Banned Books Week

Photo of double doors that are locked with a chain and padlock.
by Thom Milkovic/Unsplash

Today’s the last day of Banned Books Week, which was started by the American Library Association to bring “national attention to the harms of censorship.”

The ALA’s website lists the 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books from 2010 to 2019. Also, Goodreads provides a list of Best Banned, Censored, and Challenged Books. A nasty irony that books about restrictive societies are included among these restricted books.

I picked several books from both sources, and am including quotes to show just a sliver of the wisdom within these books. Of the lists, I chose books that I’ve read, heard the audio version, or seen the movie version.


“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

“The longest way must have its close — the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning.”
― Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“Well, I’d rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.”
― Shirley Jackson, The Lottery and Other Stories

“To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“The community of the Giver had achieved at such great price. A community without danger or pain. But also, a community without music, color or art. And books.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
― George Orwell, 1984

“Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.”
― Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give


2021 National Book Festival

Tented pavilions set up on the National Mall, with the US Capitol building in the background

This year’s National Book Festival kicks off today! 

The U.S.-based festival started back in 2001, formed by Laura Bush and the Library of Congress. It’s been running every year since.

When my daughters and I first went to the festival, it was held on the National Mall, during a weekend in early September. Tented pavilions held author talks for categories: fiction, poetry, history, science, etc. (The photo above is from that visit — I can’t remember what year.)

Afterwards, the festival moved inside, to the DC Convention Center and still took part on a full weekend. Then it was reduced to one day. Last year, the festival was just online. Author talks still happened, but with screens.

Through the various changes of the festival, my family has really enjoyed attending the festival. My daughters have festival posters — a new one each year — hanging on their bedroom walls. You can check out the poster gallery from all the festivals here — and you can download high-resolution PDFs of them.

A very big thank you to all the folks who put together the festivals. I’m always impressed by the organization of the rooms for author talks, lines for book signings, banners, and so on. I’m sure a lot goes into making the festival hum along.

This year, the festival’s theme is “Open a Book, Open the World.” And the festival happens over a whopping ten days. I don’t typically use “whopping” but it seemed appropriate. That’s a whole lotta love for books! YESSSSSSSSSS! That’s with ten S’s, so you don’t have to count them.

The main website for the festival is here.

Video chats with authors are unleashed! — as of 10:00 ET. The list of those is here.

The authors participating in this year’s festival are listed here. On that page, you can click on an author’s name to jump to their page with a description of them, the title of their most recent work, and a link to their video conversation.

I’m planning to check out video chats with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Martha Wells, LeVar Burton, Charles Yu, George Saunders, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Also, as a kind of contribution to the celebration of books, I’ll be posting book quotes on Twitter throughout the ten days. If you’d like to see them each day, my Twitter name is @dwilliamswriter. I’ll probably also group the quotes and post them here on my blog — I might not have a schedule for those posts, though. 

Happy reading, and I hope you enjoy the festival’s offerings!

Book Stack

Illustration of girl sitting on a large stack of books, and she's reading a book.

Sylvie’s parents said,
“You should make a list
of all the books you read this summer,
so when school starts,
you can see how many books you’ve read.”
Sylvie thought that was a nice idea,
but instead of writing a list of books
(which sounded boring to her),
she decided to stack the books she read.

While reading,
Sylvie had adventures in fantasy lands,
fought evil dragons,
helped good dragons,
soared in a hot air balloon to a tropical island,
solved the mystery of a missing key,
flew to a space station near Jupiter,
went up secret stairs to a laboratory.
She stacked book upon book upon book,
making a tower in her bedroom.
Books she had received as presents,
books bought at bookstores and yard sales.

She climbed the stack,
worried as it wobbled,
and sat at the top to read each new book.
She liked looking down
at her bed and toys and chest of drawers,
seeing them from a giant’s point of view.

At summer’s end,
she didn’t bother counting the books in the stack,
as she just liked looking at the tall tower
and remembering the many adventures.


DON’T TRY SITTING ON A TALL BOOK TOWER AT HOME!
The illustration is available on T-shirts and other products on my Redbubble store.
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Review of 2 Books by Octavia Butler

Front cover of Bloodchild, which has a background of alternating bands of black and mustard color.

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler. A collection of seven short stories and two essays.

These stories are masterful examples of weaving world-building into a story so it’s part of the tapestry. Contrasted with a writer stepping out of the story and speaking directly to a reader: “Okay, since this story happens far into the future, on another planet, I need to bring you up to speed on the lay of the land.” Then giving an explanation of the world.

I realize in fantasy and science-fiction stories this needs to be done to some degree. Some explanation is helpful to understand the physical and societal landscape of the different world. We’re not on Earth anymore, Toto.

Nor are we on Earth in the “Bloodchild” story. Rather, we’re on the planet of aliens called Tlic, and humans are kept in a limited area called the Preserve. (Echoes of how Native Americans have been treated in the US.)

The relationship between humans and the Tlic is interesting, as each group helps the other. Part of that is history: well before the time of the story, humans left Earth in search of safety and found it on the Tlic planet. There, the humans aided the Tlic. And now, the Tlic who live on the Preserve give narcotic comfort to humans, and male humans serve as hosts for Tlic eggs.

Octavia Butler had an amazing imagination to craft this story. Same with the others in this collection.

In “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” a cure for cancer has been created. But it has side effects. If a cured person has a child, that child develops a disease that causes them to be violent and hurt themselves. The story explores treatment for the disease.

In “Speech Sounds,” a sickness has spread through the world. With some people, they can’t speak any longer. With other people, they can’t read or write. The story follows Rye as she leaves Los Angeles and travels to Pasadena to be with her family. She must navigate a harsh landscape. Government has fallen, so law enforcement is done by people organizing on their own. Survivors scavenge for resources and some people take them by force.

The stories in this book show how a world can be condensed into a short story. To me, each story was like taking the lid off a jar and tipping it, so the fantastical contents roll out — but more contents come out than should’ve been able to fit in the jar. Ideas that could’ve supported a novel are in each story. And the stories can ignite us to envision more of those novels beyond their paragraphs.

Front cover of Mind of My Mind, on which a sihouette of a woman raises her arm and rays expand from her fingers.

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler

This novel is the second in Ms. Butler’s Patternist series.

The back cover text of this book really grabbed me: “For four thousand years, an immortal has spread the seeds of an evolutionary master race, using the downtrodden of the underclass as his private breeding stock. But now a young ghetto telepath has found the way to awaken—and rule—her superhuman kind, igniting a psychic battle from L.A. mansions to South Central slums, as she challenges her creator for the right to free her people … And enslave the Earth.”

Doro is the immortal being, and he has the ability to slide his consciousness into another person’s body. When the “shell” he occupies is hurt, say stabbed, Doro leaves that shell then occupies the body of the person doing the stabbing. Doro’s breeding plan is to create a population of telepaths — which includes incest. That’s in the story, as Doro sleeping with his daughters, without graphic description.

Mary is one of Doro’s daughters, and she develops telepathic powers stronger than any of Doro’s other offspring. She uses this power to summon other telepaths to join her in L.A. She hopes using her stronger abilities — together with the community she’s nurturing — will be enough to defeat the controlling Doro.

I didn’t like this book as much as Bloodchild. While the ideas in the book are interesting, I found the characters to be pretty flat. I rooted for Mary to win, given that Doro is so selfish and uncaring about other people (maybe that happens after living for 4,000 years?). Yet I didn’t feel the depth of emotional tug as I did with characters in Bloodchild.

I enjoyed the expansiveness of Ms. Butler’s story — it goes beyond the typical white dude protagonist of other sci-fi books I’ve read. Mary is biracial, has a single mother who works as a prostitute, and grows up in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles. I believe Harlan Ellison crafted characters from similar cloth, but I can’t think of others sci-fi authors who did.


If you’d like to hear more about Octavia Butler, the Imaginary Worlds podcast has an episode about her — “Episode 48: The Legacy of Octavia Butler.” The host of the show, Eric Molinsky, talks with a few guests. One is Nisi Shawl, who says that Ms. Butler advised a writing class to write about their fears. One of Ms. Butler’s fears was not having control of your body. That came out in the “Bloodchild” story, with male humans having Tlic eggs placed in their bodies. And in Mind of My Mind, the people with telepathic powers place thoughts in the minds of average people, who don’t realize those thoughts are coming from someone else.

Man, that’s scary stuff.

Across the Universe

Photo of bluish-black space with tiny dots of stars
by Kai Pilger/Unsplash

Recently I listened to the audio version of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, which was good but I liked The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle better, and in which the Beatles song triggers memories for the main character — Toru Watanabe — of when he was a young man in the 1960s, so the book is a coming-of-age story with cool music references, and triple which it sparked the idea of me possibly writing a book titled Across the Universe, because I’ve been really enjoying that Beatles song recently, and the sci-fi book could be about a team of astronauts on a deep-space mission, and much of the plot could involve the relationships among the diverse crew, since they’re stuck in a spaceship with limited space (the only opportunity of getting a break: space walks, which of course are dangerous yet would increase plot drama), and given that everyone has different attitudes the astronauts don’t always agree or get along (more drama!), but still they must focus on their mission; however, the situation raises the chance of making puns on relationship and companionship, which readers might think is clever in the first mention of the words but would grow tired if they are used too frequently, so no more than one instance per chapter, adding sprinklings of characters saying “I just need my space” to play on another corny pun, but again I would caution my potential self writing this potential book to not overdo the puns, because they would become monotonous — which could symbolize the monotony of flying through space, all that darkness broken by pinpricks of starlight, and readers might think, This book is so gosh-darn boring, there needs to be some aliens swooping in and a majestic battle commencing between the ships and maybe one crew boarding the other ship and the two crews engaging in hand-to-tentacle combat, and I’d rather not risk that potential thought in a potential reader, so maybe the book is not a great idea.


copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Free Creepy Reads — Stevie Turner

Another book giveaway that I wanted to share, in case you’re looking for some summer reading…

I’m still away on the IOW at the moment, and so this is a scheduled post featuring a BookFunnel promotion ‘Creepy Reads’, which at the time of writing has 36 FREE books and samples to choose from in the Mystery & Suspense / Thriller genres. https://books.bookfunnel.com/creepyreads/2on971tdgp I have added a free sample of my suspense […]

Free Creepy Reads — Stevie Turner

Books, Coffee, Crabs: Lives of a Building

Photo of old Victorian house, with a front porch. The house is light gray with white trim. Two boys are on the porch.

In summer, I often think back to the summers of my childhood. I grew up (ages 2-13) in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware — and I returned there every summer until I finished college. Back then, summers centered around my grandparents’ store: Gingerbread Square Books.

In the above photo, I’m the one sitting and my older brother Ramsey is standing. The photo is from the mid-1970s. It’s before the store’s sign was added to the pediment (if that’s the correct word) above us. I like that you can see, in the darkened interior behind me and above my head, a stack of books resting on a stair.

This building is on Rehoboth Avenue, next to the Post Office (at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and 2nd Street).

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the building with the bookstore’s sign. But here’s a painting from 1984 with more vivid color than the older photo. The brick walkway next to the building led to a small courtyard, then a mall with spaces for several stores.

Painting of the side of the building, with a brick walkway next to it. The walkway ends in a courtyard, where there is a shed on one side, and a large building is at the end.

Working at the bookstore shaped me a great deal. I already enjoyed reading the books we borrowed from the library, then the store broadened the array of books I saw.

When I sat at the cashier’s counter, I read when I didn’t have a work task to do, such as restocking shelves. Typically, the store was quiet in the middle part of the day — as tourists were enjoying the beach and ocean.

I inhaled whatever caught my eye: comic books (X-Men, Batman, Richie Rich, Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc.), The Three Investigators, colorful children’s books, Choose Your Own Adventures, photography books, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, novels by Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Clancy, etc.

In all that reading, I fell in love with books. I saw them as delivering a kind of magic to transport me to other places and times, seen through the eyes of various characters.

I wanted to someday be able to create that kind of magic, to become a writer when I grew up. That stayed only a desire until my late teenage years, when I started writing stories.

Wasn’t until my 40s that I finished longer projects of novellas and a story collection — after a stretch of too many years when I didn’t write. Now I’m a hobby writer. I still hope to become a full-time writer, but that may have to wait until I retire.

My grandfather sold the property in the late 1990s. The building became Java Beach Coffee House and Cafe. I visited there with my wife and two daughters in 2005. Seeing the building with a different sign and colors and purpose was surreal…

The same Victorian house, now painted yellow-brown with a medium-brown trim. The sign reads Java Beach Coffee House and Cafe.

My family visited earlier this year, and we saw that the building became Claws Seafood House. Not only a new sign and colors, but a side room was added. Also, the brick walkway leading to the mall is blocked. The mall became The Pines restaurant, with an entrance on Baltimore Avenue.

The same Victorian house, now painted white with red trim. The sign reads Claws Seafood House and has a crab on it.

Now the only bookstore in town is Browseabout Books, an independent store. It used to be a competitor to our family business. Times and minds change. I enjoy visiting Browseabout, and I’m very glad it’s still around to serve as a source for books. What is a town without a bookstore? I hesitate to say one without a soul, but then I’m biased due to my love of books. If you ever visit Rehoboth, please check out the store — located at 133 Rehoboth Avenue…

A one-story building with a long green awning that reads Browseabout Books. The windows include displays of many books.

A Very Big Thanks to Eric Carle

Illustration of colorful butterfly

Late in May, news arrived that Eric Carle died at the age of 91. I’m late in writing an appreciation, as it took me a while to draw a butterfly in celebration of his books.

In the 1980s, when I was a teenager, I discovered Eric Carle’s books while working in my grandparents’ bookstore (Gingerbread Square Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware). The vivid colors of the illustrations snagged my attention. The colors seemed to pop from the white pages. Upon looking closer, I saw that the colors weren’t solid — anything but. They were more interesting, complex, varying in texture. I had no idea how those designs were made — later I learned Mr. Carle painted tissue paper, then layered it to accomplish the effect.

And so I was captured in the magic of the colors and delightful story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There were many slow hours in the bookstore — tourists were surely enjoying the beach — when I read to pass the time. Novels, comic books, and kids books now and then. Carle’s books were in the mix of books I read.

Then leap about 15 years, when my twin daughters were infants. My wife and I love to read, and that love was also expressed by reading to our daughters. Again, Mr. Carle’s books were in the mix. A wonder for me to see the joy on our daughters’ faces while they looked at the illustrations and listened to the stories. When getting to the page spread of the beautiful butterfly, they would sometimes walk around flapping their arms and say “fss, fss, fss,” to imitate a flying butterfly. Adorable.

Added to Mr. Carle’s Caterpillar book in the reading times were Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Mister Seahorse and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Then leap another 15 years, when I sadly listened to the news of Mr. Carle passing on. A quote from his obituary in The Washington Post, on May 27, 2021, written by Emily Langer:

“The long, dark time of growing up in wartime Germany, the cruelly enforced discipline of my school years there, the dutifully performed work at my jobs in advertising — all these were finally losing their rigid grip on me. The child inside me — who had been so suddenly and sharply uprooted and repressed — was beginning to come joyfully back to life.” — Eric Carle

Thank you, Eric Carle, for the many gifts you put out into the world. You brought joy to lots and lots of young readers and parents.

2 Days of Free Ebooks

covers of five ebooks

I’m launching a new giveaway today, this time without a contest. Today and tomorrow, all five of my ebooks are FREE on Amazon!

Get one, get all! There are 3 novellas, 1 novelette, and 1 collection of short stories and illustrations. A description of each:

Jumble: Stories and Drawings

In this quirky collection, you’ll find 18 short stories and 68 drawings, which are independent of the stories, although a few drawings echo something in the stories, a fine example being an elephant.

Examples of the stories include a man finding joy in a pancake house, a girl interrogated because she picked up the king’s rolling crown, elderly Claude Monet visiting his long-time friend Renoir, a science fiction writer donning a cap of electrodes hooked up to a computer so his dreams could be transcribed, and a group of private detectives hired to research the possibility of reincarnation.

*****

The Minotaur at the Door

Is that an actual minotaur knocking at the front door, or is it somebody pranking Pablo, Miles, and Harry? The three men renting rooms in the house have their doubts about the reality of the creature, but only Pablo seeks to learn more. He wants to meet the minotaur. And find out why he is visiting their neighborhood. Pablo’s journey alternates chapters with the events of Daedalus and his son Icarus, centuries before Pablo. These chapters breathe life and detail into the myth of Asterion, the first minotaur, and Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment in the labyrinth. How father and son deal with being stuck in the maze and how they craft a plan to escape.

*****

Other Lives of the Boothbys

Bradley Boothby has no idea why he feels déjà vu when walking by the office building for Rayburn-Turley Publishing. Is he included in one of the publishing company’s books? If so, why? Did an author spy on Bradley to steal his life story, which isn’t all that dramatic? The thoughts are far-fetched, so he dismisses them. But the strange sensation persists, and Bradley finally acts, needing to find if the déjà vu has a foundation. His search touches off consequences for an editor and writer, as they have an impact on each other’s lives.

*****

Don’t Lose Your Head

When you leave for a trip, who knows you’re gone from your house? Family and friends, sure. Neighbors, perhaps. So does the chauffeur who drove you to the airport. Alan Burris takes advantage of working for a car service to know when clients will be away from their houses for several nights. Some houses are easier, since they don’t have a security system — and these houses are on his list for a night visit to steal valuables.

The Resnick house has been on Alan’s list for a while, and now it will be empty for a few nights, since Mr. and Mrs. Resnick are spending a long weekend in Chicago.

But is the house really empty? Alan’s about to find out what it’s like to not be alone in the house, his car, his apartment, and his head. And with another person hanging around, to what length will Alan go to get rid of them?

*****

The Red Tree

While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are.

Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it.

A novelette about family, experiencing the mysterious, and letting your imagination loose.