Bravo to Books

According to the American Library Association, Saturday, September 21, marks the first day of Banned Books Week. For the past 21 years the ALA along with several other co-sponsors have been exalting free speech and expression by commemorating one's right to read anything. Fighting tenaciously against the closed-minded minions who attempt to have books removed from the shelves of libraries and taken off the curriculum of classrooms around the nation, the ALA urges cities to stage read-outs, continuous readings of titles that have been banned or challenged. Topping the list of "currently challenged classics" are F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

One place immune to intimidation and sure to stock such "controversial" titles is local independent bookseller Books & Books. The baby of former high school English teacher Mitchell Kaplan, the store has been hallowed in these pages countless times. What began in a tiny location with warm wood-paneled walls and floor-to-ceiling shelves on the corner of Salzedo Street and Aragon Avenue in Coral Gables begat a second popular locale on South Beach. Surviving family legal squabbles and thriving, two years ago the Gables emporium blossomed into bigger and better digs across the street. A café, courtyard, and 6000 square feet of space lure the local cognoscenti and attract the international literati, who share their words with often-standing-room-only crowds.

This weekend the store marks its 20th anniversary with events designed to appeal to patrons of all ages. As famous for her Free to Be ... You and Me mantra of self-realization as she is for her starring role in Sixties sitcom That Girl, actress Marlo Thomas is the appropriate choice to open festivities Friday. She'll autograph her new book, The Right Words at the Right Time, which is not a tell-all describing why she threw Donald Hollinger over for Phil Donahue, but a collection of first-person essays written by the famous and detailing magical moments where words triumphed.

Subsequent days feature Algonquin Books editor Shannon Ravenel and her stable of writers who'll read from their latest novels, and a panel of authors including Pat Conroy (The Great Santini) and Cassandra King (The Sunday Wife: A Novel) holding forth on censorship. Young readers will be entertained by illustrator Chris Raschka, storytellers, and local cultural organizations that will offer hands-on activities.

Local authors with whom you can commune, plus dance, music, play readings, theater performances, food, and drink will get your head out from between the pages for a while. The one thing that might drive you back? A closing musical performance by Dave Barry and the World Famous Low Tides. Endure that and you deserve a birthday present, which is exactly why stock will be sold at twenty percent off all day Sunday.