If, however, I …

Quote

If, however, I did fear, deep inside, that my inability to appreciate any celebrated book betrayed my complete intellectual and aesthetic inadequacy, I would probably be pretty angry. (1)

So this is a quote from a Salon article that I really intended to dissect (and who knows, perhaps somewhere I will).

Basically, the author comes to the conclusion that the only reason people write passionately negative reviews of books only do so because they couldn’t understand the words or just don’t trust their literary judgement. In fact, the subtitle reads “What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture.” In other words, we are a culture of mainstream, listen-to-the-lowest-common-denominator and can we please stop listening to stupid people who don’t agree with us now?

First, I agree that the lowest common denominator is not likely to have the best quality work—because that’s really what it’s for, is marketing. 

Second, as a passionate reader who quite frequently loathes books even when the literary world loves them, I disagree most vehemently. 

Corollary: I absolutely do not distrust my literary tastes, and quite frequently literary people write stupid books. Terribly books.

But I am a passionate reader, and because I am, I like to share my opinions. Frequently I do so on the internet. Even more frequently, as anyone I know will tell you, I’ll share it in person. When a book offends me, from style, character or theme, I will tell people. Even in writing, where the poor dear author might see it and get his or her feelings hurt. Quite honestly, I don’t care.

Well, I would, should some author ever actually read one of my reviews and find them hurtful, I would empathize with that pain. I wouldn’t remove the review. I wouldn’t edit the review. It doesn’t feel like truth to me to do so. I do my best to make sure I am comfortable with absolutely everything I put online, ever. Some of it is horribly embarrassing and makes me blush to think of it. It’s still there (no links, though). It’s nothing to ruin my life. It’s truthful to who I was and what I wanted to say at the time. 

Now that I’ve completed NaNoWriMo some three times, I can tell you, all of those are awful. Shame on me for actually letting my friends read the first one, but that’s mostly because a rough draft written in such short time with no experience whatsoever might just be actively harmful to the world.(2)

So I would feel badly for an author who was too invested in their book to understand that people have different opinions and this is a fact and not even a right, but that’s just because I am also a human being with a functional empathy brain lobe. Once upon a time, criticism was understood to be a thing that happened. You could rail against it or fight back or ignore it, but you realized it would happen. Now, for all the hand-wringing over the youngest generations being too fragile to face the world after decades of gold stars and self-esteem babble, it seems like the notion has been swallowed wholeheartedly by the the literary community. And the genre community.

You know what happens when other professionals throw fits over mean reviews online? People laugh at them on the internet too. And television. And around the water cooler. 

Dear author, you sold your book. You made money. You are now a professional. Please try to grow a backbone.

Sincerely, 

Plot

(1) Is the literary world elitist?

(2) My friends are also strong-minded people, and do not appear to be damaged.

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The thing is, I have nothing to say

The last day of last month I lamented that I’d only finished one book, which, considering my year goal is 100, is a bit behind.

So where did that time even go?

Obviously the internet. And looking back, I was reading, just online, and there were at several hundred thousand words altogether. They just weren’t book words.

Also, Pinterest turned out to work marvelously well with my hoarding tendencies, so I’ve added quite a lot there, which somewhat justifies my time as not wasted, given that I was sharing knowledge with people. That’s my story and I’m sticking too it.

Other than that though, I have no excuse for not writing, and that’s done no favors for my mental health. I know why I haven’t, it’s because I can’t give my writing any ‘voice’ anymore, not when it’s mine. Writing fiction (when it’s not NaNo) is paralyzing, because I just can’t get over my inner-critic, who knows only all too well all the ways I can’t write.

Since then I’ve read two more books, and written, well, not much more than I had before. But I’ve got a story and I’m sticking to it, no matter little it works. At least until I finish. Then I can set it on fire.

(What happened to those days when I couldn’t write a blog post *shorter* than 500 words?)

Great American Balderdash

Aside

Long day today: not just work, but the writer’s group and book discussion group meetings. Not to mention the approximately four thousand words I’m still behind for NaNo. But I have tomorrow and next week off, so I’d better use that time to catch up. It’s just so…stuck…at the moment. In the meantime, I’ve stumbled across a Huffington Post article all about the death of the novel. Well, when I say “I” stumbled across it, that’s something of a lie. I followed the link from Goodreads, because it’s safer for me for other people to do the online stumbling of things, because they seem to have better sources than I do, and I get little enough work done now as it is.

Anyway, back to the article. The author complains two major releases for the holiday season are both not that great and therefore our culture is no longer producing good novels. In fact, we should all just give up and go watch television, because what with technology and all, words aren’t important. Because “novel means new.”

Oh where to start with that argument. Well, first, the author made it for me with the referenced examples by Tom Wolfe and of all people John Grisham as “two of America’s greatest living novelists.” And that’s the crack in the foundation of his argument that takes it all down. All of the authors he names as ones who will be forgotten are the bestsellers: Rowling, Dan Brown. Even Wolfe, I’d say, falls more into the category of ‘good seller’ for the literary fiction side than actually fantastic fiction. Look, personally I have nothing against genre fiction, and in fact will argue passionately for its literary value. That doesn’t mean it’s a widely held critical opinion, by the people who actually get to make these decisions.

In other words, bestseller lists rarely coincide with literary value. If ever?

Just a few months ago, I read Literary Feuds, and in the chapter about Wolfe and Updike, the author made it clear  he wasn’t as impressed with Wolfe as Wolfe was with himself. There will always be differing opinions.

The article’s second thrust of the argument for turning to Twitter complained that only two books written after 1980 made it onto Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century. This is, of course, because out of the say 50,000 novels published every year in those two decades, we know for sure what will be read by future generations.

Maybe you don’t realize this, but they’ve always published books that won’t last. Austen herself responded almost directly to the gothic fiction of her day with Northanger Abbey. Ann Radcliff could probably be called the female Stephen King of gothic novels back in the day. How many have you read her today? And she’s mostly remembered for starting the movement, there were plenty of other writers catering to the more lurid tastes of young reads. If you don’t believe me, it’s much easier to find all the newspaper articles of the time lamenting the terrible tastes of the masses. Elitist  Sure. But we still do it today. There is no reason marks on paper should be any less entertaining and more educational than any television show or movie. In fact, given the much larger budgets and intellectual contributions, screen media should require much more from its audience.

So if it’s not required for Hollywood, why ask the poor, lone author starving in her garret to do so much more work, when maybe she just wants to tell you a fun story? Because of English teachers and Harold Bloom, mostly.

I’m not ready to switch to Twitter yet. Mostly because so few people actually tell stories there—they just want to link you to real ones. Poor Levin, who clearly isn’t reading for his own sake, although I’m not sure for whose sake he is reading. If he is. While he seems to despise genre fiction (despite called Grisham a great author) as much as any other literary critic, he never references some of the great work going on in the literary arena. An acknowledgement of genre bestsellers hardly convinces when he never mentions names like Ursula K. Le Guin, who I’ll read for fifty years at least, or Margaret Atwood. Not even Updike, Wolfe’s old rival. No non-American authors either. Of course, he explicitly asks for the Great American Novel, which is not a thing I believe actually exists…

But I haven’t written that post yet.

In the meantime, if you are waiting for the Great American Novel of the last few decades of the twentieth century, find about, oh, twenty more years worth of books to read while the critics duke it out, and by then the readers will be reading what is still worth reading. And you’ll be ready, because while you were waiting, you’ll have been reading all the Great Novels for the next couple decades before the critics have recognized them!

Enjoy, and I look forward to your reviews on GR (I’ll take a hint, sure).

An Unexpected Day Off

I called into work this morning to find out if I’d be coming in at noon again, and found out I could stay home. Well, the extra money might be missed, but at least I enjoyed the first snow day of the season.

In fact, by the time I woke up, the overnight snow still dusted the foothills, and it continued to snow off an on. Late morning, the wind came up, making me very glad for  insulation and double-paned windows. Hearing trees whip and the occasional apple blown into the siding was fun, but I can’t imagine the days when the cold would have slipped right through the window frame and eaves.

And there’s something about the weight of a snowstorm, with the wind and the mist, that not only makes me happy to stay inside, but have a productive inside day. Well, after I finished dawdling online—though I did get the three books I finished this weekend, unless you count Thursday, which would make it four.

reading mitt

If I hadn’t had to update the program, you could have seen the bread too! I ate it instead.

So I put on my finished reading mitts, and got into The Man from Beijing, which is…interesting, in a word: the prose is spare, and I imagine in Swedish, probably artless; but the social issues behind the plot are so simplistic, it’s making it hard to read. And yay! after clearing out the freezer, we found the yeast, and I made bread. Yes, homemade bread.

Well—strictly speaking, bread made from scratch, because I did use the bread machine. I have made homemade bread from scratch without that device, all the way from hand-kneading to oven. But with it’s “super rapid” setting, it finished in just two hours. I want.

Fresh bread, lemon-ginger tea with honey, internet, and a book, all while watching the snow fall from in front of the fire?  Best October-weather-change day ever!

Sick Days

Well, my brother finally finished his blog post on how the ‘nice guy syndrome’ is as bad for men as it is for women, but he’s disappeared again, and we never got him set up to post here.

Oh well. I’m sick, it started last night, although I didn’t recognize until after I’d posted. I knew subbing was dangerous.

And yet, it was a fairly productive day. I walked myself over to Rite Aid and found cold medicine—there are so many—and managed a reasonable budget for lunch. Still got my cookie though. I finished the first wrist warmer, though I haven’t yet started the second; I’ll cast on after finishing this post. And at work, after my boss left, a woman came in fundraising for an international student’s program and I got a very nice necklace and made a donation. My last roommate was an international student, too.That made me happy.

After I got home from work, I went on a nice long walk. Only half an hour, but considering I hadn’t expected to walk much at all, and had barely been able to focus at work, it went pretty well. It was sunset, with gold-edged clouds streaked across the sky, which meant most of the time I wasn’t walking with the sun in my eyes. Also, the sun just hit the mountain pass, leaving the rest of the range in shadow. The odometer has been a worthy investment.

Finished one of my books, too. And it was a library book, so I don’t have to worry about running out of time. It was Blackout, by Connie Willis, and a really interesting time-travel historical novel. Unfortunately it less ends than stops, because it’s part of a two-parter, and the second book isn’t offered by the digital library or the local library and I’m not sure I want to pay $11 for an ebook, and I don’t have any more room on my shelves.

Oh well. Even if I didn’t finish The Invention of Solitude in time for the book group, I enjoyed it, and it was worth buying. And we had some fantastic tangents in the discussion.

Meanwhile, I want to kill the rest of the time until my next allowed dosage by not thinking, as I have to do when writing, so I’m going to watch more White Collar and starting on that mitt. Something nice and simple but will keep my fingers busy. Let’s hope this cold doesn’t hang on.

Piles and Piles of Unfinished Books

English: A child watching TV.

English: A child watching TV. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got home from work, watered the plants, and turned on “Say Yes to the Dress.”

Which, sure, the only thing it has going for it above other reality shows is pretty dresses, but there are equally obnoxious people. At least there’s usually one per bride.

Anyway, that’s probably why I’m not reading.

After all, it’s easier to not think. Especially as it’s on as I’m trying to write this post. It’s just a little hard to focus when following the three different stories and all the meanness. This is why I don’t even stop on most reality shows even out of curiosity: shows about dresses usually have happy ends (at the very least, weddings) and cruelty is discouraged.

Much as I love reading, I’ve only been able to get about half-way through any one of my books before picking up another. As if, once I’ve put them down they are no longer compelling enough.

I suppose I’m just restless. There really wasn’t anything today that I’ve managed to focus on long enough to give my thoughts any direction, organization.

During college, at least, assignments gave me a reason to make sure I could clarify my thoughts. I still respond to everything I read—no matter how disparate the subject matter, most books relate somehow: after all, they’re all, in one way or another, about humanity.

Not being an alien, that gives me a common reference!

Page from an incunable of Valerius Maximus, Fa...

Page from an incunable of Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, printed in red and black by Peter Schöffer (Mainz, 1471) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So while I can’t not respond to what I’m reading, and keep a notebook just so I have somewhere to keep all the notes when I’m not actually defacing the pages with my marginalia, but I don’t have any thing to focus on. There’s nothing in particular I’m looking for, no argument I have to make.

This is why I need to start finishing these books. Once I finish, I can get back to reviewing on Goodreads. Maybe I should start reviewing story by story from <i>The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2011</i>

Although there are only so many ways to say “all zombie stories sound the same.”

reality television

reality television (Photo credit: the|G|™)

P.S. One comment about one reality show, and now they want me to like to Kim Kardashian. NO. No matter how many hits I’d get. 

Betrayal! Confessions of an eBook Reader

As in, someone who reads e-books, not an e-book device.*

 

books

books (Photo credit: brody4)

When I was in Academic Decathlon, they asked me “What’s your favorite book genre?” My mouth went dry and I know I took too long to answer. “Fiction? …or nonfiction.” Any question connecting favorites to books strikes me as entirely unfair.

 

After all, how many books are published per day?

 

When I was a kid I wanted to read every book ever published. Even now, I occasionally get anxiety attacks over the sheer number of books I haven’t read yet, and all those brilliant works I may not ever read. By Roman times, scholars were bemoaning the breadth of important literature, and the impossibility of reading it all.

 

There’s just no way to keep up—or in, e.g., in the loop. I’ve always had eclectic reading tastes: I’ll read science and history and paranormal romance and the so-called literary novel and fantasy and memoir. I’ve never been discriminatory and I love (some) genre works as much as I love (some) of the classics. Let’s face it, some of the classics are only canon because the manuscript happened to survive.

 

Growing up with reading privilege, which is to say, a bookcase in every room, my own library before I could read on my own, I learned to love books, and especially value the physical book. Books are more than just a product, because all those words stand for ideas, a nearly direct communication from the author’s brain to yours. Fortunately, they do not include mind control, and so you are free to interpret the author as best (or worst) you can.

 

I only bought my nook after getting hooked on the local library’s e-book lending program, but reading on the computer screen, at least in terms of ‘real’ books, has never been the comfortable for me. And while I do love my nook, but…

 

As a dedicated reader of everything, I feel guilty for sidling along with the e-book bandwagon. (I’m far too timid to jump after all, and paying that much for those little text files?) People keep talking about e-books killing the traditional publishing market. Which I find problematic in two parts: first, with the rise of the dependence on technology, some form  of change was inevitable, and second because that’s just such a huge shift for so little benefit.

 

Remember when email was supposed to mean we wouldn’t use paper anymore?

 

My nook is nice. I can carry around as many books as I want; I have instant, free access to most classics (public domain), and I can read it more easily all the time. Like walking, or eating, and even knitting although turning the pages can be difficult with my fingers tangled in yarn. I can just set it on my knee and go, whereas if I try the same thing with a paperback—whoops, lost my place.

 

But O! do I miss the feel of paper and slick covers and especially typography. Not that physical books always pay the closest attention to the quality of the interior pages, but the nook can never match even an average layout…especially when the e-book designer formats the text incorrectly and it doesn’t respond to my spacing and text choices and their text choice is awful.

 

I nearly went all caps there, the phenomenon annoys me so much, but I didn’t think that’d be fair to you, dear reader.

Cover of "The Monsters of Templeton"

Cover of The Monsters of Templeton

The nook fits in my purse better than my former minimum of two novels and a hardcover, just in case. I have access to the library program books, which, though it isn’t a huge selection, is still different from the rest. I can only check out three e-books at once compared to the local library’s ten, but the two week limit means I don’t keep them three months before I get to read them—I mean I always try to finish, but you know, life gets in the way, and I couldn’t just not check them out, right? E-books don’t take up space on my shelves, which is good, because I don’t have any. And it’s easier to get new books on the nook, since I don’t live within 100 miles of a bookstore.

 

 

But I can read a physical book better: because the pages are larger, you see two at once, and flipping black and forth is easier. When I picked up The Monsters of Templeton this morning I realized I also read much faster and more happily.

 

Dear everyone, don’t give up on the paper book because some people buy e-books. Physical books are accessible and shareable and so much more valuable.

 

*I can’t find a standardized spelling for e-book anywhere.