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The Worst Place To Read A Book

At least I hope that guy is just reading. (image via Wikimedia)

At least I hope this guy is just reading. (image via Wikimedia)

Reading at a funeral is a bad idea. I usually don’t like reading in public anyway (usually for safety reasons), but a funeral is an especially bad place to read. In my defense, I was reading a good book (it had been a while since I’d read a book I was excited about), and I wanted to know what was going to happen next.  I don’t want to mention the title of this book because a lot of people hate this book and would think I was a horrible human being for wanting to read it at a funeral. I had it on my phone, so nobody would have known I was reading a book instead of checking messages, but I still would have looked like a phone tool at a funeral, and I didn’t want that either.

This doesn’t make me look good. I think I have some explaining to do.

A co-worker of mine died last week. I’m not going to mention the co-worker’s name because I don’t mention the real names of people I know. I was at his funeral, the service was over, and everybody had lined up in the center aisle of the church to exit, but first we had to pass the co-worker’s wife and kids. The line was moving slowly, and I don’t talk to people in lines unless I know them well. A bunch of people from work were there, but I had talked to them before the service, so I had already used up all the appropriate funeral topics (weather and what a great guy the co-worker was). I had nothing left.

Sine the line was slow, I was going to read a little bit on my phone when I realized that everybody in line was stopping to talk to our deceased co-worker’s wife. Nobody slipped past the side to avoid her. If I did that, I’d be the only one, and I would have looked like the supreme tool. Everybody would have remembered me as the guy who slipped away from the co-worker’s grieving wife.  I was going to have to say something to her. I’d never met her. I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know what to say to her.

Despite being a writer, I’m not always good with words. It takes a long time for me to think of the right things to say (or write). I put the phone away and began thinking furiously.

Last summer I got into a minor argument with this co-worker. There was a week when one famous actor, one famous singer, and one famous author (Tom Clancy) all died within a couple days. Since celebrity deaths seem to happen in threes, I tried to make the case to others in the office that Tom Clancy was just as famous as the famous singer and famous actor who had died. I don’t remember who the actor and singer were. That’s the kind of guy I am. I remember the author’s name, and that’s it.

“Writers don’t count,” my co-worker (the one who died last week) proclaimed.

“But this author wrote a bunch of books,” I said, and listed several titles that had been turned into popular movies.

“I don’t know what he looks like,” my co-worker said. “You’re not a celebrity if nobody knows what you look like.”

I knew what this author looked like because he put the same picture on the back of his books for 20 years. Then again, his features might have changed after 20 years, so maybe I really didn’t know what he looked like. But I thought that was a stupid criteria for a celebrity.

Despite that disagreement a year ago, I went to my co-worker’s funeral. I don’t hold grudges about little things like that. (Just so you know, it wasn’t a Tom Clancy book that I wanted to read at the funeral). As I stood in line, I still wasn’t sure what to say to the co-worker’s wife. “I’m sorry for your loss,” seemed overdone. “I’m sorry,” seemed too short. I cursed my slow wittedness in uncomfortable moments, but thankfully I had time to think about other experiences with her husband.  I didn’t think the argument about the whether or not a dead author counted as a dead celebrity would be appropriate. Maybe there was something else I could tell her.

Over the last year, I did a lot of work for the deceased co-worker. He would show up to my office (it’s not really an office, but the layout is tough to explain and isn’t important) and declare that he didn’t know how to do something technical, and then once I started showing him the steps, he’d excuse himself and disappear for a few hours. I (or a couple other guys) would just finish whatever it was and move on. It was easier that way. Once when I was completing a project, the co-worker stepped in and said to me, “You know, when you’re on your death bed breathing through a tube, you’re not going to give a f*** about all this.”

I don’t remember if that’s exactly what he said, but I’m sure I got the profanity part right. I really didn’t want to mention this to his wife either.

Another time last summer when we’d been talking about death (I promise, we don’t sit around talking about death at work, though maybe some people there think about it a lot), the co-worker had said “I don’t care about dying. The world was just fine without me for a billion years.” I was tempted to say “4 billion years,” but I’ve been toning down that part of my personality.

Even though the funeral line was long and ponderous, I got to the front before I was emotionally ready. I didn’t have anything comforting or substantive to say to the co-worker’s wife, so I did the best I could.

“I’m Jimmy,” I stammered to the co-worker’s wife. “I worked with ______________ several times this year. He’s a great guy, and we’re going to miss him.” I think I said something like that. When I was talking to my co-worker’s wife, I wasn’t sure if I should refer to the co-worker in the present or past tense, so I went with present tense. Maybe I should have looked up the etiquette on my phone.

I could tell from the wife’s reaction that she had never heard of me. That’s okay. A lot of people where I work don’t know who I am, so I can’t expect a co-worker’s significant other to know. If I had died (and I hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this) and my co-worker had introduced himself to my wife, she wouldn’t have known who he was either, at least not by his name. If he had introduced himself to my wife as “the leach,” then she would have known.

I wonder if my co-worker knew or suspected what was about to happen to him. Maybe he asked me for help because he couldn’t concentrate on his work anymore and he didn’t want to admit it. Maybe he just didn’t care about work. Maybe shoving his stuff on other people was the easiest thing to do. Maybe being a leech was just the way he was. I’ll never know. I have a guess, but I’ll never know for sure. I thought about it a little bit in my car as I waited for the air conditioner to kick in. I ended up not reading my book at all until I returned home. Even then, I couldn’t concentrate on it for a while.

*****

I don’t know.  Is there a worse place to read a book than a funeral?  Do famous writers count as celebrities?  What topics are safe to talk about with strangers in a line?

Five Minutes in a Book Store

A lot can happen in five minutes, even in a book store. (image via Wikimedia)

A lot can happen in five minutes, even in a book store. (image via Wikimedia)

I don’t enjoy book stores as much as I used to. It’s not necessarily the book stores’ fault. I don’t like to go to a lot of places that I used to enjoy, like movie theaters and restaurants. That’s a lot of places for everything to be somebody else’s fault. I don’t want to come across as somebody who thinks he’s perfect while everybody else is stupid. I’m aware of my own flaws.

Anyway, I had a few dollars left on my Brick&Mortar Booksellers gift card from Christmas, so my youngest daughter and I made a Saturday trip to BM Booksellers after a bunch of errands. When we walked in, my daughter noticed a lonely author having a book signing in the middle of the store. From what I learned later, she was a local author who had written a historical novel about our city, and maybe some friends of hers had bought her book, but nobody showed up for the book signing, at least not while we were there.

“Why don’t you buy her book?” my daughter said. She likes to help people in need.

I grabbed her hand and yanked her past the bestsellers section, out of the lonely author’s view. I told my daughter what I tell her in the mall whenever we pass the kiosks: “Don’t make eye contact.”

“Why don’t you talk to her?” my daughter asked. “You’re a writer too.”

“I write because I don’t like to talk,” I said. Talking to another writer defeats the purpose of being a writer. I imagined the two of us authors, staring at each other uncomfortably at the book signing table. Even though I write a lot, I have a tough time coming up with the right words right away in conversations. I need time. When I visit a sick friend or family member in the hospital, I have to bring somebody who can talk with me. Otherwise, I stare blankly and make the hospital situation even worse. Nobody wants to be visited by the uncomfortable silent guy. I didn’t want to make the book signing worse for the unknown author, and I didn’t want to be in an uncomfortable situation, especially when I hadn’t planned on it.

“If you buy her book, she might buy one of yours,” my daughter suggested.

“My ebooks are only 99 cents, so I’d lose out,” I said, figuring the lonely author’s book would be $10-15. It was purely a business decision.

We steered clear of the book signing and found the kids/YA section, and I set the timer on my phone for five minutes. This might sound inhumane, putting a kid on a time limit when finding a book, but it’s for their own good. My family used to dread going to the book store/library with me because I’d wander the aisles for an hour before finally choosing a book. At some point, we decided to put me on a five-minute timer. It worked so well that my daughters use it. They use it voluntarily. I was kind of forced.

James Patterson- If he actually wrote all of his books, he wouldn't have had time to take this picture. (image via Wikimedia)

James Patterson- If he actually wrote all of his books, he wouldn’t have had time to take this picture. (image via Wikimedia)

My daughter needed only three minutes and found me at the bargain shelves. My daughter’s book had a bunch of princesses and goddesses and flowers on it, and it was in our price range, so I nodded at her. Good job. While we snuck past the book signing table toward the cashier, my daughter stopped at a James Patterson display, a table with stacks of James Patterson YA novels. Next to it was a life-sized cardboard figure of James Patterson looking somewhat constipated. My daughter picked up a James Patterson hardcover and inspected the cover.

“I want to buy this instead,” she said.

“You can’t,” I said automatically. “We don’t buy James Patterson books.”

“Why not?”

“Because… because… he doesn’t write his own books.”

“So?”

“He has somebody else write them and then he puts his name on the cover.” I showed her how the name “James Patterson” was prominent on the cover, but the letters for the co-author’s name (I don’t remember who it was) were much smaller.

“So? I like these books.”

“You’ve read them?” I was horrified. How could this have happened? I’ve monitored my daughters’ computer usage, protected them from the vilest of images on the internet, and now my youngest has admitted to reading a James Patterson book. I didn’t know what to say.

“You didn’t… buy them, did you?” I asked.

“My library has them.” Her school’s library. I’d have to talk to her school about buying James Patterson books, I thought. They shouldn’t reward an author’s bad behavior by purchasing his books, but I’d probably come across as a prick if I complained. Of all the things for a parent to complain about, they’d think.

“If your library has it, you can read it,” I decided. Since the book would have already been purchased, the harm would have already been done, so there was no point in NOT reading a book that had already been purchased. Still, I thought, James Patterson, what a scam!

The BM Bookseller registers had only one cashier working, and there was a line. I couldn’t understand a line at the bookstore. All the cashier had to do was look smug and scan. What could be taking so long? If a customer was writing a check or had a stack of books, I could understand, but it looked from where I was standing like everybody had simple one-book transactions. I’m a good eavesdropper, so I tuned in to the conversation between the cashier and customer.

The cashier was trying to sell the customer a BM Booksellers membership card. If the customer paid a small upfront annual fee, then he (or she) could get a 10-20% discount on all purchases. I’m not going to discuss whether or not that’s a good idea (maybe another time), but the cashier was being assertive to a reluctant customer. I huffed. This was a bookstore, not a car dealership. The lady in front of me rolled her eyes, but I wasn’t sure if it was at me for huffing or at the cashier for pitching a membership card when there was a line at the register.

“This never happens when I buy books on Amazon,” I said.

“Amazon’s the devil,” the lady said, and turned her back on me while clutching her $30.00 hardcover book. To be fair, when she turned her back, she was facing the registers like the rest of us, so I didn’t take it as an insult. Context is very important in these kinds of social encounters.

When I got to the register a few minutes later, the cashier didn’t ask me if I wanted a membership. I almost felt slighted.

*****

What do you think? Should I have bought my daughter the James Patterson book? Was I wrong to avoid the lonely book signing? Is putting a kid on a timer bad parenting? Is Amazon the devil? Is the BM Booksellers membership card a good deal?  Will BM Booksellers even exist in five years?

5 Famous Quotes About Writing That Might Be Evil

"The road to Hell is paved with adverbs."- Stephen King Just swell!  Now I'll never get my daughters to learn their parts of speech.

“The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.”- Stephen King
Just swell! Now I’ll never get my daughters to learn their parts of speech. (image via Wikimedia)

When a famous author writes a quote about writing, aspiring authors pay attention. After all, nobody knows more about writing than a famous author. Some quotes about writing have become so widely known that they’re almost accepted without second thought. But what if these famous quotes were meant to be misleading? What if the famous authors were just messing with us? What if famous authors were toying with our emotions and fragile egos? What if these famous authors were just… evil?

Below are five famous quotes about writing that MIGHT be evil:

QUOTE #1 “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”- Ernest Hemingway

WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL

Aspiring authors have enough problems, being rejected, being ignored, being over-criticized. We don’t need to hear about bleeding at a typewriter.   I have never bled at the typewriter, and for my first ten years of writing, I actually used a typewriter. Unfortunately, I never learned keyboarding skills, so I was a two-fingered hunt-and-peck typist who used lots of White-out. If anybody should have bled out at the typewriter, it would have been me (or I). I did not bleed at the typewriter. Hemingway should not have left the impression that it’s normal to bleed at the typewriter. If you bleed while you’re writing, stop writing and maybe see a doctor.

QUOTE #2

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”- Stephen King

WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL

I know Stephen King likes to scare readers with his horror novels, but this quote sounds like he’s trying to scare us aspiring writers with his advice. I love the moment just before I start. I’m optimistic when I start. The scary part is when I know I’m about to be critiqued. And even that’s not scary. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather have my writing get insulted than get ignored. If there’s a scary moment in writing, it’s when I see somebody’s facial expressions while he/she is reading what I wrote. With so much done online nowadays, I don’t see facial expressions anymore, so there is no scary part. Stephen King shouldn’t try to scare aspiring authors like that. He should have better things to do.

QUOTE #3 “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Mark Twain

WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL

If I had literally followed this advice in high school, I would have failed my English classes. I was tempted to follow this advice. After all, it was from Mark Twain. I came very/damn close to littering one of my stories with a bunch of damns and then defending it to my teacher by saying Mark Twain said it was okay. A couple friends (now that I think about it, I don’t believe they were really my “friends”) encouraged me to use a lot of damns. They thought it was a damn good idea. When I chose not to, they said I was damn cowardly. I said I was damn smart, and a teacher heard me. He told me to watch my language, then left to smoke a cigarette in the parking lot. I was damn lucky. The problem with exchanging “very” with “damn” is that if you do it too often, you talk like Holden Caulfield and it gets damn old damn quickly.

QUOTE #4

“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex.” – Anthony Burgess

WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL

I don’t know what Anthony Burgess looks/looked like, but I picture him as an old man. The last thing an old man needs to do is talk about sex, especially if he’s a writer. This quote makes writers look like a bunch of perverts. We’re no more perverted than the perverts who read our stuff, but still, Anthony Burgess should at least try to hide it and not push his pervertedness (also known as “perversion) on the rest of us.

Literature is about relationships. Sex is merely one part of a relationship. Maybe it gets discussed in a particular book, maybe it doesn’t. But other aspects of the relationship are important too, like… like… like…

?

QUOTE #5

“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs

WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL

Putting potential readers through 100 bad stories just to get to one good one is… evil. Hey, I can talk. I read the first Pelucidar book. Edgar Rice Burroughs could write a lot of stuff, but it could also get old, unless you don’t get tired of the chase, captured, rescue, chase, capture, escape, chase, capture, rescue/escape formula. I know, I know, Edgar Rice Burroughs had bills to pay, and a lot of people out there were reading his books, but I think his quote encourages bad writing. It implies that if you simply write a lot, chances are SOMETHING is going to be good, almost by accident, almost by chance.   Maybe that worked for Burroughs (some critics would say ALL of his stories were bad and his body of work is proof that his quote is wrong, but I wouldn’t go that far. He did create Tarzan, after all).

*****

There are a lot of writing quotes by famous authors out there (and there might be one that says not to start a sentence with “there”). What other quotes about writing do you think are evil? Are famous authors evil for giving us evil quotes about writing? Or are these evil authors simply misguided and need a hug?

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

500px-SYawning_svg

(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?

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