Category Archives: books

e.b. white

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”

ivan turgenev

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.”

the great american novel and the internet

So, here we are, internet.

Brief pause to fangirl Jonathan Franzen, because, not only is The Corrections an amazing book– one I would very quickly nominate for Great American Novel, because, OMFG– but, until I saw him on the cover of Time, I sort of did not realize that he is ADORABLE.

What interests me most, though, is as I Try To Write Non-Academic Things, is his relationship with technology. It is Luddite at best, as this snippet from an interview makes clear:

AVC: A lot of writers—if they don’t use typewriters or write longhand—claim to only use computers without an Internet connection, because the distraction is too readily available, and no work gets done.

JF: Absolutely. I have one of those nine-pound Dell laptops you can get for $389 because nobody ended up buying that model, for obvious reasons. I took the wireless card out immediately, and I plugged up the Ethernet hole with superglue. The biggest struggle was getting Hearts and Solitaire off of it. I did work on a DOS machine until about five years ago. It ran WordPerfect 5.0, which is still the best software ever written for a writer, I think. But now, obviously, I work on a Windows machine, and Windows just will not let you de-install a Solitaire program. It puts it back whenever you try to remove it.

I am going to hazard a guess here that JF’s  disabling of the internet is no doubt part of the reason why he has written Great Important American Novels, whereas I can barely make it through a 400 word blog post without falling into internet rabbit holes so deep it’s a wonder I don’t end up in Pyongyang. Actually, just to digress, have you ever seen a picture of North Korea from space? It’s pitch black, hemmed in by the lights of South Korea and China. I don’t know why, but more than the military marches, more than the terrifyingly outmoded Communist regime, that darkness frightens me more than almost anything.

And since there are no traffic lights, of course, this is how they direct the flow of vehicles in Pyongyang–

Um, okay. So back to the matter at hand, which was– I cannot afford to purchase Freedom right now. My ass is broke, and even at twenty or thirty percent off, I so cannot afford a hardback. Which brings me to my next point — not “don’t smoke crack,” although that is sound advice, too. Possibly the only sound advice ever to emanate from an Adam Sandler movie, come to think of it — why are publishing houses even bothering to release hardbacks at all?

According to the Times, Kindle downloads outpace hardcover sales 143:100, a gap which I’m sure will only increase in the future. Stephen Fry just released his new autobiography (WANT!) in electronic and print formats, but the e-version is only available for Apple devices. That seems a bit Not On, if you ask me. Also, why the hell would you want to read an entire book on an iPhone?

All this is by way of saying: Franzen: amazing. Technology: a bitch.  Erin: violently broke. If you’re done with your copy of Freedom, will you lend it to me? Stellar.

You can view Ron Charles’ hilarious video review here, since HuffPo seems to hate embed codes. Whatevs.

You can read the whole interview here.

ummmmmmmmmmm

So, Katie “Jordan” Price, besides being the exact color of Mixtecan pottery, is also a published author and horse enthusiast.

She is also promoting her book while wearing a swimsuit with the cover of her book Bedazzled on to it. That is dedication.*

However — and this may be the fact that it’s a heat index of a hundred and there is NO POINT in putting on makeup when it’s just going to slide right off your face in a minute and a half making you look like Brittany Murphy in 8 Mile — except for those hairyspiderleglashes (Coming soon from Cover Girl!) , her eye makeup is sort of spectacular.

*Bet Susan Orlean doesn’t have to do this.

self-actualization (a.k.a. priv-lit)

Entirely apropos of my mention of Eat, Pray, Love, I was directed to the latest issue of Bitch magazine, which has, as always, trenchant commentary on the phenomenon of “priv-lit.”

To wit–

Eat, Pray, Love is not the first book of its kind, but it is a perfect example of the genre of priv-lit: literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial. Should its consumers fail, the genre holds them accountable for not being ready to get serious, not “wanting it” enough, or not putting themselves first, while offering no real solutions for the astronomically high tariffs—both financial and social—that exclude all but the most fortunate among us from participating.

It’s no secret that, according to America’s marketing machine, we’re living in a “postfeminist” world where what many people mean by “empowerment” is the power to spend their own money. Twenty- and thirtysomething women seem more eager than ever to embrace their “right” to participate in crash diets and their “choice” to get breast implants, obsess about their age, and apply the Sex and the City personality metric to their friends (Are you a Miranda or a Samantha? Did you get your Brazilian and your Botox?). Such marketing, and the women who buy into it, assumes the work of feminism is largely done. Perhaps it’s because, unlike American women before them, few of the people either making or consuming these cultural products and messages have been pushed to pursue secretarial school instead of medical school, been accused of “asking for” sexual assault, or been told driving and voting were intellectually beyond them. This perspective makes it easy for the antifeminism embedded in the wellness jargon of priv-lit to gain momentum.

This is a wonderful piece, not in the least because it manages to achieve the tricky double axel move of  slagging off Gwenyth Paltrow* and making fine use of Pierre Bourdieu in quick succession.  Read here.

*In an interview with UK Elle, Paltrow claimed “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year,” which certainly lends credence to the whole notion of enlightenment, sanctity, or just smug fucking self-satisfaction are truly the provenance of the economic elite.

the spiritual and the superficial

I make no claims to be other than someone who has spent hours of classroom time, both in my pedagogical practices and in seminar discussions, trying to find ways to work America’s Next Top Model into the conversation

“Guys? Don’t you think that the leveling impetus of the horizontally-configured nation state is a bit like Tyra and Co. trying to teach water-polo playing Ann from cycle three about looking appropriately ‘model-ly?’ Because it’s all about homogeneity and the rhematic process of standardization? Just me, then?”

The anthropology of religion and spirituality, or its contemporary counterpart, secularism, is something I only know a bit about. I’m certainly interested in the ideas of performing ‘sincerity’ or ‘belief’ as ideologically motivated practices, but I merely dabble.  Same with popular works on the topic. My mother once lent me a copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies : Some Thoughts on Faith, and I hurled it across the room after about thirty-odd pages. Not that she can’t write, but because the whole subject matter made me feel dirty and twitchy and profoundly uncomfortable. Certainty must be a nice thing (Pascal said as much), but it’s not something I share.

I’ve been thinking about the religious impulse again courtesy of two very different women: Kelly Cutrone (PR whiz, admirer of predatory pack mentality, and a caustic verbal squeegee to the torrent of unrelenting vapid bullshit of shows like The Hills and The City) and Elizabeth Gilbert, whose memoir Eat, Pray, Love was recommended to me by my mother, and at least half a dozen other people.

Both are good reads, and address the whole issue of belief, understood rather loosely in Cutrone’s case, in the modern, secular, and psychically fragmented modern world. Gilbert’s book is a three-parter, with a extended stay in an Indian ashram bracketed on both sides by her narrative of feasting in Italy and falling in love in Bali. Cutrone’s is more of a memior-cum-guide-for-young-professional women, and it’s more all over the place, structurally, to boot. Either one would make a nice addition to your summer reading list, if you don’t horribly disdain popular culture. (Which, for the record, I don’t).

I particularly love Cutrone’s book because she talk about cultivating detachment, a vital lesson from Buddhist teaching, and applies her particular take on it to doling out savvy career advice. I would read this a million times over rather than suffer through even one time-waste of a Glamour column on “How to get ahead in the workplace.” Plus, she definitely knowingly slags off bland boring blonde bobbed girls (i.e. most of the cast of the two MTV shows she’s been on*), and declares things like —

“Most women by the time they’re thirty-eight get their hair frosted and wear running sneakers and signify to to world that they’re hunkering down for the next forty years of misery.”

“So many mothers say they want their daughters to be independent, but what they really hope is that they’ll find a well-compensated banker or lawyer and settle down between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-eight in Greenwich, Darien, or That Town, U.S.A, to raise babies, do the grocery shopping, and work out in relative comfort for the rest of their lives. I know this because I employ their daughters.”

Love her. A return to the ancient feminine strikes me as a good a way as any to cope with the endless grind of insecurity brought about by our ever-splintering modern world and the chattering of our monkey minds. If I had teenage daughters or nieces, they would so be getting a copy of this.

*Can I just tack on that I think The City far outpaced The Hills as a show when it stopped focusing so much on the girls’ incredibly boring love lives (Jay? Freddy? Ugh.) and became much more about the cutthroat world of twenty-somethings in the fledgling stages of their creative careers. Because it’s much much much more interesting than the endless middle-distance-back-and-forthing of “Really? What did you say? And then what did he say?” Ugh.

indiana, pascal, atheism

Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.

~Blaise Pascal

If you are going to have an afterlife, why not just have a physical afterlife? Just come back as a tentacle with a set of lips looking for huge lumps of chocolate to fuck, it’d be much more reasonable.

~Dylan Moran

Extended visit with the family this weekend, which meant a trip back to and through the Bible belt. Three hundred miles (exactly the length of Indiana, but no shock there) always sets my blood boiling, as I have to drive past about a bajillion billboards telling me that Jesus is the way and the light and to be afraid of hell because that shit is firey realness and not have abortions and get that vasectomy reversed and blah blah fucking blah.

The state motto is “Crossroads of America,” but we like to pass the 6 hours thinking up alternative slogans which sum up the situation much better: “Indiana: You Could Do Better” — “Northern Indiana: Gateway to Mordor” — “Cow Shit and Ethanol” — “Not Maintaining our Tolls Roads” — and “Indiana’s Finished On-Ramps: Coming 2017.”

I mean, this is the  state license plate of Indiana. And I’m fully aware that it is, no shit, the official motto of the United States, which ostensibly dates back to the American Revolution and Civil War, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Much less because I have to see it every time some stupid red pickup truck or tricked out Camaro pretending to be participating in the Indy 500 cuts me off going 90 plus mph on a desolate stretch of I-65….A bit of off-hand Deism I can handle, whereas a full-on onslaught of religious babble meant to stave off the spectre of Communist godlessness feels painfully dated and shameful.*

Pissy and judgmental as I am, I nevertheless avoid confrontation at all costs. So every time someone tells me how they’re praying, or they’re ‘blessed’ or I hear some mention of salvation on the radio, I grit my teeth and nod. I’m not going to get into it, because I’m not eloquent enough, and I utterly lack the energy to argue with irrational people.

Course it doesn’t help that evolutionary theory sounds just as half-baked as intelligent design. As Dylan Moran puts it–

Science is a joke. Look at the scientific explanation for the origin of life as we know it. No wonder we have creationists, you know, those people – God love them – who tell their children that, you know, originally we all went to school with dinosaurs, or whatever it is that they tell them. But no wonder they exist, because listen to the explanation for the origin of life itself – it doesn’t sound very scientific. “There was a big BANG! And then we all came from monkeys.” “What? That’s it?” “Yeah, shop’s closed, fuck off!” I need more than that! There must be more than – BANG! *monkey sounds* “Honey I’m home!” – come on! It’s such a boring theory, anyway! It’s much more interesting if you reverse the order.

I manage to calm myself with hearty doses of QI and Stephen Fry/David Mitchell, like this nice bit on Pascal’s Wager and heaven for atheists (would that it were true!)–

Nor do I think Pascal is entirely wrong about the nature of belief and the role of causality and praxis within it —

“I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards?” Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. “Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?”

True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness. “But this is what I am afraid of.” And why? What have you to lose?

W/r/t old Blaiseytron, some parts of the Pensées are actually quite lovely. It’s not necessarily the kind of book I would take for lolling on the beach, but it can be nice in small doses. Man’s condition, Pascal says, consists of “Inconstancy, boredom, [and] anxiety.” I take no issue with that. In fact, I should probably see if that’s been copyrighted, because it would make an excellent title for a memoir.

* “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic Communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, it is proper” to “remind all of us of this self-evident truth” that “as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail.” Good times, 1956.