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Book Review: Pat on Back or Punch in Gut

If you’re going to ask someone to evaluate your written work, you have to be as ready for a punch in the gut as a pat on the back.

I got some of both in a lengthy, comprehensive review of my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. After reflection, as the saying goes, I’ve been able to “meet with Triumph high-resolution-front-cover-5243558and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same,” embracing both the barbs and laurels with ego holding steady.

On the recommendation of a publicist, I paid a small fee to a writer/editor who reads and reviews books by independent authors and posts her reviews on her EMP Publishing website and other sites, including Amazon.

I respect and appreciate the reviewer’s opinions and the details she offered to back them up. She split down the middle, giving a rating of 5 out of 10 to the novel about a rookie sportswriter’s adventures covering an intense season of high school football in a backwater Florida town and uncovering a conspiracy involving a powerful coach and elite program. She wrote:

“I grudgingly recommend this book for diehard football and sports fans, as the chapters covering anything and everything to do with this will be fun for them to read. If you like the ‘80s and constant cultural references (there are multiple nods to ‘80s songs, TV and films) that might be fun.

“If you like quirky, gonzo-pulp journalism stories, combined with ‘Friday Night Lights’ sports dramas (two genres difficult to mix), you might enjoy this book…

“If you can’t stand any kind of racism or prejudiced language, or you don’t care for misogyny, sexism or objectification and disrespect of women, this book is decidedly not for you.”

[Read the full review here.]

The words “racism,” “misogyny,” “sexism,” and “objectification” were initially hard for me to absorb. But after chewing them over, I embrace them. The book is intentionally irreverent, maybe over the edge in places. It is admittedly “politically incorrect,” and contains profanity and language that no doubt will be offensive to some.

The book released by Sirenian Publishing, based on my own experiences as a sportswriter in Florida, dealt a lot with race, as Florida, like many places, especially in the Deep South, grapples with segregation, cultural divides, abject poverty and clear perceptions of “right and wrong sides of the track.” I did the best I could to deal with black and white issues.

But the book’s content dealing with African-Americans – numerous characters in the novel were African-American — was not the subject of the “racism” the reviewer cited. She was flabbergasted by a chapter meant to be comical about a business relationship between the book’s protagonist Jake, a young Jewish soon-to-be sportswriter, and an Arab immigrant lingerie shop owner for whom he was hocking wares on city street corners to earn enough money to get to Florida. The relationship was feisty and based on mutual disrespect and profanity-laced insults, which the characters used as a sideshow to attract attention on the streets and generate sales.

Again, this was based on a real-life experience, but exaggerated ten-fold. But the reviewer hated it, citing several offensive passages of dialog.

On the citations of misogyny, sexism and objectification, I won’t plead guilty, but I acknowledge I can certainly be charged. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet represents the point of view of a 22-year-old male and recounts his thoughts and dialog with his similarly immature, objectifying buddies. There’s a “raunchy” factor. I knew that some female characters in the book – but not all — exist mostly as the object of the male characters’ base desires. I’ve always been concerned about what female readers would think. Jake as much as admits that he’s a chauvinistic, sexist pig in this piece of internal dialog when he meets with the newspaper’s high-achieving, attractive female managing editor, cited by the reviewer:

“I pondered whether I should feel guilty for being such a chauvinistic, objectifying, dismissive sleazebag in the presence of a smart, accomplished, regal, and dignified woman, but I really didn’t.”

Beyond the initial shock of reading those inflammatory, culturally explosive words used by the reviewer, I had to remember to separate the author (myself) from the fictional characters portrayed in the novel. The novel does not contain my thoughts and opinions; it contains the thoughts, opinions and actions of made-up characters. The novel, I must remember, is not me; it’s a creative expression.

My aim was to strive to create believable, authentic situations, dialog and characters while still being humorous and somewhat outlandish and ridiculous in spots, stretching but not shattering believability. Real life and real people are not “politically correct,” and neither is Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet.

On the whole, I believe the novel is a funny, coming of age romp with a good sports story, insights into newspaper reporting, a conspiracy angle and buddy misadventure tangents.

Some readers may be offended and insulted, as was the reviewer. I understand and accept. But I don’t say I’m sorry and I don’t apologize.

Swimming Toward Segregation?

I encountered something unusual at my neighborhood pool on Memorial Day: It was segregated.

That might not be unusual in America, where the norm in many places would be all-black or all-white pools, not by rule anymore, but by demographics nonetheless.

But where I live is different – at least it’s supposed to be, and has been. I live in “the Next America,” the name visionary developer James Rouse gave to his socially engineered and meticulously planned community between Baltimore and Washington called Columbia.

Born out of the idealism and civil rights movement of the 1960s, Columbia was designed as a place where the typical practice of home builders and sellers intentionally blocking African-Americans from buying in certain developments would not be tolerated. In its early days, interracial couples purposefully moved to Columbia, recognizing its acceptance of a union that was still taboo most everywhere else.

It was consciously planned and developed as a new type of suburban city that would foster racial harmony, social integration and cultural and economic diversity. Housing types were mixed in the same community, so lawyers and laborers would live side by side.

But if my Memorial Day experience is any indication, the best-laid plans are showing cracks in their foundation.

I had just completed a class in my graduate program called “Diversity Issues in Counseling,” so I have become more attuned to such issues. At 5:30 p.m. on a gorgeous, sunny holiday, it struck me after I swam my laps and relaxed on my chair — I was the only white at the pool, other than the lifeguards. I made a quick count: about 35 African-Americans and one Asian family.

The area within a mile of the pool is still quite diverse – there are certainly many white residents. Could this have been an aberration, a snapshot “census count” at the pool that would rarely be replicated? Certainly. Could it be that whites are less likely to go swimming than blacks on the whole? Probably not.

Or could this be a small, inconclusive and unscientific, yet observable sign that self-segregation is occurring, in a place that was established as the national antithesis to discrimination and segregation? With 23 pools in Columbia, could white families who live closest to my neighborhood pool be consciously choosing to go to another one? Maybe.

I cannot draw a reliable conclusion from this miniscule sample, only make an observation and posePIC_0223 the question. However, in this same community, I have observed the trend of certain schools gaining higher proportions of minority students, as white families move to other districts.

We know race relations are a sensitive topic in America, and that open communications is an essential element to improve understanding, tolerance and connections. I don’t mean to stir the pot; only to shine a light.

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