Monday, September 27, 2010

Today is the third day of Banned Books Week, a week I wish we had no need of but sadly, we do. The First Amendment seems positively clear to me: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And yet, every year there is a long list -- about 10,000+ titles -- of books which narrow-minded people around the U.S. deem inappropriate, for children and adults. Can you even imagine that among the books banned are four books by Judy Blume, including Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, The Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Cay by Theodore Taylor, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth, Sophie's Choice by William Styron, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood? But I once read an article about the reasons The Wizard of Oz had been banned over the years, and one of the reasons was that it promoted vegetarianism (!??!!#$%&), causing me to ask myself, "what's wrong with people?"

I abhor censorship in any form, not only because it is obviously against our Constitution, but more importantly, because when censorship is applied to what we read -- even for what appear to be the noblest of intentions -- we teach, to children especially, a far more harmful lesson than any work of literature ever could: that we aren't capable of learning to think for ourselves, listen to two sides of an argument, or make considered and thought-out decisions. How are we, and again children especially, expected to make the right decisions in life if we don't have any idea what wrong choices are? How can we build strong communities if we don't know the results that weak and misguided ones bring about? How can we in fact make choices of any kind if we're not presented with all the options? A world of thinking people making informed choices, limitless ideas, and lots and lots of books is my idea of a paradise.

Authors of some banned books express the danger of censorship far better than me, and here are some comments from a few writers:

Judy Blume:

"I remember the night a woman phoned, asking if I had written Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. When I replied that I had, she called me a Communist and slammed down the phone. I never did figure out if she equated Communism with menstruation or religion, the two major concerns in 12-year-old Margaret's life...I believe that censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children's lives. This fear is often disguised as moral outrage. They want to believe that if their children don't read about it, their children won't know about it. And if they don't know about it, it won't happen...Censors don't want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way, the shelves in the school library would be close to empty. I wish the censors could read the letters kids write:

Dear Judy,

I don't know where I stand in the world. I don't know who I am. That's why I read, to

find myself.

Elizabeth, age 13"

Robert Cormier, author of The Chocolate War and many other novels:

"I sympathize with the parents who want to have control over their own children. What their children should do, see, read. My wife and I exercised those kinds of controls. If [parents] object to their children reading The Chocolate War, I don't protest. But when they forbid other children from reading it, then I strongly object. This, in fact, is the censorship problem in its most basic concept. Telling other people what they can do, see, or read. Invading rights of individuals in a free country...I try to write realistic stories about believable people, reflecting the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. I think there is rooom in the great halls of reading for this kind of book. The hundreds of letters I receive each year from both teachers and young people are what sustain me at moments when censorship threatens my work...If a book is controversial, perhaps the best place for it is the classroom where, under the guidance of a teacher, the book can be discussed and evaluated, where each student will be free to proclaim how he or she feels about the book, and in fact, can even refuse to read the book. The point is that free choice must be involved."

Zilpha Keatley Snyder, author of The Egypt Game (Newbery Honor Book) and The Gypsy Game, The Headless Cupid, and The Witches of Worm, all Newbery Award-winning books:

"The setting of The Egypt Game is Berkeley, California, where I taught school for three years while my husband was a graduate student at University of California. All six of the main characters are loosely based on kids who were in my class at that time...To further explain the background of the story, I would have to go back to when I was in fifth and sixth grade and our teacher took us through several inspiring and fascinating studies of ancient civilizations: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Chinese. I loved it all, and throughout my entire life, my understanding of history and literature and culture has been enhanced by facts I learned at that time...My own Egyptian period passed and I went on to other phases and games. I was a great game player and I was constantly involved in complicated scenarios based on not only Greek and Egyptian history and mythology, but also on stories from the Bible and, of course, on a multitude of beloved novels...The Egypt Game, just as the title suggests, was a game! Nothing else is ever implied in the story. And at the end, when the girls realize they have covered most of the interesting aspects of Egyptian culture, they are beginning to be on the lookout for new inspirations: "What do you know about gypsies?" And as to any connection with "occultism" or "idol worship," I am astounded and appalled. I truly fear for children whose parents are so fearful. Will they forbid their children to learn about Greek and Roman mythology, other forms of legend and folklore, and even fairy tales because of such fears? I certainly hope not. And a word about imaginative game playing in general: in my opinion a well-developed imagination is necessary not only for any kind of artistic endeavor, but also in many other career areas. Imaginative approaches to problem solving are necessary not only for a successful professional life, but also in the area of personal relationships."

Lois Lowry, author of The Giver, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1994

"When I wrote The Giver, it contained no so-called "bad words." It was set, after all, in a mythical, futuristic, and Utopian society. Not only was there no poverty, divorce, racism, sexism, pollution, or violence in the world of The Giver, there was also careful attention paid to language: to its fluency, precision, and power. The reaction to the book was startling...even more startling in the degree of differences in the responses...I went back and re-read the book myself. I tried to figure out whether these disparate people were, in fact, all responding to the same thing: whether there was actually a theme in the book that people found either uplifting or terrifying, or maybe both. And I discovered that it was the concept of choice. The Giver is about a world where those decision are made for them. It seems very safe and comfortable...then it got scary...because it turned out that it wasn't safe and comfy to live in a world where adhering to rigid rules is the norm. It turned out, in the book, that such a world is very, very dangerous, and that people have to learn to make their own choices. I sympathize with the fear that makes some parents not want that to be true. But I believe without a single shadow of a doubt that it is necessary for young people to learn to make choices. Learning to make right choices is the only way they will survive in an increasingly frightening world. Pretending that there are no choices to be made -- reading only books, for example, which are cheery and safe and nice -- is a prescription for disaster for the young."

Indeed, censorship causes blindness, as the slogan goes. Read! And learn more from the National Coalition Against Censorship,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wow, I can't believe my last post was in July. But in my defense, I've been busy with a manuscript on Paris; I took a much-needed vacation to Vermont (very nice!); and my Tuscany and Umbria book has just been published! Before I devote a whole slew of posts to those beautiful regions of Italy, I want to make one last post on this main page about Istanbul. In the future, all my posts on Istanbul -- and anywhere in Turkiye -- will appear together in a separate corner of the blog, and I'll continue to add to it, so check it every now and then for news and notes.

Fall is a really nice time to visit a number of places in the world, and Istanbul is one of them. It's still quite warm during the day in September and October, typically with plenty of sunshine, and it's cool at night (great sleeping weather). It's no accident that the September issue of Travel + Leisure features "Istanbul's Best Turkish Restaurants" by Melik Kaylan ( A boat trip up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea is an especially enjoyable outing as most of the other passengers at this time of year are locals, and again the weather's beautiful. The trip does require a six hour commitment -- to sail up, have lunch, and sail back -- but another option is a ninety-minute trip offered by TurYol (, which is in Turkish only but you can call (90) 212.512.1287, the number for the Turizm Burosu (Tourism Bureau), to find out the details in English (or someone at your hotel can call for you). TurYol has a fleet of boats that are smaller than the standard Bosphorus-Black Sea ferry, and its ninety-minute trip departs from the Eminonu ferry dock and heads up the Bosphorus on the Golden Horn side to Rumeli Hisari (the European castle), the largest fortification the Ottomans ever built (see my post dated 6/18/10 for a more thorough description and history). At Rumeli Hisari the boat turns around and heads back to Eminonu, and while en route you have a better opportunity to see the yalis (beautiful, wooden, waterside summer residences built by the Ottoman aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries) than you would on the larger ferry because the smaller boats hug the shoreline (the name yali, by the way, is derived from the Greek word yialos, "seashore).

In closing, I hope I will be forgiven for this minor display of shameless self-promotion: the quote below is from and was written by Tom Brosnahan, who is almost single-handedly responsible for me going to Turkey in the first place. Tom was the original author of the Lonely Planet Turkey guide, and continued to update it for more than twenty years. He knows more about contemporary Turkey than just about anyone in the world, and his website is quite simply the very best about Turkey in existence, which is the only reason why I don't feel too guilty about sharing his review of my book here:

"So many books exist on Turkish culture that it's difficult to know where to start.
Wait—no it isn't!
The place to start is with Barrie Kerper's Istanbul: The Collected Traveler.
Ms Kerper, a longtime lover of
Istanbul and Turkish culture, has collected nearly 600 pages of essays, stories, news items, poems, recipes and interviews on Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular.
The range of topics is almost bewildering, from an essay on
Ottoman Art by the esteemed museum director Ms Esin Atıl through debates on the origins of Turkish cuisine to John Freely's classic portrait of "The Passage of Flowers" (Istanbul's Çiçek Pasajı). There's even an interview with yours truly.
Ms Kerper's vision of, and acquaintance with, Turkish culture is broad and eclectic: history, architecture, art, cuisine, society, geography, literature, personalities—you name it, and she has probably included a piece of writing that touches upon it.
Beyond Istanbul, the book includes writing about the
Bosphorus, Edirne (Adrianople), Bursa (Proussa) and Gallipoli.
If 600 pages is not enough for you, fret not. Ms Kerper details Recommended Reading that goes beyond each of the section headings in her book.
The tourist doing a quick 10-day check-off of Turkey's top sights might not care about culture, but if you have an interest in Turkey beyond the quick tour, Istanbul: The Collected Traveler is a great way to begin your education about all things Turkish."
I hope you will visit Istanbul, soon, and that you will find my book enormously helpful. Gule, gule! (go with smiles, or bon voyage)