And No, I’m Not Sorry

This is not a thinkpiece about not needing to apologize, excessive apologizing, etc.  There are lots of those.  Google should have your back.  This is about the stages of talking about what you love:  here, specifically, literature.  And, specifically, embracing what books you love, unapologetically.


 

I saw a tweet recently that said the person was so mad that Infinite Jest was trending, she couldn’t even think of something funny to say.  I’m not sure of her specific complaint about the book, but, yes, it has plenty of flaws, and it’s one of the most polarizing novels I can think of.  Is anyone lukewarm about that one?

My response:  I love that a book can make someone have such a charged reaction.  And I love that it’s trending!  Not that I had anything to say about it in 140 characters.


 

The three stages of loving a book that I’ve come up with are:  1)  Exuberant like/dislike, often forged with some sort of specific identity as a factor.  2)  Increased awareness of what it’s “acceptable” to like/dislike, and mumbling over specifics when quizzed about things not en vogue.  3)  Saying forget it and just liking what you like, no apologies.


Which isn’t to say be offensive:  your favorite book will not and cannot be someone else’s favorite.  You really can’t convert everyone to a book or author, and it can get very annoying if you try.  There’s a difference between recommending something (if someone asked, if you know the person and think they’d like it) and beaning people on the head with a particular book.

It also doesn’t mean that you should insult other people’s taste in books (of course, if you know them well and do this facetiously, it can be a great deal of fun . . .).  I had my second conversation with someone I don’t know at all (have only met in passing) who is working his way through all of Sherlock Holmes, which sounds dreadful to me.  I don’t know this guy, but I can tell he’s extremely enthusiastic– extremely unapologetic.

However, I talked to someone Sunday (another stranger) who asked what I was reading (Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?— rereading, and if you have my original proof copy, I want it back).  After some discussion, we arrived at the point that she would be interested in that one, and she took down the title and author.  I was pleased, because I would certainly love to bean people with that book.  (cough, cough, recommendation)


Back to apologizing and Infinite Jest.  The book has to be something to have sprawled one of the most comprehensive sites on the internet.  And a considerable number of venomous sites.  Does the book have a considerable number of problems?  Yes.  Do I like it anyway?  Yep.

I’m reading Artful right now and came across this passage written by Katherine Mansfield, inside Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence:  “There are certain things in this book I do not like.  But they are not important, or really part of it.  They are trivial, encrusted, they cling to it as snails to the underside of a of a leaf– no more,– and perhaps they leave a little silvery trail, a smear, that one shrinks from as a kind of silliness.  But apart from these things is the leaf, is the tree, firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig.  All the time I read this book I felt it was feeding me.”  (p. 87)

There are certain things in IJ (or any book) I do not like.  They may or may not be important/part of it (I’m suspicious of that particular claim, along with the triviality, frankly).  I do love the idea that the book is the leaf, the tree, that nourishes the reader.  That, for awhile, readers are able to suspend some qualms (in a moment) and be nourished, though I’d argue that engaging the problematic parts of a text is part of the nourishing process.


No text is conceived and born without faults.  There is no Ur-Text with no flaws to critique.  There is also the simple progression of time:  time moves on, and texts very frequently don’t age well (or become encumbered with new critiques).  Frequently, there is a manner of degree involved here, but save that for you and your friends to debate over coffee.  That’s a separate post.

I only want to say that there is no such thing as a perfect text, something inherently polished and perfect.  Some flaws are celebrated, some need to be discussed.  This keeps book reviewers in business, and this makes literature interesting.  It’s also why you can say “A really means a lot to me, because of XYZ,” and agree when someone shrieks (or tweets) in protest.

It also means that you can dislike something but have a civil (if superficial) conversation with a stranger.  I’m venting now, after all.  And things will balance when you have a somewhat deeper conversation with yet another stranger.

If books are a language we can share, don’t shout each other down in that language, and don’t just mumble apologies about what you love and drift into the corner.  Keep talking, keep sharing.


UNNECESSARY APPENDIX 

Redundant?

These are the books that are lying on the sofa that really, really needs cleaning up, because it looks like a bookmobile exploded.  Recommendations?  Things to avoid?  Up to you:

  • Artful, Ali Smith
  • The World Is on Fire, Joni Tevis [recommended to me]
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson
  • modern American poetry anthology, because my complete Wallace Stevens is AWOL
  • Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh [recommended to me]

 

 

 

I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish

Sorry about the title.  The song lyrics don’t apply; I just picked it because of the title (and because the devil made me do it).

It’s the end of the year (or the world as we know it . . . sorry).  I don’t have any profound musings, so you can move along if you’re looking for those.  All I have are my now-customary non-resolutions:  as in, I’m not going to have any New Years’ resolutions.  I’m not going to start anything I can’t finish.


 

An anecdote:  the first book I didn’t finish was Little Women.  I can’t remember how old I was, but I was pretty young– so young that I didn’t realize it wasn’t okay not to finish a book.  I remember getting to some part about a glove (I think?) and being utterly fed up with every single person in the book.  I somehow knew that Beth died (probably the back of the book mentioned it), and I flipped ahead to that, hoping for something really good and gory (being a bloodthirsty monster, like so many children).  I haven’t picked up that book since, but I remember it being terrifically dull and involving the valley of the shadow of death.

I finally asked my mother if I could stop reading the book; I think she was probably surprised that I didn’t realize it was an option.  It’s only been in the past year or so, though, that I’ve really started to stick to the rule of fifty and just drop a book if I don’t like it.


 

Quitting everything doesn’t improve your quality of life.  However, quitting things that make your life really miserable does.


 

I could make some resolutions about Life Improvement at the New Year, but I don’t have any concrete ideas.  I’ve done some small things all during the past year, none of which I’d planned on as of January 1st:  they were all unexpected.

January 1st is a moment, but there’s also a year full of moments.  You can decide what to do, to be, or to change in any one of them.

Have a happy new year, or a succession of happy new moments.

IMG_4675

Alice is ready to ring in the New Year but more than a little ticked that this is ginger ale.

Did Anyone Read the Syllabus?

Sometimes, social media makes me brood (this is shocking, I realize).  A great deal of pop culture tends to fly over my head (again, I’m betting absolutely no one caught onto that).  Generally, I try not to rain on people’s various parades (okay, I get snide about Taylor Swift a lot, so maybe I should apologize for that one).  But as a rule:  if someone posted an enthusiastic post about Topic X, I wouldn’t write a snide/rude reply just to air my own grievances or dislike of whatever it was.

That’s what Twitter is for.

Kidding.  Mostly.  Not really.  This is why you don’t befriend the people you know on Twitter, though.  And it might not be the best idea to read some of my LibraryThing reviews (*there is no LT widget here; it uses Javascript, which WP forbids, and this is annoying).


Moving on.  When I taught English in the days of yore (I believe it was called Ye Olde Englishe at the time or something), I said, on the first day, to please note that nowhere did the syllabus direct that you must like the assigned books, books in general, or even reading.  None of that was a course requirement.  What was a course requirement was, that if you felt compelled to voice dislike of a book (section of a book, character, etc.), you did so in an adult manner and supply a cogent reason/argument about why you disliked whatever it was.

The idea there was that there was no way I could force everybody to like everything (and does anyone say, “welcome to Biology 101, where you will develop a lifetime love of science!”  I doubt it).  However, what I was hoping was that people would learn to think, analyze, and reason in an appropriate manner for the subject material.

In other words, “I hated that” was not a sufficient response, and nor was “that was stupid.”  If nothing else, let’s raise the level of discourse here.


The first day of the first class I taught, a student answered the question “what do you expect to get out of this class?” with:  “It sounds like we’re going to read about books then talk about them.  That’s stupid, and I’m dropping this.”  It was a reading literature course.  And he did indeed drop.


All of this is to say:  the level of national discourse has officially reached the level that student articulated so magnificently, and there are quite a few people I wish would drop.  Like that student, they do not know how to engage in appropriate discourse, and, like him, they’re not even willing to try.  Unlike him, though he exited with bad attitude ablaze, at least he did everyone else a favor and removed himself from the situation– thus not exposing everyone else to his thoroughly poisonous attitude.


What is currently making headlines as if it were appropriate discourse is shameful.  As anyone who has taught or has been in a class where this has happened can attest, a vocal student with a sour attitude can effectively infect an entire class and turn the whole mood south.  If this continues, I fear that this phenomenon will infect more and more of the country, given the way that powerful personalities can control larger groups of people (who are not necessarily weak-minded; that is not the implication).


Before ascribing to any position or belief, think back to that high school or college English teacher who kept asking you to defend your position, to provide evidence in support of your thesis.  Remember that you had to have a solid basis for that evidence:  something you could reference directly and that the objective reader would be swayed by.

If all else fails, start with an outline.

Enunciation Is Power, Even in the South

Mini-post!  Title sort of, not really, kind of related to content!  Mostly an excuse to post a clip of my Higher Power:  Julia Sugarbaker.


Backstreets/Backstory

I have an entry almost ready to go (in draft), but it’s not quite there, and I’m not in the mood to t-h-i-n-k tonight:  It’s about a sci-fi novel, and I started it last week, before the Hugo winners were announced.  In other words, it’s semi-relevant, which is a big change around here.

So I’m going to do a mini-entry that has absolutely nothing to do with anything instead!  The more things don’t change . . . .

Presenting three snapshots from today.  Your choice of funny, musical, and beatdown-needed.


Snapshot from Today

I stopped to get a late lunch in between two appointments; I’d gotten three fillings in the morning and had put off eating for the obvious Novocaine-mouth reasons.  Here’s how ordering went:

Me:  . . . and a soda.

Her:  A side?

Me:  No, thanks.  Just a soda.

Her:  Did you say a salad?

Me:  SO-da.

Her:  Sourdough?

Me:  A COKE.

Her:  Okay!

Behold, regionalisms at work.  I felt like Ernest T. Bass by the end of the exchange:

Then again, I often feel like Ernest T., so this isn’t anything particularly new:

I feel like I should mention here that there were not a lot of TV options when I was a kid.  I’m equally proficient in 50s/60s B monster movies, but they typically lack Life Lessons.

Julia Sugarbaker would have handled it more effectively.


40th Anniversary Is Rubies; Pretty Sure This One Is Multi-Platnium

In other news (file under:  FEEL OLD YET?), the radio is doing a marathon celebration of the anniversary of Born to Run:  August 25, 1975.

As always, my main danger for arrest is reckless driving, brought on by radio-induced enthusiasm.  For those of us who really, really can’t sing (see:  the episode where Barney tries to sing in the choir), the car is a safe haven for wholehearted belting and dancing like no one is watching (I did apologize once to someone; I had parked next to what I thought was an unoccupied vehicle in a parking lot, only to realize her father was sitting in it; unfortunately for all involved, he had his window down, and I was letting the world know that I didn’t give a damn about my reputation).

At any rate, I spent a lot of time today listening to the preparation for the Day of St. Bruce (hey, Boss’s Day is already taken).  Needless to say, I heard “Born to Run” itself multiple time (swerve, veer, swerve) as well as “Thunder Road,” both Top Ten All-Time Favorites (see previous post), “Thunder Road” being way up there in the Top Ten (a subcategory of the definition I neglected to mention:  being “way up there”).  “Hungry Heart” made an appearance too, for some reason.

I’d like to point out that all three of these songs have something in common:  for the person who gets way too wrapped up in lyrical performance while driving, they’re all pretty much versified prescriptions for wrecks:

  1.  “But Officer!  I wasn’t driving carelessly; I’m just chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected, and stepping out over the line!”
  2. “But I’m pulling out of here to win!  I can’t do that AND pay attention to the speed limit . . . or the lanes . . . or other cars . . . .”
  3. [cooly gazes over shades]  “I’m not from around here.  I went out for a ride . . . and I never went back.”

I really have no idea how to relate Bruce Springsteen to Designing Women.  Ideas in comments?


Radio Tarot

A major point here is:  I’m a longtime, firm believer in radio tarot.  I have no idea if that’s something other people have heard of or do.  At any rate, what it means is that the car radio is your horoscope for whatever you’re on your way to do.  Needless to say, the rules exist in my head (and you don’t want to go there).  Positive song, positive outcome, obviously.  Added points for a song you really like.  Even more if you hear the whole thing (rather than coming in on the end or having to cut it off mid-song).  You probably get it.  And yes, theoretically, a sad song can still have some plus points if it’s something you really love.  I told you to stay out of my head.

Incidentally, for the scientific value, a recent study confirmed that, even if a song is sad, it can still improve your mood.

Yes, I AM aware that current/new artists exist.  I even listen to some of them!


Enfin

Should the mother of the young girl in the waiting room with me, by some extreme coincidence, read this:  She was trying to get you to take the very simple quiz from National Geographic Kids.  You would ignore each question until about the third time she asked, then give a dismissive answer.  Finally, you told her to leave her alone and go wash her face:  she’d gotten it painted in art class and very clearly, even to me, a complete stranger, was still excited about it.

I was mentally walloping you with my book.  I hope you felt it.  PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR KID.  IT WILL NOT KILL YOU TO HELP HER ENDURE THE TIME IN A WAITING ROOM.  HOW DO YOU THINK SHE FELT WHEN YOU TOLD HER TO WASH HER FACE?

I’m done.  I needed to get that out.

Julia Sugarbaker would have schooled her on the spot, not on a blog.  Sigh.