About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Do you have any more words like “searing"?

In Wintertgirls, Laurie Halse Anderson disassembles a very troubled teenager. It’s almost a therapy session, but one page into it, we can’t help but like and almost admire her protagonist, Lia. And soon, very soon, be terribly afraid of her.

Lia’s very good at convincing herself that she’s wrong. Her interior battles take place in interior monologues with strikeout text, bursts of self-loathing, and very bad decisions. Her outward impulses are generous and thoughtful. However, she is trapped in an echo chamber that is coming to light more these days.

She is dying from words.

The brilliance of the book is that it makes for a great read. I’m resisting any adjectives like “searing” because they fall short, and are overused. There is a fishhook quality to this book. I flinched on every page, and couldn’t escape needing to know the outcome. The bait was constantly replenished, too – deft characterization (I knew who Elijah was the moment he appeared), hard scenery (every place is a place we’ve seen, often in pain), and high tension.

Anderson’s book is more than brilliant. It’s also good. It’s part of what should be a national conversation about the terrifying new stresses our social and media environment puts on teens. Maybe we shouldn’t complain so much. Our distant ancestors lived, if they were fortunate, to the ripe, old age of 25 or 30. Kids today (don’t read this in a “get off my lawn” voice), at least in most of the developed world, do not want for physical comfort, food, educational opportunities. The disparities of wealth and access to power that do exist are even highlighted by some as examples of how wealthy we are.

So why should we be concerned with girls who have negative self-images? what is the difference between body image issues and self-esteem?

Low self-esteem weeds the winners from the losers. This is very useful if you need to cull the children in order to have enough food for adults, and if the adults all have to be hard as nails. We have drifted from that – well, for some, it’s an ideal – to the principle that happiness is a human’s right, at least to pursue, if not obtain. And if we’re all equal (again with the Enlightenment ideals), then we should stop culling ther children, and let them develop in their happy differences.

In so many respects, this works. We have consumer-protection laws that reduce the incidence of lead in children’s toys because it’s bad for them. We stopped accepting child labor (onshore) because we felt bad for the kids. There are foundations today focused on evening out the opportunities in schools, because we feel bad for the kids.

And bullying is making the news increasingly as a threat to our kids. It has always existed. It’s long been a concern of parents, more recently one of politicans, to restrict it, or to ignore it as natural, a way of sorting out the bosses from the followers.

One strain of bullying affects teenage girls’ self-image. And it’s not only bullying by kids against kids. It’s bullying by our entire society against kids. The reason, I think, lies in the use of concept marketing instead of product marketing.

Do you ever see a fat person drinking soda in a commercial? Do you ever see sick people going to the beach in paradise on an airline commercial? How about car ads? Drug rehab center ads on late-night tv?

We ingest a steady diet of these images, and tney become us. We are what we eat. And the difference between the ideal and the real causes pain to some, and is a stick others (bullies) use against them.

Anderson’s Lia is that girl. She’s trapped. She doesn’t need the bikini models to tormet her anymore. She is so far past them, she can taunt them instead.

If you can face Lia’s demons, you ought to give this book a read.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bad luck for paper-bound publishers?

Alex Knapp at Forbes.com asks, "Are Apps the Future of Book Publishing?"

I think he begins by assuming the affirmative, and proceeds by asking which type of app.

I work in the paper-bound book publishing industry. I don't have a e-reader or tablet device.* I'm actually shopping for a bigger bookcase.

[*partly because my kids would never let me use it]

Knapp points out that something I've been wondering about since Myst is coming to fruition - a book type narrative that readers generate interactively. FWIW, I think that's a different type of literature from the dominant sale-scaled fiction narrative today, the novel.

(I know, Knapp didn't ask if enhanced ebooks would replace novels, but that seems to be the real, underlying question. Who really thinks that college students in 2020 will have 40-pound textbooks that are out of date when printed?)

Yes, this makes me worry about, first, the future of literacy (will we all require enhancements as well as phonics instruction?), second, my publishing job, and third, what I will do with my new, big bookcase in seven years.

It does not make me worry about the publishing industry. Boo-hoo. The fat cats have to adjust. Don't worry, they're already figuring out how to get authors and customers to foot the entire bill.

Maybe I should assemble a group of really creative people to publish enhanced content. We'll have to come up with a new genre, since "novel" is taken, "enhanced novel" sounds creepy, and "e-book" sounds so pre-millennial.


Monday, April 2, 2012

note on breadth, depth

When I started blogging (was: "publishing," but that sounded like aggrandizement) thoughts about what I had read, the idea was to share the breadth of things. But who wants to read lists? (The Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon notwithstanding - really, you should read this, and the lists are among the best points.)

Depth takes time, however, and I've been both reading and (gasp!) writing, and now that soccer season is starting, I'm coaching, too, with no letup in yardwork, commuting, or being Dad, none of which I'm great (deep) at, but breadth takes time, too.

As for breadth, I've recently (this morning) discovered behavioral economist Dan Ariely's blog, which is so well written I think I might enjoy reading more about economics.

Here are some of my other recent readings, scored on a scale of 1 (why did I bother?) to 10 (how did I live without it?):
  • Scott Westerfield, Uglies. 8/10. The protagonist doesn't know she's living in a nightmare, then discovers she is, then decides to unlearn that in order to rescue everyone else. Same character age (reader appeal) as Hunger Games, but far less violent. Still, the materials is directly linked to post-puberty issues, so I don't imagine 13 year-olds would be terribly interested. Anyone who wants to disagree, please comment! 
  • Orson Scott Card, "Salvage," (Wastelands). 7/10. Unreliable narrator, deep secondary characters. Unremarkable postapocalyptic scenario, but well fleshed-out. The strength here is the characters' interaction with the history and conditions of their situation. I'm embarrassed I haven't yet read Ender's Game. Going to remedy soon
  • Paulo Bacigalupi, "Bread and Bombs," (Wastelands). 9/10. Wowowow. What is human? Will we survive the changes we've wrought on the world, and if we do, will we still be human? And if we aren't, will we still be able to write like this? 
  • Hiroyuki Asada, Tegami Bachi (Letter Bee) vol. 3. 7/10. Asada's art is so wonderful, the world he creates so stark and mesmerizing, and the names he chooses so silly, that I've found if I just accept the silly names (Gauche Suede? Lag Seeing? Jiggy Pepper? No, really...), everything else just falls into place.
Here's another reason I was keeping the blog. I can't remember anything. What the heck else did I read? More later. I hope.