So what’ll we call today? Well, look outside. Ever see such a gorgeous summer day?
Since I (kind of) recall that yesterday the weather map guys were predicting Tuesday storms. Maybe this is national Meteorologist Mistakes Day. You might argue that such a festivity shouldn’t exist because somewhere – lots of somewheres – the weather is conforming to weathercasters’ prognostications and so there, wherever “there” is, the weather folk are dead on.
Somewhere – perhaps in your home town – the gutters are overflowing and lightning splits the sky and thunder rumbles and you are racing down the sidewalk, your windbreaker already soaked, your hair flat against your scalp and boy, was that guy on the 11 o’clock news ever right about the kind of Tuesday was darkening the clouds.
He didn’t use the word “rotten” but he should have. Damn spacey-brained weathermen!
But you’ve reached your destination. In through the revolving door, pause to let some of the weather drip onto the floor, and then your journey continues. Past the long wooden tables – that guy on the end is snoring – and on back to the stacks, thousands of books, some of which must be a hundred years old – could Mark Twain have stopped here during his rambling days to finger one of these cracked bindings when it was still new? (How old would he have to have been?)
Now, deeper into the building, past something that would have been impossible to find here when Dad stopped to return a map – family vacation coming up! – and allowed you to wander around for a while. Comic books! That’s what wouldn’t have been allowed on the premises when you first began to cultivate your library habit. More. But regardless of how they were packaged, these comic books were trash and anyone who’d never read one would have been happy to tell you so, back then.
And finally, the books shelved against the rear wall, where the fluorescent lights were somehow dimmer and a pleasantly musty odor scented the air. It was and is the library smell and it encouraged browsing, seeking treasures you hadn’t known existed until you held them in your hands.
These days, you still browsed, but it was a different kind of browsing. You looked at pictures on computer screens and if you saw something interesting, no problem. One click and it was on its way, this thing pictured on the screen. You could browse another kind of screen, a television screen, and if something caught your attention, click! And sink into the couch to be entertained. But the hard metal and glass of your home electronics devices didn’t smell like anything in particular and so something, some tiny inconsequential something, was missing from the experience and that was not a happy thing.
Ask… who? The weatherman? Okay, yeah, sure, the weatherman. Just don’t expect good information. And happy holiday.
The lovely Joan Lee, Stan’s wife for over 60 years, died recently and this morning Marifran learned that Leroy A. Martin, with whom we used to double date in teen years, has not been with us for a while now. Teen years and innocent years fraught with nostalgia and maybe apt to prompt somber thought.
Yep, the world sure has changed, since I met Joan in the 1960s and since Lee Martin and I drove through Forest Park on the way to… somewhere. The changes weren’t predictable, not by us, and the science fiction crowd didn’t do so well either.
Which brings us, believe it or not, to graphic novels. Back when Lee and I were cadets at a military high school – hard to believe, I know – and later undergrads at a Jesuit university, novelists were kings of the literati. Many of them wrote for readers and not classrooms, and did that job well enough for their work to qualify as literature. Sometimes their stuff hit the bestseller lists and made pretty serious money and, yes, by some criteria, a few of them were celebrities. All that adds up to Success, at least by the standards of the times. Money + Fame = Success. Add literary respectability and, well…all Hail!
As to what this inky royalty produced, these whatchamacallems… oh yeah, books – hey, bub, this isn’t your American Lit 101 class (and never will be) and so I won’t attempt to define our subject. Novels. They come in many sizes and shapes and formats and tell stories sometimes seasoned with history and philosophy and autobiography and even religion… let’s end the catalog here, okay? You get the idea. Big book. Lots of words. Amen.
Some of the heavy lifting traditionally done by novels has been assumed by other, newer media. The specialty channels widely available on television – Netflix, Amazon and the like – can deliver intricate stories that require ten or more hours of playing time and deliver them unriddled with commercials. These may have the same amount of content as novels delivered using a different system.
But let’s not lament the loss of our beloved print formats just yet. Novels are still being read, but if – due to time warp? – our teenage selves saw them we might not recognize them as novels. Because some of them, the ones with lots of pictures, are sold as “graphic” novels” and that’s pretty much what they are: stories with more complexity than what’s found in the average comic book, but narrated using comic book techniques. Even the august New York Times, a validator of respectability, is serializing an autobiographical graphic novel in Sunday editions. (For some reason, the form seems particularly suited to autobiography.)
All this is further evidence that we live in a bitter and divided nation, culturally we’re blessed. Lots to enjoy and some of it really didn’t exist when…oh, say, Marifran and Dennis took in the Friday night flicks.
Have you ever wondered what could have been? What if Key West seceded from the mainland? If the state of Wyoming ended up in the middle of Pennsylvania? If freed slaves were given the state of Mississippi after the Civil War? Perhaps you would like a Brief Explanation as to how Budapest became the Taco Capital of the World? Or, if you prefer, there is one story that is a fight to the death between the governor of North Alaska, Sarah Palin, and the billionaire orange haired governor of South Alaska…
You can wonder all of these no longer with ‘Altered States of the Union: What America Could Be’; An American alternate history anthology (say that five times fast) that features a varied and fantastic line up of first time authors, New York Times best selling authors, and Hugo and Nebula award winning authors, coming all together with their own stories of alternate American history and describing what could have been if circumstances were just a little different. (And a little more crazy.)
It will be making its debut on July 15th/2016 at the Shore Leave Convention – aptly, the weekend before the Republican convention. For anyone that grabs it on Indiegogo, copies of the book will be mailed out shortly thereafter, if you’re not at the show to pick it up and get autographs in person.
This anthology wants to show you how we could have gone other ways, how we could have been very different than what we are– yet still be America. For anyone wondering how the Indiegogo will be spread out, they’re taking pre-orders to finance printing costs and generally passing along more money to the contributors— all proceeds after production and distribution costs go to the people whose work drew you to the book in the first place— which, after all, is how it should be.
The array of authors that are in this collection of historic proportions are:
A mixture of NY Times best sellers, Hugo and Nebula winners, WGA award winners, president of American Atheists, and an editor of the Sandman comics is a sure win. Any anthology that includes the writer of “The Trouble With Tribbles”, a writer of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, and the president of American Atheists is an interesting mix that shouldn’t be missed out on.
When it comes to reading, what is “age appropriate”? I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially after that school in New Mexico pulled Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from its reading list and library after a mother complained about a certain passage in it.
Yes, when taken out of context, I can see how the passage might alarm a parent on first glance. It’s about sex, and it contains cursing.
However, as pointed out on the Tor blog, in context the passage is more than the smutty little interlude the complaining mother presumably thought it to be. It’s an “intimate” moment between a couple who probably wouldn’t be behaving that way if they knew there was someone sitting next to them, intended to show how literally invisible the book’s main character, Richard Mayhew, has become to those in Gaiman’s “London Above.” This scene also furthers the relationship between two characters, Richard and one of his guides in “London Below,” Anaesthesia. In the context of the book, it makes sense and it adds to the development of the story.
It’s all about context, something that seems to be ignored by those complaining about this book or demanding it be banned. Have these people even read the books in question all the way through? Maybe, but somehow I doubt it.
Now I’m not saying parents shouldn’t have a care for the media their children are consuming. I do. But, 1) parents should read the entire book before requesting it be banned; 2) parents shouldn’t use their own value system to affect what an entire school’s worth of children have access to; and 3) parents should trust a little more in the nature of print media and of children.
In regards to point three – there’s something about things that must be read that makes them different and more wonderful than any form of visual media: the reader’s imagination must be used. No matter how much the author spells out the scene, the reader must still imagine, even if not consciously, the exact way a character looks, or the smells being described, or the tone of voice being used, or the look of the scary old house on the hill, or what–have–you. Each page is another adventure for the imagination, and this element of intellectual involvement naturally and deeply engages the reader in the action. It personalizes the experience for the reader. This leads to a deeper connection with the characters and the themes at work, and with what is really important in the story.
If I was reading Neverwhere straight through, and came to the offending paragraph noted above, I would not be so concerned with what the couple was doing and the fact that the word “fuck” is used than I would be with poor Richard and his situation – his extreme loneliness, his outsider status, and the question of what is going to happen to him next. I know this because I have read Neverwhere, and, while I barely remembered the questionable passage until it became a news story, I distinctly remember Richard walking the streets of London Above and having a series of encounters like that one. I remember feeling sympathy for him, and concern, and, in terms of the two people on the bench, anger and disgust that they and the others in London Above could be so self-involved as not to see this character I’d begun to care about. That was the importance of that paragraph; not titillation or a scheme to corrupt today’s youth.
It is in the nature of print media that, if you engage with it the way the writer intends, i.e. read through the scenes in the context in which they were written, you will get something else entirely out of them than if you were to read just one paragraph, or even a few pages. In most cases, what you will get is something deeper than incidental curses used for emphasis, or a description of a slightly vulgar display used to highlight another’s loneliness. You may get an understanding of the feelings the character is dealing with – his desperation or his confusion. You may get a window into his soul and a deeper connection with the story. That is a valuable thing to experience, because in understanding others or sympathizing with them, you grow as a person.
Now, if a parent reads the whole of a book and determines that it is not something they want their children to read because it is badly written or repugnant overall, then, okay, it is their choice whether they want to shield their child from that story. Although I do not think that choice should be allowed to affect others by removing a book from a school library.
This brings me to my second point – that with most books, parents should trust a little more in the nature and intelligence their of children. Children won’t generally want to read what they’re not ready for, which is why “age appropriate” varies from child to child.
I have been a voracious reader all of my life. I read many things at ages where they would probably have been considered “inappropriate” by somebody, somewhere.
For years, I never picked up a book without finishing it. But when I was in the sixth grade I began reading The Grapes of Wrath. It was so. Darned. Depressing. Despite my innate feeling that it was somehow wrong to not finish a book once begun, I couldn’t bear to keep reading it because I wasn’t ready for it yet. I remember being actually angry at it for being something I loved, a book, and yet being full of dust and death and depression. I literally chucked it under my bed, something I would never do to a book – books are sacred! I left it there.
Two years later we were assigned The Grapes of Wrath in school. I started it again. This time I kept reading, and I wanted to. The story was still full of dust and death and depression, but now I got it. I got why it was important to read about these characters, and I cared for them because I had the capacity and maturity to care for them. I was ready.
As another example, my favorite book as a fifth grader was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Did I understand, at that age, all of the nuances of Twain’s humor and satire? Undoubtedly not. I did, however, get enough of Hank’s humorous narration of the Arthurian court to enjoy it. I very likely learned more about humor and satire by reading it. Because I both enjoyed it and sensed that I didn’t get all of it the first time, I re-read it several times over the years, gaining more understanding of the text and of the nature of satirical humor with each reading.
That book also got me interested in the world of King Arthur, which led to my reading classics such as Le Morte d’Arthurat an age where I probably would not have otherwise. It led to my picking up Mary Stewart’s The Wicked Day on one of the pilgrimages I made with my mother each year to the storeroom where she counted up the school’s books. (My mother, being an English teacher, would go before school started each year to count up the books she wanted to teach and determine whether she needed to order more. I would go along and was allowed to wander around and borrow any books I wanted. It was a wonderful thing for a reading child.) Now that book certainly had some things in it that shocked me – there was incest and intrigue and there were family members lying to each other and literally fighting to the death. But those story elements didn’t harm me. They just expanded my worldview, as did so many other stories.
The ability that books have to expand a person’s worldview and understanding of people and places otherwise not within their immediate experience is one of the most valuable things books have to offer. Books reflect the patterns of thinking of their authors, or they reflect the writers’ views on history, or on family situations, or on any other topics you can think of. They are windows into the minds of others and into other worlds as seen through the authors’ eyes. Each of us has to grow up and live in a world filled with a mishmash of people who are not like us, but the more encounters we’ve had with people (even if they are book characters) who are not like us, or perspectives that are not like ours, the better able we may be to understand the other people we encounter in life, and to find our own places in the world. I’m not a parent, but I was a child; and I can’t even enumerate all the ways books helped me with this, and continue to help me.
So what is “age appropriate”? I don’t know, and more to the point, I don’t care. What I do care about is that children be allowed access to the books for which they are ready. I really do believe that allowing such freedom will make each child’s life, and our whole world, better.
So when you “think of the children,” think about the value they gain from reading something new and different and, yes, occasionally a little adult or shocking. Think of how much being able to see different perspectives and understand other people will help them in this world. Think about being an advocate for literature, instead of against it.
In an interview at IGN that’s already raised many hackles and comments, the developer behind The Order: 1886 claims GameStop’s used games business model is hurting developers.
“Weerasuriya’s solution is simple: “I don’t think we should stop used games, but we should do something about getting part of the revenue back from GameStop and places like that. That’s not penalizing consumers; they’ll still get what they want.””
GameStop isn’t just going to “give” money to the companies. And I’ll go so far as to say that if they’re asked to, they’ll simply go out of business. If companies try and come up with some method to get said to get said money, Gamestop will not simply settle for less – they’ll raise the prices of their used games, which may well just get people to buy the new ones after all, which gets the developers what they want.
I think it’s safe to say their used games market is more profitable than their new one. They’ll sell thousands, millions of copies on day of release, but they make a lot more on the used ones they start selling two weeks later. Mainly because they pay outrageously low prices for them Oh, they might give you twenty or thirty dollars for a hot new game, but that’s credit – look at how much less you get if you ask for cash; more like ten ot fifteen. And that drops fast as time passes, far faster then the price they charge does. They they turn around and sell that copy for five bucks less then a new copy, less another ten percent if you’re a power member. So the used games make them a lot more money – no surprise they push you to buy the used end when you can. You save five bucks; they make an extra ten, easy.I’ve heard endless arguments about how developers are getting “shafted” by the used market. They argue that if everyone “had to” buy a used copy, they companies would do much better, and could even afford to lower their prices. Save argument – when’s the last time you ever saw a company voluntarily lower their prices cause they were “making enough money”? The only reason companies lower prices is when they aren’t making enough money. They lower prices to increase purchases, and “make it up on volume” as the cliche goes.
Books, records, CDs, DVDs, none of these have any limits on what you do with them once you’re done with them. And any attempt to TRY to do so is met with ridiculous (and justified) pushback. Anyone old enough to remember when DIVX was an actual machine, and not just a codec? Buyers are already very angry about the DRM, online codes, and all the other things companies added to their products right out of the gate. The famous users’ agreements you gleefully click all the time basically make you admit that you don’t own the program you just paid for – you bought a license to use the program, technically forever, but still rescindable by the publisher at any time. Luckily, that agreement is rarely enforced, but there’s nothing stopping them from doing so, save for the potential response of the public.
To a degree, the argument for buying used crosses the argument for pirating – “They’re trying to screw us out of too much money”. Used gamers just wait for the price to drop, or the used copies to appear, pirates go further and don’t pay at all. The end result is the same – the developer makes less money. Prices for new things (electronics, medicines, video games) are more expensive at first because the company is trying to make back the money it spent on its development, off what are called the “first adopters”. That money needs to be made back quickly, mainly so the company doesn’t go out of business, but more importantly, so they have money to invent the next cool thing. As the prices go down, the company makes less on each item, but by that time (presumably) it’s pure profit, save for the megligible cost of manufacture.
The rule is simple – when the list price of a new game drops, the company is making money. With a used copy, Gamestop makes the money. If you want to make sure the company benefits, buy a new copy on sale – GameStop paid the same amount for the game wholesale, they’re taking a hit on their side to get you in the store.
There are so many books yet to read – classics, mysteries, SF, fantasy, history, biography, comics and so on. All unread, so many of them of such high quality and I really want to read them. There are, however, only so many hours to the day and so many things that need doing in those hours, including writing this column.
Yet I often find myself returning to books that I’ve read before. For several years, right around Memorial Day, we’d go to a mass out by where my father was buried and that would be a key for me to start re-reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There was the return to Middle-Earth and all the locations, all the characters – good and bad – that inhabited it. I’ve often returned as well to A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and Victorian/Edwardian England.
I watch a lot of movies over and over again, but I think books are different. There’s a greater investiture of time in re-reading a book, usually, and it demands a greater investiture of me. Don’t get me wrong; I love movies but it is a more passive activity. You have to use your imagination more with reading; you have to be actively engaged. You’re translating two-dimensional words on a page (or screen these days) into images in your mind, into a sensory experience. You control the pace of the storytelling to a degree; you read fast or you linger. You go back or maybe skip forward, sometimes to the end if you’re cheating and want to know that first. They’re very different experiences.
When I read something for a second time, it’s a different experience than the first. The first time, I want the story. I want to know What Happens Next, how is it all going to turn out. It’s fresh, it’s new, and (if the story is good) exciting.
On subsequent reads, unless I’ve forgotten the plot (which happens more and more as I grow older), I know all of that. I may discover a bit I had not gotten before or the story yields a new pleasure that I had missed in my rush to find out What Happens Next.
So why keep going back when I can keep reading something new, get that first time feeling over and over again? I think its because the story stays with me and it was well told. I’ve never gone back and read a book I disliked or even one to which I was simply indifferent. I had to love that story. I go back, not expecting the same pleasure I had the first time, but simply because it’s a friend. I had a good experience with that friend and I enjoy being in its company. For me, the fact that it’s a repeated pleasure simply deepens that pleasure for me.
I try to balance out the two; reading something new along with reading something familiar. It keeps me sane – or what passes for sane these days. I think I’ll go find an old friend this summer and renew my acquaintanceship. It’s a good time to do it.
On a different note: since this is Memorial Day Weekend, we should remember the reason why the holiday exists. It’s not simply the start of summer, it’s about remembering those who served their country, especially those who died. Our respect and our thanks.
In the first event in association with Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary, Puffin Books will be releasing eleven e-books in 2013, one a month, each dealing with a different Doctor. Writer of the Artemis Fowl series Eoin (“Owen”) Colfer has written the first, starring the first Doctor, played on TV by the late William Hartnell. (more…)