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Pen Down, Brain Off

I really liked what Rebecca Stead said in a recent New York Times article about how she spends her weekends. Her book When You Reach Me is the latest Newbery Award winner, and it was one of my favorite recent reads. I don't always agree with awards committees and I don't read a lot of YA books aimed at younger readers (her MC's are sixth grade), but this one was charming - in a Time Traveler's Wife mixed with Encyclopedia Brown kind of way. Stead said Sunday is her day to turn her brain off. She said that it's the only way to allow it to relax and make new connections. Without the input that comes from "days off," storytellers have nothing to say.

Her comments reminded me about the importance of doing nothing. In our society, where productivity is so highly revered, we seldom give ourselves permission to do nothing. I've commented that some of my best ideas for writing have come to me while I'm in New Orleans, but maybe that's because I'm away from my routine and not feeling tied to a computer or compelled to work (although I do think the city's ambience has something to do with it.)

So, this weekend, turn your brain off. Take a walk or go for a bike ride. If this rain keeps up, hit the couch and let your mind float free. Yep, you can even take a nap if you like. A lot of writers think your best stuff is accessed in those first few moments of waking up, when the censors aren't up and running at full throttle yet. Natalie Goldberg writes about writing from your "wild mind" or "monkey mind," accessing the universe through your imagination. You just have to unclutter your head to dig down to the deep primal issues that are waiting to be mined (pun intended.) There's no telling what will come to you if you give yourself permission to drift.

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Posted in March, 2010


More Adults Reading YA

The Los Angeles Times said yesterday that more and more adults are reading YA or Young Adult books. The article cited the reasons as word-of-mouth (Twilight), awards (Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), movies (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief), the "mother test" (What I Saw and How I Lied), and the jump-start given to the genre by Harry Potter. Adult readers like the fast pace of YA books and the openness of the characters. Because YA is aimed at a group of people who have many distractions from reading, the plot must move along, the characters have to be real, and the opening needs to grab the reader by the collar from page one.

It's what all good books should be, of course. I used to tell my high school students that textbook writers got a bonus for making stuff boring. Sometimes it feels like many writers of adult books do the same. Personally, I'm glad teens don't put up with superfluous detail in books, 'cause I like my reading straightforward and stripped-down too. Elmore Leonard says to leave out the stuff people skip. It's one of the most engaging qualities of YA - lean writing. If you haven't in a while, read a book today that's "high school skinny." Let me know if you need recommendations. There are so many that I love.

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Posted in March, 2010


E-books v. Tree-books

Much has been written about e-book pricing. Proponents of the $9.99 pricing Kindle offered until recently argue that publishers should be able to still make money at that rate because they're saving the cost of paper, printing, and shipping. It seems logical, I know, but the New York Times today discusses why five of the six largest publishers justify their $12.99 to $14.99 ebook prices. (Thanks, Drew, for the link.) According to these publishers, printing, storing, and shipping only accounts for about $3.25 for each book. I confess that math is not my forte, so I'll leave you to read the breakdown the Times gives for the cost of books.

Honestly, one of the most compelling arguments for the increase, in my mind, is that print booksellers won't be able to compete with e-books priced at $9.99. That price difference is certainly what lead me to buy about a dozen books to read on my iPhone, (which is surprisingly satisfying, despite the small size. Scrolling is so easy you get used to changing pages quickly and being able to adjust text size and highlight are plusses too.) It was a little hard for me to justify spending $15 for a paperback when I could get the e-book for $10 - and often at the same time the $26 hardback came out. Add to that the beauty of deciding you want a new book at midnight and downloading it in bed within ten seconds. Yeah, I LOVE browsing in bookstores, but I'm gonna need some financial incentive to continue to do so. Maybe leveling the playing field with the $14.99 pricing is a good idea if we want book stores to survive and thrive.

Just wondering how many of you read e-books and what your thoughts are about pricing. Before we all get too worked up about it, we do need to remember that digital books currently make up only 3% of book sales at the moment. I do look for that to increase, but hopefully, bookstores aren't going anywhere any time soon. At least in Huntsville this weekend, the bookstore culture was alive and well, I'm glad to say.

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Posted in March, 2010

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