Thursday, February 26, 2015

When Everything Feels Like the Movies: 21st Century Censorship


When I introduced you to this year's Canada Reads Contenders a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I hadn't heard of When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid. To be honest, I don't know how I missed it - this novel seems to be courting accolades and controversy in equal measure.  

In 2014, this novel made Reid the youngest winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature. The book tells the story of Jude Rothesay, an openly gay teen who experiences bullying in his small-town high school. The novel is steered by narrator Jude's rich fantasy life, guiding us through his world as if it were taking place on a movie set. The novel is geared toward a YA crowd (12-18 years), and touches on sexuality while using (from what I read) plenty of explicit language.

Cue the controversy...

Frequent point-misser Barbara Kay referred to Reid's win as "wasted tax dollars on a values-void novel," while Kathy Clark, a children's author herself, started an online petition to have the government rescind the prize on account of the book’s vulgar content.

Between the sex and the swearing, the novel seems to have brought out the puritanical streak in some Canadians. However, Emily Keeler suggests that the uproar related to the book might be reflective of more harmful attitudes. In a recent National Post column, she said, "it’s sickening to me that the moral panic surrounding the book regards teens reading about blow jobs and not its painfully, stylishly wrought portrayal of kids being bullied to death, or growing up with fear because it’s not safe for them to be who they are."

Having not read the book, I find it difficult to comment on whether the writing was worthy of a GG (and, even if I had read it, I'm not sure I'm qualified to make that judgment). However, I find this 21st century book controversy very interesting indeed. As someone who works with children and youth (and was a youth myself not so very long ago), let me assure you that the majority of Canadian teens are no stranger to blow jobs, f-words, and multiple sexual partners - whether it is their personal reality, hallway gossip, or something from the Internet, they have been exposed.

I can't help but think of the ongoing hoopla related to the newly revised sex education curriculum in Ontario. Parents around the province are wringing their hands at the thought of their children being force-fed Ministry-sanctioned content around consent, sexual identity, and exploitation. While I can appreciate that these topics can be difficult and uncomfortable to discuss with children and teens, these conversations are critical. I heard Leah Parsons (whose daughter Rehtaeh was driven to suicide by cyberbullying after photos of her alleged rape surfaced) on the CBC today saying that she believes the new curriculum could help save lives - young men and women need clearer understandings of both sexual assault and consent.

What do you make of this controversy? Have you read the book? Is it unworthy of the accolades? Why are Canadians (North Americans? Everyone?) so up-in-arms about teens and sex? As a parent, are you more likely to buy the book or sign the petition? Would love to hear your take!

Freedom to Read continues...

(Image via Arsenal Pulp Press)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Matched: Arnold Spirit Jr.


Speaking of freedom to read, today we focus on the Canadian authors and stories that have found themselves under fire from censors over the past several decades. For reasons varying from Satanism and violence to sex and inappropriate language, some real gems have landed themselves on the list of frequently challenged books (here's a list of books, Canadian and otherwise, that have been challenged in Canada).

Sherman Alexie (whose book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian appears on this list) wrote a great column on why the best kids books are written in blood. This week's Matched is dedicated to his brave, flawed, and determined character: Arnold Spirit, Jr.

I will leave the last word to Alexie:
As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. 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.
P.S. Fight the power, youths!

(1. Art School Confidential by Daniel Clowes; 2. Neopiko Line 2 black pen; 3.Ray-Ban Clubmasters; 4. Trader Joe's PB&J chocolate bar; 5. I Hate You Good Game tee; 6. Society 6 Art Print [RIP, Oscar!]; 7. Jordan AJ1s)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Freedom to Read Week 2015.


Hey, everybody! It's Freedom to Read Week once again. Get your rebel on and follow my postings for F2R information + other censorship-related articles.

P.S. Freedom to Read Week 2012, 2013, 2014...

(Image via Freedom to Read)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscars 2015.


Dane and I are lucky to live a 25-minute stroll away from the wonderful Princess Cinemas, and we try to see a movie or two every month. In the last little while, we've seen a variety of things - Boyhood (impressive), The Trip to Italy (fun), Wild (overrated), The Skeleton Twins (sweet and sad), Whiplash (intense), etc. We also missed a bunch that we'd hoped to see (Frank; Birdman; Two Days, One Night). Man, there were some good ones that I wanted to see! I guess it's easy to miss movies amidst general life busyness.

I have movies on the mind since tonight is Oscar Night! I've hosted a few Oscar parties over the last few years. Most recently, Prom Oscars, which mandated early 2000s dress, make-up, and hair. Simply amazing:





This year, Janet is hosting, and the theme is Night at the Movies - I suspect the snacks will be high in calories and deliciousness...


In honour of the glitzy film fun we're going to have this weekend, I'd like to share this list of 2014 films that made under $100,000. I've seen one (Happy Christmas, on Netflix!), but I'm definitely throwing some others on my to-watch list.

Enjoy the show tonight, if you're tuning in, and don't forget to clink your glass to the beautiful, small, not-often-enough-watched films, too!

(Images via: 1 + 2)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Canada Reads Contender: Intolerable.


Next up in our list of Canada Reads 2015 contenders is Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee.

In the book, Al-Solaylee describes growing up in the Middle East amidst political strife and religious intolerance. As he comes to terms with his identity as a gay man, he realizes that he can no longer stay in Yemen. He earns a scholarship to undertake doctoral studies in England, and then relocates to Canada.

The memoir is both personal and political, telling Al-Solaylee's story as it traces 50 years of Middle Eastern history. As he moves farther away from his homeland, he finds himself becoming increasingly distant from the family and country that he has left behind.

Perhaps tellingly, the dedication is as follows...

“To Toronto, for giving me what I’ve been looking for: a home.”


Intolerable, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the 2013 Toronto Book Award, will be defended by Kristin Kreuk, an actress based in Vancouver.

Book number two, Intolerable. Have a great weekend, all! 

P.S. Kamal Al-Solaylee's life in books and an interesting interview in the Toronto Star.

(Images via CBC Books)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love in the Modern Age.



Dane I escaped the cold weather to...even colder weather this weekend (fml). But we're having a great, mini-break in Ottawa, skating on the Rideau and wandering around the chilly Byward Market.

In honour of today - whether you love it or hate it - I wanted to share a podcast that Dane and I appeared on last week.

Dane's brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law create and produce a great radio show under the name, Lipstick Studios. Their February 4th episode was about Love in the Modern age, and features our "how we met" story. Spoiler alert: it includes an irate man from the '30s yelling at a store clerk, a classic film device, pajamas, and the dirty, dirty Internet. You can have a listen here, if you like (we're the first segment).

In the meantime, stay warm and cozy and full of love (for your partner, your pet, yourself...whateva!)

P.S. Here's the song that plays at the end of our segment.

 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Canada Reads Contender: Ru.


As I mentioned earlier in the week, Canada Reads 2015 is well underway. In anticipation of the showdown beginning on March 16, I'll be introducing you to one of the five finalists (and their champion) each week over the next five weeks.

Today I am happy to introduce Ru, our first book in the Canada Reads Contender line-up.

Ru, penned by Kim Thúy, tells the story of An Tinh Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman who immigrates to Quebec with her family as a child.

The story cuts between the past and present, weaving autobiography with fiction - Thúy, like An Tinh Nguyen, was born during the Tet Offensive and immigrated to Canada as a child of war in 1979. The book, originally written in French (Thúy learned the language from French Harlequin novels!), has been wildly successful - it won the 2010 Governor General's Award for Fiction (French-language), the 2011 Grand prix littéraire Archambault, the 2011 Mondello Prize for Multiculturalism, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Giller Prize, to name a few. Not too shabby for a debut novel...

It should also be noted that the book was translated by Sheila Fischman, one of Canada's most celebrated translators. In addition to translating Thúy's novels, Ru and Mãn, Fischman has translated over 150 Quebec novels into English. Her work on Ru was shortlisted in 2012 for the Governor General's Literary Award for Translation.

Ru will be defended by Cameron Bailey, current Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. When asked why Ru should win Canada Reads, Bailey says: "This is the story of the future of Canada. It's a country built on the genius of the aboriginal people who lived here for thousands of years, but the next step is going to be the future and connecting to the world through the people who live here. This is just one of those stories, and it is told beautifully."

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ru!

P.S. A Ru  review here.

(Images via CBC Books)