Tag Archives: books

It’s Banned Book Week!

I took the summer off from watching, reading and listening to the news. I did my best anyway. It’s really hard to do that. I’m still hopelessly up to date with the major events of this round ball we’re all stuck living on.

But I gave it the ‘ole college try and mimicked the See-No-Evil and Hear-No-Evil Monkeys for three whole months. It wasn’t the first time I did that. Every now and then I have to take a break from all the nattering or I would go a little nuts. I always  know when it’s time to plug my ears and run from the room screaming “la la la la la.”  It’s whenever I start to feel anger or fear on a non-stop basis.

I’m not a big fan of fear and anger (though I loved Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). I believe, as Jimmy Buffett puts it, Anger can make you doubtful and Fear can cloud your mind. And I was blessed with a personality that encourages me to look at life from the TASFUIL perspective (that’s an acronym for Things Are So Fucked Up It’s Laughable).  I’m usually able to make a joke or find humor in most situations (except for when I have to tell my bleeping children more than five bleeping times to pick up their bleeping toys!).

Thankfully, regarding life in general, I’ve reached a stage of self-control where I can silently amuse myself while the folks around me are gathering kindle and gasoline to storm the castle. However, things still seem to build within me and on occassion I reach a point where I realize I’m taking it all a bit too seriously and need to cut myself off from the media. For example, back when I was watching the second John Kerry/George W. debate, I literally had a panic attack. I didn’t know that’s what was going on at the time (I wound up spending the night on WebMD trying to decide whether or not I was having a heart attack to be sure). But my fear that the public would love GW sent me over the edge and I realized I was taking it all a bit too seriously. I had to take a break until after the election back then. (I had to take many more during his presidency.)

As oil oozed into the Gulf last spring and the masses started taking the Tea Party seriously, I realized I was losing my sense of humor again and needed another break. So I named it the Summer of My Content and decided to ignore the news as best I could.

It’s fall now and I’m sucked back into CNN and the BBC. I’m reading all the RSS feeds from everyone who thinks there is only one answer or one correct spin. And I’m finding it hilariously absurd. The best part is, I came back into the world of streaming media this past Saturday, which happened to be the first day of Banned Books Week 2010.

To mark the occasion, I dressed in black and went to my local Barnes and Noble in an attempt to find a copy of Lauren Myracle’s ttyl. (Her book “won” the honor of being the most challenged book in American libraries last year.) They didn’t have any copies on the shelf. I joked with the woman at B&N and asked her how the lunatics will hold virtual burnings when all the books are digital. She either had no sense of humor or she didn’t understand. Regardless, I had to order it from Amazon.com.

But it occurred to me that perhaps more people should take time off from external stimuli. I mean if you think Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a bad influence, or that And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a danger to all children everywhere, you might want to look at your anger and fear levels. Seems to me you might be filled with doubt or have a cloudy mind.

Take the season off from the news. Relax. Find a little humor in life. Or better yet, find a lot of humor in life. After all, one of these days you’re gonna die. And on that day, are you going to be content to look back on the years you spent bitching and bellyaching because not everyone thinks the way you do? Or would you rather go with a grin on your face?

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Social Networking

Not that I want to hound a theme to its grave, but I’m just not done with yesterday’s rant.

As a good little writer this morning, I finished skimming through a bunch of blogs from popular people in the publishing industry. One of my favorites is literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. This past Tuesday he asked the question: Does Social Media Help Sell Books? and took a poll. 51% of the respondents claim they do not rely on social media to encourage their book buying habits, 37% said yes, it does, and the rest were a joke answer.

There was plenty of anecdotal evidence for both sides of the poll in the comments, some of which was a little shaky — e.g., a woman who answered “yes” because she gets 30 to 45 hits a day on her site, so she feels it must be working. Does she think those are all different people each day? That none of them, not even good ‘ole mom and dad, visit her site more than once a year? And that each and every one of them are buying her book?

What I found heartening is that I’m not alone. Many others are where I am: overwhelmed by the immense amount of time and energy that goes into successful social networking (keyword: successful). Kelly Ann Jones made a comment here yesterday about how hard it is to find time to write because she’s too busy with her social networking. And I know of a YA author who has an extremely successful Facebook page, complete with competitions, etc., where she gets thousands of visitors — but she hasn’t even finished her first book yet. Perhaps if she’d been able to put that energy into the book, it’d be done (and then she’d be where I am, trying to figure out the damned query letter).

But let’s go back to Bransford’s post — think about it. Who responded to his comments? Mostly authors (published or still trying), i.e., people who are more likely to spend time on social media to begin with (after all, they must if they are to sell themselves, right?). So you’ve a bunch of book-minded internet-junkies answering a question about whether or not social media sells books. Hmmm . . . One would think all the answers would be “Yes! Yes! and Hell yes!” but it’s only half. I find that amazing! I mean if only half of them are buying books that way, what about the rest of the reading public — you know those people who just like to read and have absolutely no interest in writing, editing, publishing, or otherwise wall-papering their bathrooms with rejection slips.

I would love to see real, verifiable, survey results about how effective social media is at selling books. Does Joe Public rely on blogs, Facebook and Twitter to tell him what makes a great read? I don’t know a single person in my non-internet, non-social media life who has bought a book because it was hawked on Twitter. Nor have I bought one because of that. However, I do know several “normal people” who buy books because Amazon suggested it (because they bought a similar one on-line or via their Kindle) — or they continue to find new books in Barnes and Noble when it rains and they’re looking for shelter.

Granted, it could be a sign of my age and the age of the people I know. Maybe twenty-somethings do buy books because of Tweets. But, since the market does show that the majority of book buyers are women my age, (and my book is aimed at that target audience) I think that means Twitter is a waste of time for me (though I feel guilty saying that, as if I’m knowingly doing something wrong). Hail Mary . . .

Who has insight into this? Who thinks it’s worthwhile to spend hours, hours they cannot put back into their life, on social media networking in the hopes of selling a book? Hours not spent working writing books, short stories, essays, poems, etc. Is it effective? Do you have stats to prove it?

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Obscenities

Jesse Scheidlower holds the esteemed position of Editor at Large for the Oxford English Dictionary, which is one reason why he’s one of my heroes.  Another reason is because late last year he revised and reprinted a book originally published in 1995 called  The F Word.  And yes, it explores the F -bomb in great detail.

Why does that give him hero status in my little world?  Because here we have an eminent scholar taking on society at large, challenging our bizarre attempts to arbitrarily choose a sound and give it power. Somebody had to do it.  I’m just glad it’s someone with a sound, scholarly educational background.

The origins of the F-word are unclear, but contrary to urban legends, it is not an acronym for “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” or anything else.  It has been in use in the English language since the 15th century and is probably related to older Germanic words meaning either “to strike” or “to move back and forth.”  Which is innocent enough; almost makes it laughable that people can’t use it in common language in some circles.

Anybody can use it or any other word in front of me.  I, personally, have the vocabulary of a drunken sailor on occasion–and I don’t have to be drunk or at sea to do it (though I’m sure that would only encourage me).  Words are just words for me.  The power in them, I believe, comes from how they are used, not simply in their sound or existence.  Sometimes I drop an F-bomb because I’m angry.  Sometimes I do it because I’m awed.  I use it when it seems to fit the circumstance better than any other word that comes to me.  If I felt another word would do just fine, I’d pop it in there; really I’ve no preference one way or another.

I do censor myself in certain company, knowing full well that there are people on this planet who are offended by that word regardless of how it’s used.  And though I don’t understand it, I do try to respect their opinion on the matter and stutter out something else.  The hard part is teaching my children to do the same.

I try hard not to swear in front of my kids.  Not because I think their innocence will forever be destroyed if they hear mommy yelling “shit!” as she runs to the stove where smoke is billowing out from the oven.  But because society will treat them as if they are miscreants should they emulate me at their current age.  They have heard me curse (I refuse to call them “bad” words), as I do tend to slip up on occasion, and they now have a list of words they cannot say until they are as tall as I am because, my theory is, by then they will understand why they cannot say certain things in front of certain people.  My goal in that little educational endeavor is that they grow up not to be offended by words, but by actions.  After all, isn’t that one thing all parents agree on?  Isn’t that one of the things we all teach?  “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me?”

Another challenge with the kids comes from me not realizing some words are offensive.  My daughter rounded a corner in the hall and slammed into my husband.  Startled, she yelled: “Daddy! You scared the crap out of me!” My husband was upset with her and demanded to know where she learned the word “crap.”  I’m sure he knew the answer before she said “Mommy” but he gave me the benefit of the doubt and waited for her reply.  In all seriousness and honesty, I never knew “crap” was considered an obscenity.  I still find it questionable, even though I looked it up in my American Heritage Dictionary where it says the word is “Vulgar Slang.” Since when?  And really?

So yes, I thank Jesse Sheidlower.  Thank you for agreeing with me. Thank you for challenging society on the way it thinks.  And thank you for writing one hell of an entertaining book.

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Definitions, TASFUIL