Archive for the ‘Thoughtabouts’ Category

Censorship, free speech, and the (non)selling of symbols

June 25, 2015

Censorship, free speech, and the (non)selling of symbols

Amazon, along with several other retailers, is reportedly no longer going to carry items with the “Confederate flag” on them.

This is one of many articles on it:

CNN article by MJ Lee

This is a more complex issue than it might appear at first, and lands squarely in the middle of a topic we’ve discussed before.

Let’s talk about this in more general terms, rather than in the specific of this issue. That’s an important thing to do, especially for something involving a public entity. What may seem obvious to some people in one case then becomes a precedent for other cases where it may appear to be less clear cut.

First, First Amendment free speech of the publisher/product manufacturer is not involved. The First Amendment to the US Constitution has to do with what the government can do. It doesn’t have to do with what your friends, family…or employer can do.

An employer has the right to tell you that you can’t talk about politics with the customers. The government can’t tell you that you can’t talk politics with your social circle, but that’s entirely different.

Similarly, the government telling you that you couldn’t display a symbol or publish a book on a topic would be an infringement of the First Amendment…a bookstore refusing to carry books that promoted murder )or supported civil rights) can do that.

So, Amazon has the right to not carry books on pretty much any basis.

As a customer, you also have the right not to shop at a store that carries certain items…or refuses to carry them.

Amazon has other items it chooses not to carry…while carrying other controversial ones.

Snopes, which is a wonderful resource for checking out urban legends has even addressed a story that Amazon pulled Confederate flags, but not ISIS flags:

Snopes article by Kim LaCapria

As readers, it’s important to note that books are usually treated quite differently than visual depictions. Pornography prosecutions are going to go after videos or magazines with pictures far more often than text erotica.

I just did a quick search for

Confederate flag in the USA Kindle store (at AmazonSmile*)

Right off the bat, there are visual depictions of the symbol on book cover images…even though Amazon has supposedly removed sales of items with such displays.

Books are, as I would have expected, apparently being treated as a different class.

Even if you wish you would never see that particular flag again, you have to think about how you would like to achieve that goal. Do you want the government to ban it? Do you want stores to choose not to carry it? Do you want people to elect, on an individual basis, not to show it publicly? Privately?

Extend this to other symbols…the swastika might be a choice of some, perhaps necessitating cover changes to books like

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (at AmazonSmile*)

For some of you, that may seem like a slippery slope argument…and I’ll keep sliding for a moment. ;) If banning the symbol makes sense, does banning writing about the symbol make sense? Should you ban pro-Confederate non-fiction? What about fiction? Are books required to condemn the Confederacy if they are going to write about the “War Between the States”, “American Civil War”, or “War of Yankee Aggression”? You’ll see all three terms used in the USA, by the way, in part depending on where you are.

That’s not going to happen…not by the government.

However, industry groups have had “moral codes”.

The Comics Code Authority, for example had some very specific rules:

“3. Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.”

“5. Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates the desire for emulation.

6. In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.”

http://www.comicartville.com/comicscode.htm

Imagine if those rules applied to modern television…

Remember that the Comics Code applied to publishing…and while some of it has to do with what is drawn, the above examples and many others have to do with the narrative.

My personal philosophy on this?

Let me give you an analogy.

I would prefer that people never started smoking cigarettes…that the product never existed.

I have a very bad reaction to cigarette smoke, and someone I know with asthma has had to go to the Emergency Department from unexpected exposure.

Would I pass a law banning cigarette smoking?

No.

What I would want is that everyone simply stops smoking or selling cigarettes. I know that won’t happen, at least not for a very long time.

Now, smoking in public is an issue for me, because there are clear public health impacts. I understand laws about that. I’d equate it to you not being able to drive your car on the sidewalk…but its fine with me if you want to drive your own car into the side of your own unoccupied house

Some people are going to equate displaying what they see as a symbol of hate with smoking in public. They think the exposure to the idea is psychologically/morally harmful in the same way that second hand smoke is physically harmful.

To that, I would say, “Show me the science”.

If it can be reasonably shown that exposure to an idea (visually or textually represented) in public is a threat to public safety (the classic example of yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre), then it makes sense to me for the government to regulate it. Not destroy it entirely, but removing the public safety threat.

If an error is going to be made due to fuzzy results, I’m going to tend to lean in favor of intellectual freedom.

Could someone argue that reading Gone with the Wind or Tarzan makes someone racist? I suppose, but in order for action to be taken, I’d want there to be very solid evidence of that public impact, and then only take actions against what  I would assume to be a narrow set of circumstances. I’ve read Tarzan, and certainly recognize the racial depiction of Jane’s maid…but I don’t think that made me any less tolerant. I would guess that recognizing it actually may have contributed to me being more tolerant. There are studies that suggest that reading makes you more tolerant, not less.

I realize that this a controversial topic, and debated even writing this piece…but I’m very interested in what you think. Should Amazon be compelled not to carry certain works? Should the e-tailer make that choice, or should they leave it up to market forces? Why are books treated differently from visual depictions? Does consuming media change people’s morals and behavior…and if so, for both good and bad? I do think I have  benefited from modeling my behavior to some extent on fiction (I think I’m a much better person for wanting to follow certain ideas of Doc Savage…although I do think those books have been reasonably challenged for ethnic/racial depictions). Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Want diverse representation? Try books

April 29, 2015

Want diverse representation? Try books

I’m a geek.

A proud geek, by the way. :)

There has been a lot of discussion in the last couple of years about diversity in the geek world.

We’ve seen a real push for and shift towards female superheroes, for example. The latest incarnation of Thor is female (not in the movies, but in the comics)…there is even a female version of the Transformers that has recently appeared in the comics and will be released as toys (yep…robots with breasts).

We’ll be seeing more movies and TV shows with solo superheroes who aren’t white males in the next few years.

Daredevil, of course, on Netflix, represents a Federally protected class…which they define as “disabled”.

Then, there was the huge and ongoing “Gamergate” situation, which involves women and gaming and attitudes and treatment of them.

Catwoman was recently identified as bisexual, and Ice Man, one of the X-Men was “outed” (by a telepathic character) as gay.

Still, it’s not unreasonable to say that movies, TV shows, and games have a ways to go to have their leading characters reflect real world demographics.

I’m not about to argue that books are demographic mirrors. There may particularly be an imbalance in children’s books, and there is a campaign around that:

We Need Diverse Books.org

Still, I have to say…I’d be pretty shocked if you couldn’t find fiction that fits any protected class of which you are a member…and plenty that aren’t protected.

You can probably find a whole sub-genre of romances for any of those groups!

Why is that?

Is it because publishing is more “noble”? I’m not going to argue about that one, it’s awfully subjective.

However, I do think there are some factors.

One is that books are just inherently more complex.

I’ve mentioned the “Bechdel Test” in this blog before. There are a lot of formulations of it (even though we have a specific origin in Alison Bechdel’s comic), but I’ll go with this one. To pass the test a movie (that was the original line) has to have two named female characters in it who have a meaningful conversation about something other than a man.

Yes, that should be a pretty low bar (intentionally), but many movies fail it.

Even with the most generous version of it (“two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man”), a large number of movies and TV shows fail.

http://bechdeltest.com/

However, there just aren’t that many conversation in many movies. When you read a novel, they could have five sub-plots and fifty conversations.

A movie, in maybe two hours and requiring a lot of visual action, has a hard time handling one sub-plot and ten  conversations.

Another issue is that relatively, there aren’t that many movies released in a month.

If you look at wide releases, you are looking at around ten.

The USA Kindle store, on average, adds more than 1,000 books…a day!

Of course, those aren’t all major titles (the vast, vast majority aren’t), but they have an equally wide release (at least within the USA). Just as many people have the option to buy a book from an independent as have the option to buy the latest book from a brand name author. Movie theatres just don’t book that many movies…they can’t. There are times when I might want to see a movie…and the nearest theatre with it is fifty miles away (and I live in a good theatre area). If I want to read a particular book, thanks to the Kindle store, it usually isn’t fifty inches away. ;)

That’s another thing that e-books have made better.

When all you had was the airport bookstore to buy something, you might have had a hundred titles from which to choose.

If you want to most bookstores (I’m a former manager), you might have had tens of thousands, maybe even a 100,000 titles.

Sitting on my couch, though, I have access to millions.

So, I’m not saying that we can’t use more diversity in books, but I am saying that, with a little bit of looking, you can find books that focus on virtually any real world social group.

Is that an issue for you?

I’m trying to figure for myself if it ever has been…if I’ve sought a book because the lead character was “like me”. I’m having a hard time coming up with that.

I have read a book because the characters were interested in something in which I’m interested…that doesn’t seem the same to me, though.

I haven’t cared about reading a book because the character was the same gender, the same religion, the same national origin, the same race, the same sexual preference…hm. I don’t even care if characters have the same philosophies I do…I’ve really enjoyed characters who do things I would never do (for moral reasons), for example.

I will admit to being intrigued by an app that has, as a background,  a stylized version of a city in a country that is part of my heritage…not sure that’s the same. I didn’t know much about the city, so it was kind of fun to see.

Now I’m really taking a tour inside my own head. Would it bother me if every book I read had characters which were demographically identical…if they were intellectually and emotionally different?

Hmm…

The first question for me is, would I notice right away? Maybe not…I often don’t identify people by their inherent characteristics. That includes in “the real world”, by the way, not just online.

Let’s say I’m trying to remember who in a meeting said something. I’ve had people ask me if the person was a particular race…and I didn’t know. Clearly, the person asking me identified that person by that characteristic…I might something like, “They were tall.” That’s an inherent characteristic, but I do notice that one.

I might also identify them by where they were sitting in the room, which seems odd to people. I’ll say, “They were in the back row, third seat in from the door.” That often doesn’t help them.

Let me imagine this a different way. Would it bother me if, when I read books, it wasn’t just that the characters were all the same demographic…it was that they were the same demographic, and I wasn’t that one? For example, let’s say that every single book I could buy had people of a different ethnic origin as me.

I honestly think it wouldn’t bother me.

I suspect some of you are guessing at this point that it is because, you assume, I’m part of the majority or dominant group.

That’s not the case for all of the protected classes.

Here’s a simple one: I walk with a cane.

While I haven’t ever gotten legal disabled status, I think I could…I have a diagnosed condition which qualifies.

So, I’m not in the majority or the “privileged group” based on “disability status”.

That one may not be the same for you as, say, race or religion.

You might assume that people with a shared protected class tend to think the same way, but figure that’s not the case for people with disabilities.

Well, I’m very big on reading a diversity of thought.

I would be very disappointed if every book I read had characters with the same opinions!

That’s a place I do care about diversity!

No conclusions on this one…I’m just thinking in pixels.

I will stick with my original assertion: books have more diverse representation than movies, TV, or games.

What do you think? Is character diversity an issue for you? Do you think it negatively impacts children if none of the books they read have characters which “look like them”? Empathy is easier when there is similarity…but is it too difficult when there isn’t? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Why Power/Rangers matters to readers

February 27, 2015

Why Power/Rangers matters to readers

I like parodies.

I even have a category for parodies I write on this blog.

I’ve done Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes (I think that may have come out the best), Star Trek, Leave it to Beaver, and more.

There is a significant difference between the first two above and the last two.

The first two are public domain works (well, most of the original Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes, for sure…that’s a bit complicated), and the latter two are still under copyright protection in the USA.

The United States Copyright Office specifically lists a parody as something which has been found to fall under “Fair Use”, meaning that authorization from the rightsholder need not be obtained.

FL-102

Essentially, Fair Use is recognized as a kind of criticism…you point out the flaws in something by exaggeration, commonly.

That’s not protected in all countries.

In the past, I think one reason we saw a lot of Canadian comedians working in the USA was a difference in parody protection.

Recently, a “grim” version of the Power Rangers was made in what is commonly called a “fan film”…a parallel to “fan fiction” (often shortened to “fanfic”).

It criticized the idea of teenagers being chosen as warriors…and what might happen to them afterwards.

I watched it on YouTube.

Our now adult kid was into Power Rangers (the version being parodied here…the first popular US incarnation, not any of the myriad Japanese ones), so I was pretty familiar with the canon.

I thought it was well done.

Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) star.

Now, it’s important to note, that this is not a funny version…a parody need not be funny to be protected, or to be a parody. It needs to be, as I understand it, an imitation which would not be confused with the original, but comments on it (typically through some sort of warping of the original).

Fan films and fanfic are often characterized by people as not being for commercial purposes. It is possible to have protection even for something done for commercial purposes…look, for example, at parodies on Saturday Night Live or Mad Magazine, both of which are commercial enterprises.

So, why does all of this matter for readers?

First, Vimeo took the video down…then quite a bit later, YouTube did (despite it being in their most popular videos for days, which is quite a feat).

Producer Adi Shankar said in part that having the video was protected by “free speech”, and parody.

That’s something I hear from time to time…that when Amazon chooses not to carry a book, it’s a violation of free speech.

It’s not part of the constitutional of free speech.

Legal “free speech” has to do with what the government does, not what private companies do.

It means that the government can’t shut down your parody, based on current case law, as I understand it (I’m not a lawyer). A private company can decide not to carry something…pretty much for whatever reason they want.

As I looked into this more, it looks like YouTube may have taken it down because of the use of the music, which is not the original version.

That’s different…it’s quite a bit harder to argue that the use of a melody is a parody of that melody.

Weird Al Yankovic gets the rights to the music, from what I know (although, and I don’t know this, that might not have always been the case).

Vimeo and YouTube have no legal obligation to keep any video available.

My interpretation would be that Power/Rangers was legal…but there are tons of legal videos that YouTube doesn’t carry.

Moving this to books…

You can write a parody of something.

You can publish that parody.

Nobody has to sell it to the public for you or distribute it to the public for you.

You can write fan fiction.

If it criticizes a work, you can distribute it…the government is not going to arrest you for it.

That doesn’t mean a bookstore (brick and mortar, like I used to manage, or internet, like Amazon) has to make it available.

I found this Huffington Post interview with producer Adi Shankar important and interesting (and, incidentally, NSFW…Not Safe For Work, having profanity):

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/adi-shankar-power-rangers-bootleg-film_n_6764594.html

One thing Shankar says:

“I moved to America when I was 16 because this country was f*cking awesome, because of the First Amendment, because of freedom of speech…”

Absolutely.

However, we do have to be clear about what that means.

We can’t claim that free speech forces a commercial enterprise to sell something or give it away…the First Amendment constricts the government, not companies.

I’ve also seen this referred to as a “bootleg” (it’s in the page name at the HuffPo).

It’s not that, either.

A bootleg is an unauthorized recording done in a covert manner…someone records a movie in a movie theatre, for example, and then distributes that version.

Bootleg used to refer to hiding illegal liquor in your bootleg, as I recall it.

There was nothing in this fan film (according to the producer) that was original material, so nothing was bootlegged.

The term “cover” has also come up.

In a “cover”, one band/singer plays the music of another band/singer.

I haven’t completely verified this, but I always understood that those were done because the original musicians were a minority who were subject to commercial discrimination (stores wouldn’t carry records by certain races, for example…or perhaps, if they did, they would put them in what was literally called a “race music” section, where they wouldn’t sell to the mainstream). You need an “acceptable” face to put on the cover of the album…so someone else would record what was often a pretty faithful version of the original.

That also extended to radio stations not playing music.

“Covers” have later lost that sense of “covering up” the original artist.

Power/Rangers is also not a cover. In the original use of “covers”, the original songs were licensed…even though those contracts might arguably have been exploitative, they still existed. They were done with some sort of legally defensible authorization.

Power/Rangers does not duplicate a Power Rangers episode shot for shot, which a cover would do (or would nearly do).

It’s a brand new story line.

It is a parody.

I understand YouTube taking down the video, and I believe they have a legal right to do so.

The chilling effect does concern me a bit, though. Some companies (studios, publishers) and some authors go after parodies, and can influence distributors into not carrying them, and artists into not creating them.

I want people to feel free to criticize politicians and popular culture works through the use of parody…free, at least, from legal prosecution.

I don’t mind if they have to fight for distribution…just as creators of non-parodies do.

Interestingly, Adi Shankar is not “just a fan”. Shankar is a legitimate commercial producer, including such projects as Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg, Dredd with Karl Urban, and The Grey with Liam Neeson.

Shankar could fight this, and might have the power to do so.

I don’t see a path where the Supreme Court would rule that a store/distribution platform would have to carry a specific parody.

I can see something that might make companies less willing to go after fanfic and fan films, if this becomes a headache and a public relations black eye.

That’s probably unlikely, though.

All of this could strengthen Amazon’s own

Kindle Worlds (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

program.

The works there are authorized by the rightsholders.

No author will get a cease and desist from a publisher because of a Kindle Worlds title.

Yes, the rightsholders get to set up rules for the world if they want, and if a work doesn’t fit it, well, you’d have to go a different route.

Still, there’s a lot in the Power/Rangers story that could impact us readers.

What do you think?

What’s your favorite literary parody (at AmazonSmile*)? Bored of the Rings, perhaps? What should Amazon do if a rightsholder challenges a book on copyright grounds? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

What makes a book not a movie?

February 18, 2015

What makes a book not a movie?

“…it is our expression that there are no positive differences: that all things are like a mouse and a bug in the heart of a cheese. Mouse and a bug: no two things could seem more unlike. They’re there a week, or they stay there a month: both are then only transmutations of cheese. I think we’re all bugs and mice, and are only different expressions of an all-inclusive cheese.

Or that red is not positively different from yellow: is only another degree of whatever vibrancy yellow is a degree of: that red and yellow are continuous, or that they merge in orange.

So then that, if, upon the basis of yellowness and redness, Science should attempt to classify all phenomena, including all red things as veritable, and excluding all yellow things as false or illusory, the demarcation would have to be false and arbitrary, because things colored orange, constituting continuity, would belong on both sides of the attempted borderline.

As we go along, we shall be impressed with this:

That no basis for classification, or inclusion and exclusion, more reasonable than that of redness and yellowness has ever been conceived of.

Science has, by appeal to various bases, included a multitude of data. Had it not done so, there would be nothing with which to seem to be. Science has, by appeal to various bases, excluded a multitude of data. Then, if redness is continuous with yellowness: if every basis of admission is continuous with every basis of exclusion, Science must have excluded some things that are continuous with the accepted. In redness and yellowness, which merge in orangeness, we typify all tests, all standards, all means of forming an opinion—

Or that any positive opinion upon any subject is illusion built upon the fallacy that there are positive differences to judge by—

That the quest of all intellection has been for something—a fact, a basis, a generalization, law, formula, a major premise that is positive: that the best that has ever been done has been to say that some things are self-evident—whereas, by evidence we mean the support of something else—

That this is the quest; but that it has never been attained; but that Science has acted, ruled, pronounced, and condemned as if it had been attained.”
–Charles Fort
writing in The Book of the D*mned (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

When I am asked for my philosophy of life, I sometimes respond that I am a Fortean.

What is a Fortean?

A follower of Charles Fort, who I have quoted above.

Saying you are a Fortean, though, is always a bit of a joke.

You see, according to Fort, you can’t really “be” anything to the exclusion of anything else.

Everything is simply a different degree of everything else…there are no hard and fast “things” in Fort’s writings.

Start with a Fortean, and eventually, you’ll find an element that takes you to “another” philosophy, and from that one to another, and then another, and another, and eventually, you end up back with your Fortean.

Fort said, “One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.” That’s the source of the name of one of my other blogs, “The Measured Circle”. Unlike this one, which does have some artificial constraints on subject matter, I write about whatever I want there. :)

This is a joke I wrote years ago: “Question: why did the Fortean cross the road? Answer: there aren’t two sides.”

Let’s say there was a North side and a South side. If you stand exactly in the middle where are you…North or South? If neither, how do you define that middle? Can’t you keep widening it, until both sides are considered as one?

That’s a whole lot of philosophy to get to the point of this post. ;)

Right now, most people have unbreachable, rigid concepts which separate, say, a book and a movie.

In the future, though, will that continue to be true?

If I asked you to define a movie, you would probably come up with something about a moving visual image.

Some books have that now…from animated covers to enhanced editions which may actually include movie clips and other videos.

Let’s say there is an enhanced edition of a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which includes video of the I Have a Dream speech.

Is that not a book?

Even if 80% of the book is the written word?

You would probably define a book as something about, well, written words.

When you are reading subtitles in a foreign language movie, is that a book?

Most people would immediately say no.

It’s a movie…with subtitles.

That enhanced e-book? It’s a book…with video.

What is an audiobook?

I tend to think of an audiobook as just as much a book as a p-book (paperbook).

It’s still the author’s words…you are just consuming them differently.

If someone is print disabled and listens to the great works of classical literature, do you not consider them well-read?

As technology expands, I think the lines will blur.

We may come to expect the ability to see video in books.

We may also find it natural to pause a movie of Alice in Wonderland and bring up the text of the corresponding chapter to the scene which we are watching.

We might pick up again after the scene we read, or continue where we left off.

Part of it might be an opera.

Now, I have to admit, this really appeals to me, but I like lots of things happening at once…I like to say that I love chaos. :)

Most people don’t.

I would guess most of you would not want your books, especially your fiction books, to have video, audio, and more.

However…

You are fine with italics and bold, which are visual effects.

You may be okay with a map being in a book, or a “family tree” for a complex multiple generation work.

Do you like footnotes, endnotes, and/or cross references?

What if instead of having things like, “Said Pat”, there was a little picture of the speaker at the beginning of each paragraph of dialogue?

What if the picture moved?

What about a separate font color for each of ten characters? That would be expensive to do in the old days, but not so expensive for an e-book on a tablet.

I’m really just ruminating on this, but I think books will become much more dynamic than they are now, with more interactivity and more media.

Not every book, and not for every person. There is a certain…calmness in just reading the printed word.

I just don’t know how long that’s going to be the popular mainstream, though…

What do you think? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Books as a vaccine against hate

February 8, 2015

Books as a vaccine against hate

There has been a lot of discussion recently about people who choose not to vaccinate their children.

That doesn’t seem like a particularly complicated issue to me.

I should say first, I’m not a clinician, although I have worked with them for more than a decade.

This is the way that vaccines generally work, as I understand it.

You are exposed to a version of a disease. That version might be dead, or it might be greatly weakened.

Your body develops antibodies against that disease.

It needs to know that the threat is, analyze it, and blueprint something to go against it…that’s why the vaccine exposes the person to it, but in a generally harmless version.

There is a great deal of evidence that the concept works.

There are people who are unusually at risk from the vaccine…just as there are people who are unusually at risk going into a school or a mall.

For example, a child might have a tremendously compromised immune system. Most kids do fine going to school with other children around them. They get exposed to diseases, but are able to cope with that.

An immunocompromised child might be unable to fight off those same diseases, so going to school is an unusual risk.

In extreme cases, those children might become “bubble children”, and live at home in a specially designed protective facility. Fortunately, nowadays, they may be able to “attend” school through the use of a telepresence robot. The child stays at home in the “clean” environment, and steers a robot from classroom to classroom. The robot has a screen and sensors, so the child can both see and be seen.

A child with a medical condition like might have a very strong contraindication for the same vaccine which would be beneficial for the majority of children.

Some people choose not to vaccinate their children for other reasons…religious reasons, for example.

If you think that the government should make decisions based on your religion, you may then think that the guardians of the child have the right not to vaccinate.

If that’s the case, it also seems reasonable to say that the unvaccinated child should not be in a position to expose other children.

That unvaccinated child could be a carrier of a disease (they might have the disease and be able to spread it without showing symptoms or being noticeably affected themselves). It’s possible that there is an immunocompromised child in the classroom who has not yet been diagnosed. Even a disease which would generally be survivable might be fatal to that child.

If someone is unvaccinated, it’s a risk to have them around other people, depending in part on the contagious nature of the disease. I would feel differently if the vaccine mitigated the risk of a noncontagious condition than if it did the same for a contagious one.

I understand the controversy and the emotional desire to protect your children evidenced by both sides.

I see a parallel to reading books.

Many people want to protect their children from ideas which they consider dangerous.

We talk every year about “banned books”: books which have been challenged by individuals or groups, to get them removed from school and public libraries.

There are typically reasons given. I created a pie chart of those when I wrote about Banned Books week for 2013:

Should any books be banned? Banned Books Week 2013

In my case, I want my child (who is now an adult) and other people to read ideas with which I disagree.

I think it’s much better that someone gets exposed to the ideas in the form of a book, where it is a more controlled situation than in a personal interaction. It’s much easier to set a book aside and think about it and look at contradicting ideas than it is to do that during a face to face conversation.

I’d never thought of it this way before, but it is like getting a vaccination.

By being exposed to the ideas, you can develop a defense against them (if that’s the way you go). That defense can be used when encountering it in an active situation.

I’m sure many of my readers have done that. “Actually, I’ve read such and such, and that’s not what it says.” Alternatively, “I’ve read about that: how do you answer this question?”

That seems like a similar mechanism to getting a vaccine.

Arguably, there might be people who shouldn’t be exposed to a particular idea because of an unusual  susceptibility…like the immunocompromised children above.

It might not make sense for someone to read a book with a glorified suicide (MINOR SPOILER ALERT, I’M NOT SAYING WHO OR IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES: Romeo and Juliet comes to mind END SPOILER ALERT) if they are actively diagnosed with suicidal tendencies and being treated for it.

Let’s take this analogy one step further.

If books are a vaccine against hate, is there a “herd immunity”? If more people read something hateful and develop a mental/emotional defense against it, would that tend to protect the community?

My guess is that it would.

If, say, 95% of the people in a town have already read and rejected an idea, and a person espousing that idea comes to town, I think the idea would be less likely to be able to “infect” the town successfully.

Does that mean that “protecting” your child against ideas with which you disagree is potentially putting the community at risk?

I think that’s a possibility.

For children, the guardians are part of building the “idealogical immune system”. Being open to discussing a book with your child is a great way for them to develop a response to something.

My inclination is always towards openness in terms of reading choices. If my child chose to read a book by a hate group, I would hope (and expect) that we would discuss it. That discussion would help a child build that “blueprint” of an antibody, which could then be used later in the event of a full-blown confrontation.

One last thing.

As I’m writing this, one of my challenges is thinking of what would be these dangerous ideas. I think that’s individual, and difficult to determine…so I would let a child read as many different ideas as possible: especially ones which contradict my own.

Note: there are books which are produced through harming people. For me, that’s a different thing. It is the production of the book which is the problem, and you may not choose to support that methodology. I completely understand that, and find it a reasonable position.

What do you think?

We are talking about ideas here…is preventing exposure to an idea a good thing? Under what circumstances? Do you seek out books to read which contradict your own beliefs? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Do you have a reading plan?

January 27, 2015

Do you have a reading plan?

I will die without having read all the books I want to read, or even all the books I should have read.

That’s simply the probability.

It’s possible they’ll extend life significantly…perhaps if what makes me me can be digitized and still be self aware, I might have a very much longer time than would now appear reasonable.

That seems unlikely.

Even more unlikely is that I stop wanting to read books. ;)

Given that, I now shy away from having a “reading plan”.

What’s a reading plan?

It’s when you have a set goal:

  • “I will read every Hugo best novel”
  • “I will read every book in the Great Books of the Western World series”
  • “I will read a book written by an author from each country in the United Nations”

I used to do that sort of thing, and I think that may be more common when you have a longer life expectancy in front of you.

Certainly, I completed some things like that.

I read all 181 of the original Doc Savage adventures.

I read an unabridged dictionary cover to cover…not quite the same thing, but that was a plan.

Now, I’m more aware that my time is limited…no reason to think that’s a near future thing, in case you are concerned (and thank you if you are), but it can happen at any time.

If I was following a plan like that, and there were twenty books in that group and I died having read nineteen…well, I can’t face that idea. ;)

So, I tend to bounce around.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve gotten value out of every book I’ve read. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted reading a book.

I think it’s good for me to shake up my thinking…to try things I might not otherwise have tried.

That may be one of the best things books can do for you.

That means I’ll read books where I really don’t know how good they’ll be ahead of time, perhaps because I have no relevant experience with which to judge them.

That might be as simple as reading an author of which I’ve never heard.

It could be an entire genre I’ve never explored…although that’s not super likely. When I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I suggested to my employees that they read a book from each section in the store, to be able to better help customers. I suggested they ask a regular for a suggestion.

I did that myself, and discovered some interesting things that way!

That’s when I first read

Jude Deveraux (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and

Jerry Ahern (at AmazonSmile*)

two authors I enjoyed.

On reflection, I did read them because of a plan…to read a book from each section in the store. That was a plan that promoted eclecticism, but it was a definite plan. I would have been disappointed if I had almost completed that task, and then became incapacitated. I wouldn’t want to be aware of the goal, and know I wasn’t going to reach it.

I’m sure for a lot of you that’s silly. Not embarking on a quest because you might fail may seem…I’ll go with timorous, although some might use a stronger word like cowardly.

I think one of the differences for me is that I don’t need a linear goal to stay focused. I’m not a linear thinker, really…I love chaos.

I also love organization (like alphabetizing shelves), but I think that may be because it isn’t natural for me. I’m fascinated by timelines, although I don’t have a good sequentially chronological memory.

I’ve lost about forty pounds (over the course of maybe a couple of years…it’s been a good, safe pace) using the MyFitnessPal app (which I reviewed in this blog).

For me, though, it’s important not to have a “goal weight”. I just want to do it because it is good for me (and by extension, for others…my family, my co-workers, my readers, who benefit in some way from me being here and well functioning).

If I set a goal, I’d get more frustrated with my progress…and what would happen when I reached it? What if I’d underestimated the weight loss which would be healthy? What if I got in great shape, but I actually started gaining weight at some point because of muscle mass increase?

No, I don’t think that’s the best approach for most people, but for me, not having a goal makes me more likely to stick to something.

What about you? Do you have a reading plan? Do you mind sharing it? I’m sure some of my other readers might appreciate it…even be inspired by it. What reading plans have you accomplished in the past? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Being Mary Watson’s spouse: it’s who you know

January 13, 2015

Being Mary Watson’s spouse: it’s who you know

Regular readers know I make an effort in this blog not to identify genders, unless someone has volunteered it. I don’t identify mine, or my Significant Other’s or our now adult kid’s. I try not to do it with authors and such, either.

Why?

One of the things I love most about the internet is that it’s possible to be judged only by your thoughts…not by your intrinsic characteristics.

If a website requires me to enter my gender before I can post or shop, I simply don’t use that site.

Now, I don’t mind if people choose to disclose, and many do. I don’t feel like I’m hiding who I am, and I’m not ashamed of it. :)

It’s just that I want to set the precedent that you don’t need to identify (and perhaps be judged) by what you are (as opposed to who you are) if you don’t want to do so.

I try not to do any intrinsic characteristics, although it’s sometimes hard to not to suggest at least an age range for me, based on my experiences. I openly tell people I go back to the punch card days…I think you’d be quite hard pressed to find a  Millennial  (born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, approximately) who had worked with one of those. Vinyl, yes…punch cards, no. :)

There is a tendency to default unknown people as male. For example, there has been a lot of talk in the news lately about a “female fugitive”. I think almost every story I’ve seen has identified that person’s gender. If there had been one fugitive left who was male, I would be very surprised if they consistently referred to the person as a “male fugitive”.

That’s odd, isn’t it, when the majority of people in Europe (and the United States and Canada), where the story originates, are female? Since males are the “exception” (although the numbers tend to be quite close), you would think you point out that someone was male and not point out when they were female.

I’ve also had quite…passionate discussions with people about whether or not “actress” is an acceptable term. I maintain that it is a minimizing term…that it diminishes the person. When you ask how many actors are in a play, that includes males and females (as it should, in my opinion). You have a way to ask how many female actors, but not a way that ask exclusively male actors (without brining in more words). To me, “actress” again suggests the exception, something different.

I think almost no one uses “authoress” any more, although that used to be pretty common, I believe. If you check your dictionary, you may even see it defined as a derogatory or sexist term.

Then there was something that prompted this post.

I write about movies in another (relatively little read, but fun to write) blog,

The Measured Circle

I think a movie called

Suicide Squad

may surprise a lot of people this year with how well it does at the box office.

It features a group of D.C. Comics villains being “recruited” for a mission (I don’t want to say more than that).

The first interesting experience I had with it was when I was in a comic book shop (that’s actually a rare experience for me…I was looking for a gift for an office holiday gift exchange).

I mentioned the movie, and one of the clerks asked which characters were in it.

I mentioned the Enchantress.

The other clerk corrected me, saying that Harley Quinn was in it.

Yes, they are both in it. It’s possible to have two strong female characters in the same movie. ;)

The other thing was then trying to explain to someone else who Harley Quinn is (quite a popular character, although Quinn’s only been around for less than a quarter century).

Look up Harley Quinn, and you’ll immediately see her (identifying the gender is important here) identified as a “girlfriend” (or perhaps accomplice) of The Joker.

That’s true even when Harley is the only person in an image…not 100% of the time, but commonly.

Sure, I get that: people know The Joker, and don’t know Harley…so it gives you a point of reference.

You know what I don’t see?

I never see The Joker identified as “Harley Quinn’s boyfriend”.

Even if they were both together in an image, I doubt you’d see that.

That got me thinking…

I think especially female characters tend to be defined by their relationships to other character…typically male characters.

Again, that’s not universal, and it’s not just female characters. I’m sure we see Dick Grayson (Robin) identified as “Bruce Wayne’s ward” far more than we see Batman identified as “Dick Grayson’s guardian”.

I thought we could have some fun with this.

I’m going to flip it, as I did in the title of this post. Let’s see if you know who the other character is by defining their relationship to someone.

Who is…

  • Mary Watson’s spouse
  • Kala’s human child
  • Toronado’s rider
  • Mrs. Hudson’s best known tenants
  • Scout’s father
  • Becky Thatcher’s love interest
  • Wendy Darling’s pretend spouse

Hm…I think this is easier than I expected, at least for my readers. I would get all of these pretty easily. I do think that if I posed the questions the other way, asking who was so-and-so’s love interest, more people would get it.

I’ll post the answers soon, but I’m guessing someone identifies them in the comments in the next day. That’s fine, by the way…I won’t confirm it for a day at least.

Bonus note: I was finally able to order an Amazon Echo today! You had to have asked for an invitation, and had Amazon approve your request.

My estimated delivery date?

Between May 27th and July 2nd.

Not only is that some time away, it’s quite imprecise. I’ve never seen a more than a month delivery window before!

Still, I’m excited to be getting one!

If you are wondering what the Echo is, here is my category of posts on it:

https://ilmk.wordpress.com/category/amazon-echo/

Join more than a thousand readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

I bought my Echo through AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Life is too short to read only sure things

January 4, 2015

Life is too short to read only sure things

“Life is too short to read bad books.”

I hear people say that, but I never quite get it.

First, while there are certainly books I like better than others, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think I’ve ever read a book I regretted reading.

Even when I recently gave a book a 1-star review on Goodreads because I found it offensive (it could have been much better with some character change), I still think there was value for me in having read that book.

So, I’m not sure there are “bad books”.

Second, it gets to the heart of why we read, and that may be different for different people.

Do you read for entertainment, or do you read for enlightenment?

Obviously, you can do both…I have absolutely been entertained and enlightened by the same book!

I think, though, that you can strive for one without the other.

It’s a bit like when you go on vacation: are you going to go somewhere, or to get away from somewhere?

The latter folks are fine with just sleeping on the beach all day, or staying in the hotel room and reading.

The former want to go, go, go and see all the sites and take in the local culture.

I like different cultures, but I’m also fine with just reading on a vacation. :) I don’t want to be more tired when I get back than when I left…

For me, one of the main reasons I read is to expand my mind. Reading is as close the Vulcan mind meld as we have on this planet. You see things as the author does, as the characters do, and, importantly, as other readers do.

I’m a big fan of enthusiasm. :) I want to read something that other people love, even if the idea doesn’t at first appeal to me. I want to understand that, to see why it brings out passion in people, even if I don’t feel that passion myself.

This post came about because of a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment from Amy, one of my readers (thanks, Amy!).

I’m sort of finding myself lately in the role of a defender of or perhaps advocate for

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s Amazon’s subser (that’s my shorthand term for a “subscription service”), where you pay $9.99 a month for access to more than 800,000 books (you can have up to ten at a time borrowed).

I do happily subscribe to it, and I think my “defender” position started because I thought people who would get it as a gift or get a free month might run into people who would try to diminish their joy about it. I wrote a post about a week ago comparing it to using the public library: Why pay for Kindle Unlimited when the library is free? I’ll tell you.

Amy reasonably said, “Life’s too short not to read the books that you most want to read rather than what’s available on KU.”

There was a lot more to the comment than that (including pointing out that how many books you read in a month matters, and that $9.99 is a not inconsiderable sum in today’s book market).

We had a nice exchange on it, and that got me thinking.

Let’s say I had unlimited access to read any book in the world. I was originally going to say, “unlimited funds”, but unlimited access is a better picture here.

I could probably select books which I would know ahead of time I would think were great and important. I could just about guarantee that I would only read “good books” for the rest of my life.

However, for me, I want to take a chance. Some of my favorite books I found serendipitously.

Regular readers know that the pulp character, Doc Savage, is one of my literary heroes. In a non-canonical oath (it doesn’t appear in the 181 original adventures, all of which I’ve read), Doc says in part, “Let me strive, every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit from it.”

I try to make myself better for the benefit of others, not just me…and Doc is part of that.

I probably wouldn’t have read Doc Savage except, as I recall, it was the only available when I was in the Anchorage airport…there was a small spinner rack. I’d read everything I had brought with me (I used to travel with a separate suitcase just for books…the Kindle changed that), so I grabbed some of the Bantam reprints.

If I only wanted to read books I knew were “good books”, I wouldn’t have found Doc Savage.

When I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I encouraged my employees to read one book from every section. I suggested they ask a regular customer for a recommendation.

I did that myself.

From “Men’s Adventure” (that’s what it was called then), I read The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern (here’s the first book: Total War (The Survivalist Book 1) ((at AmazonSmile*)).

While you might expect that to just be a shoot ’em up, I was quite surprised to find one of the best plot points I’d read in any story (it wasn’t in the first book in the series).

I want to be clear: I don’t think Amy and I are on “opposite sides”…there are some people, though, who would rather not take the kind of chances encouraged by something like KU. I know of a person who only reads two books: Helter Skelter and Gone with the Wind, and just alternates them. Finishes one, starts the other, finishes that one, reads the first one again, ad infinitum.

I should also clarify: I could probably read just “good books” in KU. There are plenty of well-known books there, even lots of former New York Times bestsellers.

What you won’t find well-represented right now are current mainstream bestsellers, since the Big 5 publishers haven’t joined KU (yet).

Of course, having KU doesn’t meant that you can’t buy other books, too…although I’ll admit that having KU means I am less likely to do so (interestingly making it easier for other people to buy me books I don’t have).

My point is that I want to read books which are gambles for me, books which I’m not sure I’ll like. I think that can be more of a growth experience for me…and I have found some great things that way!

What about you? What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten out of a book you didn’t like? How hard do you try to pre-qualify a book before you buy it/read it? Should someone try to read only “good books”, or is reading a value unto itself? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

 Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

The best authors born in 2014

December 21, 2014

The best authors born in 2014

Every day lately, during my morning

Flipboard (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

read, I’m seeing end of the year lists.

Certainly, I find those interesting.

I’m not good at all naturally in knowing when things happened chronologically…I’ve jokingly referred to it as TAD (Temporal Awareness Disorder). Just on the nature of the memory itself, I don’t know if it happened a year ago or ten years ago.

Because of that, I think, I do have a fascination with timelines.

I have one on this blog (which I need to update for this year):

ILMK E-books Timeline

and a broader geeky one here:

The Measured Circle Pop Culture Timeline

I’m starting to think now about this year’s (ILMK’s sixth!)

The Year in E-Books

However, as a very positive person (I tell people I have a genetic abnormality…I’m an optimist), I find the lists of those who have died this year sad.

I want to celebrate people while they are alive, and it makes me feel negligent when I see an obituary of someone who really impresses me…and I was largely unfamiliar with them or with their positive actions.

So, I wanted to do something different.

Great authors were born in 2014.

We know that: great authors are born every year.

It got me considering: what would the world be reading, oh, a couple of decades (or more) from now that would have a huge cultural impact?

I don’t know specifically who these authors are at this point…I can’t give you names.

I can, though, tell you what I think they might write.

The Fiction Author

The amazing thing about this author’s main character is how it appeals across a broad spectrum. There isn’t a sense of “that doesn’t look like me”: all kinds of people identify with what this character feels and does.

While involved in imaginative adventures, and at great personal risk, The Hero (for me, a gender neutral term) doesn’t “fight villains”. People are helped, alternate ideas and world views are encountered…but no one is “stopped” or killed.

People are helped.

Negative consequences are avoided.

Not only does the character openly work with others, not going it alone, but gaining strength from other’s contributions, so does the author. Collaborative works with unknown authors are encouraged, whether it be called “fan fiction” or something more definedly licensed and authorized.

The character grows because of ideas from other people, not just from the original author.

Above all, the books tell people it is okay to be who you are, to imagine what you could be…and to strive use that to make the world a better place.

Readers laugh, dream, and are inspired by what these books say.

The Non-Fiction Author

It’s one book that chronicles a dismissed group of people, and humanizes them.

It shows that this group, which had been a punchline for many people, and victims of the hate of others, had value.

At the time the book is published, the group is gone…stamped out of existence by both action and neglect.

The book shows what they were…and that they were everyone else (while staying unique to themselves).

Some people, in sympathy after reading the book, begin to resurrect the group (by becoming it themselves).

This time, the group is even better than it was, with an idealized version arising.

Further, people can reference that group as an example…the way people say “dead as the dodo” now to make an entity mindful of the impact of what they are doing on a species. It doesn’t end exclusion, of course, but it helps some people do a course correction when they aren’t thinking about the path down which they have started.

Those are a couple of books I’d like to see from authors born in 2014.

What do you think? What sort of books do you imagine in the future? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join over a thousand readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Characters as friends: the allure of series

December 15, 2014

Characters as friends: the allure of series

You never know what will happen when you hang out with your friends…but you have a pretty good idea about the range of possibilities. ;)

That same combination of familiarity and surprise applies to literary series.

By series, I mean books which feature the same characters and/or setting, but aren’t one continuous story.

Look at Xanth or Oz or Stephanie Plum or Little House (on the Prairie) as examples.

Sure, there may be an evolution of the situation. That’s certainly true in Oz, where characters’ past experiences shape their future actions (even though the characters don’t age), or in Little House, where natural human aging has an effect.

Generally, though, each book in a series contains a story…it has a beginning, middle, and end.

There is a reason people refer to the “Lord of the Rings trilogy”, rather than simply referring to it as the “Middle-Earth series”. The three books really tell one tale.

While some people look down on series as being less creative than coming up with something unprecedented each time, I think some authors are really freed by the format.

Great series manage the trick of being accessible to newcomers, but not needing to do all the background exposition every single time, as you would do in stand-alone novels.

We don’t need a description of Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s farm in Kansas every time we read an Oz book, and we don’t need to get all the details about how Dorothy became friends with the Scarecrow.

Certainly, it enriches the book for the reader if you do know that back story, but you can always go, well, back and read more about it, if you want.

I liken a book series to a TV series, with separate episodes, but shared history.

That said, I always want to read series in order, from the first to the last.

I love to be surprised when I’m being entertained, so I don’t want to read about something in passing in a later book that is a big reveal in an earlier one…I don’t even want to know who has survived each book.

I’ll admit, though, that that is probably partially my somewhat obsessive nature. I kid my family and say I’m obsessive but not compulsive: it doesn’t rise to the level of a compulsion for me, but I’m aware of order (and yes, I count steps when I walk on them).

For example, in a very unusual situation for me, I woke up this morning sure it was Monday (it was Sunday).

I tore the page off my page-a-day calendar (a gift…I do recycle the pages and the holder) for Monday before I realized.

It’s been bothering me all day that I’ve seen it a day ahead of time. :)

Not bothering me so much that I can’t do other things, and I didn’t go back and replace the page or make a conscious effort to forget what it says.

Awareness of it, though? Yes, absolutely.

So my desire to read series books in order may not apply to you. After all, I’ve suggested that’s sort of the point of a series: you can read them out of order.

I refer to the characters as “friends” at the top of this post, and for many characters, it does feel like that to me.

It might not always be the healthiest of relationships, and the friendship isn’t reciprocal…but that’s how it is sometimes in real life, too, right? ;)

Monk and Ham; Dorothy, Ozma, Jack Pumpkinhead, and all the rest; Stephanie, Lula, Ranger, and Morelli; Sherlock and Dr. Watson; Professor Challenger; Elric; Rachel Morgan; Miss Marple*…they all bring me that comfortable and yet exciting feeling. I know them: I know who they are, but I don’t know what they’ll do.

They can reassure me and challenge me…and hopefully, yes, surprise me.

That’s why it can be so disappointing when a series gets to be too predictable…or when characters act “out of character”.

We want our friends (living and literary) to help us grow: to show us new things by building on the past.

There used to be an old joke that Playboy had brought out a new magazine for married men: it had the same centerfold every month. ;) However, if it was the same person, but different activities, well, that might actually work…you know, if the person was actually treated as a three-dimensional human being, anyway.

Our literary “friends” often have depth and complexity…but is that really necessary for us? Hm, interesting question…there are certainly some characters who are pretty much always the same, and that still works.

I should also be clear: I’m not saying I’d like to know all of these folks in real life! Elric and I would probably not get along at all well…

One other interesting phenomenon with this: I do feel a certain loyalty to characters. I feel like I owe them something, for what they have given me.

If a new Doc Savage movie comes out (and one is expected, in the next few years, currently in development by Shane Black), I will feel like I should go see it…even if the reviews turn out to be awful.

I owe Doc that much. :)

Amazon has a listing of series here:

Series in the USA Kindle Store (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping**)

although they aren’t using the term the way I am, and there are some odd listings there.

What about you? Do you like open ended series, or do you prefer having something that completes itself? What series have you loved? What series took a turn in such a way that you stopped reading them? Do you feel the same sort of loyalty that I have? Would you like to meet any characters from series…or live in (or visit) their worlds? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

* I thought you might want a bit more information on the characters here (and I could have chosen many more):

  • Monk and Ham: two of Doc Savage’s associates, in the books by “Kenneth Robeson” (that’s a house name…the main author was Lester Dent). Monk is a chemist who looks enough like an ape that people make that mistake in identity. Ham is a dandified lawyer. They fight constantly, but in reality, would die for each other
  • Dorothy, Ozma, Jack Pumpkinhead, and all the rest: the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Dorothy is from Kansas. Ozma is the ruler of the land in later books (I’m not going to consider that a spoiler…I won’t tell you how or when it happens). Jack literally has a pumpkinhead, and is a bit of a cosmic fool
  • Stephanie, Lula, Ranger, and Morelli: the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum is the main character, a bounty hunter. Lula is…a friend with an outside personality. Ranger is a charismatic monosyllabic security expert, and Morellis is a cop
  • Sherlock and Dr. Watson: from the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle. I assume I need not explain anything here ;)
  • Professor Challenger: again by Doyle. Best known for The Lost World, but appears in two other novels and other works. Bombastic, intelligent, abrasive
  • Elric (of Melniboné) by Michael Moorcock. Truly a tragic figure, Elric is a physically weak person (and an albino) who has a sword that gives him strength and fighting prowess, but that has a will of its own (and may certainly kill Elric’s loved ones if unsheathed). Anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons will recognize the influence of Stormbringer. There are a lot of metaphors here…
  • Rachel Morgan of The Hollows by Kim Harrison. Set aside the supernatural elements, and these are better Stephanie Plum books than some of the actual Stephanie Plum books. ;) You can’t set aside the supernatural, though…that’s definitely part of the appeal. Rachel is a bounty hunter and a detective, but differs markedly from Stephanie Plum in dealing with vampires, witches, and the like who are now living openly with humans
  • Miss Marple by Agatha Christie. Like many fictional detectives, Jane Marple is generally underestimated and dismissed by those in authority, but has a keen intellect. Would you like Miss Marple to be helping you? Definitely! Would it be fun to watch, even if you weren’t involved in the case? Indubitably

Join over a thousand readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

** I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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