Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bible ... According to Common Sense Media

Of the many thousands of books reviewed by CSM, I guess it should come as no surprise that The Bible seems to have been overlooked. So I thought I'd provide some insight as to why.

Let's look at this line from the Book of Genesis:

"And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived."

According to CSM's system of icons this line would undoubtedly earn one big #! for "more extreme swearing suggested by substitutions."

I could continue giving out numerous bombs for violence, lips for sex, #! for [suggested] language, and martini glasses for drinking, but it is not my intention antagonize anyone who happens to read this blog (unless they work for CSM). Rather I am simply trying to point out the absurdity of reducing literature to a system of icons based on random sentences taken out of context, and on the subjective interpretations of amateur reviewers.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Letter to Common Sense Media


Ms. Elizabeth Perle Editor in Chief Common Sense Media 650 Townsend Suite 375 San Francisco, CA 94103

Dear Ms. Perle,

It has come to my attention that a reviewer for your company, Common Sense Media, gave my book Give A Boy A Gun a three #! rating for "mild to moderate [language] with more extreme swearing suggested by substitutions.”

I was not aware that I had used substitutions to suggest more extreme swearing, and am greatly concerned by it. Would it be possible for you to contact this reviewer to find out where in my book she felt these substitutions were used, and which extreme swears she felt I meant to use, so that I can avoid using such substitutions in the future?

I look forward to your reply.


Todd Strasser

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wish You Were Dead ... Now Available in Paperback

The trade edition of WYWD has just been released.

Also, the Humble, TX TLF has been cancelled (see last two posts). I'm sorry about that, as I was eager to go down there and point out that I'm pretty sure the United States Constitution was not meant to be a menu from which we could pick and choose the rights we wished to embrace while ignoring the others.

So if people want to enjoy the right to bear arms thanks to the 2nd Amendment, I think it's only right that they should respect the 1st Amendment as well.

Also, as I heard from a newspaper reporter from Humble, some people claim that Ellen Hopkin's 1 st Amendment rights were not violated because her books are still on the shelves, but I have to disagree. She was invited to speak at the TLF, then disinvited specifically because of the content in her books. To me that's a clear violation of her freedom of speech.

Finally, as I told the reporter, my biggest worry now is that next year, just to play it safe, the TLF will feature Pat the Bunny, and similar milquetoast.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Censorship For Fun and Profit

By way of Pat Scales comes news that Give A Boy A Gun has been rated by a company calling itself Common Sense Media, whose slogan could easily be "Why waste your time censoring when we can do it for you?"

For a fee CSM will come to your home or library and "rate" your books, letting you know which you can keep out when company comes, which you should hide, and which you should immediately use for roasting marshmallows.


Okay, they don't really do that because it would require leaving the cave.


But their service does extend beyond those who do not wish to read books themselves -- to those who have never quite mastered literacy in the first place.

By using a highly sophisticated system of icons (bombs for violence, lips for sex, #! for language, and martini glasses for drinking, drugs, and smoking) CSM makes it possible for even the illiterate to find out just how "juicy" those darn books are.

I was particularly interested in the three #! rating given to Give A Boy A Gun for "mild to moderate [language] with more extreme swearing suggested by substitutions."

Apparently, one no longer even has to use "extreme swearing" (whatever that is) to be subjected to censorship. You only have to use words that "suggest" it.

For instance, if a fly comes in the house and I say, "Get the fly out," the clairvoyant raters at CSM would assume that I'm really suggesting the use of "extreme swearing," right?

The job description at CSM might read something like this: "Applicants must be telepathic and have dirty minds."

Since I myself was not aware that I was suggesting the "extreme swearing" they say I used "substitutions" for, I've decided to write to the company to find out:

Dear Common Sense Media,

It has come to my attention that your company has decided that in my book Give A Boy A Gun I used substitutions to suggest extreme swearing. I hope that, at your convenience, you will send me the list of extreme swears that you felt I meant to use, so that I may endeavour to familiarize myself with them for future inclusion in my works.


Todd Strasser

PS. I'm also curious to know just how vast is the range between mild and moderate?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Freedom of Speech

Despite our country’s current travails, I think most of us would agree that the United States continues to be the best place in the world to live. Surely one of the reasons for this can be found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives us the freedom to express ourselves without fear of repercussion.

Recently this has become an issue in Humble, Texas where I, and a number of other writers, have been invited to appear at the Teen Literary Festival in January. One of the writers, Ellen Hopkins, was invited, and then “disinvited” by a school superintendent after a librarian and some parents expressed concern about her books.

Ellen is a New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award nominee, and winner of numerous other awards. Her book Crank is about the dangers of methamphetamine. Earlier this year I read Methland by Nick Reding and was reminded that meth is a life- and family-destroying drug that has ravaged entire towns in the Midwest. Both books present important anti-drug messages, especially for teens since they are probably among the most likely to try the drug.

It’s not hard to guess why some parents in Humble might be uncomfortable with Ellen’s books, but they always have the option of not allowing their children to attend the festival. It is more difficult to understand why a librarian, of all people, would side with them. And it is rather remarkable that a school superintendent – someone who actually oversees the teaching of the United States Constitution in schools – would go so far as to “disinvite” an author.

A number of the invited authors, including Pete Hautman, who wrote the wonderful book godless, which did indeed win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, have decided to protest the Humble TFL’s action by boycotting the festival. But after considerable thought on the subject, I believe we should all attend.

Inviting, and then disinviting Ellen was wrong. Denying freedom of expression is wrong. Practicing any form of censorship is wrong. But it seems to me that boycotting the event is misguided. Why? Because it’s exactly what those in Humble who practice censorship want.

If they don’t want Ellen there, then it stands to reason that they don’t want anyone who supports Ellen, either. Isn’t any author who boycotts the festival essentially practicing self-censorship? Isn’t he or she basically saying, “You people seek to deny freedom of expression. Therefore I will not come to Humble and express myself.”

The people in Humble who don’t want Ellen there are probably thinking, “Thank God.”

Therefore I would ask the boycotting writers to reconsider and join me. Those in Humble who are fighting for free speech need our support. I would urge all the invited writers to come to the TLF, where we can express ourselves loudly and clearly – on the topic of censorship.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thrillogy Update

Egmont wanted more blood on hand. Wish You Were Dead trade paperback goes on sale on Aug. 24.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If I Grow Up now in second trade paperback edition

The trade paperback (a larger format than the mass market paperbacks you usually find in racks) has just gone into its second printing. I suspect this has something to do with the state awards it's been nominated for.