Monday, October 29, 2007

Too many piles on my desk

As my handful of loyal readers have probably noticed, my blogging activities have exploded in the past year. My efforts have shifted from a sole focus on the beloved if not-always-frequently updated Wordwright to participation, at one level or another in Revelator, East Lansing Lit Mags, Console Club, and I Read That Somewhere.

All this activity (and I ask you to be forgiving of my use of the word "activity," since as far as it can be accurately applied to most of the blogs I've listed, it often has little to do with me) has not necessarily led to an active readership. (I've started tracking information on Google analytics, and frankly, it's a bit depressing.) I do have an idea or two about how to address this, but I've always given at least lip-service to the goal of making my blog(s) a participatory project, and I'd love to get some feedback from the handful of readers that I have.

What do you love about Wordwright? What posts do you read and which do you ignore? What do I write about that I should never write about again? Perhaps most importantly, what sort of literary, creative writing, and book business conversations would you be interested in hearing or contributing to?

I need to have a few conversations with a few people, but my goal is to make a few of my conversations more active (which will involve both more writing on my part, and hopefully a few other specific active contributors), and an effort to create some sort of a clearing house for my diverse blogging efforts.

I'll try to start nudging things along immediately, but look for a big change at the beginning of the new year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mirror, mirror has posted a list of winners of "the Nobel Prize in Literature from an Alternative Universe." The obvious intended discussion point is whether JK Rowling is as worthy of the Nobel as Doris Lessing, but the list makes for an interesting read, as much for the awards that it agrees with as the writers that the list suggests that the Swedish academy has overlooked.

Greatbooksguide suggests that the Nobel got it right with Kipling, O'Neill, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Steinbeck, Sartre, Beckett, and Solzhenitsyn (among others), and there are more than a handful of noncontroversial neglected names such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Woolf, Henry James, Kafka, Joyce, and Proust. But Lennon/McCartney? Zane Grey? Ian Fleming? And, my affection for the man aside, Jack Kerouac?

I think that it's interesting that the list carries a more powerful critique of the early 20th Century Nobel winners than the more recent laureates. It's far easier to discern in retrospect whose writing has really mattered than it is to make similar predictions about contemporary writers, and, on some level, it's not as fair to pick on the Scandinavian-centric picks that the Nobel made when it was getting established.

The alternate-universe list becomes more eccentric the closer it gets to the present. I think that 2000 is a good example—the real 2000 laureate, Gao Xingjian, is (was?) fairly unknown in the US. His first English translation wasn't published until 2001. As the alternate-universe pick, however, Haruki Murakami is well-known and respected in the US, but my understanding is that he is not considered as important a writer in his native Japan. Additionally, while it seems like a great idea to consider at least some songwriters as being on the same level as most contemporary poets, it's problematic that all the songwriters honored in the alternate universe write in English.

There's a good argument to be made that at least some genre writing deserves to be considered at the same level as "literature," but the trouble with doing so lies not so much with the writers as with the critics. To an American Baby-Boomer, Bob Dylan is among the highest art, but the Nobel at least tries to consider honoring "literary" writers from all over the world. It would be difficult (but certainly not impossible) to do the same thing with music, lyrics, and most genre fiction, whose auidence, though broad and passionate, is usually much more locally focused than the (admittedly much smaller) audience for literary fiction.

I would use my (and anyone's) local bookstore to support that assertion. While translation in a US bookstore makes up only a small segment of even the fiction/literature section, how many translations can you find in mysteries, romance, or science fiction? (Sure, there are some, but proportionately far fewer, in my experience, than in literary fiction.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The system is down

Slate is running a series on "American Lawbreaking," which aims to explore "the black spots in American law: areas in which our laws are routinely and regularly broken and where the law enforcement response is … nothing." Today's entry examines copyright law.

Here's the nutshell summary:

It is hard to see how anyone could endorse a system that declares many inoffensive activities illegal, with the tacit understanding that the law will usually not be enforced, leaving sanctions hanging overhead like copyright's own Sword of Damocles. The symbolic legal message is preposterous: "Remember, copyright is important, and you're breaking the law and you may face massive fines. But on the other hand, your [fan]site is totally great, so keep going!"

But there's a reason we do things this way: political failure. . . It all boils down to this: Harry Potter fanboys don't have K Street representation. Consequently, the political system spits out one kind of answer—an answer friendly to the "property interests" of powerful media companies but one that all but ignores the interests of the basement-dwellers. The formal result of that is what we have today: a copyright law that covers almost everything we do in the digital world.

In a well-functioning political system, the copyright law might be reformed in a grand negotiation between all interested parties, with the long-term goal of separating out the harmful infringement from the harmless. But in 21st-century America, that's not a result our political system is capable of reaching.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I don't have time for this, but that's never stopped me before

Hey, there's a cool new blog where a group of guys play a video game at the same time and then talk about it. You know, kind of like Oprah, but with Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

Oh yeah, and they even let me pick the first game: Ninja Gaiden.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Less than 24 hours later

Doris Lessing has been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

As per usual with Nobel Prize winners, I've never read Ms. Lessing, and also per usual, there's at least some reason to be dissatisfied with the Swedish academy's choice. I'll refrain from passing judgment on Ms. Lessing's work directly, since I'm in no position to do so, but she's the second British Nobel Laureate in the past three years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's that time again

The National Book Award shortlist was announced today. Paper Cuts describes it as "interesting and not miserably strange at first glance." The Lydia Davis is the only book on the list that I own, so I'll leave my readers to make their own judgments:

Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown & Company)
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Jim Shepard, Like You'd Understand, Anyway (Alfred A. Knopf)

Oh, and we're vaguely expecting the Nobel Prize in literature to be announced any day now. Any predictions?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Solipsism, more or less

The New York Times has an article today on the average time it takes students to earn a Ph.D (8.2 years, unless you're in education, in which case, don't ask), and some efforts universities are taking to shorten that time period (more frequent meetings with advisers, encouraging students to not think of their dissertation as a magnum opus, and student writing groups to ease isolation).

I have two initial impressions:
  1. This article would have been much better if it had been in The Chronicle of Higher Education

  2. Hey! They quoted Greg Nicholson from MSU! (15th paragraph)

Just in case any of you were worried, I'm in an MA program, not a Ph.D program. Although it will still probably take me at least 2.5 years to finish, since I'm also working a full-time job. And not teaching, which is nice for me, but I'm a touch concerned about how that might affect future employability or grad school applications.