In Which I Am Taking a Break

taking a break

First things first: congratulations to Alessandra, who is the winner of our Pink XII themed mug from Ask the Author last week!  Alessandra, if you will email me at ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com, I will get your prize in the mail to you.

Next order of business: I wanted to let you all know that I am taking a little vacation from blogging.  I wish you happy reading and a fantastic fall! Take care of yourselves.

Birthday Odds and Ends

Good morning and happy Monday!

Friday of last week was my birthday, and I got an extremely cool gift from one of my friends (thanks again, Laney!) that I wanted to share with you. It’s a book called Literary Listography: My Reading Life in Lists by Lisa Nola.

listography

This book is a bit like a journal and a bit like making shelves on GoodReads. It is literally a book where you make lists. There are over 70 list topics – some that you’d expect, like “Top 20 Most Beloved Books” and “My 20 Favorite Authors.” Other lists made me laugh out loud when I saw them, like “Fictional Characters I’d Go on a Date With” and “Books I Think I Will Skip.” There are also some creative lists that are less about books and more about a love of language, like “Words I Love and Hate the Sound Of” and “Title Ideas for Stories I’d Love to Write.” Each list is accompanied by a beautiful illustration by Holly Exley.

 Atticus Hero list

I spent lots of time this weekend flipping through it and thinking about what I’ll include in my lists. Now I just have to take the plunge and start writing in the book! If this looks like the type of book you’d love to have (or the type of book you’d like to give as a gift!), you can buy it on Amazon.

Continuing in the celebratory spirit, I thought you might appreciate another “gift” that I got on my birthday. Beth (yes, the same Beth that moderated Pink II for us) decided she would mark the day by sending me a series of texts every few hours. Some of you may be familiar with the Ryan Gosling “Hey girl” meme, but Beth put her own twist on this and sent me Happy Birthday texts from some awesome book and movie heroes. These are too good not to share. Enjoy!

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Vacation Reading

summer reading

Happy Monday to one and all.

I’m returning from a week of vacation, so I’m grappling with reality and finding it a bit difficult today.  Fortunately, I have a plan – during my lunch hour, I’ll be continuing one of the books I started on vacation.  I’m very much hoping that will help me pretend I’m still soaking up the sun and relaxing.

I seriously overestimated the amount of reading time I would have on this vacation.  I checked five books out of the library, borrowed two e-books on my Nook, and packed another book that’s been sitting on my TBR pile for a few months that I really wanted to read.  Guess how many books I read?

One.  I read Elizabeth Peter’s book The Mummy Case since Miss Gwen gave me such a feeling of nostalgia for Amelia Peabody.  I think Amelia and Miss Gwen would both scold my for my lack of focus.

The other book that I started, and that I hope to pick up again today, is Ross Poldark by Winston Graham.  I will readily confess that I had never heard of this book until I started seeing ads for the new TV series.  According to several reviewers, it can assist with Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms and it should appeal to those of us who love an enigmatic hero.  I also follow Laurel Ann Nattress (the editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of Jane-inspired short stories with an entry from our friend Lauren Willig) on her blog and Twitter, and she was so enthused about the book and the TV series that she made me want to give them a try!  I haven’t watched any of the series yet, but I’m about a third of the way through the book, and I’m definitely enjoying it.  Ross has a decidedly North-and-South Mr. Thornton thing going on.  I approve of this.  Have any of you read the book, or any of the others in the Poldark series?  Are you watching it on PBS?  Can you tell me (without spoilers!) how you like it?

If Poldark is not on your radar, what are you reading on your summer vacations?

The Mayfair Affair

Mayfair

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that I am fiercely devoted to a handful of authors that I found through Lauren’s website and her “If You Like” posts. One of my absolute favorites is Tracy Grant, author of a historical mystery series set in Napoleonic France featuring the husband-and-wife spy team Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. The first book Tracy published with Kensington for this series, Vienna Waltz, is fabulous. If you haven’t tried it, add it to your reading list! I promise you won’t regret it.

Today, Tracy is a guest on Lauren’s website with an “If You Like” post of her own. We just finished talking about governess books, thanks to our re-read of The Orchid Affair. Tracy’s latest novel in her series, The Mayfair Affair, has a governess at the heart of the action – Laura Dudley, caretaker of Malcolm and Suzanne’s children, who is found standing over the body of the murdered Duke of Trenchard. In her post on Lauren’s site today, Tracy talks a bit about her newest release and then recommends a few governess books that she enjoys. Head over to Lauren’s site and take a look! And if you follow Deanna Raybourn’s blog, be on the lookout for a post from Tracy there as well. That post will be live tomorrow.

I’m also very pleased to say that Tracy will be paying another visit to the Bubble Bath Reader next week – on May 18th, she will be stopping by to answer a few questions and to give away a copy of The Mayfair Affair to a lucky reader. Make sure you check in for a chance to win!

Pink VIII Week 4 in Review

Before I hand this post over to Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance, I hope you will all join me in saying a big MERCI to her for hosting our April reread of The Orchid Affair.  Miss Eliza, thank you for being our tour guide through Paris in the springtime! And now, on to the last recap for Pink VIII.

Week_4

Chapters 27-35 “They’re not the sort of characters who get happy endings.”

French Countryside, Beauvais, and Dieppe 1804: Laura is nearly frantic, why is acting so hard? If everything fell apart because of her she could never forgive herself. It’s infuriating how much a better actor André is then her. As he justly points out, he has had a lot of practice hiding his true self for the last few years, otherwise he wouldn’t still be alive. Seeing Laura’s vulnerability and trusting her despite knowing she isn’t fully honest with him, he opens up about his involvement with the Bourbon plot. The destruction of the revolution’s ideals proved to him that a stable government, even a monarchy, was better than living in a state of fear where allegiances shifted daily and your friends could be your enemies or your downfall the next minute, something his wife Julie could never see. André had forgotten how liberating it is to have someone to confide in, someone to share his burdens. They curl up for the long days ahead that will bring them to Beauvais and their first performance on stage.

Laura’s acting skills still haven’t improved and she is desperate. Laura and André are putting playbills up around Beauvais as she becomes more and more rattled. Finding Jaouen and Daubier’s wanted posters is almost the last straw. Her emotions, trapped for so many years behind practical gray wool, are resurging. André uses the simple expedient of covering the wanted posters with their playbill, but emotions between them are high, as is the danger of appearing in public. So high that Laura is threatening leaving the troupe to protect everyone, even against the Pink Carnation’s orders she can’t even dare to mention to André. The tension and emotion breaks in a revelatory kiss between the two. Breaking apart Laura realizes her folly and how their forced intimacy might just ruin everything. Rushing back to the inn the troupe has commandeered she slinks off to her room, hoping that André might just pass the night below stairs drinking with Leandro and Pantaloon. Once in bed she starts to parse out her emotions and realizes that she has been constrained for far too long and wants to be free again. André’s arrival in the room allows her to put action to thought and they fall on each other in faux connubial bliss. The only problem they now face is continuing to play a loving couple to the troupe, without hinting to their own smaller group that their relationship is far closer to the lie they are playing at.

Over the weeks that follow Laura and André become closer, and she even starts to become a competent actress. But the night has come to give up the stage. This night in Dieppe will be their last performance and then they shall sail for England. What happens next does have Laura worried. There is so much she has kept from André and she only knows that she wants to be with him, though she knows that is the true farce. Laura thinks she sees Delaroche in the audience but convinces herself that she is seeing things. Once onstage she realizes that she was horribly mistaken, it is Delaroche and he is making his way to Gabrielle! This can’t be happening. They are mere hours away from escape and the net is closing. Fearing Gabrielle’s capture when the little girl appears backstage they are relieved beyond measure, until she delivers Delaroche’s note; he has taken Pierre-André and his nurse Jeanette! André is willing to accept Delaroche’s offer of himself and the Duc du Berry for the two prisoners. Laura finds this unacceptable and says that at the boat they are to depart on that night, the Bien-Aimée, they shall find reinforcements.

Aboard the Bien-Aimée Laura’s world comes crashing down. They are greeted by non-other than the Purple Gentian, Lord Richard Selwick, who not only knows Jaouen, but congratulates Laura, Miss Grey, on a successful first mission. Laura knows that she has probably lost Jaouen, it’s never good to tell someone in a crisis that “I can explain.” It just doesn’t seem adequate enough. But explanations can wait for when everyone is safe. They devise a plan. Pierre-André and Jeanette are being held on the Cauchemar, two of Richard’s agents will cut the boat loose from the dock, then Lord Richard, Daubier, Jaouen, and two of Richard’s crew will use a dinghy, create a distraction, and rescue the captives, all while Gabrielle, Laura, and the Duc du Berry, stay safely on the Bien-Aimée. The rescue of Pierre-André and Jeanette goes too smoothly and they realize too late that Delaroche has truly lost his mind and created this elaborate distraction with prisoners tied to the main sail to get the Duc du Berry on his own. Rushing back to the Bien-Aimée they see through the windows of the cabin that they might be too late.

Though inside the cabin things aren’t as dire as they look to outsiders. Laura has decided to one up Delaroche and tries to convince him that she is also an agent working for Fouché and that he has now ruined months of work and he will be in for a drubbing. This distraction gives Richard and his men time enough to get into position and attack. Delaroche is captured and everyone is safe! Miss Grey has excelled at her first mission, though she feels it a pyrrhic victory. Laura retires to solitude on the back deck of the ship, which is where Jaouen finds her. She bares her soul saying that he did know the real her. Luckily he understands that life is made up of shades of gray and that “there’s honesty and there’s honesty” and as they embrace André asks for her hand in marriage, Laura agrees if the children will have her. They will no longer be alone.

Paris 2004: Jeremy’s announcement about the upcoming film shoot at Selwick Hall feels like a grenade has been launched at Colin and Eloise. It’s incomprehensible, Selwick Hall isn’t Jeremy’s family place, no matter how much he dreams it is and how many times he has offered to buy it. He has no right to be conferring access, only Colin, Serena, and Caroline have the right. Ah, but Jeremy is cunning. He obviously has Caro’s vote, she couldn’t care less, and he has bought Serena’s vote with the paycheck from the film company that will allow her to buy into the gallery she works at becoming a junior partner. Serena’s nerves are now explained as the betrayal dawns on Colin and Eloise. After all Colin has done for his sister, to do this! They exit the party, taking their leave of no one. Retracing their steps back to the hotel Colin is bottling up his feelings with regard to his family; his feelings to Eloise though are quite amorous. He might be trying to escape the reality of the situation in Eloise’s embrace, but she’s there for him, however he needs her.

The next morning Eloise is up bright and early, ready to head out to the Musée de la Préfecture de Police while Colin is at loose ends. His plans with his family while Eloise did her research must assuredly be cancelled… surely. Eloise decides that discretion is the better part of valor and Colin will talk when he feels like talking, and right now she has research to corroborate. Colin wasn’t kidding when he said the museum was in the police station. The displays are what she expected, the setting is not, but she at least found the place, after a few wrong turns. There in a far corner are the artifacts of the plot to restore the Bourbon monarchy, Jaouen’s wanted poster, Cadoudal’s arrest record. Digging into the archives Eloise finds all Jaouen’s paperwork and she has a secret smile for the only reference to the Silver Orchid as a governess who might be questioned with regard to Jaouen’s disappearance. Little did they know she was the mastermind. Colin reunites with Eloise after a long day of research, with the promise of coffee and a romantic time in Paris, with no family entanglements. During their time apart he went back to the museum he found Eloise at the day before and bought her the exhibition book for Artistes en 1789: Marguerite Gérard et Julie Beniet because he is such a wonderful boyfriend. In the glossy pages of the book Eloise learns that Jaouen and Laura married and moved to New Orleans, where Jaouen established a law practice, going on to become a state court judge. Pierre-André became a celebrated naturalist, while Gabrielle became quite the hoyden with a predilection for writing memoirs and discarding husbands. Knowing the fate of her research subjects, Eloise is ready to face the future with Colin. They will be there to monitor the interloping filmmakers and thwart any of Jeremy’s plans, just after this cup of coffee and a marzipan pig.

In which I am pondering a personal reading quirk

At what point do you give up on a book?

I struggle with this. The English teacher in me does not want to give up on a book – EVER. I want to finish it and be able to find something of value. The competitive, neurotic list-maker in me doesn’t want to give up because I don’t want to be able to say it beat me and I want to add it to my list of books I’ve read. And the lit lover in me doesn’t want to give up because, hey, it’s a book and surely every book has something in it to make it worthwhile. I have this mental picture of the Island of Misfit Toys in my head when I think of the books that I can’t love, and I’m sad that I can’t find it inside of me to appreciate a book on some level.

But that’s ridiculous, right? I’m not going to love every book I ever attempt. My TBR pile is raging out of control. In fact, it’s less like a pile and more like several stacks that are slowly but surely taking over my living room. I have so many new releases this year that I’m excited about, and I work in walking distance from an eight story library. Eight. Story. I will never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, and I want to be sure I have time to reread my favorites periodically too. So why waste time slogging through something that I’m not enjoying just so that I can say I finished?

I ask because I started a book in January and I can’t seem to motivate myself to carry on with it. It’s The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. I specifically asked my friend to buy it for me for Christmas (if you’re reading this, Alana, I’m sorry!  I will pick better this year).  I should be loving this book. It’s about fairy tales. It’s got a beautiful cover. It’s historical fiction and romance. It’s by an author that I’ve read and liked in the past (although, in fairness, it took me quite a while to really get into Bitter Greens too). And yet…

I have completely stalled on reading this. I hit a point in the book where I can tell something is about to happen, and I am really, REALLY not happy about it. Part of me says, “Power through it, finish the stupid thing, and move on.” Another part of me says, “Just let it go already.” Which voice to listen to?

At the moment, I’ve given up on it because I have Orchid Affair, My Dear Bessie (which I am LOVING – more on that at a later date), and 2 ARCs that I am really pumped about. So I have moved on for the time being, but I’m arguing with myself about whether or not I will eventually go back to The Wild Girl and finish it up.

So here’s what I’m wondering – what would you do? Are you the type of person who opens a book, reads a chapter, and has no trouble saying, “Not my thing – moving on.” Are you the type that feels like, in order to have given this book a fighting chance, you read 150 pages or so and then think, “Well, I made it this far. Might as well finish.” Or are you somewhere in the middle?

Pink VI Week 4 in Review

This post was written by Betty.  We’re recapping a bit early to prepare for Lauren’s return on Friday for Ask the Author VI.  Thanks to Betty for leading us through our month of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine!

 jasmine2

Colin and Eloise: Colin is the one who surprises Eloise at the old Norman tower. The mysterious mechanical objects inside are old lawn equipment – nothing strange about that. Colin nonchalantly fixes the padlock on the door. On their way back to the house, Colin’s secret is revealed. He is writing a spy novel!! So all ends well, and the relationship seems to be on track.

As for Robert, Charlotte, Henrietta, Miles, and Tommy, they hire a boat to take them to Medmenham Abbey in pursuit of the king and the Frenchman. On the quiet journey Robert does some soul searching. He realizes Charlotte is stronger than he thought and perhaps wasn’t in need of his protection. When Charlotte awakens, and seems wary of him, he explains his association with Medmenham and his reason for seeking revenge. Robert wants everything to be the way it was at Girdings when he first returned. Charlotte is reluctant and feels she has been on a romantic on again, off again cycle with Robert.

Lights are on in the Abbey when they arrive. Robert leads everyone to the caves, but there is no sign of anyone above ground in the mausoleum. Henrietta suggests the king might be hidden in the church, so they split up. Inside the church, the ladies see a man climbing down from a ladder leading to the ceiling. Charlotte runs screeching down the church aisle to distract him while Henrietta pulls out her gun. The shocked man falls to the ground hitting his head. After tying him up, Charlotte climbs the ladder as they suspect the king is hidden in an alcove above. She is then startled by a man with a French accent telling her to come down. After she is down, the Frenchman sends a man up to get the king. Then he hurries everyone out to his carriage.

Meanwhile, the men have not seen evidence of anyone in the caves. Just as they are prepared to enter the boat and travel further back, Robert realizes the boat is on the wrong side of the river. This means the king is probably in the church. They return to the churchyard to see everyone being forced into the carriage. The Frenchman’s plan is foiled, but he escapes.

Later at the palace, Charlotte is welcomed by the king and thanked for rescuing him. Everyone else is there including her grandmother. The king announces Robert has requested Charlotte’s hand in marriage, but Charlotte refuses. Robert leaves and the Dowager chastises her. She admits she had paid Medmenham to show Charlotte attention so Robert would be attracted to her.

Several weeks later, back at Girdings, Charlotte is regretting her decision. Penelope is already married and in India, so Charlotte contemplates visiting her and looking for Robert. As she walks out to the garden she sees a jam tart in the path and follows a trail of tarts to where Robert is waiting at the bridge. Charlotte is surprised to hear he never went to India and now accepts his proposal. They plan to marry, travel to India, and return to live at Girdings. So it is ‘a happily ever after ending’ for Robert and Charlotte, just like a fairy tale.

What are your thoughts on this book as a whole?

Did you always feel Robert and Charlotte were meant to be together? Will their marriage be a realistic one, or will it be like a fairytale?

Which supporting characters did you enjoy the most in Pink VI and why?

I have enjoyed rereading and talking about The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. I will check back from time to time in case anyone is behind in this reread and wants to discuss any of the posts. Congratulations to Lauren on the 10th anniversary of her Pink Carnation books!

Charlotte, Penelope and Henrietta: Friendships in Pink

This post was written by Betty.

BFF

Rereading the Pink Carnation books made me think more about the portrayal of female friendships, especially that of Henrietta Selwick, Charlotte Lansdowne, and Penelope Deveraux. The three characters first appeared together in The Masque of the Black Tulip, which became the story of Henrietta and Miles. Seen huddling, whispering and giggling together in a corner of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, they are introduced as Henrietta and her two best friends. I saw them as typical friends experiencing an evening out and discussing events. Since Henrietta is trying to attract the attention of Miles in this setting, he became the focus of the conversation. Miles had noticed Henrietta was there by hearing delightful laughter that could only come from Henrietta. When he disappears to get Henrietta lemonade, Penelope makes a snide comment about how long it is taking and where else he might be. Charlotte, on the other hand, soothes Henrietta by giving a plausible excuse. Hearing this, Charlotte’s grandmother made a derogatory remark about “namby-pamby good nature” coming from her mother’s side, weakening the Lansdowne line. Wow! That might say a lot about Charlotte’s shyness. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

This opening peek into our three friends gave me the initial impression of Henrietta being a vivacious, well-adjusted young lady seeking romance with someone she has a crush on. Charlotte is the quiet, caring, supportive friend, willing to help in any way, and putting herself in the background, thinking no one could be interested in her. Then there is Penelope – sarcastic, brash, flirtatious, willing to go to extremes to catch an eligible man. Trapping gentlemen on the balcony is mentioned right from the start as an acceptable ploy. Later on in the story, Henrietta’s two friends are willing to help her in her pursuit of Miles, even going so far as to camouflage themselves as bushes to spy on Miles riding out with another woman. However, while Penelope was always along for the ride, I didn’t see her as being supportive. She came along, but in every scene – tea at the Uppingtons’, a trip to the bookshop, and the hilarious disguise at Hyde Park – Penelope was always critical of Hen or Miles in some way. She really wasn’t pushing for this relationship, whereas Charlotte said she had always noticed their closeness over the years, and wasn’t surprised it would turn to love.

So, I asked myself, how did this friendship work? I think each personality brought something different to the relationship. Penelope’s daring attitude and willingness to take risks brought an exciting, adventurous spirit to the group. She had a flare for the dramatic and wasn’t shy about saying what she thought, whether it was sarcastic, flirtatious, or risqué. Henrietta seemed to me to be the most well-rounded of the three. She was confident, capable, humorous, and definitely possessed the charm to be entertaining and converse with anyone. However, she could also be sensitive – sensitive to Charlotte’s loneliness, Penelope’s carelessness, and sensitive to the point that her feelings could be hurt. Charlotte, while quiet, shy, and willing to stay in the background, was also observant, able to see things others did not. Perhaps this was because of her position so often in the background, never sure where she belonged. But Charlotte was also supportive and strong enough to be by her friends’ sides whenever they needed her. While Henrietta and Charlotte were the ones who often had to rein in Penelope, they could also imagine the excitement her escapades could bring. Henrietta could sense Charlotte’s loneliness and even asked Miles to dance with her, so her friend could enjoy an evening. Henrietta and Charlotte were a comfort to each other whenever needed. So, yes, this friendship worked. But what did future changes in their lives do to the friendship?

Fast forward to The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Charlotte and Penelope are together for the Christmas and New Years’ celebration at Girdings. Henrietta doesn’t arrive until a number of days later because she is now married. Penelope is as flirtatious as ever, attracting the attention of men she really doesn’t even like. She captures Turnip for several scenes including under the mistletoe and had already been on the balcony with him in Pink II. While Tommy Fluellen shows definite interest in Penelope, she is content to let this handsome man follow her around like a puppy dog with little acknowledgement because he is not of the proper social standing. While recognizing that most of the men there are a sorry excuse for “eligibles,” she nonetheless sets her cap on Lord Freddy. As for Charlotte’s interest in Robert, Penelope continues with her snide comments to the point of hurting Charlotte’s feelings – she wants Charlotte to live in the real world, and not envision a life with Robert, whom she feels is not truly interested in Charlotte. Once Henrietta arrives, she wants to hear everything and gives Charlotte support and encouragement for her feelings for Robert. She is Charlotte’s confidante. Both notice a change in Penelope, indicating that she has become wilder, taking chances that could get her into trouble. Penelope seems to feel that Hen has betrayed the trio by her marriage, and doesn’t act as close. There is even a hint of jealousy. Penelope’s actions finally lead to her being compromised by Lord Freddy. Penelope has risked her reputation, but her friends don’t desert her. Of course this sets up the next book, Penelope’s story.

So, what is the state of the friendship now? Will it survive, and what is the responsibility of each young woman in this relationship? Would you fit comfortably in this group of friends? Have you experienced any relationships like this? Sometimes it is harder for three to be friends than two.

My thoughts also went to the friendship in the modern story between Eloise and Pammy. Pammy is definitely the more domineering of the two. I know opposites attract, but I often wonder how Eloise puts up with Pammy. She seems to think Eloise’s life can’t be complete without a man, and is always pushing her to meet and date. Their personalities are different as well as their taste in clothes and men. Pammy is frequently changing boyfriends. Her idea of a relationship seems definitely different than Eloise’s. But, maybe Eloise just needs someone to keep pushing her so she can gain some confidence. Also, I am wondering if a comparison can be drawn between Charlotte’s and Henrietta’s friendship and Eloise’s and Pammy’s? Or perhaps Charlotte and Penelope with Eloise and Pammy? Again, I am interested in all of your opinions.

Hope you are enjoying The Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Let’s discuss chapters 8 – 16 on Friday and through the weekend!

Thank You

2014

Hi everyone!  I’ll be checking in tomorrow to kick off our Mistletoe read-along, but I wanted to post this quickly just to say THANK YOU.  Thank you for a wonderful 2014.

Thank you to my sweet family, friends, and husband who gamely followed along with the blog for the first few months while I got my feet underneath me.

Thank you to Lauren Willig, who writes such excellent books and inspired such a fun project.

Thank you to the Pink for All Seasons moderators and contributors for sharing your work with me and with everyone who comes to my blog.

And thank you to every single one of you who has followed my blog, entered a giveaway, shared a comment, or even just read a post.  You are all amazing, wonderful people, and I hope that 2015 will be very good to you.

Happy new year, y’all.  Let’s make it a great one.

Celebrate Banned Books Week

Banned Books

Did you know that this week is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week? Some people laugh when they hear a reference to banned books. They think, “Well, thank goodness we don’t do that anymore!” Here is the scary thing – communities may not be turning out to burn books in the town square these days, but there is still a surprisingly vocal contingent of people who want to ban books. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, there is currently a proposal in Virginia that would require parents to be notified if required reading in their children’s classes covered “sensitive” material. In Pennsylvania, teachers have been instructed to indicate if books in their classroom libraries contain “violence or sexual content” or “racial, ethnic, or religious material” that might be considered offensive. A local school board in Missouri has just removed Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five from their school libraries in response to a complaint that it contained “vulgar language, violence, and sexual content.” Banning books is still a VERY real thing in our world. The American Library Association provides a list on their website of the books that were most frequently challenged, restricted, removed, or banned in 2013 and 2014.

Last week, Hannah from the blog Things Matter extended an invitation to several book bloggers to choose a book from the ALA list of banned books and share a bit about why it’s an important or worthwhile read. Since I just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale a few weeks ago, that seemed like the perfect choice for me to write about today.

Since its publication in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has made regular appearances on national lists of banned books. It is typically challenged for the following reasons:

  • Explicit, lurid or sexual content
  • Profanity
  • Defamation of Christians and women

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s speculative fiction. Atwood’s story assumes that the United States government, in the near future, is overthrown by a totalitarian Christian regime. Everyone is forced to convert to the same denomination of Christianity – those who refuse are executed or deported. Men hold all positions of power exclusively, and all property that women owned before the revolution has reverted to their husband or closest male relative. Women are divided into three classes: Wives, Marthas (domestic servants), and Handmaids (mistresses for the purpose of childbearing). The story is narrated by Offred, although this isn’t really her name. She was married with a child before the revolution, but she has been separated from her family, and she is given the choice between exile and life as a Handmaid. “Offred” literally means “Of Fred,” and Fred is the name of the man she has been assigned to as a Handmaid. She has nothing of her own, no idea if her husband and child are dead or alive, and her every movement is closely watched, both by soldiers and spies for the government. The story is about Offred’s existence within the new world order, and the decision she must make to conform or rebel.

I have to tell you, this book made me uncomfortable. It’s not a happy story. It was strange, frequently disturbing, and hard to follow at times. But it was ENTIRELY worthwhile. The people who argue that it’s anti-Christian are those who have only read the back cover. Atwood is not presenting this futuristic world and saying, “See, this is what life would be like if Christians got their way.” The Handmaid’s Tale is not book that sets out to tear down Christianity – it’s a story about the dangers of fundamentalism in any form. It’s about the ways that good people with good intentions can go horribly wrong when they cling too literally to an ideal. It’s about the ways that we talk ourselves into things, and the ways that we rationalize our behavior to ourselves. Instead of forbidding students to read it, shouldn’t we be encouraging students to read it if they are interested and then talk to someone about it?

Even if The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, celebrate Banned Books Week with us! Pick up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, Charlotte’s Web, or any other book on the ALA’s list and appreciate the fact that you can read whatever you want.

I’ll wrap up today by sharing two of my favorite author responses to banned books. First, here is a video of Benedict Cumberbatch at the 2014 Letters Live event. He is reading a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to Charles McCarthy, the chairman of the Drake School Board in North Dakota, who ordered that all copies of Slaughterhouse Five be burned in the school’s furnace because it contained “obscene language.” Vonnegut responds to accusations that his work is evil by stating that, if his accusers bothered to read his books, they would see that they actually “beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are.” In his letter, Vonnegut is eloquent, severe, and absolutely right.

Second, here is a letter that Pat Conroy wrote in 2007 to the editor of the Charleston Gazette when he learned that a group of parents wanted to prevent a high school teacher in West Virginia from using Prince of Tides and Beach Music in her classroom. Conroy says that of all his books, these two are the ones that he would “place before the altar of God and say, ‘Lord, this is how I found the world you made.’” He makes a powerful argument for supporting English teachers and trusting that they will do no harm when they choose novels for their students to read.

Do you have a favorite banned book?