Storytellers have a gift. A gifted storyteller weaves her tale of life and issues and conundrums through characters with whom we can relate. At the end of the story we’ve not only learned something about an issue, but we’ve gained some insight about ourselves.

Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller and I think she achieves her goal to get her reader to think about big issues and the conundrums that go along with them in her latest bestseller, The Storyteller. She tackles the big issue of good and evil against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Can you participate in something really horrific and still wipe away the stain? If you consider yourself a good person, what would tip you over to doing something bad? What does it mean to be a non-practicing religious person in making moral decisions? To what lengths will we go for self-preservation? And forgiveness; is it our responsibility or moral obligation to forgive? Can we forgive?

Storytelling is the compelling mechanism of the many storytellers in this book. Minka’s fictional story is woven among her real story and serves as a touchstone of hope as she and her family suffer through the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent imprisonment at Auschwitz. She is the lone survivor of her family and friends.

Sage’s, Minka’s granddaughter, story becomes intertwined with Josef, a former-German officer at Auschwitz. Josef’s story gradually unfolds and we discover the shared threads of lives across generations and cultures. The lurking question always remains: What would I do when asked?

The Storyteller is a work of fiction, but that only intensifies the real story upon which this story is based. We think of the Holocaust as a Jewish issue and part of Jewish history, but it’s really a human rights issue. Six million Jews were exterminated, but five million non-Jews also perished. It’s part of our shared human history. We have to ask ourselves if we’ve really learned anything since the Holocaust since genocide is still happening and we still continue to turn a blind eye as millions of people are displaced and murdered.

Interestingly, I am writing this blog post on January 27, 2014. It is the 69th anniversary since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Red Army.

Fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Secrets, lies, stories. We all tell them. Sometimes, because we hope to entertain. Sometimes, because we need to distract.

And sometimes, because we have to. ~ Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

Banned Books

The Hunger Games

Mr. Vosovic was my literature teacher my freshman year in high school. I loved that class.  We read books that still regularly make it to the banned books list. There wasn’t a Banned Books Week when I was in school, but there was talk about the books we read as not being appropriate for high school-aged kids. Personally, I think if students knew the books they were required to read were on the banned list, those covers would be cracked open!

For the past 30 years, the last week of September has been set aside as Banned Books Week. The goal is to highlight the benefits of intellectual freedom, drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting books that are or have been banned, as well those books where banning has been attempted. I guess the fight for intellectual freedom and access to literature will continue as long as there are people who want to control.

Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels is a list of what’s considered the top 100 novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library board. The list is below. Those titles and authors that are bolded, are known to either have been banned or attempted to be banned at one time. To find out the reason for these books being banned or challenged, check out Banned and/Or Challenged Books.

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses by James Joyce
  7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  9. 1984 by George Orwell
  10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  13. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  25. Song of  Solomon by Toni Morrison
  26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  27. Native Son by Richard Wright
  28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  38. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
  39. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  40. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  41. Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
  42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  51. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  52. Howards End by E.M. Forster
  53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  57. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  59. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  61. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  64. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  66. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  68. Light in August by William Faulkner
  69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
  70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  72. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  75. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
  76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
  77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
  78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Tokias by Gertrude Stein
  79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  85. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  87. The Bostonians by Henry James
  88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  93. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
  99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  100. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

I was surprised that I’ve read all 46 of the challenged titles and 96 of the 100 books on the list! How many have you read?

If you’re interested in what books have made the banned and challenged lists for the 21st century, check out the American Library Association’s site. You might be surprised by some of the books on the 2011 list. To tempt you to go look, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and To Kill a Mockingbird are two books on that list!


Home Front

Home Frontamazon

I finished reading Home Front by Kristin Hannah last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Yes, it’s fiction and yes, it’s written for a female audience, but the topic is something all of us need to be thinking about. This is a story that impacts all of us. It’s a gripping and emotional read.

The story is about an Blackhawk pilot Army Reservist who is also a wife and mother. Real life is happening in her marriage and with her preteen daughter when she, and her best friend, are deployed to Iraq. That’s all I’m going to say about the story because I want you to experience it for yourself in all of it’s raw reality.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been raging for more than ten years. Many of us know individuals and families whose lives have been impacted forever by these wars. More soldiers are surviving horrific injuries than in previous wars. More women have been sent to war than ever before. More Reservists have been sent to active war zones for repeated tours than ever before. There is incredible support for returning vets, however no one’s really prepared for what’s really needed for them and their families when they return home.

The messy and brutal effects of war linger long after the battles are fought and everyone has returned home. War is costly, but the real cost has yet to be determined. How do you quantify the sacrifice and adjustments for experiences and wounds that only a handful will know?

That’s the value and power of Home Front. We’re drawn into a story that we can relate to with people we may know. We’re there as the intimate and agonizing decisions are made We’re witnesses to the struggle and courage that are summoned from deep within. We’re given the glimpse of a recovery process yet to be fulfilled. Most of all, we’re given a parting gift as we finish the final pages of the book: we’re changed.

Emily and Einstein

Emily and Einsteinamazon

When I decided to add recommended reading to this blog, I naturally assumed the books I’d recommend would be serious reads. Who knows why I thought that. Certainly no one really cares. This book, however, is definitely Eternal Scheme genre.

I was scouring the library for enough books to hold me over for the Labor Day weekend. I was excited to find a couple of new books that might fit the just-entertain-me bill. Friday night I settled in with Emily and Einstein. What a delightful surprise! Not only was this book enjoyable, there was an underlying message of hope and redemption…definitely eternal scheme material!

The story catches you right from the beginning. You’re drawn into a tragedy that could happen to any of us. Then, as if the tragedy itself isn’t enough, Emily is forced to face an ugly reality about her husband. Of course, those kinds of realities are also about ourselves, so Emily has to dig deep herself.

Linda Francis Lee mixes the perfect amount of intensity and humor to keep us completely engaged into story. Her dead-husband-embodied-in-a-dog’s-body, also has a chance to redeem himself. Lee does a superb job of taking the histories of each of the characters, keeping them real, letting us peek into their choices, revealing that there is hope and redemption for all of us who are willing.

Caleb’s Crossing

Caleb's Crossingamazon

I love historical fiction. In the hands of a skillful author, a little shard of history can be woven into story that breathes life into what life was about in that time and place. When we think of history has being nothing more than the everyday events of someone’s life woven together with other everyday events of someone else’s life, we have a plausible reality upon which our lives today emerge.

Did you know that the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College was in the class of 1665? And that he was from the Wampanoag tribe on what we now know of as Martha’s Vineyard?

Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks takes this fascinating historical tidbit and fills in the blanks from the writings from the island’s Puritan preacher and Wampanoag lore to tell the story of Caleb. The story is told in the voice of the preacher’s daughter, Bethia, who strains against the restrictions and roles for her gender.

This wonderful historical story resonates with the history of our own lives. It’s timeless. And if we’re willing to open our hearts and minds, we can see our own 21st century narrative in its pages.

Thursday bonus: Author Geraldine Brooks shares how she came upon Caleb and her inspiration for this book.

Email subscribers may need to go to the Eternal Scheme website to view the video.