Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday Night in Greenpoint: Literary Karaoke - Banned Books, featuring MK Reed and "Americus" at WORD Bookstore

On this mild early autumn evening we walked over to Greenpoint's wonderful WORD bookstore for the monthly Literary Karaoke series,

which tonight highlighted banned books, featuring MK Reed,

whose new graphic novel Americus, drawn by Jonathan Hill,

follows high school student Neal Barton as he fights to save his favorite fantasy fiction series from being banned at his town's public library.

MK Reed read and showed us a section of the middle of Americus, when the library board first meets to discuss the right-wing Christian parents' attempt to ban The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde (clearly reminiscent of Harry Potter) even though none of them have read it and the series is defended by the system's YA librarian.

It looks like a well-written, carefully drawn graphic novel that accurately depicts the struggles libraries and public schools go through with "controversial" books.

WORD's event manager and bookseller extraordinaire Jenn Northington

opened the Literary Karaoke portion of the event by introducing series host, author/critic Rachel Syme, who kicked things off with a hilarious story of how a girl in her tenth grade class whose religious, censorious parents forbade her to read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, a text selected by their Dead Poets Society-type English teacher; allowed to pick her own novel, the girl chose Stephen King's Carrie, which, bizarrely, seemed not to bother her Mormon parents.

Then the parade of Literary Karaoke began, with smart people reading from their favorite banned books. Ian kicked things off with some vignettes from Leonard Cohen's haunting The Favourite Game.

Stuart, with a great British accent, read some fun passages from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. As Meg Wolitzer told us about 25 years ago before we met him ourselves, Bret is a sweetheart in real life. Really he is. (This is not ironic.)

Natasha read the classic opening passage from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, which we almost know by heart since first reading it back during the Kennedy administration.

Jenn did a bookseller's take on banned books by reading from the initial trials of Bella and Edward from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. She confessed to being a member of Team Jacob.

Rachel Syme, who's writing a book about the last days of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (we miss the old Sheilah Graham talk show from our childhood), read The Great Gatsby's gorgeous passage where Nick walks through Manhattan in the summer and describes the city. We last taught this masterpiece in our eleventh grade English class at Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School and some boys who usually hated reading loved the book.

Vinnie read from Candide, narrating the latter part of the Old Woman's story of mutilation, rape, wartime murder and other very funny horrors -- a section we taught only yesterday and the day before, since Voltaire's masterpiece has been the required first book in Literature and Writing I at the fabulous School of Visual Arts for the past six years we've been teaching there again. (And we taught it to our senior AP English class in Phoenix in the fall of 2005, so we've reread it every year since then.)

Bridget, with a pleasing Australian accent, read a wonderful passage from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was one of the first books she loved. She has good taste.

Finally, Jess closed Literary Karaoke by reading from Haruki Murakami's terrific Norwegian Wood.

Somewhere in the middle, we read (haltingly, as usual) from Ann Bannon's lesbian pulp fiction classic I Am a Woman, which we've used in our Cold War Literature classes at Fordham and CCNY.

We're grateful to have participated in and to have attended this thought-provoking and entertaining Banned Books Week event at WORD, a favorite bookstore.

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