Too Banned





 How sad that every year the library must promote the reading of banned books.

What joylessness must be had at the American Library Association as it curates titles that are challenged, banned, censored and removed from bookshelves.  What is the message we send when we ban the written word from one another? What is it we fear? As the ALA promotes yet another year of celebrating banned books, fromHansel and Gretel to Persepolis, I ponder this fear. 


Our libraries, schools and bookstores embrace Banned Book Week with wonderful displays and excellent programming. I hope people check out or buy the banned American Heritage and Merriam Webster Dictionaries, even if these books contain objectionable words. Banned Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a brutal story, yet I am grateful that this author allowed me into his world. Banned Charlotte’s Webis a beautiful tale of friendship. I am sorry animals die. Banned Harry Potter is magical. Magic is make-believe. 

My elder son, as a child, used to close his eyes and say, “You can’t see me.” That is a tender sweet memory. 

However, for adults, to close their minds, and say, “You can’t read these.” That is fear and a delusional response to freedom of expression. 

It’s too bad we will be here next year, continuing to raise awareness of books banned based on misconception and misplaced consternation.


Welcome back to Chapter Endnotes


We have spent the summer scouring the literary world for interesting titles that will make for good discussion worthy of your time. The ballots are in and no chads appear dangling. The votes were incredibly close with razor-thin margins! Even though we live in Florida, we opted for no recount. Instead, we are extending the line-up through March. Hopefully, our presidential election will run just as smoothly. 

Thank you for your patience as we all get used to working with and navigating through this new website format. Apologies in advance for any technical kerfuffles. 

Lastly, It was wonderful to be back around the table, discussing literature and learning from everyone. 

Privy to the Unedited Life

What makes a diary compelling?

Why are we drawn to read the personal private observations of another?


Perhaps it is just that: personal, private, unfiltered thoughts offer a truthful, honest reading experience. Everyone wants to be that fly on the wall.


I just finished a diary by Mary Boykin Chestnut,* a book that allowed me to be that bug and fly back in time, perched on the parlor walls, in the highest of Southern societies during the Civil War. The topic of slavery in the American South is painful and incomprehensible to me. Perhaps this explains why I am drawn to the Civil War and its history.


Chestnut’s diary gave me the opportunity to see the Civil War through the lens of a female and that alone was intriguing. Mary Boykin Chestnut was:  a slave owner, a wife, a friend, a mother, a secessionist, a racist and a finely-schooled and “well-bred” South Carolinian hostess. Her entries fascinated me because her point-of-view was unalike other accounts I had read of the war. And diaries play out in real time. I knew the outcome of Ft. Sumter, McClellan’s failure to launch, Sherman’s destruction and Gettysburg’s horrendous toll. Mary takes the full impact, page by page.


Published diaries offer us the chance to read intimate observations of known events as they unfold in front of the author. Experiencing, without hindsight or analysis. Mary chronicle’s her royal personal world that begins like a grand tour and collapses almost like a “one hoss shay.”


I’ve just begun another book of recollections.  Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember by James Mellon. This book is not one person’s diary but a collection of 29 oral histories of former slaves, recorded as part of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project in the 1930s. The oral histories from this book were selected from over 2,000 interviews. These recollections reflect the same time period but through the opposite end of the human spectrum, the slave.



Diaries and oral histories serve as an excellent reading experience and important historical, educational and cultural primary source of life during an agonizing period in our United States.



Diary as Literary Tool


For the same reasons that true diaries fascinate us, fictional diaries offer that same pull. Below you’ll find a top-rate list of books that employ the diary style.


To explore more about Mary Chestnut:   

For an in-depth look at slavery and first-before-you-go-anywhere-else-must-see if you visit Charleston, South Carolina, check out The Old Slave Mart Museum.


To walk in the same footsteps of Mary Chestnut and learn more about plantation life for owners and slaves, visit Eliza Leach’s House at Middleton Place and do not miss the daily explanations of the house given by Middleton Place’s knowledgeable docents. Mary refers to visiting Middletown and socializes with the Middleton families.  Magnolia Plantation’s tour of its Slave Quarters offers insight as well as the preserved Drayton Hall.


The Old Slave Mart Museum also has a great wealth of books on this topic for sale in its store.


*The full book title: A Diary from Dixie: the Civil War's most celebrated journal, written 1860-1865 by the wife of James Chesnut, Jr., an aide to President Jefferson Davis and a brigadier-general in the Confederate Army




Here are some fictional diaries and diary-inspired titles for your consideration:


Diary of a Provincial Lady
by E.M. Delafield 

A wonderful series. If only I could write like Delafield!


Go Ask Alice
by Beatrice Sparks

Scared me to death. Scared me for life.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #1) 
by Jeff Kinney

If you have a child that hates reading, you might want to try the Wimpy Kid series

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky 

Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes 

Summer Reading…


by William Shakespeare 


The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins


by Bram Stoker 


by Toni Morrison

by Chuck Palahniuk 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
by Anne Brontë 


by Charlotte Brontë


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by Mark Twain


Most of the Sherlock Holmes stories

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“Watson” writes them as entries


And Certainly the Most Influential and Non-Fictional Diary:


The Diary of a Young Girl

by Anne Frank 


I’ll be discussing this diary in more detail in an upcoming post.


Join me tomorrow 9:30 a.m. during 89.9 FM WJCT's First Coast Connect Book Club to discuss diaries in literature.

Consider checking out a diary for your next book. You’ll be privy to shared insights and new perspectives. However, before I crack open the first page, I want to know whether the diary is fiction of truth. Why?


Go Ask Alice,


Stacey Goldring




Brief History, Horrifically Real



A Brief History of Seven Killings is a heavyweight. 

Marlon James’ 2015 Man Booker has been described as a masterpiece.
I am thinking more like a monstrous feat.

The tome is told in brilliant dialect, placing you directly in 1976 Jamaica and the convoluted  attempted murder of Reggae icon Bob Marley. 

James exposes and boldly bares the horrific poverty and violence of the tumultuous corrupted Jamaica of 20th midcentury. Frankly, I wanted to fast forward through the endless painful descriptions of brutal murder, rape and torture. Marlon intertwines a Rashomon style, allowing the reader to understand the A Brief History from a multitude of perspectives, cultural, political and personal. For those that just couldn’t get through the book because of the use of dialect and the truly grisly brutality, I suggest you listen to the audio book because it will quickly streamline your understanding and thus make the book a virtual page turner. And you can fast forward through the uncomfortable chapters that you would otherwise have to face. 

On the flip side, books like this are exactly why book club discussions are vital and important. Many books on my shelves are there because I read them for a book group. And, I am grateful I was exposed to these stories because these messages, themes and ideas expanded my understanding of the world. Before you give up or turn down a title because you “don’t read those kinds of books” or you “only read bios” or whatever your druthers, remember that book clubs offer you titles to enrich your literary and cultural landscape. If you don’t want to learn, keep reading the same old comfy thing. Nothing wrong with your favorite pair of literary jeans! Just know a whole literary wardrobe is available to you on the bookshelves of the library.

Or, you can just wait for A Brief History to show up on TV. HBO has plans to make it into a series. 



Too Much Fun for My Pyloric Valve!

I gotta say, I've been working with WJCT's Melissa Ross and Sean Birch for almost four years now. I've seen a lot of interesting individuals walk into the studio and sit for a chat. 

However, last week was an absolute doozy and almost blew my pyloric valve back to Moorish times. 

It was rip-roaring fun to have Miss Trixie of Levy Pants right there in the studio, complete with her bag of rags and strings. The real Miss Trixie, who was coaxed from her retirement to appear on First Coast Connect hosted by Melissa Ross. Miss Trixie, who is an integral character from the pages of John Kennedy Toole's masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces, spent my segment falling asleep on the mic, calling our for Gloria and handing her socks in various places en studio.  If you think brilliantly like me and enjoyed CofD, then you would have appreciated this public display of National Public Radio indignity! I

I am incredibly fortunate that Lucy Cortese, my mentor, former head hauncho and my fearless leader at Tree Hill Nature Center and now member of my book group, agreed to channel Miss Trixie and take it to the search of her ham. 

It takes a certain sensibility to love CodD. Not only did Lucy, a published author, adore Ignatius rumpus and appreciate the brilliance of the message, she Lee Strassberged Miss Trixie to the max, a performance worthy of a Paradise vendor hot dog. 

Thank you to TV Jax for filming this truly literary moment during the First Coast Connect Book Club.



Creative Writing Workshop: Welcomed Criticisms


When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors,
I make an occasional cheese dip.
-John Kennedy Toole

If we are comfortable applying a happy sheen to our words, try a rougher buff. 

Never shy away from using uncomfortable words.

If those words speak to you, if you handle them honestly, go for it. Ask yourself, "Would the message be the same without the offensive word?" You'll understand instantly whether to keep or cut. 

Add a narrator. It can add clarity and enrich a personal piece.

David Foster Wallace says to Consider the Lobster. Consider the other crustaceans, too. Take the view of the antagonist and rewrite your piece. 

Worth exploring:

The poet Mary Oliver

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

"Keeping Quiet" by Pablo Neruda

Pat Conroy

How can it be that our conversations about The Water is Wide, now leaves our hearts, empty and broken?

I read a text received before the crack of dawn from a friend, a fine writer who refuses to get out of her damn way and share her words with paper and pen. Pat Conroy is dead. 

After spending a month immersed in reading and researching Conroy for our discussions, I felt a stabbing pain of personal grief that I don't deserve, but, dammit, I feel it anyway because that's what writers end up doing to us. 

They make their personal laments our private matters. The magic of good writing. We get to own it. We've invested our time, emotion and imagination into the pages of another's soul. It's a fair deal. Writers have no choice but to write, maybe a narcissistic endeavor, like standing in a mirror, snarling, holding up your pen in perfect stabbing stance. But, like an addict, the need prevails and voila, the written word. If a reader chooses to make the deal and crack open that book, then hell yes, the story becomes their own. 

You better believe I feel losing Pat Conroy is personal. It's damn personal. Back in 2007, he said in a letter to the editor in The Charleston Gazette that "people cuss in his books," and that he cusses, too. 

And there it stands. The essence of writer and reader. He writes. We read. The grief is therefore real and raw this morning as the fog lifts off of Julington Creek, revealing another day of ospreys boasting and the thrushes singing their morning cantatas. Pat is gone, but this world of the Southern experience, that he captured and penned, is still here.

And leave it to Conroy to exit on the one date that stands alone in our Gregorian calendar as a complete sentence. 

More ironic that my refusing stubborn dear friend, who won't write, who won't make that risky deal between reader and writer, is the first to tell me of Pat's denoument. I think it's sign, perhaps a metaphor riffing on "man plans and god laughs." How much more cajoling will it take to convince my friend to just write? 

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

Defining Education

Oh, the eternal quandary of the educator. The Water is Wide opened up deep conversations about the philosophy of teaching. Luckily, many of our book group members are educators, so Pat's wonderful words spoken personally to their own experiences. 

The takeaway is clear. Just like Conrack, our teachers were fueled by idealism and smacked with reality. Like Conroy, I believe that teaching is a noble profession ignored by the powerful out of simply fear. 

However, I remember 12th grade English teacherMrs. Fetter, who insisted we knew of Samuel Johnson, John Milton and Donne, "because when you are at cocktail party and someone brings up Paradise Lost, it is imperative that you'd be capable of intelligent conversation." My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tucker, ruled that books were pretty much sacred biblical artifacts. If one was found, god forbid, on the floor of the classroom, the flaming gates of all hell broke loose. Mrs. Graber taught Anatomy, so no literature ran through the veins of my dissected cat, but I was told to memorize everyone bone, joint, tendon and muscle of the body and you believe believe that is exactly what I did. My atlanto-occipital joint bows my head in homage the these teachers, and each educator in my book groups,  who have enriched my life.

Here are the links the the videos shared:

Gullah Gullah Island television program

Daufuskie Island info

The rather awkward but interesting interview

A beautiful clip about the book

I hope you'll join me at the San Marco Book Store on April 14 for a screening of Conrack


Magical Reading

Like a nightingale's song, the news of Harper Lee's death was saddening. No one can write the proper words of gratitude that can equal her prose. Her much admired privacy did not allow for a grand good bye from her legions of admirers.

In order to honor the work of Lee, the best we can do is to pass on the love of reading. Like Atticus did with Scout. If we can connect with another and reveal the magic of the written word, we can be sure that Harper Lee would feel we've done justice to her memory.

Radio Days

Discussing literature every month on the radio is an incredible privilege. For over three years, Melissa Ross, host of First Coast Connect, has invited me into the 89.9 FM WJCT's studio to talk about everything from Allende to Zora. 

This month, both great authors were mentioned on the segment, which was televised.


Lesson learned: One must be always ready for their close up. Even on the radio. 


Forced Eviction

It's here. Chapter Endnotes 2.0. 

At Chapter Endnotes, we've been discussing books since 2007 here in Jacksonville, Florida. Our website received this facelift simply because the old site became archaic with the last OS update. Consider it a forced eviction. 

Moving forward, once all the boxes are unpacked and the books are placed back on the shelves, you'll feel like this is home. 

Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) British poet.