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Literature, Interrupted

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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

The offending article: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

A school in America has committed a cardinal sin of the literary world by tearing out pages of a classic piece of modern literature because it contained sexually explicit material.

Susanna Kaysen’s bestselling memoir Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a major motion picture starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, was judged inappropriate for students by the senior staff at New Rochelle High School, New York.

The story tells of the writer’s time in a psychiatric hospital. The incriminating scene is believed to be one in which a girl is encouraged to engage in oral sex, thus acting against hospital policy regarding sexual intercourse.

The pages were initially removed from the set texts in 2001. A member of staff teaching a 10th grade course in mental health and conformity decided the sexual content was not appropriate for pupils between 15 and 16 years of age.

The term ‘censorship’ was only used this year when the bowdlerised versions were used to teach 12th grade film students. When the amendments to the literature were made public there was widespread criticism from organisations, which promote and protect the freedom of expression and local residents alike.

Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression said: “This is a very glaring instance of censorship.”

“No kid reading that book is going to not notice that pages have been pulled out,” said Rebecca Zeidel, programme director of the Kids’ Right to Read project, a joint initiative between the ABFFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Zeidel is currently working on a formal response to the school on the issue.

Angry residents of New Rochelle have voiced their concerns on a local message board, describing the school’s actions as ‘a blatant attempt to keep US teenagers in the dark, something US schools appear to be notorious for’, and an act, which ‘takes us back to the Dark Ages’.

The local education board said it had not been told about the alteration and it has since instructed the school to replace the vandalised books.

Cindy Babcock Deutsch, president of the board, told guardian.co.uk: “Censorship is wrong and will not be allowed by the school district.”

In a statement Richard Organisciak, superintendent of schools, said the district would carry out a review of policy and practices on book selection following the upset.

“I certainly understand that the word ‘censorship’ can arouse strong public feelings, and is an issue to which public schools must be sensitive.

“At the same time, I think many people will agree that some material should not be endorsed, or made mandatory, in school curricula. I hope we can all recognise the context, namely, how do we expose students to a wide range of ideas, often provocative or disturbing, without exposing them to materials for which they may not be ready, or which their parents may find highly objectionable?”

The more alarming thing about this story is that it is not a unique occurrence.

“While this is a very glaring instance of censorship, we have hundreds of censorship challenges in schools every year,” said Finan.

Zeidel said the majority of censorship cases were on a local level rather than national: “It’s in red states and blue states [Republican and Democrat] – all over the country. To date there have been 45 titles in 15 states challenged this year, not including Girl, Interrupted… In most cases most books are challenged by a parent or student who will complain about a book.”

But she pointed out that a ban or the distribution of altered texts may have the opposite effect. “Booksellers will frequently see a rise in sales when a book is banned because people want to read it – they want to know why it’s banned.”

A sign of Middle American fear or actual concern for child wealth?

Watch the trailer to the Girl, Interrupted film below:

Discussion:
Should this kind of censorship be accepted? Can you think of any instances where this sort of thing is justified? No? Neither do we.

Words: Dean Samways

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Books of 2008 – The Scribbler Readers’ Poll

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Is Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk your book of the year?

Is Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk your book of the year?

As the 2008 slowly eases through its final chilly days and colder nights we wanted to ask you the question that has been on our lips since starting this humble blog.

What have been your books of 2008? As you hopefully saw earlier today, The Guardian has asked public figures but now we are asking you, the Great British fiction fan.

This year has been a healthy one for releases of great fiction but which have particularly enchanted you? Have there been any that have prompted moments of deep thought, a revelation, a tear, a smile, a giggle, a spell of nausea or, more interestingly, a great deal of self-reflection?

We’ve listed 2008’s most notable new novels (disclaimer: it’s not necessarily what we’ve enjoyed) to provide you with some inspiration. It’s out hope that this feature will generate lots of debate and discussion not only about the books of the year but also what makes a good piece of fiction. Uses the comments box accordingly.

So, come on then, what will it be?

The year in literature:

Watch Chuck Palahniuk interview the protagonist of his book Snuff, porn priestess Cassie Wright below:

Discussion:
Come on then? What was your favourite book of 2008 and why? Why that book and not another? We want a full blown discussion going on.

Words: Dean Samways

Mafia boss grandfather inspiration for first novel

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The Grandfather Clause by Phil Genovese

The Grandfather Clause by Phil Genovese

Speaking to Reuters, author Phil Genovese revealed he took little pride in his family’s criminal connections.

Despite his resentment the grandson of mob boss Vito ‘Don Vito’ Genovese has managed to turn his childhood memories and experiences into fiction in his first outing into the publishing world.

His debut, the self-published novel The Grandfather Clause was 10 years in the making, mostly down to the fact that he only wrote the book’s material on Sunday afternoons when he was able to sneak away from family.

The book focuses on a New Jersey boy who eagerly looks forward to his grandfather’s visits but later learns that his elderly relative is the leader of a New York crime family. Further into the book the now adult protagonist finds he had to penetrate his grandfather’s world.

Genovese was actually brought by an accountant mother and father in Jersey and has only sparse memories of his grandfather, the Genovese crime family boss, who passed away in prison at the age of 71 in 1969.

The full interview is included below:

Q: When did you start to write?

A: “I am in my mid-50s and started out thinking some day I may like to write a book but I came out of school not really knowing what I wanted to do and ended up being an executive in a mobile transportation company. In 1996 I bought the first family computer and thought maybe this could enable me to write.”

Q: Is it autobiographical?

A: “Not really. I had built a story in my head over the years commuting in the car about someone like me with an infamous grandfather who led his father’s life rather than his grandfather’s but had an occurrence that caused him for a brief period to go back to his grandfather’s world.”

Q: It took 10 years to finish. Did you enjoy it?

A: “I can’t make a living from it but it brings me some peace and enjoyment. I published the book with an online publisher so I still own the rights to this book. I went the traditional route and secured two agents along the way and got the usual slew of rejection letters and an offer from a big publisher but the advance was very light and not a lot of promotion. They tend to focus on the big-selling authors. It’s a very crowded market with about 200,000 books published a year.”

Q: Does your name help with publicity?

A: “My last name does get me engagements. People think I will tell them some dark secrets about the mafia. But I was just nine years old when my grandfather went to jail.”

Q: Did your father mind you writing the book?

A: “My parents were supportive. I respect the work my father has done in his life and the sacrifices he has made to redistinguish our family name. From a young age he separated himself from his father and opened an accountancy practice and went on to become a member of the town council. All his good and hard work was built on his reputation and not on his father’s.”

Q: How did you view your heritage?

A mugshot of Don Vito Genovese

A mugshot of Don Vito Genovese

A: “Growing up we were always cognitive of it and tried to tread a certain line. We never denied our heritage but it is not something we are proud of. Am I taking advantage of it with the book? Perhaps, but only to sell my book and get people to read it. If we count up all the ugly and painful moments in my family’s life they are all related to my grandfather. Schoolyard fights, prejudice in the job market were all directly attributed to his legacy and the stain he left on the Genovese name.”

Q: What do you remember about your grandfather?

A: “We’d go to his house at noon and he was just getting up. They had a night life. I remember him being well dressed, in a tie a lot. You always knew there was something going on with him in the special way people referred to him and the whispering.”

Q: Have you had much reaction to the book?

A: “There has been strange emails from people saying we are related and saying Vito was my father. When I mention this to my father he says: “Who knows?.” In the start I would always give them a response saying I was not aware of anything but not now.”

Q: And you are working on your second book?

A: “It is called The Termination Clause. Some of the characters continue into the second book but I have created a new protagonist. It is like this book in that it has a core plot involving the mafia but there are other things too.”

Q: What is your advise to other aspiring writers?

A: “I would suggest carving out hours of the day to write and recommend you do the same thing for trying to get published or promoting a book. I decided to do online publishing as I wanted to get the book out and move on. Maybe the second book will be picked up and become a bestseller. Dozens of authors self-published their first book.”

If The Grandfather Clause reads anything like The Godfather film begins we’re in for a treat:

Discussion:
What’s your favourite crime novel? Does the literary world need another mobster book? What makes a great crime thriller?

Words: Dean Samways.