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Happy banned books week!

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Banned Books Week officially starts today, ending Oct. 1; it will feature a number of events in libraries nationwide that point out how wrongheaded it is to ban books. Look for the latest most-challenged books list, which in recent years has been topped by the award-wining picture book "And Tango Makes Three," based on the story of two same-sex penguins who raised an adopted chick together. Also frequently challenged are books from two supernatural series for young adults, Twilight and Harry Potter.

 

Attempts to keep "undesirable" books out of the hands of young readers, as silly as it seems to some, haven't  stopped. This year, the Sherlock Holmes mystery "A Study In Scarlet" was removed from a Virginia reading list for its portrayal of Mormonism. In 2010, Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak," which deals with sexual abuse and rape, was targeted in Missouri for being "soft porn." And Sherman Alexie's young adult novel, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," has been challenged for its language, explicit sexuality and racism -- despite having won the National Book Award in 2007.

Other banned books come with literary pedigrees. James Joyce's "Ulysses," parts of which were published in the U.S. in The Little Review from 1918-1920, was banned in this country until a trial stemming from a 1933 import, in which a judge ruled it was not obscene. Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," published in France in 1934, spurred an obscenity lawsuit after it was finally published in the U.S. by Grove in 1961. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested and tried in 1957 for publishing Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl."

As a reader, it's easy to see how our literature and libraries are made better by the inclusion of all these works. But what about "Mein Kampf"? Do we have to stand up for it during Banned Books Week? In an essay for the Times in 2008, David L. Ulin wrote:

Banned Books Week offers up the sort of toothless, feel-good spectacle that makes us less likely to consider the actual ramifications of free expression.

The basic message here is one of astonishment: Why would anyone ban books when literature is such a positive and ennobling force? Yet while I agree with that, I also believe that some books truly are dangerous, and to ignore that is simply disingenuous.

Lest this make me seem an apologist for the book banners, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I'm against restricting anything other than material that graphically portrays certain illegal acts.

Yet it's foolish, self-defeating even, to pretend that books are innocuous, that we don't need to concern ourselves with what they say. If that's the case, then it doesn't really matter if we ban them, because we have already stripped them of their power.

Books do change things: Just think of "Common Sense," which lighted the fuse of the American Revolution, or "Mein Kampf," which laid out the blueprint for Hitler's Germany.

These are very different books -- one a work of hope and human decency, the other as venal a piece of writing as I've ever read -- but what they have in common is a kind of historical imperative, the sense that, at the right place and time, a book can be a galvanizing factor, for good or ill.

"Mein Kampf" is a title you don't hear a lot during Banned Books Week; the focus is more on classics such as "Song of Solomon" or "The Catcher in the Rye" that have been challenged in libraries and schools.

That's understandable, but again, it reduces the territory of censorship and free expression to something neatly clarified, rather than the ambiguous morass it is. What happens when our ideals require us to defend a piece of writing that is reprehensible, that stands against everything we stand for?

Feel like celebrating the banned book? Playboy and PEN Center USA are holding a celebration of banned erotica Sept. 30 with writer Jerry Stahl, burlesque from La Cholita, Kitten Natividad and Penny Starr, Jr., "The Story of O," "Madame Bovary" and more are on the bill.

RELATED:

Sherlock Holmes book banned in Albemarle County, Virginia

The expurgated "Huckleberry Finn"

Why do gay penguins make people so mad? "And Tango Makes Three" tops banned books list -- again.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: J.K. Rowling, in green, with the cast of "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Part 2" at its world premiere in London in July. Credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

 

Libros Schmibros, Ed Ruscha and Jack Kerouac

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Until Oct. 9, the Boyle Heights bookstore-slash-lending library Libros Schmibros is operating a pop-up store in a street-level gallery at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. Its latest project: Thursday's marathon reading of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

The selection of the book wasn't just because it was written 50 years ago -- which it was (although it was published later, in 1957). Reading "On the Road" underscored the rich relationship between books and culture, how much a novel can capture the imagination and resonate in unexpected ways. In an upstairs gallery, the museum is exhibiting "On the Road," a collection of recent works by Ed Ruscha connected to Kerouac's novel. There are drawings and word paintings with distant mountaintops dwarfed by phrases from the book:  "In California you chew the juice out of grapes and spit the skin away, a real luxury," reads one.

Taken out of context, the phrases -- often about food or hunger -- begin to echo with their own narrative. I find Ruscha's pieces compelling and hypnotic, and was entranced by them -- until I walked into the second exhibition room.

That's where I encountered Ruscha's 2009 limited-edition artist book version of "On the Road," with a copy of the book in a case and many of its illustrated pages hanging on the walls.

The real pleasure of Kerouac, I think, is in his run-on sentences, his willful flow, the desire to create something so seamless that he typed it on one long scroll. Like this:

I got on that hot road, and off I went in a brand-new car driven by a Denver businessman of about 35. He went 70. I tingled all over; I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snow of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was "Wow!"

In the second room, Kerouac's words -- laid out gorgeously with Ruscha's black and white photography  (original, commissioned and found) -- take on equal weight with the artist's work. In comparison, the paintings seemed like notes for a project, skeletal and piecemeal, while the illustrated book felt deep and immersive. Suddenly I could see how much a spare phrase lost when it was removed from its surrounding text -- of course, that may have been part of the point.

The paintings do stand on their own, of course. But for me as a viewer, Ed Rucha's artist edition of On the Road is even more compelling. It was published by Gagosian Gallery and Steidl in 2009, in an edition of 350, signed and leather-bound -- lovely to look at, but not something I can take home anytime soon.

Luckily, the pop-up Libros Schmibros store downstairs has a few used copies still in stock. It generally sells its books for half the cover price, although it is also known to give a neighborhood discount in Boyle Heights.

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In our pages: David Kipen's Libros Schmibros lending library

Jacket Copy on the road: The Jack Kerouac House in Orlando

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Libros Schmibros proprietor David Kipen reads from "On the Road" in the popup bookstore at the Hammer. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

Now libraries can loan Kindle ebooks

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More than 11,000 participating libraries can now loan out ebooks for the Kindle, Amazon announced Wednesday. The move had been expected -- in April, the online bookseller announced plans to enter the library market -- but exactly when readers could check out Kindle ebooks had not been known.

In a statement, Amazon explained how the process of checking out a Kindle ebook from the library will work:

Customers will use their local library's website to search for and select a book to borrow. Once they choose a book, customers can choose to "Send to Kindle" and will be redirected to Amazon.com to login to their Amazon.com account and the book will be delivered to the device they select via Wi-Fi, or can be transferred via USB. Customers can check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any generation Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry or Windows Phone, as well as in their web browser with Kindle Cloud Reader.

Although a Kindle device itself is not required, users will have to have to have an Amazon.com account.

Some books will not be available, as publishers are still struggling to find the best way to allow readers to borrow ebooks. Simon and Schuster and Macmillan have been the most reluctant, while Harper Collins decided to impose a limit of 26 checkouts on its ebooks earlier this year. J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series is not yet available as an ebook, for purchase or loan.

However, all those books are still available from libraries -- the print versions.

RELATED:

Amazon to offer Kindle libray lending. Is there a catch?

March 7: HarperCollins' 26-checkout limit on libraries' ebooks starts today

Digital Book World: Where do libraries and ebooks meet?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Amazon Kindle. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

Project Gutenberg founder Michael S. Hart has died

Project Gutenberg announced Wednesday that founder Michael S. Hart has died. Hart, 64, died Tuesday in Illinois.

Project Gutenberg provides free e-books of thousands of works that are in the public domain. Hart first got the idea of sharing significant documents electronically early, in 1971.

In an obituary posted on its site, Project Gutenberg writes:

Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones....

Michael prided himself on being unreasonable, and only in the later years of life did he mellow sufficiently to occasionally refrain from debate. Yet, his passion for life, and all the things in it, never abated.

Frugal to a fault, Michael glided through life with many possessions and friends, but very few expenses. He used home remedies rather than seeing doctors. He fixed his own house and car. He built many computers, stereos, and other gear, often from discarded components.

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job."

Over the years, Project Gutenberg has expanded the format of its electronic offerings to keep up with emerging technologies. Many of its e-books are available as plain text documents, HTML and epub formats. Like Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg's content is edited and vetted by volunteers -- and all its e-books are free.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

ALOUD's 2011 schedule selling out fast

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A highlight of this fall's ALOUD series from the Los Angeles Public Library will be Joan Didion's appearance, discussing her new memoir, "Blue Nights." She'll be at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in conversation with Times book critic David L. Ulin; tickets are sold out, but there will be some for sale at the door.

Some ALOUD events, such as Didion's appearance, include a ticket fee; others are free. One free event that's already completely booked is rapper Common's appearance Sept. 16 at the Central Library in conversation with television journalist Kevin Frazier. Standby tickets may become available.

However, there are plenty of events for which you can still make reservations. Karl Marlantes, author of "Matterhorn," will appear in November to discuss his memoir of Vietnam. That month, there will also be a discussion on Philip K. Dick with his daughters Ilsa Dick Hackett, Laura Leslie and Jonathan Lethem, co-editor of the forthcoming "The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick."

September appearances include those by Adam Winkler, discussing his nonfiction book "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America"; memoirist Alexandra Fuller; and author Diana Reiss on her work with dolphins.

In October, Liberian political activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee will discuss her book "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War"; David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, will talk about his book "Don't Shoot" with LAPD chief Charlie Beck; and Ariel Dorfman will discuss Chile, his friend Salvador Allende and his new memoir, "Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile."

There will also be a dose of fiction in October from Irish novelist Anne Enright and MacArthur "genius" fellow Colson Whitehead, who takes on zombies in his upcoming novel, "Zone One."

See the complete list of ALOUD fall events here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Joan Didion in 1996. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Archiving every book ever published

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It sounds like something out of a Borjes story, but Brewster Kahle is trying to build an archive that includes a copy -- a print copy -- of every book ever published. Kahle is perhaps both the best and oddest person to take on the task.

Kahle founded the Internet Archive, which has been taking and storing snapshots of the entire Internet since 1996. It now has a digital library that includes video and audio files, live music and the Open Library, which is building a single Web page for every book ever published.

In other words, he's kind of a digital guy.

But he's working on a huge -- really huge -- analog project. The Associated Press caught up with Kahle in Richmond, Calif., where he has stacks and stacks of shipping containers stored in a warehouse.

"There is always going to be a role for books," said Kahle as he perched on the edge of a shipping container. Each container can hold about 40,000 volumes, the size of a branch library. "We want to see books live forever."

So far, Kahle has gathered about 500,000 books. He thinks the warehouse itself is large enough to hold about a million titles, each one given a barcode that identifies the cardboard box, pallet and shipping container in which it sits.

That's far fewer than the roughly 130 million different books Google engineers involved in that company's book scanning project estimate to exist worldwide. But Kahle says the ease with which they've acquired the first half-million donated texts makes him optimistic about reaching what he sees as a realistic goal of 10 million, the equivalent of a major university library.

A technology pioneer, Kahle was a co-founder of the Web ranking system Alexa, which Amazon purchased in 1999. His hard-copy book collection, he hopes, will eventually also become a digital book collection. "The dedicated idea is to have the physical safety for these physical materials for the long haul and then have the digital versions accessible to the world," he told the Associated Press.

Kahle gave a Ted Talk in 2007 about the Internet Archive and how he sees it working as a vast, freely accessible library. It's embedded after the jump.

As for his half-million printed books? They're going to stay in storage, he explained, as an authoritative backup. He compares his warehouse full of books to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault -- even if it evokes images of the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Brewster Kahle, left, with Alexa co-founder Bruce Gilliat and their servers in 1998. Credit: Jerry Tefler / San Francisco Chronicle

 

Want to be a docent at the Library of Congress?

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The Library of Congress in Washington is seeking volunteers for its fall 2011 docent program. Docents are trained in a 14-week program that begins Aug. 30. More than 300 volunteers at the Library of Congress greet and provide tours to its 1.7 million annual visitors.

Docents learn how to lead tours of the Thomas Jefferson Building and answer questions about the library's collection. Volunteers who complete the program generally work one four-hour shift per week, which might be two two-hour tours. Interested parties can learn more and apply online.

The positions are unpaid, but perks include eligibility for free parking, a discount in the library's gift store and free flu shots.

Of course, to be a docent at the Library of Congress, you have to be in Washington.

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N.Y. Public Library to forgive 143,000 young readers' late fees

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Queen Margrethe of Denmark, center, with her consort, Prince Henrik, left, get a tour of the Library of Congress in June. (Note: Not all tour groups include visiting royalty). Credit: Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press

N.Y. Public Library to forgive 143,000 young readers' late fees

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More than 143,000 New York City kids have been banned from using the public library after incurring late fees of $15 or more. Starting Tuesday, they're invited back: the N.Y. Public Library is forgiving the fines in an amnesty deal for delinquent young readers.

The move is an effort to encourage the return of 143,000 children and young adults, about 30% of the city's young cardholders, to libraries in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. "Kids might be afraid or ashamed because they are delinquent with the library," library official Jack Martin told the N.Y. Daily News. "The idea of this program is to bring them back in.... We are in such hard economic times and children and teens depend on the library."

The amnesty deal demands something of the kids in exchange for the fee forgiveness: They'll have $1 deducted from their outstanding late fee balance for every 15 minutes they read in the library's Summer Reading Program.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: N.Y. Public Library reading room. Credit: Fiona Bradley via Flickr

Los Angeles Public Library open Mondays, thanks to Measure L

Lapl_openmondays The Los Angeles Public Library is open again on Mondays.

This is the first week that the city's libraries were open on Monday since August 2010, when budget cutbacks forced a cutback in hours. Now all 73 libraries in the Los Angeles public library system will be open again on Mondays, for the forseeable future.

That future is brighter for libraries because of ballot Measure L, which was passed by Los Angeles voters in March. Measure L set aside funds for the library from the city budget; while some argued that this set a poor precedence for city governance, voters decided that designating money be made available to libraries was a good idea. The library had been hard hit In past budget negotiations.

"I don't relish the fact that we've had to make as much in the way of cuts as we have," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a news conference at the downtown library Monday.

The mayor added, "It was a library that really opened up the world for me."

To accommodate the return of Monday hours, some branch libraries will be closed Friday mornings. Yet some libraries will be open later on Tuesdays and Thursdays, until 8 p.m. Check the library's website for your branch's current hours.

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Writers support library-funding Measure L as police union opposes

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Los Angeles Central Library downtown hung with a banner announcing the expanded hours. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

 

Mondays will be restored to L.A. Public Library schedules

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The Los Angeles Public Library, which curtailed its hours to meet the constraints of severe city budget cuts, will be reopening on Mondays. The mayor, City Council members and City Librarian Martín Gómez will kick off the newly restored Mondays with a news conference Monday  at the Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles.

In March, voters passed Measure L, which set aside funds from the general budget to support library services. All 73 libraries in the L.A. Public Library system will be able to be open again on Mondays, beginning July 18.

In August 2010, the L.A. Public Library shut the doors of its libraries on Mondays and cut hours, following cuts to the library's budget. The hours libraries have been open ever since are at the lowest level, the library says, in its 140-year history. During the next four years, funds from Measure L will restore library service hours to their 2009 levels.

Measure L was passed with 63% of the vote.

RELATED:

Poll: How will you vote on Measure L?

Writers support library-funding Measure L as police union opposes

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The Chinatown Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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