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Keynote speeches are hard. I was present for three last year: Libba Bray’s magnificent one at Austin Teen Book Fest last year; my own, at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, which I’m sure was twitchy and weird; and, at Houston’s TeenBookCon, Orson Scott Card’s.
These days some YA readers/writers are proposing to boycott Ender’s Game, the movie, because of what Orson has said over the years about homosexuality. Thank God, he did not mention homosexuality that morning, except maybe obliquely in a laugh line about how teenagers should know that sex “gets better.” “It gets better, guys,” he announced, vis-a-vis sex, and suddenly without warning several hundred teenagers and YA writers had been invited to imagine this 60ish man’s lifelong sexual journey, and the ways in which it got better, and there was just a ton of hunched shoulders and anguished squirming.
But that wasn’t the thing he said that I wanted to put here. The heart of his speech went something like this:
1. reading is just the best
2. how many worlds have you visited because of books? how many people have you gotten to be? a lot
Obviously everyone was on board with this. Reading is the fucking best! Also: thank God you are not talking about sex anymore!
3. everyone should get to read whatever they want
4. no one should ever try to stop you from reading something, or make fun of you for reading that thing
Absolutely. Yes. Throughout the audience, authors and readers alike are nodding happily.
5. if someone makes fun of you for reading, they are stupid
6. it is okay to make fun of stupid people
This was the part where we realized it was going to get weird.
7. in my high school i ascended to the apex of the social order by mocking people through song
What? What the fuck does that mean?
8. each time a person entered the classroom every other head would turn to look at me in delight and apprehension
9. and if i felt moved to do so, i would oblige them by standing and greeting this new person, who was often stupid, with a short but merciless song of mockery about them
Are you for goddamn real suggesting to these kids that that’s what you’re supposed to—FUCK, HE IS SAYING MORE THINGS
10. it’s stupid to read books about zombies
What the fuck is happening.
11. also vampires
Okay. Now you are just straight up trolling us. Because you just said—right?—that
12. also the hunger games
13. don’t read the hunger games because those books are stupid
It’s fine if you didn’t like The Hunger Games! But you don’t have to
14. have i read the hunger games? no
ORSON SCOTT CARD YOU ARE EVERY YOUTUBE COMMENTER
15. the end
Look: God knows it’s trendy to pile on Orson right now. But I really couldn’t stop thinking about the mocking-song part of the speech, afterwards. Could that possibly have worked?, I thought. It’s Calc I, and Tia Green or Dave Kowalski has just come back from the bathroom, and then some kid gets to his feet and sings a mean song about them (sings! It’s not just a poem! It’s got a melody and everything)—is there any universe in which that kid does so because he’s the most popular kid in school?
That’s why this speech broke my heart. It was so contentedly unself-aware. It was such a specifically teenage depiction, of this kind of sad delusion about what power is and how to get it. It was a portrait of a bully who thinks he’s doing an incredible job, and isn’t.
And so I’m not going to see the movie, or reread the book. But not out of principle. It’s just that I have an Ender Wiggin in my head, and I love that kid, and I don’t want him to change. I don’t want to have to start thinking about him singing mocking songs at people. And that’s why keynotes are hard. Not just for the one on stage.
Me and Earl is OUT IN PAPERBACK! Same great cover! Pretty much all of the same words! Actually I think 100% of the same words!! But now it costs and weighs less. And as a bonus, four of the paperbacks in our initial run have, instead of Chapter 18, eight glossy high-definition photos of lions having sex. So those are collector’s editions and probably they’ll be worth a lot someday. Chapter 18 is fine, but it’s surprising how well the book reads without it.
Here is a raccoon reading this brand-new paperback. He’s a pretty slow reader! You’re just gonna have to wait your turn, functionless modular origami shape!
(raccoon by hazel village)
So, some kind of incredible stuff happened. This morning, I found out that Me and Earl won the 2012 Cybil Award for Young-Adult Fiction.
This is all incredible news, and maybe it’s not worth pointing out, but maybe it is, that every time I find out about stuff like this it’s right after I’ve woken up, and I’m sitting there at my computer, probably with some kind of booger issue, completely unencumbered by pants, still mumbling whatever commercial jingle has been ricocheting through my head for the duration of me being asleep, e.g., “five! muh nuh nuh! five dollar! nuh nuh nuh five dollar foot long! februany any,” and then I learn that my bizarre potty-mouthed little book won some wonderful recognition from someone, and inevitably I think something along the lines of: Oh Jesus Christ. If they saw me right now they would immediately revoke this award. And maybe they should. So in the interest of transparency: Cybil voters, YALSA, Black List executives, Tayshas voters, and Booklist’s Ilene Cooper: every time Me and Earl wins something, it means that somewhere in Los Angeles, a pantsless muttering guy with measurable yogurt in his hair is being honored, and if that makes you rethink things, I would definitely understand. Also: thank you.
dad, suspiciously: who is this?
me: it’s your son.
dad, worriedly: is this about the car?
dad: oh god. you’ve lost your health insurance.
me: no! it’s good news!
mom: ooh let’s do facetime!
me: hi mom!
me: you kind of just came out of nowhere!
dad: i do not like facetime.
a lengthy bout of typing and muttering.
dad: i’m not seeing—who is “BonerDog420”?
me: i have no idea what you’re even looking at.
dad: the only person on the list that i can call is “BonerDog420.” but that’s not you.
me: what list? how did you arrive at—you know what, never mind.
dad: maybe we should call him to make sure.
me: do what you need to do. can i just tell you about—
dad: hello? bonerdog?
mom: reid i don’t think you should EWW
dad: GOOD LORD.
mom: TURN IT OFF. TURN IT OFF.
me: maybe you guys can call me back!
* * * * *
mom: can you see us?
me: i can see you! hi!
mom: and—there you are!
mom: honey, are you okay?
me: yeah! in fact—
mom: you look kind of gaunt. you look very thin and pale.
dad: you always forget that’s just how he looks.
me: yeah. mom, this is what i look like all the time.
mom: it’s not how you used to look. you used to—
me: my script is on the black list!
me: it’s #8! it’s in the top ten of the black list!
dad: is that good? that sounds bad.
mom: you look like you’re not eating enough.
me: i’m fine. guys. this is a really big deal.
me: the black list is a prestigious list of unproduced scripts. a bunch of executives put it together, and uh.
me: it’s a really good thing. it’s a great thing that happened to me, and my script, and my whole career.
mom: well, that’s good!
dad: that is good!
dad: so does this mean you can get a job?
me: i have a job.
mom: he means a job where you get paid.
me: i have a job where i get paid. i write scripts now, and this means maybe i can sell them, and get paid. that’s my job. this is a real job now.
dad: so have you gotten paid to do any other scripts?
me: no, but—it’s a job. it’s a real job.
mom: well… yes. okay. then this is really good news!
dad: it’s very good news. we’re very proud of you.
mom: grandma will be so happy! you should call her right now.
dad: and then you should call bonerdog.
mom: oh reid. ugh.
dad: i have a feeling he’s going to be really, really excited about it.
mom: stop it.
me: dad, stop.
dad: maybe too excited.
mom: I SAID STOP IT.