Should Young Adult Books Be Rated for Content?

I can see the issue of rating books from two angles. As a teacher, I have to be damn careful what YA books I bring into my sixth grade classroom. Life would be a whole lot easier if I could glance at the rating and determine if it’s even worth adding. Currently, I only add books I’ve personally read and can vouch for. This takes a bit of time. I read slower than ketchup dribbles from a bottle.

Then there’s the writer in me. Would slapping labels on books act as a deterrent to some books with higher ratings (or an attractant, depending on the kid). Is this a form a censorship, as some have said? I disagree with the last point. Just labeling the product doesn’t censor it. Mostly, it limits access.

I certainly don’t think that books need to fall into the categories of movies, where readers will have to pull out an ID to purchase the novel. I would see the system more like what exists now for comic books, video games, and television. An advisory label. That doesn’t bother me too much.

One thorny issue to consider, should this new rating system come to pass, is this: what about indie writers? Would they self rate? Would some rating board come into play? Unlikely on the second count. Who would fund such a board and how could anyone rate the thousands of books that come out daily? That leaves self rating which also means that the authors could play with the rating, raising or lowering, to suit their tastes. Hey, what’s to stop an author from republishing the book with a lower rating if the sales didn’t click the first time? Nothing, really.

This, in itself, points out the ridiculousness of any rating system. In this world of instant publishing, people could circumvent it and manipulate any rating system easily. Even webpages that are supposed to have adult content only ask the user to click OK if they’re old enough. Like that stopped anybody.

What got the ball rolling on this recent round of “rate these books” is the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. Although this is an adult novel, it started as a fanfiction for Twilight, having Edward and Bela take up a quite different relationship than Stephanie Meyers had intended. When asked to remove the fanfiction from the fan site, James simply posted it onto her site. After reworking the book and changing the characters, she published it (to remarkable success).

The trouble is, it’s still linked to Twilight (no officially, mind you) and the novel attracts droves of young adult readers. In fact the movie will most likely garner an R rating, thus preventing many fans from seeing it. So should these fans even be reading it? Maybe not. But would a rating system really stop them?

Tim Kane

The God of the Lost

Worship me with your feet.

That’s what the God of the Lost wants. A creation of Stephen King, this deity drops down to earthly levels in the book The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I have said before that this is one of my favorite books by King. Not only have I read it seven or eight times, I even wrote a paper on it for my Masters in English.

One interesting aspect of the book is King’s take on religion. The protagonist, Trisha McFarland, becomes hopelessly lost in the woods. At a clearing, she meets three gods, each offering a sort of salvation. There’s the-god-of-Tom-Gordon (the one the pitcher points to when he makes a save). This god is too busy to help a child lost in the woods.

Then there’s the sub-audible. This, according the Trisha, is a creation of her drunk father. The sub-audible is that noise just below hearing. Like the sound of the refrigerator turning on and off. People don’t notice it. But it’s there. This version of god is just behind the skin of the world. Always humming. It can’t really help because it’s too weak.

Then there’s the God of the Lost. This creature has a face composed of living wasps. Plump, ungainly poison factories. It feeds off Trisha’s fear, allowing her to live so she can ripen. Later in the novel, Trisha finds a road and is almost to safety. Then the God of the Lost appears in the form of a possessed bear.

I snatched this from the movie, The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins. It was the first bear that popped into my head.

I like this portrayal of the monster. Rather than invent some horrific creature, the reader only glimpses the edges off it in the same way as Trisha. We know the terror that lies behind the empty eye sockets of the bear, squirming with maggots. Yet most of the image is left for us to fill in with our minds.

True monsters need to be this way. Only ten-percent written, and ninety-percent in the reader’s head.

Tim Kane

Gift Wrap the Wrapping?

I recently bought a Nook for my mom on Mother’s Day. I was pleased with the product, so I thought, why not. Mom’s an avid reader. This could bring her into the 21st century. As an impulse, I opted to also purchase the gift bag. It was a whopping one cent.

The green bag on the left was the one I ordered. It was gift wrapped, not the actual Nook.

You should know that Mom loves gift bags. It’s her wrapping of choice. Every Xmas as a kid, I was tasked with wrapping all the gifts (except my own) because I was mathematically minded about the wrapping paper. I could literally wrap anything. Mom isn’t as spatially inclined. When she wraps, it’s in a bag with tissue paper.

Now, back to the Nook. As I was checking out, I clicked the “gift wrapping” option. It cost only $3.50 and I figured it might look nice and save some time.

So get the Nook in the mail a few days later. No wrapping, but honestly I was too excited about setting it up, I hardly noticed. Then the gift bag arrived later and, you guessed it, it was gift wrapped. Really Barnes and Noble? That’s what you thought I meant by gift wrapping?

It bugged me enough that I emailed the complaint department, asking for a refund on the price of the gift wrapping. Here is their standard response.

Thanks for contacting us. You should receive a response within 12 to 24 
hours, and we appreciate your patience.

A week went by. I sent an email back asking, facetiously, if they meant 12-24 hours or days. This got an email back:

Thank you for contacting Barnes & Noble regarding the order #XXXXXXXXX. 

The order was shipped on 05/07/2012. The carrier's tracking detail shows
that it was delivered as follows: 

Delivered On:
Wednesday,  05/09/2012 at 5:36 P.M. 
Left At:
Front Door

Of course it was delivered. How else would I know that you gift wrapped the bag? Seriously. If not for the meagerness of the cost in question, I’d pursue this farther. Though being a big corporation, I doubt I’d make any traction. This is where I have to give Amazon props. A few years ago, I was given two of the same gift. I was able to successfully return one to Amazon and get a credit.

I’m still waiting for my $3.50 back on the botched gift wrap.

Tim Kane

I Do Not Bite The Heads Off Chickens

I am an unbridled geek. Total admission. Yet, every time I think of the word, strange images come to mind. I should associate computers, action figures, and badly dubbed Toho movies with “geek”. Instead, I think about biting the heads off chickens.

I was first introduced to this concept by a former boss of mine. He loaned me the book Geek Love. Though I never was able to finish that book, I know it started with a performer at a sideshow circus who called himself a geek. He worked in a pit and bit the heads off live chickens.

Checking the definition in my doorstop of a dictionary, I find that “geek” means carnival performer who performs morbid acts as well as “any strange or eccentric person.” It traces back geck meaning fool.

I recently picked up the Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits. Researching the band, I found that front man Alice Cooper was accused of biting the head off a chicken at a rock and roll festival in 1969. The sources I read say he probably didn’t actually do it (no true geek there), but he was fine with the publicity.

I’m not entirely sure how geek (the chicken killer) became geek (the guy with the Alice Cooper action figures, yes there are plenty). My hunch is it started with computers. After all, geeks are nerds with some social skills.

I have no future intentions to harm chickens. I only relish my pop culture fanaticism and all that it compels me to ogle.

Tim Kane

Lucha Libre and Monsters

One of my favorite restaurants I frequent is Lucha Libre near the airport in San Diego. They make a mean chocolate mole sauce and astounding salsa. The theme of this tiny taco shop is lucha libre (thus the name). If you’re not familiar with this odd Spanish term it means “free fighting” or basically Mexican wresting.

The wrestlers of Mexico often don masks when they fight. Remember Nacho Libre, that movie with Jack Black? Same deal. However, the history of this “sport” involves secret agents, musicals, aliens, and monsters.

The first famous masked wrestler was El Santo (The Saint). Way back in 1942, El Santo changed wresting by wearing his trademark silver mask. Yet he was not constrained by the limitations of the ring. By 1958, El Santo branched out to make movies. He rode the wave of Hammer horror films as well as the James Bond films.

You can view many of El Santo’s movie posters at El Año de El Santo (The Year of El Santo). I’ve included some favorites here.

Santo against the Bad Brain was Santo’s first film.

Santo is only referred to as El Enmascarado (the masked man) and has nearly no lines in this film.

Santo and Dracula’s Treasure

This 1968 “classic” features El Santo inventing a time machine. (He was a man of many talents). They travel back in time to face of with Dracula. This movie is most famous for the version you can’t find: Santo en El vampiro y el sexo. That was the same film but with an overabundance of nude scenes.

El Santo is teamed up with Blue Demon. They fight all the monsters (from left to right): Vampire Woman, Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, and Cyclops.

Here’s the complicated plot to “Los Montruos” (1969), see if you can follow it. A mad scientist takes control of the monsters and sics them on the wrestlers. That’s pretty much it.

I sense some copyright infringement here with Marvel. Too bad the movie was made almost 40 years ago in Turkey.

El Santo teamed up with Captain America (which I could totally see, by the way) to take on Spider-man (who is apparently a villain). This gem came out in 1973 in Turkey. Completely unlicensed, the Turks felt they could lift any character to use in their films.

For a full list of Santo’s exploits and reviews of his films, check out The Films of El Santo.

Tim Kane