Refereeing Sanity

If the referees who made the bad call at the football game—which I know nothing about, as I don’t follow sports—aren’t getting death threats, I will be flabbergasted, flattened by shock.

What a terrible thing, this lack of surprise. How has it become acceptable to wish death on complete strangers? And for something, as dare I say, as useless and pointless as a sport game.

Some time ago, I read that, with all the movement of modern life, and lack of geographic and family connections, the college is the new hometown. That’s the place to which you swear allegiance. Perhaps sports are the same? We carve niches for ourselves, our identities, out of these fragile things like sports, or books.

On Goodreads today, I read several negative reviews of The Name of the Wind. One commentator wished the reviewer to die in a fire—it’s a common expression on the internet, though not one usually said ‘face-to-face’ in even that most figurative sense. But for that Rothfuss fan, did he truly believe the reviewer deserved that level of rhetoric? for disagreeing over a book?

And what about the commentator who offered cancer as an appropriate punishment, though more sardonically.

I’m sure, were these people actually interviewed, they didn’t mean it. What’s online isn’t real, after all.

Sports seem to bring more sincere anger though, more passion, more savagery. A bad call at my high school football game (an honest injustice) also lead to death threats, to the point where the referee had to be escorted from town by police. My aunt told me a story about substituting for a mail carrier, when something went wrong: “She said, ‘I hope you die,’ right to my face.”

I can’t claim full innocence myself. Driving exposes me to stupid people without any filter (unlike the internet) and when I’m nearly sideswiped (and alone) I’ll shriek aloud and think I hope you get in an accident (though more likely profanity-laced because I can’t seem to stop myself) but am immediately after shattered with guilt. I have to pray for their safety and happiness—which is almost worse, because I would rather they learn their lesson and not do it again.

As I hope is obvious, this is a trend that bothers me tremendously.

What little I know about the football bad call came from Good Morning America. Now I suppose I can’t blame them for giving it priority—the show isn’t designed to actually give anyone important information, just the highlights of what’s popular for ratings (although people could just go online and see all these memes for themselves). Still, when they joked about the referees hiding in the dark in their homes…I was taken aback, to say the least. People can be violent, and when you’re being threatened anonymously, likely by others who can find out far too much about you, it’s just not funny. Given that the GMA hosts have been pushing the problems with online bullying, I’m surprised no one thought to warn them that this is exactly the same problem.

I touched on the idea that all of this is due to misplaced passion. Because our modern lives have so much upheaval and so little stability, and so rarely prioritizes self-knowledge, society pushes worth based on exterior markers. With so many people in the world and the idealization of ‘individuality’, never defined of course, people latch on to anything they can to create smaller communities: things that make them unique, but not too unique. In The Googlization of Everything, Siva Vaidhayanathan calls it the “local cultural movement”, and details its causes and effects.

And I have so much else to say about that: see these bookmarks?

bookmarks

The downside of library books is that I’m not allowed to write in them.

In other words, people get irrational and won’t accept any criticism because they are insecure. No one has taught them how to learn who they are—and while this is a cultural thing, education should be a solution. But since we’ve turned schools into nothing more than a standardized test factories, people don’t even have the chance to learn it anymore (the real learning was always optional, because it can’t be forced).

I keep touching on other posts I want to do, so before I get too off track: please try to take yourself less seriously. If you love something and hear someone else talking about how much it sucks? Take a deep breath. It’s not you, I promise.

In fact, difficult as it is, try reaching out specifically to those who disagree. Don’t attack them, just listen. Try to understand.

Maybe you’ll learn something.

I feel like I’ve said this before…

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Pardon Me, I Have Opinions

Quote

 

As lethargic as I’ve been lately, at least I’m up on my Goodreads drama.

Sticker advocating dissent: "dissent deve...

Sticker advocating dissent: “dissent develops democracy”, accompanied by a peace symbol. Photo taken in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For anyone who may not know, Goodreads is a social website that’s primarily about books. Now, aside from reading books, there’s nothing I like better than talking about them, so while I’m doing little else, I’m on this site all the time.

There’s been a great deal of upheaval and unhappiness  as GR staff try to balance their responsibilities to their users—primarily readers— and, well, call them the producers—authors, publishers, etc. Unfortunately this trend has been sliding to the conservative side and limiting the social side. For example, some readers really don’t like some books. They write reviews that make it clear how much they dislike those books. Authors and publishers and fans disagree with the idea that someone may not like this book. Review either disappears or is ‘hidden’ from the book page.

So far that extreme is fairly uncommon, but the change in attitude towards these reviewers brings me back to my point:  dissenting opinions are not welcome, and neither is discussion.

Anywhere.

Have you noticed? Putting forth an opinion, anywhere, leaves you open to attack. There are some great reviews —thoughtful, passionate, clever, well-written, negative reviews—on GR. Many are written about bestsellers. Most have comments running into the hundreds because of comments like:

Why did you read the book if you didn’t like it?

Do you think this is a college class? Your reviews are too long. You’re just showing off how many words you know.

Have you written a better book? Then why should I listen to you?

I can’t believe how much effort you’re putting into hate. It’s just a book!

Etcetera, etcetera.

Though I thought about using actually comments, the content posted in this type of content hardly varies, so it didn’t seem fair to name names.  Just be glad I can’t help but use decent grammar and spelling. Though some trolls are fairly articulate, especially on GR, most don’t bother.

Trolls, you ask? If they can write coherently, why are they trolls?

Because they aren’t interested in starting a discussion. Because the only reason for including a comments area on a review is to foster discussion, a format even most online news sources support.

What these commentators have in common is the intent to take offense at someone’s opinion merely because it’s in opposition to their own.

But when I’m writing reviews, I’m writing because, good or bad, no one else shares exactly my opinion. And I want to share what I thought with others who actually know what I’m talking about. Think of it like a discussion group, but in a slow motion IM chat. Sometimes everyone’s talking at once, and sometimes no one says anything.

At any rate, I find myself extremely bothered by someone telling me to shut up and go home, because they’re threatened by opinion.

And that’s the fundamental problem. Dissenting opinions aren’t a chance for discussion; they are threats. Threats to what I don’t know. Frankly I don’t care. I’m not going to listen if someone tells me to stop talking, I’m going to wait for someone capable of holding a conversation.

"Writing on the wood is prohibited."...

“Writing on the wood is prohibited.” DSC07600 (Photo credit: Nicolas Karim)

 

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-295

Dan says it pretty much exactly how I wish I could.

Update:

There may be spoilers?

I think the best way to respond to this book is by naming as many ways that I thought it could have been improved while reading it.

Firstly, this book is, in essence, structured through a frame narrative: We are introduced to an innkeeper, Kote, and several local villagers. They aren’t important (although two show up at the very, very end so you need to keep track anyway). Mysterious bad things show up that the incredulous locals do not believe in, but Kote goes out and slaughters the not-demons anyway, because he knows better. Unfortunately for Kote, a famed storyteller (or something) shows up and announces he knows of Kote’s secret past as Kvothe, the Hero who is so Heroic most people don’t believe he really existed, despite the fact that his heroics took place not even five years ago.

Don’t ask me.

So Kvothe gives in to the storyteller and agrees to tell his story. For some reason this skinny guy with no particular prowess or even equivalent intellectual power still outmaneuvers the hero. Well, the reason is otherwise we wouldn’t have the story, short of it being written entirely in first person. Turns out Kvothe was born a genius–a proper genius, not just smart, but literally brilliant–into some kind of travelling entertainment troupe. His parents loved him and he ended up with a tutor in magic who is put on a bus and as yet not heard from again. He gets a lot of page time for such an abrupt dismissal, but there you are. Then the parents and the rest of the troupe are murdered by the Chandrian, which is ostensibly Kvothe’s driving motive. Except the 11-year-old Kvothe instead runs away to the forest for a year, then to the city for three more.

At which point we reach a major theme of the novel which is, if you aren’t poor like Kvothe, you can never have any idea what it means to be poor like Kvothe. Though since this is a fiction book, I rather expect it to teach me what it means to be that poor, rather than simply insisting I don’t know what it’s like. Especially since Kvothe doesn’t particularly seem to suffer from being poor. Seriously, he’s an urchin in an urban medieval-type city, that should be awful.

Anyway, Kvothe finally decides not be be desperately poor anymore and goes to the magic school, where he is just so brilliant they let him, even though they have absolutely no reason too: no money, no recommendation. He’s just That Good. And he makes friends with a few other guys who are kinda at the bottom rung as well (maybe: they all get names and a bit of page-space, but not much and I kept forgetting who they were). And then he antagonizes the queen (king?) bee of the school, Ambrose, whose father is uber-rich and powerful and crushes anyone who doesn’t like his son because he has nothing better to do? Kvothe is supposed to be astute and good with people and a super genius–I have no idea why he couldn’t not be stupid about this or stand up to him in any other way: suffice to stay it’s a stupid conflict that really doesn’t match anything else and comes up too fast and lasts too long.

At this point the novel goes on: Kvothe is an incredible, transformative musician, great at magic of both types (I’m not sure what the difference is), builds perfect devices that even when illegal or ill-advised are still allowed, meets girls whole love him for no good reason and goes places and does things none of which made much impression. Go read Dan’s article again, he does a much better job overall. I’m just bored remembering it.

So how could this have worked?

1) It would have been awesome if Kote the badass innkeeper was 50-60 years old rather than his mid-twenties. For one thing, it would have been a lot more impressive, and make his world-weary ennui far more understandable and even heartbreaking. (Rothfuss handles his prose skillfully, if not his subject matter).

2) What if young Kvothe hadn’t been born a genius? A good third of his problematic characterization would have been solved right there!

2.5) Young Kvothe’s storyline would be far more effective it had taken place over, say, a minimum of twenty years. Again, because he’s not a genius, his school takes longer and he has to undergo actual struggle to learn proper magic–he could have still had a unusual flair for creative spellcasting or something that makes his work Better Than Yours, but he wouldn’t be infuriatingly precocious and get away with all that he does. He might have actually learned and grown while on the streets of the city, rather than unaccountably simply deciding he doesn’t want to be a street rat anymore. His school years (because it would have taken years) would mean he’d have to actually figure out how the system worked and how the master’s related to each other and what the back stories of the school and characters are before he could a) figure out how to manipulate it all to his advantage and b) without simply being told just because. Also, again: he’d have to expend actual effort.

3) There wouldn’t be the slightly skeevy romantic relationships. Kvothe isn’t supposed to know how to deal with women (although after living such a distrustful life on the streets during such a crucial point in his development, how does he know how to deal with people at all?), and yet, he’s got at least three who ‘admire’ him. There’s Denna, who’s his One True Love, which we know because he meets her first, at which point there’s nothing at all to indicate that they have chemistry, and they never do, but he finds her sexually exciting: very Nice Guy syndrome, no one else could treat her as well, they have conversations! etc. There’s the blonde (?) girl who’s a money-lender, who breaks her own lending rules for him just ’cause. And then there’s the psychologically damaged girl who lives under the school and for some reason will only trust Kvothe, because he plays the best music. But I can’t forget the one Ambrose is lusting after, but who has to look to Kvothe for protection because, despite being presented as perfectly competent (other than later setting herself on fire) won’t stand up to Ambrose’s father. She’s the damsel in distress. It’s exceedingly depressing.

Conclusion: If Kvothe wasn’t a genius the story would have had to take much longer and time-wise wouldn’t be so compressed. Old Kote would be old and a lot more impressive. And he wouldn’t be such a Stu that while reading I wouldn’t be twitching right out of my chair, which is so terribly undignified.

I have NO IDEA why I liked this book. None. But the prose was pretty. So the pacing must have been pretty good too, since never got so much of Kvothe that I couldn’t finish, which by any normal laws of the universe, shouldn’t have happened.

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