Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: When You Are Englufed In Flames

I have been a dedicated David Sedaris fan ever since I first discovered his book, Naked. Sedaris writes so candidly about his life and inner monologue that the reader feels like s/he knows the writer intimately. He lays himself bare with only a glamour of dry wit to cover the truth.

The vingettes in When You Are Engulfed In Flames discuss Sedaris' insecurities and discomforts, his relationship with his long-time boyfriend, Hugh, his travels, and his quest to quit smoking in Japan. Wry and always slightly self-conscious, Sedaris will make you smile and cry all in the same story. I always feel his books end too quickly, and this one was no different, but as I closed its cover, I felt deeply satisfied. "When You Are Engulfed In Flames," is an entertaining and self-reflecting read. Well-balanced and thoughtful, it's words will remain with you long after you have finished reading the last page.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Age Banding Discussed at Upcoming Conference

Thankfully, Philip Pullman is not giving up on trouncing the proposed age-banding of youth books in the UK. He will be part of a session being held during The Society of Authors' Cambridge Children's Writers & Illustrators Conference (August 29-31), along with Libby Purves, Anne Fine, Graham Marks (of Publishing News), and Beck Stradwick (the UKHQ Children's Buyer from Borders). Publishers have been invited to join this session, and the Society of Authors have expressed their desire to hear all views on the subject.

I am sure that we will hear more from Philip Pullman after the Conference, but if you'd like to find more information on the society and the conference you can visit:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More News on the Age-Banding Conflict

Here is a update from Phillip Pullman on the meeting he recently had with some of the major book publishers:

On Thursday 3 July I met with representatives of the publishers: Simon Juden, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, Philippa Dickinson of Random House, and Elaine McQuade of Scholastic. Also present were Mark Le Fanu (General Secretary) and Celia Rees (Chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group) from the Society of Authors. Anna Ganley of the SoA was taking minutes.

I have to say that this report is based on my personal recollections, because Anna Ganley's minutes are not quite ready yet. If her record conflicts with anything I say here, I shall of course correct it.

Simon Juden opened by acknowledging in guarded and cautious terms that the presentation of this matter from their side had perhaps not been ideal, but that he and the publishers were very anxious to stress that their intention had never been to impose age-guidance (that is the term they prefer to use) on authors without full consultation, and that he thought it would be a good idea to take some of the emotion out of the discussion and simply deal with the facts.

I replied that I'd rather call it passion, and that I'd rather it stayed in, thank you very much, because the sheer volume and intensity of the anger caused by the proposal was entirely part of what we wanted to express. I went on to ask various questions about the research - full details of which had only reached me the evening before on my return from a conference in Sweden, so I had only the morning of the 3rd to digest several hundred pages. But what struck me very forcibly was that not once in all those pages was it acknowledged that authors and illustrators had a point of view that might be worth listening to; and in particular that not once were the concerns of teachers about the effect of printed age-figures on children, which have since been very vividly and cogently expressed, even considered.

Their answer to this was that of course authors and illustrators were immensely important, but that this was simply a market survey based on what customers thought, and that the concerns of the people who created the books were not of direct relevance to that. I then asked why all the excellent and varied reasons against the proposal, which so many of you have sent to us, were not put honestly to the respondents, so that they might have a true idea of the range of the issues involved. I can't recall their answer to that, except that it didn't seem to me to deal with the matter.

The discussion continued with the publishers' saying that they had had a very supportive response from "most" of their authors, with no problems being expressed. In support of that claim they produced a pile of books with age-banding figures on the covers. We didn't examine them closely, but one of them, as Celia Rees and I agreed afterwards when we were talking about it, was a copy of Neil Gaiman's 'Coraline'. This was a surprise to us, because Neil Gaiman is a signatory to this statement. Philippa Dickinson has since admitted to me that they were American editions, "which all carry age-guidance information".

Celia then pointed out the oddness of their claim that "most authors" were in favour of it, because a very recent survey of the members of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (with a very large response) showed that 77% were against age-banding, 6% were for it, and 17% were undecided. How could their claim and those figures be reconciled? No answer.
The central issue became this: we wanted them to agree that no book should be age-banded without the author's consent. They refused to agree to this, but offered "full consultation" instead. We pointed out that every author in the world knows what "consultation" means: it means the publishers saying "This is the cover of your new book," and our saying "Well it's horrible," and their replying "Well, tough." "Full" consultation, I suppose, would mean that plus lunch.

Their point was that the cover of the book has traditionally, or by convention, or contractually, been the publisher's domain, just as the text inside has been the author's, and they had the right to put the age-figure there if they wanted to, and they weren't going to agree to anyone having a veto. Our response to that was that while that has been true for everything that normally goes on a cover - artwork, typography, back cover copy, author photo, all that - the age-figure was an entirely new and previously unconsidered thing, and that when any earlier convention or contractual arrangement had come into being, it hadn't existed, so it was quite wrong to claim that age-guidance would automatically be covered by any previous agreement.

They said they thought we were wrong. We said we thought they were wrong.
So in the end we came up with this statement:

'At a meeting involving The Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, and Philip Pullman (on behalf of the signatories of the online statement), the publishers were happy to confirm that there has been, and remains, no question of age guidance being added to a book without full consultation with the author. The remaining point of difference, which is to be considered further, was that those speaking for authors feel strongly that authors should have the right to refuse to have age guidance on their books.'

What that means is that the struggle will continue, and that authors and illustrators in particular should insist on this right of 'full consultation' and exert it to the utmost. The publishers did say that it was "almost inconceivable" that they would put a figure on a book if the author didn't agree, but that, of course, is no guarantee of anything: if it came to a disagreement, they would still impose it.

We should continue to gather evidence, opinions and signatures, and we shall, of course, continue to keep you informed. Thank you very much for your support. This is a fight worth having, even though it's taking up so much of our time. In the end we shall win.
~Philip Pullman

Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Banding Update

I have a message from Phillip Pullman of

A meeting has been arranged with representatives of the publishers, including Simon Juden, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, Kate Bostock of the PA, and Elaine McQuade of Scholastic. I will putting our case, and I will be joined by Mark Le Fanu and Celia Rees of the Society of Authors. The meeting will take place on Thursday 3 July at Scholastic Children's books.

There isn't an agenda yet, but the purpose of the meeting is to clarify and reiterate our objections to the age-ranging proposal and see if we can help the PA see what a blunder they've made. I would also like to discover several things about the 'research' which so far remain opaque.

All your comments and experiences have been very helpful. If there is anything in particular you would like me to raise on your behalf, do please contact me at I can't guarantee to do so, of course, because I don't know how many people will respond, but anything you can let me know in addition to what you've already communicated to us would be extremely helpful. It would be especially helpful to hear from teachers and experts in reading development, since the PA's research obviously took no account of the problems their proposal might cause in this field.

I shall report on the outcome of the meeting very soon after it's happened.
Philip Pullman

Inspiration From the World of Neurology

Many of you have probably already heard of Jill Bolte Taylor. She is a neuro-scientist who had a stroke and studied her own experience to better understand the workings of the brain. She has recently released a new book about her experience entitled:
My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. She is an eloquent speaker and has a message for humanity about consciousness and choice. Please watch her 18 minute TED lecture here. It is one of the most fascinating and inspiring talks I have ever witnessed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

UCCS Needs Research Participants

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is conducting research via an online survey. The survey is a bit lengthy at 40-60 minutes long, but you are not required to answer every question. Participation in this survey would make you an important part of new scientific research. Richard Dawkins writes, " I strongly support this research. It is being carried out to the highest standards, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the results when they are all analysed. I shall be filling in the Survey myself and I urge others to do the same." If Prof. Dawkins had the time to fill out this survey, so do most of us. I encourage you all to click on the link below and do what you can to further scientific research.

To participate in the survey, please visit:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Banding

UK publishers have decided to begin age-banding their books. This means that children's and young adult books will be banded with an age level that is supposed to proclaim the appropriateness of the book for a certain age group. Books will bear a scarlet letter, declaring them fit for only those 10 +, 12+, and so on. Authors are outraged and claim that this will hurt sales and keep children from reading more challenging books, but the publisher's believe it will increase sales by directing parents to books that are at their child's age-level.

At the crux of this argument is the control that publisher's have over writers and censorship. With book-banding, publishers can now squeeze authors into tight boxes and dictate an age level at which to write. They will have margins for every age-level that will have to be met. They will be able to control content, language, voice, and vocabulary. It is a very dangerous concept, and don't think that this will end in UK. Major world-wide book publishers are leading this charge--Harper Collins, Scholastic, etc. This WILL be coming to the United States.

If you'd like to learn more about this issue and read some author's essays on the subject please read Darren Shan's essay at Soapbox and this Telegraph article about Bill Pulman's fight against the bands. If you would like to add your voice to those who are protesting, please visit: to sign the petition.

National Year of Reading Celebration

Waterstone's, the English book-selling behemoth is celebrating the National Year of Reading by publishing a collection of very short fiction from 13 of the most famous authors of our time. Authors like Neil Gaiman, Doris Lessing, Nick Hornby, Margaret Atwood, and J.K. Rowling are contributing this book which showcases original short stories on postcards. But they are also opening the field to all aspiring writers as well. You are invited to submit your short story to the website by June 19th for the chance to win an Arvon Writing Course. As of this posting there have been 2,707 stories submitted and that number is climbing every minute!

The 13 short stories will be available on the website for reading beginning June 11th, and the book will be available for purchase in about 56 days. You can pre-order it now, however, from Waterstone's for only 5 pounds. Go to the website and check it out. Support the National Year of Reading, and let me know what you thought of the stories!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sam Harris Needs You!

Sam Harris, author of such works as: The End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation, is preparing to run an fMRI study of belief and disbelief and he needs research volunteers to help him refine his experimental stimuli. All you have to do is take some surveys! Sam will post the survey results on his website when the research is completed. Go to to participate.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Library Thing

I just discovered my new favorite website. Its called Library Thing, and it is a virtual catalog of your own library that is shared with the other members of the site and it is used for networking purposes as well as logging all of your books. This is exactly what I have been looking for but never knew existed until now. I got the tip from Neil Gaiman's blog. I was so immediately taken with it that I actually purchased a lifetime membership so that I could log my hundreds of books. Memberships are free for the first two hundred books you log into your library, and if you want to log more than that you can purchase a yearly membership for $10 or a lifetime membership for $25.

To log your books you just type in the title, author, or ISBN number into their search box. But if you are like me and have literally hundreds of books to log, you can purchase a cue cat from them for $15 which will scan the bar-codes and load the info into your library.
One of my favorite aspects of this website is the community it brings to you. You can immediately see other people who have the same taste in books as you! You can join online book and discussion groups, and you can get personalized recommendations based on the content of your virtual library. They even have an "advanced reader program" where you can sign up to receive advanced reader copies of the latest books for free as long as you provide a review of the book in a timely fashion.

If you are a bibliophile like me, then you have got to check it out. Go to: You'll feel like you have finally found your community of book lovers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

World Without End

I just finished reading Ken Follet's novel, World Without End. When I began this book, I was concerned that it was following too closely the formulae of its predecessor, Pillars of the Earth. The character structures and plot seemed eerily familiar. However, as with Pillars of the Earth, I quickly became enmeshed in the plot and characters.

Follet has written a wonderfully strong and intelligent heroine, Caris, that was a joy to follow throughout her life journey. Merthin, the hero was a little too close to Jack in Pillars for me, but he was one of the few characters that was genuinely good and enjoyable to get to know.

As with Pillars, the history of building and architecture was a prominent theme, and very interesting and eloquently described and defined. Another theme that I found fascinating was that of the spread of the plague. The black death attacks the citizens of Kingsbridge numerous times, and the nuns and physicians are forced to learn by experience how to combat it.

Follet delivers a suspenseful and engrossing plot, full of adventure, history, romance, and political intrigue. It was a true page-turner and wonderfully entertaining. I would not go so far as to consider it literature (I am always torn between being happy that relatively all ends well, and feeling a bit cheated by the neat and tidy ending), but I highly recommend it for a purely enjoyable read.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ken Follett

Over the last month I have been devoting myself to Ken Follett's major works, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. I finished Pillars of the Earth last week and immediately began World Without End because I was so captured with the story.

When I began Pillars of the Earth I didn't know anything about the story except what was written on the back cover. It sounded engaging, and I liked the prospect of a large work of fiction being set in Medieval England. There is a lot that can be learned from this book about architecture, Medieval building practises, and Medieval culture. As it is a book written primarily about the building of a large catholic cathedral, I was expecting to learn a lot about the early church, church customs and law, and the like. However, I was not expecting the high level of violence, raping, and pillaging that is involved. A sedate read, Pillars of the Earth, is not. Parts of this book were actually hard for me to read as a woman. Even though, intellectually, I know that woman had a rough deal throughout history, it is shocking what happens to the women in this story. You feel close to them, and it is hard to read about the trials they endure

The story itself is extremely well-written, suspenseful, informative, and gripping. The characters are complex and there is a lot of mystery and motivation involved in the plot. Though the length of this tome may be daunting to some, it is such a complex story and so entertaining, that the pages turn at a rapid pace. I feel I finished it far too quickly, which is why I immediately plunged into World Without End.

I am only about 150 pages into this book, but I have to say that I feel that it is a bit formulaic. It seems to be progressing with a very similar plot and very similar characters. It isn't that it is any less good than Pillars of the Earth, but having just finished it, it is fresh in my mind and I am constantly noticing the similarities between the two. Still, it is an excellent source of English history, the characters are compelling, and the story is full of violence, struggle, and intrigue. I'll have a more complete analysis when I have finished it.

Until then . . .

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Neil Gaiman's, "American Gods"

Neil Gaiman, one of the best fantasy fiction authors of our time (in my opinion one of the best fiction writers, period) has created a free, online version of American Gods. This book will change the way you see America. Check it out here:

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Salman Rushdie

Friday, February 22nd, I had the privilege to attend a lecture by Salman Rushdie at Florida State University. When I told my friends I was driving 3 hours away to see one of my favorite authors, the most common response was, "Aren't you afraid of getting bombed?" Honestly, that thought had not worried me one iota. Yes, there is a $3 million dollar bounty on his head, and Iran did just recently renew the fatwa against him, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see him, and I wasn't going to let fear of terrorist keep me home.

It did not occur to me until after the event that this decision was one that Mr. Rushdie makes every day. In fact, freedom was one of the topics which he spoke about. He is a fervent proponent of the freedom of speech, and has even been in the uncomfortable position of defending the rights of the people that want to kill him. He spoke eloquently about the importance of this right and of the difficulty of supporting it. He made it very clear that if you support the right to free speech, you must support it for everyone, and that often means defending the rights of those who are abhorrent to you. I think that this point is something that is being lost in the United States right now. We love to tout our freedom of speech, but when it comes to something we disagree with, we immediately strike it down in the name of offensiveness or discrimination. Freedom of speech is freedom for everyone, and everyone includes those we'd rather not hear from.

This is a subject that bloggers and blog-readers should pay attention to. In many countries right now (Iran, Pakistan, Korea, China, etc.) it is the bloggers that are being silenced. Even in this country, bloggers who have written inflammatory things are being taken to court. Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights of humanity. If we do not preserve it now, there will be no one to save it later. Please visit the following to learn more about how you can become involved in protecting your rights:
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
50 Ways to Fight Censorship
Anti-Censorship Organizations