The Fall of the House of Pontifex

imgres.jpgImagine a decent textbook relating some of the less well-known events of the 17th century—the Thirty Years War, Oliver Cromwell, the Spanish Treasure ships, book-binding for fun and profit—add an old Dan Brown novel treatment and the script to National Treasure VII and stir well. After half-baking, turn the plot over an antique salver and serve. Voilá! Ex Libris by Ross King.

Is it a bad book? Well, I would say “No” because the author dishes out a great deal of historical data: enough that I have put the Thirty Years War and Oliver Cromwell on my reading list. But King uses the historical data (real or fictional) to weave an intricate story of intrigue centered on a missing text that would presumably have bumfuzzled the Pope and made all of Christianity cattywampus. Or at least that was the illusion the reader received from all the action in the book.

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Morbid Stories Are Good For Children

OZWhen I was young I was often sick and spent many hours lying in bed either moaning in a darkened room with the measles (no vaccines then) or proped up on one elbow reading books and scratching my chicken pox. Sometimes I had books from the library and other times I had to rely on books that accumulated around the house. I got most of my books from Goodwill, used and often musty. Some of my books had evidently belonged to my parents, favorite stories from when they were young and impressed by Jack Hawkins, Bill Sikes,  or Dorothy Gale.

I still have vivid memories of avidly reading those over-the-rainbow books by the local San Diego author L. Frank Baum and unexpectedly flipping to a gnarly and often damned scary illustration that might interrupt my sleep for weeks. Or how about that wonderful illustration by the much revered illustrator N. C. Wyeth in the book Treasure Island that showed the gruesome skeleton of a pirate who had been marooned on the island long ago. In fact, just the concept of being marooned all alone on a desert island added a new level of fright and concern to both my waking and sleeping hours for years to come.

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Banned Books Today

Banned BooksThe ACLU chapter active in my state is holding a celebration of banned books next week up in Charleston. If you’re in the area, I invite you to go and see what is happening today in the world of banned books. As an added attraction, they have provided a nifty brochure (pdf) showing many of the recently banned or challenged books from around the country. If you’re not in this area, take some time and find out what is being done in your area to celebrate Banned Books Week and become involved.

One of the problems with the documenting of “Banned Books” is that vast lists of historical aversion to many important pieces of literature tend to clutter the more current activities designed to control the lives of other people, especially younger adults, when it comes to telling them what they should and should not read. I like this idea of just hi-lighting recent activities: it shows that closed-mindedness is still common in America and doesn’t obscure the issue with archival listings dragged up from a long and sad history of book banning.

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