Monthly Archives: September 2011

Friday Fives: Favorite Banned Books

Three blog posts in one day?! How wild and wacky can I get! Well, I couldn’t pass this one up. Paper Hangover is asking people to write about their five favorite banned books. Those of you who have been following my blog all week know that I’ve blogged on a banned book each day since Saturday. So, what I will do is pick five from the ones I’ve blogged on. And they are (aside from the first) in no particular order:

  • The Bible. Of course. I’m a Christian, and I would be remiss if I didn’t list this one!
  • Harry Potter. Like it or not, this series is destined to become a classic. I discussed my journey into Potter in the comments on the Twilight series.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the best novels ever written, in my humble opinion. When I was first told to read it, I was 14, and I told my English teacher it was boring (I read the first page). He told me that was a philistine remark. I read it last year, and he was right. And I was so so wrong.
  • The Lord of the Rings. A classic series, and deservedly so. What can I say? It takes a while to read and digest, but like any good meal, when your done, you feel like you’ve eaten something substantial.
  • For number 5, you’ll have to wait… check back tomorrow morning. It’s a relative newcomer to the banned books list, but I enjoyed it.

Neon Lights in the Grocery Store

Last Thursday, my wife and I were on a date in the grocery store. Yes, when you have six children, any time you and your spouse have time alone, it’s a date. Anyway, we were making our way down the aisles toward the refrigerated section to get a gallon of milk when I stopped dead in my tracks. Now, being one who is musically inclined, it’s not unusual for me to notice what’s playing on the in-store music system. But normally it’s some top 40 hit I’ve never heard of (I’m at the age where my teenage daughters keep me up-to-date on stuff like that) and I just ignore it and get on with my business. This time was different. “Hang on a minute,” I said to my wife. “I know that song… but surely not! Not in the Harris Teeter!” I listened carefully, and sure enough. It was “Neon Lights,” a song originally recorded by a German group called Kraftwerk back in 1978. Most people outside of Europe have never heard of Kraftwerk, beside the fact they were pioneers of synth pop/techno music, an influence that is still felt today on both sides of the Atlantic. Kraftwerk’s sound is very distinctive–minimalist, plunky synths, drums that sound like hitting a bag of potato chips… not what you would expect of grocery store music.

As I listened more carefully (while picking up the milk, I hasten to add–we didn’t have all night), I realized that this was not the original Kraftwerk version. It had been a loooong time since I’d heard the song, but I was pretty sure this was a cover version. As if my world hadn’t been rocked enough with the thought that a grocery store would be playing Kraftwerk, now I was grappling with the concept that someone had actually covered this obscure little tune!

Since that adventure, I have done some YouTube research, and–I kid you not–I believe the version I heard in the grocery store was a cover version by U2. Yes… Bono, The Edge… that U2! And it seems Simple Minds and OMD have also done cover versions of the song!

Anyhow, I wanted to share this moment with you. And for those who would like to get into that grocery store moment with me, here is the video to the edited version of “Neon Lights” by Kraftwerk (the full-length version is about 8 mins long). And for the intensely curious, here’s the U2 version of the same song.

Happy Friday! 🙂

Banned Book Profile: The Harry Potter Series

For our next installment of books, or book series, that, you might be surprised to learn, have been banned, challenged, or otherwise censured by groups or organizations since publication, I’m highlighting the phenomenon that is Harry Potter (and yes, I know I’ve shown the US editions–frankly I prefer the cover design of the US editions over the UK editions). If you have absolutely no idea who or what Harry Potter is, I suggest you read the Wikipedia article (and while you’re at it, you may be interested to check out this article, this article, and this article–just to get you up-to-speed on what’s been happening in pop culture while you’ve been asleep). For a series of books that contain very little profanity (or none at all, depending on how broadly you define “profanity”), contain no sex or sexual innuendo (unless you consider kissing to fall into that category, in which case you might want to read this article), and promote courage, love, and good-conquering-evil, it seems strange to think it has come under so much condemnation. I suppose the volume of criticism is proportional to the success of the books, but what has got people so fired up over a set of MG/YA books that are actually pretty tame by today’s YA standards?


Title: Harry Potter Series
Author: J. K. Rowling
First Published: 1997-2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (UK); Arthur A. Levine Books (US)

Where/When/Why Banned or Challenged (from

This is just a sample of the numerous challenges to the series:

  • In 2001, the books were challenged in Bend, Oregon; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Salamanca, New York; Whittier, California; Pace, Florida; Arab, Alabama; Fresno, California; Bristol, New Hampshire; and Ontario, Canada for dealing in “witchcraft, the occult, promoting violence, and being “scary.” The books were also restricted to students with parental permission in Santa Fe, Texas for endorsing witchcraft.
  • In 2002, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was burned in New Mexico as “a masterpiece of satanic deception” and challenged for encouraging “lying, cheating, stealing, and witchcraft.”
  • In 2003, its removal was sought by a teacher’s prayer group at a Russell Springs, Kentucky high school for dealing with ghosts, cults, and witchcraft. It was also challenged in Moscow, Russia, by a Slavic cultural organization that alleged the stories about magic and wizards could entice students into Satanism.
  • In 2004, a federal judge overturned restricted access to the books after parents of a Cedarville, Arkansas fourth-grader filed a federal lawsuit challenging the school’s restricted-access policy, seeking to have it thrown out completely. The book was originally challenged because it characterized authority as “stupid” and portrayed “good witches and good magic.” It was also challenged, but retained, in the New Haven, Connecticut schools despite claims the series “makes witchcraft and wizardry alluring to children.”
  • In 2007, the Gwinnett County, Georgia, school board rejected a parent’s pleas to take Harry Potter books out of the school libraries. The Georgia Board of Education ruled on December 14, 2006, that the parent had failed to prove her contention that the series “promotes the Wiccan religion, and therefore that the book’s availability in public schools does not constitute advocacy of a religion.” On May 29, 2007, Superior Court judge Ronnie Batchelor upheld the Georgia Board of Education’s decision. That same year, they were removed from the St. Joseph School in Wakefield, Massachusetts, because the themes of witchcraft and sorcery were “inappropriate for a Catholic school.”
  • In 2010, a Salvation Army post in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, refused to take donations of Harry Potter items because they “promote black magic and the occult.”

Punctuation Saves Lives!

It’s possible some of my readers are not also readers of Janet Reid’s blog (shame on you!). For those people, Ms. Reid posted this today. She got it from Tawna Fenske’s blog. It made me laugh, so I had to share. In fact, I think every homeschooling parent should print this out and affix it to their children’s bedroom wall as a constant reminder:

There’s also a picture on Tawna’s post that demonstrates quite, um, vividly why I prefer to use the so-called Oxford comma. Check it out. 🙂

Banned Book Profile: Twilight

Another book, or book series, that, you might be surprised to learn, has been banned, challenged, or otherwise censured by groups or organizations since publication. I’ve not read the Twilight series myself, but I know what it’s about, and I know feelings about it run from the Harry-Potter-like fanatical, to the my-three-year-old-nephew-could-have-written-better disdainful. Most of the latter category, though, wouldn’t be calling for the series to be banned, unlike the groups listed below.


Title: Twilight
Author: Stephenie Meyer
First Published: 2005-2008
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.

Where/When/Why Banned or Challenged (from

  • In September 2008, the Twilight books were temporarily removed from and then later returned to middle-school libraries in the Capistrano Unified School District in California. It was the district’s instructional materials specialist who initially “ordered” the books removed.
  • In May 2009, the series was challenged at Brockbank Junior High in Magna, Utah. A parent complained about the “over sexual content” in the novel “Breaking Dawn,” which is part of the series.
  • In September 2009, “Twilight” was banned from library at Santa Sabina College Strathfield in Australia for being “too racy,” according to Library and Information Science News. The “Twilight” series was removed from “schools because they believe the content is too sexual and goes against religious beliefs,” according to Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom in November 2009.

Best Book of the Month

It’s Road Trip Wednesday on YA Highway, and this week the question is: “What was the best book you read in September?” Good question! And this was tough because, first I have to try to remember which books I read in September (I read a bunch), and then I have to decide which of those is the best. I think it really comes down to two. The top slot is going to one I know for sure I read this month, and runner up goes to one I’m fairly sure I read this month. So here’s my Book of the Month:


Why this novel? I read it for a couple of reasons. First, my brother has been on to me to read some Anne Perry for a while. Second, my WIP is set in late Victorian London, and I thought it would be interesting to see how Perry handled the setting. Also, I enjoy a good murder-mystery, so I had high hopes. And my hopes were not dashed. What I found was a well-written character piece that was accurate enough in it’s portrayal of Victorian social customs that I could enjoy the story. It is the first of her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels, but this story essentially tells how they met in the midst of trying to catch a serial killer. Points I liked: the fact that the murderer wasn’t obvious from the beginning; the way the Thomas and Charlotte love story played out; the fact that Perry wasn’t afraid to kill off a fairly main character in order to raise the tension. I was impressed, and I have the second in the series on my wish-list.

LIKE MANDARIN by Kirsten Hubbard

I want to give mention to the close runner-up, partly because it deserves a mention, and partly because the author is on the YA Highway team and I want her to know that I enjoyed her novel.  LIKE MANDARIN is a beautifully written story about two very different girls that become unlikely friends, and what happens when that friendship is betrayed. I’m sure regular readers of YA Highway know all about it, and if you don’t, then trust me–go buy it. Kirsten’s writing is top-notch–such that it gave me moments of self-doubt about my own work. But hey, I’m a writer: self-doubt is a constant companion. Nevertheless, it was a pleasurable read and I highly recommend it.


Banned Book Profile: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Banned Books Week continues, and the latest in my series of books that, you might be surprised to learn, have been banned, challenged, or otherwise censured by groups or organizations since publication.


Title: Nineteen Eighty-Four
Author: George Orwell
First Published: June 8, 1949
Publisher: Secker and Warburg

Where/When/Why Banned or Challenged (sources cited):

  • In 1950, the book was banned in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s dictatorship. The reason? You need to ask? It wasn’t until 1990 that the book was allowed to be released there, and even then it was edited. (Popcrunch and The Independent)
  • The book was almost banned in the US and the UK during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 60’s. The reason for this isn’t clear. (Popcrunch and The Independent)
  • In 1981 Jackson County, Florida challenged the book’s presence in its schools and libraries, claiming that the book was pro-communism, anti-Semitic, and had sexual references. (Geekosystem)

Who Review: Closing Time

I have come to the conclusion that it is too hard to write “Who Reviews” without giving away any spoilers. Perhaps more talented writers/reviewers can–not me. Sorry. So, my policy from this point on is, if you haven’t seen the episode (and it’s already Tuesday, so if you’re in the UK or the US, you’ve had a few days to see it already), then bookmark this post and come back to it when you’ve watched it. What follows is a discussion of the episode, assuming that you have seen it.

The Doctor’s on his own for the first time since the 2009 specials. And like the specials, while he doesn’t have any “official” companions, he is helped by the lovable Craig, returning from last season’s The Lodger (also written by Gareth Roberts, who also wrote The Shakespeare Code, one of my favorites from Season 3, and The Unicorn and the Wasp, one of the best of season 4). Only this time Craig is married and has a baby to look after. Add Cybermen to this mix, and you’ve got the potential for laughs, scares, “awww” moments, and tension too.

For me, the first laugh of the episode was the Doctor poking his head around Craig’s door and saying, “You’ve redecorated–I don’t like it.” Of course, as one who has watched much Who, and is a fan of the Second Doctor, this line brought back memories of The Three Doctors (Second Doctor comments to the Third Doctor on the new TARDIS interior), and The Five Doctors (Second Doctor critiques The Brigadier’s redecorated office). An excellent comic moment for the fans that was not lost and much appreciated. It also shows that Matt Smith has been studying the show since he played the line just like Troughton.

The Doctor’s interaction with the baby again reminded us that this man is not of this world. In fact, throughout the episode the Doctor acts in ways that continue to show on the one hand his awkwardness around social customs, and yet his ability to charm simply by being himself, quirks and all. This seems to be one of the main ways this Doctor shows his alienness.

The Cybermats were introduced to the show in 1967’s The Tomb of the Cybermen. They were last seen in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, but they didn’t have teeth and didn’t look quite so vicious. Oh what an extra few thousand pounds budget can do! Now, maybe I missed it, and here’s where observant commenters can help me out, but I didn’t catch any explanation as to how the Cybermen ended up there. Aren’t they supposed to be in an alternative universe? And did you notice if they had the Cybus Industries branding on them? Is it possible these are the same race of Cybermen last fought by The Seventh Doctor in Silver Nemesis, and not the creation of Trigger–I mean, John Lumic? I hope so.

The show’s climax, where Craig nearly gets turned into a Cyberman, was good in that we actually see the start of the process for the first time–and he very nearly succumbs. And then his desire to prove himself able to be a good father to his son is fulfilled when the baby’s cries enable him to break free of the machinery, and help save the day for the sake of his boy. Ahhh! I know die-hard fans of the classic series shudder at this kind of sentimentalism (forgetting Delta and the Bannermen), but this is a new series for a new audience–young and old, male and female. Times have changed, and the show needs to balance humor, drama, action, scares, and heart. The best stories are the ones that do this well. In my opinion, Closing Time is one of these.

Rory and Amy make a cameo appearance, where Amy is now a celebrity cosmetics model. As much as a certain family member would love this to be the last we see of Amy, I really don’t think it is. First, we haven’t resolved what happened in Utah, and that’s coming next week. Second, there’s been no announcement of Karen Gillan quitting, and there would have been by now. So, I expect however things work out next week, she and Rory will be back in the TARDIS.

So… next week… season finale. All will be explained! Since they’ve already started filming the Christmas special, and Matt Smith is playing The Doctor, we know that The Doctor really isn’t dead (as if that was ever seriously in question). However, it will be interesting to see how he did it, and why. I have a sneaky feeling his “Flesh” self has something to do with it, but perhaps that too easy an explanation. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Banned Book Profile: All Quiet on the Western Front

Next in my Banned Books Week series of books that, you might be surprised to learn, have been banned, challenged, or otherwise censured by groups or organizations since publication. This classic novel was originally written in German by a veteran of World War I. It describes the physical and mental stress the German soldiers underwent, as well as how they were affected by the war when they returned to civilian life.


Title: All Quiet on the Western Front (Original German Title: Im Westen nichts Neues)
Author: Erich Maria Remarque
First Published: January 29, 1929
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.

Where/When/Why Banned or Challenged (from various internet sources):

In the early 1930s, during Hitler’s rise to power, he had copies of this book banned and burned, along with others. He also banned the 1930 movie adaptation of the novel, and revoked the citizenship of its author. While no single reason seems to have been given for the ban, it’s easy to determine some plausible reasons:

  • Hitler was building up Germany as a military power, and the message of the book undermined his attempt to instill pride in the German army.
  • In the early 1930’s, Hitler was already making plans for war. Anything that smacked of anti-war propaganda would not help him get the people on his side.
  • Hitler probably felt the tone of the work to be, overall, unpatriotic, showing the Germans as weak and easily conquerable. This ran against the national pride he was trying to instill in the people.
  • Hitler kept firm control over the media, shaping and managing the image of Germany to the people. It was only natural that a book like this would come under his censure.

Romans 3:27-31

27 Where then is the boasting? It has been shut out. Through what law? [The law] of works? No, but through the law of faith. 28 For we consider a man to be justified apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God only [God] of the Jews? Is He not also [God] of the Gentiles? Yes, even of the Gentiles, 30 since there is one God who justifies [the] circumcised by faith and [the] uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? Certainly not! Rather, we establish the Law.

Once again we had a great discussion on Sunday on some vitally important topics. We also managed to finish chapter three! I would strongly encourage those in the study, and anyone else following along, to keep in mind what Paul has been talking about thus far, since this forms the context for the discussion starting in chapter four.

Paul opens with a question that should, by now, be rhetorical. If anyone is boasting in their works, believing that they have some kind of superior status before God and men as a result of their law-keeping and good deeds, they should realize that no-one is righteous. We all start from the same sinful position. So, there is no room for boasting: it has been shut out. There is no room for arrogance and pride in the face of our depravity. Ephesians 2:8-9 comes to mind, where Paul declares that salvation is by faith and not by works, “so that no-one may boast.” Since our efforts can’t attain righteousness in the eyes of God, and our salvation is only by faith (which, as the Ephesians passage points out, is given to us by God), then we have nothing in which to boast. If we could claim to be saved by the fact we did something, a good deed, or even by making a “decision,” we could claim credit. If it was my free choice that saved me, me casting the tie-breaking vote between God and Satan, then I have a reason to boast. I was smarter than the person who didn’t choose, or I spoke to the right person–in other words, as long as I do something to give God a reason to save me, then I can pat myself on the back. But we have no reason to boast. Salvation is all of God. He is the one who makes us righteous. The faith we declare is given by Him and it is a result of His first saving us.

What law is it that shuts out boasting: the law of works or of faith? Clearly the answer is the law of faith. Should “law” here be capitalized, reflecting the Law, as in the Torah, the Law of Moses? Some say yes, since what Paul is talking about here is two different ways of approaching the Mosaic Law, either by works or by faith. According to this viewpoint, Paul is saying if you approach the Torah by works, you can’t be justified; you have to approach the Torah by faith. However, in the next verse Paul says that a man is justified apart from works of the Law. Further, in verse 31, Paul thinks his readers might conclude from his argument that faith nullifies the Law, a conclusion that would be impossible to reach if he was talking about the same Law in verse 27. So, I favor a view that looks at these “laws” as two different things.

What makes this verse confusing is the fact that there is no separate word for “law” in the Greek when referring to the Law, or general laws or principles. Philo and Josephus, who were both first century Jewish writers use the Greek word nomos to refer to the Law, and also laws of warfare, laws of music, as well as other types of “law.” I think Paul is using “law” in this latter sense, but I suspect there is a deliberate play-on-words here too with “the Law.”

Verse 28 is interesting in that it affirms that a man (Greek anthrĂ´pos) is justified apart from works of the Law. Not “a Jew” or “a Gentile,” but “a man”–anyone. Once again, he affirms that both Jew and Gentile are in the same boat with regard to sin, and the Law will not help the Jew any more than the Gentile not having the Law may or may not help him. Neither will be saved because of their relationship to the Law. Paul underscores this in verse 29: Is God only the God of the Jews? The Jews were (and are) monotheists. Deuteronomy 6:4 was at the heart of their understanding of God. Just because the Gentiles didn’t believe in the God of the Old Testament, that didn’t mean there really were other gods. Regardless of what the Gentiles believe, there still is only one God. So, whether they like it or not, God is the God of the Gentiles too.

In verse 30, Paul says God justifies the circumcised by faith (Greek: ek pisteĂ´s), and the uncircumcised through faith (Greek: dia tĂŞs pisteĂ´s). Is there significance in the change of prepositions? Since ek can also be translated “from,” it’s possible that Paul is saying that the circumcised are justified from (in the sense of “coming out of”) the faith they have as God’s people, and the uncircumcised are justified through, or by means of, that faith which is not native to them. Others think this is a bit of a stretch, and really doesn’t make a lot of sense, preferring to see it as stylistic difference. That is, there’s no real reason to change prepositions, Paul is just making his writing a little more interesting. Whichever position one takes doesn’t change Paul’s meaning in the slightest: whether Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not, it is the same God who justifies both by faith.

Since we are justified apart from the Law, does that mean the Law is useless? Has it been nullified now that we no longer need to worry about it? Paul rather emphatically says “no,” using the mĂŞ genoito phrase we noted in a previous section that Paul likes to use: certainly not! The Law isn’t nullified by our faith, but it is established. In other words, through our faith in Christ, the Law comes alive in our hearts. God’s standard of righteousness is our standard. We love His Law, and our heart’s desire is to keep it so we might please Him–not that we might be saved. Of course, because we still have sin, we cannot hope to keep God’s commands perfectly, but that’s okay. We’re not declared righteous on the basis of our ability to keep the Law, but because of our faith in Christ. Further, Christ perfectly obeyed the Law, and His righteousness has been imputed to us. This means that God looks upon our failure to keep the Law and sees Christ’s perfect obedience instead.

Thought from the passage: What do you consider to be unjust, or unfair? The suffering of the seemingly-innocent? The guilty getting away with their crimes? The US tax code? 🙂 Is it fair that guilty sinners such as us should get away with our sin? God owes us nothing, so wouldn’t His justice be fulfilled by pouring His wrath upon us for our flagrant, willful disobedience? And yet we have in the gospel this wonderful truth, that God’s justice is fulfilled in what, to our eyes, is the most unjust act in human history, wherein the truly guiltless and blameless Son of God takes the punishment for our sin upon Himself, so that we can have His righteousness.