Saturday, September 29, 2012

Comment of the Week!

Our usual Thursday From-the-Vault post gives you a chance to win a book from our vault. But this week, in honor of Banned Books Week, we changed things up a bit and gave one commenter a chance to win the Frequently Banned Book of his or her choice.
This week, our winner is:
Addy Rae!
Something that really irritates me is when people will jump onto a book banning bandwagon without having read or even knowing anything about the book they're working to get banned. I'm still I'm absolutely against book banning of any sort.

There are books that I probably shouldn't have read as a kid (Clan of the Cave Bear comes to mind. I read it in 5th grade.), but they didn't hurt me, and they often helped me learn about a topic without trying it. Sex in books discouraged me from exploring it in real life, especially since real boys can't stand up against imaginary ones.

My mom's advice on inappropriate content in my reading? 'Skip the sex scenes. The book probably doesn't actually need them. Just flip past stuff that makes you uncomfortable.'
Thanks for your thoughts, Addy! I think many of us have memories of books that stretched our mental boundaries even if they weren't on the same library shelves we typically frequented.

Get in touch, Addy, and let us know what Frequently Banned Book you'd like!

And if you want to continue the fight against book banning, be sure to visit for more information, resources and great products like the poster above.

Finally a special shout out to all the book banners out there. Your efforts continue to bring amazing books to the attention of people who wouldn't otherwise hear about them. Ironic, isn't it?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ask-A-Dude: Fashion Edition!

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another edition of Ask-a-Dude!

Remember, you can ask your own questions using the submission form on the right!

Today's question is:

Q: Why do guys have such terrible fashion sense? 

A: Before I reply, I should provide some context so you can determine for yourself if I'm qualified to answer this question.

As I sit here typing this, I'm wearing:

1. A dickey*
2. A smile
3. Nothing else

Okay, wow, that cleared most of the room. The rest of you can move up and fill in the front rows. . .No? Okay, let's move on.

Men's fashion used to be simple. You wore the skin of whatever you killed for dinner and there was a certain sexy masculinity in that. It helped that there were very few mastadons that would be caught dead in cheap acrylics or bad Ed Hardy motifs (*koff* redundant *koff-kaff*).

The result was that everyone on the savanna dressed like a mack daddy pimp.
Mastodon fur was VERY popular at this year's New York Fashion Week
Unfortunately, guys seem to have lost the early promise of those beautiful natural materials. We've replaced virility and confidence with a desperate attempt at building a wardrobe to make us look like our manly ancestors. Only it's as if we're working off a ghost image of what we thought made early males catnip for the ladies. 
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010
And what animal did you kill, exactly, to get that coat?
Long hair? Check.
Fur? Check.
Creepy angry-pout? Check.
Visual "stud" metaphor? Erm, yeah, you're trying too hard. 

The thing is, we want to look good, we really do. If we've got a romantic date or special occasion coming up, we'll set aside up to twenty whole minutes to shop for something nice to wear. Ignore for the moment that we spend less time shopping for clothes than we do trying to find a parking spot close to the entrance or that we focus more on hitting urinal cookies dead center than we do on fashion. At least we're trying. And if men have learned one lesson from kindergarten (and then indiscriminately applied it to everything, everywhere for the rest of their lives), trying is good enough.

Part of the struggle for modern men is that we are overwhelmed by choices. When I head to the local mall to pick out a nice dress shirt, I'm bombarded with incomprehensible babble. Am I looking for a pointed, wide or button down collar? Would I prefer turnback, button or French cuffs? Do I want a tailored look or a classic fit? What are my thoughts on plackets?

I don't know what you're saying! Just make me sexy, already! 
Choose the wrong placket and you're f***ed
Once the questions start, we do that thing men do where we try to sound like we know what we're talking about when we don't.

"Uh, you know what, let me make discrete inquiries with my valet vis-a-vis yoke preferences at which time I'll return to this haberdashery posthaste."

We rush out of there and on the way back home we pick up some polos from the discount rack at the Dollar Store. The fact that those "polos" are actually terry cloth bibs is irrelevant.

If a guy is intoxicated by love, experiencing Vulcan pon farr, or just really determined to shop for himself, he'll do the same thing that worked for him when he couldn't defeat Skyrim's Alduin: he'll look for a walkthrough. This consists of checking a few online fashion sites, maybe leafing through an issue of GQ, and then trying to emulate what he sees.

Guys, let me emphasize, this is a HUGE mistake. This is working the karaoke scene for a few days and then thinking you have what it takes to sing backup for Rihanna.

Oops, sorry, let me put that through Google Translate (Mars to Venus setting): This is like reffing college football and  thinking you have what it takes to officiate in the NFL.
Never Forget
Here's why this is such a terrible idea, guys. Let's say you see an image like this:
It was Suspect #3, officer. Only he had a mask and called himself Bane.
You don't understand that most of us will never, ever pull off any of that. In a Skyrim walkthrough, you do exactly what the instructions tell you. Soon you're married to Lydia and building a log cabin in Winterhold for you and your adopted kids.

But a fashion spread isn't a walkthrough. It's not saying, "Wear this," it's saying, "Observe these lines, these elements, this is fashionable. Now go forth and incorporate the essence of this into your wardrobe."

Here, you try.
Christmas Just Vomited
The day innocence died
Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Probably the biggest reason men have such terrible taste in fashion is because we ask for fashion advice just like women do (but with wildly different results).

Ladies, same scenario, you're getting ready to go dancing or out to a romantic dinner. Who do you ask for advice on what to wear?

a. Female BFF
b. Favorite spinster aunt
c. College sorority sister
d. Gay male friend 
e. Sixteen year old neighbor who insists Chipotle is now and has always been clothing-optional

If you answered 'e' I have news for you. You're a dude.

The real issue isn't that guys don't ask for fashion advice, it's that they ask for it all the time. Unfortunately they're asking other guys. 

Dude: How do I look?
Brohan: Call the morgue. You're killing it, Dude.
Dude: Really? The Borat mankini--
Brohan: Under the Liberace cape? Oh, yeah. Fully.
Dude: Cool. Final question. Assless chaps. Yay or nay? 
Brohan: What have I always told you about chaps?
Dude: Chaps make the chap.
Brohan: Dude, fer real, I think I just got dust in both my eyes. 

Ladies, the last time men had any fashion sense was the last time it was still acceptable to wear fur. And since your guy is getting such terrible fashion advice from his male friends, it's up to you to educate him without triggering the You're Smothering Me protein (which itself is an expression of the Quit Trying to Change Me gene).

Subtly hint that, just maybe, his tuxedo print t-shirt is so special, it's like Jordan's #23 and should be retired, to be replaced by this nice Lacoste polo that appeared miraculously in his closet.

Another trick: be alert to any time he drools during a Hollywood blockbuster. If the main character has a fashion sense you like, you can take the opportunity to point out that, honey, you're just as sexy as James Bond and, oh, wow, where did this Tom Ford boutique come from? 

Once you've got him dressing like he takes pride in his appearance, you can move on to his scent.

Start by tossing out his collection of Polo for Men (also known as "high school water") and anything that can't be used to split wood but has Axe in its name anyway.

Next, give him a Silkwood shower. . . 

*I'm talking about detachable shirt bosom like this one.

File:Fiberloid shirt dickey.jpg

Copil is very fond of his shirt bosoms. They go really well with his trouser asses. This and other fashion tips can be found on Twitter (@Copil).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Win a Banned Book!

Hello friends!

In lieu of book from the Vault today, you can win a banned book instead! Just go to Alison's post from yesterday (CLICK HERE) and answer her question!

One commenter will win a frequently banned book of their choice!

So hop over to yesterday's post to check out our thoughts on banned books--and don't forget to leave your own. :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Banning

Sunday (September 30) marks the beginning of Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association (ALA), Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.


1)      ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
2)      The Color of Earth (series) by Kim Dong Hwa
Reasons: nudity, sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
3)      The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
4)      My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
5)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
6)      Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
7)      Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
8)      What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
9)      Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
10)  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: offensive language; racism

Did your jaw drop to your laptop on any of those?

Other books challenged in previous years…

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chobsky
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Forever, by Judy Blume
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

and, wait for it…

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling

You can find more here, here, and here. Oh, and here.

To me, book banning makes as much sense as wings on a sow. Or as replacement ref calls in the NFL. Or as Fifty Shades on the NYT Bestseller list. Okay, you get it - it DOESN’T make sense. At. All.

You see, I have a thirteen-year old daughter who reads just as much if not more than I do. We share books, but there are certain YA books that she will definitely wait to read. Is it because I want them banned? NO. It’s because she’s not ready to handle some of the older YA content. But one day she will be. And I want her to have accessibility to these books. She’ll read them. I’ll encourage her to read them. And hopefully mother/daughter discourse will ensue.

There are so many valuable, wonderful, amazing books out there for teens—ones many should read. Just because of the slight explicit content in Thirteen Reasons Why should a library ban a book that I believe should be a required read for every freshman in high school? Just because teenagers who’ve only known each other for a week have sex, should Twenty Boy Summer be banned reading? Should candid discussions of sex be the reason Shut Out never makes it to a high school’s library shelf?

If you don’t like the content in a book, don’t read it. Parents, if you’re concerned with what your kid’s reading, then read with them. And while you’re at it, make sure you monitor every movie and television show and YouTube video and Xbox game and Facebook status . But don’t get a book banned from a library that could save another kid’s life. Like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Or Ellen Hopkins' Crank.

But these are just my thoughts on book banning.

Or are they?

*cue other operative views*

ALEXANDRA: My thoughts on banning books: it's stupid. A book itself is not dangerous. What people do with their own interpretation is what's potentially "dangerous," and you can't control that no matter how many books you ban. So why cut people off from the opportunity for new knowledge and new understanding?

MATT: As a reader (and a parent) banning books is ridiculous. It's really stupid, because it doesn't work. Much like D.A.R.E. and abstinence based sex education, all it does is introduce books to kids they probably wouldn't have heard of otherwise.

As a writer (and yes, I know this is cynical), I pray that someday someone will try to ban a book I've written. I'm not trying to make light of authors who've had their books challenged, because I realize it must hurt, but I honestly do believe that having small minded people challenge something that makes them uncomfortable means that more open-minded people will hear of it.

JESSICA: As a teacher, I absolutely think that parents should pay attention to what their children are reading. If there is something they feel their child isn't ready to handle, then they should absolutely take it out of their child's personal library and replace it with something they feel is more appropriate. However, it is never okay for one parent to take it upon themselves to make that decision for ALL parents and students in a public library or classroom.

COPIL: I support book banning. Do it all the time. Just the other day I "banned" Fifty Shades of Grey from my 7 yr old's TBR pile. Of course, I'm his dad. So unless you're mine, STEP THE @#$*! OFF!!

KATY: Books are often challenged by people and groups who, at their core, have good intentions: To protect children from explicit and/or difficult material. The problem is, "explicit" and "difficult" are very vague, very subjective terms. I think it's the job of a parent to define those terms as they see fit for THEIR child(ren). Mothers and fathers have every right to keep their kids from reading material they deem inappropriate. Librarians, teachers, religious organizations, and politicians do not. 

SARA: While I do believe there are some books with content not appropriate for some children of some ages, I don't think banning is the answer at all. Because notice how vague that first sentence was? Yeah. Some books may not be right for some kids of some ages. There are no clear boundaries, so one lumping ban is completely pointless. One thirteen-year-old may be able to handle the nature of a YA that another sixteen-year-old can't. Or, probably in more cases, the opposite will be true. The thing is, maturity levels vary so widely. But you know who, or actually what, can't make that determination? Some all-encompassing ban. Teens know what they can handle. As do (or should) their parents. So leave decisions about books right there. Between teens and their parents. 

Yes. THAT.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend some serious time next week reading some banned books. And I hope you will too.

What are your thoughts on book banning?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


This week we talked about living life online--how much do we reveal and how much do we keep private? How comfortable are our teens sharing things online or being themselves online?

(None of us are quite this cool.)

So, how comfortable are our teens living life online? For most of them, sharing their full names is too much.

Chihuahua Zero: First of all, the reason I use this username is pretty apparent. ;)
Alexandra: CZ, that's smart
Chihuahua Zero: I protect my real name real close.
Chihuahua Zero: Although recently, there was almost a slip. Let's say my cross-country team keeps bugging me about why I never tweet them back.
Chihuahua Zero: That what I get for letting them squeeze my Twitter handle out of me, but I'm making sure they don't out me.
Karen: Yes. My motto is less is more with the online privacy stuff.
Karen: There are lots of crazy people out there who don't need to know about my personal life.
Matt: I don't hold much back online, except when it comes to my kids. They both have blogs, but no personal info allowed.
Karen: Yeah, sometimes I worry that I should have used a fake name
Alexandra: My unique combination of first and last name is pretty telling--there really aren't many Alexandra Shostaks in this country. I often wonder if I ought to have used a fake name.
Riv Re: I figure "Riv Re" is general enough. There are many ways you can go with that.
Lissa: I get nervous about my name, too. I use variations of my first name depending on the site I'm on, but the only place where I use my full and real name is Facebook, where I have strict policies I follow
Karen: My biggest concern is all these people who check in on FB and tell the whole world where they are and when--constantly. WHAT? No one needs to know that much about me or my whereabouts
Chihuahua Zero: Thing is, I'm never online as my "real life" self. Chihuahua Zero is my sole Internet presence, except in the school's email system.
Chihuahua Zero: I see no reason to be my "real life" self.
Copil: What is appealing about that? Or is it just for privacy's sake?
Chihuahua Zero: I actually like having a semi-secretive persona, even if I'm lazy about it.
Riv Re: CZ, what do you mean by "real life self"? How do you destinguish between personas?
Chihuahua Zero: Just a name. But the pure act of having a handle influences how I interact with people.
Lennon: I agree with Chi, actually. If I am ever on any site other than facebook or something school related that asks for my name I give them a fake name.
Chihuahua Zero: Not just from what information I give out, but how I behave with other people.
Matt: FWIW, when I was a teen, albeit 18, I met up with all kinds of people from the Internet. It was different in the dial up 90s though.
Karen: Matt, I'm with ya. I dont know why dial-up seemed safer.
Matt: It probably wasn't. I just got lucky
Alexandra: I met Karen on the internet before real life and so far she hasn't tried to kill me.
Karen: YET
Karen: ;)
Alexandra: Sh*t.

As for making friends and meeting people online, our teens are cautious.

Copil: I'm curious how you younger kids look at privacy. I think in my time it was a much bigger deal. But now I see it as being a bit more fungible, not as strict. Thoughts?
Chihuahua Zero: I like to keep people guessing about my age and such--even though I talked about it so much, you can put the pieces together if you actively look for them.
Lennon: I, personally, am very private about the whole online thing. However there are many of my friend that aren't, and use websites such as Omegle and Chat Roulette. They put personal information on the internet and think it's not going to be a big deal. If that answers your question...
Riv Re: But isn't that where the problem arises? People actively looking for info on you?
Copil: Thanks, Lennon. I wonder if you're the outlier? Or are they?
Riv Re: Lennon--but Omegle is different. On Omegle, it's okay to give out your age, because that person has absolutely no other info on you
Chihuahua Zero: I think others around me are more open on the Internet, but only because they have a "personal" presence.2
Lennon: I think that I am just a worrier and think I'm going to get stalked and killed and they are more open about it.
Chihuahua Zero: I once met a fellow writer on Omegle. I friended her on Facebook.
Chihuahua Zero: But through this persona.
Riv Re: I really try to be careful about what I give out online, even if I fail sometimes. I have some friends who are fine with their names, faces, and birthdays online, but I say "not cool, my friend." Maybe it's because no one I know really blogs/tweets/facebooks/etc.

And what about sharing their "real" personalities?

Lennon: I behave as myself but if I think someone I know is going to see it, I edit myself to make myself seem less recognizable
Chihuahua Zero: I think my greatest challenge will be transitioning from Chihuahua Zero to my real-life/author "brand".
Riv Re: I feel more like myself online than in real life.
Riv Re: I'm definitely more introverted and slightly more sane in real life.
Chihuahua Zero: One thing about the Internet is that whatever likeability you might have in real life doesn't carry over to the Internet.
Riv Re: CZ--good point. And now, in a totally stalkerish way, I'm incrddibly curious what your real name is. :P
Chihuahua Zero: For example, my cross-country team really likes me. On the other hand, I'm not sure what the members of the writer's forum think about me.
Chihuahua Zero: One writer said to talk about your personal life in generalities. For example, not referring to your family by name.
Jessica: I have become much more guarded with what I share online recently...I used to share everything but it got me in trouble a couple times
Jessica: I used to have a personal blog that I thought was pretty private / anon, but I was complaining about people and they found it
Jessica: also people who read that blog went up to my husband in public and started talking to him...he was NOT happy
Jessica: I'm sort of like CZ now, I have different "lives" online
Karen: I took down a lot of my personal inf ad pics after I got a pub deal. My publisher warned me about revealing too much. And I'm kinda glad listened to them cuz I did have one crazy reader I was concerned about.
Riv Re: The internet is fantastic. It's a place where awkward people, like John Green, can be JOHN FREAKING GREEN.
Matt: Amen to JG

Are our teens comfortable sharing WRITING online? (Turns out a lot of the Operatives aren't!)

Chihuahua Zero: I'm still wondering where I should put some of my writing.
Chihuahua Zero: I'm split between Figment and Wattpad.
Alexandra: CZ, you bring up something I wanted to ask. How private is everyone about sharing WRITING? Even the thought of posting my first line or my title on my blog gives me hives.
Chihuahua Zero: I'll probably seek out beta reads online, but I won't put it in a "public" space.
Alexandra: CZ, same here. I met my CPs online, but I got to know them as best I could through email and other things before exchanging pages. The result is some really great CPs who "get" my writing :)
Jessica: I don't put writing anywhere that can be found by Google
Chihuahua Zero: The longest piece of it is either on a writer's forum, or is a one-page excerpt on my blog.
Riv Re: Question for y'all: Do you have qualms about sharing writing online because you're putting it online, or because REAL PEOPLE might see it?
Jessica: but I shared my first page or two for contests and stuff
Copil: Other than my YAC posts and some Linux writing, I am VERY uncomfortable about putting my writing out there, Alexandra
Matt: I never share writing from novel size MSS, but I put up free flash fiction all the time
Chihuahua Zero: I'm keeping most of it off the "public" space to avoid copyright troubles if I go traditional--and the fact that it's mostly incomplete.
Riv Re: And now I want everyone here as CPs so I can read all your great ideas and steal them to pass off as my own.
Riv Re: (Wait, did I say that aloud?)
Jessica: Ha Riv!

There you have it. Some teens may be comfortable posting their locations and full names on Facebook, but many people (teens included, thankfully!) are still very cautious about what goes online. It seems that posting personal information into cyberspace--where nothing EVER gets deleted--is still scary.

Monday, September 24, 2012


We all know about the Batman movie shooting. It wasn’t that long ago. It’s fairly fresh in our minds. It still hurts my heart to think about what those people in that theater went through.

Don’t even get me started on Columbine.
Or Virginia Tech.  
*takes a moment of silence for all those lives lost.*
A few weeks ago, another school shooting occurred. It hadn’t made national news yet when my parents called to tell me. My brother told them about it. He knew right away because it was in his own backyard.
It was the high school we both graduated from.
Some news hits way too close to home.
With over 2,000 students, Perry Hall High is a school so big it could be its own small town. On August 27, 2012, the first day of school, one of those students, a 15-year-old boy, walked through the doors with a loaded double-barrel shotgun in his pants.
A double-barrel shotgun.
*deep breath*
He walked out of a bathroom, pulled the gun from his pants, walked into the cafeteria and shot a fellow student in the back.
I’ve heard, and read, reportings of these types of things before. They are always horrifying. I always tear up (I’m very sensitive and emotional.) But this one hits so close to home because I’m not imagining those hallways, or that cafeteria. I can clearly see them in my mind. I spent years walking those halls and eating lunch in that cafeteria.
That was my school.
When I read about the heroic guidance counselor, Jesse Wasmer, who immediately pinned the gunman against a vending machine and stopped the boy from shooting anyone else, I could see it all much too clearly. I shook as if I was in that cafeteria with all those kids who heard the gunshot and saw the blood. I pictured every doorway, and visualized all the paths students must have ran when teachers shouted, “Get out of the building! Get out of the building!” I could hear the crackle of the intercom system as they announced, “We are in Code Red” then put the school on lockdown.
These quotes were reported in newscasts and articles, but I could see, hear, and feel it as if I was there.

Why? How?
That’s always what comes to mind when tragedies like this occur.
Why do such horrible things happen? How can a kid become so angry, upset, or mentally unstable that he takes a shotgun to school with the intent to kill? Some reports say the shooter had been bullied. It wouldn’t surprise me. Bullying is awful. It hurts. It leaves scars. (Emotional scars are sometimes much worse than physical ones.) Sometimes, bullying breaks people down so badly that they do something sad and tragic, like commit suicide or murder.
Yet bullying continues to run rampant in our world. And it’s only getting more common, and easier to do, because of sites like Facebook and Twitter.
It’s heartbreaking. 
It should be stopped.
But I don’t have a magic cure.
I don’t know how or what to say to make people STOP bullying others.
I don’t have any clue how to figure out who is out there getting bullied, or what I’d do to help them even if I did know who and where they were.
I wish I could wrap my arms around every kid, teen, and adult who feels hurt, lonely, abused, neglected, abandoned, bullied, or like they don’t belong. I wish I had some awesome superpower that would instantly heal them, assure them that everything will be okay, and make them feel wanted, important, special, and loved.
What a kickass heroine I would be.
While we’re at it, this giving ourselves superpowers, I’d also like to go back in time. I’d help, and stop, all those kids who were responsible for school shootings, or were killed or injured during one. Lake Moses. Dunblane. Bethel. Yemen. Pearl. West Paducah. Stamps. Jonesboro. Edinboro. Fayetteville. Springfield. Richmond. Columbine. Taber. Conyers. Deming. Ft Gibson. Veghel. Savannah. Lake Worth. Gary. Caro. Erfurt. New Orleans. Red Lion. Montreal. Bailey. Virginia Tech. Dekalb. Winnenden. Azerbaijan. Huntsville. Columbus. Rio de Janiero. Walpole. Chardon. Oakland. My beloved Perry Hall.
And sadly, that list isn't all of them.Not even close.
What a busy heroine I would be.
But imagine all the tears and heartache that would be spared. 
Just imagine.

Help stop bullying.
Help spread love.
Be someone’s hero.
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