Friday, May 30, 2014

Amazon Vrs. Hachette

There is an opinion column in the NY Times here that suggests that Amazon is holding up the distribution of Hachette books because Amazon really needs more money from them.  Amazon's rationale has been that they want to keep prices lower for their customers;  the NY Times column theorizes that Amazon needs more money because it is "restlessly expanding."  The column then discusses Germany, where prices on books are allowed to be fixed by the publishers, and suggests that, since Amazon is selling a lot of books in Germany, that model must be okay.  Of course, the courts in the U.S. have called that price-fixing, and disallowed it.   Then the Times article throws in an image of "a white room filled with empty bookshelves" as an example of Nazi terrorism.

The image of book-burning Nazi Germany is supposed to let the reader infer--I imagine--that Amazon's tactics will somehow result in rooms full of empty bookcases.  Really, using an image like that is the worst kind of sensationalist journalism.

The reality is that Amazon has brought the opportunity to publish to thousands of authors that establishment publishing companies have turned their backs on.  It has also brought thousands of very low-priced e-books (for free or $0.99) to readers who can't afford the high prices demanded by New York publishers. It has, almost single-handily, created a huge literary marketplace of books. 

Personally, I think what's happening now in publishing is the most exciting thing since the invention of the printing press.

Helping Children Overcome Disabilities

A parenting blog in the NY Times here suggests that talking to children with disabilities, and encouraging them to practice, might help them overcome their problems.

 I like how Ms. Wheeler emphasizes that when you have trouble with a skill, you just need to practice more.  When I was teaching, many students would say to me that they were dyslexic, and so couldn't read.  I managed to show many of them that being dyslexic meant they needed to read more, and we worked very hard to find books they could enjoy.  Once they started to enjoy reading, their skills rapidly improved. 

It's important to keep in mind that some skills, like reading, are so necessary that a way has to be found to help students enjoy it so they'll practice.  Social skills fall into this area as well.  The ability to play sports?  Not so critical, as long as kids are helped to enjoy moving around.

Reading Causes Brain Changes

A parenting blog in the New York Times has an article here describing the changes in the brain that reading can cause in dyslectic  children.  The point of the article was that children with reading problems should be given more help and tutoring.

The real takeaway should be that children who are doing little reading, or who start reading late, should be given whatever kind of reading they are willing to do:  comic books, series books, graphic novels--whatever they will read.

I taught in an inner-city Catholic school and found that--when I stocked my room with comics and magazines and high-interest paperback, and told my poor readers just to sit and read--they gained an average of 18 months of reading ability for every 6 months I had them in that program.  In a regular class, they had been gaining about 3 months of skills every 6 months.

While one-on-one intensive tutoring may help, there is no substitute for very high-interest reading material.  And once a kid becomes hooked on reading, his reading scores soar, and he will become a lifelong reader.

A Difficulty with Required Reading

The New York Times has an article here about a group of students demanding that college professors be more sensitive to subject matter that will cause distress to some of their students.  Most of the comments in the comment section thought this was unnecessary.

College is voluntary, and the students attending are adults.  So I can see the sense in saying they should either deal with the subject matter, or drop the course.

But what about high school?  When I was teaching high school English, there were books in the curriculum that were very upsetting to some students.  One girl came to me in tears because her class was reading Ellen Foster, a book about a father who sexually assaults his daughter.  I knew there was a restraining order against this student's father, because of his assault of her.  I told her she could ask her teacher for another book to read, but she said, "But then everyone will know."

When I taught, my students had wide choice about what to read.  Not only did this make it much more likely that they would enjoy their reading, and actually do it, it prevented situations like the one above. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Difference Between Spoiled and Entitled Children

The NY Times has an interesting op-ed here arguing that giving children unearned love and praise doesn't spoil them.  I agree, but giving children a sense of entitlement is something else.

What “spoils” a child isn’t giving them unconditional love and acceptance, it’s giving them a sense of entitlement.  Children who believe they are inherently more valuable than other children (because of race, class status, wealth, family etc.) will grow into adults who cause a wide swath of suffering to the people around them.

Think of whites in the Jim Crow south.  Think of religious people who try to impose their religion on others.  Think of men who don’t believe women when they say no.  Think of the wealthy who don’t think the poor are “entitled” to food or medical care.

"Chick Lit" and Writing Courses

There is an interesting piece here about a writer with five published novels who couldn't write anything that pleased her professors in an MFA program.  I think it speaks to why so many novels that get great critical reviews are not popular sellers.  I think it also shows why men's tastes seem to dominate the literary canon.

I think the prejudice towards writers of "chick lit" isn't towards a style as much as towards literature that illuminates the lives of women. Perhaps women have to be dead for 200 years, like Jane Austen, to be able to write about women, and still gain literary respect.