The Rising Tide

I had one of those interesting days today, at least, in the ancient Chinese curse sense. In part, anyway. It’s the start of national book week here in Oz, and, I may be trifle biased but a love of reading is greatest gift we can give to children, to the future.

Now, for me, crowds are a hardship. I am very sound and movement sensitive, maybe because I am kind of proof of this whole evolution thing, as in I’m a little primitive. Both little and primitive, that is. Being an urban-dweller requires coping well with a sea of noise and movement, ignoring most of it, and shutting out peripheral stimulus. Your little hunter-gatherer who does this ends up either very hungry, or very dead, or, mostly, both. I was raised in hunter-gatherer tradition, and there’s a lot of it my family history, in my genes, I suspect. I guess I am one of yesterday’s people, to the modern world. But I still have to live in it, a little.

A lot of people in the same place is for me a sensory hardship, and exhausting. SF cons were always something, mostly, I did as a duty, as part of my job, as much as spell-checking or editing are. On the edges of these, when I got to meet and talk with like minds in small groups was a pleasure… but the entire event: something I found stressful and exhausting. I did it for my career (which it has very little impact on, but I didn’t know that) and for the readers who said they really wanted to meet me. I went, I did my best to provide good value and entertainment, to be a low hassle and reasonable value guest. But it was something of ‘oh don’ throw me in dat ole briar patch’ when David Gerrold was urging punishment of those evil sad puppies by not inviting them to Cons and taking them off ToC’s of that vast and lucrative anthology and short fiction market (oh, wait)… It was a piece of petty spite for most of us, which sort of missed its target, and instead reduced the financial viability of already struggling cons and mags and anthos by cutting their draw. That’s wokesterism for you: shortsighted and self-centered in the extreme – ergo: ‘get woke, go broke’. It’s essentially a form of narcissism – the wokesters personal interests trump everything else. Unfortunately for them no-one makes everything else accept this. They want laws to make it thus. That still won’t work.

Anyway: Book week, and I got asked to come to the local school to come and read aloud to 4 groups of kids for 15 minutes apiece. That was natural enough: CHANGELING’S ISLAND sold a copy to more than 10% of the local population (calculating on 4 people reading each paper copy, and you get to about everyone who reads), and seeing as it is about characters they identify with, it has been very popular. (The book was a finalist both in fantasy and YA categories in the Dragon Awards – up against Sir Terry Pratchett and Larry Correia. No, I was never going to win, but it was great being there. It wasn’t just popular here.)

As I said: large groups of people really aren’t my thing.

I’d rather muck out the chicken-coop.

BUT… I really believe that the best gift I can give to kids is a chance to discover the magic that is books. There is a little self-interest here: if everyone got bored with reading tomorrow, I’d sell no books… and I would also have nothing to read. But really, it’s a long term view: it’s not about me.

It’s not about my books either – just like Mad Genius Club is not about me or selling my books. Hey, I’m pleased if I get a spin-off: but honestly it’s the worst ROI I could make of my time if that was what it was about. It’s the sort of inverse of wokesterism. A rising tide lifts all boats – even the boats of people that I disagree with, whose books I wouldn’t wipe my butt on. The FIRST AND FOREMOST point is to make books something they WANT to read, to pick up and to find that magic, that delight, those worlds inside the pages.

Once you have them wanting to read, then it becomes, if you like, a contest among authors for what exactly they choose to read: and – if you’re wise you want the best pleasing to win. And there again… there is sort of an obligatory pay-forward for honorable writers: you should be working hard for them to leave that choice wanting to read more. It’s, obviously, a win if ‘more’ is more by you. But important part is that they want to read more. Once you start saying ‘but only the right kind of book’ – you’re guaranteeing that some won’t want to read anything at all. And that is a loss, not just for you, but for the future of reading – and thus writing, and for the future as a whole. You have to be some of short-sighted narcissist asshole to make it not about reading, but about WHAT they read.

Now ‘asshole’ I achieve occasionally. A step up for me, you might say. But I try to avoid ‘short-sighted narcissist’ because we have plenty without my help. So I said: Okay I will come and read… as long as I get to choose what I read. They said ‘No problem’ (they do know me well enough. And the kids groups are accompanied by a teacher.)

They assumed I’d read some of my work. I didn’t. I read Ogden Nash. And Yeats. And Kipling. And ‘Why Paddy is not at work, today.’ I chose those because I know my audience, there was something for them to identify with in each – a little stretch at times, but they’d get them. I knew they’d like those, that I could do them well, and they probably wouldn’t know them.

And I put in everything I could give: every bit of expression, humor, pathos, all the intensity I could give. I’ve been practicing for weeks. I’m no Sir Tony Robinson, but I gave it my best.

The kids laughed –at the right places, and were still, and listened. They overstayed breaking for lunch to hear the end – when offered the choice.

And maybe, just maybe, I got the love of books into at least one kid. And maybe re-enforced it in others.

That, after all, is a rising tide. That’s what efforts like ‘Book Week’ should be about. A rising tide to float ALL boats. Inevitably the short sighted narcissists will try and take this over too, with agendas, and wokesterism and making it about their pet causes de jour… and limiting reading to that instead of competing for that interest (because, short-term, just like cheating in a once prestigious award – they get a personal benefit without having to be as good or work as hard or appeal to as many readers. Like everything they infiltrate and turn, it becomes worthless). That will damage this, just as they do to everything they touch.

Resist. Work on popular, work on making the reader happy – even if your personal agenda is not served in the short term. We don’t want reading (or writing) to get woke and go broke. We want generations of eager bookworms – no matter what they read.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay


15 thoughts on “The Rising Tide

  1. Way back in the early Pleistocene, when I was a teaching assistant in physics with the duty of coming up with quiz questions, I printed out “Why Paddy’s Not At Work Today” and had them do the free-body diagram (of forces on Paddy, the barrel, the bricks, etc) for each stanza. It’s a very educational song! 😀

  2. Side note: the key factor behind “get woke go broke” isn’t the wokeness. It’s the fact that, when you emphasize anything instead of the story, the story suffers for it.
    Some people write well enough that they can still put out good-quality stories while throwing in heaping dollops of Message. Most people can’t, and even among those authors who can it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which stories they wrote to tell a story and which ones they wrote to send a message.

    1. I was browsing the YA fantasy table at the regional B&N yesterday. No books with male protagonists. Several that were dreadfully woke-sounding. Lots of teen angst in the general-fiction books (again, all female proags.) They did not sound like books I’d enjoy reading, even when I was a teen. And if I were a teen guy? No, even less likely to read them.

      1. In fairness, YA has long been considered a place to insert heaping dollops of Message. Good night, Mark Twain was making fun of that sort of thing in the late nineteenth century, and if you read some of the stuff that got written in the early 20th century it’s utterly glurge-tastic.
        But I do agree–it’s a lot harder to find new YA that guys will actually want to read than it was even when I was teenager. I think because what guys want to read isn’t what YA Twitter wants them to read.

    2. > Message

      Message is okay. But you can’t let it overwhelm Story.

      L. Neil Smith, I’m lookin’ at you…

      1. The fun part is that some authors can manage a lot more message in an actual story than others. . . .

  3. Dave, I bought copies of Changling’s Island, and the Dragon books for my classroom, for when the kids browse and get interested.

  4. Next month as part of the Giddings Word Wrangler book event, my daughter and I have volunteered to visit three sixth grade classes to talk about books and reading and writing – and yes, we hope to spark or encourage a love of reading and storytelling through this program. Last year, we talked to three fifth-grade classes, and in each class there were at least one or two kids to already loved to read, and maybe we sparked an interest in three or four more.

  5. There’s more to life than economics/making money, and I think the long term health of an activity (be it reading, baseball, cricket, etc) requires NOT trying to squeeze every possible last cent out of the customer. I still remember the wise (but uncommon) CEO quoted in an article about automation companies who said roughly “Even though we’re the dominant company in our niche, we always want our customer to get a good deal – that way they stay happy and don’t start looking for alternatives, while we still make enough.”

    Fear of crowds makes me think of the Wodehouse story where Bertie is thinking about adopting a child, so Jeeves arranges it so Bertie has to give a speech in front of the assembly of an entire girl’s school….

    Finally, Changeling’s Island is an excellent book, what YA should be.

  6. Warning signs, Mattel Toys got woke a couple years ago, and is now stony broke.

    It turns out that little girls do NOT want to have dolls that “look like them” in a wheel chair or with a prosthetic limb or whatever. They want a doll that looks like BARBIE!!! Duh.

    On the horizon, according to PJ Media, Woke McDonalds. Vegan Big Mac anyone?

    In a free country, stupid ideas go bankrupt or get voted out of office. In the Dreamland of the SJWs, the stupid ideas become government policy. And that’s how you get two million people in Hong Kong standing out in the rain last night to protest the Chicoms.

    We will see presently how that all turns out. I’m expecting mass casualties and economic ruination for China, with some serious splashback on Western nations.

    Given that all that shit is on my mind these days, my books are starting to move away from all kissy-face all the time and get a bit more militant.

    What happens when the totalitarian nation’s military meets a Valkyrie? Does Alice Haddison get to shoot Fearless Leader in the face with her trusty 30mm cannon? Stay tuned, I’m trying to find out. ~:D

    1. McD’s will be fine as long as they offer the veganburger in addition to their usual offerings.
      If they start making all of their burgers that way, different story.

      1. The problem with the Woke in this instance is that they’re primarily interested in how a Barbie doll makes THEM feel, not the how it makes the CUSTOMER feel. The customer is the kid’s mom or dad, by the way. Mom and Dad want to see a smile on Little Janey’s face.

        My experience with people in wheelchairs, particularly kids, is that they don’t want to be in the chair, and they don’t want to be reminded of the chair if they’ve managed to forget it for 30 seconds. So that little customer base is gone right there. Little girls want a doll that they can play with, not one that sits.

        The Woke are determined that kids will damn well be inclusive, and that means toys are there to train the child to be inclusive, not to be fun to play make-believe with. Little girls want a beautiful doll, because they want to grow up to be beautiful. (Yes they do, I can hear you commies REEEEEing from here. That you don’t like it changes nothing.)

        So there’s two customer groups down, the crippled kids and the normal kids.

        What’s left is Woke toy collectors. Mattel has that market cornered. The Woke just LOVE the idea of a toy that scolds those low-class knuckledragger families for not being fabulously inclusive and buying the wheelchair doll, or the chubby doll, or the weirdly-shaped skinny/tall one, etc.

        But the dumbest thing about any of this is that the Left has managed to politicize little kid’s toys. Seriously, get over it Lefties.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: