As noted previously, I’m re-reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. On this particular re-read, the chapter epigrams have come into focus. I admired the epigram for the chapter in which Lord Peter appears unexpectedly in Oxford, then naps in a boat on the river during a lazy spring Sunday. I find it even more apt now that I find I’ve drunk too much coffee and cannot sleep. The quote is attributed to Thomas Dekker, but doesn’t note which of his many works it comes from. A quick search of the internet has produced no obvious results except the continued attribution of the quote to Dekker without reference to the particular work. Here is Dekker on sleep, as quoted by Sayers.
Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is: it is so inestimable a jewel that, if a tyrant would give his crown for an hour’s slumber, it cannot be bought: of so beautiful a shape is it, that though a man lie with an Empress, his heart cannot beat quite till he leaves her embracements to be at rest with the other: yea, so greatly indebted are we to this kinsman of death, that we ow the better tributary, half of our life to him: and there is good cause why we should do so: for sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. Who complains of want? of wounds? of care? of great men’s oppressions ? of captivity? whilst he sleepeth? Beggars in their beds take as much pleasure as kings: can we therefore surfeit on this delicate Ambrosia? Can we drink too much of that whereof to taste too little tumbles us into a churchyard, and to use it but indifferently throws us into Bedlam? No, no, look upon Endymion, the moon’s minion, who slept three score and fifteen years, and was not a hair the worse for it.
Now, lets see if I can get me some of that sleep, the golden chain, etc.
Loads of people talk about why on earth we should read fiction and not feel it to be a waste of time. Neil Gaiman recently claimed that our future depends on reading imaginative fiction. I found a particularly interesting tidbit about science fiction in the middle of the text of this speech. Here it is:
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Read Science Fiction. It is good for you. Also other kinds of fiction are good for you, but the Chinese government especially recommends Science Fiction.
I’ve previously written about my dream home library. That post linked to a set of photos of home libraries to drool over. Today I found another list of libraries, this one a fictional set. I also figured out where the current dream library in my head comes from — “My Fair Lady” the movie! Aha! It is Henry Higgins’s library. What do you model your dream library on?
A few of my fb friends have mentioned they just aren’t that into fiction. I am astonished by this as I cannot imagine life without fiction. Well I can, a little. I gave up fiction one year for lent. That was a long 40 days. But generally, I cannot imagine life without fiction. I’ve always got at least one novel on the go. If you doubt me, look around on this blog.
As I thought about the tribe of “I don’t get fiction” I wondered if there was a correlation between those people and their Myers-Briggs type. In Myers-Briggs terms, I am an INTP, often called “The Theorist” thus it is appropriate for me to have a theory about people-who-don’t-get-fiction. My theory is that those people may often be “S” or Sensing types. Sensing types tend to be more tuned into the real world of the senses vs. iNtuitive types who tend to live more inside their heads. To test this theory, I need people willing to reveal at least a tiny piece of themselves in the following poll. Let’s see if it works. (There is an online-not-certified-as-correct-use-at-own-risk version of an MBTI test here.)
This week is “Banned Book Week” as proclaimed by the American Library Association. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sells Banned Book paraphernalia and maintains lists of “banned” books on their website. The problem I have with this whole “Banned Book Week” begins with the broad definition of a challenged/banned book — a book which has been challenged or removed from a library or course reading list. Really, there is little at stake in preventing challenges/bans in the USA. One can always find the “banned” book in another library system, or in a local or online bookseller.
While the ALA’s concern to keep material available to all is commendable, the Read A Banned Book! exhortations which filled social media early this week are overdone. There are some countries where reading a banned book is not a mildly rebellious act, but a death-defying act. I’m not sure how the ALA’s week of hype really helps us understand this. In my mind it downgrades the issue, making it into a bit of a joke. I’ve read loads of banned books, and so have you. Just look at the lists if you’ve any doubt about that. How do we start to understand the reality of banned books globally?
Another blogger (from a non-North American viewpoint) pointed out that while challenging/banning books is not an effective method of keeping books out of the public eye, ignoring them is. What books do we ignore? They are effectively banned as they are not included in library collections or in school curriculum in the first place. How do we pay more attention to ignored works?
My at-home reading place is my chair or my couch. My main living space is also the library at my house, so those locations are surrounded by books. I’m not very good at reading in public or university libraries, I get distracted by the public nature of the space. (This is translated “other people bother me.”) I read a lot at tables in various restaurants and diners that I frequent. I read on the bus and subway, and while waiting for the bus and the subway.
If I could read in a place in a book, it would likely be the haunted library at Duke’s Denver as described by Dorothy L. Sayers in Busman’s Honeymoon. One might be distracted by the ghosts, but they seem friendly. My fb friends are consumed with the idea of reading in the Hogwarts common room, but I think it would be a rather noisy place, and were I there I might be watching someone play wizard chess, or learning the rules of exploding snap.
While I like reading outside (as suggested by fb friends), often the other things outside distract from the book. I did some reading on a muskoka chair under a large sun-umbrella this summer. That was nice.
Where do you read? What literary location would you like to have access to in order to read there?
In July I threatened that this post would come, but the actual writing has been postponed until now. I was prompted to return to my musings of almost two months ago by a YouTube video which was posted by a fb friend and on a blog that I follow via Twitter. I generally don’t watch video links on fb or blogs, but because of the completely different people who’d posted it I did watch this one. The video is all about how smartphones are ubiquitous and may prevent interaction with people who are actually physically present with you. But we all know that from experience. Also smartphones and posting pictures/videos from those phones are what makes something “real” for some people.
Two things happened in June that made me think how quickly things can change and how often we don’t notice how much we’ve adapted to new situations. One thing happened in a local diner and the other at the local grocery store.
Diner happening: I was eating breakfast at a local diner on my day off. It was not very busy and across the room was a table of four people who were really the only ones talking in the place. I eavesdropped. The four, all of whom I thought older than me, were bemoaning the cost of having a cell phone with them in Europe. One woman announced that she coped by using her smartphone’s wireless connection vs its G3 connection whenever possible. “You can get free wireless lots of places,” she said, “so I use that instead of using the roaming thing.” This prompted a discussion of whether just getting a throw-away phone in Europe once one arrived was actually the best thing to do. Then, of course, all your settings would not be saved and it would just be a basic phone — but then you could use your smartphone for the wireless connections and the throw-away phone for calls and texts as needed. I was amazed. I could remember getting my first cell phone and I’m sure these people all remembered life before cell phones, yet now they talked as though travelling without one was just unreasonable. They had all kinds of work-arounds for the high cost of carrying a phone with them wherever they went — when the ability to do this has only become a reality in the past 20 years. Odd how we thing that something like a cell phone is necessary to life when it is just not.
Grocery Store happening: I was browsing the produce at the grocery store and was slightly shocked and horrified to see some pomegranates in store in June. Then I stopped myself and thought more carefully about the availability of berries year-round. I’m usually shocked if I cannot find strawberries in the grocery store every week of the year. I can remember when strawberries were not available 52 weeks a year, but only in the spring and summer. I ate seasonally because I had to — there was no choice about the matter. Now eating seasonly appropriate food is an ethical decision some people make. If you don’t have contact with farms, you may not even know what food is seasonal. Interesting.
People adapt. The world changes and we change right along with it, and hardly notice when things have changed beyond recognition. New things become necessary. Conveniences are taken for granted. And I’m posting this from a laptop not currently wired to anything. It is an annoyance when I have to go plug in to a wall. How weird is that?
You may have noticed a dearth of posts in this location. It isn’t that there isn’t anything to write about. That is clearly untrue. I mentioned writing some reflections on the idea of a new normal in my last post. There’s also plenty of news in the world at large to write about and reflect upon: J.K. Rowling! (Yes! A new mystery series to collect.) Prince George of Cambridge! (Seriously? George? You must be joking. What happened to James or Albert or Arthur?) Booker long list! (Never heard of any of the books and very few of the authors.)
There, I’ve reflected on some of the news and views in the world.
And now I’m going off on vacation. See you in August. Happy reading.
Yesterday I published the top five posts on this blog that people have clicked on individually. These may not be your personal choice for favourite post in this space, but they are the choice of the collective. I also said that I’d post my favourite post (or two) from this space.
Posts I like a lot in no particular order:
Theology in the Grocery Store: It was such a spontaneous post and hit some kind of nerve because it was reposted and fb linked so that it bounced into the top five posts all time. I just like it. It was fun to write.
I Got a Scrabble Mug for Christmas with a W on it: this post is in the category “titles are deceptive.” It is in the alphabetic series I did a little over a year ago, in which I explored ways I found books to read. W is for Women. Read more books by Women!
Academic Writing: I like this post because it describes what I’m doing right now: Avoiding academic writing by posting on this blog.
Further Reflections on Genre: This post came out of others on genre and science fiction. I like it because a bunch of things came together in my head and exploded into insight. It is fun when that happens. This is why I do research.
Right, I’m off to look for more brain insight explosions on the current writing project.
Stats are kind of fun to look at now and again. Since today is the last day of the first half of the year, let’s look at some stats for my blog.
Some people find my blog by using a search engine of some kind. WordPress keeps track of which searches led people to The Backlist. Gratifyingly, some of these searches look like deliberate attempts to find the blog. The top five searches that led people to my blog are:
“dedication of thesis to aunt” YES! I dedicated my dissertation to three of my aunts, glad that the world wide web sends people to my blog because of it.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the posts most searched for above are among the posts that get the most hits on the blog. The top five doesn’t quite line up though, so here are the top five blog posts: