It’s Just a Story: Nitpicking and Accuracy in Media

In the Michael Bay disaster movie Armageddon, there is a scene one of the spaceships sent to land on the asteroid heading for Earth makes a crash landing. As the crew escape the wreckage, there are flames in the background. Obviously, fire doesn’t seem out of place shortly after a crash- except they are on an asteroid with minimal oxygen, thus there is no way a fire could be burning in the vacuum of space. Of course, this asteroid also somehow has the gravitational pull equal to Earth, even though it is much, much smaller than the moon. And there is the whole awful plot point that NASA thought it easier to train oil drillers how to be astronauts rather than train astronauts how to use a drill. Piloting a high-tech drill should be enough for astronauts to handle, right?

The inaccuracies and plot conveniences pile up the longer I think about it, which leads to complaining to whoever I’m watching the movie with about them. Cue the phrase I hear the most in those moments: “It’s just a movie.”

As a writer, I have always strive for accuracy and logic within my stories, relentlessly researching anything that I might not know. As a reader, my entire enjoyment of a novel can break when something feels illogical or-worse- when I know there is something illogical. Fantasy and science fiction are the worst offenders of this. Don’t get me wrong: I have always loved fantasy as a genre and I have no problem buying into the worlds there. Yet there are moments when I can’t help but find corrections.  While reading Harry Potter  and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry, Ron, Hermonie leap from the back of a dragon into a lake below, I remember wondering if jumping from so high up would have killed them. Perhaps the dragon was a high dive’s height from the water. Even so, the impact would have at least hurt a ton, especially if they weren’t making a practiced swan dive into the water. I spent so long thinking about this, I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be reading something.

Or take a book series I read when I was younger, Warriors by Erin Hunter. As a middle schooler, I was brought into the world of feral cats fighting for survival, but now, it is hard to deny how much anthropomorphism there is. Characters are named after lions and tigers when there is no way they would know what big cats are. They devote themselves to one mate. (Real cats often mate with multiple cats within a mating season. In fact, it’s possible for a cat litter to have more than one father.) Even the main character, Fireheart, would not have a striking red fur to the other cats, as cats do not have good color perception on par with humans.

Of course, a book targeted to a younger audience is limited and relating to cats would be hard if Erin Hunter had restricted themselves to accurate cat biology. Still, I cannot help but think about these inaccuracies. It’s fictional. In the fantasy genre, rules bend. But physics still exist in the world of Harry Potter. The cats in Warriors are still cats, even if they are anthropomorphized.

I know that perhaps I am being too analytical. I’m looking too hard and not just enjoying the more important elements, like the narrative. I know it is exceedingly difficult on the craft side to make a story believable. But to me, a story’s world should stand up to the test of scrutiny. An author should strive to be accurate within the worlds they create, otherwise they risk losing those of us who can’t help but think too much while they read.


The [Occupation]’s Wife or Daughter

One of a books key selling points is its title. The first thing a buyer notices when browsing the shelves or the internet is the cover, and from there, their eyes will be drawn to whatever dramatic script the publisher’s chosen to declare the name of the novel. That key phrase is what will make the buyer pull the book off the physical or metaphorical shelf, and if you don’t have a good title your book is doomed from the very beginning. So how and why do publishers pick a “good title,” and why do those titles appeal to the audience. There are clear trends we can analyze to try and answer that question.

Surely, there have been many formulas developed by big publishers as to how to write a compelling title. You can probably spot some of them browsing through any selection of Best-Sellers. There’s the one-word titles: Twilight, Atonement, Beloved, Pretties, It, Room, Holes. The simplicity of these titles is compelling and catchy, a one word summary of the heart of the book. Then there’s the reverse of that – the eccentrically long titles. Titles such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, all sound quirky and different, intelligent and interesting.

There is a third trend, one that, for lack of a better term we’ll call “The [occupation]’s Wife or Daughter” title. Books with titles that follow this formula have been popular for years, but in the past several years there have been several that have been bestsellers. In 2003, The Time Travelers Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger debuted at number nine on the New York Times Best-Seller List. Part of that success was due to an aggressive marketing campaign by the publishers, but it rapidly became a nation-wide favorite, and was made into a (mediocre) film.  

Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter was published in 2005, and quickly shot to number one on the New York Times Best-Seller list. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch was published in Germany in 2008 and was so successful it was translated and published in America in 2010. The series had sold over 800,000 copies by the time the 4th title in the series was published in 2013. And of course, the New York Times best-selling novel The Zookeeper’s Wife, though published in 2008, is slated to become a major motion picture in the next couple of years.

This trend has been noticed by others, and has spawned a long list of titles that follow the formula.  There’s The Shoemaker’s Wife, The Chameleon’s Wife, The Mermaid’s Daughter, the list goes on and on.  Another bestselling book My Sister’s Keeper, was at least smart enough to twist the formula a little. But what exactly makes this formula such a compelling one? The simplest thing to note is the rule of three. A three-word title has punch. Next time you’re book shopping, look around and count how many you can find. There is another, more complex aspect to it though. None of these books are in the same genre. Time Traveler’s Wife is a romance, Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a family drama, Hangman’s a historical thriller, and Zookeeper’s wife is a true story from WWII, set in Nazi Germany. What does connect them is human relationships. People are always compelled by stories of human connection and drama. If you can inject that relationship directly into the title, people are going to be interested.

An interesting detail to note is the gender bias of the formula. In searching only one title feature a male counterpart – The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. And an instance where the title read “The [Blanks] Husband,” was nowhere to be found. Whether this is from some latent bigotry, or simply because publishers are targeting a female audience, I can’t say. But it does provide an unexplored niche, and an opportunity for a publisher to do something new. So, when you see the new bestselling novel The Slug Farmer’s husband, you’ll know who’s taken advantage of it.

In the end, these titles aren’t everything. A badly-written book is bad, regardless of the catchy title. But it does impact that initial interest, it can be the reason you pick the book off the shelf. Some people buy books based on title and cover alone. So, next time you see a good title, ask yourself why it’s good. It could be that a publisher’s using a tried and true formula to live off another books glory.

E-books in the Bardo

How could George Saunders’ new novel about Abraham Lincoln emancipate e-book sales from their abysmal future?


When I was a kid and into my adult life, I have always had a thing for books. As a kid my favorite thing about a book was how smart it made me feel holding it, flipping through the pages like I was reading it, using it to prop up my favorite Star Wars table while vigorously coloring. As an adult, well, it’s just about the same thing.

Apparently, the rest of the greater reading community feels the same way as me. Print unit sales are up 3.3% totally from 2016 and on the rise, and e-book publishing companies are feeling the pressure, and with these numbers, print units of recent publications are flying from the shelves.

Johnathan Stopler, VP of Nielsen Bookscan, found that e-book unit sales from reporting publishers were down 16% in 2016 from 2015. Much of that decline, according to Jim Milliot of, comes from e-books increasing their prices and e-readers becoming obsolete to app developer’s putting everything on tablets and smart phones. Stopler found that, in the first quarter of 2011, more than 70% of e-book buyers said they used dedicated e-book devices to read, a percentage that fell to 24% in the second quarter of 2016.

With great fiction-in-a-flash apps like Great Jones Street Press— the Netflix of literary fiction— on the rise, it is hard to see any more e-reader screens lighting up any time soon.



But with all of the newfangled technology keeping us glued to our screens, it seems that we still have love for hard covers because George Saunders’ premiere novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, sits as a Best Seller for Random House Books and the New York Times Best Seller List.

Lincoln in the Bardo is about Abraham Lincoln’s journey through a purgatory-like underworld— that’s the Tibetan “in-between” known as the bardo—  to find his recently deceased son, Willie. What is the most interesting thing about this novel is that it is not only a stellar novel, but Saunders is transcending an even older form with a new addition to his print unit sales.

George Saunders’ genius rendition of his star-studded audio book may be the saving grace of e-books and could help save the e-book industry from its own trip into the bardo.

The cast of the audio book includes names like Nick Offerman, Don Cheadle, Megan Mullally, and Bill Hader add their voices to a dramatic reading of Saunders’ 368-page novel. The big names in the recording and its dramatic reading are Saunders’ way of transcending a form that we consume books.


According to Laura Dawson of, “What the consumer seems to want, in terms of bundling, is an e-book–audio package. Almost since Amazon bought Audible in 2008, it has been exploring ways to pair Audible files with Kindle books.”

Dawson believes that audio books may be the way that e-books can come back from their massive losses in 2016.

Here is Saunders’ new approach to the audio book and the possibilities of the fully-immersive experience of the novel and audio book combined which brings hope that maybe there will be a way out of the Tibetan purgatory of low sales.

Lincoln in the Bardo can be found wherever books are sold, and the audio book can be found on

How Tolkien Ruined Fantasy

Anyone who knows me knows how I love Tolkien’s work. It was dear Frodo who drew me into books and writing. So, as an avid fan of his work, why would I say that Tolkien ruined fantasy? It’s simple.

There is one inexplicable truth in writing that will always plague us: very few authors are capable of being truly original. Yes, I said it. Tolkien was one of the few authors to truly brave the depths of the unknown. He created such a complex world, the likes of which has not been seen before or since, along with numerous fantastical species and at least fifteen new languages. His work became such a sensation that has left its mark on every generation of writers since. Therein lies the problem. Every time a new sensation comes along, every up and coming writer must take a stab at replicating it.

Let’s look at Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series for a moment. A young man (Frodo) finds a mysterious artifact (the One Ring) and learns that he has a great destiny to save the world. So, he sets out on a perilous journey with his mentor (Gandalf) and sidekicks (Merry, Pippin, and Sam). After much mortal peril, our young hero saves the world and defeats the evil king (Sauron). Hurray! World saved, job done.

In the early 2000’s, The Inheritance Cycle was published by up and coming novelist Christopher Paolini. It took middle schoolers nationwide by storm. A young man (Eragon) who is a bit of an outcast in society suddenly finds a mysterious artifact (a dragon egg) and learns that he has a great destiny to save the world. So, he sets out on a perilous journey with his mentor (Brom) and sidekicks (the dragon Saphira and the elf maiden Arya). After much mortal peril, our young hero saves the world and defeats the evil king (Galbatorix). Hurray! But wait! Brom is actually Eragon’s father and Eragon’s smitten with Arya! Romance and intrigue abound!

Really? Because last I checked there was an elf maiden in the Lord of the Rings too (Arwen). But she’s in love with Aragorn, not Frodo. So surely that means they’re different. Wait a second…Aragorn…Eragon…Arwen…Arya. (You know it’s bad when spell check keeps trying to change Eragon to Aragorn. Even my computer thinks it’s too close.) And thus, Christopher Paolini tops the long list of Lord of the Rings rip offs.

Ok, ok. Surely not every fantasy book is like that.

Enter The Original Shannara Trilogy, published back in 1977 by one Terry Brooks. A young man (Shea) suddenly finds out he has a great destiny to save the world. He sets out on a perilous journey with his sidekicks (Flick and Menion). They are pursed by the Skull Bearers who have a striking resemblance to certain Ring Wraiths that we know and loath. The heroes defeat their foes, save the world, and the author blatantly sticks the word “original” in the title (therefore it must be). And yet it is number 2 out of 38 on GoodReads’ list of Most Obvious Tolkien Imitators.

This brings us back to how Tolkien ruined the fantasy genre. You have better odds of winning the lottery than finding a truly original fantasy book written any time in the past century. But why? How could only four books (five if you count The Silmarillion) cover the length and breadth of an entire genre?

The Hobbit starts off the series in its use of fairy tale and the ever-present heroic quest. The Lord of the Rings encompasses fairy tales, heroic quests, medieval romance, and high fantasy tropes. The Silmarillion covers high fantasy tropes and more heroic quests.

When you realize how many subgenres Tolkien truly covers in the whole of his work there suddenly becomes no room for experimentation without stepping on the toes of fantasy’s greatest literary titan.

Politics in Publishing


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Sometimes I wonder why anyone would ever want to be President of the United States. For one thing, it’s a huge time commitment. You live where you work. You’re responsible for an entire country. Plus, you’re guaranteed to come out of the experience having aged twice as much as you would have otherwise.

Then, I figured it out: book deals!

Well, probably not. But still, politics–especially presidential politics–have always meant money for publishers.

Politics spawn charismatic, controversial, larger-than-life men and women with stories perceived as essential to the “American Dream” and, as such, their books will always be popular. Whether political books take the form of autobiographies, retrospectives, or reprinted speeches, they serve as mementos to a time when “the good guy” was in office and publishers know it.

Though Former President Barack Obama published a few books prior to his presidency, Dreams from my Father in 1995 and The Audacity of Hope in 2006, fervor for his next projects is already building in the publishing industry. Already, rights have been obtained for both Barack and Michelle Obama’s farewell addresses by Melville House, following the actions of the Harvard Bookstore prior to this year’s inauguration.farewll

It’s even said that that outgoing administration has already begun to earn its share of book deals. According to Publisher’s Weekly, one of the Big Five has already scored John Kerry’s book, though the winner of that auction is yet to be identified. Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s books are still on the table. This should not be a surprise. The sale of post-presidency books goes back as far as President Grant and has become a staple of the marketplace.

For publishing houses, political action can turn into profit. According to Forbes, Obama’s book sales peaked at $5.7 million in 2009 and while that doesn’t exactly put him on the all-time bestsellers list, it’s certainly a tidy profit for him and his publishers. For the books entering the arena post-presidency, like Bill Clinton’s My Life and RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, profits are even more secure.

Clinton’s book
earned him a $10 million advance and its sales broke one million before it
was even released. Nixon’s memoirs received a controversy befit to his time in office as fehrman-articleinline
they were vigorously protested by the Committee to Boycott Nixon’s Memoirs. Controversy, another guarantee in political publications, is another promise of profits–
even if the controversy is simply “don’t buy books by crooks.”

But you don’t have to be a president to impact your book sales. Donald Trump’s infamous Art of the Deal, published in 1987, received a post-election bump last December, according to CNN. After her bid for the Oval Office in 2016, Simon & Schuster scooped Hillary Clinton’s personal essays for 2017 publication.

Of course, there are other published works, books written about politics by real people–that is to say, not politicians, that fall into public favor with the changing political tides. Famously, George Orwell’s 1984 has been selling extraordinarily well since the 2016 election. Dystopian fiction, popular in recent years, rises again to the forefront as publishers push the themes seen in the Orwellian classics that define the genre.

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your ears and eyes. It was their final, most essential command.” -George Orwell, 1984

Social themes come back around. In the age of “alternative facts,” Orwell achieves another moment in the public eye. Perhaps the resurgence in popularity of this fearful novel represents that the reading public understands the state of politics today. Perhaps it simply proves that its educated audience is capable of making easy connections. Regardless, the world of publishing is inexorably linked to the world of politics.

Reading Maya Angelou In Virginia

book2bdiversity     When I caught a snippet of an NPR news broadcast yesterday, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Last October, before the election, a group of five teenagers vandalized the historic Ashburn Colored School in Ashburn, Virginia. They spray-painted swastikas and the words “White Power” on the old building. Since the court ruled that the boys didn’t understand the depth or consequences of what they were doing, the punishment handed down to them is quite unusual. The five boys, aged 16 to 17, are to visit the holocaust museum and write a research paper on the effect that swastikas and terms like “white power” have on oppressed communities. They will also be reading one book a month from a selected reading list, and writing a report on it. The books on the list are all by black, Jewish, and afghan authors. Alex Rueda, the lawyer responsible for coming up with the punishment and required books, said in her interview with NPR “I wanted them to learn about race and religion and gender and war. I want them to understand that … these kinds of symbols can be very, very hurtful.”

     I am not going to expand this into a larger conversation about the court and prison systems in America and their ineffectiveness when it comes to rehabilitation, but suffice it to say that I am very pleased with the sentence. Reading over the list, however, I was struck by the realization that all my life I have been experiencing privilege in a way that I had never realized. I read.

     My experience with Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (one of the books on the reading list) put into sharp relief my privilege as someone with access to works of literature and minimal censorship, and I have always been thankful for that, but I never thought about what I might gain from the reading of said books.

     When I was a freshman in high school, Atticus Finch taught me that I will never really understand someone until I consider things from their point of view– climb into their skin and walk around in it. Later that year, Native Son showed me the desperation and hardship that was simply a way of life for oppressed Black people. The Kite Runner taught me about life in a world completely different from my own, and that you have to stand up for what you believe in.

     Reading A Handmaid’s Tale was the first time that I really felt like a feminist. Elie Wiesel’s Night made me cry like a baby and appreciate the small things in life, as well as serving as a history lesson. When Underground Railroad came out last year, I was entranced by the idea of a literal railroad, and amazed by the strength and tenacity of the people who took it, both in the book and in history. I laughed and cried with the women in The Help and “eat my shit” was my catchphrase for weeks afterward. Last semester for my memoir class I read The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates and it showed me how difficult it was to be an artist in a neighborhood where you fight or you die, or sometimes both.

     The books that I have lived in and the characters that I have known have shown me a sliver of their world; they have given me the tools to begin to understand feelings and situations I have never experienced. Having very little moral guidance as a kid, I formed the values I hold dear from the books that I loved. I am still floored when I think that someone who has had full access to a library from birth has never read these books. Maybe that’s why they’re so ignorant.


     Even if Elie Wiesel doesn’t make these boys cry and they don’t want to name their first son Atticus like I do, the books that have been loved by so many should be able to teach them some history and give them insight to the pain that they have caused. And that is close to the best rehabilitation you can get. Hell, maybe we should instate some sort of required reading for all bigots, it might teach them some compassion!

You can find the full reading list here and the NPR interview here.

Photo Credits go to the bookshelf in my dorm room, where my beloved books live.

Fahrenheit 9 3/4

Watching Harry Potter weekend on the FreeForm channel is one of my favorite things to do. While most people were off debating over the Falcons and the Patriots, I sat back and fully immersed myself in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world last Super Bowl weekend. But as I was watching these films, I just couldn’t help but think about how ironic the timing of this marathon was.

A few days before the marathon, Rowling expressed her disappointment at the recent executive order from President Trump, which institutes a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries. These comments did not go over well with some. Several people responded on Twitter about how “disgusted” they were. They were so upset that some have tweeted that they are going to burn the books, and even the movies, as a form of protest against Rowling and her political views. (I wonder what would happen if they bought the book digitally. Will they burn their kindles too?)

This isn’t the first time the Harry Potter novels garnered controversy. The books have always been accused of promoting satanism, witchcraft, and the occult by religious fanatics since they came out. And don’t even get me started on the “Dumbledore is gay” fiasco. Rowling never seems to care about these controversies, and still criticizes Trump on a regular basis.

As for politics in literature, Trump seems to have had a minor effect it. Sales for George Orwell’s 1984 have skyrocketed since the inauguration. People are sending books to the White House in hopes that the President reads them. Magazines are compiling lists of books that not only explain the new political wave, but also directly relate to what is happening now. This lists are mostly all the same: dystopian novels like The Hunger Games, memoirs about economic hardship such as Hillbilly Elegy, and some Hitler biographies thrown in there for good measure.

Much to my surprise, Fahrenheit 451 did not appear on most lists. It seems like the perfect book for today’s age, where facts and censorship are still being debated.

For those of you that don’t know, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 takes place in a society where books have no value. The people are more interested in mass media and superficial drama, and their tiny attention spans can’t handle all the nuanced facts that books provide. So the government uses this to enact laws that force all books to be burned. There is no art or learning. People believe what they want to believe, and what they don’t understand they deem irrelevant. Just the thought of books send most of the characters in this novel into a frenzy that, without spoiling anything, leads to some pretty explosive results.

I find parallels between Bradbury’s novel and real life more and more each day. We do live in a society obsessed with mass media and superficial culture. Facts scare us if they contradict what we already believe so we disregard them, leading not only to mass manipulation but also an absence of individuality. We try to censor those who speak up or against the norms of our society while supporting those who do for our own benefit. People don’t want to spend their time reading or waiting things out. They want things done fast and they want it now.

Now, obviously I don’t think we live in a world as extreme as the one Bradbury mentions. What I’m saying is that I find irony in the people who are going out of their way to burn Harry Potter books because of the authors beliefs. These are the same people who for months have been going on and on about the importance of freedom of speech and how we need to be unified and listen to one another and give each other chances. You can’t really do that if your burning children’s books, insulting others on social media, and boycotting anything that doesn’t agree with you from a coffee brand to a broadway play.

Bradbury’s novel serves as a critique on the culture of censorship and the triumph of knowledge over ignorance. Two things that couldn’t be more relevant in our toxic political climate. I urge many of these Trump supporters who are burning Rowling’s books to read this one, in hopes that it might open their minds. After all, you can’t make America great again if you try to silence anyone who tries to help.


3 Reasons Your Childhood Was Ruined by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Released in book form on July 31st, 2016, Directors and co-writers Jack Thorne and John Tiffany created the screenplay for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as the first of the Harry Potter series to be performed on stage.  The screenplay is based on an original story written by J. K. Rowling that focuses on the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy as they travel back in time to prevent the death of Cedric Diggory. The play premiered in London’s West End Theater on July 30th, 2016.

Potter-heads were justifiably excited by this new release, but after devoting hours to consuming all 320 pages of the hardcover edition, many tired-eyed fans were disappointed – some even equating the book to a “bad fan pic” –  as it seems to undermine the integrity of the rest of the series by making fundamental changes to the texts we know and love.

**Spoiler Alert**


  1. Alternate Dimensions?

Time-turners are initially introduced in the third book of Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as Hermione’s clever solution to enrolling in classes that are scheduled at the same time.

“I mean, you’re good Hermione, but no one’s that good. How’re you supposed to be in three classes at once?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Hermione shortly. “Of course I won’t be in three classes at once.”

The relic appears throughout the following books and serves the same relative purpose – it allows characters to travel (typically back) in time. However, in the screenplay for The Cursed Child, Albus Potter’s time-turner has the ability to create alternate universes.  This leads to the main conflict in the play, as Albus finds himself in a universe where Voldemort defeated Harry Potter.  Potter fans were furious with this change.  Perhaps it would not have been as controversial if they didn’t BASE THE WHOLE PLOT OF THE PLAY ON IT!


  1. It’s a girl!

Another large point of contention in the plot of The Cursed Child is when Delphini reveals herself as the daughter of Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort. Let’s just consider for a second that Lord Voldemort is so evil that he was capable of fragmenting his soul into 7 pieces (and hiding them in Horcruxes) through killing various witches and wizards in order to attain mortality.  Fans found it impossible to fathom the idea of his participation in a sexually intimate act with anyone, let alone one that resulted in fathering a child.  Can an immortal father even bear a mortal child? Why would an immortal even need an heir if he’s, you know…immortal?? This make the plot even more complicated and becomes something that Rowling, Thorne and Tiffany choose not to venture into untangling.  This really does make the screenplay read like a bad spin off series or fan fiction.


  1. Cedric Diggory becomes a Death Eater

Like I said, the plot of The Cursed Child centers on Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy’s quest to save Cedric Diggory’s life during the Triwizard Tournament (flashback to Rowling’s fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).  In order to save Cedric, Albus and Scorpius hinder his completion of a task in the tournament (that will prevent him from making it into the final round where he is killed) by transforming him into a red balloon.  However, this act apparently humiliates Diggory so much that he becomes a Death Eater and abandons the little character development he was given…loyalty, selflessness, etc.  For Potter fans this just seems like far too large of a stretch to be a realistic element of the plot.  It also results in the implication that the best possible outcome for Diggory is death.  Potterheads are simply  not satisfied with this decision.

5 Reasons Why The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery Should Matter to You


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Anyone close with me knows I’m obsessed with octopuses (yes, that is the correct plural form – Greek roots, not Latin). I’m fascinated by these mysterious creatures’ intellect, strength and playfulness. I dream of meeting an octopus one day – author and naturalist Sy Montgomery did just that.

I noticed The Soul of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery in Barnes & Noble. I purchased it with obvious interest and read it quickly. But why should anyone else read it? What’s so special about this slimy, tenticled creature? What can humanity possibly learn from it?

If I have a soul – and I think I do – an octopus has a soul, too.

  1. Octopuses Are Smarter Than You Think: Octopuses have 500 million neurons in their brains, and scientists say they’re as smart as dogs (though Aristotle claimed “the octopus is a stupid creature”). Experts at the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery observed, give the octopuses toys and games to keep them “octopied.” Boredom can lead them to escape from their tanks. Octopuses in captivity can recognize their caretakers with their suction cups, which act like taste buds. This prompts them to act differently towards different people.
  1. Octopuses are Stereotyped: Many people think cephalopods are dangerous creatures. Books such as Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea reinforce this stereotype. Montgomery writes, “Octopuses represent the great mystery of the other.” For centuries, there were misinterpretations of this species without an attempt to understand it. After meeting her first octopus, Montgomery writes, “It pulls me like an alien’s kiss.” She shows that what we perceive as alien must not be feared, but rather approached with curiosity and understanding. This can be applied to our lives, especially in the wake of current social and political issues.
  1. Exploration of Consciousness: There is ongoing scientific debate on animal consciousness. Montgomery explores this topic, writing, “I wanted to meet the octopus. I wanted to touch an alternate reality. I wanted to explore a different kind of consciousness, if such a thing exists. What is it like to be an octopus?” This book explores the wonder of human consciousness and gives insight to the mind and soul of the octopus. Montgomery challenges preconceived notions of consciousness and pushes readers to question deeper philosophical concepts.
  1. A Special Bond: While we may think of bonding with our dog or cat, Montgomery develops a bond with each octopus she meets. She writes, “While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie. To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being… is a humbling privilege.” Special moments can be found in the strangest of circumstances. An octopus friend: Weird? Interesting? Remarkable? Wouldn’t you like to find out?
  1. Octopuses Aren’t So Different From Us: Physically, octopuses and humans could not be more different. They have no bones and eight arms covered in suction cups, change colors to match their surroundings and breathe water. Yet we both have learning and problem-solving skills and possess different personalities. Octopuses have a dominant eye, just as we have a dominant hand. Mother octopuses sacrifice their lives for their offspring, just as many humans would do if they had to.

Sy Montgomery snorkels next to an octopus.

My infatuation with octopuses goes far beyond thinking they’re cool. They’re subjects of recent studies of consciousness, and show insight to an alien, alternate reality. The Soul of the Octopus urges readers to look more deeply into their own lives and beliefs through the lens of eight-armed friends.

To the YA Author

I used to like Young Adult fiction. Even now, most of my favorite books are older books of the genre. These books were unique. They were exciting. They were fun and enchanting and everything I could ask for in the world of literature packed into small, easy-to-read volumes.

Then came Twilight.

I don’t blame the book itself. To be honest, it contained most of the characteristics I described above. It brought something new to the table. It took off as a cult phenomenon, attracting young girls and teenagers and soccer moms. Shoddy editing aside, the uniqueness of the story was something people craved.

Now the reign of Twilight has ended. Anyone over the age of 12 refuses to admit they’ve ever picked up the book. But the effects Twilight bore on the Young Adult genre seem to be, like a certain sparkling vampire, eternal.

Before, anything seemed possible. Wizards and muggles could coincide peacefully. Hobbits and elves could undertake magical journeys. Vampires and werewolves and creatures you hear about in fairy tales could reside next door.

Now, however, it feels like we are forced to read from the same Mad Libs structure again and again as a quiet, brooding, special boy (a vampire, or a millionaire, or the school’s popular jock) meets a plain, un-special girl. He sees this girl from across a classroom, or a restaurant, or a train platform and, despite his being devastatingly attractive and unobtainable, falls desperately and hopelessly in love with her, despite her being awkward and plain. And she, even after uncovering some dark, mysterious part of his past, learns to love him too.

That’s it. The plot of nearly every Twilight-wannabe Young Adult novel made since. Trying to ride the waves of Stephenie Meyer’s success, authors thrive on this bland structure. Even Meyer herself got caught in the Twilight-effect, writing the exact same book over again, only bothering to change the gender of the characters and barely bothering to change their names.

But why? Why subject us to reading Twilight over and over and over again? Why not come up with your own, new ideas? Why bother us with writing at all?

The answer doesn’t lie with the audience. We as Young Adult novel readers don’t ask for these sorry, fanfiction-esque excuses for entertainment. In fact, we demand the opposite. We want something new and exciting. We want to be wowed. That’s why Twilight sold in the first place. That’s why the top-selling Young Adult books since then have been The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent—because we crave the unique. These books don’t have happy endings. Katniss spends the rest of her life suffering with PTSD. One of the cancer-stricken lovers dies. The world as Tris knows it crashes around her. Tragedy sells; idealized happy endings don’t.

If actual young adults make no demand for the happy-ending fluff found in many of the novels catered to them, why then do you, authors, still insist on bombarding us with them?

I think it’s because you’re scared.

You’re scared of not writing fluff. Because not writing fluff means that you must actually delve into the depths of writing—real writing—and come up with your own plot and your own characters, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be forced to think of something other than love interests and sex to move the plot along. You’ll be forced to look at your real life, to listen to your real interests and desires as a writer, to try something new. And new means scary. New means potential failure.

Yes, you could fail. But you could also fly. Like wizards soaring on broomsticks. And I think you will. Because we need it. We want intrigue; we want controversy.

But we don’t want any more Edwards.