Thursday, October 6, 2011

Missing: Borrowed Book

... typical.

Why is it I can track of all of my books but the few times I borrow a book from someone, I either manage to set it on fire (accidentally, of course,) or lose it?  I have torn my apartment apart looking for a book I borrowed from a friend and for the life of me, I can't find it.

I need help.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Anthropomorphic Taxidermy (2011)

This isn't strictly "literary," but I think it's interesting that she approaches taxidermy as another way to tell stories.  I was also far less grossed out by it than I would have expected.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature a bunch of astronomers doing more than a little research on Frankenstein, as well as a peek at the odds for tomorrow's big announcement:

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Calamity Song (2011)

Apparently this video is a tribute to David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.  Interesting.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Round Three in The Centurions of High Culture Vs. Intellectual Nursing Homes

A friend pointed me towards the intellectual slap fest taking place between Joseph Epstein of The Wall Street Journal and Benjamin Reiss, one of the authors of Cambridge History of the American Novel and writer at Slate.  Epstein charges that the book embodies all that is wrong with studying literature today--it's no longer about the novel, it's about the novel's place in history and the different schools of criticism.  He writes, "All that the book's editors left out is why it is important or even pleasurable to read novels and how it is that some novels turn out to be vastly better than others. But, then, this is a work of literary history, not of literary criticism."  (Ooooh burn!)

On the one hand, I agree with much of what Epstein is saying.  It's no longer enough to read and enjoy The Great Gatsby.  Now one must read it, dissect it, understand where it fits into Fitzgerald's biography, and understand where it fits into the American historical tapestry in a variety of contexts (socio-economic, race, gender, etc.).  The problem, though, is Epstein comes off as slightly stuffy (no big surprise from a writer at The Wall Street Journal, though, let's be honest).  For example (emphasis mine):
"'The Cambridge History of the American Novel' could only have come into the world after the death of the once-crucial distinction between high and low culture, a distinction that, until 40 or so years ago, dominated the criticism of literature and all the other arts. Under the rule of this distinction, critics felt it their job to close the gates on inferior artistic products. The distinction started to break down once the works of contemporary authors began to be taught in universities."
Oh, hell no!  Not contemporary authors!  Who wants to read that shit?  If it's not Milton, I don't want to read it!  Epstein terms this "intelllectual nursing homes," where ideas that are rejected by other displines go to die.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: A Light History of the English Language

I remember watching this in high school, and although it's pretty interesting, it's definitely not 100% accurate.  Still, not a bad way to get some history of the English language in.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: People Who Became Nouns (2011)


Check out NPR for the full story.

Where Do You Like To Do It?

My personal favorite places include:

At a coffee shop
Pros:  Coffee, of course.  Plus there's a natural energy to help when you're trying to plow through things like, oh, I don't know-- Joyce.
Cons: Uncomfortable chairs (sometimes), noisy patrons (often), preponderance of hipsters (always).
At the park
Pros: You can get your vitamin D when you've been trapped inside since May because you live in Houston and the weather's been like God's punishing the whole city for something someone somewhere did.  (If I find that someone, by the way, I'm kicking his ass.)
Cons: You're an easy target for the homeless and crazies, both of whom seem naturally drawn to public places like the park. 
In the bath
Pros: Warm (or boil-a-lobster if you're me) water, and the addition of a glass of wine makes it cliche-perfect.
Cons: Tendency towards getting pruny if you read more than one chapter.  Oh, and whatever you do, don't drop your book.
In bed
Pros: Easy to put book down and go straight to sleep
Cons: Really only applicable right before bed or a nap.... unless you often get into bed in the middle of the day and you want to precede it with a little light reading.  (Speaking of which, did I ever tell you about the time that I went to buy a mattress and the mattress guy was trying to sell me on the Tempurpedic and told me that the memory foam mattresses aren't good for "recreational activity." When I asked him to clarify with an icy "Excuse me?" he blushed and stammered that he was referring to reading and watching TV.  Uh huh.)
On the couch
Pros: Convenient
Cons: Boring.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: "Dave McKean - Sonnet 138" (2006)

McKean's pretty talented, but the video's pretty creepy, as well.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Watch a Philosopher and a Literary Theorist Duke It Out Over At The New York Times

It comes as no surprise to me that William Eggington's piece in The New York Times, "'Quixote,' Colbert and the Reality of Fiction" addresses the question of whether or not literature (or literary theory) can be both "fun" and "knowledge," since I've struggled with this question myself quite a bit (including here and here, for two examples). 

Before we get too deep into the "yea-or-nay" argument, however, it should be noted that Eggington is responding to Alex Rosenberg's "Why I Am A Naturalist," in which it is posited that naturalism (the "philosophical theory that treats science as our most reliable source of knowledge and scientific method as the most effective route to knowledge") does not view literary theory or fiction as a serious course of study because it "can’t take them seriously as knowledge."  Rosenberg finishes by saying,
That doesn’t mean anyone should stop doing literary criticism any more than forgoing fiction. Naturalism treats both as fun, but neither as knowledge.

What naturalists really fear is not becoming dogmatic or giving up the scientific spirit. It’s the threat that the science will end up showing that much of what we cherish as meaningful in human life is illusory.
Not a particularly surprising view coming from a man who has written twelve books on the philosophy of biology and economics.  The part that I find most telling is his term "illusory."  Yes, a scientist (or naturalist) would view much of what we "cherish" (hope, faith, love, friendship, ethics, values, a.k.a. everything literature is about) as not knowable via science.  How can we scientifically prove any of that?  We can't, which can't be a comfortable position for a man of science.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Grendel's Ambush

Benjamin Bagby reenacts how Beowulf (which, after all, was an oral tradition long before it was written down and long long before it was made into a movie with Angelina Jolie) may have been performed.  It's pretty amazing how much language can change in 1000-1300 years.

(And let me just say that I love my Facebook friends, since one of them posted this on his wall.)

Check Out the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

I know there's a lot of bitching about Google taking over the world and the death of books and blah blah blah, but there's something to be said about technology that makes things like this possible.

Check out the website to see images of the scrolls that you can--er--scroll through and view closer.  Reasion #142 why I love the internet.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: And Tango Makes Three (2009)

Here's a reading of the most-challenged book of 2010, And Tango Makes Three.  Notice the homosexual agenda and subversive messages that gays are--horror! horror! horror!--not scary. 

I'm such a softie, I tear up when they can't hatch their rock.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Three Minute Philosophy - Immanuel Kant (2009)

There's a whole series of edu-tainment called Three Minute Philosophy that I really wish had been around when I was taking that "History of Literary Criticism" class all those years ago so I wouldn't have been driven out of desperation to write this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making Books Cool Again

Pretty much how we all should live our lives, amiright?

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature classy Simpsons jokes as well as the beginning of an online literary community--kind of like a blog, but one that sells books to make money rather than being funded by desperation and free time:
  • I looooooooove when popular culture references literature.  Like, it makes me giggle like a little boy who just told a penis joke.  So I was especially tickled by The Atlantic's "Visual History of Literary References on The Simpsons."
  • Not so sure how I feel about The Guardian's "10 Best Songs Based On Books--In Pictures."  That's a whole buncha different mediums in one place, taking into account The Guardian is a newspaper and the list is posted online.
  • Hardy hardy har, the infinite monkey theorem is sooooo hilarious.
  • Here's one popular series I have actually read being turned into a movie: check out the trailer for One for the Money, based on the series by Janet Evanovich.  (Confession time: while I have been wildly underwhelmed by Katherine Heigl in her myriad of same-character-different-movie roles, I will see this.)
  • Toni Morrison received the 2011 Library of Congress National Book Festival Award and talked about her new novel, Home.  That lady is 80 years old and can still run circles around both you and me.
  • Check out the website for The Lit Pub, an online bookstore that intends to "promote a sustainable literary community by introducing readers to authors we know and love. By providing a public gathering place for ongoing conversations, we aim to connect readers, authors, publishers, and other independent artists of all creative disciplines."  Coolio.  Hope it works.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Banned Books Week: Freedom to Read (2011)

I don't have anything of value to say other than that this video gave me chills.

The Great Debate Continues: Geeks, Nerds, and Dorks

As usual, xkcd cuts through the bullshit and breaks down the real meaning of geeks, nerds, and dorks (the latter of which are probably amongst the "people with strong opinions on the distinction between geeks and nerds").

So funny... and sad.... and true.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ode To a Bookstore Death, or Why Some People Shouldn't Work in Retail

I tend to think of myself as a fairly snarky person, but even I didn't bitch this much when I was working retail.  (Although "We always knew when you were intently reading Better Homes and Gardens, it was really a hidden Playboy" is pure gold.)

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Banned and Challenged Books (2011)

Hey guys, check out the video I put together for Banned Books Week.  If you couldn't tell, this is a topic that's near and dear to my heart.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mapping Book Bans and Challenges

For those of you who think that book bannings and challenges are just a think of the past, check out the google map that tracks cases recorded by the American Library Association (ALA) from 2007-2011. 

Click on a pin to view the details of the ban or challenge if you want to feel ill, keeping in mind that the map only represents about 20-25% of bans and challenges since most bans aren't reported.

What year is it again?  Are kids still saying "it's a free country"?

Happy Banned Books Week!

This reminds me of that one time I thought I'd read Ulysses in a week.... poor, delusional Lindsay-with-an-A.

Anyway, join me in celebrating Banned Books Week, nerd-style. :)

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Shakespearian Tragedy (A Comedy) (2010)

I know I've seen this before, so I don't know why I didn't post it for all of you, but here it is for you to enjoy now:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Mumford & Sons' "The Cave" (2010)

This song has been stuck in my head for a week, now.  There's something so beautiful about the lyrics to a well-written folk song.  (Lyrics after the jump, for those of you who haven't heard this song because you've been living in a cave.  And yes, I went there.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: What We Learned From 5 Million Books (2011)

I love TED.  Where else can you find a chart comparing the relative practicalness of a method of research to the awesomeness of it?

Speak of the Devil: When Literature Intersects Reality

It should come as no surprise that literature sometimes intersects with reality; this intersection is (or should be) one of the goals of any writer who wants his/her readers to be able to identify with the characters or story at all.  Despite my intellectual understanding of this, however, the mental ping that accompanies these intersections generally comes as a pleasant surprise, and (depending on the strength of that ping) generally makes me want to give the author a round of applause.

In fact, my original name for this blog (back before I had even one reader) was Life and Lit to celebrate those connections, but I was afraid others would think I was referring specifically to my life in an utterly narcissistic tribute to myself.  (Of course, I'll admit that I've written about these personal intersections here and here and here--and pretty much every other time I've ever posted anything around here, but that's only to be expected in a personal blog.)

Still, I love being able to make those connections between my internal escapades (in the form of reading) and my external escapades (in the form of living), which was one reason I so enjoyed Margot Berwin's Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire.  I recently started a container garden in my bedroom, comprised (so far) of basil, jalepeno peppers, and tomatoes and have been trying my best not to kill it--so reading a book about a character who lives in an urban environment and starts growing tropical plants in her living room definitely spoke to me.

In fact, I purchased a majesty palm (a sub-tropical plant) several months ago and set it up in my living room, only to discover later that, despite the fact that it is often marketed as an indoor plant, majesty palms are generally not well-suited to indoor life.  I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do about it (setting it free in the local park being one option if it starts to draw mites), but reading about another person also experimenting with difficult-to-grow plants definitely set off a series of pings.  I love it when that happens.

(By the way, Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire was a pretty interesting book even without the pings.  It has a hint of magical realism without going full Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the story line is not predictable, and the main character has a pretty hilarious internal monologue.  I have a feeling women would enjoy reading it more than men would, but either way I would recommend it as a light, enjoyable read.)  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature the true power of the Poet Laureate as well as a not-so-literary quotation that could be applied to anyone who likesd to read interesting books:
  • I can't quite decide whether The Onion is mocking just poets or Americans as a whole, but either way the article "Distressed Nation Turns to Poet Laureate for Solace" cracks me up.
  • Good news for you Shel Silverstein fans: a new book of his poetry, Everything on It, has beem released 12 years after his death, and from the previews, it looks promising.
  • If you missed National Talk Like a Pirate Day, don't despair: October 7th is Talk Like A Beat Day, daddy-o.
  • The 2011 MacArthur Genius fellows were announced and, once again, I don't know one of them.  Sigh.  (Although I am happy to see a UCLA alum among them, woot woot!)
  • For those of you who, like me, were fans of Reading Rainbow, Levar Burton is back with a new app for 21st-Century learning. 
  • Finally, a not-so-literary quotation, but one that I like regardless: "I started to get sick of myself sitting on a couch, holding a joint, hiding out. It started feeling pathetic. It became very clear to me that I was intent on trying to find a [insert media here] about an interesting life, but I wasn’t living an interesting life myself."  Don't ask who said it, because that's the part of the quotation I don't like.

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: The History of English in Ten Minutes (2011)

Pretty cute series of videos about the history of the English language.  (If you like this, you should read Bill Bryson's Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language of the United States.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lindsay-with-an-A's Literary Crushes

For those of you who were wondering...


Review: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007)

I had never heard of Christopher Hitchens until very recently but had a friend recommend his book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  To be honest, I was prepared to dislike the book--as an agnostic raised in a non-Christian home, I don't tend to have the fiery hatred toward religion that many former-Christians have, and the "poisons everything" in the title came across as either incredibly melodramatic or incredibly angry--either way, it was a turn-off.

By the time I was half-way through the first chapter, however, I was enthralled.  Hitchens is brilliant--both as a mind and as a writer.  The fact that he managed to refer to both P.G. Wodehouse and George Eliot in the span of about twenty pages makes him an automatic shoe-in to my "Intellectual Crush" list.  He's both erudite and concise, and manages to weave meaningful stories throughout his text to ground the reader when things might be getting a bit too theoretical.

However, as a "live and let live" kind of girl, I couldn't quite get over the bitterness that permeates the pages.  Yes, Hitchens argues that all atheists want is to be left alone, but the anger he exhibits would be a huge deterrent for anyone who really needs this message rather than someone who just wants their own internal messages reinforced.  In addition, his writing may be brilliant, but his message is nothing new, and though it may at points have been a comfort to this non-believer buried in the Bible Belt, it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know or change anything I already thought.

If you're bored, though, try a youtube search for "Hitch Slaps."  They're pretty good, and don't require the time commitment that 336 pages does.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Sassy Gay Friend: Henry VIII (2011)

I kind of wish he hadn't sold out, but I can't pretend I wouldn't do the same.

Either I'm an Ill-Cultured Peasant Or The Texas Book Festival Looks Incredibly Boring

I was psyched to stumble across the list of authors they'll be having at the Texas Book Festival in Austin October 22-23 this morning but was unfortunately disappointed that, of the dozens of authors who will be there shilling their wares, I knew 'round about one of them: Chuck Palahniuk, everyone's favorite freaky writer.

To be honest, book festivals are never on my top list of things to go to, because they generally feature writers desperate to sell their books rather than writers I actually want to hear from.  They also put such an emphasis on buying books rather than celebrating books, which is a huge turn-off to a girl raised on libraries.  (That's all right, though--I understand that we're witnessing the dying gasps of the publishing industry and can understand why there's such a commercial focus.  Just because I can understand it, though, doesn't mean I have to like it.)

In my opinion, book festival organizers should take their cue from Comic Con, which manages to energize people rather than putting them to sleep. As wholesome as the below video may be, I'm thinking any book festival could benefit by adding costume and video contests.  I'm just saying.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Class Matters, by Correspondents of The New York Times

I stumbled across Class Matters several months ago and immediately picked it up, having read The New York Times' correspondents' collection How Race is Lived in America in college and remembering having loved it.  While it is one thing to talk about "race" and "class inequality" in broad, general terms, it is quite another to show stories of how these issues affect real peoples' lives every day.

Class Matters takes a look at the lines between social classes in America--while we like to think of ourselves as egalitarian and unaffected by the class issues that burden countries like India (where a strict caste system reigns supreme), we often overlook the distinct differences between the haves and have-nots.  Following in the footsteps of Jacob Riis and James Agee, Class Matters points out the differences between the medical care that the rich get vs the general lack of medical care that the poor get; it looks at how the middle class raise their children vs how the working class raise their children; and most importantly, it looks at how the division between these classes is far more firm than Americans are generally comfortable thinking about.

We love stories of rags-to-riches, of local boys and girls making good, but we should also remember that those stories are noteworthy because they are far less common than rags-to-rags, of people remaining in the class in which they were raised. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: The Neverending Story (1984)

Oh, Bastian.

You're so much whinier than six-year-old Lindsay-with-an-A thought you were, but for some reason you've been on my mind a lot this week, to the point that I found The Neverending Story on youtube last night and snuggled down to internally ridicule Eighties fantasy film-making at its best.

Interestingly enough, I managed to enjoy the movie much more than I thought I would, although I also realized that I never actually understood the storyline when I watched it as a child.  The entire concept of a nothing in the form of the world's dying imagination was lost on me, as was the breaking of multiple 4th walls as we watch Bastian watch Atreyu watch his horse die.

Anyway, if you haven't seen this movie recently, check it out, and if you haven't watched the music video recently you should definitely do so immediately.  It's almost as funny as Bastian's acting.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Jersey Shore Gone Wilde (2011)

I'm way late on this but have been swamped at work, so for those of you who haven't seen these, check out Jersey Shore Gone Wilde, Parts I-V.  They're amazing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Problem With Literature in Translation

... is that it's often difficult to tell whether a book is awful or whether the translator is just incompetent.

Example: I've been sludging through The Last Temptation of Christ, which I want to love so badly but is honestly the worst thing I've read in a long time.  (I would recommend reading Twilight over The Last Temptation of Christ, because while both novels are overwrought and dramatic, at least Twilight makes sense.  That's how bad the book pictured left is.)

The problem, though, is do I write off the book as being a steaming pile of you-know-what, or do I assume the problems stem from the translation and try to find another version? (If there is another version.  I haven't looked to see if there is because I was so little impressed by this one.)

Need another example?  When discussing the work of Nietzsche with a German friend of mine, I made a snide remark about the "superman" motif.  My friend seemed confused and asked me to clarify, so I told him that "√úbermensch" is often translated into "Superman."  He groaned and said, "If that's how they're explaining it, they're totally missing the point. That's not what it means to a German reader in German."  But how is an American reader reading a German-to-English translation supposed to know that?  How do I know if the writer is simply being misrepresented? 

That's the problem with literature in translation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Poetry: Procrastination, by Johnny Kelly

Kelly produced this film as a Graduation film for MA in animation at the Royal College of Art, according to his website.  It's something I think we can all identify with.  (I'm procrastinating right now--I should probably be packing.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Suitable Poetry, by A Bit of Fry and Laurie

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie discuss the problem that "modern audiences" have with poetry--mainly, short attention spans and lack of time.  Sad, but true.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears feature a library moving towards a future with no books as well as capitalism giving Snooki a hand up over Toni Morrison:
  • I've always thought that the importance of books to libraries was overrated, haven't you?  The Newport Beach Library is considering going bookless, with one board member saying, "You don't want to be like the railroads and go out of business."
  • Jennifer Garner may or may not be playing Miss Marple in a new film version of the Agatha Christie series.  Sigh.
  • Kristin Hoggatt, professional poet, at The Smart Set at Drexel University writes about "Words vs. Work" in yet another timely find on creativity vs. "real" work.
  • If you thought we were done hearing about J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, think again and read about the security measures in place for one of the copy editors of the series.  (More interesting, actually is the tag line at the bottom of the article: "Everybody has a story. The problem is that some of them are boring. If yours is not, contact Dave Bakke." Ha.) 
  • Finally, in news that is sure to depress the literate world, Snooki received $2000 more than Toni Morrison for an appearance at Rutgers University.  (What's more depressing to me is that anyone could receive $30K just for showing up somewhere, whether that person is a Jersey Shore star or author of awesome novels Beloved or The Bluest Eye.)

Poetry: Forgetfulness, by Billy Collins

Julian Grey of Headgear provides the animation for Billy Collins poem "Forgetfulness."  (Collins served as Poet Laureate from 2001-2003 and is apparently "one of America's best-selling poets."  I don't know about that, but I do know I love this.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Literature vs. "Literary Studies"

A friend* directed my attention to this Slate review of Marjorie Garber's The Use and Abuse of Literature by William Deresiewicz, which simultaneously inspired two thoughts:
  1. I love reading a good bitch-slap as much as the next girl, but this one was almost painful and if I were Garber, I'd have spent an hour on the floor of my bathroom clutching wads of toilet paper to my face as I wept uncontrollably and cursed the birth of all book reviewers.  (On the other hand, Garber is a Harvard professor, and I'd think that Harvard professors are made of sterner stuff than bloggers.  Plus, all press is good press in the publishing industry.)
  2. The points that Deresiewicz highlight as major weaknesses in Garber's arguments touch a nerve with my own problems with the study of literature
Other than the question of finances and general usefulness of a graduate degree in literature, one of the main reasons I did not further my education in literature was that, from what I've observed, grad students are forced to study "literary studies" rather than "literature"; they read and align themselves with schools of "literary criticism" rather than focusing on the literature itself.

Deresiewicz makes much of Garber's thesis on why literature (or literary studies, rather) is good: "Is literature valuable because it feels good or because it's good for you? Her answer is, neither: It is valuable as a 'way of thinking.'"  I, on the other hand, would argue that the answer to the question of pleasure vs. utility is "both." In fact, I'd say that a good piece of literature is like pineapple wrapped in bacon--it brings value while being wrapped in deliciousness that makes it more palatable.  Part of the "value" of literature is that it offers new thoughts and new ways of thinking about things, all in a much more agreeable package than sitting through a boring lecture.

Of Garber's arguments, I can only say that, from what I can glean from this review, I'm still incredibly glad I didn't go to grad school.

*Shout-out ot Homero!

Poetry: If, by Rudyard Kipling

Let me just state for the record that I would be shocked if there was ever an ad campaign like this in the United States.  Shocked.  Of course, if there were, I might actually consider watching TV.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Poetry: What Teachers Make, by Taylor Mali

The combination of righteous anger and engaging graphics make this performance about a thousand times more powerful than any of those stupid inspirational posters teachers always insisted on hanging in their classrooms.  Check it out.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Happy Poetry Month!

For those of you who are interested, this month is National Poetry Month, and the question always remains, how (and should we bother) to celebrate?  In my mind, and I'm sure in the minds of most people, poetry is associated with long-hair hippies and dissatisfied community college professors who stand at a mike and drone on during poetry readings.  Poetry used to be (and still should be, in my opinion) associated with the expression of things that are real and true. 

My general opinion on the matter is that musical lyrics have absorbed the role that poetry used to play--before music could be mass-reproduced, books were the easiest thing to distribute to large groups of people, and so Byron and Keats had their heyday.  It was only after recordings became available that musical lyrics took on the role of expressing what the masses were thinking or feeling.

That's not to say that poetry as "poetry" doesn't exist, anymore, and I'd bet that a large number of Americans have jotted down a poem in secret when they were feeling especially emotional.  But the medium has had to change, and with the invent of the internet, I think a whole new realm of possibility has opened up--poetry has the opportunity to become important again.  It's just a matter of taking advantage of that opportunity.

Anyway, my point is, this month I'm going to try to find examples of poetry that can and should "speak" to us.  How successful I'll prove to be is another question entirely, since I still do associate poetry with long-hair hippies and dissatisfied community college professors.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fooled You!

I looooove April Fools day now that we have the internet--rather than having to watch my back for fear of some punk pulling a prank on me, I can scour the internet for the best April Fools jokes and giggle all day, which is awesome since I came down with the cold from hell and I've heard that laughter is the best medicine.  (Although Tor got me good last year... bastards.)  Here's what I sniffled and laughed through this year:
  • Google introduces Gmail Motion BETA.  I doubt anyone actually fell for it, but I thought the video was funny.
  • Smart Bitches Trashy Books introduces "The TBR Pile."  The titles of the books are hilarious, as are the author terms.
  • IGN brings us a trailer for a new Harry Potter-themed tv showThe Aurors.  The best jokes are the ones that seem completely plausible, don't you think? 
For those of you who like pranks year-round, check out WikiBombs.  It may be one of my new favorite sites.

Academic Research on Happiness Proves Once Again That Academic Research on Happiness Stupid

Activities in the order of  Least-Happy/Unfocused to Happiest/Focused:
Commuting, Working, Reading, Personal Grooming, Shopping, Caring for
One's Kids, Eating, Praying and Meditating, Listening to Music, Taking a
Walk, Talking with Others, Exercising, Having Sex.
Here's the thing: I've always been interested in happiness and the way we go about achieving it.  I remember the first time I thought "formally" about happiness--it was in Professor Fischer's Introduction to Philosophy course, when we discussed Socrates' views on happiness serving as the highest good, that for which we all strive.  It made a huge impact on me, as it made happiness a goal rather than a simple state-of-being. 

 However.  I also feel that this goal is highly individualistic, and while we can go around interviewing people to find out what makes them happy, this information won't really do me as an individual that much good as I try to find happiness.  Fast-forward to this week, when I was flipping through my Whole Living magazine and found the above chart depicting levels of happiness in relation to level of focus.  (And, yes, I did take the picture with my camera phone.  Technology what?)

What stood out to me was the examples of activities that sit at each level of the chart, with "Commuting" and "Working" serving as examples of when we are least-focused and "Having Sex" and "Exercise" serving as examples of when we are most-focused.  (Excuse me for disagreeing--if I was 100% focused during exercise, I would never do it because I wouldn't be able to distract myself from the unmitigated misery of it all.)  Falling into place on this spectrum, from most- to least-focused is "Talking With Others," "Listening to Music," "Eating," and "Reading." 

Wait, what?  How in the world can someone be more focused on eating than reading?  I strongly suspect this is not the case when 66% of Americans watch tv while eating dinner.

The whole thing reeked of stupidity to me, so I did a little digging and found out that the chart was based on research conducted by Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student at Harvard, who started, where
"iPhone owners could sign up to receive one or more text messages a day. These texts nudged them to visit an online survey to report how happy they were feeling and pick from 22 different choices, including shopping, watching television, or working, to describe what they were doing right then. Subjects also recorded whether they were thinking about that activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant." (Science Magazine.)
Really.  You expect me to believe that respondents immediately answered survey questions about how "happy" they were feeling during sex?  Uh-huh, that's not distracting at all, when the study attempts to prove that "how focused" someone is has a direct impact on how "happy" they are.  I will also hazard the suggestion here that the Americans who took don't know the difference between "feeling physically good" and "feeling emotionally happy," as shown by the fact that "Eating" rates higher than "Caring For One's Kids." There's a difference.
Anyway, it just goes to prove that the pursuit of happiness really belongs in the philosophical world rather than the scientific.  If you'd like to take part in a narcissistic study and be interrupted during things that make you happy, you can sign up for it at here.

Hop on Pop to be Worst Film Ever

What the hell is wrong with the world?  Did you hear that there's a new film version of Hop on Pop in the works, starring Zach Braff and Maggie Ggyllenhaal as a pair of twenty-somethings who were raised as brother and sister and later come to find out that their "father" actually kidnapped them at birth? 

Since there's nothing funnier than Stockholm Syndrome, hilarity ensues, I'm sure.  How do those hacks at Disney sleep at night?  Check out the trailer here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Books Can Be Dangerous

There have been times over the years that books have literally threatened my life.  Since you know how I feel about the word "literally," you know I'm not talking about that time that the Houston Public Library threatened to send the fine I didn't think I should have to pay to collections.  I'm talking about occasions when books have threatened my physical well-being in one way or another.*

(*Actually, more often than not, it was my own stupidity that threatened my life, exacerbated by the presence of books.  But still, I'm just saying that books can add a dash of adventure to your life if you let them.)
    I had the bad habit in college of loading myself down with books and, rather than putting them all in by backpack, I'd be like Sandy-from-Grease and clutch them cross-armed over my chest.  Now, for those of you who have never been to the UCLA campus, there are some serious hills and stairs to contend with, and while going up was never that much of a problem, there was one time that going down was expedited by my heel catching on the edge of a stair.  My dental life flashed before my eyes as I envisioned smashing my face at the bottom of the stairs, and while I narrowly missed actually injuring myself, I learned enough to stuff all my books in my backpack whenever possible.
    More recently, I decided to put all of my books in the space above my cabinets in my kitchen (the space normally reserved for cooking paraphernalia, but whatevs).  The reasoning behind this was pure spendthriftness, since I didn't want to buy bookshelves if I didn't have to.  Unfortunately, some of the cabinets were above the refrigerator, which meant (naturally, because I'm me) that I had to climb up on top of the fridge to put all of my college textbooks up there. 

    Cue the realization that a refrigerator is a lot taller when you're sitting on top of it, followed by the realization that if I managed to hurt myself coming down, no one would be able to help me because the front door was locked and my phone was in the other room.  I sat up there for a little bit mulling over my situation (and wondering if I was too young for one of those LifeStation necklaces old people get in case they fall down in the shower) before I finally decided to just go for it.  Unfortunately, as I began easing down, the freezer door came open from under my right hand, propelling me towards the tile floor.  My fall would have been broken by my cat, but she moved before she could be of any use.  I did land on my feet, but in the back of my mind I couldn't help but remember that I heard once that, if their owners die, dogs will starve to death next to their cold bodies while cats will pork out on their cold bodies.  Near miss, especially considering the appetite my cat has.
    Finally, and perhaps most dramatically of all, was the time I put a candle on a set of glass bookshelves, lit it, and promptly began a yoga sun salutation. You probably know that smoke rises, so by the time I got to tadasana (a standing pose) the smell of smoke had filled the room and I had a distinctly un-zen WTF? moment.  Turns out the candle was under a copy of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, which was now charred and blackened atop an equally blackened glass shelf. 

    What was really unfortunate about the whole thing, however, was (a) the book didn't belong to me; (b) the book didn't belong to the person from whom I borrowed it; and (c) I was unable to finish it, since it was pretty much unreadable.  On the plus side, I didn't go into savasana and burn to death in a post-yoga comatose state.

Advice from Billy Joel: "Vienna"

Recently I've been comparing/contrasting this with "Keep Your Day Job."  Not particularly "literary," but so much of literature is trying to figure out that messy internal stuff, so work with me here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

TV Sharks and Shakespeare

You know how sometimes you have a really great idea and then you hear about someone else who had that same idea and made bank?  Yeah.  Apparently there's a show on ABC called Shark Tank (which I had to be told about, by the way, because I still don't actually watch TV) which features a bunch of venture capitalists who invest in the companies of people with good ideas, one of whom was
"a teacher who was having a hard time relating Shakespeare to his class. He composed songs that helped his class relate to Shakespeare. The song was actually pretty good, a class set with 30 CD’s and a teachers guide would sell for $499. Shakespeare is the most taught playwright in the English language but Marc had plans to expend to different subjects." (In the Shark Tank)
Well, he got a deal with "the sharks," as they're apparently called and now he has his own site writing music about Shakespeare.  How freaking cool is that?  Of course, I wouldn't have wanted to go on national television and be raked over the coals, so good on him, but I have to say that would be an awesome job and I would have jumped at the chance to work for royalties and not actually own the business. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Comic Strips Made Funny

How have I never seen these before? There are some seriously funny people on-line.
  • First up, we have The Nietzsche Family Circus, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like and the only thing that can make The Family Circus bearable.
  • Are you on Facebook?  Have you become a fan of Not-So-Gentle Reader yet?  How about "Removing His Speech Bubbles Turns Dagwood into a Faulknerian Man-Child"?
  • In other comic strip news, check out 3eanuts, an exploration of how "Charles Schultz's Peanuts comics often conceal the existential despair of their world with a closing joke at the characters' expense. With the last panel omitted, despair pervades all." It's pretty much about 1000% better than the original Peanuts.  Example:

Having a Child Become a Poet is a Fate Worse Than Death

Dear Advice Columnist,

Please help.  I don't know to whom else to turn and I'm getting desperate.  I'm faced with that most awful of circumstances, that which makes parents wish they'd never brought their children into this cruel world.  That's right: my daughter wants to be a poet when she grows up.

I'm waiting by my computer for your reply.

A Concerned Parent

I kid, I kid.  Actually, this reminds me of that one time my dad threatened not to pay for my English degree, or when he introduced me to someone at Ace Hardware as "my daughter, who's going to UCLA for a degree in English.  So proud, and yet so disappointed." 

Good times, good times.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Blackadder Rides Again (2008)

Hey, guys, check out the 2008 documentary that I just discovered which the BBC did on one of my all-time favorite series, Blackadder.  (Interestingly enough, you can actually get a copy of the scripts of the seasons and go to a signing to get the writers' autographs.  How many shows have writing that goood?)

The Problem With Books...

... is that they weigh the same amount as a pile of bricks but are like cocaine in paper form when it comes to getting rid of them. Regardless of whether or not libraries actually sink under the weight of books, my arms will be sinking this week as I begin packing my books up in preparation for moving apartments in a couple of weeks. 

(And for those of you who think this would be a good opportunity for me to begin purging books from my collection, rest assured that I'm like those people on Hoarders or Intervention when it comes to my books.  It doesn't matter if I haven't read Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword since high school. I might want to read it tomorrow and am emotionally invested in keeping it around.  Pity my parents--they have nine boxes of my books in their garage still, and (knowing me) I won't be getting rid of any of them.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: How It Should Have Ended: Lord of the Rings

In celebration of The Hobbit Cafe, check out this How it Should Have Ended.  It's pretty much awesome.

Houston Literary Culture: The Hobbit Cafe

I love geekery in all of its myriad forms, so I was in heaven the other day when a friend and I went to Houston's Hobbit Cafe, a restaurant off of Kirby that is Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (LOTR) themed. 

It is decorated with Hobbit decor.  The menu is Hobbit themed. (I had the Fatty Lumpkin, which proved to be the largest tuna sandwich in the history of existence.  That's right, the entire history of existence.)  The servers wear Hobbit-themed t-shirts.   Of course, the food was excellent, as well, which is always a plus in a restaurant.  Check it out if you're ever in the Houston area.

*Slightly off-topic, this was all I could think about the entire time we were there:

What They Should Have Said: Wuthering Heights

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Advice from The Grateful Dead: "Keep Your Day Job"

Shout out to all my corporate sell outs!  Here's some practical, but not very idealistic, advice.

Maybe you collect or maybe you pay
Still got to work that eight-hour day
Whether you like that job or not
Keep it on ice while you're
lining up your long shot
Which is to say

     Keep your day job
     Don't give it away
     Keep your day job
     Whatever they say

Ring that bell for whatever it's worth
When Monday comes don't forget about work
By now you know that the face on your dollar
Got a thumb to its nose and a
Hand on your collar
Which is to say, hey-ey

Punch that time card
Check that clock
When Monday comes
You gotta run, run, run
Not walk


Steady, boy, study that eight-day hour
But don't underrate that paycheck power
If you ask me, which I know you don't,
I'd tell you to do what I know you won't
Which is to say


Daddy may drive a V-8 'Vette
Mamma may bathe in champagne yet
God bless the child with his own stash
Nine to five and a place to crash
which is to say...


Day Jobs, Creativity, and Copyright Law

Oh, wait, he managed to make this his day job.  Color me bitter.
There's a really interesting interview by Bill Morris with artist Alfred Steiner over at The Millions entitled "Is Copyright a Guardian Angel or a Killer of Creativity?"  In it, Morris and Steiner discuss "day jobs" vs. creative endeavors and the different role that copyright law plays in the art world vs. the world of literature.  You should check it out.

For those of you interested in the tension between creativity and day jobs, check out this video of author Scott Belsky on creativity plateaus and how to conquer them.  I love this kind of stuff.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Beatles Shakespearian Skit (1964)

This wouldn't be half-bad without all the screaming... or with people who could act.  (I kid, I kid.)

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears track the unholy appropriation of my favorite Dr. Seuss book as well as a nerdy appropriation of J.K. Rowlin's made up sport: 
  • The Atlantic Monthly joins in on the e-literature hysteria, this time focusing on the possible disappearance of marginalia.  (How many people who take notes in margins would actually buy an e-book, anyway?)
  • Ursinus College lets scholarship winners sleep in J.D. Salinger's old dorm room, and The New York Times interviews Ursinus students to find out where they'd rather be.  (It's a pretty funny article, actually, for all my complaining yesterday about The Times.)
  • Ah, The Lorax, the charming tale of "a boy who searches for a way to win the affection of the girl of his dreams"... wait, what?  Is Hollywood really going to mess this up this badly? 
  • I'm trying really hard not to be politically divisive, but this quotation from Sarah Palin really pisses me off, considering how little we spend on the arts and how much we spend killing people:
    "NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn't be in the business of funding with tax dollars — those should all be on the chopping block as we talk about the $14-trillion debt that we're going to hand to our kids and our grandkids ... Yes, those are the type of things that for more than one reason need to be cut."
  • Did you hear that the OED is "To Add 'Skype' And 'Coat' To Latest Edition"?  It's true, according to America's Finest News Source.
  • It's a proud day for Bruins everywhere--the UCLA quidditch team is "bringing people together around a book series."  And yes, it is "just nerds running around with broomsticks."  All right, everyone, I feel an Eight Clap coming on...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Sassy Gay Friend: Romeo and Juliet (2010)

I don't know how I missed posting this one, but it's hilarious.

"I think you're fourteen and an idiot.  You took a roofie from a priest.  Look at your life.  Look at your choices."

New York Times to Alienate Its Readers

Did you hear that The New York Times is unrolling a digital subscription plan on March 28th?  (We all knew it was coming, of course, but it's still sure to annoy a lot of people.)  To be honest, I can't remember the last time I read a really great article over there--actually, yes, I can.  It was April 5, 2010.  Something tells me I won't be signing up to pay $15 a month to read a bunch of boring reviews of books that haven't come out yet.

Of course, when God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.  I just discovered an amazing book page over at The New Yorker, called The Book BenchSeriously interesting stuff, and I don't know how I missed out on it this long. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Americans Apparently Not As Sexually Adventurous as Jane Austen

For a truly impressive show of stereotypes and cliches mixed with an unnecessary and shameless Jane Austen referencing, check The Guardian's "America's Jane Austen dating methods," in which Hadley Freeman accuses Americans of... well, I'm not sure of what, exactly.  She writes,
"The British approach to dating could easily be described as "chaotic" to the point of non-existent. I, however, see it as a decidedly just, nay, DEMOCRATIC state of affairs: you go to a party, you get drunk, you go home with someone, and the next day you either move in with them or you never speak to them again. It's such a free-for-all kind of approach; one that would have made the founding fathers proud. [...]
"Here is how dating works in New York: you meet a gentleman at a party. Phone numbers are exchanged. Three days later he phones you. Three days later you phone back. Formal dates are held involving things such as restaurants and bowling alleys. Only after three dates is disrobing legally allowed, and, presumably, he first has a sherry with your father to ask his permission and obtain his promise of 17 acres of land before proceeding."
Cannot. Compute. This is how I read that:
England (Democratic Hookups) > America (Stratified Social Structure Masquerading as "Dating")
I guess I get that some people feel comfortable making sweeping generalizations about groups of people. But where the hell does Jane Austen play into this?  Oh, wait: "In New York City, the alleged hub of dating, the whole dating farrago is freighted with so many rules that Jane Austen would bang her head against the parsonage wall and snap her little bit of ivory in half."

Of course Jane Austen would prefer promiscuity--it worked out so well for Lydia and Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  (Although I bet there's some fanfiction out there in which it really does work out well... if you know what I mean.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is this is an embarrassing display of begging for page hits.  I guess it worked, since I read it, but you'll notice I didn't link to it.  I do have some standards.

These Analaogies are as Good as a Five-Year-Old Thinks Spaghettios Are

Check out the "56 worst/best analogies of high school students" from The Lost Eyeball.  They're as hilarious as Two and a Half Men, if Two and a Half Men were actually funny.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Amanda Seyfried "Lil Red Riding Hood'

I haven't said anything about the recently-released Red Riding Hood because, as interested as I am in the impact that fairy and folk tales may have on our collective subconsciousness, the film looks like the kind of movie that would list its inspirations as Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse, and my faith in humanity is shaken every time I think about the impact that Stephenie Meyer may have on our collective subconsciousness.

Still, check out Amanda Seyfried's cover of "Lil Red Riding Hood."

Exciting "Evolving English" Exhibition

Want to take part in a linguistic research project?  Check out the VoiceMap project from "Evolving English" from the British Library.  You can record yourself reading either six words or the great literary classic Mr. Tickle and to aid in "a unique opportunity to capture contemporary English voices from around the world." 

What's cool is you can also listen to recordings of other people from around the world reading the same text.  The Irish accents make it sound almost beautiful, while it is creepy and not beautiful when I read it, by the way. 
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