Six moths ago, I would not have cared

A short time ago I noticed an announcement on someone's blog saying they were going to be celebrating "Historical Fiction Moth". I wondered what that was. A moth that eats historical fiction books? And why would it be celebrated? My curiosity not waning, I decided to google the term, and guess what I came up with? You never will, so I'll tell you. Here:

So The Moth-Eaten Mink has gone through at least seven editions. (Or six, if you count the UK edition as being simultaneous with one of the US editions.) Now, this raises several questions in my mind.

1. Is this particular Perry Mason case really that popular?
2. What is with that lady in the second picture? Is she actually the Incredible Shrinking Woman and she's freaking out because she suddenly found herself on the cover of a Perry Mason book?
3. Can Perry Mason be considered historical fiction? Or do we have to wait a few more years?
4. Who's the target audience for these books? (That's a trick question. Or a rhetorical one. Or both. A rhetortrickal question? Rhetrickical? Trickorical ? Never mind.)
5. Why isn't there an edition of this story for the 21st-century? It could be called The Case of the Moth-Eaten Faux Fur Coat or The Case of the Moth-Eaten Trendy Wool Coat.

Anyway, I didn't find any pictures of historical fiction moths, but I did find a science fiction moth:

And a horror moth:

And a paranormal romance moth:

It’s been five minutes to midnight for the last four minutes.

Another thing I did while I was in Utah last month was go see Brandon Sanderson at the midnight release party for The Towers of Midnight (which is book 13 in The Wheel of Time series). Fortunately, the BYU Bookstore has set up a new system, which seems to be working, so that one no longer has to spend all day standing in line in order to get a low-numbered book. Still, one has to go pretty early in the morning for at least a few hours if one wants a book numbered below 50, which this one did. Then there's waiting in line the two hours or so before midnight, when things can get a little tedious. (And here I have to say that the "party" part of "midnight release party" is getting less and less party-like every time I go.) So I thought it would be a good idea to take along a book to read to help me through the tedious bits.

I almost took book 4 of The Wheel of Time - The Shadow Rising - but when I gave it a second thought, the idea of reading about blabby, whiny characters at 5:00 am just didn't appeal to me. While standing in line early that frosty Monday morning, I talked for a bit to a fellow who had been there since the previous Friday night or something appalling like that (appalling not because it's a silly waste of time to wait three days in line to get a book signed, which I don't think it is, but because living in a tent for three cold days and freezing nights on the concrete in front of a university bookstore sounds dreadful). I told him I was on book 4 in The Wheel of Time and he asked me how I liked it. I said that I did because it's kind of exciting, and I think I'm finally starting to get emotionally invested in at least one of the characters, but that it was sometimes slow going for me because everybody was so whiny and irritating and they complained so much. He said he wished he could tell me it would get better as the books went along and I said oh really? that's too bad. He said yeah but he grew up with the books, having started to read them when he was about 14, so he loved them. I can see that. I can see the attachment that would develop with fictional characters you first became acquainted with during your emotionally formative years. I saw that happen with my own children and the Harry Potter books. I saw that with myself back in the day. When I was a teenager I used to love Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff and thought their relationship was so romantic and so tragic. But I grew up and realized what jerks they were.

Anyway, so I didn't bring The Shadow Rising. Instead I brought a huge, non-Wheel of Time Sanderson tome, The Way of Kings.

It's the first book in a proposed 10-book series, and, having now finished reading it, I can say that this is how you write characters who don't whine. Not only that, but The Way of Kings is such a fun and exciting and sad and intriguing and hopeful book that it might just nudge out Mistborn: The Final Empire as my favorite Sanderson book. In some ways I think it's better than Mistborn. (But I really love the allomantic magic system, and so far nothing has surpassed that for me.) The one thing that I saw as a drawback in The Way of Kings was the multitude - but multitude - of typos in the book.

To be fair to the book, I'm a nitpicky reader as far as spelling errors are concerned. I think it's something genetic, because even when I was a child I was concerned with correct spelling. When I was six years old and my mom used to take my brother and sister and me shoe shopping at the beginning of the school year, I would look at the kids' shoes and I would think to myself, "Keds Shoes? Keds?? Don't they know it's spelled 'Kids'?"

Just what, exactly, is that person in the black shoes doing?

I was wrong, of course, because I didn't make the connection that Keds was a brand name, but my point is I have been concerned with correct spelling since about as far back as I've known what spelling is. I realize some people think it's silly and petty to point out (and maybe sometimes even mock) misplaced apostrophes in grocers' advertisements or misspelled words in garage sale or missing pet signs and stuff like that, but I think if you're going to put your written language into a public forum, it then becomes subject to the same scrutiny as any other behavior in the public forum, and I believe we should all be on our best behavior, spelling-related or otherwise, in public. Unless you're in your car and you're stuck behind a slow driver.

So I was rather concerned with the quantity of typos in The Way of Kings. I bet there were over a hundred; sometimes there were three or four on a page. Granted, the book is monstrous long. But I've read other long books, like Connie Willis' Blackout and All Clear, and Robert V S Redick's books, and others, and those had very few, if any, typos.

I wonder if it's Brandon Sanderson's responsibility, or if it's Tor's (the publisher). I noticed quite a few typos (not as many as in The Way of Kings, though) in Servant of a Dark God, another of my favorite fantasy novels, and that book was also published by Tor. I know there are brilliant people in the world who are not good spellers (my brother is one of them), but there are also such things as proofreaders in the world. You'd think a publishing company could make sure one of their most popular authors had access to a good proofreader. Well, I don't know why it happens or where or with how many people the responsibility lies, but I think it's a reason for something to be done differently, proofreading-wise, in the future.

At any rate, in the end, the typo issue did not affect (much) my overall enjoyment of the book, and I hereby highly recommend The Way of Kings. It's nice to get in on the start of an epic series, especially one so very worth reading. I don't know if I'll ever get to the Brandon Sanderson books in The Wheel of Time series, but there's so much more to this author that his own books deserve just as wide an audience.

PS If you find any typos in this post, please feel free to keep that information to yourself.


You wanna go hang out at the library and pretend like nothing happened?

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned making yet another trip to Utah. It was an event-filled trip, as I shall soon relate. One of the interesting things I did was attend the Provo Library Teen Book Fair. I'm pretty sure this is an annual event, but it's the first time I went. What drew me was the knowledge that Scott Westerfeld, author of Leviathan and Behemoth (and some other books that are even more popular but that are not of particular interest to me), was the keynote speaker and would also be signing books. In addition to Scott Westerfeld, other authors would also be there, including another of my favorites, Brandon Sanderson

I invited Megan and Shannon and Mickinley to go with me. Megan has read Leviathan, and Mickinley was in the middle of the Uglies series, and Shannon is cool to hang out with.

Shannon the Cool

Nathan and Rylie also came, mostly because they had no choice. So we made a nice little group.

Mickinley and I got our books signed by Scott Westerfeld, who is the kind of author who doesn't make you stumble over your tongue trying to think of something to say. I like that.

Scott Westerfeld

Another thing I liked was that many of the volunteers helping out with the book fair were dressed in steampunkish sorts of outfits. The fellow helping control traffic in Westerfeld's signing room was a sort of air pirate and looked really cool. I wish I'd taken a picture of him.

Since he was the featured author, Westerfeld had his own room for signings. The rest of the guest authors were encased in the ballroom. Have you ever heard of a library with a ballroom?

The library used to be Brigham Young Academy (the predecessor of Brigham Young University). The building, which originally opened in 1892, was renovated and reopened as the Provo Library in 2001. What is now the ballroom used to be a study hall and then a library for the academy/university. Now it is the place where you can find not only dozens of authors but many imaginative fans. We saw someone dressed in a mistcloak (Kelsier, I think), and a guy in pajamas and a bathrobe with a towel over his shoulder (Arthur Dent - and I must say what a great idea that is for a costume. So simple and so comfortable). There was also a woman in Edwardian (or is it Georgian? George was the king in 1914, but when one says Georgian fashion, one tends to think of a hundred years earlier) costume with a little ferret-like toy animal attached to her shoulder. I assume she was supposed to be Dr Barlow and the toy creature was a perspicacious loris. I kind of wish I had enough nerve - and a decent costume - to dress up for events like this one. It would probably embarrass my companions, though.

As it was, we contented ourselves with our pedestrian outfits, and stood in line to get our books signed by Brandon Sanderson and Brandon Mull.

Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Mull

To keep the little ones from approaching the tantrum zone, we let them take full advantage of the free candy being offered.

Why are we here? Why??

I tried to explain to a bored Nathan why we were doing what we were doing.

"It's because books are wonderful, and reading is so much fun," I said. "One of these days you'll learn to read. You keep practicing and then it'll be like a click in your head and it will all come together and you'll be able to read." He just looked at me and then asked if he could get more candy.

So we got our books signed, and when we came out the sky was overcast and the wind was blowing and the leaves were swirling.

As we hurried to the car, Nathan said, in a sad little voice, "I didn't hear the click."

It took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. When I did, I told him it wouldn't happen right away, that he had to keep learning. He still looked a little disappointed. Then I told him to eat his candy. That made him happy.


What makes the elephant charge his tusk . . .

I recently finished reading Behemoth, the second book in a steampunkish eventual-trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

I don't typically read Young Adult literature, but this series has me hooked. More about the book later. I only bring it up because I saw something that reminded me of an episode from the book:


I memorized it, and then I ate it.

A couple of weeks ago, Ian and I drove back to Utah, a 10.5-hour trip under the best of circumstances (like no traffic in Lost Vegas or most of California; no need to stop for bathroom breaks, food, gas, or jaunts to DI; and you can exceed the posted speed limit by 5 to 10 mph), but which usually takes an hour or two longer. To pass the time, I brought a book on tape, which Ian didn't want to listen to, so I heard about 25 minutes of it while he took a nap. We also listened to music for a bit. But the best thing we did was tell each other stories. Ian told me the plot and all the side missions of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

I told Ian the overarching storyline and some of the side plots of the 1980s tv show Beauty and the Beast.

I was rather amazed at how the miles seemed to fly by (plus I was exceeding the posted speed limit by about 5 mph). Really, if I have to make that trip too many more times, I'm going to start bringing along someone who is willing to listen to 10+ hours of me telling them about the plots of my favorite tv shows and movies. Anyone? Anyone?

As I was relating the tender and bitterly sad story that was Beauty and the Beast, I came to the episode where Catherine reads Vincent a poem, William Wordsworth's 'Surprised by Joy'.

I had memorized this poem, and others, about 15 years ago, when I decided I ought to have some interesting things in my mind with which to entertain myself in case I was stuck in an otherwise dull situation without access to a book. Anyway, I tried to recite it to Ian. To my chagrin, I found I could no longer remember the entire thing. Because I hadn't practiced, I'd forgotten some of the words. Well, it's easy enough to look up the poem and refresh my memory. Here it is:

Surprised by joy - impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport - Oh! with whom
but thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
that spot which no vicissitude can find.
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind.
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
even for the least division of an hour,
have I been so beguiled as to be blind
to my most grievous loss? That thought's return
was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
that neither present time, nor years unborn,
could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

My point in bringing up this story - aside from trying to find a volunteer to drive to Utah with me, and aside from acknowledging that one of the reasons I liked Beauty and the Beast so much was because they used a lot of pretty cool poetry in it - is that memory is a gift, and we should take care of it.

Anyway, back in the day, school teachers used to force kids to memorize things, just as a matter of course, like they used to force them to learn to spell and to add numbers. It was considered all for the kids' own good. I once read an article where this guy thought that, someday in the not-too-distant future, language will have changed so much that students will not be able to understand classic films of the 1930s and 1940s, just like right now they can't understand Shakespeare, or poems by William Wordsworth. It's because the language, he says, was more complex in construction back then. Or because people took longer to say stuff. Or something like that. He said he'd already seen it happening in his classroom.

I'm not so sure if it's actually language that's the problem. I think it's probably more a function of visual perception. As soon as the students perceive that the film is in black and white, their aural faculties suddenly shrink in capacity, sort of like how a snail withdraws when you touch its eyestalks. 'Oh, black and white!' the visual faculties tell the aural ones. 'Black and white!?' repeat the aural faculties. 'Good heavens, black and white equals OLD, and we are uninterested in and even bored by Old Things, therefore we refuse to understand them!' I've seen that happen with children and other young people, and it takes a lot of training to get them to keep their eyestalks extended when an old movie comes on tv. (So to speak.)

I also think part of it is that old movies show a bygone world that many modren youth simply cannot understand. It's like plopping them down on a street corner in a foreign city and telling them to order their own dinner from some old lady street vendor who talks really fast and laughs when you try to pronounce the names of the dishes. For instance, you watch an old Mickey Rooney movie from the 1930s or 1940s and you see Andy Hardy and his classmates with their trouser waistbands belted somewhere in the vicinity of their actual waists, and several of them are wearing button shirts and ties to school. Back then it was the norm for the guys at Carvel High to wear ties, not some standout, loner fashion statement like it is now.

Another instance: in the 1940 film My Favorite Wife, when the family is all gathered in the living room in the evening, the son wants to say his 'piece'. When people talk about a piece in today's movies, they are usually referring to a gun. But in the olden days, when boys wore ties to school, a piece was a recitation, a somewhat lengthy poem or section of a speech (like the Gettysburg Address, for instance) that was memorized and performed before an audience.

By the time I was in school, we still memorized stuff in the early grades, but it was way easier: short poems, the Preamble to the Constitution, stuff like that. And by the time my children were in school, all they were responsible for memorizing was their address and telephone number. And that never even seemed useful to me because every year the school still sent home forms asking what our address and telephone number was. Why didn't they just ask my kids?

I may have done more school memorizations as a child, but the only 'piece' I remember learning and performing, in my 3rd grade class, was Robert Louis Stevenson's poem 'Windy Nights' (from A Child's Garden of Verses):

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

Besides initiating in me an undying appreciation for Robert Louis Stevenson, this poem haunted me when I was a child, and I still frequently think of it on windy nights. It's partly for this reason that, when my kids were growing up, I wanted them to experience the power of poetry for themselves. I wasn't going to force them to memorize, though. I can remember the anguish I sometimes experienced when I had to memorize stuff at home, like Sunday School talks. I think it was for my own good that I memorized those things - it's probably the main reason I enjoy poetry and can understand the dialogue in old movies - but I didn't want to go through that with my kids. So we used to have a weekly poetry reading where they would all choose a poem, review it a bit so they understood what it said, and then read it to the family. Then we'd have a treat. Sometimes I miss those days.

The reason I bring it up is because this Saturday (13 Nov) is RLS's birthday. If I could, I'd pack up the car with a box of shortbread and my attentive auditory companion, and drive to Utah so I could celebrate Robert Louis Stevenson day with my kids.


Gentlemen, we are dealing with the undead

I don't know if you noticed, but Goodreads, a pretty cool book-lovers' blog site, occasionally sponsors giveaways. Recently, they sponsored a Tor contest, and since Tor publishes some of my currently favorite authors, I figured "what the heck". Best of all, all you had to do was sign up. No entry fee to pay, no series of questions to answer, no 500-word essay to write, no race to run. My kind of contest. (Well, not really. Actually, I like the ones where they ask you a series of questions, so you can show off how much trivia you have at your command, except they always start asking really obscure questions that no one in their right mind would know the answers to, sort of like how a spelling bee gets harder and harder until they're using outrageously esoteric words that probably aren't even English but we can't know that because nobody ever uses them in real life).

Since it was so easy and since so little was required, I entered the contest. And then, with a little sigh, I thought, "It doesn't matter. Except for that record back in the sixth grade, I never win anything."

Well, now I can finally say that I've won something besides the Greatest Hits of Ferrante and Teicher. Yes, friends, I and 79 other people are winners of copies of a book from Tor!

Here's the prize:

I'm familiar with David Weber, a sci-fi writer, from his Honor Harrington series (a sort of female Horatio Hornblower, but in space - and there the similarities end). Weber excels at military-type science fiction stories. It's not exactly my favorite genre, but I made an exception for Honor Harrington. Anyhow, Out of the Dark tells how the Hegemony, a group of galactic conquerors, once did a flyby of earth a long time ago and happened to observe Henry V's English troops mopping up the fields of Agincourt with the French; on that basis, they decide earthlings are bloodthirsty twits and therefore expendable. So they come back in the 21st century to conquer earth and wipe out the human race.

All right, let me get this straight: one group of humans wipes out another group of humans, so the aliens wipe out all the humans?! How, then, are they any different from us? And is some technologically superior life form going to see those aliens wiping us out and proceed to wipe them out? This could go on forever!

And yet the Hegemony, like any evil foe, does not count on the humans' fighting spirit and will to survive. Nevertheless, and in spite of those admirable traits, the humans find themselves few in number and doomed to extinction, until they discover they are not alone in this fight. No, they are aided by . . . vampires! Vampires naturally have a stake (no pun intended. Oh wait, yes it is) in human survival, because it's their food supply we're talking about.

Out of the Dark is chock full of action and suspense, so if you like alien invasion/military/survivalist/vampire stories - and who doesn't? - then I recommend David Weber's new book. It's possible this volume will be the first in a series, which [spoiler alert!] lets you know that the aliens don't win at the end.


Ink! Ink! Bring me ink!

One of the cool things about the Way of Kings release party I went to last month was the free stuff. Everyone got a free bookmark with a map of Roshar on it. Another cool thing was that Isaac Stewart, the artist responsible for the maps and stuff, not only in The Way of Kings but also in the Mistborn series, was there. He signed the maps in my Mistborn books and also gave me a couple of extra Roshar bookmarks. Okay, this to me is like somebody giving someone else two tickets to a football game. Or maybe to the state fair, if you're interested in prize-winning pies and large pigs.

My Roshar bookmark

Anyway, Isaac Stewart has designed other amazing stuff, like this table of allomantic metals from the Mistborn series.

If anybody's wondering what to get me for Christmas,
this is one thing I want...if you can find it.

He also has t-shirts and other stuff in his online shop at www.InkWing.com. (If I tell you that, I get entered into a drawing for a free t-shirt.)

I have to say (because I am constrained by the thought of how good he is, not because it is required of me) that Stewart's art is a delightful addition to Brandon Sanderson's books, and I look forward to seeing more of it.


The time for sorrow has passed

When I was in college, I thought at one point that I might minor in Theatre Arts, so I was taking a lot of theatre-type classes. I also attended a lot of one-act, student-directed productions. One afternoon I went to see such a production: 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, by Tennessee Williams. I don't know what I was expecting, but what I got was something so well staged and performed that I was awestruck, so much so that I spent the following summer reading lots of plays by Tennessee Williams. (I got over that phase.) Anyway, right after the play, I went straight home and babbled in semi-coherent rapture to my roommates about the profound theatrical experience I had had and then, after mentioning there would be one last performance that very evening, I invited them to come see it with me so that they, too, could experience the magnificence of it.

They all turned me down. And so it was with a heavy heart that I returned to the theatre alone that night. Yet, once again, I was lifted out of my mundane sorrow by the brilliant performances. And I told myself that, whenever I found anything brilliant or lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, I would share it with people, even if those people then turned me down left and right.

So. A few days ago, I read the very exciting news that Robert V S Redick's third book in the Chathrand Voyage series is scheduled to come out in February of next year! . . . !!

I've posted about Redick's books here and here. And you can read about this new one here. But let me reiterate that Redick's books are equivalent in brilliance to that obscure little production I saw decades ago but that I have never forgotten.


I have just enough residual cellular energy to do this

Here's a conversation - or rather a composite of several conversations - that I actually had recently:

Me: Guess what I want to do for my birthday this year?

Someone else: What?

Me: I want to drive across the southwest desert in temperatures over 100º for about 11 hours.

Someone else: But you just did that two weeks ago! Twice!!

Me: I know.

And I did know. Of course. I was there. Twice. But I went and did it a third time.

I had my reasons. On the occasion of my birthday, it also happened to be the release party for Brandon Sanderson's book, The Way of Kings.

Some people don't care about things like that, and that's fine. Other people, like me, do care. And then there are some, like the people who spent the weekend in a tent pitched in front of the BYU Bookstore, who care a little too much.

I knew from the moment I arrived in the parking lot
and saw this car that I wouldn't be first in line.

Members of the 17th Shard in costume and other dedicated fans.
One guy in front of me in line traveled 13 hours from Alberta to be there.

So, anyhow, because of a change in policy, I didn't have to spend nearly as much time standing in line as I did previously at a Brandon Sanderson release party, which was really nice. I think this time I spent a total of eight hours (in two sessions of two hours and six hours) instead of ten and a half hours. Still, during those two sessions, I was responsible for my own entertainment.

I was 26th in line, meaning I got book #26. Why do I think this is cool?

Unfortunately, I didn't bring anything entertaining with me during the two-hour session. I did learn something, though. I learned that there is an on-line community of Brandon Sanderson fans who call themselves the 17th Shard. Those weekend campers were 17th Shard members. Sharders? Shardies? Shardlings? Mostly they were an entertaining, well-behaved group (although they got a little hyper as the evening wore on), but a couple of them - well, one of them - started getting on my nerves after a while. I decided there should be a new community called the 17th Nerd, and that one person can be the mayor.

It's a personality thing. To me, there's a big difference between weird (which is acceptable) and loud, bossy and annoying (which is unacceptable). It's also probably an age thing, because it's true I am getting older. After all, it was my birthday. And I think with increased age comes an increased lack of tolerance, probably on a cellular level, for things like loud, bossy, annoying people.

Anyway, during the evening shift, I was accompanied first (and for a short time) by Adrien and Shannon, who gently mocked the Shardlings and suggested Brandon Sanderson go by the moniker of "BranSan". Later, I was joined by Megan, who braved the whole rest of the line experience with me, in spite of not feeling altogether well. Thank you, Megan.

We played Authors and 20 Questions, and drank delicious hot chocolate, and read for a while, and she listened to me complain about the 17th Nerd, and we took a quiz.

My answers

Megan's answers

Brandon Sanderson talked to a group of people for about half an hour, but we couldn't get close enough to hear what he was saying.


There were a few contests with some pretty amazing prizes, none of which I won (as usual), and I was just starting to think that the party for The Gathering Storm was more interesting than this one, when they started the countdown to midnight and the signing and, incidentally, my birthday.

We stood in line to get some non-Way of Kings books signed, and spoke briefly to Brandon Sanderson (I didn't call him BranSan) and to Isaac Stewart, who is one of the artists for The Way of Kings and who also did the maps and some other stuff for the Mistborn series. That was fun.

Then we hauled our books away and went home to sleep. That was also fun.

People have told me they can understand spending hours and hours in line for concert or sports tickets, or even to go to the midnight premier of a certain movie. But they think spending hours and hours in line to get a book signed is just silly. Frankly, I think spending hours and hours in line for a ticket to a sporting event is just silly. Worse still, I actually enjoy standing in line to get a book signed and think it's kind of exciting. But that's how I am, probably on a cellular level.


At least he is not a book burner, you Nazi cow.

It's time to begin to anticipate thinking about getting ready to prepare to embark on commencing to lay the groundwork for initiating the start of Banned Books Week, which is coming up 25 Sep - 2 Oct.

An effective bit of propaganda:
Read a banned book! After all, you don't want
to be a frowny, blue-eyed robot, do you?

To sort of get myself in the mood, I read a few fun facts about book banning. Did you know:

- The Diary of Anne Frank was banned in Lebanon because it gives a positive depiction of Jews, Israel, and Zionism. (Okay, not only is that dishonest, it's just lame.)

- New Zealand and Australia have banned books covering topics like how to commit suicide, how to carry out euthanasia, and how to make a disposable silencer for your gun. (But aren't books like these crossing the free speech line? Like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, or telling a suicidal individual on the roof of a building to jump? I'm just asking.)

- Mein Kampf
is more or less permanently banned in Germany. (I note, however, that that didn't stop old Nazis from indoctrinating neo-Nazi skinheads.)

- Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series was banned somewhere in Australia last year "for primary school students because the series is too racy. Librarians have stripped the books from shelves in some junior schools because they believe the content is too sexual and goes against religious beliefs. They even have asked parents not to let kids bring their own copies . . . to school." (I know of a number of hard-core sci-fi fans with preconceived, concretized notions about what is and what is not a vampire who would applaud Australia's decision.)

Some other books that have been banned at one time or another: The Wizard of Oz (L Frank Baum), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Witches (Roald Dahl), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde), In the Night Kitchen (Maurice Sendak), Animal Farm (George Orwell), The Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut), A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle), All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), the entire Harry Potter series (J K Rowling), and The Rabbits' Wedding (a picture book by Garth Williams, the guy who illustrated Charlotte's Web, the Little House books, The Little Fur Family, and many other classic children's books).

Although books have been banned for a variety of reasons in many nations and countries, the American Library Association says there are three principal reasons for books being banned in the US (most often in schools and school libraries): sexual content, profanity, and racism. These issues cause concern for protective parental figures who a) don't want their children reading what they consider age-inappropriate material; or b) have concerns about material that is offensive to or not in concert with their religious, socio-economic, and political beliefs. In other nations, governmental censors also worry about ideas that are perceived as radical, dangerous, and critical of government policies or leaders.

I think I am pretty much against the banning of books. I say "pretty much" because I really believe there are truly harmful books out there. These are books that are just plain stupid. Reading them causes brain cells to die, I'm pretty sure. If I had my way, these books would not be banned; they would just never have been written. But we're talking about Banned Books Week, not Stupid Books That Never Should Have Been Written Because They Make Your Brain Cells Die Week.

There are three main reasons I do not believe in banning books:

1. Everyone should have the freedom to choose. I qualify this slightly by saying that parents, of course, should have the right to control or restrict what their minor children read.

I remind myself of an incident that occurred when I was fifteen years old. The 15-year-old girls class in our church youth group was preparing to serve Thanksgiving dinner as a service project. Our leader put two or three of us each to various tasks, such as preparing the salad, mashing the potatoes, putting the rolls in the oven, etc. One girl assigned to the salad group said she was unable to help slice the tomatoes because she didn't know how! Her excuse was that her parents had never taught her that skill.

So, although parents have the right to control what their children read, they should also be preparing those children to make wise choices on their own as they get older. Pretending that books with challenging material don't exist is just as silly as pretending that life with its challenging experiences doesn't exist. It's as silly as pretending that tomatoes will never need to be sliced.

Parents should also educate themselves as to what's out there in Children's Literature Land so they don't make uninformed decisions. (And parents, please please teach your children not to say idiotic things like "Why can't we read this book? Don't our parents trust us?" NO, they do NOT! Hint to children: If your parents trusted you, they probably wouldn't be trying to get books banned.)

2. Speaking of trust, banning a book usually just makes more people want to read it, and they're going to find a way. Back when Harry Potter was brand newly in the midst of his adventures, I was substituting in a Language Arts class. When the bell rang for break, one kid asked if he could remain in the classroom and read the Harry Potter book he had with him. I said, "Sure", then asked him if he'd seen the movie yet.

"My parents won't let me," he said. I asked why, and he explained that they had religious objections to the books and the movies.

"The books, too?" I said, eyeing his book in a very obvious manner.

He nodded.

"So where'd you get that copy?" I asked.

"It's my friend's," he responded.

"Don't you think you ought to respect what your parents want you to do?" I said. (You could ask him questions like that; although he was only 13, he was pretty smart for his age. Probably because he read a lot.)

"Well, I guess," he said. "But it's such a good book! I can hardly wait to finish it and start the next one."

I left him alone then to read his book, but I wondered what I would do if I were his parent and found out he was reading unapproved of books on the sly.

3. Government entities should never have anything to do with what one does or doesn't read. Unless I'm in charge.

US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v Johnson, said, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." And someone on the ALA website put it very nicely this way: "Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material."

So, in order to avoid the banning of books while at the same time helping parents and others guide those for whom they are responsible, I suggest utilizing a labeling system, sort of like the warning labels denoting possibly offensive material in music, movies, tv shows, and video games. That way, books don't need to be banned outright. Parents and government or public censorship officials can just request these labels in order to protect their children and/or citizens. The books can remain on the shelves for those who are wise enough to deal with the content, while those who are not have been duly advised.

Based on the ALA's principal reasons for censorship, and taking the movie ratings as my model (where they use a letter to stand for an explanatory word), I propose the following labeling system for books:

c = this stands for 'crass', meaning boorish, gross, stupid. It includes profanity, vulgarity in speech and action, and can encompass any political and social ideas and behavior that parents or governments think is stupid. Or gross.

r = this stands for 'rude' and includes anything that is just plain mean. This includes any message of religious or racial intolerance, disrespect for human rights, violence or criminal activity, and all types of abuse. It also includes gratuitous name-calling.

a = this stands for 'and/or', so that the rating system can include or exclude anything it wants.

p = this stands for 'prurient' and covers obscene language, descriptions of sexual activity, pornographic content, and the like.

Now all you have to do is take the book in question and affix a little 'c' or 'r' or 'p' or any combination thereof. If the book is all-around offensive, there should be little 'crap' labels as well.

With such a label on the book, the child of a protective parent or the citizen of an oppressive government or school district can tell at a glance whether the book is deemed suitable. Then the choice is left up to the individual, who is aware that he or she is responsible and willing to accept whatever consequences may follow. And thus no one is denied the Right to Read.

I also propose another 'crap' label, but this one is in capital letters - 'CRAP' - and is to be used for a different category of book, one that I think is more dangerous. I mean books that are Carelessly 'Ritten And Plotted. I think the list of CRAP books may be longer than the list of crap books. Some books, of course, would have both labels, like this:


It's summer. I don't have to.

I've mentioned before how I became interested in the author Brandon Sanderson. I give him and David Farland credit for making me excited about reading new stuff again. Because of them, either directly or indirectly, I've discovered Connie Willis and John Brown and Larry Correia and Patrick Rothfuss and Robert V S Redick and Ken Scholes and all manner of new (to me) stuff. Not that I don't love the old stuff, and I still reread my favorites, but it's fun to have new stuff to enjoy as well. Anyhow, Sanderson is one of my favorite authors; the character of Vin in the Mistborn trilogy is a brilliant creation, and since reading those books I've been looking forward to every new thing Sanderson does.

Next up is the first book in his new multi-volume epic story, The Way of Kings.

If you like, you can read the first few chapters at the Tor website. You have to register to read the material, but it's free. Also, here's a link to a post Sanderson wrote, wherein he introduces his new book.

As for me, I'm looking forward to the release date, when I'll be waiting in line outside the BYU bookstore so I can be among the first to get a signed copy.

I love summer!


I hate it when villains quote Shakespeare

I recently finished reading Interred with Their Bones, by Jennifer Lee Carrell. I was enticed into reading it by Adrien. "It takes place partly in London," she said, knowing how I love that city, so much so that I once thought of running away to the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland just so I could look out Wendy's window at Big Ben towering over the Thames. "It's really interesting to read the descriptions of places we've been to," she continued, "like London and Cedar City and Washington, DC. And it's a mystery." (She knows mystery is one of my favorite genres.) Then she pulled out the trump card: "And the mystery is about Shakespeare." That sold me.

So I read it. And I rather enjoyed it. Just as Adrien said, there were some lovely, evocative descriptions of London and other places I've been. There was a pretty good page-turner of a mystery. My one problem with the mystery, though, was [spoiler alert] I didn't understand why the main bad guy kept killing so many people and in ways that copied deaths found in Shakespeare's plays. So he didn't want anyone to think someone other than Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays. Did he have to kill everyone he came across even if they had nothing to do with revealing the true author? He was like some cheesy mad evil Shakespearean, like Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood. [end spoiler alert]

That reminds me of another problem I had with the book: all the "Who was Shakespeare" gabble. Fortunately, the author had her heroine inject a note of sanity by arguing the Stratfordian case, but there were pages and pages of reading where I felt like I was back at hlas.

However, even the heroine made a couple of Oxfordian-sounding statements when she described things like this: "High on the north wall Shakespeare's effigy hovered like a spirit at a séance, its stone hand gripping the quill more like a clerk than a poet."

How, exactly, does a clerk's grip differ from a poet's? Let's find out. First, let's take a look at the effigy in question:

Next, here are some pictures of clerks through the ages holding pens:

And here are some poets doing the same:

Okay, the smurf is holding the pen differently, but I don't think he counts because he has only four fingers and couldn't hold a pen properly even if he wanted to. With the others, frankly, I'm having a hard time telling the difference between how Shakespeare holds a pen and the clerks and poets hold pens. You may not believe it, but this supposed discrepancy between the way Shakespeare's effigy holds a pen and the way a poet supposedly ought to hold a pen is a real, true anti-Stratfordian argument. (They say he was originally holding a grain sack.) But it's obvious that the proposal is merely a specious allegation.

Secondly, the heroine, while looking at the First Folio, had this to say: "The book lay open to the title page with the engraved portrait of Shakespeare, the one that gave him a wandering eye, a Humpty-Dumpty brow, and a head set so awkwardly on his ruff that it looked oddly decapitated, resting on a half halo."

Again, you may not believe this (I certainly don't), but this so-called decapitated appearance is another real and true argument that anti-Stratfordians use as proof - proof, mind you - that Shakespeare of Stratford could not possibly have written the plays. The idea is that the engraver was in on the conspiracy of silence, but couldn't help trying to give people hints about the "real" author's identity by portraying Shakespeare in this fashion. (sigh)

Now, disregarding the veiled insult wherewith Shakespeare's brow is compared to Humpty Dumpty's (just take a look at any Humpty Dumpty illustration and you'll see that Shakespeare's brow is way larger), let's look at some actual decapitated heads:

Really, now - compared to poor John the Baptist, does Shakespeare's head look decapitated? I didn't think so.

Other than those few minor points, the book was fun to read. If you like mysteries, and Shakespeare, and good descriptive writing, you'll enjoy the book, too. Thanks, Adrien!