How much freedom should inmates have to read?
That’s the question on some minds as a string of incidents has exposed the unlikely challenges faced by prison libraries – making strange bedfellows of the books and law enforcement communities along the way.
The latest is a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, which recently overturned a previous ruling barring an inmate of a state prison from receiving a book he requested deemed problematic by prison officials. The book in question was “The Silver Crown,” by Mathilde Madden, which has widely become known as “werewolf erotica,” and was considered too sexual by corrections officers.
“Prison authorities had a legitimate penological interest in prohibiting inmates from possessing sexually explicit materials,” Justice James Richman wrote, but in this case, they overstepped their powers and engaged in an “arbitrary and capricious application of the regulation,” Richman said, as reported by Salon.com.
That decision follows news of an Alabama prison that barred one of its inmates from reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas Blackmon. A 2011 suit by the American Civil Liberties Union charged a South Carolina prison with denying its inmates all reading material other than the Bible.
(Meanwhile, a prison library at Guantanamo Bay has some 18,000 books, along with periodicals, DVDs, and video games, from which detainees can choose two each week for a loan period of 30 days, as reported in a recent fascinating article by the New York Times exploring the books and prisoner preferences at Gitmo. Besides religious books in Arabic, popular fare there includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “News of a Kidnapping,” Danielle Steel’s “The Kiss,” and adventuring magazines, which allow detainees rare glimpses of nature.)
While some in the books world have decried the book confiscations, maintaining order and security is paramount at corrections institutions. As such, the controversial incidents raise some complex questions about prisoners’ rights when it comes to reading as well as corrections officers’ rights when it comes to preventive and punitive measures to maintain order and security. For, while inmates surely have some First Amendment rights such as freedom of speech, they also surrender some of their First Amendment rights upon incarceration.
As the website FindLaw explains, “Inmates retain only those First Amendment rights... which are not inconsistent with their status as inmates and which are in keeping with the legitimate objectives of the penal corrections system, such as preservation of order, discipline, and security.”
It is for this reason prison officials can screen and open mail directed to inmates, for example.
But the strictures governing inmate rights with regard to reading leave many questions. Who decides which books are inconsistent with the “preservation of order, discipline, and security” and why? What makes one book problematic, one innocuous, and one potentially remedial or rehabilitative? In short, how much freedom should inmates have to read?
Let us know what you think.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Hanks and the other partner in his Playtone production company, Gary Goetzman, will serve as two of the film’s producers.
The story follows a businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia to attempt to sell an IT system to the country’s monarch, a sale that would allow him to save himself from financial ruin.
The actor recently starred in the Oscar-nominated film “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (another book adaptation) as well as “Cloud” and will portray Walt Disney in the film “Saving Mr. Banks,” which is slated for this December.
“Hologram,” which was released in 2012 and was named one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 best of the year as well as one of the 10 best of the year by Amazon.
“The revelations aren't new, but any middle-aged person wondering where his or her career disappeared to during the past five years will easily relate to the main character,” she wrote.
Thanks to a bevy of modern hits like the "Harry Potter," "Hunger Games," and "Twilight" series, young adult and teen literature is thriving today, leaving parents, teachers, and librarians happy to see kids eagerly reading.
But there’s a downside that’s often overlooked. Thanks to a steady diet of fantasy, science fiction, vampires, and magic, kids today rarely read the more complex or sophisticated literature they once did. In fact, most kids and teens today read significantly below their grade level, according to a recent story by NPR on the topic.
“[R]esearch shows that as young readers get older, they are not moving to more complex books,” reports NPR’s Lynn Neary. “High-schoolers are reading books written for younger kids, and teachers aren't assigning difficult classics as much as they once did.”
That news is backed up by a study by Renaissance Learning, a technology-based educational company that studied what books were being assigned to high school students.
“The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years,” Eric Stickney, educational research director at Renaissance, told NPR. “A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.”
In other words, while the class of 1989 and ’90 were reading works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, Wharton, and the Brontës, kids today read novels like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Animal Farm,” even modern hits-turned-movies like “The Help” and “The Notebook.”
According to Stickney, reading levels tend to stagnate sometime around middle school, when kids stop progressing to books of higher difficulty levels.
“Last year, almost all of the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12 were well below grade level,” reports NPR. “The most popular books, the three books in 'The Hunger Games' series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level."
“I think it’s because they’re so screen-oriented,” he told Parade. “They do read – girls in particular read a lot. They have a tendency to go toward the paranormal, romances, 'Twilight' and stuff like that. And then it starts to taper off because other things take precedence, like the Kardashian sisters.... there are so many other byways for the consciousness to go down now; it makes me uneasy.”
And for those who might suggest that deep reading habits don't matter as much in an age of spell-check, 140-character tweets, and SMS shorthand, King has a rebuttal.
The books you read will teach you to write, King says he stressed to some Canadian students he recently worked with. “If you can read in the 21st century," he told them, "you own the world.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Moviegoers will once again be invited to enjoy the story of a small boy of royal ancestry who lives in a desert and teaches a pilot about what’s important in life.
“The Little Prince,” a 1943 novella by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, will be adapted into an animated film with a star-studded cast that reportedly includes Jeff Bridges, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, and Rachel McAdams.
Bridges will star as the pilot, who narrates the story and meets the titular little prince after the pilot crash-lands in the Sahara Desert. The prince tells the pilot that he came to Earth from an asteroid, which is his home as well as the home of a rose with which he fell in love. The small boy discusses his travels to other planets and his meeting with a fox as well as his desire to return to his home.
Cotillard will reportedly voice the rose, but while other actors such as Franco and McAdams are said to star in the project, their roles have not yet been released. Other actors who will voice characters in “The Little Prince” include Benicio del Toro, Paul Giamatti, and Mackenzie Foy of “The Twilight Saga.”
The movie will be directed by “Kung Fu Panda” helmer Mark Osborne.
Before now, the most well-known film adaptation of Saint-Exupéry’s work was the 1974 live-action movie directed by “Singin’ in the Rain” director Stanley Donen, which starred actor Gene Wilder as the Fox, Richard Kiley as the pilot, and Bob Fosse as the Snake.
Oscar Wilde once said that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
Rarely has that proven more true than in recent weeks when revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program has drawn countless comparisons to the police state depicted in George Orwell’s novel “1984."
In fact, so chilling are the parallels for many Americans that sales of the dystopian novel have skyrocketed following news of the government’s spying program.
As of Tuesday, Amazon sales of Orwell’s “1984” surged 6,021 percent in just 24 hours, according to NPR.
Based on Orwell’s observations of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, the novel, published in 1949, warns of the dangers of government surveillance. It paints a picture of a state constantly tracking the thoughts and actions of its citizens, crystallized in its slogan “Big Brother is watching you.”
That slogan has been used to describe the government’s recent actions. Recent news has revealed that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans to create a database to determine whether terror suspects have been in contact with US residents, according to the AP. The program has reignited the debate about whether heightened security measures to fight terror infringe on privacy and civil rights.
“Throwing out such a broad net of surveillance is exactly the kind of threat Orwell feared,” Michael Shelden, author of "Orwell: The Authorized Biography," told NPR.
Not surprisingly, news coverage and social media chatter about the NSA’s surveillance program has been rife with terms like “Big Brother” and “Orwellian,” phrases borrowed from the dystopian world of “1984.”
For those in the books world, the borrowed phrases and surging sales come as no surprise. Books have long mirrored the social and political affairs of the times and, just as often, current affairs have mirrored literature. As NPR points out, sales of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” surged during the banking industry bailouts of 2008.
Who knew Orwell’s cautionary tale would fast become a reality? No doubt Orwell himself.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Ringo Starr is asking a few more people to join him in that octopus’s garden.
Starr is taking the Beatles song – one of the few that Starr wrote and sang for the group – and turning the idea into a children’s book. The picture book is planned for an October release in the UK and a January 2014 release in the US and will be published by Simon & Schuster.
The book will be accompanied by a CD, which will contain a never-before-heard portion of music by Starr. The text will be illustrated by children's book illustrator and author Ben Cort.
“It gives me great pleasure to collaborate with Ben Cort and Simon & Schuster for the further adventures of Octopus’s Garden,” Starr said in a statement. “Peace and Love, Ringo.”
Simon & Schuster publishing director Ingrid Selberg said in a statement that the book was very special to her personally because of her love of the Beatles.
“By bringing Ben Cort on board we have arranged the perfect marriage of a truly child-friendly text, based on Ringo's popular song, with illustrations that revel in the imaginative opportunities presented by the lyrics,” she said. “This a a beautiful and funny book that children, parents and grandparents will love sharing.”
Starr reportedly got the idea for the song when he was on board actor Peter Sellers' boat and the ship's captain told him how octopi construct gardens by using rocks and other shiny things that they find on the ocean floor.
This isn’t Starr’s first foray into the world of children’s entertainment. He’s also recognizable to children and parents of the ‘90s for his role as the narrator on the children’s television series “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” from 1984 to 1986. Later he took on the role of conductor on the TV show “Shining Time Station” from 1989 to 1990, with his character telling the other actors stories about Thomas and the other trains.
Ringo is also publishing a book called "Photograph" this month. "Photograph" features never-before-seen photos of the Beatles taken by Starr.
Trethewey first became poet laureate in June of 2012 and was appointed as Poet Laureate of Mississippi, her home state, during the same year. She is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her poetry collection “Native Guard,” which was released in 2006.
In discussing Trethewey’s reappointment, Billington praised her openness and the steps she took to make herself available to the public, including her unusual decision to move to Washington D.C. for the year and the weekly office hours she maintained which were open to the public.
“One of Natasha’s quotes that I like particularly is that there is a poem for everyone,” Billington told the Washington Post. “We don’t force a broader role on any laureates, but she’s done it so wonderfully.”
Trethewey will return to her home in Georgia for her next term as poet laureate. She will also participate in a project with PBS correspondent Jeffrey Brown. The pair will contribute features to the PBS Newshour Poetry Series that will involve their traveling to various areas in the US in order to consider poetry and its relationship to region.
“Natasha seems to feel that poetry has a public place in the world, and I like that very much,” Brown said of the writer. “She wants to show people that it doesn’t just live in libraries and universities…. she wants to go out and see where poetry lives out in the country.”
Trethewey’s term as poet laureate of Mississippi will last through 2016. (She is so far the only writer to be the poet laureate of a state and the country at the same time.)
With the launch of its Kindle e-reader in China Friday, Amazon has officially entered what may become the most lucrative e-books market in the world. Amazon began selling two Kindle devices – the Kindle Fire HD and the Kindle Paperwhite – on its Amazon China website as well as through major Chinese electronics retailer Suning. The devices retail for 849 yuan (about $138) for the Kindle Paperwhite, 1,499 yuan (about $244) for the 16 GB Kindle Fire HD, and 1,799 yuan ($293) for the 32 GB Kindle Fire HD.
China contains the world’s largest population of Internet users and Amazon’s Kindle launch there is a major milestone for the online retail giant, which has been working to enter the Chinese market for years, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Amazon is investing “heavily” in China, Thomas Szkuktak, Amazon’s chief financial officer, told Bloomberg Businessweek in a January conference call.
The company released its Kindle e-reading mobile apps and e-book store in China in December and just last month opened its Appstore for devices using Google’s Android mobile operating system. Nonetheless, Amazon may encounter some roadblocks in China. For starters, it’s already been under investigation by the Chinese government to determine whether it violated regulations by selling digital publications.
Surprisingly, Amazon hasn’t yet built up significant market share in China and faces stiff competition from local competitors like Alibaba Group Holdings. And while many Chinese read digital books, they tend to do so online or one their phones, rarely on e-readers or tablets, according to a Forrester Research analysis, something Amazon is struggling to change. Finally, e-book piracy is common in China, which Amazon is combating by pricing its e-books very low – 10 yuan ($1.63) compared to $10 or more in the US.
Getting a foothold in the Chinese market will be among Amazon’s most difficult challenges – albeit one that comes with very lucrative rewards.
It was just the first week of my summer internship and already – a chance to meet Neil Gaiman! He was scheduled to appear at a press event at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, Mass., to talk about and read from his new book, "A Calendar of Tales" and I was invited to attend. Surrounded by fancy food and good company, I couldn’t have been more excited.
Reporters and fans alike were given time to mingle before the great author arrived. But when he did appear, it wasn’t a grand entrance. He sort of just appeared out of nowhere and started talking to everyone like they were his best friends.
Head-to-toe black outfit, charming accent, and adorably quirky personality – it was @neilhimself, in real life!
He spoke with us about the project that led to "A Calendar of Tales." Gaiman teamed up with BlackBerry to work on their Keep Moving Project where he connected with his many Twitter followers, asking them to help fuel the ideas for his next book. Twelve questions were posted (one for each month) and the thousands of responding posts were sifted through until Gaiman was able to narrow them down to twelve.
He then took those prompts and created a story out of them. Following that, he asked for paintings and pictures to go with the stories, spending hours picking out the twelve best representations and a winner. Some of the Twitter and art winners were on stage with him at the Cambridge event. It was just as much their book as his.
Gaiman has taken the 1.8 million followers he has on Twitter, the half a million followers on Facebook, and all of his Tumblr followers and turned them into a community. He told us that part of the reason that he loves this project so much is because it wouldn’t have been possible even three years ago. He did admit that going through all of the responses was challenging and time-consuming. (Part of the challenge, he said, was that so many of the picture/painting submissions included cats. It is, after all, the Internet.)
But despite his initial worries that it would all go wrong, Gaiman says that he deemed the project a success because, “It felt like fun and we were all moving.”
Some of the suppliers of the winning tweets and art submissions were also present at the Cambridge talk. They shared how they felt sending in their tweet or art, most admit to being nervous. Kit Seaton, who was the winner of the art piece selected for the month of May, admits to being so nervous she had a friend send the tweet for her. She claimed it was something she felt she had to do even though it can be, “nerve wracking putting yourself out there.”
At the end of the talk, Gaiman read us three stories from the book. Besides the brownies, this was my favorite part. The stories were funny and engaging, made all the more special by the fact that it was a collaboration between an author and his fans.
This loving creation will not be for sale. According to Neil, the end product was not the book. The end product was A) the process and B) the website. The website displays the finished product which can be viewed at acalendaroftales.com.
Casey Lee is working as an intern at the Monitor this summer.
As a college professor who teaches in a prison, I wondered: Could "The Yearling" – written by a white woman, published in 1938, and full of planting and plowing – somehow hold the attention of inmates striving for three credits that might someday transfer to a community college transcript?
Employing the 1947 movie adaptation, I “previewed” the book for the inmates who had enrolled in the English Composition course that I teach in a Connecticut prison. My student-inmates rightly gauged “The Yearling” to be very “white” – “redneck white.” Our class, however, mirroring the populations of many US prisons, is very non-white.
Set on a Florida bayou (scrub country) farm in the 1870s, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ novel is far removed residentially, racially, and atmospherically from the neighborhoods where most of my students grew up. The dad (Pa, Penny Baxter) is a kind of “alien,” very different in tone and temperament from many of the men they grew up with. But although the book was not an obvious choice, I discovered that a good number of copies could be purchased on the cheap at library book sales and used-book shops. The economics were compelling and so I went with it.
After the video preview, my students were quick to admit that the book had some “cred.”
“The Yearling” was the main selection of the Book of the Month Club in April 1938. It was the best-selling novel in America in 1938. And it won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Still, I felt skeptical. How could I deliver the unvarnished tolerant wisdom of "Penny" Baxter, the novel's gentle father figure, to my students?
Many of the inmates were fans of sports-talk call-in shows, so the assignment I gave them was to pick passages from the novel that could be fashioned into a script – a script that would feature key father-son moments along with accounts of conflict resolution.
We went on to imagine how a program director might incorporate those passages into a syndicated radio call-in show that would offer advice to fathers everywhere.
Here are a few “takes” from our script:
Announcer: Welcome to "Pa Baxter’s Fatherly Phrasings" – the radio call-in show that’s upbeat, down-home, and all heart.... Today’s special broadcast is brought to you by Yearling Enterprises – for 75 years a name you can trust for corn pone, sweet-potato-pone pie, sandbugger biscuits, poke-green grit dip, and sawgrass salad dressing. Funding for today’s broadcast also comes from a special underwriting grant from Doggone Dogs First-Aid Cooperative & Canine Vittles Emporium. The opinions, adages, and aphorisms of our host, Ezra Ezekial "Penny" Baxter, are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of.... And now, without further ado, your host, direct from our Baxter Island broadcast studios by Lake George, Florida, hee-rrre's Penny! [applause]
Baxter: Thank you, Lem. And a right good mornin’ to you all. Let’s go right to the phones.... Hello, you’re on the air.
Caller #1: Penny, my boy go a-ramblin’ all the time, gallavantin’... forgettin’ all ’bout the chores he’s s’posed to do. And he’s mighty sly ’bout gettin’ ’way with it. What are we to do?”
Baxter: Sounds mighty familiar. My boy, Jody, was always off frolicking when he should’a been hoeing and weedin’... His Ma used to say that our boy was gittin’ slick as a clay road in the rain.
Caller # 1: But how’d you handle it, Penny?
Baxter: His Ma don’ hold with ramblin’. So I cover fer ’im but then I tells him he’s got to fess up. I says, "Tell the truth, Jody, and shame the devil."... But I makes it clear that he got to do his chores, all his chores.
Caller #2: Mornin’ Penny. First-time caller, long-time listener.
Baxter: Good mornin’ to you. How're you today?
Caller #2: Ahm ah-troubled. My boy got into a fight ta otha day an’ I ain’ know what to tell um ’bout fightin’. Seems to me that ta-other guy had it comin’ ’cause he dun stole stock we bin raisin’ for food dis comin’ winter. My boy sees how it bin dun, and know’d who dun it. Those no-counts who dun it don’ need our meat. They git plenty of their own, lot’s more ’an us. I ’spect they jus’ itchin’ for a fight. What’s a Pa ta do?
Baxter: Dogged if I kin understand cold-out meanness....
Caller #2: An’ what would you tell ’im ’bout goin’ inta a fight if ’en a friend ah-his-n is plumb in the middle? Does I tell-um ta steer clear ah the roockus?
Baxter: Well, if his friend is takin’ a lickin’ – gittin’ the wust of it – he might set about evenin’ things up a bit. 'Twer otherwise if ’en his friend were doin’ all the punishin’. Generally speakin’, though, when one man’s on-reasonable, t’other has got to keep his head. Speakin’ a’ losin’ yer head. I plumb disremembered that I got tu put in a good word for our sponsors.... After trackin’, or plowin’, tain’t nothin’ like settin’ down to a hot plate o’ swamp-cabbage stew cooked in panther oil. I, myself, am partial to the smoked squirrel en brochette. Why, the meat is so tender you could kiss it off the bone. Jody’s a'tryin’ the vegetarian line but when he gits hongrey, he’ll wolf down gator-conk quiche and bear-paw pate. “Let’s git back to the phones.... Hello, you’re on the air.
[The show’s final caller asks Baxter for advice about a boy who runs away because he can’t accept the discipline necessitated by a family’s misfortunes.]
Baxter: I guess you hope you’ve done enough to make the boy want to come back. It happened with my boy, Jody. I was able to let him see how relieved and happy I was to see him. I says to him, ‘"I’d be proud to know where you been." And after I hears his tale, I says, "I’m sorry you had to learn ’bout starvin’ thataway." Then we sat by the fire and I explained to him, best I could, how every man wants life to be a fine thing – and easy – fer his kids. And I tells him, "Well, life is fine, powerful fine – but tain’t easy." I explains to him, "I wanted it to be easy fer you, easier than it was for me." I explains to him that a man’s heart aches seeing his young 'uns face the world. I told Jody that I’d be proud if he’d live on Baxter Island and farm the clearin’ with me. I asked him if he were willin’ and we shook on it. That was a very special moment for me. [pause] What made it possible, I think, was all what we done tu-gether, and my saying to him – so’s he understood it real good – "Boy, it’s food and drink to have you home.”
The words in that final answer may have been taken from Penny Baxter, but they illustrated a state of mind that we all could admire – and even aspire to. My students did well with their project. And so, just in time for Father's Day, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lives on.
Joseph H. Cooper teaches ethics and media law courses at Quinnipiac University. His “Pauses and Moments” columns appear at PsychologyToday.com.