poster by  Milton Glaser on the wall. So THAT’s how you spell Dylan!

That branch and the main library downtown each had librarians from my church, strong black women. I worked downtown for about seven months, learning about Psychology Today and Billboard magazines, which I DEVOURED before putting them away.

When I lived at my grandmother’s shack in 1975, listening to LPs at the downtown branch was my refuge. In 1977, my go-to places were my downtown library in Charlotte, NC, and then the New York Public Library.

At FantaCo, I would go to the Washington Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library and look up publishers in Books In Print, which is how we ended up selling a bunch of Creepshow graphic novels.

I’ve never worked as a librarian in a public library. However, I’ve been what someone calls an advocate, participating with the Friends of the Albany Public Library and then its successor, the FFAPL.

So libraries have long been my third place. “The only real requirement is that nobody is forcing you to show up.”

Censorship

The challenges to libraries, then, make me cranky publicly, and frankly livid in private. From the ALA:

“Key trends emerged from the data gathered from 2023 censorship reports:

  • Pressure groups in 2023 focused on public libraries in addition to targeting school libraries. The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92 percent over the previous year; school libraries saw an 11 percent increase.
  • Groups and individuals demanding the censorship of multiple titles, often dozens or hundreds at a time, drove this surge.
  • Titles representing the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47 percent of those targeted in censorship attempts.”

People in library districts have the right to pick for themselves what they choose not to read for themselves and their minor children. But some folks want to have OTHER PEOPLE climb under their rocks.

“Oh, no, black people are represented in books,” such as the Amanda Gorman inaugural poem.  “And homosexuals,” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. At the very moment, at least SOME of the nation is recognizing the joy of its diversity.

Libraries and librarians are free-speech heroes.

I recommend John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on why public libraries are under attack, and where those challenges are coming from.

One commenter quotes a source I’m unfamiliar with, but it tracks as true. “When they start firing librarians and banning books, you’re in the beginning of a dictatorship. Librarians are the guardians of free speech and the first lines of defense against a dictator.”

Rebel Without A Cause; SIX

Divorced, beheaded, survived

I haven’t attended enough cultural/entertainment events for my tastes of late. While I did go to the reopening of the Spectrum Theatre on April 24, I haven’t been able to get there since, and I want to soon.

I saw Rebel Without A Cause, the first James Dean movie I ever viewed.  Experienced with a 21st-century lens, Jim Stark (Dean) seems less a rebel than, in the words of ScreenRant, “a troubled youth struggling to find his place in a society he sees as hypocritical and devoid of meaning.”

Indeed, it is the high school clique that almost immediately scorns him without much provocation who are at least as broken as he. The knife fight between Jim and Buzz (Corey Allen), a few years before West Side Story, is said to reflect the “social pressures of male teenagers.”

Surely, Jim is frustrated by his ineffectual father Frank (Jim Backus), who allows Jim’s mother Carol (Ann Doran) to uproot the family at the first sign of difficulty.

Control

Jim’s one male friend, Plato (Sal Mineo), is a real outsider, abandoned by his parents, needing “to assert some control over a world in which he feels powerless and invisible.”

Jim’s classmate Judy (Natalie Wood, later in West Side Story) evolves from her disregard for Jim as her classmates did, while missing her old relationship with her father (William Hopper from Perry Mason), to Jim and Judy becoming surrogate parents to Plato.

Indie Wire makes the case that Plato is the first gay teenager on film while avoiding getting stopped by the restrictive Hays Code

It’s an interesting slice of life, with Ray (Edward Platt from Get Smart), the cop specializing in dealing with youth a sympathetic character. Even if it is “overwrought and cloyingly melodramatic,” I still appreciated the chance to see it on the big screen.

Famously, the three leads all died too soon. In a gallery of Lost Photos From a Legendary Hollywood Archive, Dean is captured just a month before he died in a car crash at the age of 24 on 9/30/55, even before the film premiered. Natalie Wood drowned at sea in 1981 at the age of 43. And Sal Mineo was murdered in 1976 at the age of 37.

Divorced, beheaded, died…

SIX, which my wife, daughter, and I saw at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady I don’t think is that compelling a book. I had listened to the music beforehand. But for what it is, it does the thing extremely well. It was an 80-minute rock show with a sextet of Henry VIII’s queens.

The Times Union review by Katherine Kiess is about right. “Styled as a ‘Renaissance Idol’ belt-off…they compete in a glamor-coated trauma Olympics to see whose marriage was the worst.”

You can tell it was a rock show because they namechecked “Schenectady!” a half dozen times before the “LED wall panels and cathedral windows that become everything from a church confessional to a dating app screen.”

The four-piece band, the Ladies In Waiting, cooked.  And the singers were excellent. So it’s perhaps not great theater but, as the Los Angeles Times noted, it is “unapologetically revisionist. That’s why it’s successful.” And entertaining enough.

Play my compact discs

World Development Information Day

disk_discs_compact_Way back in 2007, I posted how I play my compact discs. In general, they’re tied to an artist’s birthday, or in the case of classical albums, composer’s natal day.

By the way, when I am refiling my CDs, I don’t bother with details such as chronology. So next time I play my Beatles, it might be Sgt. Pepper, followed by Help, Abbey Road, and A Hard Day’s Night.

But what about those other albums, compilations, and the like? Some are by genre, others by record label. I have a system. But now, because I FORGET, I need to codify it.

JANUARY: Cadence Records because Julius LaRosa’s birthday was the 2nd, and Arthur Godfrey fired him for being not grateful enough

FEBRUARY: soul, rhythm and blues, rap for Black History Month, including the Atlantic R&B, but excluding Motown and Stax

Movie soundtracks if Oscars are in the month; otherwise, in March

Buddah Records, because the late Melanie Safka’s birthday was the 3rd, and I LOVE Lay Down

Louisiana/New Orleans music, two weeks before Ash Wednesday because of Mardi Gras

MARCH: Baseball, on Opening Day

APRIL -Jazz because it’s Jazz Appreciation Month. Lionel Hampton, Herbie Hancock, Ella, and the Duke were all born that month. I need to remember the Atlantic jazz albums

MAY: bluegrass for Worldwide Bluegrass Music Month.

JUNE: Original cast albums, Broadway, and others in honor of the Tony Awards. The original Jesus Christ Superstar album I play then 

Blues, including Atlantic and Alligator, for African American Music Appreciation Month

Apple -Paul McCartney’s birthday  is the 18th

The second half

JULY: Stax Records. Jim Stewart, born on the 29th, was the label’s co-founder. He’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but shamefully, his sister and co-founder, Estelle Axton, is not

SEPTEMBER: folk music in honor of my father, whose birthday was the 26th

OCTOBER: reggae in honor of Peter Tosh’s birthday, which was the 19th  

World music for United Nations Day and World Development Information Day, both of which are on the 24th

NOVEMBER: Motown. Label founder Berry Gordy’s birthday is the 28th 

DECEMBER: Christmas albums; I’m now willing to start on Thanksgiving, but NO EARLIER

Red, Hot, and Blue – the original album was released on December 1

If I’m going to own all of this physical music, I need a methodology for playing them.   

Sunday Stealing: Inspires

death penalty

Psalm 100Here’s another Sunday Stealing from SwapBot. Happy Pentecost for those who observe. I have my red shirt. 

1. What inspires you the most?

People who can embrace selfless joy. There was a recent news story about a kid giving his dollar to a person he perceived was needy. And he gave it away because it made him feel good inside. One tries to do this, but I’m a flawed being.  

2. How do you think the world will change in 20 years?

I’m trying to figure out whether global warming or the loss of democratic values will do us in first.

3. Cats or dogs and why?

I’ve had many cats but only one dog. Dogs are more loyal in general, though my dog bit me. Cats don’t require being walked when the weather is bad. 

4. What is the funniest memory from your childhood?

When I was in third grade, kids played Keep Away with my hat during recess. I got so angry that I left. What’s funny is that all of my friends tell me I hopped a Crowley’s milk truck and went home. I believe the going home part but I have no independent recollection of the milk truck. 

5. Where do you not mind waiting?

If I have a book or magazine, waiting is not onerous. 

Ma Bell

6. What was the best thing before sliced bread?

The telephone. Imagine talking to people from far away. Only vaguely related, I still remember most of the old area codes in the United States that have 0 or 1 as the middle digit, such as 201 (NJ), 202 (DC), 203 (CT), 212 (NY), 213 (CA) 301 (MD), et al. The newer ones I don’t really know at all except 432, which is Cleveland, TN.

7. What product would you stockpile if you found out they weren’t going to sell it anymore?

Those picker-upper devices that I use to pick up small things from the floor without bending my terrible knees. 

8. What do you get every time you go grocery shopping?

Bananas and blueberries. 

9. What do people do too much of today?

Kvetch too much about what somebody who is not setting policy – a social media influencer or a football player (Aaron Rodgers, Harrison Butker) is saying about whatever. I disagree with many of their views but don’t feel compelled to discuss them ad nauseum. (Compare this with people like Brett Favre enriching himself at the government trough.
 

10. Are you a GoodWill, or any second-hand store customer?

I have been a Second Hand Rose – my current office chair falls in that category. I did purchase three compact discs recently for two bucks. I am more likely to offer items for free cycling than acquiring them 
Capital punishment

11. How do you feel about the death penalty?

I’m against it for several reasons. “The death penalty in America is a flawed, expensive policy, defined by bias and error.” “A 2014 study estimated that at least 4% of those sentenced to death are innocent… Since 1973, at least 190 people have been exonerated from death row in the U.S.” Income and ethnicity play an outsized role in who are falsely convicted for these crimes.

Beyond that, I wish Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was not executed in 2001.  In part, it was because of the reasons noted.

12. Are there brands of certain items that you will ONLY buy that brand? Ie paper towels, ketchup, etc.

Cheerios. On two occasions, I bought the knockoffs, and they tasted like cardboard.

13. What are some things that you will buy the Store brand, and find the quality to be great?

Paper products: TP, paper towels, napkins

14. What is a Name-brand item that really disappointed you recently?

I purchased a BoiFun device to play compact discs and watch DVDs. But it then ceased to work. Moreover, I had bought one for my wife, which she didn’t use. When I tried, it didn’t work at all.

15. Do you wear glasses or contacts?

I’ve had glasses since I was five or six. But I’m not a contact lens kind of person. 

Sister Marcia should do a movie blog

Ritz

It occurred to me that sister Marcia should do a movie blog. I love watching movies, but she devours them. And often the old ones, many of which I still haven’t seen, but she has viewed multiple times. And she’s very conversant about them.

We remember seeing West Side Story with our mom and sister Leslie. It must have been in a second-run theater because she’d have been too young to see the film in 1961. Still, I recall that the ticket taker was concerned that the violence would be too much for her. This was before the movie ratings were implemented in 1968. And maybe it was too “adult” for her, but she loved it.

As kids, we would occasionally get taken to the drive-in, often the one near the airport after the one on Upper Front Street closed in 1963. I don’t remember any of the films except The Dirty Dozen, and that is only because former NFL great Jim Brown was in it. Marcia likely remembers a lot more of them.

Trauma

She occasionally reminds me of when I was mean to her. I was supposed to take her to the Ritz Theater, a second-run cinema on Clinton Street. This was so traumatic that she remembers exactly where we were, in the shortcut from Gaines Street to Oak Street. Reportedly, I asked her what movie we going to see, and if she couldn’t identify it, I wouldn’t take her. She got very upset. Her memory is such that this story is probably true.

The Strand and the Riviera were theaters on Chenango Street in downtown Binghamton. Our mother used to work first at McLean’s Department Store, then at Columbia Gas, both of which were nearby. I imagine we saw a bunch of non-animated Disney fare or safe comedies such as With Six You Get Eggroll.

When I visited my family in Charlotte, NC in the 1970s and 1980s, I’d see movies with my mom Rocky, Star Trek IV, and Dreamgirls – it’s so weird that I remember these without prompts – and I imagine Marcia attended these as well.

But she has embraced Turner Classic Movies and various other platforms over the years. If I need a recommendation for a film in a particular genre, I know who to ask.

Happy birthday, sister Marcia.

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