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Attention all fantasy readers! You’ll want to get in on this week’s book war, because I will be comparing two of the most popular fantasy series there are: Harry Potter vs. Percy Jackson & The Olympians.
People have been saying for years that the two series are similar in character and plot, but I’m about to take a deeper look to find out. So, are you a Potterhead or are you a Demigod? Can you be both?
To begin the comparison, let’s start with the two main protagonists. Harry and Percy are both unlikely heroes with difficult backgrounds. Harry’s parents were killed when he was just a baby, and he was forced to live with his horrible Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and his vile cousin, Dudley. Percy was raised by his mother and his awful step-father, Gabe Ugliano. Both children were bullied because they were weak and scrawny and no one really cared about them.
Harry and Percy also share some similar traits. Harry and Percy both have a “saving people thing” because they always want to help someone in danger. They are also known to be witty and sarcastic, but incredibly loyal to their friends.
Finally, Harry and Percy are the “Chosen One” and the “Child of the Prophecy” meaning that they are the only people who can save the world because of a prophecy written about them.
Now let’s compare some of the other characters.
The main female protagonists, Hermione Granger and Annabeth Chase, are both the most intelligent characters in each series. They always know the answer for everything and always have a plan, but Annabeth is more of a warrior than Hermione.
And let’s not forget about the lovable best friends. Ron Weasley and Grover Underwood are the two main characters’ best friends. They are similar in that they are both easily scared, funny, and have a love of food. The only difference would be the fact that Grover has goat legs . . .
And, of course, we have the villains. There are the main bad guys, Lord Voldemort and Kronos, and also the conflicted henchmen, Draco Malfoy and Luke Castellan.
Another similarity in the series would be the plot. Both books are about two children who become heroes and have to save the world. They both involve a prophecy, magic, and myth.
So what do you think? How similar are these two series? And are you a fan of HP or PJO? Leave your opinion in the Comments.
Izzy, Scholastic Kids Council
PS. Emma Rose weighs in on the debate in her video. Ari is also a PJO fan. He says, “The books are exciting. It is fun to see Greek Mythology come alive in the present day. Percy, the son of Poseidon, must learn to survive and protect both the mortal and the immortal worlds.”Add a Comment
Believe it or not, after years of ups and downs, Tallfellow Press is again publishing books (what a concept!). There have been happy times and sad times. The saddest were the losses of our founders, Larry Sloan and Leonard Stern. Suffice it to say, life has not been the same without them.
But we hope that the offerings we will have for you in the next several years will be interesting, fun, inspirational and worthy of the Tallfellow name.
So, please visit our website and read our blog to see what's coming up.
The first book we're publishing is Really?!!?! by Beulah Sanchez (look to the left!). It's One Woman's Adventures of Dating in the Digital Age and not only is it very funny, it's all true. You can hear the author on radio shows all over the country. Stay tuned.
Thanks for reading and let us know if you have questions or comments.
We're glad to be back!!!
“The Carrot and the Candy Bar”
Our topic is a revolution—as significant as anything that has tossed the world over the past two hundred years. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a host of often ignored technologies transformed human sensual experience, changing how we eat, drink, see, hear, and feel in ways we still benefit (and suffer) from today. Modern people learned how to capture and intensify sensuality, to preserve it, and to make it portable, durable, and accessible across great reaches of social class and physical space. Our vulnerability to such a transformation traces back hundreds of thousands of years, but the revolution itself did not take place until the end of the nineteenth century, following a series of technological changes altering our ability to compress, distribute, and commercialize a vast range of pleasures.
Strangely, historians have neglected this transformation. Indeed, behind this astonishing lapse lies a common myth—that there was an age of production that somehow gave rise to an age of consumption, with historians of the former exploring industrial technology, while historians of the latter stress the social and symbolic meaning of goods. This artificial division obscures how technologies of production have transformed what and how we actually consume. Technology does far more than just increase productivity or transform work, as historians of the Industrial Revolution so often emphasize. Industrial technology has also shaped how and how much we eat, what we wear and why, and how and what (and how much!) we hear and see. And myriad other aspects of how we experience daily life—or even how we long for escape from it.
Bound to such transformations is a profound disruption in modern life, a breakdown of the age-old tension between our bodily desires and the scarcity of opportunities for fulfillment. New technologies— from the rolling of cigarettes to the recording of sound—have intensified the gratification of desires but also rendered them far more easily satisfied, often to the point of grotesque excess. An obvious example is the mechanized packaging of highly sugared foods, which began over a century ago and has led to a health and moral crisis today. Lots of media attention has focused on the irresponsibility of the food industry and the rise of recreational and workplace sedentism—but there are other ways to look at this.
It should be obvious that technology has transformed how people eat, especially with regard to the ease and speed with which it is now possible to ingest calories. Roots of such transformations go very deep: the Neolithic revolution ten-plus thousand years ago brought with it new methods of regularizing the growing of food and the world’s first possibility of elite obesity. The packaged pleasure revolution in the nineteenth century, however, made such excess possible for much larger numbers of “consumers”—a word only rarely used prior to that time. Industrial food processors learned how to pack fat, sugar, and salt into concentrated and attractive portions, and to manufacture these cheaply and in packages that could be widely distributed. Foods that were once luxuries thus became seductively commonplace. This is the first thing we need to understand.
We also need to appreciate that responsibility for the excesses of today’s consumers cannot be laid entirely at the doors of modern technology and the corporations that benefit from it. We cannot blame the food industry alone. No one is forced to eat at McDonald’s; people choose Big Macs with fries because they satisfy with convenience and affordability, just as people decide to turn on their iPods rather than listen to nature or go to a concert. But why would we make such a choice—and is it entirely a “free choice”? This brings us to a second crucial point: humans have evolved to seek high-energy foods because in prehistoric conditions of scarcity, eating such foods greatly improved their ancestors’ chances of survival. This has limited, but not entirely eliminated, our capacity to resist these foods when they no longer are scarce. And if we today crave sugar and fat and salt, that is partly because these longings must have once promoted survival, deep in the pre-Paleolithic and Paleolithic. Our taste buds respond gleefully to sugars because we are descended from herbivores and especially frugivores for whom sweet-tasting plants and fruits were neuro-marked as edible and nutritious. Poisonous plants were more often bitter-tasting. Pleasure at least in this sensory sense was often a clue to what might help one survive.
But here again is the rub. Thanks to modern industrialism, high-calorie foods once rare are now cheap and plentiful. Industrial technology has overwhelmed and undercut whatever balance may have existed between the biological needs of humans and natural scarcity. We tend to crave those foods that before modern times were rare; cravings for fat and sugar were no threat to health; indeed, they improved our chances of survival. Now, however, sugar, especially in its refined forms, is plentiful, and as a result makes us fat and otherwise unhealthy. And what is true for sugar is also true for animal fat. In our prehistoric past fat was scarce and valuable, accounting for only 2 to 4 percent of the flesh of deer, rabbits, and birds, and early humans correctly gorged whenever it was available. Today, though, factory-farmed beef can consist of 36 percent fat, and most of us expend practically no energy obtaining it. And still we gorge.
And so the candy bar, a perfect example of the engineered pleasure, wins out over the carrot and even the apple. More sugar and seemingly more varied flavors are packed into the confection than the unprocessed fruit or vegetable. In this sense our craving for a Snickers bar is partly an expression of the chimp in us, insofar as we desire energy-packed foods with maximal sugars and fat. The concentration, the packaging, and the ease of access (including affordability) all make it possible—indeed enticingly easy—to ingest far more than we know is good for us. Our biological desires have become imperfect guides for good behavior: drives born in a world of scarcity do not necessarily lead to health and happiness in a world of plenty.
But food is not the only domain where such tensions operate. Indeed, a broader historical optic reveals tensions in our response to the packaged provisioning of other sensations, and this broader perspective invites us to go beyond our current focus on food, as important as that may be.
As biological creatures we are naturally attracted to certain sights and sounds, even smells and motion, insofar as we have evolved in environments where such sensitivities helped our ancestors prevail over myriad threats to human existence. The body’s perceptual organs are, in a sense, some of our oldest tools, and much of the pleasure we take in bright colors, combinations of particular shapes, and certain kinds of movement must be rooted in prehistoric needs to identify food, threats, or mates from a distance. Today we embrace the recreational counterparts, filling our domestic spaces with visual ornaments, fixed or in motion, reminding ourselves of landscapes, colors, or shapes that provoke recall or simulate absent or even impossible worlds.
What has changed, in other words, is our access to once-rare sensations, including sounds but especially imagery. The decorated caves of southern France, once rare and ritualized space, are now tourist attractions, accessible to all through electronic media. Changes in visual technology have made possible a virtual orgy of visual culture; a 2012 count estimated over 348,000,000,000 images on the Internet, with a growth rate of about 10,000 per second. The mix and matrix of information transfer has changed accordingly: orality (and aurality) has been demoted to a certain extent, first with the rise of typography (printing) and then the published picture, and now the ubiquitous electronic image on screens of different sorts. “Seeing is believing” is an expression dating only from about 1800, signaling the surging primacy of the visual. Civilization itself celebrates the light, the visual sense, as the darkness of the night and the narrow street gradually give way to illuminated interiors, light after dark, and ever broader visual surveillance.
Humans also have preferences for certain smells, of course, even if we are (far) less discriminating than most other mammals. Technologies of odor have never been developed as intensively as those of other senses, though we should not forget that for tens of thousands of years hunters have employed dogs—one of the oldest human “tools”—to do their smelling. Smell has also sometimes marked differences between tribes and classes, rationalizing the isolation of slaves or some other subject group. The wealthy are known to have defined themselves by their scents (the ancient Greeks used mint and thyme oils for this purpose), and fragrances have been used to ward off contagions. Some philosophers believed that the scent of incense could reach and please the gods; and of course the devil smelled foul—as did sin.
Still, the olfactory sense lost much of its acuity in upright primates, and it is the rare philosopher who would base an epistemology on odor. Philosophers have always privileged sight over all other senses—which makes sense given how much of our brain is devoted to processing visual images (canine epistemology and agnotology would surely be quite different). Optico-centricity was further accentuated with the rise of novel ways of extending vision in the seventeenth century (microscopes, telescopes) and still more with the rise of photography and moving pictures. Industrial societies have continued to devalue scent, with some even trying to make the world smell-free. Pasteur’s discovery of germs meant that foul air (think miasma) lost its role in carrying disease, but efforts to remove the germs that caused such odors (especially the sewage systems installed in cities in the nineteenth century) ended up mollifying much of the stink of large urban centers. Bodily perfuming has probably been around for as long as humans have been human, but much of recent history has involved a process of deodorizing, further reducing the value of the sensitive nose.
Modern people may well gorge on sight, but we certainly remain sound-sensitive and long for music, “the perfume of hearing” in the apt metaphor of Diane Ackerman. Music has always aroused a certain spiritual consciousness and may even have facilitated social bonding among early humans. Stringed and drum instruments date back only to about 5,500 years ago (in Mesopotamia), but unambiguous flutes date back to at least 40,000 years ago; the oldest known so far is made from vulture and swan bones found in southern Germany. Singing, though, must be far older than whatever physical evidence we have for prehistoric music.
There is arguably a certain industrial utility to music, insofar as “moving and singing together made collective tasks far more efficient” (so claims historian William McNeill). As a mnemonic aid, a song “hooks onto your subconscious and won’t let go.” Music carries emotion and preserves and transports feelings when passed from one person or generation to another—think of the “Star Spangled Banner” or “La Marseillaise.” And music also marks social differences in stratified societies. In Europe by the eighteenth century, for example, people of rank had abandoned participation in the sounds and music of traditional communal festivals and spectacles. To distinguish themselves from the masses, the rich and powerful came to favor the orderly stylized sounds of chamber music—and even demanded that audiences keep silent during performances. One of the signal trends of this particular modernity is the withdrawal of elites from public festivals, creating space instead for their own exclusive music and dance to eliminate the unruly/unmanaged sounds of the street and work. Music helps forge social bonds, but it can also work to separate and to isolate, facilitating escape from community (think earbuds).
We humans also of course crave motion and bodily contact, flexing our muscles in the manner of our ancestors exhilarating in the chase. And even if we no longer chase mammoth herds with spears, we recreate elements of this excitement in our many sports, testing strength against strength or speed against speed, forcing projectiles of one sort or another into some kind of target. Dance is an equally ancient expression of this thrill of movement, with records of ritual motion appearing already on cave and rock walls of early humans. The emotion-charged dance may be diminished in elite civilized life, but it clearly reappears in the physicality of amusement park throngs at the end of the nineteenth century, and more recently in the rhythmic motions of crowds at sporting events and rock concert moshing where strangers slam and grind into each other.
Sensual pleasure is thus central to the “thick tapestry of rewards” of human evolutionary adaptation, rewards wired into the complex circuitry of the brain’s pleasure centers. Pursuit of pleasure (and avoidance of pain) was certainly not an evil in our distant past; indeed, it must have had obvious advantages in promoting evolutionary fitness. Along with other adaptive emotions (fear, surprise, and disgust, for example), pleasure and its pursuit must also have helped create capacities to bond socially—and perhaps even to use and to understand language. The joy that motivates babies to delight in rhythmic and consonant sounds, bright colors, friendly faces, and bouncing motion helps build brain connections essential for motor and cognitive maturity.
Of course the biological propensity to gorge cannot be new; that much we know from the relative constancy of the human genetic constitution over many millennia. We also know that efforts to augment or intensify sensual pleasure long predate industrial civilization. This should come as no surprise, given that, as already noted, our longings for rare delights of taste, sight, smell, sound, and motion are rooted in our prehistoric past. Humans—like wolves—have been bred to binge. But in the past, at least, nature’s parsimony meant that gorging was generally rare and its impact on our bodies, psyches, and sociability limited.
This leads us again to a critical point: pleasure is born in its paucity and scarcity sustains it. And scarcity has been a fact of life for most of human history; in fact, it is very often a precondition for pleasure. Too much of any good can lead to boredom—that is as true for music or arcade games as for ice cream or opera. Most pleasures seem to require a context of relative scarcity. Amongst our prehistoric ancestors this was naturally enforced through the rarity of honey and the all-tooinfrequent opportunity for the chase. Humans eventually developed the ability, however, to create and store surpluses of pleasure-giving goods, first by cooking and preserving foods and drinks and eventually by transforming even fleeting sensory experiences into reproducible and transmissible packets of pleasure. Think about candy bars, soda pop, and cigarettes, but also photography, phonography, and motion pictures—all of which emerged during the packaged pleasure revolution.
Of course, in certain respects the defeat of scarcity has a much older history, having to do with techniques of containerization. Prior to the Neolithic, circa ten thousand years ago, humans had little in the way of either technical means or social organization to store any kind of sensual surplus (though meats may have been stashed the way some nonhuman predators do). Farming and its associated technics changed this. After hundreds of thousands of years of scavenging and predation, people in this new era began to grow their own food—and then to save and preserve it in containers, especially in pots made from clay but also in bags made from skins or fibers from plants. Agriculture seems to have led to the world’s first conspicuous inequalities in wealth, but also the first routine encounters with obesity and other sins of the flesh (drunkenness, for example). Of course the rich—the rulers and priests of ancient city-states and empires or the lords and abbots of religious centers in the Middle Ages—were able to satisfy sensual longings more often, and in some cases continually.
While Christianity was in part a reaction to this sensual indulgence, being originally a religion of the excluded slave and the appalled rich, medieval aristocrats returned to the ancient love of sweet and sour dishes, favoring roasted game (a throwback to the preagricultural era) and the absurd notion that torturing animals before killing them made for the tastiest meats. Medieval European nobility mixed sex, smell, and taste in their large midday meals and frequent evening banquets. Christian church fathers banned perfumes and roses as Roman decadence, but treatments of this sort—along with passions for pungent flavors and scents—were revived with the Crusades and intimate contact with the Orient.
Until recently, pursuit of pleasure on such an opulent scale was confined to those tiny minorities with regular access to the resources to contain and intensify nature. Since antiquity, in fact, the powerful have often been snobbish killjoys, trying to restrict what the poor were allowed to eat, wear, and enjoy. Sometimes this made economic (if invidious) sense—as when England’s Edward III rationed the diet of servants during shortages that followed the Black Death. In the sixteenth century, French law prohibited the eating of fish and meat at the same meal in hopes of preserving scarce supplies. And given the low output of agriculture, there was a certain logic underlying the rationing of access to “luxuries.” But the powerful sometimes seem to have relished denying pleasure to others. How else do we explain sumptuary laws that prohibited the commoner from wearing colorful and costly clothing reserved for aristocrats?
Access to pleasure has long been an expression of privilege and power, but much can be made with little, and rarely has pleasurable display been totally suppressed in any culture. Think of the ceremonies surrounding seasonal festivals, especially the gathering of harvest surplus, when humans drenched themselves in the senses that seemed almost to ache for expression. Think of the Bacchanalia of the Greeks, the Saturnalia of the Romans, the Mardi Gras of medieval Europeans, or the orgies of feasting, dancing, music, and colorful costumes of any society whose everyday world of scarcity is forgotten in bingeing after harvest. Agriculture produced cycles of carnival and Lent, “a self-adjusting gastric equilibrium,” in the words of one historian.
Of course there are many examples of ancient philosophers and sages seeking to limit the hedonism of the privileged (and the festival culture of the poor). Certainly there are ancients who embraced the virtues of moderation, as in Aristotle’s “golden mean” or Confucian ideals of restrained desire. Hebrew prophets, Puritans, Jesuits, and countless Asian ascetics likewise attempted to rein in the fêtes of the senses. Medieval authorities in Europe forbade the eating of meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, and numerous fast days that added up to more than 150 days a year. The classical ideal of moderation was revived, and the moral superiority of grain-based foods was defended. Gluttony was condemned along with lust. Pleasure was to be regulated even in the afterlife, insofar as the Christian heaven was not for pleasure but for self-improvement. These and other ascetic moralities arguably helped people cope with uncertain supplies, putting a brake also on the rapacious greed of the rich and powerful. Curbing of excess extended to all manner of “pleasures of the flesh,” including those that, like sex, were not necessarily even scarce.
Dance came under suspicion in this regard, especially in its ecstatic form. European explorers frowned on the gesticulations of “possessed natives” whom they encountered in Africa and the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the same time, European elites smothered social dancing in the towns and villages of their own societies. The reasons were many. Clergy demanded that their holy days and rituals be protected from defilement by the boisterous and even sacrilegious customs of the frolicking crowd; the rich also chose to withdraw from—and then suppressed—the emotional intensity of common people’s celebrations, retiring instead to the confines of their private gatherings and sedate dances. The military also needed a new type of soldier and new ways of preparing men for war: the demand was no longer to fire up the emotions of soldiers to prepare them for handto-hand combat; the new need was to drill and discipline troops to march unflinching into musket and cannon fire, with individual fighters acting as precision components in a machine. The regular rhythms of the military march served this purpose better than the ecstatic dance.
Even when people found ways of intensifying sensation (as in the distillation of alcoholic spirits), state and church authorities were often able to enforce limits, sometimes by harsh means. In London in the 1720s, authorities repressed the widespread and addictive use of gin (a juniper-flavored liquor). At the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, just as unleashing desire was becoming respectable, philosophers such as Adam Smith and David Hume still mused about the need for personal restraint and moral sympathies.
By this time, and increasingly over the course of the nineteenth century, especially between about 1880 and 1910, these traditional calls for moderation and self-control were starting to face a new kind of challenge, thanks to new techniques of containerization and intensification that would culminate in the packaged pleasure revolution. New kinds of machines brought new sensations to ordinary people, producing goods that for the first time could be made quite cheap and easily storable and portable. Canned food defeated the seasons, extending the availability of fruits and vegetables to the entirety of the year. Candy bars purchased at any newsstand or convenience store replaced the rare encounter with the honeycomb or wild strawberry. And while our more immediate predecessors may have enjoyed a pipe of tobacco or a draft of warm beer, the deadly convenience of the cigarette and the refreshing coolness of the chilled beverage came within the grasp of the masses only toward the end of the nineteenth century. And this revolution in the range and intensity of sensation radically upset the traditional relationship between desire and scarcity.
A similar process occurred with other sensory delights. While earlynineteenth-century Americans and Europeans thrilled at the sight of painted dioramas and magic lantern shows, nothing compared to the spectacle of fast-paced police chases in the one-reel movies viewable after 1900. Opera was a privileged treat of the few in lavish public places, but imagine the revolution wrought by the 1904 hard wax cylinder phonograph, when Caruso could be called upon to sing in the family parlor whenever (and however often) one wanted. Daredevils in Vanuatu dove from high places holding vines long before bungee jumping became a fad; even so, there was nothing like the mass-market calibrated delivery of physical thrills before the roller coaster, popularized in the 1890s. We find something similar even with binge partying: while peoples had long celebrated surpluses in festivals, they typically did so only on those rare days designated by the authorities. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, festive pleasures of a more programmed sort had become widely available on demand in the modern commercial amusement park.
Especially important is how the packaged pleasure intensified (certain aspects of ) human sensory experience. An extreme example is when opium, formerly chewed, smoked, or drunk as tea, was transformed through distillation into morphine and eventually heroin—and then injected directly into the bloodstream with the newly invented syringe in the 1850s. The creation of a wide variety of “tubes” like the syringe for delivering chemically purified, intense sensation was characteristic of much of this new technology—which we shall describe in terms of “tubularization.” The cigarette is another fateful example: tobacco smoking was made cheap, convenient, and “mild” (i.e., deadly) with the advent of James Bonsack’s automated cigarette rolling machine (in the 1880s) and new methods of curing tobacco. Bonsack’s machine lowered the cost of manufacturing by an order of magnitude, and new methods of chemical processing (such as flue curing) allowed a milder, less alkaline smoke to be drawn deep into the lungs. A new mass-market consumer “good” was born, accompanied by mass addiction and mass death from maladies of the heart and lungs.
The “tubing” of tobacco into cigarettes was closely related to techniques used in packing and packaging many other commercial products. Think of mechanized canning—culminating in the double-seamed cylinder of the “sanitary” can-making machinery of 1904—and mechanized bottle and cap making from the late 1890s. New forms of sugar consumption appeared with the invention of soda fountain drinks. Coca-Cola was first served in drug stores in 1886 and in bottles by the end of the century, and in the 1890s the mixing of sugar with bitter chocolate led to candy bars, such as Hershey’s in 1900. Packaged pleasures of this sort—offered in conveniently portable portions with carefully calibrated constituents—allowed manufacturers to claim to have surpassed the sensuous joys of paradise. Chemists also began to be hired to see what new kinds of foods and drugs could be synthesized to surpass the taste, smell, and look of anything nature had created. A new discipline of “marketing” came of age about this time—the word was coined in 1884—with the task of creating demand for this riot of new products, decked out increasingly in colorful and striking labels with eye- and ear-catching slogans.
New technologies also sped up our consumption of visual, auditory, and motion sensoria. In 1839 the Daguerreotype revolutionized the familiar curiosity of the camera obscura—a dark room featuring a pinhole that would project an image of the outside world onto an interior wall—by chemically capturing that image on a metal plate in a miniaturized “camera” (meaning literally “room”). While these early photographs required long periods of exposure to fix an image, that time dramatically declined over the course of the century, allowing by 1888 the amateur snapshot camera and only three years later the motion picture camera. The effect, as we shall see, was a sea change in how we view and recollect the world. Sound was also captured (and preserved and sold) about this same time. The phonograph, invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison, became a new way of experiencing sound when improved and domesticated. And Emile Berliner’s “record” of 1887 made possible the mass production of sound on stamped-out discs, capturing a concert or a speech in a two- or three-minute record available to anyone, anywhere, with the appropriate gear.
Access and speed took another sensual twist when a Midwesterner by the name of La Marcus Thompson introduced the first mechanized roller coaster, in 1884. Bodily sensations that might have signaled danger or even death on a real train were packed into a two- or three-minute adventure trip on a rail “gravity ride.” Adding another dimension to the thrill was Thompson’s scenic railroad (in 1886) with its artificial tunnels and painted images of exotic natural or fantasy scenes. This was a new form of concentrated pleasure, distilling sights and sounds that formerly would have required days of “regular travel.” Rides, in combination with an array of novel multisensory spectacles, were concentrated into dedicated “amusement parks,” offering a kind of packaged recreational experience, accessible (very often) via the new trolley cars of the 1890s. Some of the earliest and most famous were those built at Coney Island on the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, New York.
Innovations of this sort led us into new worlds of sensory access, speed, and intensity. Distance and season were no longer restraints, as canned and bottled goods moved by rail, ship, and eventually truck across vast stretches of space and climate—with mixed outcomes for human health and well-being.
Some of these new technologies nourished and improved our bodies with cheaper, more hygienic, and varied food and drink; others offered more convenient and effective medicines and toiletries. Still others provided unprecedented opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature (or at least its image), along with music and new kinds of “visual arts.” Amusement rides gave us (relatively) harm-free ways of experiencing the ecstatic and the exhilaration of danger—plus a kind of simulated or virtual travel; photography froze the evanescent sight, preserving images on a scale never previously possible, and with near-perfect fidelity. Yet packaged pleasures also led to new health and moral threats.
In the most extreme form, concentrating intoxicants led to addictions—physical dependencies that often required ever-increasing dosages to maintain a constant effect, and substantial physical discomfort accompanying withdrawal. Here of course the syringe injection of distilled opiates is the paradigmatic example, and addiction to tobacco and alcoholic drinks must also be included. But the impact of concentrated high-energy foods is not entirely different. Fat- or sugar-rich foods produce not just energy but very often endorphins, morphine-like painkillers that offer comfort and calm. That is one reason they are called “comfort” foods. These rich foods cause neurotransmitters in the brain to go out of balance, resulting in cravings. By contrast, the natural physical pleasures of exercise are much less addicting because we get tired; and some “excess”—here pain is gain—can actually make us healthier.
Not all packaged pleasure dependencies were so obviously chemical. Engineered pleasures often create astonishment and delight when first introduced, for example, but can also raise expectations and dull sensibilities for “unpackaged” stimuli, be they nature’s wonders or unaided convivial and social delights. The pleasures of recorded sound, the captured image, and even the amusement park ride and electronic game often satisfy with a kind of ratcheting effect, rendering the visual, auditory, and motion pleasures in uncommodified nature and society boring. In this sense, the packaging of pleasure can turn the once rare into an everyday, even numbing, occurrence. The world beyond the package becomes less thrilling, less desirable. In the wake of the telephoto lens and artful editing of film—with all the “boring bits” taken out—nature itself can appear dull or impoverished. Why go to the waterfall or forest if you can experience these in compressed form at your local zoo or theme park? Or on IMAX or your widescreen, high-def TV? Packaged pleasures of this sort may not induce physical dependencies, but they can create inflated expectations or even degrade other, less distilled or concentrated, kinds of experiences.
Another point we shall be making is that packaged pleasures have often de-socializedpleasure taking. Many create neurological responses similar to those of religious ecstasies, physical exercise, and social or even sexual intercourse, and can end up substituting for, or displacing, such enjoyments. Weak wine and mild natural hallucinogens have long enhanced spiritual and social experience, but the modern packaged pleasure often has the effect of privatizing satisfaction, isolating it from the crowd. Think of the privatization of public space through portable mp3 players, or the isolating effect of television.
The key point to appreciate is that we today live in a vastly different world from that of peoples living prior to the packaged pleasure revolution, when a broad range of sensual pleasures came to be bottled, canned, condensed, distilled, and otherwise intensified. The impact of this revolution has not been uniform, and we acknowledge and stress these differences, but it does seem to have transformed our sensory universe in ways we are only beginning to understand.
The packaged pleasures we shall be considering in this book include cigarettes, candy and soda pop, phonograph records, photographs, movies, amusements park spectacles, and a few other odds and ends.
But of course not all commodities that are tubed, packed, portable, or preserved can be considered packaged pleasures. For our purposes, we can identify several key and interrelated elements:
Of course we are well aware that many other consumer products exhibit one or more of these attributes—clothes, cars, books, packaged cereals, cocaine, pornography, and department stores just to name a few. Our focus will be on those packaged pleasures that signal key features of the early part of this transformation, and notably those that involve the elements of containment, compression, intensification, mobilization, and commodification. And we recognize that we will not offer an encyclopedic survey of pleasures that have been intensified and packaged—we won’t be treating the history of pornography or perfume, for example, and will consider narcotics and alcoholic beverages only briefly.
We should also be clear that the packaged pleasure revolution is on-going and in many ways has strengthened over time, as pleasure engineers find ever-more sophisticated ways of intensifying desire. And we’ll consider this history at least briefly. Since funneled fun has a tendency to bore us over time, pleasure engineers have repeatedly raised the bar on sensory intensity. Nuts and nougat were added to the simple chocolate bar, and cigarette makers added flavorants and chemicals to enhance or optimize nicotine delivery. The visual panel in motion pictures has been made more alluring with increasingly rapid cuts, and recorded sound has seen a dramatic expansion in both fidelity and acoustical range. Roller coasters went ever higher and faster while also becoming ever safer. Pornography is delivered with ever-greater convenience and is now basically free to anyone with an Internet connection. Even opera fans can now hear (and see) their favorite arias with a simple click on YouTube—at no cost and without leaving home (or sitting through those “boring bits”). Entertainment without the “fiber,” one could say.
Another outcome of the packaged pleasure revolution, then, is the progressive refinement—really reengineering—of sensory experience in the century or so since its beginnings. Optimization of satisfactions has become a big part in this, as one might expect from the fact that packaged pleasures are very often commodities produced by corporations with research and marketing departments. Menthol was added to cigarettes in the 1930s, with the idea of turning tobacco back into a kind of medicine. Ammonia and levulinic acid and candied flavors of various sorts were later added to augment the nicotine “kick,” but also to appeal to younger tastes. Flavor chemists meanwhile learned to manipulate the jolt of “soft drinks” by refining dosings of caffeine and sugar, while candy makers developed nuanced “flavor profiles”— surpassing traditional hard candy, for example, with the sensory complex of a Snickers.
Optimization and calibration we also find in other parts of this revolution. The intense thrill of a loop-de-loop ride, debuted first at Coney Island in the 1890s, gave way to the more varied sensuality of “themed” rides. Roller coasters have been designed to go to the edge of exhilaration, stopping just short of the point of nausea or injury. The same principle works with gambling, where even losers keep playing because of the carefully calibrated conditioning that comes with the periodic (and precisely calculated) win built into the game. Pleasure engineers have learned how to create video games that are easy enough to engage newcomers, but complex enough to sustain the interest of experienced players. Gaming engineers even seek to encourage (or require) physical movement and social interactions—think Wii games—to counter critics cautioning against the bodily and social negatives of overly virtualized lives.
Our focus is on the origins of the technologies involved in such transformations, though we also are aware that such novelties have always encountered critics, those who worry that an oversated consuming public would lose control and abandon work and family responsibilities. But the reality in terms of social impact often has been quite different. Few of these optimized pleasures have ever undermined the willingness of consumers to work and obey—and have done little to undermine nerves and sensibilities (as some have feared). Indeed they have often contributed to a new work ethic driven by new needs and imperatives to earn and toil evermore in order to be able to afford the delights of movies, candy, soda, cigarettes, and the rest of the show. Over time, and often a surprisingly short time, these commodified delights have become a kind of second sensory nature—customary and accepted ways of eating, inhaling, seeing and hearing, and feeling.
Scholars have long debated the impact of “modern consumer culture,” albeit too often in negative terms without considering the historical origins of the phenomena in question. In the 1890s, the French sociologist Émile Durkheim feared that the “masses” would be enervated, even immobilized, by technical modernity’s overwhelming assault on the senses. And Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World (1932) warned of a coming culture of commoditized hedonism oblivious to tyranny. Jeremiahs of this sort have singled out different culprits, with blame most often placed on the “weaknesses” of the masses or the manipulation of merchandisers, with the hope expressed that the virtuous few in their celebration of nature and simplicity would constitute a bulwark against immediate gratification and degrading consumerism. These critics have been opposed by apologists for “democratic access” to the choice and comforts of modern consumer society—who champion the idea that only killjoy elitists could find fault in the delights of pleasure engineering. This perspective dominates a broad swath of social science—especially from neoclassical economists (think of George Stigler and Gary Becker’s famous dictum on the nondisputability of taste).
We argue instead that we need to abandon the overgeneralization common to both jeremiahs and free-market populists. Of course it is true that the very notion of a “packaged pleasure revolution” suggests certain links between the cigarette, bottled soda, phonograph records, cameras, movies, and even amusement parks. But the impact of these various inventions over the decades has been very different, and cannot be subsumed under some procrustean notion of “modern consumer culture.” Rather, as we shall see, their distinct histories suggest very different effects on our bodies and our cultures that would seem to require very different personal and policy responses. Our view is that the sale of cigarettes (as presently designed) should be heavily regulated and ultimately banned, for example, while soda should probably only be shamed and (heavily) taxed. And we make no policy recommendations for film or sound “packages.” But we certainly need to better understand how these technologies have shaped and refined (distorted?) our sensibilities.
We should also keep in mind that there are global consequences to the packaged pleasure revolution—and that most of these lie in the future. This is unfinished business. Overconsumption is part of the problem, as is the undermining of world health (notably from processed sugar and cigarettes). The revolution is ongoing, as the engineered world of compressed sensibility spreads to ever-different parts of the globe, and ever-different parts of human anatomy and sociability. It may be hard to opt out of or to escape from this brave new world, but the conditions under which it arose are certainly worth understanding and confronting.
This book takes on a lot. Our hope is to move us beyond the classic debate between the jeremiahs against consumerism and the defenders of a democratic access to commercial delights. We root mass consumption in a sensory revolution facilitated by techniques that upset the ancient balance between desire and scarcity. We take a fresh look at how technology has transformed our nature.
To read more about Packaged Pleasures, click here.
On October 11, 2014, I attended a colloquium called Mind the Gaps, hosted by The Horn Book at Simmons College in Boston. There was an all-star line up consisting of Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild), Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints), Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle), and Steve Sheinkin (The Port Chicago 50), to name a few. Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, played a big part in pulling all these folks together for a day.
One of the highlights was the keynote by author/librarian Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (No Crystal Stair). Here’s a snippet from her speech:
“We are here at Simmons trying to solve this problem while one of the biggest stories in the news is that Apple released a new iPhone. Yet ALA struggles to get a one-minute spot on one network to announce the nation’s most prestigious children’s book awards. Is this our world now? To quote one of my favorite library patrons, ‘Have we dumbed down society so much that what is truly significant is not considered important?’ This conversation is significant. So how do we make it important?”
I participated in was called Publishing for the Gaps. The other panelists were Arthur Levine, publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books at Scholastic but more famously known for bringing Harry Potter to the United States, and Ginee Seo, children’s book director of Chronicle Books. The moderator was Roger Sutton. We covered a lot of ground, from the acquisition process to responding to Roger’s charge that publishers often put out “derivative crap” (Roger’s words, not mine) when it comes to blatantly duplicating what works. This statement was met with Arthur’s vehement defense that he sorely doubted that publishing executives would order their editors to make “more derivative crap!”
While I have been on many panels over the years, what was nice about this one was that the audience of 150 was predominately white. Non-diverse audiences like this usually benefit from hearing about the diversity problem, since some may be hearing about it for the first time. Publishing for the Gaps for me is about publishing the stories about people who are left out, which are most often people of color. I discussed LEE & LOW’s efforts to offer clarity and perspective, to help define the scope of why diversity is met with obstacles across most media channels, and how this remains a society-wide problem.
From the editorial side, the lack of representation can be greatly improved by decision makers who feel a personal stake in publishing diverse books. Ginee, as one of the few Asian American women at an executive level, can and does make a difference. Arthur Levine remarked that it was a part of who he is (as an openly gay and Jewish man) to publish inclusively.
The panel was recorded and is an hour. Note: Since the video is stored on Simmons College’s Google drive you’ll have to log in to view it. I also apologize in advance for the sound quality.
When the colloquium was over, I asked one of the moderators, Nina Lindsay, how she thought the day went. She said, “I was pleased with the colloquium, but feel like we just got the conversation started, then everyone went home. I’m hoping the momentum continues to build on this, and that we don’t all suddenly assume we’re enlightened and part ways.”
Recap of Publishers Weekly Diversity Panel, October 16, 2014
Whatever After Book #6: Cold as Ice
The next book in the Whatever After series is almost here! Abby and Jonah are visiting another fairy tale . . . and this one’s freezing! When author Sarah Mlynowski meets her fans, they often suggest to her which fairy tale they want her to write about next. The #1 request she had been getting from readers was to put main characters Abby and Jonah in the story of “The Snow Queen.” Next month, the Snow Queen-themed Whatever After book will be available and here’s a sneak peek at the cover!
What do you think? Pretty awesome, right!?!
If you’re not familiar with Whatever After, check out the website to play the dress-up game, watch the trailer, and read a few excerpts.
For all you Whatever After fans, Cold as Ice will be available on November 25th.
And look out for Whatever After #7: Beauty Queen, coming in May!
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Paula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her latest book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, was released last month. Twenty-two Cents is about Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank. He founded Grameen Bank so people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad’s compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit. This has also served to advocate and empower the poor, especially women, who often have limited options. In this post, we asked her to share advice on what’s she’s learned about banking, loans, and managing finances while writing Twenty-two Cents.
What are some reasons why someone might want to take out a loan? Why wouldn’t banks loan money to poor people in Bangladesh?
PAULA: People will take out a loan when they do not have enough money in their bank account to pay for a major purchase, like a car or a house. Sometimes, they will take out a loan because they need the money to help set up a business they are starting. Other times, loans are also used to help pay for major expenses, like unexpected hospital bills for a family member who is sick or big repairs on a house or car. But asking for a loan is a very complicated process because a person has to prove they can pay the loan back in a reasonable amount of time. A person’s financial history can affect whether or not they are approved for a loan. For many people who live below the poverty line, they are at a disadvantage because their financial history is very spotty. Banks may not trust them to pay the loan back on time.
In addition, most loans are given to people who are requesting a lot of money for a very expensive purchase like a house or a car. But sometimes a person only needs a small amount of money – for example, a few hundred dollars. This type of loan does not really exist because most people can afford to pay a few hundred dollars. But if you live below the poverty line, a hundred dollars can seem like a million dollars. Professor Yunus realized this when he met Sufiya Begum, a poor woman who only needed 22 cents to keep her business of making stools and mats profitable in her rural village. No bank would loan a few hundred dollars, or even 22 cents, to a woman living in a mud hut. This is what inspired Professor Yunus to come up with the concept of “microcredit” (also known as microfinancing and micro banking).
In TWENTY-TWO CENTS, microcredit is described as a loan with a low interest rate. What is a low interest rate compared to a high interest rate?
PAULA: When you borrow money from a bank, you have to pay the loan back with an interest rate. The interest rate is an additional amount of money that you now owe the bank on top of the original amount of money you borrowed. There are many complex math formulas involved with calculating what a fair and appropriate interest rate could be for a loan. The interest rate is also affected by outside factors such as inflation and unemployment. Although it would seem that a lower interest rate would be preferable to the borrower, it can be risky to the general economy. A low interest rate can create a potential “economic bubble” which could burst in the future and cause an economic “depression.” Interest rates are adjusted to make sure these problems do not happen. Which means that sometimes there are times when the interest rates are higher for borrowers than other times.
What is a loan shark?
PAULA: A loan shark is someone who offers loans to poor people at extremely high interest rates. This is also known as “predatory lending.” It can be illegal in several cases, especially when the loan shark uses blackmail or threats of violence to make sure a person pays back the loan by a certain deadline. Often people in desperate financial situations will go to a loan shark to help them out of a financial problem, only to realize later that the loan shark has made the problem worse, not better.
Did your parents explain how a bank works to you when you were a child? Or did you learn about it in school?
PAULA: I remember learning about how a bank works from elementary school and through those “Schoolhouse Rocks!” educational cartoons they would show on Saturday mornings. But overall, I would say I learned about banking as a high school student when I got my first minimum wage job at age 16 as a cashier at the Marshall’s department store. I learned how banking worked through a job and real life experience.
TWENTY-TWO CENTS is a story about economic innovation. Could you explain why Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank was so innovative or revolutionary?
PAULA ANSWER: Muhammad Yunus’ theories on microcredit and microfinancing are revolutionary and innovative because they provided a practical solution on how banks can offer loans to poor people who do not have any financial security. By having women work together as a group to understand how the math behind the loan would work (along with other important concepts) and borrowing the loan as a group, Yunus’ unique idea gave banks the confidence to put their trust into these groups of women. The banks were able to loan the money with the full confidence in knowing that these women would be able to pay them back in a timely manner. The humanitarian aspect of Yunus’ economic theories were also quite revolutionary because it gave these poverty-stricken women a newfound sense of self-confidence. His theories worked to help break the cycle of poverty for these women as they were able to save money and finally become self-sufficient. The Nobel Committee praised Yunus’ microcredit theories for being one of the first steps towards eradicating poverty, stating, “Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.”
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank is a biography of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank and revolutionized global antipoverty efforts by developing the innovative economic concept of micro-lending.
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Filed under: Guest Blogger Post, Lee & Low Likes, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: bangladesh, banking, banks, Economics, grameen bank, loan shark, loans, microcredit, money, Muhammad Yunus, nobel peace prize, Paula Yoo, poverty
MU HA HA HA! Let the fun begin!
There are lots more questions to answer in the Halloween Quiz post. Go check them out and tell Moderator Katie I said, “Hi!” Happy Halloween!!Add a Comment
I don't even want
to think about how bad this
pickle guy must smell.
Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus by Tom Angleberger. Amulet/Abrams, 2014, 224 pages.
Which Goosebumps Monster Are YOU?
Villainy. Terror. Mischief. All words to describe the monsters that wreak havoc in the Goosebumps book series by R.L. Stine. The menacing ghouls that fill the pages of the books each have their quirks that make their “monster-nalities” absolutely wretched! Take the Goosebumps Monster Quiz to see which ghoul is your rightful alter-ego.
Are you the trash-talking Slappy with a heart of pure cold, the vengeful Mummy, the devilish Scarecrow, the dastardly Lawn Gnomes, or the beastly Abominable Snowman? Discover your innermost wicked trait and see which Goosebumps monster you truly are.
Take the quiz. Which monster are you? Post it in the Comments.Add a Comment
Celebrate architecture and design for Archtober with students!
October, or “Archtober” as it is called, marks the 4th annual month-long festival of all things architecture and design in New York City.
STEM + Literacy Activities:
1. Encourage students to examine the differences between architecture and engineering. How do these two fields depend on each other? What is unique about each field? What do architects contribute to building a structure? What do engineers contribute? For a simplified breakdown of the duties of an architect and an engineer, the New School of Architecture + Design has a clear infographic.
2. Have students in small teams research a well-known structure in their community, city, or state (such as a museum, performing arts center, or place of worship). Who built it and when? For what is the structured used? Where is it located? What is it made of? Why were those materials used? What is special about the design? What challenges did the architect have in creating this structure? In addition to online and print resources, students can interview someone who works at the structure, if possible. After research is complete, students can create a model of the structure, design a poster advertising it to tourists, or write and present a report on the structure to the class.
3. Ask students to imagine that they are architects assigned to design a new school. Describe the materials you will need and what the building will look like. As you think about the design and materials needed, consider the types of spaces children in the school will need to learn, read, eat, study; what you will need to make the building safe and sturdy; and what will make it an attractive place in which to learn.
4. Set up a hands on, or sensory, station with materials from home or a local hardware store that are used to build structures. Examples could be a wood spoon for wood, a cooking pot for steel, etc. Have students touch and record the characteristics of each sample material. Why might an architect use steel instead of wood, or bamboo instead of concrete? Students can make a chart of popular building materials to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. Have students study the physical characteristics (based on sight, touch, sound, and even smell) of brick, wood, bamboo, clay, concrete, steel, glass, iron, rock, straw, recycled materials, and more. For advanced or older students, topics to compare include cost of the material, availability, resiliency in natural disasters, typical lifetime, flexibility and ability to shape the material, environmental friendliness, and beauty/appeal.
5. Have students study the roles that appeal/beauty, safety, and function/purpose play in the design of a structure. Is one preferable over the other? Why? Do these factors all work together or can they be in conflict with one another? Students can look at one specific structure to see how the architect addressed each of these issues. If possible, ask a local architect or professor from an area college to discuss these factors.
6. Watch PBS’s “Building Big,” a five-part miniseries on bridges, domes, skyscrapers, dams, and tunnels. Each one-hour program explores the different type of structures and what it takes to build them. An educator’s guide of activities from PBS is available online.
7. Lead students in a step-by-step activity to create their own geodesic dome, sandcastle, toothpick structure, or floor plan. Instructions can be found online at the archKIDecture website.
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
It’s #FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staffers! Today, metadata master and sales team all-star Caity Anast talks about her current reads:
I laughed when I read Annette’s post, because I too went through a period of very little “fun-for-me” reading when my children were babies (What to Expect the First Year doesn’t count as fun).
I nodded my head as I read Wendy’s post, because although I am not keeping track of books I’ve read on Goodreads, I do have my own personal list that I have kept since high school. It started with a pamphlet my freshman year English teacher passed out called “Excellence in English: The Honors English Program, York Community High School” that listed the core and supplemental readings by grade level. (A shout out to those great English teachers at York.) I highlighted the titles as I read them, and my goal was to read all the titles in the pamphlet.
But I reassessed that goal after picking up Moby Dick for fun. I just couldn’t get through it. I mean how many times do you have to describe the whale? I get it, it’s big. I suppose if I read it for English class and had someone to discuss it with, I would have found it more interesting. But instead, I put it down and never finished it. That was the first time I had ever done that. I always felt it was my duty to finish a book. After that, I decided I didn’t have to read every book on that list, but I could refer to it from time to time.
The latest book I am reading is a recommendation from my dad, Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia. I’m not very far along into the book, but the setting is the Bellweather Hotel where a murder-suicide happened fifteen years ago in room 712. Now the hotel is host to Statewide, a high school music festival. So far I’ve been introduced to Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker, twins who are participating in the festival, and their chaperone and teacher, Natalie, who happens to be a former student of Viola Fabian, Statewide’s chairperson and mother of Jill, the best flautist in the state. It’s received three starred reviews, so it’s bound to be good. Booklist says, “Encore, encore.”
At the same time I am listening to an audio book in the car. I find this is a great time to catch up on what my kids are reading. It’s also a great way to find out the proper pronunciation of a character’s name. I am in the middle of because of mr. terupt (tear upt, not tur upt as I thought) by Rob Buyea. It’s a great story about a fifth grade class and their new teacher. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of seven children in the class. You’ve got your brain, outcast, loner, mean girl, prankster, fat girl, and the new girl. I honestly can’t wait to get in my car each day to see what’s going to happen next.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #geeksofcolor hashtags were well represented at Comic Con this year, with three panels discussing diversity and several more panels where the subject came up. Publishers were showcasing their diverse titles among their frontlist promotions. And panels about diversity topics, even those held in large rooms at inconvenient times, were standing room only all weekend—a clear sign to me that this subject is on the minds of more and more people lately.
I missed the #WeNeedDiverse(Comic)Books panel, but you can see a recap of it here. Read on for recaps of the panels I attended:
Geeks of Color Go Pro panel
I arrived early, wanting to be able to get a good seat, and only two people were waiting in line—which made me nervous. Last year, the Geeks of Color panel was packed full. Would they repeat that this year the 8pm Thursday time slot, which admittedlywas less than ideal?
I needn’t have worried. Soon the room filled to capacity, perhaps 400-500 people, mostly people of color who were fans, interested in writing or illustrating themselves, or who had family members interested. Diana Pho, an editor at Tor, moderated the panel. Panelists were LeSean Thomas (BLACK DYNAMITE: THE ANIMATED SERIES; THE LEGEND OF KORRA; THE BOONDOCKS), Tracey J. John (MTV.com; Gameloft), Alice Meichi Li (Dark Horse), Daniel José Older (Author, HALF-RESSURECTION BLUES); and I. W. Gregorio (Author, #WeNeedDiverseBooks).
Most of the time was taken with each panelist sharing their story of how they went pro. Their answers for how they became an animator, a writer and editor, an illustrator, a video game writer, and a surgeon and writer were as diverse as the panelists themselves, showing how many paths there are to a professional creative career. For example, Boondocks and Legend of Korra animator LeSean Thomas grew up in the projects and never attended college, but instead got into comics because the materials to draw were pretty cheap, he said. He found opportunities when he showed his work to his boss at a sports store where he worked after high school, and learned as he worked his way up.
Daniel José Older, on the other hand, was a paramedic and antiracist organizer. Getting published took him six years. “The publishing industry will make you learn patience,” he said.
I.W. Gregorio wanted to become a writer but followed the path to becoming a doctor because that was what one did in her family. But one day, someone told her, “you’ll never become a writer,” and that, she said, ticked her off enough to want to prove them wrong. She also mentioned that her job as a surgeon makes her writing career possible and gives her stories to tell.
Others spoke of internships, art classes, balancing day jobs, getting master’s degrees, and community building.
Tracey John, when asked what she wished she knew when she began, said that she wished she had known to challege the status quo. Now, she’s more willing to ask tough questions, she said—such as “why does Princess Peach need saving?”
Older suggested that writers of color need to “reimagine what success means for each of us” and to build community “rather than think of it as networking.” For people who are getting started, he suggested to find people who are willing to ground you and challenge you.
Alice Meichi Li said that “you are an average of the five people you interact with most in your life,” so look for people who fit three categories: an older mentor, an equal, and someone you can mentor, because you learn a lot from teaching.
The big question of the night came from one of the last audience members to ask a question: Why are we still having this conversation? When will we not need a geeks of color panel at 8:00pm in the corner? Diana Pho replied that she thinks we’ll need such panels until we hit critical mass—not just at Comic Cons, but in all of pop culture, of people who believe diversity matters. We here at LEE & LOW agree with Older’s concluding remark: the more people speak up, the less circular the conversation will be, and we can push the conversation forward.
Women of Color in Comics panel
Friday was the Women of Color in Comics panel, which I was thrilled to see was an equally packed room. Moderated by Regine Sawyer of the Women in Comics Consortium, this panel also featured Alice Meichi Li (Dark Horse), Alitha Martinez (penciler and inker for Marvel), Jamila Rowser (Girl Gone Geek blog), Juliana ‘Jewels’ Smith (comics artist, (H)AFROCENTRIC), Barbara Brandon-Croft (cartoonist), Geisha Vi (cosplay model), and Vanessa Verduga (actor, writer, producer).
The moderator, Regine, started out by asking what drew the panelists to comics and how they got started. Again, a diverse range of answers—from family influence to students introducing their teacher to comics, to a natural desire to draw as a child—led to a diverse range of paths into their professional work.
The panel also discussed the ongoing harassment issue in comics as well as genre and gaming. Young women are the fastest growing demographic, changing the base of the comics industry. The panelists were asked how they address feminine issues in their work. Alice Meichi Li (who was on the Geeks of Color panel), said that she loved how panels such as these were getting bigger. She addresses feminine mythology, the heroine’s journey, in her work, and argued that visibility made all the difference for readers. She told a story of reading Wizard magazine growing up, where the list of top ten writers in the back of the magazine were all white guys every time, except occasionally Jim Lee. To be able to see all kinds of people creating comics helps create demand from more diverse readers.
Jamila Rowser from the Girl Gone Geek blog said that from a fan perspective, the changing face of the industry shows the demand and the need for representation of women, particularly accurate representation of women of color. “When you don’t see people like you doing things you love, it’s discouraging,” she said.
The panelists also spoke of how sometimes they might feel invisible in the industry—Alitha Martinez, who has worked at major comic book houses as an artist, including work on a Batman comic, said that she’d been mistaken for cleaning staff before when arriving for a panel or other major professional event. Vanessa Verduga mentioned that sometimes she feels an expectation to whitewash herself, to fit within an expected personality structure rather than to be herself.
When asked why diversity was important in the first place, Jamila Rowser answered that a lack of diversity can stop readers’ enjoyment, but it can also discourage future creators, and stories set in the future with no diversity “erase our presence in the future.”
Alitha Martinez noted that women of color can’t remain on the fringes, shouting from the outside. She said that women tend not to approach editors at Marvel and DC, and that those are the places where change needs to happen most because they’re the biggest. In addition, Alice Meichi Li said that if we want to see change, as readers, we need to support that change with our wallets. “Ignoring creations by women and people of color is ignoring community,” she said. “Find your audience, know your community, know how to speak to them, and create your own niche.”
Throughout the weekend, I saw a widely diverse audience excited about comic books, animation, science fiction, fantasy, and games. Cosplayers were in abundance, including people of color. Here are a couple of my favorites:
NYCC is a great example of why #WeNeedDiverseBooks, like those we publish!
the persistence and
power of band nerds.
Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach. Sourcebooks Fire, 2014, 320 pages.
R5 Halloween Traditions
We caught up with guys and girl of R5 to talk about their favorite Halloween memories. Just imagine one-year-old Ross Lynch in a little, baby bear costume. Do you have that image in your head? OK. Now you’re ready to read on . . .
Q: Do you guys have any cool Halloween costumes or traditions?Ross: When we were little, our mom used to match us because she wanted us to feel like a team. That was her idea behind it. And we all dressed up as Zorro, all together.
Rydel: I was the girl.
Ross: Oh, you were the girl. But we all had our hats and our swords and were all, like, sword fighting and all of that stuff. That was a good October.
Rocky: We kept that trend going. Actually just two years ago, we were all the Avengers.
Rocky: Except he wasn’t.
Ratliff: I wasn’t.
Rocky: But he [referring to his brothers] was Captain America. He was Iron Man. I was Thor.
Rydel: I was Black Widow and our little brother was the Hulk.
Rocky: Yeah. So, we kept it going. It was pretty fun.
Rydel: Oh, my grandma also hand-sewed all these bear costumes. So there was one year . . . actually a few years in a row we were all bears.
Rydel: We were really little.
Rocky: I was probably, like, two years old.
Rydel: Ross was, like, one maybe, and I had a light fur and they all had dark fur.
Ratliff: Oh, that’s cute.
Rydel: I think even mom had one too. It was just a family of bears.
Ross: You know what I’ve realized about Halloween though? I’ve never been something scary.
Ratliff: I was something scary once. One time I didn’t know what to get so I got a big whoopie cushion.
Ross: That’s scary?
Ratliff: No, I’m getting to it. It was a big whoopee cushion and I filled it with something and then I put a mask on, and I would just act like I was asleep on my front lawn. And then people would come and I would be like, “Rahhhhh,” and I’d scare them. And they were like, “Ahh!” That was scary.
Ross: With a whoopie cushion?
Ratliff: It was a whoopie cushion but I had, like, one of those hockey masks on.
Rydel: They didn’t know he was in it.
Ratliff: Yeah. And then I acted like…I was just like a . . . a prop.
Ross: Dude, there’s better ones where people act like a scarecrow.
Ratliff: Oh yeah.
Riker: I love Halloween. It’s one of my favorite holidays.
Interview by Marie MorrealeAdd a Comment
Whenever I go to someone’s house for the first time, I always try to peek at the bookshelves to see if that person likes the same books as I do. Is that nosy of me? What? You don’t do that? Anyway . . . I knew I wanted a peek at the Scholastic Kids Council’s bookshelves so I asked them to send me their “shelfies.”
Do you see any of your favorite books?
Leave a Comment to tell us which books we would see in YOUR shelfie.
Sonja, STACKS StafferAdd a Comment
Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):
What else would you add to the list?
Happy almost-Halloween! This month’s Books of the Month are brought to you by the Halloween Book Challenge. Every week, we are reading a different book in a different Halloween-y category. It’s not too late to join! Here are the categories:
Oct 1-7 Halloween Colors
Read a book with black or orange in the book cover.
Oct 8-14 Creepy Setting
Choose a book that takes place somewhere creepy like a cemetery, a dark forest, a haunted house, an abandoned amusement park, an old castle . . .
Oct 15-21 Supernatural Abilities
Read a book that has witches, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, zombie, ghosts, or a character who has special abilities.
Oct 22-31 Trick or Treat
This week’s book can be anything related to Halloween, costumes, candy, tricks, or treats.
This month’s Books of the Month are all of the books people are reading for the Halloween Book Challenge. Behold the word cloud!
Are you taking the Halloween Book Challenge? This week, the book topic is Supernatural Abilities. Tell us which supernatural-type book you’re reading in the Comments.
Sonja, STACKS StafferAdd a Comment
Goosebumps Most Wanted: The 12 Screams of Christmas
Christmas comes early for Goosebumps books fans—and in more ways than one! We have an exclusive preview of the newly released, Goosebumps Most Wanted: The 12 Screams of Christmas. It’s never too early to get into the Christmas spirit, and for Goosebumps, that usually means something downright terrifying is brewing. In the new book, Kate Welles and her friend Courtney are taking part in the school’s production of “The 12 Screams of Christmas.” When their teacher moves rehearsals to a certain house with a lot of history, it gives a new meaning to “Christmas Spirit.” Dare to take a peek?
JUST FOR INK SPLOT 26 READERS! Read an exclusive preview of the new Goosebumps Most Wanted: The 12 Screams of Christmas.Add a Comment
a testament to the power
of great theatre.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Hyperion, 2014, 256 pages.
To celebrate the release today of The Boy Who Killed Demons, author Dave Zeltserman recommends his five favorite horror novels: 1) I am Legend by Richard Matheson Brilliant book, and the best of the modern vampire novels. If you think you know the book from the movies (Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, I am Legend), you sort of do. A worldwide plague has turned everyone but Robert NevilleAdd a Comment
Deadspin columnist/Yankees fan/out-of-print litterateur Alex Belth recently sat down over email with Levi Stahl, University of Chicago Press promotions director and editor of The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. Their resulting conversation, published today at Deadspin, al0ng with an excerpt from the book, includes the history of their engagement with the Parker novels, Jimmy the Kid‘s amazing cover design, culling through Westlake’s archive, an obscure British comedy show, and the perils of professional envy vs. professional admiration. You can read the interview in full here, and have a look at a clip after the jump below.
Q: In a letter, Westlake described the difference between an author and a writer. A writer was a hack, a professional. There’s something appealing and unpretentious about this but does it take on a romance of its own? I’m not saying he was being a phony but do you think that difference between a writer and an author is that great?
LS: I suspect that it’s not, and that to some extent even Westlake himself would have disagreed with his younger self by the end of his life. I think the key distinction for him, before which all others pale, was what your goal was: Were you sitting down every day to make a living with your pen? Or were you, as he put it ironically in a letter to a friend who was creating an MFA program, “enhanc[ing] your leisure hours by refining the uniqueness of your storytelling talents”? If the former, you’re a writer, full stop. If the latter, then you probably have different goals from Westlake and his fellow hacks.
But does a true hack veer off course regularly to try something new? Does a hack limit himself to only writing about his meal ticket (John Dortmunder) every three books, max, in order not to burn him out? Does a hack, as Westlake put it in a late letter to his friend and former agent Henry Morrison, “follow what interests [him],” to the likely detriment of his career? Westlake was always a commercial writer, but at the same time, he never let commerce define him. Craft defined him, and while craft can be employed in the service of something a writer doesn’t care about at all, it is much easier to call up and deploy effectively if the work it’s being applied to has also engaged something deeper in the writer. You don’t write a hundred books with almost no lousy sentences if you’re truly a hack.
Read more about The Getaway Car here.
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I’m going to ask for something completely unfair.
Unless you attended opening night of this year’s Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference at The Loft Literary Center, you probably haven’t seen the Czech film Who’s Afraid of the Wolf. The 2008 film was shown at The Loft thanks to a University of Minnesota professor’s connection to the filmmaker, I believe, and a lively panel discussion followed. Unfortunately, even with the magical Internet at our fingertips, I think the full-length movie is otherwise not very findable in the US.
Who’s Afraid of the Wolf is the story of a girl named Terezka and her parents, and it is striking for the stunningly authentic child’s perspective it conveys. Adult characters are portrayed with depth and good intentions and human flaws, yet for grownup viewers, the cinematography gives a peek back in time to how a kindergartener observes and interacts with her parents and others. Difficult conversations are heard from under the kitchen table or while pretending to focus on an activity across the room. Mom’s old acquaintance is a newcomer to Terezka’s family universe. Events and behaviors beyond a child’s scope of knowledge may as well be the work of aliens. Read a good summary here.
While the story is not limited to one perspective, it treats the child’s point of view with humbling respect and weight.
The trailer gives a decent idea:
My inability to share the whole film with you is what makes this unfair: I’m looking for a picture book manuscript that wows me with similar authenticity. One in which the camera angle is from about three-and-a-half feet high. One that leaves my jaw hanging open at the voice or the way the narration transports me back into a six-year-old’s body. (Give or take a few years.) Especially, and critically, one that holds appeal for both children and the adults who may be reading with them, in the way this film is kid-friendly but no less engaging for adults.
A few notes that may or may not be relevant: I’m a linguist by training. The way the words fit together to paint a story is equally or more likely to woo me as/than any particular type of character, setting, or plot is. I generally don’t go for personified animals. We at Carolrhoda are more likely to publish picture books that are a bit offbeat and/or off the beaten path (think Infinity and Me). I’ll take dry humor and sharp wit any day over super-sweet or sentimental. I will never stop loving Winnie the Pooh.
Watch the trailer. Then send me submissions until October 31.
-Anna Cavallo (@eatreadwriterun)Add a Comment