On writing in your colonizer’s language

Electric Lit posts a fascinating piece on the internal conflict of writing in the language of your colonizer/oppressor. With English slowly coming to dominate the entire world, I imagine this is going on everywhere. As an Irish/Scotsman, I suppose I write in my colonizer’s language as well, but it’s been 800+ years since the colonization and despite a few attempts to break free over the years, we’ve largely given up, so I’m assimilated enough to be complicit in the whole thing.

For my family, friends, relatives, and teachers, English was seen as a language of access. It could land you better jobs, remove limitations, and open up avenues. English speakers were high achievers, often conflated with the colonizers who ruled over us for about 200 years. It was ironic that the language of our colonizers was seen as aspirational, something that could lift us out of the discomfort that our parents’ mid-level jobs put us through. In reading all the subjects at school in English, we were made to understand that English was the language of possibilities. My cousins who studied in Hindi schools wouldn’t have all the opportunities that would have been available for me.  

Torn between these two worlds, I found accidental love in the language that was imposed upon me. From a young age of six or seven I started voluntarily, subconsciously veering towards reading and writing in English.

What is your favourite book of all time?

Do you have trouble answering this question? Most people do. My favourites have evolved so much over time that I can’t give you just one book. When I was 12, it was Lord of the Rings. At 13 it was the shitty Dragonlance novels. When I was 15, it was Neuromancer. When I was 19, it was Beautiful Losers. Etc, etc. through Beckett, Akhmatova, Coetzee, Szymborska, Heaney, Armitage, Atwood, Ishiguro, etc. etc. How do you pick one? Right now? I think the book from the last 10 years I most remember the experience of reading is is Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go for prose, and Jericho Brown’s The Tradition for poetry. But who knows what next years hold.

As a self-proclaimed avid reader, I inevitably get asked the dreaded question: “What is your favorite book?” Of course, if I’m speaking to a fellow reader who is sensitive about this question, I get in a more acceptable form: “What are your favorite books or authors?”

Either way it’s framed, it is a big question. As a novice to this conversation, I would fumble for a moment before talking about the latest book that I loved. Now, I have a more seasoned approach: I have answers prepared. My go-to book is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It’s a classic, and usually wards off further inquiries. On the off chance my conversation partner has similar tastes, I already know I have a friend. It’s a win-win, as far as I’m concerned.

The truth, however, is not that simple. Don’t get me wrong, Jane Eyre has my whole heart. It’s a story that has seen me through good times and bad, whose words simultaneously provide comfort and inspire wonder. I know it like a familiar landscape, all the fonder for the number of times my eyes have run over it. I know how it begins, the places to anticipate pain or happiness with the steadiness of knowing where the story will take me.

Just another Womanic Monday

It’s International Women’s Month/Day time and you’ll note the news cycle starting to reflect this. It always seems odd to me that we pigeon-hole appreciation of things like Black history or the rights and humanity of women to months, much less single days. But it’s always a good reminder to those of us in positions of ultimate privilege what others go through around us all the time. This year, I just want to reaffirm for my trans-women friends that I consider you part of this ongoing history and its struggles as well. Fight the good fight, all my female-identifying droogs.

Friday news haul

Pictured Above: Kindling used for burning children’s books MWUHAHAHA! Our liberal agenda advances yet another step toward aborting babies with confiscated guns and imprisoning all straight white people! NOTHING CAN STOP US NOW!

Uncle Sam-I-Am: racism apologists push Dr. Seuss to number one on the American charts

American conservatives scramble to get copies of Dr. Seuss books they never even heard of before they were “cancelled”, dagnabbit. (We did have Mulberry Street here in the house, but the others would only appear in hardcore Seuss-addict libraries, I think.)

Meanwhile, in Realityville (aka, the rest of the world that isn’t Jesusland), the Guardian looks at what the real legacy of the Seuss family is…aaaaand the Washington Post has this to say about the Fox news coverage of this nonsense.

There’s a great bit from comedian John Mulaney in which he talks about a time when he was writing jokes for an award show. His initial script included a term in reference to people with dwarfism that is seen as derogatory. This word, Mulaney says he was told, is “as bad as the n-word.”

Mulaney rejects that comparison. After all, they weren’t even using the n-word — instead just referring to it as “the n-word.”

“If you’re comparing the badness of two words and you won’t even say one of them?” Mulaney continues. “That’s the worse word.”

It’s a fair point. A good tell for the extent to which someone views something as problematic or insensitive is whether they will actually use it.

And that brings us to Fox News.

Checking into the relationship between Canada Reads and Indigo: nothing to see here

I’ve noticed over the last couple weeks a few booksellers, writers, and books-adjacent folk marveling at all the publicity Indigo is getting through Canada Reads while lamenting the absence of the independent bookstores. People were wondering whether Indigo was officially “sponsoring” the event. That got me wondering what the optics, never mind the ethics, of that even are, given that CBC is supposed to be our national public broadcaster. So I wrote to CBCBooks and asked. An executive producer got back to me right away with a very friendly and concise update.

Short answer: no, Indigo is NOT officially sponsoring Canada Reads. But they have in in the past, as has Kobo. Further, a cursory search of the CBC Books coverage of Canada Reads turns up no links to Indigo pages or mention of the retail giant. All checks out, which is a good thing, in my opinion.

But, while I have no idea what the rules around this are, given their status as a public broadcaster, I do see the practicality of having major retailers with massive infrastructure on board for a national reading program. That said, much like everything else Indigo has done to books in Canada in the last 20+ years, it’s not great for independent bookstores to be left out in the cold for what is basically a yearly cash grab. (For foreign readers: Indigo is a like our Barnes & Noble: a massive shade tree planted in a bed with sun-loving flowers.)

Plus, what does it say to our reading public about our priorities around the consumption of literature when we try to unite them around a single title, then send them in cars to big box stores when they could walk on foot to a small shop down the way — one that is presumably breathing actual life into their neighbourhood? What are your thoughts?

Thanks to CBC for getting back to me so quickly and frankly. The bulk of the message is quoted below::

There is no formal relationship between Canada Reads and Indigo. They are not an official sponsor. 

Before the public announcement, we share the Canada Reads titles under embargo with retailers large and small and other associations like CELA and NNELS to help them prepare for the demand for the books. We offer use of promotional elements by request, for example bookstores can request physical posters be sent to them or they can download and print their own. Indigo is included in these offers alongside everyone else.

When retailers approach us with ideas to promote Canada Reads, we work in a non-exclusive way. The only time we have had exclusivity with any elements is when we have a show sponsor TV and digital elements. The radio broadcast is never part of any sponsorship agreement. Indigo was a sponsor in the past, as was Kobo. 

An example of a retailer request would be last year’s Apple Books feature, where they came to us and asked for photos and quotes from each panellist, or this year’s Indigo event with the panellists and authors.

Frankenstein’s Monster, 2.0

The BBC asks what the 21st Century’s Frankenstein’s monster will be, mostly around the influx of AI novels out there. AI? Dudes, Frankie’s M-Dawg is already here: it’s called “The Internet”. My bet is AI are going to be like everyone else: self-professed decent people who behave monstrously once they have the Internet between them and their deeds. The medium is the message, etc.

I can just picture it: the crowning achievement of all sciences coming together: creation of consciousness from nothing, a mind separate from flesh, the pureness of thought laid bare to examine every 1 and 0. Then they let it learn from the Internet, the greatest repository of human knowledge ever assembled, and six seconds later it’s in an argument on Reddit calling someone a cuck and posting laments about why chicks don’t dig nice guys without bodies.

tl;dr? We ruin everything in advance of it even happening.

Artificial intelligence always seems to be about 30 years away: for decades, futurists and scientists have been predicting within a generation the development of human-like intelligence in machines. Given that even self-driving cars can’t yet look after themselves, it doesn’t seem as though we need to worry about being ruled by sentient machines for a while yet. In fact, the only place where man-made humans have thrived is in the world of fiction.

Two hundred years ago, 20-year-old Mary Shelley won a bet with her future husband Percy Shelley and his friend Lord Byron to write a horror story: she created Frankenstein, the story of a Genevan scientist who created artificial life – and regretted it for the rest of his days. Shelley created more than she knew: her story is not just considered to be the first science-fiction novel, but has spawned an army of monstrous descendants.

What is it that continues to draw writers, particularly those who don’t usually write science fiction, to create artificial humans? How do writers use these characters to tell us about ourselves? What does the 21st-Century Frankenstein’s monster look like?