The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Archive for the ‘WTF’ Category

Is there some kind of secret underground sanctuary that churns out these dinosaurs?

Those of you who pitch science fiction to wives and girlfriends who do not enjoy it are probably saying something along the following lines: “Space ships! Alien monsters! Men in tights!” Instead, for women who find that sort of thing distasteful, talk about it as a fairy tale–only a fairy tale with science instead of magic. The basic emotional space it taps is the same.

My head hurts. (via The Elegant Variation in case you think I actually read “The Atlantic”.)

I’ve got new posts coming up for you soon, I pwomise.

I got an email from Bookforum, helpfully letting me know that their new issue was online, so of course I wasted no time in clicking right over.

The first thing I see are the feature articles in nice big type. Number one is:

Right Makes Might
KEVIN MATTSON on THE CONSERVATIVE TAKEOVER OF AMERICAN POLITICS

To say the least, not exactly what I read Bookforum for, but, okay, whatever, what’s feature number two?

Voices Carry
LAWRENCE HILL on CIVIL WAR SLAVE NARRATIVES

Well, this isn’t the most obviously literary topic imaginable, but it could have potential. But no. The essay is far more about history than art.

All right, our final feature:

Fiction and Political Fact
MORRIS DICKSTEIN on POLITICAL NOVELS

I wonder who out there thought that Bookforum readers were interested in New York Review of Books, The Sequel? Or The Poor Man’s Times Literary Supplement?

I just left Dan Green’s blog where Augustine complained about blogs being “Bookworm MySpace” which makes me feel rather guilty about this post. (Sort of. Mildly.) But I’m still pissed about being duped by this Rothfuss fellow’s hype machine, at myself more than anyone else. So, before I take a long trek to the bookstore in order to purge all my negative feelings before I get my $7.99 + tax back, I’d like to poke more fun at what is basically a writer among legions ‘doing’ other people, doing Tolkien. They [are] faint photocopies. You get these great big books which are set in a medieval kingdom that is basically somebody’s impression of what they liked about Tolkien, combined with what they enjoyed about playing Dungeons and Dragons as a high schooler. Thank you, Neil Gaiman. Maybe I’ll try one of your books after all.

In this scene our wearied hero walks home with his drunken friends after the beaaauuutiful girl of his dreams turns out to be dating one of his school colleagues.

In the fullness of time*, and with considerable help from Deoch and Wilem, I became drunk.

Thus it was that three students made their slightly erratic way back to the University. See them as they go, weaving only slightly. It is quiet, and when the belling tower strikes the late hour, it doesn’t break the silence so much as it underpins it**. The crickets, too, respect the silence. Their calls are like careful stitches in its fabric, almost too small to be seen***.

The night is like warm velvet around them. The stars, burning diamonds in the cloudless sky, turn the road beneath their feet a silver grey****. The University and Imre are the hearts of understanding and art, the strongest of the four corners of civilization. Here on the road between the two there is nothing but old trees and long grass bending to the wind. The night is perfect in a wild way, almost terrifying beautiful.

The three boys, one dark, one light, and one– for lack of a better word — fiery*****, do not notice the night. Perhaps some part of them does, but they are young, and drunk, and busy knowing deep in their hearts that they will never grow old or die. They also know that they are friends, and they share a certain love that will never leave them. The boys know many other things, but none of them seem as important as this. Perhaps they are right.*******

*Ugh! I don’t care if he’s even trying for a but of humour here. Unless you are at a writing level no lower than A.S. Byatt do not use this phrase. Not even ironically.

**Wtf does that mean?

***No. I would have liked to accept this, it makes marginally more sense than what came before, but is this all flowing from the boys “weaving” before? That makes it a “no”.

****I’m getting nitpicky now but can stars give off that much light, really? I’ll give it a pass on the assumption that I could be wrong, so accustomed I am to city living, and that in Faux Medieval Europe all things are possible.

***** You never have any better words. Never. Ever.

******This entire paragraph was maudlin sap and the chapter should have been nixed because it adds absolutely nothing to the story and there are no great ideas or show of style here that justifies its existence. Nothing in this book justifies its existence.

Well. I feel a little better now. Slightly.

I’m not sure if you heard but in a boneheaded, asinine, flagrantly anti-customer move, Amazon decided Print On Demand (POD) publishers must print their books through Amazon’s newly acquired POD publisher BookSurge (with a reputation for quality service) or Amazon will no longer sell their books (via Petrona). Customers will only be able to get the books from third party sellers so the purchases won’t be eligible for any Amazon promotions, including the free shipping offer. Of course, you can still get it through Kindle, that product still too needs to be established.

Protests that the publishers are free to go elsewhere are disingenuous: Amazon is the premier site online for book information — even if one doesn’t buy directly from the site it’s likely that one goes there to get book details, reviews and, most importantly for me, excerpts. I make a conscious decision to buy from local stores but for friends abroad its the easiest way to buy books for me and if I’m pre-ordering it’s where I’d go to do so. Not any more.

I will no longer link to Amazon on my site. I’ll stick to publisher sites or use Book Depository. (I’ve been trying to do that regularly now, for a while, but it’s hard to break linking habits and, let’s face it, Amazon typically has the most information.) However, this move overrides the convenience factor. I’ll change the links in my most popular posts and, on bored days, I’ll go through random posts (reviews and the like) to edit links. Please, pardon the updates of old posts that may appear in your RSS readers.

I’m pissed off. I know that brick & mortar book stores long complained about its dominance but I could never feel more than token sympathy because Amazon made itself into an important resource on a scale they couldn’t manage, in a fair and innovative way, to the best of my knowledge. Other bloggers criticised the stupid “one click” patent but as a customer I didn’t think it affected me much. But this ultimatum dumps more expenses on publishers and actively impedes developments in POD, and subsequently makes it harder for me, the customer, to acquire products. If their books are only available through third party sellers whose sales they may or may not be earning any money there’s no incentive for them to list their inventory there making it harder for me, the customer, to get the facts on the books I want. This is a slap in the face I can’t ignore. I’ve cancelled all of my pre-orders and deleted my wishlist. Amazon, you can just fuck right off.

…that I’m really tired of print editors in allegedly reputable periodicals accepting anti-feminist screeds. If a black journalist submitted an article arguing that black people evolved into a stupider race compared to Caucasians with similar selective and faulty analysis of statistical data — not to mention phrenology and evolutionary psychology, ffs! — would The Washington Post eagerly scoop up the tripe and make it their top Sunday op-ed? And you wonder why so many think journalists are simple hacks? Yet I am told all the time that feminism’s heyday is over and we should all sit back and relax.

For more read Up with your blood pressure! and The Stupidest Thing You Ever Read on this Blog (And Maybe the Whole Wide Internet).

Edit: This is too much. A technorati search turned up this gem at Laura Rozen’s blog.

John Pomfret writes me:

… I ran Charlotte Allen’s piece to provoke, but not to offend. I thought the parallel she drew between fainting Obama followers and Beatlemania was an interesting frame with which to analyze the Obama phenomenon. She went further, of course, to draw broader conclusions about the state of her gender highlighting women’s interest in Gray’s Anatomy and Eat, Pray, Love. But my reading of it was more a tongue-in-cheek screed borne from exasperation with her sisters than a mysoginist rant from a self-hating woman. Yes, she engaged in massive hyperbole but she did it to try to make a point. That said the piece obviously offended you and others and I regret that. But it was an opinion piece and that is what they sometimes do. …

You know what I think this points to? The asinine idea that no matter how weak, fallacious, unfounded and erroneous one’s argument is, it’s an opinion and therefore worth listening to. There was absolutely nothing she attacked in her op-ed piece worthy of particular exasperation. Not “fainting” Obama groupies (I thought that described all of his supporters?), or an interest in a harmless sappy tv show or a memoir. (That book is a memoir, right?) Tongue-in-cheek, my arse. And again newspapers almost never try this crap on men, and wouldn’t dare do a similar satire on Mexicans, Jews or African-Americans. That alone should give him pause for thought but that would be presuming too much. (Ha ha! Don’t worry Pomfret. I’m just being tongue-in-cheek about all the space wasted in that bigger brain of yours.)

Next time Pomfret should solicit a piece from a writer who’s actually in on the joke.

I am too depressed this morning to attempt any light hearted or serious posts on literature. Some may think it’s none of my business to be so worried about American affairs except that a great deal of my family is there (including my mother and closest aunts and cousins) and who is left in Jamaica is mostly anxious to get there, except my grandfather who has no interests in leaving his plot of land. This makes me obliged to at least have to visit there except that current and upcoming US legislation is making this an increasingly unattractive venture, where even being a green card holder does not mean much. (All that wonderful fingerprinting and general hustle.) This should make me anxious to become a citizen except that, well, that’s not coming to mean much either as far as benefits and protections go.

Treating the Constitution as a Doormat – Scott Horton

If things proceed on the course now set by the Bush Administration and its shortsighted collaborators, and the national surveillance state is achieved in short order, then future generations looking back and tracing the destruction of the grand design of our Constitution may settle on yesterday, February 12, 2008, as the date of the decisive breach. It hardly got a mention in the media, obsessed as it was with reports on the primary elections, the use of drugs in sporting events, and that unfailing topic, the weather. Yesterday the Senate voted down the resolution offered by Senator Dodd to block retroactive immunity for the telecoms and it voted for a measure which guts the Constitution’s ban on warrantless searches by extending blanket authority to the Executive to snoop on the nation’s citizens in a wide variety of circumstances, subject to no independent checks. On the key vote, the Republicans in the Senate continued to function in lock-step, as they have on almost all significant issues for the last seven years, while the Democrats fragmented. Their vote summed up everything that’s wrong with Washington politics today. Fear and hard campaign cash rule the roost, and the Constitution is regarded as a meaningless scrap of parchment, indeed, a nuisance.

The issue in focus was a retroactive grant of immunity to telecommunications giants which violated the rights of millions of Americans by facilitating warrantless surveillance by the Bush Administration. With the exception of Qwest, they were knowingly complicit in criminal acts. And in a touch worthy of a totalitarian state, Qwest quickly found its CEO under criminal investigation and prosecuted. In fact the White House’s own arguments smack of the mentality of totalitarianism. Here’s the leading argument that the White House offers up in favor of the legislation:

“Companies should not be held responsible for verifying the government’s determination that requested assistance was necessary and lawful — and such an impossible requirement would hurt our ability to keep the Nation safe.”

But as Dan Froomkin notes at the Washington Post, “Isn’t that the very definition of a police state: that companies should do whatever the government asks, even if they know it’s illegal?” Indeed it is.

Senator John McCain voted against the amendments to remove the retroactive immunity clause. Clinton was absent. According to the New York Times report, Obama did not vote either contrary to other media reports, he “did oppose immunity on a key earlier motion to end debate”.

I ordered some French books today and will look in to how I can get some French lessons. I think I’ve decided, now, that my life belongs in Canada.

At least I got my A-level English when it meant something.

(At that stage aren’t students taking the subject because they want to, with the knowledge that it’s gonna be about Conrad, Hawthorne and Achebe and not bloody McEwan? Do you really need to be wheedling them with tv book club approved texts?)

Update: John Sutherland states that reports have been misleading and that the book club was only used as an example of what sources students could use to get ideas about what books to select for the modules in which they’re given that choice. I’m only slightly appeased — I still protest against making any post-1990 category compulsory.  It looks fairly stupid to me when educators, who presumably don’t believe that classics are “dull or boring”, constantly link anything exciting, thrilling and revelatory to the new and recent. I don’t know what to think when an evil Penguin USA executive is wholly taken with ways to repackage and reintroduce older works to newer generations while Oxford and Cambridge examiners are more concerned about getting in on the fabulously new. And this move is aimed at 6th form students (working at taking the Oxbridge A-levels for they are different versions) who, again I must stress, are typically the sort of students who are perfectly satisfied, even, my word, excited about Conrad and Eliot. What’s going on in the UK? What am I missing here?

Travel writing, FFS. You want to mark bloody papers with analyses of Bill Bryson walking about in Brighton?

First, you’re one of the bloodiest expensive literary magazines in English. (Although it is done weekly and has more content than, say, the London Review of Books so I’m guessing that’s why.)

Second, you have one of the crappiest website designs for lit mags out there. I have to click six million times before I actually get to the stupid archive page, and then I can’t just log in, I have to search for what I want first, and then you finally deem me worthy of access. It’s like I’m in some crappy fan made Indiana Jones parody.

Third, you make it impossible for me to avoid your pointless labyrinth by giving even limited access to general academic resource databases (that I know of and/or to which my school is subscribed) because you’re so precious and exclusive.

And now, NOW, you’ve made yourselves even more inaccessible by cutting off INSTITUTIONS from your on-line archives and restricting it to individual subscribers. Does that make any sense to anyone? Which folks from either group is likelier to need and regularly desire access to it and are pretty much guaranteed customers because, you know, they’re a part of an academic institution that would see it as pretty much obligatory to subscribe to the so-called *”leading paper in the world for literary culture”?

Or to create a potential future customer base. Who do you think comes into the library here regularly to read your paper version? Men older than my grandfather. (I’m serious, there’s a cute couple of elderly men who are in the reading room every time I’m here, with the usual pile of Foreign Policy, New York Review of Books, TLS etc.)

To add insult to injury how did the school find out? I kept nagging the information librarian who kept nagging the one in charge of subscriptions who kept nagging you. And even that didn’t work. I had reported a broken link problem before the holidays to which someone gave a delayed (server issues) but gracious reply. I informed that person of the new problem and suggested that someone should go digging around in the inbox for an overlooked e-mail or two. The next day, oh so coincidentally, the dogged information librarian e-mailed me to report the wonderful news.

I hate microform and of course I’ll be forced to print everything or scribble stuff down when I could just organise it neatly on my computer and not waste paper (and my money). Screw you. I’m going to buy my café pal a LRB gift subscription out of pure empty rage and frustration. Then I’ll take the money I was saving for your astronomically priced subscription on Bookforum and The Caribbean Review of Books. Good luck depending on that imaginary cultural elite to support you in to your twilight years.

How are you, my dear readers? I hope you’re having a lovely Thursday.

*That’s a whole different kettle of fish since your focus is so determinedly restricted to Europe plus the occasional glances over to the United States and the rare acknowledgement that there’s another continent hanging somewhere below Italy’s foot but, whatever, empty PR bluster is expected.

What?

Posted on: January 2, 2008

I name you my favourite 2007 blog and you bail on me? What’s going on in the world, damn it?

*cough*

So I’m in the library mugging about, trying to ignore the fact that I have first year final exam marking to look forward to. I do my morning browsing of WordPress tag surfing and The Globe & Mail, both of which seem to be in sync this morning. One blogger points to an e-mail posting making the rounds on MySpace in which terribly worried Christian parents are trying to get the word out about the DANGER, the MORAL PERIL in which a trimmed, waterdown, film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass places their children. I sighed, looked over to the newspaper site only to see an article in which Daniel Craig insists that the film isn’t anti-Christian but more about the mis-use of power. That’s neither here nor there to me, what caught my attention was this paragraph.

The Halton Catholic District School Board has pulled the novel and is reviewing Mr. Pullman’s entire trilogy, known as His Dark Materials, to decide if the books are suitable for its young readers. Other boards in Ontario are also reconsidering the placement of The Golden Compass on their shelves. The cinematic version opens in Canada on Dec. 7.

Oi! You’ve had the books in your respectable, God-fearing halls all these years but it took a MOVIE to get you to reconsider whether they’re appropriate reading material for your younglings? What about the celestial positioning of all the other children who passed through? You didn’t notice any devilish side-effects until now — when the MOVIE was about to come out? Are you people even pretending to be educators or are you all about multiple choice papers and junk food sponsorship deals?

Toronto bookseller Ben McNally said he finds the review of a book that has already been sitting on shelves for more than a decade, more than a little odd. “I mean where have these people been? I wonder whether anything is served by taking a book off the shelves while [a review] is happening, especially when the book has been out there as long as that one has.”

Well, at least they interviewed one literate person, even if he wasn’t institutional. I wonder why they didn’t get anything from the school librarians who probably have headaches from all the eye-rolling. Take heart from a Christian who has actually read the books and doesn’t have to depend on biased second sources:

Waiting for “The Golden Compass”. Rereading it again for about the fourth time. I really like it but I thinks people are seriously in trouble when they try to equate every book that comes out with Christianity. I love my God and have faith in his works but some people seem to go to extremes. It is a very good book and yes it does deal with good and evil and the struggles people have in deciding which are which sometimes. But if you set your mind to it, you could do that with anything.

I must have been daft when I read them, because I finished the first two books with no inkling that I was supposed to have closed them hating the Vatican, God, His Heavenly Host etc. (I haven’t read the third yet.) Christian critics I read bemoan the fact that the religion doesn’t get a fair, balanced shake, but I don’t see anyone rising up in arms because The Chronicles of Narnia is an imbalanced, skirt-flipping cheerleader for Jesus and anyone who isn’t on her team is demon-worshipping riff raff and/or gets turned into a pig during town parades.


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