Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Common Sensorship

Everyone celebrated Tor-Forge when they announced that eBook stores could sell their books sans DRM.  After all, we want to buy our eBooks for the lowest price, or from our most favored retailer, or perhaps from the reseller that has the best customer service, and then convert them to run on whichever reader(s) we have.  DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and is the technology that, among other things, prevents you from copying the book to give to others.

For instance, I have a B&N Nook for general reading, but my phone has an Amazon reader on it, and I love my Calibre reader for my PC because I can set the style sheets to reward  myself with the very best reading experience.  With a DRM free book, I can easily do this.

But in spite of the fact that Tor-Forge is still working out the kinks of their process, there is yet another very important reason that you might want your books DRM free.

I abhor profanity.

I know that some of you will feel that obscenity is absolutely necessary for certain books, and you might be right; but personally, I don't want to read it.  I don't want it polluting a perfectly good story or ruining delightfully told tale.  It's like finding a cow-pie in the middle of your manicured lawn.

Call me old fashioned, but I really enjoy timeless works like Lord of the Rings, where J.R.R. Tolkien spun golden prose using words of straw without a single line of disgusting invective.  Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Dickens also knew how to write beautiful classics without resorting to bawdy language.

But it seems that cursing is a human universal constant. That is, every language, dialect or speech ever conceived, having been spoken by many millions or by the tiniest of tribes, turns out to have its share of forbidden words (primarily variations on comedian George Carlin's famous list of the seven dirtiest words).

I also understand that certain genres, especially military works, are supposed to contain base profanity to simulate a greater sense of realism.  Again, I get it.   But I still don't want my own speech polluted by words that make me uncomfortable to say around my friends and family.

So here we are, with a DRM free book.  It is a simple matter these days to convert the book to ePub format (if it isn't there already) which just happens to be a zip file with HTML pages inside.  This is a very convenient format to open, run a search and replace program on commonly used vulgar words, and voila!  A DRM free and profanity free book!

Of course one can now cry foul because not only is the content changed, but we are now violating the copyright of the author.  Their original intent is being irreverently altered and butchered.  But consider my side of the argument.  I bought the book, so the author has been paid for his work.  I have the original version in all its pristine beauty, but I don't want to read it that way.  In my view, no matter how fantastic the prose or how well wound the plot, I want a clean book to read.  Colosians 3:8 says "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."

So in the privacy of my own eBook reader, I have strained out the words I don't want and replaced them with better words that still preserve a semblance of the original intent, but might be reworded slightly to say, "Frankly my dear, I just don't give a darn." 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Peeta Malark - Mockingjay: rising from the fire

"Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to... to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their games."
                           - Peeta Malark, The Hunger Games

We have all come to cherish Katniss Everdeen, the charming young woman who is the heroine of the Hunger Games series.  I just saw the movie this weekend after having read the series and it conveyed powerful images of the brutality inherent in these reality games the Capital uses to inflict continuing harm on the districts that serve it.  Katniss is the girl who would not go quietly into the night.  

But there is another, gentler hero who was just as powerful to me.  I'll warn you now, if you can't tolerate the level of implied terror inherent in the fiction of the Hunger Games, you shouldn't read what I'm about to write.  There are also spoilers below, but I will try to keep them vague and not reveal too much in the event you have not yet read Mockingjay, the final book in the series.


In book one, The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss are thrown into the 74th Hunger Games and forced to compete for their lives.  Peeta does something strange and joins the career tributes on the first night of the games, in order to protect Katniss.  Frightened human beings do strange things in order to survive a truly horrific ordeal, including adapting in order to appear to be something they are not, in order to survive.  But sometimes, we will do even stranger things in order to help someone we love to survive their own terrifying ordeal.  This is often true of orphan siblings that are placed in the care of the state or other caregivers that appear unsafe to the children.

As we read in book 2, Catching Fire, Peeta often holds Katniss while she sleeps to help with nightmares.  This lends to his charm as he often puts his own feelings aside in order to help Katniss, who struggles with her own terrors from the games.

But,in Mockingjay, where I want to focus in this blog post, Peeta is captured and subjected to unspeakable torture, even after the Capital learns that Peeta possesses no useful information they can use to crush the rebellion in the districts.  In his first interview with Caesar Flickerman, Peeta appears to be in good health. But subsequent interviews show that Peeta is clearly being abused.  When he tries to warn the rebels by slipping information regarding a pending attack, he is beaten and there are no further interviews; his usefulness as a propaganda tool is gone. But he still has use to them as a potentially lethal psychological weapon to use against Katniss, the Mockingjay symbol of the rebellion.

Although Peeta is a secondary character in the Hunger Games trilogy, his is the story that spoke most poignantly to me.  Being a childhood survivor of abuse is gruesome enough.  But there are evils in this world that know no boundaries and do not levy even the most base decencies to their victims.  Basic needs such as food, toiletry, clothing, shelter are often neglected or used as tools by cruel captors, sometimes even upon their own children.  When I hear of victims like Jaycee Lee Dugard, kidnapped and tortured for 18 years, it defies the imagination.

For Peeta, he is convinced that Katniss has destroyed everything he holds dear: his friends and family, the entire district 12, and he believes she wants to kill him as well.  The tragedy is that we lost the Peeta we all loved; the boy who protected the girl from district 12 and was willing to sacrifice everything; the boy who would lie, kill, even lay down his own life to keep her safe.  It is his inherent unselfish goodness that has been stolen from him in the final book.  Even his ability to paint and create is diminished by the unhinging of his mind.  What an unfathomable loss.

"However, the true atrocities, the most frightening, incorporate a perverse psychological twist designed to terrify the victim."

                                - Katniss Everdeen, Mockingjay

Abuse victims have only limited tools with which to hold their fragile minds together, but they are powerful  tools and are often our only source of strength for survival.  Hope is a powerful force that can help us survive fear and terror--hope for one more meal; hope that the ordeal has an ending; hope that we can make it one more hour or one more minute.

"Did it give them hope, or simply add to their terror when they saw the reality of twenty-four tributes circled together, knowing only one could live?" 
                                 - Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

Pain can also be a refuge.  Peeta remarks that the pain of his handcuffs help hold his mind together.  Bitterness, rage and hate can also give fuel to one's mind in order to survive, if only for the sole desire for justice or a way to exact revenge.  Katniss is driven by her desire to kill those who are responsible for the games.  But at some point, only love can truly cause us to give the ultimate sacrifice for someone else.

After the indescribable horror of just trying to survive (if, in fact, the victim is lucky enough to escape), another form of cruelty takes place as they try to find some form of normalcy.  In Peeta's case, his mind has been "hijacked" by strong hallucinatory chemicals that have altered his sense of reality.  This is sometimes observed in real abuse victims.  As children, they try to develop coping mechanisms while their underdeveloped minds and emotions are struggling enough just to grow toward adulthood.  As adults, they are sometimes so dysfunctional, they can't take care of themselves, and sometimes, repeat the cycle of abuse with their own children.

Of course, evil knows no boundaries, but sometimes good must also rise above its own limitations.  We must look past the scars the abuse has left upon a person, whether physical or emotional.  We must look past our own scars as we struggle to love and help someone who has been tormented so intensely.

"You're punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control...  You and me, we made a deal to try and save him.  Remember?"
                          - Haymitch, Mockingjay

We often use our own bias, our own experiences, and often our own frame of reference to shut them out, ignore them, abandon them to their own demons.  It is just easier to pretend they don't feel pain, to tell them to pull their weight, to bury their grief and sorrow.  It's grueling and backbreaking work to pull them slowly toward the love we want to share, to help them erase their pain one stripe at a time, to step into their madness in order to help pull them out.  It''s messy work to help them figure out which memories are "shiny,"  which feelings are real, and which are put up by their mind's defenses.  Sometimes they can't even get to those memories for years because they have been hidden in the fortresses of their mind to protect itself from the pain.

But we must try.  When we fail, we must try again.  We must be like the Peeta before in order to help the Peeta after.  We have to show them sacrificial love to help win them back from the prison their mind has erected.

At the end of the book, Katniss contronts Buttercup, the cat that dislikes her as much as she does it.  she cries and the cat cries, both confronting their pain, until only love remains and they help each other through the darkness and guard each other through the pain and exhaustion.

Peeta bakes and draws and never leaves her side.  In the end, it is enduring love that helps them all to go on.

Find it within yourself to love--especially someone who may appear to be unlovable, but has lost much and perhaps carries a far larger weight than you can possibly imagine.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How you read is changing

I read a lot of books, and I'm sure you do as well.  The problem I'm facing now is not whether to convert to eBooks instead of my old faithful paperbacks, but how to make the change.  I mean, I love my paperbacks. 
And the books I'm most fond are in hardback and are prominently displayed on my limited bookshelf space.

The problem of course, is that I have limited shelf space.

Well, even if I didn't, my wife will remind me that our home is not large enough to encompass my vast collection (can I call it that?) of books.  So, along with everyone else, I've begin the conversion to eBooks. So far, I've managed to purchase (or swap) 1,292 books into electronic form for reading on my eReaders (more on that in a moment) to free up floor space taken up by boxes and cartons of books that I plan to reread (someday).  But the fact is, I probably only reread about 1% of all the titles I have.  So I just didn't make sense to keep the all around in permanent stasis.

But there's nothing like a good paperback at the beach (after all, who wants to fish all the sand out of an electronic device?).  Airports and courtrooms seem wary of electronic devices, for security reasons I'm sure (sarcasm here).  So for those venues, I also like to have a good old fashioned mass market copy in my clutches.

And then for the times I'm stuck in line (grocery store, DMV) without my eReader, I always have my smart phone with the Kindle and Nook reader apps loaded with my favorite reads.

But, let's be real.  Paper books are going to get harder to find.  Book stores are stocking less fiction (if you haven't noticed that already) and the expensive shelf space will only have the very best selling names, making mid grade books that much more scarce.  The sad part is that if you are willing to wait a few months for a book, you can find it on the used market for only pennies making it very costly for publishers to justify print runs and it feeds into a very ugly profit margin for publishers who's latest best seller develops its own fraction based used market.  Even school library shelf space is shrinking as eReaders find themselves loaded with hundreds of books for young readers to check out and enjoy.

So, the real question is how do we prepare for this inevitable transition from paper to e-ink.  I can't deny that it is far easier (and much more tempting) to purchase books in seconds from the comfort of my home than it is to go browse the local bookstore with a cup of hot chocolate.  And with everything from textbooks to short stories to comics and magazines available as electronic storage, I can't complain about how much room books take up.
So which eReader should you get?  As you know the big retailers are trying to market the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablets well down into the consumer price range.  Well, it turns out that selecting a dedicated reader (or just a consumer tablet) is a personal choice, but there are lots of options to consider.  The Top Ten site has a great configurator questionnaire that can point you in the right direction (and might just surprise you at what you end up choosing).

An article in 2010 by Newsweek.
My, how the landscape has changed in
a year's time!
But why choose a single reading machine, when you can have several for free!  As I mentioned above, I have several books ready and loaded on my phone to read on the Kindle or Nook app.  I have Calibre loaded on my computer and it has, in my humble opinion, the very best reader out there because you can customize its style any way you want using modern style sheets.

But for my Amazon books, I prefer to read them on the Kindle Cloud reader.  With my books (and music) safe and snug in the cloud, I can read on any machine connected to the internet, even if it's not my own computer.  That means I can read literally anywhere, and with the cloud reader I can select a few books to keep locally for when there is no connection to the cloud.

If you have a similar dilemma on how to make the transition, let me know what works for you.  In my case, my electronic library is growing and my paper one is shrinking.  I still do take out a paper copy of a favorite occasionally just so I can remember what they feel like in my hands.

Read with pleasure!