The Borders Bummer and BAM

Like many folks, I love to read.  Reading is my special time when I zone everyone out and dive completely and relentlessly into the pages of a book.  I used to also zone everyone out and dive completely and relentlessly into Borders book store, but now they are no more.

I miss Borders.  It was that place to stop after having wine and dinner with friends to go and peruse novels because we didn’t want to go home quite yet.  It was that haven for awkward teens to hang out close to midnight and get the first copies of Harry Potter and Twilight new releases.  I have to admit that I found myself with them on a few occasions (although I had dinner and wine with bffs beforehand – thank goodness) to get these hardback reads.  I miss Borders.

Sometimes, I would just go to Borders alone and look at books that I would never intend to buy – such as cookbooks or the art of paper mache.  I looked at the bright pictures in the coffee table books, glanced through the sports biographies and always ended up in the literature section.  It was almost a freeing experience.  I was a bird, flying through a magical maze of typed paper trees.  Ah – happiness.  I didn’t even have to buy anything (but I always did).  I could just browse in a quiet, welcoming environment and even sip on an expresso if I was in the mood.  I miss Borders.

This past summer, I refused to believe the rumors about the progressing end of Borders.  It wasn’t until a friend suggested we meet there and look at the discounted books that it hit me.  Borders was leaving and there was nothing I could do about.  My heart ached.  My teeth chattered.  My eyes got teary.  I felt like weeping.  It was the end of an era for me.  Darn the Nook.  Darn the Kindle.  Darn the iPad.  Darn Amazon.com.  (I must be honest, though, I have a Kindle, iPad and Amazon Prime).  So, darn me.

Border’s in our area was replaced by Books a Million, or BAM for short.  The only time I want to hear BAM is from Emeril, not a bookstore.  As I walked through this Borders wannabe, I felt my skin crawl.  I couldn’t understand the price stickers, and I couldn’t find a helpful employee to explain them to me.  Basically, I couldn’t buy anything.  Nada.  That has never happened to me before.  I actually walked out without a nugget of a book.  Not even a pen or a playful notebook.  Zero, zilch, zip.  Nothing. Darn.

So, Borders, just know that even though you are gone, you are still missed by me.  I will click around on Amazon, but it is not the same.  I will download books on my Kindle, but I will forever miss your reading recommendations and staff favorites.  Now, I will pursue book suggestions from blogs and Amazon.  I will join the 21st century.  Darn.  And bam.

Looks like Borders, but it is not. Sniff sniff.

Censorship Blinds the World

I have a poster hanging in my classroom.  It has many different covers of many different novels on it.  In the center, it looks as if it is an eye chart used by  optometrists everywhere.  But the kicker is what it says:  “Censorship Causes Blindness. Read!”

This is my tenth year of teaching high school Language Arts (that’s fancy educator speak for English literature and writing.)  I have had this poster since day one, and I believe in it wholeheartedly.  Pictured on the poster are books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1984, and even Judy Blume’s Blubber.  Books that are classics.  Books that encompass time periods that we have conveniently forgotten about.  Books that are guides to not making the same mistakes twice.

My students don’t understand how some of these books could be the victims of censorship.  They can’t wrap their heads around how a book about a Southern girl or a book about a wizard boy with a lightening bolt scar can be on the same poster.  They don’t get how a book about a girl being bullied because of her weight or about a boy would choose to eat worms would be censored.  These students are not blinded by censorship.

If they aren’t, then why are adults?  Why the need to censor books, blogs and more?  Who decides what is to be censored and what is safe?  Isn’t censoring these things just making more of an issue?  Shouldn’t we be teaching our children to understand what is right and wrong and also, more importantly, truly understand the defeating power of censorship?

I just finished reading two novels set during World War II and the Holocaust.  One was Sarah’s Key.  This book was unbelievably heartbreaking to me.  Censorship?  Yeah, it was everywhere during that time.  So much so that the French didn’t even understand that Jewish neighbors were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps.  The second novel I read was Those Who Saved Us.  This was from the point of view of a German teen who fell in love with a Jewish doctor.  She ended up having to do many difficult things in order to survive.  One point rings true:  No one was told anything.  Everything was censored.  The news, the neighbors and even the words each said to each other.  Censorship was hurtful. Censorship caused blindness.

It is important to look back on these novels for reference.  Especially books like 1984 when the world is a false utopia and Big Brother is constantly watching.  It is important to look back in history so the same mistakes aren’t repeated.  It is important to look ahead at the ever-changing landscape of the world and make sure our children don’t have to face the dangers of censorship.  It is even important to think of the words of Elie Wiesel when he said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  So, in turn, we are not blinded by censorship.

To let go of To Kill a Mockingbird

In my past zillion nine years of teaching, I have mainly taught freshman. Freshman are unusual creatures. They usually still like some aspects of school and they are easily entertained through humor – or what I refer to as my stand-up comedy teaching routine. This works when we read my ultimate favorite novel of all time: Harper Lee’s amazing To Kill a Mockingbird. Each year I have perfected my Mockingbird teaching like when I performed a podcast reading of the first chapter with a Southern accent. Or when I took a super-cool (to me, that is) informative slideshow and turned it into a video introducing the novel.  That novel and I are soul sisters and teaching it gave me an excuse to shout it out to the mountaintops (well, to the ninth graders) and make them love it as much as I did.  Some did.  Others did not.  Some didn’t read a bit of it.  Still, this was the book I loved teaching.  Until this past year.

For some reason, the class of 2014 did not take kindly to the book.  Some had a lot of trouble with the dialogue, some were confused with the parallel story lines and some were just breathing in oxygen.  I started getting random questions as we were nearing the end of the novel.  The straw that broke the camels back was when a young dude wearing a LeBron James traitor to the Cavs jersey asked why the narrator was so smart for a six-year-old.  There needed to be a change.

So, I held my quivering chin up and discussed the situation with my amazing colleague.  She suggested moving the sophomore novella, Of Mice and Men, to the freshman level and my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird to the sophomore level.  The only heartbreaking thing is that I don’t teach sophomore English.  So bye bye to TKM.  Sniff sniff.

I went into panic mode.  It was October and I hadn’t read Of Mice and Men since my sophomore year many moons ago.  I think I was also in a class behind the cutest guy named Tim and I don’t think I even concentrated at all on the class discussion.  I believe my sophomore year was The Year of Tim, and one where I didn’t even realize my hair was burning (hey, silly girl with major Crush on Tim, meet the Bunsen burner!) until I smelled it.  Yeah, Tim was in that class, too.  Sigh.

Needless to say I was in panic mode.  Severe.  My super-dee-duper colleague came to my rescue like Superman to a runaway elevator.  She gently led me through activities, discussion topics, study guides and helped me find some much needed courage.

Amazingly enough, it has worked out well so far.  My freshman love Lenny and George, and even want to get up in front of the classroom and read the dialogue from the novel – which is a great use of oxygen!  Hooray!  I even got a little teary-eyed at the part about Candy’s dog (let’s be honest here – who wouldn’t?!)  And I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher helping me through this transition.

As Atticus Finch would say, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  Ah, Atticus, my hero.  I am really going to miss you. But, I do think I will refer to you now and again AND I think I may use that quote tomorrow when I teach The Scarlet Letter for the first. time. ever.