It’s a fact: Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, A Light in the Attic, was once banned because the poem “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes” purportedly encouraged children “to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” Some might see the humor there, but as Maine’s own oft-banned, oft-challenged Stephen King once wrote, “Censorship in a free society is always a serious matter.”
Books by Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison at PPL.
September 27-October 3 is Banned Books Week nationwide, and at PPL we’re celebrating the freedom to read–which, truthfully, we like to celebrate all the time! (Click for more information and resources from the American Library Association on Banned and Challenged Books, Banned Books Week, and Frequently Challenged Books). This month our staff is sharing quotations from banned or challenged books.
“And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.” -from The Perks of Being a Wallflower
It was as though there was an unsurmountable wall or impenetrable barrier between them, built by the lack of understanding – for it was just that. She would never understand his craving for ease and luxury, for beauty, for love – his particular kind of love that went with show, pleasure, wealth, position, his eager and immutable aspirations and desires. She could not understand these things. She would look on all of it as sin – evil, selfishness. And in connection with all the fatal steps involving Roberta and Sondra, as adultery – unchastity – murder, even. – from An American Tragedy
“She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away.” from “Good Country People”
Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.
One of my favorite banned books is American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. I consider this to be one of the most obscene passages in the book. It’s a description of Patrick Bateman’s office:
“The Stubbs painting should probably go over the life-size Doberman that’s in the corner ($700 at Beauty and the Beast in Trump Tower) or maybe it would look better over the Pacrizinni antique table that sits next to the Doberman. I get up and move all these sporting magazines from the forties–they cost me thirty bucks apiece–that I bought at Funchies, Bunkers, Gaks and Gleeks, and then I lift the Stubbs painting off the wall and balance it on the table then sit back at my desk and fiddle with the pencils I keep in a vintage German beer stein I got from Man-tiques. The Stubbs looks good in either place. A reproduction Black Forest umbrella stand ($675 at Hubert des Forges) sits in another corner without, I’m just noticing, any umbrellas in it.” -from American Psycho
“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.” from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
“I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being–one of many ways–and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.” -from Flowers for Algernon
As always- thanks for reading! And if you’re looking for other ways to celebrate the freedom to read, pair these Staff Picks with our Banned Books Film Series 2015 on Thursday nights throughout October at the Main Library.
Since we’ve been displaying Videoport’s generous donation of dvds, specifically The Criterion Collection, we’ve had a lot of questions about what the Criterion Collection is, and why it contains so many foreign films.
The purpose of the Criterion Collection is to select the best of international cinema and publish these movies in the highest quality edition possible. Then they add extras that illuminate the film making process, such as “making of” documentaries, interviews with directors, cast, and crew, etc. Sometimes there’s a discussion with the composer who wrote the score; sometimes there’s footage of the film’s reception at a film festival.
In any event, whether you are a passionate cinemaphile or just a casually interested viewer, the Criterion Collection can teach you a lot about the art of film. If you’ve ever longed to throw around phrases like “French New Wave,” or “Italian neorealism,” the Criterion Collection can help.
Saturday, September 12: turned out to be a beautiful late Summer day. Sam and Sonya arrived at PPL around 7:30, bright and early, and got the coffee brewing. We put a few last minute arrangements in order– printing some presenter bios, printing schedules for ourselves and the team, and before long Anita, Denise, Janell and Ruth arrived. With the whole team here (and the swag bags from Maine Health!) we really buckled down to make sure the hackathon participants would have a nice environment for the day.
Next in was Beth Bordowitz, the president of the board of trustees at Portland Public Library– she was on hand to welcome the city manager, and show support of the PPL organization. Before long the hackers started arriving– with 22 people registered, we quickly sprang into positions and began to welcome everyone. Ruth and Denise stationed themselves at the front entrance, Sam sat at the welcoming table and checked people in, and Sonya, Anita, and Janell buzzed about tidying the breakfast table and making sure everything else was ready. Shortly before 9am, Jon Jennings arrived, and the rest of the team joined the hackers to listen to his opening remarks. Looking around the room as he spoke, there was total captivation and a lot of head nodding and smiles.
Jon Jennings: Among various political roles in Washington, DC, such as serving as the Acting Assistant Attorney General, and working under President Clinton, Mr. Jennings also held coaching and management positions in Boston with the Boston Celtics. His varied background also includes owning a frozen yogurt shop at the Maine Mall, and he admitted to not needing this position with the City of Portland, but felt personally driven to work to help our city.
Mr. Jennings had a lot of great things to say about Portland, but delved into his talk by describing its shortcomings, both from by city government, such as the responsiveness of his staff to answer questions posed by citizens, to the technological failings Portland is facing. The city is “behind the curveball” in many aspects related to technology, and though he was able to pinpoint funding as an issue, community driven events like this hackathon eliminate monetary concerns. With that, he really got inspirational– let’s make Portland a “tech hub of the nation” was my personal favorite quip. He talked about ways in which Portland, and government in general, can leverage technology to aid in the democratic process. Democracy isn’t about always agreeing on things, it is polite conversation and has forward movement. Politics in all forms of government have become uncivil in the last 40 years, and that needs to change.
The civic hackathon aims to help!
Next, we got an overview of the day from Anita Ruff, who gave specifics on the problem at hand: how to we engage people in civic conversations who can’t make traditional meetings. We went around the room and had people with existing ideas describe their proposed project, and people without projects simply introduced themselves and shared their interests and skills. After that, we asked people to spend time talking with each other, in hopes organic groups and similar ideas would meld. They did!
We had three cohesive groups that emerged–
One group chose to tackle the problem from a very technological perspective, thinking about utilizing things like mesh networking, internet relay chat (IRC), GPL, GNU, and a lot of other very confusing concepts to non-programmers.
Another group came at the problem from a very civic perspective– how to make public spaces more inviting, how to encourage dialogue, how to eliminate obstacles, and how to ask the right questions. This group seemed very philosophical, and had a lot of intense debate through just the opening hours.
A third group came together by thinking about online bulletin boards where organizations can automatically upload their flyers. Programming languages like Ruby, PHP, and Python were tossed around as a way to build out this concept.
And with that, people buckled in! We broke for a delicious Otto’s pizza lunch at noon, and heard from Mike Roylos who attended another civic hackathon here in Portland, and came away with not only the winning concept, but a product so viable it has become his day job: The Cigarette Buttler!
People got back down to work after lunch, and we could really sense the energy going on inside each room. We put out a snack table, and took turns staffing it and being on hand to answer any questions from the hackers. It was also a chance to walk outside and stretch our legs, and check out the other civic activity going on–Portland’s second annual greenfest! This big event generated some additional traffic for us, mostly comments that “aw, I wish I could have come.” Though there were a few, “can I have one of those cookies?” We reserved the sugar for the hackers, though.
The afternoon unfolded steadily. We The energy stayed high through the predictable afternoon dip. I saw lots of people reaching for the freshly brewed coffee Anita brought out around 3pm, and I myself took a 5 minute power nap at my desk around 4:30. Just in time for the food truck to arrive at 5pm to start serving dinner! As people emerged from their rooms, we encouraged them to check out the food offerings and order their fill. The teams were so dedicated, most hackers took their dinners right back to their workstations and continued to hack! Meanwhile, the team members talked shop with the food truck owners, and learned their concept started as a community project, too! The first judge arrived, and was able to catch up on how the day was going over a paper basket of crispy brussels sprouts.
After dinner plates were cleared, we moved the rest of the activity towards the auditorium and geared up for the awards. The remaining two judges arrived around 6:45, and with the library officially closed to the public, we could sense something big was coming. For me, the last thirty minutes before everyone sat down to present their projects was the hardest. A 15 hour day of work is hard enough, but knowing we were about to see the culmination of our ILEAD planning was torturous! However, we remained calm and collected (maybe due too to the fact the was cake coming), and helped each of the teams ensure their presentations connected with our projector system.
Finally, at 7:30pm, we introduced ourselves again, giving thanks to our awesome mentor, Ruth, and turned it over to the judges and the teams. Looking back, we definitely needed to have given time limits for presentations. But the energy and enthusiasm from everyone was so high, it was interesting to have it be self-limiting, too.
First up: BetsyRo
This group is working on an app called All Aboard that would assemble flyers for non-profits/charity organizations around town. They want to make it easy for organizations to upload their flyers and for individuals to ask questions directly to groups that interest them. The main topics that they see for the app are in arts/culture, health, community (for instance, Greenfest that happened last weekend), sports/rec–also they would like to include information from the city and library!
Their vision is to work with the library on this project, if possible. The ultimate goal is to display the flyers from TV displays like the library information is available now, although they would appreciate the chance to be included on the library computers, for instance, so that patrons could easily access our information. They wonder if perhaps the city might be interested in hosted a similar service for people, after noticing that there were several other sites similar to theirs, but that many suffered from a lack of participation; “we want to make sure that our message(s) get out to the general public.”
Comments from the developer, Scott Maccallum:
[ Many of you have asked me what my profile background picture is about. Last Saturday a partner and I participated in a hackathon competition. We had from 8:30 AM to 8:00 PM to write a free and open source computer program that helped people with time constraints or other impediments with participating civilly in the democratic process. I had already conceived and written rough prove of concept code that sort of worked while the first speaker presented. Later my partner, Andrew (after meeting for the first time) and I decided to work together. Andrew started with the creation of the Web and Internet Relay Chat client portion of the project while I got the Java framework and prototype bot going. Once I was done with that, Andrew contributed a nifty array feature to the bot. All in all a good day of work. We were rewarded first place and $1,500 in seed money for future development of the project, Betsyro. The name Betsyro is a pun on Betsy (Ro)ss and Betsy (Ro)bot. I couldn’t resist following the programmer tradition of using a pun for the name of my programming project. ]
My partner Andrew and I are meeting Tuesday at Hack Portland to discuss how to move forward with the project. I’m also looking forward to receiving more input from others about how they would like the project to evolve (features) and learning more about the seed money. Betsyro lives!
*Winning Team that will receive $1,500 in seed money to continue product development*
This group conceptualized meeting software. Small groups, or meetings, will be tasked with answering questions (possibly around civic topics, but it can open up to school and organizational use, too). There would be a tablet that users submit their responses through. This was developed by a Baxter Academy teacher, Hal, and his student, Ben, and they thought perhaps they could use it to be one of their year long experiential learning projects. Ben gave most of the presentation, which impressed the audience since he was easily the youngest participant. The judges suggested a that maybe there is a segment of the business community that would use this kind of product – for market research or other in depth feedback solicitation.