hymnia: (Lupin)
So I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games and its sequels this past week. I finished Mockingjay on Sunday night. I have to say, it's not hard to see why they are so loved. Personally, I loved the first book, and had only minor quibbles with the two sequels.

More thoughts, with spoilers )

I still haven't had a chance to catch the movie yet. I might get to see it this Thursday.

hymnia: (Shigure reading)
Almost any book worth reading is a dangerous book. I once knew a young man who jumped off a roof and broke his leg after reading the Harry Potter books. It seems he wanted to test himself for latent magical abilities, like Neville's relatives did to him when he was a kid, trying to prove that he wasn't a Squib. (This young man had high-functioning Downs Syndrome; he was bright enough to read Harry Potter, but lacked a clear understanding of the line between reality and fantasy.)

Books have the power to shape our ideas, for good or ill. Speculative fiction may have even greater power because it is not bounded by the limits of the real world. Of course, not everyone who reads Harry Potter will respond the way this young man did—the vast majority will not. But the ideas contained in books—whether ideas intentionally worked into the themes of the story by the author or not—will inevitably interact with our own, and shifts in understanding can take place. Stories may challenge our beliefs, or they may confirm and solidify them—or perhaps they will affect them in more oblique ways. Either way, whenever we encounter good story-telling, it is unlikely we will walk away unchanged.

This is not a bad thing, of course. In fact, I think this is how any well-told story should be. I don't reject books because I consider them “dangerous”. In fact, I think the word could be applied to almost any of my favorite books, and certainly to the ones I recommend most. “Read this book. It will change you.” Haven't you ever recommended a book to someone that way? But because I know they can have a powerful influence on our beliefs—and by extension, how we live our lives—I do think carefully about what books I pass on to others, and under what circumstances. Some books I may recommend only to certain people, like the series I will discuss in a moment. Some I may recommend while expressing reservations or adding disclaimers. (The Twilight books come immediately to mind.) With children and teens, there are a lot of books I would prefer to share and discuss with them, rather than just setting them loose unguided. (I feel this way about much of the Bible, as well as a lot of classic works). And, though I can't think of any off the top of my head (at least not any I actually finished reading), there may be some books I wouldn't pass on to anyone under any circumstances.

Some time ago on Mark Reads I caused a bit of a stir by saying that I wouldn't recommend Philip Pullman's YA fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials to young people. Why not? In essence, I feel that the series co-opts the thrill of numinous experience through its fantasy setting and inspiring characters and utilizes this thrill for such a harshly anti-Christian and anti-God message that I cannot support putting the books in the hands of people who I feel are likely to accept that message too easily and uncritically.

I have recommended the books to adult readers, especially fellow Christians, for the purpose of examining challenges to the faith and discussing the implications of them. There's no doubt they are well-written, highly engaging books with many elements and themes that appeal to a broad audience, including young people. And I would even say that I agree with some of the themes—themes like embracing the pursuit of knowledge and sacrificing one's own immediate happiness for long-term goals and greater good. But there are a couple of points that I object to strongly, and the fact that the books are well-written and contain some positive themes make me feel all the more compelled to avoid endorsing them. It's like hiding poison in a delicious chocolate cake.

I don't support censorship. However, I think there will always be some tendency by human institutions run by humans to have a certain bias in what information we select or include in our media and communication materials. People in certain positions in a free society—librarians at public libraries, for example—have a responsibility to repress their inclinations to “select out” that which they disagree with (and maybe also to “select in” that which they wish to promote) to a degree that could reasonably be considered censorship. Were I in such a position, I wouldn't “select out” HDM from the shelves of YA fantasy fiction. There is no doubt that it belongs there.

But does that same idea apply to my position as a classroom teacher? I don't believe it does. The books I place on my classroom bookshelves are: 1) obviously not meant to be a comprehensive collection of YA books, and 2) could be viewed as receiving my personal endorsement. Therefore, I have chosen not to put the HDM books on my classroom bookshelves.

Finally, I wouldn't dream of forbidding or even discouraging a teen who is already inclined to pick up the HDM books from doing so. I'm not as dumb as Professor Umbridge, after all! I might—if in a situation where it is appropriate to offer some guidance—encourage her to search out the underlying themes and ideas Pullman might be trying to promote, and to think carefully about whether or not she agrees with them, and what other viewpoints there might be. I might even articulate some of those other viewpoints.

Censorship is not the right approach to "dangerous books". People have the right to access information and ideas--even if others dislike those ideas or the effects they might produce. However, I believe that in a free society people also have the right to make selections about what information and ideas we personally endorse.

hymnia: (Shuurei in wind)
All right, now I'm ready to write about the books I'm currently reading. I have a tendency to jump around between several different books at the same time instead of reading just one, so all of the below are books that I'm still in progress on reading:

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky - I like the narrative voice in this story. I think Chobsky does a good job of capturing the essence of a certain type of introvert—an INFP, if I were to classify him by the Meyers-Briggs standard. (This is also, incidentally, my own personality type. I think it's fair to say I identify with the narrator quite a bit.) I'll be interested to see how the film adaptation, starring Emma Watson as Sam, the narrator's love interest/crush, turns out. My only complaint is that it does tend to fall into the tendency of a lot of slice-of-life stories about adolescence of being hyper-focused on sexuality and drugs. Yes, those things are parts of adolescence, but there is so much more. My favorite moments are when the book focuses on the other things, like the narrator's feelings about his extended family, especially his deceased aunt, or the extra books that his favorite teacher assigns him to read and write essays on. The parts that are about sex and drugs are kinda boring in comparison to the rest. I wish the ratio was a little more balanced. I may be biased because my own adolescent experiences—and even the experiences of many of my close friends, at least as far as I knew—were less characterized by those things than what you usually see portrayed in media.

  • Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig - If you have me freinded on Facebook, you've probably seen me post at least one link on the topic of corruption/corporate money in politics and/or at least one link to a presentation by Larry Lessig, either on this topic or on copyright law. Anyway, this book is Lessig's latest, and it is about how Congress has been corrupted by a dependency on campaign funders, rather than remaining dependent “on the people alone”, as the founders intended. It is an excellent book. I agree whole-heartedly that this problem is the “root” of the majority of bad policy that the US Congress has produced in the last several decades, including the decisions that led to the current financial crisis. I used to think campaign finance reform was just another issue, probably a good idea, but not any more important than any other issue. I now believe it is absolutely essential in order to restore the republic of the USA back to what it was meant to be—a republic dependent on the people, and not the funders. I urge every US voter to learn as much as they can about this issue. This is a good place to start: http://rootstrikers.org/ Also, I've linked several versions of Lessig's presentations on Facebook, but the one below is of his talk at Seattle's Town Hall, which I went to see a couple of weeks ago (and where I also got my book signed). I felt like it was a good remix of his best material. I know it's long, but Lessig is a very entertaining speaker, and this is an EXTERMELY IMPORTANT MESSAGE. So please take the time to watch it:

  • Lady in Waiting by Debby Jones & Jackie Kendall - This is a Christian book that addresses the struggles of single Christian women. It is a bit dated, and some of the advice feels a little stale to a 30-something woman who has read lots of similar books in the past. But overall, I've enjoyed reading it and felt encouraged by its message of living for God and serving him now rather than waiting for some fairy tale happy ending, as if life only starts once you're married.

  • Christian Universalism: God's Good News for All People by Eric Stetson - This is the third book on the topic of Christian universalism that I've read now. The first, The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbot was the most convincing, IMO. This one uses a lot of similar arguments, and seems to be a bit more confrontational against those who hold a more traditional view of God's judgement. I like Talbot's book for being more gentle toward opposing viewpoints. Anyway, I'm not 100% sure what I think about Christian universalism. I lean toward thinking that Biblical teaching on what happens to human beings after death is sufficiently ambiguous that no one ought to be too dogmatic about it; I think the Christian universalist view (which is NOT the same as pluralistic universalism, BTW) is a reasonable one, and I think it does a better job of reconciling seemingly conflicting Bible verses on salvation and the sovereignty of God than traditional views such as Calvinism and Armenianism. I don't think we can deny that people will face God's judgement after death, but what exactly that judgement entails is open to interpretation.

  • A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower by Kenneth G. Henshall – This is a book I picked up at the library recently because I wanted to read a general history of Japan. I haven't read very much of it yet, though, so I don't yet have much to say about it.

*yawn* For some reason I'm really tired tonight, even though I had a pretty easy day and took a nap this afternoon. I'm glad to be going to bed a little bit earlier than usual tonight. (And yes, 11-ish is pretty early for me!)


Book meme

Oct. 1st, 2007 10:25 pm
hymnia: (Default)
Swiped from [livejournal.com profile] umadoshi and others:

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users (as of today). As usual, bold what you have read, italicize what you started but couldn't finish, and strike through what you couldn't stand. The numbers after each one are the number of LT users who used the tag of that book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (149)
Anna Karenina (132)
Crime and punishment (121)
Catch-22 (117)
One hundred years of solitude (115)
Wuthering Heights (110)
The Silmarillion (104)
Life of Pi: a novel (94)
The name of the rose (91)
Don Quixote (91)
Read more... )
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance : an inquiry into values (45)
The Aeneid (45)
Watership Down (44)
Gravity's rainbow (44)
The Hobbit (44)
In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences (44)
White teeth (44)
Treasure Island (44)
David Copperfield (44)
The three musketeers (44) (I liked Disney's version better, to be honest.)

hymnia: (Default)
I gacked this little listie from [livejournal.com profile] susy_gwen.

100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 )

Grand total (counting HP books as one) is 20 and 3/4. :)

hymnia: (Default)
No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty--except, of course, books of information... Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a timetable.

~C.S. Lewis (as seen in someone's sig on TLC's message boards)

Also, if you like Star Wars, go vote in my poll about which order the movies should be viewed in. BTW, [livejournal.com profile] solusfides, the intro to that post was what I was whining about losing tonight. And yes, it did turn out better when I retyped it. I'm still annoyed I had to do it, though.



hymnia: (Default)

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