Book Artists’ Core Collection: A compilation of multimedia book arts resources

For Professor Mary Grace Flaherty’s collections management course, she had us select an audience and construct a collection suited to that audience.  I chose to focus on an audience of book arts practitioners and historians.


The book arts present a fascinating mix of scholarship and craft in which artists and artisans both expand on traditional techniques and engineer solutions to novel problems. Humans display a persistent need to document their ideas in story-telling form: cave paintings, clay tablets, papyri scrolls, codices, artists’ books, and e-books. The evolution of these formats tracks the accumulated knowledge that book artists still employ today, explaining why scholarship is integral to the craft of book arts. As such, a core collection for book artists must include everything from encyclopedias to broad histories to technical texts in the format of videos, written tutorials, history books, catalogues of online resources, sample books, and binding equipment. This collection is intended to form a cohesive presentation of the resources and equipment necessary for a broad sampling of book artists, providing an accessible starting point for students and practitioners in their own research and collection building.

My senior year of undergrad, a library coworker introduced me to the book arts program at Wellesley College. It is composed of the ideal trifecta of departments: studio book arts, conservation and special collections. Katherine Ruffin heads the Book Arts Lab, Emily Bell the Conservation Lab, and Ruth Rogers & Mariana Oler the Special Collections. In the Book Arts Lab, we learned about equipment safety, typesetting and printing on Vandercook presses, historic and modern bindings, papermaking, and a general history of the book. Emily provided support for individual students on more in-depth projects beyond the scope of the introductory course. Special Collections provided a hands-on look at the implementation of book arts from the pre-print books to contemporary conceptual artists’ books. Over the course of this class, Katherine, Emily, Ruth and Mariana provided us with a number of essential resources, many of which I still seek out today. Unfortunately, the syllabus and handouts wandered off since graduation, so I lost track of the majority of those sources. After speaking with other practitioners, I’ve realized that many others also struggle to keep those lists in a safe, consistent form. My hope is that, because the collection I’ve put together is stored on a publicly accessible board on Pinterest, the Books Artists’ Core Collection will act as a practical means of tracking essential resources for book artists.

Book Arts & Book Artists

As I first learned from Wellesley’s Intro to Book Arts and have continued to experience, book artists and book historians display a considerable willingness to share their knowledge. This, I believe, is indicative of the apprenticeship nature of the book arts. While apprenticeship is a wonderful and necessary system of knowledge sharing, it complicates efforts at creating an authoritative collection of sources for the diverse artists that populate the discipline.

The book arts cover many branches of artistic creation, all of which are employed in the production of both artistic and functional materials. These branches include papermaking, letterpress printing, printmaking, calligraphy, illumination, binding, and digital media. Regional histories of the book, primarily divided into Western, Asian, and Middle Eastern, form the trunk for those branches.[1] Artists’ preference for either historic, traditional book arts or for novel book forms and practices form the roots. The ‘tree’ of book arts is far reaching and various. To create a core collection broad and deep enough to feed that tree, I chose to house the digital collection and catalogue on Pinterest.

Why Pinterest?

Pinterest is a global social media site that performs as a community “bookmarking tool that helps [its users] discover and save creative ideas.”[2] Pinners (users) can create boards on whatever topic they wish and pin relevant items of interest from the Internet to that board. By clicking the pin, users are directed back to the pin’s webpage of origin.[3] The real beauty of Pinterest, though, lies in its varied access points to the site’s communal knowledge gathering. Pinterest boasts several different searching options to engage with that knowledge community: (1) a keyword search function that seeks out pins either on your own boards or across the whole of Pinterest, (2) a browsing function that allows pinners to see pins related to a particular pin, (3) a browsing function that allows pinners to see boards related to a particular board, (4) a browsing function that allows pinners to see other boards on which a particular pin is pinned, and (5) a browsing function that allows pinners to see what else from a particular site has been pinned to Pinterest.

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

This sort of searching and browsing turns Pinterest into a highly linked catalogue and thesaurus. One pin can create an entire network of related items, which means that the Book Artists’ Core Collection acts as a jumping off point for practitioners to research more in-depth projects. For example, if an artist wishes to create a medieval book of hours, she can find the items in the core collection on parchment and papermaking, medieval bindings, paleography of the period, and illumination styles from various regions. Then once she determines the period and region she wishes to emulate, say a 14th century English binding, the artist can use those pins from the collection to seek out related items to provide further resources that are too specialized for the Core Collection, such as the saints that would have been significant to the region at the time or the plants and scenes most popularly illuminated, etc. Pinterest functions as an ideal means of creating a collection not limited by individual holdings, and thus not limiting those using the collection.

The Book Artists’ Core Collection board is also publicly available to anyone online with access to Pinterest. Having this core collection catalogue generally available helps combat the knowledge loss from misplaced handouts and course syllabi. Also, by storing the catalogue on Pinterest, users of the collection have not only easy browsing options, but also a simple means of accessing the online resources, such as the YouTube tutorials and samples of digital artists’ books. The major drawback of Pinterest as a platform for the collection lies in its lack of tagging. While I listed the subject headings in the description boxes for each pin, Pinterest has no function to search the collection by subject heading within the board, meaning that users have to scroll through the pins to locate items that might be of interest. While this is a major disadvantage, I felt that it was negligible compared to the advantages of the platform. Firstly, the collection is small enough that scrolling through is not too onerous, and two, it requires users to become familiar with the collection as a whole, thus introducing them to connections between resources that they might otherwise have missed.

The Collecting Process

My collecting process began with seeking out my old handouts and syllabus from Wellesley’s Intro to Book Arts course. Failing to locate those, I turned to the authorities in the discipline to orient me: the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa, the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama, and the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. Iowa and Alabama are renowned for the strength of their book arts studio programs and the Rare Book School (RBS) is internationally respected for its instruction in the study of the book arts and the history of the book. Like Wellesley College, the studio programs’ websites listed only course options, not course syllabi. From their course listings, I formed the structure of the Book Artists’ Core Collection:

  1. General History
  2. Papermaking
  3. Printing
  4. Calligraphy & Illumination
  5. Binding
  6. Digital Lab
  7. Equipment

My source for the resources under of each of these subject headings came almost exclusively from the RBS’s curriculum website, which does provide syllabi online for every course. I’m confident in the efficacy of these headings, since they are used as guiding themes by the Center for the Book, the Book Arts Program and the RBS, as well as my Wellesley course. I provide a breakdown of each subject heading in the sections below. Katherine and several other regional book artists also contributed noteworthy resources to supplement the thorough reading lists from the RBS. Though I depended primarily on RBS for hardcopy materials and select databases, the collection is still well rounded; the RBS hosts an extensive faculty of international scholars and experts in the study of book arts. By selecting a large cross-section of resources from the syllabi in all relevant subject areas, the Book Artists’ Core Collection remains broad and balanced. The tutorial videos channels from YouTube I selected from my own familiarity with the skills displayed, confirmed in their authority by aligning with the instructions given by well-respected authors in print. The equipment I chose from the most commonly needed items in a book arts studio that are not finite, and therefore reusable by multiple patrons for an indefinite period of time.

I chose not to emphasize the library science-oriented portion of the study of book arts because, while scholarship is necessary to the practice of book artists, information about collections management and analytical bibliography generally do not hold much relevance. I also didn’t include individual artists books in the collection because of the cost per book and because that sort of collecting is more within the sphere of special collections. The sole exception to this rule is Karen Hanmer’s Biblio Tech: Reverse Engineering Historical & Modern Binding Structures with a focus on board attachment (2013), which is meant as a teaching tool and provides such an array of binding structures that it is worth the investment. I instead included catalogues of artists’ books, ones that described binding styles, as well as more standard artwork metadata.

In the sections below elaborating on the subject headings, I have only included highlights from the collection to illustrate the sort of resources under that heading. While the collection is small enough to browse, it still contains 240+ items, most of which are fall under more than one heading due to the interdisciplinary nature of book arts. Therefore, listing them all under each heading would test any reader’s patience. Instead, I request that you visit the catalogue on Pinterest to examine the entirety of the collection.

General History

General history primarily contains the items that describe the historical development and evolution of various techniques in the book arts. For instance, Edo & Paris recounts the realities and depictions of early modern urban life and the state drawn from illustrated books from the period, allowing artists to see which styles were appropriate in which contexts and how they interacted with the codex form.[4]

This section also contains general knowledge, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias. I included these in this section because terms often developed and expanded over time, thus history can be read from the definition of terms. One example in the collection is the ABC of bookbinding: a unique glossary with over 700 illustrations for collectors and librarians. Though oriented towards library professionals and collectors, identification of terms from both text and image is key for book artists, particularly those new to the discipline.[5]

Papermaking

Papermaking, parchment making, and paper selection are all included under the Papermaking subject heading. This section includes instruction manuals, histories of writing surfaces and paper sample books. Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools, and Techniques is representative of both the history texts and instruction manuals, since it goes through the historical techniques and their contexts in Japan. Sample books of both textblock and cover material are necessary to a core collection because it can be prohibitively expensive for individual artists to order sample books for each type of paper in which she’s interested. For instance, one company might have five lines of decorative papers, each of which have a sample book. Without actually interacting with the material, it can prove challenging for artists to select the appropriate papers just based on descriptions and a picture. Fine Papers at the Oxford University Press is representative of sample books, though it comes in a more traditional book form than many others.[6]

Printing

This subject heading includes both typography and illustrative printing. For the typography section of Printing, the collection primarily covers the development and history of typefaces and type design. For illustrative printing, the collection focuses on the identification of different kinds of printing methods and the use of illustrations in texts and ephemera. The printing section does not cover much instruction on the technical process of either branch of printing, since the knowledge needed changes for each press and since so many types of illustrative printing exist (e.g. drypoint and wood block). American Wood Type, 1828-1900 is representative of the typography portion of Printing. It follows the development, creation, dissemination and use of wood type in early-modern America. Another sort of typography resource includes those like graphic designer Marian Bantjes’ Ted Talk, in which Bantjes describes how graphic design and her individual style influences the way she depicts text.[7] The Picture Postcard & Its Origins is representative the ephemera section of illustrative printing, providing reference images for artists looking to create images of their own.[8]

Calligraphy & Illumination

Calligraphy & Illumination I incorporated together as a subject heading because they share many of the same tools and techniques and are often addressed together in book arts literature. Paleography, though, is the primary domain of Calligraphy, just as manuscript illumination is the primary domain of Illumination. Palaeography, 1500-1800: A Practical Online Tutorial from the National Archives represents the former and is one of several online tutorials that provide history, identification and execution as their focus.[9] Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art represents the latter, as well as the former, displaying specimens from books of hours, the most common and highly illuminated genre extant from the medieval period.[10]

Binding

Binding, alongside Papermaking, serves as the most significant contribution to book arts technical skills offered by this collection. This subject covers both the history of binding styles and tutorials on replicating binding structures. Historically, much scholarship has been dedicated to analyzing the covers of books; Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding, 400-1600 is one of these texts that couches cover analysis within historical context.[11] The historical and technical is combined in Bookbinding Materials And Techniques, 1700-1920, in which the author couches technical innovations in its historical context.[12]

For book structures, both tutorials and models are essential. To provide models, I included Karen Hanmer’s Biblio Tech binding set, as mentioned in the section on The Collection Process.[13] Making Handmade Books: 100 Bindings, Structures & Forms provides instruction for various binding structures, both traditional and modern.[14]

Artists’ books also fall within this subject heading. As a form begun in the twentieth century, the discipline is still testing the bounds of what it means to create an ‘artist’s book.’ As Ruth phrased it when explaining her collecting process, “if it tells an engaging story in a novel way and it fits on the Special Collection’s shelves, it’s an artist’s book by my definition.” Essentially, though, an artist’s book is a work of art that interacts somehow with the storytelling aspect of a book structure. Johanna Drucker, in The Century of Artists’ Books, provides the most engaging overview of the artist’s book, situating it historically and stylistically, as well as examining its conceptualization.[15]

Digital Lab

The Digital Lab resources are the least developed part of the core collection. Because this is still such a new field in the grand scheme of book arts, a critical volume of resources has not yet developed. I included critical and technical resources, as well as some exhibition catalogues, to provide basic context, skills and examples of how artists are beginning to incorporate the digital into their practice. For the critical, I included The Abominable Digital Artists’ Book: Myth or Reality? by Esmée de Heer.[16] She defines the artist’s book and discusses the current status and potential future of digital technology in their creation. For skills acquisition, I included the Tate’s workshop on Transforming Artists Books, which links to the workshop reflections on skill sets and forms.[17] The best exhibition catalogue I encountered was Non-visible and Intangible, hosted by Hampshire College from 7-16 November 2012.[18] It shows the various stages at which digital technologies might integrate with more traditional forms, as well as how to make the digital form interactive in unexpected ways.

Equipment

As mentioned previously, I chose the equipment from personal observation of the most necessary items in a book artist’s toolbox that are not finite. Finite items—like paper, thread, and ink supplies—belong to the realm of art cages or studios rather than libraries. As such, the Book Artists’ Core Collection includes items like a travel kit of binding equipment, a sewing frame and a collapsible punching trough. These items can be repeatedly checked out by any number of users to supplement their own collections or help them get a feel for which styles or brands of equipment they most require.

 

[1] This particular breakdown of book arts was informed by the curriculum at both the University of Iowa Center for the Book and theBook Arts Program at University of Alabama.

[2]Press.” About Pinterest. 2015.

[3] For more about using Pinterest, see the website’s promotional video.

[4] Henry D. Smith, II. “The History of the Book in Edo and Paris” in Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era. Edited by James L. McClain et al. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. Paperback, 1997. pp. 332-52.

[5]Jane Greenfield. ABC of bookbinding; a unique glossary with over 700 illustrations for collectors and librarians. New Castle, Carlton, 2002.

[6] Barrett, Timothy. Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools, and Techniques. Colorado: Weatherhill, 1992; Bidwell, John. Fine Papers at the Oxford University Press. Whittington: Whittington Press, 1999.

[7] “Marian Bantjes: Intricate Beauty by Design.” Ted Talks. 2010.

[8] Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type 1828 – 1900: Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types and Comments on Related Trades of the Period. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977; Staff, Frank. The Picture Postcard & Its Origins. New York: F.A. Praeger, 1966.

[9] “Palaeography, 1500-1800: A Practical Online Tutorial.” The National Archives. 2006.

[10] Wieck, Roger S. Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art. New York: George Braziller, 1999.

[11] Needham, Paul. Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings, 400-1600. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1979.

[12] Lock, Margaret. Bookbinding Materials and Techniques, 1700-1920. Toronto: Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, 2003.

[13] Hanmer, Karen. Biblio Tech: Reverse engineering historical and modern binding structures. 2013.

[14] Golden, Alisa J. Making Handmade Books: 100 Bindings, Structures & Forms. New York: Lark Crafts, 2010.

[15] Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. 2nd ed. New York: Granary Books, 2004.

[16] De Heer, Esmée. “The Abominable Digital Artists’ Book: Myth or Reality?” Universitiet Leiden: Masters Theses. 20 November 2012.

[17] “Transforming Artist Books.” Tate. August 2012.

[18] “About.” Non-Visible & Intangible. November 12, 2012.


Bibliography

About.” Non-Visible & Intangible. November 12, 2012.

About Pinterest.” Pinterest. 2015.

Advance Reading Lists.” Rare Book School. 2015.

Barrett, Timothy. Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools, and Techniques. Colorado: Weatherhill, 1992.

Bidwell, John. Fine Papers at the Oxford University Press. Whittington: Whittington Press, 1999.

Curriculum | Book Arts.” Book Art @ Alamaba. University of Alabama. 2015

de Heer, Esmée. “The Abominable Digital Artists’ Book: Myth or Reality?” Universitiet Leiden: Masters Theses. November 20, 2012.

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. 2nd ed. New York: Granary Books, 2004.

Golden, Alisa J. Making Handmade Books: 100 Bindings, Structures & Forms. New York: Lark Crafts, 2010.

Grab, Elizabeth. “Book Artists’ Core Collection.” Pinterest. December, 2015.

Hanmer, Karen. Biblio Tech: Reverse engineering historical and modern binding structures. 2013.

Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type 1828 – 1900: Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types and Comments on Related Trades of the Period. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977.

List of Courses.” Center for the Book. University of Iowa. 2015.

Lock, Margaret. Bookbinding Materials and Techniques, 1700-1920. Toronto: Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, 2003.

Marian Bantjes: Intricate Beauty by Design.” Ted Talks. 2010.

Needham, Paul. Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings, 400-1600. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1979.

Palaeography, 1500-1800: A Practical Online Tutorial.” The National Archives. 2006.

Press.” About Pinterest. 2015.

Staff, Frank. The Picture Postcard & Its Origins. New York: F.A. Praeger, 1966.

Transforming Artist Books.” Tate. August 1, 2012.

Wieck, Roger S. Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art. New York: George Braziller, 1999.


[Originally posted on Rambling Rambler Press @ WordPress on 9 December 2015]

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Defense

For a class on collections management in the Fall semester, Mary Grace Flaherty asked us to select a banned book to evaluate for it’s retention or elimination from a collection.  I chose The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Defense

Introduction

Books, particularly those written for young adults, are challenged regularly and banned with frequency in the United States. According to the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom and Public Information Offices “up to 85% of book challenges receive no media attention and remain unreported.”[1] 2014 saw 311 challenges reported. If we include the estimated 85% of unreported challenges, the number increases to roughly 575 books challenged in one year. Of the 311 reported challenges, 80% of them included ‘diverse’ material.[2] The Intellectual Freedom and Public Information Offices define ‘diverse’ according to Malinda Lo: “non-white main and/or secondary characters; LGBT main and/or secondary characters; disabled main and/or secondary characters; issues about race or racism; LGBT issues; issues about religion, which encompass in this situation the Holocaust and terrorism; issues about disability and/or mental illness; non-Western settings, in which the West is North America and Europe.”[3]

With all of these statistics in mind, it’s no wonder that Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, published in 2007, tops the 2014 list of the ten most challenged books. The main character, Junior, self-identifies as a poor, lisping, stuttering, physically- and socially-awkward, Native American brown kid that lives on a reservation and gets beat up regularly, with brain damage, seizures, alcoholic parents and a shut-in sister.[4] Because of how Junior navigates all of these challenges and more, this story represents one of the most important young adult books produced in the past decade. It is our duty—firstly as citizens and secondly as librarians—to defend young adult books with diverse characters like Alexie’s main character from well-meaning, misinformed censors.

The Complaints

According to the ALA’s website, the primary objections brought against The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian include “anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, and violence” with “depictions of bullying” thrown in for good measure. Sherman Alexie, in his Wall Street Journal response to naysayers, adds depravity, “domestic violence, drug abuse, racism, poverty, sexuality, and murder,” to the list of ‘objectionable material’.[5] Not only does Junior encompass nearly every aspect of diversity, he also experiences nearly every aspect of subject matter thought inappropriate for young adults.[6]

At Antioch High School, in a suburb of Chicago, for example, seven parents came before the school board requesting Alexie’s book be removed from the summer reading list, the curriculum, and the library unless accompanied by a warning label “because it uses foul, racist language and describes sexual acts.”[7] Mother Jennifer Andersen read the book to help her son understand it and proceeded to cross out passage after passage that she felt was inappropriate for any high school freshman.[8] She also commented that while she knows that kids curse, if books with profanity are included in the curriculum, “the students will believe the school condones it.”[9]

Why the Censors Are Just Plain Wrong

Before breaking down why the objections to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian represent the very same reasons why it should be required reading for every middle- and high-schooler, it behooves my argument to include the many accolades awarded to Alexie’s book by widely recognized and respected authorities on literature:

  • National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature
  • New York Times Notable Book of the Year for Children’s Books
  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
  • A NAPPA Gold Book
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • An Amazon.com Best Book of the Year
  • Kirkus Reviews Best YA Book of the Year
  • A BBYA Top Ten Book for Teens
  • NYPL Books for the Teen Age
  • PW “Off the Cuff” Favorite YA Novel
  • A Boston Globe Horn Book Winner
  • Odyssey Award for Best Audio Book

The awards specifically for teens and young adult books are bolded, representing eight out of the twelve, more than half the list. I am not alone in seeing this book as required reading for adults and young adults alike. With the backing of highly authoritative voices, I can now continue to refute each objection as unfounded.

Anti-family is the simplest issue to address. I can only assume that censors  are pointing to the alcoholism of Junior’s parents and the realistic tension that exists between a teenager and his family. But consistently throughout the book, we see Junior’s understanding of both how his family became what it is and of the history behind each member’s actions. Junior’s parents are trying their best and Junior accepts them with love as they both support and disappoint him. For example, when the family dog becomes terminally ill and requires prohibitively expensive veterinary care, his parents euthanize the dog, despite their son’s desperate objections. Even while Junior is deeply upset, he couches the story in his family’s reality; they can’t even afford to have food in the house on a daily basis, let alone pay exorbitant vet bills for a dog that’s dying anyways. He says:

I was hot mad. Volcano mad. Tsunami mad.

Dad just looked down at me with the saddest look in his eyes. He was crying. He looked weak.

I wanted to hate him for his weakness.

I wanted to hate Dad and Mom for our poverty.

I wanted to blame them for my sick dog and for all the other sicknesses in the world.

But I can’t blame my parents for our poverty because my mother and father are the twin suns around which I orbit and my world EXPLODE without them. [10]

Junior readily admits that his whole life is dependent upon loving his family, even while he wants to hate them. This is one of the most widely exhibited struggles for teenagers in the U.S. How can Junior’s constructive, positive understanding of this struggle be construed as anti-family?

The second criticism of the book is its “cultural insensitivity,” AKA racism. Jimmie Durham, a Cherokee artist, wrote an essay called “A Central Margin” addressing the myth at the core of the American identity of the “absent/absented ‘Indian’ body.”[11] Essentially, the life of a Native American in the United States is one of systematic and continual “cultural insensitivity” to which many Natives respond “with that quietly outrageous Indian humor that has been so valuable to our survival.”[12] By suppressing the cultural criticism and display of race relations displayed in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, censors continue this obliteration of Native voices in the U.S. Without a marginal voice speaking up and pointing out racist societal constructs, many people of the dominant culture remain blind to the flaws in the system that oppress others.[13] Aside from this highly problematic issue of suppressing stories depicting the realities of living in a system of racism, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the first and likely only exposure to Native Americans—presented on their own terms—that a majority of adults and young adults will ever encounter. A dearth of Native voices exists in pop cultural depictions of Native Americans, which is a major part of what hinders the U.S. from collectively coming to terms with the colonial racism at the core of our creation and identity. Authors like Sherman Alexie should be circulated more widely for their marginalized perspective and social criticism, not less.

The third grouping of objections can be categorized generally into Sin and Depravity, in this case: substance abuse, gambling, offensive language, the expression of sexuality and domestic violence. As Alexie himself points out in his Wall Street Journal response referenced earlier, the movement to ‘protect’ children from these subject matters is highly privileged and comes far too late. He posits that not only are cultural critics too late to protect an overwhelming majority of both ‘at-risk’ and mainstream kids, they aren’t actually interested in protecting black American teens “forced to walk through metal detectors” to go to class, or Mexican American teens from “the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants,” or “poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks,” or teen mothers and fathers from sexually explicit material, or “victims from rapists.” Instead, these censors wish to protect their limited “notions of what literature is and should be.”[14] But this interferes with the purpose of reading for so many young adults.  YA books are most important when they provide a mirror for readers to see themselves and their experience in the story. That sensation of solidarity and having a safe space to see how others in their situation manage can be an essential coping mechanism. Junior’s story is particularly important in this process because he recognizes and faces all of his challenges, filling the book with “positive life-affirming messages and has an especially strong anti-alcohol message.”[15] Since ‘objectionable materials’ are a daily part of lives for kids of all ages and socio-economic levels, Junior’s navigation through these issues acts as a bolster. Alexie poignantly says this of the value of reading books that realistically reflect the lived experience of young adults:

[T]here are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them… I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life… And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed. [16]

Kids absorb their environments and need a place to process those experiences. Just because those environments are ‘objectionable’ doesn’t justify the whitewashing of them. Even for kids who aren’t exposed to troubles like poverty, domestic violence and substance abuse, books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian act as a window of understanding into the various experiences of those around them, allowing all of us to be more aware of and sensitive to one another. The problems associated with censoring this book are far more troubling than any of the complaints made to justifying its banning.

[1]Statistics,” Banned & Challenged Books, American Library Association.

[2] That 80% containing diverse material roughly equals 250 of the 311 books. “2014 Books Challenges Infographic,” Banned & Challenged Books, American Library Association.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2009), 1-6.

[5] Sherman Alexie, “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood,” Speakeasy,Wall Street Journal, 9 June 2011.

[6] With the prevalence of ‘diverse’ books comprising the bulk of challenges, one has to wonder if diversity doesn’t automatically mean objectionable for those inclined to instigate censorship. The ALA’s Kristin Pekoll also brings up this troubling point in her comments in MPR News’ coverage of Banned Book Week; Tracy Mumford, “Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Controversial,” MPR News, 29 September 2015.

[7] Ruth Fuller, “Some Parents Seek to Ban ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’” Chicago Tribune, 22 June 2009.

[8] Ibid.

[9] In refutation to Andersen’s concern, John Whitehurst, chairman of the English department, sites the parallel example of teen suicide in Romeo and Juliet. “Kids know the difference” between a book and school policy; Ruth Fuller, “Some Parents Seek to Ban ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’” Chicago Tribune, 22 June 2009.

[10] Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2009), 11.

[11] Jimmie Durham. “A Central Margin,” in The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s (New York: Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, 1990), 164.

[12] Ibid, 172.

[13] For further examples of this, see James Luna The Artifact Piece, installation/performance, Museum of Man, San Diego, 1986; “The Redskins’ Name – Catching Racism,” Comedy Central, 25 September 2014; and Ricardo Caté, Without Reservations (Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2012).

[14] Sherman Alexie, “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood,” Speakeasy, Wall Street Journal, 9 June 2011.

[15] Ruth Fuller, “Some Parents Seek to Ban ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’” Chicago Tribune, 22 June 2009.

[16] Sherman Alexie, “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood,” Wall Street Journal.


Bibliography

2014 Books Challenges Infographic.” Banned & Challenged Books. American Library Association.

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2009.

Alexie, Sherman. “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood.” Speakeasy.Wall Street Journal. 9 June 2011.

Durham, Jimmie. “A Central Margin.” in The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s. New York: Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, 1990: 162-179.

Fuller, Ruth. “Some Parents Seek to Ban ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.'” Chicago Tribune. 22 June 2009.

Mumford, Tracy. “Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Controversial.” MPR News. 29 September 2015.

Statistics,” Banned & Challenged Books. American Library Association.

The Redskins’ Name – Catching Racism.” Comedy Central. 25 September 2014.


[Originally posted on Rambling Rambler Press @ WordPress on 14 October 2015]