The fall in literacy consumption

So it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to post on my blog. Not to worry, for your entertainment pleasure (and time wasting) I have attached some photos of my trip to Denver, which will be available…on the next blogpost, sometime on Tuesday the 30th. Sorry ladies and gents but its 2 A.M. my time.

The following two videos highlight a real problem with young people First up is Brian Williams, anchor of NBC News, on the push to get young people more involved with consuming news.

And this video is called “Internet Madness in America” from the O’Reilly Factor (main portion is from 3:40-4:20):

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=3807366425001&w=466&h=263″></script><noscript>Watch the latest video at <a href=”http://video.foxnews.com”>video.foxnews.com</a></noscript&gt;

(if you can’t see the embed watch it HERE)

What do these two videos have in common? A lot, actually. Williams is noting a huge decline in young people paying attention to what is going on in the world around them. Believe it, more people my age and younger know about the celebrity photo hacking scandal than they would about the drought in California, the Scotland independence vote, the immigration battle on the southern border, or frankly any news story of significance to their lives. While there is considerable debate about bias in the media (and Brian Williams and NBC are not without controversy of their own) the fact is, he is right- the lack of engagement and civil participation is not a good thing for society. If people are not paying attention to what is going on around them they will be easy targets for scammers and others looking to take advantage of the un- and mis- informed.

O’Reilly’s point is more focused on books. The segment I highlighted is on how he notes that people used to read and really don’t as much anymore because the internet provides way too many distractions. Now there are e-books and they have increased their overall market share of books, and this is not a bad thing if it gets people to read. The problem is getting more people to read, period.

If people don’t read, whether it’s a good novel or a good news article, then they risk becoming less curious about exploring new ideas (which is bad), they are less likely to try to comprehend complex new ideas (which is bad) and there is a direct correlation between children who cannot read by the end of 3rd grade and an increase in high school dropouts and prisoners in our “criminal justice” system (visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation website for more information as a starting point).

I will be addressing this problem in further detail over the next few months but I am happy to hear from you and your ideas about how we can engage young people, especially in low-income areas, to read more.

Coming up Next: I created my second Vlog and I will post it, along with photos of my trip to Denver. Expect this Tuesday the 30th, sometime in the PM EST. The Vlog is part 1 of 3 on how to tell a story using nonverbal cues.

Coming up Soon: I will continue part 2 of 3 on storytelling with nonverbal cues. I expect to have this up by next Tuesday the 7th.

photo credit: http://www.topnews.in/health/being-seen-book-just-not-cool-1-5-kids-216787

The time I try to Vlog: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and the missed PR Opportunity

Below is my first attempt to vlog, or video blog. Basically typing hurts my fingers so I decided you’d care more if I talked into a webcam  rather than read anything I write. Oh, well, either way no one cares.

The topic: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and the PR opportunity with the movie which could have given the movie, and the topic of a teenage cancer romance story, more of a bump than it did. Watch the video below:

COMING UP NEXT: A lot of people who write like to talk about writing novels. But telling a story and writing a novel are not completely mutually exclusive. I’ll provide some ideas to keep in mind when telling stories (hint: think of how you might compose your body when you talk)

COMING UP SOON: I’ll continue the lesson on story-telling but I’ll talk more about the body’s gestures, like hand gestures, body language, etc.

It’s been thirteen years since the Darkest Morning.

For those of you who forgot (shame on you! naughty naughty, as my grandma would say) what today is:
No, that isn’t what my grandma looks like, though she COULD look like that on the wrong day.
Today is the 13th anniversary of 9/11, or the Day that Everything Changed, particularly Air Travel. For those of you who didn’t fly before 9/11, the kind of security we have now is not the same as it used to be. There was no need to remove your shoes at the security line, in fact the long lines and list of prohibited items did not exist and there was no Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
But what we commemorate on this somber day is the fatal hijacking of four airplanes: American Airlines flight 77 (crashed into Pentagon), American Airlines flight 11 (crashed into North Tower), United Airlines flight 175 (crashed into South Tower), and United flight 93 (crashed near Shanksville, PA, and sadly the memorial site is still not totally complete as of this writing). United Flight 93 is the subject of a 2006 movie which I saw but sadly didn’t get the attention it deserves. It was at 8:46 A.M. that flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. Most people who heard about this assumed it was a tragic accident. But it was at 9:03 A.M. when flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center complex that people realized it wasn’t an accident.
It was around this time that I, being a 7th grader at the time, remember hearing a classmate of mine wearing an mp3 player with headphones (they had built-in radios) say “they crashed the second plane into the South Tower” and no one knew what he was talking about. We were herded in, around noon, into the cafeteria to watch coverage of the incident on CNN. They sent us home early that day and we watched coverage at hme.
So on this day, no matter what you do, remember the 3,000 AMericans who died, both in the plane crashes, on the ground, and during the rescue process, and remember the millions of lives which changed forever because of the horrific actions of that day. I will leave you with this video from that day. Click the link or watch below:
If you were alive on that day: where were you when you first heard about the attack?
If you were NOT alive on that day: when were you first told about what happened on that day and how were the facts presented to you?
PS. Today 237 years ago was the Battle of Brandywine, which I know about because I live in the area. If you are in the Philly area, take the driving tour of the Brandywine Battlefield. It’s a good way to learn about the battle and see the Delaware Valley (side note: the British won). Today is also the 2nd anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, and the attackers have still not been found.
(photo:newsguardians.com)

Novels for men: Do guys still read books?

                                                         

                            (photo credit: allposters.com)                                            (photo credit: blogs.uvu.edu)    

As I have mentioned before, I am a guy who likes to read and write books. Only it seems that outside of the sci-fi.fantasy realm the majority of books published are books women prefer, such as paranormal romance and YA thrillers with female heroines and female-centric plots.

First, let me state that I’m not objecting to the so-called “chick-lit”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with paranormal romance or dystopian societies if you are into those things. Just because one person doesn’t like a book doesn’t mean others won’t, a practice which seems to be forgotten in the publishing industry,

From last year’s National Endowment for the Arts survey:

The NEA has partnered with the United States Census Bureau six times since 1982 to conduct the SPPA. The 2012 survey asked a nationally representative sample of adults ages 18 and older if they had participated in five broad categories of arts activity in the past year: attending, reading, learning, making/sharing art, and consuming art via electronic media.

  • More than two-thirds of American adults (71 percent or 167 million) accessed art via electronic media, including TV, radio, hand-held or mobile devices, the Internet, and DVDs, CDs, tapes, or records.
  • Music viewing and/or listening is the most popular form of media arts participation—whether on TV, radio, or the Internet. Fifty percent of adults used TV or radio to watch or listen to music, and 29 percent used the Internet to watch, listen to, or download music.

 Reading Books and Literature

  • More than half of American adults read a work of literature or a book (fiction or nonfiction) not required for work or school. However, adults’ rates of literary reading (novels or short stories, poetry, and plays) dropped back to 2002 levels (from 50 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2012).
  • Older Americans (65 and older) now have higher rates of literary reading than any other adult age group. 

 

And then there’s this little nugget of info:

Women tend to simply read more than men — one study by the Associated Press found that among avid readers, women read nine books a year while men read five. The men outpaced the women in reading biographies and historical books, though, and booksellers say that women make up the clear majority of fiction readers.

According to one theory, women read more fiction than men because they possess greater quantities of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are activated when we do something, as well as when we watch somebody else do the same thing. In other words, mirror neurons help us put ourselves in another person’s shoes, and they are tied closely to empathy. It’s possible that women are better able to empathize with fictional characters because of their mirror neurons, which makes them more likely to invest in characters’ journeys.

Both the Associated Press poll and a 2007 poll from the National Endowment for the Arts have tracked declines in reading for pleasure among Americans. The NEA poll showed that literary reading has declined for both genders, across all education levels and in nearly every age group. It also said that only 47 percent of adults had read a novel, short story, play or poem in the past year . The report showed that the gap between reading scores for male and female 12th-grade students had widened from 1992 to 2005. Girls outperformed boys on literary reading, reading for information and reading to perform a task. Women also outscored men on adult literacy tests.

(source: “Why do women read more fiction than men?” Curiosity.discover.com)

I can’t give the scientific answer about empathy and mirror neurons, but it is well-known that women are generally more emotion than men. It’s why your girlfriend/wife/mother/sister/ BFF can cry to a romantic movie but you the guy are probably bored or indifferent. You may also have noticed just how many romance novels there are.

The sad truth is that reading for pleasure overall is down, as the NEA study noted. Though older people like my grandma still read for pleasure for most people it’s just easier to play Angry Birds or Candy Crush (or whatever the newest game is) than it is to pick up a book and spend even one hour reading it.

Also, children who are not read to by their parents or guardians are generally less likely to pick up good reading habits than children whose parents or guardians read to them on a reasonably regular basis. There is a study by the Annie E Casey Foundation that children who enter the fourth grade unable to read are almost 90% of those students who end up dropping out of high school and/or ending up incarcerated.

However, let’s not totally blame the people. Perhaps some people aren’t interested in what gets put out. Most men I know are not interested in reading romance, including paranormal romance. Some men will buy dystopian thrillers but it becomes harder and harder to stand out in the crowded dystopian market (Hugh Howey’s Wool actually did on its own-but it’s the exception to the rule). Given how much is being published it becomes harder and harder to find a niche, but they do exist. Too few people ever think outside the box.

How does this fit into men and boys reading less? One organization says Boys read 10 minutes per day less than girls  (we aren’t counting texts and social media postings, but real reading). Another says boys generally have lower levels of literacy comprehension. If these boys do not become avid reader they will most likely become men who are not avid reads, particularly of fiction.

I think the solution is, without degrading the literacy levels of girls and women, is simple: get kids, boys especially, excited about reading. Find new ways to introduce reading, whether through traditional publishing, e-books, or short stories. Make the material somewhat engaging, perhaps removing the “classics” (this is another blogpost!) with books kids might be interested in. Encourage parents with elementary school or pre-school kids to read at least four nights a week to the kids. 

What do you think? Why do men and boys generally read less? Am I being too short-sighted and not seeing the overall lower reading levels? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

COMING UP NEXT: I will post a Vlog (or link to) my review of one vlog by John Green, Author of “The Fault in Our Stars”. I wanted to comment on a particular video of his on Israel and Gaza. 

Coming up soon: The art of storytelling. How many of your readers know how to tell persuasive stories? I will begin a series here where I will explain the art of storytelling and how to keep an audience hooked.

Lack of ethnic diversity in writing and in movies?

I came across this graph at the blog fuckyeahscifiwomenofcolour.tumblr.com/. The original website it comes from is from Lee and Low’s blogsite Read it and think about it:

medievalpoc: leeandlow submitted to medievalpoc: The Diversity Gap in the highest grossing science fiction and fantasy films. Sad, right? You can see the full study here. I highly recommend reading the entire article. from the infographic: Among the top 100 domestic grossing films:• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color• of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)• 0% of protagonists are women of color• 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ• 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

and this from the Lee and Low website:

If you are a minority/person of color and you have aspired to becoming a writer (yours truly speaks in the first person on this one) you may look at this and become convinced that the odds of becoming a bestselling author are slim, or if you are writing a book with a lot of minority characters (includes LGBTQ) in it your novel will not sell. While I am not sure what Lee and Low think the primary cause of the dearth of non-heretosexual Caucasian authors and characters are, I can offer my best guesses for a few of these items (warning: my opinions on most matters are well-informed and based on my expertise and/or knowledge of a subject. If facts bother you, this is not the blogsite for you!):

First off I am surprised only 14% of movies have a female protagonist. They may be referring to movies like Lucy or The Hunger Games where the primary protagonist is female. The lack of villains of color (assuming Darth Vader doesn’t count) is likely due to the fact that Caucasians dominate Hollywood and there is fear that if they make the “bad guy/girl” a minority they will be charged with racism, so it’s safer just to make the villain Caucasian.

As for the books, the first truth is well-read and well-educated people tend to become authors. Well, the sad reality is that many Black and Hispanic children are behind White and Asian peers when it comes to reading and writing. In some states, like Delaware where I live, the difference can be as much as two full grade levels difference (i.e. White child in 6th grade reads like a 6th grader should, Black or Hispanic child are at 4th grade level). Children who don’t grow up around books and who can read them are less likely to want to write them someday.

The other truth is income-based; Many low-income children grow up in a single-parent household, and often that single parent does not read to the children on a regular basis the way parents with higher incomes or education read to their kids. Since reading has long been seen as something predominately solid middle, upper-middle, and upper-classes do, and most Americans in those categories are White, then it’s logical most authors will come from households where reading was encouraged over home where it is not.

It’s also therefore logical that the vast majority of those whose jobs depends on writing of some kind, including agents, publishers, editors, book reviewers, screenwriters, movie producers, directors, etc., come from the same backgrounds. Don’t believe me? Go look for an agent or publisher and tell me what seems to stand out. If indeed the facts mentioned above are in any way related to the types of books published and movies made, then you cannot expect movies and books which are “different” to become blockbusters without a major change in the movie making and literature world.

The most logical reason then for the lack of POC in books/movies has more to do with who writes and who publishes vs. inherent racism and discrimination against authors of color, but it would be wrong to say there is no prejudice whatsoever anywhere in Hollywood and in literature.  Accept that if you are of Hispanic descent (yours truly) or some other non-White background you will feel as though the already-challenging odds of getting published are even harder, especially if you happen to write about a theme which is “different” than what usually fills the bestseller lists or makes blockbuster franchises. It may seem unfair but it is the cold, hard truth.

There is, however, hope for you.

The best advice I can give is never to quit writing or producing movie content. If you do then you simply create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Write the book or movie script YOU want, not what someone tells you is “acceptable” for publication or production. What should matter is the quality of the story and not whether some major publisher or distributor deems it among the “chosen ones” based on pre-determined criteria and/or whether YOU THE AUTHOR are among the “approved ones” based on your age or what you look like.

One suggestion is to examine your own personal life or the life of someone close to you and look for something unusual or which stands out from the experiences you would expect the average American has.

For example, if you were ever involved in gang activity, but now you are out of it, that’s a good story right there. You can write a story about gangs better than someone who was never in a gang or who didn’t know gang-members personally. If you were in the military in any country, write a fictional story based on your experience, whether or not it is a military novel. In my case I infused elements of my Boy Scout camping days in the novel I am currently editing. If you were born poor or homeless or on a tribal reservation, create a story based on how you lived and how you felt. There’s an old saying “people write what they known” and it’s true. Use your unique life experiences to your advantage in your writing! 

COMING UP NEXT: novels for male audiences. Do guys even read books anymore? Or is the future of fiction going to belong to the “chick-lit” genre which basically means romance novels (paranormal or normal doesn’t matter) or dystopian thrillers with female heroines? Stay tuned.

COMING UP SOON: will also post some vlogs on some topics I care about and repost them here. For this upcoming episode I have a couple things to say about “The Fault in Our Stars” and its author John Green. Some flattering, some less so. Stay tuned.