The Bogus Writer

Posts: 10

2015 State of the Robotic Okapi Toy Forest Preserve Address

After some deliberation and second-guessing, I have decided that I will continue this semi-derelict blog into 2015.

I’m not going to go so far as to resolve to maintain it on a regular basis. I’m still not quite sure what it will be, but at the very least I want to reserve myself a personal place to publish thoughts on children’s literature and library work, if/when I have such thoughts and write/type them down.

My book reviews will continue to be housed primarily on my school district’s library media web page, Granitemedia.org (which by coincidence I just so happen to maintain.)  Here’s a quick link to a growing list of book reviews tagged with my name.

I will continue to tweet primarily library/education/reading/kidlit-related tweets using my account @jdwhiting.  I find myself rethinking and revising how I can and should or should not use twitter on an almost daily basis.  Too much thinking, not enough action, punctuated by spurts of oversharing.

I intend to continue to work through my epic Newbery+Authors+Classics Reading Challenge.  It will probably take me the rest of my life. I also intend to try to keep up with new 2015 books as they are released this year.  But my number one concern will be to read whatever strikes me, even if it doesn’t fall into one of these projects.  Maybe 2015 will be my year to finally read Moby Dick, too?

That is all at this time.  I will take your questions and concerns in the comment section.

Why Am I Using Social Media?

Social media is on my mind a lot lately.  The district educational technology department where I work is currently initiating a huge push into social media, and I’m heavily involved with it.  We are using it first to promote the good things our teachers, tech. specialists, and librarians are doing for students in our district.  We are also hoping to inspire all of those educators to engage in social media themselves to share their own good things and to learn from what other educators out in the world are sharing, and know how to help students connect to all of these many social resources as well.

While thinking about this push and how to do it, yesterday I happened upon this little article called “10 Twitter Hacks To Help You Rethink Your Social Voice” from TeachThought, which I liked because it wasn’t the typical list of social marketing tricks to get more followers and be more influential that you usually see in articles with titles like this. Rather, it presented a number of real questions and ideas directed towards educators to cause reflection as to just why we are connecting on social media in the first place, and some subtle cautions against getting caught up in the gamification of social media.  The number one “hack” they list is to define your social media goals and purposes, so that you can then determine how to proceed so as to meet them and be “successful.”  An educator’s social media goals and therefore processes should probably be somewhat different from a marketer’s goals and processes.

So I know pretty well why we are trying to do this social media push professionally, but it leaves me with the question of why I am attempting to involve myself in social media personally.  I happened upon another helpful article today from teacher librarian Travis Jonker at School Library Journal in which he documents the ways he has tried using social media as a school librarian, some of his specific successes in social media, and the successes of others.  Conversely informative and eye opening on this topic of how and why to use social media was the article “The Downside to Being a Connected Educator” by teacher-blogger Pernille Ripp.  She warns about the comparative dangers of the game and the effect it can have on other aspects of your professional and personal life. (I should give due credit that I found both the Ripp article and the TeachThought article via blogger Elisabeth Ellington’s excellent Sunday Salon Online Reading Round-up.)

All of this percolating has combined to inspire me to attempt to answer for myself this question, “Why am I using social media?”  I want to answer it authentically and transparently, right here and right now, because that’s just how I want to do things.  So, here are my goals and purposes in personally participating in social media, particularly via Twitter (@jdwhiting) and this blog:

Why Am I Using Social Media?

  1. To practice writing for an audience and become a better writer.
  2. To find some friends, esp. to find people who are interested in things I am interested in and attempt to engage in conversations with them. (I think this is something friends do, but I’m not really sure.)
  3. To find good ideas and resources, esp. for libraries and education.
  4. To share things I have and do that may end up being good ideas and resources for others.
  5. To practice and model a way to be personally active in social media to my work colleagues, particularly for reasons 3 + 4 above, which are most relevant to our work.
  6. To get unwarranted attention for random obnoxious behavior.
  7. To become famous and rich, in that order.
  8. To help everyone become a Mormon.

So I believe this is a nice refinement of my goals for this blog and my twitter use. I still have a long way to go at being “successful” with some of these,  but listing them helps me clarify what to do and where to go now.  Thanks, TeachThought!  In the coming weeks I think I’m really going to focus on increasing my levels of random obnoxiousness.

Consider this a new, improved update to the Pretend Librarian’s Guide to Socially Awkward Media. Thanks for reading.

"This Book Is Like" [2]

This book is like David Macalay’s The Way Things Work meets The Great Gatsby at a Steven R. Covey 7 Habits workshop, and everyone involved makes billions of dollars.  Then they found educational reform organizations and shadow governments that save the world by organizing paramilitary psycho-electronic surveillance and analytics teams for every classroom, so that standardized testing is no longer necessary.

"This Book Is Like" [1]

This book is like Thomas and Friends meets Downton Abbey, but this time it’s on the Planet of Sodor, not just the Island of Sodor.  Also, the Steamies and the Diesels are secretly transformer robots engaged in an epic war for control of the railways, and the people in the abbey will somehow secretly not be boring as well. Haven’t worked those human details out yet, other than Lord Topham Hat, of course.

5 Things I Learned by Stealing and Reading the Earthsea Trilogy

Earthsea Trilogy 1970s Paperbacks

A few weeks go I was at my wife’s family’s cabin and I was lurking around in a bedroom browsing my in-laws’ old bookshelf.  Hidden in the midst of a notable collection of Louis L’Amour novels, with an old framed photograph sitting on the shelf in front of them, I discovered copies of the original Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula LeGuin: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore.

I believe I have read the first chapter of A Wizard of Earthsea at least three or four times over the course of my life (the first time was probably when I was about 10 years old.)  For whatever reasons it never took and I never continued and finished, but its always been on my list to get back to sometime (right up there with Moby Dick, Swann’s Way, and the Old Testament.) So, it appeared the time had finally come for this book, and I spent a good chunk of my cabin weekend reading that old copy of A Wizard of Earthsea.  As the time came to leave the cabin, I still had about 15 pages left and the story was completely unresolved.  What else could I do but steal the book and take it home? And then since I was already stealing, I might as well steal the whole trilogy.

Although I had various other reading plans, I put them aside to focus on this trilogy.  And now that I’ve finished, I am having a hard time finding anything else from those other reading plans that engages me and forces me to make reading a priority like these books did.

So, rather than a review (because I’m bored with book reviews), here are five things I noticed and learned from these books, mostly from a would-be writer’s perspective:

  1. You don’t have to show everything.  You can tell some things.  And you don’t even have to tell everything.  You can skip time, even and especially across volumes of a trilogy, across years, across great deeds only alluded to or sketched out briefly.  You don’t have to share the whole history of the world you build or the whole lives of the people you bring to life.  You can cover wizard school in three chapters rather than seven books.1

  2. You don’t have to end books with cliffhangers. Not even the second volume of a trilogy.  Each book in a series can be a stand-alone snapshot of a much larger world.2

  3. You don’t have to write high fantasy that is obsessively Euro-centric; you can have high fantasy with people of color.  These books actually set a precedent for this 40+ years ago that I didn’t know existed. Our hero and the majority of the characters are dark-skinned people.  For the most part this isn’t a major focus of the narratives, but it is definitely there and it is intentional.  It’s just one subtle detail of her world and character building, which makes me love it even more.  I didn’t realize this when I started reading A Wizard of Earthsea as a child; it certainly isn’t reflected in any of the cover art I have seen for these books over my lifetime. Depressingly, that downplay was probably a sound marketing decision for the times.  Hopefully the #WeNeedDiverseBooks meme is changing the calculus for those types of decisions and will result in new book covers even for old books such as these. I’m definitely not well-read in fantasy and most of what I have read was a long time ago, so I recognize that I am ignorant and maybe others authors have been engaging in diversity in fantasy for a long time as well.3

  4. The varying ethnic and cultural details are just one example of how LeGuin is a master of using fantasy and other speculative fictions to explore, describe, confront, come to terms with, and rebut ideas we have about culture, race, social norms, politics, religion, sexuality, etc.  I had learned this years ago from reading her The Left Hand of Darkness as a teenager, but I had forgotten since then or taken it for granted.  Speculative fiction provides such capability and opportunity to explore these kinds of issues in a very real, emotional way without the potential for the story and ideas to get bogged down by all the messiness, politicization, and need for research and accuracy that can come with tying a story or character to a particular place and time in the actual historical or contemporary world.  LeGuin is practically an anthropologist of new cultures of her own creation, and I like her approach.4

  5. I love reading paperbacks from the 70s.  They just don’t make them like that anymore.  But more than just the physical-ness of the books themselves, it is good to read something from a different era with a different writing style that is not really trending. A nice widening of perspective from the more contemporary middle grade novels I have been focusing on in the last year or two.  I am reminded that there is so much more to read and learn, I can’t just try to keep up with the new stuff.  I need to read what I need to read, even if it is old mass paperbacks hidden behind a picture frame on a bookshelf in someone’s cabin.5

Footnotes
  1. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with writing seven whole books about wizard school, it’s just nice to see that there are other ways to do it.

  2. Not to say that there’s anything necessarily wrong with cliff-hangers; it’s just nice to see that there are other ways to do it.

  3. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with writing fantasy books all about light-skinned people steeped entirely in European traditions, it’s just nice to see that there are other ways to do it.

  4. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with realistic and historical fiction, it’s just nice that there are other ways to explore serious themes.

  5. [footnote]Not to say that there’s anything wrong with reading newer middle grade fiction books, it’s just nice to know that there is a lot to be gained from older books as well.[/footnote]