Monday, April 27, 2015

The Last Defense


Will nostalgic bookstore-browsing survive alongside Amazon and eBooks? ♦
I am a champion of literacy. I rekindle the flame of passion for hard- and paperbound books page by page, keeping the chapter-flipping frenzy alive as a vocation. I am employee of Barnes and Noble. I ask that you now picture me as such:

     More specifically, I’m a barista in the Barnes & Noble Café, although the job description does list me as a bookseller. Since October of 2012, I have stood behind the counter, strategically placed behind the magazine racks and the Nook service desk, surrounded by thousands of books, and earning minimum wage just for pressing espresso machine buttons and stirring lattés.
     Behind the Fortune 500 glitz, extravagant promotional deals, and the hocking of our super special Membership is a subverted message: we’re just trying to stay in the game. In the break room there’s a chart of top performance, week by week, ranking every employee in the store based on their conversion of laypeople to Membership holders. At $25/per convert just to earn a 10% discount, some national recognition is deserved for those who manage to sell as many as two a day. Somewhere in the chain of command, there is a strong dissonance, a simultaneous desire to protect the book buyers and gain a competitive edge against the digital market. Our new CEO has delegated all technology development to Samsung, who designed the new “Nook” (read: “Galaxy with lots of B&N logos”) and therefore prevents us from taking the loss if the Kindle completely obliterates our eBook market entirely.
     Despite all of this, I have found a remarkable number of kindred spirits—those who laud that particular romance between a reader and paper pages, who lament the loss of intimacy in digital reproductions. It’s a ragtag rebellion, not necessarily the rallying force that will move thousands to defend the plight of bookstores, but a loyal group nonetheless. Here’s what the defense looks like: readers either over 40 years old and under 12—those who haven’t made it to the digital market. The Literary Fiction and Biography sections receive far less love than the tables devoted to Grisham, Patterson, and Sparks. Middle aged women now unabashedly purchase romance novels, emboldened by the success of 50 Shades of Gray. (Not to point fingers, but men have grown bolder too, removing the politely intentional seran wrap from Playboy issues and leaving them scattered in concerning places throughout the store).
     I exist somewhere in this dynamic too; I am, for all of my bookstore pride, as responsible as anyone in my age group for The Great Decline of my beloved bookstore experience, not to mention my job security. On breaks I peruse the shelves, flipping through pages, feeling textures and weights, inspecting the art up close, before jumping online and purchasing a copy for $4.37 on Amazon. This, despite being one of the lucky few to receive 30% off any title in the store. My conscience is only half-guilty, since I’m working part-time at minimum wage, and books fly through my hands at a rate that would nearly match my salary if I paid sticker price. I recognize the irony though.
     The question is, what loyalty do you—those who have less of a personal stake in its continued existence—stand to gain from championing a fading form of literary commerce? Will your love fade? Will the words mean less? Will Shakespeare (pun unintended) turn in his grave for the loss of the paper experience? Why do we still care so much about Shakespeare anyway?
   Aside from that last question, we should be thinking about this. We should consider the traditional book-buying experience from this ephemeral time rift between the old way of doing things and the new. Because this is the moment. We decide what the history of books becomes. If, in fifteen years, the brick and mortar crumbles and we’ve done away with the tactile browsing tradition and we forget what it was like to once hold and leaf through a book, then so be it. The digital shelves are ever-expanding to meet our demand, and physical shelves gather dust. It is the seemingly negligible decision of where we will buy our next books from that shapes what the book market will cater to for decades of readers to come. And so, as the champion I am, I ask—will you join the final stand?
  • About the Author
    Alexandria Moore is a junior, studying professional writing and journalism at Miami University. She is an editor for Inklings Literary Magazine and a writer for the Miami Student.

    Online Writing Communities


    The most important tool in the writer’s toolbelt is her fellow writer. ♦
    A writing community, no matter where it’s found, is one of the most valuable assets a writer can have. As writers, we tend to think of writing as a solitary act, but where would any of us be without someone to bounce ideas off of or receive brutally honest criticism from? We grow more from torn-apart manuscripts than shallow praise. We need to know our mistakes in order to learn from them.
       But some writers don’t have access to English departments or writing clubs or week-long workshops. Especially the youngest of us—those writers in middle and high school, who have the most to learn—don’t always have the courage or even the means of transportation to allow them to look another writer face-to-face and say, “Here is my work. Rip it to shreds.” For these writers, and others looking for more opportunities, online communities become especially wonderful. Now, every writer with an internet connection can find a network of peers who will read her work and provide feedback on anything from word choice to grammar to content. Writers learn how to give and receive this criticism as well as how to promote oneself in order to gain a readership, and keep oneself motivated and accountable for her own writing. These skills are invaluable when entering the literary marketplace.
         Every writing community is unique, which means every writer can find one that best fits her style and habits. Here are three online writing communities that many writers have found useful, but keep in mind there are many more that may fit your specific interests waiting to be discovered:

    1. Wattpad
           At first glance, Wattpad can be a little overwhelming. Out of these three communities, Wattpad’s user base is by far the largest—over two million registered users—which means more and more content is added with each passing second. It is this size and heightened activity that gives Wattpad users the greatest potential to gain a large readership. In order to get the most out of it, though, simply reading and interacting is not quite enough. To take full advantage of Wattpad’s size, you have to learn how to self-promote without alienating or harassing potential readers. You have to market yourself extraordinarily well to other writers who are trying to do the same to you.
    Best for: short stories,
    poetry, novels, fanfiction.
        Ignoring its size, Wattpad’s design and mission is incredibly straightforward—you read, you write, you interact through messages and forum posts, it just has a little more caffeine than the others. With all of its liveliness and focus on content, Wattpad is one of the easiest ways to get eyes on your work. Whether those eyes linger and propel your work into something greater, or move on and let it fall among the masses, is something of an abstract art. The best advice I can give is write the best damn piece you can, and hope it sticks. But I suppose that applies to all of these communities.

    2. Figment
         Figment was created out of founders Dana Goodyear and Jacob Lewis’s fascination with the popularity of cell phone novels—literally stories shared from phone to phone by readers in an age before smartphones made sharing stories commonplace—amongst teens in Japan. The goal of the website was to make an incredibly mobile platform for writing and reading written works of all varieties, and they’ve succeeded. Every possible function on Figment’s regular site is made accessible through mobile platforms, making it perfect for the writer on the go.
    Best for: short stories, poetry
    collections, flash fiction, novels.
         Figment also hosts regular writing contests, with prizes ranging from work promotion on the homepage to signed advanced reading copies (ARCs) of popular forthcoming books, and even cold, hard cash and scholarships. Most of these contests run on a “hearts” system, which acts as a sort of popularity contest; the work(s) with the most hearts win. This can sometimes make helpful feedback a secondary concern (beware of the heart-swappers!), but of course, contests are only one part of Figment that makes it stand out. Like all good writing communities, honest engagement in the active forums will earn you good faith and helpful criticism (along with some superfluous hearts). For writers connected in the mobile age, Figment may be right for you.

    3. Protagonize
        Protagonize was the first writing community I ever joined, and I’m glad I did. The community is relatively small—approximately twenty-six thousand registered users—which makes the site modest in its content and helps keep it easily navigated. The closer-knit community encourages users to be incredibly friendly and supportive of each other, regardless of age. This doesn’t mean Protagonize is too small to help a writer gain an audience, though. In fact, the relatively small nature of Protagonize makes the best works more visible while the community is still active enough to allow for more diversity in experience, content, and depth of feedback.
        Protagonize also has an additional emphasis on collaborative writing, encouraging different writers to add to the same work, if the original author allows it. One example of this is the “addventure” format, where instead of one page or chapter leading linearly into the next, readers are prompted to select the branch of their choosing. These branches are sometimes continued by the original author but sometimes new authors jump in. Similar collaborative structures have led to epic poetry projects like My Life According to That Pen Over There with over 482 pages and counting since it started in 2009, along with countless group adventures. For writers looking for a close-knit community with the opportunity for unconventional writing experiences, Protagonize may be perfect.

    The Takeaway:
        All of these websites are helpful in one major way: they provide writers with access to a network of peers and mentors that a writer may not otherwise have. Some sites promote the development of self-promotion skills, which is invaluable when it comes time to publish a book or collection through traditional or self-publishing means. Other smaller sites allow for deeper critique and feedback on your own use of narrative arc, tone, character, and have the potential to connect you with other writers who may point out things you have not considered before. Sites that encourage collaboration or experiment with less-conventional styles of poetry and prose allow for stretching of creative muscles that may otherwise remain unstimulated if a writer is left to her own devices. You get out of online communities what you put in, but for someone without any other options, or even someone looking to supplement their “real life” communities, they can truly unleash unknown creative potential.
  • About the Author
    Marissa Lane is a 19-year-old notebook addict (and Creative Writing and Literature double major) based in the extensive cornfields of Ohio. She’s a huge fan of Sharpie pens, red lipstick, feminism, paperback books, coffee, yoga, cat videos, and potato chips. Chronic procrastinator, listmaker, and overachiever; recovering perfectionist. Happily in a committed relationship with semicolons and caffeine.

    Sunday, April 26, 2015

    To Kill a Masterpiece?


    Are we killing more than a Mockingbird? How a sequel to an American classic may damage the original's legacy. ♦
    To Kill a Mockingbird has been seared and molded onto the young minds of America since its debut in 1962, including mine. Not only is it a representation of classic American literature but also a touchstone of the typical high school English experience  across the nation. To most, To Kill a Mockingbird is a significant depiction of adolescence in the face of evil, raising questions of morality, family, and above all basic humanity. It is one of the few stories that almost every reader is able to find some sort of personal connection with, some sense of themselves between the lines and within the pages of Harper Lee’s enduring masterpiece. In short, To Kill a Mockingbird has become a beloved celebration of fantastic writing, plot, and character to readers everywhere.
         My mom has been a reading specialist in elementary schools ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, I would go to visit  her classroom after school and help her organize her reading books, picture books, and magnetic letters. Her co-workers would ask me what books we were reading each time I visited as I sifted through the brightly colored, plastic upper case and lowercase A, B, and Cs.
         “The Scarlet Letter,” I said frowning.
         “The Lord of the Flies,” I said skeptically.
         “The Great Gatsby,” I said smiling.
        But when it came time to say To Kill a Mockingbird, it wasn’t me who would have the emotional reaction, but the older teachers. They would look at me and smile, telling me about it being their favorite book, how amazing it was, how much it meant to them. They said it in a way that they wished they were back in high school reading or teaching the novel, rather than spelling out words on dry erase boards to children who had many years before they got the opportunity to read the influential story.
          In light of recent developments, the new production of a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird by aging author Harper Lee, who has supposedly held onto her manuscript for quite some time until its recent discovery, has many avid and dedicated readers questioning whether or not this story should be published, due in no small part to the timelessness of the original novel. Scheduled to be published by HarperCollins, Go Set a Watchman would no doubt be a money-making machine due to the reputation that precedes it with To Kill a Mockingbird. But with the addition of a new storyline, and older characters, there's a very real fear that the book could not possibly be as moving as its predecessor. Upon first hearing about this, my mind immediately wandered to movie sequels that are produced in an attempt to ‘milk’ the success of the originals, all for the generation of cash flow. While I will admit to being guilty of taking in the sequels of movies I enjoyed, I ultimately always leave the sequel feeling that 1) it was ghastly, 2) whoever made the decision to continue the series was rather foolish, and 3) not only was it a poor production, but the fact that it was such a failure reflects on how I ultimately view the first film (or book).
          It's possible that Harper Lee's sequel could be wildly successful, and maybe Lee has climbed the Mountain of Impossibility and crafted a second novel as beautiful as the first. (The fact that Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman before To Kill a Mockingbird, and then shelved the book when Lee's editor suggested a reworking of the idea, still doesn't tell us much about what this alternate take might look like.) Maybe Scout will be as charmingly naïve yet intelligent in her older years as she was as a child. Maybe this is just wishful thinking.
         Some have even raised questions about Harper Lee’s age and mental capacity, whether it was truly she making the decision to publish the manuscript. For the most part Lee herself has been silent, save for a statement in which she said she was "happy as hell" to have the book coming out, though the specter persists that the decision to publish may have more to do with the idea that the book could be a goldmine, no matter its quality. Certainly the publisher would benefit from this book's emergence, and Lee herself will see a big payday. Everyone would benefit . . . except for Lee’s reputation and that of To Kill a Mockingbird.
         What would you rather have: one fantastically monumental book, or two books, one of which could take away from the craft of the first? To my mind, as a devotee of To Kill a Mockingbird, I feel that the second book should stay invisible. By placing a second storyline into this world, the first plot could fall apart, and this staple of American literature could fall victim to typical American corporate values of extending a franchise to the point where they kill it. The world didn’t need a second and third (and fourth and fifth) Spider-Man, yet we got them. Twilight should have stopped while it was way ahead. Oryx and Crake broke our hearts and instilled curiosity in our minds, and then crumbled in our hands as we read the next installments. I now offer this final sentiment: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  • About the Author
    Mary Williams is a Junior Creative Writing major at Miami University.  President of Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault, she enjoys raising awareness when she isn't writing for fun, classes or The Odyssey Magazine

    Is The Walking Dead TV Show a Piece of Fan Fiction?


    How Robert Kirkman’s survival horror franchise thrives on constant mutation. ♦
    Have you ever wondered: What if Norman Bates passed away as a child and his mother became the Psycho serial killer instead? Or what if Uncle Ben didn’t die and Peter Parker became a completely different Spider-Man?
        Such alternative plot-arcs have been historically reserved for fan fiction. Authors, editors, and producers tend to file their ideas down to one concrete plotline while other, alternate ideas tend to pile up by the trashcan in balled up pieces of paper. Robert Kirkman, on the other hand, has a different approach.
        Kirkman, executive producer and writer of The Walking Dead, has found a brilliant way to use his various story ideas and collaborate with other authors by producing his narrative in multiple formats with separate plot-arcs and altered characters. His post-apocalyptic zombie epic features a gang of survivalists, including a former police officer, a U.S. Army sergeant, a pizza delivery man, a farmer’s daughter, a lawyer, and many more. The gang traverses the country, looking for supplies and wrestling with the horrifyingly “real” depiction of human and social degradation in the post-apocalyptic world. The story, however, changes dramatically based on whether you read the comic, the novels, or watch the TV show.
          As we all know, characters from books are almost always altered for the big screen. In the case of The Walking Dead, the characters are aesthetically and personally similar to their comic book counterparts, but they evolve differently through the unique narratives.
        For example, Andrew Lincoln’s character, Rick Grimes, starts out as an identical copy of Kirkman’s comic book character, but as the show progresses, Lincoln’s portrayal strays away from the comic to form a different persona. [Spoiler Alert] The one-handed battle-hardened comic hero loses his daughter at the same time he loses his wife and becomes a much more vicious killer, but Lincoln’s character keeps his daughter and a semblance of humanity as he goes through a much more dramatic period of mental instability after losing his wife.
          Some differences between the TV show and the comic series come from Kirkman himself, but the majority of them come from the show’s writing staff. Kirkman has written approximately one episode per season and has served as an executive producer for the duration of the show. Meanwhile, Frank Darabont, Glen Mazzara and Scott M. Gimple are three notable writers who have made substantial additions to the show and changed the way the story has progressed.
         At the beginning of season four, Scott M. Gimple was appointed head writer and showrunner for The Walking Dead. In an interview, Gimple said, “The writers’ room is really, really hardcore in the first third of the season; we’re really in there. Every writer on the show is a writer-producer, so once they write their script, they’re out in Georgia helping to produce it. There are a lot more components than just being in the room …. There are a lot of different locales in which you do your job especially as you get towards the middle of the season.”
         Kirkman has been deeply involved in the show as an executive producer, creator, and writer, but as the show has progressed, it has become much more of a collaborative effort than a single author or director spearheading their vision.
        One of the most significant differences between the show and the comic is Carol’s character, played by Melissa McBride. Kirkman explains that, “Carol was extremely different in the comic and I was attempting to tell a completely different story with that character than what we ended up doing on the show” and that the difference was largely based on the riveting performance given by McBride. [Spoiler Alert] The comic book Carol met a relatively early end as she committed suicide by zombie, but the McBride’s Carol has become one of the most ruthless, action-packed, and complex characters currently in the show. So, actors’ performances can ostensibly alter the narrative as well.
          Differences between books and film adaptations typically tend to rub audiences the wrong way, but fans of The Walking Dead don’t seem to mind too much. On the contrary, bloggers, YouTube commentators, and media writers like to ask themselves which Rick they like better, or which storyline is best. Personally, I can’t decide.
         Kirkman has explained his decision to alter the story as a deliberate ploy to eliminate the traditional predictability of a book-based film adaptation and grab the attention of the comic book fans as well as first-time viewers—and the move has worked well so far. Uproxx reports that every episode of season five ranked in the “top 50 telecasts across all of television among adults 18-49” and that the season five finale broke its previous finale records with over 15.8 million viewers. But now, with the addition of other writers and an alternative plot structure, we must ask ourselves: is The Walking Dead still Kirkman’s adapted TV show, or has it become a more of a fan fiction amalgam?
         Kirkman refers to the comic series as the “source material” or the “rough draft” for the show, and as it continues, the show seems to stray further and further away from the comic. Characters yet to die in the comic have already been killed off and characters that have been long since dead in the comic are still alive in the show. Nobody knows what will come next.
          Kirkman approaches his comic series the same way a fan might develop their own Walking Dead fiction. Gimple and Mazzara do the same, and the alternative plot structure surely points in the direction of fan fiction. Yet, the most important thing we can learn from Kirkman is to not fear collaboration. Working with others can benefit you and your writing. It certainly has for him.
  • About the Author
    Christopher “Kit” Collins is a Professional Writing and Psychology double major with a minor in Neuroscience. He’s an avid writer, researcher, and photographer. His dogs are named after Batman characters and he likes to read minimalist, satirical writing. He plans to teach, write, and practice as a psychologist.

    Saturday, April 25, 2015

    Like an Open Book: Reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry


    Gabrielle Zevin's touching new novel examines love, life, literature, and the relationship between all of these. ♦
    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by author Gabrielle Zevin is a booklover’s novel. It follows the life of a bookstore owner through heartbreak and triumph, both in the industry and in his personal life. It is sentimental without being overly so, and it name-drops so many writers it’s hard to keep track: Edgar Allan Poe. Grace Paley. Mark Twain. On and on. It also has a bookish humor that both literature majors and fans will appreciate: “At first, he had mainly bought mass-market paperbacks—Jeffrey Deaver and James Patterson (or whoever writes for James Patterson)…” Boom. (How else could one man deliver so many books in one year? But I digress.) This novel touches all the right places and is like nothing I’ve ever read before.
          Something that this novel touches on in spades is love, a simple word that holds so much complex meaning. Zevin gives new insight into what it means to love and be loved. As Fikry comes to realize, love can be cruel but it can also be annoyingly, life-alteringly everything. When we meet him, he is a man ready to give up on life due to an unexpected car crash that led to his wife’s death. As a result of Nic’s death, he has fallen out of love with his job and forgotten why he ever became a bookseller in the first place. Accordingly, his days are the same drudgery of getting up, grudgingly participating in his business of bookselling, which, naturally, requires him to interact with other humans, eating something frozen and stereotypically Indian (as he’s Indian), then drinking himself into oblivion. Rinse and repeat. But two random events save him from a life of alcoholism and allow him to have a new start to his depressing life. He doesn’t expect for love to enter his life, and doesn’t particularly want it, but it happens:
          “He feels drunk or at least carbonated," the narrator tells us. "Insane. At first he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it’s love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.”
          Zevin has the wonderful ability to portray how life happens whether we want it to or not. Life is remarkably like a Rube Goldberg machine: one book knocks into a pendulum and swings into something else, causing the events of our lives to take place. Several characters in the novel have different viewpoints on the events that make up the entirety of our lives; Fikry’s deceased wife believed in fate, while Fikry’s more of a coincidence guy. Regardless of what you call these events, I found myself thinking about how little control we have over so many instances of our lives. But A. J. shows that it’s what we do with the many instances that really impact the choreography of our lives.
          One of the most beautiful aspects of this novel is the attention Zevin gives to literature. The very first page of the novel is a commentary written by Fikry about “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl. He inserts one-page commentaries intermittently throughout the novel, referencing everyone from Flannery O’Connor to Raymond Carver's “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” He has very specific reasons for including each piece, some sentimental, some as words of advice, and we come to learn that these commentaries are letters for a special person in his life. The letters also give insight into Fikry’s relationship with literature and how it has evolved over time. The Storied Life reads like a love letter to fiction, booksellers, and sales reps alike. After reading this novel, I feel like there is hope for literature yet.
          Zevin appropriately gives attention to the minor characters of this novel, as it is told from an omniscient, third person point-of-view. Although the majority of the novel is seen through Fikry’s eyes, we get to look into the brains of the supporting characters as well, all of whom have had had a great impact on his life, from his police chief friend, Lambiase, who has grown to love reading through his interactions with Fikry, to Fikry’s former sister-in-law, Ismay, to a sales rep named Amelia, who deals with him tri-annually, to an inquisitive young girl named Maya. Their contributions add much the depth to the novel and our understanding of Fikry, and the flow never seems to stutter through the changing voices.
          A. J. Fikry isn’t predictable as a character, which is precisely why this novel works. It works because lovers of fiction will feel a connection with his story, making us likely to enter back into reality believing in the staying power of underdog bookstores. A fresh naïveté making nerdy idiots of us all, as Fikry himself might say.
  • About the Author
    Jordan Case is a graduating English Literature student with a minor in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She really enjoys reading, writing, and binge-watching shows on Netflix. While she's looking forward to graduation, she is still figuring out what's next. Isn't everybody?

    Literary Tattoos


    Some book lovers have found a new way to express their literary devotion: by getting inked. ♦
    Tattoo culture is finally breaking out of its stereotypes. Gone are the days of bikers and sailors being the only members of society who sport them; according to, fourteen percent of Americans have at least one tattoo. "Ink" now comes in all shapes and sizes.
          One main appeal of tattoos is their permanence. Sometimes when people choose to get tattoos, they do it because a symbol or image simply appeals to them, but more often people get tattoos to connect more deeply with something that has a personal meaning to them. Literary tattoos usually fall into the latter category. Literature can have such an effect on people that they might want a quote or an image to always be with them. Some may view this as extreme, but to others, it is proof of literature’s timelessness — that literature can be important enough in people’s lives to demand permanence.
         Dayton resident Kaitlyn Hunter, age 22, is the proud possessor of nine tattoos. While most of her tattoos are word-free designs, her eighth is a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella Le Petit Prince, or The Little Prince. The quote reads: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux,” which in English means, "It is only with the heart that one can rightly see, the essential is invisible to the eyes."
      “That really strikes true," Hunter says, "because I believe that you cannot judge a book by its cover. You have to know someone before you can pass judgment. There is more to a person than what you can see on the outside.”
         Hunter read the book when she was younger and explains how that early reading experience impacted her choice of design: “I chose to keep [the line] in French because that was the language in which I read The Little Prince, and French is such a beautiful language.”
        In fact, her love for the book inspired a work of art with her tattoo, which uses an atypical, beautifully-stylized font. The tattoo represents her feelings about the novella and its message: “I think it's a beautiful story, and so unlike anything I had ever read before. I think it has something that everyone can relate to.”


          Kait Bell, an undergraduate student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has a small, one-word tattoo, but its meaning is just as impactful as a longer quote: “I chose to get my tattoo to remind me that unconditional love exists,” Bell says. “The direct quote is from Professor Snape [in Harry Potter] when he finally admits that he has always loved Harry’s mother and that love made him want to care for Harry as well. The quote simply says, ‘Always.’”
          Josh Morgan, tattoo artist at Oxford’s Silkworm Tattoo, has a “fair amount” of people who come in with literary tattoo requests. Many of these people have symbols and quotes from the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series in mind. (“I’ve done so many Deathly Hallows symbols!” he says.) However, these prominent literary series are not the most common literary theme he encounters.
        “Eighty percent of the quotes I do are biblical," Morgan says. "Sometimes full quotes, or sometimes just the book and verse number. ‘Philippians 4:13’ is extremely popular.”
        People express their love of literature many ways, but a tattoo, with its combination of words and illustration, can beautifully convey literature’s permanence as well as the lasting connection between a reader and her favorite book.
  • About the Author
    Katie Zak is a senior at Miami University majoring in English Literature. After graduation, she will be teaching for the Institute of Reading Development in San Francisco. She loves yoga, dogs, and Greek yogurt.

    Monday, April 20, 2015

    Never Buy Grandpa a Kindle


    Despite marketing towards younger demographics, e-readers are finding their way into the hands of senior citizens. ♦
    I pride myself on my gift-giving abilities. I’m basically the Santa Claus of the Kaiser family. The only person who has ever been a challenge for me, even with my super power, is my Grandpa Carl. A strong believer in saving money, using 30-year-old appliances (because they mostly still work) and never buying something you can build yourself for free, Grandpa has always been difficult to buy for on holidays and birthdays. There have been years when he needed or asked for something, but being a non-outdoorsy kind of person, I’m not exactly comfortable with going into a store and buying him that new axe blade he’s been hankering for. So this generally left me with one option: books.
         My grandpa has probably read more books than most Ph.D. candidates, but he never made it out of Canada with a high school diploma. He didn’t drop out because of a lack of intelligence or desire to learn; it simply wasn’t necessary for him to continue with schooling to be successful. He spent his life working with his hands and doing hard labor, but in his free time he was reading anything he could find. A passion for books and reading is not uncommon in my family, so as I grew older Grandpa and I would share books and recommendations. Once I had my first Kindle, I was hooked, but being the sentimentalist that I am, I continued to buy hard copies of books as well. Nevertheless, I raved about the ease and convenience of my Kindle to my grandpa, but as ever, he was stubborn and insistent that he didn’t really need it.
         He was also adamant that he was too old to learn new technologies, and even if he did learn how to use it, chances are he would break it faster than I could blink. I disregarded the first concern — the man can fix just about anything made before 1985! As for the second concern, I assured him that Amazon had great customer service and would be happy to replace it for him should something go wrong. Still, he wouldn’t even consider buying it for himself. Which brings us to Christmas, 2013.
        My mom, despite many years of buying gifts for her father, came to me for advice. I had just finished my nearly daily perusal of Amazon and noticed that the most basic Kindle was on sale. She bought the Kindle, and I bought the protective case for it. Now all there was to do was add gift-wrapping and some mental preparation for the ordeal I would face on Christmas day when I would try to teach him how to use it. When he opened it, he wasn’t exactly thrilled. He maintained a carefully neutral expression while both I and my mom assured him that I would help him get used to it, and he would figure it out in no time. I think some of the leftover Canadian politeness of his youth was the only thing that kept him from chucking it out the window and asking for new tractor parts instead. Skeptical and nervous about getting used to it, the only thing he managed to get excited about was that it fit comfortably in the chest pocket of his favorite denim jacket.
         By the time I left later that day, he had about five books downloaded and was able to figure out how to download more, even if it did take him twice as long as it would for most people. My mom and I were pleased that he was being open-minded about it, and if nothing else, he was trying. Little did we know that this would be some kind of a Great Book Awakening for Grandpa. The next time I saw him, about three weeks later, he was a regular Kindle pro. He knew the ins and outs of downloading both the free books and the library books. He exclaimed, “I can get the new James Patterson book for only $7.99 if I want! But I think I’ll just wait for it to be available at the library. I have at least 100 books in my archive from the free section. Hey, that doesn’t take up space does it? Are they going to go away? Can I take them off?”
         I encounter questions like these every time I visit my grandparents and it’s been over a year since the Kindlepocalypse. My grandfather isn’t alone in his enjoyment of e-readers, even among those in his age bracket. According to a Pew poll, people over the age of 65 are more likely to own a tablet or e-reader than a smartphone. With this kind of popularity, there should be a more targeted marketing strategy to the elderly. After all, if they have already indicated that they use the Internet on a daily or semi-frequent basis, wouldn’t it make sense to capitalize on their interest?
        Currently, e-readers are marketed in the way that much technology is: to the youthful population. Amazon came out with several ads that showcased their Kindles being used by a bikini-clad twenty-something girl on the beach, but, as far as I can find, have never used ads where someone is visibly over the age of about forty-five. Kindles are consciously marketed towards the young and active, with many of their ads showing their devices being used outdoors. Along with this, Kindles are marketed towards families, with many of their product pages showcasing pictures with children using the devices. Amongst all of their product pages, Amazon never uses any kind of imagery that contains the elderly population.
        Tablets and e-readers could have the potential to make up for the gap in sales that companies like Amazon and Apple might experience when selling their technology, especially when marketed properly to older adults. Maybe all the executives of Amazon and Apple got their parents or grandparents Kindles and iPads for Christmas and went through the ordeal I did while teaching them how to use them and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.
  • About the Author
    Kaitlin Kaiser is a junior at Miami University, where she studies Creative Writing. She speaks only in movie quotes and has an appreciation for the finer things in life, such as perfectly carbonated Diet Coke and books that don’t necessarily end happily.