New Year, Coloring Around a Dead TV

Spending New Year’s Eve watching live TV. I’m struck by how this format, based on a shared experience at the same moment in time, is a relic from a previous media era. After a few hours, I feel dumber. I’m left with the feeling that I could live the rest of my life and not see any live television again, and I’d be better off for it.

Also, conversation is kind of a lost art. Coloring apps, on the other hand, seem the flavor of the moment. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that there’s time to read, or do other things of value, but you have to choose them.

Books I’d Like to Read in 2021

A short fiction where I pretend to you, dear reader, that I am still capable of reading more than a book a week.

  1. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel M. Ingram
  2. Fool on the Hill by Mark Sargent
  3. The Omnibus Homo Sacer by Giorgio Agamben
  4. Cargill Falls by William Lychack [x]
  5. Black Imagination by Natasha Marin (Editor)
  6. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth by Marilyn Waring
  8. Deep Adaptation by Jem Bendell [x]
  9. The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limon [x]
  10. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen
  11. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle [x]
  12. How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong
  13. Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions by Martin Gardner
  14. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology by Gregory Bateson
  15. Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues by Catharine A. MacKinnon
  16. War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires by Peter Turchin
  17. Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs
  18. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
  19. Take the Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Survivor by Susan Gordon Lydon
  20. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
  21. Ball Four by Jim Bouton
  22. The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men by Robert Jensen [x]
  23. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
  24. Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World by Olga Khazan
  25. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics by Christopher Lasch
  26. Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold
  27. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
  28. Another Birth by Forough Farrokhzad
  29. Darkness Spoken by Ingeborg Bachmann
  30. So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
  31. Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt
  32. The Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
  33. Machines in the Head by Anna Kavan
  34. The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos by Rosario Castellanos
  35. Mad in Pursuit by Violette Leduc
  36. The Wedding by Dorothy West
  37. The Hebrew Bible by Robert Alter
  38. The Red Book: Liber Novus by C.G. Jung
  39. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
  40. Heart of the Original by Steve Aylett
  41. On the Brink of Paradox by Augustin Rayo
  42. The Commonwealth series by Peter F. Hamilton
  43. Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Christopher W. Alexander
  44. Sandworm by Andy Greenberg
  45. Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
  46. A Passion For Friends by Janice G. Raymond
  47. The Precipice by Toby Orb
  48. Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
  49. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  50. Primeval & Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk
  51. Consuming the Romantic Utopia by Eva Illouz
  52. Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich

Tachyon Humble Book Bundle

“Get ready to ride off into the stars and charge into magical battles. We’ve teamed up with Tachyon to provide you with a bundle of imaginative digital sci-fi and fantasy books for your reading pleasure! Get ebooks like Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein, The Very Best of Caitlin by R. Kiernan, and Beyond Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.”

Humble Book Bundle: Celebrating 25 Years of Sci-Fi & Fantasy from Tachyon.

Most excited about Jo Walton’s Starlings, The Best of Michael Moorcock, Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia, and Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology in this collection.

Books as Time Capsules

“Saving clippings this way turns each book into a time capsule. The next time I open one of these books, a paper treasure will fall out. A little surprise for my future self. (Or whoever else cracks it open.)”

Austin Kleon, “How to turn your books into time capsules.” AustinKleon.com. January 29, 2020.

Strangely, this even works when the time capsules are part of the creative product. I remember enjoying Ship of Theseus, largely for the meta-story and ephemera in the margins and added to the book. And, it also works when reading my own marginalia, years later. Adding clippings seems like a natural extension to capture the cultural moment.

Don’t Like, Don’t Read

“The onus was on the reader, not the author, to protect themselves with the information given. Basically, AO3 took the early fandom nugget ‘Don’t like, don’t read’ and made it policy.”

rapacityinblue, in “This Discussion.” (I’m not going to try to get my mind around how a Tumblr discussion should be cited.)

I found this discussion about Archive of Own Own (AO3) fascinating, and it made something clear(er) to me that I have not understood for a long time: trigger warnings.

When I read an article that includes trigger warnings, it is normally from a mainstream source that has largely been sanitized of content that would trigger me. So, they seem unnecessary.

I’ve never spent any appreciable time on A03, but it is clear that the content in the A03 archive has not been sanitized. And if you are browsing something where you truly don’t know what you are going to get and it is possible that it may not be what you want, it should be tagged in such a way where you can make a rough determination of whether it is something you want to get into before you start to read. If there’s a good chance you aren’t going to like it, you can tell in advance and not read it. The responsibility lies with the reader.

I spend most of my time reading sources that do not have any, or much, “triggering” content (at least for me). In that environment, I do not need a trigger warning. I am free to read everything.

I was trying to think of another example in a different media, and there are definitely films I can think of that would benefit from this kind of tagging. For example, I suggested that my wife and I watch Oldboy when it came out in the theaters. We knew nothing about it going in, and to this day, my wife won’t watch South Korean movies. It’s a movie that can “trigger” a lot of people. Others that come to mind would be Requiem for a Dream and Se7en, and a case could be made for films like The Silence of the Lambs, Reservior Dogs, and others. What would it be like to watch Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story if you had a history of anorexia nervosa? What seems benign to me certainly may not be benign to another.

And it made me realize that most of our environments have been sanitized. We do have systems to tag content, such as when a movie is labelled “R”, Restricted. But, it is interesting that these labels are based on maturity and age. And while there are designations like “graphic violence” or “strong language” that are used in conjunction with the rating, there’s a world of difference between the “graphic violence” in Oldboy than most other films that get made. But, we don’t need a better system of tags because challenging films like Oldboy, largely don’t get made.

So, the next time someone with a conservative outlook talks about “snowflakes” being “triggered”, perhaps it would be a good time to suggest they try a double feature of Oldboy and Requiem for a Dream and see if they think these films should having something more extensive than an R rating for “for strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language” or “intense depiction of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence”, respectively.

See also: The reaction to Isabel Fall’s short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.”

How to Read Big Books

“…it is a principal task of a successful modern university to teach people how to read [big, difficult, flawed, incredibly insightful, genius books]. Indeed, it might be said that one of the few key competencies we here at the university have to teach—our counterpart or the medieval triad of rhetoric, logic, grammar and then quadriad of arithmetic, geometry, music and astrology—is how to read and absorb a theoretical argument made by a hard, worthwhile, flawed book. People need to understand what an argument is, and the only way to do that is actually go through an argument—to read the argument and try to make sense of it. People need to be able to tell the difference between an argument and an assertion. People need to be able to do more than just say whether they liked the conclusion or not: they need to be able to specify whether the argument hangs together given the premises, and where it is the premises, and where it is the premises themselves that need to be challenged. People need to learn that while you can disagree, you need to be able to specify why and how you disagree.

The first order task is to teach people how to read difficult books…Teaching them how to read difficult books will stick with them over the years. Knowing what to do with a book that makes an important, an interesting, but also a flawed argument—that is a key skill.

…we urge you to focus on the “meta” to the extent that you can: it is not so much the ability to answer the question “what does Marx think about X?” that we want you to grasp, but rather “how do I figure out what Marx thinks about X?” that is the big goal here…

We have our recommended ten-stage process for reading such big books:

1. Figure out beforehand what the author is trying to accomplish in the book.

2. Orient yourself by becoming the kind of reader the book is directed at—the kind of person with whom the arguments would resonate.

3. Read through the book actively, taking notes.

4. “Steelman” the argument, reworking it so that you find it as convincing and clear as you can possibly make it.

5. Find someone else—usually a roommate—and bore them to death by making them listen to you set out your “steelmanned” version of the argument.

6. Go back over the book again, giving it a sympathetic but not credulous reading.

7. Then you will be in a good position to figure out what the weak points of this strongest-possible argument version might be.

8. Test the major assertions and interpretations against reality: do they actually make sense of and in the context of the world as it truly is?

9. Decide what you think of the whole.

10. Then comes the task of cementing your interpretation, your reading, into your mind so that it becomes part of your intellectual panoply for the future.”

-Brad Delong, “A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books…Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality. December 28, 2019

Hippos & Armadillos

“Boynton’s books work best when they address adults and children together. In But Not the Hippopotamus, the title character does not partake in other animals’ activities: “A hog and a frog cavort in a bog. But not the hippopotamus.” At the end, the group invites her to join and she agrees: “But YES the hippopotamus!” Joy and comfort seem assured. Yet, just then, on the final page: “But not the armadillo.” Like all good literature, it leaves interpretation to the reader…For years, readers begged for a follow-up that would resolve the matter. Last year, she finally gave in and published But Not the Armadillo. After pages of gratifying, mostly solitary activities—napping, strolling, picking cranberries—the book invokes the earlier story’s ending: “A happy hippo dashes by. She wants to run and play. But not the armadillo. No. He goes the other way.” Don’t sit out if you want to join in—that’s the hippo’s lesson. But equally valuable is the armadillo’s: You don’t have to take part if you don’t want to.”

—Ian Bogost, “Sandra Boynton’s Captivating Universe.” The Atlantic. November 2019.

Essays/Articles That Opened Your Mind

“Potential to alter/broaden the reader’s perspective, however slight. More than anything, I want stuff that’ll provoke thinking. Maybe you read something you’re still mulling over long after? That’s what I’m on the lookout for. Good examples of this are Jess Zimmerman’s Toast piece on emotional labor, Adichie’s TED Talk on the danger of a single story, and Scalzi’s blog on the lowest difficulty setting.”

—EXStickland, “Essays/Articles That Opened Your Mind, ” Metafilter. October 1, 2019.

Standard Ebooks: Free and Liberated ebooks

“Standard Ebooks is a volunteer driven, not-for-profit project that
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Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style manual, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to create a new edition that takes advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.”

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