Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Friday, July 29, 2011

The terrorist in Norway and violence

After almost a week digesting the news about the terrorist shootings in Norway, I found information that gave me some comprehension.  I went to a Norwegian-American college, toured with their concert band in Norway, and am half Norwegian.  I played in a flute choir prior to a dinner that Prince Harald was attending.

At first, the thing that made sense was that Norway doesn’t have a military where men are actively in combat right now.  Though they are an open society, there is a subject that would need to be suppressed or hidden in their culture, I’m sure.  That subject is violence.  I don’t think they have the outlets for the violent that a larger country would have.

I enjoyed reading An Everyday Story, an anthology of Norwegian Women’s Fiction.  It contained one of the most powerful short stories I’ve ever read, “Achtung, Gnadiges Fraulein” by Torborg Nedreaas, about a young woman whose boyfriend reveals the Nazi uniform in his closet.

People like to make jokes about Vikings but Norway has shown how a country can progress and become something else completely. 

The terrorist Breivik had posted his interests and favorites on Facebook but his Facebook page was taken off the internet soon after the shootings.  Some media people saw it before it was removed.  I read a posting on that from an English news source, looking for history about him.  The next day I couldn’t find it, looked and looked, and then found his Facebook lists in a blog entitled "The Born Again Redneck’s Daily."  The Huffington Post and the Christian Post both confirmed some of this but they left out his favorite TV shows, movies, and video games, what the English source had published. 

Though Breivik had an impressive list of books, his taste for viewing was almost completely of American origin.  His favorite TV program was “Dexter”,  a show about a serial killer who killed bad guys and whose father was a policeman.  Others were "True Blood", a vampire series; "Caprica", about robots destroying humans; and "The Shield", about corrupt policemen. 

His tastes in movies were similarly violent:  The Gladiator and 300, a movie with much battle track.  Dogville was about a girl who tried to blend in with small town people but was driven back into the arms of criminals.  Only one of his favorites didn’t seem violent, a science fiction series.

I have never seen any of these and I doubt that many young Norwegians would share his viewing tastes.  I wouldn’t know.

One of my first papers in college was about television violence.  There wasn’t a lot of research then but the increase in child crimes seems to have supported my thesis.

Violence wasn’t bad to me if it was real and well-done.  I didn’t object to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” which made a sensation in my high school years.  More recently, I’ve loved to watch Hitchcock videos and reruns.  Hitchcock focuses on the victims of crime too and shows how unaware people are of an approaching horror.

In Austin, Minnesota, where I grew up, girls exchanged fears after the movie “Psycho.”  Many men in town, working for the Hormel Company, used knives in their work.  My family had all moved from there when the Hormel strike happened.  But it was what us girls feared.  Among us was an individual who might crack.  In that town of 30,000, one man cracked during the strike, using a knife insanely.  It was a matter of statistics in a town where there used to be a murder about once in 30 years.

In Minneapolis, I lived where the murder rate was worse per capita than New York City, according to a Harvard researcher.  This was the crime wave of the 1980s and early 1990s.  I rarely watched crime shows on TV, not even “Mystery” then.  I could go watch a cocaine bust on a weekend and hear about the nearby burglaries.  In college, I liked Mrs. Dalloway.  Virginia Woolf is a rare author in that she didn’t rely on violence or passionate sex to hold onto her reader.  Those years in Minneapolis, I read most of her novels and some of her diaries.  Ironically, she had bombs dropping around her during two periods of her writing.

I had to wonder about people safe and sound in the suburb eating up violence on TV.

I think the most compelling novel I ever read was Crime and Punishment.   I couldn’t wait to get home from work to read more.  Dostoevsky’s brilliant portrayal of the politically motivated ax murderer, his deteriorating mind as he planned and fled from the murder, almost seemed to be a harbinger of the Russian revolution.

I’ve always wanted to write about violence but I don’t read or view a lot of it except for masterpieces that cover the victims as well as the violence.

Violence is agony.  I feel for a culture that has lost young people to the pitiful psychopath, the horror that can’t be revealed before that person commits his crimes.

As I wrote this at first, my PBS channel went on to a presentation in the arctic.  I was so involved with this, I don’t know where.  But I heard commentary about the many fishermen lost at sea.  Somehow that comforted me. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Back to the ABC's (digital publishing)

The other day, an eBayer offered $2 for a Dick and Jane book.  Ok, it was shabby but it was collectible when I put it on.  The offers for that book have been insultingly low.  Checking at Abebooks, I found that the current prices have lowered for that book (but not that low!).
I didn’t like Dick and Jane either.  The obvious intention to teach words rather than instill a need to read made reading a bore to my classmates.  My primer was Peter Rabbit.  That was because I asked someone in my family, six people beyond my years, to read it until I could follow the words with my finger.  Dick and Jane is probably one of those nostalgic collectibles, valued while its reader generation is alive.

When I think of old primers, The Tiddly Winks Primer my favorite with its art deco illustrations, I have to wonder about the socialization that Dick and Jane taught.  

Sally in a car!

Ours was the television generation.  Dick and Jane had some illustrative charm but the words were … just words.  Kids then watched about four hours of television a day.  Visual cues mattered, how you looked, how your house looked.  Words only figured as conversation.

Jane making dirtied Baby Doll pretty and clean.

Dr. Seuss wasn’t allowed into my grade school library which I protested.  Most children didn’t frequent the public library so their reading was mostly from the school system.  I was book-oriented, made my own library cards, a ribbon bound book of my favorite poetry, and a book of riddles.

My first job out of college was at a publisher’s that specialized in religious socialization.   It was one of the largest in the Midwest and I was to learn how to work with illustration and photos besides the copy editing job.  I remember sitting with galleys that fell to the floor like yarn, cutting them, taping them into a dummy book.  My maternal grandmother worked there.  The co-worker sitting next to me had spent a summer in the religion department at Harper and Row!

To some of us editorial assistants, this was an apprentice job and if we longed for a break, we might find an excuse to talk with one of the jolly typesetters. If my job was tedious, I thought the typesetter was a saint of patience.

Who would have imagined digital publishing in the 1970s? 
I was so proud to have fitted my fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves, into paperback.  Just like old times.  Then I went to Kindle.  Now I was the sainted typesetter and this was complicated!  I got some help from the Kindle forum and Declan Conner’s blog.

Then I went to PubIt, thinking that it would be like Kindle.  Not so!  This time, I used trial and error, probably like hunt and peck typing.  I made up a work file and put samples through first.  My book has a few varieties of formatting, what had already caused headaches at Kindle. 

Then I went to Smashwords.  I could download the Smashwords Style Guide and found that I hadn’t understand some issues about my Word program, especially its paragraph and style settings.  Yes, I had used trial and error, hunt and peck, with my Word software for some years.  It’s an excellent guide because it covers Kindle and ePub and gives a solid idea about formatting for all ebooks.  Look at it first!

Now that I think I’m about done, it seems somewhat comprehensible while the edits can be done more quickly, once you know the code.  It used to take hours, cutting and pasting galleys into dummies, using a ruler to measure space and a right angle ruler to crop photos.

They say that Harry Potter taught children to read.  I think kids wanted to read Harry Potter in the way I wanted to read Peter Rabbit.  The internet, coinciding with Harry Potter, probably gave kids the need to read.  Before that, words outside of school were only needed for reading signs and the newspaper. Reading was associated with school and textbooks.

The new screen had to be read.  Now if a child wants to get somewhere, even with computer games, they need to read the storyline and the techniques for winning.  And the new screen has real experiences in socializing if a child can write.

It’s exciting to think that there will more reading because of a screen with writing instead of one with visual information.  I thought men wouldn’t type.  One year, I saw them in their offices, typing away on their computers.

I have to wonder if Kindle will have vintage books in the future.  They’ll probably be like black and white television or even like silent movies.

Friday, July 15, 2011

To begin

Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones.  But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight while the older trees form the shade. 

I’ve loved Mark Twain except for his remark about classics.  “No one’s ever read one.”  He also said something about the horrible sounds cats made.  I wonder if hyperactivity in cats was known about then.  I’ll bet he was around an older, hyperactive cat. 

I’ve been enthralled by classics.  Some of them are like redwood trees and others are gnarled, winding in a language that a person has to get used to.  

At, I put in my profile that I’ve been a browser of the New Arrivals shelf at the library.  That was my first stop and often, I took out a book out from that collection before I entered the forest.  I didn’t read all of Mark Twain’s books until I was in my late twenties and I suppose that’s because his had become classics.

Actually, I read so many classics by the time I went into a graduate program in writing that I had no confidence.  I can remember a despairing week when I wrote down in pen every word of that famous “coffee and oranges” poem by Wallace Stevens.  I’d always felt that writers were somehow chosen.  I was in the program because I wanted credentials to teach.  I’d walked out of a reporting job and though I’d regretted that, I was attempting short stories.  My mother was a music teacher and I craved that summer vacation lifestyle.  I had no desire to live a writer’s lifestyle.  I’d almost gone into music at the performing level but as a flute player, I was terrified of unemployment.

That winter, I went out in below zero weather to visit a used bookstore in south Minneapolis.  No one was in there except the proprietor and myself.  The shelves were very high and the place was dusty, deserted.  I left with a volume of Walt Whitman’s poems, a book I sold a few years ago.  In the meantime, I had written piles of manuscripts that were in dire need of revision.  I’d read through the new poets at the library and had a stack of literary journals.  I’d gone to a number of jobs and finally landed on an occupation that might last until retirement.  The used bookstore I worked in was also an antique store.  Booksellers there were thrilled with Abebooks.  The whole used book business had changed, and before writers went digital, bookstores had their entire stock on the internet.

I don’t know what will happen with used books now that Kindle can sell their contents.  If we thought we were in a forest before at the library or looking at lists of new writers, the internet would seem to have greened the entire world with writers.  And that might preserve the forests of the world.

The used books I acquire often illumine my writing.  Or they shadow it.  Though I don’t believe in all sayings, I believe in two:  “There’s nothing new under the sun”, and “History repeats itself.”  Even though the digital world is new, or is it? if we knew everything, people tend to be like forest growth if we are to go by what’s been written. 

This blog is about recent observations.  While the book world changes, it serves the population like it never has before.  Writers newly published can’t tell what’s going to happen with their books.  They should have an idea of their reader even though that’s a tall demand when the readers are now global.  This last week, I finished publishing my middle grade Halloween fantasy, The House in Windward Leaves.  While I waited on agent decisions about other books, that book was probably another fantasy in hordes.  I loved it and one day, I said, I’m going to publish this myself.  But I had to wonder if other people would like my humor and tastes.

As I learned how to convert to PDF and downloaded my Mobipocket at Kindle, I picked up two books at the rummage sale of a young  artist who rented space downtown.  I read both of them, Nonsense Novels and A Net to Catch the Wind.  Stephen Leacock, the author of Nonsense Novels, wasn't a name I knew.  But I could certainly imagine a Monty Python type film of his hilarious work.  I bought the children’s book A Net to Catch the Wind because of the illustrator Stephen Gammell.  I guess this book is out-of-print but it only goes to show how an enchanting children’s book might be forgotten if books aren’t preserved. 

When I finished my project, though it seemed abhorrent at first, I downloaded Kindle on PC.  Well, it was wonderful, downloading the books of people I knew.   I’ll probably be reviewing new books by Indie authors in this blog.

I said I regretted leaving a suburban newspaper.  I had even declined writing a column, only because I wasn’t 25 and my readers were in suburban families.  When I was in my 40s, I wished I could write that column.  So a blog.