On this blog, if I read an author and I think that the author in question is the cat’s pajamas, I can instantly declare this to an audience. The approbation may be fleeting. It may not be quite thought out. But it does represent the current moment. It does signal a natural reaction. This is not so much the case with a newspaper. If I am commissioned to write a review, I am forced to withhold my enthusiasm for an author until the review runs, or perhaps allude to the author’s considerable worth in an oblique manner. There is indeed a tradeoff here. Many newspapers, for understandable ethical reasons, don’t want authors or publishers to know precisely how reviewers feel about a particular book in advance. But the editors can help me to shape a piece or demand more of me (knowing full well that I have a tremendous work ethic) and, since it is a professional gig, my work ethic compels me to write at peak form. Alas, the conundrum remains. There is one such author I wish I could tell you about, but I cannot right now, but will elsewhere. And so my lips remain tight. But I do intend to check out this author’s backlist. Perhaps the immediacy I wish for now in the present can be atoned somewhat by this future dip into the past. I am sure that other reviewers have this problem. I am sure that the declining level of passion seen in certain reviewers I could name, but won’t, is largely because the journalism game demands that something so innately joyful, such as enthusiasm for a book, must be curtailed. Which is a bit like demanding that one withhold a giddy scream while throttling over the hump of a rollercoaster. Humans aren’t in the habit of doing this. Not unless they are also in the habit of always keeping the top button of their shirt fastened. (Aside: It should be noted that Nixon jogged in a shirt and tie. Yes, he actually exercised this way. And yet it is the famous photo of Lyndon Johnson pulling the ears of his dog that makes Johnson seem more of a scoundrel by comparison, if we use just these two examples. And while LBJ was in many ways an SOB for other reasons, I think it could be sufficiently argued that Nixon’s devotion to daily exercise is equally inhuman, perhaps more so. Which is not to compare literary people to U.S. Presidents, but to suggest a finer point about how we judge the inhuman nature of people by certain qualifying factors that involve others.) (Another aside: I wrote this paragraph before stumbling upon Wyatt Mason’s blog post concerning enthusiasm and reviews, which also has a few interesting thoughts on this dilemma — albeit not pertaining to the instant visceral response I am trying to describe.)
This post was intended as a roundup, but I see that it has transformed momentarily into something else. Were I employed as a USA Today copy editor, I would not have allowed this headline to pass. I would have demanded more wordplay in the headline. I would have spent thirty minutes attempting to persuade someone that this was an insufficient headline that didn’t perform complete justice to the presented possibility. We are told that Meyer’s fans “light up.” But while fans, meaning those on a literal level who are acolytes, certainly do “light up,” if we consider a double meaning, fans are not in the habit of “lighting up.” Perhaps they might “whirl” over the saga’s end. I could live with that. But I presume “light up” was settled upon because some member of the top brass did not wish to offend the devoted Meyerites. There are indeed comments on this article. And someone at USA Today is obviously employed to moderate these comments. So perhaps “light up” was settled upon to save the moderator some work. In the end, the headline suffers. And I can only hope that the people at USA Today put some more thought into their headlines in the future.
James Miller is causing something of a stir across the pond. I’m becoming a bit suspicious of novels that concern themselves with privileged children or adolescent wunderkinds or behavioral generalizations that stem from such topics. Personally, I’m fascinated by the kind little girl who lives on the first floor of my apartment building. She spends her summer days looking outside the window, clearly fascinated by every observational possibility. She says hello to everybody. And we all say hello back. She enjoys this. And yet because we’re all in a rush, we don’t stop to ask her what her name is or why she is so drawn to the window. That sense of kindness and curiosity is considerably more interesting to me than another hackneyed variation on how today’s emerging youth want this or demand that. Let us consider Miller’s hasty generalization: “They feel powerful playing those games, because in real life they feel powerless. One 12-year-old girl I taught was an advanced wizard in the World of Warcraft, who would trounce adults in magic battles.” The subscriber base for World of Warcraft is estimated to be somewhere in the area of 16 million. But while this is certainly a large number, there are 73.7 million children in the United States alone. If we assume all Warcraft players to be children (which is folly, but provides us with a working statistic to put Miller’s generalization into perspective), then what of the 80% who don’t play Warcraft? What of those who prefer to spend their time looking out the window? This may sound like some overly sincere A Tree Grows in Brooklyn premise, but it does nevertheless offer a less premeditated starting point with greater possibilities than Miller’s overly simplistic viewpoint. All one has to do is start asking questions.
Forget quotidian hazards such as beer and hot fudge sundaes. Email is the new peril. I do not know anyone who has personally died from email. But it is possible to keep up. Particularly if you type at a very high speed. I am not as efficacious as I’d like to be with my Yahoo account, in part because this represents a secondary account. But I do respond to just about every email on the main one. Of course, I’m also unafraid to respond at extremely strange hours. The way around email, of course, is to kill about 20 emails with one two-minute phone call. But then people are also terrified of picking up the phone. I do not believe that a 1,500 word article on the subject was necessary. At least not with this “email is the new ebola” angle. It is, oddly enough, just as troublesome as a rambling 1,500 word email (and I sometimes write these; I apologize; I am only responding). But then the nice thing about a silly article like this is that you don’t have to hit the reply button. (via The Book Publicity Blog)
And now another conservative has written a book bemoaning hip-hop, suggesting that it cannot affect social change. This is mostly true, but I believe that this misses the point of hip-hop. I find myself more in Michael Eric Dyson’s camp. Why can’t pop music also serve as social criticism? Pop music can certainly serve as a weapon. Consider the relentless music used to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners and the hard rock employed to smoke out Manuel Noriega.
This is not the way to make poetry accessible for Web 2.0. This looks like it was made by a 15-year-old who has just discovered After Effects, with Lemm Sissay resembling a man who has spent the last two decades pining desperately for a small role in an Antonioni film. Too bad Antonioni’s dead.
The question of whether it is really that late is, of course, determined by what you consider to be late.
It is late. Later than it should be. Later than when I had started. Later than I anticipated it to be. There is work to do. And this will mean sleeping less, so that I will not be late on other things. To bring this roundup full circle to the initial question, perhaps staying up late is comparable to Nixon jogging in his shirt and tie, while turning in work late is the equivalent of LBJ pulling the ears of his dog. It’s all in the angle.