*I displaced Amanda’s monthly guest post yesterday for the character blog tour, so I’m putting it up today. I’ll add one thing to what she says below — well, a few — when my kids were in elementary, there was a city program where they were given incentives to read. Read x pages get a burger. Read x pages get a movie ticket. I never let them participate in the program. Why not (besides meanness?) Because I didn’t want them to think of reading as a chore you had to be compensated for. This is the mentality I keep running into, even from thirty somethings “reading is a chore and you need to give me stuff so I’ll read.” For some this becomes “reading is a chore, so I’ll read only ‘improving’ materials. And thus we come to writers who think that writing is kind of school work and that it can be graded by how many “ideas that improve the world” it has (in their opinion) instead of a purely ludic activity. Me? I believe whatever else writing might be, it must be fun first, or it already failed. No one was paid or compensated for reading Dumas or Austen. They were read because they were fun. Shakespeare was read because he was fun. Did they accomplish other things? Maybe. But fun comes first.*
Of Grants and Literature and the Brainwashing of our Kids -Amanda Green
Earlier this month, New Zealand author Eleanor Catton announced that she was establishing a grant that would allow authors to take three months leave to “read the work of their fellow authors.” My first thought was “Cool!” Then it read a bit further and realized that she was seeding the grant with only $3,000 and that there weren’t a lot of other details in the story. So I went in search of more information and the more I read, the more I shook my head.
For those not familiar with Catton, she has written two books. According to her Twitter feed, she made more than $140,000 last year and is happy to pay 40% to “give young kiwis in poverty a chance” and goes on to say what a great policy this is from the Green Party. She also notes that artists don’t create to help people or make money. According to her tweet, artists create to “discover the truth underneath the assumed and bring it to the surface.”
Hmm, starting to sound familiar yet?
But back to the grant. According to another piece, it would allow writers the “ability to read” and the only requirement would be that the recipients post a short non-fiction piece online describing what they are reading.
Now, I’ll admit the idea of being paid to read appeals to me but it isn’t necessary. Far from it, in fact. More than that, I don’t think I could take three months off from writing and not go stark raving mad. But it goes beyond that. No matter what my deadlines or how immersed I am in my writing, I am still reading. I may not read as much when I’m mid-book as I do when editing or planning a new project, but I’m still reading.
My concern with the possible rules for the grant – I say possible because I haven’t been able to find anything more than Catton wants to fund it and let authors take 3 months leave to read – is that they will limit what authors can read. That concern naturally, at least in my mind, reminded me of the frustration I had with the school system when my son was still in school, a system that came very close to destroying his joy of reading and has done just that in so many other children.
My son is now an adult, one who loves to read. But it very well could have gone the other way. The war to save him as a reader started in the third grade. That is when he had a teacher who decided to use reading as a punishment. She chose the most boring, most inappropriate books she could for a boy of my son’s age. There wasn’t a single book during that time that had any action. Not one that had someone my son could identify with. No fun stories and no happy endings (male version). Instead, we were being exposed to the first attempt to de-manify (it is, too, a word) our boys using books. In each of the books he was given to read, the boys were bullies, the men evil.
The only good thing that came from that year was that my son got to see up close and personal that his parents would go toe-to-toe with teachers and administrators we felt were not doing their jobs.
But the damage was started and the education system as a whole continued the attack. The responsibility for coming up with summer reading lists was turned over to people who weren’t in the trenches with the students on a daily basis. Instead of books our kids, and especially our boys, would want to read, these were books that were “socially relevant”. In other words, they continued the attack on boys and men and more, much more.
The list for the summer going into fifth grade included books about drug abuse, living in poverty, teen pregnancy – not through rape but through consensual sex but without dealing with the consequences after the birth, at least not the consequences for the girl because her family, poor as they were, rallied around her and they lived happily ever after. But the one with the penis was evil because he didn’t control himself even as the girl was a willing partner – mental illness and confused sexual identity.
Doesn’t that sound like a list of topics you wanted to read over your summer vacation when you were still in elementary school?
But I think it was worse the next year because the socially relevant and politically correct topics were better hidden, at least at first glance. I’ll never forget being on vacation with my son and mother that year. We were visiting my aunt and her family just outside of Cleveland and one afternoon my son and I were reading. I soon learned I’d made a big mistake by not reading all of the book he was currently reading. Yep, another summer reading list book. I’d skimmed the first few chapters and it had seemed harmless enough. A gothic novel with the mandatory ghost story.
And then he got to the end.
And then my temper went through the roof.
And it was a very good thing we were more than 1,000 miles from his school because I would have been in raising hell.
The last half of the book turned into the typical man-hating book. Men ruled by desire for sex at all costs and the woman’s consent – or lack thereof – doesn’t count. A woman who, in the beginning of the book was capable and had a brain, suddenly was helpless and a victim. Add to that a very brutal attempted rape scene, thwarted by – wait for it – the ghost and the book went flying against the wall.
Fortunately, before he finished reading the rape scene, my son asked me what something meant. I’m not ashamed to admit I did one of those cartoonish head whips with the eyeballs bounding out of my head before rushing back in. I grabbed the book from him and read the paragraph in question. Then I backed up and read the entire page, and the entire chapter. And then I told my son he didn’t have to finish the book and here was what happened.
Was it a sanitized version? Sort of. I told him about the attempted rape and I told him how the ghost intervened. But then we talked about how the bad guy wasn’t representative of all men and certainly not of him. We had our first in-depth discussion that afternoon about how authors and publishers sometimes have an agenda they try to push with their books.
That was when he finally voiced the question I knew he’d been thinking. Why was the school forcing kids to read stuff that was boring and insulting? I told him I didn’t know but that we would go ask just as soon as we returned home.
And we did. The first day we were back, we piled into the car and went to the school. Our first stop was the administration office to see if the big wigs could answer the question. I wasn’t surprised when they passed the buck and said to go talk to the teacher. When we tried to do that, I had a very strong sense of déjà vu. Once more we were back to the third grade with teachers trying to convince my son and other boys that they were second class citizens because they were – gasp – male.
When I made it clear that wasn’t going to fly, the young female teacher informed me that if I had had any objections to the reading list, I could have lodged them before school was out and we would have been given an alternate list. Since I hadn’t, it was all my fault.
Looking back on that day, I can smile now. Then, I saw red. Even my son saw the warning signs and he knew the teacher had gone too far. She had no idea what sort of monster she’d just unloosed by trying to put the blame on me. But she would soon learn.
Very coolly and calmly – that stage when anyone with an ounce of sense knows the berserker is lurking just beneath the surface – I asked her to show me where in the curriculum or school/district information there was anything to say we had a chance to review the summer reading list before it was handed out. She couldn’t. I was told it was something I should have known. Yes, I asked if I was supposed to just intuit it. She stared at me as if she had no idea what I was saying.
Then I asked her to present me with a copy of the alternative list. Of course, she couldn’t. She said I had to get it from the librarian. Hmm, the alternate list came from someone who wasn’t responsible for the original list. Why was that and how was I to know? Another blank stare and another attempt to pass the blame back to me.
When she tried to tell me I should have read all the books before my son did, I swear my son took a step back. He knew the explosion was about to come. He was wrong. By then, I was like a cat playing with a mouse. I had read almost all the books. But I also knew I was the exception to the rule because I’d done my homework and called some of the parents of the kids in my son’s class to see if they had read any of the books. No, they hadn’t but they had noticed how their kids weren’t doing the reading. Now they understood why.
When I asked the teacher if she really thought parents would read all the books before letting their kids do so, she said that wasn’t her concern. If we didn’t like the list, we could have asked for the alternate list. But she really didn’t see anything wrong with the books on the list. After all, the sooner our kids learned that the world consisted mainly of poor people living in squalid conditions and that it was our duty to make the world better for them, the better. She went on to say that the books, like the one I was objecting to, were there to show the boys that they needed to curb their animal side and take their cues from the women in their lives because, you know, women are so much calmer and exercise better judgment than men.
I think I laughed then. I know I asked if she’d paid one bit of attention to her female students and if she remembered junior high.
Looking back now, I realize I had just met a GHHer in training.
How does all this relate back to the grant to let writers read? One way is that I have a feeling that they are going to be encouraged to read “literature” and then pass on how wonderful it is. For another, those of us who don’t write “literature” are too busy writing what we enjoy and what sells to worry about taking three months off. We don’t take years to write a single book. More than that, we read even if we are writing. We don’t need someone to subsidize us so we have what is basically a three month vacation. We’re working stiffs who understand that three months off will impact our bottom line down the road.
In other words, going on the dole – even if it is a grant from another writer – isn’t the way to prove our worth as a writer or the way to recharge our batteries. It is a way to decrease our earnings over time. It smacks of the guaranteed month off workers get in some European countries, countries with the ensuing problems because of that.
Thanks very much, but I won’t be applying. As it stands now, even when writing, I read anywhere between 1,000 – 5,000 pages a month, sometimes more. Now, if someone wants to pay me to do that AND let me write at the same time, cool. Until then, I’ll keep being the hack I am and writing books folks want to read. Books where there are good and bad men AND women, books with more than a socially relevant message to them.
And, until the education system is overhauled, if you have kids in school, please check what they are reading and be prepared to offer counter-arguments to the SJW pabulum that is being spoon fed to our kids in an attempt to “socialize” them.