Connecting to the Past by Picking up a Book

to kill a mockingbird

Until earlier this week, Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird was not available electronically. Readers had to discover Lee’s story of young Scout Finch growing up in a small Alabama town the old-fashioned way, by cracking open a book. (Or by seeing the acclaimed 1962 film version. But a student assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school would certainly never just watch the movie, right? Right?) But now, Lee, who just last year sued for control of the copyright of her work, has agreed to let her book be published electronically, for reading on computers and e-readers.

In a statement, Lee said: “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

As many more people acquire e-readers and read their books online, this was undoubtedly a smart choice for Lee and her publishers, who surely want to give people the option of reading her classic novel for as long as possible, in whatever format is the most popular. E-books and electronic publishing certainly seem to be the way of the future right now, and it’s good to know that whatever the future will bring, people will still be able to read To Kill A Mockingbird.

A different question raised by this news, though, is if the experience of reading a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, which is so tied to a specific time and place in the past (Alabama in the 1930s) will be affected by reading on a digital platform. For a young person reading To Kill a Mockingbird today, they are looking at a world very different from their own. Could reading about it on an e-reader create an even bigger sense of disconnect?

Books, physically, are a spectacular and lasting connection we have to the past. Our lifestyles and hobbies and distractions may change, but reading a book is reading a book, no matter when you do it. A book printed today is not fundamentally different from a book printed one-hundred years ago (or two or three hundred years or more, for that matter). Little technical things may change, but it’s still pieces of paper with printing on them, bound in a particular order to convey a story or inf0rmation. When someone today reads about Scout Finch picking up a book, they are able to connect with that moment. No matter how different their life and situation may be from Scout’s, they understand what a book feels like.

But for people who have no real conception of what a physical book is, this moment of connection with the character and story will be lost. They may recognize what a book is intellectually, but have no understanding how it feels. It’ll just be another thing making Scout’s world alien from their own.

Listen, I’m not a Luddite. I love books, but have no problems with technology. I’ve read books on computers and iPads, and it’s pretty nice. Plus, here at Morgan Reynolds, we release all our books electronically as well as physically and even have some e-book exclusives that not only tell great stories but will also look spectacular on your digital screen of choice. And when you get down to it, the important thing is that people read at all- what they read on is a minor issue.

Furthermore, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel for a reason- it tells a great story filled with memorable characters, and features themes that resonate beyond any particular time or place.

But it is interesting to think that for centuries, the physical act of reading a book has remained largely unchanged, and very soon, it may be completely altered. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing- it just is. Still, even though To Kill a Mockingbird may now be accessible with just a quick click on your Kindle, it may be worth holding onto the old, dusty, dog-eared paperback on your shelf. The future is coming no matter what. It can spare a few moments to be wistful about the past.

To learn more about Harper Lee, and how her life inspired her classic novel, please check out Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee by Katherine Don (ISBN# 978-1-59935-348-7) from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

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Pardoning the Past, Looking Towards the Future

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

At the start of this year, I wrote about Alan Turing, and the effort to get the renowned scientist and mathematician an official pardon from the the British government. Now, as the year is coming to an end, that pardon has been given: on December 23, 2013, the Queen of England officially absolved Turing of his crimes, just under sixty years after his death.

Similarly, back in November, the last three of the Scottsboro Boys who had yet to be exonerated were granted a posthumous pardon. (The Scottsboro Boys were a group of black teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of rape in 1931. The unfairness of their case and the trials that convicted them helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement.)

Though the stories obviously have many differences, they both show modern authorities attempting to rectify the injustices of the past with symbolic gestures. As well intentioned as they are though, this hardly seems like enough. Though there is some satisfaction to the fact that official records will no longer indicate these people as guilty of crimes they didn’t commit, their lives were still ruined by the charges unfairly brought against them.

So what value then is there in trying to correct the mistakes of the past? The past is past, and nothing can change it. But in granting these pardons, in admitting that mistakes were made, and offering some justice–if only symbolically–after the fact, we can hope that we are making a promise to the future. A promise that such injustices will not occur again, a promise that we can and will do better, or at least try.

At Morgan Reynolds Publishing, we spend a lot time thinking about history, about the past, about the thousands of events that have occurred throughout time that have led us to where we are today. Whether it’s the story of young men unfairly accused of a crime because of the color of their skin, or of a genius mathematician who pioneered computer science, or the way the spread of a disease affected civilization, or even the way a fashion designer overcame poverty to clothe a president, everything that has happened has the led the world to where it is today, for good and ill. By studying it, by trying to understand, we aim to understand the world around us, and hopefully–hopefully–have a greater grasp on where we are going and who we are. So that we can do better. Or at least try.

We don’t grant official pardons, but we do try to always present the truth, or as much of the truth as can be known. We believe that the facts should speak for themselves, that the truth offers its own condemnations, and its own pardons.

Thanks for reading along with us. We are looking forward to the new year, and hope you’ll keep reading.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Evan Williams and Medium

Twitter-CEO-Evan-Williams-002It’s always tough to follow up a great success, and that is certainly true for technology visionaries.  Evan Williams, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, is currently working on  a new web project, called Medium. Recently, he spoke to NPR about the site, which will be a new publishing platform. Describing it, Williams said: “Medium is very simple. It’s a website that lets people read and write things.” Specifically, Williams is interested in providing a forum for ideas that get more in depth than the quick, 140 character thoughts that define Twitter.

It’s not a bad notion, but at this point it’s hard to guess if Medium will be a success, let alone the have the culture re-defining impact of Twitter. (To be fair, I am certainly no expert about what will and won’t work in terms of new ventures. And Twitter certainly didn’t seem like that great an idea when it was first introduced, but it has become an integral part of modern culture in a number of ways.) Aside from informing readers of an article’s length next to its title (in terms how many minutes it will take to read), and from the admittedly good idea of grouping articles by topic instead of by author (as most blogging services do), its hard to see why Williams thinks Medium will have any real impact. (One more note: Medium is still in its beta phase. So what you see if you glance at the site now is probably not exactly how Medium will be.)

Skepticism aside, Williams’ belief that Medium can be the next big thing suggests that there is an interest in answering the question of what the future of reading and communicating will be. We in the publishing industry know full well that things are changing, and printed books are quickly being left behind as the dominant medium for expressing thought. (Speaking of which, check out our ebooks!) And sites like Medium and Longreads suggest that there is a desire for written ideas on the internet beyond the quick, pithy comments found on social media (though those can certainly be fun, and in some cases, valuable).

But will sites like these ever fully replace books? We certainly hope not, nor we do think so. But there is no question that right now more is being written than ever before, and more importantly, there are more than ways than ever to get that writing to an audience. How that fact will change how we approach writing and reading, and how we define good and bad, remains to be seen. Medium may not end up a world changer like Twitter, but it may well end up helping some new ideas and authors reach receptive audiences. And maybe, for today, that’s enough.

– Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

To learn more about Evan Williams and the founding of Twitter, please check out Twitter: Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams (ISBN# 978-1-59935179-7) by Chris Smith & Marci McGrath from your local library, or order it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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School Board Votes to Ban Classic Novel From Libraries

Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man

In another unfortunate instance of Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s home state of North Carolina making national news for doing something embarrassing and wrong-headed, last week the Randolph County school board made the decision, in a 5-2 vote, to remove Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man from Randolph County libraries.

What prompted this move? It was a single complaint from an outraged parent, who in twelve page letter, complained that the book “is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers.” The parent detailed many of the novel’s depictions of sex and rape, with little to no consideration of the context of those scenes, or what they mean to the novel and it’s depiction of a racially divided America.

Of course, credit must be given to this parent: she seems to at least have read the book. Or at least skimmed it. Randolph County’s school board members were given copies of the book in anticipation of voting on it, and when asked about whether or not they had read it, the only response came from Board Chair Tommy McDonald, who stated “It was a hard read.” Efforts to find out if the board members had read the book didn’t pan out, either: the school board’s attorney encouraged its members not to speak to the press regarding the decision about the book, or even answer the question of whether or not they read it.

Still, this didn’t stop school board member Gary Mason from stating, authoritatively, “I didn’t find any literary value.” Of course, some people might disagree; people such as the critics and scholars who selected Invisible Man for the National Book Award in 1953, or the Library of Congress, who named it one of “The Books That Shaped America,” or even the writers of the AP English Literature exam, who have included passages from Invisible Man on the AP exam thirteen times in the last fifteen years.

So the board voted to remove Invisible Man from Randolph County libraries. It should be noted here that two of the board members, Emily Coltrane and Todd Cutler voted against removing the book from libraries. But their five fellow school board members out voted them. There names are Tommy McDonald, Gary Mason, Gary Cook, Tracy Boyles, and Matthew Lambeth.

They may have expected this matter to be over and done, but in today’s internet era, when news can be spread from the smallest corners to the whole of the world in a matter of seconds, things don’t stay hidden long. So word of this decision got out, and spread around the world, warranting mention from dozens of news organizations such as the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, the Christian Science Monitor, and even getting a mention on Russian news sources.

So quickly, the Randolph County School board decided to hold another meeting, this Wednesday (the 25th of September), to reconsider their decision. How that meeting will go remains to be seen, but at the moment, it seems as though the school board is hastily trying to reverse course and cover up a major potential embarrassment.

I hope they do reverse their decision, but even if they do, it does not excuse the staggeringly stupid and arrogant action they initially took, and that action should not be forgotten. These people compromise a school board; they are responsible for determining the educational course of the children of their county, and yet they couldn’t read or properly comprehend one of the most well known and respected novels of the twentieth century. This is completely unacceptable, and even if they right their wrong after being nationally shamed, it is frankly unforgivable. Again, the names of the school board members who voted to remove Invisible Man from Randolph County Libraries are: Tommy McDonald, Gary Mason, Gary Cook, Tracy Boyles, and Matthew Lambeth.

Maybe I am being overly critical. Maybe these board members are just stealthily trying to direct kids’ attention to this literary classic. After all, what better advertisement for a work of art is there then that some cabal felt the need to hide it from innocent eyes? What better enticement to read something than “you are not allowed read this?”

"You know you're not supposed to go in there. What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?"

“You know you’re not supposed to go in there. What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?”

(For any young readers whose interest is piqued, free copies of Invisible Man are being made available.)

Coincidentally, this controversy has coincided with the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. In this annual event, the ALA celebrates the freedom to read by examining all of the books that have frequently been challenged (and too often banned) throughout American history. (A Randleman High School student will also be holding her senior project, a banned book Read Out, Thursday. Her project was planned before the Invisible Man banning.) It is grim reminder that some people have always sought to suppress any knowledge or ideas they find objectionable or simply don’t understand. But it’s these challenging ideas and works that allow for meaningful discourse on complicated issues (such as racism and racial equality, subjects covered eloquently in Invisible Man), and allow society to change.

The national outrage that has come down on Randolph County’s school board is certainly heartening, but this is an issue that should never even have come up. The fact that there is still debate over whether or not certain books should be suppressed for the public’s perceived best interest is unacceptable.

Suppressing speech or art doesn’t protect a society, it stifles and ossifies it. It was works of art like Invisible Man and the protected freedom of expression of countless activists that spurred on the Civil Rights Movement and helped ensure the freedom of all Americans. By deciding that books with challenging ideas might be offensive and should be banned, and by believing that they have the authority to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for the public, what injustices are people like the Randolph County school board allowing?

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

To learn more about Invisible Man and the life of its author, please check out Ralph Ellison: Author of Invisible Man from your local library (ISBN# 978-1-931798-69-3) or order it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

 

UPDATE: The school board met again Wednesday (the 25th) and reversed their decision.  Invisible Man will again be available in Randolph County libraries. Only Gary Mason, the board member who claimed the book had “no literary value,” voted to uphold the ban.

Updates on Past Topics

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Time passes, and things happen. Here’s some updates on past blog and book topics that continue to make news around the world:

-A recent report in the New York Times depicts Nelson Mandela, the  former leader of South Africa and anti-apartheid figurehead struggling with his health, surrounded by family and friends who wish the aging activist would be granted some peace and quiet in what may well be his final days. As a symbol of the fight against oppression in South Africa, Mandela remains significant though he’s retired. Now, as he potentially nears the end of his life, it seems as though a new struggle will be fought over his legacy.

-On this day (May 28)  in 1936, Alan Turing invented his famous Turing Machine, a device that helps in understanding and explaining computer functions. This invention was vital in the development of the computer and computer science, and to honor Turing’s accomplishment, every year the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) gives out the A.M. Turing Award to scientists who make major advances in the world of computing. This year, the award was given to MIT professors Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali, who did work in the fields of cryptography and complexity theory. Some of their work focuses on increasing security in various online interactions, such as internet purchases and cloud computing. These issues are far beyond anything Turing could have imagined for computers when he invented his machine, but the bestowal of the award with his name on it affirms his vital role in the advancement of this technology that has come to define the century.

Harper Lee has returned to the headlines: the author of To Kill a Mockingbird has sued the son-in-law of her former literary agent, alleging that he took advantage of her age and failing health to convince her to sign over rights to the book, and that he has cheated her out of proceeds for many years. The case has not yet been decided; hopefully it will not be a sad final chapter for the author of one of America’s most beloved novels.

-More news from North Korea. Kim Jong-un has apparently not taken to heart the request of his friend Dennis Rodman, and will not be releasing American citizen Kenneth Bae, sentenced to 15 years in prison for vaguely defined crimes against the North Korean state. Bae just began serving his sentence, in a “special prison” that is largely a mystery to outsiders. North Korea also reignited tensions and fears about nuclear threats when the country fired four short range missiles into Sea of Japan. Though the launches were only tests, and no one was hurt, the missiles refocused attention on the small country, and its repeated promises to build nuclear weapons. Or perhaps the launch was just some stealth advertising for the country’s new ski resort

Reportedly, director Steven Spielberg’s next project will be a film adaptation of American Sniper, the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle was killed in February, while trying to help another soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder at a gun range. Kyle is one of the many soldiers documented in The Military Experience. Special Operations: Snipers from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

These are just a few of things happening in the world. They remind us that just because the book is over, the story is not at an end, and that to fully understand what is happening in the world right now, we must have an understanding of the past.

To learn more about Champion of Freedom: Nelson Mandela, Profiles in Mathematics: Alan TuringReal Courage: The Story of Harper LeeThe Military Experience. Special Operations: Snipers, or our Ebook exclusive, Modern American Conflicts: The Korean War, please visit morganreynolds.com.

-Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

 

 

 

 

“Every thing must have a beginning … and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” -Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

When John Riley and Anita Richardson founded Morgan Reynolds almost twenty years ago, their hope was to produce nonfiction books that would both supplement middle school and high school curricula and spark the interest of young adult readers.

According to Readfaster.com, “Out-of-school reading habits of students has shown that even as little as fifteen minutes a day of independent reading can expose students to more than a million words of text in a year.”

Even Dr. Seuss knew what kind of opportunities reading could present, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

But the publishing industry is changing.

If there is one thing for certain, it is that change, no matter what industry you are in, will always be a constant. For publishing, never has that been more true. Economic ups and downs, advancements in technology, and changes in what teens, the most fickle of readers, are interested in are just some of the things publishers have to consider.

As a small independent publishing company, we want to use this blog to share who we are, what we publish, what our philosophy is, what events we will be attending, and how we are adapting to the constant changes in the publishing world.

We will be posting things that pertain to our company and our industry. So stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

*Be sure to take a look at our Mary Shelley biography, Strange Creatures: The Story of Mary Shelley


Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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