Shelf Life

Squeals of protest

By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / September 20, 2009

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A children’s book about guinea pigs with a nonchalant attitude toward same-sex marriage has made its debut on a national list.

“Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” (Putnam) by first-time author and illustrator Sarah S. Brannen was one of the 10 most frequently challenged books of 2008. The list is compiled annually by the American Library Association.

On Saturday in Chicago, Brannen and other authors on the list will read from their works to kick off Banned Books Week.

“People have called the book a lot of awful names,’’ said Brannen, who lives in a suburb of Boston. In 2008, protests were lodged with some libraries. Some patrons said same-sex marriage should not be mentioned in a children’s book.

Next month Brannen will visit a town in Colorado where the library director answered a parent’s challenge of her book with an open letter about freedom of expression. Director Jamie LaRue wrote, “Our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them.”

From bookseller to author
Though Vincent McCaffrey shuttered the legendary Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in the Back Bay years ago, he still haunts book stores. Tomorrow he will be at Brookline Booksmith at 7 p.m. to talk about “Hound,” a literary mystery set in Boston.

McCaffrey’s book was published this month by Small Beer Press, co-owned by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, who once worked at the Victor Hugo. They complied happily with McCaffrey’s request his book be set in - what else? - Baskerville typeface.

Rejoicing in words
The “State of the Onion Address,” an evening of satire, is the hot ticket at the Burlington Book Festival next weekend. Another festival favorite is Harry Bliss, a cartoonist and cover artist for The New Yorker, who will draw pictures with children from the audience.

The annual literary gathering, now in its fifth year, celebrates Vermont history and fine writing from all over. Novelist Joyce Maynard, biographer Blake Bailey, and music critic Anthony DeCurtis are on the schedule.

Coming out
■ “The Lost Art of Gratitude,” by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon)

■ “Going Away Shoes: Stories,” by Jill McCorkle (Algonquin Books)

Pick of the week
Erik C. Barnum of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., recommends “Waiting for Columbus,” by Thomas Trofimuk (Doubleday): “A man in an insane asylum in contemporary Spain claims to be Christopher Columbus. The mystery of his identity and why he is compelled to hide in the famous navigator’s identity makes for a compelling and sensitive novel.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at

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