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Ban on books? Not here

September 23, 2007|Kristina Lindgren; David L. Ulin; Nick Owchar

"Get hooked on a banned book."

That's the American Library Assn.'s mantra for Banned Books Week, which begins Saturday.

"Part of living in a democracy means respecting each other's differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read," Judith F. Krug, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement.

In 2006, there were 546 reported challenges to remove books from library shelves, most (61%) made by parents and most (71%) involving schools.

Topping the list was "And Tango Makes Three," a tale of two male penguins parenting an egg from a mixed-sex penguin. Toni Morrison's novels "Beloved" and "The Bluest Eye" also made the list, but the most challenged books of the 21st century remain J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" novels.

As part of Banned Books Week, libraries and bookstores are expected to schedule readings and special events through Oct. 6. Other sponsors are the American Booksellers Assn., the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Assn. of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Assn. of College Stores.

-- Kristina Lindgren

Stephen King edits best short stories

When does Stephen King sleep? Not only does he routinely crank out two or more novels a year, he gives talks and readings, contributes blurbs and plays with his writers' band, the Rock Bottom Remainders.

King's latest side project is editing "The Best American Short Stories 2007" (Houghton Mifflin: 428 pp., $14 paper), a job undertaken in previous years by Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley and E.L. Doctorow. That's rarefied company, and King's participation says something about his aspirations. At the same time, he's gleefully unapologetic about his love of genre.

You might expect such a sensibility to inform "The Best American Short Stories 2007," but what's striking is how traditional its contents are. Here, we find Alice Munro and Louis Auchincloss, Ann Beattie and Richard Russo. Fine writers, but where are the outsiders? The closest King comes is with Roy Kesey and the woefully under-read Jim Shepard, whose "Sans Farine" is narrated by a French revolutionary executioner.

Shepard -- not unlike King -- eclipses the line between literature and popular fiction; he's written stories inspired by old movies and science fiction trading cards. Here, however, he represents the path not taken, which is the last thing you'd expect from King.

-- David L. Ulin

Something heavenly

Robert and Jean Hollander have finished translating Dante's "Divine Comedy." Their "Inferno" came out in 1999 and "Purgatorio" in 2003. "Paradiso" (Doubleday: 916 pp., $40) arrived in late August, and it's frustrating that the most abstract part of Dante's epic appeared during the dog days of summer.

Hello, this is not beach reading.

And yet, the Hollanders' version is supple and clear, a triumph considering that its subject is divine redemption:

That which does not die and that which must

are nothing but a bright reflection of that Idea

which our Lord, in loving, brings to birth.

-- Nick Owchar

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