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Happy Banned book week.

Every year the American Library Association records hundreds of attempts by groups and individuals to remove books from schools and libraries. Groups try to ban books–get them off the shelves so they can’t be read–for a variety of reasons, some of the most popular reasons being “sexually explicit,” “offensive language,” and “unsuited to age group.”

Both new books and classics are challenged each year. Both “Catcher and the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” English class staples, made the 2009 most frequently challenged book list alongside the Twilight series, The TTYL series, and many others. Most of the books are kidlit/YA lit or books teens read in school.

The list of frequently challenged classics is always my favorite list to peruse.

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. Toklas 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

How many of them have you read? I’ve read 31, most as school assignments. Even H.G. Wells is on the list. I think it’s ironic that “1984” is on the list–someone tried to censor a book about book censorship.

The purpose of banned book week is to let people know that even in this day and age, censorship still exists in America. The first amendment is still questioned. During this week we try to get the word out that banning books is censorship, pure and simple, and it’s wrong.

So what will you do to celebrate banned book week?

I think I’m going to read some H.G. Wells.

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Dear Reader,

I would like to begin by saying while I revel in the science and enjoy the Victorian splendor that is in today’s steampunk, I find that there is often something missing…and it’s not steam…it’s steaminess.

Now before you get your bustle in an uproar, take a look at some of the most celebrated authors of other science fiction and action genres, like James Rollins, Michael Crichton and James Patterson. More often that not, they include some relationship (dare I say romantic) element between their characters within the context of the story. And while steampunks are full of science and fantasy elements, I believe they would benefit from a heavier dose of the relationship aspects between the characters.

Why? Because it’s human nature to be interested in the human condition. That’s part of what makes even dystopian fiction possible. There’s been a long-standing tradition among those in the science-fiction genre that says too much steaminess in a story somehow lowers its quality. Why?

After all, when you read a book, is it simply because that character has the coolest raygun in existence, or is it because you actually are curious what will happen to the character once he shoots said raygun and mayhem errupts?

When you meet a couple, do you ask how they met, or do you want to know how often they polish their brass buttons on their captain’s jacket to get them to gleam so well?

Part of the reason I adore Gail Carriger’s steampunk Parasol Protectorate series is because of the relationship between her main characters. The first book especially got me hooked because there was an attraction between Alexa Tarbotti and Lord Macon that was nothing if not steamy.

While the Victorian era was indeed a little more straight-laced about the kinds of affections that could be touted in public, we must remember that this is steampunk. Perhaps being a little steamier requires us to be a little more punk about our perceptions of the era and let those relationships out in the open.

After all, if a woman can wear her undergarments on the outside without steampunk social circles batting an eyelash, why should we not have more steaminess in our steampunk stories? What do you think? Are you for more steam in your steampunk or not? 

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Steampunk for everyone?

Is Steampunk for everyone?

Not everyone gets Steampunk.

Does that mean that they couldn’t eventually get or enjoy Steampunk?

Yes, I think they can.

The very reason why is also the reason why I love Steampunk–the sheer depth and breadth of the genre.

Not everyone might enjoy writing–or reading–Steampunk. But Steampunk extends so much further then just the written word.

Also, just because I don’t knit doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy handknitted things. Of course, it also means I don’t like every hat someone knits. I have to figure out what I like.

The same things goes for Steampunk.

Maybe they’d be inspired by the sounds of Clockwork Cabaret or Abney Park.

Perhaps it’s the handcrafted jewerly that has them scouring Etsy for the newest creations or flocking to flea markets for broken pocket watches to male their own. There’s more than jewelry–there’s tatted lace, tiaras made of clockhands, and hats.

Oh the hats.

Someone who loves hats–the bowler or the derby or even the cloche–might appreciate the simply elegance of a grey silk top hat or a black derby festooned with feathers and a small veil.

The fashion of Steampunk can be spectacular. Someone who’d always loved Victorian elegance, the rustle of silk, the bounce of the bustle, wide ball gowns worn over a hoop, is bound to find something among the many made to order and off the rack Steampunk fashions. They might even get inspired to sew their own.

Steampunk even has art, everything from big-eyed faeries to sweeping scapes.

Don’t even get me started in the science and technology. That’s the heart of Steampunk. Build a difference engine or a raygun (it’s okay of it doesn’t work). Rip the keys off your keyboard and replace them with typewriter keys (or buy one.) Steampunk your car.

Every single one of these holds variations from lowbrown to classy. The possibilities are endless. I’ve only began to touch on the many facets of Steampunk.

So, yes, Steampunk really has something for everyone.

You just have to look.

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Another important issue came up during the Steampunk panel I was part of at the RWA 2010 National Conference in Orlando–the darker side of Steampunk.

It can be very tempting to idealize and sanitize the Victorian era in our Steampunk stories. Depending on your world building, this approach could work. But the Victorian era wasn’t all balls and bustles and where I’m not saying we should scrap any sort of idealism, I’m saying that we shouldn’t always gloss over the grit.

The Victorian era could be a dirty, smelly, place full of illness, poverty and despair. There was colonialism, imperialism, classism, child labor, and the oppression of women, among other things. Depending on the particulars of your story, many of the darker issues during that time can add dimension and grit to your world, plot, and characters, not to mention bring up some of the very real obstacles those who lived during that era faced. That’s not to say that you couldn’t play with these concepts, just like we play with everything else when writing any sort of alternate history, but it’s also important to not forget these themes in addition to the usual ones we’ve embraced so heartily.

These themes can bring up interesting plots and subplots, taking the reader into places they have never been and allow them to explore issues they may not have thought of before. What would it be like to have your village invaded…or to be the invader but not sure of the cause? What was it like to be a doctor at a charity hospital, to work in a factory, or live in a slum?

It cause also allow us to meet new characters from varied backgrounds who also have stories that need to be told. Who knows what the conquered child might become when they grow up and what lengths they may go to for revenge. What could a simple act of kindness–or acts of cruelly or antipathy–ignite under the right conditions? What of the street sparrow, the night flower, or the child who toils in the factory to feed their family? What was it like to be an actress, a seamstress, or a member of the fallen gentry?

Like with anything else, you don’t need to necessary force these concepts into a story for the sake of inclusion, but it’s good to be aware of them. Don’t think you have to shy away from the darker side of Steampunk. Who knows what stories could these characters tell or what they could they teach the other characters…and us?

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