Robin Williams: A Bibliophile's Good-Bye



If there is one thing all readers can agree upon it is this. Because those of us who read books so passionately understand the power of words. We understand just how quickly an idea can spread. What many of us can not understand is how we, as an enlightened First World society, could have reached the 21st-century with all of it's technological advances and medical innovations that would have been nothing short of miraculous a mere one hundred years ago, while remaining willfully ignorant of the reality and validity of mental illness.

We hear it all time: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You just need to decide to be happy. Exercise will fix it. You're just being selfish.

And in a way it makes sense. We live in a country whose motto has always been anything is possible for those willing to work for it. We are willing to cut a little slack for those who obviously (read: visibly) cannot work for it: disabled folk in a wheelchair, missing a limb, you know...the ones you can see are unable to work for the American dream. But what about those who are struggling with an illness you can't see? As a general rule of thumb, Americans aren't very tolerant of those folks. Ask anyone who suffers from fibromyalgia about that. If it isn't visible, it doesn't exist. 

As for mental illness, well, this is the ultimate invisible disease. And sadly, many Americans still refuse to see it as a disease. Instead, they view it as a weakness or a personality flaw, throwing it in the same category as laziness or deceptiveness. A person can change these flaws, right? Straighten up and fly right. Work hard and reap rewards. These are Americanisms so oft repeated that we revert to them almost automatically whenever we see anyone not operating optimally with no visible injury hampering them. 

This refusal to recognize the severity of mental disorders stems from an embarrassing lack of education. How many people, for example, have been heard to say, "I was depressed once, but I just focused on being happy and I got over it." Those who do understand the nature of clinical depression will immediately recognize the what an utter ludicrous statement that is....such a person may have experienced momentary sadness, a perfectly natural (and temporary) emotion, but not clinical depression. Failure to educate our students and ourselves about the true nature of mental disorders is the root of the problem.

Is it any wonder then that those suffering with the crippling mental disorders such as clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorder, and too many others to name, sometimes feel the battle is simply too hard to fight? Isn't it enough that they quietly battle their demons in secret, hiding it from a disbelieving society that scorns their plight and offers condescending platitudes?

Shame on us.

But if words and ideas can change the world, then let it start with changing us. Because we need to change how we see this illness. We need to validate this illness. We need to help, not hinder, those who fight this illness. And this begins with educating ourselves with words and ideas. The information is out there. Find it. Read it. And once we've done that, do what readers do best: read and share words and ideas. Bibliophiles are incredibly empathetic people, owing to the books we read. We need to be reading the right books. Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and her poetry, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and Darkness Visible by William Styron are but a few of the books that address or have key characters grappling with mental illness. Education first, then empathy through reading, and vocal sharing of ideas. It's a small start, but it has to start somewhere. 

His death shouldn't be in vain. 

Farewell, Robin Williams. Find peace, wherever you are.

Robin Williams
1951-2014

We Interrupt this Book Review (Rated R)

The following post is rated R for....well, for being me. 




That's right, folks. Today is National Zucchini Day. Or, as those of us who are actually dealing with the 4,283 zucchini that are currently ripe and ready for picking off of the mere three zucchini plants we stuffed into the ground just a few months back like to call it, National Fucking Zucchini Day. 

How is this related to books? Allow me to enlighten you....it really cuts into your reading time when you have 4,283 goddam zucchini stacked up and there is only a finite number of ways to cook the damned vegetable. Shredding, mixing, dipping in batter, breading, broiling, deep-frying, baking, sauteing, grilling --- all of this involves finding recipes and we all know where that leads.....


That's right. Searching for zucchini recipes. Which inevitably leads you to that special circle of Hell known as Pinterest. Once you enter that time-warp it's all over. Any plans you had to curl up with that special book are gone, dead, out the proverbial window. Because the space-time continuum veers off into a fifth dimension known as Pinterest-time and when you emerge with your 37 newly-pinned zucchini recipes (35 of which will FAIL), you will discover that darkness has descended, your family has gone to bed, your entire time zone - in fact - is asleep because 5 fucking HOURS have passed without you looking up from the screen (check your eyeballs because it's entirely possible you haven't actually blinked).

This is a dangerous, dangerous phenomenon for bibliophiles. Not only are we putting our ocular abilities at risk (translation: ruining your fucking eyesight), but we simply cannot afford to lose precious reading time like this.

I'm certain, therefore, you all will be appropriately grateful when I remind you that another notable, yet oft forgotten nationally designated day of import also falls on August 8 each year:



You are welcome. Now go read a damned book. And have a nice weekend.

Agatha, you slay me...


Question: is there just one Agatha Christie mystery that I can solve before it is explained to me?

Answer: not yet, damn it.

Gah. As I merrily roll along with the Agatha Christie Read Along (hosted by Book Club Girl) this summer, I vacillate between moments of sheer joy with Christie's brilliant plotting and utter frustration with my seeming inability to get ahead of her twisted mind. My dogged determination to solve just one Agatha Christie mystery before the Big Reveal was thwarted yet again with Dead Man's Folly, a 1956 Hercules Poirot story originally written as a short story but later fleshed out into a full length novel.

Dead Man's Folly begins on the lightest of notes. Adriane Oliver, a popular mystery author (and recurring character for Christie) has been hired by a wealthy couple to design a murder mystery scavenger hunt for a large party being held at their estate: "...it's all much harder to arrange than you'd think. Because you've got to allow for real people being quite intelligent, and in my books they needn't be." Oliver, embodying all of the flighty characteristics of a mystery writer ("Don't bother about me, I'm just remembering if there's anything I've forgotten"), becomes convinced - sans any real evidence - that some sort of foul play is imminent and calls her old friend Hercule Poirot to help her out, tout de suite. 

Of course, no foul play has yet been committed, but we are introduced to a cast of potential wrong-doers anyway. There is the estate owner and his beautiful, young wife whose elevator doesn't quite reach the top floor (or does it?). There is the titled but bankrupt former owner of the estate now reduced to living in a cottage on the grounds. An angry, unstable architect who might be having illicit relations with the beautiful mistress of the house. A jealous secretary. And at least a half dozen others for good measure...and this is before the murder even takes place. Whew. After the murder occurred, I was hopeless.

With enough red herrings to fill an aquarium, Dead Man's Folly had me baffled. So baffled, in fact, that when our dear Poirot finally explains who did the dastardly deed and why, I found it necessary to read the explanation TWICE to understand it. Gah. Clearly, I need a detective's notebook and a decoder ring.

Interestingly, Dead Man's Folly wasn't critically well-received upon it's original publication. The Times called it "flat and facile" with "disastrous" dialog (ouch), while the Times Literary Supplement that same year criticized the sheer volume of characters, calling all of them "very, very flat."  The one bright spot was The Observer, who was generous enough to offer: "Stunning but not unguessable solution." Hmmmm...not unguessable, you say?  Screw you, Observer.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Masterpiece Theater's latest installment of Hercule Poirot this past weekend was, in fact, Dead Man's Folly. I managed to catch the episode and, as usual, Masterpiece Theater did impeccable work. Aside from some major foreshadowing, I was quite impressed with their faithfulness to the novel...worth the watch and it's available, of course, online at pbs.org



********************

Title: Dead Man's Folly
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: 2014
Pages: 226
Source: Book Club Girl & William Morrow

A DRM Tale

A couple of years ago, author Cory Doctorow wrote an article for Publisher's Weekly that has recently become relevant once again. It involves that current darling and underdog of the book world, Hachette, and DRM. Hachette, of course, has been all over the news and social media over the past few months as they bravely battle that evil BIG BUSINESS OVERLORD Amazon in a quest to bring fair prices to their readers and a fair percentage of book profits to their author's bank accounts.

Thankfully for Hachette, memories in the bookworld are short. Very short. Few of the readers now rallying around the publisher showing their support by boycotting everything Amazon and prefacing their every tweet with #readHachette recall the publisher's bullying DRM tactics (*sounds of a broom quickly sweeping that little inconvenient truth under the Hachette rug*). Wait....what's DRM again?



For those who need a quick refresher, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and you're probably familiar with it - even if you don't know it by name - if you own an e-reader (and really, who doesn't these days....'fess up). DRM is what controls your e-book after you buy it. It's what keeps you from sending that e-book to your Aunt Sally. Or loaning it to your best friend. Or maybe you can loan it to your best friend because it's a loanable e-book, yay! DRM controls the use of digital content after sale. And it's quite controversial. Okay, refresher over. Let's get back to Hachette here.

The large publishing houses initially embraced DRM. They loved it. They thought it made them a lot of money. But a little time passed, some lawsuits came and went, and some studies were released. And you know what? As it turned out, DRM wasn't all that great. It didn't make readers buy more copies of books. If anything, it lost publishing houses some of their loyal readers. Now some of the publishing houses, like Macmillan and their imprint Tor Books, saw these studies and tossed DRM out the window. This, one would think, was their prerogative. You would be WRONG. There was one large, DRM-loving publishing house, Hachette (you saw that coming, didn't you?), that saw this as a complete betrayal of the publishing-house-brotherhood and felt compelled to pull all kinds of shenanigans to put pressure on Tor Books to come back into the fold of DRM. What kind of pressure? You might be surprised....

Enter Cory Doctorow's article mentioned above. One author who had published books with Hachette in some territories and Tor Books in other territories not even covered by Hachette actually received a letter from the CEO of Little, Brown at the time stating that Tor's no-DRM policy was making it difficult for Hachette to protect their DRM rights. That's right...Hachette felt like Tor wasn't backing them up. She went on to tell that author to contact Tor Books and insist Tor use DRM on his titles and "we look forward to hearing what action you propose taking."  WHATZA? Really? Is that a threat? Or just a friendly suggestion?How does one interpret a letter like that? That's classy stuff right there and that's the kind of games Hachette was playing as they embraced their DRM-lovin' policies.



Fast forward to the spring of 2014 and the current Amazon v Hachette War to End All Wars (Insert Eyeroll Here).  Stay with me here because this all ties in together in a rather funny way....well, funny if you have my perverted sense of humor. Hachette just happens to be the first of the Big Five publishers to come up for renegotiation with Amazon and boy oh boy, what a stalemate that turned out to be. (Now I'm not going to pontificate on which side is right and which side is wrong because guess what? They're both BIG BUSINESS. Folks, I hate to break this to you. Neither Amazon or Hachette is looking out for you, the reader, or the authors, or any of the little guys in this. Their only concern is making money. And not money to give to their authors or nice publicists you might share nice Tweets with now and then, but money for their freaking shareholders. This is Business 101. I'm reasonably you all took this class your first year of university which, granted, might be lost in an fraternity-alcoholic-party-thing-fog - but trust me, you took this class and they taught you this. So cut it with the Hachette's-so-angelic-and-good and Amazon's-so-demonic-and-evil crap right now, 'k? I can't take you seriously if you do that shit.) Moving on....back to the funny....



So as it turns out, we have this huge stalemate between Amazon and Hachette. Amazon pulls Hachette's books. But what does Hachette do in retaliation? That's right. Nothing. (You can't count their weak social media try-to-convince-silly-media-that-Amazon-is-a-evil-bully campaign as doing something.) Hachette didn't do anything. Why?  Why didn't Hachette didn't just walk away from Amazon and say "Screw you, we're going to take all of our ebooks leave Amazon forever!" Well it wasn't because they didn't want to, that's for certain. It was because they couldn't. Hachette, you'll recall, still loves their DRM. And DRM, by law, is encrypted by the seller of the ebooks. That would be Amazon. So Amazon holds the magic key to every DRM'd Kindle book Hachette has ever sold. Darn. That's a bummer. (You can read Doctorow's gloating article in The Guardian here...he deserves a little gloat for his accurate predictions.)

Hachette's own greediness over DRM put them in an untenable negotiating position with Amazon. It's difficult to feel sorry for them over that. Especially when DRM in the ebook world is a ridiculous notion that should have been tossed out the window years ago when Tor Books saw the light.  The lesson to be learned in all of this? The remaining publishers clinging to DRM who are slated to renegotiate contracts with Amazon in the future should take note. This is business and when it comes to profit margins the gloves come off. Ditch the DRM and give yourself a fighting chance in the ring.