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Thursday, August 31, 2017

9-Year-Old Girl Loses Mom, Teaches Me About Life




What do you say to a nine-year-old girl who just lost her mother to a long battle with cancer?

That’s the thought that filled my head as Maggie raced towards me as I entered the room of her mother’s wake.

Maggie is an energetic, acrobatic girl who loves competitive dance, gymnastics and playing softball.  I know her as my daughter’s good friend for the past 4-5 years and from my time coaching her on a girls softball team with my daughter.

She ran to me like my own child would. 

She surged without hesitation, jumping into my arms as if I could swallow her up and insulate her, from the cold reality that surely engulfs her broken heart.

I recently lost my dog and thought how sad that was, but this is a tragic human loss that words can’t describe.  Why should a girl grow up without her mom?  What is her fate?

When I lost my dad a year ago I was 49 and understood age and circumstances can take those we love.  But she’s only nine and won’t be able to experience some things a child should get to do with her mom.

Jerry Lewis, a celebrated comedian who did wonderful work using his notoriety to raise billions for the Muscular Dystrophy Fund, also died recently.  He was 91.  We don’t like to see these people leave us, but death doesn’t discriminate by age or any other factor. We understand his death, but not that of Maggie’s mom.

Sure we can reason these things in our head, and we must if we are to function, but it is just incomprehensible to me that this lively girl won’t get to cuddle with the one who understood her best and loved her the most.

But Maggie taught me something. 

She didn’t cry in our embrace or say she was angry at the world.  Instead she spoke calmly and clearly and allowed me to pay my respects and then transition into our usual banter about her summer and her upcoming dance competition.  She will persevere and live her life and take things one day at a time, though her world is surely to change and challenge her along the way in ways most people would never give thought to or have to deal with.

We should all be as courageous and playful as Maggie.  Sometimes kids lead the adults and I hope this is one of those times.


Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Who Will Make A Case For Books?



If a person is the sum of what he or she reads, why isn’t the world smarter, better and nicer?  What’s stopping us from acting on what we know to be true, based on the information we consume and the ideas we are exposed to?

The problem is that the influence of the once-prominent book is being eroded by cheap, easily accessible content online.  We’d like the think the two can work together and actually support one another, but often the two are in direct conflict of a consumer’s time and money.  Even worse, people may be influenced or moved by online content that is not vetted, complete, or unbiased, leaving books on the shelf that could very well provide the depth of information and truth so desperately needed today.

It shouldn’t have to come down to the Internet vs. books, and yet it does.  When you have a free source of writings it will interfere with how much time one can read books. And when it’s free, it gets harder to demand fair compensation for a book.  I believe each of us continually has to state the case, publicly and privately, that books matter and need to be read if society is to ever advance.

The Internet can play an important role in the dissemination of information, but it needs to clean its act up. Fake news, biased content, opinion dressed as fact, or shoddy research and sloppy editing leave the Internet needing a sheriff to swoop in and clean it up. 

Books, though they too, can be subject to what dooms the Internet, offer something wonderful and need to be championed and protected.  There’s a rich history to books that deserves preservation but books are not just museum pieces or a collector’s item.  No, they can surely, inform, enlighten, entertain or inspire us to live better lives, have deeper experiences, and unite to help one another.  

Books transform and shape us.  They capture something worth exploring, something that can’t merely be blogged or tweeted about.

It’s not so much an issue of what’s the case for books, as all book lovers can rattle off reasons why they love books, why books are important, and why we must consume them.  But who will make this case?  Who will go out there and talk not just about literacy, free speech, or a specific book, but the very need to promote, protect, read and share all books?

I need you to step up to the plate and insert books into your chats with friends, visits with relatives, emails to colleagues, small talk at the bookstore, your social media, your dating profile, and whenever a conversation takes place.  I need you to show books off – publicly read books and recommend others enjoy books too.   

We each must make the case for books before it’s too late.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are Children’s Books Too White?



One of the more interesting books on racism can be found in a book that examines racism in book publishing’s children literature industry.  Author Philip Noel penned a book that critiques the history and current state of children’s books. It shows us forcefully what needs to be done to root our racism in our kids’ books.

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?  The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and The Need for Diverse Books really provokes, educates, and challenges us.  The Oxford University Press book claims that we can’t ignore the problem any longer, saying:  

If people who create children’s culture fail to engage in such self-examination, they risk continuing to transmit the misery of racism to a new generation… Racism in American children’s literature and culture has not receded into the past because America has yet to reckon with how central racist oppression is to American history and identity.”

He has the statistics to back this up.  First, let’s look at the book industry that produces our books.  Depending on the survey, American publishing is between 79 and 89 percent white.  He writes:  “The publishing industry’s Whiteness either prevents it firm seeing its institutional biases. The well-intentioned, good-hearted people in publishing are no match for the entrenched implicit policies and practices that govern the workplace.”

Nel cites another study from 2011, where over 600 YA books published that year were looked at to see how often non-whites were featured on the book covers.  Only 1.2% showed a black character.  Over 90% of the covers featured a white character.

Another study, this one by Cooperative Children’s Book Center, tracks books by and about people of color in The United States.  Of the 3400 books it received in 2015, only 199 were by black authors and just 269 were about black people.  It’s a slight improvement from 2002, the first year it tracked such things, when 69 of 3169 were penned by African Americans.

The question of diversity in children’s books has been raised before.  In 1965, All-White World of Children’s Books was released.  More than a half-century later we still wonder why non-white characters are so scarce in children’s books.

“Children’s literature needs to drastically increase not just the presence of people of color,” writes Nel, “but the variety of their lived experiences.  It’s why children’s publishing needs more editors of color who recognize diverse stories as publishable.”

Nel provides 20 steps to create an environment for anti-racist children’s literature to flourish.  “To dismantle our children’s literature apartheid, we must change the ways we produce, promote, read, and teach literature for young people,” he writes.  

Here are some of his strategies:

1.      Commit to buying diverse books and titles by non-white authors.

2.      Recognize that personal racism is often unconscious, and that systemic racism is typically invisible.

3.      Publish diverse books.

4.      Support a US Anti-Racist Education Act because “racism is a national emergency that threatens democracy.”

5.      Support groups like the Council on International Books for Children, diversityinYA.com, nameorg.org, readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com, and weneeddiversebooks.org.

6.      Be a resistant, skeptical reader – and encourage others to read critically.

The book makes some powerful points about racism with the book industry and its impact on children’s books but I believe it goes too far to make a claim that Dr. Seuss wrote with prejudice or that Cat in the Hat was somehow a stereotypical figure.  Nel’s assertions corrupt Dr. Seuss and anyone who loves his stories will want to dismiss Nel’s attacks.

He also examines whether books should be scrubbed clean of racist references such as editions of Huckleberry Finn without the n-word used.  Some children’s classics are under threat because today’s examination of the past causes some to revise and alter textual elements.  Does it serve society best to leave the books in their original form so as to spur a dialogue about it – or is it best to remove or edit controversial or offensive text and just act as if nothing was ever wrong?  It’s debatable.

Below are select excerpts from a book that’s sure to make you think and challenge how you feel about children’s literature:

Institutional Racism
“We often fail to see structural racism because of the widespread belief that only actively racist behavior counts as truly racist.  Nearly everyone recognizes that calling an African American the n-word is racist, but far fewer people will concede that an award-winning author who has to self-publish her stories about African American children also may be experiencing institutional racism. “

Mainstream Presses Should Embrace Diversity
“The fact that writers of color nevertheless have to seek independent presses or self-publish is a measure of the considerable distance between mainstream children’s publishing and the multicultural society in which we live.  That authors and artists of color need to seek indies or to self-publish illustrates both the persistence of Jim Crow in corporate publishing and the crucial role that non-mainstream publishers have played in supporting diverse voices in children’s books.”

Diverse Books Are Needed
“Racism is resilient, wily, and adaptable.  Combat it in one form, and it mutates, finding expression in a new one.  This is why we are still asking where the books for children of color are – though we are asking this question in different ways than we were fifty years ago.  Thanks to the activists who have come before us, there are now many more books for young people of African descent, Asian heritage, Latino/a backgrounds, and indigenous cultures.  However, since the percentage of non-White characters, we ask for more - we need diverse books.”

Publishing Industry Is Too White
“The Whiteness of children’s publishing Whitens what kinds of stories get told, and consequently what kinds of stories we are inclined to imagine.  According to Publishers Weekly’s 2015 survey, 89 percent of people employed in the industry identify as White or Caucasian.  Only 5 percent identify as Asian, 3 percent as Hispanic, and 1 percent as African American. Lee & Low’s 2015 survey yielded comparable results:  79 percent of those working in publishing identified as White or Caucasian, 7 percent as Asian/Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, 6 percent as Hispanic/Latino/Mexican and 4 percent as African American.  Those numbers do not represent the population at large, nor do the books published each year (fig. 5.1).  In 2014 only 11 percent of children’s books published that year were about people of color – and the number by people of color was only 8 percent.  Furthermore, look more closely at the 11 percent or the 8 percent, and you’ll notice something else:  realism, historical novels, and nonfiction are, by far, the most frequent genre categories.”

The World Of Children’s Literature That’s Needed
“It’s up to all of us to change the status quo, allowing children of all races to see themselves in a panorama of literary experiences.  If we all work toward such a change, then that takes some of the pressure off writers and artists of color.  Instead of having to spend so much time as activists, they can devote more time to being artists.  Instead of having to find the space to publish, market, and sell their own books, they can rely upon a publisher to help get their books out into the world.  If we create this change, then instead of having to forcibly integrate themselves into narratives that exclude them, non-White children will learn that they are welcome in all genres.  They will take for granted that they can defeat the evil wizard, invent the technology that saves the planet, or lead the rebellion against the dystopian regime.  Because of course they can do these things – their stories will have been telling them so for all of their lives.  This is the world of children’s literature that we must create.”

Nurturing A New Generation
“As we enter a period of backlash against equal rights, I still believe that children’s literature and culture are among the best places to imagine a better future.  Books tell children they belong (or don’t belong) not only to a broader community of readers, but also in their neighborhoods, their schools, and their country.   Apps and eBooks also tell children who matters enough to be represented, and who does not.  Popular films, too, challenge stereotypes, or reinforce them, or do a bit of both.  All culture tells us who is deserving of our care, and who is not.  Via diverse books and their advocates, we can and must nurture a new generation that is less susceptible to bigotry and the many wounds it inflicts.”

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Put Up A Statue For Books



When discussions of remaining statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee came up in the wake of the Charlottesville riots, my first reaction was these statues should come down. They have come to be symbols of racial segregation and rallying cries for Neo Nazis.  Why honor someone who lost a war, a war that nearly destroyed our country and could’ve left it with slavery?

On the other hand, is a statue a form of speech, for if it is, then the statues, once erected, shouldn’t be taken down.  I would never advocate for the ban or destruction of books that depict the statue.

Or is the statue public art?  If so, again, I believe it should stand.

But, if the statue is just a statue, created for political reasons, then it should die a political death.  Our history books should accurately portray the Civil War and who General Lee was, but I don’t see a good reason to memorialize a figure that nearly toppled the United States of America.

Streets get renamed.  So do schools and hospital wings.  Statues get erected; they can come down, too.  Of course, once we look to scrub the public view of the morals or symbols that we no longer value, where does one draw the line?

Will we, as President Trump suggested, look harder at Washington and Jefferson, and start to remove them from public statues, maybe even our currency?  The slave owners lose many points for owning human beings and hypocritically assigning them a three-fifths value, but Washington won freedom for the nation and eventually freed his slaves.  Washington had children with his mistress slave and was a great president.

All of this discussion of statues shows that humans are flawed, that a few can stand the test of time for what they accomplished.  Maybe statues make little sense in the first place. When they are erected they usually reflect popular sentiment of the day and as a few generations pass, people forget or fail to discover who is depicted in these statues. Many become irrelevant. 

Statues would be better off memorializing moments rather than individuals.  Honor 9/11 responders, WWII veterans, or American ideals like free speech; you can’t go wrong there.  But honoring people by name just means that over time, people will either put you in obscurity or come to despise you. Columbus, General Lee, and others, over time, have become less-liked figures.

What we really need is to mount statues across the nation – in every community – that highlights books and supports reading and literacy.  We don’t need to champion a specific author or even a book or publisher.  Let’s simply praise and honor the love, value, and beauty of books.

Now that’s a statute, if erected that should never come down.  But General Lee’s statue?  Start the demolition!

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Is Barnes & Noble The Nation’s Largest Book Banner?



Barnes & Noble used to lead the nation in book sales and had a wonderful brand for more than a century.  It has not only fallen to a distant second place in the book market, but it has disgraced itself and all that it has stood for.

What am I talking about?

Barnes & Noble recently issued a content policy for its Nook, basically saying that titles that run afoul of it can be pulled from being sold immediately.  No appeals process, no debates, no chance for a negotiated settlement between publishers or self-published authors and the corporate giant. 

Is this really America?

That would be bad enough, but the real injustice is the content policy.  It clearly is arbitrary, confusing, and in conflict with free speech and ignores the very purpose of a bookstore:  to allow books and ideas to be sold and exchanged without judgment by the retailer.

You expect book bans from dictatorships, not here in America where a true democracy allows for all books to be sold without a corporation getting in the way.  B&N are hypocrites.  They sell all kinds of books that many would oppose for any number of reasons.  The answer is not to remove all books that possibly offend, but rather, to remove none.

If a book violates the law then I can understand why a store wouldn’t sell it, though that alone ishould not always to be the case.  But if a book is a hoax or there’s evidence a book is libelous or that it was pirated, then of course the store has a legal obligation to cease selling it. But once you get into areas of content, everything should be allowed – unless a crime was committed to create the content.  For instance, if a woman was forced to have photos taken of her nude body for a photography book, that book should not be sold in the store.

So what happened to B&N – why did they turn weak and craft some catch-all policy that could easily snare half the books that exist?  Why would they risk alienating authors and customers?  Why do they not stand up for freedom of speech and to encourage the publication and sale of all books?

Several self-published erotica books were immediately banned from the Nook for sale once the new policy was posted on their site. 

Their policy states books can be removed for “portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”

On first pass you may think such a policy sounds good until you realize there’s no way to draw a line here.  Portraying violence?  Many books portray violence, from history to crime drama to fantasy.  What we really want is to ban violence or hate or rape – but banning books that merely talk about it won’t solve the problem.

We’re going backwards here.  Books reflect the world’s realities and they indulge in our darkest fantasies.  They help us cope with life as it is and they allow us to co-exist in an imperfect world.  We can’t script happy endings to every story, whitewash the past, or act as if bad things never happen.  The bookstore is not Disneyland, nor is it a church, or a government office.  It’s a sacred place where everyone should have access to all books.

How many classics would get banned if B&N followed its own policy?  Would authors have to re-write their books to fit within the censored standards of the corporate entity that dictates which books get to live or die?  Do we not distinguish between words and actions, fantasy and reality, debate and silence?

I can’t begin to express how such a policy saddens me.  It won’t end there.  Every day some tech behemoth uses its power to pick and choose who gets to be heard, from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to Go Daddy, Google, and now Barnes & Noble. 

For shame!

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 


Can We Turn Children’s Classics Into Books For Adults?



A new book was just released about the pleasure adults experience when reading children’s books.  It’s entitled Wild Things:  The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult (Simon & Schuster).  I didn’t get a chance to see the book but its premise seems obvious, as there’s no doubt that parents and adults can feel a great amount of satisfaction and comfort in reading books intended for young minds.

Here are some reasons why adults enjoy children’s books:

1.      They are reminded of their own childhood and positive experiences in reading these same or similar books.

2.      The messages in these books are empowering, truthful, hopeful, and educational and serve to reinforce the lessons of life.

3.      They tend to simplify things and remove the complexities of adult thinking.  Sometimes we need to simplify or make life black and white so that we can navigate through tough times.

4.      These books are illustrated and give us another dimension.  We can’t just stare at screens of tweets, FB posts, or memes; instead, we wallpaper our eyes with colorful drawings of innocent yet familiar characters. 

5.      These stories recharge us and put us in a new frame of mind, providing a re-set button.

6.      If we’re reading with or to our children, we have the added benefit of seeing the world through their unbiased eyes.

7.      Children’s books also show us how much we’ve grown up and have forgotten.  These stories put us back in a frame of mind that sponges learning, values, curiosity, appreciates detail, and soothes with loving words. We feel innocence when reading children's books.

What are some of your favorite children’s books?  Do they stand the test of time?  The ones that stick out to me, hands down, are Curious George and Dr. Seuss.  Those two giants are what I enjoyed reading as a child and what I read to my children as a parent.

Those books express and represent what a children’s book should capture – adventure, curiosity, creativity, emotion and fun.  I wonder if there is a way to create an adult version of such books.  Now that could be a hot market – children’s books turned into adult fare.  I’m not talking about graphic novels or a non-illustrated book. I’m saying could we have adult Curious George or adult Dr. Seuss come alive to lead again the generations it raised as children?  

I would pre-order such books, faster than you can say:  “This is George. He’s a good little monkey and always very curious.”



The year 2017 marks another inflection point in the study of the human mind:  The next 50 to 100 years will bring the ability not just to quantify but also to alter fundamental aspects of identity.  Today we are at base camp in a rapidly accelerating climb to the augmented brain:  Intelligence will be more malleable, and so might the subjective experience of gender or even personality traits.  To reach this summit, scientists may use some combination of genetic editing and brain-computer interfaces.  These tools thrill and scare us in equal measure.  They are perhaps best construed as an egalitarian force in a world changing at warp speed.”
--Psychology Today



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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs