Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Purpose of Libraries

So a few days ago, someone (name will remain anonymous) and I got into an "argument" about the purpose of libraries. This individual indicated that s/he believed public libraries should not be stocked with fiction titles because that means our tax dollars are paying for someone else's entertainment.

"Why not just start providing movies at the library?"

Admittedly, I was a little shocked and perhaps somewhat hurt because in some way I felt this individual could be attacking what I'm trying to accomplish (writing and publishing fiction). But I tried to ignore that aspect because I know it was not intentional and instead argued the purpose of the library.

  • I started out by saying that many authors actually sell more books because they get greater exposure by being in a public library. A reader who otherwise would not pick him/her up will read a novel by someone new because it is recommended based upon what the reader already enjoys.
  • Another point I made was that university libraries are essentially nonfiction establishments, and frankly, about the only time anyone goes in there is when they have to do research for a paper. 
  • There's a lot of nonfiction that reads like entertainment, and some fiction that reads like fact. 

This individual's argument was that basically public libraries should provide the dry, factual, how-to type nonfiction and that was all (since our tax dollars are funding them).

S/He did concede one point to me. Granted, I do not know adult fiction very well, but my experience is that libraries mostly stock YA and children's fiction, with some adult fiction, but a lot of adult memoirs/nonfiction or the extremely popular series. Around my neighborhood, you also tend to see a lot of LDS fiction. So my point was that is a young adult (who is still working on his/her literacy skills) going to pick up a good story, or a recitation of facts for pleasure reading? Now granted, sometimes these fall together, but probably 95% of the time, young adults and children are going to go to the fiction section.

So this individual agreed that promoting literacy was an acceptable reason to stock public libraries with fiction titles. It wasn't much of a concession, but at least it was something.

So here's my question to you: what purpose do you see public libraries as serving and why?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Worthwhile Viral Video

Dystel and Goderich (a very reputable literary agency) has posted a viral video link that is definitely worth your while to check out.  Especially for all you YA writers out there.  It only takes a couple of minutes of viewing time, and it has a powerful message.  Check it out.

Book Review of Black Like Me

I have recently joined a book club, and I chose the first book we read. I decided that as I read these books for my club, I'll post a review of them each month. If I get really ambitious, maybe I'll post some reviews of other books I'm reading too. Black Like Me is one of my favorite books, and I think it is so powerful. 

Black Like Me is a nonfiction memoir by John Howard Griffin. In the 1950s, Griffin decides that he does not really understand the "black problem," and as a white Southern gentleman, no one will really tell him the truth. The only way he can truly understand the situation is to darken his skin via medication and stains, then travel the South as a black man. The novel is a recounting of his experiences.

I find this novel fascinating on so many levels. First of all, I feel it is one that everyone can relate to because everyone has felt discriminated against, whether because of skin color, intelligence, sexual orientation, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, age, or a multitude of other divisions. I once had a student complain because as a WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon protestant), he was discriminated against in scholarships; there were scholarships available for every color/background under the sun...except his own. Although I completely understand the reason for this, I have also often wondered how we can consider ourselves a society of equality when true equality never exists.

I am fascinated by the psychological struggle Griffin goes through as a black man - something he never expected when he took on the project. As he spends more time as a black man and in the black world, he begins to think of himself as black.  That means the situation is "our problem," and he finds he cannot even smile or look at a white woman (his usual gentlemanly response) without being considered as making a pass at her. He sort of loses his own personality because he tries to do what is expected of someone like him. At one point he is mistaken for a porter and is surprised as he finds himself giving an oversized, grateful grin and thanking the woman profusely for her small tip. He realizes his actions are not congruent with his status as a successful businessman, but are a result of his situation and how he presently thinks and reacts. Near the end of the story, he starts to travel in the same areas as both black and white, and he finds completely different treatment by the same individuals. He also finds it difficult to revert back to his "white self" after experiencing life as a black man.

I also appreciate that Griffin is very fair to both sides of the issue. He readily admits that although he gets the "hate stare" from several white individuals, blacks have their own form of the hate stare reserved for whites. Although he recounts the cruel treatment received from some individuals, he is quick to admit that in certain areas the cruelty was not the norm for most people. He praises both black and white who try to remedy the problem, but also explains the approaches (both black and white) that do not help.

Griffin's human aspect also comes through clearly. There are a couple of times in the novel when he cannot withstand the situation and must escape. One time he goes to another city and tries again, another time he retreats to a monestary for a few days. In both situations, it reminds the reader how desperate the situation is for the oppressed, especially since they do not have the luxury of escape. After his experiment, several communities around the country call him in as an "expert" to help them remedy the situation in their areas. When possible, he rebukes them for not relying on local black leaders who know the culture, community, and condition so much better than an outsider ever could.

Black Like Me is a classic novel I feel every person should be familiar with. It is one I enjoy reading frequently and regularly. I do not believe that we can ever understand the Black/Asian/Hispanic/Middle Easter/Insert-any-other-word Experience unless we have lived it. However, I do believe that by educating ourselves as much as possible, we can understand that differences do exist, and that a person's experiences will define how he/she reacts in various situations. It is by recognizing, appreciating, and accepting those differences that true equality can someday be achieved. This novel illustrates how to recognize and accept those differences as eloquently as virtually any other I have read.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Favorite Lines

So, here's something I've wanted to try for a little while, and I found a similar forum that encouraged me to go for it.

This is one of my favorite lines from my WIP:

"The sound of the turnip splattering was almost as disgusting as the feel of the rotten flesh spewing on my ankles."  (It also happens to be my opening line).

So what's one of your favorite lines you've written? Or a favorite line you've read? Just be sure to give credit due when you didn't write it.

Let's have fun with this and get some good lines flying around! And if there are some bad ones out there, suggest to the author how to make it better (nicely, remember).

P.S.  *Poor example* Read Bearing Secrets by Richard Barre:
"As he turned and faced forward, the seat made a rich leathery sound."
I know what you're trying to say, but COME ON! You can do better than that!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Purposes of My Setting

I gave a presentation a couple of nights ago about what I have learned about historical fiction. My novel is set in late medieval England. At one point in my presentation I talked about how my novel is a time period historical fiction; in other words, rather than focusing around a specific individual or occupation (or even event), I give a feel for the times instead. I said that my setting is historically accurate, but the story that happens to my main character never would have actually happened in that time period.

At the end of my presentation, an individual asked me why I chose the medieval time period as my setting if the story never could have feasibly happened then. It was a good question, and one I had never thought about before. I believe I gave a decent answer, but I wanted to expand on the answer I gave.

First of all, my story is based on a dream I had several years ago. The medieval time period is what I saw in that dream, so that is just how my story has always been.

Secondly, Anna, my main character, is a very strong female character. I wanted her in a place where she remained strong when everything pushed against her. What other time period where women as oppressed by society, expectations, stereotypes, and even each other as in the medieval period?

Finally, the romanticism of the medieval time period really appeals to me and my story. Now I know that the real life of medieval people is anything but romantic. But it is how people lived back then that fits with my story so well. I have interactions between royalty, wealthy, and commoners. There are few other places in history where when a nobleman speaks with a commoner that it holds so much additional impact and meaning. Castles are not just a neat building tourists visit; they are dark, damp, smelly, miserable places for people to live and sometimes gather. And finally the lack of technology is somewhat integral to my story. Events are set into motion and plot is developed in such a way that would be impossible to achieve in a world with cars, computers, and cell phones. My characters' goals are achieved much better with carts, horses, and relative isolation.

So even though I had never considered adjusting the setting of my story, there are specific reasons why I set it where and when I did. Reasons that I believe only make my story better. And isn't that exactly what the setting is supposed to do?