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.

Netgalley

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.

Personal

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!

Interview With A Croatian Feminist, Anarchist, Speculative Fiction Writer, and Avid Genre Fiction Reader

Milena Benini, a regular reader of this blog, won my last contest. When I realized I had to send her prize to Croatia, I let out a blood curdling scream and hid my wallet,  took the opportunity to ask her a few questions. It turns out Milena is, in her words, an

anarchist, blogger, cat-feeder, cook, dog-minder, editor, feminist, fire-horse, human being, illustrator, journalist, mum, mum, reader, Sagittarius, theoretician, translator, web-mistress, wife, woman.

I couldn’t fit all that on the address label, so Milena kindly agreed to answer a few questions for RRR. She’s also a writer of speculative fiction and has written a paper on the online romance community for her workplace, the Centre For Women’s Studies (more on both below).

1. Say a little about your blog and what you do there.

Well, my tag-line includes women, genre and politics. I have a whole group of posts about women I like and/or admire, particularly early sufragettes, but also some contemporary stars — anyone whose life and work I happen to appreciate. I usually try to post about them on their birthdays, with the idea that, some day, I’ll have a whole “feminist calendar”.

I also write about genres; my primary focus is SF (interpreted as Speculative Fiction, not just sci-fi), but I also talk about mysteries and romances. Oh, and I published a novel at the blog, because I wanted to see how that would be accepted in Croatia. It’s a fantasy novel with a strong romantic element, although I wouldn’t call it exactly a romance. :)

I sometimes also talk about politics, although that’s mostly related to open-source issues and stuff like that, as well as women’s issues, and sometimes anarchism.

1b. Can you say more about your position on open source?

Writing this on a computer running Ubuntu and having given away a novel under a CC license, I think I can safely say that I am very much in favour of open source. FOSS has a pretty strong community in Croatia, although, as is the case everywhere, I think, a lot of people tend to keep away from it out of habit, or fear of the unknown. There is also the fact that people are often suspicious about things they get for free, because we’re very much conditioned to think that worth can only be measured in money. But there is also a growing number of people who can see the value of things like open source or creative commons. Mostly thanks to Cory Doctorow, probably. :)

2. Is there any way for those who do not read Croatian to read it? I tried Google translator but … unless you are in fact a drunk monkey at the keyboard, I cannot believe it does your words justice.

Oh, yes, Google translator is an endless source of humour, but very little correct translation. Unfortunately, I don’t think that there’s a simple way to resolve this.

3. How long have you been reading romance novels? What are your favorites?

Just about all my life. There is a very famous Croatian author, Marija Juric Zagorka, who wrote about a dozen historical romances — and they’re real monster-novels, one of six and one of twelve tomes! — and that’s where I started. Then I went on to the classics such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. When I started reading in English, I also passed through a — I suppose I should blush now — Kathleen E. Woodiwiss period. In my defense, I was very young at the time. :). Then there was Georgette Heyer, of course!

I love Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Jennifer Crusie for the humour, and I also enjoy Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, especially the first trilogy; Robin McKinley is also among my favourites… oh, there are too many to mention them all. I’ll also read anything with vampires in it — I even read Twilight! Research purposes and all that (I’m writing a book about parallels between vampire and spy fiction) — but, unfortunately, there aren’t that many really good vampire romances.

4. Do you read in English? Translations?

I read mostly in English, especially since translations of romances are few and far between in Croatia, not to mention usually more expensive (smaller print runs make for expensive books!). Furthermore, nowadays, I read a lot on my mobile phone, and there are almost no e-books in Croatian.

As for Croatian romances, I’m afraid the answer is — not any more. Apart from Zagorka, whom I have already mentioned (she was–and still is — probably the best-loved Croatian female author of all times, a very interesting woman who managed to also be a proto-feminist and one of the first female journalists in this part of Europe, and when she got poor in her old age her fans got together to feed and clothe her — a fascinating story, really), there was one woman who was pretty famous as a romance author some thirty years ago, but she stopped writing about a decade ago.

Oh, and there is one woman who writes under an English pseudonym and, allegedly, has a dayjob as a waitress. But we’re a small country (only 4.5 million people) and books are not a good way to make a living. In addition, romances are still mostly despised — even when there are actual romances translated, they’re never marketed as such. SEP is marketed as general fiction in Croatia, and Nora Roberts is invariably shelved in the mystery section.

5. What are some attitudes towards romance novels you’ve encountered?

Well, I have to stress that mine is not a typical situation: I am very much a part of the SF community — which is a lot stronger in Croatia than the romance community — and I don’t have any problems there, because we’re all outsiders together, in a way. And people in the SF community — at least here in Croatia — are not afraid of romance novels; in fact, there are several people who also read them, and when I post about romance novels, people generally react favourably.

Also, at the Centre for Women’s Studies, my interest in any genre was always welcomed, but they are all great women anyway.

6. Can you say a little more about the speculative fiction community in Croatia?

I think it’s more or less the same everywhere: SF-fans are viewed as those strange people who walk around with false pointy ears and recite poetry in Klingon. Even if you don’t speak a word of Klingon, you get marked as such once you publicly proclaim your interest in SF…

In Croatia, the SF community is something of an exception in its attitude towards women: for example, our national SF-award, SFera, has the largest percentage of female award-winners of all Croatian literary awards. I understand that this is something of an anomaly, caused probably by the fact that our fandom was started by grownups and not teenagers, so the more mature outlook rubbed off on the following generations.

7. What is the difference between “SFF” and “speculative fiction”?

Well, “speculative fiction” is the broader term. People first began using it when the borderlines between genres started getting blurred — particularly in the seventies, with New Wave — and it’s getting more and more used today because it’s often impossible to tell if something is science fiction or fantasy. When you look at people like China Mieville, for example, it’s impossible to define him as “science fiction” or “fantasy” or “horror”: there are elements of all three in his work. And “speculative fiction” is a nice umbrella-term for all the genres that, at heart, start from the question “what if”. A lot of people who are interested in one thing are also interested in another, whether as readers, writers, or both. So it makes a lot more sense to use one name for the whole thing.

8. Can you name a couple of your favorites in mystery and speculative fiction?

In mystery, I am a great admirer of the grandes dames — Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh — and from the newer authors, I have to single out Martha Grimes, who is doing weird and fantastic and wonderful things while staying strictly within her genre. And SF is my first love, so the list is very long… Terry Pratchett, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin and Michael Moorcock for the classics; Charlie Stross, Ken MacLeod and Cory Doctorow for the new voices; Steven Brust as an all together great guy; ditto for Neil Gaiman. And Robin Mckinley and Melissa Michaels, who also do strange and wonderful things. I think I better stop now…

9. Is there a Croatian romance community?

Not really, I’m afraid. There are two or three blogs that cover romance as one of their interests, but only one blog that I know of that focuses exclusively on romance. And in the “real life” sense, there’s nothing.

10. What did you say in the article you wrote?

Well, it’s basically an overview of the development of the romance community on the Internet, and it includes a (very) short history of the genre itself. The article will be published a special edition of the Centre’s magazine “Treca” (The Third, in female form — Croatian is much more gender-specific than English). There was a whole semester devoted to popular culture intersecting with feminist issues, and my article is part of that.

I tried to show that the Internet has given an opportunity to smart, educated women who like romance to get together and discuss their genre in a way which was difficult before the Internet. And I also tried to outline the way in which the genre has started looking at itself, after long being the object of fascination and disgust for outsiders. I find this somewhat similar to what happened in SF — at one point, SF fans got fed up with outsiders telling them what their genre was like, and started developing their own theory, combining it with the “official” academic approaches and reaching new and exciting things. And now we see a similar process at work in the romance community, which has to deal with the added problem of romance being, to a very large extent, a “female” genre, which is often the reason why it gets so much criticism, regardless of whether the bias is shown openly or not.

The thing is, although genre lit in general has not been overlooked in Croatian academic circles, romance is usually almost completely left out in such analyses, or is dealt with in a very offhandish manner. That’s why I was trying to give people a place to start, especially young women. I mentioned your analysis of ethics in Patricia Gaffney as an example of how romance can be approached not as a phenomenon, but rather as literature.

11. What is the Centre for Women’s Studies?

Well, it’s so far the only such place in Croatia, because our academic community is not really too keen on feminism, at least not in the upper echelons, where decisions are made. The Centre organises all kinds of educational programmes, publishes books, holds workshops, etc. One of the things I do is maintain their web-site, and there are at least some pages in English, so you can take a look if you want.

12. How about a blurb for your book?

Yes, I published a novel at the blog, because I wanted to see how that would be accepted in Croatia. It’s a fantasy novel with a strong romantic element, although I wouldn’t call it exactly  romance. :)

Kalaide, priestess of the Moon, is trying to hold her home together in the midst of war when a strange prisoner is brought: Enaor, an Elder, who lost his family, his city, and almost his sanity in the war for which he blames Kalaide’s gods — and his own brother. With the unnatural winter gripping the land, the two must form an unexpected alliance in order to survive… and maybe, just maybe, save the world as well.

Hvala, Milena! Thank you!

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