Dirty books.

Note: I started to write this for Deadline Detroit, trashed it, rewrote it, trashed it again – it seemed too obvious. But now, in the last days before the election, gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has unearthed dirty books as a campaign issue. So, with a sigh, I say the obvious.

Defending books from those who would ban them, burn them, keep them out of libraries – that’s porn for a progressive. It’s so easy to step up for Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, all of whom have written something to cheese off right-wingers. It’s almost literal virtue-signaling.

It’s harder to do it for the terrible writers – hacks, pornographers, crap-merchants – who also get swept up in the net wielded by people like state Sen. Lana Theis, who last summer choked back tears on the MIRS podcast when talking about the filthy, filthy books that Michigan children are exposed to in their school libraries. Stung by her tongue-lashing from her Senate colleague, Mallory McMorrow, she sought to get a little of her own back by also crying to the Detroit News’ Ingrid Jacques, champion of put-upon conservative women everywhere. Wrote Jacques, in her last column for the paper:

Theis points to specific books that she knows are in some Michigan school libraries or being taught in the classroom. Books such as “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health” depict in graphic detail masturbation, sexual positions and LGBTQ relationships. It’s targeted to children ages 10-13.

Other books such as “Push” describe a father raping his daughter, also in great detail.

“Do you believe preschoolers and elementary school children should be exposed to complex sexual and gender identity issues?” she asks. “Or do you believe children should be able to maintain their innocence at those young ages?”

Innocence. Huh. In my experience, 10-13 years is the age when puberty arrives, early for some (mortifying) and later for others (equally mortifying). Once that happens, one’s brain becomes a fetid stew of confusion, and innocence – at least, the innocence of early childhood – flies out the window. A book that explains how one’s body is changing, not just in medical terms but in a way that at least acknowledges all the weirdness one might feel as a result, sounds like a welcome addition to any school library. (Also, please: If 12-year-old boys, and some girls, aren’t masturbating, I’m Marilyn Monroe.)

I was about 12 when a different book was passed around my junior high school, like Soviets sharing samizdat. “The Godfather” was a best-seller, the ‘70s version of the Mafia tale. The paperback was everywhere, copies stained with pool water dripped by summer readers and ketchup from lunch readers, spines scored with multiple openings and closings. But we all knew what we wanted. Our copies fell open to page 21.

It’s the scene where Sonny Corleone screws Lucy, a bridesmaid at his sister’s wedding. Author Mario Puzo doesn’t spare a detail in describing Sonny’s huge penis, “an enormous, blood-gorged pole of muscle” that penetrates Lucy and causes “unbelievable pleasure” as she receives the “savage arrows of his lightning-like thrusts” which of course – of course! – end in a “shattering climax” for Lucy, the first of her life. Of course.

Junior high was different then. Most of us were still virgins. Our health classes talked about reproduction, sperm and eggs, but nothing about blood-gorged poles of muscle, needless to say. The passage was titillating, confusing and terrifying. We all had enough knowledge to understand, theoretically at least, that we’d be having sex one of these days, but we feared for the integrity of our tender interiors, should it be with a Sonny Corleone. But Lucy felt unbelievable pleasure; it said so right on the page. From savage arrows. What is going on here?

Here’s another book Theis named in her tour of aggrievement, “Push,” by an author known only as Sapphire. It opens with this devastating passage:

I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver. That was in 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She’s retarded. I had got left back in the second grade too, when I was seven, ’cause I couldn’t read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf’ grade so I can gone ‘n graduate. But I’m not. I’m in the ninfe grade.

Clarieece Precious Jones, the child telling her story, is not innocent, needless to say:

“Father,” (the nurse) say. “What’s your daddy’s name?”

“Carl Kenwood Jones, born in the Bronx.”

She say, “What’s the baby’s father’s name?”

I say, “Carl Kenwood Jones, born in the same Bronx.”

I can see where “Push” might not be Theis’ cup of tea. But imagine you’re a child who’s enduring this sort of abuse at home – it happens, even in Howell – and you pulled this book down from a library shelf. You might feel less alone in the world. And maybe you are a well-loved child from an intact family, and you did the same. Maybe you’d feel like the world was wider than you might have thought.

And that is the whole point of literature. To hold a mirror to the world, all of it. Children should be guided in their choice of reading material by adults, but not dictated to. (You should have heard what my school librarian had to say about Nancy Drew mysteries, my absolute favorite for a while.) In a just world, any child entering a school library in search of reading material should be treated with trumpets and salutes. If a plain old book can cut through the static of TikTok, homework, over-scheduling and the million other things competing for their attention, give that author the Nobel Prize. That’s an accomplishment.

Theis’ cause is not a lonely one. I recently stumbled across a spreadsheet, file name “inappropriate library books,” compiled by FEC United, a hard-right group that has established a beachhead in Grosse Pointe, where I live. It contains “Push,” needless to say. And there’s the 1619 Project and various books about racism. All three of the authors I mentioned in my first paragraph are there. And now, late in the race, the flailing Michigan gubernatorial campaign of Tudor Dixon has seized on dirty books, which she describes as “books describing how to have sex” as an issue. I can’t really top Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s riposte to that (“You really think books are more dangerous than guns?”), but I will add that in my experience, no one needs to be taught how to have sex; nature has endowed us with the instincts to figure it out on our own.

Anyway, like I said, we can all get a warm glow from sticking up for Toni Morrison. But I rise today to stick up for Mario Puzo, crap-merchant. His lousy novel was the foundation of two of the best movies ever made; that alone is the basis for a decent term paper. Lucy the bridesmaid gets her own subplot, a weird medical detour to explain her too-large vagina, and no I’m not kidding. It scarred me for years, worrying that one day I could only be satisfied by a donkey-endowed man like Sonny Corleone.

If only it had been kept from me!

Posted at 9:34 am in Current events, Popculch |

37 responses to “Dirty books.”

  1. Jeff Borden said on October 31, 2022 at 11:33 am

    In my freshman year of high school at an all-boys Catholic institution in Akron, Ohio, which would’ve been 1965, the book passed around was a hideous work called “The Man From O.R.G.Y.,” about a secret agent who posed as a sex researcher to spy for Uncle Sam. Some smartass had replaced the original cover with the one from Edith Hamilton’s book on Greek mythology. My naïveté being at extremely high level, much of the book’s prose flew right over my head.

    The march of the ignorant continues apace as the QOP encourages outright mockery of expertise and education. Their cult is so fucking dumb. . .worrying about critical race theory, drag queens, “furries” using litter boxes in classrooms, trans athletes stealing women’s sports and other concocted culture war issues. . .while their party sells them down the river. Banning books is such a lovely act of performative politics. . .so very easy to do. Most of these goobers have never read these tomes, of course, but by cracky, they know they are bad and dangerous and anti-Murican.

    We’re so fucked.

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  2. Julie Robinson said on October 31, 2022 at 11:58 am

    The Godfather was on our shelves at home so of course I picked it up and read it. The sex, even Lucy’s story, seemed as distant as the violence, all part of a make-believe world. My innocence protected me. Which was also my experience when volunteering as a school librarian.

    If I were the parent of a young child today I’d be much more concerned about what they’re finding on the internet. Or TV and the streaming world.

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  3. Little Bird said on October 31, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    I think I was about 12 when I read The Best Little Boy in The World. Now THAT was an eye opener! But I didn’t really understand what I was reading. We’d had sex Ed starting in first grade, very clinical information and all parties were definitely described as married, so this was just pure fiction in my mind. Every aspect of it.

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  4. ROGirl said on October 31, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    Let’s not forget that Ulysses was banned in this country for obscenity almost 100 years ago.

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  5. Dorothy said on October 31, 2022 at 1:04 pm

    I have been taking my granddaughter to the library fairly often since she finished daycare in July this year, and am so happy that it’s a place she asks me to take her to. We were just there on Saturday and they had Halloween craft goodies sitting on lots of tables and that’s what she made a beeline for. Then we skimmed around the room to get some books. She picks some, I pick some. Then I let her do the scanning of my card and the books. This is all tailor made for a 5 year old. And she goes to the library in school once a week (kindergarten) and I’m glad I was the one who introduced her to it. I look forward to her wanting to read some of the books on our shelves, and if she has questions she will know she can ask me anything.

    Annie in the previous thread you speculated that the Pelosi house didn’t have security. Knowing that they are millionaires I’m confident they have some kind of electronic system. He broke a window with the hammer he brought – maybe more than one window. They’re not exactly going to advertise what their security system is, especially in the aftermath of this kind of attack. But I have no doubt the police got there quickly because of (probably) an alarm that was sent to their security company and (a fact we already know) because Paul phoned 9-1-1 and they responded so fast. The attacker entered on the first floor at 2:25 in the morning. I think I read that Paul called 9-1-1 from a bathroom on the second floor. If an alarm went off that would have given him precious seconds to grab his phone and step into the bathroom. Much of this is speculation, of course, but logic would tell us that they’d have the house wired for security.

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  6. David C said on October 31, 2022 at 1:17 pm

    In Jr. High, I didn’t know of many boys who didn’t know where to find the Playboys in the old man’s sock drawer. Not ideal but more tame than what’s on the internet. I heard a clip of Betsy’s poodle moaning that her daughter brought home a book on divorce from the school’s library. Why oh why wouldn’t the library shield her traumatized daughter from that. My guess is that her daughter wasn’t stupid and saw some shit going down that concerned her so she checked out a book to help her deal with it. That seems like what libraries are for, aren’t they?

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  7. Peter said on October 31, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    I have a story that ties in today’s entry and the trip to Spain – with a line that many of my fellow contributors must have heard in their lives:

    My best friend from grade school had an older sister who was a high school Spanish teacher. At that time (late ’60’s – early ’70’s) the Spanish Consulate was encouraging Spanish teachers to assign pen pals to the students – the US students would try out their Spanish, the Spanish students would work on their English, and the consulate would hope that everyone would be friends and forget all this Civil War stuff.

    They gave a pen pal to my friend’s teacher as well – a priest from Madrid! She’d share his letters with us: He wasn’t some parish priest, but worked in the government’s censorship office.

    He visited my friends family a few times, because he had business in Chicago – he was responsible for reviewing the Spanish edition of Playboy. He’d come to town and spend a couple of days going over the galleys, taping and inking out the naughty parts.

    One day I was at their house for dinner, and the priest asked my friend and I if we subscribed to Playboy. Well, what else was I going to say? “No, Father, I haven’t seen that magazine”.

    He responded “Oh, your parents should let you subscribe to it so you can read the articles – they’re fantastic!”

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  8. Heather said on October 31, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    When I was around 12 the book we all passed around was Forever by Judy Blume, which I mostly remember because the male love interest named his member “Ralph” or something like that. So cringe, as the kids say these days.

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  9. Deborah said on October 31, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    The girl down the street from us as I was growing up had a dad who was a big Micky Spillane fan so had lots of his books. The friend had dyslexia or some kind of learning disability and her parents encouraged her to read ANYTHING. So she had run of the Spillane books, lots and lots of comics too. I remember going to her house basically just to read what she barely touched, it was amazing to me. I’ll never forget a passage in a Micky Spillane book, that a woman’s legs were like parenthesis waiting for the insertion of the word, and he had the word alright. Hilarious.

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  10. basset said on October 31, 2022 at 7:25 pm

    Looks like running out of sweets is not going to be an issue tonight.
    Rain started just as I sat down on the front steps next to jack o lantern and candy… has tapered off some and we’ve had five little visitors so far.

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  11. basset said on October 31, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    Calling it a night with the count at seventeen, none of em looking older than maybe ten. Which is good.

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  12. David C said on October 31, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    We had a record year. We gave it all away by 6:15. No concern for demon Fentanyl here.

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  13. basset said on October 31, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    Make that 25, with a pack of high school kids who showed up just as I was winding up the electrical cord to our one illuminated pumpkin. Three pieces of candy left at the end of the evening.

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  14. Heather said on October 31, 2022 at 10:16 pm

    We ran out of candy and our neighbors gave us some of theirs to keep going. Some cute costumes. One group was made up of the Blues Brothers and Calvin and Hobbes, and they told us we were the only ones thus far who had correctly ID’d their costumes. Then my neighbor and I walked around the neighborhood to see some of the decorations and somebody offered me a beer, which I took.

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  15. Dexter Friend said on November 1, 2022 at 2:10 am

    I read “The Godfather” sitting along the flight line at Ton Son Nhut Airport waiting transport to a field unit to become their replacement medic. Nine days I sat there as monsoon weather grounded most flights. I read it and re-read it. Finally the clouds broke a little and a plane attempted to get me and a plane full of guys to our destination. It crashed ,driven out of the sky by a likely microburst. No fatalities, but we were stuck out in the middle of nowhere for three days before trucks could get to us. I read Puzo’s masterpiece a couple more times. I could not wait for the movie to come out in 1972. I could do the Brando tissue-in-cheeks voice very well, and for a few months was a big hit at parties performing a few lines. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p99Y-V-PKRc

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  16. Mark P said on November 1, 2022 at 9:08 am

    Fanny Hill was the book that was passed around at my high school in the late ‘60’s. I read it on a bus ride to a soccer game. I was quite old before I learned what “Fanny” meant.

    Jeff Borden, I’m not sure whether I knew that you grew up in Akron. My mother grew up there and my grandparents lived there, or rather in Cuyahoga Falls, for many years after my mother and father married and moved to Georgia. My (step) grandfather was a school janitor, and they lived in a duplex across the road from a big school, as I remember from many years ago.

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  17. Deborah said on November 1, 2022 at 9:34 am

    Nobody won Powerball so it’s up to $1.2 billion. Buy your tickets!

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  18. jcburns said on November 1, 2022 at 11:40 am

    Went and voted this morning. Our library’s setup was first-class and everything moved very smoothly. So glad to cast my vote for Stacey Abrams, Raphael Warnock, Bee Nguyen, and the rest of the Democratic slate. Whoo-hoo!

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  19. Julie Robinson said on November 1, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    Since I’m working the poll at our precinct I’m waiting for election day, to have the experience as a voter. I voted absentee for the primary. Most of the races have simple and stark choices; it’s the judges and smaller races that can trip me up. I’ve been doing my research and have only one choice left, for the soil and water conservation district supervisor.

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  20. Courtney said on November 1, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    but did anyone pass around the novel Lace in middle school? I will always remember the idea that the perfect breast size for a woman is one that can fill a champagne flute (gag, eye roll, but I remember it, goddamnit).

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    • nancy said on November 2, 2022 at 12:06 pm

      A breast that could fill a champagne flute would be horrifying-looking. I believe the legend is that the coupe glass — the saucer — was based on Marie Antoinette’s breast. But it’s only a legend.

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  21. Mark P said on November 1, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    We just voted. There weren’t many people there, so it went fairly quickly. Of course we voted for Warnock, Abrams, and Marcus Flowers, MTG’s opponent. There were no contested races for school board and county commission, and all incumbents were Republicans.

    If Abrams does not win the governor’s race, she ought to be the DNC chair. The Democrats need to contest every race in every state, and I think she’s the one to organize that.

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  22. Little Bird said on November 1, 2022 at 4:22 pm

    I voted today too, not super crowded, but perhaps right before lunchtime wasn’t the best time to go. There were people in line behind me complaining that they only had so much time before they had to be back at work. In front of me were a few little old ladies, all of whom kept pulling their masks down to talk to each other. Very few masks otherwise. Even on the volunteers. But I’ve done my civic duty! I really hope we don’t end up with the weather man as our governor.

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  23. alex said on November 1, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Here’s a cheap flip on my street.

    Now: https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/5908-N-Shore-Dr_Leo_IN_46765_M38178-26946


    I remember the day they spray-painted the shit-brown siding mint green. It’s still shit brown under those shutters, I’m pretty sure.

    The house had a double lot which was its best feature. The land was sold off separately and someone’s probably going to build on it.

    So the flipper is asking close to $150K more than he paid for the house but the siding color clashes with the roof and everything they did strikes me as cheap, cheap, cheap.

    Wish I could work as a color consultant in that business. I’d have made the siding harmonize better with the “new” roof (which isn’t).

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  24. David C said on November 1, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    My parents house was bought by a flipper. It was in as good a shape as two mid-80s people could keep it. I suppose cheap granite and the kitchen cabinets were really cheap melamine covered things. Beyond that I don’t see much that could be done. It’ll be interesting to see.


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  25. LindaG said on November 1, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    It was “Peyton Place” in the late 1950s that was kind of forbidden. I was reading it in the closet of an upstairs bedroom when my older sister found me and told my mom. (I think sister just thought it was funny.) Mom came storming up the stairs to take it away from me! I’m 81 now! Barely remember what PP was about other than teenagers doing what teenagers do.

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  26. Suzanne said on November 2, 2022 at 8:08 am

    We are starting to look for a new house, downsizing. I know it’s just paint, but I am astounded at the ugly colors some people put in their homes. I realize it can be painted over but it still begs the question of why? I am fine with the laminate faux wood floors but some are incredibly unattractive, almost striped. At least the market seems to be settling down so I hopefully we can find something at a decent price without 20 other people putting in bids at the same time.

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  27. Connie said on November 2, 2022 at 9:15 am

    The book we passed around in high school was “The Flame and the Flower.” It was the first of the sexy bodice ripping romances. It has a wikipedia article.

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  28. Dorothy said on November 2, 2022 at 9:19 am

    David @24 – I clicked on that link. That’s a nice house and I see it sold on October 11. Do the pictures reflect what the flipper did to it? If so I’m a little surprised that they used so much color on the walls. Realtors are always stressing that walls and carpet need to be neutral. Which drives me crazy. I know the science behind it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. The pictures reflect that it’s staged beautifully. I’m just curious to know if the colors were done when your parents owned it, or after it was bought.

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  29. JodiP said on November 2, 2022 at 9:48 am

    I voted on Monday, riding my bike to the government center. 3 blocks away I realized I forgot my bike lock. I brought my bike to the voting area and the staff kept an eye on it while I voted, even fending off an over-eager security guard.

    I had to ride an elevator to that floor and shared the elevator with a guy looking for the office to file a restraining order against his live-in girlfriend. She’d attacked him with a knife the night before, resulting in superficial scratches. He was remarkably blase about it. She’s in custody, which helps I suppose.

    I am meeting with one of my staff today at a wonderful bakery, Patisserie 46. I’ll be biking there too, since summer just can’t quit us. It’s our last meeting, since she’s being moved to someone else. We met in grad school and reconnected in 2016 when she began working for my county. So, in a way it will be nice to be just friends again.

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  30. David C said on November 2, 2022 at 10:05 am

    Those were my parent’s colors, Dorothy. I’m sure that’s something the flippers will change. They last painted about fifteen years ago when they were feeling better and deeper colors were in. I thought the staging, which was done by the real estate agent, looked too sparse and made the house look smaller than it is. I know that’s the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. It probably has more to do with not seeing my parents stuff in their house.

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  31. Deborah said on November 2, 2022 at 10:21 am

    I always hear that the furniture should be neutral and the accessories add the color. Because it’s a lot easier and cheaper to get new pillows when you get tired of the color than a whole new sofa. But really, just do what makes you feel good when you are living there. I have never been one to think about resale value, I want to live the way I want to live, maybe that’s impractical but I don’t care.

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  32. alex said on November 2, 2022 at 10:39 am

    One of the things that bugs me about the flip house I posted is the lighting. It’s awful. No consideration was given to lighting the new granite dining peninsula in the kitchen; instead there’s just a badly placed cheap titty light floating in the middle of the room. And no overhead lighting in the living room at all.

    If it had been up to me, especially since they supposedly went to the trouble of rewiring the place, I would have installed canister or wafer lighting aimed downward. It gives off so much more warmth. And some undercabinet lighting in the kitchen would help as well. There are plenty of inexpensive light fixtures that are well designed and give off pleasing light. Going with generic cheapo shit may help the bottom line but it’s not going to help sell the place.

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  33. ROGirl said on November 2, 2022 at 11:57 am

    I could never bring myself to go with anything but neutral walls, but I do like color. My new kitchen cabinets will have blue lowers and the top cabinets will be white, and there will be ceiling spots/canisters. Cabinets are supposed to come in next week.

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  34. Julie Robinson said on November 2, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    ROGirl, that’s the exact cabinet combo we want in our kitchen. Where are you getting cabinets from? A recent experience bad IKEA experience has led us to question our previous plans.

    Alex, I noticed the boob lights all over that house. It looked like everything was Builders Grade from Menard’s.

    Finding contractors was hard enough before but Hurrican Ian has pushed all our planning back again. Even before Ian we couldn’t get electricians to give us quotes. Two came out to the house but never followed up and are no longer responding. I guess our job was too small even though we have a lot that needs attention.

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  35. JodiP said on November 2, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    I agree with Deborah. Our house is full of color, and two rooms have wallpaper. We have 4 couches in various places and all but one is colorful. We did neutral walls in part of our upper half story, but the couch is red, and there are photographs and art that bring the space alive.

    We had thought about blue kitchen cabinets, but decided to go with a medium brown. I know it’s popular, but we went with subway tile for the backsplash, although it’s a larger size. I might have shared before that we picked up Delft tiles in Delft for accents over the stove and sink. what walls are left are going to be blue. The project is set to begin in 2 weeks so of course we’re entertaining the next 2 weekends before the kitchen is out of commission. (When will we pack up the kitchen????) I am already daydreaming about the first thing we’ll cook in the new kitchen.

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  36. ROGirl said on November 2, 2022 at 1:32 pm

    Julie, my contractor didn’t have what I was looking for, the only blue option they had was navy, which I didn’t like, so I had to do my own search. I found a brand called Homecrest Cabinetry, they have peacock blue. My contractor was willing to order them (and said it’s a good brand), but they did cost more than their regular cabinet suppliers. I think they’ll look awesome.

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