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It’s an E-Reader’s E-Reader’s E-Reader’s World

25 Apr

Or is it?

I’ve been contemplating e-readers a lot lately. The shiny new commercials slamming the iPad. The new color options with bright and bold magazine covers. The soothing yet crisp voice of Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s enough to make a girl crazy.

Let’s face it; anyone who knows me, or that has read at least one of my other ERE blog entries, knows I’m not converting to an e-reader. I am like a 2011 version of the You’ve Got Mail’s Frank, (Greg Kinnear), clinging to the typewriter and proclaiming bits of wisdom to Meg Ryan like, “You are a lone read.”

(Actually, I may have to explore that. Perhaps Frank was not typing but tweeting. Unplugged tweeting.)

So we all know I’m not gonna do it. So here’s my funny for the week of why exactly I’m not gonna do it.

1.   Airplanes. Books and airplanes, or buses or trains or any mode of public transportation for that matter, go hand in hand. A book wards off strangers, keeps us well read, and makes commuting to a desk job or traveling to our hometowns a bit more tolerable. In the case of airplanes though, while everyone is turning off their approved electronic devices until takeoff or landing is completed, I’m happily flipping pages. Also, in the off chance you, or say your mother, leaves a borrowed copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife on the seat next to her before exiting said plane, there’s no need to go ballistic. You’re not out $139.00.

2.   Borrowing. Speaking of borrowing books, and $139 bucks, the e-reader will kill this culture. For example, a group of girlfriends and I are planning to see the sweeping romance, Water for Elephants this April. And although my dear friend Susan has read the book, she purchased it via her e-reader, making my plea to borrow it null.

3.   Libraries. For me, and many of my writer friends, libraries are like churches. Quiet and ethereal; walking through the stacks alone can calm nerves. And beyond books, they are an important beacon in communities across the country offering programs and services to residents. The question for libraries enlisting e-readers is: who will create the technology that yanks your e-book the day your three weeks are up? It may save us on late fees, but it will remove the entire library experience.

4.  Publishing. The publishing world isn’t quite ready for the e-reader insanity. A recent Time magazine article, “The E-Book Era Is Here: Best Sellers Go Digital,” sites the facts: more than 90% of the publishing industry is in print. As sales of e-books and e-readers are increasing at break-neck speed; the money is still in the pages. Actual pages.

So I still groove on a real book. But the tides (or pages) could be turning. Maybe when we remove the hyphen and they become “ereaders,” like “email”. Hmm.

 

Haunting Words for Halloween

26 Oct

The Eden Rivers Top Ten Horror Stories

In honor of All Hallow’s Eve, it’s my top ten scary stories from literature short and long. In no particular order, so read them at your own pace. If you dare.

Haunted Cemetery

“The Tell-Tale Heart”/”The Cask of Amontillado”
Edgar Allen Poe

It’s a tie. I don’t know what creeps me out more, the thump of a heart in the floorboards or a man bricked into a wall, alive … a trick that has been used in film a million times over, and yet Poe is the one who gets it right. If you are a Hellboy fan (or are near a video store), the awesome 1953 animated feature “The Tell Tale Heart” can be seen in the bonus features. Or click here for an online version.

The Shining
Stephen King

The movie was iconic for sure, but once you delve into the book, suddenly images from that film take on an uber-level of creepiness. Re: The man in the dog costume. The dead little twins. The oversized animal-shaped hedges on the front lawn. King’s words can make these images come alive in the reader’s head, and make the next viewing of the film a scarier one.

House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski

This novel has a plot within a plot, and it’s a pretty hefty size, about a man who begins making a documentary about his home. It begins as a closet and a hallway appear within the house in a place they didn’t exist before, opening up a dimension of dark, ever-moving pathways within the house that defies physics. Images of Will Navidson crawling around in the dark, or perhaps the ever-changing catacombs and the ultimate fear, being lost in the dark, was creepy. My friend Jason lent me the book and insisted I couldn’t read it at night, making it more creepy, and for a month or so I refused to open any of my closet doors.

Dracula
Bram Stoker

From Van Helsing, to Lucy to Dracula, the famous characters are all here, in the most impact-ful vampire tale ever written. What makes it so frightening, is that the story unfolds in the form of letters, journals and other third-party writings, which means the horror may begin on the page, and we the reader cannot save the character, for the next entry is always after the disaster has occurred.

In Cold Blood
Truman Capote

I happen to have a strange aversion to home invasions, so this one was a personal nightmare. And not just from the heinous murders, but the way Capote infiltrated the murderers lives, immersed in their worlds and manipulated them to tell the story. It is so beautifully written, the reader can quickly believe he or she is reading a fictional novel, but it is not so. These are murders that did happen, criminals Capote did meet and befriend. That is what compels the horror of the story.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Joyce Carol Oates

Arnold Friend. However can we forget you? Short, smooth-talking man who lures girls out of their houses and promises to be nice—the first time. Not only that, but lures them out, to make them believe there is no other choice. Every one of Arnold’s lines is creepy: Now, put your hand on your heart, honey. Feel that? That feels solid too but we know better. Where’s my mace?

The Virgin Suicides
Jeffrey Eugenides

This is one novel in which I will say, yes, see the movie, it’s just as good and tightly follows the novel (and Giovanni Ribisi makes an amazing narrator). It is sad and haunting and beautiful, a book to read again and again, and what can be more brilliant that the suicide tale of five young beautiful sisters, told from the point of view of the neighborhood boys who admired them?

“A Rose for Emily”
William Faulkner

I read this for the first time from an anthology my mother had for a short story class she was taking… I didn’t see the ending coming, but it’s an image I’ll never get out of my mind. The husband is always on the right side of the bed, her smooshed pillow on the left, and there’s a round window on the wall, past the foot of the bed frame, so that the light fades as your eyes pass over to his bones. Eeeeewww.

“Mad House”
Richard Matheson

The author of I am Legend has penned plenty of short horror and suspense short stories, and this one hits close to home. For any writer out there, this story is the ultimate nightmare… in which the macabre elements are placed into everyday situations, making Chris Neal’s problem with anger and the way it reverberates against these every day issues more frightening then the supernatural elements of the story. It is an ideal tale for any procrastinating writer.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Washington Irving

On any walk, in any wood, upstate New York or not, there is a back-of-your-mind fear of meeting the Headless Horseman. It’s a brilliant folktale that still holds a great thread of scary storytelling. There is something about a dead man seeking his head, and taking others in the process that has an eerie, keep-a-lookout quality. Add a covered bridge and a fall evening and *shudder*. I mean, what if? What if you looked up, and there he was?

 
 

The Twittiness of Twitter

15 Jul

I don’t get Twitter.

twitter, v.  (used without object)
1. to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.
2. to talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter.
3. to titter; giggle.
4. to tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter.

twit, v.
1. to taunt, tease, ridicule, etc., with reference to anything embarrassing; gibe at.
2. to reproach or upbraid.

twit, n.
Slang 1. A foolishly annoying person.

The second definition of twit, really, is the one that hits that nail for me. We all are foolishly annoying people, aren’t we?

It’s no surprise that I’m against social media. I find it strange, and impersonal and narcissistic. We’re not exchanging information, or educating ourselves. We’re trying out to be the most popular, greatest, awesome-est online us-es there are. Woohoo.

Mostly, I just don’t believe anyone is important enough for tweeting. Why is it that suddenly the egos of the masses have assembled to declare thoughts, ideas and imagination in the form of um, idle chit chat?

In the immortal, brilliant words of Mike Birbiglia (pre-Twitter, of course):

I’m always embarrassed to tell people I have a blog ’cause everybody has a blog, about anything: “Today I went to JCPenney.” And there’s one comment, “JCPenney, eh?” That’s not a blog, that’s a text message.

I know, I know. Technically, you are currently reading a blog. But, since I’ve yet to land a superior and utterly fitting job as a newspaper columnist, this will have to do. In context of my argument, blog, text, tweet, post, and now, dear Lord, a thing called lifestream, all go into the same soup pot.

Seriously, we should be ashamed. I think I started to become annoyed when news broke that our government officials were tweeting their 140-character posts like, “This session is boring.” Then, the tabloids and Twitter started dating, in probably the rags’ greatest faux relationship ever: using Twitter as a source.

Finally, last week, I wrote a story about Reba McEntire chiding fellow country musician Blake Shelton for his inappropriate tweets, and my head exploded.

It’s too much. Too much Twitter! It’s like a parallel universe to the new Bing commercials; a world of loud, chirpy chirps multiplying so that all you get is noise. Even if a particular twit is a virtuoso of wit and wisdom, after a minute-long shelf life, it gets shoved down, past that “more” icon, lost to the graveyard of tweets, unread.

Even Twitter’s self-explanation of its purpose raises my anti-social media line:

The result of using Twitter to stay connected with friends, relatives, and coworkers is that you have a sense of what folks are up to but you are not expected to respond to any updates unless you want to. This means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention.

First, they used “folks” and “queues” in the same paragraph. What?  Second, Twitter (and other social media) is not about connectedness. That involves reciprocation, and unity and joining. All this short, fast-paced, look-at-me-mentality is the anti-connectedness. To borrow a phrase from a friend, “it’s a blatant display of online social self-masturbation.”

That’s quite a definition.

 

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

09 Feb

So today, at the Today website, a new article was published about the wacky world of grammar snobs. Entitled, “Fastidious spelling snobs pushed over the edge,” this quirky little story takes a peek into the world of those who love, love, love to correct the grammar.

The argument of the story is that although bad punctuation has plagued city signs and menus around the country for decades, the stress of war and economy have made folks a little snappy with the spelling corrections.

Although a fun read, I’ve got to disagree on the timing here. Grammar snobs, vigilantes, habitual correctors, what have you, have been around for as long as words and sentences have been written.

The idea that stress equals a rise in public tongue lashings on grammar to help the grammarian feel more in control is ridiculous. Why are there not reports about stress leading to cleaner bathrooms throughout America? More spontaneous creative graffiti on building walls? A rise in chocolate sales?

The truth is there are two camps in the grammar world: Those that are literally exposed to it on a regular basis due to career—such teachers, those in publishing, media or public office—and those who are not.

The new specialized unit of grammar police could simply be a case of the non-exposed running into and around with the fully exposed crowd. Aka: the Internet, excessive blogging, etc.

The truth is, those of us in the exposed grammar crowd are much harsher on one another than on the general population. The razor-sharp tongues of those inside publishing houses over a missed grammar correction, well, would make a layman blush. Or just really, really angry.

It’s been a habit of mine to argue on the side of the error-makers. Yes, part of the job is no visible “mistakes,” once that book/magazine/paper has gone to print. But it isn’t rocket science. Nobody died because there was a misplaced modifier in a sentence. Most of the rules are up for debate anyway. Just look at the serial comma.

On the other side of the coin, in the non-exposed grammar world, a little gentle chiding from the grammar elite is to be expected. In the way musicians poke fun at boy bands, or historians critique every epic war movie ever made. Heck, I still cringe when I think about the little Oklahoma establishment of Boswell Animal Kare, an establishment, I am almost certain, was the only vet in Boswell. Good times.

But the Today article sites people who likely would have climbed up that twenty-foot vet sign with a can a spray paint and a stencil for the letter “C.” I mean, cringing at an “overuse” of “quotation marks” for example, is one thing. Defacing public property to correct an error on a storefront sign or on a diner menu, however, is just… bizarre.

My advice, the next time the urge strikes to correct a flyer, or you notice a mistake in a local newsletter, hang back. Instead, pick up the phone and ask the organization if they could use a copyeditor. After all, extra cash in these hard economic times could be a stress reliever.

 

Thank You January

13 Jan

It’s the time of year for thank you notes to enter into our lives, in much smaller quantities than the holiday cards of December. I am reminded of this not only from my own card sending, but from my friend Wendy, who commented on receiving a number of thank you cards, and being revived that so many people were still sending them.

There is a feeling that no one sends thank you notes anymore.  Some of my younger relatives receive gifts from my husband and me regularly, but we have never received a thank you note. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I learned that when pressed about the issue, the parent said writing thank you notes was “old fashioned.”

So writing thank you notes, essentially, is un-cool?

I earnestly hope this is not the case, but this theory fits in with technology-based communication taking over more traditional forms (re: read my blog on friendships gone cyber). But as a whole, are we really that… ungrateful?

I know now that the art of writing thank you notes is taught (thank you, Mom), and being sentimental and creative by design, lean more toward piquing the interest of the fairer sex rather than the determined bachelor. Despite that, it is impossible to think of living in a world where people don’t take the time to write, “Thank you.”

I personally revel in thank you notes. I know part of that is a “writer” thing: it’s calming to write down a thank you, as I can express sentiment better with written words than anything else.

And to receive a thank you, well, what is better than that? Someone appreciated you so much, they took the time to buy the card, or retrieve it from a stack in the house, and write down how much they loved your gift or gesture or time. A thank you note triumphs with it’s simplicity: It leaves the receiver with a written record of the impact their kindness had on someone else.

Clearly, the simple act of putting thoughts down on paper carries a weight much heavier than the risk of being deemed “old-fashioned.”

~Lisa

PS: Thank you, Wendy, for this blog idea.
When to Send
There are a myriad of occasions to send a thank you note: after receiving gifts for birthdays, holidays, weddings or graduations; after a job or an internship interview; or when you wish to express thanks for a generous gesture, such as house sitting or helping host a party.

The best rule of thumb is to send a thank you note whenever you wish to express gratitude, and chances are the recipient will feel great gratitude in return.

Below are some links to thank-you related sites and topics.

Thank You Card Companies
Red Stamp

Vista Print

Etiquette and How-To’s
My Thank You Site

Martha Stewart Weddings

101 Ways to Say Thank You

The Thank You Book

 
 

Social Media and Faux Friendships

01 Oct

Unlike millions of others around the world, I’m finding social media depressing these days. Maybe I’m hanging out on Facebook too much, but suddenly I’m finding the old-fashioned idea of friendship put to the test, and I’m in unfamiliar cyber territory.

For example, one of my college friends announced his engagement online this past Friday. A few days later, I was the 27th person to send a congratulatory message, most of those other messages, mind you, are from folks I don’t know. Not that I had any expectations that my friend would spend his second day of engagement starting a phone tree to spread the news, but still. I think, who are these strange people that are “friends” with my friend, and why does this type of communication feel more like a competition than a relationship?

Meanwhile, while poking around on my BFF’s online page, I came across a section of photographs, most of which are of he and his girlfriend. They are pictures I’ve never seen, of places I don’t recognize or have never visited. Suddenly I feel like I’m peeking through the window of a stranger’s house.

I’ve come to realize that those people I have known for so long, the ones who know me better than anyone, are now scattered across the world, living lives I know nothing about.

When I first moved to Florida, the absence of my gaggle of friends was palpable. It was very different from my previous experiences of moving to a strange town, living alone and being alone. This time I had a soon-to-be husband roommate, with plenty of friends, but I had to figure out how to find new companions.

I remember lamenting with my now long-distance pals that maybe, at some point in life, we stop forming bonds with new people. Maybe, I was so blessed with amazing, quirky, loving, caring, thoughtful friends that there would be no new additions to the fold.

I accepted this, I believed it. Until I realized those far-away loyal companions were cheating on me with hundreds of other little cyber-buddies, and I wasn’t in on the action.

Maybe, in the long run, long-distance friendships cannot work. And these media sites, all bannered with “keep in touch” and “reconnect” slogans, are less of a technological wonder of communication and more of a modern-day cheat sheet to friendship maintenance.

Are we all really this self-centered? “Upload it and they will come.” We even post updates about ourselves in the third person for goodness sakes.

Turns out I’m not the only one pegging social networks for their self-involved tendencies; check out this article, Social Networking IDs Narcissism, from PsychCentral.

What happened to a verbal exchange, give and take? What about laughing so hard your stomach aches, or something cold comes out your nose, which turns into a story to be told and told and retold, until all you have to hear is the words “orange soda” and the laugher starts all over again? What about hugs, and greeting cards and letters (the ones that require postage) or long talks that last until 3:00 a.m.?

I know it’s possible. Surely I’m not the only person who talks to her college roommate every day, even though she’s in Texas and I’m residing under endless palm trees. Surely there are childhood friends who still have a monthly girls night or still use their cell phone minutes to catch up every week.

Funny, the call to action for friendship would best be suited, perhaps, to a social media site: Support the Back to Friendship Cause! Ugh. Once again, the world is filled with popularity and lemmings.

 

This Corny Connotation Isn’t So Sweet

24 Sep

The interpretation and connotation of words is fun game we writers play, but sometimes in our 24/7 stream of mega media information, some folks get a little stretchy with their word choices.

Specifically, I’ve noticed a new sales pitch spewing from my television, defending the reputation of high-fructose corn syrup, “in moderation.”

These new pro-corn syrup commercials are proclaiming that HFCS isn’t the bad kid on the block. It is, after all, made from corn, and just like sugar, it is an okay food to eat every once and awhile.

To back up the commercial’s claims, viewers are directed to visit www.sweetsurprise.com. On the site, property of The Corn Refiners Association, there are several highlighted quotations from various medical professionals and organizations, such as:

“After studying current research, the American Medical Association (AMA) today concluded that high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners…” (American Medical Association press release, June 17, 2008)

In the same press release the AMA went on to say that Americans should limit the amount of sugar they eat each day to 32 grams for every 2,000 calorie intake, which translates to 7.6 teaspoons of sugar, a guideline backed up by the USDA.

In one of the commercials, the “mom” character is pouring into cups what looks like generic fruit punch, which contains on average, 30 grams of sugar per serving.  That translates to 7.14 teaspoons of sugar.

That maxes out an adult’s daily serving of sugar, let alone a child’s daily intake (of which there are no set guidelines, just the phrase “in moderation” when it comes to sugar for children).

The average American eats 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to the FDA. Around 60 percent of that is from corn syrup, near 40 percent from table sugar and the rest made up from honey and other sweeteners.

“In moderation,” is not exactly a concept this country is comfortable embracing.

I get the basic point of the campaign: HFCS isn’t any more evil than white table sugar. The commercial easily could have just substituted the word “sugar” for “corn syrup,” I’d still find it ridiculous.

The problem is that sugar is in EVERYTHING. Stop reading this blog (come back though, please) and go check out your pantry. Pick four items, and check their sugar content. Heck, I’ll do it now too:
1. Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate cereal bars (I love these): 8 grams.
2. Quaker Carmel Apple Rice Cakes: 3 grams.
3. Near East Toasted Pine Nut Couscous: 2 grams
4. Classico Vodka Sauce (pasta sauce): 5 grams.

So if I had a cereal bar snack in the morning, couscous with lunch, a rice cake in the afternoon and pasta and sauce for dinner I’m at 18 grams of sugar, without even taking the spoon to the sugar bowl.

The USDA maintains that people who consume food or beverages containing high levels of added sugars end up consuming more calories and fewer nutrients than people who chose foods and beverages with lower added sugars.

And high-calorie, high-sugar diets, well, let’s face it; sugar and fat go together like a mischievous mirror to carrots and peas. In a study released in the September 2008 issue of Obesity, connections are being made to eating high sugar/fat foods and binge eating disorder behaviors such as binge eating and self-restriction of more nutritious foods.

What’s so bad about sugar?
Sugar is too much of a good thing. In our pre-refrigeration days, like salt, it was used to preserve food, now it seems more like a food group, one that doesn’t give any nutritional value, just calories. Furthermore, table sugar, its friends HFCS, honey, molasses, brown sugar and the like, are simple carbohydrates. The body breaks these down very quickly, as seen when experiencing a sugar “high.” This is in sharp contrast to the complex carbs found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, which take longer to break down and are packed with fiber, nutrients and vitamins.

So perhaps the commercials should have run with a slightly different twist: After “like sugar, it’s fine in moderation” the mom should be seen measuring out ¼ cup of fruit punch for each serving, which only contains 1.78 teaspoons of sugar. Now that’s moderation.

 

It’s my first blog ever!

05 Aug

When I was a child, I loved going back to school. And not because I was a geeky, smart kid. It was because I loved, loved starting something new, like opening the first few pages of a Ramona Quimby book. I loved the smell of new pencils and erasers and having clean notebooks and new shoes. I liked starting over and seeing my friends change from their three months off—I loved carrying around the knowledge that I was getting older.

And I hated summer.

I know, I know, most people in the world, like 91.2 percent (my on-the-spot stat), find warm, sunny, humid weather to be ideal. They love their sunshine like a little piece of happy on the beach and long light-filled days with picnics and barbeques and lots and lots of swimming.

My view of summer was much more uncomfortable. Sticky skin and not being able to take a good, deep, clean breath. Having to be outside instead of inside where it was cooler, maybe. Wearing clothes that were infinitely smaller and more embarrassing than the long pants, long sleeves of fall and winter. And sweating for no reason, and at some point, turning my skin a pale, charred pink color.

I knew back-to-school meant that cooler weather and a cardigan sweater were just a few weeks away, and crisp air and all things pumpkin and burgandy and autumnal were just waiting for me to survive a little while longer with no air conditioning and sweat behind my bare knees.

I still hate summer, which is unfortunate, since I live in the land of eternal vacation.

But I also still love starting something new. Here’s to a new blog.

-Lisa