"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Not Write About Sex?

Well, because it might be crass:

First, that not all writing about sex is meant to titillate. There are other reasons to describe what people do in bed. Not all of these reasons are vulgar or crass. To my mind, a conventional sex scene, say in an airplane novel (“as she raised her hips and guided him into the hot wet center of her,” etc., etc.), is indeed crass. But is it crass—is it meretricious—to write honestly about the mess and complexity of the individual libido? Not to me. What’s vulgar is an airbrush. What’s really vulgar is a sex scene in borrowed language, where the characters are stripped of individuality and the situation has no moral depth. I hope we don’t publish anything like that.
The Paris Review blog.

This reminded me of Mario Vargas Llosa's indictment of porn in The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto. I'm paraphrasing, but his point is that it's so non-individual, so off-the-rack, that it really isn't interesting. So, writing about sex, to transcend the crass and pornographic, has to have original language, well-written individuals, moral depth, and honesty as far as messiness and complexity. It has to be recognizably about the people involved. Okay. I get that. No thinly disguised wish-fulfilling, no use of sexual conquest just to pump up two-dimensional male characters or diminish two-dimensional female ones. Or vice-versa, altho it's usually not the case, anyway.

Summer Book Recommendations

From the people who are concerned that we are missing almost everything (see previous post from NPR): NPR Summer Reading Lists. I have put a few on my list already, science fiction, literary fiction, crime fiction, etc. A friend tells me that the best guarantee of book sales, outside of becoming an Oprah pick, is a mention at NPR. Maybe that is why so many of these titles show up in my library's system already. I'm sure the librarians are NPR fans. I plan to buy some titles, borrow some, and maybe clone myself so I can read them all.

Speaking of science fiction, I just (finally) finished reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, the sci fi classic. Set in an abbey after the nuclear apocalypse, the centuries pass while the brothers try to make sense of the past, prevent a recurrence in the future, and preserve the "Memorabilia" and Apostolic Succession, that is, the Catholic succession of priests, on another planet, if necessary.

Let's not forget what Junot Diaz is reading this summer.

Here are Oprah's suggestions, which include at least one from NPR's list and one from the NY Times'.

What are you reading this summer?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Live a Creative Life

You are going to have to ask yourself, at every turn: is this project making me smarter, or making me stupider. Is this job stoking my fire, or burning me out? How do I top this? How can I learn from this? How do I produce my best work in this kind of environment? Should my next set of projects build up from what I’ve already done? Or do I need to branch out, go sideways, and push myself to try something new, that I’m less comfortable with.

Think carefully about how you spend your time, because your work isn’t like other people’s work. There isn’t a hard line between uptime and downtime. Your brain is always working, and what you experience in your downtime influences the quality of what you do when you’re on task. Be mindful of what you’re getting out of the time that you spend. Does your downtime refresh and recharge you? Or does it narcotize you? Does it spark new ideas? Or do you find yourself thinking, “well, there’s three hours of my life I’m never getting back.”

Ringling College Commencement Speech, 2011. Thanks to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Barnes & Noble Surprise

Barnes & Noble, through its combination of physical bookstores and bn.com, remained the largest outlet for the sale of trade books in 2010. That was one of the first findings from Bowker’s annual rollup of its monthly book consumer tracking program, PubTrack Consumer. According to PubTrack, B&N’s share of spending on trade books rose from 22.5% in 2009 to 23.0%; sales exclude used books. While B&N held onto the top spot, Amazon showed the strongest gain in the year, capturing 15.1% of print trade book dollar sales in 2010 compared to 12.5% in 2009.
From Publisher's Weekly, via Laurie McLean.

This from back in March. I just saw it, and have to say it surprised me that Amazon did not hold the top spot. I guess all the actual bookstores work in Barnes & Noble's favor. And, probably the fact that their membership deal with preferred shipping is only $25 a year compared to Amazon's $79. Their prices are usually around the same. I'm happy that there is at least one venue for physically handling books before I buy them that is not going under. Even Borders was doing a reasonable share of business. This has me scratching my head and thinking about buzz vs. facts.