Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Dog Ears

Welcome to my newest feature, "Wednesday Dog Ears," which will feature the mildly entertaining tidbits I've gathered and don't actually care to write about to any great length.  This week's dog ears include Palin's newest attempt to make herself culturally relevant, an employer's guide to managing writers in the workplace, and more:
  • Sarah Palin has "a gift for prose," which will be showcased in her upcoming book, Going Rogue: An American Life.  As April Fool's Day is a good seven months away, my hope for the future of humanity has taken yet another beating.
  • Arthur Krystal wrote a somewhat interesting article for the Sunday New York Times, "When Writers Speak" which I'm only posting here to validate the many times I've pulled the ol' "open mouth, insert foot."
  • Mackenzie Phillips just released a tell-all book, High on Arrival, which reveals, in true I-need-money-and-will-sell-to-the-highest-bidder-no-matter-what-humiliation-comes-of-it, that she had consensual sex with her father, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.  It's been hot news ever since, which means my hope for the future of mankind is virtually non-existent.
  • An Edward Gorey documentary is currently in post-production.  (Slightly off-topic, there's a wonderful card game called Gloom, which is "produced in the etching style of Edward Gorey."  You should check it out.)
  • A.V. Club writer Amelie Gillette provides insight as to where to wear the new Where the Wild Things Are clothing line.  Her suggestions include Whole Foods.
  • The Rumpus featured a particularly amusing piece entitled, "Managing Writers in the Workplace: An Employer's Guide," which I would encourage you all to read. The two points that I actually did laugh out loud over:

    "Writers are excessively grateful—for a while. Particularly in the first few weeks and months after being hired, a writer will be almost inordinately appreciative to have a job. [...] Primarily, however, this gratitude relates to having an income once again, at last—not to mention a dental plan, vision insurance, and the opportunity to buy orthotics."


    "Writers lack corporate ambition. All real writers prefer the less-responsible position to the corporate climb, the part-time position to the full-time job. Their inability to be persuaded or influenced by—or punished through the withholding of—the kinds of economic rewards that are highly effective with other employees, can help to identify a writer, and also presents additional administrative challenges."

The Best Books of the Millenium?

I occasionally pride myself on being a well-read individual, but whenever I feel the urge to pat myself on the back, things pop up to remind me that I don't know shit.  For example, The Millions recently posted the "Best of the Millenium, Pros vs Readers."  Rather than oohing and ahing on the similarities and differences between the two lists, hoever, I was struck by the very noticeable fact that I've only read one of the books mentioned.

Of course, I think it is also important to mention something one of the commenters pointed out: Lydia Kiesling writes,
"I think something to take away from the whole exercise is that it is silly to ascribe merit umerically. Number one, number three, number thirteen—these are basically meaningless distinctions (unless, I suppose, you are running a race). Consider the Modern Library 100, which creates a fairly arbitrary, often ridiculous, hierarchy between books, using basically the same process used for this list (which is, to reiterate, *not* a round-table consensus-type situation, but one based on tallies). Folks seem a little grumpy about The Corrections' number one spot. Of course it feels a odd to call The Corrections 'the best novel of the millennium.' But I don’t see how any of the novels we talked about this week would be less troublesome in that lauded position (unless, naturally, they happen to be your particular favorite)."
Hear, hear!  I hate lists, as so much of what we get from literature is subjective and so any attempt to put them in some kind of objective order is kind of a waste of time... in my own subjective opinion. (Of course, some people would argue that this subjectivity is what gives English as a field of study a bad name, but the fact remains that there is no way to objectively list the "best" book ever.)

Death of a Field

William M. Chace's "The Decline of the English Department" in The American Scholar encapsulates perfectly my opinion on the rapid decline of the study of literature.  While I cannot improve on much of what Chace has written, I will say this: we are returning to a mindset that values monetary potential over self-improvement, and the middle class (which is currently under seige from all directions, if one believes the media hype about the economy) has always been most concerned about monetary potential.

Chace points out this shift in attitude by comparing admission rates to private and public universities, as well as the driving interest of each:
During the most recent period for which good figures are available (from 1972 to 2005), more young people entered the world of higher education than at any time in American history. Where did they go? Increasingly into public, not private, schools. In the space of that one generation, public colleges and universities wound up with more than 13 million students in their classrooms while private institutions enrolled about 4.5 million. Students in public schools tended toward majors in managerial, technical, and pre-professional fields while students in private schools pursued more traditional and less practical academic subjects.
A push towards "managerial, technical, and pre-professional fields" is hardly surprising in today's economy, when an engineer has the potential to make $80K the first year she is in the field while a writer has the potential to become a waiter.  Who can blame the masses surging away from the humanities?
Previous Posts:
Educating Humanists
Literature and Education

Short Review: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot, puts a whole new spin on Eliot's poetry (in my opinion).  For a man who's perhaps best known for writing poetry such as "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (meh) or "The Wasteland" (blech), Old Possum's Book of Practical Books is surprisingly easy to grasp and pleasant to read, perhaps because he was writing for children.  I must say I would rather read "The Naming of Cats" than "The Wasteland" any day.  (Did I just lose credibility in the eyes of the world?  Or was that sound T.S. Eliot turning over in his grave in horror?)

Whether or not it was a good idea for Andrew Lloyd Webber to turn the poems into one of the longest-running Broadway musicals of all time--Cats--is another issue all together.  Suffice it to say that, as a fan of musicals, I feel that Cats is distinctly lacking a plot and is therefore quite boring... but apparently millions and millions of people disagree with me.

(By the way, the reason this all came up is that I recently adopted a black-and-white cat whose coat pattern is known as "Tuxedo" in the US and "Jellicle" in the UK... and, as you've probably guessed, "Jellicle" is a term that was coined by Eliot: "The name jellicle comes from a previously unpublished poem by Eliot entitled 'Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats', where jellicle cats is a corruption of dear little cats and pollicle dogs of poor little dogs" (wikipedia).)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lindsay-with-an-A, Indie Writer

Skipping over to The Rumpus this morning, I found this opening sentence greeting me: "Tao Lin, 26-year-old indie lit world phenomenon has published two books of poetry, the novel Eeeee Eee Eeee, the short story collection Bed and most recently the autobiographical novella Shoplifting From American Apparel."

My first thought was, "What the hell kind of title is Eeeee Eee Eeee?"

My second thought was, "Indie lit?  Seriously?"

I don't listen to indie music, and I rarely watch indie films.  In my experience, the audience for anything labeled "indie" is limited to skinny-jeans-wearing-hipsters who like to say things like, "My favorite artist is Yasmin Tayeby.  You've probably never heard of her," while looking down their nose at me.  Therefore, the idea of indie lit causes an instant upchuck response--especially when the definition of indie lit (according to the ever-reliable wikipedia) is, "books published outside of mainstream publishing."

What the hell kind of definition is that?  While the term "indie lit" seems to imply a literary movement or genre, it is, in fact, neither--it is merely the method by which the book was published and distributed.  Around here we call that "vanity publishing."

Ed. Note: In fact, from now on, I wish to be called--not a blogger--but an "indie writer," as I have been published only outside of mainstream publishing.

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Blackadder II (Season Two)

"The original may be dead... but now his bastard great-great grandson swaggers around Renaissance London with a big head and a small beard."

I believe that Season Two of the Blackadder series is my favorite, in part because I love the Elizabethan era.  In addition, the Shakespeare references abound, with the first episode featuring a girl named Kate who is dressed up like a young man named Bob... very Twelfth Night, if I do say so myself. 

Miranda Richardson plays an absolutely genius Queen Elizabeth I, and Stephen Fry also joins the cast  this season.  Watch it.  Now.  You'll be glad you did.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Banned Books Week!

Well, folks, I'd suggest that you go to the library and pick up one of the 100 Banned and /or Challenged Classics just for the hell of it. 

(Personally, I'm currently reading The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.  Apparently the Nazis burned it in 1933, although I have yet to come across anything mindblowingly subversive.)

For those who are interested, to celebrate Banned Books Week, will be posting sections of Tim Hamilton's graphic adaptation of Farenheit 451.  New sections will be posted every Tuesday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A (Mediocre) History of Gothics

Jo Walton over at wrote a history of the gothic genre entitled "A Girl and a House: The Gothic Novel."  There were more than a few points that niggled at me just the slightest, such as the following:
  • Walton writes that the gothic "died at the time when women reclaimed their sexuality, because one of the things about the gothic is the virginity of the heroine, who is often abducted but never quite violated. Gothics don’t work with strong sexually active women, they need girls who scream and can’t decide who to trust."  Um, I don't know what gothics Walton was reading, but they are chock-full of sexuality, although I will admit that it is subtle because "society" didn't allow women anything but subtle sexuality.  Example: if a heroine is locked behind a door and her love interest is hammering at it trying to break it down, what does that stand for?  I think that Walton is making the mistake of assuming that the writers/readers are exactly the same as the characters of gothics.  This is what we who studied literature call "bad mojo."
  • What is Twilight if not a gothic romance?  Perhaps the gothic genre isn't quite the same as it was, but many romantic suspense novels written today still fit the bill for the most part.
  • Walton also writes: "She may be abducted and rescued, she may scream, but she earns her reward and wedding and her house—the hero is her reward, she is not his."  She seems to think that this is strange and noteworthy.  Here's the thing we must about the gothics: they were one of the first genres written by women for women--of course they're woman-centric.   Therefore, rather than focusing so explicity on the sexual repression of the characters, we should be grateful that there were female characters with any agency whatsoever.
  • Finally, Walton spends a looong time talking about romance in gothics and completely ignores the fact that some gothics don't have romance as a main plot point.  Frankenstein, anyone?
I think Walton is among that group of people who underestimate the gothic genre and therefore feel qualified to write about it. Those of us who know a little something about it, no matter what our opinion of it may be, however, wouldn't dream of writing a single article about an entire literary genre with such a tone of dripping disdain without risking censure in the comments below.

Friday Featured Comic: The Shelleys (and Byron, of course)

I'm officially in love with Kate Beaton over at Hark! A Vagrant.

I wish I could draw so I could make snarky little comics about famous dead writers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy National Punctuation Day!

I'll admit that I didn't even know there was a National Punctuation Day, and I also didn't know how to celebrate it.  According to the official website, in order to celebrate National Punctuation Day, you should:
  • Sleep late.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.
  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  • Look up all the words you circled.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
  • Go home.
  • Sit down.
  • Write an error-free letter to a friend.
  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.
I'm sorry, but any Punctuation Day celebration that doesn't involve overt mockery of those who can't write "good" isn't worth my time... although the meatloaf baked in the shape of punctuation marks looks... also not worth my time.  Cookies, hell-to-the-yes.  Meatloaf, not so much.

The National Book Foundation meets American Idol

For those of you who are interested, The National Book Foundation is currently hosting a poll to discover what America considers the best work of fiction to win a National Book Award in the past 59 years. The choices include The Stories of John Cheever, William Faulkner’s Collected Stories, The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity Rainbow.

According to The New York Times, the finalists were determined when "the National Book Foundation, which administers the awards that compete with the Pulitzer Prize for prestige, invited 600 former judges, winners and finalists in all of its categories [...] to select three of their favorites from the 77 past fiction winners."

I will not personally vote in the poll as I have only read one John Cheever piece, several Flannery O'Connor pieces, and excerpts of Invisible Man. Therefore, I do not feel qualified to vote in such a poll, not even to see the results thus far. (I will say it is noteworthy, however, that four out of the six finalists are, in fact, collections of fiction rather than novels. That would seem to complicate the decision-making process.)

Grammar Snark : )

While I have made it generally known how much I despise internet acronyms ("lol", "rofl", "imho", "bfn", etc.), I find to my horror that I am coming to appreciate the finer points of communicating by emoticon. Perhaps it is because I tend to have a fairly sarcastic sense of humor or perhaps it is because I have had numerous miscommunications via text message or IM--regardless, more and more emoticons have found their way into my daily usage. Acronyms, on the other hand, are both ambiguous and over-used and irritate the hell out of me.

In the past, I have always felt that both emoticons and acronyms are simply the lazy man's form of typing. My opinion of that hasn't changed, because it is the lazy man's form of typing, but I am slowly and surely becoming that lazy (wo)man.

However, in my defense, there is apparently a long and rich history of using emoticons, dating all the way back to the 19th Century. In fact, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, "Typographical emoticons were published in 1881 by the U.S. satirical magazine, Puck." Who can argue with a cultural expert such as that?

Anyway, my point is this: I hate the lolz but can appreciate the utility of the :).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To What Base Uses We May Return, Horatio!

First Clown: Who builds stronger than a mason, a shipwright, or a carpenter?
Second Clown: Mass, I cannot tell.
First Clown: Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating; and, when you are asked this question next, say 'a grave-maker': the houses that he makes last till doomsday.

MacArthur Geniuses Pop Quiz

Pop quiz time!  What do the following writers have in common: Deborah Eisenberg, Edwidge Danticat, and Heather McHugh.

(a) They are the winners of the literary MacArthur "genius grant" award;
(b) Lindsay-with-an-A has never read any of them;
(c) Lindsay-with-an-A has never heard of any of them; or
(d) All of the above.
If you guessed "(d) All of the above," pat yourself on the back because you're correct.

Honestly, do any of you wish that you could know ahead of time who would win prestigious awards so you can read their books ahead of time and therefore have something noteworthy to say about the winners?  How am I supposed to catch up on all of the classics I've never read AND read all of the contemporary grreats?  It's incredibly aggravating.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Margaret Atwood Wants You to Buy Margaret Atwood's New Book

So I haven't commented on it thus far, but is anyone else fairly sick of the Margaret Atwood media blitz?

Oh, my God! Margaret Atwood isn't sure she's a feminist anymore!

Aaah! Sometimes Margaret Atwood even scares Margaret Atwood with her scaaaary imagination!

Margaret Atwood has an opinion on everything!

Surprise, surprise--Margaret Atwood is marketing her book.

Maybe it's because I've never read anything by Ms. Atwood, but I frankly don't care about what she thinks about today's feminists or global warming. Why would I? Shouldn't she be in a room somewhere working on her next work of genius dystopia?

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: Blackadder, Season One

For those of you who haven't seen Blackadder yet, I highly suggest you look into doing so at the earliest possible moment. The series features five seasons set in five different time periods, all of them starring Rowan Atkinson, and several of them featuring other actors such as Miranda Richardson and Hugh Laurie.

The first season (or "series" as they call it in the UK) is set in the 1480s, with Atkinson playing Prince Edmund, the younger brother of Prince Harry who is determined to become King yet so inept as to provide hours of entertainment. The reason I bring this up here, however, is that there are distinctly Shakespearian moments throughout the season, including a play-within-an-episode and three witches foretelling inheritance of the crown. In fact, the Shakespearian theme is so prevalent that the Bard himself is listed in the credits as providing "Additional Dialogue."
More aspects of literary interest to come as I move through the series.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Not-So-Gentle Comic Strip: Hemingway

Hey, y'all. Here's my visual interpretation of the first couple of books of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

(Audiobook) Review: What Now, by Ann Patchett

While I'm generally not a fan of the "for the recent graduate" genre of nonfiction, Ann Patchett's What Now? is different in that it does not read like Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul XXXXVI. Granted, I may have a slightly different perspective as I listened to it in audiobook form vs. actually reading it, but the speech which Patchett gave to the Class of 2006 at Sarah Lawrence spoke to me in a way few other "for the recent graduate" books have.

Perhaps it is because Patchett is a novelist and ties her theories on life closely to the idea of crafting a novel. (The theme of "what next?" applies to both fields very neatly.) In addition, Patchett gives none of the platitudes that seem so prevalent in commencement speeches. She does not say, "You've done it!" or "You're finally ready to go out and change the world!" Instead, she tells the story of how she worked as a waitress after earning her MFA. (Those of you who have discovered that job satisfaction is a luxury may appreciate her final point of continuing to dream despite working in a field that is less than fulfilling.)

From a more media-based perspective, I would highly suggest listening to the audio version of the book as the reader has a beautiful voice and the entire recording is only about an hour long.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Amelia Earhart: Publicity Whore?

Check out Judith Thurman's "Missing Woman" from The New Yorker, which chronicles Amelia Earhart's life and her relationship with the media. It's fascinating, including this bit about her agent's use of the publishing industry:

Her image was managed aggressively by Putnam, a scion of the publishing house G. P. Putnam’s Sons, and one of the first über-agents. He specialized in celebrity true-life adventure stories, and he had signed up Lindbergh to chronicle his flight to Paris for the Times (which paid him sixty thousand dollars), then turned the articles into a book that sold some six hundred thousand copies. Even before Putnam met Earhart, he had caught wind of the Guest project—and his next best-seller. [...] Her legend, to a large degree, was Putnam’s creation. He brokered her lecture tours, book contracts, columns, product endorsements, and media exposure, and he was so proprietary that a rival of Earhart’s described him as her Svengali.
Relevant from a "literary" standpoint? Possibly not. Interesting? Definitely.

Friday Featured Comic: Kierkegaard

I think it may be wrong that I laughed out loud when I saw this strip by Kate Beaton over at Hark! A Vagrant. Wrong, but, oh, so good.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grammar Snark: Apostrophe Abuse

Here's another website dedicated to grammatical mistakes, this one called Apostrophe Abuse. As much of an "orthographic pet peeve" as misused apostrophes are, however, I can't really see myself spending too much time cruising this site as it gets old very fast, unlike The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, which is "hilarious."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Recommendation for Cozying

Ah, me. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. Winter approaches. I made my first cup of tea of the season yesterday and curled up on my new sofa with a blanket and a mystery novel.

I had never previously read anything by Agatha Christie, but I slipped into Postern of Fate effortlessly--in part because I feel as though I've read her books even when I haven't. Miss Marple, Poirot--they've become cultural references if nothing else. Even Tommy and Tuppence (the main characters of Postern of Fate) seemed familiar though I'd never read anything featuring them before.

Regardless, I would highly recommend reading Agatha Christie when the weather's a bit yucky and you want to curl up with something warm and comforting.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Books on the Run

I have always felt that a book was the greatest gift a person can either give or receive. If someone gives me a book, it is because s/he either enjoyed it immensely and want to share both the experience with me as well as the subsequent conversations about the book that will inevitably occur. I also strive to always give books as gifts--even if someone isn't a "reader" or doesn't enjoy fiction, there is a book that can enrich his/her life if it about a subject in which s/he is interested.

For my birthday this year, my mother gave a new spin to this idea--she sent me an MP3 player loaded with audio books she has listened to in the past and thought I would enjoy. She has given me hours and hours of entertainment/distraction, which will be very handy when the weather is bad and I'm trudging in snow for an hour a day.

Anyway, my point is this: there are numerous ways you can give a book as a gift.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Wouldn't Hate the World if it Wouldn't Provoke Me

I assume I'm not the only one who heard about the "Female Force" comic series featuring female writers. Don't get me wrong-- a "Femal Force" series has the potential to be awesome. I'm thinking: Mary Shelley fights off the perverted advances of Lord George Byron; Louisa May Alcott ends slavery; Jane Austen fights off sea monsters... the usual.

Imagine my horror, then, when I learned the identities of the first two valiant members of the Female Force: J.K. Rowling and--wait for it--Stephanie Meyer. Sarah Palin is reportedly to join their league for some strange reason.

I concluded that it must be tongue-in-cheek--Rowling and Meyers might make a "Cash Cow Crew" or "Manipulating Teens Club," but Female Force? Oh, I get it. It's a joke, right? Good one, guys.

That was until I saw who else was being vetted for a slot in the Female Force, as explained by The Guardian: "The publisher is currently in the process of selecting two other prominent female authors for its comic book series, and said it was deliberating between Toni Morrison, Ayn Rand, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Beatrix Potter and Virginia Woolf."

I hate the world.

Friday Featured Comic: James Joyce

Welcome to another Friday's feature of Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant, this week featuring the comic reading up on James Joyce's love letters. (For those of you who are curious, here's a link to some of them. Enjoy... or don't, whichever the case may be.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grammar Snark: "Yo Comments Are Wack!"

Here's a pretty amusing video called "Yo Comments Are Wack!" from Sister Salad. Check it out if all of the "u r a ho" comments on youtube irritate you.

Google to Become Next Library of Alexandria?

The Observer ran an interesting article on Sunday, "I'm booking a seat for Google's battle to buy our literary heritage," by John Naughton. In it, Naughton explores the settlement suit that Google has filed with the state of New York that would "release Google from liability for copyright infringement for all its past and future scanning and searching."

Now, I love GoogleBooks. The fact that I have digital access to books that may be hundreds of years old and out-of-print is both exciting and convenient--but even I have to admit that the company's ballsy approach towards scanning all of the books ever printed (without actually asking anyone's permission first) is a little off-putting. This settlement suit reeks of asking-forgiveness-is-easier-than-asking-permission.

In addition, Naughton neatly summarizes the possible ramifications of the settlement:

"A single commercial company will control much of our cultural heritage. Because it's a settlement based on a class action suit, it will give Google a uniquely privileged position in relation to 'orphan' works - ie, those which are still in copyright but for which no owner can be located - which will not be enjoyed by anyone else. And thirdly, it will hand the power to determine access fees to a pair of unaccountable monopolies - Google and the digital rights registry. So it's deeply anti-competitive."

This is incredibly troubling, to put it lightly. If I could believe that Google had only the best intentions towards our cultural heritage, I might be able to rest easier. The fact that the company (by the very definition of the word 'company') is instead most interested in eventually turning a profit from its endeavor should be troubling to most of us.

All that's left now is to wait and see, I suppose.

Killing Time Online: Melissa Mann's Blogi

Check out a very amusing "blogus" (a melding of "bogus" and "blog") entitled "A Truth Universally Acknowledged – The Secret Blog of Mary Bennet." It is both well-written and highly amusing, and it is short enough that the novelty of the pastiche doesn't really die of boredom.
For other blogi by the same author, check out her website.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not-So-Gentle Comic Strip: On the Road

Hello, faithful readers, here's my first attempt at drawing a comic strip, based on Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

(By the way, I doubt you can read Dean's textbox in the third panel--it says, "This girl's really gonna put a crimp in our homosocial male bonding time with her 'bathroom breaks.'" In the sixth panel, it says, "I got the car, you got Galatea's money for gas... nothing can stop us now!" I think from now on I'll leave off coloring in the text boxes. Live and learn, I guess.)

The End of an Era?

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Lev Grossman's article, "Good Novels Don't Have to be Hard," from the Wall Street Journal yesterday. On the one hand, nothing that he writes is very far from how I feel personally about the books I want to read. On the other hand, however, I think he takes it one step too far by arguing that anything that is difficult is too hard for modern readers and will therefore be killed by the Market-with-a-capital-M.

For example, he argues that "storyline" and "plot" were destroyed by Modern literature and are now only present in genre fiction. According to Grossman, "If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot." My problem with this argument is that (a) I don't recall ever hearing before that Modern literature destroyed plot, and (b) Grossman provides no evidence to support this argument. Instead, he points out that Modern literature moved away from the Romantic period which generally consisted of happy endings and no loose ends. This does not mean, however, that the Modern era lacked plot altogether.

Grossman also argues that Modern literature made reading "difficult":

"The Modernists introduced us to the idea that reading could be work, and not common labor but the work of an intellectual elite, a highly trained coterie of professional aesthetic interpreters. The motto of Ezra Pound's 'Little Review,' which published the first chapters of Joyce's 'Ulysses,' was 'Making no compromise with the public taste.' Imagine what it felt like the first time somebody opened up 'The Waste Land' and saw that it came with footnotes. Amateur hour was over."

While I don't disagree with his point, I think it should also be remembered that Pound and Eliot were poets, and poetry has traditionally occupied a radically different sphere than that of fiction. (For example, other Modern writers included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, neither of whom are particularly difficult to read.) Pick up poetry today and you'll still find that it is difficult. Instead, "literary" fiction has picked up some of the characteristics of poetry (lyricism in particular), which is what has set it apart from the rest of the publishing world.

Grossman's final argument, then, is this:
"The novel is finally waking up from its 100-year carbonite nap. Old hierarchies of taste are collapsing. Genres are hybridizing. The balance of power is swinging from the writer back to the reader, and compromises with the public taste are being struck all over the place. Lyricism is on the wane, and suspense and humor and pacing are shedding their stigmas and taking their place as the core literary technologies of the 21st century."
Frankly, I can't help but hope he's correct--I've always found Eliot and Pound insufferable and don't generally enjoy "literary fiction." Unfortunately, I cannot judge the validity of his argument because I've never read any of the authors he provides as evidence: "Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few." Technically, I've read Neil Gaiman, but I didn't enjoy him enough to argue that he's one of the pioneers who are "busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, romance."

One thing is for sure, however: the demand for literary fiction is waning. Thank God.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

David Smalls' Graphic Memoir

I've never made a secret of the fact that I find it very difficult to read graphic novels. The only graphic novel I've ever bought was V for Vendetta, which I loaned to a friend before I read it and then moved 800 miles away before I got it back. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw this article in The New York Times, "Finding a Voice in a Graphic Memoir", and found myself interested in reading a graphic novel for the first time... ever, really.

The graphic novel in question is Stitches, by David Small. It's an autobiography that explores how Small's parents virtually "stole" his voice from him when he was a young boy:

"Roughly a half century ago, when Mr. Small was 14, he underwent an operation his parents told him was to remove a cyst in his neck but which he discovered by chance had been throat cancer. The surgery left him without one of his vocal cords or his thyroid gland. And, for nearly a decade, he couldn’t speak above a hoarse whisper.

"The matter of young David’s cancer was not discussed in the Smalls’ Detroit house except for a brief occasion a year after the operation. His father, an aloof and withholding radiologist, attempted to unburden himself of the knowledge that the extensive radiation treatments he had performed on his son had caused the cancer. 'In those days we gave any kid born with breathing difficulty X-rays,' his father confesses in the book. 'Two to four hundred rads. I gave you cancer.'"

This gave me the chills the first time I read it. I'm going to pick it up as soon as I get the chance, if only for the novel experience of actually buying a graphic novel.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: That Mitchell and Webb Look: The Insulting Librarian

Check out this video of "The Insulting Librarian." Does it make me paranoid that this is really how I sometimes think librarians see their patrons?

Oh, and speaking of checking out banal books, Nerds Like It Hot, mentioned last week, was absolutely terrible... and I can't say I'm all that surprised.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Role of Romance

There's an excellent essay by Teresa Medeiros at SquawkRadio about the role that romance novels, as genre fiction, play in the publishing world today. She writes, of course, about the lack of strong women in other genres, in the exploration of positive virtues and the idea of good winning over evil. She addresses the ideological stakes in romance as a genre.

More touchingly, however, she also writes about the positive impact that escapist books (more specifically, romance novels) can have on the lives of readers:

I write romance because a young woman in Portugal named Lourdes Goulart was praying that my next book would come out before the cancer that was ravaging her body claimed her life. Even though chemotherapy had weakened her eyesight to the point of blindness, she sent me a beautiful and painstaking cross-stitch she’d done of a windmill she could see through the window from her bed. Six months ago, I received word from her sister, Rosa, that Lourdes had died. She started my new book the day before she entered the hospital for the last time, but didn’t want to read past the first page for fear of being interrupted.

She also writes about the part that love has played in her own life, to the point that it brought tears even to the eyes of this cynic. You should read it, because a summary just doesn't do it justice.

My Favorite Twilight Product: Buffy vs. Edward Cullen

Technically, I guess, it isn't actually a product (or very "literary), but it's awesome. Here's a video remix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. Edward Cullen. It is, as the kids say, "full of win."

(Disclaimer: I've still managed to avoid actually reading the books or seeing the movie, and I still have little-to-no interest in actually doing so anytime soon.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Walking in their Footsteps

Speaking of the Bronte sisters, I just stumbled across an article from the Smithsonian by William Ecenberger entitled "The Full Bronte," about a walking tour dedicated to the Bronte sisters' lives and work.

What makes such a tour interesting goes beyond the opportunity for sightseeing--instead, it is the act of actually walking that makes the tours noteworthy. Ecenberger points out that walking was a popular past time in 18th and 19th-century England:
Indeed, it can be argued that much of 18th- and 19th-century English literature was born afoot. Not only the Brontës, but Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen and Thomas Carlyle were all members in good standing of the walkers club. (In fact, previous Wayfarers walks have focused on Hardy, Wordsworth and Scott, and there are plans for an Austen walk.)
Walking can be both stimulating and cathartic, something we seem to have forgotten in our modern era of cars, scooters, and mondo SUVs. I, for example, walk about 20 minutes to work in the morning, a time I use to prep myself for the day. Walking home, I use the exercise and fresh air to wash away my day's worries.

My point is that I would seriously love to go on one of these tours, even if I did end up like Elizabeth Bennet with mud to my knees.

Friday Featured Comic: The Bronte Sisters

I was just introduced to the coolest thing since sliced bread, Hark! A Vagrant, a website of comics by Kate Beaton. This particular comic features the three Bronte sisters going "dude watching." Hilarious!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

I don't want to nitpick, I really don't. But why the hell would Mr. Winter pick S&S to go with the theme of sea monsters when the obvious Austen novel would have been Persuasion, which actually takes place--gasp!--near the sea? If anything, Sense and Sensibility goes best with vampires, because I'm pretty convinced Mr. Willoughby might be a blood-sucker. Oh, and I'm going to copywrite that idea, so don't any of you even think about stealing it!

(Anyway, you can read this book if you want to, but I'm not going to, no matter how funny the reader's discussion guide is. Exactly how desperate is the publishing industry, anyway?)

P.S. So I've never actually heard of books having trailers before (because film trailers are for films, not books), but I also found a trailer for the afore-mentioned Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. It's actually very well-produced.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: That Mitchell and Webb Look: The Conga

Oh. My. God. You have to watch this video.  Now!

200 Posts!

Yes, friends, I have finally reached my 200th Blog Post! Rather than going over my favorite of the last 100 posts (as I did when I reached 100), I have instead calculated about how many words that is, and I am frankly astonished to inform you that the total is right around 103,000 words.

(While that is an appropriate length for a novel, however, you should know that I have no plans to attempt to have my blog published. Someone once asked me that, and I replied, "Who would read it?" Reading 200 words a day on random subjects is much different than reading 103,000 words on random subjects.)

Grammar Snark: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

I've stumbled across a veritable cornucopia of online grammar snarks if any of you are interested. Here's the first example, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. Pictured above is my favorite example of unnecessary quotation marks, along with the observation, "This sign really inspires confidence in US banks."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

While I Was Out...

Here's what I would have been writing about over the last week if I hadn't been distracted with other things:
  • Check out the New York Times article, "A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like." While I think that such a program in schools can definitely help children learn to love the act of reading, such a program runs the risk of neglecting to teach them anything them about actual "literature"--whatever that is.
  • There's an incredibly interesting dissection of the treatment of PTSD in Fiction over at if any of you are so inclined: Part 1 and Part 2.
  • I picked up a book from the library called Nerds Like It Hot, just because this part of the back cover sounds hilarious: "He's rediscovered his inner nerd… Lex thought he had left behind his nerdy ways, but his suave demeanor has no chance against Gillian's bombshell image and the smart, sexy woman within." I haven't actually read it yet, but I have appropriately low/high standards, depending on how you look at it.
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