Let's Talk Writing: The Paris Review Interviews

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association and others have declared this week Banned Books Week.

A couple of years ago I wrote about a banned book during Banned Books Week and got into a yearlong argument with Chris Crutcher's assistant. When I finally cried and sobbed, "Leave me alone!," she did. Kidding. Sort of.

I could start another arugment, I suppose, about plot points and stylistic writing choices (the argument was not about banning), but instead will direct readers elsewhere: one of my favorite writers on book challenges and know-nothing nutters is the school librarian Camille Powell, who blogs at Book Moot. Here is a link.

*Added later in the day, one last link: Top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009 (via GalleyCat)


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Darn, I missed that! Also missed where you asked for my review. Here, very belatedly, it is:

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. Greenwillow, 2001 (0-688-18019-1) $15.95

A melting-pot of genes have done well by T.J. Jones: he's smart, good-looking and athletic. But though he loves sports, his school's debasing attitude towards them is enough to keep him away from anything organized: "they pray before games and cajole you to play out of obligation, and fans scream obscenities at one another from the stands." The symbol of it all, "the Shroud of Turin for Cutter High athletes," is the letter jacket, and T.J. prides himself on not having earned one. But when a teacher asks him to put together a swim team from scratch, T.J. realizes that this could be a chance to put letter jackets on the backs of some very unexpected students: "a group of real outsiders, a group Cutter High School has offered very little to." For one of the few "people 'of color' in a part of the country where Mark Fuhrman has his own radio talk show," the chance to help other outsiders is not to be missed, no matter how strenuous--or dangerous--the opposition.

In many ways, this is the mixture as before from Crutcher; the sharp, cocky narrative voice and give-'em-hell progressive attitudes are pretty familiar. Unfortunately, so is a tendency to pile on the drama. It starts to seem that everybody in the book has been through some kind of wringer, each worse than the last; horror piles upon horror until it's hard to care much anymore. And this is at the expense of the basic story, which is a damn good story and deserves more attention. I would hate to accuse a terrific writer like Crutcher of pandering, but I miss his focus on the internal drama of sports and relationships, which seem to be getting lost in violent movie-of-the-week subplots.

Incidentally, I have no trouble at all accusing the designers of the book of pandering: the cover, showing a distinctly white boy running in an athletic jacket, could not be less reflective of what the book is actually about if it showed two little girls having a tea-party.

Oh, dear. I somehow missed that post utterly - and I think that though I enjoy Whale Talk, for under the category of "racism," there are books which have fewer subsidiary issues and are more straightforward in dealing with race. On the other hand, there are a lot of books wherein African American characters are in the main, and yet race is an elephant in the living room and is never directly addressed. Hm.. lots of classroom discussions flowing in my head.

I'm sorry you guys had a contentious conversation - it's too easy to have misunderstandings in written conversation.

Wendy, excellent review! Thank you for sending it. On that older post, I really did enjoy hearing from the kids about a favorite book. But that is pitiful about the cover, just pitiful. Gads.

Tanita, there is a lot going on in Whale Talk. I know what you mean about the elephant in the living room. I see it often in real life in any number of situations.

Book banning is about idea banning. One thing I admired about Whale Talk was that it did not shy away from ideas, some of them difficult ideas to discuss. If we--and the children who read these books--do talk about the ideas, then that's a good thing.

When my kiddo is older, I think he'll like Chris Crutcher's books a lot.

Thanks Susan. I've been saving my Crutchers for my son. One of the things I really enjoyed about many of them is the way they made "sports" books work for me (The quintessential picked last kid) and I hope they'll for him too.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)