Teens and reading

How do I get my teen off the phone and back to reading like they did when I was in control and they weren’t a person with will but rather a excised growth that I told what to do every minute of the day. (Psst, hint from the other side of parenting: if you truly taught them well as children, they’ll come back to it after the teen years are over…)

This is what teens look like now, right?

Children grow up with such varying experiences that it can be so hard to pinpoint the element which will transform your child into a “reader” rather than just someone with the ability to read. That spark inside a child, which allows them to cross the threshold of the written word into an entirely new world, is something which can’t be taught, only really nurtured and developed.

Vancouver Public Library <3s TPL policy

So, the Vancouver Public Library has decided to double down on the TPL policy of letting hate-groups-in-disguise speak. I don’t know how I feel about all this. I mean, I do. But I’m conflicted. While I heartily condemn these groups, and I imagine their very existence is threatening to people who have already experienced lifetimes of marginalization and fear, I am also a supporter of the right to gather and free speech. What bothers me is that these groups are using acceptance and space at mainstream public institutions as a way to legitimize what is essentially a campaign to stamp out the rights and opportunities of others before they’re even fully realized. I sympathize with the difficulty of the decision making for the library boards, is what I’m saying. That said, I would have just made a different decision based on my interpretation of what Canadian public values are and I would ask them to consider this: what are our public spaces for? When you allow a group in to discuss whether another group deserves the same rights and privileges as other Canadians, how does that change the space for everyone? Not just those immediately affected by the panel, but everyone to come. The library is one of the last sacred, engaging, utilitarian, and “free” spaces for us ALL to gather. I see no problem with holding that outside the polarizing politics of our moment. It should be a space for bringing people in, not for shutting people out.

“After a difficult and emotional discussion, a majority of the Board decided to accept the rental request,” de Castell said in the statement. “As with other room rentals, acceptance of this rental request does not mean that the Board endorses or agrees with the positions of the group or individuals using our space.”

On influencers

I kind of hate that word now. I just see disease when I look at it. Like “influencer” is the social version of the biological influenza. And my advancing age makes me cranky enough and vaguely conservative enough to doubt whether most people who would call themselves such actually read. But that said, Publisher’s Weekly has some tips on how to get your (self-published) book into the hands of influencers (cough, hack, spit) who will support it, whether or not they’ll bother to read it.

Everyone wants earned media, but, though it comes without cost, it does require effort. Because outlets that cover books are shrinking or disappearing, there is more competition than ever for reviews and attention. Still, traditional book publishers’ marketing plans tend to focus on securing earned media that they know and have experience approaching. These include recognized review publications, as well as TV, radio, print, and online outlets.

As self-published author, you should seek alternative options to gain momentum. These include local and regional media, influencers in your target market, and any person who is likely to answer your emails or pick up the phone when you call.

New in the news

Machine AIs: better at harvesting your biochemical electricity than poetry

Well, I could have told you that. In fairness, I’ve taught a lot of intro poetry courses, and I’d put some of these at a solid B+ for fledgling writers.

For its training, GPT-2 was given a corpus of 8 million webpages, chosen with a quintessentially internet-y method of natural selection: “In order to preserve document quality,” OpenAI’s post states, “we used only pages which have been curated/filtered by humans—specifically, we used outbound links from Reddit which received at least 3 karma.” Through trial and error, GPT-2 learned how to predict the rest of a piece of text, given only the first few words or sentences. In turn, this gave it a general method for completing other texts, regardless of content or genre.

Wait a friggin minute — you used Reddit to help teach an AI? Sweet merciful baby Jesus. We’re all going to die.

Frodo = unfinished laundry?

Was Tolkien a scholarly procrastinator? Well, this certainly explains the tediously long the “heather and weather”, as I called them, descriptions. That said, boy, does this ever give me hope — the thought of John picking away at Frodo and The Gang while his actual work languished. It’s relaxing because I also am currently writing a fantasy novel to avoid “real” work. Sigh. Dreamy.

Now, there’s a second breakfast face of great comfort

For so many years, in short, he had been loafing in his scholarly career as a losel who squandered time on children’s stories when he should have been whipping his Beowulf book into shape. He confided to his publisher in 1937 that Oxford would merely add The Hobbit to his “long list of never-never procrastinations” (Letters, 18). Fiction-writing simply did not count in terms of academic production, especially after Tolkien had idled away his two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship. “The authorities of the university,” he would lament when The Lord of the Rings was in press, “might well consider it an aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances” (Letters, 219). He explained to his American publisher this widespread view of his failings: “Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; and anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years’” (Letters, 238). His enormous effort during the late 1940s in the cramped row-house without even a desk—”I typed out The Hobbit—and the whole of The Lord of the Rings twice (and several sections many times) on my bed in an attic of Manor Road” (Letters, 344)—was little known because it simply did not count.

Pullman’s biggest fight yet

After taking on the Catholic Church, Philip Pullman really has his hands full with his next fight: the preservation of the Oxford comma. For what it’s worth, I side with Philly P on this one.

It is a debate that has torn the nation in two, ripped friends and family apart, and entrenched deep and uncrossable lines throughout the land. Should the Royal Mint have used an Oxford comma on its Brexit 50p piece?

Three million coins bearing the slogan “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations” are due to enter circulation from 31 January, with Sajid Javid, chancellor of the exchequer, expressing his hope that the commemorative coin will mark “the beginning of this new chapter” as the UK leaves the European Union.

However, early responses include His Dark Materials novelist Philip Pullman’s criticism of its punctuation.

News bits

On writing and fear

No, this is not about Stephen King. Though I do wish it were. I like those sorts of posts. No, this is a about a think-piece on the state of our literary/journalistic expression in a time of when free thought is threatened. Should writers be afraid to express what they truly think? There’s plenty to agree and disagree with here and around around this piece, but more importantly: lots of think about. Lots of Hitchens talk in here, for those of you feint enough of heart to be triggered by his douchier self.

At a moment when democracy is under siege around the world, these scenes from our literary life sound pretty trivial. But if writers are afraid of the sound of their own voice, then honest, clear, original work is not going to flourish, and without it, the politicians and tech moguls and TV demagogues have less to worry about. It doesn’t matter if you hold impeccable views, or which side of the political divide you’re on: Fear breeds self-censorship, and self-censorship is more insidious than the state-imposed kind, because it’s a surer way of killing the impulse to think, which requires an unfettered mind. A writer can still write while hiding from the thought police. But a writer who carries the thought police around in his head, who always feels compelled to ask: Can I say this? Do I have a right? Is my terminology correct? Will my allies get angry? Will it help my enemies? Could it get me ratioed on Twitter?—that writer’s words will soon become lifeless. A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.

Write Club? More like “This Bites Club”

This review of Chuck Palahniuk’s book on creative writing is not kind.

What can stories do, how best might one tell them and sell them? These questions lie at the heart of Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different, the new memoir-cum-creative-writing-manual from Chuck Palahniuk. Best known to readers as the author of Fight Club, the cult novel which has become something of a bible to a generation of Angry Young Men, Palahniuk here swaps shock value for an odd sentimentalism.

It’s a sentimentalism which tinges reflections both on his own career (from a “kitchen-table MFA” to his latter-day successes) and those on the state of literature in general. As in this sentence: “Bret Easton Ellis tells me the novel is no longer even a blip in the culture.” Yikes. The line is an early red flag: if the novel is such an irrelevancy, why need he pen a book offering advice on creative writing? Nevertheless, he persists.