Archive for the ‘Books are Not for Eating’ Category

After twelve hours at work today, I’m feeling just a smidge arguably mentative.  It’s that time of year.  I might have to wear my horns tomorrow.

Oh, Sibylle.  Why must you vex me so?

I admit, I’m not far into The Mother: Archetypal Image in Fairy Tales.  But does that mean I can’t have an opinion?

Dearest darling Sibylle says:

“The father symbolizes the active, creating principle, the mother the receptive and nourishing one. Although, as we shall see, there is also a spirit mother, the mother principle is primarily on the side of nature in the sense of the instincts, the physical drives” (p. 14).

Okay, she’s a Jungian.  Which does not curdle my cheese nearly as much as if she had been a Freudian.  But upon this night, I say unto thee, I sure is tired of folks jumpin’ on the bandwagon!  So one bloke had a theory.  And he would just Not Shut Up About It.  (We’ve all known guys like that.  They usually end up alone at the bar and no one will talk to them.  But then there are the rare few who get an audience, for whatever reason, perhaps it is their charisma, or their evil mustache, or it’s to annoy your mother… and then John-Bob says, “Oh yeah, I know that guy,” even though he doesn’t, and suddenly it’s A Thing.)

To which I rise up tonight and say, Avoid The Thing!

That’s right!  You heard me!  You’ve got a head on your shoulders; why don’t you use it?

It is simple, dear readers; the head upon said shoulders is rarely used because my generation spent twenty years in classrooms being told that our opinions did not not matter, they were opinions, but when Freud said something, his was not an opinion but fact, and so stop arguing and purporting to have opinions.

I actually do sadly look back at the best minds I collected in my university, the ones who were enthusiastic and creative and Doing, and I watched Every Single One of them deteriorate into a sad pathetic lump that will never again make up primordial soup.  The soup doesn’t want them.  Not in their present states of disillusion.

And all because, like the writers of so many of these treatises of Thought, they jumped on someone elses’ bandwagon, and being on the bandwagon makes you invisible as it forces the entire world into that train of thought and no one gets out their own building blocks to build up a brand new idea.

No one can hear you on the bandwagon, even though you think that’s the best way.

And no one is ever going to listen if you have your own idea.

Because first you need a fan base.  You need an Influencer.  You need someone (other than your mother) who already has a Voice (although may not have anything much to say with it) to say, “Yesssss, people, that there is an Idea and I myself discovered it!  And so, people, you must buy it!”

Okay, enough disparaging poor old Sibylle for forcing the entire world to fit neatly into Jung’s idea.

Because now we get to the grit in my craw.

The male, the father, the man, is the Active one.  And the female, the mother, the woman, is fucking Receptive.

A nice polite way of saying she’s Passive.

Which is true of the rewritten and edited fairy tale versions, particularly of Grimm and Disney, which were mostly gathered by men in the 1800s and used to tell the world (and women) what they the men wanted… which appears to be some sort of necrophilia.  A passive nurturer who will never argue and will go out of her way to care for his every need.

You may say, But Dawn, this is no longer true.  Women are “liberated” and arguing against certain fairy stories nowadays is ridiculous.

But I am looking at four generations of women here. I’m looking at my entire generation in the Midwest.  And I’m seeing it.  All of it.

I see the passive girls.  I see the girls who purposefully get pregnant to trick men into marrying them and “taking care of them” so they don’t miss “that great opportunity” for a husband–at the age of 18.  I see the sexist men who won’t let their grown daughters go to college.  I see the girls who are belittled for having an opinion.  I see the Pink toys that are given to young girls which are nowhere near as complicated as the equivalent toys given to boys their same age and skill level.  I see the parents and grandparents perpetuating this when they call and demand to know if the unicorn comes in more “boy colors” than white.  I hear grandmothers (loving, saintly!) say (word-for-word), “We can’t give THAT to the girl; she ain’t as smart as the boy!”

Toddlers and preschoolers are just starting to come into an understanding of their lives and where they fit in our society, and they will do anything to be loved.  Their limited understanding of their positions is based on the stereotypes that adults force down their throats–and in order to “gain our love”, they go out of their way to try to act out those roles.  To “play house” and “princess” like they are “supposed” to.

We are self-perpetuating when we say that we buy pink toys for the girls because they want them.  They ask for what they think WE want them to want.

Finally, “the mother principle is primarily on the side of nature in the sense of the instincts“…

Do you know why this part of the Feminine stands out the most?  For the last thousand, two thousand, three thousand years, most women have been banned from formal learning.  Most were not taught to read nor write.  Most have been discouraged from thinking or stating an opinion to their husband.  Most just hoped to become the Property (which is exactly what marriage legally did to females) of a man who would not beat her, and one who would bring home food.

I look back at the previous two generations, at the “Gee, honey, I hope you buy this new vacuum cleaner for me to show me how much you love me”, at the women who dared not work after marriage, whose worlds were limited by the people their menfolk would drive them to visit, by the limited educations they were “allowed” to have by parents who believed girls should not be educated… and when one of these very Instinctual women tells me how much she wished she was smarter… is always, always telling me how dumb she feels… but who has a finely honed Unconscious, a mind that cannot process deeply learned theories but can look at a small group of people and explain all those interconnections… a woman who Hated so much of life and threw herself into several home arts just to have something to do with her very smart but very under-utilized brain…

I look at these woman, and I fully understand the dark depths of repression.

And here is Sibylle, a learned woman, just perpetuating them more by writing off a woman as receptive and a man as active… because that’s what was allowed… and because she bought a man’s blind theory… and never, not once, thought to argue with it.

Maybe because she thought that, by stroking the ego of all the Jungian Men, that she might just maybe earn their love.

Because preschoolers and toddlers and people with a limited view of social brainwashing (aka: cultural fitting-in-ness) will do Anything to make you love them.

And isn’t that cute?



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Oh dear, oh deer, oh deee are.

Lin-Lin wanted what I thought was going to be a new friend.  Little did I know.  She did not have the best of intentions.

Who, me? Mais je suis the picture of innocence!

Who, me? Mais je suis the picture of innocence!

Lin-Lin brought me the glue.

She brought me the glass.  She even broke the glass.

I was starting to get suspicious–what is it you want me to do, child?

“Lay out that baby and start gluin’!” was the reply.

I lied to that baby:

I lied to that baby: “Pretend it’s just a day at the beach!”

What can I say; I’m pretty obedient.

Anytime you find yourself gluing shards of glass to a baby, perhaps you should start to question your actions.

I didn’t.

Not until we started getting into more… compromising positions.

One of those compromising positions... I'm not sure this is legal.

One of those compromising positions… I’m not sure this is legal.

Just what was I doing?

Well, honestly, I didn’t know.  When we first started this, ahem, “project” (for want of a better term), I tried hot glue.  (Ouch, ouch, ouch, says the baby!)  But I found that when gluing glass to plastic, hot glue doesn’t cut it.  It didn’t harm either the glass or the plastic, but it wasn’t so very permanent, either.  Not even half-so.  I had glued a large section to the baby, shifted position to hold a dried glued-glass area, and the shards started to shift and come off.  Hot glue: just too malleable.

Lin-Lin brought me the Liquid Fusion, recommended by my very own Vegebrarian (owner of the Etsy shop InciteDelight).  While not as permanent as some goopier items (I was able to later remove a shard or two when the poor baby could not completely lower her arm), this glue is less likely to kill you while you sleep (always a plus!).

What were you doing at 3am?  Um, yeah, I was breaking shards of glass off a baby with needle-nose pliers.

Shhh, don't tell the neighbors

Shhh, don’t tell the neighbors

When I was done with that, and half-done with the gluing, Lin-Lin demanded I learn to make fish scales out of yarn.  Attempt one: failed.  Attempt two: stole bits and bobs from an old hat pattern and commandeered them to make…

Lin-Lin, what AM I making?

Ta Da 2

Ta Da!

Really?  This is what I was making this whole time?

But honestly, when I was done, I was glad Lin-Lin was so task-mastery.

I still fear for this baby’s life, though.  Lin-Lin can’t be trusted.



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My dear friend Lin-Lin has some… hobbies.  In particular, she likes to change people.  Often from the outside in.  Some things to keep in mind:

Scissors just won’t cut it.

Yous gots to get the right instructions.

Yous gots to get the right instructions.

No matter how careful you are, their innards are going to get all over.

Babies is tougher than I thought!

Babies is tougher than I thought!

Every person is held together with zip ties, which is annoying.

You’re going to need lots of patience–and wire cutters.

What'm I gonna do with this piece?

What’m I gonna do with this piece?

The body you’re dismembering will jerk and twitch and make funny faces just like it’s alive.

All wored out, I gots to take a nap.

All wored out, I gots to take a nap.

Pictures can be used against you in a court of law.

Don’t be tempted to keep souvenirs.

Rock on!

Rock on!

Your accomplice will always betray you.

Phew! Never thoughts I'd finish. But now the clean-up starts.

Phew! Never thoughts I’d finish. But now the clean-up starts.

Rebuilding someone from the leftovers is not art.

Are you really prepared to see what your friends are made of?


You can follow Lin-Lin on Twitter @LinLinAndPedro but I’m just not sure she’s a nice girl.



**PS: Lin-Lin’s in a book… but if you call her a “dolly” that’s extremely rude, disparaging, and she’ll kick your ass.  Until then, she’s looking for an agent and pretending she’s got a halo.  (Oooh, shiny!)

***PPS: Copyright for photos and text belong to Dawn Wilson and shan’t be used without permission.

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Come, ye dusty book ninjas, let us plow the new furrow of No More Reading Crappy Stuff!  Let us ambush ye wankers who wallow in the muck of Crap and slap them upside their heads to the tune of: Read This, Not That!  We could save many a life.

Save Yourself!

Save Yourself!


WHY should we read?  I hear it over and over from people with disdain.  People look at the New York Times Best-Seller list or wherever and they say: But I don’t WANT to read that, or anything like it!  Heck, why do so many people read the NYT best-sellers?  Because… they’re advertised?  Because you look for what you’ve previously heard of (hence why people continue to vote for dead folks if their names aren’t removed from ballots).  It’s not because that arbitrary list is actually the BEST POSSIBLE LITERATURE EVER (oh swoon).  It’s usually, unfortunately, an “easy” read.  Which is something that turns off a lot of folk.  Why bother reading the same formulaic story over and over?

You don’t have to settle for mediocre literature!  In fact, we would get more readers if there was an easy way to sift through the barrage of bilge and find what we actually will like.  But unfortunately, most book search sites are unwieldy at best.

The problem of What to Read is widespread.  When you’re in school, EVERYONE reads the same thing.  If you’re less fortunate, you’ll even end up reading the same book over and over in different classes.  And if this same book, or same type of book, is not your cup of muffins, it’s just going to turn you off reading to read it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.  Sure, there has to be a “canon” of literature that you at least have a basic understanding of, but if there were different canons, that would be more than lovely!  That could save the adult’s desire to read (R.I.P. Desire to Read).

The number one complaint in book reviews?  “I was forced to read crap like this in school; why should I read it NOW?”

There’s a reason that there are over a hundred channels on television (and still nothing on).  There’s a reason people are turning to services such as Netflix that might offer a broader range of old and new shows.  The problem is, TV pays; publishing… dropped their ball.  The only radio commercial I’ve ever heard for a book was for Danielle Steele (who doesn’t really need much advertising anyway).  And although you’ll find a myriad of posters and ads for books in the UK, you won’t stumble on that much in the US.

So what’s the solution?

People need to understand that there are sooooo many books published in every style, on every topic.  And just because “everyone” (who is Everyone?) is reading something you hate does not mean that you need to start hating on the storytellers of the world.  There’s too many amazing stories being told in beautiful exciting orgiastic ways to lump them all together.  Just because it’s in “print” does not make James Joyce, James Patterson, and Raymond Federman the “same”.  It’s in the same “medium”, yes, but that’s what confuses people.  You flip it open at random and maybe it looks the same… but is it going to make you vomit?  It’s like looking at the inside of your kid sister you just sliced open with your mom’s sheers.  Yeah, she looks EXACTLY like the inside of your little brother that you sliced open with the weed eater.  But the truth is, she’s NOT the same.


Read This, Not That!

Okey-dokey, it’s truth time.  I HATED this book.  I finished it.  (Why???)  Because it was about an imaginary friend, which is one of those things that makes me go ooooh and maybe swoon a little.  But let me lament, James Patterson, that this book really sucked.  The characters were tepid and barely thought-out.  It was the same old “I’ve got a problem but I’m a good girl” character flaw.  I was waiting to be blown away by at least a reimagining of the Imaginary Friend literature canon.  But instead?  The plot sucked, the characters sucked, and the writing was… blase.

There are some things that I adore in writing, and one of those is a specific voice, it’s wordplay, it’s using language as God intended.  Make the language sing!  (Okay, there are a LOT of writers who come from the school of thought that language should be a tool, it should remain invisible, and that will make the story itself float to the surface.  Me?  I don’t subscribe to that school.  I usually find the books written by those writers to be fairly boring.)

Will I ever re-read Sundays at Tiffany’s?  Never!

The very first technique employed is the “I’m gonna hook ya, you bloody reader”.  I’ve seen a lot of desperate writers attempt to employ this.  And I blame the agents.  The new agent “Game” is the Five Page Game.  I’m being nice and you have five pages before I throw you out the window, and your little dog, too.  So a lot of writers are turning to this Hook Device.  Which is so far beyond artificial that it’s beyond melodrama.  Melodrama at least has a sense of fun.  The beginning of this book: Oh no, someone’s gonna die!  I won’t say who, but it MIGHT be the main character!  And then, of course, we have to go back in time and tell the actual story, and then lead up to the Climax… which is a Climax for a reason.  But thanks to the Hook Advice, a lot of writers are attempting to start with the Climax and work backwards, just to Hook the reader.  (I have Never seen this work well…)

Device Two, for which I blame several agents (I’ve read the Agent Advice of: always stage your novel in New York City, London, or LA, because no one will be able to understand a regional novel without a flavorful location–to which I blanch and say: that’s one way to alienate a LOT of readers)–half the b0ok was spent extolling the virtues of NYC and how wonderful and how if you don’t live here and can’t go to blah-x place to get ice cream, and can’t stop by Tiffany’s everyday, your life SUCKS and you should probably DIE (save us all the trouble).

Three, totally dropped the ball on the Climax anyway, because, lo and behold, Device Three: There was a misunderstanding.  So everything’s going to be okay.

Regardless, there was not a single thing worth me ever recommending this book to anyone for any reason forevermore the end.  And here I was hopeful… because the Imaginary Friend trope appeared to have pierced the Mainstream Sensibility (which keeps anything “weird” at a distance and only allows it to visit once a year for Christmas).

So let me please oh please oh please remove this book from the entire world and replace it with:

Winkie by Clifford Chase.

Re-readable?  Yuppers!

It’s the story of a teddy bear.  Who miraculously comes to life.  Yet stays a teddy.  (None of this Velveteen Rabbit stuff…  Although, on the plus side, the writer had actually done his homework and made several references back to such tales, so we would all KNOW he did his homework.)  (ASIDE: This is the reason so many professors try to push students to learn a core group of books–the difference is, instead of the misguided philosophy of One Size Fits All, this allows for people to study the books that are written in the style or about a subject they will love, and learn the entire canon of “imaginary” friend literature.  Sure, it’s okay to read great classics, but be openminded about the new classics!)  And.  The teddy bear.  Is charged with.  Terrorism.

I hate “terrorism” novels.

I love Winkie.  The greatest thing is that Clifford Chase not only starts out writing a satire, he is able to end by writing a satire.  There are far too many authors who start out writing one type of story, then fear that someone won’t take them seriously, and so then they break the Pact With the Reader, and suddenly decide to turn a book into something else.  But Chase manages to start with a certain tone and he never broke my pact.  I really appreciate that.

There are some reviewers of this book who thought it over the top that the government decided to charge a teddy bear with terrorism.  But that’s the point!  It’s farce!  It’s high farce!  And!  The Trial of the Teddy just gets better as they bring in the line of witnesses (no spoiler, as it’s too gooey as is).  See, when you write a comedy (even a serious comedy), the problem is that there are way too many people who don’t have a sense of humor, or don’t realize that a sense of humor is too distinct.  That’s why so few comedies are published, in comparison with “serious” or “mainstream” fiction.  With serious fiction, you know where you stand.  You must frown and say, Oh, too bad, that’s awful.  But with a comedy, too many people don’t know where they stand, and when they’re uncertain, they simply rail against it as an art.  Oh that’s not funny!  (You’re not funny!)

It’s soooo hard to pull off over-the-top farce, and I give Chase kudos for not only doing so, but then finding a mainstream publisher.  (That’s some sort of miracle!)


Unto you all, I say: Read Winkie, NOT Sundays at Tiffany’s.  It may save your life.  Or keep you from indigestion.





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So you say there are no good books coming out nowadays, it’s all dried up like that sack of worms you left on the porch last fall?

Try this: The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones written by Jack Wolf.

So you think all literary writing has to be needlessly dull and artlessly depressing?

You think literary writing can’t be dark, sinister, and still touch the deep issues?

Well, you would be wrong, chump!

Read this or Raw Head will come for you in your sleep.

Read this or Raw Head will come for you in your sleep.


The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is part fairy tale, part sinister probing into the dark recesses of the human condition, part historical portrayal of the early years of modern medicine.

One thing I appreciated about the tale is that it never felt inevitable.  The character actually underwent the changes in psyche while we were there with him.  (And the moments of non-lucidity were grand fun, to boot!)  But I never felt like, Oh, yes, of course that’s what’s going to happen.  Also, the mix of a magical fairy realm overlapping the stark reality was both fun to read and added an extra element of suspense.  There was something for every type of reader to hold onto, be it psychological suspense, a glimpse into the medical side of early psychiatry, a treatise on the use of criminal bodies for autopsy so medical schools would not have to resort to body snatching (a major crime that popped up back in that era!), or the magical flitters we couldn’t quite grasp because they were at once real and not quite.

Also, for you writers out there who think “it can’t be done, publishing is all dried up and not open to the weird, bizarre, or otherwise non-mainstream”, I can tell you that Jack Wolf was one of the writers on my course in Bath.  The debut writer really does exist!  (gasp!)  Stay the course.  Maybe it will take five years of editing, but isn’t it worth it, to read this and shudder?

Re-readability: It’s 500 pages, but yes, I do think it would be worth a second read.  The scope covered over two decades of fancy and intrigue deserve a second look to see just what was real, and how the author wove together this twisted little tale.

Would I burrow through the floor and hit someone with it?  Sure!  It’s 500 pages, and it’s going to hurt, so y’all’d best be watching when you hear a little scritch-scritch coming from the carpet.  DISCLAIMER: It’s not for everyone.  Mumsy-dearest would be horrified and try to get me exorcised.  Anyone easily offended… should probably stick to running the school carpool and screaming at children from the sidelines of the soccer field anyway.  Although, easily offended people, how do they procreate?



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Adults are like children, my people!  Children do not readily take naps.  They do not eat their vegetables.

Adults do take naps and eat their vegetables… ahem.

But children read and adults just plain don’t!  So the problem is, how to get them to sit down for five minutes instead of cultivating their adult-onset ADHD?


Lie in their bushes, swing from their trees, ambush them on their porch swings!

“But,” says the tremoring little voice, “but how d’you know what’s good to read?  Reading’s all boring.  It’s all James Joyce.  It’s hard!”

Untrue, my little lemmings!

For today, I attack you upside the head with: Ella Minnow Pea!  Written by Mark Dunn.

Read this, damn you!

Read this, damn you!








A clever little allegory, fairy tale, whatever you want to call it, using the constrictures of Oulipo.  Have you ever tried to write a story or an essay?  Have you ever stayed up nights pulling out your few too many hairs trying to get it to say just what you want it to say?  Now, imagine writing that school paper without using half the letters in the alphabet!

Mwuhahahaha!  (Your English teacher just died from enjoying a little too much evil.)

Ella Minnow Pea is about a quaint little island off the coast of the US where everyone reveres the language and worships a man named Nollop, who had the delight in his lifetime to create that old typing-teacher’s friend, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”  Unless you still type with one finger on the keyboard and the other up your nose, you’ve probably heard of it.

The great thing about the little country of Nollop is that people do still read, and they do write letters to each other, and the arts are encouraged, not disparaged.  It’s a little tiny Utopia.  But as with any Utopia, you get a few nuts in a political seat of power, and things are going to make your stomach churn.  See, “The quick brown fox” saying was immortalized in little tiles over a hundred years ago using some funky glue… and as the glue starts to fail and the letters fall, the island council declares those letters dead to the human language.  Outlawed.  By pain of beatings, exile, or even DEATH.

Most of us haven’t had to deal, outright, with a Monster of our own creating… or with real censorship (especially not by pain of death).  But the thing is, as the story is told using written letters (epistolary novel, y’all), as the alphabetical letters go away, the posted mail is searched for outlaws flaunting the laws.  Sure, it’s all written with humor and light, but the underlying horror of censorship and unfair laws that benefit only the island council hits home on a deeper level.  It’s a little like the feeling you get when you’re reading Anne Frank, except without the need to throw the book across the room at the end, because you know there are some injustices you CAN fight.

Re-readable?  Indeed.

Recommended?  Absolutely.  It’s delightful.

Would I attack a little old lady in a parking lot and force her to read the book while I sit on her back?  You bet I would!



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Welcome back to the Kamikaze Adult Literacy Campaign!

Please wear a flack jacket.

That’s to deal with all the people who give you flack for opening a book and sticking your nose in it…

My own mother used to ask me WHY I was reading and if it was a BAD book I was reading, so I’ve heard it all.  I’ve hidden in the garage… in the bathtub… in a tree…  You know, the places where you’ll get RUN OVER or DROWN or FALL TO YOUR DEATH if you’re not paying attention.  I mean, come on, that’s commitment!

So do I expect anything less of the rest of the world?

I expect you all to HIDE in your garages and behind the shower curtains and up in trees–and when your friends and neighbors walk by, when your spouse comes to take a shower, well, jump out and slap them upside the head with a GOOD BOOK!

Papercutsssss!  Noooo!  I got a papercut on my eyyyyeeee!

What wusses thy neighbors be.  Give it to em good.  Hit em harder!  Whappow!  That thar’s a book, and yes, the pages are sharp.  See how much fun reading can be?  It’s DANGEROUS.



It's Ski-Shooting Now! How to make reading FUN, by gun-toting Yokels

It’s Ski-Shooting Now! How to make reading FUN, by gun-toting Yokels

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Welcome to the advent of the

Kamikaze Adult Literacy Campaign

Where we advocate SURPRISE LITERACY ATTACKS on your (unsuspecting) neighbors, (bewildered) spouses, and of course your head-up-their-ass co-workers!  (That one doesn’t even deserve parentheses! Mwuhaha!)

In the US, children read more than adults.  Young adult books are the most-purchased literature.  Adults are being left behind!  This means that adults are becoming less socially cognizant.  They’re becoming functionally illiterate.  They’re becoming… stupidheads.  (Yes, that is a clinical term.)  Their attention span is waning, their patience grows more minute, and their bodies and minds become primed for ALIEN TAKE-OVER!

I mean this in all seriousness, I’d love to see a few more aliens here and there, especially at the grocery store (someone needs to replace the gal who is always telling me Who Died) and at work (we’re not even going to go into WHY alien alternation is the ONLY SOLUTION for the nutsos, cranks, and poopheads who troll our nation’s libraries–)

Actually, let’s do so!

BECAUSE you did not READ a book last month (admit it!) that comfy spot in the library was FORFEITED to the smelly homeless guy who farts a lot.  And then there’s the crazy lady who’s suing everyone and their grandmother and for some reason thinks her neighborhood library staff will help her sift up new reasons to sue them.  Because you did not READ a book, Porn Man has moved from looking to participatory porn… and he’s writing a “book” detailing the wonders of white trash as portrayed by the industry.

It’s all your fault!

And so, here’s what you can do to make amends (and so I don’t end up under the wheels of a psychiatrist’s $100k BMW–they run over their more troublesome patients, just for fun, just to see the looks on our faces when they turn on us and Don’t Honk)–read a damn book!  And while you’re at it, don’t read some boring shit that everyone says is good for you.  Read something classy and dangerous.  And then turn around and smack your sunbathing nude neighbor upside the head with a great indie-published festival piece regarding the dangers of children.  He (or she) (it’s all the same when it’s your neighbor who’s nude… ’cause it’s not pretty) will thank you for it.

Click below for a larger view.



Your excuses suck!

Your excuses suck!

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Henry Farrell

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

So I finally stumbled upon the novel that inspired Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  I’d been looking for it when I was doing my MA, and behold!  They have now re-released it.

Written by Henry Farrell, the movie follows the book without deviation.  In fact, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more in the book than they were able to put in the movie.  Normally I’m all about the book version.  Was it over-excitement?  I’d waited five years to stumble upon a copy of the book after the movie made me swoon and go ka-thump in my heart for dear old Jane the creepy ex-child star.

I enjoyed that the publishers put a few of Farrell’s short stories at the end of the book, including the short story that Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte was based on.

It’s been a couple months since I read this book, and unfortunately, it never gave me dreams in the middle of the night and hasn’t popped up in my subconscious with a niggling little memory.  So I’m setting it aside for now with my other cult fictions to see how it holds up.  Has it been forever eclipsed by the movie version?  A cult fiction takes its test when you go back to read it later, so although it didn’t give me that thrill in the pit of my stomach that told me I was going to be reading it again, I think I will.  Just to see.  Will you stand up to time, Mr. Farrell?


Robert Bloch


A RANDOM ASIDE: Bloch is also author of a random episode of Thriller that was on last night.  About Jack the Ripper and the possibility of the ritual killings keeping him alive and unaging for decades at a time.  The end of the episode seemed… kind of rushed.  And I was a little offended by the treatment of the “bohemian” personality.  But at the same time, I loved that those artists had a place they could go to be creative where at least other artists wouldn’t make fun of them (although the police certainly didn’t watch their tongues).

~So I also read Psycho recently.  The thing is, I have never seen the movie.  But I had this immense feeling of deja vu the entire time I was reading the book.  The story is such a part of our culture that even if you have never seen the core classics, you won’t escape them.

Reading Pyscho was possibly a little more interesting, textually, than Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, or it could be that I had not seen the movie, and so was not over-anticipating everything.  In fact, I had a little faux pas.  In my head, I had put the shower scene from The Shining into Psycho, and so while I was reading, I was anticipating Here’s Johnny!  And the whole time I was like, Who thought that creepy old Jack Nicholson was a dead ringer for Norman Bates????

Quite possibly, the suspense was just up one notch from Baby Jane, at this point.

Re-readable?  Sure.  But I almost feel that, knowing more about Edward Gein’s real history, there is more to the story than we were getting.  It’s probably the thing that I love to hate about Phantom of the Opera.  It’s a mystery.  The detective sets out to solve a crime.  We follow clues.  It becomes a little underwhelming because if you’re following clues, you’re in the land of science, and so you are not in the speculative land of an actual thriller.


William March

The Bad Seed

The only thing I knew about The Bad Seed going into the book was that the child was a naughty-pants.

Thanks to the fact that this story and its movie have not crept into our subconscious minds the way the other two stories have, I actually enjoyed the reading experience more on a suspenseful level.  Like the other two, there was a technique employed that you’re going to have every writing teacher of the modern era screaming and pulling at their hair, but when you’re creating drama, it’s actually a useful technique: omniscient narrators capable of seeing into the heads of multiple people and telling you where they stand.  That has become a taboo in writing classes nowadays, a taboo that always made me go hmmm, simply because you pull out a lot of classic books that have stood the test of time, and you’re going to find omniscient narrators every which way.  Including up.

March also chose to pull out 70s psychobabble of the type that had been so du jour.  Although some reviewers panned his idea of the inheritable genetics of personality traits, the thing is that March picked his stance, for the story, and he stuck with it.  So go with it.  Don’t try to debunk his “science” because the thing is that it’s a story.

There were enough twists that I was properly impressed, not having expected anything much to come of the mother, Christine, who was a self-described wet blanket type.  She knew she wasn’t up to the task in front of her.

I was suitably impressed by March’s portrayal of Rhoda, the darling little girl who was born of a bad seed.  Nicely played!  I have often been intrigued with the cute character being naughty, like in the anime Dai Mahou Touge (Magical Witch Punie-Chan).  I didn’t have a lot of hope for this eight-year-old to actually be evil and be able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.  But she had a few lovely creepy techniques of cute to slay anyone.

The psychobabble could have been overwhelming, but I love the historical aspects March brought in to Christine’s search for an answer later on.

On first reading, I knew we were going to end up with at least one victim, and the nice thing was, I was completely wrong about who I suspected was going to get it.

Re-readability?  Highest of the three.



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I get asked this a lot: “Why should I read?”  Or even “Why should I read THAT?”

These are legit questions in our technocratic society.  If we want people to focus on science and factual information, the easiest way to make those fields come out on top is to devalue literature, particularly fiction.

Working at a major university library in the past, I was shocked near the end of the school year when students would come up to me to get signed off for graduating, and they would boast: “I never used the library and I’m graduating.”  I even had a few tell me, “Guess what?  I’m graduating and I never read a full book the whole time I was here.”  The new thing, in this area of the country, is to get to graduation without learning anything.  Escape unscathed!  You’re da man if you can graduate and stick it to us by becoming functionally illiterate.

Is this a game of the uneducable, or is there something parents and teachers can do to remove the stigma associated with reading?

I know all about the stigma.  From childhood, every time I opened a book, my mother would ask me, objectionably, accusingly, “What are you doing?  Why are you doing that?  Is that a BAD book?”  When you’re seven, what does that even mean?  Is that a bad book?  Bye-bye Harriet the Spy and the non-fiction book on codes.  Bye-bye ghost story books.  About the only books that were okay to read were The Baby-Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High.  I even tried to create safe nooks and crannies and tents.  When we had to move my dresser to paint the wall, I built myself a fort where I thought I would be safe.  I was informed I needed to return my Morse Code book to the library.  I would try to read in bed with a flashlight and the covers over my head.  Books were persona non grata in our house.  My mother had a few boxes of old romance novels that she no longer read, and sometime after we moved, she just threw them away without donating them, because books of any kind had no value.

Looking back, it seems odd to encourage a ten-year-old to read Sweet Valley High.  The social situations verged on soap opera.  The emotions were heightened and everything was always the end of the world.  There was back-stabbing and every other book, half the kids weren’t speaking to the others.

Now that I’ve read a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Why Fiction Does It Better” by Lisa Zunshine (fab name, btw, Lisa), I can now look back at my reading foray and realize that it was probably my bizarre socialization through soap opera kid-fic that makes me today a person that everyone comes to for advice when they have problems.  “Why Fiction Does It Better” focuses on how the sociocognitive learning within fictional texts can make students better, but instead, let’s look at how fiction can make a person better.  Zunshine describes the ability of fiction to teach readers cognitive “nesting”.  Primarily “third-level nesting” and higher.  In the article, her example is: “I didn’t want (first mental state) him to know (second mental state) that I didn’t like (third mental state) his gift.”  Babies fall into the selfish category of simple want.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else wants.  Let’s say, both babies and psychopaths, just for fun.  Although psychopaths have the ability to see that what they want might hurt someone else, they dismiss the effect on the other person as negligible.  And babies simply do not care.

If you want a person to think socially, they need to not only see how they fit into their own roles in society, but how they relate to others, how others relate back, how their relationships affect each other, how people can use each other to get what they want, how they can form alliances, etcetera etcetera.

Fiction has often gotten a bad name when it comes to looking at the forced socialization implied.  Sure, some people might write fiction as propoganda.  “I want people to act like this, so the characters will do so.”  The fact is, most prescriptive fictions don’t get large readerships.  There are some things that become ingrained in society to the point that the mass market fiction we read will reinforce the values chosen by society to be important.  In the 80s, that value was “getting ahead”, in the 70s it was “equality for women” and “free love”.

There have been studies to prove that one reason people read mass market fiction, and quite often in a very specific genre (for example, sub-genres of romance for widows or single mothers, or mystery sub-genres that focus on nosy neighbors) is because, although the story appears to follow the same path and end the same(ish), that we occasionally read for the comfort of stroking that same neural pathway.  People like that the same thing(ish) happens, although it may deviate slightly and the interactions between characters will be different, but that in the end, it follows the same path.  It’s a comfort.  In Sweet Valley High the pattern was normally that someone got mad at someone else, there was a misunderstanding or someone appeared to act selfishly, one of the Unicorns tried to get ahead of the group, and after the fight, relationships were mended.  It is somewhat prescripted.  If in this situation, then we can act this way, and perhaps this might be the outcome.

In literary fiction, the nesting complexity of the situation usually involves the reader.  Instead of leading the reader by the hand and stating If this, then that, instead the writer may create a situation in which the reader needs to decide for themselves that Although this misunderstanding… or maybe If only the characters had reacted as such… The problem solving in literary fiction does not always lead to an easy conclusion, which can leave a reader looking for a simple answer disillusioned.  Where’s the happy ending?  If the solution of the characters didn’t work out, how can I use this as an example of how I can act when I come upon a similar problem in my own life?

Readers who did not start reading young often can’t transition to the higher sociocognitive levels of complexity because they cannot apply a similar-but-different situation to a problem.  Reading non-fiction does not normally (except with the occasional memoir) include any of the complexity involved in social relationships.  A generation of socially inept people lack any common sense with dealing with each other, because they have not been encouraged to see examples of social interaction, both the ones that ended well and the ones that did not.

So why should we read fiction?  Zunshine concludes that reading more fiction will increase a student’s ability to perform well in college and to comprehend difficult texts.  Mumsy-Dearest reads fiction for the social interactions to get to the end of the story and escape for a while.  I read primarily for the joy of the wordplay skimming across the page, but I do enjoy the occasional mass-market work where you can escape into a world you’ve seen before and a situation well-known, with slightly different humans enacting this play.  There are many different reasons to read.  To increase our attention spans, to learn something new, to be tranported to a foreign land or a different time.  All I ask is that everyone find their own sub-genre, be it Star Wars tie-in novels, fantastic elvish devility, experimental horseplay, farce, whatever, and support the authors writing what you like to read.  You may be supporting them, but at the same time, you’re exercising your social sleuthing, your brain, your attention span, and staving off adult illiteracy.



Zunshine, Lisa. “Why Fiction Does it Better.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education 60:15 pt. B (2013): B4-B5.

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