Monday Morning Stepback: Defending "Naive Reading", Gay Writes, Procrastination, Net Galley

The Links, Opinion, and Updates post, now with randomly fluctuating frequency. Yes, it’s long. No, I don’t think it’s too long for you.

Links of Interest:

Sarah Frantz, romance scholar and blogger, is interviewed by Laura Vivanco about glbt romance at Teach Me Tonight.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, Dear Author is launching its own Gay Writes campaign, including big book giveaways

And speaking of Laura Vivanco, she prompted a post about romance at On Fiction (an online magazine on the psychology of fiction). But I’m not sure that Laura is saying what sitemaster Oatley thinks she’s saying when he sums up thusly:

The womanly phantasy seems, thus, not only to be about achieving physiological effects on the man’s body, not just about achieving union because of what the man has got, but about achieving transformation of someone who, as well as being incomplete, is an insensitive bully.

Luckily Laura showed up to comment. Proving once again that gendered people studying gender is always a fraught enterprise.

And back to the theme of GLBT literature and its emancipatory effects, a big thank you to The Millions for digging up a 1984 essay by Nobel Prize winner Mario Varga Llosa, entitled “Is Fiction the Art of Living?”:

The Spanish Inquisition understood the danger. Leading lives through fiction that one does not live in reality is a source of anxiety, a maladjustment to existence that can turn into rebelliousness, an unsubmissive attitude toward the establishment. One can well understand why regimes that seek to exercise total control over life mistrust works of fiction and subject them to censorship. Emerging from one’s own self, being another, even in illusion, is a way of being less a slave and of experiencing the risks of freedom.

In the NYT’s The Stone, its forum for philosophy, Robert Pippin argues in favor of “naive reading”

Clearly, poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no a priori reason to think that they could be suitable objects of “research.” By and large they were produced for the pleasure and enlightenment of those who enjoyed them. But just as clearly, the teaching of literature in universities ─ especially after the 19th-century research model of Humboldt University of Berlin was widely copied ─ needed a justification consistent with the aims of that academic setting: that fact alone has always shaped the way vernacular literature has been taught.

Pippin goes on to identify two sources of tension between the academic approach to literature and literature itself:

First, literature and the arts have a dimension unique in the academy, not shared by the objects studied, or “researched” by our scientific brethren. They invite or invoke, at a kind of “first level,” an aesthetic experience that is by its nature resistant to restatement in more formalized, theoretical or generalizing language. This response can certainly be enriched by knowledge of context and history, but the objects express a first-person or subjective view of human concerns that is falsified if wholly transposed to a more “sideways on” or third person view. Indeed that is in a way the whole point of having the “arts.”

Likewise ─ and this is a much more controversial thesis ─ such works also can directly deliver a kind of practical knowledge and self-understanding not available from a third person or more general formulation of such knowledge. There is no reason to think that such knowledge — exemplified in what Aristotle said about the practically wise man (the phronimos)or in what Pascal meant by the difference between l’espirit géometrique and l’espirit de finesse — is any less knowledge because it cannot be so formalized or even taught as such. Call this a plea for a place for “naïve” reading, teaching and writing — an appreciation and discussion not mediated by a theoretical research question recognizable as such by the modern academy.

In case you are wondering, I LOVE this.

Rohan Maitzen, a professor in the Department of English at Dalhousie University (my neighbor to the north!) linked to her own old post on rereading Gone With the Wind, a favorite re-read from her youth, which adulthood and a PhD in English have forced her to rethink:

Reading Gone with the Wind today, then, I realize that it rejects precisely the qualities I had always celebrated in its heroine, while embracing her most loathsome values. Punishing Scarlett for rebelling against her identity as a “lady,” it endorses racism and romanticizes slavery. For all its undeniable narrative power, its passion, drama, and pathos, it is, morally, an appalling book.

For anyone who thinks she doesn’t deserve success, or feels like a fraud when she gets it, Bob Mayer wrote a great column at The Seekers, on “imposter syndrome” and his own tactic to deal with it, which he calls HALO, “High Altitude Low Opening” parachuting.

Ebooks: No Friends of Free Expression, a blog post by by Ted Striphas, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, in which he links to several of his own pieces on the threats posed to literacy and free speech by digital reading (thanks to @jafurtado). Apparently, October 18 kicks off National Freedom of Speech Week.

Given the intimate tie that reading and free expression share with one another, it seems reasonable to wonder what will happen to our ability to communicate when the reading activities we’ve long counted on to be private suddenly go public. Indeed, the knowledge that someone is looking over our shoulders every time we open our e-books could lead us to censor which selections we make or how we choose to engage them. The far greater concern is that these initial acts of self-censorship could diminish our ability to communicate richly and openly with one another down the road, because there would be fewer communicative resources for us to confidently draw on.

Interesting dustup at The Guardian: First, columnist Helienne Lindvall chided “advocates of free” like Cory Doctorow for charging hefty speaking fees. Doctorow himself responded in The Real Cost of Free, in which he redirects her attention away from how much he earns and on to his concerns about digital rights, noting that much more is at stake here than a bit of pirating by cheap bastards with time on their hands:

In France, the HADOPI “three strikes” rule just went into effect; they’re sending out 10,000 legal threats a week now, and have promised 150,000 a week in short order. After three unsubstantiated accusations of infringement, your whole family is disconnected from the internet – from work, education, civic engagement, distant relatives, health information, community.

That scares me, and it’s not just because I like to watch You Tube videos of My So Called Life.

The Six meanest book reviews ever, picked by Huffington Post readers. I like this New Republic review by Dale Peck of The Black Veil:

Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.

I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody’s oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment.

Let’s remember this the next time someone gets huffy over a negative romance review.

The end is nigh for Bitch PhD. Sybil Vane notes that she has to stop blogging because she is so content, and “You can imagine the tedium that kind of material would produce, as far as posts go.” Actually, no, I can’t. While I understand that a site called “Bitch PhD” might suffer an identity crisis when all the writers are happily employed in academia, I think a blogger can be engaged and interesting even when she is content. She can even be engaged and interesting about the things which make her content.

A recent edited collection by philosophers about procrastination is getting a boatload of press for some reason. Here, a link to The New Yorker review.

Most of the contributors to the new book agree that this peculiar irrationality stems from our relationship to time—in particular, from a tendency that economists call “hyperbolic discounting.” A two-stage experiment provides a classic illustration: In the first stage, people are offered the choice between a hundred dollars today or a hundred and ten dollars tomorrow; in the second stage, they choose between a hundred dollars a month from now or a hundred and ten dollars a month and a day from now. In substance, the two choices are identical: wait an extra day, get an extra ten bucks. Yet, in the first stage many people choose to take the smaller sum immediately, whereas in the second they prefer to wait one more day and get the extra ten bucks. In other words, hyperbolic discounters are able to make the rational choice when they’re thinking about the future, but, as the present gets closer, short-term considerations overwhelm their long-term goals. A similar phenomenon is at work in an experiment run by a group including the economist George Loewenstein, in which people were asked to pick one movie to watch that night and one to watch at a later date. Not surprisingly, for the movie they wanted to watch immediately, people tended to pick lowbrow comedies and blockbusters, but when asked what movie they wanted to watch later they were more likely to pick serious, important films. The problem, of course, is that when the time comes to watch the serious movie, another frothy one will often seem more appealing. This is why Netflix queues are filled with movies that never get watched: our responsible selves put “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Seventh Seal” in our queue, but when the time comes we end up in front of a rerun of “The Hangover.”

Of course, prior to the discovery of hyperbolic discounting, we had keen students of human nature like Plato, Aristotle and John Stuart Mill, who knew the score on the attraction of  “the nearer good”, in Mill’s lingo.

It’s in our uni library, and I plan to read it … someday.

Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books has announced that she is the keynote speaker at the 2011 Book Blogger Con, an event that occurs in conjunction with Book Expo America in May in New York City. I am glad the BBC folks, overwhelmingly female, chose a woman this year again, especially a woman who blogs about women’s fiction. Also, the BBC folks are looking for workshop ideas as they change to format to concurrent sessions.

Finally, it is technically, Columbus Day. And Racialicious is asking why.


I signed up for NetGalley, and downloaded a book to see what it is all about. The main objections I had with the old system of getting ARCs were that you (a) couldn’t choose what you wanted to read, except by saying no as requests came to you willy nilly, (b) you felt obligated to read and review the book (or at least I did) if you accepted it, and (c) you had to do so on someone else’s timeline. Netgalley obviates all of that. On the other hand, I have little motivation to use it because I’m not a blogger who strives to be on the cutting edge as far as reviews of upcoming releases goes (but I am glad others do it), and I don’t have much of a financial incentive, as book buying is not an expensive habit in my world (I am a slow reader and don’t buy many books).

As far as (d), the connection to industry which has always concerned me and still does, now that I have been blogging for 2.5 years, I understand more deeply the notion that free books are just one way a reviewer can be connected to publishing. Since I started the blog, I have made friends with authors, attended a genre conference, made romance reading part of my work profile, served as a beta reader, and just recently made a decision to write for a publisher for “pay” (pennies, but still … pennies). Feel free to ask me more about this last point, call me out, challenge me on it. etc.

I’ll let readers know whenever I review a free book. I may eat my words, but I don’t think it’ll happen often.


The kitchen is finished, but needs painting. No photos until that is done, even though I know you are dying for them. ;)

Soccer tourney this weekend in the southern part of the state. A certain U11 boys team went undefeated. Woot! And a certain U11 player who has been working on his curve scored from a free kick, giving the ball a wicked “bend” in game play for the first time. It was our family’s “crane kick” moment. (To relive the original Karate Kid ending, click here). All the usual fun was had by kids and parents alike: touch football on the beach, bedbugs in the hotel, fried clams and cheap beer, shin guards with hazardous odor levels, and lots and lots of Gatorade.

I continue to be extremely busy. I am trying to finish my vampire and bioethics paper for the conference next week, review an article for a journal, grade midterms, and write a proposal on lactation ethics. I did finish Persuasion, and plan to write a blog post on it this week. Luckily we are on fall break today and tomorrow.

In other vitally important news, I now hate the phrase “game changer” and all its equally offensive variations.

Finally, we are heading off to Treworgy Family Orchards today to get our pumpkins, pick apples, and get hopelessly lost in the corn maze. This year, the maze is the shape of a rabbit:

Wish us luck!

21 responses

  1. Ya author Maureen Johnson was the BBC’s first lady keynote speaker and she was brilliant. Absolutely, side-splitting hilarious and wonderful. I’m trying to find a way to get back to BEA and BBC for 2011. I’ve crossed my fingers, toes and eyelashes since I decided to try for it, and it’s getting hard to keep that all crossed, but I think I still might need to cross more body parts yet. I’ll need all the luck I can get.

    Yes, I’m dying for your house reno pron. And please be careful in the corn! I just recently heard of corn mazes.


  2. Great post as usual but can I just double check that I got something right?

    You say:

    I am glad the BBC folks, overwhelmingly female, chose a woman this year,

    and it sounds as though it they didn’t before? Last year’s (the first year) keynote speaker was Maureen Johnson….

    Also, I am terrified of re-reading Gone With the Wind (and many other books) as the reader that I am now. I feel that many of them will not stand the test of times, for a variety of reasons.


  3. Well, for a busy person, you certainly have come up with a comprehensive and rich stepback!
    You hate game changer? LOL. That reread thing is funny, but sort of terrible. What is that saying? You can’t re-read Keroac after 30.

    Good luck with the big paper!! And the corn maze!!


  4. I’ll be going to BBC 2011! So amazed how blogging has grown and I bet the amount of bloggers who attend will increase this year :)

    I got lost in a corn maze once. Has a very distinct smell I never want to smell again. O.o


  5. I like Pippin’s work too. He has also published on philosophy and medicine. Opening a slim volume and finding these words kept me going during a bleak time in grad school: “A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself [sic] of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his [sic] work is probably not worth reading.”


  6. I recently watched the 1939 film version of “Wuthering Heights” and was aghast at how self-involved and idiotic Heathcliff and Cathy were. It made me very hesitant to re-read the book, a book that transformed my world when I was eleven years old. The movie reminded me of a quote from Miley Cyrus about how she and her boyfriend had deeper feelings than ordinary people.

    I’m going to read Pippin’s piece when I have more time, and yes, let’s see those new kitchen photos!


  7. Thinking about re-reading. I re-read a lot and the truth of my experience is that I don’t think you can go back. Books date because they represent the time and culture when they are written but also we are not the same person we were’ back then’, so we can’t read in the same way as we did ‘back then’. Some books remain powerful in their story telling. I have re-read Lord of The Rings so many times I have lost count but I don’t read it the same as I did when I first discovered it at 14. I read Virgil again and again as much of the rythym of the words as the stories. I read for the flashes or the moments in a story that meant something because I want that feeling again or to see those words again because they struck me so powerfully and I want to be reminded. I think when we re-read we are not just reading the story again we are reading the experience/meaning again. SF books stand up to re-reading often because they have multiple POV and parallel plots and stories over extended periods of time so you can read from front to back or follow just one character or plot line. I don’tbelieve author’s intend this but for me re-reading is non-linear whereas first reading tends to linearity (did I just make up a word?) I think.


  8. “our responsible selves put “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Seventh Seal” in our queue, but when the time comes we end up in front of a rerun of “The Hangover.””

    The story of my life. Not just my Netflix queue, but also my TBR. The movies/books do sound interesting at some point, yet somehow the time when I want to watch/read them never seems to come.


  9. On re-reads: I think it entirely depends on where you are in your life when you do the re-read and where you were in your life when you first read the book. Books I read when I was say under 16 tend to stick with me no matter what, and I tend to like them just as much on re-read (for me, Gone With the Wind is one of those books, despite the fact that I’ve gone on to study English Literature in my BA and MA degrees).

    But books that I read when I was “an adult,” I tend to be more open to seeing them in a new way (even if that means no longer liking them).


  10. just recently made a decision to write for a publisher for “pay” (pennies, but still … pennies). Feel free to ask me more about this last point, call me out, challenge me on it. etc.

    I’m seconding Kaetrin: do tell us “more about this last point.” What are you being paid for, and by whom?


  11. @Carolyn Crane: About GWTW… I’ve never read it, but I know I make the same distinction she is making, between morally bad attitudes the author merely characterizes and morally bad attitudes the author endorses, the latter giving me a lot of trouble. On the other hand, since none of us is morally infallible (I mean, perfectly and always correct in our beliefs about what is right. It goes without saying none of us is perfect in our behavior.) I think it behooves us to read all kinds of books, even those which feature author-endorsed attitudes with which we disagree. I don’t know if GWTW is one of those books, though. This theory works better for the gray areas.

    @katiebabs: I would love to go. But with IASPR later in the summer, I doubt I can make the time for two trips!

    @akrasia: I did not know Pippin wrote on medicine. His work on Kant is best known to me, as is his literary work, on James and Coetzee. Will have to track that down.

    @Karenmc: It is a risk isn’t it? Maybe I’ll write a post on it. I hesitate to reread JR Ward, my first romance novel, because I think I would hate it now.

    @Victoria Janssen: I am supposed to be getting the 1998 version in the mail today!!


    I don’t believe author’s intend this but for me re-reading is non-linear whereas first reading tends to linearity (did I just make up a word?) I think.

    Great reflections on the reread. Linearity is most definitely a word, at least in English departments. Thank you!


    The story of my life.

    Mine too! I loved that line. I love The Seventh Seal, but I watch it every year with my ethics class, not at home.

    @Jen: Interesting point on age of the reader and her ability to go back. This is something I have to think about when I teach ethics and fiction. For years I have taught Steppenwolf, which rocked me as a college student. Then for years I didn’t because I thought, “Gah. So dated. Predictable,. Unsubtle.” Then I realized … I am now 40, but my students are still 19, 20. I put it back on the syllabus. And they love it and find it life changing … just as I did.

    @Kaetrin: @Laura Vivanco: I was asked — along with many others, some of whom are known to you in the blogging community — by Megan Frampton to write occasional blog posts about romance for a publisher who is launching a romance site. I agreed. I am not at liberty to say which publisher, but it launches in November some time. Megan is looking for more writers, and pay is $20 a post, so anyone who has an interest should send an email to with samples of writing, and any questions.


  12. Of course, prior to the discovery of hyperbolic discounting, we had keen students of human nature like Plato, Aristotle and John Stuart Mill, who knew the score on the attraction of “the nearer good”, in Mill’s lingo.

    Apologies for the pedantry, but you’ve hit on one of my pet subjects, I’m afraid! No, that’s not quite it. That “attraction of the nearer good” is reflected by plain old discounting, of the sort used quite universally, whether it’s in appraisal of projects or traditional economic theory. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the concept of procrastination.

    Hyperbolic discounting adds the concept of time-inconsistency. Expressed not very technically, the value you place on bringing a reward forward is higher the closer you are to the point where you receive it. This leads to situation where you make choices that you yourself know you shouldn’t be making, and that if you were a bit further away from the point where you make the decision, you wouldn’t make.

    For instance, watching TV when you should be revising for an exam. The day before, if you were asked to assign your time for the next day, you’d probably say you will revise for the exam. Even discounting to reflect the fact that the benefits of revising will be realised a few days later, whereas the benefits of watching TV will be realised immediately to you making the decision, you judge the future benefits large enough to forgo the pleasures of TV watching. But as you come to the point where you actually have to make the decision to open the books or turn on the TV, hyperbolic discounting means that your discount rate shoots up. You value the future benefits of revising less and less as the time to decide approaches, and the TV starts looking more and more attractive. So you end up procrastinating and turning on the TV instead.


  13. I’m glad you feel comfortable signing up for Net Galley. I think it’s a great idea, and I have enjoyed using it so far. I agree that I prefer to be given ARCs that I asked for, and that I actually want to read and review, although so far this busy semester, I haven’t felt like I’m keeping up. Also, if you leave them in their original format, the files expire within a designated time frame; if I want to keep the book, I still have to buy it (or strip the DRM and save it as a different file, but that’s another issue). Of course I never felt obligated to review ARCs that were sent to me unsolicited anyway; ask the folks at Dorchester.

    I don’t think I’d be comfortable blogging for a publisher, especially if I were being paid for it. Not unless I gave up reviewing elsewhere, anyway. That’s just a really personal perspective, based largely on my general feelings about large for-profit corporations as employers. I’ll be interested to see how it works for you; nobody better than an ethicist to jump into this and explore its ramifications.


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  15. @Rosario: Thank you for explaining the concept to all of us non-economists and vindicating my feeling that this wasn’t entirely new.


    I don’t think I’d be comfortable blogging for a publisher, especially if I were being paid for it. Not unless I gave up reviewing elsewhere, anyway. That’s just a really personal perspective, based largely on my general feelings about large for-profit corporations as employers.

    My feeling about saying yes to Megan was very much the way I felt when Jane of Dear Author emailed me to write for Borders, or when whoever it was emailed to to write for Access Romance (also essentially an advertising site for authors): “here’s someone I like in the community who is trying hard to round up people to write posts. I will commit to a few and see what happens. I may get more blog readers.” I haven’t maintained commitments at either of those places, and I don’t see why this one will be different: I feel very unmotivated to write about romance anywhere but here. But I am happy to help Megan get it off the ground.

    Anyway, on to the ethical issue. Is there one? I don’t know. Although I work for two not for profits, I don’t think that anyone who is paid for work by any for profit corporation is in the wrong automatically for that reason. For me it would depend on the nature of the work, the labor relationship, etc. I suppose I should know more about this publisher’s practices. Your comment reminds me to do some homework.

    Is the worry about bias? Maybe if I earn money from Publisher X, I will be more likely to write positive reviews of their books? I am not sure this is a worry in my case as I absolutely have no idea who publishes 95% of what I read, especially since I started reading digital. Moreover, I don’t believe I have ever reviewed a book published by this publisher

    But suppose I did review this publisher’s books. Would that raise a conflict of interest? Maybe, although when we talk about conflict of interest we have to talk about what those competing interests are. The $20 I earn from this venture is a net loss for me, as my husband loves to remind me. I can earn many times that per hour consulting. In short, I am not doing it for the money. I am doing it in spite of the money. At any rate, it is probably a good idea to think twice about reviewing this publisher’s books as long I am writing for them.

    I could make a kind of feminist argument that women should, if anything, insist on getting paid for their work, and it’s a gain for all women that I get paid for this. That’s a wee bit high minded for what we’re talking about. It was certainly not my motive when I accepted the offer.

    The other possibility is that the site becomes so popular that I absolutely depend my posts there to boost my hits here. There are many nonmonetary ways to be beholden, after all. Since I got little gain in visitors from blogging at Borders, I doubt that will happen, but it’s something I will need to monitor.

    I also have a good role model in folks like The Book Smugglers who write for, and review Tor books on TBS, which is the same set up. Again, we have Jane of Dear Author working as an editor for a publisher, but Dear Author — and likely Jane? don’t know — still reviews that publisher’s books. Even if Jane’s work for that publisher is gratis, I am not sure the tension dissolves completely. Sara of Smart Bitches is also a paid author and a reviewer at the same time (she even reviewed Jenny Crusie, who blurbed her own book), as is Katiebabs and a host of other authors who maintain blogs.

    Of course, at a minimum, disclosure, disclosure, disclosure.

    Honestly the biggest ethical issue I have with it at the moment is keeping the commitment I made.

    But you may have had something totally different in mind than the issues I raised. What would give you pause?

    As for NetGalley, I had no idea the download would go poof! I had better read it, but this is it for me. I hate being on someone esle’s timeline in any way for reading.


  16. Like I said, it’s mostly a personal issue. If I were going to work for a publisher, I would feel constrained by that to some degree. Obviously not everyone feels that way, which I completely respect.


  17. @SonomaLass: Sorry to have gone on so long. I was thinking out loud. If there wasn’t a personal niggle at my end as well, I wouldn’t have invited questions in the post, so thank you for giving me the push to think a little more on it.


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