Banned Books Week 2011: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

CBanned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadToday is the start of Banned Books Week 2011:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, visit their official website.

Beat On The Brat by Nigel Bird

Beat On The Brat by Nigel BirdMr. Bird has been a very busy bee of late. In addition to the recently released Pulp Ink collection which he co-edited, he also has a relatively new short story collection of his own, Beat On The Brat, out in the wild.

Featuring nine entries – seven short stories, a poem, and a little haiku just to mess with you – Beat On The Brat is a wonderfully diverse collection. Though I enjoyed them all, these two really resonated with me:

“Back in Black” is a beautifully layered recounting of Johnny Sullivan’s return to his hometown for his mother’s funeral. Things are a little more complicated than simply the loss of his mum, however, as it is also Johnny’s first time back since being sent up for child molestation. Things go about as well for Johnny as you’d expect, but you know an author has some serious skills going on if he can make you actually feel sympathy for a child molester.

“Snow-Angel” graphically demonstrates something I fully believe: all practical jokes and other forms of messing with people done in the name of “good fun, no harm intended” in fact comes from a much darker, mean-spirited place. In “Snow Angels,” a group of punks’ snowball ambush on a complete stranger spins horribly out of control, with devastating consequences for a Good Samaritan.

Pulp Ink by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, Editors

Pulp Ink by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, EditorsEdited by Nigel Bird and Chris Rhatigan, Pulp Ink is a blistering collection of 24 deliciously dark tales, each inspired by a song from the Pulp Fiction movie soundtrack. Murder and madness, sex and seduction, revenge and redemption, Pulp Ink has a little bit of everything going on. A few of my favorites:

“Requiem For A Spider” finds Reed Farrel Coleman’s well-known and much loved character Moe Prager roped into acting as combination backup/security blanket for an old friend at a meeting with a potential business partner…in the Russian Mafia. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished and people aren’t always who they seem to be, things go seriously sideways.

With their infant son in tow, Junior and his wife, Nina, travel the country in Matthew C. Funk’s “You Can Never Tell” systematically tracking down – and eliminating – all the old associates of Junior’s father in order to determine which one betrayed and killed him. Always one to push a story places you’re not quite expecting it to go, Funk takes the age-old concept of revenge and redemption and gives it a startling twist.

Intoxication by Tim Kizer

Intoxication by Tim Kizer“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” – Joseph Heller in Catch 22

Paranoia. It’s an insidious thing, feeding upon itself and driving the sufferer ever deeper into its clutches. Office worker Leslie comes to know this all too well in author Tim Kizer’s novella, Intoxication.

When Leslie’s boyfriend becomes seriously ill after drinking coffee that one of her coworkers brought into Leslie’s office, Leslie becomes convinced the coffee was poisoned, and that she was the intended target.

Her boss dismisses Leslie’s accusations as far-fetched and, well, paranoid, so Leslie decides to take matters into her own hands and force a confession. Easier said than done, especially when your mental demons begin to get the better of you.

And while there’s nothing funny about genuine mental illness, there’s definitely a healthy dose of dark humor involved in Leslie’s quest to bring her (imagined?) would-be poisoner to justice.

Fish Tank by Carl Ray

Fish Tank by Carl RayThis isn’t a review per se because, frankly, I’m not quite sure how to go about reviewing a cartoon book. Suffice it to say I thought the Fish Tank collections by Carl Ray were clever enough to warrant spreading the word about them.

Fish Tank follows the exploits of three aquarium fish who are not only tank mates but close friends. Ted is a super-genius goldfish with lots of ideas, inventions and a thirst for adventure, usually with disastrous consequences. Angelo is a self-absorbed angelfish and Ted’s sometimes reluctant sidekick. Hoover is the bottom-feeding algae-eating plecostamus who wants nothing more than to be left out of Ted’s ideas and given some peace.

There are currently two volumes available, The Dawning of the Age of Aquariums, and Something Whiskered This Way Comes, with a third volume, A Tale of Mothic Proportions scheduled for release on September 15th.

Each is (currently) $1.99 for Kindle or $0.99 for Nook, so if you’re a fan of things like Finding Nemo or Madagascar give the Fish Tank crew a go. You can learn more about Ted, Angelo, Hoover, and the Fish Tank series on their website.

Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

FrankBillWire springs poked through the worn vinyl of the front seat like he imagined the mattress of a jail cell’s bed would, pricking his conscience as he sat within his personal purgatory. – “The Penance of Scoot McCutchen”

Frank Bill has caused quite a stir with his debut collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, getting himself compared to heavy hitters like Woodrell, McCarthy, and Steinbeck. Open the book to any story in the collection at random and you’ll immediately understand why.

Populated by people who make their living the best way they know how, often in unsavory ways, people with names like Scoot and Pitchfork and Pine Box, Frank Bill’s Southern Indiana is bleak. Bleak, but not without dignity.

The people in Frank Bill’s world live by their own moral code, a unique perspective on “right” and “wrong” forged through decades of poverty and disillusion and hopelessness. They’re people you won’t necessarily like, though will probably still respect, but you’ll damn sure remember.

And amongst a collection brimming with headliners, there were nevertheless still a few that were particularly memorable, no mean feat in a collection of stories that are the literary equivalent of a bar full of Hells Angels.

Indie Lit Awards Nominations Open

Independent Literary AwardsThe year is nearly three quarters over (where’d the time go?!), so that means nominations for this year’s Indie Lit Awards are now open!

Independent Literary Awards are given to books that have been recommended and voted on by independent literary bloggers. Nominations are open to independent literary bloggers only, and are then voted upon by a panel of bloggers who are proficient in the genre they represent. Each panel is led by a judge who oversees the integrity of the process.

Awards are given in a number of genres, and nominations are open from September 1st through December 31st. So what are you waiting for? Click over and nominate your favorite reads of 2011 for the Indie Lit Awards.

Where ‘The Need’ Came From by Frank Bill

I’m thrilled to welcome author Frank Bill for a guest post, in which he discusses the story behind “The Need,” one of the blistering entries in his newly published collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana.

FrankBillThere were three of us. The oldest and I were separated by a year and two mothers who named us after our fathers. The youngest was seven years behind me. He and the oldest were brothers. We were cousins.

The oldest found trouble when the girl problems started and the bottle of Ever Clear was never far from his reach. He’d racked up a few DUI’s and even ditched his car and out peddled Johnny Law on foot a few times. Running through fields and treading water. “Like Rambo.” He once told me. He eventually out grew his wild streak, moved north and settled down.

To this day he proclaims, “I ain’t no damn yankee.”

His younger brother was an avid hunter. Was disciplined in the ways of the woods by our grandfather. Who taught him how to hunt deer, coon, rabbit, turkey and squirrel. Train a hound and site a rifle. He entered the US Army reserve out of high school. Was later drafted to serve in Iraq. Came back home, dealt with the aftermath of our grandfather’s passing. But also what he’d seen and done on a continent of sand, heat, foreign tongues and bombs shaking his being from sun up to sun down.

The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun by Ken Denmead

The Geek Dad's Guide to Weekend Fun by Ken DenmeadPssst. Wanna know a secret? You don’t have to be a dad, or even have kids for that matter, to enjoy the hell out of The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun.

The follow up to his book Geek Dad, in The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun author Ken Denmead presents a wide range of activities designed to bring parents and kids together for hours of fun and education.

Each project is clearly broken down with a chart that gives you an idea of cost, difficulty, duration (how long it will take), reusability, and the tools and materials required. And while some projects will require an expenditure, Denmead goes out of his way to structure most around common household items that most will already have readily accessible.

The projects themselves range from educational (Did you know you can measure the speed of light using nothing more than chocolate and a microwave? Sure can.), to cost saving (Tired of spending tons of cabbage on role playing games? Then learn how to make your own combat card games and terrain pieces.), to downright James Bond-esque (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to know how to build a backyard zip line or Nerf dart blowgun?!).

And since the whole idea behind the book is to promote learning through hands-on activity, many of the projects also include a section called “Extra Geeky Ideas” that suggest variations and ideas for further customizing the project or experiment to encourage kids to use their immaginations. Similarly, where applicable there are sidebar boxes called “Quick Science Lesson” to help kids further understand the concepts behind the projects and experiments.

No question about it, The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun is a great book for parents, kids, and those who are still kids at heart. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think there are two trees in the backyard that would work perfectly for that zip line.

The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun is available from Gotham Books (ISBN: 978-1592406449).

Ken Denmead is a husband and father from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he works as a civil engineer. He’s also the editor of GeekDad, the parenting blog for Wired magazine’s online presence, where along with a group of other dedicated, geeky parents he posts projects, book and movie reviews, weekly podcasts, and more about being a parent and being a geek. The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun is the follow up to Geek Dad. To learn more about Ken, visit his website.

Chop Suey by Ty Hutchinson

Chop Suey by Ty Hutchinson Reality check: The success of my business plan involves doing business with organized crime. – Darby Stansfield

Chop Suey is what would happen if you threw Glengarry Glen Ross and Office Space in a blender. Then added a serial killer. And Triads.

Telecommunications salesman Darby Stansfield is desperate. Having hit a bad stretch with his sales, he’s been put on notice he’s got six months to get his numbers headed in the right direction again or he’ll be fired.

Problem is, Darby doesn’t have any good leads. The one decent client he had was stolen out from under him by another salesman, leaving Darby with nothing but one-sale, dead end, mom-and-pop clients.

When a conversation with Mr. Fu, the owner of his favorite Chinese restaurant, brings up the subject of Triads inspiration strikes… he will tap into a previously untapped source of clientele and become a telecommunications specialist for organized crime. Darby will help the “organized” get organized.

Knowing he needs a bit of room to operate without being too scrutinized by the home office in San Francisco, Darby decides to branch out. To Hong Kong. Following up on information obtained from Mr. Fu, Darby actually manages to connect with the Fan Gang Triad, sell them on his plan, set up a fake toy company as a front for the operation, place a massive first order, and before you know it he’s on his way back to the top of the leaderboard. Coffee time, right? Wrong.

Harvest of Ruins by Sandra Ruttan

Harvest of Ruins by Sandra RuttanAll the memories and all the lies were like that game, Jenga. Pull out the wrong one and they’d all come crashing down. – Vinny Shepherd

Detective Sergeant Hunter McKenna’s world is crashing down around her. Two teenagers have been found dead under suspicious circumstances, and McKenna’s investigation into the deaths leads places some would rather she not go.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, her former partner, Tom Shepherd, has been shot and killed by his own daughter, Vinny. It would be an upsetting investigation under any circumstances, but added to the mix is that McKenna was once involved with Shepherd, an involvement that some say lead to the collapse of his marriage.

Shepherd’s ex-wife, Rose, is one of those people, and she blames McKenna for his death. Rose claims that McKenna’s questioning of the Shepherds’ daughter, Vinny, about the deaths of her friends pushed the emotionally fragile girl over the edge. With the help of her powerful new husband, Rose brings pressure to bear on the District Attorney, forcing him to pursue a case against McKenna for negligent homicide.

Now the only person that can help McKenna is the very person she’s accused of having driven to murder: Vinny Shepherd.

Coming Home by PD Martin

Coming Home by PD MartinAs time went by and I moved up the ranks to Homicide I realized that some cases don’t get solved…ever. – Sophie Anderson

For thirty years FBI profiler Sophie Anderson thought her brother’s case was one of the ones that was going to go unsolved forever.

Just a young girl when her slightly older brother was kidnapped and murdered, the event left a deep impression on Sophie which drove her into law enforcement. She worked her way up through the ranks of the Victoria Police department in her home country of Australia, eventually making it to a position in Homicide.

Her college background in psychology, and dual citizenship because of her father’s status as an American, got Sophie’s foot in the door where she really wanted to be: criminal profiling with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Little could she have imagined that after years of profiling kidnappers, rapists, and murders she would actually be called upon to put her skills to use in a case that hit far too close to home.

Yet, that’s exactly where she finds herself when a call from her parents back in Australia informs Sophie that the police have found the body of a young boy murdered in a virtually identical manner as her brother was, dumped within a stone’s throw of the remote location where her brother’s body was found all those years ago. Now, on leave from her position with the FBI, Sophie heads back home to Australia in hopes that solving this modern day nightmare will help put to rest the demons from her past.

Julius Katz and Archie by Dave Zeltserman

Julius Katz and Archie by Dave Zeltserman“How do we pick which one among a group of psychopaths is our killer?” – Archie

Julius Katz is an unquestionably brilliant private investigator who lives and works in Boston. Unfortunately, he’s also unquestionably lazy, only working when his cash flow dips below the point of sustaining his healthy interests in fine wine, upscale dining, and gambling.

Julius Katz and Archie finds Julius hired by famous crime fiction author Kenneth Kingston to participate in a publicity stunt to help launch Kingston’s upcoming release, and hopefully boost severely lagging sales. The idea is to gather six “suspects” together in Julius’ office and, with press gathered, reveal one of them as being behind a plot to kill Kingston.

Having recently hit a bad streak of luck at poker, and always with an eye on adding to his extensive wine collection, Julius reluctantly agrees. However, a funny thing happens on the way to the bestseller list.

As Julius has the six suspects gathered in his office awaiting Kingston’s arrival, Julius’ assistant, Archie, happens upon a Boston Police radio communication indicating a body has been found at Kingston’s residence. It seems someone really was out to kill Kingston, and what started as a publicity stunt has turned into a very real mystery for Julius and Archie to solve.