West Virginia Book Festival

Video(s) of the Week: Banned Books Week

When it comes to censoring books, few people are more qualified to speak than Judy Blume, whose children’s books have ended up on most-questioned lists at schools and libraries across the country for decades.

So in honor of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, which starts on Saturday, here’s Blume talking about the effect censoring books has on kids. It’s the Video of the Week. Money quote:

“They’re sending a message that books are dangerous, there’s something in this book we don’t want you to know, we don’t want to talk about what’s in this book, we don’t want you to ask us questions about what’s in this book.”

The ALA is also sponsoring a “Virtual Read-Out” for Banned Books Week, where people can upload videos of themselves (or others) reading parts of books that have been censored or challenged.

The chairman of the Empire State Book Festival, Rocco Staino, wrote at the Huffington Post earlier this month about books about censorship for kids and teens (leading with the all-time king, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”).

More locally, our friends at Taylor Books have been featuring snippets from frequently banned books on their blog.

And because we’re feeling generous, here’s a bonus Video of the Week, from the good folks at the Gottesman Libraries at Columbia University. It’s a quick montage of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the 20th century.




I vant to drink your … beer?

I don’t want to say the vampire motif is overplayed, but:

Although I have to admit, the beer was pretty tasty. I eagerly await next year’s Lycanthrope Lager, or perhaps a nice Revenant Stout.

It was mentioned on the blog earlier, but here’s a reminder that Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” will be in Huntington next week as part of the Marshall Artists Series.

Wright’s book is “a sweeping narrative history of the events leading to 9/11, a groundbreaking look at the people and ideas, the terrorist plans and the Western intelligence failures that culminated in the assault on America,” according to the Pulitzer citation. Wright has also written a one-man play, “My Trip to Al-Qaeda,” which has been made into a documentary film.

Wright speaks at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, according to the series website.

One month from now, the 11th annual West Virginia Book Festival will begin.

Don’t let it sneak up on you.

“Moneyball,” the 2002 book by Michael Lewis about the small-market Oakland A’s and their attempt to compete with the big boys in major league baseball, comes to theaters across the country this weekend, starring Brad Pitt.

Pitt plays Billy Beane, an ex-ballplayer who is Oakland’s general manager. Beane needs to find players on the cheap, so he’s often left with players who nobody else wants. He’s also been exposed to some unorthodox statistical ideas that have been around for a couple of decades, but haven’t gained mainstream acceptance.

For example, Beane thinks hitters who get walks — those who get on base without hitting the ball — are undervalued. So he targets those players. He thinks players who don’t look like great athletes aren’t given enough attention by scouts, even if they hit well. So he targets those players.

By exploiting these “market inefficiencies,” Beane’s teams do pretty well. Although they didn’t win the World Series, the A’s had a great run in the early 2000s, producing good players and winning lots of games on a regular basis. They’ve been less successful recently, partly because many other teams have adopted some of Beane’s methods. He changed the way people view the game and its players.

Much of the book’s conflict comes from the clash of old baseball thought vs. new ideas (and Lewis can go a little far in building Beane up as a super-genius and describing his competitors as dolts). But the whole idea of a fight between traditional scouting and fancy new statistics implies that you have to take one or the other — when, like many arguments, the best thing to do is take ideas from both sides.

One such player, who appealed to both sides, was West Virginia’s own Nick Swisher, a former star at Parkersburg High School who plays a significant role in “Moneyball” — the book version, anyway.

In the 2002 baseball draft, Beane wanted to pick Swisher, then a player at Ohio State, more than anyone else. But Swisher was so good — in traditionally appreciated baseball ways, in addition to Beane’s statistically driven ways — that Beane was afraid Swisher will be gone before Oakland’s first pick. Lewis writes:

Nick Swisher is, at best, the Mets’ sixth choice: the Mets don’t even begin to appreciate what they are getting. The Mets are taking Swisher reluctantly. If Billy had the first pick in the entire draft he’d take Swisher with it. He appreciates Swisher more than any man on the planet and Swisher … should … have … been … his.

But the Mets take someone else, and Swisher falls to the A’s after all — at least, in real life.

According to the “Moneyball” page at The Internet Movie Database, Swisher isn’t in the movie — which is a little disappointing.

Still, Lewis is a great storyteller, and “Moneyball” is a cracking good yarn, and there’s much for baseball fans to learn in there — and as Janet Maslin of The New York Times noted, “You need know absolutely nothing about baseball to appreciate the wit, snap, economy and incisiveness” of the story.

W.Va. represented at the National Book Festival

The National Book Festival is this weekend in Washington. Once again, West Virginia will be represented in the event’s Pavilion of the States — and this year, Charleston’s own Sarah Sullivan will be part of the festivities.

Sullivan, author of this year’s “Passing the Music Down,” will visit the West Virginia table in the Pavilion, according to the West Virginia Center for the Book. “We’re proud of the rich literary heritage of West Virginia and we are especially excited to have Sarah Sullivan’s book, “Passing the Music Down” represent our state at the National Book Festival,” said Karen Goff, coordinator of West Virginia Center for the Book.  “Sullivan’s book introduces children to a story about musicians whose music would surely be lost if not for the mountain tradition of sharing our gifts.”

(The Center for the Book is a program of the Library of Congress, as is the National Book Festival.)

A quick scan of the authors at this year’s event shows a few West Virginia Book Festival alumni: Carmen Deedy, Jack Gantos, Sylvia Nasar. There are probably others in there, too; my apologies to anyone I missed.

In addition, the national winners of the Letters About Literature campaign are part of the festival. (Letters About Literature director Catherine Gourley will be part of next month’s West Virginia Book Festival.) The Poetry Out Loud program will be featured on Sunday; that program, too, will be part of our event.

And a reminder that for the first time this year, the National Book Festival will stretch over both days of the weekend. I said it before, I’ll say it again: A two-day book festival? That’s a great idea!

This summer, Lee Child (headliner at this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival) won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year prize, one of the top (if not the top) British award for crime fiction, for his novel “61 Hours.”

The award — 3,000 British pounds and a handmade, engraved beer barrel (awesome) — was presented at the annual crime writing festival in Harrogate, also sponsored by Theakstons Old Peculier.

As part of the lead-in to the festival, the Guardian newspaper asked several crime writers, including Child, about their favourite crime writers. (It’s a British award, so we’re leaving that U in favorite.) The whole thing is worth a read; everyone from John le Carre to G.K. Chesterton to Nancy Drew is there.

But Lee Child picked a winner. In his words:

My favourite crime series character? Instant temptation to name someone obscure, to prove I read more than you. Second temptation is to go full-on erudite, maybe asking whether someone from some 12th-century ballad isn’t really the finest ever . . . as if to say, hey, I might make my living selling paperbacks out of the drugstore rack, but really I’m a very serious person.

Third temptation is to pick someone from way back who created or defined the genre. But the problem with characters from way back is that they’re from, well, way back. Like the Model T Ford. It created and defined the automobile market. You want to drive one to work tomorrow? No, I thought not. You want something that built on its legacy and left it far behind.

Same for crime series characters. So, which one took crime fiction’s long, grand legacy, and respected it, and yet still came out with something fresh and new and significant? Martin Beck is the one. He exists in 10 1960s and 70s novels by the Swedish Marxist team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. They did two things with Beck: they created the normal-cop-in-a-normal-city paradigm, the dour guy a little down on his luck; and they used a crime series explicitly as social critique. All was not well in Sweden, they thought, and they said so through accessible entertainment rather than political screeds.

And along the way they gave birth to a whole stream of successors. From the current Scandinavians to Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko to Ian Rankin’s John Rebus, they’re all Martin Beck’s grandchildren.

As the man says, there are just 10 Martin Beck books (the series ended with Wahlöö’s death in 1975), but they are great. They should be read in order, beginning with 1967’s “Roseanna.” They’ve never been all that scarce, but have recently been reissued, so if you’re interested, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them.

Child’s comments prompted me to reread a couple (including “The Laughing Policeman,” the one that was made into a not-very-good 1973 movie starring Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern and moved to San Francisco). The books hold up well, even though some details are a little dated — for instance, “The Laughing Policeman” starts off with an anti-Vietnam protest at the American embassy, but it’s easy to imagine a similar protest taking place today.

So if you don’t know Martin Beck, pick up a novel and introduce yourself. Then, if you run into Lee Child at the Book Festival, you’ll have something to talk about.

The first day of autumn arrives later this week. As West Virginia enters the peak of the fall foliage season, there may be no better time to ponder the beauty of the Appalachian mountains and forests around us.

Earlier this month, the University of North Carolina Press published a book that may be of interest to those who appreciate that beauty.

“Southern Appalachian Celebration: In Praise of Ancient Mountains, Old-Growth Forests and Wilderness” is a collection of photographs from James Valentine, who’s spent four decades hiking in eight Southern Appalachian states, including West Virginia. Author Chris Bolgiano wrote the text for the 152-page book.

The book got blurbed by two-time Pulitzer Prize nonfiction winner Edward O. Wilson, who said, “No book of my experience has ever caught the natural beauty and richness of southern Appalachia with greater exactitude.”

Hark, budding Shakespeare filmmakers!

Want to be a Shakespearean filmmaker? You’ve got a few days left.

The Kanawha County Public Library and the Charleston Stage Company are sponsoring a “Shakespeare Apprentice” contest, inviting young filmmakers to give their interpretations of any of four Shakespeare scenes and send in the video.

Full information is here. The deadline is Sept. 26.

Winners will be shown on Friday, Oct. 21, after a reception at the West Virginia State University Capitol Centre, on Summers Street in downtown Charleston, after the CSC’s performance of “Othello” that night. The winning entries will also be on view at that weekend’s West Virginia Book Festival, in the KCPL Teen Zone booth.

Ken Hechler, who turns 97 years old today, is a remarkable man. Born less than three months after the outbreak of World War I. Served in World War II and interviewed defendants, including Hermann Goering, before the Nuremberg trials. Advised Harry S. Truman during his presidency. Spent 18 years in Congress, and 16 years as West Virginia’s secretary of state. Worked the last few years as an environmental activist.

And, lest we forget, author. Hechler was part of the first West Virginia Book Festival back in 2001, serving on a history-writing panel with historian John Alexander Williams and Lon Savage, author of “Thunder in the Mountains” about the West Virginia Mine Wars. He was there in 2006, being interviewed by C-SPAN about his memoir “Working With Truman.”

He was at last year’s festival, and drew more than 100 people to his talk about interviewing Goering and other Nazis before Nuremberg. Transcripts of those interviews have since been collected and published in a more-than-1,100-page behemoth titled “Goering and His Gang.”

Hechler also published “Soldier of the Union,” a collection of his grandfather’s letters from the Civil War, earlier this year. He’s got a booth in the marketplace at this year’s festival, so come see him (and everyone else) next month.

UPDATE: I was reminded that Hechler also came out with another book, “The Fight for Coal Mine Health and Safety.” Gazette reporter Paul Nyden talked to Hechler about the book in June.