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The Literary Rants: Classic Novels Get Banned and Unbanned

Aw, not this again!

Sigh! Not this again!

The novels To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain just got banned from a public school library again a couple weeks ago.  I won’t name the school district  which banned the books because I don’t want to pile on.   To be fair, the books got unbanned a few days later.

It has to be embarrassing to be the school district that still bans To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  It’s not like these books are gathering dust anywhere.  Everybody knows about the content of these novels, and they’re still cherished American classics.

Even so, this won’t be the last time these novels get banned.  I’m not sure when Huck Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird are going to get banned by another school district, but it’s probably going to happen soon.

It was offensive language (the N-word) that got these books taken off the library shelves.  I understand, no school wants to get bad publicity for giving students books with N-words in it.  In today’s environment, if the wrong person writes or says the N-word, that person gets fired.

It’s tough to be in the crossfire between sensitivity and mockery today.  If you’re seen as insensitive and ignore the complaint about N-words in books, you could get fired (or even worse, be forced to attend seminars about sensitivity),  but if you respond to the complaint then you can get mocked for being stupid enough to ban To Kill a Mockingbird.  Most people need a paycheck, so they choose to get laughed at rather than get fired.

Sometimes a lack of common sense causes problems where none should exist.  In this case, the temporary ban was caused by a policy that said one complaint about a book was enough to warrant removal and an investigation.  Maybe this policy is needed for some of today’s YA fiction, but every librarian should know about To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Any librarian should greet a complaint about one of these books with an eye roll and an insincere, “We’ll look into it.”

A possible solution would be to publish a version of these classic novels without the N-word.  In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, you’d have to clear it with the estate (and the estate probably wouldn’t agree), but Huckleberry Finn is public domain, so we can do what we want and Mark Twain (and any of his money-grubbing relatives) can’t do a thing about it.

All a publisher has to do is replace the N-word with the phrase “heckuva guy,” and the sensitive reader would no longer be offended.  Nobody gets offended by somebody who’s a “heckuva guy.”  And even though using “heckuva guy” instead of the N-word changes the meaning of the novels a little bit, it might be worth it if more readers become more comfortable with these classics.

If publishers do this, school libraries all over the United States could have sanitized copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to entertain and enlighten even the most sensitive of readers and their parents.

I’m not a fan of banning books, but if you do, at least pick something original.  Here are  a few books that I think should get banned.  I’m not saying these books absolutely should get banned.  I just mean that sometimes on a slow news day you might want to ban a few books just to get the juices flowing, so if you do, here are a few books that haven’t been banned before (or at least haven’t made the news for getting banned).

*****

Despite lots of profanity, my ebook has never been banned from a school library.

The Literary Rants: Bill O’Reilly’s Children’s Book

insert caption here.

 

Every celebrity seems to want to write a children’s book.  I don’t get the fascination celebrities have with children’s books.  Then again, I’m not a celebrity.  But now FOX News host Bill O’Reilly (with some unknown coauthor named James Patterson) has written a children’s book called Give Please A Chance.

I don’t like it when celebrities get book deals, and it’s even worse when they write children’s books, but those are different issues, and celebrity children’s books are going to happen no matter what I say, so I don’t lose any sleep over it.

And I have nothing against Bill O’Reilly.  I watch his show about as much as I watch any other cable news show when I’m in the mood for politics.  I don’t mind how he argues with his guests, no matter who they are.  I’d rather watch a confrontational political interview than a softball interview.  But whenever I think of Bill O’Reilly (and I don’t think of him very often.  He probably doesn’t think about me much either), I think of his famous meltdown .

And he’s just published a children’s books about manners.

The title itself is rant-worthy.  Give Please a Chance is a play on words from John Lennon’s song, “Give Peace a Chance.”  As a former child in a military household, I was taught that the idea of giving peace a chance just for the sake of peace was dangerous.  Peace was what happened after you destroyed your enemies (or what happened if your enemies knew they’d be destroyed if they messed with you).

You couldn’t just wish for peace, I was taught.  For peace to work out, everybody had to want peace, and when it comes to world politics, there’s always some violent schmuck who wants to mess things up.  Pretending that the violent schmucks are just misunderstood scoundrels who deep down have good intentions almost always leads to one-sided violence (and little peace).

In other words, when it comes to the phrase “Give peace a chance,” I’m a little biased.  That’s why I don’t like the title Give Please a Chance.

I’m sure the content of the book isn’t that great either.  I don’t know this for sure because I haven’t read the book, but that won’t stop me from having an opinion about it.  I don’t like the title, and I don’t like the idea of Bill O’Reilly writing a children’s book, so everything else about it probably isn’t good either.  But I’m pretty sure (without even reading it) that Give Please a Chance is a message book.

Even when I was a kid, I didn’t like message books.  If you’re going to put a message in a children’s book, make it subtle.  And if it’s not subtle, then make it so cool that nobody will care if it’s not subtle.  Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss isn’t the most subtle of message books, but the rhymes and the pictures are so awesome that nobody cares.  That’s why Oh, the Places You’ll Go is still a best-seller.  50 years from now, we’ll see (or maybe somebody else will see) if Give Please a Chance is still selling.

I’m not sure who O’Reilly’s coauthor James Patterson is.  In all my years as a writer for Dysfunctional Literacy, I’ve never heard of James… cough… Patterson.  I’ve never written about James… cough… Patterson.  I’ve never told jokes about James Patterson.  I don’t like it when no-name coauthors get credit for writing a best seller just because they attached their names to a celebrity author.  Maybe James Patterson should write his own books.

In case you haven’t figured it out, there’s no way that I’m giving Give Please a Chance a chance.  And I’m a polite guy too.

*****

Since I’m a polite guy, I’m probably more qualified than Bill O’Reilly to write a a book about manners and etiquette.

University Library: Going Incognito

Nobody knew that a raunchy college sex comedy could take place in a University Library.(image via wikimedia)

Nobody knew that a raunchy college sex comedy could take place in a University Library.(image via wikimedia)

Students weren’t supposed to sleep in the University Library, but it happened a lot anyway.  If somebody on the library staff noticed us in a deep slumber or heard us snoring too loudly, they would wake us up, but if we looked like we were just dozing off while making a good effort to study, they’d leave us alone.

I was studying/sleeping at a square table in an open study room area in the University Library on a weeknight because my roommate Kirk had called from a frat party and told me he was coming back, which meant he was bringing a drunk girl into the room to spend the night with.  It was probably about 11:00 that night, which meant I’d be getting sleepy soon and I’d have to find an isolated location to doze off for a while.  There were a bunch of out-of-the-way spots where I could sleep for a few hours without being disturbed (I’ll get to that another time), but I was still trying to concentrate on reading and taking notes when I noticed an unfamiliar girl seat herself in the chair next to me and lean toward me.

“You don’t remember me?” she said.

She looked familiar, but she had startled me, and I couldn’t fit the mental pieces.  Her hair was flat and went only down to her ears.  I wasn’t wild about women with short hair, and she had a couple features that I didn’t find attractive, but I have a couple features women don’t find attractive too, so I don’t want to seem judgmental.

To make things worse, I wasn’t in the mood for a conversation, and the study room was still crowded and quiet, which meant that nobody else would appreciate our small talk either.  I didn’t want to get dirty looks from other students trying to study.

The girl pulled her hair up from her forehead.  “I usually have a spike.”  She dropped her hair.  “The elevator?”  She laughed at my bad memory.  “Your roommate slept with my roommate and never called her back.”

“That was you?” I said.

“I’m going incognito tonight.”

I would have said I liked her without her hair spiked, but the spike made her features more appealing, so I said:

“It worked.”

Normally, I’d kick myself for saying something rude and stupid, but it was late, and I was tired, and I didn’t feel like putting the effort into talking to a strange female whom I wasn’t interested in.  If she’d been cute (I know, I know, I didn’t have room to talk), maybe things would have been different.

“I just wanted to tell you that my roommate isn’t really like that.  She doesn’t sleep around.  And she doesn’t call guys assholes in public.”

I hadn’t given much thought to the elevator rage incident since it had happened.  Then I remembered what this girl looked like with her spiked hair.

“You look like the type,” I said.

“To sleep around?”

“No, to call a guy an asshole in public.  When you have your hair spiked, you look like you’d be kind of aggressive.”

“I’m not, but I’m glad people think that.”  She paused.  “People know me because of my hair.  People know Kirk because he sleeps around.”  She paused again.  “People know you because you’re Kirk’s roommate.”

Great, I thought, I needed a roommate to make me relevant.  This was nothing new.  I’d always blended in.  Even back in high school, there had been people  who didn’t know who I was.  I was rarely invited to any social gatherings in high school.  I wasn’t hated or anything.  My peers simply forgot I was there.  The good part was that I could crash any of those social gatherings and nobody would mind.  If I even got noticed, the reaction was just, “Oh yeah, there’s Jimmy.”  That hadn’t changed in college.

“I’m Jimmy,” I said, not really wanting to be addressed as Kirk’s roommate.

“Brenda,” she said.

“Kirk’s not so bad,” I said, wondering why I felt compelled to defend him.

“He treats women like shit,” she said.

“He just likes sleeping with them,” I said, looking around to see if anybody had overheard her profanity.  “Otherwise, he’s very polite.”

Brenda snorted.

“It’s true,” I said. “He holds the door open for women. He’s respectful to his mother.  He’s respectful to my mother.  And he’s protective of his younger sister. “

She curled her lips, so I continued.

“He didn’t use any foul language when your roommate was calling him names.”

She huffed.

“He never expects the woman to provide her own birth control.   And he always uses brand new condoms.”

“I almost want to sleep with him now,” Brenda said.  I could tell she was being sarcastic.  Some people can’t detect sarcasm, but I’ve always been able to recognize it.  A lot of people take sarcasm literally, and that can cause problems, but the worst people are the sarcastic ones who don’t recognize sarcasm in other people.  I knew Brenda was sarcastic, but I couldn’t tell if she would recognize my own sarcasm (because I have a monotone voice which makes everything sound literal), so I went silent and started reading again.

After a moment, Brenda said, “Your roommate slept with my roommate.”

I nodded and kept staring at my book.

“That makes us almost… something,” she said.  “Not quite family.”

I thought it made us nothing, but again, I kept quiet.

“I can feel us bonding already,” she said.

I don’t remember what we said next, but the entire conversation was awkward. Even though we used our quiet voices, I knew other people were eavesdropping and that always makes me self-conscious because I don’t want to be judged by what I say to an almost stranger.  Maybe I shouldn’t be bothered by stuff like that, but I am (not as much now as I was back then).  We didn’t even talk about anything very interesting after that, just typical stuff like our classes and dorm life.

At some point, Brenda went back to her table and left me alone.  She didn’t fall asleep on my shoulder, and we didn’t wake up naked in my dorm room or anything crazy like that.  It was just a boring conversation in a boring place between a boring guy and a girl who had to spike her hair to not seem boring.

But something was about to happen to me that was not boring at all.  And for the sake of this story, I’d better get to that soon.

*****

To be continued!

To read University Library from the beginning, click here!

*****

If you don’t like being in awkward conversations (but you enjoy reading about them), you’ll probably like my ebook.

Bad Sentences in Classic Literature: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

jane-eyre

Readers of classic literature can’t believe that a beloved novel like Jane Eyre has bad sentences in it, but it’s true.  To give author Charlotte Bronte some credit, she wrote a lot complex sentences that were actually easy to follow, and that was a rare skill in 19th century authors.  Mixed in with her concise sentences, though, are a few exceptions.  And when a Charlotte Bronte sentence goes bad, it goes into full disaster mode.

Just to be clear, a bad sentence is a sentence that would get students into trouble for writing it today.  I’m not talking punctuation rules.  I’m talking style rules and word choices that would upset the average English teacher or writing instructor.  Students are taught to follow a strict set of grammar and style rules, and they get punished when they deviate from those rules.  Therefore, it has to be frustrating to read a classic which breaks the same rules students are taught to follow.  For example:

 “Silence!” ejaculated a voice; (Chapter 5)

I could stop there. Maybe I should stop there.  After all, ejaculated is a problem word.  Maybe ejaculated was an okay word in the 1800s, but if I had written the word ejaculated when I was in school, I would have been sent to the office, no matter what the context was.  I could have held a copy of Jane Eyre and pointed out that I was simply trying a famous author’s writing style, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  I would have been given a failing grade.  I would have been sent to the office.  I would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap.

The other offense is using the word ejaculated as a substitute for said.  I’m not a purist who thinks “said” should never be replaced, but I think ejaculated is pushing the envelope a little bit, especially in today’s over-sensitive culture.

And to present a balanced look at the sentences in Jane Eyre, here is the complete ejaculated sentence:

“Silence!” ejaculated a voice; not that of Miss Miller, but one of the upper teachers, a little and dark personage, smartly dressed, but of somewhat morose aspect, who installed herself at the top of one table, while a more buxom lady presided at the other.

If you’re a student, try writing a similar sentence and see what happens to you.

As mentioned earlier, most of Bronte’s sentences are clear, even the long and complex sentences, but every once in a while, a sentence veers out of control.

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when having brought her ironing table to the nursery hearth, she allowed us to sit about it and while she got up Mrs. Reed’s lace frills , and crimped her nightcap borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales  and older ballads ; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland. (Chapter 1)

If the sentence had stopped after “…profoundly interesting,” I wouldn’t have gotten lost.  But between the tales that Bessie narrated and Mrs. Reed’s lace frills and ironing tables and nightcap borders and the pages of Pamela , and Henry, Earl of Moreland, I got lost, profoundly lost.  And once I figured everything out, I didn’t think it had been worth the effort.  The sentence would have been better off if it had just stopped at the colon.

Long sentences can get red-marked, but sometimes even short sentences can be tricky.

Mr. Rochester, it seems, by the surgeon’s orders, went to bed early that night, nor did he rise soon next morning. (Chapter 13 )

When I was a kid, tense consistency was a big deal.  If you wrote a story in past tense, you stayed in past tense.  There was to be no tense deviation within that story (unless you were writing a present-tense story with a flashback or vice-versa).  Here, Bronte has written a single sentence that violates the rules of tense consistency.  If I had written this sentence, my instructor would have suggested a change:

Mr. Rochester, it SEEMED, by the surgeon’s orders, went to bed early that night, nor did he rise soon next morning.

Maybe these criticisms seem picky and lame, but writing instructors have red-marked student papers for far less.  Teachers need to make sure students can write effectively, so I have no problem with red-marked papers, but students should also be aware that nobody’s writing is perfect or above criticism.  Every piece of writing can be criticized, even classic novels.

*****

The title Jane Eyre has always caused a problem for potential readers because nobody knows ahead of time who Jane Eyre was or why a book was written about her.  All a reader knows is that the main character is probably going to be Jane Eyre.  That’s usually how it works with book titles that are solely character names.   At least with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the reader knew there were going to be adventures.

Charlotte Bronte later wrote a novel with an even worse title, Shirley.  Because Shirley has no last name in the title, most readers have no idea who Shirley is until they read the book.  The title of Shirley is so bad that the movie Airplane even made fun of it.

Bronte left an unfinished novel named Emma, but readers can find Jane Austen’s Emma if they feel they must read a novel about somebody named Emma.  Reader’s who get confused at book titles that are character names might prefer Bronte’s  novel The Professor because the reader knows that the novel is probably about a professor.  Even though that title is better, the book itself probably has some bad sentences in it.

*****

If you think  ejaculated is a problem word for a school essay, you might enjoy reading my ebook.

The Introvert’s Guide to Dating

You don’t have to let her win. You DO, however, have to make sure nothing is stuck in your teeth. (image via wikimedia)

He doesn’t have to let her win at the board game. He DOES, however, have to make sure nothing is stuck in his teeth. (image via wikimedia)

Dating can be tough for anybody, but it was especially rough for an introvert like me.   I’ve never liked talking to people I don’t know very well.  I’ve never liked unpredictable situations.   To make matters worse, people who weren’t familiar with me have always thought I was kind of awkward.  Despite these disadvantages, I eventually I learned to thrive in the harsh world of dating.

25 years ago when I was dating, it was easy for me to tell if I was a good dater or not.  From what I had heard, a good date usually ended a certain way, and none of my dates were ending the way I had heard they should.  I knew I was getting better at dating when more of the dates started ending right.

Soon after that, I ended up with a girlfriend, and then I got another one (not at the same time), and later on I even got a fiance who became my wife.  My dating had become so successful that I had to quit dating.  If I’m lucky, I won’t ever have to date again.

Looking back, there were a few things that an introvert like me had to do to make each social outing a cringe-free experience, so here are a few lessons that I learned.

 Be the BEST version of yourself.

“Be yourself” by itself is lousy advice.  During my dating years, being myself meant reading comic books and watching football games while wearing a superhero t-shirt and baggy shorts.  Today, wearing a superhero t-shirt is socially acceptable, but it wasn’t 25 years ago.  That was a bad version of myself to use as a first impression.

The story about how I figured all this out is kind of long (60 episodes, starting here), but I eventually learned (or was taught).  Wear nice clothes.  Clean the car.  Be ready to pay for anything, and don’t complain about the price.  I wasn’t the most handsome, most fashionable guy around, but I was acceptable to the kind of woman I was dating (I had surprisingly high standards).  That by itself meant I was doing a lot better than I had been.

Stay away from unpredictable food.

Too many things can go wrong when you’re eating food on a first date.  You can spill something on an inconvenient location.  You can get food stuck in your teeth and not know about it.  Hot food can cause your nose to get runny.  Bad food might cause stomach problems which lead to embarrassing public situations.

You can’t avoid food on most first dates, but you can be careful about the food you choose.  I learned to go for thin sandwiches and fries, and I let them cool a few minutes before I eating.  Thin sandwiches don’t spill.  Fries are manageable also and don’t cause a runny nose after they’ve cooled down.  Once I found my “safe food,” I never had another food disaster on a date.

Script it out.

Sometimes my mind blanks out when I’m in unfamiliar surroundings or situations.  I’m not scared or anything.  I’m just processing, but to others, it looks like I’m freezing up.  Sometimes when I’m processing, my conversation skills deteriorate, and that can make a lousy first impression, so I learned to script a few conversation starters.

When on a date, I stayed away from the topics of weather (unless it affected the date), politics (unless I decided I wanted the date to end early), and sports (unless my date showed up wearing a jersey).  I usually had snappy patter prepared about music, entertainment news, and puppies.  I also pretended to like whatever music my date enjoyed, unless it was too sappy (in which case my date was probably testing my masculinity).

Learn to dance.

Dancing is a great skill/activity for an introvert because we don’t have to talk.

Just to be clear, I never succeeded at dancing.  When it came to dancing, I was a failure.  I think today I would be called a dancing fail.  An introvert friend of mine, however, became very good at dancing and met his first (and second) wife dancing in a certain style.  He became very good at dating, but not so good at marriage.

Me?  I couldn’t dance without injuring myself and others, so I got better at other activities like bowling, pool, and putt putt golf.  Women love beating guys at putt putt golf.  I’m not saying a guy always has to let the woman win.  In my case, I was always doing well just by keeping the games close (I’m horrible at pool, bowling, and putt putt golf), but my dating game improved drastically and led to other activities (like sunset walks and European vacations).

The point is that quiet, non-aggressive guys can find ways to succeed at dating without coming across as trying too hard.  Follow these rules (I’m sure there are more and better rules, but this is a blog and it’s free so what do you expect?) and you can be an introvert success story too!

*****

It has been over 20 years since I’ve had to worry about dating, so maybe some stuff has changed since then.  What advice do you have for introverts who are dating today?  Since my advice has been male-oriented, what advice is out there for the female introvert too?

*****

And while you’re thinking about that, here’s the perfect book to read before, during, or after a date.

5 Reasons Why Writers Don’t Make Much Money

This independent author just looked at his monthly writing income. (image via Wikimedia)

The independent author just looked at his monthly writing income. (image via Wikimedia)

It’s not whining for a writer to say that most writers don’t make much money.  It’s simply the truth.  The last time I wrote about writers not making money (this was a couple years ago), some commenters accused me of being a whiner.  I didn’t mean to come across that way (if I even did).  I was just preparing myself and other and prospective authors for what lies ahead if they decide to try to make money from writing.

I don’t make much money from my writing right now.  If you look only at what I made from my writing, the last few years have been financial disasters.  I write my blog for free, and my ebooks are doing okay for somebody in my situation (a blogger who can’t tell anybody in his personal life that he’s blogging), but the books don’t bring in much money.  I haven’t quit my day job.

A few years ago, famous rich author Elizabeth Gilbert said writing was “f*cking great.”  That was easy for her to say because she’s f*cking rich.  I make next to nothing from writing, and I still think writing is “f*cking great.”  I think I have more credibility on this issue than she does.  But even though writing is great, I know that I probably won’t make much money (I hope I’m wrong) for five basic reasons.

      1.  THERE ARE TOO MANY WRITERS

It’s supply and demand.  With ebooks and blogs/websites, millions of regular people who otherwise wouldn’t write are writing.  I’m one of them.  I gave up my dreams of becoming an author in 1997 after I had been told several times that I was talented but my niche had limited appeal, so publishers would be reluctant to sign me a deal.  I put writing out of my mind for almost 15 years.

Yeah, there are a lot of other writers out there, but since I don’t like blaming myself (and other writers) for my low pay, I present…

    2.   THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH READERS

Technology has created millions of new writers, but that leaves fewer readers.  All those people writing used to be reading, and they might still read, but they probably read less, and if people are reading less and writing more, than the writer-reader ratio (or reader-writer ratio) goes down (or up).  That means there are fewer readers to buy the books that that new writers are writing.  And my mom will only buy one copy of each ebook.

     3.   WRITERS PUBLISH FREE STUFF

Not only are there a bunch of writers out there, most of their material is now free.  Blogs and websites (and even videos) are free.  Some ebooks are free, and the others are really cheap.  If so much reading material is free (and some of it is actually good), then readers will be attracted by that and avoid paying for anything.  As a reader, that’s great.  I love free stuff.  But as a writer?  I know that creating a reliable income from writing (at least the way I’m going about it now) is a long shot.

Despite the lack of income, writers probably shouldn’t start charging for the stuff that’s already free.  If they do that, readers would stop reading, and most writers would rather get read for nothing than charge and not get read at all.  Feedback is a payment in its own way, so I figure any authors who get feedback from their writing are doing a good job.

    4.  MOST WRITERS AREN’T GOOD SELF-PROMOTERS

It’s tough to pitch a book without turning people off.  If you want friends to buy your books, they might feel they’re being used just so that you can make money.  If you have a blog that only promotes your book, then readers might get tired of seeing your books over and over again.  If you don’t use your blog to promote our book, then nobody will see your books.  If you spend a bunch of time on social media, then you’re taking valuable time and effort on something that is NOT your writing.

Some writers aren’t good self-promoters.  Some writers have abrasive personalities and need to be kept away from the public.  This is why most famous authors have publicists.  If an independent writer wants to sell books, then that writer has to become good at self-promotion, and that’s a different skill from writing.

   5.  FAMOUS AUTHORS WRITE TOO MANY BOOKS

Authors on The New York Times Bestsellers List from ten years ago looks a lot like the authors on the lists today.  And a bunch of those authors write more than one book a year.  I’ve scanned through these books.  A lot of them suck, but readers buy them anyway.

For example, rich famous writer James Patterson published more than ten novels last year, most of which had a co-author.  Tom Clancy is still publishing books and he died a few years ago.  I think even Ron L. Hubbard still comes out with a new book every once in a while.    It’s bad enough we independent writers have to compete with authors who use co-authors, but now we have to compete with dead authors too?  That’s downright demoralizing.

I know that if famous authors (and dead authors) stopped writing multiple books a year, it wouldn’t change the writer-reader ratio enough to increase my chances of being successful.  I know that.  But every controversial issue needs a scapegoat.  And I have no problem scapegoating a rich, famous guy who is completely unaffected by my scapegoating.  Therefore, if I’m going to blame any one person for the lack of money being paid to writers, it’s James Patterson!!!

*****

My prospects of making money from writing might be dim, but I’m not filled with gloom and doom.  Ten years ago, I could have pounded the keyboards indefinitely and still nobody would have read my stories, except maybe for Mom.  Now, between blogs and ebooks and unlimited opportunities for shameless self-promotion, anybody can build an audience.  And that’s f*cking gr… uh… that’s pretty great.

*****

If you appreciate authors who write only one book a year, then you’ll probably like my ebook.

University Library: Elevator Rage

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

The dorm elevators always scared me a little bit.  They were slow, they were noisy, and they moved in herky-jerky motions that didn’t feel natural when you were stuck inside.  On Friday and Saturday nights, drunk students would stomp up and down to rock the elevator even more.  I’m not sure what the drunks hoped to accomplish.  If they had managed to break the elevator, they would have plunged to their likely deaths, but at least they were having a good time.

Early in the first semester, some drunk guy puked in one of the elevators on a Saturday night, and custodians didn’t work the dorms on Sunday, so the vomit stayed in the elevator for about 36 hours.  This caused a chain reaction of events that I don’t want to describe because it’s disgusting and I’m not that kind of storyteller.  The point is that even after the puke was eventually cleaned, the scent stayed around, especially when you were enclosed inside the elevator.

One afternoon (days or weeks after the puking incident, I ‘m not sure because this happened 30 years ago) my roommate Kirk and I were heading out to class.  Sometimes I would rather take the stairs than stand in the elevator, but Kirk always razzed me about that, so inside the elevator I went.

“This sucks,” I said at the faint scent of lingering puke.

“It’s in your mind,” Kirk said.

“The mind doesn’t just make up smells,” I said.  “It’s still pukey in here.”

Kirk breathed in deeply with a wide smile.  “Nope.  It’s perfectly fresh air.”

“You’ve lost your sense of smell,” I said.

“I’m perfectly normal,” Kirk said.

“I know where your face has been,” I said.  “At the very least, you have smell tolerance.”

“Good point,” Kirk said.  “But it’s still in your mind.”

We were still arguing when the elevator stopped at the 6th floor and two girls stepped in.  One girl had caked way too much makeup on, and the other girl was tall with spiky hair.  They stopped in mid-conversation when they saw us.  I was used to being ignored whenever I was in an elevator, but I wasn’t normally a conversation-stopper, so I wondered if my fly was down or if I had anything dangling from my nose.

When the elevator doors shut, the girl with the caked makeup said with authority:

“You’re an asshole.”

When I looked up, I could tell from the way the girl was eyeballing Kirk what was going on, and I felt an awkward moment coming.

“You said you’d call me,” the girl said.  “Why didn’t you call me?”

Kirk actually blushed.  I’d never seen him turn red before.  I didn’t need an explanation.  This was a girl that Kirk had brought back to our room, and I guess they’d both been drunk, and then after they were done, Kirk had said he’d call her but Kirk rarely went back to the same girl twice.

The elevator doors finally closed, but the elevator hadn’t started moving.

Kirk shrugged.  “I changed my mind.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Then why would you want me to call you back?”

This confrontation wouldn’t have been so bad out in the open area, like a lobby or the commons where both Kirk and the girl could pass each other by.  Instead, we were trapped in a rickety elevator.  I held my breath and hoped that the elevator wouldn’t get stuck, but we finally moved.

“So Friday night didn’t mean anything to you,” the girl said.

Kirk didn’t say anything.  C’mon elevator, I thought, hurry up.

“You just thought I’d be another girl for you to use,” she continued.

I almost told her to get herself checked out at the clinic, but I didn’t want to become part of the scene.

While the girl kept badgering Kirk about not calling her, the spikey girl made eye contact with me and grinned, but I looked away.

Don’t get me wrong.  Under normal circumstances, I’d appreciate a public confrontation as much as anyone, but I didn’t want to be in the middle of one.  It’s only funny if you’re not involved, and I had to live with Kirk.  Any public confrontation he was involved with could have ramifications for me, and I was already struggling in college.

“If you weren’t going to call me back, then don’t tell me you’re going to call me back,” the girl said.

“I’m not going to call you, alright?” Kirk said.  “You happy now?”

That was it.  I could see the girl’s eyes twitch, her lips slowly purse, and I knew exactly what she was going to say before she said it.

“Ugh!  You are such an asshole!”

That wasn’t quite what I thought she was going to say (I thought she was going to say the f-word), but it was close enough.

The elevator door opened, and Kirk and I burst out.  We were usually gentleman, but we wanted no part of any post-one-night-stand argument and the puke smell was getting to me.  The  makeup girl almost followed Kirk out, but the spiky girl, still grinning, linked her arm to her friend and eased her out of the elevator.

“C’mon,” she kept saying.  “Class starts in seven minutes.”

Once they had cleared the lobby, Kirk turned toward them and said, “Thanks, Spike.”

The spiky girl opened her mouth, then closed it and shook her head, nudging her friend forward.  The makeup girl cast one final glance at Kirk, and then allowed herself to be dragged away.  The spiky girl said something in the other girl’s ear, and they both laughed loudly enough for us to hear it.

“She really thought you were going to call her,” I said.  I almost felt bad for her, and I rarely felt bad for Kirk’s one-nighters.  They were always drunk and usually obnoxious when I met them, so it was puzzling to see this other side of the situation.

“Yeah, I lied to her,” he said.  “It’s better than telling her ‘it’s been fun, now get out’.”

Kirk and I took a different exit from the lobby, even though we seemed to be heading in the same direction as the two girls.  We were just giving them a head start and would walk slowly enough not to catch up with them.

At the time, this seemed like just a really awkward moment in an elevator, but I realized later (I’m not sure how much later) that it wasn’t.  When that strange thing happened to me at the University Library later on that semester, this elevator incident came back to…

Well, I’ll eventually get to that.

*****

To be continued!  Read University Library from the beginning at University Library: State School.

*****

And here’s the true story about my one moment of high school glory!

In Defense of Boys Who Don’t Read As Well As Girls

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Boys have a bad reputation when it comes to reading.  Conventional wisdom says that boys don’t read as well as girls, and even when boys are capable enough to read as well, boys tend to skim more material and skip pages.

At least, according to this study, boys don’t read as closely.  I don’t always trust studies like this.  Too many things can go wrong or be done incorrectly, but I don’t necessarily disagree with the conclusion of the study.  I haven’t done any costly, time-consuming research. I’m just using  my own personal experiences and anecdotal evidence.

Full disclosure: I’m a male who is supposedly a pretty good reader, and I know exactly what this study is talking about.  I skip pages (every once in a while), and I skim.  I’ve even taken credit for reading books which I’ve never even opened (but I don’t do that anymore).

Instead of complaining about boys’ poor reading habits, I want to explain why it happens.  To do this, I have to use some stereotypes and generalities.  When I say “boys,” I don’t mean all boys, and when I say “girls,” I don’t mean all girls.  If you don’t fit the gender role that I’m talking about, you don’t need to bash me for it.  I’ve already been pre-bashed.

Enough people complain about boys not reading well, and I don’t want to pile on, but it’s pretty simple.  Boys don’t read closely because there are other things to do.  It’s not practical to read everything.  To us, reading is often more like a task to complete than an activity to enjoy.

While growing up, I knew a bunch of boys who didn’t like reading and weren’t that good at it, so I understand the mentality.  They saw reading as a waste of time when there was so much living to do.  They knew how to read.  They were capable of reading.  Reading was what they might do if there was nothing else to do.

Boys read less carefully because we/they have other things we want to think about.  We tend to be more task-oriented, so we see reading as a goal that must be completed.  Even if I’m reading a book for fun, I’ll still have a goal of when I want to finish it.  The subconscious goal then becomes more important than the enjoyment of reading the book.  Sometimes I’m not even aware of it.

It’s not laziness, as some parents and teachers might imply.  Boys don’t pay as close attention because it’s not as important to them.  In high school, my best friend couldn’t focus on a textbook, but he could read and memorize a TV Guide.  That’s where his priorities were.  Since TV Guides aren’t relevant anymore, the kid today who struggles reading history can probably memorize lineups for fantasy football.

Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to become more immersed in the experience of reading a book. Females can get emotionally caught up in a book more than most males do.   That’s why women cry more at movies than men do.  Part of it is empathy, but a lot of it is that while something emotional is happening in the movie, the woman is caught up in the emotion and the man is calculating how much time is left in the movie.

This applies to our adult conversations as well.  When women (such as girlfriends or wives) claim we men are not paying attention, it’s not that we’re ignoring our girlfriends/wives.  When women think we men aren’t paying attention, our minds aren’t wandering; we’re just thinking ahead.  We’re thinking of other stuff, some of which might be really important.  Hopefully that other stuff isn’t other women (but that’s a separate issue).

If anything, we men don’t get enough credit for how much we think.    If all that thinking ahead means that boys don’t read as closely as girls, then so be it.

So instead of criticizing boys for not reading as well as girls, we should be encouraging them.  Good job, boys!  Keep on thinking ahead about other stuff!

*****

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.  If you like reading, you’ll probably like my ebook, though you might not read it as closely if you’re a guy.

Is Shut Up a Bad Word?

If it’s good enough for the United States Army, it should be good enough for the rest of us. (image via Wikimedia)

If it’s good enough for the United States Army, it should be good enough for the rest of us. (image via Wikimedia)

Saying “Shut up!” used to be simple.  Decades ago, if you told somebody to shut up, the other person would either quiet down, cuss you out, or start throwing punches.  Today, you might get told that saying “Shut up” is wrong, that it’s somehow inappropriate or mean or offensive.  Somebody might even tell you that shut up is a bad word.

Maybe there’s something to that.  I’d never say “Shut up” to a stranger.  “Shut up” is something you say only to somebody you know.  If you say “Shut up” to a stranger, you should be ready to get into a fight.  I punch like a girl, so I never say “Shut up” to strangers.

Shut up might technically be a phrase instead of a word, but that’s a technicality most people don’t care about.  If you add other words to shut up, however, then it becomes a phrase.  Shut the f*** up is a phrase.  Shut your mouth is a phrase.  Shut your pie hole is a phrase.  But shut up is considered a word, even if it really isn’t.

Shut up is not a cuss word like sh*t or f*ck.  You can’t say sh*t or f*ck without offending somebody.  Shut up involves more context.  You can say “shut up” in a friendly way and people won’t care.  Even if you say “sh*t” in a friendly way, somebody will be offended.

Shut up can escalate a conflict more quickly than profanity.  Shut up often causes the person talking to get louder, to proclaim that he/she will NOT be silenced.  Saying “Shut up” can cause another person to use profanity in response.  Saying “shut up” can often backfire.  Because of this, I don’t recommend saying “Shut up” in most situations.

In some ways, shut up might be the gateway word to profanity.  A child who says “Shut up” may also learn to rely on profanity later in life because that person never developed the language and interpersonal skills to control emotions and use appropriate vocabulary.  I have no proof to back that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

My daughter has a teacher who tells her students to shut up a lot.  At the beginning of the school year, the teacher started off as polite, but now she goes straight to “Shut up!”  I had teachers who said “Shut up.”  We knew at that point something bad would happen to us if we didn’t quiet down.  After the teacher said “Shut up,” we’d get something like a detention or a zero on the assignment if we didn’t settle down.  That “Shut up!” was a warning that the teacher had reached his/her breaking point.

I’d rather have a teacher tell me to shut up than have a teacher who gives detentions all the time.  Maybe a teacher shouldn’t allow the class to get to the point of shut up, but ideally doesn’t work in reality.  Kids need a warning, and “Shut up!” is as clear as it gets.

If a teacher says “Shut the f*ck up” as a warning, then there might be some issues.

Maybe teachers and parents shouldn’t say “Shut up,” but if you’re going to say “Shut up,” say it to a kid.  Kids need to be taught that their opinions don’t mean as much as an adult’s opinion (It’s legally true because they can’t vote until they’re 18).  Plus, kids talk too much and don’t usually respond to “Please be quiet” or “Maybe this isn’t the appropriate time to discuss this.”  Some kids don’t respond to politeness and subtlety.  Some kids need to be told to shut up.

Saying “shut up” is nothing new.  The dictionary claims that the first known usage was in 1814.  The dictionary didn’t say what the result of the first usage was though.  I’d like to know if the person being told to shut up understood what he/she was being told to do.  And once the person being told to shut up understood what was being said, how did that person respond?  I guess I’ll never know.  I can’t find a video of this conversation on YouTube, so maybe it didn’t really happen.

I’ve heard people say that telling somebody to shut up is mean and wrong, but telling somebody NOT to say “Shut up” is almost as bad as saying “Shut up.”   I try to be careful when I use my shut ups, but I’d never tell somebody not to say shut up.  It’s not my place in society to do that.

But if you’re the type of person who says “Shut up” and somebody ever tells you NOT to say “Shut up” because it’s mean or inappropriate, you have the perfect immediate built-in response:

“Shut up.”

*****

If you’ve ever told anybody to shut up, you’ll probably like my ebook.

5 Ways To Ruin A Good Book

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Finding a good book to read can be difficult, but ruining a good book for somebody else is easy.  It’s so easy that excited readers usually don’t realize they’re destroying somebody else’s pleasant experience.  There are probably dozens of ways to ruin a good book for somebody else, but here are (the top?) five:

  1. Spoiling the Ending

When I was reading The Iliad in junior high (by choice… 30+ years ago), some wiseacre tried spoiling it by telling me the Greeks won the war.  I smugly replied that I already knew that.  Then the spoiling wisacre revealed to me that The Iliad doesn’t go all the way to the end of the war.  I couldn’t believe it!  I cheated and read the final chapter where Achilles returns Hector’s body to Peleus, and I was shattered.  I was really looking forward to reading about the Trojan Horse.

Maybe The Iliad isn’t the best example of a novel (or epic poem) that can be ruined by a spoiler.  I could have used a more recent novel (like maybe Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train), but readers could have potentially gotten mad at me (and I try to avoid conflict whenever possible).  At least The Iliad is Greek mythology.  It’s (almost) impossible to spoil Greek mythology anymore.

  1. Assigning it as Required Reading

Most people aren’t going to read a classic unless it’s assigned reading for school.  But a book doesn’t have to be a classic to be hated when assigned.  I probably would have liked Fahrenheit 451 if it hadn’t been assigned.  I probably would have liked Lord of the Flies as well.

There are only two exceptions.  I liked To Kill a Mockingbird even though it was assigned, and I’m pretty sure I’d have disliked Moby Dick even if it hadn’t been.

Assigning a novel is a great way to make kids hate (even what they think is) a good book. If you’re tired of The Hunger Games or Harry Potter or The Fault in our Stars, just get some teachers to make these books required reading.  If a few teachers could overanalyze these books, the popularity of these YA novels would drop instantly.

Any teen craze can be destroyed by making it compulsory.  If you’re sick of One Direction or Fall Out Boy, have some music teachers require their classes to perform their songs.  It’s an incredible power that teachers have to ruin teenage fads; they should use it more frequently.

  1. Building up High Expectations

I probably would have liked The Catcher in the Rye if my friends in high school (about 30 years ago) hadn’t told me how awesome it was.  The Catcher in the Rye was okay, but my friends had set my expectations too high.  Holden Caulfield struck me as a whiner instead of a rebel.  Now when I recommend a book, I just say something like “You might think this is good,” and not, “THIS BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER!!!”

After my high school friends recommended The Catcher in the Rye, (“You HAVE to read it!  It’s awesome.  You won’t believe how great it is!”), I handed them a copy of Different Seasons by Stephen King and said (probably in a monotone voice), “I think you’ll like this.”

That was it.  No hyperbole.  Very little emotion.  And everybody likes Different Seasons.

  1. Sneezing on it

Sneezing on a book will always ruin it for me.  I don’t want to touch any book after it’s been sneezed on, no matter how much I had originally wanted to read it.  It’s not just the nose debris I’m worried about either.  Any type of fluid (body or not), and I won’t read the book.  The moist spots might be water, but I can’t take that chance.

The only books I check out from the library are the new ones because they’re relatively undamaged.  All of the older books have warped areas, or discolored sections, or green/brown spots that can’t be sanitary whatever they are.  The older books can be checked out for extended periods of time, but I wouldn’t want them infecting my house, not even for a day or two.

The possibility that somebody has sneezed on (or done worse to) a book will keep me from reading it.  This narrows my selection at the library a little, but that also keeps me from wandering the shelves, and my kids appreciate how quickly I can choose a book from the library.

  1. Making a Bad Movie out of It.

This one is out of the control of most casual readers.  It takes money and power to pull enough strings to make a bad movie out of a good book.  I’m not sure anybody intentionally makes a bad movie out of a good book, but it seems to happen a lot.  When the Jack Nicholson version of The Shining (“Heeeere’s Johnny!”) came out in the early 1980s, it was panned by most critics.  Even I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t as hyper-critical of stuff as I am now.  Today, a lot of people see that version of The Shining as a classic, but I think that’s just because everybody loves Jack Nicholson.

It’s not the book’s fault if a bad movie is made out of it.  Sometimes a bad movie might inspire readers to see why that movie was made in the first place.  I’ve never seen a good movie version of The Great Gatsby, but Hollywood will keep trying, and people will keep reading it.

*****

When I lend out books and get them back, they’re almost always in worse condition than any library book I’ve ever seen.  Pages are folded, notes are scribbled inside, and the binding is shriveled.  I’m often tempted to stop offering up the books I like.

That’s the final way to ruin a good book: make your literary peers buy their own copies.

*****

You might like my ebook because nobody has ruined it yet.