Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Heart of Debate

This beautiful post by Ed Sizemore reminds me about what matters in debates online (or elsewhere).  It's simple and elegant, concise and well-written and totally worth your time.  Here are some of my favorite quotes.

"We all hold irrational beliefs, it’s okay. Just know what your irrational beliefs are and accept them as such. It doesn’t make them any less powerful or true. Also, you’re not required to defend everything you believe. Only philosophers and pretentious jerks are that anal."

"The point of a debate is to exchange ideas. To challenge the beliefs of someone and to have your beliefs challenged. Now, obvious we all are deeply attached to what we believe. Some beliefs are foundational to who we are. First, you need to be honest with yourself and determine which beliefs you aren’t prepared to discuss in a detached rational manner. These will be beliefs that you leave off the debate table. As with the last point, there is nothing wrong with not being willing to debate everything you believe."

"Remember, just as you don’t mean your arguments to be a personal attack against your discussion partner, so too they don’t mean their arguments to be a personal attack against you. It’s all about trying to get someone else to see your point of view and vice versa."

"I don’t have to agree with you to like you and think you’re a great person. I don’t even have to agree with you to want to hear what you have to say."

How great would online debates be if everyone followed these rules!  I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A note for all my fellow perfectionists on the web . . .

Well, I sure needed to hear this.

"The internet is not a race to be right. It’s also not a competition to correct the missteps of others."
That quote was particularly, erm, needed.  Anyway, I think they linked to this comic somewhere, and I wanted to make sure you saw it.  After reading it, I had a moment when I stopped to thank the good Lord that I no longer have the energy to try to correct everything.  The Internet would have destroyed me, otherwise. 

Thank you in advance to the kind souls who politely and helpfully catch my mistakes, so I can improve the final products without feeling attacked.  :)

Do you struggle with your inner editing demon online in this world of text shorthand and leetspeak and other languages/puzzling grammatical choices that proliferate online?  What situation would be necessary to make you actually send a correction to someone?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to pick best books

"Is it the right thing to gerrymander your list in order to counteract real, long-standing cultural biases, even if that means lying to your readers? What is a 10-best list, after all, if not a record of the books we enjoyed most over the past 12 months? If you insist on a list that's ideally representative of gender, race, class, nationality (i.e., including at least one translation), publisher size (small as well as large), fame, length (short story collections as well as novels), region, genre and so on, you can easily wind up with, say, a list of nine books you kinda like and maybe one you truly love. That's a tepid dish to serve up to readers, and not likely to inspire much enthusiasm, either."
- Laura Miller at

I think the first time I ran into this was sophomore year in high school when I was in an experimental (and amazingly fantastic) honors English class where students were able to suggest books for the class.  I wanted everyone to read my favorite books, and I was trying to decide between Ender's Game and The Warrior's Apprentice (the only Bujold book I had discovered at that time), but then my friend in the class had us read Foundation by Asimov.

If you haven't read it, Foundation is an old, smart, respected, award-winning, classic, epic science fiction novel.  I felt like I should suggest something other than sci-fi, so I suggested The Outsiders, a book the teacher had never read, subsequently loved, and still uses in his other sophomore English classes to this day.

"On the other hand, few things are more subjective than judgments about how "great" any given book is. Those real, long-standing cultural biases mentioned above live in the heart of every critic to one degree or another, and we'd be shirking our duty if we didn't try to account for them. Writing off such qualms as mere "political correctness" is, in its own way, just as dishonest as exaggerating your admiration for a book simply because its author is female, or dark-skinned, or from a far-off nation."
- Laura Miller at

Please take a look at the rest of the article, and do weigh in on what you see as the place of the critical top X lists published at the end of a year or decade.  Is the subjective opinion/personality of the list more important, or is balance more important?  Or something else?  What should the criteria include and exclude?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reasons to hate a certain airport

At first, this was going to be pure venom, but then something positive caught my eye, so I decided to be slightly more even-handed.  The poop joke helped.

+ It was so humid when we arrived that fog was everywhere, and on the walk from the plane to the terminal, I breathed smoke and felt like a dragon, including sound effects because I was the last one off the plane, so no one could hear me. I forgot that I wasn't invisible, though, which is why I was completely mortified to step into the terminal to see that an old man in a rocking chair facing the door was laughing his head off at me. Nice.

- You can't get from one terminal to another without exiting the secured area.

+ A nice TSA employee tells you this, only smirking a little.

- You have to check in separately with your connecting flight airline, and your connecting flight's airline recently merged with another, making it impossible for you to follow directions and do automatic check-in.

+ A nice airline employee helps you through this.

- You have to go through security screening again, meaning you have to dump out the water in your water bottle and barely make your connecting flight, so you can't refill the bottle, and your ears do not handle the waterless descent well at all.

+ The airport has rocking chairs.  Also bathroom stalls designed for people with luggage.

- It has sinks with automatic soap dispensers located too close to the automatic faucets, so when you rinse your hands, the soap dispenser poops all over your sleeve.

+ At least the sink water is cold, so you don't broil while your hands get rinsed.

- Which is good, because, since only a thin trickle of water comes out of the faucets, you are rinsing for a long time.

+ The airport has recycling containers.
And there you have it.
Any good, personal airport horror stories you'd like to share?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Four seasons of home

Do you suppose you have to love all four seasons in another country before you can really say you want to make it your home?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do I know you?

I was startled a few days ago to realize that I felt a certain kind of amused affection for a particular person partly because he reminds me of a character in a book series I've been re-reading recently.  They're both young college guys, they lost their fathers young, they wear hooded sweatshirts . . .  Yeah, that's pretty much it. 

I hadn't consciously been trying to remember who he reminded me of, but it came to me suddenly in an a-ha moment while I was vacuuming and thinking about something else entirely.  I hadn't even known he reminded me of someone at all.

So I'm just curious.  Have you ever felt kinship with a person you don't know very well only to find out it's because s/he reminds you of a character in a book you've read? 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why I'm Not a Critic

". . . just try and enjoy instead of being critical you might find you like it better that way."

This was the advice a fan gave to a critic, and it nearly made me snort milk out my nose. As a staunch non-critic, I agree that the sentiment makes sense, but good grief, what a silly thing to say to a critic. Critics do not get paid to like stuff. Critics do not get sent Advanced Reader's Copies for free so that they can enjoy them privately.

Critics are there to review the merits and drawbacks of whatever they're looking at and then communicate their opinions to others. How they do this differs greatly. Connie reviews her experience of reading the work in very conversational language. You can tell what ticked her off, what she really enjoyed, what she looked forward to, what met or disappointed her expectations, and what she's trying to be fair-minded about. Other reviewers give a brief, simplified summary of the contents and then some criticism about what was done well and not so well. Some use formal language. Some are vicious.  Some use ratings systems.  Some judge on set criteria.  (There are so many ways to review and critique!)

Some critics seem to live to hate everything, an understandable mindset when they have to keep cranking out reviews even when the last thing they feel like doing is reading another book. I'm sure if I even had to critically examine everything I read, I, too, would start to notice patterns and see similarities and long above all else for originality.  Since I don't have to review, and since I read so eclectically and widely and uncritically, I don't remember much of anything, so originality doesn't mean much to me. And if I don't want to read something, I don't have to.

My nephew can happily hear the same story every night and love it every night even as his parents go crazy and have it all memorized. (He's two.) How many times have I read my favorite books? It doesn't matter! I still love them!

I am not a critic. I don't like being a critic unless I don't like the book, and then it's nice to engage Critic Mode, so I can try to at least learn something from what I didn't like, thus giving it some sort of useful, redeeming value since it probably didn't have much entertainment value.

If I like something, I want to just like it. I want to focus on what was good, better, and best. I want to revel in the ways it brought me joy or pathos or whatever it brought me. I want to live in the moment where that one-liner was delivered perfectly.  Or that awful missed opportunity.  Or that scene with that twist!  I love being a fan!

I am not in school for this. I don't need to make the things I love justify themselves. If I did, I would kill them all. Reading would become a chore. I would hate that more than most anything else that could happen to me. I don't want that. Therefore, I make the conscious decision not to be a critic.

This resolution does not mean
  • I don't see the point of critics.
  • I brainlessly love everything about the books I read and like.
  • I can't hold a reasonable conversation about books I love (if we have it soon enough after I finish).
  • I never analyze at all for craft tips on pacing, setting, characterization, plot, or whatever. (Writers are thieves and plunderers, even when we are completely unconscious about it.  It's a spinal reflex.)

My decision not to be a critic means that I first read to enjoy. Anything else that happens is a bonus, an extra return for extra effort if I choose to make it. The glorious thing is that I don't have to make it, and I still get wonderful returns for my "effort."

This is why my dream job is reading books, not reviewing them or criticizing them, just reading books in a comfortable place somewhere. Of course, this idea is truly the literal definition of dream job because who would pay me to simply enjoy myself? No one. I don't have to be a professional fan. In fact, I pay for the privilege of being a fan. Ah, the freedom . . .

It's kind of a rush.

How about you? Fan or critic? Both? At different times?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

An example of a good author interview

John Scalzi blogged about the need for originality in interviews just a bit ago, so when I saw a good example of a well-done sort of interview, I felt I should pass it along.

What's better than Patrick Rothfuss or Brent Weeks? Patrick Rothfuss AND Brent Weeks. These two authors of some of my favorite fantasy books over the last few years did a short interview with each other, and they were goofy and fun.

Learn interesting facts about the NYT Best Seller Lists.  Find out what makes Brent Weeks "feel snobbed on," the most shameful self-promotional thing he's ever done, how much was cut from the beginning of each author's first published book, what literary figure they would like to punch in the face, the most hurtful thing said in reviews of their works, and other things.

Of the comments, I draw your attention to the 5th comment (Malcuy's January 8th) about why the poster has only read the first Night Angel book and the 18th comment (Bombie's January 8th) with a link to an amusing online war of words between Weeks and Joe Abercrombie (another writer of exceedingly dark fantasy) at the Borders Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Blog (remember to read from the bottom up).

Some day I want to be a published fantasy author, so I can have fun talking to other great authors.

What author(s) would you want to interview?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How Not to Do New Year's Resolutions

I really dug Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz and am really anticipating the time when I get to read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  (Very, very soon, I pray, after I land a new job.)

Since he's been thinking so hard about story, he has a few suggestions for those who don't really do New Year's Resolutions (as in, don't make them or don't keep them).  Take a look at his ideas here and then here.

What do you think?  Does the idea of setting up narratives for yourself seem silly or pretty darned inspirational?  If it inspires you, what story do you want to write first.  :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why I am pleased with my screen name

The Moon in Autumn can be reduced to the acronym TMIA, which contains the acronyms TMI and MIA, both of which seem kind of appropriate for (my) blogs. I don't know if the fact that I'm a writer and reader makes it easier for silly wordplay to make me giddy, and I don't care because I enjoy making myself laugh. :)

What's the best pun you've heard lately?

Monday, January 4, 2010

A great adventure minus pirates, British accents, and high seas

Finished The Good Thief today while exercising, and it was great!  (Maybe not so much for the other people in the exercise room who probably thought I was bonkers for laughing and crying while exercising, but I should be used to that by now.)  Full of rip-roaring adventure, gross but accurately observed details, villains, some touching moments, and even some heroes, this was a pleasure to read through. 

Think Oliver Twist meets Kidnapped/Treasure Island in New England, and you have the basic idea.

It had a couple of those electric moments where a line just reaches out to me and punches me in the gut to get my attention.  I didn't have too many markers for quotes, but a lack of quotes does not mean the writing is poor.  One-liners are not needed every page to keep me turning to the next one.

If you need a fairly short book to make you feel nostalgic while not talking down to you as it hurtles through lots of adventures to an ending you'll want to find out, check The Good Thief out soon.

What do you think of when you look at the cover?  (It's really nice close up, if you get the chance to hold it.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting off with an easy one: what is literature?

I love the written word, so I'm starting off the year with a quote.

"Umberto Eco defines literature as any text that moves beyond the confines of its media. When people start to talk about the characters as if they are friends, the book is no longer just a book - it has become literature."

I like this idea.  I think it's important to notice how no value judgment is made; we're not defining good and bad, just literature or not-literature.

How do you feel about it? Do you agree with Eco, or do you think this definition is too broad? How do you define literature?