Great Sayings From My Fridge #2

I love Wendell Berry. I have some of his books and have read many more. I especially enjoy falling into his deeply humane fiction, but his essays transport me like no high school reading assignment ever did. His approach to life would solve many world problems if more people adopted it on deeper levels than they do now. He has wise things to say about humanity, our planet, story telling, and all those wonderful and significant things that make life awesome and glorious.

The odd thing is, I was surprised to realize how many people I know aren’t even familiar with his name. I mean, the guy gets quoted in newspapers! Check him out online. So here’s my shout out into the Void:

Wendell Berry Rocks!

And here is the quote from my fridge that has added stability and clarity to my choices in life. This is the quote I cut out of the newspaper many, many years ago because it resonated so deeply with me:

“Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

-Wendell Berry “A Poem of Difficult Hope”

Because even my attention span can waver on my own blog, I’m going with bullet points for the rest of this article:

  • Have a set action, not a reaction, that drives your decisions
  • Develop safe boundaries for how you will allow others to treat you.
  • Accept others.
  • Accept yourself.
  • Know thyself.
  • School thyself.
  • Make time to listen to yourself, value that insight, and trust yourself to follow through.
  • Grow closer to God, and make the sacrifice it takes to stay there.
  • Read Wendell Berry. His Port William series of novels details the lives of people in a small southern town who have love, loss, war, trials, thigh slapping fun, mystery, and universal human experiences that make the reader a better, deeper person than they were before they read the book. Or at least, lets the reader tap into their own better, deeper self that they may not have recognized was living in the same house they were.
  • And that is all I have to say on the subject. Any search engine will bring up his name, his book list, and many samples of his exquisite writing.
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Noah Webster 1828 vs. The World

Many years ago when my kids still submitted to public school, and still attended elementary school, my oldest broke my heart into little pieces of fierce bookish momma love when she hauled home a bunch of books the school librarian had given away. The librarian admitted some would be thrown away, which had startled the little bookish girl into saving what she could. She sniffed about the ones she had let go, saying they weren’t ‘very good anyway’. Which is quite possible. The ones she brought home caused some interesting changes in our lives.

One in particular was The New World Dictionary of American English, third college edition, apparently the 1991 publication. It is also the “Deluxe Color Edition”. Yes, with her school books, and with her other rescued books, my sweet, sweet apparently strong elementary-aged daughter brought home…a massive dictionary. It has its cool thangs going on. It’s hefty, fat, big, and a dignified dark blue. It has these incredibly cool inserts with pictures: weather patterns, anatomy, aircraft of the world, flowers…there are also some of those little sketches that add their subtle vibe to random pages. It’s kind of a cool dictionary, like I said, in some ways. But we don’t use it as a dictionary. We have flowers pressed in there, postcards, and a graduation announcement, among other things. We keep it as a contrast to The Other Dictionary, which I will get to in a moment. But as I paged through this dictionary, I became vaguely concerned at something I knew I was witnessing even if I couldn’t determine what exactly I was witnessing. I simply found the definitions unsatisfactory. I flipped here and there, reading bits and enjoying it too, but feeling that something was not quite right. I put it aside and avoided using it as a dictionary without really knowing why.

Of course, our technological access to internet dictionaries made the unwieldy book less likely to be used, as well. But the same problem can be found there. The definitions were somehow often lacking…they felt downright untrustworthy. I started to see what some of the issues were, but I hadn’t found the way to put it in words, as yet. And with a dictionary in front of me, no less!

A few years later, a home schooling friend put me onto Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. She had bought a paper facsimile, or a reprint if you will. We found it fully accessible, and free online as well, here:

A bit harder to randomly shift through delicate pages of knowledge, but the search bar is quick. You can see there what my copy looks like, too. It’s big and fat and hefty and a dignified green. Plus the golden eagle on the cover is a neat detail. That newer Webster’s has a tree on it, which is nice and symbolic, but also it was kind of simplified to the point of looking like a government agency logo.

So I got the 1828 edition for my birthday and sat down with both books in my lap…no, that would have been tricky. On a table, let’s say. And my eyes started to be opened. Let’s compare the 1991 edition with the 1828 edition. Let’s pick some words that carry a lot of weight in our lives, or they should. Words such as these shape thoughts, actions, and potentials.

The word ‘meek‘ (skipping the pronunciation, word origins, and word type):

1991 edition:

“1 patient and mild; not inclined to anger or resentment.

2. too submissive; easily imposed on; spineless; spiritless

3. gentle and kind”

And now the 1828 edition:

“1. Mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries. ‘Now the man Moses was very meek, above all men.’

2. Humble, in an evangelical sense; submissive to the divine will; not proud, self sufficient or refractory; not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations. Christ says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls.” ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ “

See a difference? Feel the difference?

What have we lost in our language usage from 1828 to 1991? Maybe some depth of thought, richness of feeling, and strength of character? Maybe in the push to use language as a transmission of information (after all, that’s what computers do, so it must be scientifically clean, technologically right, and the best form of modern living possible, a somehow moral value call) we have lost ready access to some valuable traits of our humanity. I think we have.

Here’s another one, the word ‘humble‘:

1991 edition:

“1. having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects or shortcomings; not proud; not self-assertive; modest.

2. low in condition, rank, or position; lowly; unpretentious /a humble home/.”

1828 edition:

” 1. To abase; to reduce to a low state. ‘This victory humbled the pride of Rome. The power of Rome was humbled, but not subdued’.

2. To crush; to break; to subdue. ‘The battle of Waterloo humbled the power of Buonaparte’.

3. To mortify.

4. To make humble or lowly in mind; to abase the pride of; to reduce arrogance and self-dependence; to give a low opinion of one’s moral worth; to make meek and submissive to the divine will; the evangelical sense. ‘Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you’. ‘Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart’.

5. To make to condescend. ‘He humbles himself to speak to them’.

6. To bring down; to lower; to reduce. ‘The highest mountains may be humbled into valleys’. 

7. To deprive of chastity. To humble one’s self, to repent; to afflict one’s self for sin; to make contrite.”

I looked up faith, hope, and charity. The same pattern showed: a rich and Christian series of definitions were stripped down to secular understandings of words. The loss of layers was obvious. There was a strong sense of morality being removed from words that we use to express moral thought. The loss of meanings caused a shift, or reflected it, and along the way a meek person became a weak person.

Given, the newer dictionary has many words that did not exist in 1828. The latest ones have even more, while other words have dropped out of usage. That alone would make a fascinating blog post as far as I’m concerned. What I want to focus on here is true loss, or the attempted loss of real meaning and usage of words we need today. The dictionaries reflect their times, this is true. They also shape them.

I believe that the purposeful shaping of our language has become more pervasive, and more blatant. Make a list of all the words you can think of that used to have multiple meanings. How many have been dropped from usage because they became burdened with sexual innuendo that made it difficult to even use them in regular conversation?

Homeschoolers may want to take note of this, if they haven’t already caught on. Enthusiasts of older reading materials may do the same. Everyone else should probably know that dictionaries are not quite the authority they used to be. This is similar to acknowledging that not all judges are dispensing true justice, and that not all schools teach to the child.

I took time out of my Sunday School class to teach the adults about this principle. We had been discussing translation, or how a specific word in some scripture had changed for us, or some such thing. Several parents took note and went home to think about this regarding their children’s education, at the very least. I am sharing the idea here. Noah Webster knew what he was doing. He should have his own holiday!

Guest Blogger: AESOP!

Here at this small place in the universe, we enjoy the occasional guest blogger, favorite guest blogger, and only guest blogger: Aesop, former slave and all around clever fellow! So here goes:

A Fox That Lost His Tail

There was a Fox taken in a Trap, that was glad to compound for his Neck, by leaving his Tail behind him. It was so uncouth a Sight for a Fox to appear without a Tail, that the very Thought on’t made him e’en weary of his Life; for ’twas a loss never to be repair’d: But however for the better Countenance of the Scandal, he got the Master and Wardens of the Foxes Company to call a Court of Assistants, where he himself appeared, and made  learned Discourse upon the Trouble, the Uselessness, and the Indecency of Foxes wearing Tails. He had no sooner said out his Say, but up rises a cunning Snap, then at the Board, who desir’d t be inform’d, whether the worthy Member that mov’d against the wearing of Tails, gave his Advice for the Advantage of those that had Tails, or to palliate the Deformity and Disgrace of those who had none.

from Aesop: Fables

Embracing Addiction

What an odd title, don’t you think? Why would a person even consider embracing addiction? Aren’t we supposed to be shunning addictions in all their tangible and intangible forms?

Well, according to much of our language and social cues, why yes, we are accepting and embracing not only our addictions, but everyone else’s. Yours. Mine. That guy’s over there…eyew.

See what I mean? How do I get there in my convoluted reasoning? Well, have you ever read an ad that stated that “this product is so good, it’s addictive”? Did you think “Oh, gross!” or did you think “Really? Sounds great!” I know I’ve fallen into the second trap. Addictive sounds like the ultimate in goodness, according to a warped society that feeds upon itself. Really. Since when in what world has any addiction been a good or healthy thing? It doesn’t matter if we call it a hobby or just declare with zeal that a food brand has our undying loyalty as if it were a football team or-gasp- a God.

The basest behaviors that grime up our humanity are addictive, and that includes p*rn. Celebrating addiction (and exploitative media) blurs our access to healthful living. It supports the predatory advertising methods we’ve all become so used to, even enamored with. It stunts people trying to overcome their addiction or even recognize they have one. Addiction uses people up as if they were the ultimate in addictive materials, objects to be used, bruised, and tossed aside when they’re all used up.

So when I go cruising the internet and I look up images of libraries because hey, books are a deeply held interest of mine, I come across words like bookp*rn. The first couple times I saw that, I immediately thought, “Yes!” and I clicked in excited to find a hub of library pictures, book pictures, and wise memes about the joy of reading. This doesn’t mean I was a consumer of real p*rn and had become excited about that. It meant that I recognized the intended meaning that here be pages of pictures of books for your eyes to consume. Which is good in that yeah, books, and it was also bad because I accept p*rn as a defining institution within my life. It defines my perspective, my interests, and my language. Heck, even the consumption part sounds less than healthy under poor circumstances.

Think about it: not being one who looks at p*rn, I accept its words and phrases in my life as part of my language and thinking patterns. Do I really want that? How does that help anybody that this has become an acceptable way of measuring the worth of a thing or of enjoying life? Do I really want any aspect of consumptive, exploitative, cannibalistic business practices that ruin lives and destroy families to have any influence over me?

The answer is NO. I aim to not engage in normalizing criminal, immoral, horrendous behavior and business practices. Not p*rnography, and not addictions.

Clean language: a healthy choice for spirit, mind, and body. Maybe we can take back the word ‘adult’. That would be a good start.

 

 

Would Book Rating Systems Work?

So recently someone mentioned a topic that I’ve come across several times and so I decided to address it, which will enlighten the entire internet for now and all time, right? Hellooo? Anybody out there?

The idea is that having a book rating system similar to the one used for movies would help people looking for specific kinds of books while seeking to avoid other kinds of books.

The first thing to address is the potential hysterical attack on such an idea, because while everyone has to make choices in their reading, there sometimes arises certain parties who want the choice of discriminating in their reading (a necessary thing, I assure you) but who outright attack the attempts of others to make their own choices (which is also a necessary thing, I still assure you) in similar ways even if with different results.

It is stupid. There, got that out of the way.

So movie rating systems over the years in this country have had ratings like G, PG, PG-13, PG-17 (I think), R, X, and the unhelpful ‘unrated’, which can mean it is either two old to bother rating or it is calling itself unrated to lure in those who find R and X too tame for their addictions. Most people are pretty familiar with these ratings. They may not be aware of the changes that these ratings have undergone. For instance, G used to mean ‘general audiences’ or the entire family. Now it means ‘for toddlers’. PG-13 is a somewhat newer rating that confuses people, for this reason: some PG-13 are slightly more intense than a PG. Others might as well have an R rating. But, like too many people have assumed, since it states that PG-13 material is suitable for 13 yr olds and up, therefore all of the range of PG-13 is somehow suitable for all 13 yr olds. This is definitely the fault of the people who make such an assumption, but I can easily see how they could be deceived into making such an assumption. Personally, I do not trust ratings. Not only have the standards of the ratings sagged horribly off the side of the straighter road and into the pea green waters in the ditch alongside, but they have also become lame. Any G movie I watch is close to fifty years old. The newer ones from the last twenty years simply aim their short broad stick- like arrows at toddlers and preschoolers. Usually.

By the way, if someone does eventually require by law that preschoolers must attend preschool, will they still be pre-schoolers? Will it still be a pre-school? Or will someone come up with a magic sounding word like ‘kindergarten’ was in its heyday? Talk about advertising! Which I wasn’t, sort of.

Movie ratings are often a worm on a hook dangling out there to attract demographic groups. So they’ll make sure to add one harsh swear word so they can call themselves an R movie and get the edgy social status that those appear to have. Just try and remove that one word, however, for your own viewing pleasure, and howls of censorship rise greasily into the air. If our natural environment is so important, why is our emotional and social environment so dang polluted?

Anyway…

So, movie ratings aren’t terribly accurate, their standards shift, and they sometimes actively mislead. So how could this possibly work for books?

I’m pretty sure there are far more books published each year than there are movies released to the theaters. Far, far more books. Who’s going to read all those? Whose standards will apply in this day and age? How will those standards shift? And if nothing else, how will a comprehensive book rating system irritate the nasal passages of the ALA ? Because it would be nothing to sneeze at, I assure you.

There are simply too many variables in the world of book publishing. In fact, with more books crossing genres, that little classification system alone is having enough trouble as it is, let alone any classification that tried to assign ratings based on language, scenes, or intensity.

How would I even rate intensity? It depends on my hormones at any given time of month, for one thing. Am I in the monthly mood to cry? Then, yeah, it’s a cry worthy book of deep emotional intensity. One which wouldn’t stir me at all once I get past the last bit of the particular hormonal fluctuation I am in. What about other kinds of emotional intensity? Are the characters facing the end of the world and yelling at each other? Some days I will find this terribly stressful to read, and other days I will laugh at them in their predicament. So, intensity is out as a rating.

What about sexual scenes? How explicit is explicit, how detailed, what is its context, does it relate to the plot, is it between married people, is it some form of dominance, does it fade to black, is it something else? Who decides which get what rating?

Swear words might seem a clearer way to delineate books. But with the shifting standards already referenced, how many YA books now have F-bombs in them? Because, according to assumptions, ‘everybody swears, this is real life, etc etc’? And since YA no longer actually refers just to young adults who are out of high school, how many middle grade kids and elementary kids read YA? I mean, there is the de juro, and then there is the de facto situation. Publishers and writers are well aware of these issues.

So, swearing as a part of a rating system won’t work either. Again, too many variables, too much of a push to normalize swearing. Heck- publishers may impose upon their children’s lit section certain set vocabulary lists that rely on the latest educational curriculum, which can be bad enough, but the idea that they have to push the idea that everyone swears? How is that going to gum up any attempt to classify and rate literature? The difficulties involved simply multiply.

And finally, the people who sometimes wish there were a rating system have rather variable tastes, concerns, and standards. One person may want to avoid all swearing while another feels that any lifestyle depicted in a book needs to reflect certain belief systems. Don’t tell me this is censorship, or I will ask, why do you expect certain other lifestyles reflected in your reading? See? It is a matter of choice, based on beliefs and standards, personal life experiences, and so on. Some readers wish to avoid Christian literature expressly. Traumatized victims of crime wish to avoid specific scenes. It’s about choice, which can shift according to changing priorities of the reader. Don’t make a system out of this; let the individual work it out.

So book rating systems would have to be incredibly complicated to begin with, and then their standards would shift as soon as they became available.

So What To Do?

Trust Yourself.

1- I use the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to do some research before I choose which books to read, at least I do most of the time. Once in awhile I just admit to curiosity and pick up a book everyone is talking about because I am willing to read something a little out of my line, if its turns out to be good enough.

2- I pre-read most of the books my children are going to read, to either prepare them for a particular book, to avoid certain ones, or to have a new book to discuss. I do this as a duty, just as I decide what foods will nourish their bodies, which fun junk foods to enjoy and in what amount, etc etc. And, in fact, I rarely guide the reading of my adult child nowadays. Those are her choices to make. When she offers me books that I would not ordinarily read, I read them, so we can do a fun nerdy lit analysis and coo over characters or grouse about plot. My younger daughter I still preview for. Not for much longer!

Mistakes can be made. I read the reviews of a particular book that was targeted at my daughter’s age at the time. It seemed to fit her tastes, everyone mentioned how incredibly well written it was, and no on mentioned the rape in the first chapter of the main female character who was depicted as the same age of my daughter. There were other scenes as well, later in the book. I only found out because after letting her read the book before I read it, because I trusted the reviews of strangers, she walked around looking a little sick and disturbed for a few days before I finally found out what I had allowed to happen. I went and read the book and was horrified. Well, we used that as a growing and learning opportunity. We had to work through a series of negative feelings. Time and great literature have both helped those memories fade. The lessons remain.

3- I also look at the way a book begins: is this one of those insecure books that ‘grabs my attention’? That is a sign that the writer does not trust the reader, or has plans that will become clearer as the book goes on. How are characters described, especially the women? What level of language is used? How does it foreshadow explicit scenes or how does it signal that things might get gruesome? Does it try and infuse nihilism into every page? Books usually hint at you, they foreshadow if you can recognize it. Some also groom you, exposing you to increasingly difficult scenes to work through because boy, do they have plans for you!

4- Here is the most important aspect of judgement I use: I try and stay close to the teachings of our Savior, stay close to light and truth, and feel spiritual warnings if a book might be a bad one for me to read. Yes, I have sometimes plowed on and discovered for myself that I should have listened to the spiritual warning. Other times, no, I stop, try and listen, and then respond to the spirit and its guidance. Because I want that more than I want any particular book in my life.

5- The recommendations of friends influence me as long as I can gauge well which friends have tastes worth taking an active interest in.

6- I do not rely on Goodreads for recommendations. While the actual book reviews can be helpful, GR sometimes likes to ‘adjust’ those to help authors get better ratings. Then there are the recommendations GR makes based on computer algorithms. Since I read this clean uplifting classic historical fiction, then I will obviously enjoy this trashy bit of work just because it’s set within a couple hundred years of the first book.

So choosing books is like shopping for food. What’s on sale? Can I digest that? Will it taste good? Will it be good for my family? Does it truly feed the soul the nourishment it needs? Is it just some fluffy fun for a few laughs? Is it so processed and laden down with unhealthy chemical combinations that no one should consume it? How do I make sense of nutrition labels? That, at least, is a more reliable rating system. More reliable than the front of the food package, I’m sure!

A book rating system would not work, and it would especially not work for the very people who think that such a thing might be helpful for them in making difficult reading choices. I would also add that a book rating system would just make life more complicated. Complications in life just sprout up all by themselves, so I don’t like adding more. I want less government, uncluttered grocery stores, and comfortable clothing. I read mostly older literature to more easily avoid explicit scenes and I read newer stuff very carefully, when I do read some of it. Am I missing something? Not really. What if I can’t find an acceptable book that day? Maybe I can do something that doesn’t involve reading. Really.

 

 

 

Modern Lessons from Ancient Lit

My guest post this week is offered by Aesop, that most ancient and underappreciated of wise men. Having spent much of his life as a slave, encountering many layers of repulsion due to his apparently ugly appearance and some form of disability, Aesop went on to prove time after time just how quick witted he was, how keen to observe, and how cunning to act. His fables stand the test of thousands of years, which I doubt will ever be said of many modern award winning publications. But then, when I think of it, how many popular, socially acceptable, government sanctioned ancient writings do we have today? How many have just gone the way of all the dust of time?

Enough. To Aesop!

“As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy’d a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouthed to’t.

Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I’m drinking?

Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul’d your Water so far above.

Nay, says t’other, you’ll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin’s turn’d over your ears, as your Father’s was, a matter of six Months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah.

If you’ll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then.

Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? but it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e’en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part.

And so without any more ado, he leap’d at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.”

Now gentle readers, what lessons can be learned here? Enter your answers below!

 

(excerpt taken from Aesop Fables Children Classics, Alfred A. Knopf, New York)

Can We Tolerate Clean Reads?

I’ve been an active member of Goodreads for several years now. I find it helpful for tracking books and finding more books and talking books and meeting book reading book lovers. Recently as I indulged my love of book reviews (both there and on Amazon), I have begun to sense a trend which I hope gets swallowed up in some other better trend. Not a worse trend, oh dear heavens, we don’t need anymore of those! It’s as if these days some sort of Bulk Discount Bin of Worse Trends had been upended over the continental United States!

The scenario is this: a new book comes out, or people rediscover an older book. The author may be heavily involved promoting it. Readers are enjoying discussing it. Then someone asks, quite innocently, “Is the book clean?” The author herself, and several other people who suddenly revert to their Mr. Edward Hyde personas, jump all over the very idea. They make fun of the questioner’s ‘purity’, calling such questions sheer vanity, useless, censorship, outdated, outrageous, not worthy of a response, that entire family deserves horrible Medieval ends, and much, much worse.

What is the word for the overreaction of a system to an otherwise perfectly normal and harmless irritant? An allergy attack? Antihistamine overdrive? Anaphylactic shock? Aren’t we trying to cure that sort of thing?

Because the question, while vague, has its purposes. There are growing numbers of people who acknowledge that much of our mainstream culture is slithering happily into the sewers of the world, and they don’t want to go with it. They may want to shield children. They may have sensitive history that makes them want to avoid sexual assault scenes in their reading. They may want to read about real problem solving and hopeful perspectives rather than gratuitous violence and nihilism. And why not? If a history museum fan wants to read about history, why not? I could even argue, with a bad taste in my mouth, that if a reader of gore and mayhem wants that, they need to be able to make their choice. But I ask this: if the history fan starts talking history, that’s not nearly the issue of a gore fan wanting to talk gore. And believe me, they often do. It works into every conversation. Ever have someone who wouldn’t shut up about the ‘Saw’ movies while at a picnic? Yeah. So why interfere with someone who is looking for ‘clean reads’? What’s this about choice? What did you just say about tolerance? Ok then.

The term ‘clean reads’ is vague, yes. It means various levels of clean to various people. It might mean absolutely no reference to sexual scenes, or it may mean a fade-to-black kind of approach to sex scenes. It may allow for a few of the milder swear words, or it may not. It may want to avoid the everything-is-the-same-so-nothing-really-matters philosophy that infuses so much literature with a kind of pre-soviet psychological grooming that leads to State control of culture and thought. But is it so hard to just ask: “What do you mean by ‘clean’?”

Can we suspend rash judgement anymore? Can we ask for clarification? Can we discuss?

The defensive maneuvers of those who cry- or shriek- censorship reminds me of Shakespeare: “Methinks he doth protest too much”. Censorship? Where were the cries of censorship when the publishers demanded changes? Where were the cries of outdated when the book refers to older literature forms? Why this pretense at moral superiority while trying to skewer the morality of another? Hypocrite much?

Thankfully, when I see these attacks, I am also seeing more and more responses of other bystanders who step forward and defend the simple question. Most simply see clean choices as that- choices. We all must discriminate or we would be required by circumstances to read all books in the world. Really! Just think about it: you have no choice. You can not pick one book over another. You must read them ALL.

Or: you must read the ones we demand you read. You are especially not allowed to read those ones over there.

Both are pretty ridiculous. One has been attempted at various times throughout the history of the world. (Hint: it’s the second one)

Why does this mean anything to me? because I have my own set of standards (LIKE EVERY OTHER READER) and mine happen to lean towards ‘clean’. How I define it can shift as I change as a person, because no one is still reading the books they read in first grade, or college, and only those. We all change. Nevertheless, my tendency towards ‘clean’ has stayed roughly about the same. Why do I choose that? Here’s why:

  1. I’m so tired of the sex scenes. They feel like this: the author is getting off on their own writing, and making me a voyeur; the spread of pornography with its attendant addiction, abuse, and cultural decline means we should be preventing it, not spreading it like verbal plague; and after avearge sex scenes become inadequate for an author, their readers, or their publishers, just how far are we going to go into the mire for that next fleeting jaded arousal? Or is that just a repeat of the addiction argument?
  2. I’m tired of the gore. So much of it feels, well, canned. Like extra juicy spam. You open it, it slops out, and you say, “Oh, cool! Gimme more!” Like movies that have jettisoned story for CGI gimmicks, many books have lost story for the sake of look-at-my-anatomy-research. It falls in a camp very close to just plain look-at-my-anatomy.
  3. The despair and intensity have become comical. Intense story telling that grabs you with the first paragraph and then demands your attention is an insecure kind of verbal assault. Not only does it get far too manipulative, but it’s like the guy who grabs your shirt as you try to end a conversation and he gets so in your face that you feel his spit on your cheek. He’s like “You see?? You know what I mean? Anyone who thinks differently is an idiot!!” And you just want to go have a life with not-this-man in it. Or at least, let-him-keep-some-distance.
  4. I think we’ve lost something when we lose the setting and descriptive abilities of past generations of writers. Plot heavy is more an aesthetic taste, but it often comes entangled in gore and explicit scenes of all types because so many of our generation have grown up with TV…or less than TV…I’m looking at you, video games. What if I find your ability to describe a woman’s anatomy a misplaced description when I have vague ideas of your setting?

Admittedly, that last point is not so much a moral point but it is affected by the others. So while I avoid certain kinds of books, I know everyone else avoid other kinds. I know there are books I think everyone should read, but I’m not going to get their cooperation with social pressure that involves humiliation, threats, and grotesqueries of verbal outrage. That’s not how I operate, anyway.

When people yell “JUST READ THE %^&$ BOOK!!” I wonder if they would also scream at me to “Just eat the cowpie we pried up out of this farmyard tire rut!” Because not all reading is the same, not all books have the same value, and actually, yes, what I read really needs to be as clean as the food that goes into my body. It needs to be good and clean, as wholesome as possible, and something my mind can use to build good thinking skills, healthy mind sets, and a hopefully long life of happiness and appreciation of beauty.

That doesn’t mean we never use our writing skills to address dark issues within our human experience, no, of course not. We can write about anything and still retain our humanity. Otherwise we risk descending to the level of predators or pushers who demand government support for their attempts to groom others into their hideous world. No thanks.

Not all books are the same. I repeat that. We’re not talking binary data streams here, we are talking the thoughts that influence actions which shape the character that builds or destroys civilizations. Yeah, many of those thoughts come from books. Read a book and just try not to think about it. I dare ya!