Great Books

The beginning to this line of thinking starts off in the murky past and bubbles to the surface every once in a while. The latest bubble to surface was after reading David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky,” read only by the intersection of people who enjoy David Foster Wallace’s essays and Dostoevsky, ie: me. While the essay is largely a rant about the insistence of ripping Dostoevsky’s novels out of their place and time and context to “analyze” them properly, I was struck by a part of the argument which shined light on the instinctual fear and trembling when faced with a book emblazoned with the horrible moniker CLASSIC.

CLASSIC is novel death: if the novel a classic, it sits on a shelf in pristine condition, unopened, unloved, and dusty until the end of time. CLASSIC means boring. CLASSIC means slow and ponderous and dull. Never mind that without Crime and Punishment no CSI would run in a thousand time slots across cable a night, or that the book is the original Crime and Procedural Drama; never mind that Crime and Punishment is eminently readable and enjoyable and Dostoevsky is an excellent and fast read; it is *CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and thus it is DEAD ON ARRIVAL.

I blame the teaching method of the novel in high school settings. A CLASSIC novel is “good for you” the same way lima beans are theoretically good for you (I disbelieve this notion). The CLASSIC is foisted upon the unsuspecting the student. “We are READING the NOVEL,” the teacher says. “There will be… A TEST.” The student muddles through the difficult and impenetrable text as if heading through a dense jungle with a dull knife with nothing more than double-spaced typed essays and exams to discover on the other side. Worse, the exam is about themes, themes which may not even be there, themes about stuff, themes themes themes. Themes completely divorced from the time period and events the author experienced. Read the book, do the essays, choke down the lima beans, cough up the words, extract no joy from the novel or the reading experience. Classic novels are not about literature as joy or discovery or experience or history — Classic novels are about WORK and ANALYSIS. Figure it out or fail the class! Must! Read! Book!

No wonder adults take pains to avoid the classic works. Nevermind that classic books are CLASSIC because they are the froth on the pond scum of the book market. These are the books who survive into multiple reprintings through popularity and name recognition. Nevermind that some very popular favorite books today will one day be considered classics and foisted upon unsuspecting high school students to “analyze” with sad little three page, double-spaced essays and no mention of our history. (Cormac McCarthy’s books anyone?) Nevermind that many of these CLASSIC novels were once bestselling mass market genre novels themselves. They are CLASSIC, and thus, they are toxic.

The hold on the imagination is difficult to break. The tensing up, the feeling of dread in the pit of the stomach, the worry about passing the class, the weird nightmares about final exams. My god, will this book be on the final exam? “What if I don’t like it?” you ask yourself. “Am I allowed to put it down? It’s a CLASSIC novel!” You bought it from Barnes and Noble. You’re stuck reading this thing. It’s supposed to be good! “What if I cannot flee?” you think. AIIIIEEEEE! The screams in the darkness! It’s a downward spiral from the book into depression and alcoholism and drugs and prostitution and appearing in a Darren Aronofsky movie and death because you picked up **Hemingway! The End! The End! The End!

I contend it’s all a bunch of crap. We teach the arts poorly in our schools and the novel worst of all. The novel is important and I rail against the insistence on draining the love from the experience. Read the books outside a classroom setting. Think of them as well-written genre novels. Put down the ones that don’t personally work and move on. Treat them like a paperback fantasy novel. I read Dostoevsky outside the context of the classroom. And Joyce. And Shakespeare. And F Scott Fitzgerald. And the poetry of D.H. Lawrence. And a dozen other classic works. I will argue that Gatsby has magnificent set pieces but no plot — and would fail a class, most certainly. But who cares? Read them! Read a book!

(Full disclosure: I refused to take literature classes in college after being branded ‘too stupid’ to take an AP English class in high school. Too stupid translates into ‘having my own opinions on books.’ Per my High School English teacher, I can neither read nor write in any language and I am too stupid to appreciate Shakespeare for what it is — sex romps and overwrought historical melodramas. Damn my insistence on enjoying a genre novel for what it is. And my neverending hatred for Old Man and the Sea.)


* I have read C&P, despite being told I am too dumb to read C&P. It always appears on my top 5 favorite books list.

** This is what happens when you read Hemingway, by the way. Medical fact.

Maryland Ren Fest, Tom Stoppard and SPX

Maryland Ren Fest: We took Katie for the first time since she was very small, and she loved it. She got to run around in a princess dress, get her face painted, get her hair braided, ride a pony, play in bubbles, and eat deep fried macaroni n’ cheese on a stick. I finally bought the boots I had been eying for five years. Unfortunately, it started to rain on us around 4 and it was not the sort of rain you can just wait out. We went back to my parent’s house and then we left Katie to spend the night.

Tom Stoppard: Once home, we watched a little Tivo and then watched the 1990 production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosenkrantz and Guildestern are Dead. I had forgotten how wonderful the dialogue is, how hot a young Gary Oldman was, and how much I enjoyed the artistic structure of the play. Unfortunately, I was falling asleep at the end but I still need to own a copy on DVD.

SPX: … and I went to SPX in the afternoon! I nearly exploded in the squee of happiness. I also have far less money but I have far more comic books. I cruised all the tables leaving behind a little trail of butterflies and rainbows in the air wherever I went. I did notice that, since the last time I went to SPX, the quality of the mid-tier comics has really picked up. Also, last time I went the porn – comics ratio was fairly high but this time actual comics outweighed the porn about 20:1. I still don’t have any interest in hand-drawn super-artsy books on xeroxes and stapled together. I like my books to be books and I’m enough of a snob that I do put a huge amount on production values. I also refused to buy anything I could get off the web trivially or pick up in a Barnes and Noble. I must support my favorite artists who are awesome! I ended up with a huge haul:

Never Learn Anything from History by Kate Beaton with a little drawn FAT PONY in the front cover;

Beards of our Forefarthers, Clever Tricks to Stave Off Death and the Annotated Wondermark, all Wondermark collections by David Malki!

To Afghanistan and Back by Ted Rall who drew a whole little Osama bin Laden for me on the front page;

Dignifying Science and Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards by Jim Ottaviani. He was a little taken back by someone showing insane enthusiasm over his science comics but Two-Fisted Science was one of the best collections on 20th century science I had ever read. I was being evangelizing it to the Unsuspecting around me. He threw in a copy of Charles R. Knight: Autobiography of an Artist.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis for Katie Rose. The production value on this book is spectacular and the whole team did a full color picture for Katie on the frontspiece.

From Top Shelf Books, a copy of the Surrogates (Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele) and VEEPS: Profiles in Insignificance by Bill Kelter and Wane Shellabarger. How was I supposed to pass up a book on Vice Presidents? You tell me that because I could not. I was beholden.

Sadly, all the books for Rice Boy were gone by midway through yesterday. But woo! Comics!

Now I must disappear to read.

S7S Review — By Katie Rose!

Yesterday, Katie stole my brand new copy of Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies and flipped through it three times!  She was very interested in the pictures.

She was very happy to see the game has:

– Princesses

– Knights

– Skeletons

– Pirates! Especially pirates.

She was very concerned the game did not have:

– Goblins

She was quite adamant that the game would only work with goblins.  Other than that, she declared it “interesting” and then headed off to play with other things.

Some Kindle Thoughts

Eric is trying to persuade me that the Amazon Kindle is not the end of the Codex as we know it or the end of human civilization.  He bought me a book to read, a collection of highly goofy essays called “Things I Learned from Women who Dumped Me,” and conned me into reading it.  I’m 70% done with the book, but I figured I could post a little commentary now.

– Reading off the Kindle does not give me headaches.  If I try to read a long piece on a computer screen, I get throbbing headaches, but I did not have this issue with the Kindle.

– It is light and easy to hold and easy to flip pages.  Eventually hitting the next page button doesn’t feel any different than turning a page.

– The raft of buttons at the bottom means I can prop it up on my chest and see it clearly.  This is, oddly, a major plus.

– Clicking it on and being at the page I left off is really nice — no lost bookmarks or fumbling around with pages or having to skim pages to figure out where I left off.

– The controls aren’t bad.  Takes a bit to get used to it, but not bad.

– Nice and light.  Weighs much less than a paperback.

However, not knowing what page I am on in relation to the book is a bit weird.  I finally realized the bottom bar is the chapter marks.  I also find going to the Table of Contents to be really kludgy.

My verdict on it is that reading a book off the Kindle feels very much like listening to an audio book off Audible, except reading it instead of listening to it.  It will not work for dense histories or reference books or art books or anything that really requires tons of focus.  It’s pretty much great for the newest Christopher Moore novel or an Elmore Leonard novel or a history book by Sarah Vowell but I shy away from anything serious, dense, or requiring an index or lists of citations.

In my mind, I’d treat the Kindle more like an Audible subscription.  These are books you don’t really need to keep but they’re nice to sort of breeze through with 1/2 of the attention and half the brain.  It’s great for read once, toss away paperbacks.  I like it in an it’s okay to read outside sort of thing, but it’s not going to be parting me from my books or book collections any time soon.

Watchmen

I have always liked the Watchmen graphic novel, although I have to confess that of all of Alan Moore’s work, From Hell was always my favorite. Or maybe the Green Lantern short story, “Mogo Does Not Socialize.”

Watchmen is essentially unfilmable in its complete form unless it has a 13-part HBO mini-series. It has too much stuff. And I don’t mean just the pirate story that was left on the cutting room floor: extended character backgrounds, extended backgrounds of characters within characters, sub-characters with full backgrounds, side stories, everything that makes Watchmen.

Zach Snyder did, what I felt, was the best possible job he could have with the material in two and a half hours — and it is a full two and a half hours. He stripped Watchmen down to the main story, he gave as much background as he could, and he filmed the essential panels. Jackie Earle Haley is awesome as Rorschach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a great Comedian. The opening credit sequence does a great job of summing up huge swaths of the graphic novel. It is a distilled Watchmen. It is a more faithful adaptation than his adaptation of the 300 simply because he didn’t need to pad out the material with extra story. It preserved dialogue. It even preserved the pacing and scene transitions.

And being a big comic nerd I am, I greatly enjoyed the very faithful adaptation, and I understand there is only so much Watchmen one can cram into the two and a half hour time frame. I will buy the three and a half hour version with all the cut parts put back in and the reams of director’s commentary.

General Life Update

1. On the LJ Kerfluffle:

Nothing on the net lasts forever. We’re often lucky if it lasts a handful of years. Livejournal has been in slow decline for years now, ever since it was bought by Six Apart. It will eventually be gone and there are newer, sexier services on the block called things like “Facebook.” Sadly, it does three things very well which I would prefer not to lose:

1. Aggregated posts as “Friends Lists”
2. A global identity
3. Threaded comments

If WordPress could do #1 and #3 with even a passing attempt at well without having to install complicated plug-ins, then it would have something and no one would need Livejournal anymore. But I haven’t found anything satisfactory in the friend’s list department yet. Once I do, I will try it out, but it needs more searching.

Meanwhile, I believe LJ will go through a very slow decline with increasing database issues, bugs, and users fleeing to better supported services until, much like GreatestJournal, the lights will simply go out one day, or it will limp along like an Internet Zombie.

2. On crochet:

I have made a granny square! And I am making something… round! It started off as learning to read instructions for a round granny thing but it has now overgrown and now it is just round. I have yet to make something really worthwhile. However, this crochet thing is naggingly addictive and, sooner or later, I will follow a pattern to completion and make something. I have stopped holding the yarn in an overly tight death grip, which has helped progress immensely.

3. On books:

Selected Crafty TV Writing as the winner of the pile o’ books sweepstakes.

4. On the Inauguration:

Bizarrely, I have MLK Day as a floating holiday! And it will float one day forward! Because I am not going anywhere near Silver Spring right on top of the Red Line Metro on the 19th or 20th. While I am a Great Fan of the Great Hawaiian Shark God, I don’t want to be anywhere near DC. I’m going to watch it 20 miles away from the comfort of my HDTV.

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Book Decisions / Concert DVDs

I am going to finish my current book, Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue – English and How It Got That Way” rather quickly because he is neither a difficult nor slow read, although it’s interesting because it is a survey of linguistics right before English + the Internets = Mayhem.

I have two books up on my docket next and I’m not too sure which one to attack.  I am thrashing between:

– Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland, edited by W.B. Yeats (the original awesome)

– Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein

I am going to read them both. I am just undecided on which one.

I have for the time being given up on the Great Shark God’s Audacity of Hope with a mild pang of embarrassment.  It is not because I do not hang on everything the Great Shark God says, I ran headfirst into his very lengthy “Faith” chapter and I’ve reached a point where unless your name is “Jefferson, T.” or “Adams, J.” I am not terrifically interested in yet another take on Christianity and the Constitution.  I will likely just skip the chapter to finish the book.

On a completely different topic, we have discovered concert DVDs in the new 5.1 surround sound audio rig in the living room and it is heavenly.  We are watching the Police Reunion Tour concert right now and the extra money blown on the upgraded speakers and the big subwoofer is paying off handsomely.  I see a future of buying concert DVDs in the future.