The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Reading’s Journey from Chore to Passion, and Other News

February 4, 2015 | by

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Gaston de la Touche, L’ennui, 1893.

  • We begin with the decline and fall of the English major: Have our nation’s youth really found something better to do? “If our spring 2015 numbers follow the pattern of our recent death spiral,” one professor said, “we will have lost in four years twice as many majors as we gained in fifteen.” Another theorized that “many students who would prefer to declare humanities majors might be challenged or advised to declare a ‘practical major.’ ”
  • But even those of us who threw caution to the wind and majored in English have not done such a hot job of pursuing literature in other languages. “About 3 percent of all the books published in the U.S. every year are translations. But the bulk of these are technical writings or reprints of literary classics; only 0.7 percent are first-time translations of fiction and poetry.”
  • Still, shouldn’t we congratulate ourselves for living in an era when reading is regarded as a joy, a passion, rather than as a necessary, bland consequence of rhetorical culture? “For a long time, people didn’t love literature. They read with their heads, not their hearts (or at least they thought they did), and they were unnerved by the idea of readers becoming emotionally attached to books and writers. It was only over time—over the century roughly between 1750 and 1850—that reading became a ‘private and passional’ activity, as opposed to a ‘rational, civic-minded’ one.”
  • Today, by contrast, we’re so in love with literature that one can earn seven hundred dollars a week simply by writing poems on the subway. And they don’t have to be good poems, either. (“Faint sweeps / Of sea breeze / In the light stream of / Water … ”)
  • Most of us prefer to write in private—others of us have no choice. Anna Lyndsey has a rare illness that makes her skin burn whenever she’s exposed to light, even the light of an iPhone. She lives in darkness. She gets her news from the radio. She writes. “She found that, with practice, she could write in her head—marshal thoughts into sentences, arrange sentences into paragraphs—before writing longhand in a notebook. It was liberating, not being able to see her words on the page. Darkness, it seems, is also a cure for self-consciousness.”

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The Not-so-open Road

January 20, 2015 | by

Hoarding books across the country.

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Photo: Frank Kovalchek, via Flickr

Fourteen years ago, my mom bought herself a Volkswagen Jetta, and this Christmas she passed it on to me. My girlfriend Sheena and I did what anyone would: we packed our bags and set a course for Iowa.

What I mean is that we took an old-fashioned road trip, from Minneapolis to San Francisco, and Iowa City was our first port of call. If Sheena and I had set out in the summer we might have shot straight west into South Dakota and beyond, but in winter our rusting station wagon seemed about as likely to make it through the Rockies as to successfully invade Russia. Instead, we drove south through Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma, in search of warmer climes and easier roads. People sometimes complain that the Midwest is too flat, but that quality has its consolations. Mountains, like high heels, are attractive but impractical—especially in the snow. Read More »

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Advertise with Joan Didion, and Other News

January 7, 2015 | by

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Who could say no to that face? Photo: Jergen Teller/Céline

  • Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has started a book club—it’s perfect for philistines. “Zuckerberg launched the project by announcing, with what sounds almost like surprise, that books are ‘intellectually fulfilling’ and ‘allow you to fully explore a topic … in a deeper way than most media today’ … Imagine a world in which there’d been 700 years of the internet, before, in the nineties, somebody invented books. It would surely seem a miracle that, instead of trawling through acres of semi-reliable information, you could have a guaranteed, portable and inexpensive source of knowledge from someone who knows both how to write and what they’re talking about.”
  • Joan Didion is, at eighty years old, still writing, and still modeling. She’s the new face for the Spring 2015 line of the French fashion label Céline. And she looks positively thrilled to be there.
  • Why have we reserved the adjective difficult for works of high art? If difficult means “hard to read, hard to get through, hard to finish,” then Fifty Shades of Grey is every bit as difficult as The Recognitions. “Difficulty is various and subjective … opacity and frustration aren’t necessarily errors or failures on the part of the reader.”
  • A crop of recent novels express a curious nostalgia for the seventies: “Everyone knows now how decades come back into fashion with motiveless regularity … The novelists who have lately returned to the Seventies seem to be making a stronger claim: that there is something uniquely vital to the decade, and in fact uniquely to be missed.”
  • Say the apocalypse were to arrive and a world-sundering hellfire rained down upon us. CNN is ready. When Ted Turner founded the company thirty-four years ago, he stipulated that the network’s last functioning employee had to air a certain video before ceasing broadcast at the end of the world. This is it.

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The Hattifatteners at Bedtime, and Other News

December 19, 2014 | by

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Tove Jansson‘s Hattifatteners.

  • On a new biography of Tove Jansson: “She discovered lesbian love … Biographies invariably contain a section on her sexuality and this one is no exception. Its insight that the creatures in Moominland called the Hattifatteners ‘resemble a wandering flock of penises or condoms’ is a point to ponder when reading aloud at bedtime.”
  • What are the most important questions to ask ourselves when we read? “What is the emotional atmosphere behind this narrative? That’s the question I suppose I’m asking—and what is the consequent debate arising from that atmosphere?”
  • The Chinese term for “effortless action” is wu wei. You’ll soon see it in self-help texts—and why not? Striving to try less hard may, in fact, be very self-helpful. “Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.”
  • “A raucous, Sherlock Holmes–themed pantomime called ‘Mrs. Hudson’s Christmas Corker’ might not sound like the most highbrow play that London has to offer. But if you sample enough of the mulled wine being served in the foyer beforehand, you begin to see it differently.”
  • Matisse’s cutouts are now—and not for the first time—the toast of the art world. But when he made them, he wasn’t so sure: “Matisse worried that working with cut paper was cheating—a shortcut to painting—and he kept it a secret. ‘It is necessary not to say anything about this,’ he wrote to his son Pierre, in 1931.”

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The Eyes Have It

December 16, 2014 | by

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Odilon Redon’s The Cyclops (detail), ca. 1914.

Philip K. Dick was born on this day in 1928. His story “The Eyes Have It” originally appeared in Science Fiction Stories 1953, but since the copyright wasn’t renewed, it’s lapsed into the public domain. “A little whimsy, now and then, makes for good balance,” the magazine’s editors wrote then. “Theoretically, you could find this type of humor anywhere. But only a topflight science-fictionist, we thought, could have written this story, in just this way … ”

It was quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and maintenance of frame houses. Anyhow, the whole thing is known; I’m not the first to discover it. Maybe it’s even under control.

I was sitting in my easy-chair, idly turning the pages of a paperbacked book someone had left on the bus, when I came across the reference that first put me on the trail. For a moment I didn’t respond. It took some time for the full import to sink in. After I’d comprehended, it seemed odd I hadn’t noticed it right away.

The reference was clearly to a nonhuman species of incredible properties, not indigenous to Earth. A species, I hasten to point out, customarily masquerading as ordinary human beings. Their disguise, however, became transparent in the face of the following observations by the author. It was at once obvious the author knew everything. Knew everything—and was taking it in his stride. The line (and I tremble remembering it even now) read: Read More »

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The World Just Wasn’t Ready, and Other News

December 11, 2014 | by

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Rest in peace, WebVan. Photo: Mark Coggins, via Flickr

  • Tim Parks was dismayed to find that his students were so enthralled by “the printed word and an aura of literariness” that they’d miss obvious absurdities in what they were reading. His advice? “Always read with a pen in your hands, not beside you on the table, but actually in your hand, ready, armed. And always make three or four comments on every page, at least one critical, even aggressive. Put a question mark by everything you find suspect. Underline anything you really appreciate. Feel free to write ‘splendid,’ but also, ‘I don’t believe a word of it.’ And even ‘bullshit.’ ”
  • On a similar note, Oxonians are obsessed with finding marginalia in their library books: on Facebook, the Oxford University Marginalia group “now has two thousand five hundred and three members, making marginalia to Oxford something like what a cappella is to Princeton. ‘The Oxford libraries are still heavily used, and the curriculum remains relatively stable, so you have so many students reading the same texts’ … ‘The books are thrashed, basically.’ ”
  • Not many people are managing to slog through literary best sellers, experts say: “A study has shown the most downloaded ebooks of the year were not necessarily ever finished by hopeful readers.” Just 44 percent of readers made it through The Goldfinch, and 28 percent got through Twelve Years a Slave.
  • Crummy computer news, part one: they’re better at flirting than we are. “Women were okay, able to judge with 62 percent accuracy when a man was flirting with them. Men were worse, accurately guessing that a woman was flirting just 56 percent of the time. The Stanford guys’ flirtation-detection system, in comparison, was able to correctly judge flirting with 71 percent accuracy.”
  • Crummy computer news, part two: all the seemingly horrendous dot-com ideas of the nineties were actually pretty decent. Remember WebVan? No? They wanted to use the Internet to deliver fresh groceries to your door—just as dozens of profitable companies are doing today.

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