Too Hot to Handle — Literary Karaoke Does Banned Books

1. Jenn Northington, WORD’s Events Manager, special guest MK Reed, & host Rachel Syme, Books Editor for NPR. 2. Guest of honor MK Reed’s graphic novel Americus is about an American teenager trying to save his favorite book series from getting banned from his local library.

When I got to WORD in Greenpoint last Thursday night, I expected a raucous scene, booze-soaked books, or at least some dude with his tie askew slurring out a rendition of “A Rose for Emily” — surely the literary equivalent of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” right? I mean, this was Literary Karaoke, so it was supposed to be more on the dorky side, but when I arrived at the store, I was greeted with silence. Booky silence. Only one lone clerk roamed the aisles, and so I sheepishly wandered the small store looking for signs of people. Then from the far back corner, I saw a light, the opening to the basement. Down the clanging metal steps was Word’s karaoke space, which felt a little like an AA meeting, held as it was in a cinderblock basement. This was karaoke at its most tame, but on reflection, the basement was kind of perfect. The space could’ve very well held a meeting of subversives…which was appropriate because the night’s theme was Banned Books in honor of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. (See I was sorta going somewhere with all that.) This annual event, held the last week of September, was established to celebrate the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.

1. MK Reed signs the author doodle page. 2. Drew Valenti holding Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. His girlfriend turned him on to Literary Karaoke. Parents in Fayetteville, AR are petitioning to have The Bluest Eye removed from libraries because it promotes a “homosexual agenda.”

Though the first few sentences I heard after taking my seat did include the words ass, goddamn, fucking or dildo, most of the readings were of the more tame variety. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for example, got itself banned because it was considered propaganda, according to karaoke-reader Bridget. The Great Gatsby, another selection, was banned for its “alcoholic” nature, according to Rachel Syme, who read a beautiful passage about New York City (that did not include any of George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television — Fitzgerald was such a gentleman). Still another surprising addition to the reading was Twilight, banned for its violence in some libraries. And in case you were wondering, Jenn Northington, the events manager at Word, comes down firmly on Team Jacob.

1. Let’s take this boozin’ and turn it all the way up to 11!

If you’ve got a yearning to yalp out your favorite passages from banned books old and new, but you missed last night, you still have a chance to join the movement. Word is participating in the ABFFE (American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression) Internet Read-Out, part of which is a YouTube channel featuring people all over the country reading from their favorite banned book. To join the action, go here.

As for Literary Karaoke, this scene needs a little more booze and debauchery. Calling Jonathan Ames!

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— Cassie Hay is a regular contributor to The Dish.

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