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One Writer's Ravings:
A Logophile's Blog
for Language Lovers

My "Filthy" Book TEST OF TIME

In the internet age, writers face many challenges. One of the worst is online reviews, especially on Amazon. In the old days, your book would be reviewed by presumably professional writers with plenty of reading under their belts. Then it would run in an ephemeral print publication and that would be it. The sting of an unfavorable review would mostly disappear with the next day's news. But in the era of the cloud, nothing disappears. Every ill-considered, semiliterate opinion is up there in perpetuity.


"Be kind and considerate with your criticism," wrote the great literary critic Malcolm Cowley. "It's just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good one." Unfortunately this advice is lost on the hordes of soi-disant critics who get a frisson from posting their bile and basking in its longevity online.


One such bit of eternal bile came my way back in 2015, when a "reviewer" named Shelly Sears posted her opinion of my book Test of Time, my second vocabulary-building novel for high school students and a time-travel comedy-adventure featuring Mark Twain transported (via the internet!) to our times. Normally I ignore foolish comments about my work, and I rarely post comments about anything, including ridiculous reviews on Amazon about my books. But in this case (perhaps inspired by the spirit of the irreverent Twain) I had to respond to Ms. Sears. If her words were going to last longer than the epitaph on a tombstone, I wanted my riposte to last right alongside.


Here's what she wrote: 


Re: TEST OF TIME by Shelly Sears
1.0 out of 5 stars Filthy, stick to the classics! Not for my kid!
Reviewed in the United States on April 23, 2015

Great idea, but not worth the filth. In the name of learning vocabulary, this book is full of curse words and sexual content like petting. Anyone could write a garbage story with a lot of SAT vocabulary words. This author was at least smart enough to figure out that scam. Stick to the classics!
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My response:

I'd love to engage you in a conversation about what constitutes "filth" in my book. Have you ever actually read Mark Twain's work? His books are also full of the kinds of things you object to, and they were written in the 19th century. And if "curse words" and "garbage" and "sexual content" are what you are trying to protect your child from, there is little in the English-language tradition that you can have him or her safely read. Please, steer clear of Chaucer, choose a Bowdlerized edition of Shakespeare, and good luck protecting your kid from all the reputable writers of classics after that who used words like "bastard," "hell," and "damn." Your "filth," I dare say, is, and always has been, the rest of the intelligent world's literature.


For more on this general topic, see this article from the Los Angeles Times on a famous 1968 Supreme Court obscenity case:



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Welcome to TwainFest — WriteOutLoud's annual celebration of Mark Twain's life and words.

Let me begin by saying that it is a wonderful thing, a miraculous and heartwarming thing, in this digitally throttled age of computers and cellphones and iPods and iPads and Kindles and all manner of portable hand-held devices, to address an audience that has gathered for the sole purpose of being read to.

Mark Twain could appreciate that.

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Words Into Typo

In my last post — more than a month ago (sorry, I’ve been busy) — I promised to enter the publishing confessional and tell you about some of the exasperating mistakes that squeaked by my copyeditors, proofreaders, and my own squiffy eyeballs and became enshrined in my books. If you can groan and bear it, read on. Read More 
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