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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Joys of Listening: Why Audiobooks Are on the Rise

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As e-books decline and print makes meager gains, audiobooks have become the literary format to beat. ♦ 
Just the other day, I spoke with a friend about an upcoming reading that Miami University’s incredibly resourceful Creative Writing program had set up. The department managed to convince Sherman Alexie, three-time PEN Award recipient, to visit Miami and read from his young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This friend of mine asked if I'd gotten a copy yet, because apparently the university bookstore was charging an arm and a leg for one (your soul if you paid with cash). I told her I had and said she could borrow it, since I’d also bought it on audio.
   Oh, the look on her face . . .
  “You can listen to those?” she asked, in obvious disgust. I told her I enjoyed them. She scoffed. According to her, no one uses audiobooks anymore. They’re just not viable.
   Now, there’s no argument that the literary world has experienced a few blows recently. Don’t believe me? Major bookstores like Borders and Waldenbooks have fallen to the wayside, the landscape is being flooded with self-publications, and the e-book format (what was supposed to be a saving grace) hit its peak in 2013. In a report from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the U.S. publishing industry netted a revenue of $11.9 billion in the first three quarters of 2015, which is a 2 percent decrease from 2014, and while print sales have seemingly come bouncing back, the overall numbers don’t lie; there’s a problem in the publishing world.
    But audiobooks might just be part of the solution.


The Platform is in Your Pocket


Believe it or not, audiobooks have been around since the late 1800s. Early models, which were cylindrical in shape and fit into a phonograph, only held about four minutes of audio (imagine having to lug Infinite Jest around with you). Over time, as music evolved beyond the phonograph and adapted to technological advancements, spoken text followed suit. Audiobooks were sold in vinyl formats during the 1950s, cassette tapes in the 70s, and this eventually lead to compressed formats in the 90s. With the rise of the internet, digital downloads suddenly became possible, and portable media players transformed the audiobook format. In this new era, the interested reader can access their libraries with the speed and efficiency previously reserved for streaming cat videos and Beyoncé’s latest hit. Books now sit in our pockets, behind a lock that’s only opened with your fingerprint, in a little app on your home screen.
   While writing this, I was sitting in a busy coffeehouse. I had just pulled out my phone, swiped to My Library, and started a 71.4 MB download of Alexie’s novel. In the time I spent correctly arranging the words within this paragraph, my phone had already placed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on the third shelf of my digital bookshelf. That’s magic, no? Never before has the world of literature been so cheap and readily available. It only took me a few minutes to go from browsing to listening. The best part: I fit it in my pocket, plug it into my car, or play it through stereos while in the shower. Unlike traditional, printed text, the audiobook offers convenient listening anytime, anywhere.



Bundling and Subscriptions


Being a book aficionado can get expensive. Unless you’re buying classics, it’s hard to find a good book for cheap, regardless of whether you look in stores or online. Personally, I restrict myself to one new book a month, or suffer the consequences of financial mismanagement; typically, the punishment for overspending consists of ramen for a week. But with the growth of the audiobook markets, I’m no longer forced to choose between reading and eating. Some services, like Amazon’s Audible.com, offer cheap monthly subscriptions, show you top sellers and books specifically tailored to your interests, all while conveniently bundling titles for better deals. For a mere $14.95 a month, Audible offers a book credit, discounted prices, and free audio subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
   Even I, lover of small presses and independent writers, can’t help but fall for the romantic deals Audible offers. Given that audiobook sales are sharply on the rise, it’s becoming evident that I’m not the only one.



The Voice Talent Just Keeps Getting Better


Unlike print, audiobooks are entirely dependent on the voice actor to represent a character’s speech faithfully. Listening to The Bluest Eye with Toni Morrison’s soft voice weaving through every word can make a grown man tear up. On the other hand, hearing the words of a girl (who in your imagination is a beautiful, raven-haired mystique) spoken with the voice of a British chap trying too hard to project from his chest will instantly remove you from the scene. Over the past few years, audio publishing companies have become more aware of this, which is why the voice actor is so important to the listening experience; the audience wants to escape into the story, and finding the right voice for the job can make all the difference.
   Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to produce your own audiobook. The release of simple recording applications and programs (like the Audiobook Creation Exchange) has given small writers the opportunity to create inexpensive, downloadable, and profitable versions of their written stories. This accessibility encourages groundbreaking and interesting movements in the field, like George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which features 166 unique voices to bring the story to life.
  Audiobooks may not have netted as much revenue as other media forms in the last few decades, but their progress is astounding. In the beginning, complaints were made about the accessibility of the material; it wasn’t as refined, or as portable. But now, as innovation continues to push the limits of technology, Audiobooks are becoming increasingly practical; I fully believe that in 2017, audiobook use will continue to surge in the literary landscape. The publishing world is going through a change right now, a transformation. More people will rediscover the joys of listening, of having spoken words dance in their heads, just as humans have woven stories for centuries; I, for one, think audiobooks are as much our future as spoken language is our past.
  • About the Author
    Chaze Copeland is a recent graduate of Miami University, earning a major in Creative Writing. He will be working towards his Master's at The New School this fall. Chaze feels a little weird talking about himself in the third person, so learn more about the author at chazecopeland.com.
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    From Grimm Ever-Afters to Censored Once-Upon-a-Times

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    Our classic fairy tales have shockingly sinister origins. So what does their transformation to family-friendly entertainment tell us about ourselves? ♦ 
    “Once upon a time . . . ”
       No matter how old you are, these are powerful, magical words, possessing a strong narrative connotation as the start of the traditional fairy tale as well as a strong nostalgic association. In fact, I bet you’ve just flashed back to your childhood, tucked into bed as your parents read you a bedtime story of knights in shining armor, fair maidens locked in towers, mystical mermaids, fantasylands, and so much more. But our contemporary conception of fairy tales as family-friendly classics that almost invariably end in “happily ever after” is pretty far removed from the darker, more grisly tales that inspired them.
      Let’s go back to nineteenth-century Germany when two infamous brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, first put together a collection of traditional fairy tales. The stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, far from the popular, lighthearted versions we’re more familiar with today, were often shocking and quite gruesome. I hate to burst your bubble, but the Disney version of Cinderella you know so well has been dramatically altered from its source material. The original tale wasn’t filled with cheery little mice, a delightful fairy godmother, and a simple shoe-fitting that leads to happiness and marriage; instead, in the Grimm fairy tale, the wicked stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in an attempt to fit into the golden slipper, and their eyes are plucked out by birds as punishment for their falseness.
       Or consider The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, another fairy tale writer from the Brothers Grimm’s era. Compare the original to the well-known animated version and you'll see that Disney made drastic changes throughout the story. In the original, the little mermaid sacrifices not only her voice but her entire tongue to the sea witch and agrees to endure the excruciating pain of feeling like she is walking on knives with every stride she takes on land. On top of everything, she doesn’t even win over the prince! These are only a couple of examples of classic fairy tales that are pretty different from Disney’s “happily ever after” versions, which have been so altered that it’s even led to a term—“Disneyfication"—to describe the process.
       But Disneyfication, in spite of the term's mostly negative connotation, isn’t really a cynical marketing move on the part of an entertainment empire looking to make a buck; the process of transforming these tales has its roots in the art of oral storytelling. Fairy tales originated as oral tales passed on by word of mouth, not written down, thus holding the ability to be modified by the storyteller to fit the needs of the audience. It's a common misconception that fairy tales were created for children; actually, they were originally meant to be a form of adult entertainment, which makes sense given that the tales often contained raunchy or gruesome content. Over time, though, the audience for these tales shifted toward children, and at least part of that shift is thanks, once again, to the Walt Disney Company, which took many of these original fairy tales and transformed them to be rousing entertainments geared toward children in both their stories and themes. Children admire fairy tales and especially hold on to the idea of a “happily ever after” when something unfortunate is going on in their lives. This even carries over into adulthood, as we continue holding on to fairy tales with a death grip in an effort to understand reality, or sometimes to escape its grasp.
       Jack Zipes is a retired professor of German at the University of Minnesota who specializes in the social and political role of fairy tales and has successfully translated the entire Grimm collection into English. In his essay “Spells of Enchantment,” Zipes writes, “Fairy tales provide hope that social and political conditions can be changed.” We tend to remember fairy tales, holding out hope that we can better our world. Come on, ladies, don’t tell me you’ve never daydreamed about meeting your Prince Charming—or, guys, about being the chivalrous knight to sweep a girl off her feet. This is what Disney does so well, and this doesn't only appeal to children but to all of us. After all, Walt Disney himself said, “Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”
       Family-friendly entertainment is Disney’s goal, so teaching a gory lesson in foot-modification isn’t exactly their prime focus; rather, they concentrate on keeping magic alive and radiating positivity. And our culture has generally admired and appreciated the Disney versions of fairy tales, as parents guide their children toward these positive messages, encouraging them to follow their dreams. We enjoy telling stories that allow us to aspire to change in our lives, and fairy tales have evolved to do just that.
      Stories have been a part of all cultures throughout history, from legends and myths to folk tales and fairy tales; indeed, storytelling is an essential part of both reflecting and shaping society. Fairy tales are unique because they are timeless and geographically unspecific, which leaves room in the stories for broad interpretation. And it’s precisely because of fairy tales’ adaptability that they’ve become an everlasting, utopian, positive force that sustains the hope of the listener, which is what our culture wants: to have the hope that everything will work out.
  • About the Author
    Melissa Phillips is a freshman Professional Writing major and German minor from Mason, Ohio. Alongside her passion for writing, she enjoys traveling, performing arts, and anything Disney. When not busy supervising various locations for the Kings Island Admissions Department, Melissa can be found sitting in King Library—caramel macchiato in hand, of course—studying and writing the night away.
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    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    An Interview with Pierce Brown

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    As his new graphic novel, Sons of Ares, hits bookshelves, the acclaimed author of the Red Rising trilogy discusses his expanding dystopian universe.  ♦ 
    I recently had the chance to review the Red Rising trilogy of novels—Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star—by New York Times-bestselling author Pierce Brown, and like many other readers, I was floored by the incredible writing and the exciting twists and turns of the story. Published between 2014 and 2016, the trilogy has met with wild critical and fan acclaim for its originality and fresh voice, and in the next year, Brown will be publishing two new works set in the same universe: the graphic novel Sons of Ares, a prequel to Red Rising which hits shelves on May 10th, and Iron Gold, a sequel to the series with an expected release of January 2018.
       Being a fan of Brown's work and excited to see the world of the trilogy expanded upon in the forthcoming books, I got in touch with Mr. Brown, hoping to pick his brain about the future of Red Rising, and I was ecstatic to receive a reply.
       In the following interview, Brown discusses his ambitions for the series going forward as well as topics including representation and writing minority characters, the influence of the social sciences (and his mother) on his work, and choosing the best dog names.


    Throughout Red Rising there are a lot of strong characters from traditionally underrepresented groups, like women and LGBTQ members, who are shown in new and refreshing ways. Was this something you did intentionally, or was this just a natural development in your writing?


    There’s that old saying: you write what you know. This generation has been the boldest and most progressive in recognizing the inalienable rights that belong to all of us. Combine that with the fact that I’ve lived in nine states, went to around twelve schools, and I’ve had friends all over the spectrum, and it’s only natural that my writing is influenced by the people I’ve met along the way.
       As for women—my mother was one of the first, if not the first, General Manager of a TV station in the country. She had those badass 80s powersuits with the padded shoulders. She’s a powerhouse. And if my female characters are lacking, I’ll damn sure hear about it.


    Your books have received a huge response from readers in the annual Goodreads awards and impressive showings in Unbound Worlds Cage Matches (Go Ragnar!). Why do you think your books have gotten such a strong response?


    There’s a sense of community around these books. A feeling of being in on the secret. It gives people who may not otherwise be friends a way to speak the same common language. Also, I think the books offer a damn good adventure—and those are always the sorts of books I'm drawn to.


    What can readers expect out of the upcoming Iron Gold series and Sons of Ares graphic novel?


    Size and scope. Iron Gold expands the Red Rising world to huge proportions. Instead of just Darrow, we will have four POV characters whose stories will weave in and out of one another’s as the Rising struggles to hold onto to the reins of power. Sons of Ares explores the origins of the Sons of Ares, as well as how their founder came to be the man he was.


    In college you studied political science and economics. How did that translate into becoming a writer? With such political content, do you think your studies influenced your writing at all?


    Both of those disciplines are considered social sciences—that is, the study of people and how they interact. Both heavily influence how I portray interactions in Red Rising. I draw specifically on Locke, Hobbes, Aristotle, Plato, Napoleon, and Nietsche.


    What was the hardest part of the trilogy for you to write? Conversely, what was your favorite part or scene to write?


    The beginning of book three. Without giving anything away, it was difficult because of the change that Darrow had undergone. Favorite scene was probably the duel with Cassius at the gala. My honor has been pissed upon and I demand satisfaction!!


    Any news on the Red Rising movie in development?


    No news as of yet. It is a very thorough, slow process.


    Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


    Don’t be too self-critical. Understand that your writing is going to be shit at first. Then you’ll get better. And better. And you’ll relapse. But you’ll keep writing, and then one day you’ll have a finished book and realize it's perhaps not so shit after all.


    As a self-proclaimed nerd, do you have a current nerd obsession?


    I’m neck-deep in re-reading Harry Potter.


    And finally, out of all the badass characters in your books, why did you name your dog Eo?


    Because she was lost on the streets, dirty, red, without a home, and had the sweetest little manners. Easy choice.
    Pierce Brown's Sons of Ares, the prequel to Red Rising, is available today at fine comic book stores everywhere.
  • About the Author
    Megan Mooney is currently a junior at Miami University majoring in Creative Writing. She loves reading books and drinking coffee. She also loves hanging out with friends who are steaming hot and wrapped in a portable to-go cup. No, wait, that’s just more coffee. She doesn’t have a problem.
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    A Review of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

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    Shocking, violent, as heated as the current political climate, Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy will keep you burning through its pages.  ♦ 
    I’d never heard of the Red Rising trilogy until a friend mentioned it to me. She and I were on the subject of what we’d been reading lately, and she said she’d re-read the first book in this series six times. I thought if something was that good, it must be worth a shot, and I was intrigued by her description of the book, which she said was along the lines of The Hunger Games, with a dystopian vibe due to a controlling government and plenty of rampant bloodshed.
       I read the first book in the series, Red Rising, in two days. (I would have finished it sooner, but it was so good that I wanted to make it last.) I then got the second book, Golden Son, and finished that in about the same time. After that book crushed my heart like the beautiful, infuriating little masterpiece it is, I borrowed the third book. Morning Star, from my friend. This one squashed a bit of my soul when I realized I'd finished one of the greatest book series I’d ever read. All in all, I had ripped through the series in little over a week, and I already wanted more.
       Luckily, the incredible author of the books, Pierce Brown, seems more like a writing machine than an actual human. Next year, Brown will be releasing a follow-up trilogy further expanding the world he has already created. Additionally, he is working on a prequel to the original series in graphic novel form and penning a screenplay of Red Rising for Universal. Someone may be slipping some Red Bull into his drinks, or maybe he injects it through an IV. Either way, his many fans are happy with the rapid and prolific production, as shown in the quick ascent of his books on bestseller lists. His first novel debuted at No. 20 on the New York Times Best Seller list, the second hit No. 6, and the final book shot straight to No. 1.
      The plot of the trilogy, which is set several hundred years in humanity’s future, centers on a young man named Darrow. one of the brightest talents in his mining colony of Lykos, located on Mars. His day job is that of a “Helldiver,” one who operates the gargantuan drills made for the mining of precious Helium-3, an element necessary for terraforming new planets; humanity has spread across the solar system, finding homes on most of the planets and their larger moons.
      In this futuristic society, people are not separated by religion, ethnicity, or nationality, but rather by Color. The Gold class is the ruling elite and held in esteem above all others; Greys are the police, Silvers are the financiers, and Whites are the clergy, to name a few. You can only be born to your Color, which is not just a title but also refers to physiological and anatomical differences such as height, bone density, and vision capabilities. The Color differences in this societal hierarchy demonstrate how societal divisions (i.e. racism, sexism, gender, etc.) have morphed over the centuries in this fictional landscape.
       Personally, I found this to be one of the best parts of the books. Though prejudice still exists, the only barrier the people in this world face are the Color-caste they are born into; such prejudices as those against women, sexual orientations, or racism based on ethnicity or nationality are no longer considerations. There are never any assumptions that a woman is lesser than a man, or any notions that being gay or trans would in any way effect your social standing. So, who rules this planet-spanning civilization? A woman. The most feared and capable warrior of all the planets? A woman. The wealthiest person in the entire solar system? A gay man.
       This is the trilogy’s greatest message: no matter the barriers that society inflicts upon you, or those you are born to, you can always rise above them.
       Taking a closer look at Darrow, he and his people (the Reds) are in the lowest caste of society, basically slaves for the Golds and other Colors. After he suffers a great tragedy, Darrow is taken in by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group fighting the tyranny of the society. However, he isn’t certain about them until they reveal the truth—that Mars has already been terraformed, rendering his class’ work pointless.
      Shocked at the lies he’s been fed his whole life, Darrow joins the Sons and accepts their mission for him— to infiltrate the Gold class. After being transformed into one of the rulers of society, Darrow is sent to the Institute, a proving ground for the best of the Golds.
       Darrow’s adventures at the Institute are the focus of the first novel and resemble novels like Hunger Games or the film Battle Royale, in which the youth must battle it out, largely to the death, to establish their dominance and earn victory. The young Golden elite do this in a fight for supremacy, forming and breaking alliances. to come out on top and secure their futures, and the blood quickly starts to flow. Brown certainly is not averse to gore and violence, so if that is not to your taste, you may want to stay away.
       Despite the hardships he faces, Darrow is able to navigate his way through the Institute while learning about leadership and warfare. However, in everyday Golden society it is more important to know how to talk your way out of a problem, as Darrow discovers in the second novel. He soon adapts and pits enemy against enemy to create a destructive civil war. All the while, he and the reader are questioning what kind of person he is, if he can so easily turn his back on the Golds he befriended in the Institute. Not to mention, he worries about how they will react when they find out what he really is.
       Even though the basic plot may mirror other works, the manner in which Brown approaches it is not only refreshing but shocking. He doesn’t wrap anything up nicely in a bow but rather presents the story much like life is: complicated, messy. He is similar to George R.R. Martin in his tendency to kill off beloved characters, and throughout the series, the devastation of war is never held back, as the trilogy is written in the first-person, present perspective. The reader experiences everything first-hand with the characters, which, along with the blistering pace, leads to a very intense read.
      The violent nature of the books is juxtaposed with beautiful writing that creates startling imagery and incredibly well-formed characters who break all molds that came before them. Darrow is a good example, as he’s not the typical uber-masculine hero. For example, in the second novel, he admits to his love interest that he probably cries more than she does. And she is no damsel in distress but a warrior and strategist in her own right, exemplifying the kind of strong female characters the series is rife with.
       The Red Rising trilogy is filled with shocking violence and mayhem, yet it always manages to retain its heart. Darrow is the classic underdog, coming from the literal pits of slavery to overcoming the strongest empire in human history. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is. It’s a story of disenfranchisement and power, and how political machinations link the two. With this series, Brown serves up a contemplative and original piece that will always keep the reader waiting anxiously for what’s around the corner.
    Read Megan Mooney's "An Interview with Pierce Brown" here.
  • About the Author
    Megan Mooney is currently a junior at Miami University majoring in Creative Writing. She loves reading books and drinking coffee. She also loves hanging out with friends who are steaming hot and wrapped in a portable to-go cup. No, wait, that’s just more coffee. She doesn’t have a problem.
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    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    The Memoir Boom: A New Trend Millennials Love

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    Isolated by technology, millennials are using memoir to find connection ♦ 
    What do Angela’s Ashes, Eat Pray Love, and Hillbilly Elegy have in common? They’re all famous memoirs, and have received critical and public acclaim that extends past their publication date. These memoirs are fan favorites and household staples, and I, for one, have clung to many in my favorite reading chair well past the light of day. Memoirs often become hit box office movies, perfect to go see with your friends. Even if the books don’t make it to theaters, they become bookstore essentials. For years, the memoir has been vying for attention, facing stiff competition from famous fiction favorites like the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games trilogy. Since the early 2000s, however, memoirs have been gaining ground, hitting best-seller lists and steadily growing in popularity. So you may be asking yourself, what’s going on? What changed?
       Millennials seem to be the answer to everything lately; they’re not only reading more than ever, but they seem to be especially interested in reading memoirs. Reading for fun has become a hipster habit of sorts, with bookshelves turned into art and coffee shops littered with cozy readers. These trends are certainly keeping Instagram followers and house guests entertained, and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Millennials are playing a big role in this movement, and there are a few possible explanations.
       The most significant of these is the way millennials are changing social interaction. As millennials, it should be no surprise that we need human connection, but we frequently use technology in ways that cut us off from the rest of the world. We have our eyes glued to the screens of phones and laptops all day, headphones secured in our ears, and though we think we’re fully connected through social media, the truth is that we’re far away from the face-to-face interactions that form the foundation of deeper human relationships. Soon enough it all just becomes background noise, full of scrolling and isolation, and we realize we need a break; we need something more; we need something authentic and meaningful.
       Look no further than the memoir. Memoirs give the reader a sense of realness and honesty that fiction can’t quite dish out. Because these rich stories are based on the experiences of real people, they live and breathe raw truth and relatability, something millennials crave. The act of reading someone else’s story, seeing the genuine faults and triumphs of someone who has lived it, makes a reader feel closer to the author. We flip through the pages, feeling the emotions of the writer, seeing the world through their eyes, knowing that the emotions and sights are authentic. When millennials are immersed in digital reality and surface-level interactions everywhere else they turn, it makes sense that they would crave deeper, genuine connections, and memoirs are there to give the reader just that.
        There have been many kinds of memoirs rising through the ranks. Comedians like Amy Poehler and Steve Martin have released their own memoirs, showing that humor is possible even when life gets rough; Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is an emotional piece that brings readers to tears and inspires them to find beauty in life; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy speaks to what it’s like to come up from a rural, impoverished home and all the challenges Vance faced to become who he is today. And there are even opportunities for ordinary people to share their stories, as technology has made self-publication much cheaper and easier for independent memoirists. Memoirs come in an array of shapes and sizes, and odds are you can find one that fits your personality and interests. But the most important qualities of memoirs aren’t simply that they’re well-written, interesting, and a good way to spend your time. Instead, their best qualities are the messages they’re able to impart, the lessons they can teach you along the way, from one person to another.
        Take, for example, Elizabeth Gilbert’s renowned memoir, Eat Pray Love. A woman is caught at a point in which she is trying to figure out what she wants in life. After her marriage fails, she tries to navigate what should come next, and decides to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Through her travels, she has epiphanies about life and learns important truths. As the book journeys through her life, it offers lessons to the reader. Eat Pray Love's popularity is a testament to how many people took Gilbert’s tale to heart, holding onto each and every word and working to incorporate it into their own lives.
        Eat Pray Love is such a perfect example of what most millennials are going through (maybe not the budget to travel around the world, but bear with me). Many of them are in a place of deciding what they want for their lives. They may be thinking about marriage, or their career, or none of the above. Millennials may be scattered, nervous, anxious, hopeful, excited, overjoyed, or all of these wrapped up into one. This can be a wild ride and above all else they find they just don’t want to feel alone. You can imagine why someone of this age, with these feelings, would be attracted to a book like Eat Pray Love. A person with these emotions wants to know they aren’t the first to go through a struggle. A fiction book may help a little, but deep down, the reader knows it’s not quite real. When that same reader opens up a memoir like Eat Pray Love, they know a real woman out there has been through the same struggles and came out of it—alive and well!
        Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is another example of how memoirs are becoming increasingly popular. This inspirational story follows Frank’s childhood and early adulthood as he overcomes poverty, his father’s alcohol addiction, and deaths of those close to him. He works hard, and occasionally bends the rules to get to New York City, pursuing a better life for himself and his brothers. The reader follows Frank through his turmoil in Ireland, and roots for him as he lifts himself up and works toward a life-changing goal. This memoir is not only popular in terms of pleasure reading, but is also great for teachers and students alike. Many high school classrooms use this book in the hopes of teaching students about resilience, the realities of poverty, the struggles of alcoholism, and the American Dream. Angela’s Ashes will change the way you think, which is exactly what a good book should do.
       It looks like memoirs are here for the long haul, so fill up your bookshelves, maybe snap a photo for Instagram, and cozy up to a good cup of coffee in your favorite reading chair. And while you’re enjoying this trend, you can check out the top memoirs of this past year: maybe you can find your newest human connection.
  • About the Author
    Kendra Tuttle is a sophomore at Miami University with a major in AYA (Adolescent Young Adult) Language Arts Education. She is an active member of Miami HELPS and Project Kids Network. She enjoys writing, reading, gardening, and being outdoors in her free time.
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    The Literary Sky is Falling, How Wonderful for Us

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    With alternatives to big publishing on the rise, writing has become anyone’s game.  ♦ 
    Welcome to the new era of publishing. The literary marketplace is currently reeling in response to the collapse of the traditional publishing model, a collapse initiated by self-publishing, Amazon, and even the invention of e-books. Combined, these factors are allowing for a new, emerging world of opportunities for authors. Writers and content creators of all kinds may find themselves asking, “Just why is there such a dramatic paradigm shift in publishing?” In large part, this change has been the result of digital innovation; the internet’s existence played a crucial role in connecting creators and consumers on a global scale, and independent publication has emerged as a more viable option because of it. What may be a more important question for writers is, “What aspects of the craft are available now that were absent during the old guard?” The answer lies in the rapidly expanding avenues for expression, a brave new world just waiting for writers to embrace and create forms, structures, and genres that were previously ignored or dismissed. The here and now has the potential to be a literary period marked by creativity, variety, and technological influence. No longer do we authors have to pander to publishers and mass-market appeal to be successful in the literary marketplace. All hail the rise of the experimenting author, and the true development of individual style and voice.
       With the rise of the internet, publication is becoming a best-fit practice, a choice between traditional, indie, Amazon, or self-publishing. This means that, whether your project is out-of-the-box or working within it, there is a way for you to distribute your project to your audience for digestion. So take that chance, make an interactive e-book like HAAB’s SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventures, or take Chuck Palahniuk’s concept for Bait even further by pioneering the choose-your-own-adventure coloring book. Who knows what will work until we as authors have given people a chance to try out a new style or genre? After all, some of the most celebrated authors throughout history challenged the status quo of what was proper and what was ahead of their time.
       Publishing as we know it is currently bleeding out due to the closing of most brick-and-mortar bookstore chains, the loss of sales to Amazon, and the rise of indie- and self-publishing. Even though the “Big 5” publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) are still profitable, their stranglehold on the industry has loosened to a firm grasp. Once we accept this fact, we can begin to enjoy being the generation to recreate what it means to be an author. To those already working within the industry, or those with concrete expectations based on the ways of old, this suggestion may be alarming, if not terrifying. If you are one of these people, let me be first to tell you that everything is fine; you are now free from the bondage of the old paradigm. The freedom I speak of is freedom from structure, style, modality, genre, any aspect that currently exists as part of your writing, really. The fabled gatekeepers of old are dying off; no longer are writers required to pander to the “Big 5,” who base their choices on minimizing risk and sticking to projected quarterly profit margins. Now is the age where the whims of your heart and the curiosities of your mind can truly shine. We have an array of new technology, and with the path no longer blocked by traditional publishing restraints, you are free to try any (and every) thing you’ve always wanted.
       “So,” you might ask yourself, “I can write anything and everything, but does that mean all the weird things I’ve always wanted to write will be successful?” The answer, sadly, is a resounding no. Just as in the past, the success of your work is still at the mercy of its reception by literary scholars, critics, and the public at large. If money is your goal, pandering to the masses is still the quickest path to success. However, back in ye olden days of publishing, it was the publisher who dictated what the public would and would not like. The publisher’s decision was based on what they felt would get them the best profit margins without taking large risks. This unbending profit-based decision-making has lost certain publishing houses huge franchisees in the past, including J.K. Rowling, who sent her first Harry Potter manuscript to 12 separate publishing houses before Bloomsbury finally accepted it. Though rejection will still be a daily part of the brooding writer’s life, it will no longer keep the writer’s work from reaching those who do find it appealing.
       We live in an age of technology that makes mass printing easy, formatting simple, and modality nearly endless. As a profession, authors are only beginning to peel back the layers, discovering the possibilities that lie within new and traditional styles. For writers who work within popular genres, and those who are experimenting with something new, writing now has a multitude of options, options that the authors who inspired us could not even dream of. With the gates thus opened, it would be criminal for today’s authors to maintain limitations and boundaries instead of breaking them down. Write in the obscure genre that publishing houses usually never even spare a glance. Take the traditional crime mystery and flip it, spin it on its head, make it an interactive e-book requiring readers to look for clues and solve puzzles as it unfolds. Whatever your passion may be, and however you’ve dreamed of doing it, now is the time to take action; get out there and write something that pushes those boundaries, inspire others to do the same, and let’s see what happens.
  • About the Author
    John Meade is currently in his senior year as a Professional Writing and Creative Writing major at Miami University. Hailing from Lexington, Kentucky, he enjoys the wilderness of the Appalachian area that he grew up around in his youth. If he is not out enjoying nature or in class, he can be found consuming media content or writing some of his own material.
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    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Rock 'n' Roll (Over) for Celebrity Books

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    The celebrity book boom has been profitable for publishers, but is it hurting new writers’ chances of success?  ♦ 
    Whatever kind of writer you are—amateur or professional author, copy editor or copywriter, journalist or poet—you know that the marketplace has been changing significantly in the past several years. In the digital age, the demand for print books has generally diminished, and technology makes writing and editing much easier, even for the average person. Though the platform is shifting, writing and accurate editing are as important as ever. Digital content production and social media are booming.
       But, buckle up; the competition is growing. There is one trend that is beginning to push aside professional writing: books written by celebrities.
       Yes, it’s surprising. We don’t expect celebrities to know anything about writing memoir, much less to have the time in their crazy schedules to write a sixty-thousand-word novel. Celebrities primarily have their professions to worry about, whether they are in music, movies, or politics, and, on top of that, their families, social lives, and other events. It makes sense to have ghostwriters pen autobiographies for celebrities, most of whom are not educated in writing, editing, or design. But memoir, which includes celebrity books, has spiked in popularity. According to Nielsen BookScan, memoir sales increased by over 400 percent between 2004 and 2008.
       Peter Hook, former bassist of New Order and Joy Division, has published three books about his life in music: Unknown Pleasures, Substance: Inside New Order, and The Hacienda. The original manuscript of Substance was three hundred thousand words, one-third of which made it to publication. Simon & Schuster published the book in October 2016.
       Hook had no help from a professional writer to pen his story. And Substance was only one of three books he has written in the past nine years. Meanwhile, he still continues to regularly perform and tour with his own band, The Light. Even Hook’s former bandmate, Bernard Sumner, published his own autobiography in 2014, despite his involvement with New Order.
     In 2012, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band published an autobiography with HarperCollins. In 2011, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith published his autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? Bruce Springsteen published Born to Run in September of last year. John Oates of the popular eighties duo Hall & Oates wrote his own memoir, Change of Seasons, expected to be officially published on April 4.
       At the other end of the spectrum, Irish author Donal Ryan is one writing professional who is feeling the effects of a celebrity book boom. He recently returned to his day job in the civil service in order to pay his mortgage, which is not supported by the forty cents he makes from each sale of one of his books. Despite signing a deal and getting advances for three future novels, Ryan still cannot cover his mortgage and two children with the money he makes from his writing.
      The bottom 50 percent of writers make less than $12,815 annually ($4,000 less than a minimum-wage job would earn). That is not nearly enough to live on. Only 12 percent of authors made their living solely through writing in 2013, compared to 40 percent just eight years prior.
       Working writers also find that the competition is tough when it comes to getting advances and pitching ideas to publishers. Even when ghostwriters or professional writers are hired to pen the work, the appeal of a famous person publishing a book dominates the pitches of lesser-known hopefuls. With competition already tough, a new pool of celebrities would wash out the bottommost population of writers trying to publish.
        So let’s look at the raw odds of being published.
      Publishers Weekly reported in 2006 that the average published book sells less than five hundred copies, despite 80 percent of Americans expressing a desire to be an author. There are millions of Americans hoping to be published authors, but the majority of them will not sell more than a few hundred copies, even if they do get published.
        But this shouldn’t be cause for losing hope.
       John Grisham’s A Time to Kill¸ his first novel, was rejected twelve times before publication. Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis was rejected (allegedly) a good eight hundred times. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was turned away twenty times. Even billionaire J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was rejected twelve times before selling well over eleven million copies. All of these authors were once hopeful writers just like any others, hoping to be published and paid to do what they love.
        Despite any rise in the popularity of celebrity books, there will always be people who look out for, appreciate, and prefer the work of a professional. Writers, don’t lose hope.
  • About the Author
    Tyler Rigg is a senior Journalism and Professional Writing major. He enjoys running, reading, writing, and music (yes, all genres). When he’s not doing one of these four things, you can assume he is either sleeping or dead. He enjoys writing alternate history novels and hopes to make it to publication in the future.
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    Playing Stories

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    How video game adaptations bring literary worlds to life (and bring a player even closer to the story).   ♦ 
    Overwhelmed with excitement and causing a dramatic scene, my brothers and I fought over who got to stand nearest the shopping cart as soon as my family walked through Target’s sliding doors. My siblings and I roamed the electronics aisles, stopping at each display case to play the demo consoles until we finally reached the Xbox games. There, we found ourselves basking in the vastness of dozens of video games — the glass display case was the only barrier between me and my next animated adventure. My brothers and I saved and budgeted, pooling together just enough money for the newest Harry Potter video game. After all, we had experienced Harry Potter as a trio: reading the books, watching the movies, and playing the games together. As we journeyed through J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World over multiple media platforms, it was widely agreed that our favorite was the video game. Perhaps we loved the video game because it was interactive and we experienced our favorite parts of the story firsthand. Or, perhaps it was because the game challenged our knowledge of the story, requiring us to know specific information to complete a mission. Either way, the video game platform enhances the player’s experience with a story. It makes the world and the characters personal, achieving something that cannot be accomplished in movies or books.
       “Playing stories” is the best way to concisely phrase the Harry Potter video game experience. My favorite video game was the interactive adaption of the second Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where the player investigates the mysterious heir of Slytherin and, ultimately, fights in an epic battle with Lord Voldemort and a giant serpent called a Basilisk. By enabling the player to be Harry and directly engage in the storyline, this video game creates a personal Harry Potter experience that the books and movies cannot offer. The Harry Potter books give the story background and depth, and the movies bring the story to life, but the video games generate the experience of living in the story.
       The Harry Potter video game experience not only allows players to venture into the Wizarding World, but it also gives them a chance to explore things that are less emphasized in the books and movies. A prime example is the inclusion of recreational games like “Gobstones” and “Exploding Snap” in the video games’ storyline. Though these games are referenced in other Harry Potter platforms, there is no complete explanation on how to play. The video game, however, does offer this explanation and invites the player participate. Collaborating with J.K. Rowling, the video game designers offer insight and closure to finally resolve the unanswered questions about these mysterious wizard pastimes.
       Furthermore, there are other additions to the Harry Potter video games that add to the well-known storyline. For example, the Harry Potter video games introduce the Gytrash, a supernatural creature exclusive to the interactive version of the Wizarding World. Further, the video games elaborate on the collecting of Chocolate Frog cards—a popular hobby in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While this hobby wasn’t prominent beyond the first Harry Potter book, the collection continues in the video games. Each Chocolate Frog card contains information on witches and wizards who are famous to those in the Wizarding World, but often unknown to fans of the series. The video game’s inclusion of the Chocolate Frog cards, and the distinguished wizards on them, enables the player to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their significance in the realm of Harry Potter. Therefore, in addition to providing players with the experience of living through a beloved story, video games give players the opportunity to gain a more complete understanding of a story's world.
       Similar to the previous examples of how players may learn more about the Harry Potter storyline through an interactive experience, the Quidditch World Cup and Book of Spells video games divulge details that aren’t acknowledged in the books and movies. Quidditch World Cup allows players to compete on national teams in tournament play, which offers a look into the sports and legendary athletes of the Wizarding World. The game has international Quidditch gameplay, including teams from the United States, Japan, Australia, England, and Bulgaria, plus biographical profiles and background information about the athletes and their respective wizarding communities. This video game supplies the player with firsthand experience playing Quidditch, while also providing information on the sport to heighten the player’s knowledge. Moreover, while Quidditch World Cup expands the horizons of the Wizarding World, the Book of Spells game explores the existence of different wizarding communities. It dives deeper into the technicality of spells and curses, equipping the player with lessons in magic and acting as a textbook to coach young wizards. In this way, the Book of Spells and Quidditch World Cup video games enhance the player’s experience by allowing him to participate in situations excluded from the books and movies.
       Essentially, video games alter a player’s perception of a well-known story. The video games provide knowledge and experiences incapable of being conveyed through other outlets, giving the players the opportunity to relive their favorite moments in a personal way. Collectively, video games provide players with a new platform to interact with storylines from renowned movies and books, offering a refreshing way to play the story.
  • About the Author
    Reece Watanabe is a sophomore at Miami University, majoring in Business and minoring in Spanish. His overall aim is to write thoroughly and reflectively, conveying ideas and advocating his points directly to the reader. Other than his academic goals, Reece is a nerd enjoying angst-riled alternative rock, getting overly into karaoke at the bar, and being way too overly into Pokemon on the Gameboy Color.
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    Monday, May 1, 2017

    Down With the Gatekeepers

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    Think censorship is all about authoritarian governments or legislative overreach? It actually begins much closer to home.  ♦ 
    Writer: It’s a simple term and a complex job. By dictionary definition, a writer is “a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories [. . .] especially as an occupation or profession.” If you could not already assume as much, I, the person writing this article for you, am a writer myself. Why do I write? Because it's a form of expression that has allowed me to assert myself in a different manner than I'm able to verbally. Through writing, I have the ability to choose how to portray myself. I have the power to decide what to show people about myself and what to keep undisclosed. It gives me, along with every other writer, the freedom to represent myself, my beliefs, my fears, my hopes and dreams, and my entire being if I wish.
       That freedom, however, is gradually being taken away.
       Censorship is obviously not a new subject, but in the current climate it has begun taking on some surprising new forms, one of which is the concept of trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are statements purposefully placed before a piece of writing, alerting the reader that the content they are about to read contains material that may be distressing to some individuals. The degree of labeling of this “upsetting” material can range, but it all has similar effects. In a piece titled "The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion," author Roxane Gay dives into the purposes of trigger warnings and why, in her opinion, they should not exist, as they begin to quckly resemble and reinforce censorship. Such warnings suggest that the writing that follows includes experiences or perspectives that are “too inappropriate, too explicit, too bare to be voiced publicly,” and these labels have almost no chance of going away once they’ve been attached to a piece of writing.
       When work is censored, that label, in a sense, becomes the work. If writing is considered immoral, pornographic, or controversial, these labels will forever be associated with the work in the minds of the general public. The reality, though, is that the world we live in isn’t perfect. It is filled to the brim with flaws and difficult subjects that could upset many people, and as nice as it may be to believe that we have the ability to protect ourselves from the harsh truths of our world, this idea is simply unattainable. This illusion of safety is exactly what Gay intends to expose to her piece by listing off just how many subjects have been deemed (allegedly) too difficult for readers to handle: “Over the years, I have seen trigger warnings for eating disorders, poverty, self-injury, bullying, heteronormativity, suicide, sizeism, genocide, slavery, mental illness, explicit fiction, explicit discussions of sexuality, homosexuality, homophobia, addiction, alcoholism, racism, the Holocaust, ableism, and Dan Savage. Life, apparently, requires a trigger warning. This is the uncomfortable truth—everything is a trigger for someone.” We might be attempting to escape these mature or complex or uncomfortable subject matters, but in truth we're simply setting ourselves up for inevitable failure. Shelter from life is rationally impossible.
       But who, exactly, is in charge of deeming whether works of literature are worthy of such demeaning labels? This is where we arrive at the subject of those whom I’ve come to know as the “gatekeepers,” individuals who hold the fate of our precious words in the palms of their hands. In an article for Pen America titled ""Censorship and Writing for Young Adults", author Keith Gessen describes his experience with an individual who’d read his work and claimed that the words he’d used were “objectionable” and not appropriate for his intended audience. Gessen explains that he would have liked to just ignore this individual’s protest as being narrow-minded and out of touch with the current generation, but he came to the realization that this man, at the age of 76, was what he considered to be a gatekeeper: someone who approves of and then introduces new writings to the younger generation, or looks to keep works from them. Gessen points out that the concept of censorship becomes tricky at this point, because the reality of the situation is, those individuals who try to limit and edit our writing can also be those who have the main power to introduce our writing to its intended audience.
         Who are these so-called gatekeepers? They could be someone you know. They range from publishers, editors, librarians, and teachers to parents and grandparents. They decide whether books are “nice” enough for younger audiences to read. Gessen explains that the majority of young readers don’t buy books, but rather, receive them as gifts, are forced to read them in a classroom setting, or borrow them from the library. Before they are given these opportunities, though, the books involved are shown to and challenged by gatekeepers.He also relates his writing experience to the idea of censoring the reality of the outside world, asking“if a child or teenager lives in a world where bullying, racism, suicide, faith, love, sex, terrorism are all everyday concerns, should we really be banning them from gaining knowledge of these issues?” Gessen argues that refraining from censoring the written word, allowing young readers access to books with such touchy subject matters, could help young readers get their heads around important issues long before they are forced to encounter such things in real life. Life is full of difficult issues that we are not capable of censoring or ignoring. Who are we really protecting by trying to censor the danger out of writing? “Are we committing a disservice to the next generation," Gessen asks, "under the guise of protection?”
          Life is not perfect; it never will be. Any attempt at pretending it is through the process of censorship only establishes a false foundation for young readers to build off of as they go through life. It will lead to continuous disappointment. Seen this way, censorship doesn’t just affect the freedom of writers; it affects the future of the younger generation. In order to survive in life, you have to be prepared for what you will face. Restricting the knowledge of young individuals does nothing but give them a “false illusion of safety,” a “guise of protection,” and the inability to learn and understand the real world around them. Young readers need to be able to choose what they read more independently, but gatekeepers, trigger warnings, and other soft censorship restrict their options. If they only read what is being fed to them, they are bound to perpetuate their own ignorance of the real world.
  • About the Author
    Madison Casey is a freshman Creative Writing major at Miami University. She is from Chicago, Illinois, and will endlessly argue that no other place has better deep-dish pizza. Her favorite hobbies include soccer, photography, and watching horror movies.
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    The Textbook Wars: Students and Publishers Face Off Over Prices

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    With savvy students ducking high textbook prices, publishers will have to work smarter to maintain profits. ♦ 
    Most college students are familiar with the unreasonably high cost of textbooks. According to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report, textbook prices increased at twice the rate of inflation from 1986 to 2004. Even today, the National Association of College Stores recommends that students budget $1200 for books and course supplies annually. But recent studies show that, despite the growing price, spending on course materials has fallen 14 percent in the last ten years. This decline in student spending shows that students are getting creative when it comes to accessing academic texts. Publishers will have to change the rules of the industry to force their target audience to keep coming back.
       This January, educational publishing giant Pearson Education announced a pre-tax loss of nearly $3.3 billion. The international company is struggling with changes to the technological landscape that affect the way college students are purchasing textbooks. The result has been the greatest loss in company history, but sympathy for Pearson’s plight is likely limited among students who are seeking out alternatives to big publishers.
       When I interviewed students at Miami University of Ohio on the subject of textbook procurement, a few answers stood out as universal textbook truths that college students use to save money. The number one piece of advice for freshmen was to avoid the campus bookstore.
       “Miami makes it easy to buy everything you need in one place,” said senior Elizabeth Baldwin, “but they definitely aren’t going to tell you that you have other options. You can hunt around for online stores that offer free shipping or discounts, and make sure you check out whatever used copies your campus has available before you commit to anything.”
       Finding used textbooks certainly has advantages. The savings gap between new and used book prices has increased along with textbook prices over the years. According to the National Association of College Stores, the average difference in price between a new textbook and its used counterpart has risen from forty-nine to fifty-nine dollars in the last decade. Used textbooks are sometimes available at campus bookstores, but Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book.ly, and Half.com also offer good deals. The greater access to used textbooks in recent years has been a real challenge to publishers who depend on new book purchases for a steady stream of revenue.
       Similarly, renting a book is often cheaper than purchasing one. Book Renter, Chegg, and CampusBookRentals can help students find rentals with easy return processes and great prices. An even more temporary solution is to utilize campus libraries. Reference books for most classes can be checked out for library use, and sometimes scanned for home use, if students only need certain sections at a time.
       Another unorthodox method of finding academic content is searching the web for PDF files of textbooks, or hoping that a free e-book version exists. Online copies of textbooks are convenient for students who can live without print; for liberal arts majors, much of English literature is offered on public domain sites such as Guttenberg.org. For those who aren’t picky about design, sites such as TextbookRush can help students find international editions of textbooks. These editions are usually paperback and printed in black and white, but often run much cheaper than the domestic versions. Publishers do their best to curb piracy by producing digital textbooks, which require an internet access code and are rendered inoperative if used after the code expires.
       Publishers also fight back against students’ search for loopholes by expanding textbooks into multimodal online resources. Digital learning textbooks are part of online programs complete with further readings, audiovisual components, online quizzes, and problem sets, all of which may be required course material accessible only with a code. By distributing textbooks that require an access code to online learning materials, companies ensure that students will need to buy new codes each year. This eliminates the option to rent or buy used books, as well as the option to borrow from friends or libraries.
       Even if a textbook is still good old-fashioned paper and ink, publishers keep their hold on the market by constantly revising textbooks, some of which are updated with new editions as often as every eighteen months. Since many are not changed significantly from edition to edition beyond design, students can get away with buying older editions of textbooks, especially if the student is attentive in lecture. However, these versions become less useful if the older edition doesn’t include problem sets or questions that are essential to the class coursework. It is always wise to ask the instructor if an older edition will suffice.
       Whether students are hunting deals on print books or e-book packages, the small pool of publishers that dominates the textbook market does not allow for much competitive pricing. Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hold large market shares, along with Cengage Learning and Barnes & Noble Education. All five dominant publishers are undergoing significant structural change as students become savvier and seek out alternatives to traditional textbooks.
       There’s certainly hope for Pearson if they are strategic about where to focus their efforts in the new textbook marketplace. Cengage Learning fought its way out of debt in 2014 by reinventing itself as a digital learning solutions provider. McGraw-Hill Education built its digital offerings and recently reported that its online learning platforms sold more units than its paperback division. Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble Education’s purchase of digital platform and analytics provider LoudCloud Systems is getting the company back on its feet after a reported decline in sales last year.
       Pearson plans to invest around $930 million annually to keep up with the changing market. Only time will tell what the future of textbook publishing will look like, but as students get more and more creative with their procurement of course materials, publishers will need to be one step ahead to stay afloat.
  • About the Author
    Kate Stoneburner is a senior at Miami University with a double major in Professional Writing and Strategic Communications. She is currently the president of an all-female a cappella group and a pianist for Cobblestone Community Church. She is trying to kick her Netflix habit and find a career in grant writing or copywriting before graduation.
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    Friday, April 28, 2017

    One More Story? I'm Not Tired!

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    Growing up in a digital world may not be as terrifying as you think.  ♦ 
    A scene familiar to many: a child sitting in the lap of their parent, moving their finger from word to word as the parent reads it aloud, flipping the page once they get to the end of the sentence they memorized twenty times before, looking at the same illustrations and laughing at the same funny voices as a dim light shines on them.
       Today, adapt that memory to options of flashy games, a digitized voice reading the story, and bright LED lights reflecting off the face of the parent and child. These come in an array of tablet applications, some with a section for young children’s stories and others devoted purely to adolescent children’s books. This might seem like a scary new reality for those of us who fondly recall the good old days of print . . . but for the generation growing up digital, it might not be so scary at all.
       The increasing market of e-books has strong selling points, including space and cost efficiency. But there's also a strong, surprising benefit when it comes to e-books and literacy: children who are opposed to reading may find unexpected interest in e-books, associating them with technology and engaging lights and colors. When a child’s playtime on their iPad is limited and must be balanced with equal time reading, reading on an electronic device will likely seem more inviting. However, e-books might also negatively impact children’s development in the stages of learning to read, and early tests to determine the effect of e-books on reading comprehension have led to mixed results.
       A recent study comparing parent-child co-reading across print, basic, and enhanced e-book platforms found both formats of books effective across many different aspects. All formats, for example, led to equal numbers of children being able to explain critical plot points of a story, though those who read print versions were able to better recall more specific narrative details, even those seeming insignificant. But, while print books were found to be more beneficial for comprehension, e-books were actually more effective at engaging children and encouraging physical interaction between the children and their stories.
       Perhaps one reason comprehension has lagged behind with e-books is that designers can get too easily carried away with the interface, having too many elements which lead to distractions from the plot. It is simple and logical to add enhancements to make reading enjoyable and interactive, but too many sounds and games can reduce emphasis from the plot of the story, overstimulating a child to a point where they are no longer absorbing information. A criticism in this realm includes children getting lost and forgetting that the main goal of sitting down with a story is to read it. Likewise, having the meaning of words unfamiliar to a child easily accessible via a link can lead to a larger vocabulary, but it can also hinder problem-solving skills. With print books, when a child does not know a word, they are urged to sound it out and use surrounding words to discover its meaning, not hold a finger on the word until it is spoken aloud for pronunciation and definition. Though children may be drawn to books with an abundance of interactive features, parents should take caution in determining if the “extra stuff” is useful or not.
       For adolescents who are older, studies show that reading a print book leads to better comprehension. A Norwegian study of tenth graders reading a PDF versus a print book showed that students who read a text in print better understand it. This is partially due to spatio-temporal markers, i.e., knowing where in the story a specific point occurred because students could feel in each hand how many pages had passed and how many still had to be read. Additionally, readers who are immersed in a text often recall where on a page information was given (on the right on the top of the page, etc.). On a PDF where one must scroll, the information moves all over the place, and the inconstancy of the placement of words on a page led to a less clear memory of information read.
       But what about those elements of the reading experience that can't be so easily measured in a study? I so fondly recall my nighttime routine in preschool and elementary school, squatting in front of my bookshelf overflowing with picture books and their colorful covers, taking the task of choosing one very seriously. (Or two, if I’d tried a new food that day.) I’d then sit in my dad’s lap and follow along word by word with my stubby pointer finger. Such a memory has led me to have initial feelings of doubt in accepting e-books as a medium for children to use when learning to read. However, I believe e-books can serve as a positive gateway to reading for those not as naturally engaged. It is important for parents to assess the needs of their child to determine what type of memory you want to create for them. If the method chosen is one which is stress-free and enjoyable, then the means by which the child learns to read doesn’t matter, as long as they are learning at all.
  • About the Author
    Hannah Spector is a freshman at Miami University. She is currently in the University Studies program with interests spanning from politics to children to nutrition and health. She also enjoys running, Americas' salads, and any 20-minute period of free time that can be spent watching The Office.
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    Staying in the Lines

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    Adult coloring books are more than publishing's newest fad...they're a new way to practice mindfulness.  ♦ 
    I pulled an unexpected gift out of my stocking this past Christmas: a book. I hadn't gotten a new book for Christmas in years (that is, if I’m not counting the Kindle I got in the ninth grade). However, it wasn't just any book; it was a coloring book. "Moment of Mindfulness," the cover read. As I flipped through the plentiful number of pages depicting unique stencils, I found myself somewhat confused.
       "Haven't you heard?" my mom said. "Everyone is doing it."
       Coloring books have been around for a very long time—since the 1880s, in fact, when the first coloring book, “The Little Folk’s Painting Book,” was produced by New York's McLoughin Brothers—but what is it about a book of simple black-and-white stencils that's kept them around for so long? If you are as nostalgic as I am, coloring books bring back memories that denote leisure time outside of the classroom, when nothing was better than designing something creative and tangible that was all on our own. Whether it was car rides, play dates, long family dinners, you name it, coloring books were fun, constant companions.
       Besides keeping their kids well entertained, parents often have other intentions when setting a coloring book in front of their child. Professionals have noted numerous educational as well as brain-developing benefits of coloring, which incorporate all-around improvement of motor skills. Coloring books are living proof that learning can be fun and enjoyable.
       These days, though, it's as common to see a child holding a tablet as it is to see them holding a coloring book and bag of crayons. This, in part, is due to the countless amounts of coloring book apps available to parents on their tablets. Don’t get me wrong: technology has offered children an array of beneficial digital experiences, most of which have the opportunity to provide a vast audience with attainable educational experiences anywhere they go. However, parents as well as educators are becoming concerned that this increase in technology usage has led to decreases in the attention span of these children. In a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center, it was found that out of nearly 2,500 teachers, 87% believe that technologies are creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” Educators are becoming worried that they'll have to adjust their teaching styles to fit the needs of this short-attention-spanned generation.
       But the younger generations aren't the only ones affected by the technology boom. Adults have already adjusted to digital by purchasing reading devices such as Kindles or tablets, or reading their news online on browsers or apps. We've become so accustomed to multitasking and performing day-to-day activities in the fastest, most efficient ways possible through our constant use of technology that we have forgotten the simpler days of paper and crayon.
       Did someone say mindfulness?
      Let me bring you back to Christmas morning. As I sat in my living room flipping through the stencils before me, I began to feel nostalgic about the days in which a quiet coloring book brought me the most simple, peaceful, yet vibrant joys. As I read the back cover, I discovered that these feelings were not forsaken. Adult coloring books had become the new fad, and there was not a technology out there to match them (or stop them).
       Since 2015, adult coloring books have increasingly appealed to the adult market, intending to provide peace of mind within one of their favorite pastimes. These books have been sweeping bookstores across the nation, as well as taking spots on bestseller lists. The idea for the adult coloring book came from Gabe Coeli, a mother, doctor, and wife of Blue Store Coloring’s CEO. She told the company how she and other doctors she worked with had found themselves coloring in their young patients' coloring books and found that the activity not only helped bide time but also relieved stress. The company jumped on the idea of making a coloring book for adults and released the book“Stress Relieving Patterns" in March of 2015, By May, the book was pronounced a #1 National Bestseller on Amazon; since then, it has sold millions.
       Believe it or not, psychologists and therapists who jumped on this bandwagon are now prescribing these books to their patients. All fun aside, adult coloring books provide mental benefits just like children’s coloring books do, and professionals point to extensive amounts of therapeutic benefits that adult coloring books provide, having the potential to aid with emotional and mental issues by taking the focus off the negative and focusing their attention elsewhere. Patients are able to relieve themselves of their stresses for moments in time and more easily cope with difficult emotions. Coloring has even been proven to help with PTSD disorders.
       Ultimately, adult coloring books have given grown-ups the opportunity to gain peace of mind and enjoy any number of therapeutic benefits. Alongside such medical benefits, they have also brought a generation back to a time and place of simplicity, a time that elicits an era of purity and ease. A time when one’s worries only consisted of a crayon and paper. With luck, maybe the younger generation will learn something from adults, moving away from the mindless act of technology toward the mindful act associated with tangibility.
  • About the Author
    Eleanor Chambers is a senior Professional Writing major at Miami University. She loves to travel and is fascinated with exploring different cultures around the world.
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    Wednesday, April 26, 2017

    The Book Was Better . . . Or Was It?

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    We've all left film adaptations of favorite novels muttering about how "the book was better." But is that always the case?  ♦ 
    There have been a countless number of novels turned into full-length feature films over the years. In fact, I was browsing through a list of books that have been brought to life on the big screen and was surprised to realize that big films like P.S. I Love You, World War Z, and The Firm were all written on paper before big-name actors and actresses performed them. In spite of the massive box office successes of these adaptations, I think most people believe that the book is almost always better than the movie . . . but I'm not convinced that's really the case.
       To start off, I should probably inform you that I was completely obsessed with The Twilight Saga and had so much anxiety and anticipation leading up to the release of Breaking Dawn: Part 2, the last film in the series, that I could make a coffee addict hyped up on caffeine look calm. What if the director changed one of my favorite scenes from the book? What if he did not even include a certain favorite scene in the film due to time constraints? All completely normal concerns for anyone in this predicament, but nonetheless, I wanted the movie to be perfect because it was the end of the series, and there'd be nothing new to look forward to with the end of these character’s stories.
       My friends and I headed to the theater a week after the film had been released, and I couldn't believe that, after these quick two hours, something that'd meant so much to me would be over. Near the end of the film, the leaders of the vampire race, the Volturi, descend upon the “vegetarian” (because they hunt animals and not people) Cullen clan because they have been told that two of the family members, Bella and Edward, have created an immortal child. These immortal children are vampires turned at an age where they cannot control their bloodlust and, therefore, draw attention to themselves and their feeding rituals. However, Bella and Edward’s child, Renesmee, is half-vampire, half-human, so she has the capacity to learn to control her thirst and poses no danger to the human race. All the Cullens run around the world trying to locate their vampire friends and ask them to bear witness to the fact that she grows like a human does.
       In the movie, the two sides stand on opposite ends of a field and the Volturi leader, Aro, calls people forward so he can use his special talent to read their memories, effectively stopping any attempt at lying. One of the other Cullens, Alice, has the ability to see the future and shows up late to this confrontation because she was searching for another person like Renesmee, to prove that she will not be a danger to society. When Alice shows Aro what will happen if he decides to attack the Cullens and their witnesses (his death, along with many other key characters' on both sides of the battle), the director of the film makes it seem like it is actually happening until the end when the audience comes to find out it was merely Alice’s vision.
       But, before that's made clear to the audience, I, as an avid Twilight fan, sat in the theater so upset that the director thought he could kill off so many important characters to the story and ruin the “happily ever after.” In this sense, as a first-time viewer with no idea what was going on, I hated the movie for a brief moment because I was always rooting for the happy ending, and it was seemingly taken from me by a director who'd gone rogue. It was a risky move on the director's part, a risky interpretation of this moment . . . but now I actually look forward to this moment in the film, because I think it really makes the audience feel what it is like to be in Alice’s shoes, and we can see more of her side of the story that is lost in the books.
       There are several occasions where directors have neglected to put scenes from a book into its film adaptation due to time constraints, budget, and the overall flow of the movie. In fact, in the original Twilight novel, there are two different scenes where Bella and Edward each have a day to ask the other one any questions they want, though neither of these made it into the film. One of the criticisms of the movies is that the characters go from virtually not talking to dating in a super short amount of time, but if the producers of the film would have added these scenes, we would've gotten to see how they grow together and learn more about each other.
       Another film that took some creative liberties from its source text is Me Before You. The book as a whole is a story about a quadriplegic young man, Will, who misses his previous daredevil lifestyle, impeded by a motorcycle accident, so much that he wants to go through with an assisted suicide. The man’s mother hires a young woman, Louisa, to be his caretaker and bring him some happiness prior to his death, without telling her his plans. The pair initially butt heads but finally come to fall for each other. After Louisa figures out Will’s intention and the amount of time she has left with him, she makes all sorts of plans to go on a full range of adventures with him, to try to convince Will that life is worth living.After Will tells Louisa that he cannot love her the way he wants to and is still going to have the assisted suicide, the pair get in a fight and end all communication. On the day of Will’s planned death, Louisa rushes to the facility the procedure will take place in, the pair make last amends, and Will gives her a letter to read after he is gone.
       In the movie version, the directors focus much more on the relationship between Will and Louisa than the fact that author JoJo Moyes was trying to make a statement about assisted suicide. Yes, the topic is much darker than a story about two young people falling in love and overcoming obstacles, but isn’t that the point? Moyes’ novel was supposed to be a real look at the life of someone who cannot be the person they want to be or had been, and how hard it is to live with that, yet Hollywood made it into a fluffier version of a love story.
       It’s hard to say whether a book is better than a movie as a blanket statement—they are, after all, very different forms—but this brings up the question of what criteria might exist for making such a claim in the first place. Is it about how closely the movie follows the book? Is it about bringing the characters to life? It is about how down-to-the-details directors match up their props and settings to the environment of the book?
       I don’t know about you, but I think that the examples above show both sides of the coin. In some instances, films can struggle to fully bring a book's ideas or conceptions to life, and this is where a film might do well to creatively move away from the text. On the other hand, directors (and studios) want to sell movie tickets, so they sometimes have to change the storyline to be something more pleasing to a general moviegoing audience . . . even if, in doing so, they might be misrepresenting the point of their source material, or missing the point altogether. Either way, I think it's ultimately up to the audience—of the book or the movie—to decide which told the story best.
  • About the Author
    Ellen Kahle is a sophomore Journalism and Sports Management double major at Miami University with a passion for North Carolina basketball. She hopes to eventually work in UNC's basketball offices but knows that is a pretty big aspiration. Therefore, Ellen is shooting to work at the ACC network or help in the creation of ESPN's 30 for 30 films.
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