Annoying Childhood Books

My niece is reading the last chapter of a book I read when I was her age (and loved) out loud and it is super annoying.  I remember my oldest sister being somewhat annoyed when I read those books (out loud) but I didn’t understand why.  I loved them… until I didn’t.  A fast reader I sped through the series probably a lot faster than the author or publishers ever intended.  I would be finished with a book in a day or two and move on to the next one.  That one done in the next day or two, I’d be on to the next.  I read so many of those damn fucking books in such quick succession that I started to hate the protagonist.  She was such a pushy know it all, I couldn’t figure out why she was such the darling.  Why were those other kids friends with her?  Why did all those adults put so much trust in her?  Why was that boy so devoted to her when she treated him like crap and flirted with other, wealthier boys?

Reading that series was like reading the soap opera of Christian tween mysteries.  The series would be as if Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimball were dating, but Sally was seeing Bugs Meany on the side; however they all put their differences aside once a week at Sunday School.  That was this book series.  And if that were the premise of the Encyclopedia Brown stories, they would be just as tedious as the other (with the female protagonist – lest anyone accuse me of finding her tiresome because she was a girl).

All that aside, it’s amazing to me that I read and enjoyed over thirty of those books when I was eleven and twelve.  They were my favorites, I wanted them for Christmas and birthdays; when I finished the ones I had I cried out for “More!  More!” and was forced to wait until either I could buy more for myself or the next gift giving holiday rolled around.  But now, seventeen years later, I listen to another eleven year old reading the stories aloud and I am amazed these books were so enjoyed.  Meant for young readers, yes, sure, they are, but, come on, so was Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and those are books that can be enjoyed as much by adults as they can by children.  The writing in those books and stories are interesting and funny and the writing is easy for young people, but doesn’t belittle their comprehension, like many intended for young readers.

The mystery book series about the twelve year old girl who is smarter than everyone around her in 1900 North Carolina IS written for young readers, and it, clearly, is engaging (I read over 30 of them!), and they should remain in one’s youth.  Right there alongside the American Girl books, The Baby-Sitter’s Club, and, yes, Encyclopedia Brown.  Some books intended for young readers transfer well into adulthood (Phillip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Madeleine L’Engle), but some do not.  This is what I have learned while visiting with my niece this week.


Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

What the fuck is this?  I haven’t gone through all the links (and I probably won’t) but I have lots of opinions on what I’m looking at right now.

This person (and probably all the writers of the links) are coming from a kind place.  At least one of the pieces, the writer identified a problem in writing and is trying to fix it in her own work.  It’s the “issue” of describing people.  We live in a diverse world, especially in America.  We’re not one homogenized ethnic society: there is a need to define our characters in such terms.  But you don’t have to constantly reference that distinction.

One writer in one of the links points out in a book she’s read that at least once one of the black characters is compared to a cockroach.  She felt that being compared to a bug wasn’t all that flattering.  She also doesn’t want to start sounding like she’s describing coffee drinks when talking about her characters.  These are completely valid points.  But what’s got me confused is how often is she going to be describing her characters?

+ Lily smiled wide, her pearl white teeth nearly glowing amidst her dark brown skin, like dark chocolate and just as smooth….

+ Ebony hammers came flying at Paul’s face and before he knew what hit him, he was lying on the ground with Lily standing over him, her fists so tight light brown spots showed on her black knuckles…..

+ She picked up the light blue envelope with her chocolate fingers….

+ Her kinky curls bounced as she shook her midnight face back and forth.  “No!” cried Lily.  “It isn’t true!”…..

+ He kissed her on her brown sugar lips….

You don’t need to do this, writers of the Western world!  There is no reason for the crap I’ve written above.  Tell your reader about the character and move on.  That’s all you need to do.  But make it obvious, or else we’ll have a Hunger Games casting racist twitter scandal all over again (Man, that was annoying).

I understand we live in a highly visual world, and I am a visual learner, but the amount of description that happens in modern writing is getting out of control.  We don’t need to know the color of the wallpaper unless it relates to the main plot.  If it’s a major plot point that the wallpaper is blue with yellow cornflowers, then so be it, mention it in detail.  But if it doesn’t matter, skip the interior decoration.  If it’s essential that we remember a character is white, black, Indian, Chinese, Puerto Rican, or from L.A. then mention it, work it in.  But, again, if it’s not central to the plot, then leave it out.  When in doubt, man…

Sensitive white American aspiring writers, you don’t need to worry all that much about this “issue”.  Unless it’s very important to your story, it’s highly irrelevant.  When they make a movie out of your story, if you’re around to have any say in it, then you can make sure things are adhering to your vision, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to worry about being ethnically sensitive quite as much as this blog seems to think you do.  In John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, Gray Grantham is a middle aged white guy; in the movie he’s Denzel Washington — and there’s no real difference between the characters.  In Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” Red is a red-haired Irish guy; in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, he’s Morgan Freeman.  Still totally cool.  No one knew that Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter series was meant to be black until they made the first movie and J.K. was adamant they cast a black boy as that character.  Suzanne Collins specifically mentions that two of her characters are black and, apparently, a quarter of her readership completely missed that detail.

It doesn’t much matter how you describe your characters, as long as you don’t over describe them.  Let your readers know what they need to know about the characters’ physical description and move on to your story.  The less you worry about descriptive words, the more you can focus on your plot — because it’s plot development that modern writers need to be working on, trust me.


Also: “characters of color”?  

And: Not all of these links are about writing about non-white characters; some of them, I’m sure, are useful.


These bills are all about censorship.  Legislators want to censor the Internet.  They claim to want to stop “foreign criminals” from pirating movies and TV shows and putting them on the Internet.  The Motion Picture Association of America is all about supporting the bills.  Major American entertainment corporations have funneled money into lobbying politicians to back them.  They’re claiming that SOPA and PIPA won’t affect Americans.

But this isn’t true, is it?  Americans post other’s “intellectual property” all the time.  We put up pictures from TV shows and share songs from our favorite artists, we write quotations from novels and newspaper articles and magazines.  We share information and entertainment like never before: Publicly.  We didn’t have blogs or email twenty years ago, if we wanted to share something with a friend we either had to write it in a letter, or call them on the phone or physically bring the tape over to their house and put it in their tape player.  If you had two VCRs and a blank tape you could copy movies or record television and no one would know.

I agree with Google when they write that piracy wouldn’t stop with the passing of these bills: “Pirate sites would just change their addresses in order to continue their criminal activities”.  People would find ways around it and what is the government and The Motion Picture Association of America going to do then?  Crack down even more until the Internet becomes some sort of Utilitarian Dystopia?  Is it too Conspiracy Theorist-y to say that these bills are the slippery slope to America becoming a warped version of a Neal Stephenson, Ray Bradbury, or Suzanne Collins novel that will eventually push us into Soylen Green territory followed by Dune?  Seems extreme, yes, but it also seems plausible.

Besides, if we learned anything from the McCarthy Era and Blacklisting, the thing or person being censored doesn’t go away.  Dalton Trumbo continued to write screenplays, just under another name.  The books that were banned still existed and were distributed.  The Captain in Fahrenheit 451 owned a large collection of books he never read and rebel Book People lived on the fringes of society memorizing collections of works so they wouldn’t be forgotten.

Censorship has never been met well.  People will always protest being censored, whether its for personal reasons or on principle.  Stopping the free exchange of information is a travesty, its unjust, its dictatorship.  The protests happening today, 1/18/12, by Wikipedia, Tumblr, WordPress and other major sites, is not, as it’s been said, a “gimmick”, but more like Susan Brown Miller, it’s jarring on purpose.  It’s a little over the top so it will catch your attention.  Yes, SOPA and PIPA are not going to completely take away “free knowledge”, the abrasive language Wikipedia is using, but it is going to put a limit on free exchange.  And putting limits on free exchange is historically bad.  Limiting knowledge has led to things like Nazis, Communism and the French Revolution (it might not have changed anything, but I am convinced Louis and Marie Antoinette didn’t know a damn thing outside Versailles).  Limiting the public’s access to information is not generally considered a good thing.

In the BBC article by Leo Kelion about the Internet protest has many comments from Chris Dodd, the chairman of The Motion Picture Association of America, speaking against the protest and in favor of SOPA and PIPA.  The entertainment industry is estimated to lose hundreds of dollars every year because of Internet piracy and yet Disney’s Net Income in 2010 “increased 20% to $3.96 billion on a 5 percent rise in revenue to $38 billion.”  I don’t think Disney is really hurting all that much.  Also, let’s look at what the entertainment industry is charging us these days: 10, 12 dollars for a CD; 10 to 30 dollars for a DVD?  And they’re wondering why people are turning to other means in order to obtain their entertainment?  Maybe if they stopped putting money into buying politicians they could lower their prices and people would stop supporting piracy?  Just a thought….