Why Self Publishing Is Harder Than People Think

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Since Beautiful was published I’ve had several conversations with people who seem to think that self publishing is easier than traditional publishing. Having never published a novel traditionally,  I can’t say with any authority which is more difficult. However, I can say that self publishing is way more difficult than many people assume.

You need to do a lot of research.

  • Unless you happen to be a writer who can also format for print and ebook, design a book cover, self-edit, proofread, market and promote a release, you’re going to need other people, and resources.
  • Need an editor? What kind of edit do you need? Developmental? Line edit? Copy edit? You need to do research to understand the differences, and evaluate potential editors.
  • You need to know your genre. What do readers expect? Yes, sometimes pushing the limits and playing with expectations can be welcome. But sometimes it can make readers feel betrayed: like they paid for something and you didn’t deliver. That leads to bad feelings and bad reviews.
  • What do book covers in your genre look like? If your book cover doesn’t have certain elements it may not find its intended audiences.
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You need other eyes on your manuscript. With traditional publishing this is something that the publishing company will provide. With self publishing, you are once again on your own.

  • Beta readers- When I write a manuscript it goes through several rounds of betas. I write a draft, self-edit and revise, send it off to betas and get feedback. Then I revise again and repeat the process a few times. By the time I send it to an editor it’s been through a lot of beta reading. With Beautiful, I sent it to several Betas just before publication as well.
  • Sensitivity readers- Depending on the subject matter of your book this might be a very good idea. More info on that here.
  • Editors- Yes, you need them. You can and should self edit, taking some time and getting some distance can help, but you can’t see your own work objectively. Sometimes great editors are also writers, but not always. Also, depending on the kind of edit you need, you might seek out different people.
  • Formatting- The last thing that you need is write a beautiful book, take time to edit it and get it into great shape and then have an ebook that malfunctions, or a print copy with repeating pages. Yes, you can learn to do this yourself. I found it very complicated and since it’s not my forte, I had someone else do it.

You need a professional cover. Again this isn’t optional. Readers judge books by the cover. We’re told not to and we do it anyway. Fortunately there are a lot of cover designers out there, so depending on budget you have options.

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You need money. Everything I’ve just mentioned comes with a price tag. A traditional publisher won’t charge you for editing (if they do it’s a red flag, you need to do more research to make sure this is legit!) or cover design, but as a self publisher, you need to hire freelancers to do it. Each one will tell you that that’s the most important thing to spend money on. You need to figure out what you budget is for this project and how to allocate it. Then you can figure out ways to cut costs. Instead if a custom designed cover, you can use a premade cover. Some editors will allow you to pay over time, or figure out a way to trade services (ie: if you help me set up my new website, I’ll give you a free developmental edit.) Many people find free beta readers on goodreads or facebook. But budgeting comes down to figuring out what you need and prioritizing, which takes even more research.  It may also mean some degree of labor, if you work out trades.

You need to market your book, promote it, and sell it. All of this just covers what goes into making a book a book. I haven’t even gone into a discussion of promoting and marketing a book once it’s released! That’s yet another task that falls to self-published author.

I think a lot of people hear the words “self publish” and assume that you’re uploading a word doc with your manuscript to kindle. Which, is what some people do, I’m sure. But many self published authors put a lot of effort into making a product that is high quality and professional. Most of those authors don’t come from a publishing background. They learn on the job and with limited resources.  Just because they’ve bypassed the traditional publishing system (there are many reasons for doing this!) doesn’t mean that they’re taking the easy way, by any stretch of the imagination. Self-published authors deserve a lot of respect for the investment (in terms of money, time, energy, and emotion) they put into each book. So next time someone tells you that they’ve self published, give them the respect that they deserve!

I’ve Been…

  • Going through a career change. Teaching was so draining that I felt like I didn’t have the energy for anything else: writing, a social life, etc. I’m doing content writing and curriculum development now. It’s been an adjustment. It still is, but I’m starting to feel a bit more confident. I’m nervous even writing that because I don’t want to jinx myself!
  • Slowly working my way through beta feedback on Frozen Heart. It’s always difficult opening yourself up to criticism, and in a way, beta feedback and editing is like going to someone and saying “please rip this apart” and then cringing while they do. The most painful feedback often ends up being the most helpful though. One beta reader was very critical of this draft of Frozen Heart but I think she also pointed out some issues that I’m glad that someone noticed before I published it. But it’s hard get yourself in the right headspace to tackle those criticisms.
  • Writing some short stories. I haven’t really decided what to do with them yet, but for some reason I had several ideas that lent themselves to short fiction (not my usual medium)
  • Discovering the joy of “have done” lists. I’ve never liked keeping “to do” lists. It feels daunting to see everything you  haven’t done yet listed in front of you. I feel like I’ll never get it done. But when I keep a list of things I have done I feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Even if the things I put on aren’t major things, seeing them written down gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’ve even started doing things that I’ve been putting off because it means I’ll get to write it down on my list!
  •  

    Reading good books. In addition to my Persephone Readathon reads (Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski and Flush by Virginia Woolf, both of which I recommend highly) I’ve recently enjoyed:

  • Binge watching
    • Schitt’s Creek– How have I not seen this show before now? It’s silly but it’s great for turning off your brain and having a laugh.
    • The OA – Weird. Very weird.
    • A Discovery of Witches– I definitely liked it better than the book (which had too much filler) but it’s still not my cup of tea.
    • Bodyguard– I’d had this as a “to watch” for a while but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Glad I finally did.

Are Classics Still Relevant For Young Readers?

The short answer, for me, is a resounding yes.  But this is my blog, so I’m not going to limit myself to a short answer!

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I participated in a twitter discussion about this question the other day. At the time, the question was specifically around teens and whether they should be encouraged to read classic fiction. But I think that my answer to the question applies to adults and children as well. While I’m sure there are exceptions to this (I suppose you could try to find something so dated that it has no relevant application to today. But why bother with that?) I find that most classics are considered classics because they have an emotional resonance that goes beyond their historical and geographic setting.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_One example used in the discussion was Anne of Green Gables, which, if you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you’ll know is a favorite of mine. I’ll use it as an example, but what I say is applicable of other books as well. On the surface Anne’s experience doesn’t look like that of most contemporary children or teens. She lives on an island in Canada in the early years of the 20th century. What could that have to say to a contemporary LGBT reader? Or a Latinx teen in 2019? Well, for one thing, she’s a foster child trying to create a home for herself.  That desire for home isn’t limited to foster children. There are plenty of kids who don’t find the acceptance and support that they need in their family homes and seek it elsewhere. Really, what Anne is trying to find is love, acceptance, friendship, and family. Contemporary readers of all backgrounds can cheer her on as she creates that environment for herself and builds the family she seeks.

But surely today’s teens are from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Classics tend to reflect a limited demographic, you might argue. To that, I say absolutely. Historically the voices of certain demographics have been privileged to the exclusion of others. Unfortunately that is still true today to some extent, though there is, thankfully, more of an effort to include diverse voices contemporary literature. That’s one of the reasons that  I don’t think that people should be encouraged to read only classics. I think that it’s important that contemporary fiction reflects and represents our diverse society. I would encourage anyone to read widely from a variety of authors. Some of those authors may come from similar backgrounds to the reader. Others may come from very different backgrounds.

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_I think that reading in this way shows us what is universal. It can allow us to empathize and make connections on that basis. A teen from a marginalized background might think s/he has nothing in common with a character from Little Women or Tom Sawyer or The Secret Garden. But while their experience of the world may be vastly different, chances are they’ve felt loneliness, grief, frustration or the drive to create a better future for themselves.

81j9qbimjjl._ac_ul436_Likewise, someone from a privileged background might think that reading contemporary fiction that highlights marginalized voices and issues of privilege doesn’t offer anything relevant. But again, that’s not true.  Novels like The Hate U Give and The Poet X deal with the African American and Latinx experience respectively. But a white teen might still relate to the way that the heroine of The Poet X, Xiomara, deals with body shaming, parental pressure, and lack of autonomy. A white teen  reader of The Hate U Give might never have felt fear in the presence of police when they know they’ve done nothing wrong. But that same kid might still be able to relate to the pressure that the heroine faces from her family and friends, to her torn loyalties. Those commonalities can create a bridge. If a character that’s different from a reader still rings true the reader can begin to open his/her mind to someone else’s experience.

Sometimes we need to point out those commonalities. But I think that kids see them for themselves more often than we realize. The problem is that often kids and teens are told that certain books aren’t “for” them. Instead of doing that, lets give young readers (or all readers!) the context to enjoy fiction that depicts someone else’s experience. Because we all experience the world differently. But if we can teach empathy we can make that world much better for everyone.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The above quote is from Albert Einstein. He was a fairly intelligent fellow himself.

白雪姫のクリップアート princess Snow White Disney cartoon イラスト素材22

Last week, @theorangutanlibrarian shared this article (Five reasons to stop reading your children fairytales now) along with some humorous responses as to why it was absurd. But even though the advice in the article is troubling, people listen. Keira Knightly and Kristen Bell are among the people who have listened to this advice. While I think that looking at artistic/literary material through a critical lens is always worthwhile, I think that this trend  is troubling because the lens through which it looks at the material is flawed.

Yes, there are troubling, sexist tropes in Disney films and in the fairy tales on which they’re based. But banning them is not the answer. For one thing, forbidding children to read/watch something is just guaranteeing that it will be more interesting to them. Have people really not figured that out by now? Children will seek it out, especially if it’s something as universal and commonly referenced as fairy tales. But if they seek it out themselves, parents will have lost the opportunity to make those troubling elements explicit and discuss them with kids. Instead of having that critical lens, the children will only have the lens that’s given to them in the story/adaptation.

But beyond that, some of out problems with these stories come more from perception. I discussed that a bit in this post.  You could look at Cinderella as a  girl who waits around for a prince to save her. Or you could look at her a survivor of an abusive environment, who never loses her characteristic good nature. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she’s kind to even the lowliest mice. Why not highlight that when a child wants to read/watch Cinderella? Maybe speculate as to why her stepmothers and stepsisters would be so cruel to her (are they in pain? was someone cruel to them?). Present it as a story about the ways that people respond to cruelty.  Point out that while Cinderella was tormented by her step family she had the loyalty of all those to whom she’d been kind.  Point out that her stepmother wanted one of her daughters to marry the prince, and that she could have had that if she accepted Cinderella as her daughter. Show them that it’s better to be kind even when it doesn’t seem like a reward is imminent.

The same can be done for other fairy tales. Yes, you could see The Little Mermaid as a woman who changes who she is to impress a guy. But you could look at her as someone who was so fascinated by another culture that she she made sacrifices to live among them. Snow White could be seen as a foolish girl who takes gifts from strangers. But you could also see her as someone who escaped a threatening situation. She was a princess who had probably never worked a day in her life, and in order to survive, she rolls up her sleeves and takes a job cooking and cleaning for seven men. Is it troubling that men kiss sleeping/comatose women in these stories? Point that out to kids! They can understand from an early age that touch is only OK with consent.

But there are so many fairy tales out there in which a female character takes an active, even heroic role. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle saves her father by going to live with the Beast. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the princess goes on a quest to rescue her prince. In The Snow Queen the girl travels to the frozen north to save her male friend. In The Six Swans the princess endures years of silence and hardship to free her brothers from a curse. In Hansel and Gretel, Gretel outsmarts the witch and saves her brother. Disney hasn’t adapted all of these as films, but there are other adaptations out there. Why stop with Disney? Why not expose children to all that fairy tales have to offer?

Frozen may be loosely based on The Snow Queen but it changed a lot. If you have a kid who enjoyed Frozen maybe read the original story with them. Check out some of the more faithful film adaptations. There’s the 1950’s Russian cartoon that was dubbed in English by Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk.  Or check out the 2002 miniseries with Bridget Fonda in the tile role.

If they like Frozen, introduce them to another wintery fairy tale with a kick-ass heroine. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon we see the princess go on a long quest to save the prince.  While there’s no Disney film, there is a live action film adaptation called The Polar Bear King. Compare it to the story. Compare the heroine of this story to Gerda in The Snow Queen. Ask your kids who they think is braver?

There are several film adaptations of Hansel and Gretel. The 1987 Cannon Movie Tales film with Cloris Leachmann is fairly child friendly.  There’s also a 2003 film featuring Lynn Redgrave. Or why not introduce your kids to opera while you’re at it? This film uses stop-action animation with Kineman dolls (a precursor to claymation) and lavish sets as a backdrop for Englebert Humperdinck’s opera.

Actually some of the fairy tales with female agency are ripe for adaptation. This was the only film version of The Six Swans that I could find!

And why limit your kids to the traditional Western canon? There’s a whole world of cultures that have their own fairy tales. Some of those are thematically similar to the ones that we’re familiar with. Do some research and draw parallels with kids. Appreciate the diverse world in which we live!

My point is that instead of conflating Disney’s fairy tale films with fairy tales in general, separate the adaptation from its source. Kids can appreciate from a very young age that there is more than one way to tell a story. Introduce them to stories that Disney hasn’t yet adapted to show that there are many values that are espoused in fairy tales, not  just the ones that get mainstream adaptations. Let them watch Disney films. Point out the good in them and make the bad explicit too. Instead of banning things that are difficult, raise your kids to be critical thinkers. Don’t just “throw out” stories that have endured for generations.

 

 

 

What’s The Good News? (Part 2)

Because I needed some good news and I thought others might too:

  • Kim Smith started A Chance To Dance to allow children with special need and health issues to take an inclusive dance class

  • 70 year old Pat Smith spent a year clearing plastic off 52 beaches in England. It was her 2018 New Year’s Resolution, and she spent each week on a different beach of trash.
  • Kraft opened a free grocery store in Washington DC for government workers who  are not getting paid during the shutdown. Workers need identification and the store will be open Jan. 16 through Sunday, Jan. 20  at 1287 4th Street NE, two blocks from Union Market. More information is available here.
  • 13 year old Jaequan Faulkner opened a hot dog stand outside his house so that he could earn some money. When the Minneapolis Department of Health got a complaint, instead of shutting him down health inspectors chipped in $87 to get the boy a permit so that his stand could be licensed. They also contacted the  Northside Economic Opportunity Network who gave Jaequan pointers on running a business and keeping his stand clean. Jaequan plans to donate some of his earnings to charities that aid people with depression.
  • Tiger populations are rebounding all over the world, but Nepal is leading the way. They’ve doubled their estimated number of wild tigers in the country over the past ten years.
  • The Drama Book Shop in NYC has been a beloved landmark of the theater world for over a hundred years. It even won  an  honorary Tony Award in 2011 for services to theater. They were set to shut down due to expensive rents. But Lin-Manuel Miranda bought out the bookstore and will be reopening it in a different location later this year.
  • Lenny White, a barber in Northern Ireland, set up an old fashioned barber shop in a dementia care home. He plays music from Dean Martin and Elvis Presley, he has a barber pole and an old fashioned apron, and he chats with the men as he gives a shave or a haircut. The patients become relaxed and cheerful and some even sing and dance to the music as they wait their turn. Word spread to other care facilities and now White travels around the UK providing this service.
  • Arthur O. Eve School 61 in Buffalo NY, decided to address the city’s low literacy rate, by providing free books in a vending machine. When the machine was shown on twitter, a number of children’s authors offered to donate copies of their books.
  • The Lego Foundation has given Sesame Workshop a $100 million grant to provide play based learning to children affected by the Ronhinga and Syrian refugee crises. Sesame Workshop will partner with Bangladesh-based BRAC, the world’s largest non-governmental development organisation, the International Rescue Committee and New York University’s Global TIES for Children. They plan to use the grant to develop a number of projects including the following:
    • Scaling up BRAC’s network of Play Labs to address the developmental needs of children ages birth to six from Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host populations.
    • New Sesame Street videos, storybooks, games, puzzles and more featuring the Muppets to foster engagement between children and their caregivers, nurture developmental needs and build resilience for young children.
    • Sesame Workshop will create videos starring the Muppets – focused on play – to be shared through family-friendly mobile and pop-up viewings in refugee and host communities.

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      Children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian refugee crises will receive storybooks, games videos and puzzle featuring characters from the TV show
      — Photo credit: Sesame Workshop

Evaluating Last Year’s Resolutions

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Every year I write down my resolutions. It keeps me accountable.  So how did I do in 2018? Let’s see:

  • Continue to write on a regular basis and finish my second novel. Also, I will think of a title for my second novel.

I’ve finished the first draft of my second novel. Does that count? I probably should have specified if “finish” mean a draft or the whole thing! The working title is “Frozen Heart” but that may change because I’m not sure if I like it.

  • Publish Beautiful this summer.

  • Make more of an effort to submit my writing to publications and to publish my work in general.

I’m combining these two because publishing Beautiful was a Big Deal. It was a lot of work! I did submit my writing to a few other publications and I had a story published in Z Publishing’s New York’s Emerging Writers anthology, and I’ll have an essay about indie publishing in an upcoming magazine, but a lot of my time and focus was devoted to publishing Beautiful.

  • Continue to bother my elected officials on regular basis about issues that I feel are important. Also look for other ways to make a positive impact on the world.  Fight for what I believe in.

I certainly bother my elected officials regularly and I encourage others to do so as well. More information about that is available here. I encouraged people to register and vote this past November, and I have tried to put more positive energy out there in different ways. Sometimes in something as small as a blog post even. One thing that has frustrated me in the past is that I don’t have enough disposable income to give to causes that I find important, so the discovery of the Charity Miles app was really great for me. It uses corporate sponsors to contribute to charity for every mile I log running, walking, biking etc.  This has allowed me to work toward fitness goals and help several organizations including She’s The First, Save The Children, World Food Programme, Operation Smile and Charity: Water.  The app is free and I recommend it highly. Remember that with both exercise and charity, doing anything at all is better than doing nothing.

  • Get out and be more social. I tend to be a homebody, which is fine sometimes, but I do value my relationships with my friends and my family and I want to do more with them in 2018.

This is something I need to continue to work on in 2019! Not that I was antisocial this year, but when you’ve had a long week sometimes it’s tempting to just stay in over the weekend with a good book, some take out, and Netflix. But I feel like investing in relationships is worth the effort it sometimes takes.

  • Don’t be afraid of leaving my comfort zone (or rather, be afraid but do it anyway!) Try new things. Be open to new adventures.

My first instinct is to say that I didn’t do this, but then I realized that I’m going through a career transition that’s scary but will hopefully lead me to somewhere positive and productive. So I guess I’ve been braver than I thought this year!

  • Try to relax and enjoy things more. Don’t analyse every detail of everything and try to plan for all possible outcomes. Go with the flow more, and enjoy the present.

OK now this is something that I need to work on! I did relax and enjoy at times in 2018 but I am still very much a worrier at heart. So this is a resolution that I’ll need to renew!

I’ll post my 2019 resolutions in a few days.

How did you do on last year’s resolutions?

A Bit More Shameless Self Promotion

I promise not to do this again for a while!

Firstly, I’m pleased to share that Beautiful is included in Enchanted Quill Press’ Festive Fairytale & Fantasy Book Fair. If you haven’t read Beautiful yet, it’s a lovely way to escape the stress of the holiday season. It’s free for Kindle Unlimited customers and only $2.99 for an ebook. Also, check out some of the other amazing books that are included in this promotion.

Festive Book Fair Image

Also, today I skyped with a middle school class that is learning about fairy tales and retellings. I remember a few occasions when authors came to my school and spoke to my class. It was always such a thrill for me to feel like someone who had actually created a book was taking the time to answer my questions. Today, I was about ten times as thrilled to answer some of the questions that these kids posed. I don’t imagine they were as thrilled as I was to have me there, but they asked some great questions and I really enjoyed talking to them as an author. I suppose that I don’t feel like an author most of the time. Usually I don’t identify myself as an author unless I’m writing (and sometimes not even then) so it was a bit odd to talk to people who know me only by a book I’ve written. Odd but exciting!

What’s The Good News?

With a few exceptions, it definitely feels like the news is pretty bad. Actually between floods, fires, shootings, bombings and more, turning on the TV or glancing at a newspaper has felt a bit like bracing myself for an attack. So I decided to collect small bits of good news as I find them. A lot of the time they’re not huge things. But they’re small ways that people are being kind and helpful to one another and seeing them reminds me that there’s still good in the world. So I decided to share a few in the hopes of brightening the spirits of others a bit:

  • This celebrity hair stylist gives free haircuts to the homeless. Sometimes a small change in appearance can make a  big difference in someone’s life:
  • Rosa’s Fresh Pizza serves 50-100 free slices to the homeless every day due to small donations from customers. $1=1 slice.
  • https3a2f2fblogs-images-forbes-com2ftrevornace2ffiles2f20182f092foceancleanfeatured-2The world’s largest Ocean Clean Up has officially begun. This $20 Million system aims to clean up, reuse and recycle the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

 

  •   4 year old Austin Perine uses his allowance to feed the homeless.
  • 181030103100-southampton-bookshop-human-chain-exlarge-169October Books, a small nonprofit bookshop on England’s south coast, was forced to relocate after a rent increase. They were able to buy another space, just down the road, but relocating their stock furniture and shelving was a potentially expensive enterprise. So 250 local volunteers formed a human chain moving what they needed to by hand.
  • When this little boy’s sister got hit by a basketball she started to cry. He immediately gave her a hug and a kiss and then told her “you’re strong,” gave the ball back to her and lifted her up to help her dunk the ball.
  • This lady was trying to pay for gas with pennies. Some guys noticed, and gave her the cash that she needed to pay for it. She burst into tears at the offer, telling them that her husband had just died and she wasn’t usually like this. When she asked how she could repay them, they told her to “pay it forward”.
  • Donut City in Seal Beach California has opened at 4:30 am, every day for almost 30 years. When owner John Chhan’s wife, Stella suffered a brain aneurysm, she began the long path to recovery. He continued to run the shop by himself but got back to Stella ASAP. When his customers learned about the situation they bought more donuts and pastries earlier in the day, so that John could get home to Stella sooner. Sometimes he is even able to close the shop by 10am.
  • I posted this a few weeks ago, but the Charity Miles app uses corporate sponsorship to donate to charities for every mile you walk/run/bike/dance etc. Not only does the exercise make you healthier, but it’s all for a good cause. You can choose from over 40 charities that help children, animals, the environment, health and more. You can change the charity you fund-raise for whenever you want.

I guess the point of this post is to remind people that even though the news is bleak sometimes and absolutely devastating at other times, there are kind people out there, who put good out into the world in big ways and small. Sometimes just seeing it and sharing it, can make you feel a bit better.

Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction That Taught Me Something New

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 28: Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.)

Since I did a list of favorite novels with a school setting last year, I thought I’d do something different this year, so I decided to go with nonfiction that I enjoyed and learned from. In some cases they made me reconsider what I already knew and in others they showed me something new and different:

1.419t0xt8ill-_ac_us218_ Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly– I definitely don’t agree with all of Kelly’s analyses. I think that she sometimes falls victim to confirmation bias. But I do think that her assertion that Austen’s many contemporary fans don’t appreciate the context of her work has some merit. Obviously that’s a very general statement that doesn’t apply to everyone. But Austen did use a lot of references and allusions with which her contemporary audience would have been familiar, and that twenty first century audiences are not.  In some cases this lack of familiarity with things a reader in the early nineteenth century would know, contributes to Austen’s work being misunderstood.

2.51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_ The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shalin- In this book Leonard Shalin looks at the connection between words/images and the masculine/feminine sides of the human brain. The left brain is aligned with thought that is traditionally thought of as “masculine” (analysis, logic), whereas the right brain is aligned with thought that is traditionally ascribed to the “feminine” (intuition, expression). For roughly the past two thousand years we’ve placed greater value on the masculine, left brained thought.  This is the thought used to acquire language and use text based forms of communication. These last two millennia have also seen worldwide violence and patriarchy. Prior to that, there were more matriarchal, image based cultures that had a more peaceful, holistic lifestyle. Does correlation equal causation? I don’t know. The book certainly lays out some compelling connections for the reader to consider.

3. 51-m4zoalgl-_ac_us218_Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang- Author Jung Chang explores twentieth century China through the lens of three generations of women in her family. Her grandmother was a warlord’s concubine. Her mother was once an idealistic young Communist who, along with her husband rose to a prominent position within the party before being denounced by the Cultural Revolution.  Chang herself worked as a “barefoot doctor,” as well as a steel worker and an electrician before leaving China and becoming Director of Chinese Studies at London University. From the perspective of these three very different women we see Chinese history unfold over the course of a century from the end of the warlord’s regime, to the Japanese occupation, to the struggles between the Kuomintang and the Communists, and ultimately the making of modern China.

51bnothhkhl-_ac_us218_4. The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller– This is not a good book to read if you want a biography of the Brontes. However, if you’re interested in the ways that they’ve been presented to world and how that’s affected the reading of their work, this is an interesting book. Miller points out that different generations of readers and different audiences (Victorian, Freudian, feminist,) have ascribed different characteristics to them and their work. The bulk of the analysis focuses on Charlotte which makes sense because she was not only the most prolific of the sisters, she also lived the longest (she died at the ripe, old age of thirty eight) and was the most public. But her presentation of herself and her sisters had its own motivations. I would have liked a bit more about her siblings, even though there is far less information to draw from. Still this is an interesting read for any Bronte fan and gives a lot to look for to anyone planning a reread.

51qwilbijl-_ac_us218_5. Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki- I enjoyed Memoirs of A Geisha when I first read it, but in retrospect I’m glad that I read it at a point in my life when I was less critical and that I read it before reading this. Mineko Iwasaki, one of Japan’s most celebrated and successful geisha, gives her actual memoirs in the book.  She lays out her painstaking training (try wearing a 44 lb kimono on top of six inch wooden sandals!)  learning to sing, dance, and speak an elevated form of the Japanese language.  She also explains her decision to retire at the age of twenty nine, marry, and her surprise at the way that westerners perceive what she did as a geisha. It’s a refreshingly real glimpse into a rare world and a fading art.

51xeychg8vl-_ac_us218_6. The Inner Voice: The Making of A Singer by Renee Fleming– Soprano Renee Fleming has performed roles in six language and originated roles in contemporary operas, and sang some of the greatest female roles in the operatic repertoire. She presents this books as “an autobiography of [her] voice.” She takes us through her education and career, explains how she goes through a score before a performance, and how she prepares to play a role dramatically. We see her suffer from terrible performance anxiety at the peak of her career, and deal with the knowledge that that if something happens to her voice, her entire career goes tumbling down. Reading this book won’t necessarily make you an opera lover. But it’s very hard not to appreciate and respect it after reading about the work and artistic endeavors that go into its creation.

515ow4wtfol-_ac_us218_7. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelly by Charlotte Gordon– This is a fairly new discovery for me, I’m currently about halfway through but it reads like a novel and I recommend it highly. Mary Shelly and Mary Wollstonecraft are frequently footnotes in one another’s biographies. While they were mother and daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft passed away when her daughter was only ten days old. However this book argues that her mother’s influence (via her writings) was hugely instrumental in making Mary Shelly the woman she became and in shaping her masterpiece Frankenstein.  It also looks at just how ahead of their times both women were and how they impacted the work of the men in their lives (while most biographies look at how the men in their lives impacted their work).

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_8. Reading Lolita in Tehran- Azar Nafasi- As an American growing up in the late twentieth and twenty first centuries, I’ve been sort of spoiled by the notion that I can read whatever I want, wherever I want. Yes I always knew this was a privilege that not everyone had but I never considered some of the practicalities involved in reading material that had been legally censored, nor why it has so much impact when people in oppressive regimes do this. Reading about the discussions that this Iranian book club had, and their responses to what they read made me realize on a conscious level that one of the most important things that literature (and art more generally) does is to show us that we’re not alone. That other people have emotional reactions to things, just like we do. Art can be a bridge between people of very different backgrounds and viewpoints. These connections can threaten the very foundations of a society. In that way, reading a novel, and sharing it with others, can be one of the most subversive things a person can do.

41hms7wl8ql-_ac_us218_9. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman– This book is about a real life medical case in which the infant daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos suffered a seizure disorder. Because of cultural and linguistic differences between the family and the US medical establishment, miscommunications led to tragedy. What stuck me when I read this book, was that both “sides” tried their best. Both the family and the doctors had the child’s best interest at heart.  Their differences interfered with communication at a point when timing was crucial and the girl in question needed immediate action and attention. There’s no easy fix in a situation like this, simply because no one was greedy or incompetent or intolerant.  It would be easier to lay the blame at one person’s feet and say that “if this hadn’t happened, things would have been different.” But when there’s no obvious scapegoat it takes close analysis of each step of the response to ensure change. But really that’s the only way that systemic change can happen. Assigning blame to a single party is appealing because it’s easy, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.

51shzhsgmdl-_ac_us218_10. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen– This book addresses the way that American History is taught in American schools. It was written in 1995 originally, but the new edition has a preface in which the author asserts that these problem ultimately led to a Trump presidency. According to Loewen, American history is presented in a Eurocentric way that not only bores students, but also fails to address the complexities inherent in history, such as differing viewpoints. It gives the impression that history is a collection of facts rather than an ongoing process of understanding context. I remember that as a kid I was often presented with “good/bad” models of historical figures. If a historical figure accomplished something good, s/he was presented in the “good” category. Any mistakes s/he made were overlooked. This leads to a very simplistic, and often just incorrect, understanding of events and people. “Good” people often make mistakes. Sometimes “bad” people may accomplish something that has positive outcomes. Sometimes people do the wrong things for the right reasons, and vice versa. We’re shortchanging students by not allow them to see that.

I’ve Been…

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  • Working. Hard. Mid-Winter break has just started and I find myself needing it desperately. I think that if teachers didn’t have these breaks we’d go absolutely insane. The kids would too, but teachers? Definitely. If you’re a parent and you don’t think teachers work hard, think about how difficult your kids are. Then picture 30 of them in a classroom. Try to manage their behavior. Plan lessons. Be accountable for their learning. Add some administrative responsibilities. Get the idea yet? I love my students but I definitely like being able to give them back at the end of the day. That’s how I know I’m not ready for kids of my own (well that and other reasons!)
  • Polishing up my Beautiful manuscript. In the next month, I plan to send it out to a few more beta readers just to make sure that all the wrinkles are smoothed, and then compile the whole thing, send out some advance copies to reviewers and see what happens! When I first decided to publish it, it felt like I was daring myself to do it. It still feels like that but in a more real way. Like it’s actually happening.
  • Working on the (so far) untitled follow up to Beautiful. I’m about halfway through which is a tough point. You’re not at the beginning where it’s new and you’re excited anymore, and the end is still a long way off…
  • Watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is living up to the praise I’ve heard. I got a 30 day free trial of Amazon prime a few days ago and I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as I can before it runs out. Recommendations are welcome!
  • Reading a lot of the Belletrist book club picks. It feels sort of weird to choose books based on the recommendation of a celebrity, but Emma Roberts has good taste! So far I’ve read The Rules Do Not Apply, Sex and Rage, and South and West. The Immortalists and An American Marriage are also on my TBR.