Archive for February, 2009

All Hands On Ship! Philosophy’s Been Hit!

February 26, 2009

Apparently the Humanities are under siege and we are supposed to care.  This is something that came up often in my MA classes. The university I went to had a new president who was less than enthusiastic about the role the humanities took and the amount of money it swallowed up. Though he was also more than willing to rake in the cash the composition requirements pulled in, which was a ton, as they were the largest money makers in the course catalog.

But I would often hear professors, especially the young ones who were more vocal, express their dismay about how the president looked down his nose at the humanities and how the university was just wanting to churn out a workforce for the local area that were similar to drone bees in a hive than to human beings. Many of the things cited in the article, such as money and readily available career options, were cited as reasons the humanities were somewhat less important than hard science and medical degrees while the humanities shot back that they were a core component of basic competancy and ethical deliberation for the other disciplines.

I sided more with the president than with the professors teaching my courses.  And I side more with whoever the Times article likely wasn’t targeted at.

English, foreign language, philosphy, etc. professors may not like to admit it but pondering the meaning of life or reading Jane Austen isn’t really a necessary component of day to day living. And their courses are not required to form anyone’s ethical grounds nor are they even needed for the survival of the arts they criticize. In short, they aren’t the most necessary of courses.

This isn’t to say they aren’t enjoyable. Nor that they don’t lead to a more enriched life experience. But they also don’t necessarily help pay the bills. Or at least they don’t help as much as, say, a nursing degree and I can always read Sartre in my spare time.

Besides, maybe it’s a good thing that the humanities might contract a bit. One of the most often mentioned gripes that I heard in my time milling around professors was the pace now required in churning out articles for publication. It had literally become a grind where it was a constant battle that was difficult to win when a full slate of classes was piled on top of it. With the humanities dialing back a bit, perhaps the competition will lessen and more time will be given to fewer papers.

Regardless of what happens, I’m really not overly concerned about the humanities. They’ve survived for this long, they’ll still be there tomorrow. They might just find themselves back where the article postulates: in the hands of people who can afford it.

The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac

February 25, 2009

The other day I finally got around to reading The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac (btw, I really don’t like the picture of Kerouac on the Wiki Page).  Kerouac was possibly the first literary figure that I actually fully enjoyed and can call my own. I finally latched on to him in high school, after searching for what felt like ages but was more like months. Money being a bit hard to come by I was hesitant to just buy a book so instead I tried the school library which was a disappointing failure. It would only be later that I realized that I often spelled his name wrong and likely destroyed my own chances at success becasue of this.

But Kerouac was my first literary love (as Ginsberg was my first poet). I have devoured all of the primary work ages ago. but am just not getting around to a couple of the smaller works (I still don’t have a copies of Satori in Paris, Pic and a few others), The Subterraneans being one of them.

I found my reading engine is still in a the low gears which kept me from really ploughing through it. In the past I would have glided easily from page to page but I seem to have lost that ability over the past five years or so. I guess that’s what too much college and not enough reading does to you. Heh. But it had the same old Kerouac energy and flow. The words melted into eachother like hot glass, its final form being solid and beautiful.

It has its shorcomings, outlined in the Wiki page I linked to at the beginning of this. Kerouac does treat African Americans lightly and his love for Mardou seems to shock and nearly revile him at the beginning as he makes too much of her dark skin.

While not the best of Kerouac’s work it’s still not a bad little read. If you’ve already hit the biggies, it’s certainly not a bad read  as an extension of his other work.  Try to pick it up on the cheap, though, from a used bookstore or online. Wouldn’t drop the full$12 asking price.

 The Subterraneans at Amazon

head met wall and all steam was lost

February 24, 2009

No update in awhile. Just family stuff cropped up again recently and it’s taking long and longer for me to recover and my writing in general has suffered. Editing has fell by the way side, new writing has ground to a halt and my blogging has become scarce.  I’m working on putting up some more links and what not but I’m woefully short on finding things to say about my own work beyond that I’m struggling again.

What makes it worse is that the struggling becomes self-perpetuating. The less I write the harder it is to get started again so I continue to not really sit down and write. Part of the reason for trying to sit down and work on this blog every day was to help nip that in the butt. Figuring that any writing would be good writing (well, good for me anyway), this was sort of my failsafe but I’ve even let this fall off at times.

But I’m trying to get back on the horse.

Innovation brees ‘What are you thinking?’ moments and the Death of the Novel (again)

February 19, 2009

MSNBC has an interview up with Helen Popkin interviewing a bookloving Kindle user. I want to preface all that I am about to say with the fact that I have no problem with EBook or any sort of digital reading material.  If my abilities with HTML, flash, etc. were worth a damn, I’d be exploring that media a helluva lot more myself. It’s not so I just write normal every day stuff that is basically just words on a page. But I don’t have a problem with it.

What I have a problem with are these specialty readers. The kindle is the most famous, but I think either Sony or Philips has one of their own (I forget which but it was advertised as a more “affordable alternative to kindle – $300 instead of $400) and they all seem like vastly underpowered and ill-equipped laptops. Laptops are slightly larger but they are also far far more functional. In the interview the kindle user laments that the screen isn’t in color…well, a laptop usually has a very nice screen.

And if size is very important (though here I am guessing smaller is better), they have been making tablet PCs for years, which you can pick up fairly cheap from places like Tiger Direct or even EBay. Or you can take that $400 you’re throwing down on a kindle and buy one of the very nice convertible laptops on the market (these are laptops which can function as either a traditional laptop or as a tablet).

The kindle seems like one of those things taking advantage of the fact that it seems “new” and looks sharp. Save your money folks. Buy a laptop. It can do a lot of the same stuff. And if you’re having trouble finding a novel, try torrents. If you can get a doc/pdf file of it, there’s a good chance the audio version is up somewhere.

And yet again someone is asking the immortal question: is the novel dead?  I’ve posted my thoughts on this in another blog so I’ll just leave it at the blog and I basically agree.  I think this is a question that’s going to come up more and more, though, so we’ll probably see a bunch of articles about the fate of the written word as technology continues to advance. It’s always good to keep an eye on the frontlines.

Thinking of Going Back

February 13, 2009

I’m thinking of going back to school.

Maybe it’s the eight months of being out of school that have seen the economy crash, cash dwindle and the job market flooded with workers of every stripe, color and experience that has me considering this. Or maybe I really want to go back and pursue either an MFA or a PhD (though not in English Lit), I don’t know.  I do know that I am trying to piece together a paper or two on consumerism, the rise of a disposable society and the affect it has on media (and how media has in turn fed into it).  I also know that reading and writing are really the only two things that I do consistently any more and consistently enjoy.

So I am considering heading back. I am in a relationship with a woman who, as I think I mentioned in a previous blog, is also fresh out of grad school and is looking at MFA programs right now (Creative Writing). We have a five year old (well, she does, but legalities aside it is “we”) and we want to get our life going. So grad school, in any form, also looks sort of foolish and misdirected, at least for me.  But it’s getting to the point where I just don’t know what else to do.

I’m trying to decide, though, if I want to put the time and energy into it. If I want to dedicate the next several years of my living likely living hand to mouth in cramped quarters with my family while not providing much of a life for them. And if the payout down the road will be worth it.

A fair part of my decision likely rests on how well I put these papers together that I’m trying to get off the ground.  They look to be test flights in a way. If I can’t bring myself to do this bit of work on my own now, when for all intents and purposes I don’t have much of anything else to do, then I have to think that pursuing a career in this would be close to insane.

I think I could be good at it. And I think I could get good at the teaching part (especially if it wasn’t comp). But just not sure I’m up for the long haul. As it is, I think my mind is made up that I will not pursue any more degrees in literature. It’s either creative writing or some form of culture studies.  They seem more interesting to me. They seem to be more aligned with my interests.  I have some thinking to do on this. And some work.

2666 by Roberto Bolano

February 12, 2009

After nearly 900 pages I’m a bit wiped out from it. In five sections that Bolano originally asked to be issued as seperate works, believing it was the best way to provide for his family after his death, his estate decided to publish it as Bolano originally intended. And I think the world is the better for it. A long, loose piece with sections that run loosely into eachother before skipping off on their own seperate narratives it is one of the large, sloppy works that at one point in the story Bolano writes that even “clerks don’t bother with any more, preferring the small masterpieces” rather than works where the writer tries something truly difficult and great.

At times it does become a bit tedious. The section dedicated to the killings of women in Santa Teresa account after account of the bodies of women being found is tempting to begin skimming. And, sadly, the final section focusing on the hub around which the majority of the novel rotates, Benno von Archimboli, suffers from similar moments where you just want to skip ahead a few pages to where the novel is moving again.

But in the end it is a daring piece of work. Whether it will hold up over time or be forgotten is anyone’s guess. But Bolano certainly too his shot at a long masterpiece.









2666 by Roberto Bolano

It just doesn’t feel right

February 9, 2009

I’ve been working on my short story turned too damn long project some more today. In a weird way it is frustrating because it is coming pretty easily so far. It’s strange that this would be frustrating but I had expected it to be a much shorter work, something I could turn out in a few days and then move on from but, instead, the thing is just flying along. I’ve broken the 10k word mark with ease and more of the story is unfolding in my head and making sense and all I wanted was some quick little thing I could send off.

What’s also frustratinng is that it feels so mundane.  That’s a bad thing for a writer to say but it’s true. This isn’t to say the story doesn’t seem interesting or the writing sucks. I like the story and I like what I have written so far. But I can tell it’s not great. I don’t see anything in it that really seperates it from the ton of other stuff that I read that I enjoy but then give to the used book store for credit. I love Haruki Murakami and Richard Brautigan and, occasionally, bits of Pynchon,  and Vonnegutt and a slew of others and they all have this quality that you can tell they are doing something remarkable with the page and the word.

Reading over what I am writing, thinking of where it is going, and it just doesn’t have those qualities. It’s unrealistic to expect them. These are truly great writers who are exceptional at their craft.  And I should be happy if I can just get this project finished and find an agent for it. But there is still a hope that I can do something that would make me feel like I belonged with the heroes of my literary world rather than taking up space at the used book store.

Langston Hughes

February 6, 2009

I’ve been meaning to do a blog on Hughes for about a week now but it has always been delayed by something coming up. While limitations on my ime certainly played a role, so did my belief that I wouldn’t have much to say about Langston. This is despite enjoying his poetry and having his “Madam” poems be the focus of my Master’s Project.  The idea of summing up Langston Hughes in a blog post and doing him justice while sparking the interest of others to read his work has seemed as something that is simply out of my league.

So instead of rambling on about his past (and how he was one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaisance), listing his publishings (though The Weary Blues should be required reading for any lover of poetry), his awards (like his 2002 naming as one of the 100 greatest African Americans by Molefi Kete Asante) and those he has influenced (whose list would likely be too great for this blog).  For all of that, and more, I would direct everyone to the links at the bottom of the blog. They are full of all of this information and more, including more links to more work by and about Langston Hughes.

For this blog, I would simply like to say that in a fairly mediocre slash course during my MA days, Langston Hughes was a welcomed subject. His poems are effortlessly recite, their wonderously simple wordings masking the incredible depths of their insight. He wasn’t just an “African American Poet” but a People’sPoet whose topics today can be related to across great swaths of society. So if you get the chance, give him a chance.  

Langston Hughes Wiki Pages pages for Langston Hughes

Poetry Foundation Page for Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes Blog

Reading Rainbow

February 5, 2009

 Flipping through channels today I came across a bit of my childhood. My first reaction was, “Look! It’s Geordi!” (from Star Trek:TNG for you non-geeks out there) but I quickly corrected myself with, “It’s Reading Rainbow!”

I have a feeling that a lot of people around my age who weren’t blessed with cable and who became avid book readers had some experience with this show. Levar Burton was like a non-creepy Mr. Rogers who daily introduced new books and told us stories.  Reading Rainbow was one of the early influences in my life that made reading fun and enjoyable, and which ultimately pushed me along the life path that I am on today.

This isn’t the most well thought out or best written  blog, and it’s not what I intended to write about today (that’ll get saved for tomorrow) but seeing Reading Rainbow this morning made me have to write about it now. If I hadn’t seen this show when I was a child, would I have still become the reader/writer that I am now? Possibly, but possibly not. There is no telling how influential a show like Reading Rainbow can be on the development of a child. Maybe instead of becoming a book geek, I would have taken up physics or astronomy. Or maybe I would have just decided on a life working retail (which still might happen, considering the economy and the incredibly poor employment opportunities in my neck of the woods).

Now I’m just waiting for a rerun of the old Muppets Show to come on next…

Bookstore Review: Encore Books

February 4, 2009

Recently had the opportunity to check out another useed bookstore in Toledo, Ohio. It’s called Encore Books and it’s off Heatherdowns in a little strip mall that is most widely known as the former home of House of Golf.  On the exterior, it’s pretty easy to find and the parking is ample since the strip mall is fairly small  (in other words, there isn’t much else around there that would draw a lot of people).

Upon entering the store you are greeted by a familiar site at used bookstores: piles of books everywhere. Here the problem is compounded a bit by the fact that the space itself isn’t exceptionally large. the combination of a lack of actual space with how space intensive a bookstore is (those things take up an unexpectedly large amount of room very quickly), makes the space allowed for walking seem very very tiny. At the time I was in there with my girlf friend there was just one other couple in the store and we still ran into eachother a few times.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad or uncommon thing. Unless you happen to wander into a used bookstore that is fairly well established within a community, which usually means it does a fair amount of business to have stayed in business longer than five years, I have found most used bookstores to be a bit on the cramped side.

Unfortunately, the tiny space was further hindered by a somewhat haphazard organization. The fiction was in two spots and the floor space was somewhat haphazardly divided up with standing racks and shelves.  Looking at the various racks and stands, I think they were put up from a feeling of necessity – the nature of a used bookstore results in a crapshoot assortment of whatever people bring in. However, some of these might have been better off left in the box rather than forced onto a shelf.

The selection itself was fair. They had a lot of the expected stuff from Grisham to King to Rice, etc.  Oddly enough their scifi/horror racks seemed quite a bit larger than the rest of the genres/literature. And there were very few of the larger format paperbacks that have come to dominate conventional fiction publishing. This is also means that you’re less likely to find that new work of fiction that’s been in paperback for just a few months. You might luck out and find it, but I think it’s unlikely at this store.

It also runs into what has become a pretty common irritant for me: variable pricing. I still don’t understand why all used bookstores, especially if they aren’t dealing in rare/collectible books, don’t move to a set pricing scheme. It makes it easier on the customers and easier on the people who work there.  there’s just no sense in going through and individually pricing a bunch of john grisham paperbacks.

In the end, it’s not a bad little store. If you have the time, and you’re in the area, you may as well check it out and see if you can’t find a deal. However, if you’re looking for something specific and/or new, I think you’d have better luck trying a couple of the other used bookstores in the area.


Encore Books

4400 Heatherdowns Blvd # 5
Toledo, OH 43614
(419) 389-1155