Category Archives: Books are for Reading

Bigotry Leads to a Cool New Story Site

In other SFF news, some time ago William Sanders, editor of the SFF webzine Helix, wrote a rejection letter in which he ranted about “sheet heads”. People rightly pointed out that Sanders was being a racist dick, and he responded with grace and class: when Yoon Ha Lee asked him to remove her story from the Helix archives, he did so, telling Yoon that her story didn’t make sense anyway, he’d only bought it to fill some quota in his head, and the story’s grapes were probably sour anyway. (Here’s the full text of his response) He also pulled other authors’ stories at their request, replacing them with a page that said “STORY DELETED AT AUTHOR’S PANTIWADULOUS REQUEST”. Oh, and then he explained that further story removals would cost the author $40, before finally fully rescinding that offer.

Fortunately, sometimes good things come out of bad events. A group of writers published by Helix created Transcriptase, which now hosts those stories pulled from Helix. So why not spend your lunch break reading some good short fiction?

In Death!

Of late, Misty’s been reading a lot of J.D. “Surely No One Will Guess I’m Nora Roberts” Robb books. I didn’t realize until I saw the third or fourth that all of their titles end “…in Death.” No, really. There’s even an Excel spreadsheet listing all of them.

This seems a lot more restrictive to me than Erle Stanley Gardner’s practice of starting the titles of all of his Perry Mason mysteries with “The Case of the…”, or how every Friends episode title was “The One…” I’ve been having fun coming up with new titles, like “Murder in Death” or “Living in Death”. Try it! It’s entertaining!

Maybe we can create something like Together, They Fight Crime!, where two random character descriptions are smushed together, ending with, “Together, they fight crime!”

Only, you know, they fight crime in death.

Remaking Children’s Books to Have a Message For Adults

A while back I mentioned Starboortz Fish, a libertarian re-telling of The Rainbow Fish. Now there’s Goodnight Bush: An Unauthorized Parody, which is a version of Goodnight Moon with George Bush as the title character.

Goodnight Bush

Goodnight Bush apes the look and tone of the original story with great fidelity, but replaces the rabbit, his grandmother, and his toys with well-known images and items from Bush’s presidency. Gone is the rabbit falling asleep; instead there is Bush as a young boy wearing flight suit pyjamas. What fascinates me about this is how they’re using the hook of a beloved children’s book to promulgate a message about the President. It’s something that looks like a children’s book but that is squarely aimed at adults.

A quiet Dick Cheney whispering hush Starboortz Fish was a straight-forward libertarian message for children. Goodnight Bush is a critique of Bush’s presidency that trades on memories of a much-loved childhood book. It depicts the Twin Towers as a pile of blocks being knocked over by a toy airplane and the color-coded terror levels as a xylophone. What raises it above a mindless mashup is how the medium is part of the message. Part of their critique is that Bush has treated us like children; in response, they wrote a children’s book about him.

When I first talked about Starboortz Fish, I made up a bunch of goofy libertarian versions of classic children’s books. I had no idea that my vision of those books being recast as political argument would come true.

Pushing Past Dora and Diego to the Better Stuff

Due to Stephen’s LOLprowess, our site now has enough Diggs or Technorati gold stars in heaven to rate us being approached by marketing firms. The first couple of times we got emails, I was like, “Huh? They want to do what? What’s the catch?” The catch is that these companies want to send us free stuff in exchange for us giving them shout outs about their products or services. Apparently this phenomenon has a name: “Word of Mom.”

The nice part of the deal is that they send us free stuff but we don’t have to talk about it unless we like it, mostly, I’m guessing, because they don’t want the bad word from us moms. But it takes the pressure off of me because I don’t feel obligated in any way. I can pick and choose what is interesting to me and talk about only those things. Isn’t the internet a powerful thing?

Most of the email traffic has come from the PR firm representing the Turner TV channels. The first round of swag was disappointing, mostly because I didn’t read the email carefully enough. I thought she was sending me new shows of Saving Grace and The Closer. I was having puppies over the prospect of new episodes (and early, no less) because I love those two shows. In actuality she was sending me the greatest hits collections of those shows and a few others in the hopes that I might be interested in them and willing to plug them on the blog. Oops, I think I played right into their hands there, didn’t I?

The second round of swag was a book called The Best Old Movies for Families. This book is very cool. It’s funny and well written, and it’s made me want to further my own movie education as well as introduce my kids to a whole range of movies that don’t involve Dora, Diego and the dreaded Disney princesses.

In the intro, Ty Burr suggests to use the book as reference material to get you started introducing your kids to old movies. But I found the book so readable, I was well into the fourth chapter before I thought to get the remote and set up the TiVo to record some of these shows coming on TCM this summer.

I’m excited about watching some of these shows (most of which I’ve never seen) with Eli. Especially the musicals, because I have a feeling he’s going to love those. And it’s always pleasant to think Dora and Diego aren’t the only options.

Libertarian Children’s Books

During yesterday’s discussion of my dislike of The Giving Tree, we got to discussing The Rainbow Fish. siliconchef pointed out Starboortz Fish, a libertarian re-telling of The Rainbow Fish in which a starfish has to earn the respect of others.

That got me to thinking. There aren’t really any libertarian children’s books I know of, at least not picture books. Rather than write entirely new ones to fill that void, what if we re-purposed existing books, but gave them a shiny new coat of libertarian paint?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the best libertarian children’s books.

Where the Free Beings Are, by Maurice Sendak

A downbeat allegory of how Americans are conditioned to be uncomfortable with freedom. Max escapes from an all-encompassing nanny state and sails to a land where his individual gifts are recognized and everyone is free. Over time Max finds this freedom disconcerting, and returns home where his government dole is waiting for him in the form of dinner.

Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems

A brave pigeon struggles against the oppressive governmental agency that would deny him a bus driver’s license.

Puff the Magic Dragon, by Peter Yarrow, Lenny Lipton, and Eric Puybaret

Legalization of marijuana leads to little Jackie Paper growing up in a laissez-faire utopia called Honnalee.

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton

Facing stiff competition from more modern diesel-powered shovels, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne win a contract by promising to dig the basement of a town hall in one day. They do so, but forget to leave a ramp for Mary Anne to drive back out. Undaunted, Mike takes his substantial bonus for a job well done and enhances his competitiveness in a global market by buying a diesel-powered shovel, leaving Mary Anne trapped in the building’s basement.

The Cat in the Hat Goes Splat, by Dr. Seuss

The narrator and his sister Sally exercise their Second Amendment rights to defend their home against a feline intruder.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond

Giving a mouse a cookie leads one young boy to near-ruin, as the mouse’s demands escalate with every capitulation. Eventually the boy comes to his senses and kicks the freeloading mouse out of his house.

Curious George, by H. A. Rey

A man with a big yellow hat curtails George the monkey’s freedom by kidnapping him from Africa. Just as George is adapting to his new life as the man’s neglected pet, he experiences the governmental jackboot in the form of firemen, who throw George in jail. George escapes, but when he returns to his “friend” the man with the big yellow hat, the man locks him in a zoo run by the city. George leads a revolt, overthrows the keepers, and establishes a meritocracy with him at its head.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

A caterpillar eats his way through a tremendous amount of produce, until a heroic farmer saves his crops and thus his profit by killing the caterpillar with insecticide.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin, Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert

In a poignant example of the tragedy of the commons, the lowercase letters a through z swarm up a coconut tree, nearly destroying it and hurting themselves when they fall off of it. When the number 1 buys the tree, installs a fence with concertina wire, and posts a NO TRESPASSING sign, the parents A through Z rejoice.

The Renting Tree, by Shel Silverstein

A boy learns a valuable lesson about the monetary worth of personal resources when a tree in his backyard charges him to swing on her branches or to take an apple.

What Do People Do All Day?, by Richard Scarry

Anthropomorphic animals find life’s meaning in selling their labor in a free-market economy.

Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, by Dr. Seuss

When Thidwick the moose lets a bug live on his antlers, he soon comes to regret his decision as more and more animals crowd onto his antlers, and his fellow moose refuse to let him stay with the herd. It is not until he sheds his antlers and forces his squatters to take personal responsibility for their own lives that he can rejoin his herd and be a truly free moose.

Come to think of it, that’s exactly what Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose is about.

The Co-Dependent Tree

I read a lot of kids’ books when I was young, but I don’t remember most of them because I was a kid and had the memory of a goldfish on a three-day bender. Now that I’m an adult and reading even more kids’ books, I’ve discovered that there are good ones and bad ones. My major annoyance is with those that rhyme but do not scan. Perhaps the authors subscribe William Carlos Williams’s view of meter, but I’m guessing they’ve just never heard of scansion.

I’ve grown accustomed to treacly-sweet books. I’ve learned to set aside my annoyance with those books whose moral statements are all but spelled out in ten-thousand-point Copperplate. I’ve been willing to read and re-read books I think aren’t that good but that have caught Eli’s attention.

I have not learned to love The Giving Tree.

If you’re unfamiliar with Shel Silverstein’s book, let me summarize it in a dismissive and completely unfair manner. A boy loves playing on and around an apple tree, and the tree loves him. She provides him with branches to swing from and apples to eat and so forth. Then the boy grows up and his demands increase. He takes all of her apples to sell for money. He takes her branches to build a house. Eventually he takes her trunk to build a boat and sail away. At each step, the tree pretends she’s a doormat and happily gives the boy what he wants. At the end the boy, now a tired old man, returns and the tree offers her stump for him to rest on.

There are any number of possible interpretations. The book has an echo of truth about life and how we use each other, and how we let others use us, and how, even given that, in the end we can all find a measure of comfort. That’s not the problem. What makes me grind my teeth down another few millimeters is not really the book itself, but how some offer it as an example of what a mother’s love should be like towards her children.

If you take the story as a metaphor for parenting, I think it’s a horrible one. Throughout the book, the boy’s requests are described as wants. The only point at which he’s described as needing something is at the end, when he’s old and tired and needs a place to rest. There is a large difference between wants and needs, and children often can’t tell the difference. As a parent, it’s not my job to give my kids whatever they want. It’s to provide them with what they need, even when that’s the opposite of what they want.

It’s true that I don’t look to my kids to validate my parenting. I’m not waiting on them to be grateful for what I do. It’s also true that I’m willing to give everything to them. Regardless, I’m not willing to give into their wants to the point where they become self-centered assholes.

On the other hand, the book did inspire this particular comic from the Perry Bible Fellowship. That’s a net plus.

Cassie Edwards, Wide-Ranging Plagiarist

I swear, I wasn’t going to say a thing about romance novelist Cassie Edwards and her sticky-fingered plagiarism problem, but the latest round of revelations regarding her sources is too crazy not to share.

Back at the beginning of the month, one of the writers at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, a weblog reviewing romance novels, pointed out eerie similarities between some of Cassie Edwards’s books and other books.

A word on Cassie Edwards. Between 1982 and 2007 she wrote 100 books. That’s some four books a year. I’ve known of some very good authors who’ve done two novels a year for a year or two — Charlie Stross and Elizabeth Bear come to mind in science fiction circles — but four a year? We’re entering Gilbert Morris crank-turning formula territory here. She’s taken a Harriet Klausner approach to book writing.

Given that speed, and given the strictures of the romance novel genre, I’m not surprised she turned to plagiarism. Not that she sees anything wrong with what she’s done. As the days have gone on and Edwards has defended her work, claiming that she not only didn’t know she should credit sources, but that “[w]hen you write historical romances, you’re not asked to do that”.

Sadly, as I learned during my days as a teacher, plagiarism is like a stack of Lay’s potato chips. You’re not going to eat just one. And it’s the mind-boggling breadth of what she stole that blows my tiny mind.

How about an article about ferrets? Paul Tolme, the article’s writer, was quite taken aback at how his source material was used in Shadow Bear.

The prose is standard romance-novel shlock. Bramlett’s bosom heaves. Shadow Bear feels a longing in his loins. On page 195, after several false starts to stoke the furnaces of readers, Bramlett and Shadow Bear finally get down to business. They have sex in his teepee on some animal pelts. Hungrily, their sinuous bodies rock and quake until both explode in rapturous pleasure. When the teepee flaps are rocking, don’t come a-knocking.

Then, a few pages later, as Bramlett and Shadow Bear bask in their postcoital glow, my ferrets arrive on the scene.

Let me pause there and let you enjoy that image.

“They are so named because of their dark legs,” Shadow Bear says, to which Shiona responds: “They are so small, surely weighing only about two pounds and measuring two feet from tip to tail.”

Shiona then tells Shadow Bear how she once read about ferrets in a book she took from the study of her father. “I discovered they are related to minks and otters. It is said their closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats,” she says. “Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population.”

This is one of the most egregious as you know Bobisms I’ve ever seen. But there’s more! It wasn’t just reference books she stole from. She took passages from Oliver La Farge’s Laughing Boy, winner of the 1930 Pulitzer prize. Best of all, she adapted parts of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Really!

If you’re going to do something, you should commit to it with all of your heart and mind. Edwards certainly has done that with her plagiarism. You have to have admire someone who will steal from The Song of Hiawatha.

A Couple of Comic Book Links

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I read a fair number of comics thanks to my brother. He’s introduced me to a lot of great comics, like James Robinson’s fabulous Starman and (more recently) Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Not all of the comics I’ve read are good, sadly, though I won’t blame those on Andrew. In some cases the writing was bad. In others, the art was what was so terrible.

Enter Rob Liefeld. He’s known for a certain…unique style of comic book art. Do you like characters who wear pouches everywhere? Do you enjoy looking at men with outsized muscles and teeny tiny feet? What’s your opinion on women in comics being drawn with outrageously large breasts, waists that are three inches in diameter, and who stand as if their spine is broken?

That’s why this list of Rob Liefeld’s 40 worst drawings amused me so much. Be warned! It contains naughty swears and the like. What amuses me most about the list is that Liefeld was so prolific and his style so often terrible that the list can have forty images and yet miss out on my personal favorite, a rendition of Captain America where Cap could put his dinner plate on his pectorals and not have it slide off.

To make up for those links, here are some images from a recent comic-book-themed Simpsons episode featuring Alan Moore, Art Spiegleman and Dan Clowes. I didn’t see the episode, and that makes me sad, but that sadness is tempered by seeing the screencap of Millhouse holding “Watchmen Babies in V for Vacation”.