All in Opinion

Fun + Games: Sunshine Blogger Award

The marvelous ladies at The Book Wars tagged me in this Sunshine Blogger award thing and I really don't know what it is, but I love The Book Wars, so I'll play!

1. To be eligible for this award you must like pineapple. Do you like pineapple? No? How about oranges? Grapes?

Duh. Pineapple is awesome. People who don't like pineapple are untrustworthy. Pro tip: Put your pineapple on the grill and brush it with honey. It is amazing. Also, if you are one to partake in Jamba Juice on occasion (as one does), ask for a Razzmatazz, no banana (because banana is the devil's fruit, obvs), add pineapple. You'll never go back to standard Jambas. 

How Not to Engage Readers

I've been chewing on whether or not to share the most recent creepy Goodreads friend request I received from a self-identified aspiring author. But this one was uncomfortable enough, that I felt like I needed to share in hopes of helping educate other aspiring authors about what not to do when attempting to engage readers. 

Listen, I know authors are told to engage, engage, engage, but there's a way to do it that doesn't completely freak out readers. Unfortunately this recent request landed smack in the creepy zone. (Note: I've redacting information about this person.)

Guest Post: Pema Donyo on YA & Happy Ever Afters

Note: This is a guest post from author & college student Pema Donyo. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to learn more about her. Also, there are spoilers for the happy endings of several books in this post--you've been warned. Another CEFS post dealing with similar concepts was written by Laura a couple years ago--check it out over here. 

Are you interested in writing a guest post for CEFS? Send us your idea via our contact page

Ruth Graham's "Against YA" op-ed in Slate caused many eyes to roll and many heads to nod. But a particular passage from the article has stayed with me:

These (Young Adult novel) endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.

Storify + Some Tips: Library & Bookstore Access Isn't Universal

Last week, as a response to an author's tweet (guys, this upset me so much that I can't remember who it was--I blocked it out, I suspect) insinuating that people who didn't shop their local independent bookstore were, basically, cheap and lazy, I had a bit of a mini-rant I had to get out on Twitter. 

I've been chewing on whether to post it here, because I know that this is a sensitive issue. Honestly, it's a sticky one for me, since I work primarily with small, independent business and try to support them as much as I can. 

With that said, there are some loaded assumptions that come with the sorts of flip comments like the one I saw. It assumes the people live in an area with bookstores, with libraries and have transportation access to get to those places. Those are pretty big assumptions. 

Ten Reading Wishes for the New Year

At the beginning of 2013 I wrote a post about hopes for the new year, and I thought I'd continue that pseudo-tradition for 2014. Looking at last year's wishes, a number of them still stand, particularly the need to end the denigration of books read by women as "mommy porn" and the like; my weariness over the dramarama train in the book world still stands; and I'm still fed up with the digital versus physical reading debate, which seems to have no end in sight and is utterly unproductive. 

In the next couple weeks I'm going to talk about some deliberate changes I'm hoping to make to my reading (and writing about reading) habits in the new year and we're pulling together our 2013 List of Awesome at the moment. And, we already have a super-fantastic guest scheduled for a podcast later this month, so things are happening around these parts.

Reader Expectations & Authorial Intent: What Matters?

Laura and I recorded a podcast on Monday which will be up on iTunes (Don't forget to rate us, yo!) and blog in the next few days in which we discuss the topic of reader expectations and reactions, particularly in the context of series and authors with large backlists. While Laura and I go in depth into the topic on that podcast, I know not everyone listens to it, and the discussion just keeps morphing online.

The reader expectations discussion erupted earlier this year when Charlaine Harris finally ended her Sookie Stackhouse series. Readers were unhappy that they'd invest 13 years into reading the series, watched Sookie float from love interest to love interest and finally end up with a partner who was, to them, rather unexciting.

Then we had the whole Divergent debacle in which some readers were incredibly upset about the choices author Veronica Roth made in the final book in that series, Allegiant. 

More recently, Gayle Forman has been criticized by readers frustrated with the companion novel to Just on Day, Just One Year

And there was also the brouhaha in the romance world because an author and reader (because--shocker--people can be both) "live tweeted" her reading of Susan Elizabeth Philips' Nobody's Baby But Mine (Janet detailed this on Dear Author earlier this week). 

This type of response isn't anything new, and it's not exclusive to reading.

Love, Sex & Feminism (or not?) in Lauren Myracle's The Infinite Moment of Us

I wasn’t planning on writing about Lauren Myracle’s The Infinite Moment of Us. 

When I first picked it up, I only waded through three chapters before deciding it wasn’t for me. Then, glowing reviews piled up, and I thought that maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for this novel and gave it another shot. I slogged through all but the last couple chapters before abandoning the novel again. Finally, after chatting with Laura about the numerous aspects of The Infinite Moment of Us that frustrated and disappointed me, and deciding that my aggravations were probably worth noting on CEFS, I forced myself to finish those last chapters.

The Infinite Moment of Us is written in the popular dual narrative style from the point of view of recent high school graduates Wren Gray and Charlie Parker. Wren is a classic over-achieving people-pleaser, headed for a good college and a future her parents approve of. Except she comes to the realization that pleasing her parents means letting herself down by ignoring her own dreams. She’s also been accepted into an outreach-type program in Guatemala and wants to take a gap year and pursue that rather than start college immediately. The disappointment from her parents about this decision, however, is an overwhelming burden.

Read the rest! 

The BFF Paradigm

“The myth of the BFF can be difficult to live up to. In film and television, we often see female friendships portrayed in a highly romanticised and unrealistic manner; uncomplicated and lasting forever despite the differences of the women involved. When women’s relationships are at the centre of the narrative – Sex and the City being the most obvious example – it seems that best friendship somehow transcends all else. ”  
— The myth of the BFF and the end of female friendships (The Guardian)

Recently, I had the pleasure of engaging in a fabulous chat on Twitter with Trinity, Reynje and Laura prompted by Trinity's tweeting a link to the article quoted above. This piece was written by a contributor to Just Between Us, an anthology of writing by Australian authors on the topic of female friendships. The depiction of female friendships--and particularly the BBF (best friend forever) relationship--is one that I frequently find personally challenging in books, movies and television. Most of the time, those depictions aren't relavent to my own experiences, and in my discussion with Laura, Reynje and Trin, it sounds like I'm not alone. 

Thinking back to elementary and high school, I remember the distinct feeling that there was something wrong with me that I didn't have a best friend. That's what we saw on Beverly Hills 90210 (the original show), right? Not to mention my mother and most of the adult women I knew still had the same best friends they'd had when they were twelve, so the inevitable questions from well-meaning adults would often head in that direction I name whatever casual friend was around the most at any given moment, but that overwhelming feeling of being defective because I didn't walk around with half of a friendship charm. 

That's not to say I didn't have friends and a reasonably full social life. In high school, I had a group of friends--girls and boys--that I spent time with and had a lot of fun with. A few of those people I'm still in touch with. When I went to college, there were a couple of those high school friends who I thought may be that best friend forever that adults told me I should have, but distance (pre-email and Facebook and even texting--the horror!) made that challenging. Late in my sophomore year of college it hit me that one close high school friend with best friend forever potential had faded into my history, rather than being a part of my present. I was so very sad about that.

In college, I had a similar, loose circle of friends, but that group was largely comprised of couples--it wasn't the Sex and the City fantasy (this was when SATC was popular) full of shoe shopping, gossip-fueled brunches and hangovers. Aside from my now-husband, I'm only in touch with one of those people, though I have wonderful memories of my four years with that group. By that point, I'd pretty much come to terms with the reality that I simply was going to be the anomaly, that person who didn't have a best, lifelong female friend. (This was around the same time I realized that my real best friend forever was my now-husband.) 

Now that I'm older (in my 30s), I realize that friendships change, grow and end, and that's part of the cycle of our social relationships as humans. Sometimes people come into our lives for a period of time, and there's value in appreciating those relationships while we have them. I know that I'll never fit in at a "Girls Night Out" (just as I always felt out of place and awkward at slumber parties at twelve), that my enjoyment of solitude and aversion to gossip and large groups will keep me from obtaining the sorts of female friendships depicted in popular culture.

Today in Ridiculous B.S.: "The Julie Taylor Test"

Today, Laura tweeted a post from Salon's entertainment section, to which I reacted quite viscerally.

This (somewhat link-bait-y) piece is called "The Julie Taylor Test," referencing the daughter fo Eric and Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, and it's absolutely dripping with sexism. The author, Willa Paskin, asserts that bad acting can be identified by comparing the performer suspected of bad acting to Julie Taylor on Friday Night Lights, portrayed by Aimee Teegarden.

She argues, 

Enter the Julie Taylor Test, an easy way to identify bad TV acting: Ask yourself, is it  to imagine the inner life of this character? If no, is it possible to imagine the inner life of the characters surrounding him or her? It was all too possible to imagine the inner lives of every character on “Friday Night Lights” but Julie.

The thing is, using Paskin's own example, Julie Taylor has an immense inner life (watch The Giving Tree, S3E10, if you don't believe me).

However, her "inner life" is that of a teenage girl, so there are two strikes against Julie the character and Aimee the actress.

Guest Post: Hannah Returns & Laments, "Writing is hard!"

Note from Sarah: You may remember Hannah's wonderful guest post last year in which she asked, "Has fiction ruined my life?"​ Well our favorite London teen is back, lamenting that while she loves writing, it's often a frustrating, solitary, crazy-making experience.

Sometime between the ages of four and five I officially decided I wanted to be a writer, and it was a decision I have suffered for ever since.  

In some far off ideal world, I would get an idea, I would write down said idea, it would make sense and there would be rainbows, and music would fill the land, and people would dance, and all would be well with the universe. But actually, when I sit down to write, I repeatedly succumb to inept feelings of inadequacy, which rather alarmingly seem to be increasingly growing in abruptness,  preventing me from feeling like I am progressing.

I think the problem is that I set my goals too high. It’s just that I feel like I would be able to write the best books in the world if  I could just expand t some of the half formulated ideas that dwell within the confinements of this 18 year old cranium to their full potential. To me, it seems as though there is a vast  ocean of unwritten novels that sloshes inside my thoughts, and in theory, I should be able to salvage handfuls of them whenever I feel like it.

Guest Post: Jonathan Winters, An Appreciation

Note from Sarah: This is a guest post from my wonderful husband, Josh. This week, his childhood favorite comedian, Jonathan Winters, passed away, and Josh asked me if he could write something in memoriam, saying that Jonathan Winters was his Judy Blume. If you're so inclined, you can follow Josh on frequently-updated Tumblr or stalk him on his rarely-used Twitter account.

Sunday nights were for the Muppets and my life changed when Jonathan Winters appeared.  

With a few keystrokes, I can see that night was January 15 1980. Until I looked that up, it was just sometime when I was 5 or 6, or maybe even 7. I loved him, his maniac energy, his silly voices, and his larger than life presence were mesmerizing. This was someone who was silly, goofy and--my god--he was from DAYTON! 

This guy was from Dayton. Someone from where I was from was amazing and funny. This was my new hero, someone who made me laugh and who had the same points of reference I did.

At some point I realized "What? he was actually from Springfield!" Even closer, where the mall was! He could have gone to the same theatre as me to see ET  (this was in point of fact impossible since the mall was a long way off when he was there, but it didn't matter to my six-year-old).

I bugged my dad about more stories, learned how he studied art at the Museum, where I thought for the longest time he must have just walked around and looked at the pictures and drew them (funny I now ply my trade at is essentially one of these Museum schools). At the time is sounded like the education of a genius, and it still kind of does. I learned about his time on WHIO Radio, how he acted like a goofball on the air. 

I was a weird kid and I was proud that Jonathan Winters was a Reds fan like me.

Audiobook Adventures

My local NPR station did the unthinkable over the last six months or so: They changed the schedule entirely. As a result, all the worst shows (by "worst" I mean shows that involve audience participation) are during the ​times I'm in the car.

I got desperate. First I turned to podcasts, which I love, but there are only so many one can listen to in a row before they all start to run together.

Next, I tried something I've always disliked: Audiobooks.

Audiobooks have never really worked for me--I'm not sure why, but I suspect that because my previous attempts at audiobooking were pre-iPod, so a lot of the listening was annoying on a technical level, with the messing with CDs and all. I also think I'd chosen the wrong types of books for audio, since if I recall correctly, I mostly chose long, complex books, which weren't the easiest for me to track in shorter chunks while operating a motorized vehicle.

But finally, I've found some audiobooks which worked for me.

I adored finishing the the wonderful Curse Workers series on audio. Jesse Eisenberg narrates and adds so much to Cassel's voice, actually making him sound more teenage and funny, which I didn't pick up in the first book, which I read in the traditional way.​

I also loved listening to Catherine Gilbert Murdock's phenomenal Dairy Queen series (recommended by Flannery),​ which I'd actually started as an ebook a couple years ago and for some reason I couldn't get into (probably a wrong frame of mind thing). The narrator does a brilliant job of capturing both the Wisconsin accent and D.J.'s neurotic, self-deprecating tone. 

Libraries and Book Discovery: A Reader's Experience

If Scott Turow's goal is cultivating an image as an epic jackass and simultaneously eroding reader support for the authors by way of the Author's Guild, he's been doing a bang-up job lately.  

In the past there's been many wackadoodle anti-ebook rants, but this week, Turow steps it up and takes on libraries. Yes, libraries. 

Apparently, Turow and the Authors Guild believe that libraries offering ebooks is yet another in a vast conspiracy against authors. (He also--perplexingly--accuses "search engines" of conspiring against authors as well; read Tech Dirt's analysis of that lunacy.)

Now many public libraries want to lend e-books, not simply to patrons who come in to download, but to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection. In this new reality, the only incentive to buy, rather than borrow, an e-book is the fact that the lent copy vanishes after a couple of weeks. As a result, many publishers currently refuse to sell e-books to public libraries.

In his piece, Turow chooses to ignore a number of facts in favor of grand statements (hey, why let facts get in the way of a good argument?). But what struck me most was Turow's bizarre assumption that library users who can easily (and that's debateable for anyone who's used Overdrive) access ebooks won't buy books, that instead they'll simply click and download books "for free*"

Library ebook readers won't buy books?

That assertion has got to be the biggest, stinkiest load of crap I've read in a very long time--and I've spent a lot of time on the Internet.


Reading Rights + Wrongs: Interpretation, Point-of-View and Other Complicated Things

“They belong to their readers now, which is a great thing–because the books are more powerful in the hands of my readers than they could ever be in my hands.”

— John Green

I've learned a lot in the last year about reading and what we bring to the table in terms of our personal experiences, points-of-view, beliefs and biases. This is not only thanks to writing reviews on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, but also because I also joined a book club with several other very smart women ranging from 25 to 65. 

It's fascinating to talk books with people and hear what resonated with them, how they interpret characters' choices and the realism--or lack there of--situations depicted in fiction. What's fascinating to me is how varied these readings are.

Which brings me to something I've noticed quite a bit, that I've been reluctant to talk about for fear of that judgmental side-eye that pops up all too often in some corners of the internet, including within the book and reading community:

I do not believe that there are many "right" and "wrong" readings of books.

(Or other cultural products, for that matter.)

Now, I know a number of you are probably reading my words and thinking,

"Well, duh, Sarah. Of course it's all relative."

But the thing is, while we know that, we don't always believe it, and certainly don't always practice it.

This is a Post About Plagiarism

I am a plagiarism hardliner. And I'm unapologetic about it.

Most of you probably know that I teach digital communications at a college in Portland, Oregon. Because it's an art school, my students are particularly concerned about the possibility of their work being stolen if they put it online. The majority have already experienced some iteration of plagiarism and know how it leaves the victim feeling violated and demoralized.

I completely understand why they're so fearful. Plagiarism and copyright infringement (two different things) are absolutely rampant. I've had my own work stolen and reused more times than I can count--and there are probably far more incidents that I'm even aware. As a result, I have no sympathy whatsoever for individuals and companies who steal others' work. It's wrong and I tell my students that they have every right to fight back--and I practice what I preach and fight back too.

Most recently, the entire Clear Eyes, Full Shelves RSS feed was scraped and republished on a site that also hosts pirated ebooks. Not only has my own work (and Laura's, Sandra's and Rebeca's and posts of our guest contributors) been stolen, it's being used to facilitate the theft of other people's intellectual property as well.

It's a double-whammy of suck.

Ten Wishes for the Year in Reading

I’m not one for resolutions—I completely agree with the theory that goal-setting can actually lead to failure or mediocrity. In fact, the lowest-functioning organizations and people I’ve worked with have all been extraordinarily preoccupied with goal attainment.


I participate in the Goodreads reading challenge for the sole purpose of having that handy count of books read in the sidebar, not because I want to reach a specific threshold. (Though I will admit, two years in a row, I’ve been a couple of books shy of 150 during the last week of the year and have power read through to ensure I have a nice, round number.)

So in the spirit of ignoring the idea of goals, I’m eschewing the reading resolutions posts that abound on the web today and would like to share a bit of what I’d like to see in the upcoming year in reading, publishing and book culture.

#1 An end to the divisive, unproductive, ridiculous discussions of e-reading versus print reading.

Why anyone cares in what format people choose to read books is beyond me, particularly in a culture in which a quarter of the United States population has not read a single book in the last year. Whatever helps ensure people get a book—digital, print or etched in a stone tablet—in their hands is fine by me, and it should be for anyone who truly cares about promoting reading culture. 

#2 An end to the term, “Mommy Porn.”

Thanks to the legion of ridiculous articles about 50 Shades of Grey, “mommy porn” is used to dismiss the reading choices of women by people who are threatened by women reading about S-E-X. I wrote about this early last year and it continues to frustrate me. 

Adventures in Substitute Teaching

 I love reading. I love words. I love the worlds created in my brain from images emanating out of words. That’s why I became an English teacher.

What a perfect job for me! I spent my career promoting books, themes, poetry, writing, thinking about literature—it’s such a complex and beautiful compulsion that I could, but won’t, go on and on and on.

Via Flickr Commons - A 1950s advertisement featuring the “ideal teacher.” Click through for image credits.

I retired three years ago and now revel in my free time to do all that I love: reading, writing, talking about literature, and gardening (which actually has nothing to do with reading). For me, this is fantastic, although I came to a point this fall where I decided I wanted to connect again with kids and young adults.  

I began substituting. Once or twice a week, I get to spend time back in the classroom—and I’m loving it.

One evening the phone rang with a request to substitute for a middle school learning resource room teacher. Ummmm… I taught high school students for twenty-six years, no middle school kids were ever part of my classroom teaching experience. I almost declined the job offer but pulled back a bit and thought,

“Wait a minute! What a snob I’m being. I’ve worked with so many students with reading and writing difficulties, with second language students and students who flat out don’t like English class. I’ve taught college prep classes too. I can do this!”

When I came into the classroom the next day, I was surprised that there were only six sixth grade boys. The “regular” teacher was there to greet me. When she discovered my background and experience she told me what reading she wanted done and suggested that I come up with my own writing prompts for the boys.

To my surprise, I had a great time with these boys, especially when it came to writing.

I had a couple of good ideas—or what I thought were good ideas—for prompts. Six sets of eyes stared back at me, none with with an inkling of inspiration. One boy took pity on me and signaled to me. When I leaned down to talk to him, he whispered to me his idea for a prompt,

“Tell them they’re trapped in the desert, the sun’s sizzling and they look up and see a sand dune that’s made of ice cream.” 

WTF: GQ's "Reading Man's Guide to Dirty Books"

December 2012 GQ Cover - WTF: GQ's [Hey, Mom, you don’t need to read this piece, okay?]

The latest installment in the continuing chronicles of, “OMIGOD! Women are reading about S-E-X! The end of the world is nigh!” comes from in the form of GQ’s unfortunate (print-only) article by Tom Bissell, “A Reading Man’s Guide to Dirty Books.”

Bissell, identified by the magazine as a “connoisseur of the finest literary smut” (he’s actually a professor at Portland State and an expert in video games*), argues,

“The best way to seduce an intelligent woman? It’s shockingly simple, really. Read to her.”

Because, obviously, if the men in intelligent women’s lives aren’t selecting dirty books that said men will then read aloud to their lady friends, those women may make “bad” choices in “trashy” reading materials and who knows what might happen?

Oh, noes! Women may even read “trashy” novels written by women, which chronicle the female experience with a healthy, sex-positive, point-of-view on women’s sexuality. Gasp! 

Sarcasm aside, I think it’s interesting that Bissell advocates removing women from the equation and men literally reading to them “erotic” books written by men (and I’d argue for men) so they can understand and apparently be titillated by sex through the male gaze.

Bissell points specifically and banally to the Fifty Shades of Grey craze as a problematic sex-filled read (apparently, according to Bissell, there is a veritable a “litter” of sequels, not just two—someone tell E.L. James), arguing that the women of the world are picking up these novels for one (extremely sexist) reason. 

“It was then I realized why women across the Western world were firing up their vibrators at the thought of Christian Grey flogging the imbecilic Anastasia Steele. The story was the wand by which E.L. James had transformed the realm’s every mom-jeaned frump into a preciously violated princess. You could argue that we see the male equivalent of this dynamic all the time in sitcoms wherein the pudgy dork cohabits with the curiously hot young wife. The crucial difference is we don’t masturbate to sit-coms.”

I know, y’all, I know

Let’s get this straight: 

  • Women only read Fifty Shades of Grey as masturbatory fodder;
  • Women read Fifty Shades of Grey because it fulfills their frumpy “mom-jeaned” fantasy that they obviously couldn’t achieve in their own lives due to the whole “mom jeans” issue; and
  • This is what Bissell chooses to tell the 75% male readership of GQ about women and their erotic reading “needs.”

Obviously, Bissell is Extremely Alarmed.