January 10, 2008

Booknerdom, Sentient Cars and Other Oddlings

While the Significant Other is narrowing down his PhD project topics, he's started talking with people in the Humanities Advanced Technology And Information Institute at the University, and is leaning heavily toward a project dealing with the ethical philosophy of data management and archiving. Archiving means libraries, and so he may actually take a few library science courses in the course of his studies. Since I always wanted to be a librarian (okay, BIG nerd alert) this is kind of cool to me - Mac is one step closer to being an even bigger booknerd than me!

Libraries on the brain today -- did you know that in the UK, authors can make (a little) money from their books in the library? Public Lending Right, or PLR as its called, is "the right for authors to receive payment under PLR legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries. To qualify for payment, applicants must apply to register their books with us. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK." Isn't this interesting? I wonder if there's any American library equivalent. This certainly encourages a relationship between authors and libraries.

I'm obsessed with book covers. Some of them -- like Laura Ruby's Chaos King are so well done - suffused with color and movement -- and others... like Northlander or Nightwalker leave a bit to be desired in the imaginative design realm, which is unfortunate, because they're both such great books. That's why I like
JacketWhys -- the site combines commentary on covers with mini book reports.

"I’d like to be able to see the past - the bulk of the children and teen book jackets from ten years ago. How often were these techniques used then? What will be the future? The big trend ten years from now?"

It's good to know someone else wonders what's up with some of the strange crop jobs and repeat themes that are dominating cover art. Year before last it was headless females, last year it was head bits and feet. Who knows what this year will bring? Arms? Knees?

The other day, I read that there was to be a musical of The Diary of Anne Frank. I chose not to believe it. However, I read it in the paper, and so I must.

People --

Never mind. There are no words.

A recent conversation with my editor came to mind when I read the Guardian Blog's mini-rant against tidying up children's book reprints. One of the characters in my latest YA-work-in-revision smokes, and while I definitely do not advocate it for young adults - old adults -- monkeys or marsupials, and have never done it, will never do it, and think it's a bad idea all-round -- the character who smokes is seventy-eight or so, and has been in the military. It's something the character DOES - it goes with the time period when they were born, when people still thought that tarring your lungs was a way to lose weight and look cool. Despite the fact that it's a grandparent smoking, my editor gently insists that I change a scene where it's hinted at that the character smokes in a car with teens.

I have no problem with that, but it strikes me as really interesting. This is a trend that started with this publishing company awhile back when they voted to digitally change the picture of the author of Good Night, Moon to erase his cigarette. While I have no problem whatsoever with making this infinitesimal change, I am bothered by the idea that everything I write is meant to stand as an Example to Young People somehow. That's almost a churchy thought; I grew up with the idea that I'm meant to be an Example to the World. It made me paranoid and uncomfortable then, ditto this is publishing terms now. Do the rest of you feel like you're meant, in all ways, to write as an example?

I think of a writer like John Green (whose Nerdfighter "Happy Dance" made me tear up for some weird reason) who was training to be a minister of some sort at one point, and people like Maureen Johnson and Sara Zarr and the myriad others whose work has been sharply criticized for language or content and banned. I wonder if anyone ever really feels just a little like they deserve the slap on the wrist for their book content... I mean, it follows if we believe that we really are Examples to the Young...

I don't know. I am so anti-smoking, it's not even funny. But I also don't really expect teens to pick up on a habit someone from who is a.) old, b.) scary c.)and in a book, for goodness sakes.

What struck me even harder is that an underage character in the novel has a drink ... and my editor didn't say a word. Not one.

What strange mortals we be. What strange morals have we.

Don't mind me, though, I'm still having a lot of "hmm" moments from my last editorial letter. My editor's mind works so differently than mine, and that's why I love her. She's given me lots and lots to think about.

Oh, now this is painful... Knight Rider... lives. What is it with resurrecting every single bad sci-fi show from my childhood? Somewhere, someone is reshooting Automan. *Shudder.*


Kelly said...

Boy, that's going to be a booknerd household! I think it's wonderful :)

The funny thing about book covers...I've always disliked the Ruby ones like the one you pictured here. I understand it's a good cover--the movement is particularly strong--but I don't like the colors at all.

I think my favorites are the Inkheart series. I like that faux gilt, "fancy book" thing when I think like my tween girl self. As an adult, I don't like covers at all and take off the jackets at the first opportunity.

tanita✿davis said...

Interestingly enough, I don't like MY cover, even though its colorful and very Art Deco -- and I'd definitely agree I liked the Ruby one more on technical design points than my middle grade self picking it up to read it. I'm not a book-by-cover judge much anyway; I tend to be a flyleaf person. Since editors write those most of the time, not authors, that can be a dicey way to make a book choice, too!

And, like you, I remove all covers from hardbacks ASAP!

divatobe said...

When I move, the first thing I do is get a library card and having worked in libraries for five years, I don't think that's nerdy at all. !

I love the idea of an author fee at the library--at the rate I read books (for free), it would be nice if the author benefited.

Isn't it sad that we might walk by a fabulous book because we don't like the cover? But I will admit, I won't even pick up some books because I dislike the font or the colour. Ridiculous, I know.

Saints and Spinners said...

"What is it with resurrecting every single bad sci-fi show from my childhood?"

I just want my Wonder Woman movie. Of course, I want it to be written by Joss Whedon, and I want Gina Torres to be Diana Prince. Is that so much to ask???

tanita✿davis said...

LOOK, Chica, they're doing The Bionic Woman. What more can you ask for?!

Sara Z. said...

I sometimes might feel a tiny bit conflicted when it comes to writing about characters doing something that I think is Wrong or Not Ideal, but it's one of those "serve the story" things and I do think about context a LOT. When it comes to the iffier stuff, context is king, IMHO. And really, I have not received a single direct complaint about the content in Story of a Girl. A few comments like, "Oh, I couldn't use it in my class, but I think it's great" type of things but nothing horrified.

For me, I wouldn't say my church guilt ever whispers to me that I deserve a slap on the wrist, and I don't really get caught up in the feeling like "I must be an example" thing, but that said I don't blame people who choose not to recommend the book for content reasons. When I am in my current home state of Utah, I sometimes find myself actually talking people out of buying my book once they describe the potential recipient. If some nice soccer mom picks up the book and says, "My daughter is an 11-year-old Girl Scout," I say, "Oh, no. No no. Maybe in three years." (Maybe never.)

Honestly, I think I squeaky clean book that has no soul or seems to advocate selfishness or shallowness or something is something parents should be way more concerned about than a "content questionable" book that has an overall vision of something worthwhile. Of course, "worthwhile" is subjective, so...

I've always been appalled that "America's Funniest Home Videos" has been the highest rated "family" show for sooo long when it's mostly about laughing at people and animals being frightened, hurt, or humiliated. I just think people have decided (or have always believed?) that "clean" is synonymous with "good" or even "moral," and that's just not true.

This comment is almost as long as your post! Sorry! This is what self-Googling leads to...

Sarah Stevenson said...

Great insights--I completely agree with your last two paragraphs, about the meaning of worthwhile or good vs. content questionable. (And about America's Funniest Home Videos--argh.) Thanks for cruising by, Sara!

And, TadMack, I have to tell you, I am a total book cover person--but then, for years, I wanted to be an illustrator of book covers...so I can't help but judge the cover. I try not to let that affect my judgment of the book, though! ;)

tanita✿davis said...

Wow, Sara Z., that's what I get for taking your name in vain (as it were)!

I tend to waver between the idea that if you're not offending someone with your work, something's wrong (that's often the prevailing opinion in MFA programs), and the idea that I shouldn't flaunt what isn't Ideal or A Good Idea. I do think serving the story is the most important consideration, AND keeping in mind that something offends everyone -- I'm sure there will be offense enough from my work! I think my fear is being thought of as tame in this arena.

And YEAH do I agree about that stupid home video show... odd how the culture skews towards violence and humiliation being fine, but please, don't let anyone seem to enjoy anything physical. That is strangely imbalanced.

Little Willow said...

Quick note to say: I too am anti-smoking to the point that I get tense even when I see it in a movie/TV show or read it in a book.

Brian Farrey said...

Is it wrong to think Automan was hot?

Chuck Wagner, people. C'mon.

I'm missing the point of the post. Aren't I?

tanita✿davis said...

*rolling, shrieking with laughter*

Okay, FINE. He was HOT. But I was, like, eleven. SO I had QUESTIONABLE TASTE, Brian. QUESTIONABLE taste.