“Write like a human” has been my advice to university students for years; imagine my delight to see those same words from Kurt Vonnegut to his pupils in Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style. For any writer, novice or not, advice on the craft from someone like Vonnegut is well worth your time. Fans of his will wince a bit at my purposeful use of a semicolon in my opening sentence.

Read the rest of my review on New Pages Blog here.

If you were at all wondering what you’d find between the covers of this book, look no further than the title. There are no secret themes, but there are plenty of characters – human and equine – expertly chronicled in this life journey by Susan Friedland. Taking 10 years (and troughs of tears) to write, Horses Adored and Men Endured is the “horse lover’s dating memoir” according to the author.

And what a memoir.

Before you think this is some fairy tale of tails and top hats, it’s not. Friedland’s experience is everyone’s. You may not have exactly the same line-up of disappointing dates, but the personalities are all relatable. Kevin and his orange leather jacket. Steve and prom night down the toilet (literally, food poisoning). Geoff and his crazed ex-girlfriend. Or romantic but elusive, Kolton; they’ll always have Paris. All are men best remembered once they are decidedly in the rearview mirror, or laughter at their memory would be as elusive as Kolton.

If you pick up this book wanting more of horses adored, you’ll get that. Honestly, I felt myself impatient with the chapters that weren’t all about a horse. Not because the book isn’t an engaging read throughout, but because, well, I’m a horse nut. Friedland gets me with the opening sentence: “… if only I could marry a horse.” Tell me your 10-year-old self didn’t also have that thought, however fleeting. Of course, I did not take it as far as the author did and fill a horse “hope chest” but that’s a splendid idea.

You can read the rest of this book review where it was originally published at Arabian Horse Travels here.

No books were banned from my childhood home, that I recall. I did sneak a book about the infamous Bonnie and Clyde to my bedroom, but only because my mother wouldn’t let me see the movie. No, we were a very bookish household and my mother was a classic theater geek, so all literary pursuits were encouraged.

I always knew some books faced the ban. I could see why Lady Chatterley’s Lover might have raised eyebrows in its time but banning Huck Finn or To Kill A Mockingbird perplexed me. (As a child, I wasn’t much aware of race issues, growing up in my lily-white Midwestern town.) I didn’t even notice when Banned Books Week was established in 1982, set aside to raise awareness of the growing challenges to books. It followed the landmark Island Trees School District v. Pico Supreme Court ruling that school officials couldn’t ban books in libraries simply on content.

By the 90s, I had children of my own to introduce to beloved classics and to discover new ones (Hello, Harry Potter). I didn’t do everything right as a parent, but I did manage to raise two voracious readers.

People want to read. Since the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in 1440, books have made their way to those people. In 2020, I don’t worry about the demise of books. Print or digital, book sales are steady worldwide. People still want to read, but I don’t think they know how tenuous our freedom to read is.

We still need to have Banned Books Week every year because the attempt on censorship continues. Librarians, those quiet (Shhhh!) warriors of ideas, indefatigable defenders of our freedom to read, are on the frontlines for us. Too many (in my opinion) feel pressured to self-censor – meaning, they just don’t put a title on the shelves rather than find themselves having to defend a book that falls outside of some “norm.” Just buy a book instead, you say. Let’s check our privilege, I say.

Why do books get challenged in the first place? Well, sex – a lot of the time. And things related to sex. Quite often it’s the “coming of age” stories that find themselves under the “banned” banner. (Judy Blume fans know what I’m talking about.) Imagine thinking that if we don’t read about “coming of age” it will never happen. If only.

Vulgarity creeps into the banning formula regularly. I’m in the Word Business and I can’t imagine the poor sod who has to keep track of all the newest curse words in case they make their way into a book. Exhausting.

Race and ethnicity also raise eyebrows, apparently. I can’t change my race or my heritage, so I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want me to read books that put me into someone else’s world. But that’s just me.

One topic not banned nearly as much as sex and swearing is violence. It’s there, but not as much as one would think if the intent on banning certain books is to protect our innocent ones from learning unsavory ways. I also didn’t find many challenges to books touching corruption. Of course, we’re conflicted about that one since corruption so often pays big dividends.

Before I step down from my soapbox, my stanch defense of books is not to silence individuals who disagree with particular content. I have my own list of books so poorly written they should have never seen the light of day much less a library, but that’s a different post. My argument against outright banning of books based on content is because it takes away the freedom of others to read and discern for themselves. I do not defend books with lies, weak research or plagiarized material – that is why we have editors, proofreaders and publishers. But I bristle at the idea of never having the choice to read The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hate U Give because someone else didn’t like the topics.

If you’ve read this far, do me a favor? Read a banned book this week (and Huck Finn doesn’t count). Exercise your freedom to read.

For many equine enthusiasts, the iconic image of the US West isn’t a chap in chaps on a dusty town road. It’s a herd of wild mustangs kicking up dust as they fill the horizon with magic. Nothing stops them. Nothing separates them. The plight of today’s North American mustang is anything but magical – unless you’re reading Mustang – From Wild Horse to Riding Horse by Vivian Gabor.

Within her pages, the personality and spirit of these now-feral horses take center stage. The cover teases you: “One Trainer’s Journal: Groundwork, First Rides, Obstacles, Trail Work, Liberty, Performance, and More.” The ‘more’ is what every trainer and rider is constantly searching for: insight into what our horses are thinking, what motivates them to behave the way they do.

Read the rest of my review at Arabian Horse Travel here.

Children have very big questions – about the universe, about feelings, about things seen and unseen. Grown-ups answer with facts, seizing every chance for a “teaching moment” but not realizing they’re really not answering at all. Children figure this out quickly and quit asking we grown-ups the Very Big Questions. They give us the simple ones (“How do I tie my shoes?”) and save the VBQs for special friends.

“The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse” by famed British illustrator Charlie Mackesy is a sweet tale of – you guessed it – a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse helping each other answer the kind of Very Big Questions that grown-ups can’t (but probably still have).

Read the rest of my review of this delightful book at Arabian Horse Travels.