Reading: you’re doing it all wrong

Nothing better than articles that come along to tell you how those things you enjoy an do daily aren’t being done well-enough. Read slower, read faster, read more, read less. How about this? Go buy some books until the stack starts to teeter and when you get through those, think of which ones you liked best then go find others like to replenish your Wobbly Jenga Tower of Books. You can always tell its a slow news day when someone comes up with a “how-to-better” article for something everyone visiting a site dedicated to books is already doing. Like Cosmo and sex tips that always end up sticking-your-pinky-up-someone’s-ass, or Guns and Ammo and shooting-your-child-in-the-face-while-cleaning-your-supposedly-unloaded-gun.

These days, time is certainly not of the essence and, like most of us, I find myself with more than enough hours in each day. But how to make two pristine, never even been opened books last until the shackles are loosened, the doors of bookstore are left unlocked and the mask washed and put away until the next pandemic? Impossible I grant you.

But there is a way to extend the reading of a book. I will learn from that all-the-rage slow-cooking method and attempt to apply it to reading. This way perhaps I can make these long anticipated novels last far, far longer than usual.

What’s behind the nuttery of book-banning?

What makes a frothing nutbar get up at a school board meeting and start screaming about protecting the children? I mean, besides low intelligence and blind adherence to a dying ideology? Oh, according to this little article, that’s about it. Wouldn’t mind a more in depth look at this psychology/sociology behind this. It can’t just be the mind-control device embedded in each MAGA hat.

There is no logic or reason motivating these book-banning parents. Their quest for “inappropriate books” to censor stems from the fears shared by parents everywhere: the fear of losing control over one’s children. Not being able to supervise their children’s reading translates to the parent’s realization that their children may read something the parent never wants their child exposed to. The fear and anxiety of some parents are clear: they never want their child to adopt any alternative lifestyle or stray from the strict societal norms.

Laser gun post chock full of nerd pews

by Paul Vermeersh

It’s a glorious time to be a nerd (fewer gut punches and wedgies, in my experience) and I’ve recently re-embraced my dweebheritage by diving fully back in where I left off in my late teens: Dungeons and Dragons, scifi novels, and video games. If we could only get the more toxic end of the fanbase to STFU, things would be a lot nicer. I’m always amazed that people who were once marginalized (albeit mildly by comparison) are so interested in passing that on to others. Like those dudes who get knocked around by their moms or dads and then grow up to hand it out to their own kids. Bizarre. But perhaps, I thought, besides fighting the negative, we need nerds like me to speak up more about the positive . So I give to you some positive snapshots from my recent nerdlife:

Last night, for instance, just as I was completing the main questline Fallout 76 (my fourth run at the franchise), I wondered, what draws me to this sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia over say, something more hopeful? Well, the internet is always there with an answer (note: this is a libertarian site not known for its unbiased reporting, but I stumbled across this article that I at least enjoyed a bit of, so decide going in whether you want to hold your nose and read).

Dungeons and Dragons has gone to a good place in trying to cut the white/large boobs in chain mail bikinis/hetero bias/cultural insensitivity over the years, and seem to still be learning how to make the game even more inclusive. When my group of middle-aged, forward-thinking folk, finished our run throughThe Curse of Strahd last fall (a very well designed adventure) we kept wincing at the depictions of the Roma-like Vistani (don’t even get me started on Tomb of Annihilation). But that’s all being changed. Bravo, you glorious geeks.

Of course, in terms of misogyny and sexism, scifi still has a lot of catching up to do (cf, any Conan The Barbarian cover from the 70s/80s, any Piers Anthony novel of the same vintage, etc etc et al etc.). I’ve been rereading classics from my youth: Solaris, Dune, etc (and Foundation will be next), and let me tell you, some of it hasn’t aged well. But at least people are starting to ask what about body-positivity in the genre?

See, everyone? It’s not that hard to admit you were wrong and make changes. Evolution does it without conscious effort, this learning from mistakes, but culture needs intention. Keep growing, you crazy dorks!

Evaristo tears publishing a new hole

Gosh, I like her more and more each day and I have yet to read a book by her. Here she lays out some plain and obvious truths that publishing doesn’t want to hear.

Evaristo, who won the Booker last year for Girl, Woman, Other, writes in the new report of her own experiences when her 2013 novel Mr Loverman “was negatively considered by some in the industry as triple niche” because its protagonist is an older, gay, black man.

“What were they saying? That whiteness reigns supreme, heteronormativity is acceptable and old people be gone from the pages of our books because you are of little importance?” asked Evaristo. “The truth is that good literature about anything can be enjoyed by all kinds of people. Literature transcends all perceived differences and barriers. It’s partly the point of it.”

It is frustrating, Evaristo writes, to learn that “the publishing industry is still run by the predominantly white, middle-class demographic of years ago, and that the perceived target reader is a middle-aged, middle-class white woman, who apparently does not have the imagination to want to engage with writings by people of colour, which is plainly untrue”.


Tuesday news

Busy day here, so perhaps not so many posts. We’ll see how it turns out.

More calls to hold off on your Coronavirus writings

Sometimes I see a word or phrase or image appear in the news and I can virtually hear the poets and like-minded novelists running to their pretentious wee notebooks to scribble down ideas. In my Intro Poetry class I refer to it as the urge to write “Capital-I IMPORTANT” things. There’s a special stink to it when done poorly, which is about 99% of the time. “Social Distance: A Crown of Sonnets” (each volta is given an extra enjambment of two lines as a visual metaphor for the empty space between us), “Contact Tracing” (about crossing off names of dead friends in an address book), “Double Bubble” (in which the nostalgia for penny gum and Pud comics is juxtaposed against choosing which friends to see after a lack of human contact through enforced self-isolation), etc. You can count down the days (six months to one year, approx) to the time all the literary print journals will start being choked with Coronavirus poems and stories like a backyard full of goutweed (turnaround is about 2 weeks for online ones… go check). Anyway, maybe you should take your time, is what this dude is saying.

Now I’d be the last person to knock writers who have the good sense and the good luck to get paid for their work. So on one hand, I say bravo to all the writers with freshly inked contracts for pandemic books. On the other hand, I would like to make a simple plea, especially to the writers of poetry and fiction: don’t rush, take your time, let the current horrors seep in deep before you try to make art out of this nightmare we’re all living through. For inspiration, novelists and poets and short story writers should look at the examples set by two writers, one from the 18th century, the other working today.

Video-meeting bookshelf background consultant

My dream job. You want your Zoom colleagues to think you’re smart? You want them to think you’re disaffected and nihilistic? You want them to think you’re spiritual, but not like a dumb crystal-clutcher? Hire me. We’ll sit down, discuss your needs, and I’ll provide you with two shelves of books to buy, along with a Coles’ Notes-like synopsis of each book in your new Lie-brary, in case anyone calls you out on it? And I’ll even suggest how to arrange them so they don’t look too staged (the secret is ADHD-induced disorder). “Oh, this little old, well-thumbed copy of Cavafy? Yes, yes, just read it again yesterday out on the deck. Well, first thing you have to know about this is something about the author and the time in which he lived…”

In early April, just a few weeks after non-essential businesses in Massachusetts were shut down due to COVID-19, the staff at the Brattle Book Shop noticed that some prominent personalities conducting video interviews from home were seated in front of fairly lackluster bookshelves.

So staffers at the legendary 185-year-old antiquarian bookseller in the heart of downtown Boston offered to help them out.

In an April 7 Twitter post, they offered their expertise to prospective customers seeking a more sophisticated look — or at least a tidier one, free of worn copies of old paperbacks. The local media took note of the tweet and soon the phone started ringing.

Shut up, Monday; you’re an idiot

Here in Newfoundland, on the edge of the world, where colonialism EXTERMINATED an entire people (the original inhabitants of this island known as the Beothuk), we have JUST LAST WEEK changed the name of our June holiday from “Discovery Day” to… well… “June Holiday” (for now? I think it should be renamed for the people displaced and murdered in the name of British colonialism). Overdue, but finally done. Of course, both the right wing and the IQ-Under-90 set are losing their collective minds over this, but that only makes the June Holiday mean more to me. Long live June.