Bad Reviews of Good Books

Every author gets bad reviews. It’s a fact of life. You should never, ever respond to a bad review.

So what do you do? I like to remind myself that everyone gets bad reviews from time to time. When that’s not enough, I go on Amazon or Goodreads and check out bad reviews my favorite authors have gotten. It helps me to realize that some of the writers I admire most have been called far worse things than I have.

(A note to reviewers: It is not my intention in this piece to attack anyone who reviews fiction or to perpetuate any bad blood between writers and reviewers. Rather I hope to do the opposite, to get some writers to lighten up about their own bad reviews. We are all entitled to our opinion, even if that means we hate on books that everyone else loves. Peace brothers.)

 

The Hobbit

With over 780,000 five star reviews on Goodreads, calling the Hobbit the most beloved children’s tale of all time wouldn’t seem a stretch. And yet it also has over 38,000 one star reviews. Reviews that say things like, plodding, ponderous, pretentious and yes, perfunctory”. One reviewer even suggests that Tolkien had a very good idea, yet he did not execute it in a way most readers will enjoy.”

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and on Goodreads Tolkien has fared pretty well, a lot of people just didn’t like the book. Check out Amazon for some amazing vitriol, from fans even. Tolkien’s problem on Amazon is how long he’s been around and how many versions/editions of book like the Hobbit there are. There is no wrath like a that of a Tolkien fan who ordered the classic 1973 edition and got a crappy 1976 reprint of the classic 1973 edition. Wow, some of those reviews really sting.

 

The Lorax

What’s not to like about Dr. Seuss’s classic book the Lorax? Apparently “stupid words.” Snark aside, I don’t think this particular reviewer deserves to be attacked for their opinion. Let the drama go, people.

The Lorax has picked up some interesting one star reviews on Amazon as well. This guy calls the book’s environmental message “brainwashing.”

 

War and Peace

Predictably the negative reviews of War and Peace focus primarily on two facets of the work, it’s length and it’s number of characters. However I feel obligated to point out that both things are often praised by modern readers of the Game of Thrones saga. Still it’s true, War and Peace is a long work and it has a lot of characters to keep track of. Historical fiction is not everyone’s forte and I will give critics a pass on this one, whatever my own opinion is.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter series has been one of the biggest sellers of our generation. Like the Hobbit it has legions of five star reviews singing it’s praise. J. K. Rowling hasn’t just been embraced by fans, she has plenty of awards from various publishing and literary groups, including a lifetime achievement award from the British Book Awards.

That doesn’t mean she’s escaped criticism by any stretch of the imagination. One reader can sum up their feeling about the book in one word, “poop.” This Amazon reviewer admits that he’s not (sic) intelligencia and might have missed the whole point of Harry Potter. Given his comments about Pokemon, I suspect sarcasm. I am not really sure what this reviewer is suggesting we do with Harry Potter, but I suspect it’s not particularly favorable.

 

Atlas Shrugged

To prove that I am not out to attack reviewers for not liking my favorite books, I am going to throw out one of my own doozies. Atlas Shrugged hit the bestsellers list a mere three days after it’s release. It has over 75,000 five star reviews. Many begin with the phrase, “this book changed my life.” One reviewer called it “the holy grail of how to live your life.”

But it’s one of those books you either love or hate. I am in the second category. In many cases the fault line for this book is political. Ayn Rand has been enormously influential to Libertarian philosophy. Depending on how you view that philosophy, you will likely love or hate the book. And I admit, my personal politics are far to the left of Rand’s. Yet, that is not my major complaint with Atlas Shrugged. I struggled to see her characters as real, not mouthpieces for her philosophy. By the same token the plot seemed contrived and convenient, just an excuse to give those mouthpieces a chance to spout her various views.

Atlas Shrugged did spawn my favorite snarky, negative review in all of history. Writer Dorothy Parker reportedly said of Atlas Shrugged:

“This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but rather thrown with great force.”

 

Dear Authors,

I think I have proven my point. Any book with more than a couple dozen reviews is bound to have some bad ones. Any book with more than a hundred reviews will have some out and out clunkers, reviewers who think J. R. R. Tolkien ripped off J. K. Rowling or that Stephenie Meyers invited vampire lore and all other vampire novels are plagiarism. People dislike books for all kinds of reasons and that’s okay.

If you don’t feel better about your bad review yet, you can look up any other book on Amazon or Goodreads and see that they, too, have bad reviews. Likely their bad reviews are just as bad, snarky and unfair as yours. So relax. Embrace your fans, ignore the haters and write on.

Are Toilets Making Us Taller?

What is like to be a creative person? I get asked that a lot. Here is a small glimpse into what my mind does pretty much 24/7.

This crossed my social media stream:

I am sure a lot of people would see this and be like, Eww, TMI. Click on and forget it.

Others are a little more health conscious or open minded and might at least think it over. Maybe try squatting.

Here is where my mind goes:

So I am tall. At six foot, I already semi-squat on most western toilets. But I guess that’s healthy, so win for me.

But what if western toilets are making people taller? Bear with me here, sitting on a western toilet leads to a variety of health problems, from constipation to colon cancer. The shorter you are, presumably, the more at risk you are. Tall people who semi-squat have less trouble. The result in evolutionary pressure, short people dying off from constipation while taller people live longer.

So perhaps western people are growing taller, not because of nutrition or genetics, but because of the way we poop. It’s something to think about.

Every commercial, every news piece is subjected to this kind of thought process. 24/7. And that my friend is what it’s like to be a writer.

Hipster Potter

A short somewhat random parody.

  1. Hipster Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Editor’s note: Some readers might ask, “why the original U. K. title, the Philosopher’s Stone and not the American Sorcerer’s Stone?” [Hipster editor shakes his head and walks away.]

“Harry,” Hagrid said, “you’re a wizard.”

“Actually I prefer Thaumaturge.”

 

In Ollivander’s shop the pile of wands was growing and growing. Ollivander’s expression grew curious. None of the wands seemed to fit Hipster Potter’s personal style. He would snap his wrist to each one, but all he got were the occasional sparks.

“An interesting case,” Ollivander muttered. “Perhaps…yes, perhaps.”

He came back with a wand unlike any other. It was sleek, smooth, not a bump or imperfection in the wood finish.”

“what is it?” Hipster Potter whispered.

“It’s the latest thing,” Ollivander told him. “the iWand.”

Hipster Potter knew instantly he had found his wand.

Coming soon:

  1. Hipster Potter and the Obscure Chamber only He Knows About.

 

  1. Hipster Potter and the Prisoner of an unfair legal system that failed to do due diligence in investigating Peter Pettigrew’s death.

 

  1. Hipster Potter and the artisanal hand crafted goblet that, of course, doesn’t contain anything a goblet normally would.

 

  1. Hipster Potter and the Non-mainstream Order of the Benu Bird (which the later Phoenix legends were based on).

 

  1. Hipster Potter and the Half-Blood princesymbol(not that we buy the racist concept of blood anyway.)

7. Hipster Potter and the childhood legend you’ve probably never read. (I’ve got an original edition.)

10 signs you just binge read the Game of Thrones

I just finished reading the final book in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. It’s one of those highly immersive series, where you get sucked into the world. It affects how you see the world for weeks after. Here are my top ten signs that you’ve just binge read all five Game of Thrones books.

It’s Songs of Fire and Ice, you stupid TV watching cretins

Maybe it’s a stereotype, but we literary types can be snobs. Like insisting that the book series was really named Songs of Fire and Ice, not Game of Thrones.

Phrases like “mayhaps” and “ever so” have suddenly become part of your vocabulary.

Initially some of the archaic language and made up medieval language bothered me. You might even say I had my smallclothes in a bunch over it. But by book two it starts to roll off your tongue easily and by book five, you find yourself using it in daily life. As in “Mayhaps we will have pizza tonight. That would be ever so tasty.”

You are craving stew served in a trencher, even though you have no clue what a trencher is.

A trenchers were rounds of flat bread that were used as plates and then eaten afterwards, the medieval forerunner of the bread bowl. And yes, that does sound pretty tasty. The less tasty aspect? Trenchers were generally served with stews to soften stale, dried breads. Hardly the grossest thing in the Game of Thrones world, but I personally prefer my bread fresh.

 

Wait, pease porridge is a real thing?

They eat pease porridge frequently in the series. All most of us know about pease porridge is the old children’s rhyme;

pease porridge, hot,

pease porridge cold,

pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.

A common recipe in medieval Europe, pease porridge is a thick stew made from dried peas, not unlike split pea soup. It was often left to congeal overnight and then eaten cold in the morning. In some cases a large pot was left to warm by the edge of the fire as a quick any time meal. More was added to the stew as needed and it was quite possible that some of the ingredients had indeed been in the pot nine days by the time they got eaten.

When your spouse asks you to do a chore you reply, “Valar Dohaeris.”

Valar Morghulis, “All men die” and Valar Dohaeris, “All men must serve” are sayings from old Valyrian. Both are heavy with meaning both in the series and without. Valar Morghulis however is harder to work into everyday conversations.

You call poison control to ask if there is reliable antidote to Tears of Lys.

My day job is working as a nurse. The first indication I had that I had become too entrenched in the world of Game of Thrones came at work. There was a note on a patients chart about contacting poison control. It took several minutes trying to figure out who would try to poison them before I realized it was about an overdose attempt. Oh, right, people don’t generally poison each other in real life.

When you see an eleven year old girl walking down the street, you cross to the other side. (It might be Arya Stark.)

Arya Stark is a pretty bad ass character, until you stop to consider the fact that she’s an eleven year old girl. And she’s killed how many people? Yikes.

All your other fannish friends are saying things like: “I wish I could go to Hogwarts.” “I wish a blue telephone box would materialize right here.” You just look at them and think, “nope, I’m fine with this world, thank you very much.”

Most fans would love to live inside the world of their favorite series. I don’t blame them, but the world of Game of Thrones is way too bloody for that. Life is cheap and characters die unexpectedly throughout the books. If you are a noble, your life is in constant danger. If you are smallfolk it’s even worse. No thanks, I’ll pass.

Two missionaries knock on your door. You demand, “Can your god protect us when the cold winds blow and snows are ten feet deep, when the others come and the dead walk? I think not. Winter is coming.”

Just a few short weeks ago you thought all those fanboys and fangirls complaining about the slow progress on book six were being whiny brats. Now you feel their pain. Come on, George, hurry up already!

Most importantly though, if you binge read the saga you will have the satisfaction of knowing what a great bunch of books they are. Enjoy.

Smoking Man Syndrome: A Rant about Tropes

So, I was reading this action novel about zombies. I’m not going to say the name, even though over all I enjoyed it. There was one trope that really bugged me. In fact, it created an entire rant to which you are about to be treated. Since the goal of the rant is to rag on this one point, not bring that author down, I’m not going to name the book.

The trope, I am going to call the Smoking Man Syndrome, after the Smoking Man from the X-files TV show. The closest the Tvtropes.org website comes in the “No Name Given” trope, the character that has no real name or identity. It’s common in shows and books alike.

The way it works, and in this book it was almost word for word, is that a character is introduced at some point. When questioned about his identity, he says, “my name is not important.” Who does he work for? “That’s not important, either.” We are led to believe he’s the spokesperson for some shadowy government organization. He comes and goes as the story demands, imparting information or gathering information for his/her organization. Maybe we learn more about the organization in the future, or maybe we don’t.

Like all tropes, it exists for a reason. It is a great non-reveal for the audience/reader. It helps keeps us in suspense. It allows us to glimpse a deeper conspiracy without completely knowing about it.

The problem is that it’s completely unrealistic. If you think for one second that it could be realistic, that explains why you don’t work for the FBI, the CIA or some shadowy government organization. Because if you did work for one of these organizations it would already be drilled into your head, never give information to anyone unless you are positive of their identification and credentials.

Sorry Mr. Smoking Man, your name and who you work for is vital. Nobody in the FBI or the military is going to share one scrap of information with you until they know for sure who you are and where you fit in their chain of command. “Sorry, I am not at liberty to discuss that.”

And then there is the information he imparts. You can tell me whatever you want, but I am not going to trust it, let alone act on it, without some confirmation. On the X-files show we suspend disbelief and go with it, but can you imagine any real FBI agent trying to tell his boss he needs to fly to the Antarctic because some guy he met in a parking ramp told him that was where the aliens were?

And yet he keeps showing up, dropping his vague hints. “My name is not important.” Two lines later they are talking about some top secret zombie lab in the Congo. Or revealing where the hidden works of Leonardo Da Vinci might be hidden. Or whatever.

Just once I’d like to see the FBI agent have the smoking man locked up for impersonating a federal official in an attempt to force him to divulge something more substantial about his real identity. Or better still have a trap foiled because the main character refuses to rush in based on a vague hint from someone he doesn’t know. That would be awesome.

End of rant

Which tropes bother you? Check out the list over at tvtropes.org for inspiration.

 

Action/Adventure tropes I no longer believe now that I am in my forties

One of the benefits of being older is being wiser, or so they say. But it’s starting to ruin action movies for me. As you get older and gain some life experience, some of the common tropes in action movies start to seem more and more unrealistic as I get older.

1. Cutting brake lines

We’ve all seen it. The bad guy pulls out a knife, lays down next to the hero’s car and cuts the brake line. Cue dramatic music. The main character is doomed. Doomed.

black-and-white-car-vehicle-vintage

The problem:

There are three problems with this trope. Without brake fluid your brakes are weak, soft. But they do work. I’ve had my brakes go out more than once. It’s a frightening experience, but you can stop your car, eventually.

The second problem is that the driver will probably notice. If they don’t notice the big pool of brake fluid under their car for some reason, they will probably notice that their brakes are soft when they pull out. And then they will drive, very slowly, to the nearest garage. Or stop and call AAA.

Finally, even if they don’t notice until they are on the highway, driving fast and they can’t stop in time, not all car accidents are fatal. You might roll your car, but if you’re wearing your seatbelt you may well walk away.

Cutting someone’s brake line is a terrible thing to do. Driving without brakes is incredibly dangerous. But it’s not something a professional assassin is going to rely on to kill someone.

2. Tranquilizer Darts

darts-dart-board-bull-s-eye-game-70459

I work in mental health, just so you know. As such, I am one of the few people who can honestly and legally say, I’ve held people down and sedated them against their will, more times than I can count. When someone is psychotic and out of control, it’s about the only thing you can do. So I know how sedatives work in real life.

It’s not like in the movies, let me tell you. IM medication hits the bloodstream in as little as five to fifteen minutes. It can take much longer to reach peak effect.

What about those wildlife shows you see? They shoot a tranquilizer dart into a lion’s backside and it passes out, right? Actually they shoot the dart and the lion runs away. They follow at a safe distance until the medication kicks in. They eliminate that part in editing.

Another important factor is the level of safety involved. For hospital staff in the United States trying to sedate violent patients, we have to error on the side of caution when it comes to dosing. Giving a lethal overdose would be a very bad thing. Veterinarians can be a little more generous, since most people and governments value animal lives as less than they would a human, but there is still a strong element of caution involved. Criminals, as in the movies, theoretically have no such limits.

But there are still two problems. This doesn’t solve the instant effect dilemma. Medications simply don’t work that way. A sedative, no matter how strong, isn’t going to instantly knock some down from a shot. An IV anesthetic might, but have you ever seen them shoot someone in the vein? I haven’t. I doubt such a thing is possible. The second problem is that you almost never see criminals screw up and kill someone they are trying to sedate. The main characters never wakes up strapped to a chair and demands, “where is…” only to hear, “oh, we gave her too much and now she’s dead.”

(The one exception to this rule? Practical Magic. The whole plot of the movie revolves around the two women accidentally overdosing the abusive boyfriend with belladonna. Also, in that movie the effect is far from instant.)

3. ex-marines/special forces/cops

Marines, special forces, police, professional athletes, and martial arts experts are amazing people. They have conditioned their bodies to extreme stresses. I have no problem believing that such people can do incredible things. My problem is with the “ex” part of the equation.

Again it’s something I’ve seen a lot working in mental health. “Look out, I used to be a green beret.” I’ve heard this implied threat many times. If we don’t give into this person’s demands, they can really hurt us because they’ve trained in martial arts/ been a marine/ trained in the special forces, etc.

Most physical skills, and all conditioning, are use it or lose it. You might have been a marine fifteen years ago. Today you are a burned out alcoholic. My security team is conditioned right now. Want to guess who is going to win?

Where I see this a lot is in action novels and thrillers. We are told that the main character used to be an Army Ranger. It’s years later and they are civilians. And yet when the Zombie apocalypse starts, they strap on a backpack and head for woods, killing zeds with a survival knife the entire way. Never once showing their age or lack of conditioning.

A veteran or retired cop is going to have certain instincts that a civilian won’t. That should give them some edge in an apocalypse scenario. But there will be significant lag time before they have the conditioning back. And if you have a character that (cliche warning) had to leave the force due to an injury, they aren’t ever going to be a hundred percent.

4. Drugs and Alcohol take a toll on the body

This another action novel cliche. It often goes hand in hand with number 3. The ex-cop with a drinking problem. Or the brilliant mind that somehow needs drugs to cope. (see Sherlock Holmes or House for example.)

Substance abuse takes a toll on the body. Over years it becomes worse. The average alcoholic or drug abuser can pull it together a) for a short time or b) after a period of detox. I’ve yet to read the zombie novel where the grizzled old vet shook and sweated his way through the first few days while DT’s racked his body.

Stimulants might improve concentration in the short term, but long term use of most drugs is going to be detrimental to mental and emotional functioning. Real life Sherlock’s might think they are being brilliant under the influence of their favorite substance, but reality generally finds otherwise.

Showing a character drowning his/her sorrows in booze, or using some other drug, is an easy way to show that they’ve had a rough life, or that they struggle with inner demons. It’s also cliche. But what is worse, is that too many writers forget about the issue once the action is underway. Life doesn’t work that way. Drugs and alcohol take a toll on your health. Addicts will tell you they must struggle constantly to stay clean and sober. If your character has a drug problem, they will as well.

A rare exception: In 100 days in Deadland one of the characters, a vet, struggles with PTSD throughout the series.

5. Suicidal henchmen

The villain in Mystery Men declares that he was so evil he’d kill his own men. The Governor in the Walking dead guns down dozens of his own citizens. It is an easy way to show how your villain lacks basic compassion. It is overused and often suspect.

In the above examples I question the strategic wisdom of the villains. Even if you don’t value human life, manpower is a limited resource. When cornered by themselves later they might regret sacrificing that manpower too quickly.

But my real question is, what’s in it for the henchmen?

Survival is a base instinct. It’s incredibly hard to overcome. And yet so many pulp fiction and action novels have henchmen throwing themselves against the hero with suicidal devotion to their boss.

What prompts such loyalty? This is almost never explained. The henchmen are just throw away automatons. We aren’t meant to worry about their motivations or feelings. But life doesn’t work that way. Writer Kurt Vonnegut said, “every character wants something, even if it’s only a glass of water.”

Henchmen must follow this rule. They want something. They serve the villain for some reason. The villain might have a soft side we don’t see. They might be part of some group or religion. They might think the villain will eventually share his/her wealth/power. But there has to be something.

And even when we get that something, will it override their survival instinct and all common sense? When they see that the hero completely outclasses them, will they keep fighting?

 

So there are my five action tropes that I no longer believe now that I am older. What about you? Are their action tropes that drive you crazy? Let me know in the comments.

 

Ten Music Parodies that are Better than the Original

I have to tip my hat to pop musicians. They are good at what they do. What they do is write catchy tunes that get stuck in your head for days at a time.

What pop musicians seemed to less good at is writing songs with depth, positive messages or, in some cases, showing a bit of common sense.

Thankfully parodies have come into their own. In the eighties, when I was a teen, we would stay up late listening to Doctor Demento on the radio to get our parody fix. Later on I would lurk at the back of the filk room at science fiction conventions. Now parodies abound on youtube, with high production qualities, great videos and often, better lyrics than the original.

Here are my top ten parodies that are better than the original.

 

  1. Word Crimes

 

Weird Al is the master of parody, so it’s not surprising that he tops this list.

However catchy the original tune is, it’s lyrics are more than a little problematic. Even the title Blurred Lines, is about the supposedly blurry lines of sexual consent. Nothing like a creepy rape vibe to kill a songs appeal.

Weird Al’s rendition, Word Crimes skewers the internet’s poor grammar and spelling.

 

  1. A Brief History of Robin Thicke’s 2013 summer hit “Blurred Lines”

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The puppet combo of Glove and Boots gives you a thorough run down of Robin Thicke’s legal woes over the copyright suit, all set to the tune of his song.

  1. All about the Base (no rebels)

In Meghan Trainor’s defense, I like the message behind her song, all about the bass. But I can’t help like this nerdy star wars parody a little more.

 

  1. Talk Nerdy to Me

Talk Sexy to Me gets a nerdy make over in this catchy parody with nods to almost all corners of geekdom.

 

  1. Roll a D6

Who would want to go out and party “like a G6” when they can stay home and play Dungeons and Dragons?

 

  1. Sorted this Way

For the record, I do really like Born this Way by Lady Gaga. It’s one of the best pop anthems of the last few years with a powerful message about self acceptance. It’s so great in fact, that its strong enough to share the limelight with a couple of witty, geeky parodies, like this Harry Potter video.

 

  1. Form this Way

Or this Minecraft video.

 

  1. Do you wanna go to Starbucks

I am probably the last person alive who hasn’t seen Frozen. The music, however, is inescapable. It’s been turned into some great parodies, but this one about coffee is the nearest and dearest to my heart.

 

  1. All about those Books

Another great Meghan Trainor parody, advocating reading. What’s not to love?

 

  1. I’m Nerdy and I Know it

Sexy and I Know It was 2011’s inescapable pop sensation. The song makes fun of the beach body builder culture, but it was ripe material for someone to come along and make fun of it. Thankfully someone did.

 

Honorable mention:

It’s not a parody but if you’ve watched any of the guild, you’ve probably seen Game On:

If you haven’t watched the Guild yet, what are you waiting for? It’s one of the geekiest, funniest shows out there. It started as youtube channel and can still be found on the site, as well as Netflix and elsewhere online.

 

How to Kick an Internet Troll, right in the Freedom of Speech

From Gamergate to homophobia to this piece of crap, trolls are everywhere on the internet. When challenged about their behavior their first fallback position is almost invariably freedom of speech. “You are violating my freedom of speech. I have a right to my opinions.”

In making this argument they are taking the moral high road. The argument ceases to be about their behavior and becomes about some higher principles.

It’s also pure bullshit. Yes, freedom of speech is an important right. However it’s not as gray as trolls would like you to believe, nor is it applicable to their behavior.

Here are three simple ways that the freedom of speech argument fails and how to shut down trolls when they try to use it on you.

1. You have freedom of speech, too.

When you speak out on an issue you feel strongly about, that’s freedom of speech. When a troll responds in the comments, or in person, trying to shout at you to shut you up, that’s not freedom of speech. That’s the exact opposite. When Gamergate “activist” attack feminist who critique gamer culture, they aren’t expressing their opinion, they are attempting to silence their opponent, and then trying to claim that is freedom of speech.

2. freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequence

Remember in high school when you had to debate that ludicrous situation where someone yells “fire!” in a crowded movie house. That always drove me nuts because the solution seems so obvious. Having the freedom to do what you want or feel is right doesn’t mean you are free from all the consequences of your behavior.

The right to bear arms doesn’t make murder legal. You might have the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie house, but if people die in the stampede to escape and it turns out you just thought it would be funny to see people run, you can still be charged with manslaughter.

Yes, trolls have the right to their opinion. But when they phrase those opinions as insults or threats, they may face consequences. That’s life.

3. Speech may be a right but publishing is a privilege.

You have the right to free speech but no one owes you a platform. I have the right to write whatever story I want, but I can’t force HarperCollins to publish my thousand page rant on how mice don’t really like cheese. HarperCollins gets to choose what it publishes.

What we often forget is that anything posted on the internet is actually being published. Most of the websites we use don’t belong to us and the owners have a choice of what to publish and what not to.

If I am running my own personal blog, I don’t have to publish any comments. I can, and most bloggers do, because it builds a sense of community around a blog and brings readers back. However if I feel a comment is from a troll, or has no value to the discussion, I can choose not to display it. If you disagree, you are welcome to start your own blog and respond there.

Most public websites have clear terms of service. They vary in details but most clearly forbid certain behaviors. It is Facebook, Google plus or Twitter’s prerogative to decide what these are and to decide what is acceptable on their website.

The users are faced with the choice of playing by the rules or not using the site. Sometimes that means they allow posts that we personally find offensive. Sometimes that means they remove our posts because someone else found them offensive.

 

Trolls may be a fact of life in the internet age, but the damage they do, and the number in your life, can be controlled. It starts by realizing that insults and attacks in comments aren’t free speech, they are an attempt to silence the original poster’s free speech. It’s possible to respectfully disagree with someone without being a troll.

Second we need to recognize that online behavior does have consequences. If someone violates the rules of a given website by posting threatening or derogatory language, flag them. If they want to cry that their freedom of speech has been violated, they can do so somewhere else. Believable verbal threats, doxxing someone and adding rape threats, for example, might also violate the law. Contact your local police to see what sort of evidence they need and how to gather it.

Finally, all of us are webmasters, even if all we have is a Facebook page. You control, to a large extent, what lands on your webpage. If you are a journalist or a blogger, you are also an editor. It’s up to you to make sure that each comment on a post adds to, rather than detracts from the discussion. You have the right to delete or unapprove comments. On social media you have tools to delete, block or untag people and photos. Use your power wisely, to strip internet trolls of the one thing they were never guaranteed in the first place, an audience.

 

Do you Nanowrimo? How about Octo-Fret-Mo?

I’ve done Nanowrimo for several years now. For those of you who don’t know the acronym Nanowrimo yet, it stands for National Novel Writers Month. Every November writers all over the world gather together and undertake the funnest, most insane challenge you can think of, write a fifty thousand word novel in a month. It’s a blast, even if you don’t manage to complete your novel. For more information, check their official webpage.

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month


Over the last couple of years I’ve developed my own set of Nanowrimo traditions. I’ve decided to create a new acronym and holiday to go along with Nanowrimo. I’m calling it Octo-Fret-Mo. It is when you spend October fretting about the upcoming Nanowrimo.
I spend most of October wrapping up projects, working on back burner projects so that I don’t start a big project too soon and mostly, worrying about what I’m going to write for Nanowrimo this year.
Anyone else Octo-Fret-Mo? Let me know in the comments.
In the meanwhile, if you need to take your mind of your fretting, you can pick up my latest YA novel for free this weekend only. Check it out here.

Books Everyone Talks About but Almost No One Reads

There are books that everyone has heard of, are frequently discussed in various circles and yet almost no one has ever actually read. Here is my list.

1. The Bible


When I was a young person, the Lutheran church gave every kid, upon reaching a certain age, a copy of the Bible. Being an avid reader even then, I plowed through it from start to finish. Chapter upon chapter of so and so begat so and so. All the disjointed stories of the old testament, the list of rules in Leviticus that make almost no sense to the modern reader, you name it. I only recall a fraction of it now, but I read it once upon a time.

It is not my intention to get into a religious debate. But there is something that has always bothered me about a lot of fundamentalists. If you believe this one book is the actual written word of God, shouldn’t you read it? But in many churches, this is not how it’s done. Instead “Bible Study” is largely learning a few choice phrases out of context and very little actual reading of whole books in context.

And yes, I know, a lot of people have read the Bible. Still it belongs on this list because the number of people who have read it pales to the number of people who claim it as the holy testament of their religion.

2. The Big Book


Sometimes called the blue book or even the big blue book (not the one you find car prices in) because the dominant cover is a light blue. Written in 1939 by Bill W. one of the founders of AA, the Big Book is a long rambling testament, laying out the twelve steps, peppered with lots and lots of anecdotes about people who have been helped by them.

As AA has grown to become the predominant treatment for addictions of all kinds, the Big Book has undergone many editions and printings. It is handed out in meetings, sold in bookstores and passed from hand to hand by many people.

The quintessential symbol of what the Big Book has become was a recent TMZ photo of actress Lindsay Lohan entering a nightclub clutching the Big Book, as though it were a talisman to prevent relapse. Perhaps her recovery would have gone better if she had stayed home and actually read the damn thing.

I work in mental health and our unit always has a half dozen copies of the big book floating around. One night I got curious enough to crack the Big Book and see what it’s all about. And I have to say, I tend to agree with the non-readers on this one. It’s long. It rambles. The twelve steps are pretty well known by now, and explained more concisely in other books. The Big Book remains important as a testament to the history of the movement.

3. The Constitution


The Constitution of the United States of America is not really a book. I include it in this list because it shares so much in common with the first two books on the list. It’s often held up as a symbolic emblem by people who haven’t read it and are often arguing against it.

I won’t open an ugly can of worms by discussing politics here. However, in my school days every student had to read the Constitution and at least attempt to understand it. Judging from the state of politics today, I doubt many people have done either.

4. Atlas Shrugged


Love it or hate it, Ayn Rand’s objectivist manifesto, Atlas Shrugged in one of the most important works of the twentieth century. A large chunk of the Neo-libertarian Republicans in politics today swear by Ayn Rand’s philosophical world view.

If you want to appear intellectual and hip among that crowd, you must have a passing familiarity with Atlas Shrugged. But if you try to engage such people in debate you will find that it often ends at a passing familiarity.

Honestly I am not a fan of either the philosophy or the book. Judging the book solely on its literary merits, it’s long, dense and stilted. The characters are flat and spend most of their time espousing Ayn Rand’s philosophy rather than interacting with each other. I tend to agree with reviewer Dorothy Parker, who said, “This is not a novel tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” And all the pseudo-intellectuals that quote Ayn Rand should be forced to read her entire collection for themselves.

5. Anything by James Joyce


“For this, O Dearly Beloved, is the genuine Christinne: body, and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, Gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.”

James Joyce is the great grandmaster of the modern novel. Stream of consciousness? He practically invented it. He revolutionized novel structure. He wrote in his own Irish accent and voice, and in doing so championed a new literary form. His work is some of the most scrutinized and studied in all of literature.

The literary snobs of the world will sneer their contempt at anyone who suggests that they would prefer to read something, well, a little more readable than most Joyce. Which probably explains why literary aficionados everywhere tend to agree with the snobs, mutter an apology for not having “gotten around” to Joyce and quickly change the subject.

6. War and Peace


Tolstoy’s great masterpiece about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia is a giant of a book. Everyone knows its a masterpiece and one of those books you ought to read. But they never seem to get around to it, put off by the size of the book or the long Russian names.

It’s too bad, because it really is one of my favourites. How I finally got around the size of the book was to realize, it’s not any longer than many of the fantasy series I read regularly. If you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books you’ve devoured more pages than War and Peace. So grab a copy and get cracking.

7. The Communist Manifesto


Karl Marx’s short little book, The Communist Manifesto belongs on this list because it’s influence far out reaches it readership. It has spawned revolutions, been the primary influence on numerous communist, socialist and marxist governments. But how many people have actually read the manifesto?

8. The Tao Te Ching


The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese classic, penned by the sage Lao Tsu. The book is second to only the Bible in terms of the numbers of language it’s been translated into. It has been enormously influential in the east. It has been seeping into western thought since it’s translation in the mid eighteen hundreds.

Carl Jung was influenced by the Tao Te Ching. Many of the new agers, from Wayne Dyer to The Secret, will quote freely from the Tao Te Ching.

But reading the book is another story. It’s an ancient spiritual text and it tends to be dense and obscure at times, not what you would call light reading. Which explains why so many people talk about it, own it, but few have actually read it.

That’s my list. What books would you add?