Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I always get a kick out of people who are willing to allow themselves to be labeled. As an Aquarian male, I’ve been told that stars predetermined my own anathema to labels but to me it’s just a sign of intelligence to not want to be classified. I can’t think of a single group or label that I identify with completely. I don’t want to be one of you and agree with everything you have to say. I want to pick and choose. I’m a buffet kind of guy.

Politics is a great example of the label phenomenon. Here in the U.S. everyone seems gung-ho to label themselves as a Democrat or a Republican. To me, taking on one of those tags is equivalent to choosing between being labeled as a child molester and a serial killer. Neither choice is a good one and willingly associating yourself with being either one is outright foolish.

Stop. Think. How can one side ALWAYS be right? Does that happen anywhere else in your life? Of course not. In terms of politics though, everyone has to choose a team and in most urban areas the youth tends to start their careers off as Democrats because they see the world in terms of good and bad. They see the world in terms of social issues. From their perspective, it’s hard not to see the Republicans as the evil empire and the Democrats as the peace-loving Rebellion.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the internet. After the Bush years, Republican hating became sport. Truthfully, some of that anger should have been directed at the Democrats too. If they’d had anyone better than Gore or Kerry, Bush never would have happened. Regardless of that fact though, the term “young Republican” has become something of a joke outside of the rural parts of the country. With a hip, tuned-in, new black President, it’s safe to say that the youth is firmly on the side of the Democrats.

The youth of our country have much less of a problem with gay rights, abortion, bigotry and other social issues. To their credit, they are a tolerant, accepting, loving group of people. To the youth, politics is all about social issues and so, place them firmly in the pockets of those who wear the label of Democrat.

For my part, I’m pretty liberal-minded on social issues too. I don’t understand the religious right. My Jesus was accepting and loving; he sought out those who society mocked, ridiculed and persecuted and made certain they knew there was a place for them in His kingdom. He was pretty specific about us not judging one and other too. That works for me.

So if I’m lined up with them on social issues, why am I not a Democrat? Well, there’s the little problem of fiscal politics. That’s money for those of you who took the short bus hyperlink to this blog post. And after this long-winded, meandering rant that brings me to the point and purpose of this post. I saw in today’s Chicago Sun Times that our governor, a Democrat, wants to start an iTax here in Illinois. An iTax would mean that every download of every song, every album, every podcast, every video and every movie would be subject to a tax. It’s hard to be a member of today’s youth and not notice if all the sudden your iTunes charges start going up.

Now, I’ll skip how colossally stupid it is for a governor to alienate an entire generation that he currently has in his pocket because what I’m interested in is the labels. This seems like a nice little lesson for all of those noobie Democrats, swept up in the fervor of Obamamania about the way Democrats operate from a fiscal perspective. Now without a label of my own when it comes to political parties, I can happily claim to be fiscally conservative even though I’m socially liberal. I don’t want my iTunes taxed. I just discovered the joy of downloading music. Don’t jack my prices up! You’re already getting my on my cigars and my beer!

Still, from a sociological experimentation point of view, a part of me really hopes that this goes through and the iTax is imposed. All of the sudden, the line between good and evil will become awfully blurry for the Bush-hating, gay-loving, healthcare for all bunch. Nothing makes you forget how much you hate the former President like someone taking money from you on a daily basis. It makes hating that person taking your money much easier is what it does.

I wonder, if when this happens, the labels our youth have taken on will change? Will taking candy from the babies turn them against the Democrats? Will their passion for social change outweigh the irritation they experience over money coming from their own pockets?

Sadly, it probably won’t occur to them. In fact, this iTax has already happened in more than a dozen states and the uproar has been—nonexistent. But let this be a lesson to anyone who still believes in a two-party system and to anyone who accepts the label of either Democrat or Republican. By taking on the label, you walk into a restaurant and get whatever they are serving—no more, no less. By choosing a side, you rob yourselves of options. You may be allergic to peas, but if that’s what’s on the menu, that’s what you get.

Is it just me or does that sound awfully un-American? It makes the buffet a much better choice doesn’t it? It makes you wonder how much gray area there really is in EVERY issue? It makes you wonder how much could actually be accomplished if it wasn’t one thing or the other all the time? As I understand it, that’s what America was supposed to be. What happened? Is your label really worth the forfeiture of your choices?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Person Narrative Crisis

For almost a year now, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing books for both The Sacramento Book Review and the San Francisco Book Review and as is the case with a book reviews, the subject has been newly released books. While I’ve always tried to pay attention to newly released literature, prior to doing these reviews, I often skipped around, reading classics and recommendations from others mixed in with anything new I might find.

Reading almost all new releases now I’ve begun to notice quite a few of the trends in the publishing industry, some good and some bad. The most obvious ones, however, are the bad trends and perhaps the absolute worst trend of them all seems to be one of the most prevalent.

I’m speaking of the rash of first person narratives where the main character is a very thinly veiled view of what the author wishes he or she could be. These writers create characters that are practically superhero in nature. Oh, they have flaws of course but they are the kind of flaws you might tell a prospective interviewer in a job interview. I work too hard! I’m too conscientious. Dammit, I just care too much!

Aside from those “weaknesses” the character is virtually without blemish. They are almost never the supermodel type or the movie hunk because the writer cannot make that connection to themselves honestly. Instead, they are the kind of average that seemingly no person of the opposite sex can resist. Sure, he’s got a beer belly, but the most beautiful woman in every room is somehow drawn to him like a moth to a flame. No, you won’t find her in the pages of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition but every man wants her and every woman wants to be like her.

Novel after novel comes out reading like bad fan fiction and instead of slowing down, it seems to be gaining steam. This can only mean one thing: You people are buying it! There’s always been a place in the world for trashy literature. There’s nothing wrong with it. We all have our guilty pleasure reads but at least there used to be some standards involved in even trash lit. No more!

I recently reviewed a book where it seemed like not a single page went by where the author didn’t remind us that her main character (who is not her, she’ll swear to it I’m sure) was beautiful, smart, funny, tougher than the guys, wanted by everyone, admired by all and the perfect woman. This writer was so busy trying to convince her audience of the character’s divinity that she completely forgot to include a plot, or a single other character in the book who was more than one-dimensional. It was like the book itself was background on a stage somewhere, meant only to add color to solitary performer giving a soliloquy.

It was the worst of all of these self-indulgent personal fantasies I’ve read to date and the sad part is that the writer has already written two follow up books. Its going to be a series! But that shouldn’t surprise me. The very first book I reviewed for the papers was about a chubby guy who worked as an accountant and became the greatest monster hunter of all time—and of course got the girl as well. The next book in that series is due out any time. At least this particular author thought to include a little plot along with the self-glorification of his alter-ego.

Just like the Twilight saga made frumpy girls cool, these books, one after another, relentlessly expose us to characters whose flaws are actually good qualities that most people aren’t bright enough to see. Those picked last for dodge ball in gym class and those who didn’t get asked to prom are armed with keyboards, no talent and something to prove and the result are these stories where the characters have no arc and the plot exists only to serve the glorification of the main character.

And it’s only getting worse. More talented writers are being skipped over to fuel this trend where hacks with issues get published. I say enough! If you want to work your issues out then find a shrink and pay by the hour like the rest of the world, don’t subject me to your delusions of grandeur. Shame on the publishers for putting this crap out there and shame on you, most of all, for continuing to read it. As long as copies keep flying off the shelves they’ll keep printing more and more of this compost. It’s time to stand up to these sad people. Demand multiple characters with depth and arc throughout the story. Demand a plot that serves more than as scenery for the writer’s self-glorification. Demand some quality in your books, even the trashy ones.

If you don’t, soon enough, self-indulgent, self-serving books like these that exist to build the writer’s self-esteem will be all that’s left to read. I’m not exaggerating. With each month, more and more of these books hit the shelves and they will continue to do so until you say no.