How do we break out of the bubble?

I was just interviewed in WIRED magazine by Geekdad. Truly, I am tickled by how it came out.

Also, now that I read the final product, I wonder if by wearing this hat of advocating for literacy in this type of format (it’s my first time in this publication), it’s sort of a good “hit ‘em from the flank” approach to advocating for teaching, kids, books, education and all the stuff I frequently speak to. In other words, it’s a ton of the same message which often flies out of my pen and mouth yet it’s re-packaged and in a different forum.

Sometimes, I admit, I often feel a problem of those who are “speaking on behalf of literacy” spend too much preaching to the choir. Indeed, literacy matters a ton. However, those who often hear how much it matters are people who often already appreciate how much it matters.

How do we break out of the bubble?

Hey, ya gotta swing the bat, right?

The Discriminatory Bake Sale and Banned Books

Today there is a bake sale at UC Berkeley.

It’s been officially classified as “discriminatory”. People are protesting. In fact, the bake sale itself is a protest.

Should the bake sale be banned? During Banned Books Week it raises some nice questions.

First all, Berkeley is nutso and if you have never been up there, you are just going to have to take my word on this. A lot of people are working very hard to preserve the culture of the 1960′s and some of them are being exceptionally successful. In a state filled with loons, Berkeley holds its own.

Having said that, let’s take a closer look at the Bake Sale menu.

As the L.A. Times reports, “The event is designed to denounce a bill on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would allow California public universities to consider race, ethnicity and gender in student admissions.”

The point of the bake sale is, essentially, that if you consider race/gender when it comes to college admissions, why shouldn’t one consider these things when it comes to other areas of our national life? “They” say (the Berkeley College Republicans, that is), “Hey, we are either living in a color blind nation or we are not.”

It’s a loaded question. But it’s a good question, too. As the GOP’s bake sale asks, if we make accommodations for one group of people and not another – based on gender or race – are we not thus practicing a form of nuanced discrimination? And isn’t that potentially the most dangerous type of discrimination – prejudice that doesn’t even believe it’s being prejudiced?

On the other hand, do we ignore history and the mountains of tangible evidence which basically says, “white males rule and all other sub-categories aren’t finding themselves on a level playing field with these dudes?”

I am interested to see how this works out. But in a way, it’s already worked out for the bake sale organizers. Why? Because what they really want to do is draw attention to their cause. In fact, I bet they were hoping someone would ban the bake sale.

You can also ban Happy PotterTo Kill a MockingbirdThe Color Purple and so on, too. But doesn’t banning something just give it more life?

It’s BBW (Banned Books Week). Show ‘em some luv!

I am worried about…

When it comes to school, I am worried about our boys.

When it comes to school,I am worried about our girls.

When it comes to school,I am worried about our students.

When it comes to school, I am worried about our nation.

When it comes to school,I am worried our parents, our financial health, our leaders, our lack of leaders, and our direction.

All this worry begs the question… Maybe I worry too much?

When it comes to school, I think not.

Ladies, ladies everywhere. (Is it creating a problem for our boys?)

The other day I asked if there was a gender bias affecting student reading habits. It was a callback to a piece in the NY Times about boys and books and reading.

In the world of teaching, I am not sure what the numbers look like but I’d venture a guess that the profession of education (and classroom teaching in particular) are dominated by females. More women are at the front of our rooms… by a lot.

And more women are behind the desks of our libraries. By a lot. (What’s left of our libraries, anyway. A tragedy I’ll save for another day’s discussion.)

And, as an author, an overwhelming amount of the people with whom I work in the publishing industry are female, too. All of my book editors have been female. (I’ve now published with 4 different houses.) Almost of the people in the school and library divisions are female. Almost all of the people with whom I currently work with in the PR departments are female. There are occasional males around - my agent is male, certainly some copy-editors and company employees and the such – but indeed, book publishing, libraries and teaching are dominated by the ladies.

That’s just plain as day.

The NY Times article I mentioned above, however, points a bit of a finger at this as a potential cause for our dilemma with boys and reading. Thing is, I don’t think I ever noticed that the world of books, reading and literacy was a world being dominated by the ladies until I read the article. Gender, for me, was a non-issue. I saw ability and competence, not feminine bias, as driving factors.

For me, it’s never been about the sex of the person; it’s been about their ability. Yet, am I naive? Is something seeping into the world of books which we can’t quite put our finger on and yet is having an influence we might not want to admit.

Does it take a gal to reach a gal? Does it take a guy to reach a guy?

On one hand, I don’t think so. On the other hand, I just wrote a book called THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP which is a comedy about an 8th grade boy who suffers (like all 8th grade boys do) from a tragic case of unpredictable erection-itis.

Could a woman have written that book? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I dunno. But my editor on the book is female and she did one heck of a great job as far as I’m concerned. And not once do I recall her gender being a factor – much less an impeding factor – in our process.

BTW, can I mention that it feels a little bit as if I am nearing “the third rail” by even raising this topic, risking wrath and accusations of me being a sexist simply by even bringing this subject up?

Hmmmm…

Is there a gender bias affecting student reading habits?

In August there was an interesting essay in the NY Times about books and boys called BOYS AND READING: IS THERE ANY HOPE?

This particluar paragraph has sorta stuck with me for the past month:

The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.

The implication is that the overwhelmingly “female imprint” in the world of book publishing might be one of the causes as to why boys are not reading as much as we’d like. The essay hints – actually, it’s stronger than mere hinting – that as a result of so many women in the world of book publishing, boys are missing the “boy” factor behind the scenes and as much as a woman might want to coach a fella as to how to buy a jock strap, unless you have actually been a jock strap wearer, it’s all speculative. (Note: the converse is true: guys leading the bra-shopping march would run into the same problems. Unless you actually know, you just don’t know.)

I’m a bit puzzled by this. On one hand, I am not sure I agree. On the other hand, I just might.

I wonder what others think. Perhaps I’ll dive a bit more deeply into this more over the coming week. Is there a gender bias affecting student reading habits?

Booklist just gave my new book a STARRED Review! (Read 1st chapter free if ya want.)

Booklist – a hugely important mover and shaker in the world of book publishing, just gave my new book, The Downside of Being Up, a STARRED REVIEW! (Note: Starred reviews are rare – this is the first of my career and I’m totally stoked right now.)

STARRED REVIEW: The Downside of Being Up. By Alan Lawrence Sitomer. (Putnam 9780399254987).

At 13, Bobby suffers from a typical developmental concern: he is plagued by inopportunely timed erections. What is atypical is Sitomer’s fearless comic treatment of this taboo subject. When not bedeviled by wayward woodies, Bobby also suffers from second-rate parents, a school staff that would give any kid nightmares, and a guilty conscience about how his younger sister came to miss so much school that she’s been left a grade behind. When Bobby fails to talk his math teacher out of forcing him to walk up to the board during one of his unwanted episodes, she responds to his tented trousers by taking a tumble. This leaves the school no choice but to hire a counselor named Dr. Cox (yes, really) to provide Bobby with “erection correction counseling.” It is impossible to dislike this pun-filled tale of how Bobby reigns victorious over his parents, his pants, and the new girl, whose dad objects to her accompanying Bobby to the school dance. While it isn’t (ahem) hard to imagine that some schools will worry about the effects of this story upon innocent middle-schoolers, the truth is that this fiction provides some long-needed realism, served up by a narrator who knows what he is talking about.

— Francisca Goldsmith


*Also, I’ve attached Chapter 1 if you want to read it.

In fact, the book came out on Thursday and already there’s been a lot of talk about the taboo subject matter. Even a thoughtful forum popped up on the EC Ning.
Fun times.

Who might enjoy my new, controversial book, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP?

So who do I think might enjoy my new, controversial book, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP?It’s a fairly small audience for which I am aiming with this book. Basically, it boils down to two groups: boys and girls.

Boys because this book speaks to the almost universal male awkwardness we all go through at the cruel hands of puberty. As all the classic kings of comedy writing knew, there are smiles to be mined from pain and, like death and taxes, certain aspects of growing up when you are male prove to be unavoidably perplexing, befuddling, and anxiety producing. This also makes them downright hysterical, too. We often cope with fear and pain and emotional wreckage through laughter. Sometimes, there is poignancy and emotional relief to be found in smiling.

But girls have really enjoyed the book, too. Almost in a blush-faced way. “This really happens?” they ask. “Boys really go through this?” they discover. Girls are a curious lot by nature anyway but when it comes to “learning about the biology of boys” there are quite a lot of eager eyes hungry to gain an insider’s perspective into the tragi-comic journey of the opposite gender. When breasts develop, the entire world can see them so girls have been much more open about dealing with changes their bodies undergo because they are undergoing these changes in a “there’s no way to hide it” way. But boys? All we do is hide our erection at a certain stage of our developmental life.

And no one ever talks about it. No one ever gives voice to the dread, the fear, the angst, the inelegance and the embarrassment.

THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP seeks to do that. Heck, this book is noble, it’s a tome filled with significant literary worth.

It’s also got a bunch of “my penis is out of control and I am a total wreck about it” jokes in it. As our protagonist, Bobby Connor finds out, the truth hurts.

Why I Decided to Write this Novel

I wrote THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP because I wanted to write a book that young boy readers would love. And, as I well know, there is nothing that young boys love to do more than laugh. Therefore, first and foremost, I really wanted to dig my writing heels in and go for, as the say nowadays, an LOL reading experience.

Of course personally, I love to laugh. However, I also feel that a lot of what people peddle as “comedy” in young adult books today is lukewarm at best. Me, I wanted to go for “spitting milk out of your nose funny”. So far, the reaction has been pretty good and while I can’t promise that everyone is going to find the book riotous, I can tell you that I laughed my rear-end off while writing it. Truly, I never laughed so hard in my professional writing life. To me this is significant because as author, I always believe I am the first audience. To paraphrase something Robert Frost once said, “I am the first crier and if my work doesn’t bring my own eyes to tears, why in the world should I expect it to have any sort of impact of the such on others?” This is true of me as well. If milk isn’t spitting out of my own nose then why would it ever spray through the nostrils of anyone else?

The teacher side of me, though, also knows a heck of lot about the critical relationship between literacy skills and academic achievement and life success. Especially, for young boys in this day and age. It can be argued – and it has – that we are raising a generation of non-readers, the implications of which are already proving to be calamitous for today’s young men. Well, the only way to elevate a young person’s reading skills is by getting them to read. And kids today, boys, will read if they are provided reading material which “speaks” to them in some meaningful way.

A comedy which sympathizes with a universal tragedy through which we all suffer, has always felt to me like a solid project on which I ought to hang my hat. THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP is a book that can hopefully be used as a tool to not only convert young male readers from skeptics who “don’t like to read” into “fans of reading as long as they are given a ‘good’ book”. As the old saying goes, if you build it they will come. This I believe to be true… but somebody’s gotta build it. And so I’ve tried in my own small way.

FYI, it’s a champagne day. A novel I started almost 3 years ago is officially out today.

Think of it as Judy Blume for boys

I have a new book launching tomorrow and it might very well prove to be my most controversial title yet. (And coming from the guy that wrote HOMEBOYZ that’s saying something.) But really, I don’t think it’s all that controversial at all.

In fact, I like to think of my new book THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING UP as Judy Blume for boys.

Simply put, it’s a coming of age novel and the truth is, what could be more coming of age than going through puberty?

Let’s be honest, in the novel I am tackling a fairly taboo subject… or at least a subject that’s usually only mentioned in hushed tones as if it’s some kind of shameful little secret. However, here’s a newsflash for ya – Quick, cover your eyes! – adolescent boys get erections. There, I said it. Did the world just end? I doubt it.

See, all boys get erections. This is not a red state/blue state issue. Tall, short, brown-eyed or blue, two parents in the home or child of divorce, religious denomination, academic aptitude, physical height… none of it matters. Boys get boners and they pop up for all of us at the most inauspicious of times in our young adult lives. And when this first starts happening to us, WE FREAK OUT.

Yet, it’s just Mother Nature. There’s nothing “wrong” with us. We’re not deviants, monsters, bad people or pervs.

We’re male. This is the way God made us. And let me tell you, I really wish there was a book like this around when I was a kid if only for the simple sake of someone letting me know that I was normal. In a way, and I am entirely serious about this (remember, I was California’s Teacher of the Year) this text is bibliotherapy and young adolescent males are going to find more than just penis humor in this novel; they are going to find identification.

My book is both funny and tragic at the same time but the thing is, THIS IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT SEX. In fact, there is no sex in the book at all. This is a tale of a boy going through a very significant and very disconcerting right of passage on the journey to adulthood and if there is any sort of moral to the story it’s that “You can’t stop Mother Nature.”

I don’t mean to be a rabble rouser. Really I don’t. It’s just that, well… I can’t help myself.

I don’t mean to be a rabble rouser. Really I don’t. It’s just that, well… I can’t help myself.

For example, I have a new book coming out on Thursday that I am absolutely convinced middle school boys are gonna love. (The ones who have read it already do as a matter of fact.)

It’s a comedy. About a middle-schooler. With erection-it is.

See, funny, right?

And universally applicable as well. This is not a red-state/blue state, tall kid/short kid, white kid/green kid, blonde or brown-haired kid issue. This is a factual coming-of-age tragedy as plotted by Mother Nature and amplified by the unstoppable force of hormones.

I’m merely a citizen reporter with this title, when you really think about it. And yet, my-oh-my, how I’m already starting to see how puberty polarizes.

A female author writing about a 12-year-old girl menstruating is saluted for bravely tackling a difficult issue with which all girls eventually have to deal.  A male author who writes about the plague of unpredictable stiffies suddenly befalling him is pandering to the pottymouth crowd, deserving of being tarred and feathered.

Do I smell a double standard here?

See for me, it’s like Woody Allen once famously quipped (only half-seriously though): “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” (I really love that line.) In life’s rear-view mirror our worst nightmares often reveal themselves to be nothing more than shadows of issues quite incredibly overblown. And when disaster befalls someone else – this is a key ingredient to comedy, from Lucy working at the chocolate factory to Wile. E. Coyote being abused by Bugs to Larry, Moe and Curly twapping the crap out of one another – it’s entertaining to see other people get walloped by the slings and arrows of life.

And when an inadvertent erection befalls an ill-prepared middle school boy right in the middle of math class, lots of boys laugh really hard – in great part because they are thrilled that “at least it didn’t happen to me”.

BTW, I am not making this stuff up. Vampires mating with high school girls… that’s fiction. Having a pole in your pants that came out of nowhere for no good reason at all and won’t seem to vacate the premises no matter how hard you try to concentrate on baseball… this is me factually relating what happens across this nation every darn day of the week to half our student population.

Like I said, I don’t mean to be a rabble rouser but then again, I just can’t help it. Life is short and full of pain. But belly laughs make our limited journeys oh-so-worthwhile.

Here’s comes the funniest book you’ve ever read – or the one most deserving of a condescending, “He’s so immature.” The only thing I know about my new book is there’s not going to be much ambivalence.