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The Trouble with Humor

(image via Wikimedia)

Is he reading James Thurber or Dorothy Parker?  No, he’s watching a YouTube video of some guy getting kicked in the nuts.  (image via Wikimedia)

When it comes to BEST EVER books, I’m not usually hesitant. I think The Thin Man is the best mystery ever! I believe I, Robot is the best science fiction novel ever! I decided that The Outsiders is the best YA novel ever and that Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book is the best children’s book ever. Readers might disagree with me (and I encourage disagreement), but at least I had criteria for what went into each genre.

Last week Publishers Weekly had some staff members (“staff”… ha ha! “members”… ha ha) devise a list of the best funny books ever. This puzzled me a little. I’m sure everybody associated with Publishers Weekly knows a lot about books. I’m not sure I trust their expertise on humor. When I think of funny, I don’t think of Publishers Weekly. Publishers Weekly is like the C-Span of publishing sites. Asking Publishers Weekly to choose the funniest book ever is like asking that boring guy from C-Span who the best comedian ever is. He might have an opinion, but I wouldn’t trust it. I could be underestimating them, however. Zeppo supposedly was the funniest of the Marx Brothers behind the scenes, so maybe the boring guy from C-Span is a laugh riot when the camera is turned off.

I’m not sure BEST EVER!!” can be applied to humorous books. Other genres have formulas, and I can judge each book by how it follows, influences, and even perfects a formula. Humor doesn’t have a formula. If anything, humor comes from the unexpected, and if I expect a book or scene to be humorous, then I might not find it as humorous. When somebody says “Read this! It’s hilarious!” or “Watch this! It’s hilarious!” it’s never as funny as when there are no expectations. Therefore, calling a book “humorous” ahead of time automatically makes it less humorous.

One “staff member” (ha ha… okay, I’m better now) from Publishers Weekly chose The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare as his funniest book. If I were snarky, I would criticize him for choosing a play instead of a book. I like Shakespeare, but I like to understand the jokes being told. Maybe at the time, The Taming of the Shrew was the funniest thing ever written/performed. There were a lot of sex jokes in it, but I don’t understand some of the 400 year-old references. I feel like a five year-old laughing because all the adults are laughing, except now I wonder how many of the adults really understand the humor.

Humor depends on mood. If I read a humorous book while I’m in the wrong mood, I won’t find it funny. Also, my biases kick in to affect my mood. For example, I’ll never laugh at a James Patterson book. James Patterson (or his co-author) has written some “humorous” books. They might be humorous books, but I wouldn’t even crack a smile because I already have my biases against James Patterson (and a little against his co-authors). Maybe James Patterson has already written or will write the funniest book ever, but I would never admit it. My bias would never let me see the humor.

For some reason, a funny book is even funnier to me while I’m on an airplane. I rarely laugh out loud when I’m reading (and I never say/write “LOL” unless I’m using “LOL” to make a point about “LOL”), but when I’m on an airplane reading a funny book, I laugh out loud a lot. Maybe it’s the legal drugs I take whenever I fly. Maybe it’s the funky airplane air. But I laugh. And I think that’s why nobody talks to me when I’m on an airplane. People don’t start conversations with middle-aged guys laughing out loud at something on the phone. That’s fine. Once my legal drugs kick in, I don’t want to talk to anybody anyway.

A couple days ago, I reread a book that made me laugh out loud the last time I was on an airplane. I don’t want to say what book it was because a bunch of people wouldn’t think this particular author is funny, and I don’t want anybody forming opinions of me based on a controversial book that is kind of polarizing. I can read polarizing stuff without being polarizing myself, and I want to keep it that way. Anyway, the book was okay, but I don’t think I should have laughed out loud. Maybe I didn’t laugh because I was reading it for the second time. Maybe it was because I wasn’t being affected by legal drugs. At any rate, that book I read was not the funniest book ever.

Cartoon books also shouldn’t count as “best ever!” unless they’re in a separate category. No author of prose should have to compete with Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side. Illustrations give an author an unfair advantage over authors who use words only. I still love The Far Side. I can read lots of comic strips, and they feel new (maybe my old man memory is getting bad), but I wouldn’t consider The Far Side compilation books to be best ever. Authors who use words only shouldn’t have their books competing with comic strip books or other books where illustrations are essential to the humor. That leaves out a lot of humor books.

James Thurber was a humorist who used illustrations, but you could read James Thurber without the illustrations and not miss much. One Publishers Weekly staff member (see? I’m okay now) included a James Thurber book (that I’ve actually read). I remember reading part of the James Thurber book in high school and I thought it was boring. Maybe I was boring. I reread the James Thurber book 10 years later and thought it was humorous, but I didn’t laugh out loud. I nodded and smiled knowingly.  I didn’t think it was the funniest book ever.


But enough about me! Just because I won’t pick a best funny book ever doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t. What books do you think are funny? What humorous books do you think AREN’T funny?  Do you really laugh out loud when you read? Does the term “staff member” ever get old?

A Brief History of NOT Finishing Books

No, I didn't finish reading this either.

No, I didn’t finish reading this either.

Some readers take pride in finishing books, no matter what. Even though I’ve never been much of a book finisher, I used to pretend. I’d carry thick, classic, crusty, hard-bound novels like War and Peace or Les Miserables. I could get away with pretending because I had a collection of Classics Illustrated comic books that gave me all the important information. I knew all the names and basic details from each book because of the comics, and nobody in public school cared about theme or symbolism until late in high school. Everybody thought I was smarter than I really was. It was a good gig.

Now it’s possible to (kind of) tell if readers have actually finished a book, and it’s all Amazon’s fault. It’s bad enough that Amazon is trying to use drones to deliver products, but now Amazon is also ruining my pseudo-literary scam. In Amazon’s defense, It might not be intentional. It all started because Amazon keeps track of sentences that readers highlight on the Kindle. That by itself might be harmless. But some professor from Wisconsin has figured out a way to use the highlighting to determine where a reader stops reading.

The system, The Hawking Index, was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time, a book that a lot of people bought but very few really read. I never bought A Brief History of Time. I like history, and I like brief books, but I remember scanning the first couple pages years ago and thinking, “This is really boring.” I don’t care how short the book is; if it’s boring, I don’t buy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get included in the Hawking Index because I didn’t even buy the book that inspired the index of books that people don’t finish. Too bad there’s no way to track people who didn’t even buy the book before not finishing it.

The Hawking Index (or the professor who figured it out) measures highlighted text in the Kindle and how far into the book that the last highlighted text is. Then it matches the number of highlighted text with the page numbers and… I’m going to stop there. If I go into more details, you might stop reading. I don’t want people to stop reading my article about people who stop reading books.

According to the Index, the most unfinished book right now is Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton. People who don’t like Hillary Clinton probably find satisfaction with that, but this doesn’t hurt her. Hillary Clinton already has her huge book advance, so she won’t financially suffer if nobody finishes her book. She probably didn’t even write it (I think James Patterson wrote it for her), so why would she care if people don’t finish it? Clinton couldn’t even be bothered with thinking of a good title. Even George W. Bush came up with a better book title (Decision Points), and he was supposed to be the dumb one. If I were a politician writing a memoir, I’d want to have a better title than George Bush’s book. Since the only part of the memoir people seem to read is the title, it had better be good.

The novel that seems to get finished most frequently is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This would be a great way to promote a book: A novel that 98.5% of readers finish! I originally had no intention of reading The Goldfinch, but now I’m curious. I don’t care if a book is a bestseller. I tend to naturally dislike books that are bestsellers, but a book that gets finished 98.5% of the time? That’s… astounding! I don’t care if this index is nonscientific and for entertainment purposes only (like football spreads), but 98.5% is mindboggling. I almost have to read The Goldfinch. In fact, I think I’ll start The Goldfinch and NOT finish it just to be in that stubborn 1.5% that hasn’t gotten to the end. But I might end up liking it. I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn just to criticize it, but then I enjoyed it and had to admit to another book critic that… I… was… wrong.

According to Amazon, the second most-highlighted text is the first sentence from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It’s a great sentence, but why does anybody highlight the first sentence of a novel? It’s the first sentence. Even the most incompetent of readers should know where to find it again. If it had been on page 158 (or even on page 2), I could understand highlighting.  I know that the first page on a Kindle is more difficult to find than the first page of a real book, but still, it’s the first page. Highlighting the first sentence of a book seems to defeat the purpose of highlighting. It’s almost as bad as highlighting everything.


I’m an expert on not finishing books. Nobody else doesn’t finish books better than me. I don’t finish more books than anybody else I know. I haven’t finished reading so many books, that I can’t keep track of all of them. My Kindle is filled with free book samples, and I haven’t finished reading those yet!  Even better, I don’t highlight. So if I purchase a book and don’t finish it, Amazon would never know, and I can still show off all my books on my phone and pretend that I’ve read them all. But showing off books on your phone/Kindle is lame. Book shelves are much cooler.


But enough about me! Do you highlight when you read? Do you finish most books that you start? Do you lie about finishing books you haven’t read? Would you lose respect for somebody if you found out they hadn’t read everything on their bookshelves (or on their phones/Kindles)?

My Wife Found A Sex Scene That I Wrote

WARNING: The following contains some adult content, but probably not as much as you want. (image via Wikimedia)

WARNING: The following contains some adult content, but probably not as much as you want. (image via Wikimedia)

My wife found a sex scene that I wrote. I didn’t mean for anybody to find it. I have a wife and two kids, so I tried to hide the adult scene by putting it in a document titled Taxes-2005. I was pretty sure nobody was going to open a document titled “Taxes-2005.” If you don’t want anybody to read something you write, just put “Taxes” somewhere in the title. My wife said she found it because she was wondering why we still had our 2005 taxes on our computer. That’s what I get for trying to be slick.

The situation was awkward because my wife wasn’t in the adult scene. It involved a former girlfriend (before I met my wife) in a blog serial that I wrote called “The Literary Girlfriend.” Maybe it was uncomfortable for my wife to read an adult scene that involved another woman. My wife never met Danielle/Daniella (the ex-girlfriend), but she knows about her, and my wife doesn’t like her. I understand. I don’t like my wife’s ex-boyfriends either, and I’ve never met them (or read any blog serials about them). I don’t even like her current platonic male friends. If my wife ever wrote a sex scene involving an ex-boyfriend, I’d probably get jealous, especially if she wrote the guy as a stud.

Maybe I should write a sex scene with my wife in it and leave it someplace where she would find it, but with my luck, one of my kids would see it. That would be a nightmare. When you have kids, you have to be careful with everything, even writing. I don’t want to traumatize my kids. That’s why I buried my adult scene with a bunch of taxes. Maybe I should rewrite the whole thing in code so that if it’s found, it wouldn’t make any sense. Then again, that could backfire as well. Kids are better at breaking codes than adults (I don’t know if that’s true; I just made that up). If the kids figured out that the gibberish was a code, they might become determined to crack the code. And that would be a nightmare for everybody.

It’s tough to write a good adult scene. You have to find phrases that don’t sound too vulgar (unless you like that kind of thing) or find euphemisms that don’t make readers laugh (unless you take your euphemisms seriously). In preparation, I read a bunch of adult scenes from various novels and websites, and most of them weren’t very good. Maybe I’m immature, but I laughed at a bunch of the adult scenes. It’s tough to write about certain body parts and doing things with those body parts without using silly words and euphemisms.

Several authors used the term “manhood.” I laughed (internally, not out loud) whenever I read the term “manhood.” I’ve called the body part that “manhood” refers to many things, and I won’t list them here because Dysfunctional Literacy is not that kind of blog, but I’ve never used the word “manhood” (until today). There are a bunch of other words that authors could have chosen. Some men that I know have even named their body part that is sometimes referred to as “manhood.” I’d never do that. I’ve never named a body part. I have a weird-looking big toe that’s triple-jointed and grosses everybody out. It’s a unique feature. If I were to name a body part, I’d name my weird, triple-jointed big toe, but I’ve never named it. And if I’ve never named my weird, triple-jointed big toe, then I’ll never name my “manhood” (unless it becomes triple-jointed).

Women’s features are also tough to write about. When my oldest brother found out that I wanted to be a writer, he suggested that I use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.” I don’t know if my oldest brother made up the term “twin cones of pleasure,” but he thinks he did, and he wants credit for it. When he read my first ebook, he got mad that I didn’t use the phrase. I probably could have. My first ebook was meant to be humorous, but I still couldn’t find the right place for “twin cones of pleasure.” Maybe my ebook would have sold better if I had just named it Twin Cones of Pleasure!!!!! and then put a cleavage shot on the cover. At least my oldest brother would have been happy. But then he would have wanted a split of the ten dollars that I made.

At any rate, I had never written a sex scene before. Intimacy is referred to a lot in “The Literary Girlfriend,” but there aren’t any truly adult scenes. The closest was a segment called The Literary Girlfriend: The Book Report, which describes the beginning of our first night together. One commenter after that scene hoped that the story would get “good and pornographic.” Well… the first scene that the commenter wants has been written, but if it ever gets published, it goes into the ebook version of “The Literary Girlfriend,” not the blog. I’m sorry, but there are certain things that I don’t write about for free.

I didn’t want to ask my wife if the adult scene was any good. If you have to ask, then you already know the answer. But she told me that if I wrote more adult scenes, she wants to read them. I take that as a good sign.


What about you? Have you ever written an adult scene? Do you giggle when you read adult scenes? Is it a sign of immaturity to laugh at terms like “manhood” and “twin cones of pleasure”? Have you ever read a really good adult scene? What terms did it use? Please use discretion if you choose to answer.

In Defense Of Lit-Shaming

25 years ago, I got lit-shamed for not finishing this.

25 years ago, I got lit-shamed for not finishing this.

Even though the term “lit-shaming” is relatively new, I’ve been aware of it for a long time. As a kid who read comic books, I often got lit-shamed by adults who thought I should have been reading actual novels. In college, I had a few girlfriends (not at the same time) who lit-shamed me when they caught me reading Mickey Spillane or Robert E. Howard. As an adult, I even got lit-shamed for reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in public.

Lit-shaming exists today, but most people don’t think about it. A few weeks ago, a columnist for Slate tried to lit-shame adults who read YA literature like The Fault in our Stars. I don’t know if the author was sincere or not. Sometimes columnists say controversial stuff just to get noticed, and this might have been what happened. She got noticed for a few days, but I don’t remember what her name is anymore, so maybe it didn’t work. Most critics seemed outraged at her comments. Some of the critics who said they opposed such lit-shaming then called the author a bunch of derogatory names, which to me was worse than the lit-shaming.

Most book readers claim they’re against lit-shaming, but I’m not so sure. When the Twilight books and the Fifty Shade books were popular, there was a lot of anti-Twilight/50 Shades lit-shaming. I too was a lit-shamer. I admit it. I thought the 50 Shades books were beneath me (I actually read part of a Twilight book, but 50 Shades?) I even made fun of 50 Shades a few times, but I haven’t made fun of the women… I mean… I haven’t made fun of the people who read 50 Shades.

I don’t think lit-shaming is necessarily bad. Readers should have high standards, and shame is one way (though not ideal) to maintain those standards. I think maybe James Patterson should be lit-shamed. He’s writing about 10 novels a year (while using a bunch of co-authors), and I think he should be ashamed of himself. No author is capable of writing 10 high quality novels a year, even if he has a co-author (or a bunch of them). I would never lit-shame somebody who reads James Patterson because most readers don’t know (or care) about his scheme. But I’ll lit-shame James Patterson for writing (or putting his name on) so many books a year.

One of the college girlfriends who lit-shamed me read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She knew I liked King Arthur stuff (like The Once and Future King), so she strongly suggested I read it. I tried The Mists of Avalon, but it gave me a headache (which King Arthur books shouldn’t do). When I told her I wasn’t going to finish it, she lit-shamed me. She said she was “disappointed” in me, and then mocked the books that I was reading at the time as “childish.”

I’m partially to blame. I called The Mists of Avalon a woman’s book, and that might have sparked the lit-shaming. I didn’t mean “woman’s book” in a bad way. It makes sense to me that some books would appeal to women and some would appeal to men. I didn’t mean it as an insult. But she said my books were stupid (she might have used synonyms with six or more syllables). She called me “small-minded,” but that was the only “small” reference she made toward me, even when we broke up. Still, her insult was uncalled for, and I felt deflated. I felt shamed.

Speaking of The Mists of Avalon, I recently found out that the author of The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley has been accused of committing horrible crimes against her daughter. I’m not going into the details because the details are pretty bad, and it depresses me a little, and this isn’t that kind of blog. Bradley has been deceased for a while, so she can’t be prosecuted, but I really don’t want to read The Mists of Avalon now.

If I had known 25 years ago about this author’s past (nobody knew back then), I probably would have brought it up while my ex-girlfriend was lit-shaming me over reading Stephen King books (back when his books were actually good). I would have said something snide like “Oh yeah? Well, at least Stephen King hasn’t…. insert horrible crime against a child… like Marion Zimmer Bradley.” I would have engaged in lit-shame retaliation. Even if I believe lit-shaming is wrong, I believe in lit-shame retaliation if another lit-shamer starts it. But I’d feel guilty about it. I don’t like using somebody else’s traumatic experiences just to win an argument, so maybe I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.

What do you think? Is lit-shaming ever justified? Is lit-shame retaliation justified? Would you read a novel if you knew (or suspected) that the author had done something horrible or was a horrible person? Is that fair to use in a lit-shaming argument? Have you ever been lit-shamed? What books would you lit-shame a person for reading?

I Fell Asleep While I Was Reading A Book


(image via Wikimedia)

Last night I fell asleep while I was reading a book. I’m not sure if it was the book’s fault or mine. The book was kind of boring, but I’ve read boring books before and have never fallen asleep.

I’m lucky nobody saw me. If I my daughters had seen me, they would have taken a video and sent it to everybody they know. It might have even gone viral, a video of a dad reading a boring book and then slowly nodding off. If videos of dogs or cats slowly falling asleep can go viral, then why can’t a video of a human slowly falling asleep?

I woke up on the couch with the book on my lap and my neck in an uncomfortable tilt. I’m probably lucky I don’t have a crick. I did, however, have a headache. I hate waking up with a headache. It takes the fun out of falling asleep while reading a book. I’d rather feel the headache forming, so I can do something about it before it gets bad. If I wake up with a headache, I know that I’m stuck with it for a while. Maybe the headache has nothing to do with how I fell asleep, but it still makes me not want to fall asleep again while reading a book. It was a bad experience.

I don’t want to say what book I was reading when I fell asleep. It was a novel written by a famous author, so the author probably wouldn’t care if I announced that I had fallen asleep while reading his/her bestseller, but I still don’t want to say.  If somebody announced that he/she had fallen asleep while reading something I had written, I’d feel bad. I kind of want to say it was a James Patterson book that put me to sleep, but I’d be lying. James Patterson wants to be a record-setting author (can an author really be a record-setter if he uses co-authors?), so if he had been the first author to put me to sleep, he might take it as an achievement.  I don’t want to be the guy that makes James Patterson a record-breaking author.

This was the first time I had ever fallen asleep while reading a book. I had read books that made me sleepy before, but I’d always put the book down and turned off the light before falling asleep. I’ve fallen asleep while taking notes in college classes. I’ve even kept the notes where you can see my letters trailing off as I began dozing. I’ve never fallen asleep while driving, but I’ve had to pull over in a (hopefully) safe location and nap for a few hours. Caffeine can do only so much.

I’ve heard of other people falling asleep while reading. I guess it happens to a lot of people because a lot of people complain about falling asleep while reading. Sometimes they read because that’s the only way they can fall asleep. I’m not like that. I usually don’t have a problem falling asleep. I don’t even remember getting drowsy while I was reading. If I had noticed I was getting drowsy, I might have stopped reading. Do other people notice that they are getting drowsy and then keep reading anyway? Or do they not even notice? One moment they’re reading, and the next moment they wake up?

If I start falling asleep on a regular basis while I’m reading, I might become even more reluctant than I already am to read in public. I’m paranoid that somebody will sneak up on me while I’m reading public and conk me on the head. If I fall asleep while reading in public, weirdos won’t even have to try hard to sneak up on me. They won’t even have to conk me on the head. They can just take my stuff without even trying because I’d already be sleeping in public.

I don’t like the idea of falling asleep while I’m reading. This might mean that I’ll fall asleep while I’m doing other stuff. I don’t want to be the kind of person who starts falling asleep during other regular activities, like watching television, or reading a book, or driving a car. I don’t want to fall asleep unless I want to fall asleep. I don’t like the idea of falling asleep unless it’s on my terms. I don’t like not having control of my sleep. I don’t like that. I don’t like that one bit.

But enough about me! Have you ever fallen asleep while you were reading a book? Do you notice that you’re falling asleep while you’re falling asleep? Does reading help you to fall asleep? What was the first book that put you to sleep?

The Best Children’s Book Ever!

I guess this picture gives it away.

I guess this picture gives it away.

As much as I despise moving, some good things can come from it. I can throw away junk that has accumulated over the years. I can donate stuff that might have value to other people. Sometimes I even find books that I forgot that I had. The best is finding a book that I knew I had but couldn’t find for a long time. And yesterday, I found my old copy of the best children’s book ever, Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book by Shel Silverstein.

It might be arrogant for one person to determine the BEST EVER of anything, including children’s books. After all, nobody has read every children’s book ever, so saying that one book is the best children’s book ever is ridiculous. I haven’t read every children’s book ever. I admit that. But I’m pretty sure I know what the best children’s book ever is.

Out of all the genres out there, children’s books should be the easiest to determine best ever status. Children’s books are shorter than any other kind of book, so reading all of them would be a lot easier than reading every book in another genre. Reading every children’s book ever would be easier than reading, for example, every mystery ever written. That could take a while, even for a speed reader (which I’m not).

One problem with children’s books is that celebrities think they can write them. From what I know about celebrities and how they live their lives (I’m not a celebrity), the last thing I want most of them to do is write a book aimed at children. Maybe celebrities think writing children’s books is easy because they think they only need to write short sentences and then hire an illustrator. How difficult could that be? But a great children’s book has to appeal to both adults and children. Unfortunately, most children’s books put me to sleep. But I’ve never fallen asleep reading Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book.

Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book is different from Shel Silverstein’s other, more popular books. He’s known for children’s poetry books like Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree. They’re nice books. They’re creative and imaginative. Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book is a bit different. In fact, if you look up Shel Silverstein books on Amazon, Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book isn’t on the first page. It wasn’t even on the first three pages. Considering that there were 67 pages of Shel Silverstein and I’m still in the middle of unpacking, I stopped looking at page 3 and typed in the title directly.

If Uncle Shelby's A, B, Z Book wasn't written for kids, then why are all these kids on the back cover?

If Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book wasn’t written for kids, then why are all these kids on the back cover?

Some people claim that Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book isn’t really for kids. The new book cover for it on Amazon now has a blurb that says “Primer for Adults Only.” What the heck? I read this book when I was a kid. My daughters read this book, and they’re still kids. There’s no profanity. There are no body parts. Even the farmer’s daughter joke is tame. This warning just shows how inconsistent we’ve come with our standards. A book like Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book gets a warning label while kids networks like Disney and Nick have a bunch of minors telling double entendres and wearing inappropriate clothes.

Maybe Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book wasn’t really written for kids, but I’m not sure about that. The best children’s shows/movies, books are the ones that adults can enjoy as well. That’s why Dr. Seuss books are so popular; adults love reading them aloud almost as much as kids do. When I found Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book, I excitedly showed my kids (I think my monotone voice went up a couple octaves), and my daughters read the whole thing in one sitting, though my oldest checked a couple texts at the same time. My youngest didn’t understand the joke about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter, but she knew it was supposed to be funny, so she laughed anyway. That’s the sign of a good book.

A couple years ago, some people claimed that Go The F*ck to Sleep was the best children’s book ever. First of all, a children’s book should never have the word “F*ck” in the title, even if the children’s book is for adults. Putting profanity in any book title is cheating. It’s a cheap ploy to sell books.  It’s almost a sign of desperation. Even though Samuel Jackson read the audio version of Go The F*ck to Sleep, it still isn’t the best children’s book ever. A book shouldn’t need Samuel Jackson to read it. I could read Uncle Shelby’s A,B, Z Book (I have a monotone voice), and it would still kick Go The F*ck To Sleep’s *ss because Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book is much better than Go The F*ck To Sleep.

The problem with calling a book the best book ever is that now I’ve set the expectations too high.  Even if you read Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book and think it’s pretty good, you might think that it’s not the best ever, and my blogging hyperbole could ruin the whole reading experience. I’m not against hyperbole, but I think it should be used sparingly. Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z Book deserves a little hyperbole. In fact, I think it should be re-released as if it had never come out before. It should get lots and lots of hype, as if it were an old unpublished Shel Silverstein that had just been found. Then it would get the attention that it deserves.

But enough about me! What’s your favorite children’s book? Should celebrities get banned from writing children’s books? Is putting profanity in a book title a sign of desperation?

Reading and Writing: Which One Is More Important?

This would be a crummy way to read AND a crummy way to write. (image via Wikimedia)

This would be a crummy way to read AND a crummy way to write. (image via Wikimedia)

It might not be the most pressing debate of our time. Until the chicken and the egg dispute is resolved, I feel guilty even bringing this up. But I feel guilty about a lot of things, so I might as well add this to the list.  Which is more important, reading or writing?

There’s a reason I ask this question. The next couple weeks are going to be busier than normal. My family is moving, so discretionary time will be limited for a while. I can usually get about 30 minutes of reading and 30 minutes of writing every weeknight (if everything falls into place), but now I might be lucky to get just 15 minutes of one. So for a couple weeks, I’ll have to choose. Do I use my limited spare time for reading or for writing?

It’s difficult to write when moving. The den is stacked with skyscrapers of boxes, and rooms are thick with the scent of cardboard. When I sit to write, my elbows collide with crates and boxes on both sides of me. I feel like somebody is reading over my shoulder while I’m writing, which I never allow anybody to do because my first drafts always suck. Even though boxes don’t have opinions about my blog, my paranoia keeps me from fully concentrating. Plus, while packing, I found a $25 gift certificate to B. Dalton Booksellers that I never used, and that ticked me off so much that I can’t think. Despite these obstacles, I continue to try.

Back to the debate, of course both reading and writing are important. Some would say reading is more important because everybody says “Reading and writing” when you put them together. Hardly anyone ever says “writing and reading.” It just isn’t done. Maybe reading is first because of its alphabet placement. But that doesn’t work because people say “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” If the placement were alphabetized, “arithmetic” would be first (or “’rithmetic” would be second). This might upset math teachers who believe that math is more important than reading and writing combined. After all, math is universal, and language isn’t (kind of). But that’s a debate for a different blog.

I’ve never heard anybody claim that reading and writing aren’t important. When I was in school, I heard lots of whining (I hope I wasn’t a whiner) about different subjects. “Why do we have to memorize dates?” “When are we ever going to use trigonometry?” “Why do I have to know the periodic table?” But I don’t remember any of my peers asking, “Why do we have to read and write?” Even the kids who didn’t know how to read/write understood that reading and writing were important.

Technically, reading is probably the more important skill because you have to know how to read in order to be able to write. But my question is about my/our use of time. When I was a kid, I loved to read but I hated to write. Writing was something that teachers and parents forced us to do. Then sometime late in junior high or early high school, I discovered I was good at telling/writing stories. Suddenly, I realized that writing could be fun. Then when word processing became available (and I no longer had to physically mark up my own stories or be precise with my Wite-out), writing became easier, which meant I wrote more. But with more writing came less reading.

Right now, my writing is more important to me than my reading. I have goals with my writing. If I don’t reach those goals, I get a little grouchy. I’m trying to accomplish ___________ by a certain time and then finish _________ by a certain time. I need to have those goals to force myself to get them done. I don’t have reading goals. When I was younger, I used to have reading goals, but then I ended up reading when I didn’t feel like it. Maybe that was good for me intellectually, but I don’t need to do that to myself anymore. I don’t feel like I need to finish three books a week or sample/quit two books a day. I read like I watch TV, I’ll do it when I get to it (except for football, which I must watch when it’s on and nothing else matters, including my writing).

This might have been a stupid question to ask, but I’ve gotten emotionally sucked into answering stupid questions before. Which football dynasty was greater, the Steelers of the 1970s or the 49ers of the 1980s? (49ers) Which television series was better, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer or Angel? (Buffy) Does Stephen King follow his own writing advice in On Writing anymore? (No) In all three instances (and more), somebody disagreed with me, and (near) shouting matches ensued (even with my monotone voice). But I don’t shout anymore. And picking writing over reading isn’t like Sophie’s Choice; nobody’s life is going to be ruined by my decision.

So for right now, writing is more important to me than my reading.

But enough about me! Which is more important to you, reading or writing?  Are box fumes dangerous to a person’s health? Do you think any bookstores would redeem my B. Dalton Bookseller’s gift certificate issued in 1991?

The Famous Author Who Said Teaching Was “Exhausting And Depressing”

If you're exhausted and depressed, this is one way to handle it.

If you’re exhausted and depressed, this is one way to handle it.

I don’t know much about the personal lives of authors whose books I’ve read. I think Stephen King was hit by a car once. I think Charles Bukowski drank a little bit. I believe James Patterson (whose books I don’t read) has a bunch of co-authors, so he might have a lot of spare time, but I don’t know what he does with it. The point is, I just read the books (and samples of the books). I don’t know anything about the authors.

Yesterday I found out the JRR Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) taught at several colleges while he wrote. I think I might have known that at some point in my life, but I found out again yesterday. An old colleague of his found an old letter that Tolkien had written to him, and in this letter Tolkien said that teaching was “exhausting and depressing.”

It’s a nice feeling to find old letters that I’d forgotten about. Every once in a while, an old card or letter will fall out of one my old books. I usually lose bookmarks, so I use cards and letters instead, and when I don’t finish a book (it happens a lot), the card or note stays in there for years, and I end up losing the card or letter instead of losing a bookmark. But I’ve never found a letter from JRR Tolkien. If I had, it would have made not finishing all of those books worth it.

Anyway, in this newly-found letter, Tolkien said that he thought teaching was “exhausting and depressing,” which I think is kind of funny because he taught college kids. If he thinks teaching college is “exhausting and depressing,” he should have tried public schools. I’m not a teacher, but I have two kids in public schools, and I can tell you that I want nothing to do with teaching.

I can understand why teaching is exhausting and depressing (and I’ve never even been a teacher). Most teachers have to convince a bunch of kids to do stuff they don’t want to do, and you can’t fire the kids if they don’t do their job. If you get the wrong batch of kids and you have to see them day after day, that could get exhausting and depressing. And that’s before the teacher gets to grading the essays. That’s probably a whole new level of exhausting and depressing.

Supposedly, JRR Tolkien wrote the opening sentence of The Hobbit while he was grading papers. If I were a former student, and I found out that my teacher/professor/instructor wrote a bestselling book while he was supposed to be grading my essay, I’d be pissed. I worked hard on my essay, and my teacher wrote a novel while he was supposed to be concentrating on grading essays? Well, at least Tolkien wrote a decent book.

I wonder how Tolkien graded his essays while he was writing his books. Was he an easy grader when he was writing, or did he get grumpier and then take it out on his students? I wonder how his students inspired him to write. I wonder if he ever knew that his book The Hobbit became required reading in some schools. How would Tolkien have felt reading student essays analyzing character development in The Lord of the Rings?

JRR Tolkien was teaching before I was even born, so if he thought teaching was “exhaustive and depressing” back then, think about how “exhausting and depressing” it is now. Except I don’t know if teaching conditions are worse now. People say today’s kids are lazier and more disrespectful than ever, but I don’t know. I remember a lot of lazy kids when I was a kid, and that was before they started smoking illegal substances. After they started smoking illegal substances, they really got lazy.

I used to be jealous of teachers during the summer because they’d have all day to write while I was still stuck in an office (but at least there aren’t any kids in it). However, if teachers are exhausted and depressed for nine or ten months every year, it might not be worth it (from a writing perspective). I can’t write if I’m exhausted and/or depressed. I just stare at the computer screen. I guess when JRR Tolkien was exhausted and depressed, he wrote about hobbits and orcs, and created histories for worlds that don’t exist.

It must be weird to find out that your (former) teacher/instructor/professor is now famous. One day you’re making fun of the teacher’s clothes, and then you find out the teacher is a bestselling author, and suddenly the clothes don’t matter. Stephen King was a teacher (though I think he was Mr. Bachmann, I’m not sure). Bill O’Reilly was a teacher (man, I bet THAT was a fun classroom). Even Sting (not really an author) was a teacher, but Sting is into tantric sex, and nobody wants to think about a former teacher having tantric sex, even if he’s Sting.


Do you have a teacher who turned out to be famous? Can you write when you’re exhausted and depressed? Should authors who are teachers write books while they’re supposed to be grading papers? If you’re a teacher, is it exhausting and depressing? If you’re not a teacher, does the idea of it exhaust and depress you?

YA Lit Shaming

Yeah, I’m almost 50 years old, and I’m male, and I’ve read The Fault in our Stars.  You got a problem with that?

Yeah, I’m almost 50 years old, and I’m male, and I’ve read The Fault in our Stars. You got a problem with that?

Every year brings a new literary controversy. A couple years ago, Elizabeth Gilbert and Phillip Roth disagreed about whether writing was “torture” or “f**king great.” Last year, Danielle Steel got angry when a male acquaintance asked her: “Are you still writing?” And a couple weeks ago, Ruth Graham (a writer I’d never heard of) claimed that adults should be embarrassed if they were seen reading young adult (or YA) literature.

It’s only controversial because numerous literary news outlets reported her statement. If nobody had reported it, then nobody would have cared. This feels like a manufactured controversy because literary sites/blogs have such little actual literary news to report (another celebrity is writing either a memoir or a children’s book, an upcoming book has released its cover, and James Patterson has a new book coming out soon). The only reason I’m writing about this is because a couple weeks ago I wrote about books that I was embarrassed to read in public. YA literature didn’t make the list.

I’ve heard of slut shaming before (and I’m completely against it). But I’d never heard of YA Lit shaming, and some critics are upset with Graham for attaching a negative word like “embarrassing” to YA books. Ruth Graham later backtracked in an NPR interview, saying that she meant YA literature was like a “guilty pleasure.” She shouldn’t have backtracked, especially since her backtracking isn’t consistent with her original opinion. I understood what she meant the first time (I think), and I believe some of her critics are overreacting.

Maybe “embarrassed” was the wrong word to use, but everybody uses the wrong word sometime. Unfortunately, Ruth Graham wrote this article for Slate, so she’s being held to a high standard of word usage, and she should be. In her original piece, she wrote about YA lit as if it were beneath her. YA fiction is not meant for adults, so we shouldn’t treat it like it’s for adults. There might be a few exceptions, but really, it’s not for us. I’m probably more familiar than most adults with YA fiction, but that’s because I have two daughters who read a lot, so I want to see what’s out there.

The Fault in our Stars is an exception. Even though it’s much better than most YA lit, I still felt detached from it, and I had to read it in short (or small?) doses. I appreciated the literary references, even though I didn’t understand all of them at first (though I pretended to with the people I know). But I didn’t have any problem reading it in public, though I was told a couple teen girls looked at me strangely. And I’m not embarrassed that I read it. It’s not beneath me. But a lot of current YA lit might be.

Despite The Fault in Our Stars and a few other high quality YA books, a lot of recent YA literature (at least the stuff that I’ve read/sampled) seems to be poorly written, and a lot of the authors write as if they don’t even know any teenagers. For example, when I read the first (20 pages of the first) Theodore Boone book by John Grisham, I wondered if Grisham has actually talked to young adults in the last 20 years.

Maybe 5-10 years ago, there was less YA lit, but it was higher quality. Now it’s being churned out so quickly that it would make James Patterson’s head spin, except he’s in on the action too with his own sets of YA series. A friend of my family claims that Patterson’s co-authors are doing a decent job with Patterson’s YA books, but I’m not going to find out for myself. I’d be embarrassed.

I’m a judgmental person, but I judge myself far more harshly than I judge others… except for James Patterson. I’m pretty hard on James Patterson, and he deserves it, but he doesn’t care. Since I’m judgmental, I’m the type of person who should be outraged by what Ruth Graham said.  But I can’t get myself worked up over over Ruth Graham’s opinion.

This is a problem with today’s discourse; people get offended and outraged too quickly. Ruth Graham doesn’t need to get insulted for her opinion, as some commenters on other websites/blogs have done.  I don’t even think her point is that controversial.

If people want to be outraged at an author, get mad at James Patterson. He put his name on 13 books last year. To me, an author’s actions (pretending to write 13 books in one year) is more offensive (wrong word) than having an opinion about YA literature. Consequently, I’m not a fan of YA lit shaming, but James Patterson shaming? I’m all for it!


Whenever I write “Ruth Graham,” I accidentally keep writing “Ruth Gordon” first, and then I have to go back and change it. I had a crush on Ruth Gordon when I was a teenager.


But enough about me! Would you be embarrassed to be seen reading YA literature in public? Should Ruth Gord… Ruth Graham be shamed for suggesting that adults be embarrassed if they read YA books in public? Are most YA books any more poorly written than most of any other genre out there? Is most YA lit beneath us adults? Should I be shamed for suggesting that most YA books are poorly written? Should I be shamed for not crying while reading The Fault in our Stars?

What’s Your Favorite Junk?

The word “junk” has many meanings, but this picture of “junk” won’t get me fired from my own blog. (image via Wikimedia)

The word “junk” has many meanings, but this picture of “junk” won’t get me fired from my own blog. (image via Wikimedia)

Summer is a great time for junk, whether it’s junk food, junk television, or my favorite, junk literature. Some people use a fancy term for book junk and call it a “guilty pleasure.” I’m not fond of the term “guilty pleasure.” I don’t feel guilty while reading junk.

In fact, I treasure my junk. Without junk, I probably wouldn’t read at all. If all books were high-brow literature, I would have gotten frustrated early on and quit reading. I grew up on literary junk, and now I read all kinds of low-brow literature.  I like sword & sorcery junk, spy junk, historical junk, crime junk, science fiction junk, just about anything except romance.

The great thing about literary junk is that it’s easy to read, and when it’s summer, and it’s hot, and I’m traveling (just a little bit), I need something easy to read. I need something that I don’t have to think about.

My favorite low-brow novel of all-time is The Godfather by Mario Puzo. The first two Godfather movies are revered as a couple of the finest films ever made, but the novel is just an easy read.  I can pick it up anywhere anytime and flip to almost any page and start reading. Even though The Godfather is one of my favorites, I haven’t finished anything else written by Mario Puzo, so he can’t be my favorite junk author, and it’s been a while since I’ve read The Godfather.

I usually read a couple Bernard Cornwell books every year (The Archer’s Tale and The Warlord Chronicles are my favorites, even though I’m usually anti-trilogy, but I originally read these before I became anti-trilogy). Each book has the same formula, but they’re entertaining, and I never have to think too much. But a few days ago, I started reading a couple of Cornwell’s recent novels, and I wasn’t interested. I put each book down after a few pages. I didn’t throw them across the room or anything dramatic like that, but I stopped reading them. I don’t know if it was the quality of the writing, or if I’ve read too many of his books.

I usually have a three-book limit per author, but Bernard Cornwell was my exception (because every rule needs an exception). Bernard Cornwell is a hack, but he’s not a James Patterson/Janet Evanovich kind of hack. At least he writes all of his own books, and he usually doesn’t publish more than one (or two) books a year. Still, the same formula (even a really good one) gets old, and I need to find some new sure-thing authors.

I need some new junk.

Since there’s a lot of low-brow stuff out there, I have to have standards. I won’t read a novel that isn’t self-contained. I don’t have time to read a long series, even if I don’t have to think hard to do it. I also won’t read anything by James Patterson. If he (and his coauthors) are writing 9-13 books a year, they can’t be any good, and junk has to be good.

Literary junk has to be easy.  I should be able to read it when I’m outside in the shade or if I’m at an airport or in a hotel room. It has to be so easy to read that I can be vigilant of my surroundings and concentrate at the same time. I have to be able to keep track of the book while keeping track of the strangers around me so I don’t get conked on the head. I have to maintain my attention on the book while maintaining eye contact with weirdos who are checking out my family while I’m reading. Usually I don’t try to multi-task while reading, but I can do two things at one while reading junk.

Unfortunately, my junk no longer works for me, so I need to find some new low-brow authors. This is forcing me to ask for advice (and I rarely ask for advice, even when I’m lost). What authors do you read when you’re in the mood for an easy read?  If you don’t like book junk, then what kind of junk do you like?  Food?  Television?  Music? Movies?

In other words, what’s your favorite junk?


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