Is Reading a Zero-Sum Game?

I posted a poll on Twitter, the other day. There wasn’t any real intent behind it, except maybe the idea that I’ve been looking at the same picture of the same trees for too long, and needed something new to pin to my profile page.

The question was Would you be interested in a private, membership library? Yes or no. I didn’t even manage to come up with a snarky third option.

Full disclosure: I didn’t think the question was political, at the time. I didn’t really think anyone would have strong opinions about membership libraries, and I actually didn’t know that I had strong opinions. I have paid fees to libraries that do not lend directly to the public; about 50 dollars, as I recall, but I’m not sure if that was per year or per semester.

Everything is political. Some days, I think I could announce to the internet that Horny-Toad sperm tastes terrible, (that’s pure speculation of course) and I’d immediately wind up with five people protesting that I’m being unfair to horny toads.

So, the first response I get is from someone I know (Twitter Style) and they are very against private libraries, and here’s why: in their opinion, private libraries would take funds away from public libraries.

You note, of course, that we’ve already skipped to where they are talking about future private libraries and I’m talking about present tense ones.

Oh, okay.

So, I ask if the subject matter would make a difference. What if the library were dedicated to something utterly obscure? Ventriloquist dummies, or phrenology? Something not generally of public interest? Something that would get a city librarian fired, if she spent a few thousand bucks on it?

And that’s where the conversation begins to separate out.

It’s not that we have any deep, dark differences. We’re both people who support the reading community, and books, and writers, and education, and all the things that go with it.

It’s just that she believes libraries are a zero-sum game–that my ventriloquist dummy library on the other side of the town, diminishes interest in public libraries, and therefore in funding for them–and I don’t.

She’s horrified by the idea that someone will start a private, membership-only library and that lower-income people will wind up being left out.

I’m equally horrified by the idea that private ownership of books is seen as a threat. I have trouble differentiating between private libraries (good) and private libraries (evil). Or even, for that matter, where “library” begins and “private citizen who owns books” begins. After all, if my ventriloquist dummy library is a threat to funding… wouldn’t bookstores, and e-readers, and Amazon also be a threat to funding? And wouldn’t I have more interest in funding public libraries, if private citizens simply weren’t allowed to own books?

I found myself looking for the line–the point at which a private library goes from good to evil–and not finding one.

She tried to explain it to me–size, maybe, or renting separate space, or maybe the first time you take out an ad in the local paper–but I just wasn’t getting it.

And I’m pretty sure she wasn’t following my logic, either. After all, we started out in different arguments. In hers, reading is a zero-sum game. In mine, it’s not.

I believe that every book in a community enriches the community as a whole. Whether I read it or not. Whether I want to read it or not. Whether I’m able to read it, or not. It adds to the culture of literacy.

I believe that if I walk next door to borrow a book, the door will be opened.

She expects it to be slammed in her face.

(Did I mention that we come from different backgrounds?)

So, I’m still sitting there. I’m waiting for someone to define a way in which my own library–my collection, my house, and my culture of literacy–is not one of the evil libraries. A way in which I’m not essentially a membership library, already.

And she’s listing all the fabulous, valuable things that libraries do.

But she’s not explaining why I should be allowed to keep my books, but that private library over on 16th street is an abomination.

Loaning books to your friends is not the same thing…

And I wait to hear how it’s different.

How many members make a library? (And what, exactly is a member?) How many books? Am I good, if I just don’t offer copying services to the members?

If I invite friends over to study, and we all exchange books, and talk, and whatever… we’re not competing with the public library until we all decide to go dutch on ordering a pizza, right?

What if we’re not friends? What if we’re randomly matched study-buddies? What if I set up a Little Free Library, and never even lay eyes on the people who borrow my books? What if I just make people sign a contract that they will not dog-ear the books, and they won’t eat cheerios while they’re reading?

No… I can’t wrap my head around the idea of reading as a zero-sum game. It just doesn’t work for me.

Tripping Over Gender in Ancillary Justice

I’m just starting in on Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. And, for those of you who don’t know… the main character used to be a troop carrier. (Not exactly a spoiler. That’s the beginning of Chapter 2.) And as a troop carrier, she refers to everybody as “she.” Everybody. Male and female alike. Which does kinda make sense… after all, ships are pretty much referred to as she. (Although I’m not sure how that works with a ship with a male name. You know… the Jeremiah O’Brien… she…)

A fairly good chunk of the first chapter is her–the troop carrier–debating whether people are male or female, and considering the implications of guessing wrong. (Her first language does not mark gender.) And how, exactly does a troop carrier figure out if humans are male or female? Yeah. Not easy.

And she spends a lot of time referring to the wounded (male) soldier she finds as “she.”

Let’s be quite honest, and say that I like her “remembering life as a troop carrier” voice a lot better at this point. It’s easier.

But that’s not really the point.

I could play with pronouns a long time before I got bored, but in some weird way–maybe because you’re just dropped into the middle of it–it’s a little confusing at this point in this book.

The change to pronouns that I’d make? Well, shoot. There are just so many options.

I could actually see one set of pronouns for people the speaker is sexually interested in, or whose gender makes a difference in some way. (Your surrogate is she, for instance.)

And a different set–or for that matter a different pronoun, singular–for people where gender does not matter to the speaker.

A lot of clarity in relationships, if your boyfriend is he, but your English teacher (technically male) or your gymnastics coach (technically female) are both just “os”–people whose gender is none of your business. And that guy you’re just not interested in? Os, os, os…

Clearly, there’d be a level of formality involved… That “os” is vous, and “he” is tu.

But I could see teenagers stressing out over whether their love interest would freak out over gendered address, or parents figuring out something was wrong, when they switch back to non-gendered.

Obviously, these are not real-world examples, or at least, they are not the current issue with real world pronoun issues. They both have more to do with the way the speaker perceives the other person’s gender (and its impact on their life) than with how the person they’re talking about wants to be perceived.

Which is, of course, also a marker of the society’s values. Who gets to choose? Who decides whether that guy is tu or vous? (I believe the story I heard in high school was that the girl is the person who can informalize the relationship, and as a lazy person, I always choose formal, because I can keep the verbs the same. Also, you get a higher quality of trouble by choosing a greater social distance.)

I might play with that in a short story, sometime.

Marching Down the List

I finished American Gods, and that brings my total count of Hugo and Nebula winning books to four(17% of the list!). I also managed to do it before any spoilers from the TV show found me. This one gets added bonus points for mentioning places that I have actually been. I’m not going to go all out and say I worship roadside attractions, but you can stretch your legs, and many of them have clean restrooms.

Yup. Been There.

So, this is one of those incredibly rare, wildly-popular, made into a television series books that is actually as good as 40 million screaming fans think it is.

And I’m kinda fascinated by the structure, which is sorta… well, novel that starts and stops for a few short stories along the way. Similar to Sandman. No pictures.

No, I have no idea why I didn’t read it when it first came out.

And if you haven’t already, you should read it, now.

If you have read it, and if you have seen the television show… what do you think of both or either?

 

Revising While Reading

I just printed out the next chapter for my revision.

It is forty pages long, and in at least three different viewpoints. And the actual purpose of the scene didn’t come to me until well and truly after it was written. (They? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just one scene when I started.)

I’m going to read through it–pen in hand–and decide whether it’s worth revising  any of it, or if I should just sit down and re-write it.

Did I mention I’m reading American Gods while I do this? Because, well, when you’re playing search-and-destroy with your own shortcomings, stupidities, and holy-shit-where’s-the-rest-of-this-es, you should definitely be doing so in the shadow of giants.

Well, you can’t help but compare.

My book is down in every category, including penis descriptions. ONE to kinda lost track along the way.

What I should be doing is something like this: The day he was scheduled for execution was gray and overcast, and also his penis was in an indecisive state of half-rigidity. OR The birds were singing before he woke on Tuesday, and not being content with an exuberant erection, his penis had also decided to wear a festive hat.

Yes, I’ve really lost track. And yes, I really am comparing.

This may actually be why I stopped reading American Gods the last time: Tendency to compare my pile of gray Legos to someone else’s fully constructed death star.

I’ll be finished reading in a couple of days, and then I can go back to objectively nitpicking.

Refrigerators, Packages, and Books.

Today has been a day of deliveries. The refrigerator arrived, all dark and shiny, and is now in place and–deep sigh of relief–I now have ice again. Ice, people!  Let the replacement of food commence!

I also wound up with an assortment of packages I had ordered, and I now have clothing of a non-holey variety, and a very, very skinny postman, who has apparently been here twice in one day. (I’m still waiting on one more, which may mean that he’ll vanish entirely on the next trip through.) (Technically, it may be a post-woman. I haven’t been home at mail time recently enough to know.)

Today is also the day that Tor sends out the announcement of its Book Club book of the month (Free books for people who subscribe to their mailing list.) So, I wound up with a copy of Kushiel’s Dart. It’s the first book in the series, and I’ll forewarn you… Tor is taking a page from less-savory drug dealers everywhere: The first one’s free, the next one’s gonna cost you. The book club selections tend to be the first book in a very addictive series.

Note to self: Write a very addictive series.

As it happens, I’m just about to finish up my last addictive series (one book left!) so I’ll be looking for a new distraction to keep me from reading the books on my list of Hugo AND Nebula winners. I think the priority there is probably finishing American Gods before information starts oozing out of the TV show and into my head. I don’t know why I never finished it, before. I suppose life happened.

Also, I’m a little over-teenager-ed with Dune, although I might have loved it if I read it when I was fifteen. Or I might start loving it at some point in the future.

There’s also a paperback of Ringworld floating around somewhere. I figured I’d better get out there and buy it right after I narrowly escaped buying an e-graphic novel based off the original, so I won’t wind up getting the wrong thing in the end.

Lagniappes, Giveaways, and Finding YOUR Fans

I love it when people give me free books.

Aside from the obvious–someone is giving you a free book–it’s a great way to get past all those unconscious biases and read something completely out of your comfort zone and find something you wouldn’t pick up on your own.

The first strangers I remember handing out free books were the Gideons. Motel room Bibles, first–seems like I was always on a road trip of some kind as a kid–and later, the suit-and-tie men who stood outside schools and passed out teeny-tiny New Testaments in bright colors. One of my great-uncles was a Gideon, and you could always go over to his house and read the Bible. And since he was also kind of an ersatz missionary, you could “read” the Bible in more languages than I can count, some of which used a completely different alphabet.

Laugh, if you want, but it was one of my first introductions to foreign language.

Later on, when I was a Bookseller, we had a communal shelf for the Advance Copies publishers sent us, and the books rotated in and out fairly quickly. You’d read it, and then bring it back (most of the time) and add a post-it with a few notes on your thoughts. Obviously, the ones  with the most post-its were the most desirable.

Yes, there was a range. There were tech manuals in back that had probably been untouched since the dawn of the Epoch, and which were probably… just fine as that goes… and occasionally, you’d wind up with a note or two that shredded something.

But you still got that exposure to things you might not ordinarily buy or even read. Would I put out money for a History of the San Francisco Sewer system? Probably not, but if my friend liked it, and it was free…

And then, comes the world of e-books. When I got my first e-reader, it seemed like everything was free, and if it wasn’t… well, wait a week. People were fiddling around, trying to figure out the business model for e-books, and the first digital-only imprints were being born. And somehow, people still made money.

Just not the company that made that first reader. In time, their store wound up being swamped by “Free.” You could search, but you couldn’t find anything under the piles and piles of “Free.” The algorithm seemed to make no distinction between “real” books and the “books” some high school kid kicked out over the weekend. Probably because it didn’t make a distinction between giving away copies and selling them. It wound up closing.

Moral of That Story? There is a difference between attracting your own fans, and attracting the fans of Free.

So, moving right along…

The solution at least a couple of traditional publishers have come up with is offering “free” ebooks, but only through their newsletters, and off their own websites. That way, they’re focusing on people who care enough to know, instead of on the whole internet.

I get a couple of newsletters that have a regular Book of the Month type giveaway (and an associated discussion group, if you’re into that). I think they’re probably doing fairly well in terms of attracting “their” fans instead of a bunch of bargain hunters. One of them is Tor, and the other is a much smaller, University press that trades in non-fiction.

On the far end of things, I’ve heard the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid to give away all of your work (eventually) because your true fans won’t be able to wait and will wind up sending money, anyway. I’m not sure I totally believe that, but it does seem to work for some people.

So, what do you think? If you give away books, how do you make that work for you? If you don’t, what led to that decision? And if you’re in some other industry, how do you handle the giveaways?

Grumpy Saturday Morning

It’s early in the morning on a Saturday, and I am awake. I mean, it’s early, even for me. I’m being punished for letting my schedule go to hell on my days off, and for crashing yesterday. Somehow… no matter how hard I try, or how long it’s been, I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that sleeping to seven is sleeping in. And sleeping in more than I ever would have, when I was on a more normal schedule.

I mean, three and a half extra hours!

And no… Not good enough. I wind up sleeping until all kinds of times I wouldn’t ordinarily.

**pops a series of happy morning type vitamins**

**and an acetaminophen**

I’m having one of those mornings where I woke up to my “daily reminder” on Twitter of how evil a particular book is. The general goal of the “reminder” is to talk it’s (traditional) publisher into cancelling it.

Let’s be honest, though… if I didn’t catch on that there was a publisher until after I’d read the tweet, and read the review it linked to, and went on Goodreads to figure out what the heck the story is about… the campaign’s not all that effective.

I’m creeping slowly toward free-speech absolutism in my old age, and by the time I’m eighty, I’ll probably think you should be able to shout FIRE in a crowded theater.

I was a little shocked to find out that this did have a mainstream publisher. My first thought–as soon as I read the main character’s name–was actually that the reviewer had accidentally picked up something written and published by the white power movement, and was doing nothing but signal boosting by railing against it.

(There will be no signal boosting here.)

So, here’s this book. And by the time I was finished reading the review, I was thoroughly convinced that the reviewer was an idiot. After all, who picks up a book where the hero’s name is Hitler McHitlerson and is then surprised when it turns out to be racist?

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that obvious. I’m grumpy early in the morning, and I probably need to be reminded that not everybody was actually paying attention in that particular dusty corner of the library stacks.

Still. Direct line.

I was surprised when I found out we weren’t talking about some guy with a garage full of vanity press copies.

If there’s an idea out there that’s so dangerous I need to be protected from it… well, this isn’t it.

Books From Beyond The Grave

One of the bargains in my newsletter of the day was a Boxcar Children Book–Legend of the Irish Castle, and just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. (Apparently, if you’re a minor, you celebrate by reading. Who knew?) I was just intrigued enough to go look the book up, since I read a lot of Boxcar Children books when I was a kid, and I don’t remember any Irish Castle.

Turns out that Legend of the Irish Castle is book #142 of a series the original author only wrote 19 books of. It was released last year, which is pretty good, considering that Gertrude Chandler Warner has been dead since 1979.

I’m going to say that as a personal “thing” I’m not all that crazy about the idea of having other people keep on writing my characters, after I’m dead.

Part of that is just… I don’t want to be dead. And part of it is that I spend so much time getting my characters to be the way I want them. I don’t want them shipped to places and plots I never intended them to go. I mean, come on! They’re mine!

And while we’re at it, let’s pretend that I’m very deep and philosophical, and say that there’s something bordering on Hubris about the idea of my characters being so spectacular that someone else should be writing them, instead of their own.

I’m not sure what Gertrude Chandler Warner thought. She was a first grade teacher, which may actually mean that she’s happy just as long as the kiddies are reading. I tend to think of grade school as dear, saintly creatures who really might be that unselfish.

Then, I saw all the common core, ATOS, and Accelerated Reader bullshit **ahem** foo-fer-alls and thought again. I don’t know what Gertrude’s opinions on each and every individual one of those would be, but you can bet she’d have opinions. And I don’t think they’d support micromanaging children’s reading.

So, now, I’m thinking about what a writer’s educational philosophy–or their politics, or their personal beliefs– should mean for their books, and the way those books are managed after their death. For instance, is it really fair to use Sherlock Holmes to sell fried chicken? Or should you really add Zombies to Pride and Prejudice?

I’m bordering on an intellectual property rant, now, but the general question… if I have one… is how do you feel about your characters having adventures without you?

Distracted by Comic Books

A month and a half ago, I set out to read all of the books that have won both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. There are twenty-two of them, and when I started, I had read about two and a third of them.

I think things are going fairly well.

Now, I’ve read two and a third and a half of them, and also the first four volumes of Sandman comics/graphic novels/whatever. No, Sandman is not on the list.

I’d like to pretend I don’t know how I missed reading Sandman all this time, but the truth is, I know exactly how it happened. There are pictures (not diagrams) and also… it’s a comic book. Did I mention it’s a comic book?

Well, that would pretty well guarantee that a library near me was not stocking it. Not when it first came out, anyway. And it also guarantees that my parents were not wasting their money on it, even if I did happen to escape and find it while I was being shepherded toward  the “real” books.

Don’t waste your eyes! wails the ghost of my great-grandfather from beyond the grave.

Nope. The only comic books I ever saw as a kid were Classic Comics versions of Dickens and Shakespeare. And even those didn’t come home with me. Why would they? I was smart enough to read the real thing.

It’s taken me a long, long time, and a whole lot of really smart people and a whole lot of “bumping into” references to Sandman to get me past that. Well, eventually, I broke down. And besides, they’re on my e-reader, so I can pretend I’m reading War and Peace, if anybody asks.

And, now, I’m going through them like water. A few select comic books, that is. I’m never going to have shelves and shelves of them.

But I was surprised.

I’ve actually been crying over comic books.

I’ve actually been thinking about comic books.

Oh, dear.

Choosing A Book

I spent most of the night up reading a couple of nights ago. I haven’t done that in a long, long time. You know how it is. Grown-up responsibilities, and the need for a job mean that most of the time, I have to actually wake up. At a predictable hour. And function.

Being quite honest, I’m not sure I’m on my “ideal” creative schedule, either. Given a choice, I’d probably be up all night reading or writing or something on a regular basis, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten into the Zone as easily in say the mid-afternoon or evening. Even when I was a kid, it’s into bed… one more chapter… and then, seven or eight hours later… I’m blinking at the sunlight.

Writing can work the same way, too… maybe it’s supposed to, and maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s my excuse for lack of discipline. Maybe I really do focus better at some times of the day or night than at others.

Let me start by confessing… the book I was reading wasn’t on the list of Hugo/Nebula winning books that I intend to be reading. I got caught up in a sample of an e-book, and then, I bought the e-book, and after that, I read the e-book.

All of it.

In one sitting.

And now, I’ve purchased the next part of the series, and I’m probably going to wind up reading that, too.

I was up all night reading, and by the end of it, I was crying my eyes out. It’s been a while since the last time, there, too. Partly the book, and partly my own losses… I have no idea the size of the parts.

So, now… I am reading All of the Books That Have Won Both The Hugo and the Nebula And also Sandman. The weird part of it is that I don’t really feel as though the list has grown… not that much, anyway.

If I’m very, very good, and if I don’t wander off into the omni-present internet bookstore too many more times, I might be able to get through the list in a year. The list is growing. I’m assured, for instance, that Blackout and All Clear will only make sense as a pair, and only if read in that order. So one more book to the list. And there are a couple of others that are not the first ones in their series.

I’ll make it through, eventually. After all, what are the odds that they’ll hand those awards out to the same book again, this year?