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Monday, May 26, 2014

Way, Way Back When I Was a Kid

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Photo credit: EvelynGiggles |

Today's younger generations have a world of books available at the push of a button. But have they been denied the nostalgia of a well-worn object? ♦ 

Most everyone my age has something in their possession that they've dragged along with them from place to place since they were kids . . . something that holds such sentimental value, and is so near and dear to the heart, that they'd never even think of getting rid of it. It’s safe to say that for a number of us, among those precious items are not a few choice books: Where the Wild Things Are, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, just about any Dr. Seuss book, and my personal favorite, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. These are just a few classic children’s books that might ring a bell and tug on a few heart strings, and may even still be on a bottom bookshelf somewhere, even if it's been a while since you actually opened it; even thinking about those worn covers brings a warm, safe feeling. But nothing kills these sentimental vibes faster than attempting to explain the wonderfulness of these books, and books just like them, to a kid growing up in this rising generation, ending with said child looking at you as if you’d just grown a second head out of your armpit.
       My generation—'90s babies—has suddenly begun to enter a nostalgic “When I was a kid” stage of life, and it’s sometimes shocking for us to realize what kids of this day and age haven’t experienced that we took for granted. The advancement of technology, especially, has taken a huge toll on the ways kids of this generation not only entertain themselves but learn, make friends, and generally experience the world. More and more I’m seeing small children—I mean even very small children—sporting iPads, smartphones, and e-book readers. After wondering how in the world children have the latest iPad, when I don’t even have an iPod, I think back to my elementary school days, when the most monumental day of the entire school year was when representatives from the local bookstore would set up shop in the library so kids could buy the latest books. I feel as though these days, and that excitement for books not just as a form, but as a physical object, are gone, or at least significantly changed from what it was in those pre-iPad ages. And, frankly, it’s sad to think about.
       While talking to a friend of mine recently, I asked her what she thought about the subject, and what she said really got me thinking.
       She said, “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a kid reading a book.”
      When was the last time I’d seen a kid reading a book? I mean, I haven’t been to a lot of elementary schools lately, but I am around kids a lot, working at a summer camp and having friends with big families full of children, and I honestly don’t know when I last saw a kid grab a good old Dr. Seuss classic, sit down with it, and read it. Even with younger kids who haven't learned to read yet, the way one interacts with a “book” has fundamentally changed; give them a book and they’ll likely start swiping the pages, mentally wondering why the screen isn’t changing. Don’t believe me? You obviously haven’t seen this video yet.
       Technology has altered the way we live our lives, not just in terms of how we get our entertainment but how we learn. Parents are using Apple Apps and Games to teach their children ABCs, basic math skills, even colors. Why? Is it more effective to have a child sit in front of a screen and play a game to learn colors (while the parent is likely in another room busy with something else) than to sit down with your child and read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?? Is an App for counting better than One Fish, Two Fish, Three, Four, Five Fish? I surely don’t have the answer to these questions, except to say this: it seems like parents are increasingly valuing these educational Apps over the similarly educational classic children’s books. Which were even more interactive than the iPad; children interacted with the text and their imaginations, and parents actually interacted with their children.
       Yes, it’s fun and exciting for children to seemingly have the world in their palms, and to have the ability to change that world with the swipe of a chubby little finger, but should we rob them of the potential sentiment and connection they would one day feel when reminiscing with friends about just how hungry that caterpillar was? While determining whether one or the other, print or electronic, is superior probably gets us nowhere, and while there is no doubt that incorporating both could potentially be the best option, we seem to have forgotten how awesome books are as totems of our childhoods, in addition to how important leisurely reading can be for children. If parents incorporated an equal amount of technology and esteemed titles such as those mentioned here, then we can all share in the greatness of reading and the wonder of technology, not to mention, we 90’s babies can reminisce without disappointment and have a ready excuse to re-read the classics with today’s generation.
  • About the Author
    Erica Mudd is a senior Creative Writing major at Miami University. Her specialty and passion lie in writing short stories, though she wishes to potentially pursue a career in journalism. She is also a heptathlete on Miami University's Women’s Track and Field team. Visit her online at ericamudd.weebly.com.
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    Friday, May 16, 2014

    Fan Fiction: Immortalizing Beloved Stories

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    Can't believe your favorite series has come to a close? Wish you had the chance to live in that world a little longer? Fan fiction might be just what you're looking for. ♦

    We’ve all been there. You finish a book and depression sinks in as you realize that the world you’ve been immersed in for the past days/weeks/months has turned into a memory. Often, the world you close the back cover on is more interesting, more relatable, and more understanding than reality tends to be. So, what do you do now? Do you flip back to page one and begin the adventure again? Do you check for other works from the same author (because let’s face it: he/she just gets you)? Or do you pick up the next title on your “to-read” list?
           While all of these are good options, there is an alternative to consider: for decades, scores of devoted fans with exactly this dilemma have turned to fan fiction, which has been pushed into the spotlight, and even the mainstream, within the past few years. Most people are aware that E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey started as a Twilight fan fiction, but fewer know that Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments saga, is also the author of a popular Harry Potter fan fiction trilogy that focuses on Draco Malfoy. Fan fiction has become a phenomenon in storytelling and book culture because it takes a part of the literary world’s dreaded “P” word—plagiarism—and makes it acceptable. Fan fiction, as the name implies, takes an author’s original idea and transforms the basis of a particular story into a completely new—although usually still recognizable—extension of said story. The characters are typically one of the aspects that stays the same, although new characters can be created. The setting can either remain the same or the fan fiction can take place in a completely unrelated location. Certain characters that died in the original work (also referred to as the canon) may or may not be dead in a particular fan fiction story (these kinds of events usually make the fan fiction an “Alternate Universe” work, or AU). The possibilities of fan fiction are endless, even after the last pages of a canonical book or series have been written and published.
           So, what are the benefits of reading and writing fan fiction, in addition to reading the canonical work that the fanfic seeks to expand upon?

    1. Possibility of alternate storylines

    Did the author’s decision to kill off your favorite character make you cry yourself to sleep that night (or for several nights)? Did a character’s decision seem so stupid that you had to throw your book across the room? Did a particular character pairing/relationship make you reconsider finishing that book? All of these things have happened, understandably, in various novels. While it’s great that everyone has a unique perception of a story, this makes it impossible to please everyone. That’s where fan fiction comes in. Sites like fanfiction.net make it easy to search for your favorite characters and genres, and if you dislike a certain pairing or subject matter, you don’t have to read about them. With fan fiction, it’s possible to find alternate versions of a work that suit what you were expecting or hoping for, but weren't given with the canon work.

    2. Extension of the story’s life

    One of the best things about fan fiction is that it can fill the void left by a completed work. The Harry Potter saga, for example, has a staggering 681,000 stories dedicated to it on fanfiction.net (making it the most commonly written about on the site), and that number is constantly growing. Through this site, and many others that are devoted solely to fan fiction about the Boy Who Lived, the saga continues to be a presence in the world of readers, even after its conclusion was printed in 2007.

    3. Personal Interaction between authors and readers

    Unlike trying (usually fruitlessly) to get a response from the author of your favorite book, interaction between the authors and readers of fan fiction is much more common. There is a feeling of community among authors and readers that makes the fanfic world not only one created by fans, but also inspired by them. Authors are constantly encouraging comments on stories and chapters of those stories, and readers are ready and willing to supply them.

    4. Alternate story structures and experience levels

    One of the main benefits to writing fan fiction is that it gives the author a chance to go through some of the steps that a traditional author goes through when being published, without most of the stress and fear of failure. Beta readers, the editors of the fan fiction world, offer their services to authors for free because they are passionate about their work. And while it isn’t a requirement (even though it probably should be), some fan fiction authors turn to beta readers to offer insight and a second (or third or fourth) set of eyes to make their work as good as it can be. Personally, I’ve read stories on fanfiction.net that are more solid, both in content and technical flow, than some of the printed books I’ve read.
           Experimentation is also a benefit of writing fan fiction. A popular trend among fanfic writers is to center their story around the lyrics of a song. These stories, fittingly called “songfics,” are just one of the many formats that fan fiction authors use. The ability to stray from conventional story structures is another benefit that fan fiction offers readers and writers.
           So, the next time you finish a book and that dark cloud of depression threatens, remember that there are many other avenues to explore with your favorite characters, and at least one of them is specifically suited to you.
  • About the Author
    Serena Stout is currently finishing her senior year as a Creative Writing student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Originally from California, she loves the beach. And reading. And reading at the beach. When she's not stressing out about life after graduation, she likes to write and snuggle with her dog and 2 cats. Visit her at serenawrites.weebly.com.
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    The Inconvenient Truth about Print

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    Print books, once threatened by e-publishing, have bounced back with stronger sales and a dedicated consumerate. Now, can print survive its negative impact on the environment?  ♦ 


    Back in 2008, the long reign of the physical book looked to be coming to an end. E-book sales initially had triple-digit growth rates, which coincided with several high-profile brick-and-mortar bookstore chains closing their doors. The e-reader, it seemed, had the book beat in all ways practical—it was certainly cheaper and more accessible—and as a result, print books would soon be a relic of the past.
           Flash forward to today, and we see that things have stabilized; what we’re left with is a thriving hybrid market.
           In an article for Publishers Weekly, author Jim Milliot writes that “e-books have become another format, much like audio books and paperbacks. A more stable and rational hybrid market is one publishers could live with, and it is certainly one that would keep brick-and-mortar stores a viable channel for the industry.”
           What this hybrid market means is more choices; people can buy a book how they want it. This is illustrated by the fact that some genres (such as mystery and romance) sell better as e-books, while others do better as print. Milliot paraphrases Peter Hildick-Smith, CEO of the Codex Group, in the same article: “Tablet users [as opposed to users of “dedicated e-readers”] buy about one-third of their titles in e-book format and two-thirds in print; consumers who own both tablets and dedicated e-readers tend to split their book purchases evenly between print and digital.”
           What this comes down to is this: both e-readers and print have found their niches, and an equilibrium that, at the moment, accommodates both. But, fans of print, don’t smile yet. Further in the future is something that makes the termination of print books as we know them almost inevitable. It is even big enough to affect die-hard book buyers . . . the ones that have multiple copies of the same book and look for craftsmanship of the product even outside of the text.
           The inevitable, hard truth about print books is that 1) they are made from a resource that, for all intents and purposes, is finite, and 2) they are made from a process, paper milling, that is, in terms of its environmental impact, both dirty and unsustainable.
           According to the Green Press Initiative, paper production for the book sector alone costs 30 million trees just in the United States annually. The U.S. paper industry, in its entirety, accounts for 10% of all U.S. greenhouse emissions and over 40 million metric tons of CO2 is created just in the production of books and newspaper, which, GPI states, is “equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 7.3 million cars.” There are also many other nasty bi-products from paper milling such as total reduced sulfur compounds (TRS) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like methanol gas.
           Look even further, and the negative effects of paper milling start to pile up. This list includes the desolation of massive habitats—for animals and humans alike—nutrient erosion, and worsening of climate change.
           The obvious solution to all of this print byproduct is e-readers . . . or so you would think. But these machines have pollution byproducts of their own, though not on the same scale; an article published by the Washington Post asserts that, as of now, you must read 100 e-books for the environmental cost to break even. Though Casey Harrell, a Greenpeace information technology analyst, states in the same article that “About 40% of the energy costs is embedded in the supply chain," to which Daniel Goleman, an environmental journalist, adds, “The adverse health impacts from making one e-reader are estimated to be 70 times greater than those from making a single book.”
         While this is true, e-readers are designed to carry more than 70 books . . . and as technology becomes more integrated, who’s to say how much ecological damage can be saved from the integration of phone, tablet, e-reader, and computer into one device?
           Regardless, print's ecological footprint poses a massive threat to its continuation. As the world population grows, and more forested land is converted into residential areas, the demand for wood pulp will rise and supplies will diminish, making paper milling an increasingly expensive process. Running out of trees is a very real possibility; after all, a far less industrialized people than we cut down nearly one-forth of the forested land in American before 1900, including nearly 95% of Michigan’s virgin forests, according to environmentalcouncil.org.
           While today it is ecologically sounder to buy a book than an e-reader, it won’t be that way forever. Unfortunately for print lovers, books are created from a resource and a process that simply aren't sustainable. Losing print in favor of a more eco-friendly product might be not only desirable but, sadly, inevitable. 

    Photo credit: Doug Bradley / Flickr ♦ 
  • About the Author
    J.K. Lyons is a senior at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he studies History and Creative Writing. Two of his short stories, "Dreams and Smoke" and "Getting Lucky," have been featured in Black Market Lit, an online literary magazine. Visit him online here.
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