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.

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