Mid-June links: The Library of America and the book as an object

* John Lanchester writes that he finds it hard to read those gorgeous Library of American volumes.

No such compulsion here! While I understand his feeling, I highlight when the need arises:

That’s one way of ensuring that the books exist to be read, not fetishized. Lanchester says, “A paperback is a paperback; the collected writings of a writer, any writer, have the air of belonging to Culture in the abstract. That’s off-putting.” I agree: responding to the author in the book itself is one way of ameliorating that problem.

Sometimes I write a fair amount, as in Lolita:

Screw resale value. Then again, Amazon knocks about a third off the price, and the Library of America had a fire sale (haha) of Frost, perhaps explaining part of my cavalier attitude.

EDIT 6/18/08: Gabriel Zaid’s So Many Books explains more about books as monuments than I do here.

* Kingsley Amis’ fairly extensive writing about alcohol has now been published in a single volume called Everyday Drinking, as the New York Times reports.

“Serving good drinks,” he wrote, “like producing anything worth while, from a poem to a motor-car, is troublesome and expensive.”

And, as with good food or good writing, good drinks are best prepared for those who will appreciate them.

Although I’m tempted to buy Everyday Drinking, I’m afraid I’ve already laden myself with enough contrarian books, ranging from The Joy of Drinking to The Book of Vice. In addition, despite my apparent dedication to such topics, I feel that drinking is better experienced in person than through the medium of literature, even if reflection deepens the experience once sufficient experience has been had.

Transpose those thoughts to other endeavors at your own peril.

* Nigel Beale writes about “How to re-establish evaluative criticism as central to the academic study of literature.” Since I’m about to start graduate school in English, it’s a topic near to my mind. What he doesn’t mention, however, is that evaluative criticism does exist to a greater extent than he gives it credit for, and it even has its own place in English departments—just under the heading “creative writing,” and “MFA,” rather than in the usual classes.

* Nigel Beale part deux—he says a good book needs:

1) to find and revel in funny, beautiful, thought-provoking phrases, 2) dwell on profound paragraphs that contain useful truths about life and human nature, 3) lose myself in the lives of exceptional characters.

They correspond roughly to professionalism and aesthetic delight, searching for meaning in life, and pleasure at being able to occupy someone else’s mind. Defining what those mean will quickly bloat any discussion of them to the size that Beale is trying to avoid with brevity.

* Jason Fisher on Rereading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It’s on my to be read list, along with 100 other books.

* Since science fiction has been in the air, Marc Andreessen’s top books of the 00s (“oughts?”) can land here.

* Read this concerning genre and that great bender Michael Chabon.

* Lester Hunt speculates on the decline of the Western:

[…] a major source of the charm of westerns is that they are set in a situation in which the presence of the state is minimal or non-existent. In the wild West, you often have to enforce your own rights. If you wait for civil society to do it, you’ll be dead. In a word, westerns are about anarchy. They are fiction’s only constitutionally anarchist genre. As such, they represent a wild sort of freedom. Maybe, like the romance of property, that’s not such a popular idea any more, either.

Notice that one of the most popular genres nowadays is the police procedural, in which the protagonist is a government employee. Yecch! Is there any way you could get further away from the ethos of the western? (Try to imagine Ethan Edwards even saying the word, “procedural.”)

This might explain why I don’t much care for police procedurals. Still, I’d note that many of them portray the police as corrupt and incompetent, while the heroes often act outside the traditional police structure.

* By way of Anecdotal Evidence, William Maxwell on reading and aging.

* That the TSA is denying the ability to fly to people without papers is infuriating. Have they not read the innumerable books about dystopias (1984, Brave New World, We…) and history/society (Foucault) on the subject of state surveillance? Evidently not. Slashdot commenters are unusually articulate about the issue. See my thoughts on its relation to reading here.

4 responses

  1. Hi Jake,

    Thanks for the links. You are of course right about the bloating. The challenge in this enterprise is to agree upon evaluative criteria, otherwise we sit in a soup of subjectivity.

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  2. I like the point about taking care not to make books into fetish objects; however, I do not write or highlight in my own books for a different reason: I do not wish to circumscribe future reading experiences. I may read a novel today, and then read it again five years later, but I don’t want today’s reading experience to color the one to follow. Such marginalia seems like a poke in the ribs — “See what I noticed last time, eh, eh?” Additionally, my wife and I read many of the same books, and we don’t want to lead one another with distracting hints like these. We each want to have our own independent experiences with a book. What I will do, especially when reading nonfiction, is to put notes on stickies, and stick them onto the appropriate page. When I’m finished, I usually take them all out.

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  3. Pingback: Links: Cops and murder, the need for justic, computers, William G. Tapply, and more! « The Story's Story

  4. Pingback: The Library of America and literary canons « The Story's Story

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