Archive for the ‘books and reading’ Category
Here’s a way to make life more enjoyable: Experience things earnestly and with seriousness, even the silly things, rather than being cynical and filled with negativity.
This post is not about politics, and the potential impending doom of our economy and its credit rating. It’s not about NASA or physics or evolution and the dismal state of Science in the United States, nor any of the things TRC makes a habit ranting about. It is about Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was released last week. You probably heard. And for me and mine, the release of HP 7.2 was a big deal. It was the culmination of 10 years of fandom and enjoyment and wonder. 10 years of overly intricate discussions about how the world of Harry Potter works, what it means to acknowledge the gravity of a child carrying the fate of the world, what character one would be and why (Neville, obviously), what spell one would use at work or in school if one could (muffliato, of course), and what it means to have evil battle good. To ask ourselves to sacrifice for the greater cause, and what it means to be put in (hypothetical) situations that ask us to give it all up for the friends we love. This has been my earnest experience of Harry Potter for the past decade.
And I’m grateful for J.K. Rowling and the makers of the Harry Potter films for providing those ten years of absolute joy. (I say 10 knowing Potter actually arrived in the world 14 years ago, but it was not until the first film that I came aboard) . It comes up because now the films are over, the books are written, and no new Potter material will (maybe) be produced and I feel like expressing my appreciation. The cynics have had their say for all these years, but the Potter machine rolled on, and the experience for those of us who chose it was riveting.
There were the literary critics who have spent their hours mocking the books, berating a literary culture where Rowling could have the success she has with such minimal talent. Those of this ilk are always ready to throw cold water over those unwashed readers who love to escape with the ease and fascination of young adult fiction. It seems for many critical literary individuals, Harry Potter reached such heights of popularity that it actually posed a threat to great fiction.
There were those in the Christian Church have worked tirelessly to warn the world of the dangers of witchcraft and the temptations of Satan that are present in the texts, as though children (and adults) lack the imagination to separate the wizarding world of the Durselys and Hogwarts from their world of school and parents.
And there are the hipsters and the keepers of the cool who have always turned their nose up at the pulp and baseness of Rowling’s talents and the eagerness and earnestness with which some of us embraced it.
Cynically, people mocked those who love to escape into the make-believe and spend their lives talking about it. Instead some of these individuals spend their time belittling those who get wrapped up in the silliness, putting down those of us who loved to pick up Potter.
Of course, these are not all people. Millions (and millions and millions) of people around the world-literary critics, conservative Christians and hipster elitists among us-loved and adored the Potter world, and Harry and Ron and Hermione and their journey to defeated He Who Shall Not Be Named. We ate it up for 10 years or more because taking things up with love is more exciting than putting things down. This is a change for me. The naysayer of Potter and other pop-culture swill was the role I played for many years. And, at least in part, Harry Potter is among the reasons this started to change.
So for that, I want to say thanks to Harry and his friends. Because it truly is more fun to love something silly, than to be a cynic in the face of something that actually worth the effort.
That’s all. Back to politics, science, and seriousness of the real world.
This years Independence Day reading is Einstein’s Cosmos, by Michio Kaku. And here from the book is a lovely reminder to us all about our life.
“If relativity and quantum theory violated common sense, it was only because we live our entire life in a tiny corner of the universe, in a sheltered world where velocities are low compared to the speed of light and objects are so large we never encounter Planck’s Constant. Nature, however, does not care about our common sense, but created a universe based on subatomic particles that routinely go near the speed of light and obey Plank’s Constant.”
The lesson is: we talk like we have got a handle on this life and god and politics and all of it. But we don’t. We have a tiny piece of the picture. The more we realize that, the better for everything. Also, physics is awesome.
V.S. Naipaul’s books have had a genuine influence on how I see the world and live in it. I read his work in graduate school, where I had a class devoted to Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, and left a changed man, more curious and understanding than I was before it. For Naipaul, the world is a difficult place, filled with uncertain futures and danger, but a possibility for navigating through this and living and seeing beauty in the world exists. There is a beautiful sense in his work, fiction and non-fiction, that this place requires one to be tough but also to understand others–especially if that understanding means exposing things that are generally left unseen. I am thinking here of Beyond Belief, a wonderful, difficult work following Naipaul as he travels through the Muslim world. He frustrates (to put it kindly) everyone with his books, nobody more so than the subjects of his books. Pick up a Naipaul novel, A Bend in the River is quick and amazing, and you wont’ be disappointed.
But that is Naipaul’s work. Naipaul the man is an asshole and it can be hard to recommend his work. V.S. Naipaul is arrogant and condescending and treats people terribly, especially if those people are his wife, or not-wife, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Not-English, choose any specification you want. In his work, he is a terse and short, unwilling to accept half-way–and that is an asset in his books. But his acidic attitude matters in public, and the things he says matter: He is a Nobel Prize winning author who has written a body of work that spans decades, hemispheres, religion and politics and family. But then he speaks. What did he say now? The Guardian has the article:
This time, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature has lashed out at female authors, saying there is no woman writer whom he considers his equal – and singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism. Asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.
He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too,” he said.
He added: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”
At least he’s not trying to be unkind. Jane Austen is your equal, Naipaul. She is among the greats of the greats. Jerk.
Relative to: the fictional political commentary from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest regarding the President of the Organization of North American Nations.
There’s a lot going on in the world of odd political developments in this country. In my opinion. One of them is the Tea Party, and there are few political stories that are likely to bring about more devotion or disgust than discussions about the positive/negative impact of the Tea Party on the US. Thinking about this, I had a delightful time reading the following section of the Infinite Jest, in which Wallace describes the rise of President Gentle, former hearthrob crooner and germophobe (“the cleanest man in entertainment”), who creates the Clean U.S. Party, who rises the power on a wave of, well, unique circumstances, and brings about the inter-dependence of North America, creating ONAN (Org. of North American Nations, whose backers are termed supporters of ONANism, har har). Since most normal people will never read Infinite Jest, I thought a two-sentence demonstration of awesomeness would be in order. This really has nothing to do with anything Tea Party or current US Politics. It’s just a whole lot of fun.
The facial stills that Mario lap-dissolves between are of new ‘Clean U.S. Party,’ the strange-seeming but politically prescient annular agnation of ultra-right jingoist hunt-deer-with-automatic-weapons types and far-left macrobiotic Save-the-Ozone, -Rain-Forests, -Whales, -Spooted-Owl-and-High-pH-Waterways ponytailed granola-crunchers, a surreal union of of both Rush L.-and Hillary R.C.-disillusioned fringes that drew mainstream-media guffaws at their first Convention (held in a sterile venue), the seemingly LaRoucheisly marginal party whose first platform’s plan had been Let’s Shoot Our Waste Into Space, C.U.S.P., a kind of post-Perot national joke for three years, until — white-gloved finger on the pulse of an increasingly asthmatic and sunscreen-slathered and pissed-off American electorate–the C.U.S.P suddenly swept to quadrennial victory in an angry voter-spasm that made the U.W.S.A. and LaRoucers and Libertarians chew their hands in envy as the Dems and G.O.P.s stood on either side watching dumbly, like doubles partners who each think the other’s surely got it, the two established mainstream parties split open along tired philosophical lines in a dark time when all landfills got full and all grapes were raisins and sometimes in some places the falling rain clunked instead of splatted, and also, recall, a post-Soviet and -Jihad era when — somehow even worse — there was no real Foreign Menace of any real uniified potency to hate and fear, and the U.S. sort of turned on itself and its own philosophical fatigue and hideous redolent wastes with a spasm of panicked rage that in retrospect seems possible only in a time of gelopolitical supremacy and consequent silence, the loss of any external Menace to hate and fear. This motionless face on the E.T.A. screen is Johnny Gentle, Third Party Stunner. (382)
This goes on for several crippling pages of delightful, political and social destruction. And it would seem not much has changed in the 15 years since Wallace published Infinite Jest.
Relative to: the current immense popularity of dark, brooding, post-apocalyptic young adult fiction.
At the NYTimes Room for Debate this week, the topic taken up is “The Dark Side of Yound Adult Fiction,” and several authors and cultural critics wonder why teens love reading about such terrible times and peoples as are so popular right now.
The debaters give many reasons for such popularity. The world is a wreck right now, and kids reflect that in their reading. The world is actually quite good and promising for these kids, and they want the joys of escapism to fantasy. The real world of good and evil is grey and YAF provides good and evil in black and white. Kids consciousnesses have been saturated with darkness by the time they are teens, and they crave that darkness more.
As I was reading these individual arguments for why teens read about things that are awful, I had to ask: do we really think this is a new subject? Or is it just getting more appealing for younger readers? Reading Orwell in high school is common. His worlds are dark and scary. I was assigned Ayn Rand in high school. Her picture of the world is awful, and her solution for the world is even scarier. Kids have been reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild for 60 years, terrified for every one of them.
Some of the writers in the debate understand this. But still wonder at the desire of teens to immerse themselves in “fantastical dystopia.” Why the fantasy of a destroyed world? Lisa Rowe Faustino answers thus: “No different from that quintessential literary adolescent Holden Caulfield, we want to hold on to the joy in life we felt as children. We want to hold on to our individuality, our humanity, our ability to love and connect to others. We have always wanted to hold on, but in today’s global communications network we can’t avoid facing overwhelming obstacles. The more we understand how small and powerless we really are against the immense forces that control our existence, the more we yearn to feel meaningful.”
Faustino here is the only commenter that seems to get close to how this makes sense. There is a part of being a youth that naturally wants one’s life to be in the thick of the struggles that will define one’s era, yearning for meaning and fame and glory while overcoming truly great obstacles. And those obstacles are increasing every day. We join Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua on their adventures to feel their journeys for meaning and restoration of peace and order. But in my opinion that overestimates what the characters, and the readers, are really in search of. We may start out searching for glory in the text, but we end wanting love for the protagonists, and a peaceful place to live in that love. Be it back at home when we can finally return to the warm glow of family, or with a new-found romance that will resolve our obstacles. The fight for meaning in these books is almost always the search for home, the search for place where one can feel truly at peace. Because such a place in the real world seems very distant, and fantastical, in high school.