Wednesday, September 30, 2009

banned books week!

Support the First Amendment, Read a Banned Book
according to presidential proclamation, next month we can celebrate National School Lunch Week and National Forest Products Week. i really can't restrain myself; the excitement is just too much.

but perhaps more relevantly to my passions and career aspirations, apparently we're right smack-dab in the middle of Banned Books Week, a time when Amnesty International, the American Library Association, and the publishing world seek to remind us of the power language and literature, even--perhaps especially--books we may perceive as dangerous, to awaken us and transform us for the better.

check out the First Amendment First Aid Kit at Random House
here, which includes suggestions for dialoging about free speech and a list of "banned" books. in the United States, these books aren't banned in a technical sense--you can still purchase them on Amazon or find them in many libraries--but they are banned in a regional sense; there are some libraries where these books are intentionally not stocked, where librarians lose their jobs over the decision to fight for shelf-space. and here are some examples of banned books: house of spirits (isabel allende), fahrenheit 451 (ray bradbury), da vinci code (dan brown), the things they carried (tim o'brien), a prayer for owen meany (john irving)...

PS per anna alter at, Random House will send a free banned or challenged book (while supplies last) to anyone who posts the graphic or blogs about Banned Books Week. tell them about it at

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

if i were discussing this book: jesus girls

a friend recently emailed me to inquire about my personal thoughts regarding jesus girls (buy the book here!), a book that my friends at cascade books recently published and a book that i helped edit and have been actively marketing on facebook.

i had the sense that she wanted something more than the back-of-the-book blurb (which is actually quite good and rather apropos to the book) or the glowing publisher's weekly review, and so i attempted to avoid pure promotional speak. i don't know that i succeeded, but here's what i said:

Personally, this is the coolest project I've ever worked on. To some extent, editing psychiatric genetic research is rewarding, because some of the things I work on may help lead to a cure or otherwise improve people's lives. That's pretty cool, but the writing itself is dry and makes no attempt to create meaning for readers. My work at THE OTHER JOURNAL is much more interesting--I get to edit theology essays, social justice articles, and poems; I get to work on writing that speaks truth to people's lives.

But JESUS GIRLS moves beyond those mediums (well, perhaps not poetry, but that's another story). JG is a collection of what you might call creative nonfiction or personal essays. Like good fiction, these essays creatively propel readers to an unconscious empathy, to see the world from someone else's shoes, and perhaps to reconsider our own lives. I've wanted to work with creative nonfiction (and novels) for a long time, so helping Hannah (the book's primary editor) edit these essays has been a very fulfilling experience.

Now, more particularly, as its title suggests, JG is a collection of reflections about growing up evangelical. What's unique about JG--and I can imagine this turning some readers off--is that it's not your typical account of growing up evangelical. That is, if you go to a Christian bookstore, you'll probably find books that closely follow the lost-and-then-found formula of conversion; if you go to a secular bookstore, you'll probably find books that blame their evangelical childhood for all of their problems as an adult. Instead, JG gathers essays from women who are still evangelical, women who now belong to other Christian denominations, and women who no longer consider themselves Christians. And so JG aims to be authentic and honest about Christian culture, about the struggles, rewards of faith, and about real-life experiences in the church.

You asked what I think about the book, and I'm guessing that you're curious about more than my biased opinion that the essays are very powerful and well-written--as an evangelical, I think it's important that we read and write this kind of literature, that we avoid sugarcoating the truth or parading a testimony that isn't really our own, that we ask the important questions JG suggests. I think it's important that we acknowledge that our church is both broken and beautiful, and that we take the liberty to honestly consider these things. JG does these things, and this may strike some as Christianity-negative, but I definitely don't see it that way.

I'm excited that you might buy the book, and I'd love to hear what you think of it.


to learn more about jesus girls, come to our launch party this thursday! MHGS, 2501 Elliot Ave, Seattle, WA, from 7PM to 10PM--free food, drinks, and readings (including sara zarr and hannah notess!).