Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week will soon be upon us again. Restricting access to books and other works of art is one of the sneakiest--and most dangerous--attacks on your freedom. Here is the ALA's new list of the 100 most challenged books of the last decade.

1 Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4 And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5 Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7 Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8 His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9 TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10 The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11 Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12 It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13 Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15 The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16 Forever, by Judy Blume
17 The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18 Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19 Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20 King and King, by Linda de Haan
21 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22 Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24 In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25 Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan

26 Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28 Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

29 The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30 We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32 Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33 Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36 Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37 It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38 Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39 Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40 Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41 Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42 The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43 Blubber, by Judy Blume
44 Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45 Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46 Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48 Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50 The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51 Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52 The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53 You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54 The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55 Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56 When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57 Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58 Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59 Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60 Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61 Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62 The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63 The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64 Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65 The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor

67 A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68 Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69 Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70 Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71 Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72 Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73 What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74 The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75 Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76 A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77 Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78 The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79 The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80 A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81 Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82 Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83 Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84 So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86 Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87 Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88 The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89 Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90 A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91 Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George
92 The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93 Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94 Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95 Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96 Grendel, by John Gardner
97 The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98 I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99 Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100 America: A Novel, by Frank, E.R.

If you want to raise awareness, copy this list and, like I did, bold the one's you've read. Or review/defend one of the books. Or read or reread a title or two.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

33 1/3 Great Things About Vinyl

Go to any indie record store or one of the better chain places, and it appears that vinyl l.p.s are making a comeback. (Though, as L L Cool J would say....) Here are approximately 33 1/3 reasons to celebrate the new vinyl revolution.

  • You really have to listen to them. Even if you just put a record on to listen to while you're cleaning house or something, you still need to pay attention to know when to lift the stylus and flip it over. (Ed. note: I have since been told that those turntables with an "auto" setting will lift the stylus before it hits the paper part. However, if you're using your grandma's old record player, then there's a good chance that setting doesn't work anymore. And besides, the point about turning it over still stands.)
  • At about a foot square, the album cover itself can be a work of art in its own right, and, in fact, many of the most iconic images of modern popular music are from album covers. Cds shrunk the artwork so that it was kind of pointless to design something interesting. And digital downloads have all but made the album cover irrelevant.
  • And, thanks to the larger size, you can include cool extras like posters in the packaging. I know sometimes you can get them with cds, but in that case you either have to by the expensive boxed set or have them folded up really small.
  • Song order really matters. Because of that break in the middle, you have to choose not only what would make the best beginning and ending song, but how side one will end and two begin. Thus, there is more often than not greater variety in the song order than in a lot of cds that just put all the hits on the earlier tracks and fill the rest out with any old trash. (Though, it should be noted, that there are still plenty of artists--some of them young even--who try to put some thought into sequencing their albums.)
  • The mixing is way better. Notice how loud that cd you just bought sounds? Back in the day when they made records on vinyl, the engineers actually understood that not everything should be the same volume.
  • No need for the remix. A lot of albums were very hastily and carelessly transfered to digital format, resulting in a rather muddy sound quality. Now, a lot of cds have been remixed or remastered to try to recapture the quality of the originals, but the problem is that the record companies have used this as an excuse to jack up the prices.
  • The overall sound quality is better. The process of a vinyl record: the sound waves are recorded on electronic tape, a mechanism reads the waves and presses it into a vinyl disc, then the needle reads those waves and sends them to your speaker. So you're pretty much hearing the same sounds as were made in the studio. Digital recording: a computer records the sound waves as a series of ones and zeros, and then the computer in your cd player tells the speakers what sounds to make. Because the sound waves are binary code, they will come infinitely close to the original, but cannot fully reproduce it. Sound like that's too small of a difference to really matter? Compare a cd and an l.p. of the same album. More than likely the latter will sound fuller, more alive.
  • Vinyl records are a more participatory experience. The process of actually playing one is far more involved than a cd (let alone an MP3 player!), and they require further maintenance and care.
  • You can watch the record go 'round and 'round as it plays. I know, it sounds like something you'd only do if you were really stoned, but here me out. If you want to listen, I mean really listen to music, then it helps you concentrate if your eyes have something to focus on.
  • There's the nostalgia factor. Sure, it's easy to call vinylphiles a bunch of Luddites, but when you listen to a record, it's like you're part of a living history. Slap on your parents' Pet Sounds and you're hearing a little slice of 1966.
  • And then there's the cool factor. There's just something impressive about someone with a lot of vinyl. Besides, you aren't really a hipster if you don't own a copy of White Light/White Heat on vinyl. (Preferably bought at an indie record store.)
  • Vinyl records, properly stored, have outlived first generation cds. Whereas compact discs actually decay, vinyl records just wear out because you've played them too much. But then you can frame the cover and hang it on your wall.
  • They're kind of fragile so it's a little risky buying them online. So it's probably better to go to an acutal physical store. Which is good, because then you might get to know the store's employees and other customers.
  • Online music purchase (whether iTunes or Amazon) isn't really good for browsing. But, if you have to go to a store, given the right mood, you can spend hours just looking at what they've got. And there's nothing more enjoyable than a leisurely flip through a bin of records.
  • Vinyl records aren't nearly as portable as cassettes, cds, and MP3s. Normally, that would be a bad thing, but look at it this way. If you have to be in proximity to the actual apparatus, there's not as much that can distract you from giving the record a good listen.
  • To combat the portability problem, there are some turntables that allow you to copy records onto either cassette or cd. Some even come with a USB port to allow you to load them onto your computer.
  • In the future, it's quite possible that records could be issued with a code to download a digital copy, if, in fact, they aren't already.
  • We wouldn't have certain genres of music like hip-hop or house without vinyl records.
  • Vinyl records are also highly collectable, what with all the bootlegs, Japanese imports, and outdated greatest hits collections that never received a cd rerelease. Sure, there are limited release and special edition cds and download offers, but what's the fun of hunting something down when you can just have someone burn you a copy?
  • And they're great for showing off your collection, too. As was mentioned before, the covers are big enough to frame and display, and you need shelving to hold them all. You can't very well leave your MP3 collection lying around for people to look at, now can you?
  • You can physically manipulate a vinyl record while playing it. Which means you can have all sorts of fun "scratching" or changing the speed to make them sound like chipmunks.
  • As Shaun and Ed proved, you can use them to kill zombies.
  • Cuing a record is really hard, but being able to master it improves your concentration skills tenfold.
  • They're recyclable! The Jamaican record industry still releases singles on 45s so that, if they don't sell, they can recall the extras, melt them down, and repress them as a new single.
  • When singles used to be released on 45s, the artist wasn't necessarily obligated to fill out an entire album just for people to hear it. Similarly, if you just liked that one song by an artist, you didn't have to buy the whole album to here it they way you do with cds. Now, download services have done a lot to bring the single back, but there's a new problem. Everything can be bought as a single, including some songs that don't really stand on their own.
  • When singles were on vinyl, they had B-sides. Usually, these were just throw-away songs, but occasionally a classic song would wind up there. "I Will Survive," "Maggie May," "La Bamba"? All B-sides. With singles today only releasing one song, who knows what hidden greats are slipping through the cracks.
  • They have an aura in the Benjaminian sense. Those clicks, pops, and skips are traces that the record has been owned and played.
  • Also, as an analogue recording, they are an indexical sign of the recording session.
  • Because there's a break in the middle, you don't have to commit to listening to the whole thing in one sitting.
  • And because you can stack them up, you can create relationships between parts of different collections that you can't with a cd changer.
  • Since it's harder to cue, it's easier to see an album side as a unified whole as opposed to a bunch of unconnected songs.
  • However, as a listener you still have choice--Sides One and Two are merely suggestions; you choose where to begin listening.
  • Since so many people have bought into the myth that digital is better, they tend to give their records away cheaply--if not for free. You can make some really great vinyl finds at garage sales or, for the more daring, going dumpster diving.
Ok, so I'm 1/3 short. You try coming up with a fraction of a reason.