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Wednesday
Oct212015

Should a Book Cost less than a Big Mac?

 

Depending on location, a Big Mac nowadays costs between three and five dollars. Meanwhile, ebooks are increasingly priced between $2.99 and $0.99 —less than a Big Mac. Indeed, many authors feel compelled to offer their books entirely free of charge, at least for limited periods. The reasoning is that if readers like your “freebie,” they’ll go on to buy your other books. With 4,500 new books published in the English language every day, the competition for readers is fierce, and you’ve got to get your readers hooked somehow, right? “Freebies” and low prices are supposed to attract readers.

 

But do they?

 

There are now so many “freebies” on the book market today that a free book is no longer much of a novelty. Readers can peruse the various sites, see what’s being thrown after them at the moment, and select what appeals to their momentary whim based on the cover, the genre, the cover blurb etc. Readers interested in a free read will rarely buy their next book; they’ll just look for the next freebie.

 

On the other hand, it is human nature to value things that are costly. People don’t necessarily like the way a Mercedes looks — but they love the prestige of owning one. (God, won’t you buy me…. Etc.) Without bothering to look inside, people ooh and aah about a house that cost 10 million bucks or a yacht that cost 100 million (it doesn’t even have to be seaworthy!). But how many people can really taste the difference between a bottle of wine that costs $5 and the one that costs $500? Would you want to be put to the test?

 

So does it really make sense to price books below the price of a Big Mac?

 

What is a Big Mac? It is a consumable, which MacDonald’s assures us is always the same not matter where or when you buy it — i.e. the same quality and quantity of beef, the same rolls, the same veggies. There is never supposed to be anything unique or creative about a Big Mac. It is only supposed to provide an admittedly large but nevertheless finite number of calories for consumption. You buy a Bic Mac to eat it, absorb the energy it pumps into your system, and move on. You don’t want to keep a Bic Mac around to savor year after year, nor do you want give a Big Mac to your friends and family for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays or Christmas.

 

And a book? By definition and per copyright laws, each book is a unique creation. It is neither a consumable nor a commodity. It is not even a replication of someone else’s work, unless it is a translation or a re-issue of an earlier book. Books are some of the most popular gifts of our age, and a book has no “shelf-life.” It can survive decades, centuries, even millennia (e.g. the Bible, the Iliad).

 

So why should a book sell more cheaply than a Big Mac? Do readers value books so little? Or are we, as authors, devaluing our own products? What do you think?

 

Award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader has a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg. She has published numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. Visit her website: http://www.helenapschrader.com for a complete description and reviews of her publications, or follow her blog: http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com for updates on current works in progress, recent reviews and excerpts. Her most recent release, Defender of Jerusalem, tells the story of the historical Balian d’Ibelin, who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187.

Tuesday
Oct062015

Reviews are for you!

 


Many people tell me they read to be entertained, to learn about a topic or person, or even to expand their own vocabulary – gain knowledge. Reading fiction can be all encompassing and has been a favorite choice for many over the years. If you think about it, there are always elements of fiction, if even the slightest bit, embedded into non-fiction. There is always a touch of hyperbolized drama inside the true story or else the tale might risk being bland.

Hollywood is famous for making movies and television shows 'based on a true story' and adding so much action and drama it becomes an all-encompassing entertainment event that you kind of, sort of learn about a topic or person and expand your knowledge. Good fiction should be able to take the reader into the story as if it were actually occurring. Or in other words, believable. Better fiction will take the reader to the edge of unbelievable and then bring them back, take them further into unbelievable again, bring them back out and so on until the reader accepts the unbelievable as possible. Great fiction leaves the reader with the notion that 'it could happen'.

When picking up a fictional body of work you should be able to say with confidence silently to that author, "Take me on a journey I never thought imaginable. I want to live it and experience it through the characters you've created, and in the end I want to believe it was possible or maybe, that it might have really happened."

Movie makers, with all the technology can never replace the power of the imagination of an individual’s mind. Great cinema, while amazingly entertaining can leave your brain overstimulated by the external forces of visual imagery and sound. Who doesn’t love a good movie? And who doesn’t talk about and critique movies? When it comes to writing, the author only has your imagination to work with to make a good story. The writer needs you to stretch yourself to the limits.

Sometimes writers, myself included, can get too cute with the unbelievable and we really rely on our audience to review us honestly and critique us truthfully so we can improve our writing and storytelling in order to provide you with the best possible experience. So please review each book you read. That way, the book will always better than the movie.

 

Tim Dunn is a business executive and award winning author. He’s a Midwest native, married with three children. Tim spends his free time during the evenings and weekends serving his community, writing, watching sports or movies and preparing for the next day’s events. Genetic Memory won First Place - Fantasy in the 2015 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award. His website, which contains links to his books on Amazon, is www.abidingconcepts.net.

Friday
Aug282015

In the Beginning

 “If it weren’t for the people, the god-damn people”, said Finnerty, “always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, the world would be an engineer’s paradise.”― Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Player Piano’


In the beginning was the Word.


Actually, in the beginning we don’t really know what there was. We don’t even know if our beginning was the beginning, or one of many beginnings.

Our best guess is that in the beginning there was some kind of singularity — that at the centre of our universe was a point of infinitely dense, uniform, spinning black sameness, where everything was alike, and contained, and restrained by one almighty unified force. Now, for some reason this singular spinning top got knocked off its axis, and with a Big Bang its infinite density and order exploded forth into the universe. Over time the one thing became everything: energy, protons, neutrons, electrons, hydrogen, helium, super-hot plasma and gas, stars, quasars, galaxies and superclusters. Eventually it became rocks, and planets, and lava and ice and liquid water, and somehow amoeba and plants and trees and insects and fish and warthogs and Kid Rock and Bananagrams and, well, you get the idea.

The fact that we can get the idea is magical. The fact that one massive fiery explosion and billions of years of random collisions and chance galactic encounters later we can sit here and comprehend a universe forming — whilst vast clouds of water vapor sail through a blue sky above us, and small feathered animals sing to each other in the trees — is almost beyond comprehension itself.

The almost infinite complexity of the whole thing, and the apparent randomness that led to a universe so vast, mysterious and beautiful is — for me — the cosmological proof for why Difference, and not uniformity, is the prevailing force for creation and growth in our world and in our lives. If you’re a religious person I’m sure you need little convincing of the endless wonder and variety in creation. If you aren’t, then the empirical, scientific approach to understanding our origins is just as marvelous.

Adaptation, and being different from what came before, allowed protozoan bacteria — through generations of multiplication and mutation — to become complex; to grow cilia so they could move, fins so they could swim and, eventually, limbs and lungs that let them emerge from the water. Recognising difference in shape and colour is what allows all of us to make sense of our world, and the difference of one moment to the next — of one day being different from any other — is what makes us feel alive. In no uncertain terms, difference is what gives everything in our world and our universe meaning.

Strange, then, that although our universe grows ever more vast, complex and different as it expands through space, we as human beings are creatures of such habit and control. In opposition to the systems we observe — the collapsing stars and eroding coastlines which tend towards chaos and destruction — we devote our energy to building structure. We are comforted by routine; rigorously taxonomising our planets and butterflies. We create layer upon layer of order where there was no order before, and expend vast amounts of effort just holding it all together.

Human beings — who are least distressed when they can see things in black and white or right and wrong — seem like a walking contradiction. Like all animals we thrive and grow from the unexpected and diverse experiences that we have in our lives. We know that discovery and adversity fuel us and yet — at the self-proclaimed top of the food chain — we try our darndest to stamp out the possibility that anything unexpected will happen. I’m not talking about war, or drought, or any of the long list of man-made or natural disasters that come out of the blue and devastate lives and communities. I’m also not talking about the immediate, urgent challenges we might have to deal with in our lives, like finding our lost child in a supermarket, or planning our monthly budget so we can pay rent.

What I wonder at are the long, slow, large-scale changes, which build up sometimes over generations: the constricting systems that shape our lives over decades and centuries. How our education systems, for example, are structured so much like our penal systems, to promote uniformity and to marginalise deviant ways of thinking, or to sideline them with labels like “autistic”. And the intransigent, entrenched prejudice to which low politics panders; demonising foreign faces, unknown religions, accents, ethnicities and tastes.

Like lots of people who write about Life, the Universe & Everything, I wonder a lot. I wonder why we outlaw homosexuality. I wonder how it can be right to ban public protest. I wonder if they’ll ever make a true spiritual sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme Street Fighter movie. I’ve wondered at the Rat Race of our grown-up lives; the airless, grey, cubicled daily trudge into which billions of us collectively pour trillions of hours of our collective existence.

As we answer emails, fill in spreadsheets and fiddle with our ties we are all pursuing something, but for each of us that something is different. In a world of infinite diversity, where we’re all born different into a world that is never the same one minute to the next — born with different desires and aspirations — can we honestly say that the systems we’ve set up around ourselves really match the desires we nurtured as younger people? Are they worthy of the vast opportunity for joy and discovery which is out there, outside of the cubicle? Quite the opposite.

If I’d titled my book Fear of a Midlife Crisis instead of The Difference Manifestoit would have sounded less pretentious, but the other words in the book wouldn’t have had to change that much. If you’re like me, then pretty much every time you take a week off from work and go on a long hike, take a walk along a deserted beach or stay up late at night after drinking too much coffee, you get that “What the #$%@! am I doing with my life?” feeling; the feeling that if you could just extricate yourself from your desk job, or your mortgage, or your expectant parents, or the feelings of inadequacy that you get when you see your friends’ shiny new husbands and jobs and Facebook statuses, then you might be able to pursue what you’d always wanted to do. Like me, you may also find it harder and harder as the days and pay grades and dentist’s appointments go by, to remember what that thing was in the first place.

For almost all of us (myself included) it’s impossible and irresponsible to shrug off all the responsibilities and expectations that are built up around us. We can’t escape the motions we have to go through, and the processes and systems we have to follow. I’ll be honest, in a year’s time you’ll probably still need to fill in your tax return, and you’ll probably still have to queue for 45 minutes to post a Christmas card, or get a new passport. But that doesn’t stop us from being able to change things. It doesn’t stop us from being able to #occupy public spaces en masse, to anonymously expose corruption, or for individuals within those systems to expose abuses (Snowden, Manning etc.). Although so many of our paths — through airport check-in, at border crossings and at the DMV when we get our drivers’ licences — seem inevitable and set in stone, it really only seems that way. Once upon a time they didn’t exist at all, and it was a fallible human being, probably just winging it, who was responsible for making them.

I don’t subscribe to much New Age Philosophy, but I do know there’s a Cosmic Difference inherent in the universe, and millions of people praying for fewer office jobs and grey days in their lives, and they’re imploring you tobelieve things can be different, and be better for being different. Believing has to be the first step — in many ways it is a giant leap.

In pursuit of understanding what ‘Difference’ means in society, and why it is fundamentally a force for positive change, I’m going to ask you to accept three different principles. One is the necessity of nonconformism; that questioning dogma and institutions is vital, and that the more entrenched something is, the more we should question why it is the way it is. The second is letting your own identity shape your life — recognising what your core, personal values are, and that they are not the barrage of mass media slogans and advertising that you receive every day of your life. The third, and hardest, is to believe that there is no one truth in any situation. Our differing life experiences give us different perspectives, and although we feel passionately a sense of right and wrong, it is empathy — understanding why other people believe what they do — and not preaching, which allows us to come to understanding. Difference, even difference of opinion, can always be celebrated for the new perspective it brings us, even if we passionately disagree.

Entertaining these ideas — even just keeping them at the back of your mind, or on flash cards in your pocket — means we can start to reform some of the unpleasant, entrenched things today that we grudgingly accept about the world we live in, but which we wish we could change. Before we dive in, though, let’s try and understand what’s going on here. In a world of vast oceans, jungles, dolphins, bungee jumping and chocolate hobnobs, how did all the stuff that makes us feel glad to be alive get relegated to such a small portion of our existence. How did the world we built around ourselves begin to get in the way?

Ben Wallace is a writer, technologist and political theorist. For several years he led civic innovation and governance projects at Google, and he now advises businesses in both the UK and Silicon Valley. He enjoys playing saxophone and Liar's Dice, and currently lives in San Francisco.

You can read more by Ben here, and The Difference Manifesto is available in both electronic and paperback form on Amazon. Follow@BANGwallace on Twitter for updates and extracts from the book.

 

Wednesday
Aug052015

Could God Make Mistakes


The comment caught me off guard.

Sometimes you go through the motions of daily life, and then something sticks out. This was one of those moments.

We were talking about how cynical this world can be, and it can even cause a person to doubt themselves sometimes. The author has a known lack of confidence, and even self-worth. (Orphans have that).

These kinds of topics are nothing really new.

 

But, then it came, out of nowhere. The comment (actually a question):

"Are you saying God made a mistake in creating you, or that he made a mistake in trying to redeem you?"

Wow.

I wasn't talking about God at the time.

Then, a few things struck me.

One thing that struck me was what you do is about God. He created you. I never thought of it that way.

Then I got to thinking more (like I usually do).

This post looks at how value can be added to society by qualities or events that look negative at first glance.

Then another thing struck me:

 

Maybe your worth isn't based on worldly criteria, but on the criteria of what created you.

 

What does that mean? Here are some examples.

Like I said above, I lack self-confidence. Maybe God views that deficit as being less demanding, disruptive, etc.

I lack social skills. Maybe God views that as a path to seek him more in other ways. Single people have more time for that.

I lack every day, practical smarts. Maybe that is a way God me to ask other people questions and learn they have some good qualities.

These aren't the best examples, but they are to make a point.


The Cosmos As A Whole

This principle could extend beyond just the self, too.

For instance, maybe God puts difficult people in your path because they will tell you what you need to hear, without being polite - for your own good and improvement. (You might feel small at the time or lose confidence, but God is working to improve you).

Or -  maybe God allows you to go through a bad experience with someone so you don't do the same thing to someone else.

Or - maybe God allows bad experiences to move you on to something better he had planned. (Like when you lose a job).

The point is your value, as you view it on earth, might be different than the value God places on things. What looks bad in things like these examples doesn't necessarily lessen your "worth."

(Have you ever thought about how many jobs are created because humans are flawed? e.g. police, fire, security, auditors, psychiatrists, attorneys, therapists, quality control, etc.? If people weren't flawed there would be a significant unemployment problem.)

As humans we tend to focus on the first part of that equation.

A light bulb went off: You can still have worth.

Maybe God views your value as your relation to the whole, which is much more than just your bad experience,

That, then, would mean God didn't make a mistake in what he did.

What Does Scripture Say?

You can look at Scripture to back this point up; the point of
"negative" things in the short term leading to positive things in the long term. (e.g. the Resurrection)

The Resurrection was no mistake. The crucifixion was a "bad experience", but it led to the salvation of all humankind.

Matthew 20:16 reads (about the Kingdom Of God),

"So the last shall be first, and the first last."

In other words there is more to life than our limited way of thinking on this earth. You could be the last one, and still have worth. (And be first in the end)

But, even from the worldly perspective this concept makes sense.

People were born with different abilities. This blog asserts that was for a reason - to share what God gave you with his other creation. And, it is common for a person to excel in one area, but have a deficit in another.

Those deficits aren't a mistake. Jesus said even the hairs on your head are numbered. (Matthew 10:30, Luke 12:7)

God knows, and it is no mistake.

Maybe the difficult person tells you what you need to hear, and the nice person helps inspire you to do it.

So, I was struck again.

Struck by the notion a person's deficits could be the exact things that lead to bringing worth to the whole.

Wow.

The difficult person or the losing of your job could lead to the things that somehow add value to your life in the long term. As humans we focus on the difficult person or or aptitude in why we lost the job.

God, though, might have a different way of looking at it.

Your worth, then, isn't why you lost the job; it is how you move on to fulfill God's plan.

No wonder God sent his Son to redeem you. He doesn't view the bad experiences like you do. Suffering is not just for the sake of suffering.

It is part of a larger plan. A plan we don't fully grasp. Isaiah 55:9 reads,

"So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts."

This author asserts the development of that plan is the meaning of life.

Things might look static - I was going through the motions of life when that comment came along.

But saying God made a mistake or God doesn't know something sounds presumptuous.

However - in a dynamic way - What if God allows evil to show you he can even guide you through a world full of evil to good in the end? Guiding you through a perfect world wouldn't say as much.

Evil experiences don't diminish your worth.

While humans sometimes waddle in self-pity in a complex world (and feel small), God might be thinking you are on just the path he made you for.

However static it seems, we are growing on the inside. We might not be fully aware of it, but it is amazing.

No, God doesn't make mistakes.

Please note: Not all deficits lead to good things in the end because of free will. However, got can make that work out, also, if you work with him.

 

Hopefully this post helped spur you to think about the larger meaning of life and your place in it.  

I urge you to look beyond what you experience each day to something more.

If you want, please subscribe to the blog for more ways of looking at your life for enrichment.


   Albert Blogs at addmeaningtolife.com

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