Monday, April 11, 2011

In the Backyard

The zinnias, most of them, have their second leaves and their stems are straight enough in the mounded dirt to grow without flopping. One of the dogs has beheaded a sprouted sunflower, and the stem and first and second set of leaves have deflated against the dark soil, like a label on the ground for the remaining sunflower. Ants are gathering like an infection beneath the pots and in the garden since the rain remains an icon for tomorrow or the day after that or, perhaps, the weekend.

Faster than anything, the heat is growing. Our fans jutter the air above the dogs and the dim interior feels like something shaded but not quite covered, despite the a/c.

Even the stories wilt.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wrong, We Have Wrongness

This is why I still read: Mr. Keen's The Cult of the Amateur fleshed out the job loss and economic wreckage caused by "free" media. That bad feeling in the back of my mind when I had to admit to Mom that I get most of my news from the internet is both real and sensible guilt.

On the other and television were "free" media long before file downloading. Have we as a society just moved to the next information pipeline and prefer it to resemble radio/tv more than we prefer it to resemble books/newspapers?

I struggle with the ideas that Mr. Keen presented, primarily in that I see the problem but not how I can effectively act toward a solution. The pipeline referenced earlier carries a tremendous flow of potential disaster over me, including environmental collapse and continued war along the same fault lines.

At the same time, I find myself horrified by the idea that you can improve literature by breaking it down and remixing it. How is a fortune-cookie Shakespearean misquote improved by being translated by a someone who didn't understand the original in the first place and illustrated by stolen clip art?

Monkey #54329, Reporting for Duty

Not that he would care, for I am in no wise a credentialed expert licensed to form such a judgment, but I do agree with Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur. I would rather read well-edited books than unedited ones and receive information from a vetted source if I'm basing my vote or my finances or my health on it.

I also enjoy reading a gossipy, fun blog or one that shares opinion that, living in the conservative heart of Texas, I'm not likely to encounter that often in real life. I turning to non-experts for information in these cases or indulging in the internet equivalent of a coffee klatsch? I would argue that these are substitute social encounters rather than information-gathering forays.

I have a real dictionary in my desk that I use when I write (although I use an online one for writing e-mails to go with SpellCheck); however, unlike my parents, I don't own a multi-volume encyclopedia. After reading The Cult of the Amateur, I will probably eschew Wikipedia in the future. I understand and agree with the need to financially support and intellectually support the continued production of researched, well-written information--whether that be electronically or physical books, disks, etc.

I find myself irritated by the book, nonetheless. I can find the same kind of nonsense on my local radio stations, venues such as The History Channel, in the bookstore, and in my own family. Is bad information any less dangerous in those venues? Any less pervasive?

Are blogs, Facebook, etc., about expertise or conversation?

Monday, April 4, 2011


I recently finished Erin Kellison's Shadow Bound which tempted me to take it home because of the fact that the publisher considered it a "guaranteed read" and was willing to refund the purchase price (according to their arcane and limited set of conditions) if the reader didn't like the story. The deadline for refund had passed, but I was more interested in the idea of the guarantee than the guarantee itself.

I am a willing victim of marketing.

Was the story good? Well, yeah. I stayed up late to finish it, slamming the last few chapters into my brain as my eyes fought to take "just a brief break" as midnight came and went. There was tension, an overwhelming sense that the ending would be bleak, jumping jacks of hope that it wouldn't, viscious kicks to hope's groin, and so forth as the pages resolutely keep flipping down toward the resolution.

In the end, however, I felt that author's idea for the story might be more interesting than the formula that shaped the published narrative. The go-go-go plot, flipping sometimes through high-energy bedroom routines, just didn't give me much time to get a purchase on the characters or the structure of the world. It was as if someone had helpfully cut out all that distracting and tantalizing scent just so the blooms would be more showy. I wanted more time with the mythology, more time to run my hands over the joinery that connected the magic to the mundane. In particular, I wanted more time with a main character who developed both through her own strength and the press of circumstance. Perhaps a main character who more fully owned the story.

I'm undecided on whether to get the second book in the series. It looks like that book might delve a little deeper into interesting areas; however, I feel the template has already been set by this first taste. The guarantee was solid, I did enjoy the book. I would have liked more story, though.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Still Stinging

I finished the Elegies last night and opened my e-mail this morning to find that my goals are too complex and that I need to lighten up. Apparently, immersing myself in the question of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it only leads to confusing blog posts and grim e-mails.

Fair enough. I kept reading lines out loud to see if they sounded as overwrought as they felt while reading. It was easy to lose perspective because the essays tended toward a depressing vision of a future in which we are plugged into the hive and unable to separate ourselves from the group, when the impulses propagate through entire societies like a craving for sugar runs through my own limbs right about this time of day. Where will the organization come from in the hive? Where will the thoughts and impulse control come from?

As I send this out, into the spreading void of the hive, it seems more or less as if I'm talking to myself; I'm thinking via keyboard, mediating my own thoughts into grammatical structures and then into typeface and then into the blankness of the untraveled interwebs. Have I lost a sense of interiority then? Have I divided my thinking into public and private just as I've accustomed myself to the idea that cameras are everywhere and the public sphere begins just outside the front door and even in the house, depending on the images released in various social networks.

It seems odd to me that stories would vanish as the constructed self vanishes--who are these people who used to expect that they would be able to escape, what was the panopticon like when it was an invisible diety rather than a humming machine?

How much longer can they last, these stories?