Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Joys of Re-Reading: What Do you Re-read and why?

My 8yo big reader son is constantly re-reading books. Which, for completely irrational reasons, sometimes annoys me.

I guess I'm jealous. At, er, significantly greater than 8yo, I WISH I had all the time he has to read -- rather than cooking dinner, cleaning, doing groceries, working (oh, yea, WORKING), I'd rather be reading too. There are so many wonderful books in the world, not to mention on my nightstand/to be read pile, I can't imagine ever having enough time to read them all. And so, it gets me a little nuts to see my son re-reading, say, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson (all of them, any of them...) for the fourth, fifth or sixth time while there are a pile of perfectly good and exciting looking new novels from the library getting dangerously close to their due date.

But of course, I'm completely in the wrong. I know that. Books aren't things to consume, or check off on a list (no matter how close their due date), they are experiences to enjoy, and enjoy and enjoy again.

I re-read favorites all the time when I was younger -- Little Women, the Nancy Drew books... even into my adulthood I re-read Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkein whenever I need a spiritual or mental pick me up. Old books are like old friends, they usually know where you're hurting and how to help.

So yesterday I asked my son why he likes so much to re-read books. Of course, he had just gotten out Grace Lin's Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat out of the library for the THIRD time and was so engrossed in his reading that I had to ask the question a number of times, raising the decibels with each asking until he finally responded.

But when he did, this was his answer. "Usually I don't read something 'till I've forgotten what happens. And then it's like reading it for the first time."

I'm not sure whether to believe him, whether he really forgets the plot (is that possible?) or just enjoys revisiting a familiar plot, in the same way a child enjoys revisiting a familiar film, song, or even, face...

What are your favorite books to re-read and why?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Masculinity and Disability on Downton Abbey

Have you been watching Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Theater? Well, if you're a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs, Gosford Park, or even other period dramas like my beloved Pride and Prejudice (*sigh*), you should.

Like other similar shows and films, Downton Abbey tells the story of an aristocratic household (both 'below stairs' and 'above'), while incorporating a glimpse into social mores and contexts of the time (1912 England). From changing fashion (pantaloons at formal dinner!) to changing technology (typewriters and electric lights and automobiles, oh, my!), from socialist movements to women's sufferage, Downton Abbey is inevitably an examination of an imagined past through the lens of our present values.

As a professor/scholar of illness and disability narratives (when I'm not writing YA fiction, that is), what interests me the most about Downton is the way it tackles the dual and very much interrelated issues of masculinity and disability, and what that particular narrative tells about current day social anxieties about the bodies of disabled men.

You see, Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham's valet, has a limp, and must walk with a cane. This causes a great deal of consternation and prejudice among his fellow staff who doubt his ability to climb stairs, carry luggage, and otherwise perform his duties. Chief among his doubters is the footman Thomas, who is jealous at being passed over for the position of valet, and colludes with the dour ladies' maid Miss O'Brien to get Mr. Bates fired.

Although the honorable Lord Grantham ultimately rehires Mr. Bates (as a testament to both Lord Grantham's character and to the two men's bond during the South African war), the animosity between the conniving Thomas and the upstanding, stoic Mr. Bates continues. And I think it's in this animosity that the show's own unexamined prejudices emerge.

Mr. Bates is the classic example of what John Hockenberry would call the 'supercrip.' He sustained his injury in the war, where he was Lord Grantham's batsman, and an honored and decorated soldier. I think it's important to note that Mr. Bates injury is war related - which of course accurately reflects the England of the time, where many men undoubtedly came home with war-related injuries - but yet, it also helps the show skirt around the more complex portrayal of an individual with a disability from birth. Mr. Bates is the uncomplaining, morally unblemished disabled character, he sustained his injury serving his country, he doesn't rage, or ask for help, but can and does do everything. He is older, wiser, kind, and a champion of the downtrodden in the staff. In the (paraphrased) words of the poet Mark O'Brien (as spoken in Jessica Yu's beautiful documentary about his life in his iron lung, Breathing Lessons), there are two prevailing myths about the disabled: 1. that they can do everything, 2. that they can do nothing. In this binary, Mr. Bates is clearly the example of the former.

So why is it important that Mr. Bates be shown as so, well, masculine? Stern jawed and able to throw the misbehaving (slimmer) Thomas against a wall when necessary? Significantly, Mr. Bates is also portrayed as, at least in some regard, sexually potent. He and the housemaid Annie have a deeply flirtatious relationship, one that he cannot readily express for yet unknown reasons. Even his decision to attempt to 'correct' his limp with some awful skin-puncturing brace is taken with great stoicism and stiff-upper-lip-ery. Although he ultimately throws the horrid contraption into the lake, Mr. Bates is a disabled body committed to performing as a masculine, sexual, and 'able-enough' body.

In Western culture, where bodily control and ability are not only prized but coded as masculine, illness and disability are often considered feminizing conditions. Masculinity itself is defined as able bodied and active, and the disabled man is coded as somehow 'less than' - sexually, socially, etc. Indeed, Born on the Fourth of July and other Vietnam war movies circulate around the issue of the disabled war veteran coming to terms with his sexual impotence and (often stereotyped) physical dependency. While paraolympic based documentaries and films often portray the disabled man forcibly reclaiming social potency through excellence in sport.

This semester, I'll be teaching an example of the latter, the film Murderball, in my class on narrative, health and social justice. This is a classic film in which sport and physical potency become a way for men to create a new, hypermasculinized image built on physical impairment. As part of that class session, I'll be teaching L. Manderson and Susan Peake's article "Men in Motion: Disability and the Performance of Masculinity" from the volume Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, where they argue that hypermasculine gender performance by disabled men (in sport, what have you) help claim a heroic, noble, masculine cultural space.

So where does Downton Abbey take Mr. Bates' in this regard? Unfortunately, I think, part of his hypermasculine-despite-disability characterization occurs vis a vis his antagonistic relationship with Thomas, who is the one 'out' (ish) gay character on the show. Thomas sleeps with a visiting Duke, makes a pass at a Turkish diplomat, and makes a false show of pursuing the 'innocent', naive kitchen maid simply out of spite against her and her (heterosexual) admirer, another footman. He is, in the words of the cook, a 'troubled soul' - angry, conniving, and altogether without redeeming quality. Indeed, his primary purpose in the show seems to be as trouble maker, an able-bodied, gay foil to Mr. Bates' disabled, heterosexual body.

Downton is a fantastic show - entertaining, visually beautiful, smart in its examination of class and gender. However, to me, it falls short in its examination of disability and masculinity - falling into problematic, limiting, and - in the case of the 'evil gay footman' - oppressive tropes.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Boneshaker: Playing for Team (Feminist) Zombie

I can't believe it. I think I've actually switched teams.

In that age old dichotomy poised by Holly Black and Justin Larabelestier in their edited collection Zombies vs. Unicorns, (ie. which are better, zombies or unicorns?), it seemed the whole world could be divided into Team Zombie or Team Unicorn. And I was sure, SURE, that I was on the team with the pretty one-horned horsies.

Exhibit A: I was a bit of a girly girl. Never a horsie girl. But a bookish, fairy and rainbow loving, team unicorn playing kind of a girl. (And back then, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and dolls of that ilk weren't all sexy-ed up like they are today - check out this blog on the phenomenon at Ms.Magazine)

Exhibit B: By the time I figured out there were no unicorns, I transferred my love of unicorns to dolphins. (I blame Madeline L'Engle and her brilliant final book of the Austin Family series, A Ring of Endless Light - I mean, what tween can resist a heroine who has telepathy with dolphins?) The Freudians in the room would probably say I simply transferred my fascination with one phallic object (one horned creature only tamed by virgins -- hello?) with another (smooth fish that fictional girls also ride? Double Hello?).

Exhibit C: Even after two decades of my 'all serious books all the time phase' - my return to YA was still marked by fantasies of the gossamer-winged, rather than limb-amputating variety. The LOTR series is one of my all time faves, and even my recent fantasy faves are of that ilk (for instance, I adore Diana Peterfreund's books about Unicorn-slaying warrior girls, Rampant and Ascendant - Peterfreund imagines unicorns as bloodthirsty and dangerous, yes, but hey, they're still books about unicorns being fierce. Just fierce in the literal sense, not the Tyra Banks-ian sense.)

And so, when my dear friend J recommended Boneshaker by Cherie Priest for our book club, I wasn't sure I'd be down for the cyber-steampunk-zombie-pirate adventure. Not sure at all. My only association with steampunk, honestly, was that awful awful movie with Will Smith and Kevin Kline, Wild Wild West, and while I'd heard that it was an up and coming genre, that movie had just set me up to think of it as, well, silly, really. And if not silly, at least dirty. And if I've not made absolutely clear from exhibit A, B, and C above, I'm not really a girl who's down with dirt on my face and grime on my fingernails. (Side note: If you need a bit of a primer on steampunk, here's a recent Christian Science Monitor article calling it 'the new goth.')

For those who haven't read Priest's novel, here's a thumbnail. It's civil-war era Seattle, only the city has been walled off because of a giant drilling machine called a "boneshaker" which has unleashed a deadly (possibly volcanic) yellow gas from under the earth. Oh, yea, and this gas not only kills people, it does so after turning them into brain and flesh eating zombies. Briar Wilkes and her son live outside the walls, in The Outskirts, a dismal, acid-rain-infested, bleak place. When Zeke goes into the dangerous city alone to discover more about his family's past, it's up to Briar to make like a maternal Xena and save him, all the while kicking some serious zombie butt.

I gotta say, I loved the book. My one major hesitation was Priest's seemingly unexamined use of the term "Chinaman" over and over and over (and the word "Negro" once). I say seemingly unexamined because there were moments I could see she was trying to examine and challenge the characters' racism, and draw attention to race relations at the time, she didn't go far enough in that challenge to warrant her use of the jarring word. The Chinese characters remained, in fact, mostly caricatures, since they are present, but not granted MC status (see my previous rant on people of color as support staff/BFFs rather than main characters).

But the dirt, the acid rain, the Blight infested air, the post-apocalyptic feel, the flesh eating 'rotters' -- all things I was sure would turn me off, actually drew me in. And, issues of race notwithstanding, the reason I think they did was simple: the strong female protagonist and Priest's ability to portray strong female characters.

What other book have you ever read where a 35 year old, factory working mother is the heroine? The gun-toting, bad-ass heroine who is brave enough to try and rescue her 15year old son into a walled-off, zombie-filled city? The only comparison I could think of was Linda Hamilton's character Sarah Connor in the Terminator films. But even then, despite Hamilton's really remarkable biceps, Aah-nold kind of still steals the show, right? Not so in Boneshaker. Briar is the central heroic figure, her son Zeke the person in need of rescue. Yes, there are multiple male characters who assist Briar in her quest to find her son, but there are also two other strong female characters - a one-armed (and even that, mechanical) sling-shot shooting bar owner named Lucy and an elderly, tough as nails but ultimately motherly Native American woman named The Princess. There is a scene near the end where all three women appear - and they aren't fighting each other, one doesn't turn out to be a villainess, and they certainly aren't talking about men (so it passes the Bechdel test). I loved being able to see three strong women portrayed like that - in one single scene.  

I still love stories with gossamer-winged creatures who flit about, committing magic acts of love, but I'm realizing I can also hang with some demented flesh-eating folks as well. Especially when said brain-a-tarians aren't frightening prom queens and otherwise following the 'let's dismember female characters' sexist patterns of most horror movies. Rather, I'm down with zombies as long as they're being hunted, stepped on, and otherwise crushed by some female warrior awesomeness.

So yea, with a few rainbow colored caveats, I may actually be willing to play for Team Zombie once in a while. Or, perhaps I should say Team (Feminist) Zombie.

How about you? Are you Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Samosas and Sensibilty: 'Bad Austen' Entry

I love Jane Austen.

She is my go-to gal, my author of choice, my emotional salve, my comfort food... name your metaphor, she's it for me.

Well, her novels and The Lord of the Rings, but that's a longer, more complicated story about the obvious overlap of Austen and scifi/fantasy fans. Think about it: The world building (England, Mordor), the nuanced social mores (don't pay a first social call for more than 10 minutes, don't ask an Orc to tea and crumpets), and of course the romance! (Elizabeth is to Darcy as : a. Arwyn is to Aragorn b. Eowyn is to Aragorn. c. Legolas is to Gimly d. all of the above)

And I'm not even touching on the fabulous films made of her books - the A&E miniseries of Pride and Prejudice is definitely worth a whole long blog entry at some point of its own (Colin Firth as Darcy in that "oh, look at that! my shirt is wet and clinging to my manly chest" scene still gives me flutterings and palpitations and makes me, like Mrs. Bennett, worked up in a tizzy, bleating "my nerves, have you no regard for my poor nerves?").  

So...  in the great, er, bizarre, traditions of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, I've written my own "Bad Austen" mashup, and now you can too, by entering the 'Bad Austen' contest here.

Perhaps my story isn't quite as much like the 'Miss Austen meets the supernaturals' tales above as it is like fun and fabulous Bend it Like Bekham director Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice (ruined for me, sadly, by the atrocious acting of model turned Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai), an Indian revisitation of Pride and Prejudice.

In fact, Ms. Chadha, if you're reading this blog and overcome by the need to make my 800 word story into a feature length film, please feel free. (And disregard my previous uncooth comments, cast Aishwarya Rai, by all means!) Oh, and I REALLY liked your movie Bhaji on the Beach too...

But I digress...

So I'll excerpt Samosas and Sensibility here for you, dear readers. And if it should suit, please do consider visiting the site and voting for my story. And know that I do appreciate the honor you humbly bestow upon me. There will be crumpets awaiting you in the parlor...

Samosas and Sensibility
By Sayantani DasGupta

The Family of DashGupta had been long settled in Parsippany, New Jersey. Well, since Mr. DashGupta got sponsored for his green card back in 1988 and managed to convince INS to grant Mrs. DashGupta a spousal visa, that is. 
Their residence had initially been in the Indian enclave of the Sussex Gardens Apartment Complex off Route 46, but as Mrs. DashGupta was from a distinguished and old, if ridiculously impoverished, Bengali family, the rough society, marked by the sounds of Punjabi bhangra booming through souped up car stereos, was quite more than her poor nerves could bear. Having a healthy respect for his wife’s nerves, Mr. DashGupta transferred his wife and infant daughters posthaste – or rather, as soon as he was financially able, to the decidedly middle class subdivision of Norland Estates. There, for almost two decades, the DashGuptas had lived in an unremarkable medium-sized McMansion, in so respectable a manner as to be completely unknown by their surrounding acquaintances.
To Read the rest of this story, or vote, or submit your own story, please go here on Bad
Even better, curl up with your favorite Austen!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Story Rx: Write about Gnomes, or Other Quirky Things.

There's no getting around it. Gnomes are just quirky.

Maybe they didn't always used to be. Maybe they still aren't everywhere. I'm sure in some idyllic suburban, er, haven, there's someone out there (with the most darling gardening gloves) who takes her yard gnomes very seriously and gushes, "oh, how charming, how sweet" every time she spots one peeking out from behind the begonias.

But besides that one lady with the begonias, I'm pretty sure the rest of the world thinks gnomes are quirky.

Unless, of course, you happen to be between five and, say, ten. In which case gnome hats (with ears sticking out) and gnome shaped cupcakes and such ROCK. And rightly so.

My kids were at such a party today. Thrown by my exceedingly talented and wry friend, who made exquisite decorations including terraria and many other such gnome-ish acoutremonts that scored high on my quirky-o-meter.

As I waded through a gorgeous gnomey cake (well, not really waded through it, you know what I mean), gnome-themed decorations, gnome-based arts and crafts, and even a gnome shaped lamp, I couldn't help thinking of this faux naturalist type book on gnomes my best friend had when I was young. I used to POUR over those pages, noting the habits and habitats of gnomes as if I was reading a work of biological science or some kind of anthropological field notes. (My daughter has a similar one on fairies, and I note that she POURS over the details, including the acorn-as-bathtub, the leaf-as-bed-canopy, etc. *Note to self: must get kids book on gnomes pictured above.*)

Of course, by the time I became a teenager, gnome-pranking took on some serious cultural cache. The tongue in cheek practice of kidnapping gnomes and sending faux ransom notes, or photographing said garden figure in various sunny locales was surely the inspiration for the beloved Travelocity company's gnome. And of course then there's Libba Bray's faboo Prinz Award winning novel - Going Bovine - which references not just gnome pranking but undoubtedly cow tipping (and of course mad cow frenzy). I mean, there's a road-tripping gnome in her novel who thinks he's a Norse god. Seriously. How much quirkier can you get?

In fact, the older I get I get the more I realize that quirk is my favorite type of humor. Writers who are comfortable enough with themselves just to let their wack-a-doodle all hang out, if you know what I mean; Authors who take something from pop culture, or childhood, or the ranks of social earnestness, and just turn it on its head. The best writers are those who can do this while not just getting caught up in their own witty irony, but rather be both quirky and emotionally true/vulnerable at the same time. I think this dual quality - quirkiness and heart - is part of what makes Going Bovine such a wonderful book.

Kristin Clark Venuti, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing recently, is similarly Quirky. The protagonists of her "Bellweather" novels not only live in a place called The Lighthouse on the Hill in a town called Eel Smack By the Bay, but do things like save viscious endangered animals and commit activism for the Oppressed (whether the Oppressed like it or not.) Oh, yea, and she Capitalizes Important Things. A Lot. Just her sheer degree of Capitalization makes her books Pretty Darn Quirky. And Pretty Darn Hilarious besides.

So I've been working on a really, really quirky series of picture and chapter books lately. Stuff that's so out there it makes me wonder if anyone but my equally quirky friends will 'get it.' But I guess that's the beauty of taking such a risk - by laying out there the things we think are really funny, we actually make ourselves more vulnerable than if we, say, write some melodramatic scene of woe. Real humor, real quirkiness, requires equal parts soul-bearing - cultural, personal, geographic, class, gender, age-related, you name it. Show me what you think is funny, and I'll be able to learn a heck of a lot about you.

So I think garden gnomes are funny. And Barbie. And Pez dispensers (do they even make those any more?).

What do you think is funny? What pushes your wack-a-doodle quirky button?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Huckleberry, Schmuckleberry: Race and the Children's Literary Canon

Twitter's all a twitter. Facebook's in a frenzy. Yea, there's another case of Bowdlerizing classic literature afoot - and all of cyberspace seems to be up in arms.

Even The Wall Street Journal is covering the removal of a racial epithet from a new version of Huckleberry Finn, planned by an Auburn University Professor and Mark Twain scholar. Alan Gribben's new edition, published by NewSouth publishers, will apparently change Twain's usage of "the n-word" to the word "slave." Per the WSJ, Gribben's argument is as follows:

“This is not an effort to render “Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’ colorblind,” he said. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

As you can imagine, the commenters in cyberspace are going, well, berzerk. Cries of "shame!" "revisionism" and "censorship" abound. (One particularly funny comment to the WSJ article was by Sammie, who wrote "Smoking and chewing tabacco [sic] has also been replace in the book with playing Nintendo.")

Ok, I hear you, people. But at this point, I'm like, Huckleberry, Schmuckleberry.

It's not because I don't think issues of racism in classic children's texts aren't important. A few months ago, I wrote about my own discomfort with the portrayal of Native Americans in the Little House on the Prairie series and referred back in that post to Phil Nel's excellent blog on race and children's literature.

It's not that I think that censorship in literature is ever appropriate. I actually feel very seriously about the responsibility of writers to protect the power of words. In the words of Nobel prize winning poet and playwrite Wole Soyenka, "Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.” 

The reason I'm wearying of the Huckleberry Finn debate is that, in protesting this sanitization of Twain's text (my favorite comment: censorship is boring.) some of the voices in the blogosphere are protesting what I feel is the wrong issue, and most importantly, failing to ask the right questions.

The arguments, as I've seen them, are as follows (in order of how much they irritate me, most to least):

1. Protests against "Political Correctness": These arguments go something as follows. 'We've all gotten way too PC and Twain would be turning over in his grave.' 

To me, tooting on the 'it's too PC' horn is just lazy. The fact of the matter is, there are social mores we all follow and these do change with time. Just as it is illegal to falsely yell 'fire' in a crowded movie theater, or unacceptable to run naked through most suburban neighborhoods, it is similarly unacceptable to call your female co-worker "sugarlips" or some other demeaning name (no matter how many times they do it on Mad Men). These are the facts, folks. Social mores change. The n-word was a product of its time, yes, but it was and still is an epithet and as such is offensive and unacceptable in modern life. Period. 

2. Protests vis a vis. Twain's intentions: These arguments tend to suggest that Twain used "the n-word" in order to highlight the character Jim's marginalization and also shed light on the racism of the time. This argument I can hang with, to some extent, but I draw the line at treating Twain as someone who was not somehow a product of his time, class and race. Twain's portrayal of Jim is far from non-racist, although, yes, he does also illustrate and in some ways critique racism, and portray Jim as ultimately heroic.

3. Protests against sanitizing and rewriting America's racist past: This argument is made most elegantly in this article by Jamelle Bouie in The Atlantic which suggests:

But erasing [the n-word] from Huckleberry Finn—or ignoring our failures—doesn't change anything. It doesn't provide racial enlightenment, or justice, and it won't shield anyone from the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination. All it does is feed the American aversion to history and reflection.

While I definitely agree that Twain's language - whether difficult to swallow for present readers or not - is an important part of our consideration of this text (indeed, it's the fact that his language is difficult to swallow that is a critical part of contextualizing Huck Finn), I think there is more nuance to the argument than simply censorship vs. no censorship.

First and foremost, what I'm not hearing enough of on the web is that this is a book for young people - and we must consider it as such.  (although this pro-Bowdlerizing author at Mother Jones did suggest that middle and high school teachers are unable to teach a book with 219 appearances of "the n-word." And if un-Bowdlerized, the original version of Huck might only be appropriate to teach at the college level)

As one commenter to Bouie's article suggested, what's at stake here is nothing less than the sole African American middle schooler in an all white class who has to sit and listen to her classmates say the "n-word" gleefully, repeatedly, followed by other offensive comments which they somehow now feel justified in making because of their teacher/school's sloppy handling of the text. To teach any text without contextualizing it is lazy, but to teach a text with racial epithets in it without historicizing it is irresponsible.

In other words, what's at stake here is nothing less than all the children of color readers in this country, who have a right to read books without being alienated and assaulted. It's nothing less than all the children in our country, who have a right to understand America's legacy of racial and colonial violence - as well as its very real modern day manifestations - from urban police violence, to immigration detention centers, to health care inequities.

Perhaps we, the adults who should know better, should be asking ourselves certain critical questions,  rather than getting caught up in arguments about what is "too PC."  Such questions include: what counts as canonical literature? who gets included in the canon and why? and most importantly, how much of an effort are we adults making to broaden our own literary and other exposures so as to broaden our children's?

As I concluded in my discussion of the Little House books, what is called for here is not Bowdlerization persay of certain agreed upon canonical texts, but rather, adults who aren't afraid to re-examine long held beliefs about how to teach, how to read, and what to read.

Yes, it is about taking responsibility to discuss America's legacy of racism explicitly and thoroughly with our young people. But it is about simultaneously providing them with a broad-ranging, heterogeneous canon - Western and non-Western, white and of color. Let's use this controversy about Huck Finn to acknowledge that 'classic children's literature' is not a narrow stream, but a great, big river.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Zounds! Fie! By Shiva's Trident! Making Up Cursewords in TV and Literature

So I'm reading the brilliant Prinz award winning John Green's novel An Abundance of Katherines when one of the main characters, Lindsey, asks the very question I've been wondering for most of the book:

"Hey, why the f--- do you and Hassan say fug all the time?"

Of course, in the novel, Linday actually says the expletive. This happens more than 1/2 way through the book, when this question has been burning in the reader's mind as well. She's asking the protagonist, Colin, why he and his best friend constantly use expressions like "motherfugger" and "FUG!"

Colin's answer is brilliant, if only because John Green is obviously making a conscious commentary on the use of swear words in literature itself.  (I absolutely love it when literary characters talk about literature in books. It always blows my mind - I'm always like "you're a literary character yourself, dude, don't you realize that?")

Anyhoo, to get back on point... In answer to her question, Colin tells Lindsay the story of Norman Mailer, and his book, The Naked and the Dead, which originally, according to Colin/Green, contained 'the F-word' "thirty-seven thousand times...every other word is fug, pretty much." In Colin's words,

"...he sent it to the publisher and they were like, 'This is a really excellent book you've written, Mr. Mailer. But no one here in 1948 is going to buy it because it contains even more F-bombs than it does Regular Bombs. So Norman Mailer, as a kind of fug-you to the publisher went through his 872-page book and changed every last F-word to 'fug.' "

Green's characters use other made up, or at least, non-English language curse words in the novel. Hassan, for instance, calls Colin a sitzpinkler (the German word for a man who sits down to pee, in other words, a wimp).

Green's brilliant novel, as well as this fabulous recent post on From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors called "Is it OK to curse in MG books?" got me thinking: what other books or TV shows do I know where made-up curses are used? And does it work? (or get silly/distracting?)

It works in Green's book, clearly. Words like "fugger," like "sitzpinkler," become a part of Hassan and Colin's characters, and their relationship. The cool kid bloggers over at Forever Young Adult throw down hilarious phrases like "Subscribe to comments, bishes" and "RSS this shizz." In my own YA WIP, I have my teenage sci-fi-watching heroine use the word "Frak" as an homage to the coinage of the term on one of my favorite sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. (Although in my novel she calls it 'Spacestar Galacticon.') How much do I love it when BSG characters say things like "frak" and "frakker" and "frak me?" A lot. Uh-huh. So say we all.

But clearly, there's different made up cursewords appropriate even for different ages. In my co-written MG WIP, my co-author Karen and I have the father of one of the protagonists, an antiquities expert, use expressions that harken to his mythologically based work. 'The Professor' uses expressions like "By Shiva's Trident!," and "On Osiris' Throne!"

Only recently, the fabulous Kristin Clark Venuti noted on FB that she wanted to bring back the use of the word "Zounds!" (which is a derivation of the Shakespearean era curse "God's Wounds" and apparently pronounced zoo-nds). I suggested that if she did, I would bring back an expression my co-author Karen and I used as children: "Gadzooks!"

Other way cool Shakespearean curses that should be brought back might be things like "by my hammer and tongs!" "Tush!" or "Fie!" (Check out this hilarious site on the Elizabethan Insult for more great words, including "whey-faced" and "Canker-blossom")

What are your favorite made up insults? Do they work or should we use the real thing? Or just avoid cursing altogether?