Sunday marked the beginning of the annual Banned Books Week in the U.S., a project created by "a national alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read." The program was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. In case you may wonder if it's still relevant today, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, according to the American Library Association.
Because it's estimated that over half of all banned books are by authors of color or contain events and issues concerning diverse communities, this year Banned Books Week will celebrate literature written by diverse writers that has been banned or challenged, as well as explore why diverse books are being disproportionately singled out in the first place.
Individual books showcased during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read, most of these books still remained available.
Mystery Loves Company Booksellers in Oxford, Maryland, will celebrate its 25th birthday this year, which owner and co-founder Kathy Harig is commemorating with a party and book signing on July 4 reaturing author Fran White. The store, which opened in 1991 in Baltimore before moving to its present site in 2006, offers books on the Eastern Shore’s history, flora and fauna, and fiction for all ages, as well as an in-depth collection of mysteries, both new and gently used in hardback and paperback. The store also supports mystery authors throughout the mid-Atlantic with signings and by sponsoring special mystery events, as well as offering a monthly email newsletter of events, recommendations and new mystery titles. Even if you can't make it to the store in person, it recently added an online ordering system, so order a book today as a thank you and birthday tribute.
The Killer Nashville conference has been expanding each year and become one of the premiere events on the calendar for crime fiction fans. This year, organizers are offering two free scholarship opportunities for writers who want to attend but may not have the financial means. Winners will receive funds towards registration, breakout sessions, writing critique sessions, and lodging. If you're interested in either the Lisa Jackson Scholarship or Jimmy Loftin Memorial Scholarship, write a 500-word essay that describes your financial need and why you'd like to attend the conference. Anyone is eligible to enter (traditionally or independently published or unpublished), but you must apply by July 1 for the Jackson award and July 31 for the Loftin award.
Killer Nashville takes place August 18-21, 2016, and is being held at the Embassy Suites Nashville South Cool Springs. This year's Guest of Honors are Janet Evanovich and Kevin O'Brien, with other featured guests to include 2016 John Seigenthaler Recipient Robert Randisi as well as Anne Perry and William Kent Krueger. Registration is now open for anyone who wishes to attend, and I should also note that there is a discounted conference fee for members of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
On May 21, the American Library Association (ALA) and Penguin Random House will join to support the second annual National Readathon Day, which is dedicated to fostering reading at an early age and building community and participation at local libraries. Last year's effort raised $100,000 for the National Book Foundation and its efforts to deliver books to underserved communities.
The 2016 celebration is part of the ALA’s "Libraries Transform" campaign, and all funds raised will go to benefit the ALA’s "Every Child Ready to Read" initiative, a program that supports early literacy development—from birth to age five—through libraries.
"There are more library locations in the US than Starbucks, Walmarts and McDonald’s combined," noted Skip Dye, Penguin Random House’s vice president of library marketing and digital sales. Dye added, "The power of the library is to reflect, honor and evolve the communities which they serve. Reading together as a community, as a family, is a power change agent."
This is Banned Books Week in the U.S., although the problem of censorship remains a problem throughout the world. Banned Book Week has hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country drawing attention to the problem by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. According to the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, plus there were 311 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2014, with many more going unreported.
How can you help? For one, buy a banned book! The official BBW website has a list of the most-challenged titles of 2014. For a list of the events being held in your area, check this link, organized by state. There are also online events you can participate in, and various resources for more ways you can help in an ongoing fashion and get more information.
As the character of Stephen Hopkins, the representative from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress, declared in the movie 1776, "I've never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yes, I'm for debating anything!"
Authors and publishers are contributing to campaigns to help the Syrian refugees, with a special focus on the children. Young adult authors Patrick Ness, Suzanne Collins and Kenneth Oppel (and many more) in the UK were joined by publishers including HarperCollins, Egmont, and Hachette UK in raising funds for Save the Children. They recently passed the $1 million mark, but are still open to donations via the official fundraising website (donations are accepted in UK pounds, but credit card companies do automatic conversions).
In Canada, children's authors and illustrators, spearheaded by Robin Stevenson and Sarah Harvey, started a campaign for Doctors Without Borders to assist with the children of refugees. In less than two weeks, they reached their goal of raising $20,000, but they are still taking contributions through October 12. Although they are focusing their outreach on the Canadian children's literature community, they stress that anyone is welcome to donate. For more information, check out their site at canadahelps.org.
In the U.S., author Patrick Rothfuss operates the charity Worldbuilders and has set up a campaign for refugees there. You'll have to hurry on that one, since it's only open to donations through tomorrow. Funds will be distributed to Mercy Corps to provide food, clothing, clean water, medical care, and education for children of refugees.
Also in the UK, Benedict Cumberbatch (of the BBC's Sherlock) recorded the intro for a charity single to raise funds for refugees fleeing Syria and other war zones. The single is available for download now from iTunes, and a 7-inch vinyl version will be released September 28 in the United Kingdom, with a previously unreleased B-side. To contribute, you can purchase and download the single, which is a re-release of the Crowded House tune "Help is Coming."
Crime fiction is growing in popularity around the world, and the recent burst of Scandinavian crime fiction on the bestseller lists is yet another marker of that growth. So it only makes sense that the academic world is taking notice, spearheaded in Europe by the International Crime Fiction Group based at Queen’s University of Belfast. The group brings together scholars from disciplines such as literature, film studies and cultural history in a series of initiatives to study various aspect of the genre.
Recently, they sponsored a symposium at the British Library titled "Towards a Digital Atlas of European Crime Fiction?", investigating how to harvest the catalogs of the 48 European national libraries to analyze the transnational spread of crime fiction (including books, covers, authors, films, etc.) with the help of maps and graphs. Hopefully, this will not only help the libraries involved create virtual as well as physical exhibitions based on their collections, including book covers and illustrations, it will benefit crime fiction authors, too, thanks to online resources coming soon.
There's already a strong scholarly crime fiction presence in Europe, including such institutions as the Library of Crime Literature (Bilipo) a Parisian public library exclusively concerned with crime-themed publications (which journalist Brad Spurgeon discusses in this blog post). And, if you happen to be in London early this summer, check out the London exhibition "Forensics: The anatomy of crime" at the Wellcome Collection through June 21.
There are more than 25,000 Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and in 75 other countries around the globe. What are Little Free Libraries, you ask? They are neighborhood book exchanges, where free books are housed in small containers and made available to members of the local community (much as the picture above demonstrates).
The Little Free Library concept was begun by Wisconsin's Todd Bol, who mounted a wooden container designed to look like a school house on a post on his lawn as a tribute to his mother, a book lover and school teacher. And now, as the movement celebrates its third birthday, the Little Free Library project has organized a Kickstarter project to help raise funds "to double and deepen our impact and build 50,000 Little Free Libraries by 2017."
With the Kickstarter funds, the group's goals include the following:
Install hundreds more Little Free Libraries that 'kick start" brighter futures for thousands of children through the power of literacy.
Water book deserts - rural or urban areas where books are difficult to access or afford.
Help teachers provide books to their students that they can take home to enjoy and build their reading skills during summer and year-round.
Provide police departments with Libraries of Understanding that will help them engage with youths and encourage them to read.
Positively impact at least 100 communities through the power of reading.
The Kickstarter campaign only has eight days left to go and as of this writing, has funded less than half of its relatively modest $50,000 goal. You can make a contribution as little as $3 to help, of if you happen to have a lot of cash on hand, a pledge of $5,000 or more will help sponsor 20 libraries and get your name/logo on plaques on 10 Little Free Libraries.
Last year, the California Bookstore Day celebrating indie bookstores was such a huge success that the project is going bigger in 2015. This Saturday, May 2, Independent Bookstore Day will include 400 indie bookstores across the U.S. participating in the inaugural national event. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north will be celebrating their first Authors for Indies Day.
The U.S. organizations put it this way as to why they think the event is important:
Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.
Indie bookstores, whether dusty and labyrinthine or clean and well-lighted, are not just stores, they are solutions. They hold the key to your love life, your career, and your passions. Walking the aisles of a good bookstore means stumbling upon a novel from India that expands your heart. It’s encountering an art book that changes the direction of your life. It’s the joy of having a perfect stranger steer you toward the perfect book.
In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism. They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.
We are blessed here in the greater Washington D.C. area with several terrific indie bookstores like Mystery Loves Company, One More Page, Politics & Prose and Kramerbooks and Afterwards Cafe. Check out the event website links at the top of this post for the participating bookstores and authors near you and stop by this Saturday. Help support your local stores and your favorite authors at the same time.