Sleight of hand and misdirection

May 21, 2008

I keep meaning to write something substantive here, but I’ve been distracted by the conversation going on over at Mike’s academic blog, Ad Nauseam, specifically on the post “Finding the countercanon.” Originally, Mike posed his problem and request this way:

Back to my problem: as a product of my time and place I know the canon as it is espoused by my university, and I know the canon as it is espoused by my authors. (Woolf and Rushdie are graciously forthright about the books they think people should be reading.) But I don’t know, and I don’t know how to know, the canons that boom outside the walls of my little University, the list of 100 Essential Books They Won’t Teach You In College.

But then in the comments, other interesting questions related to his desire to learn about non-English-department-approved literature comes up:

So few of the students who go through intro lit classes will pick up a book after they graduate. Lit profs have only the 14 or 15 weeks it takes to satisfy a gen ed requirement to give students a map of the literary library, so that students who don’t have your natural drive for reading will at least get a sense of what’s out there, and feel that at least one author connected with them and represents something like their inner & outer lives.

This is part of why my own canoniphilia distresses me: I’m already at a demographic remove from the great majority of American students; if my syllabi are demographically identical, then I have that much less of a chance of breaking through to the infrequent or non-reader.

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Online Dating for Geeks – Profiles

May 18, 2008

Say you’re a geeky guy. Maybe you don’t really tend to go out dancing or clubbing under your own volition. Maybe you communicate more clearly by typing than speaking. Maybe you’re in a male-dominated field, or nobody you work with shares your unique, thoughtful way of looking at the world. Maybe you’ve always dated friends and are finding it harder to meet people post-college.

Maybe online dating would help you out!

First of all, a caveat. The mere fact that I have a couple of years of experience with internet dating in some sense indicates that I haven’t been succeeding with it, since I’m mostly interested in finding someone compatible and totally awesome who finds me compatible and totally awesome and getting the heck off the internet. (I was in a relationship for a while with someone I met online, but it didn’t work out.) So take my advice with a grain of salt.

Said grain taken, online dating has a lot going for it. However, you’ve got a lot of competition, because there are a lot of nerdy girls online, but way more nerdy guys. You’ve got to make yourself stand out.

This post is about the profile. Read the rest of this entry »

Geek Buffet Not One of World’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs

March 13, 2008

Sadly, we didn’t make the cut. Nor did any of the blogs our array of authors contribute to or edit. We didn’t get a Bloggie either — heck, we weren’t even nominated! Are we doing something wrong, internet? Apparently our “master plan” to build one of the world’s most powerful blogs is going nowhere, fast.

Actually, we don’t have a “master plan.” (Breathe your sigh of relief here.) Not having said plan makes it that much easier to accept the rejection — or charitably, ignorance — of the real movers and shakers, I suppose. Schadenfreude at the collective weakness of the majority of blogs I read doesn’t hurt either.

I was put in the position last week of having to explain what separated a blog from a website, and further, why a freshly minted travel community should consider having its own regular blog entries rather than relying solely on user-produced content. I gave the example of a blog I frequent — a company which makes money by facilitating budget-friendly hotel bookings for places they’ve culled and authentically recommend. While I’m generally not in the market for their services, I continue to read their daily updates. The benefit to them: regular traffic to their site, their address at the forefront of my brain should I need a cheap hotel, potential commission; the benefit to me: interesting, fresh content, a useful service (booking ease, reliability of product) when I’m in the market. Were there no blog, I would have visited their page once and forgotten the address long ago. Besides providing me with interesting news, insights and ideas, the blog produces a positive returns for the business straightforwardly and inexpensively. Seems like a no-brainer.

They followed up with a more difficult question I’m still deconstructing: would you still be reading that blog if you didn’t blog on that topic?
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Does the NYTimes hate Russia?

October 21, 2007

I criticize Russia as much as the next person (or maybe more so, since I’ve lived with more crazy old Russian women than you can shake a stick at), but the NYTimes is really invective today.

First, Clifford J. Levy writes an article about Russian computer crime that contains the following statements:

Russia has become a leading source of Internet ills, home to legions of high-tech rogues who operate with seeming impunity from the anonymous living rooms of Novosibirsk or the shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg. . . .

Yes, I’ve been in those “shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg.” They’re filled with sweaty, pube-mustachioed, foul-mouthed teens playing multi-player games. Computer access is around $1/hour.

. . . the Russian government . . . seems to show little interest in a crackdown, as if officials privately take some pleasure in knowing that their compatriots are tormenting millions of people in the West. . . .

Perhaps they are “privately tak”ing some money from the largest cybercriminals? Maybe it’s not about spite, it’s about profit? Or perhaps it’s because the vast majority of Russian society doesn’t have a computer, credit cards, or use the internet, so cybercrime is relatively intangible. Could it be ignorance on the part of local law enforcement rather than ubiquitous hatred of the West?

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Blogging, Graphomania and the Age of Universal Deafness and Incomprehension

September 26, 2007

On my recent travels, I reread The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, originally published in 1978. That, dear readers, is two years before I was born — which makes his prescience all the more astonishing to me.

Kundera is a Czech-born writer-in-exile, living in France since 1975. The book addresses Communism and sex and lots of other things you can read for yourself in the Amazon reviews. What I found most interesting were his insights on writing, which I believe reflect the blogosphere in a way I don’t think even he could have imagined.

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Death of the Author

August 2, 2007

There are Harry Potter spoilers in this post AFTER the break.

Amazingly enough, as a children’s literacy professional, I am on several email discussion lists about (wait for it) children’s literature. Shocking, I know.

So, just in case you live in a cave, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out on July 21st. Hopefully you won’t be surprised to hear that most discussion lately on these lists has revolved around the adventures of some teenage wizards and final showdown with big bad Lord Voldemort.

But here’s what’s gotten everyone’s panties in a twist–the fact that J. K. Rowling has the GALL AND NERVE to go on live television and in live chat sessions with fans and give them information about the lives of her characters that didn’t make it into the epilogue.

Now, I’m no literary theorist. But, apparently, there’s a school of thought by one of the big philosopher names I’ve never read nor studied, about the Death of the Author. And that’s what these people are arguing for. The book is the only evidence we get of the story– everything beyond what is on the page is up to the reader. If she hasn’t published it, it doesn’t count. And therefore all of her interviews, answering fan’s questions, are narcissim and unfairly intrusive on the reader’s experience.

Excuse me?!

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The Lost Art of Correspondence

July 29, 2007

Kidsilkhaze makes the point that reading isn’t as dead as everyone claims it to be. But what about good, old-fashioned letter writing? Putting pen to paper and pouring out heart and soul? Waiting days or weeks for missives to arrive and be returned?

Hillary's lettersI have to admit that I’m a sucker for letters and therefore keep a constant stock of correspondence materials at the ready. I also have special pens for letters, though I’ve never crossed the line to wax seals for the envelopes. (The stickers my fellow bloggers send me for my birthday colorfully serve that purpose, so keep ’em coming, friends.) I relish birthdays as an excuse to send cards (even belatedly) via post. Until last year, I had been faithful in mailing Christmas letters to friends and family in my brief stays at home.

So if reading is more alive and well than we think, is postal correspondence healthier than I imagine? Or am I not alone in my fear that email and instant communication have usurped the handwritten missive?

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Participation Points

June 19, 2007

It occurs to me that what I often do here, writing about my thoughts as inspired by reading something in a book (a la the Animals in Translation series of posts), is pretty much what my tutorial professor back in college claimed he was trying to get me to do when he gave our class what I still consider to be one of the most ineffective assignments I ever did in my entire four years of (predominantly quite satisfactory) undergraduate classes.

What he wanted us to do was a reading journal, written as we were reading through our assigned book, The Fountainhead. (The class was on Frank Lloyd Wright. The main character of the book is purportedly based on him, and we had to read something of length to “test” our academic skills in what amounted to a prep class.) We were given no real guidelines about how to keep this journal. I even remember asking if there was a length requirement, or a suggested number of entries, and being told no, we should just write when we were inspired to do so. So I did.

One thing you must understand about me is that I read very quickly when I’m reading fiction, and tend to become absorbed enough in the story that I literally do not see chapter breaks at all. (That whole “I’ll just read to the end of this chapter” self-deal thing is kind of pointless as a result, alas.) I really had to make myself think about it consciously in order to stop reading and write something down more than once every 100 pages or so. I was quite pleased with myself when I finished the assignment and had eight pages, front and back, of journal entries.

The person who turned in her journal just before me had 60.

I received a poor grade.

I was not pleased.

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