The Slow Destruction of Fantasy Fiction.

I’m not a huge fan of fantasy fiction, as I’ve explained here before, but the state of things in all corners of the publishing world interests me. They interest me not only as an aspiring writer but also as a lover of classic literature. I previously expressed my concern about the recent trend of denigrating older books. Most of the increasing animosity directed toward those books is due to their alleged racial and cultural insensitivity, a problem you’d think might be all but eliminated with those publishing in our postmodern, politically correct zeitgeist.

Lately, however,  it seems that even progressive authors are falling prey to the increasingly broad swath of culturally inappropriate or racially triggering offenses. It’s gotten so bad that even fantasy fiction, which by definition isn’t concerned with realistic portrayals of events and people, is being routed by the political correctness brigade. The result is that many authors are having to postpone the releases of their books to make edits of appeasement lest they offend the masses of people who were never going to read their books anyway. From The Spectator’s Even Fantasy Fiction is Now Offensive:

It was Lionel Shriver who saw the writing on the wall. Giving a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival three years ago in which she decried the scourge of modern identity politics, Shriver observed that the dogma of ‘cultural appropriation’ —which demands no less than complete racial segregation in the arts — had not yet wrapped its osseous fingers around the publishing industry. But, she warned: ‘This same sensibility is coming to a bookstore near you.’ Reader, it has come.

Indeed it has, and the outrage isn’t being directed solely at authors of European descent, as many people might automatically assume and sadly, be perfectly okay with. Oh, no. This is an equally opportunity scourging:

Next month a young, Asian-American author called Amélie Wen Zhao was due to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Blood Heir, the first in a three-part fantasy series for which Zhao was reportedly paid a six-figure sum by Delacorte Press, a children’s imprint of Penguin Random House. Set in the Russian-inspired ‘Cyrillian Empire’, Blood Heir tells the story of a magic-wielding princess who is forced to flee her kingdom following her father’s murder. ‘In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin colour, and good and evil exist in shades of grey… comes a dark Anastasia retelling,’ blurbed the publishers.

Can you spot the problem here? It’ll all be clear in just a minute:

Before the manuscript had even reached the presses, however, a furore erupted when Zhao, a 26-year-old banker born in Paris and raised in Beijing, was accused of racism. Armed with merely the blurb and a handful of excerpts from the book, her critics — many of them fellow authors, editors and bloggers in the Young Adult genre (known as YA) — repeatedly tore into Zhao on sites such as Twitter and Goodreads, outraged by, among other things, the novel’s depiction of indentured labour. For despite Blood Heir’s Slavic setting, her detractors assumed the plot was inspired by American slavery and thus something Zhao had no business writing about because she is not black. In a tirade that might surprise students of Russian antiquity, one critic reportedly raged: ‘[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao, […] literally take Black narratives and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history.’

I was tempted to leave aside the minor detail that slavery was actually a thing in Russia right up until the mid-late 19th Century, but it occurs to me that it would be a grave mistake to do so.More:

One prominent writer even claimed the very premise of a fictional world in which ‘oppression is blind to skin colour’ was racist and joined others in pillorying Zhao for creating — and then killing — a ‘black’ character in the novel. No matter that the only discernible evidence for the character’s ethnicity was a vague description of dark curls and ‘bronze’ skin. Another YA author, Ellen Oh, who joined in the fray by piously tweeting ‘colourblindness is extremely tone deaf. Learn from this and do better’, was herself forced to issue an apology after being castigated for using the phrase ‘tone deaf’, a turn of events that would be comical were it not so preposterous.

Stabbed by her own pitchfork. It is both comical and preposterous in my opinion. The utter ignorance of the woke brigade is the issue here. The fact that people so ignorant are wielding the  the power to influence and impact an industry which should be -at its heart- driven by educated people with literary and historical knowledge does not bode well for the future of publishing, literature, and literacy.

One wonders when peak absurdity will intersect with a plurality of people willing to display the courage to declare that enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

Discussion post: The Great KonMari Book Debate

We’ve discussed before the advantages, limitations and broader implications of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book on de-cluttering and home organization. Quite recently, I even posted pictures of my kids’ attempts to organize their dresser drawers KonMari style for the purposes of fitting everything in such a way that each item is easily visible and easy to access.

While I was impressed with the patience and skill my kids demonstrated by turning their t-shirts and underwear into an origami project, I couldn’t quite bring myself to go that far. There’s no possible way I could ever, washing two loads of laundry per day, find the motivation let alone the time, to sit and fold everything into neat little triangular shapes then line them up in the drawers.

Guess what? My kids haven’t stuck to it either. They made a valiant effort worth commending, especially knowing them as I do. The method simply isn’t realistic long term, but I digress. The merits folding one’s clothing origami style isn’t what prompted this post.

This is a blog about books, and despite the overwhelmingly positive response to Kondo’s admonition that we get rid of most of our junk, one thing which has drawn consistent howls of protest is her suggestion that those following her method scale their libraries down to no more than 30 books. Being a homeschool parent as well as a voracious reader, I dismissed that nonsense out of hand. Others however, have taken the time to dissect and contemplate the underlying implications of suggesting that we purge ourselves right out having any substantial home library at all. The delightfully poetic Rachel at Bay Boxwood put it thus:

It strikes me as odd that one of the first edicts handed down by the pop-minimalist scolds is The Culling of the Books.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hanging on to a houseful of junky or unread books and paper ephemera, then cull away, you’ll probably be glad you did – but – considering the amount of unworn clothing, abandoned craft projects, ancient canned goods, and broken everything in peoples living spaces, it just seems like there are better places to start de-cluttering and un-owning, and that perhaps once the rest of the mess is resolved the books are a collection worth keeping.

Given that beautifying living spaces is what she does, I’ll defer to her authority on that issue, and agree with it wholeheartedly.  Being given to conspiratorial imaginations complete with visions of elitist machinations in smoke-filled rooms, I am immediately wary of attempts to encourage the masses to do away with hard copies of books.

Y’all can cancel the paddy wagon. Tongue is planted firmly in cheek, but I do consider it unwise to trap our most beloved books in digital formats which are much easier to delete or manipulate. More than that however, is that there are few things at all which spark joy, inspire thought, and disseminate wisdom than great books. I loved the wistfully exciting way Bethany Fiction said it:

Do you know what brings me joy? BOOKS! Adventures to times and places I’ll never visit in the “real” world, deep journeys into hope and heartbreak, thrilling escapades where someone won’t get out alive but I probably will, somewhat-confusing classics I had to read for school that made me a better person even if I didn’t appreciate them at the time…I love them all.

I mean, it’s great to have a few travel mementos that bring a smile every time you look at them, don’t get me wrong, but books contain whole worlds—the lives and journeys of beloved friends we’ve admired and empathized and learned from. The joy quotient is just through the roof. Libraries and bookstores spark so much joy that they might as well be actual infernos of happiness. (Is that a little Fahrenheit 451? Maybe. But you get the idea.) And if your house just happens to resemble a library or bookstore…all the better!

I especially appreciated that she invoked Fahrenheit 451.

Writing for The Guardian,  Anakana Scholfield reminds us that not every book we read is going to spark joy, and sometimes this is a very good thing:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

As for culling one’s unread books – while that may be essential for reducing fire and tripping hazards, it is certainly not a satisfying engagement with the possibilities of literature. (Unless it’s self-help or golf, in which case, toss it.) Success is, eventually, actually reading your unread books, or at least holding on to them long enough that they have the chance to satisfy, dissatisfy or dement you. Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure.

Some of the most rewarding books I own, beginning with my Bible, have grieved, challenged, and stretched me in the most painful yet rewarding ways. Several are worth re-reading again and again, sharing with friends, and passing along to my children and their children.

Despite my predilection for book collection, I am a fervent supporter of local libraries and encourage their patronage for books that we enjoy exploring which are, for whatever reasons, not worth retaining in our personal libraries.

The bigger takeaway from all of this is that each of us, rather than being carried away by the cultural wave of the moment, needs to use wisdom and discretion when it comes to what we own, how we spend our money, and how we decide which experts of the moment are worth listening to.The way I feel about my books is the way my husband feels about his tools. Some of the more obscure specialty tools might only be used  yearly, but when needed, they are worth every penny and whatever bit of space they occupy.

Materialism and collection of worthless clutter is expensive and causes unnecessary stress. That’s something most all agree on. How we approach Marie Kondo’s needed invitation to examine our relationship with our stuff will be as varied as each of our homes and families.

How many books in your library are you willing to part with?

 

 

The book I’ve been waiting for is here!

 

digital minimalism

Ignore the Latin declensions in the background…

 

Today, Amazon* delivered my pre-ordered copy of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism to our front door. I was so excited I started reading it right away. Life being what it is, I only got as far as the introduction before I had to put it aside, but I’m enjoying what I’m reading so far.

Stay tuned for a review in the near future!

*Yeah, I ordered it from Amazon. I’m making a concerted effort to reduce the number of dollars I send the way of Mr. Bezos, but sometimes my American addiction to convenience gets the best of me.

The Great 2018 Book Purge Update.

The purge is underway in earnest, and although I have given up counting exactly how many books were boxed and given away, I’d estimate roughly 75. Because I was more interested in freeing space and organization than acquiring new books to replace others, I simply transported the entire box to our nearest Goodwill donation center.

There are seasons when I am rich in both time and a desire for new book acquisitions. At those times I travel a little further to a quaint used bookstore that I enjoy, where they give me credit for my used books to be used towards books for sale in their inventory. This was not one of those seasons, so I didn’t do that today.

The thinning included a significant number of children’s books that our children have outgrown or lost interest in: Most of the Junie B. Jones collection, almost all of the Magic Treehouse series, and a stack of Little Golden Books as well. Because we do have young children here on occasion, I kept the children’s books which are undisputed classics, both for young visitors and for the children I hope our children will have some day in the not too distant future. Reading aloud to children is great fun, after all.

Among the children’s books with which I couldn’t part were Winnie the Pooh series, Goodnight Moon, a few Dr. Seuss classics, as well as a few beloved titles by Beatrix Potter. I often post C.S. Lewis’ quote regarding the timelessness of an engaging, well written story.

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

I agree heartily, as I have enjoyed numerous children’s books throughout my adult years, most recently Tom Sawyer.

The second group of books I purged rather ruthlessly were “theology” centered books which no longer dove tail with my understanding of faith the way they did back when I bought them. Fortunately, there weren’t many of those. Unfortunately, there were probably more than there should have been.

Then there were the homeschool books that I bought only to find they didn’t work for one reason or another. I considered saving them to sell at a couple of used curriculum sales in the spring, but that would mean keeping them until April or May. I might regret it later, but at this moment in time nothing less that removing these items from my sight would give me homemaking peace. So, out they went.

Lastly there were the books that I got rid of simply because I don’t anticipate I’ll ever re-read them. Many of those are books that I have reviewed in this space. Some of them I really enjoyed, but just don’t desire to read again. Others I never liked all that much, and some I finally had to accept that I was never going to read. I realized that I boxed up several books that have been reviewed here. Among them:

I had been getting into the habit lately of buying more books as our increasingly hectic schedule has made library runs less frequent. My goal as I enter the New Year is to reconnect with my habit of checking out most of the books I read from the library unless I can’t access them there.

The book purge is not 100% complete, but I am about 75% of the way there.

 

 

 

You can return bad Kindle books.

I never really considered before this past week whether or not it was possible to return Kindle books once they’ve been purchased and downloaded. It makes sense now, but until someone recently  informed me otherwise, I just assumed I couldn’t return them. I am grateful for that education.

While attempting to write 40,000 words and hitting a creative wall, I decided to do some research on the topic on which I was writing in the event that my entire project is an exercise in redundancy that someone else may have already done before, and better.

By the time I reached the 12% point in the book, I’d read what amounted to a long and windy bit of information unsuitable for anything other than a women’s study dissertation. Despite the gnawing feeling that I’d wasted a perfectly good $15, I forged on, despite wondering if my head would explode at one more sight of the words intersectionality, oppression, or patriarchy. By the time I reached 20%, I knew there was no point in reading further.

On the one hand, I was fairly certain that the book I was reading wasn’t in any way related to the book I am writing, which was good. On the other, I’d wasted my money, or so I thought. Thankfully someone informed me that Kindle books can be returned, refunded and removed from my device. I quickly returned the book, and bought another related one which I hope is in some way insightful. I also hope it doesn’t render my efforts redundant and unnecessary. I don’t think it will, as my particular take is unique and goes against the cultural grain, but we’ll see.

Consider this a PSA informing you in case you didn’t know, dear readers, that you’re not stuck with a bad book purchase just because you bought it on your Kindle device.

Log this in the paper trumps digital books column.

Purchasing a book on Amazon doesn’t mean you own the book in the same way you would if you purchased it hard copy from your local bookstore. It could disappear right along with your money.

From Life Hacker:

When you purchase music, movies or books from Amazon or Apple’s iTunes store, you might be under the impression that that material is yours to enjoy forever; that’s how CDs and paper books work, after all. Why rent You’ve Got Mail for $3.99 every few months when you can “own” it and watch it whenever, forever, for $9.99?

But you’d be mistaken. Anything digital is temporary, even if you clicked “purchase” rather than “rent.” One unfortunate side effect of that you won’t experience with a physical book or record: Your purchases may just disappear if licensing agreements change.

I knew this, and have always been fairly slow to purchase any book on Amazon for more than a couple of bucks because of it. If it costs me more than $5 on Kindle, I cough up the $10 -$12 and buy hard copy if it’s something I think I may want to have in my permanent library.

A lot of people, however, are unaware of the loose hold they have on digital books they thought they owned, so consider this a public service announcement:

“This wouldn’t happen in the physical world. No one comes to your door and demands that you give back a book,” Aaron Perzanowski, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, who studied these digital purchases, told the LA Times in 2016. “But in the digital world, they can just go into your Kindle and take it.”

It’s not like the companies are hiding this fact, though the “buy” buttons may confuse consumers.

For example, Amazon notes in the fine print that “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Kindle Content.” You also can’t sell or redistribute your ebooks, as you might with a physical copy. Apple’s fine print states that the licensor “reserves the right to change, suspend, remove, disable or impose access restrictions or limits on any External Services at any time without notice or liability to you.”

As with all technologies, if you’re savvy enough, you can work around it:

There’s no simple way to keep the content you purchase from Apple or Amazon “forever,” though there are some shortcuts. For example, you could try converting Kindle books to PDFs (details on that here). You can also download music you buy from Amazon onto your computer.

At the end of the day, when it comes to books, Gutenberg is your best option.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Can’t We Be Friends? the non-review

to read or not to read

While researching reviews of Aimee Byrd’s book, Why Can’t We Be Friends? I was struck with the realization that this is a good opportunity to discuss the things that I consider when deciding whether or not to read and review certain books. Since I have decided not to read this one, it is the perfect conversational springboard.

Most of the books I read and review, I find one of three ways. I stumble upon them in the library, read a riveting analysis of said book, or as is often the case, am reminded that it was one I’d always intended to read but never got around to it. Classics most often fall into the last category.

When a book is generating a lot of buzz and I can’t find it at my local library, I embark on a research expedition. The regrettable experience of spending my beloved’s hard earned money on a book that is best fit for the trash heap is a hard learned lesson. As a result, I do my homework and often find that the homework provides plenty about what I am going to find in the book. This either saves both my time and money from being wasted, or heightens my anticipation of curling up with that book.

The former is what happened when I started poking around for some insight on Why Can’t We Be Friends? Most of the reviews were positive, but in ways that only served to solidify my initial skepticism. They were long, wieldy and confusing, explored the book in multiple parts, or otherwise worked to further entrench me into my position. Thankfully, I ran across an article at The Federalist which directed me toward the author’s previously published and readily available words on the subject.

In essence, Mrs. Byrd has written so many articles and blog posts laying out her case for why Christian men and women -regardless of marital status- should be able to have close, personal, even intimate friendships (“sacred siblings” she calls it), that reading her book would have been an exercise in redundancy. The book was an expansion of and explanation of ideas presented in those articles. As a result, I felt no need to purchase, read, or review the book.

This was a good reminder to me that while it is important and vital for any aspiring writer to write, write often, and generate exposure for her writing, it isn’t a good idea to base any potentially publishable work on a conglomeration of ideas that have already been shared and disseminated far and wide. Why should people buy a book that includes ideas and information that I have already shared repeatedly?

Another way I decide which books to read or not is on the basis of a recommendation or down vote from a trusted source.  By that I mean a source that I trust. There have been books I was considering then decided not to read because someone who knows me well gave me a full and complete idea of what it is, and why it’s not worth my time or attention.

Lastly, there are books I read but don’t review for myriad reasons. One of those reasons is because I didn’t finish it.  When a book is taking me an eternity to complete and I constantly find myself picking up other books to give me a break from that book, I conclude that it’s probably not a book for me. That could mean it’s a bad book worthy of a negative review, but if I didn’t finish it I never know if it finally came together in a satisfying way.  This potential for recovery and success is more likely in fiction than nonfiction of course, and is another reminder to me to keep thoughts and ideas cohesive when I write.

Another reason I may not review it is because the ideas are either so personal or so big that I feel it is best not to open a blog discussion about it. Rather, my time with that book is best spent by pondering its ideas privately or with those in my inner circle. That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

I’m sure there are as many times that I’ve skipped books I may have enjoyed as there are times I read books that felt like a waste of time. In either case, I try to be deliberate and informed before I read any book that I intend to review in this space. This process of mine is obviously far from scientific, but there is some level of method to the madness here.

How do you decide which books you will read?