Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Contemplation

Michael Allen ponders P.D. Han's motives in writing Publishing Arrogance, described on the author's site with a blurb and Q&A. "It has been said that if Douglas Adams had spent his life being rejected and got really upset about it," the blurb claims, "Publishing Arrogance would be the tone he would have used to describe the feeling."

Really. Someone in the UK, go put an ear to Douglas Adams's grave for me and estimate how many RPMs he's doing, will you?

Ed Gorman wonders if college education, and being exposed to literary fiction, has a negative impact on reading habits. He's too polite to call those who suffer from this brain disorder names, but offers this shrewd assessement: "A lot of educated people believe that they must read only literary fiction if they wish to possess a refined literary sensibility."

Sad but true. So: read everything your college professor tells you not to, keep an open mind, and you might avoid becoming a Book Snot.

Tobias Buckell hosts the Carnival of the Godless, which was evidently moved here. COTG encourages open submissions with the following fine print: "The post you send in must be from a godless perspective and address something such as godlessness, atheism, church/state separation, the evolution/creation debate, theodicy, philosophy of religion as it relates to godlessness, etc."

Well, we have a Christian Carnival, why not? All's fair on the internet. Both the Christian and the Atheist fronts have been so lame and negative lately that whatever I read makes that "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right . . ." song loop in my head.

PBW contemplates how the dickens her ten year old daughter managed to amass four thousand stuffed animals in a single year, all of which must be carefully boxed up and moved to the new house as every one of them have names, personalities, enormous individual value and, possibly, breeding capabilities. Wait a minute . . . what's my Grumpy Bear doing in here, kid?

21 comments:

  1. zornhau7:43 AM

    Gorman makes a good point: would-be literati won't read popular fiction because they think it's cr_p, don't actually read literary fiction because it really is cr_p, so end up not reading fiction at all.

    I see this attitude even in non-arty people: they read thrillers yet refer to them offhandedly as fun but trash. It's as if they'd been caught slumming it.

    What I don't get is: what do people actually think books are for?

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  2. Zornhau wrote: What I don't get is: what do people actually think books are for?

    Someone at a writer's con told me that 15% of all books purchased are never read, but used for another purpose. Coffee table decoration, maybe?

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  3. Ed Gorman..."A lot of educated people believe that they must read only literary fiction if they wish to possess a refined literary sensibility."

    Perhaps that explains the sudden popularity of 'book covers' for romance novels. Let's face it, not many would buy a cover for a romance to keep it clean during the 3-4 hours it takes to read it. :)

    Interesting postulates. And, I so sympathize with the stuffed animal dilemma. My 22 y/o daughter just went through the same thing with her gigantic collection of bears, most new with tags still on. She decided to give the 'unloved ones' to a children's hospital. Great idea, of course, but I'm sorting through them by birthdays and Christmases and thinking, yah, these would pay for next semester's tuition... :)

    Nancy (still chuckling at Adams' RPMs)

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  4. Re: the stuffed toy menagerie. I have two daughters, currently 7 and 10, and they're vastly outnumbered and outweighed by stuffed creatures. I'm gradually moving them onto collections of a more space-saving nature, like pokemon cards and computer games. Books fit my goal as well.

    We have one of those garden mulcher things, so if all else fails we can always turn excess stuffed toys into cushion filling.

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  5. Calvin Coolidge once said, "The world is full of educated derelicts." *g*

    As far as the literary fiction goes, I started reading romance novels while pursuing degree in English. From the time I was four and began reading, I absorbed books, reading everything I could find. That love stayed with me. Then, in college, reading for pleasure was usurped by reading everything to analyze and write papers. Romance novels brought back the joy of reading for no more than the pure pleasure of getting lost in a well-told story.

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  6. Caroline9:31 AM

    Hi,

    I'm just a lurker here, but I felt I had to comment: I'm a doctorate student in philosophy, and (apart from my work obligations) I have almost exclusively read mysteries, fantasy or s.f. for four or five years now... I'll read the occasionnal "literary fiction", but I'm intoxicated with the other stuff. When some colleagues criticize my choices, I just answer that genre novels also have literary qualities, just not the boring ones...

    About teddy bears: they do breed at night. I'm only moving stuff from a room to the other, so my 6 y.o. daughter will leave her room to the next baby coming soon, and I find about 5 bears for every square foot. I swear the next person offering a new bear to one of my children will have to compensate by adopting 3 old ones.

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  7. zornhau10:16 AM

    ...and some cuddly toys have their own blogs! http://www.livejournal.com/users/fluffcthulhu/

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  8. Anonymous10:38 AM

    It isn't in college that this happens. It goes all the way back to about the 3rd grade. This is the point where schools believe that their job is done: they've taught the kids to read now they're readers. Then for the rest of their school lives they are forced to read "educational" materials and not things they have chosen that they are interested in themselves. They are not shown that reading is for enjoyment or HOW to read for enjoyment; they are given assignments until they graduate (high school or college). They kill the joy of reading right at the start. And a lot of parents leave it to schools to do the "teaching" because they went through the same thing and they don't value reading either because of it. There are always exceptions of course and some schools have a period of "free reading" but it is a little drop in the vast sea.

    ~ PK the Bookeemonster ~

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  9. zornhau11:05 AM

    Yes! If I hadn't come from a bookish household, 6 years of Dickens and Steinbeck would have killed off my joy of reading.

    Also - educational point - learning to deconstruct modern popular literature and media is surely much more useful than wading through dated "classics".

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  10. Anonymous11:07 AM

    When I was in 3rd grade (I think), our class would go visit the school library a once or twice a week. But we were not allowed to browse the stacks. Oh no. We might put books back in the wrong order or otherwise mess them up. We had to sit and do dittoes on the dewey decimal system and alpha by author. And when we were done, we still weren't allowed to look thru the stacks. We had to start on NEXT WEEK'S dittoes. This got real old, real fast. And it went on all year long. I lot of my fellow classmates ended up positively hating the library and books in general because of it. I think the only people who didn't were already bookworms, had parents who liked to read, or both.

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  11. Sorry. I can't get past the blurb on that book:

    "Have you ever wrote a book and tried to get it published?" -- blurb, Publishing Arrogance

    I'm transfixed. Poleaxed. Discombobulated. Is this self-published? For god's sake FIX that!

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  12. Coming at it from a slightly different perspective, I was a writer before I went to college of mostly fairytale and fantasy-type shorts. (My only "long" was a novella about a man falling in love with the ghost of a witch and running from her vindictive brothers.) I started taking creative writing and wrote mainstream/lit for a few years. When I (re)discovered SF, I was told that I could get help with my lesbian novel but keep that SF stuff away.

    Bottom line, yes, there is the belief that, with a few exceptions just as Left Hand of Darkness, that non-lit will melt your mind. Didn't affect me much, but then as someone else said, I was already a bookworm. Still, the attitude is definitely there and I only recently (last 10 years or so) got over it about romances.

    Cheers,
    Margaret

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  13. I read about some study somewhere - can't remember where, but it was reported somewhere in the UK press - which looked at what factors could be used to predict whether a child, once reading fluently, would regularly read for pleasure. And they found that the biggest single predictive factor was having a father who read for pleasure. The mother's attitude to reading did not influence the child's, in this study; but reading fathers resulted in reading children of both genders.
    I don't remember if the study included children of single parents, and I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions to this idea, but still, when I consider my children and their friends, the ones who read avidly do indeed tend to have fathers who read. A surprising number of men of my acquaintance, all educated professionals, read nothing for pleasure, ever. My husband is rarely without a John Grisham or a Robert Harris, and our children read constantly. What do others think?

    Alison S

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  14. One of the things that sparked my reading appetite was an elementary school summer reading program in Boulder, Colorado. It was 5th grade. I loved it. The list of books was extremely colorful, and about 50% fantasy/s-f.

    In comparison, my high school years were a parade of literary novels, half of which I hated for the obviousness of their messages and the morals and values they kept trying to shove down my throat. If I hadn't had a well-rooted love for fiction by then, I daresay I would have stopped reading out of spite for my teachers and the books they forced on me.

    All that said, in my LAST year of high school I took a college-level English Lit course and loved it. I suspect, though, that that had to do with the teacher and the body of works he selected. They were still "literary" works -- Long Day's Journey Into Night, Grendel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Slaughterhouse Five -- but they were all entertaining as well. Yes, I even enjoyed King Lear -- partially because for that particular work, I had to do an essay on variations of it, and got to watch Kurosawa's Ran and read The Serpent's Tooth by Diana Paxson. (And I got an "A".)

    My nephew is turning ten this year. Bright kid, loves to draw, sends me pictures when he writes. I'm planning on sending him some Susan Cooper or Madeleine L'Engle or Robert O'Brien for his birthday. We'll see what seeds it sews. :)

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  15. Both of my parents read for pleasure. My father bought me my first copy of Gone with the Wind.

    My brother and sister-in-law both read, but neither are as avid, "always have to have a book at the bedside", except, perhaps in the summer. Yet, their older son (now 17) reveres the written word, loves to read and will read everything he can. He's been that way since he first learned to read.

    I'm not sure if the correlation between reading parents creating reading kids applies to their family as much as the 'limited television' rule. My nephews were openly, and frequently, encouraged to read something -- anything -- in their free time since they could only watch certain shows for a short period of time each day.

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  16. ***Someone at a writer's con told me that 15% of all books purchased are never read, but used for another purpose. Coffee table decoration, maybe?

    I would actually believe that percentage is larger given the size of my TBR pile. I went through recently and gathered books for the secondhand store. I'd say at LEAST 50% were unread. No, I'm not proud of this number, but it's a fact. Sigh.

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  17. Random discussion when my parents visit.

    Mom. "You've got quite some trashy books there."

    Me: "Define trashy, please."

    Mom: "Well, all that English stuff in your sleeping room."

    Me: "On the shelves in my sleeping room I've got everything from Dickens and George Eliot to Sara Douglass, Bernard Cornwell and Lois McMaster Bujold. Does that make Eliot, Austen and Henry James trash?"

    Mom: "You know what I mean. Those pocket books with the colourful covers."

    Me: "I'm not responsible for the fact that good books sometimes get trashy covers. And besides, you watch those Rosamunde Pilcher TV films every Sunday."

    Mom: "That's different. I watch them because of the landscape. And because I need to relax."

    Me: "So, and what's the problem if I read Fantasy and Historical Fiction to relax? It isn't as if I don't have a good deal of what you call literature as well."

    Mom: "But you have studied literature. You can't put all those trashy books on your shelves. What will your visitors say?"

    Me: "Oh, I so get visitors every day. The last I had was around Christmas. You know I'm a hermit."

    Mom: "You should go out and find a husband."

    Which brings us to the next futile round of discussion. *grin*

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  18. Mom: "But you won't find a suitable husband with an academic education if you read trashy books. And worse, write them."

    Me: "I know a nice amount of academics who read such books. Moreover, I'm not interested in a snob who can't accept my reading habits or the fact that I'm a writer. To be honest, I'm not interested in finding a man at all, and you know that."

    Mom: "But being married would keep you from living like a hermit and writing trashy books."

    Me (ironic grin): "Sure. I'm looking for a rich husband so I can write trashy books without worrying about advances and royalties."

    Mom (turning to dad): "Rolf, say something."

    Dad: "I don't know what your problem is. If Gabriele is happy, let her read and write genre fiction. And I don't think she needs a husband, either, if she doesn't want one."

    *grin*

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  19. The comment about having a father that reads for pleasure vs. a mother rings true to my household. My father has his nose buried in a book constantly. My mom was an elementary school librarian (before her Multiple Sclerosis forced her to quit working) and rarely read when she got home, she declared it a "busman's holiday". I read pretty much any time I have a spare moment.

    I don't read books to feel smug or to increase people's perceptions of me. I read books to escape reality for a while and to be entertained. It's not that I can't read so called "literature", it's that I choose to not read it.

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  20. Anonymous6:38 PM

    I grew up in a house where my parents used books as a babysitter - not the TV. From an early age I was reading all sorts of stuff: first picture encyclopediea, then coffee table tomes and onto word books. I love reading and I love writing. I would roll my eyes at teachers who wanted to know 'What Balzac was really thinking when he wrote this or that?' How should I know, I wasn't there! Worse, why should I care if he, or any other author, has written a wonder book, poem, essay? I've never understood the literatis pompous, arrogant, smirking hand waving of 'Well, of course, he/she really meant to say...' Give me my trashy erotic fiction, my sci fi, my fantasy and crime stories, give me my westerns and horrors and political thrillers. I leave the literary fiction where it deserves to be: on my bookshelf, unread, pristine and looking pretty.

    Jaye Patrick

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  21. Gosh . . . I hadn't realized that the culture wars had left us with readers who draw a chalk line in the sand between "literary novels" and "popular novels." Most popular novels, I find, have many literary qualities, and many of the classics (if not the current crop of stuff that someone is proclaiming is literary fiction--I find a lot of that just gak) have all the gripping qualities or the fascinating qualities of popular fiction.

    Someone up-thread disdained classics and thought they weren't worth studying. Dickens was a popular novelist. His works were serialized in newspapers. When the ship from England reached the docks in the USA, a mob was waiting for _Old Curiosity Shop_ installments, and someone shouted, "Does Little Nell Live?" (Shades of Harry Potter.) So maybe those classics were just presented to you by the usual "school" idjits. I actually had to point out to my ninth-grade English teacher that "wherefore" means "why" in "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" She sneered at me when I corrected her claim that Juliet is wondering where he is . . . but I pointed to the footnote RIGHT THERE on the page of the book we were reading it out of. Sigh. She wasn't really a bookie, and there she was teaching it. So there you have it. I adore Steinbeck, but I can do without the Red Pony (gross) and a few of the others. Kurt Vonnegut's _Cat's Cradle_ is considered literature, and for good reason . . . yet it is a rollicking SF tale, even if you have to follow the philosophy to enjoy it.

    I guess what I'm saying is that the dichotomy is false. There are good books, and then there's junk. A LOT of the junk gets MOST of the hype. For some reason, people just don't know any better than to buy the crappy ones, and maybe that's what makes them hate reading. And everyone's taste is going to be different. I feel sad that there are people who won't try _Catcher in the Rye_, _To Kill a Mockingbird_, _The Great Gatsby_, and other classics that deserve your attention because they are good books. Don't sit there trying to find symbolism or what-have-you; that's what turned you off of them in the first place. (There is symbolism galore in the Harry Potter books, yet no one seems to be turned off!) What happened to the idea that "this is a BOOK," period? Oh, yeah, marketing and "branding" and such rot.

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