Saturday, September 28, 2013

Banned Books Week Review #4: LOLITA


Everyman's Library
$22.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov's most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

My Review: Humbert Humbert was the name of my 1999 Buick LeSabre. It was unreliable, stodgy-looking, and all too easy to sink into and enjoy the glorious creature comforts contained therein. (I miss the cassette/CD/AM/FM combo, if I'm honest.) Hum, our narrator, is a terrible man, a pedophile, a sociopath, and a complete scoundrel on so many levels it's hard to count them all.

And I *adore* him. But I'm weird that way. I adore Walter White, too.

Nabokov's third language, English, gave him the most incredible and flexible of tools for creating word-magic. This book, about the passion of an old man for a little girl, contains some of the most gorgeous sentences ever written in English.

And it's a deeply disturbing book. Lolita...Dolores almost heartbreakingly absent from the story, which centers around Hum's sense of himself and his perceptions of his worth. The most terrifying beginning of any book I've read in my life. "Light of my life, fire of my loins," eeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww. But how gloriously sonorous is Hum's breakdown of the name he gave his victim. "Lo. Lee. Ta."

This book is, unsurprisingly, one of the most challenged books in the American Shamefest of Ban-Ban-Ban what *I* don't like!!!! Such a stupidly self-important way of looking at the world. "I don't like that, it offends me, it's evil, it's wrong." Then don't read it. "My child! My child could see it!" Then move to Utah or Idaho, they don't have books there, just the Book of Mormon or whatever it's called.

Take your calls for censorship somewhere else. Like church. And leave the grown-ups alone.

Does Lolita deal with horrible, offensive subject matter? Yes. Does it do so in a positive, accepting light? No. And that's unlike the "sacred texts" of every religion I've ever read...Bhagavad Gita has almost innumerable mass murders, Qur'an and Bible and Torah *very* questionable ethics like bar bets between gawd and Lucifer about just how hard they can fuck over one guy before he snaps, incest as the source of humankind (eg, Noah and family), not to mention a truly freaky-deaky kind of self-sex between Adam and Eve, who is made from Adam's body parts. But that's moral instruction, and Lolita, which savagely beats the shit out of a cultural norm of solipsism and male privilege, gets challenged regularly by the ignoranuses who can't be bothered to read it.

Or, and I suspect this is even more true, are too dimwitted to get it. Just because someone doesn't understand a literary work, or a work of art, does not make it bad or wrong or an evil influence.

Since this book was published in 1955, it's been in print. I suspect it will be in print long after I'm dead and gone. The more the haters hate on it, the more contrarians and the self-defined intellectuals will buy it.

So ban on, boobs. One day the banning you're so busy advocating will reach right back to you and your pet loves. I, for one, welcome the day no one can get religious crap without showing ID and paying through the nose and ending up on a persecution list. I hope to live so long as to see it.

No, I don't. I'd have to protest it and demand that the censorship stop. NO ONE'S IDEAS OR EXPRESSIONS THEREOF SHOULD EVER BE STIFLED just because they make me, or you, uncomfortable. Don't like something? Walk away.

Walk. Away.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Surveillance, Meet Sousveillance: Banned Books Week Review 27 September 2013


So is my blood pressure.

In the ongoing waiting game Goodreads is playing, hoping users won't notice a draconian case of surveillance plus censorship, the score is even. They've said nothing and done as they like. We've yelled and hollered, and a lot of us have found new homes for our old data. Many more have decided to stop contributing new data until the whole thing shakes out.

David Brin's 1999 book offers his expert advice: Don't stop looking back, and don't shut up. I agree with him. I think we should do this all the time, in all situations, or we're in for a future that will make Orwell and Huxley look like Ren and Stimpy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned Books Week Review #2, again

How Many Loads Have U Taken 2nite?
You're open 24/7 if ya know what I mean
You taken so many loads damn you're a machine...

Think that's dirty and should be reported? Watch the video. See what you think after that.

All censorship starts with that "no, no that's clearly BAD!" impulse to control. Things go very badly when that rules the day. No one knows enough to censor what another person says because of what they think the other person means.

CHRISTIAN NATION, a cautionary tale about believing the Believers


W.W. Norton
$25.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4.5 appalled, terrified stars of five

It's Banned Books Week, so we are well advised to think about what the ability to ban a book really means.

“The biggest mistake that we can make is that we don’t believe that they believe what they say. And for many of them, they do mean exactly what they say," says author Frederic C. Rich in his interview from this past July. Look at the Texas school textbook adoption wars over presenting creationism as a scientific theory. All of those folks are the few who bother to show up, and those are usually the wingnuts from the religious right with an agenda to impose.

Start where you are. Do what you can, what you're capable of doing. Fight the small battle here, and win or lose, the war's course will change. Maybe you'll even live long enough to be glad that you did. I only hope you won't live long enough to regret that you didn't.

The Publisher Says: “They said what they would do, and we did not listen. Then they did what they said they would do.”

So ends the first chapter of this brilliantly readable counterfactual novel, reminding us that America’s Christian fundamentalists have been consistently clear about their vision for a “Christian Nation” and dead serious about acquiring the political power to achieve it. When President McCain dies and Sarah Palin becomes president, the reader, along with the nation, stumbles down a terrifyingly credible path toward theocracy, realizing too late that the Christian right meant precisely what it said.

In the spirit of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, one of America’s foremost lawyers lays out in chilling detail what such a future might look like: constitutional protections dismantled; all aspects of life dominated by an authoritarian law called “The Blessing,” enforced by a reconfigured Internet known as the “Purity Web.” Those who defy this system, among them the narrator, live on the edges of society, sustained by the belief that democracy will rise to triumph over such tyrannical oppression.

My Review: Every Banned Books Week we are well advised to think about what the ability to ban a book really means. In Author Rich's novel, banning a book is no longer a concern. The apparatus of theocracy has taken over the libraries. Nothing so trivial as banning A book is necessary, slate entire areas of human knowledge for destruction. Pulp those books that don't tell the story you want told. Knowledge dies, after all. We saw that after the fall of the Roman Empire. The only libraries were in monasteries, and the only works supposed to be preserved were dogmatic, didactic christian texts. Fortunately, some subversives hid works by Lucretius, Epicurus, Juvenal, Suetonius, in their stacks. As theocracy self-destructed, as all -ocracies (including dem-) inevitably do, sharp-eyed secularists found these works and brought them out into the public gaze for the first time in as much as a millennium. (For more about this, see my review of The Swerve.)

Think about that. For a millennium, a thousand years, knowledge that might have led the world out of pervasive hunger, away from destructive hatred and war over trivia, was hidden away so it would at least survive as words on paper. It couldn't be discussed, because it couldn't be read. It was banned. Very effectively and efficiently banned. When the ban was lifted, the world's best brains went into overdrive and they've never slowed down since.

Yet we still, after this excellent example of the benefits of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom from the fear that censorship breeds, we still have to fight the well-meaning, well-intentioned, and always wrong "moral protectors" and "nicey-nice police." It doesn't have to start big, and in fact, that is author Rich's point in this novel. His story, of a subversive in the Christian Nation, a convert to the Church of God in America from the losing side in the Seige of Manhattan, starts with the run-up to the 2008 election. In Rich's horrifying nightmare, McCain and Palin won, and then they did what they said they would do: They "restored American to a Christian Nation." They used your smartphone with its eternal connection to communication satellites to track you. It's the law that you must have it on you. It's the law that every device you use must be connected to the Purity Web (which we call universal wi-fi connectivity, and long for!) that your every utterance or interface with another person be monitorable.

Imagine how many petaflops of information this state collects. And sifts. And uses against its citizens, but only in the kindest of spirits and in the expectation of their draconian rules and totalitarian controls bringing all souls to the Rapture as pure as is possible.

This kind of nightmare is all too possible. Look at the Taliban in Afghanistan. Look at the rhetoric coming out of the Tea Party. No, no, says the complacent and lazy citizen, who can't be bothered to vote for school board members or participate in electioneering, no way can that happen here.

“The biggest mistake that we can make is that we don’t believe that they believe what they say. And for many of them, they do mean exactly what they say," says author Rich in his interview from this past July. Look at the Texas school textbook adoption wars over presenting creationism as a scientific theory. All of those folks are the few who bother to show up, and those are usually the wingnuts from the religious right with an agenda to impose.

This novel is set in a world that didn't happen, where the battle against censorship costs lives. Those lives are lost because, in that world like this one we live in, so very many of us can't be bothered, don't want to, are too tired or bored or stressed or lazy to, stand up and say NO MORE when censorship is proposed or imposed. And Rich, a high-powered financial industry lawyer, works with the kind of people whose money-making and self-interest are tightly bound up with the trends in thought and speech around the world. In short, if he doesn't know from the inside whereof he speaks when he speaks about the consequences voicelessness, of stifled freedom to speak and think as one desires, no one alive does.

Start where you are. Do what you can, what you're capable of doing. Fight the small battles and, win or lose, the war's course will change. Maybe you'll even live long enough to be glad that you did. I only hope you won't live long enough to regret that you didn't.

Read the entire review at Shelf Inflicted, a Group Blog.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

New Review Posted 25 September 2013...content censored

I've posted my review of ELLA MINNOW PEA today.

Rating: 3.9* of five

This novel is about the unintended bad, and ridiculous, consequences of a very good idea. Nollop, an island off the American mainland, is a society rational and reasonable in its organization and actions. Its usage of the English language rests on the existence of the pangram, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The founder of Nollop invested the pangram with great significance.

And now, in Ella's time, the letters of the pangram start falling off the founder's statue! And the leaders say, "It's a sign! A sign! Whatever letters have fallen may no longer be used, in writing or in speech! An omen, a sign!"

And the people nodded, smiled, and did nothing to stop the madness. After all, it's the leaders' job to lead, right? And why would the leaders want bad things for us? After all, we all want the best and the brightest to flourish, right?

Of course! Now, take your Soma. Dr. Orwell will be along soon.

Banned Books Week Post #3...more concerns about silence

♡KarLynP♡, a Goodreader, posted this message on the Feeedback thread that threatens to swallow the internet due to its length.

"The following article came out a few hours ago and gives several recent quotes from GR mgmt, VP of communications Suzanne Skyvara"

I then posted this expansion on the theme:

This para {in that article} explains the silence about the concerns on this thread:
“Over time we plan to better use all of the data we have around reviews so that we are putting the best reviews – the ones that will be most interesting and useful – at the top. This is a big data problem, and we are hiring a data scientist to work on it. At the same time, we already personalize how you see reviews – you see your friends’ reviews first and then you see reviews by people you follow, all people that you know and trust.”

It's official, from someone at GR. They are deliberately becoming Amazon. So all the hollering and all the points we've all made are, in the end, for naught. They aren't going to make any compromises, they aren't interested in user input, they are the big boy on the block and we aren't. Fuck a bunch of the people whose labor made them rich.

All good things come to an end. The good Goodreads is over. I'll still be here, but will fade into irrelevance (I wonder if I was ever actually relevant) because I'll participate less and less as I move my data.

And it won't matter a speck. The site will go on, the relevance will remain, until someone one day twigs to the fact that this is Amazon now. Like Shelfari, Goodreads will just be a sales mouthpiece for the corpocracy. Indie authors beware: When Amazon is done bludgeoning the publishing industry into submission with y'all's work, you'll see what it feels like to be pressured in a way you can't even fathom yet.

For me, I'm going to shout from the wilderness. I'll post protests and I'll post reviews that are explicitly anti-censorship and tie them into these concerns. And most people will learn to ignore me, more than they already do, because "what's that noisy old coot hollering for?" is easier, safer, less trouble than thinking about what this explicit statement means for your own future."

Then I saw a very good Mediabistro article about why censorship is censorship even when the censors say it's not. This piece shows there is some reasonable hope of interest in the topic {of Goodreads' ham-fisted censorchip} remaining alive. But with Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite including a Goodreads app from the get-go, it's easy to see why Goodreads must change its old, open culture of discussion and opinionated debate to suit Amazon's horrendous, untrustworthy Land of the Five-star Review Or Else sales sales sales or bust ethos. It's disheartening still, but it's clear why it had to happen.

Still, I'd remind those whose butthurt instigated this debacle in the first place of the Soviet-era Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov's words about censorship:
To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn't need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn't need water.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Books Week Post #2

It's Banned Books Week, and I blogged about a related Censorship issue on Shelf Inflicted.

Most of us who read more than one or two books a year rely on some social media or another to find our next book. We talk about books, us readers, and we shouldn't have to worry about what we say or how we say it UNLESS we threaten harm on someone's person. When a social media outlet takes it upon itself to censor what we are allowed to say, the conversation is headed to oblivion and eventually there won't be room for any opinion that isn't GLOWING.

That's a horrible thought. And it won't stop there, either. Happy-clappy fivestarland is also known as the Big Brother is Watching kind of totalitarian state that Orwell railed against. It's a truism that Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, expressed best: "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." When all that's available are second-rate crappy books that get praised to the skies, how does a culture hook readers? Classics?

I don't know about your experiences with English class, but my teachers almost made a TV watcher out of me by teaching to the curriculum and compelling me to read, for example, The Scarlet Letter, and discuss it with the mouth-breathing trogs I went to school with. The curriculum was aimed at the trogs. I was asleep in my corner. Unlike most people, I was hugely lucky in that my mother was a voracious reader who liked to talk about books, and my much older sister owned a bookstore. I watched a few other natural readers who didn't have my advantages sink into indifference.

So I suspect classic books aren't likely to lead folks to reading. In fact, it's my observation that most readers of more than a book or two a year found classics after getting hooked on chick lit, or science fiction, or mysteries, and finding the literary world was chock-a-block with amazing stuff! And quite a lot of them...20 million on Goodreads, at least 2 million on LibraryThing, and the smaller sites are growing...turn to social media for help navigating the *stunning* amount of material available.

So when a big player in the field, like Goodreads, starts a ham-fisted campaign to make opinions nicey-nice, and then makes that error worse with a tin-eared social non-response to the original screw-up, well it's cause for worry. Whether or not you belong to Goodreads, it's going to affect you sooner or later. The chilling effect of censorship is insidious. It's actually not the formal, overt, clearly (or vaguely) articulated censorship that is most harmful.

It is the erosion of your internal sense of freedom. Censorship kills free thought, slowly, quietly, and indirectly. This rule today breeds that habit of avoidance that stifles that thought tomorrow. Who knows what the consequences of that stifled thought will be? A genius stifled, a mass murderer stopped, an invention unrealized...there is no way to know.

But I do know this. The risk of stifled thought depriving the world of good, important things outweighs the cost of hurt feelings and offended sensibilities. Even mine. I don't lobby for the banning of religion or the wholesale execution of gun nuts. I'd like to. I think those things should happen. But the precedent I set by advocating such draconian action EXTENDS TO ME.

Likewise censoring opinions about books, authors, publishers, etc. The precedent set extends to the censors, and those advocating the censorship.

Think about that carefully before advocating that a Rule be Established.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Banned Books Week! Yay!

It's that happy-clappy time again! Banned Books Week draws attention to the many and various attempts to censor what kind of reading material is available to you, me, our kids, our grandkids, and the banning parties hope, posterity. Books that talk about S-E-X or the right of women to walk down all the streets of the world without fearing rape or the existence of this little thing called "science" that rejects your religion's once-upon-a-time version of Creation.

"Ban it! Don't talk about it! NO!! Someone must be WRONG and it can't be ME!!"

In the long run, it doesn't work. In the short run, it's hideously costly in human emotional terms, titanically wasteful of time, effort, and resources to police and enforce, and morally repugnant to right-thinking people.

But it doesn't stop at formal banning of a book, governmental or religious anathema pronounced upon a writer, a press, a book...those things, while reprehensible, are formal, out there for the public to see and hear and (theoretically) obey. More insidious is a behavior that's meant to fly under the radar, and when discovered, covered up by (factually correct, morally wrong) justifications like "Oh look how few people are actually affected!" and "Most of you will never know it's even there!" and "It's my {concrete noun} and I'll do as I goddamned well please with it."

To quote a religious figure of great renown, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 31:45) You didn't speak up for the safety or the happiness of those piddling few? You didn't worry because it wasn't you?

Next time it will be. Or the time after that. Or the one after that. Because if I've learned nothing else in 54 years of relatively constant annoyance by earthlings, I've learned that Command and Control NEVER EVER STOP WANTING MORE.

Specifically, I'm completely panitwadulous over the latest Goodreads self-inflicted PR wound. Last Friday, after the world has gone to weekend footing, Goodreads dumped the news of a major change in Terms of Service as they affect what reviewers...the unpaid volunteers who create the value that Amazon paid for the company to get!...can and cannot say to/about authors in their own reviews, and even more troublingly, what the reviewers can and cannot name the shelves or collections they put their books into.

I don't know if anyone on their staff expected the strength and passion of delivery of the vitriol that the sheeple (irony there!) of the site unleashed on this decision. If they did not, they were not paying attention to the titanic kerfuffle when Amazon bought Goodreads. Twenty-five hundred posts (mostly) of outrage and fear didn't make an impact? Not even the Ugly Green Button contretemps, with 2350 posts, made a dent?

Goodreads folk are passionate and committed readers and writers. And the reason they've...we've...invested so much emotional energy in the site is, at base, simple. It's the only one of its kind, the only place where readers connect with other readers by means of reviews, groups, and serendipity. Competitors to Goodreads are a great deal smaller, they're often focused around special interests (eg, LibraryThing, that unparalleled book cataloging site, with a sideline of social activity that's very much not encouraged), or they just haven't got the chops to make the ease and fluidity of opinion discovery on a par with Goodreads.

So naturally change will be resisted and feared by many, and just as naturally the Powers That Be will seek to direct the community's attention to such areas as will benefit the advertisers and/or owners who pay the bills. Some tension is inevitable, some compromise desirable on all sides. But to date, no compromise has been offered on any issue of site governance I've cited here. The policy announced Friday that announces Goodreads can and will delete user-created information at will and without warning is in place. The mea-culpa issued today with a reassurance that they won't delete stuff without warning again isn't, it appears, part of the formal policy yet.

This is put in place, we're told, because Goodreads wants to maintain a TONE, an atmosphere, of respect and tolerance. Because nothing says respect and tolerance like unilaterally changing a community-wide policy with a dump-and-run message on Friday afternoon, in a group that much less than 1% of the user base belongs to, right?

Still, it's their (well, Amazon's) site and they set the rules, right? Right. They do. And they offer the service to us for free, right, so they pretty much deserve to have a completely free hand, right?


I tweeted about this today, hoping to get some interest from Big Bloggers. Total response: One dismissive snort that essentially said, paraphrasing here, "suck it up Buttercup, if you're not the paying customer you're the paid-for commodity."

In BANNED BOOKS WEEK an example of censorship gets that kind of response. Wow.

Talking about books freely and without censorship, whether internal or external in origin, is as important an activity as reading the damn things. If no one talks about Mein Kampf, or Man and Superman, or The Nicomachaen Ethics, why kill the trees to print them? Why dedicate the bandwidth to delivering the files to the ereader screens? If people care enough to read even one book a year, shouldn't they be encouraged and supported in a desire to discuss it?

And that's what Goodreads was. Was. I have to use the past tense. It WAS this. It is now a data farm and sales platform for a bookselling entity. (Whose customer I am, by the way, and will continue to be, because I exist on less money per month that most of you make in a week.) And sales are hurt, the conventional wisdom goes, by shouting. Yeah, Paula Deen's racist language hurt her: Sales of her books, what, tripled? It was her publishers who said "ciao" and not the customers.

Which is its own level of icksome. But the point I'm making is simple: Stifling one, twenty-one, a million and one, people's willingness to speak honestly and from the heart about the ideas, the words, the feelings expressed in a book, by an author, is stealing from the rest of us who are unaffected the very necessary challenge of understanding, if never accepting, a different point of view. You may not ever agree, you may even like the opposition less than you did before you understood them better. (This happens to me with religious stuff all the time.)

But you still lose when ANY voice is silenced, out of fear or obedience or...worst of all...despair. How many honest reviews, negative to the author's feelings and even insulting in language, will now not be written? How many conversations will go un-had? (I've learned a lot from arguing my point on my most vitriolic reviews.)

Ray Bradbury said it best: "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." And talking about them. And now there's no safe place to do that with the size audience, with their wallets ready to spring open.

The decline, it would seem, has accelerated, and the fall is imminent. I'm sad about that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Mystery Review on 22 September 2013

I've finished and reviewed the second John Ceepak mystery, MAD MOUSE, in my Kindle Originals section. I can't wait to dive into the next one in the series. Luckily they're only 99¢ each. And there are several!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Review for 14 September 2013

I'm fifty-four today...shocking...and spent a few hours reading and jotting a response to Tom Baker's collection of short stories, FULL FRONTAL: to make a long story short. He is the former Doctor Who, and an out gay man for lo these many years. He chose to write the story of a fictional Stonewall generation all-American lad.

I had a lot of fun reading these shorties, partially because they're on a subject I care about and partially because, well, TOM BAKER!!! Their execution is perfectly adequate, not a bit better or a jot worse than that. Check out my review!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

New Steampunk Review 7 September 2013

I've made a score! I got a signed and numbered (#74) copy of THE BABY KILLERS (which is not about what you think it's about) by Jay Lake! Never let it be said this man's imagination is anything other than wild and bold. The review gives the novella, all 68pp of it, four stars, or a star for every 15.25pp.

It's worth the effort to find one.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

New Mystery Review for your Labor Day!

New Review! A Kindle original mystery for your Labor Day relaxation and enjoyment. TILT-A-WHIRL is only 99 cents and it's a dilly of a read. I was glued to my seat from start to finish.

It's always a blast to find a new mystery series to follow. This one fits my list: Likable narrator, richly drawn setting, admirable sleuth. Risk the buck!