Metapost: Deconstruction Tags

It was pointed out today by one of you lovely readers that not everyone is equally enthralled with the three different deconstruction series that I'm running right now. I can certainly understand being focused on certain topics more than others, so in addition to the old "blog deconstruction" tags (which has now been changed to "deconstruction" because the Department of Redundancy Department sent me a memo about three months ago that everything written on a blog is, in fact, blog-related), there are now three new tags that will also go up on deconstruction posts:

  • deconstruction (claymore)
  • deconstruction (narnia)
  • deconstruction (twilight)
  • deconstruction (other)
And, yeah, "other" was the most creative thing I could come up with for the deconstruction metaposts and the one-off deconstructions where I rant mindlessly about Hollywood. I never could get the hang of Thursdays, and apparently that was the limit of my creative reach today, ha.

If you use the site navigation tools, there is now a shiny "Labels by Deconstruction Type" area for your clicking pleasure:


If you subscribe to the site via RSS feed alone, this shouldn't affect you one way or another except maybe to make archive searching a little more stream-lined, which is always a good thing.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

eReader: Why Digital Watermarking is Dangerous

Last week's news that J.K. Rowling has finally decided to publish the Harry Potter books in eBook form sent the news waves into a tizzy: after years of saying that she didn't want the books to be released digitally because she feared they would be pirated (a strange statement to make, since the books were already pirated online), she's finally announced that owning an eReader herself has opened her eyes to the possibilities of the device and the Harry Potter eBooks are to be released in October.

Interestingly, Rowling has chosen to announce that the books will only be released from her personal "Pottermore" site, and this announcement has sent out quite a few shockwaves of its own. With the majority of eReader devices having access to a "direct download" store like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, or Kobo, quite a few readers may not appreciate having to give up device-to-store benefits like syncing bookmarks and highlights, or being able to easily download their book to multiple devices on demand, like in the case of the B&N customer who can access their books from any PC running the Nook 4 PC app, any phone or tablet using the Nook 4 Android app, or any Nook device registered to their email address.

All this store-shunning and enforced side-loading however, has disappeared under the......interesting announcement that Harry Potter books will be "DRM-free", but with personalized digital watermarks. Which, to me, reads as the Harry Potter books will be "DRM-free", but with digital watermarking DRM.

"DRM" strictly stands for Digital Rights Management and quite simply was created to try to prevent mass-sharing of copyrighted works. DRM became quite controversial several years back when the music industry was going through growing pains, and now it seems that the publishing industry is intent on not learning from history.

Remember buying music from Musicmatch in the 90s? The whole thing was a pain and a half because you had a limited number of devices that could be authorized, and even if you had enough licenses on your account to buy a new portable music player, half the time when you got it home it turned out to be a brand that Musicmatch couldn't recognize. The DRM scheme turned out to increase file sharing because quite a few people would buy a music file at 99 cents from Musicmatch, and then "illegally" download a DRM-free copy of the song just so that they could play it on their devices. And then Musicmatch went under and everyone was out of luck.

In light of the Musicmatch fiasco, Amazon made a lot of customers happy by announcing they would sell DRM-free MP3 music files. They've been following that model for years now, and the customers are happy, the music industry hasn't collapsed, and file-sharing rates have stayed at pretty much the same level they've always been. The world has moved on, the publishing industry has been for the most part dragged into the current century, and we can all go buy Weird Al's latest song without fear that it won't work on whatever brand MP3 player we own.

Then eBooks were born, or rather started to enter the mainstream, and the publishing industry couldn't get enough DRM to satisfy them. Amazon developed their own DRM, only readable on Amazon devices. Barnes & Noble developed their own DRM, only readable on Barnes & Noble devices. Adobe developed a "standardized" DRM that the Overdrive library provider picked up, as well as Kobo and Sony, but it's still DRM and it's still a pain because not all devices can read the Adobe DRM.

And, of course, all this DRM did nothing but inconvenience actual customers, since the DRM-removal tools were released almost immediately after the DRMs were created. So in light of all this, Rowling's decision that the Harry Potter books will be DRM-free is quite awesome, no?

Not really, no.

Fundamentally, if Rowling really didn't want DRM on her books, she could sell them through Amazon and B&N and anyone else without using their DRM. When you put a book up for sale on the Kindle store or the NookBook store, Amazon/B&N lets you decide whether or not to use their DRM scheme, and many indie authors deliberately chose NOT to use the store's DRM because they understand that (a) it's not a piracy deterrent and (b) it annoys your readers and customers. So all this "Rowling had to avoid the booksellers so that she wouldn't have to use DRM" is so much smoke and mirrors.

The issue isn't that Rowling didn't want DRM on the Harry Potter books; the issue is that Rowling wants digital watermarking DRM, which the major booksellers don't currently offer as a choice to their publishers. You see, the DRM we've described above is only one kind of DRM -- the "lock" kind. The B&N DRM, for instance, applies a little digital lock on your book file and only the person with the key can open it. In the B&N DRM case, the "key" is a combination of your name and the last eight digits on your credit card. The digital watermarking that will be applied to Rowling's books doesn't work as a lock-and-key access, but it is DRM of the "trace" variety. According to the Inquirer announcement, the Harry Potter digital watermark will be used for tracking down the original owners of any files that end up on sharing sites:


To cope with the possibility of so-called 'piracy' the ebooks will feature a digital watermark that will identify who purchased the book. This will allow authorities to track down who shared an ebook with the rest of the world, and those users could be faced with lawsuits for copyright infringement.

Can you spot the logical flaws in that sentence? There are two. Firstly, digital watermarks don't just identify the file owner to the "authorities" -- they have the potential to identify the file owner to anyone with access to either the file or the publishers databases. Secondly, digital watermarks don't tell who shared the file; they tell who bought the file. Essentially, DWs are worrisome for two reasons: firstly, in the implementation of the link between one book file to one person, and secondly, in the trace-and-prosecute concept of digital policing.

On the implementation side, in order to link a book file to a person, the distributor of the book file has to have some identifying information about that person. When you visit a website to buy a product, you provide a variety of information: username, credit card number, IP address, physical address, and so on. Of all those pieces of information, the credit card number is easiest for the store to verify: if the purchase goes through and isn't flagged or contested, it must be a good number. Names, IP addresses, and physical addresses are much harder to verify as actually true, and most companies don't bother to try.

If the intent is to link a book file to an actual person, then unique information must be embedded in that book file that either corresponds directly to that person (so that when the Potter People sweep a torrent site and grab a HPSorcSt1.epub file, they can crack open the file and see "John Johnson, 6301 Bland Avenue, Apt. G, CC# as follows..." right there inside the file) or corresponds to a database that contains that person (so that when the Potter People crack open the file, they see 9861235897091831-9-0976C, which corresponds to "John Johnson, 6301 Bland Avenue, Apt. G, CC# as follows..." in their databases). In either case, it means that your personal identity information is stored forever in either an unsecure file that may live on multiple computer and eReader and phone devices or in a Pottermore database-o'-eternity that will soon become the Fort Knox for unethical hackers.

On the prosecution side, let's say the Potter People do pull down a HPSorcSt1.epub file and one way or another dig out the information "John Johnson, 6301 Bland Avenue, Apt. G, CC# as follows...", what then? John can't prove that his desktop computer wasn't hacked and the contents tossed up on that torrent site. John can't prove that when he used his laptop at the hotel, his data wasn't grabbed. John can't easily show that when his eReader or phone was using the McDonald's WiFi to download his book that it wasn't also snatched up by a nearby user. And John definitely can't easily show that his Dropbox cloud library was hacked by someone who mined all his data and tossed it all up on a torrent site for shits and giggles.

In the world we live in, digital rights lawsuits are becoming something of a guilty-until-proven innocent. Look at the Sony lawsuits, where they've sued Geohot -- and others -- for essentially rooting their PS3s. Rooting itself can be essentially innocent -- quite a few PS3 rooters do so to unlock the Linux capabilities of the device -- but the entire lawsuit was muddied by Sony's lawyers hooting about piracy at every possible turn. Geohot wasn't being prosecuted for piracy, he wasn't being sued for piracy, and what he was being sued for was only slightly tangentially related to piracy in the sense that pirated games are easier to run on a rooted device than a non-rooted one, but all we heard was the lawyers bleating that Geohot was some kind of cartoon villain who was stealing money from the mouths of game developers by showing people how to get root access to their purchased devices -- root access that people have been doing with phones and tablet computers en masse since about ten minutes after companies started locking their devices down and limiting their functionality.

You see, in the million-to-one chance that, say, a Baen eBook is stolen from you and loaded onto a torrent site without your knowledge, without a digital watermark you'll never be implicated in something that you didn't do, didn't know about, and couldn't prevent. On the other hand, in the million-to-one chance that, say, a Harry Potter eBook is stolen from you and loaded onto a torrent site without your knowledge, a digital watermark will mean that you get to face the collective might and legal power of the Rowling empire in a case where you literally cannot prove you didn't do it and where the lawyers will almost certainly be happy to paint you as a Snidely Whiplash esque villain.

That million-to-one chance is something that everyone has to decide for themselves, of course, but if the DW flavor of DRM gains in popularity, that million-to-one chance per eBook may start adding up over time. With one PC, one laptop, four eReaders (three of which have WiFi and/or 3G access), one smart phone, and a library-in-the-cloud, it's not a chance that I, personally, am willing to make.

In the meantime, I'm going to go listen to my DRM-free Weird Al songs. 

NOTE: Please don't link in the comments to any DRM-removal tools or sites explaining how to use them.

Author Interview: Pam Mariko on "Red Moon Rising"

Ana: Pam, an excerpt from your novel “Red Moon Rising” was submitted in the ABNA 2011 contest. Your excerpt introduced us to young Andrea, a girl growing up in the 60’s who had recently and unexpectedly lost her father and was additionally dealing with a pregnancy scare. Your writing was remarkably evocative and I was particularly touched by meaningful details like Andrea’s sudden return to playing with dolls in the aftermath of her father’s death, as though she were wishing she could return to a simpler time. Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?

Pam: From the excerpt, Andrea vacillates between horses and dolls to thinking about how she can get Brendan James and lose her virginity. The pillars of opposites, including good and bad, are mirrored by one white and one more blackened industrial furnaces on the horizon, which Andrea can from her classroom window. I explore early teenage character challenges, coupled with grief, as Andrea strives to cope, and ultimately, to surface and see light at the end of the tunnel. Red Moon is symbolic of the woman’s period, and how, eventually, everything comes into balance. I hope readers who have lost a parent, spouse, other family member, animal, and/or best friend, will take heart from my book. What seems the darkest pit can eventually lead to new beginnings, that, in a different way, make you feel happy again – and grateful for the memories you had.

Ana: Wow, I really love that symbolism: menstruation, balance, life-cycles. What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?

Pam: This novel started as an industry project in Creative Writing at university where I was a mature age student! Prior to that, I had been trying for category romance and was often asked for my work by HM&B based on that first three chapters; I even came second in RWNZ Meet the Editor competition judged by Cindy Hwang of Berkeley, but never got the full m/s accepted. So, I reverted to the YA because if just flowed. It’s based on my life at that time and I was urged by an inner voice to write it. In the editing stages, I read ‘The Earth Hums in B flat’ by Mari Strachan. It was set in the fifties whereas mine is set in the sixties, but I so loved it, and reading this helped me deepen my scenes. Mari was a Text Publishing prize winner and I have just submitted my book to TEXT. I wonder if they will like mine as much?!

Ana: It’s perhaps an odd detail for me to gravitate towards, but it’s so pleasing to me whenever I see tarot use and “maiden, mother, crone” references in a novel. Not only is it a very personal touch for many readers, and a very interesting way to flesh out a character, but it also reminds me so very strongly of the feelings that Joanne Harris’ novels usually evoke - warmth and safety and a little mysticism. If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?

Pam: Now I’m going to find and read Joanne Harris! I guess I do try and evoke warmth, safety and a thread of mysticism. In this book, Andrea does know some things before they happen – like the voice in her head in chapter one, about her dad’s death, before she got the news. Then there is a ‘stranger in the mist’ who might not be a person at all. I mention somewhere that her mother is the same – when she meets a man and ‘knew’ to miss a train because he was on his way to find her, and so-on. I don’t really make this a feature, but it’s just there; it’s real. In her daydreams she ‘sees’ her father the other side of a hedge. Grandma is a very spiritual being in a more religious sense and has an impact on Andrea and her deeds and thoughts. I don’t have another mystical book to compare it to – although "The Earth Hums in B flat" does have a very special mystical element that many people experience. I like to use the mystical and strange that really happen to people, as Mari did.

Ana: Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Pam: My finished category romance novels are below par, compared to this one. I have a general fiction love story on the drawing board which has a mystical element – psychic dreams where the couple meet. However it’s not fantastical, it’s grounded in the drudge of a love triangle, children, positive thinking – versus – listening to dreams. There could be a sequel to this one. Also, I have a prequel to the Young Adult which I intend to make a bit strange! Again – dreams and seeing people: a condition which fades as she gets older, but returns in times of stress.

Ana: Interesting! I can see that dreams and mysticism are very important recurring themes; you really would like Harris, I think. ;)   I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2011. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?

Pam: In July 2010 I was one of four winners of the Olvar Woods Fellowship Award with this work. After our week with two mentors, one of the other winners emailed the Amazon details through. I thought, w-e-l-l – I could give it a go. I thought it was very organised and exciting though impersonal, I suppose because they are so big. Even though I didn’t make it from 50 to the top three, I thought I just MIGHT get a letter from Penguin – but that was just a pipe dream!

Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?

Pam: I’m not published as yet and I’m in the process of finding out about blogs, which is all a bit hi tech for me but I’m going to be doing Blogging for Writers on Monday next week and can let you know as soon as I have a Blog. In the meantime anyone can email me via my yoga ‘business’ which is: info@caloundrayoga.com.au or www.caloundrayoga.com.au as an interim thing.

Ana: Pam, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Pam: I hope when I am published that my books will uplift and open psychological doorways for people to explore themselves, the world, relationships and so on – as well as offer a good read!

Poke the Publisher: Lucky Starr

I think I was a kid the first time I picked up a Lucky Starr book; I know it was "Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus", because the book entranced me from the beginning. The science fiction Sherlock Holmes format captivated me, and I was delighted at the mystery beneath the beautiful Venusian oceans filled with its gigantic jellyfish and tiny little sea frogs.

At the time, the book was being republished under Asimov's name instead of his original Lucky Starr pseudonym Paul French, and I remember being old enough to enjoy Asimov's author notes at the beginning of the novel, as he explained how science at the time of publication had genuinely believed we might find oceans on Venus, but that science had marched on since then and we now knew that really wasn't the case. Rather than be embarrassed that his novel was now a bit out-of-touch with current scientific thought, it struck me as quite sensible that the point become a learning opportunity for the reader; I respected his straightforward tone and the sense that, even as a child, I wasn't being talked down to by this author.

The Lucky Starr novels are dated, but delightful, and most follow a very Sherlock Holmes esque feel. David "Lucky" Starr is the Renaissance man of space, dedicated to solving riddles and puzzles that most men cannot; his stout Martian friend Bigman Jones provides the loyalty and muscle of Watson, as well as the all important denseness so that Lucky can explain his deductions to the reader. The space opera feel is quite delightful, and though I understand the books were some of Asimov's earliest, they are still my favorites and I will frequently bring my tattered paperbacks out for a nostalgic trip on a rainy day.

Amazon link to the omnibus here.


Remember: Readers who post in the comments that they've poked the publisher via any or all of these links will be mentioned in a subsequent "Poke the Publisher" entry, which is a level of fame that will open doors at least as easily as infinite wealth, extravagant beauty, and perpetual immortality.

Also remember: By poking the publisher, you are not indicating that YOU are waiting to buy this book in e-Book format, but rather that your dear friend Ana is waiting to buy this book in e-Book format to review, dissect, deconstruct, and otherwise desecrate for your reading pleasure. And buy it I shall, just as soon as it comes available in the U.S. of A.

Credit for last week's Poke the Publisher feature must go to Brin Bellway, Liz Kales, Gelliebean, Cupcakedoll, and Dav. Each one of these delightful people are smarter than Sherlock Holmes and David Starr combined, and each of them are also significantly better violinists.

Feminism: Why Won't You Women Stop Getting Raped?

[Content Note: Rape, Violence, Sadism]

This morning I received a Change.org petition in my email entitled "Philadelphia editor who blamed Lara Logan for her gang rape must go". I clicked over to read the story expecting the usual depressing victim-blaming bingo, but it's really so much worse than I had expected. Don't read further if you don't have the spoons to deal with a heavy dose of WTF idiocy.

Broad Street Review (which I can't remember hearing about before now) published a terribly thoughtful-if-depressing article by SaraKay Smullens that essentially asserts that rape is a much more common occurrence than a lot of people realize and that it's high time we started recognizing this as a society and speaking up about it. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about the article if you've been following feminism and rape culture even a little bit in the last, oh, ever, but it's a good article and maybe this will be the one that makes the difference for someone and provides a wake-up call of either the "thank god I'm not alone" variety or the "dear god this must stop" variety. Both of these are healthy responses to be hoped for, and I appreciate Smullens for writing about these womens' experiences.

Claymore: An Argument Against Survival

Claymore Recap: Clare has completed her contract to kill the monster that murdered Raki's family, and she has taken in Raki when the superstitious villagers feared that Raki might become a monster himself. Now they travel together as warrior and cook. 

Claymore, Episode 2: The Black Card

Episode 2 dives very quickly into building the backstory for the Claymore organization. We learn that Claymores are humans with human childhoods and memories, but they later undergo a process to take in the flesh and blood of a yoma monster. This process gives them great strength and agility, but it also thoroughly changes their physiology: Claymores don't physically age and they require significantly less sleep and food than a normal human being.

Review: Claymore, Vol. 2

Claymore, Vol. 2 (Claymore) (v. 2)Claymore, Vol. 2
by Norihiro Yagi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Claymore, Vol. 2 / 9781421506197

I've actually watched the complete Claymore anime first before getting into the manga; when I started deconstructing the incredible anime series on my blog, a kind reader was nice enough to mail me the first five manga volumes as supplemental material. I wasn't sure how closely the anime followed the source material, but so far it's been a very close match, with some extra (and delightful) details available in the manga.

I really love the artwork in this volume -- the drawings are black-and-white, and manage to be very detailed but with a consistently 'clean' simplicity that I find really appealing. The original formatting of the Japanese book was maintained instead of flipped, so you do have to read right-to-left and back-to-front with this volume. The right-to-left reading is a fairly simple adjustment for my eyes (though I do sometimes forget when I drop down a panel), but the back-to-front reading was a bit harder for my hands to get used to -- it's hard to shake years of muscle memory at the drop of a hat, but in this case it's worth it.

Volume 2 provides the following scenes:

Scene 5: Darkness in Paradise, Part 1
Scene 6: Darkness in Paradise, Part 2
Scene 7: Darkness in Paradise, Part 3
Scene 8: Darkness in Paradise, Part 4
Scene 9: Darkness in Paradise, Part 5

For those following along with the anime series, this volume corresponds to:

Episode 3: The Darkness in Paradise (An adaptation of Scene 5, Scene 6, and Scene 7 from the manga.)
Episode 4: Clare's Awakening (An adaptation of Scene 8, Scene 9, and carried over into Volume 3.)

This volume covers the adventures of Clare in the Holy City of Rabona, up to the recovery of her great sword and the start of the battle with the Voracious Eater. If you liked the anime series, I am certain you'll like this manga volume; I recommend it for extra detail and backstory on the Claymores and their organization.

~ Ana Mardoll

View all my reviews

Review: Claymore, Vol. 1

Claymore, Vol. 1 (Claymore) (v. 1)Claymore, Vol. 1
by Norihiro Yagi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Claymore, Vol. 1 / 9781421506180

I've actually watched the complete Claymore anime first before getting into the manga; when I started deconstructing the incredible anime series on my blog, a kind reader was nice enough to mail me the first five manga volumes as supplemental material. I wasn't sure how closely the anime followed the source material, but so far it's been a very close match, with some extra (and delightful) details available in the manga.

I really love the artwork in this volume -- the drawings are black-and-white, and manage to be very detailed but with a consistently 'clean' simplicity that I find really appealing. The original formatting of the Japanese book was maintained instead of flipped, so you do have to read right-to-left and back-to-front with this volume. The right-to-left reading is a fairly simple adjustment for my eyes (though I do sometimes forget when I drop down a panel), but the back-to-front reading was a bit harder for my hands to get used to -- it's hard to shake years of muscle memory at the drop of a hat, but in this case it's worth it.

Volume 1 provides the following scenes:

Scene 1: Silver-eyed Slayer
Scene 2: Claws in the Sky
Scene 3: Memory of a Witch
Scene 4: The Black Card

For those following along with the anime series, this volume corresponds to:

Episode 1: The Great Sword (An adaptation of Scene 1 and Scene 3 from the manga.)
Episode 2: The Black Card (An adaptation of Scene 4 with an opening shot illusion to Scene 2.)

This volume follows the introduction of Clare and Raki, their meeting one another, a decision to journey together, and the receipt by Clare of Elena's black card. If you liked the anime series, I am certain you'll like this manga volume; I recommend it for extra detail and backstory on the Claymores and their organization.

~ Ana Mardoll

View all my reviews

Twilight: Breaking Codependence

Twilight Recap: Bella has been to the supermarket for groceries and gone home in time to marinate the steaks before Charlie comes home from work. 

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   When I was finished with that, I took my book bag upstairs. Before starting my homework, I changed into a pair of dry sweats, pulled my damp hair up into a ponytail, and checked my e-mail for the first time. I had three messages.
   “Bella,” my mom wrote . . .

Write me as soon as you get in. Tell me how your flight was. Is it raining? I miss you already. I’m almost finished packing for Florida, but I can’t find my pink blouse. Do you know where I put it? Phil says hi. Mom.
   I sighed and went to the next. It was sent eight hours after the first.

Twilight was first published in 2005, but the actual setting of the book is a little bit trickier to pin down. There are computers and email and portable music players in the book, but I can't at the moment recall anyone using a cell phone, unless maybe near the end when everyone is coordinating escape plans. Sure enough, in Chapter 19, "tiny silver cell phones" start coming out of pockets, but given that Carlisle is literally handing them out to Alice and Esme, they seem less like day-to-day devices and more like luxury emergency walkie talkies.

Cheers: The Order of the Stick

@ giantitp.com
I love web comics, but I always dread starting new ones because I inevitably get sucked into them and can't stop until I've read every single episode, laughed at all the good bits at least three times, and possibly obsessively printed off the entire website into a PDF file for one or more of my eReaders. Obsessive-compulsive behavior, people, I haz it.

I didn't want to get drawn into The Order of the Stick because I'd already been through this obsession with 8-Bit Theater (which is another story for another time) and how many D&D-themed web comics does the world need anyway, but the repeated and excessive Trope-love on TV Tropes for this web comic eventually convinced me to check it out and I'm thrilled that I did.

I love this comic so much. I love it because it appeals to the gamer geek inside me. I love the corny D&D jokes. I love the plotline and how well thought-out and planned-in-advance it seems to be. I love the brick jokes that come back into play hundreds of strips later from the initial setup. Most of all, I really love this strip for the characterization.

Unlike a lot of gaming strips, the cast isn't limited to One Girl in a room full of guys. Oh, it started out that way with One Girl in the adventuring party (and one androgynous elf whose gender is still unknown), but the story almost immediately branched out into a world full of women who are people. There are women warriors and women villains and women politicians and women Avon salespersons and women who are minor characters and women who are major characters and women in the backgrounds and in crowds. The women characters aren't stereotyped into super-strong, hyper-competence and they're not pushed into the kitchen -- they're just as varied and interesting and flawed as all the many, many male characters that work and play and fight alongside them in the strip.

What's even more delightful is that the strip author has decided that all elves are androgynous to the human characters, so there's a lot of interesting subtext about gender neutral terminology and not making assumptions about characters based on their appearance. At least one elven family has two parents (Parent and Other Parent, which switches based on who the children are addressing) and two adopted children, and the genders of all of those four people are unknown -- as TV Tropes notes, it could well be a same-sex marriage for all the readers know. It's really incredible to me to see a loving family portrayed such that the genders of everyone involved are completely obscured -- as if the author really wants to point out that what makes a family a family is love, not the gendered equipment of the participants.

If you like web comics and/or anything with a D&D basis, I heartily recommend checking out The Order of the Stick. Check it out for its charm, for its humor, and for its dogged determination to write characters whose characterization is determined solely by their personality and not based on what's under their +5 to Charisma Robe.

eReader: How B&N Caused Me To Buy A Sony Reader

I recently let slip that I'd bought a Sony PRS-950 eReader, bringing my total eReader collection to four dedicated devices plus one smart phone: I now own (in order of purchase date) a Nook Classic, a Nook Color, a PocketBook 360, and a Sony PRS-950. The funny thing is, I wasn't really planning to buy a new eReader. But then B&N came out with their new Nook Simple Touch and I was sorely tempted. So how did I end up with a Sony device?

The answer, actually, is pretty simple. The Nook Simple Touch (or N2, as the second eInk Nook) really sold me on the idea of a touchscreen eInk reader but with dedicated page-turn buttons. When it comes to touchscreen versus buttons, I'm very much a hybrid girl: I love being able to touch-to-highlight words on my Nook Color, but I appreciate having the volume buttons on the device mapped to page-up and page-down functions -- the mapping to physical keys means that I don't have to touch the screen unless I have to. Once I started thinking in terms of a touch screen eInk reader, the choices narrowed down pretty quickly to three big players: the Nook, the Kobo, and the Sony. And once I maintained a "physical buttons required" position, the intriguing new Kobo was out -- as lovely as the new Kobo Touch is, I didn't want to go for a full-touchscreen device yet.

So why Sony over the Nook, especially when I've turned down Sony offerings in the past when I picked my PocketBook 360 over the Sony PRS-350? The answer is that Sony brought enough pros to the table with the PRS-950 and B&N brought too many cons to the table with their N2.

Sony PRS-950

The biggest reason I didn't go with the PRS-350 when I was looking for a pocket reader was because the Sony PRS-350 didn't have an expansion slot for extra memory -- you were stuck with the 4 GB internal memory, which was already 2 GB too small for my current library. The Sony PRS-950 has rectified this situation with an expandable SD card slot that currently houses a 32 GB card that contains my entire library. And then there are the Sony "collections" which are basically book shelves that you can customize and send directly from the Calibre interface in mere seconds; this delightful and crucial feature was possible for the Calibre team to achieve because Sony left the shelving interface open to external programs to modify. The Nook line, in contrast, has always left the shelving interface closed to external programs, and the user has to shelve all their books individually on each Nook device they own, with no way to backup or share the data between devices. As a software engineer, I consider a closed design like this to be a single step from "useless" -- what good is a system that takes hours to set up and cannot be backed up in case of disaster?

More importantly, in my opinion, the Sony PRS-950 provides the best PDF support of any eInk device on the market. I have a lot of PDF books, ranging from manga and comics to text-PDF books provided by NetGalley. The 7" screen on the Sony PRS-950 gives a lot of starting real estate for the PDF, and the software on the device provides a plethora of zooming and panning options. If you just want to trim a few inches off the margins, you can zoom and reposition the PDF page until it is perfect for your needs, and then you can lock that zoom into place so that the rest of the book is read in that same position. This is perfect for text-PDF books. If the PDF has two columns of text and you're going to be panning around a lot, the reader offers the ability to go into a "two-column" mode where the screen is divided into four quadrants -- you start in the upper-left hand corner of the screen, a page-turn takes you to the lower-left hand corner, another page-turn takes you to the upper-right corner, the third page-turn takes you to the lower-left corner, and then the last page turn takes you to the next page. This is ideal for PDFs that display two columns of text, and I've already had to use it for one NetGalley book.

The level of customization on the Sony PRS-950 is absolutely delightful. You can read in landscape or portrait orientation. You can zoom in and lock your zooming preferences into place. You can skip forward in the book and then bring up a "page history" guide to zip back to where you were however many page turns ago. You can highlight or scribble notes with the stylus. (You can, supposedly -- I haven't tested this yet -- export your highlights and notes.) You can look up selected words in the dictionary on both the N2 and the PRS-950, but you can also look up selected words on Wikipedia with the PRS-950. About the only thing you can't easily do is load up a custom font, but I've worked out a way with the good folks on Mobile Reads and I've written a guide for the method.

B&N Nook Simple Touch

The N2, by contrast, feels largely limiting to me. Where the PRS-950 embraces PDFs, the N2 treats them like second class citizens -- no panning, no zooming, and certainly no user-locked zoom. Text-PDFs are re-flowed awkwardly; image-PDFs are fitted to the 6" screen and what you see is what you get. How disappointing. The N2 doesn't support landscape view -- neither for PDFs nor for ePub books best read sideways (poetry is often viewed in landscape); and you'd better lay down a bookmark before skipping forward in a book, because once you leave the skipped-to page to look ahead, the soft-key "Back" button disappears. Worst of all, the N2 still doesn't support syncing or exporting for notes and highlights -- if your device crashes or is lost, your annotations go with it.

Some people will legitimately point out that I'm expecting too much from the N2. The N2 is a $140 reader; the PRS-950 ranges from $300 on the Sony site to $200 in Best Buy stores. Perhaps it's reasonable that for the price difference, B&N would strip out full support for PDFs, web browsing for Wikipedia, sync and export for user annotation, landscape reading mode, audiobook support, and 3G downloading. Goodness knows that the N2 is a dream-come-true for some readers -- particularly people who want to buy novels from B&N, read without annotating, and don't have a large PDF library. For those people, a $140 price point for a touchscreen eInk device is ideal.

But I'll admit, I'm a little wary of recommending the new N2. I wrote earlier in the year that I was becoming more disillusioned with B&N as they strip out more and more of their customer support structure and as they continually fail to upgrade the software on their devices and on their website. Since then, all the problems I've noticed with B&N have only gotten worse -- their much-anticipated update for the Nook Color was only announced when the Home Shopping Channel accidentally broke the news, and when the update did come, it was an anemic and pale shadow of what we'd been promised. The biggest items on the online customer wish lists (including better PDF support) were completely ignored; the B&N response was to throw a couple of PDF apps in the store and expect customers to pay for the apps in order to read their books on their readers.

And now, with the N2, users are complaining of serious ghosting issues arising from the "1 screen refresh every 6 pages" feature. The Kobo Touch -- which came out later than the N2 -- has already released a firmware fix for this issue on their device; they now allow the users to set individual preferences for page refresh rates. The Kobo team did all this while participating in the Mobile Read forums and talking to customers about their experiences; the B&N team won't even acknowledge the ghosting issue on the N2 in their own site forums!

Brand loyalty is a funny thing. I would never claim Sony is a better company than B&N: on the contrary, I dislike their Sony Reader store and I hate their draconian lawsuits and tendency to go after people who jailbreak their game consoles. But I didn't buy a Sony reader because I have warm fuzzy feelings for Sony -- I bought a Sony reader because the device does what I want it to for a price that I consider fair. A few months ago, I would have bought the new B&N reader out of brand loyalty: it's a pretty device and I have over 300 books in their ecosystem. But the device isn't currently good enough for my needs, and B&N's persistent refusal to address my needs (even a simple "planned updates" list on their website would be nice) has chipped away at my brand loyalty enough that I'm not willing to stick with them further in the hope that patches will eventually come for all this missing functionality. If the functionality is eventually added in, then I might consider buying, but then again, I already have all the eReaders I need.

But, darn it if that Kobo Touch isn't looking awfully shiny as the development team keeps improving it... *grins*

Poke the Publisher: Eichmann In My Hands

Abandoned books make me sad, but especially when they're incredibly compelling first-person accounts of history in the making. I first stumbled upon "Eichmann In My Hands" when I was in college writing a paper on the famous Milgram experiment, and I was captivated by this story.

Peter Malkin was an Israeli secret agent and was part of the team that captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 and brought him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Eichmann had been one of the Nazis adamantly committed to Jewish genocide and had even ignored Himmler's orders in 1945 to stop the Jewish extermination and cover up evidence -- Eichmann made sure the trains in Hungary were still running until he was finally forced to flee Hungary to live in secrecy in Argentina. While the rest of the world chose to forget about Eichmann, the Mossad agency decided to make his capture a high priority.

This first person account tells the life and story of the man who actually captured Eichmann along with a team of professionals. The writing is clever and engaging, and at some points quite funny and surprising -- for instance, when the Mossad agents arrive in Argentina in May in short sleeves and summer clothes only to realize that Argentina is in the southern hemisphere and it is therefore the beginning of winter. Oops!

According to his Wikipedia page, Peter Malkin died in 2005, and I can't even imagine who has inherited his book rights, but if ever a book deserved to be retained and resold in eBook form, "Eichmann In My Hands" does. Whether or not you agree with the goal of the Mossad to track down, capture, and try the Nazi leaders for war crimes, Malkin's fluid narration really hits the reader with how deep and personal this quest is and how it provides an incredible sense of closure to him and his family.

Amazon links are here, here, and here.


Remember: Readers who post in the comments that they've poked the publisher via any or all of these links will be mentioned in a subsequent "Poke the Publisher" entry, which is a level of fame that will open doors at least as easily as infinite wealth, extravagant beauty, and perpetual immortality.

Also remember: By poking the publisher, you are not indicating that YOU are waiting to buy this book in e-Book format, but rather that your dear friend Ana is waiting to buy this book in e-Book format to review, dissect, deconstruct, and otherwise desecrate for your reading pleasure. And buy it I shall, just as soon as it comes available in the U.S. of A.

Credit for last week's Poke the Publisher feature must go to keri, Cupcakedoll, Gelliebean, Brin Bellway (who pokes in spirit, from the icy nation of Canada), and Pamela Merritt. Each one of these delightful people are way too attractive to be employed as spies because of the constant flattering attention they draw to themselves, but they are very adept at providing timely distractions during crucial moments involving souffles and/or juggling mimes.

Author Interview Follow-up: Eileen Gormley's "Don't Feed The Fairies" Available for Purchase

This just in: Eileen Gormley's indie novel "Don't Feed The Fairies" is now available for purchase at Amazon and B&N. (Amazon referral link here.)

For those of you who read the author interviews, Eileen has been kind enough to provide an interview for us here. And for those of you who follow the ABNA contestants, my review on Eileen's 2010 entry can be found here.

I haven't read Eileen's completed novel yet, but I have bought it today and it's pretty high on my mental "To-Read" list. I want to extend well-wishes to Eileen for publishing her novel, and I'm very excited for her!

Narnia: The Stifling Role of Child-Mother

Narnia Recap: If you've never heard of The Chronicles of Narnia, you might want to start here with the deconstruction vote, and then follow to here for the discussion of the deconstruction vote.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 1: Lucy Looks Into A Wardrobe

Four is frequently the magic number in children's literature, at least in terms of protagonist children. With four children, you can have two girls, two boys, a wide range of ages (and therefore a broad audience appeal), and the author can do all sorts of cute tricks like perfectly alternating the genders by age (boy, girl, boy, girl) or by introducing pairs of boy-girl twins. The Bobbsey Twins features four children of the twin-pair variety, the Boxcar Children features four children of the alternating variety, and the Chronicles of Narnia starts the first published book in the series, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, with a family of four young children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.

Review: The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital: Book the Eighth (A Series of Unfortunate Events)The Hostile Hospital
 by Lemony Snicket

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Series of Unfortunate Events 8: The Hostile Hospital / 9780061757204

I've been reading this series in order since I first gained interest through the tie-in movie "Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events". I love the series for its superb characterization, lovely writing, quirky plotlines, and deeply dark humor, but it's worth noting that the series so far has been extremely formulaic: Mr. Poe drops the children off with a new guardian, things get progressively worse as Count Olaf shows up and starts causing trouble, and then the children barely thwart a cruel plan before being whisked off by Mr. Poe to do it all over again. This eight book in the series really attempts to mix things up a little bit by not starting out with Mr. Poe, and indeed not showcasing a new guardian at all.

In some ways, this installment is one of the first where I've been truly frightened for the plucky Baudelaire orphans, and the first one where they seemed genuinely alone and in danger to me. Maybe it's because of the tension of separation for several chapters -- it's impossible not to be on the edge of your seat when the unstoppable trio is forced to split up and one of them is put in very grave danger. And perhaps also it's because this is the first novel where the whole wide world of surrounding adults really seem genuinely hostile towards the poor orphans instead of simply foolish, apathetic, or generally worthless.

If you've loved the series so far, you'll love the engaging writing and increased creepiness of this one, but if you're getting tired of the basic plot premise then this book isn't going to be a breath of fresh air.

A note about the audiobook edition of this book: this installment features the superb narration of Tim Curry that the early books in the series featured. Curry does an incredible job with the story and it is impossible to not be drawn into his deep, rich narration as he follows the orphans through their dangerous adventures.

~ Ana Mardoll

View all my reviews

Cheers: ABNA 2011 and East of Denver

I really love being a participant in the yearly Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. I've been a judge now for two years in a row -- 2010 and 2011 -- and I heartily hope that I'll be asked to judge again from here until I'm too dead to realistically continue on in that capacity. A girl can dream.

Although the competition seems to provide a lot more benefits for Amazon and Penguin than for the author entrants and although I think the judging could be tightened up a little more after some unfortunate incidents this year, I am still very glad that authors continue to participate and I'm sure it must be extremely gratifying to be judged to be the best in your category at the end of the year. There's a lot of luck involved, but there's also just as much skill necessary.

I always like to peruse the ABNA excerpts when they come available to read after the second judging round, and I try to leave reviews on my favorites in order to help provide the authors with feedback. I never make my stated goal of reading and reviewing ALL of them -- I'm afraid I just don't have the time -- but I *do* manage to read quite a few gems and it's always a delight to me when I see them do well.

I was especially shocked and surprised to see that one of this year's winners is one that I read and reviewed earlier in the year: East of Denver. (You can pre-order the hardcover here, and boy do I hope it comes out in eBook form as well. Start poking that publisher now, fellow eReaders!) You can still read the excerpt free of charge here with either a Kindle or the Kindle for PC app, so you can figure out well in advance whether or not you need this lovely new author in your home collection.

What's most amusing to me about all this -- beside the ecstasy of being involved in something really awesome like ABNA -- is that part of this process illustrates just how tricky it is for the Vine judges to rate the excerpts according to the first 20,000 words or so. Based on the East of Denver excerpt, I thought the story was going to be an incredible, introspective read about coming to terms with an aging parent and putting fond memories to rest in order to deal with the painful realities of the now. Instead, according to the description on the pre-order hardcover copy, it's about a bank heist. And that's good too. *grins*

Hearty and heart-felt congratulations go out to Gregory Hill, wherever he is right now. I hope he enjoys his new ABNA-induced fame, because goodness knows he's earned it! *cheers*

Twilight: Playing with the Cheat Codes On

Twilight Recap: Bella has finished her second day of school without incident and the absence of Edward Cullen in Biology class has left her relieved and confused. She's pleased that she doesn't have to deal with his strange hostile glares, but can't shake the feeling that his absence has something to do with her.

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   I walked swiftly out to the parking lot. It was crowded now with fleeing students. I got in my truck and dug through my bag to make sure I had what I needed.

I feel like I've been doing pretty well lately with my resolution to be fair, balanced, and relatively free of vitriol in my deconstructions, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to slip a little to poke fun at this passage. Mark Twain's thirteenth rule of writing is that the author should "Use the right word, not its second cousin," and I have to say that the mental image of students "fleeing" Forks high school does fit in a vampire novel, but it's a very different sort of vampire novel than the one S. Meyer has written.

Twilight Themes: Platonic Ideals and Parenting Idioms

NOTE: This is a re-post from the Slacktivist blog.
 
Content Note: Authoritarian parenting, teenage sexuality, frank sexual language

Introduction

It’s never easy to be a parent, and it’s possibly now harder than ever before, with so much mainstream media battling over the right way to parent. Before I write any further, I should note: I’m not a parent myself. I don’t have children of my own and I’ve never had a minor living in my care or under my roof for more than the occasional quick visit. But despite my lack of children, I do have parents, and I have my own strong feelings about parenting styles and how they are portrayed in modern media. Something I’m particularly interested in is parenting styles as seen through the cultural lens of “Twilight” – both within the text itself and in the cultural phenomenon that surrounds it.

You may have heard of the “Twilight” series of novels – perhaps from my previous Slactiverse Special on the subject (1) or from my weekly series of deconstruction posts on my blog (2) – and you’re probably passingly familiar with the series’ polarizing protagonist Bella and her sparkly love interest Edward. What you may not be aware of, is that many modern parents are looking to incorporate “Twilight” into their parenting styles – either as a way to reach out and connect with their children during a time when children traditionally start to pull away and create their own cultures, or as a way to share a common pleasure in a world where an increasing variety of media is offered to cater to every possible taste.

“Twilight Moms” are not a new phenomenon: in 2008, articles were noting the number of parents snapping up the series and looking forward to the movie adaptations. Michelle Sager interviewed mothers who were joining the series with gusto and cheerfully sporting “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” shirts (3); Rachel Silverman pointed out that the closing ‘generation gap’ allows parents to find common ground and quality conversation time with their children (4). There’s even a dedicated site for the phenomenon – TwilightMoms.com – where parents can join a supportive social networking forum to discuss “Twilight”, other book recommendations, and parenting styles with other parents.

One wonders, however, how much actual common ground exists within the Twilight-Readers-Who-Are-Also-Parents demographic. The demographic seems to run the gamut widely from self-described “twihards” who claim the series represents a perfect model of family life, to casual fans who enjoy the book as escapism, to readers who don’t enjoy the series at all but keep up on the details in order to connect with their children. The “Twilight Moms” site itself has a rather interesting motto –The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the Hand That Rules the World– that is in some contexts a paean to parenthood and in other contexts a more dominionist statement. One way or another, however, parents are reading “Twilight” in droves, and I think it’s worth asking: How is parenting depicted within the pages of “Twilight”, and what are these real life parents being exposed to in their reading?

Platonic Ideals

From my own reading of “Twilight”, I consider the novel to be about a good many things. Most obviously, it is about a love triangle between an emotionally vulnerable young woman and two deeply troubled supernatural men. Moreover, it is a series about exotic secrets and exciting mysteries and the power that comes with leaving behind the helplessness of childhood (and humanity) and confidently joining the world of adults (and vampires), not only as one of them, but as the best of them. Textually-speaking, however, I also firmly believe that the “Twilight” series is about platonic forms (5) and of escaping from an earthly, imperfect reality to a heaven-on-earth paradisiacal ideal.

Everything within the narrative of “Twilight” revolves around the process of ‘perfecting’ the life of Bella Swan. At the start of the series, our young protagonist is disconnected emotionally from her parents, and is moving from her newly-remarried mother’s household to live with a father she barely knows. The reader does not take from the text that Bella’s parents are overtly neglectful, but rather that they are distant and distracted. By the end of the series, Bella has left her father’s household to become the newest member of the Cullen vampire clan - and as daughter to the doting Carlisle, bride to the sexy Edward, and mother to the unique-snowflake Renesmee, Bella has been transformed into a beautiful, graceful, powerful being: utterly loved, adored, and admired. Suddenly the perfect daughter, wife, and mother, she becomes a holy female trinity: ageless, unchanging, and eternal.

The reader will note that, in the midst all of all this perfection, Bella is still living much the same life at the end of the series that she was at the beginning: living in the household of a father figure, repeating high school for eternity, and largely unchanged in terms of her teenage personality. It is my belief that Bella’s enhanced-but-unchanged life is meant by the author to be the ultimate point of the happy ending – if there is no better life to aspire to than living as a young woman in a communal family arrangement, then the perfect version of that ultimate life would obviously be living as an unstoppable badass young woman in a communal family environment where everyone adores and admires you. And if living under the authority of a father figure is the model to follow, then obviously a move from a family characterized by alternately neglectful and authoritarian parenting to one characterized by an indulgent parenting is the ideal – at least from the perspective of our protagonist (6).

But is the Cullen parenting style really better than the Swan parenting styles? As much as the styles sharply contrast, I think that both styles are inordinately unhealthy because they ultimately fail to take into account the unique challenges presented by the individual children involved and because they rely upon slavishly following a set parenting model rather than applying a flexible approach shaped by communication with and feedback from the children involved.

Swan Parenting: Demanding But Not Responsive

There’s no doubt that the Swan family is full of conflict and fragmentation. Bella’s parents, Charlie and Renee, separated when Bella was an infant - Renee fled from gloomy Washington to sunny Arizona and never looked back, apparently even going so far as to confide in her daughter all the details of her final fight-and-flight from Charlie. Bella has dutifully visited her father once a year, but claims no pleasant memories from the visits - a claim that is reinforced when we glimpse the inside of Charlie’s home and realize that, in the absence of pleasant photos of their vacation moments together, he has instead opted to fill his home with Bella’s impersonal yearly school photos to mark the passage of time.

The relationship between Bella and her mother is close but strained. Renee is a functional child who has relied on Bella her entire life to run the daily details of household life. Prior to the start of the series, Renee has effectively ‘replaced’ Bella with her new husband Phil, who has taken over the responsibility of handling the finances, keeping the cars in good repair, and otherwise managing Renee’s life for her. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Bella’s replacement as caretaker is a source of internal conflict for Bella, especially since this ‘replacement’ leads to a major demotion from being head of her mother’s household to being a child in her father’s household.

Once integrated into her father’s household, Bella immediately assumes responsibility for the traditionally feminine household chores: shopping for groceries, preparing dinners, and washing all the laundry. Bella notes in text that this is not a hardship – the chores are, after all, the same she used to perform for her mother – but the reader will note that the power dynamics in Charlie’s household are very different from those in Renee’s household. In Renee’s household, Bella performed her chores in the role as effective parent, with Renee acting as the effective child – with the shouldering of these responsibilities, Bella also gained the full benefits of adulthood: managing the household finances and crafting Renee’s daily routine. In Charlie’s household, by contrast, Bella is no longer the acting adult in the relationship – she is very clearly a daughter serving her father. Never does Bella decide how the household finances are managed; even matters such as what car she will own and drive are decided for her before she arrives in Washington, and entirely without her input or opinions.

If Renee neglected her duties as a parent, Charlie seems almost obsessively interested in micro-managing his daughter’s personal life once she has moved into his household. When Bella announces her completely uncharacteristic decision to move to her father’s home, Charlie accepts this move as his due without ever thinking to ask if Bella is okay, or if the newly-married Phil has hurt her in any way or otherwise prompted this move. When Charlie presents Bella with his gift to her of a ‘new’ car, he tries to deceive her about the age and condition of the car in order to make the gift seem more generous than it is. And when Charlie first begins to suspect that Bella might be romantically interested in boys at her school, he starts disconnecting her car engine at night so that she can’t sneak out of the house and drive off to meet anyone, despite the fact that she has never shown the slightest inclination to this kind of behavior. The message in their relationship is clear: Bella is not a functional adult, but rather an irresponsible child and is therefore worthy only of mistrust and what paternal affection can be spared in between his weekend fishing trips.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Swan parenting styles are intensely unhealthy. Renee has spent her life being a demanding force on her daughter by allowing her childlike helplessness to rob Bella of her own childhood. Bella’s own needs have been utterly neglected as she has been raised to be her mother’s confidant and caretaker – but never to have or fulfill any dreams of her own. Charlie, by contrast, almost completely ignores his daughter as he works long hours, leaves her for weekend fishing trips, rarely speaks to her in the evenings, and studiously avoids engaging her opinions, and yet he still demands that her behavior conform to his ideals. As long as Bella lives under his roof, she will be the sole performer all the feminine chores of the household and her sexuality will be tightly controlled – even to the point of disconnecting her car engine nightly and regularly listening at her bedroom door for any hint that a boy might have been somehow smuggled up to her room.

In these ways and more, Bella is treated by her parents as an object - she is a day planner to be utilized by her mother and a vagina to be controlled by her father. Her hopes and dreams aren’t discussed or acknowledged because her parents don’t care about them; Bella is never treated as anything other than an extension of her parents’ desires and needs.

Cullen Parenting: Responsive But Not Demanding

When the Cullen family first arrives on the scene, they initially seem far more dysfunctional than the Swans: the young doctor Carlisle and his wife Esme have adopted three suspiciously-beautiful children while very pointedly not adopting the two blood-relatives that have been living under Esme’s guardianship since her late-teens/early-twenties. In a series of moves that seem straight out of the cult-leader’s guide-for-dummies, Dr. Cullen has isolated his family in a remote house in the woods, with no income other than his own, and appears to heavily discourage outside socializing, preferring that the teenagers form semi-incestual sexual relationships with their adopted siblings. He removes his children from school for ‘special training’ at random intervals, thereby disrupting their friendships outside of the family. No one has ever seen the children eat the school food, and the constant exhaustion that seems to infuse their slender bodies and the dark bruises under their eyes seem to point to serious abuse.

Of course, the real story is very different from this first appearance - the Cullen children are not abused, rather they are strong immortal beings who have chosen to pretend to be human teenagers in order to live as a family unit. They stay together out of a common sense of self (as rare ‘vegetarian’ vampires) and out of mutual respect. The Cullen parenting style seems to be healthy and nurturing - the children are trusted to come and go as they please, they pick cars and hobbies according to their own tastes, and they form sexual relationships according to their own needs. Edward Cullen in particular represents the freedom that awaits Bella: his doting parents are in raptures with all his choices and accomplishments, from his musical tastes to his choice of new girlfriend. Approval and acceptance suffuses the entire family, and as Bella moves slowly from one household to the other, so too are we to understand that she is moving from an imperfect fractured family to an ideal cohesive one.

While the Cullen parenting style may seem ideal in theory, however, it is fundamentally flawed in practice. Though the Swan parenting styles are unhealthily defined by dependence and mistrust, it does not automatically follow that the opposite parenting style – total independence and complete trust – is therefore the best, most healthy choice available.

Although it is tempting to view the Cullen ‘children’ as functional adults because of their advanced age and sexual maturity, these traits are not the defining aspects of adulthood. The most important aspect of adulthood is – in my opinion – a capacity for self-control, and it is here that the Cullen children are deeply lacking. Because the Cullen children struggle so much with controlling their vampiric blood lust, they are effectively unable to socialize outside the family, hold a regular job, or meaningfully attend higher education – they require complete freedom to take off for extended periods in order to hunt and recharge themselves before returning to the taxing demands of interacting with human society without accidentally murdering someone. It is precisely the issue of “self-control” that defines the makeup of the family: Carlisle is master of his vampiric urges and is therefore father and front man for the family; Edward and his siblings are still susceptible to temptation and are therefore children who defer to Carlisle’s guidance. In this sense, Edward and his siblings are far less mature than the average human teenager (including Bella!) and for the Cullen parents to treat them as adults with full independence and complete trust would seem to be a recipe for disaster – both for themselves and for the community.

The Swan family, for all their dysfunctionality, at least understand that biological urges exist – an authoritarian Charlie Swan sabotages his daughter’s car nightly because he fears that she has a biological compulsion to have sex. The Cullen family, in contrast, live their life in indulgent denial that their son has a biological compulsion for murder – and that he has acted on this compulsion multiple times in the past. The Cullens know their son sneaks out nightly to hover longingly over Bella Swan as she sleeps. They know that Bella is the one person on earth whom Edward feels most compelled to murder – her allure to him is described as that of cocaine to a junkie, and it is an allure that other members of the family have experienced before with disastrous results. The Cullens are also acutely aware that if by some miracle Edward merely turns rather than murders Bella, he’ll hate himself forever for turning her into something he believes is damned. It seems almost certain that this situation is bound to end in either a murder-suicide or a situation where Bella is turned to vampirism and Edward torments himself with an eternity of guilt for losing his self-control.

Faced with this situation and with the individual personalities involved, the Cullen parenting style is just as dysfunctional as the Swan parenting styles! A parenting style where the parents grant total independence and complete trust to their children is most certainly not automatically wrong, but a parenting style where the parents grant total independence and complete trust to a child who has a serious lack of self-control and a known problem with a destructive addiction is negligent in the extreme. The fact that the Cullens never speak to Edward about his dangerous disregard for his own limitations, the fact that they never urge the couple to employ chaperones to prevent an accidental murder, and the fact that they never express anything other than their unconditional support for Edward-the-junkie hanging out constantly and privately with Bella-the-cocaine-vial is incredibly distressing to the reader – and yet, this parenting style is being held up as a model for treating children with mutual respect and trust.

Conclusion: Flexibility and Feedback

It is my opinion that both the Swan and Cullen parenting styles are unhealthy not because there is some perfect, one-size-fits-all parenting model that should be followed blindly by everyone and which they have each failed to employ. No, it is my opinion that they are failures as parents because they are following rigid parenting models without any attempt at modifying those styles periodically with communication, feedback, and a good long hard introspective look at what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Renee treats Bella as an adult – she gives her daughter great power and great responsibility. This model is fulfilling for Renee because she has a companion, a confidant, and a caretaker all wrapped up in one, but the model doesn’t work for Bella because she is robbed of a meaningful chance to be a child. There’s nothing automatically wrong with encouraging a child to be mature and self-reliant, but the onus was on Renee to monitor Bella’s growth and note that the demands of completely running a household were effectively isolating Bella from creating meaningful relationships with her peers – in which case, Renee should have re-evaluated her parenting style and changed it appropriately.

Charlie treats Bella as a child – he gives her chores, makes decisions for her, and lays ground rules for the behavior he expects from her. This model is fulfilling for Charlie because he has a well-behaved daughter to brag about to his friends and his time is freed up from all the household chores that he hates, but the model doesn’t work for Bella because she feels stifled and unfulfilled. There’s nothing automatically wrong with laying ground rules and monitoring a child’s behavior, but as Charlie sees Bella become more interested in boys, he fails to re-evaluate his parenting style in order to allow safe exploration, and by continuing to micro-manage his daughter’s sexuality, he inadvertently pushes her into a teenage marriage.

Carlisle and Esme Cullen, by contrast, treat their children as adults – with complete respect, trust, and independence. This model is fulfilling for all the Cullens: the adults have the “children” they always wanted, and the children can live their lives as the “adults” they see themselves as being, based on their advanced age and sexual maturity. But this model ultimately doesn’t work in this situation because as much as the Cullen children like to think of themselves as adults, they aren’t – despite their apparent maturity, their fundamental lack of self-control means they are less of an adult than the most hormonally-driven human teenager. There’s nothing automatically wrong with extending trust and independence to children, but the Cullens failure to acknowledge and act on their childrens’ dangerous addictions puts both their children and their community at serious risk. What they should do and what they fail to do is be honest about Edward’s destructive behavior and communicate to him how dangerous and inappropriate they believe his actions to be – and then suggest safer, alternative ways for him to see Bella, both for his own safety and for hers.

Again, I feel I should mention: I’ve never raised teenagers myself. As such, I may be completely wrong in my opinions, but I personally believe that the responsible parent recognizes that their children are unique individuals and adjusts their parenting style accordingly based on the behavior they observe and the communication they elicit. A child who has demonstrated a propensity for harmful behavior may be granted fewer privileges and independence than a child who has shown good judgment and healthy self-control. To my mind, good parents attempt to provide healthy guidance and will attempt to set the appropriate boundaries that their children might not yet have the self-control to set for themselves. “No, you may not go out with Jimmy alone anymore since the last time you two were together, you two thought it would be a good idea to snort cans of compressed paint,” they may say, or, “I don’t think you need to see Shawna on weeknights until your grades improve past a C-; you two can wait until the weekend to hang out.” Or, even perhaps, “I’m not sure that you should be alone with Bella, given that you’ve had trouble controlling your blood lust in the past, and I’m sure you’d be very sorry if you did something you’ll regret later. Why don’t you take Alice with you as a chaperone?”

To me, being an adult is about healthy self-control, about setting boundaries for yourself so that you don’t unnecessarily harm yourself or others. Select a designated driver. Plan ahead for safe sex. Try not to spend a lot of time alone with people you desperately want to murder, or with people who desperately want to murder you. To me, being a parent is about helping your children be aware of the importance of that self-control, and about helping them to set those boundaries for themselves even when they can’t or don’t want to.

By that rubric, there are no ‘good parents’ in “Twilight”. There is a strong contrast between the Swans and the Cullens, but the contrast is no longer between imperfect and perfect parenting styles, but rather between two equally unhealthy parenting styles: on the one hand, a family so steeped in control and boundaries that the reasons for those boundaries have become meaningless; on the other hand, a family so proud of their indulgent parenting that they’ve managed to completely ignore the fact that their ‘children’ are impulsive serial killers who haven’t yet mastered the self-control to keep themselves out of dangerously triggering situations.

It’s worth noting that among the many fans and anti-fans of “Twilight”, there’s a small but vocal faction that wants to see Bella escape the oppressive love triangle she inhabits with vampire Edward and werewolf Jacob. For myself, I’m just as interested in seeing her escape the irresponsible and stubbornly static parenting styles of Charlie Swan and Carlisle Cullen.

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(1) Good Girls Tell Lies: Internalized Misogyny in Twilight

(2) I regularly post deconstructions on my own website.

(3) Source: The full article is well worth a read, but a particularly funny stand-out is when a 12-year-old quips "My mom got me the book to get me into reading," Jacqueline Capalbo said. "But now she's more into it than me. It's kind of weird."

(4) Source: Again, the full article is worthwhile, but I was pleased to see the author calmly point out the possibilities for bonding within busy families: Reading together is also a way that time-crunched working parents can strengthen bonds with their children, as an example of quality, rather than necessarily quantity, time. (A parent can, say, read the same book as their teen on the subway home, and talk about it over dinner.)

(5) Source: I was particularly interested in philosophy when I was in college and took several elective courses on the subject, but I will also admit that was a rather long time ago and it’s possible that I don’t have all the details right.

(6) Source: I’m using the parenting style names as outlined in this Wikipedia article, but I don’t personally care for the terms used in the article, nor the overall tone of the piece. Words have connotative meanings as well as definitive meanings, and terms like “indulgent parenting” are in my opinion likely to evoke an emotional response in an audience regardless of the definitive meaning of “responsive but not demanding”.


--Ana Mardoll