Category Archives: Reading

Parental Discretion Advised

A couple of days ago, Twitter was buzzing with tweets about banned
books. I read Nathan Bransford’s post about “where is the line between
parental discretion and censorship?
” and I agree with some commenters
that it should be parents who help kids decide what reading material
is appropriate. Removing books from the shelves because someone is
afraid her kid will happen upon a racy book — where racy is defined
by someone who may not have the same values as I do — prevents me from reading that book. Please don’t prevent me from reading stuff.

Parental discretion, when it comes to reading material and life
experiences, is obviously important. But I struggle with how much
sheltering is too much sheltering. For example, a couple of years
back, I was reading one of the Little House books aloud to my kids. At some point, the Ingalls’ dog was swept away by a raging river and presumed dead. I wanted to protect my kids from this devastating loss, so I skipped that part. Imagine my horror when the dog came back. My kids wondered why everyone was so happy to see him, when in their experience, he had never disappeared. I admitted that I’d skipped the dog’s drowning and they asked me not to skip things.

I was similarly concerned when I heard about a sad ending to one of
the Harry Potter books. My husband had been reading the series to my
daughter since she was in kindergarten and I knew she was attached to
the characters. I strongly advised my husband to figure out some way
to avoid reading that book. Distract her with another series. Buy her
a pony. But he read the book. And while my daughter was sad, she
didn’t have nearly the meltdown I’d expected. They talked about the
loss and moved on to the next book.

Now that both my kids are reading — and if I may brag, both have the
reading ability of kids three to five years older than they are — I’m
put in a position to balance reading level with material. That is, my
daughter can read at a ninth-grade level, but she’s certainly not
mature enough, as a 10-year-old, to read books written for high
schoolers. Luckily, since my kids can’t drive, their visits to the
library are supervised. They aren’t in a position to obtain grossly
inappropriate books — yet. But as a teenager, I found ways to get my
hands on that stuff and I’m sure you did, too. What then? A bridge I’m
not looking forward to crossing. I hope to cross it, however, without
the help of book-banning zealots.

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Useless Status Update Thursday

I almost didn’t write this because I’d rather see a useless Facebook status update from someone I like than no update at all. And I am certainly guilty of posting useless updates from time to time (all the time). But griping about useless status updates is a hobby of mine. I can’t resist writing about them on Useless Adjective Thursday.

8 Useless Updates, in no particular order

Darlene… is waiting on Tim : I wonder if “waiting on” is even legitimate grammar. She doesn’t mean she’s a waitress and she’s serving dinner to Tim. She means she’s sitting in her car waiting FOR Tim. Also, this is possibly the most boring status update ever, because she’s bored, which makes us bored.

Billy Bob… is glad it’s Friday! (see also: thank God it’s Friday, I’m so glad it’s Friday, it is finally Friday, only one more day until Friday, and only two more days until Friday) : While TGIF status updates are not useless in and of themselves, they are overused — grossly — and therefore their meaning is diluted, rendering them useless.

Jeannie… has a case of the Mondays! (see also: I wish it were Friday, I can’t believe it’s already Monday, I hate Mondays, and why can’t it be Friday?) : Diluted. See above.

Lisa… Wow! It is a beautiful day! : Weather-related status updates are not necessarily useless. But “beautiful” weather could be anything. Give me a visual, people. I like picturing my various friends in various locations enjoying various climates. But one man’s beautiful is another man’s… not beautiful. Throw us a bone.

Jim… is tired (see also: exhausted, sleepy, and needs a nap) : Boring.

Any and every update with “AI” (American Idol) in the text.

Sara… needs coffee (see also: is drinking coffee, loves coffee, wants more coffee, can’t wait to have coffee, mmm coffee)  Alert: writing about coffee and your need for it is overused and flirts with useless.

Any and every update with Yum! appended to it. : Unnecessary. I assume your food is “Yummy!” or you wouldn’t be bothering to update your status with a description of it.

Juno… is relaxed (see also: is relaxing, is chillin’, and my least favorite: is chillaxin’) : I need more (and eliminate chillaxin’ altogether, please). Are you relaxing while watching Rescue Me with a glass of wine? Are you relaxing while sitting on your back porch shooting rats as they run along your fence? Give me something I can sink my teeth into here.

Perspective: Get Some

As a technical writer, I have a lot of anxiety about releasing documentation with errors. Sometimes I lie awake and wonder if I should have had another person review the godforsaken diagram I’ve been toiling with for two months. The diagram chases me through my dreams. (And I have reason to believe that I haven’t seen the last of that bastard.)

This weekend, I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is about Krakauer’s disastrous expedition to the top of Everest during which an unusually large number of people died. At the beginning of the story, the author laments that when he returned from the trip — badly shaken, of course — he had to get right to work pounding out the contracted 17,000-word article detailing the tragic adventure for Outside magazine, who paid for the trip. Under the wire, he bungled some facts and made a major error that he says caused a lot of pain to the family of one of the deceased.

Now let’s discuss what’s worse: falsely representing the events surrounding the death a person who perished on Mount Everest during the deadliest season on the mountain vs. incorrectly labeling an arrow on a diagram in a software manual that 27 people might read.

Perspective. I have some now.

Useless Adjective Thursday: A Fun Use of a Boring Adverb

Last night, I was finishing Brave New World and came upon this sentence:

“Nice tame animals, anyhow,” the Controller murmured parenthetically. “Why don’t you let them see Othello instead?”

I love this unexpected use of an adverb that would normally put one to sleep. (Parenthetically is frequently used in this context: “Page references are cited parenthetically in the text.” Zzzzzzzzzz.)

The author of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, loved parenthetically so much that he used it twice within a few pages. The second reference was less entertaining, but still fun:

“There was a man called Cardinal Newman,” he said. “A cardinal,” he exclaimed parenthetically, “was a kind of Arch-Community-Songster.”

For the record, Brave New World doesn’t have a place on my “read it again” shelf. I acknowledge the brilliance and eeriness of Huxley’s predictions for our future, but I wasn’t too engaged in the story, for whatever reason.

Are you using Swaptree?

You should: http://www.swaptree.com

This is a useful site if your parents-in-law are super-fast readers who blow through mass-market fiction and leave stacks of nearly-new paperbacks in your guest room.

I only trade books that I don’t really like, so that limits the selection of books I can receive. If I were to trade all the once-read favorites on my bookshelf, I’d expand my trading choices quite a bit.

Went in the mail Saturday: Marley and Me
Receiving in exchange: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Going in the mail today: Best Friends
Receiving in exchange: Into the Wild

Overused Modifier Thursday

painfully thin

Stephen King used this descriptor in The Green Mile, which I read this week. I was all, “Really? Painfully thin? Are you sure?” But I imagine that someone who has written as many millions of words as King has must run out of modifiers at some point.

Interestingly, he followed painfully thin with a less-cliched description that could’ve replaced it altogether, something like, “He was painfully thin, as if recovering from a long illness.” I have to admit I forgave his placement of the overused modifier upon reading the long illness part.

Inappropriate Love Scene Terminology Tuesday

You should be familiar by now with my hatred of The Russian Concubine. Unfortunately — but not unexpectedly — the novel includes several “love scenes.” One of these “love scenes” contained a word so offensive, so inappropriate, that it deserves its own blog post.

Spoiler alert: sometime in the last 1/4 of the story, the non-concubine Russian girl and the non-concubine Chinese guy have sex. The scene is repulsive from many angles. For one thing, just three days before, the Russian girl had dragged the Chinese guy out of a roofless hovel, where he was covered in maggots and minutes from death. Three days before. Hardly time enough to get over the maggot factor, but even if the girl could push that image from her mind, the man probably should have spent his scant resources on building enough strength to run from bad guys — or walk to the bathroom.

At some point during the gruesome and improbable love scene, the author describes one of the girl’s movements. The word she chooses: bucked.

Here is where I submit that one should never buck during a love scene.