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Burgess: Conversation with a Challenged Author

Mandy Levy's book was riddled with Post-it notes by offended IPL patron

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Burgess: Conversation with a Challenged Author

Two weeks ago, I asked a question of my readers: Choose from one of the most locally and nationally challenged books and I will read the winning title.

This query was a response to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom's issuance of the most challenged books of 2018 in honor of National Library Week.

In addition to the 11 titles listed there, I also reached out to Deb Lambert, director of collection management for the Indianapolis Public Library, who provided an additional six titles which had been challenged locally.

After almost 100 votes, the clear winner was Calorie Accounting: the Foolproof Diet-by-Numbers Plan for a Skinnier New You by Mandy Levy.

Lambert told me an anonymous patron had “placed dozens and dozens of Post-it notes flagging every page with what she considered an inappropriate (e.g. swear) word for this kind of book.”

True to my word, I found a digital copy of the book available at the Hamilton East Public Library and read it from beginning to end. (Since it wasn't a hard copy there was nowhere to affix Post-it notes, sadly.)

After the voting had closed, I reached out to Levy via Twitter, and she responded to me over email. We talked over the phone on Wednesday, April 24.

Coincidentally, though Levy now lives in Los Angeles, she is a graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle.

“I'm thrilled. I didn't even know that it was at the Indianapolis Public Library. It was very exciting,” she said. “I'm from the Midwest, and ... all of this also is just like excitingly close to home.”

Levy told me she found the entire situation absolutely hilarious.

“Honestly, it was like, the greatest day of my life when we read that,” she said. “I was just tickled pink, I mean like, I love that so much. … Any reaction to my published humorous diet book is a good reaction as far as I'm concerned.”

Levy is a comedian herself. She lists Amy Sedaris and her books — I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People! — as one of her main comedic and literary inspirations. I can totally see the influence as Strangers With Candy is one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

“These are utilitarian books that have for real, excellent recipes and really good craft ideas,” she said. “And they're also really colorful with wonderful photography and illustrations.”

Having now read the book myself, I feel like only a completely humorless person would take the self-deprecating, sarcastic tone seriously enough to complain about it.

“They're really just pointing out what I want them to point out, which is the Calorie Accounting is a very different book from other diet books, and it is humorous and vulgar,” she said. “Whether or not they know it, they're really doing me quite a service and getting the word out on what differentiates my book.

“The world is a heavy place, might as well lighten up a bit.”

Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at rburgess@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.

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(2) comments

Deb Lambert

I love that the readers chose Mandy's book for you to read, AND that you spoke to Mandy too! Challenges to books lead to connections with authors and greater exposure to the challenged books more often than the challengers can ever imagine!

Rob Burgess Staff
Rob Burgess

Thanks for your help with this story, Deb! I love how it all came full circle. And, yeah, the minute someone tells me I can't read something, it makes me want to read it even more!