The Post in Which I Confess Again My Love of Sharpies & Probably Ruffle Some Feathers

Today is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, the Jewish Festival of Booths. In keeping with the more lenient final days of the holiday, my family has been trekking all over Southern California on outings. Today, I’m cooking, so between the challah baking and the vegetable roasting, I’d like to share a few thoughts with my readers.

A Writer’s Quandry

el pueblo de los angeles

The Avila Adobe, the oldest building at the Pueblo.

Yesterday, we visited El Pueblo de los Angeles, the original non-Indian settlement here in L.A. Last year, the Pueblo welcomed a new addition to its site on Olvera Street — an interpretive center for the América Tropical mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros that appears near the roof of what’s known as “the Italian Building.”

When the mural was unveiled in 1932, it immediately fell victim to controversy because of its anti-imperialist sensibilities. The most “offensive” images on the right half of the mural were quite literally whitewashed not long after it’s first exhibition, with the remainder of the mural being painted over four years later.

I was aghast as I listened to and read the details of the story. A white socialite pushed to remove an artist’s genuine expression of the Latino experience because it offended her political and social sensibilities.

Now, here’s the seemingly ironic part of the situation. I have a web page devoted to a “kosher reading list” and elsewhere have confessed to censoring my kids’ reading materials. My husband and I have effectively banned TV, Disney movies & Romeo and Juliet from our home because we don’t like their effects on children (see my comment in this link to the excellent post by Pop Chassid).

Yes, I am a self-described censor. Continue reading

Cold shoulder or pit bulls? On Peter Beinart, the Atlanta Jewish Book Fair and how to act when you disagree with a writer

I don’t often comment on news items, but this one is both Jewish and book-related, so I thought it would be worth mentioning.

Earlier this year, Peter Beinart–blogger and professor–wrote a book blaming the lack of peace in Israel on the Israelis. Even to someone whose politics are somewhat atypical for an Orthodox Jewish American, I found the premise of Beinart’s book both offensive and intellectually flimsy.

Should we set the dogs on ‘im?

This week Atlanta’s JCC hosts 10,000 visitors at its annual Jewish Book Fair. Initially, Peter Beinart was scheduled to appear there to promote his book. But, due to the outrage of many Atlantans who disagree with his public attacks of the Israeli government, Beinart will no longer be welcome to speak at the book fair. Instead, he’s speaking this evening at a different venue. (For more coverage, see here.)

Was this the right reaction? Continue reading

Censorship or careful parenting?

Should children read depictions of negative experiences that are real, or realistic?

What if the violence, sexuality, or other controversial material is inserted into the work only for artistic effect or for shock value?

Should teens read only wholesome material?

Should access to books with controversial material be permitted to teens? Should parents be warned about the contents of such books on the book jacket and reviews? Should access be blocked entirely? Should teens have free reign over their reading material?

Lately, there have been some interesting articles appearing that consider these questions. Many authors, as well as political pundits and community activists, have jumped in with their own takes and have even clashed in the pages of newspapers and online. Here are just a couple articles highlighting the conflicting viewpoints: blog by David Frum

I cannot justify offering books with gratuitous sex, violence, drug usage, or immoral behavior to children at all. By gratuitous, I mean it’s just there to titillate or provide escapist fantasy. The Sally Lockheart book series by Phillip Pullman contains both drug use (glorified as a way to heighten intelligence) and teenage pregancy, with no socially redeeming counterpoint added to them. I would never want my children to read this book series, but the covers don’t caution about the content, and they are generally shelved in the children’s department, not even in the teen or YA departments!
Even books with legitimate reasons for their PG-13 or R-rated content can prove troublesome. For some children, as Sherman Alexie points out, it is cathartic to hear about a main character’s troubling life experience. The child has shared a similar experience in real life and can adopt methods of coping, receive encouragement, etc., through reading the book.
On the other hand, a naive child can be harmed by such books, or provided with information they are not developmentally ready to handle. Reading books with certain moral stances could undermine the religious beliefs a parent is trying to communicate to their child without even giving them a chance to explain the alternate viewpoint.
Case in point:
Many schools use Julie of the Wolves as a literature selection in classes as low as grade four. This is a wonderful book…for much older children. It contains a scene of attempted rape. As far as such things go, it is presented in a totally non-titillating way and is a realistic depiction of the (unfortunate) experience of some orphans. However, most parents don’t know this about the book, and most children are unprepared for such frank topics at the age of nine. It’s not that people shouldn’t read this book, but not at a young age and not without adult supervision.
Some libraries try to alleviate the situation. In Beverly Hills, a child’s library card can be linked to the parents’, so the parents always can know what their kids are checking out. Other library districts shelve books carefully, guiding the young child away from “older” material.
Underlying this whole issue is the need to develop a trusting relationship with your kids, so that they know they can approach you with the questions they have about literature selections. But sometimes this isn’t enough.Personally, I’d like there to be strict shelving standards, warnings posted on the covers and reviews of books, and the like. However, banning books altogether goes a little far. Where do you draw the line?