Posts Tagged ‘literature’

I’ve been putting this post off for a while now and by a while I mean since January 2014.

I meant to write about it, but I didn’t. I meant to get around to it, when I had more time to think about to talk it out a bit with myself like I usually do, but I didn’t. The year passed and then about a month ago something starts floating around the internets.

Readers, Challenge oneself to go a whole year without reading anything written by cis-straight-white men.

My first reaction was —GO A WHOLE YEAR WITHOUT VONNEGUT! That’s insane!

The post got passed around and got a bunch of people up in a huff. I won’t delve any further on that front, but it reminded me of the conversation that got me started on this a year ago and my desire to try and work those thoughts out on paper.

I’ve been putting this piece off mostly because I don’t know how to talk about it. At least not on the internet, not with strangers, not without sounding like a total asshole. So I hope you’ll excuse anything I say out of ignorance. So I’m just going to be honest and vulnerable and ramble for a bit. Unlike my other cultural/political rants I put up here I ‘m not trying to make a point

It started at a going away party for a friend. The friend introduced me to someone

—You two will love each other. She’s a writer as well

And we did get along quite swimmingly. Of course, we got into the typical what are you reading who are your favorites bullshit.

She told me hers I told her mine and then she said

—ah, of course, all of the old white men

Instinctively, took a bit of an offence. I wanted to cleverly refute the implication, but then I got home and looked at my bookshelf. The list I gave that night probably wouldn’t surprise many of you, writers like Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Hunter S Thompson (I should note, however obviously, that this blog is called Bloggings of a Dirty Old Man not only in order to set a certain tone, but is also a reference to Charles Bukowski.).

This is my reading list for 2015

Among the 35 books on that list the ones that aren’t written by white men can be counted on one hand. A total of five if you include Murakami, but I don’t because he’s basically a Japanese white man.

I’m of several minds about the matter.

First, my defense

The novel itself is a western invention (Yes, I know, but before you start on the whole Pillow Book line, let me stop you, I’m not going to go down that path this round. There’s enough to address on the table already.), it’s beginning usually accredited to Cervantes. For ages women were kept out of that sphere, and pretty much all other matters of import, so for a good long stretch of publication history, women publishing novels just didn’t happen often. In America, people of color and women were not allowed to vote or even learn to read (and other stuff which I will now grossly simplify as patriarchypatriarcypatriarchy).So when talking about the whole cannon of fiction novels, there is just an overwhelming number favor for white men.

Next, proximity. We tend to read and enjoy more of what feels familiar to us, (same goes for music, movies etc) I take an authors that I like and see what they read, and so on. Or I wait until a mathematical quotient of recommendations are met (see paragraph two here)

In short I don’t really ever seek out new works. I already have a huge stack of things to read, so I don’t need to. Anything else that ends up in my hands comes to me through one of these methods.

So I’m not the racist, sexist one, right? It’s all those other people telling me what to read. It’s my schools’ fault for not teaching a more diverse cannon.

I’ll get to more of this later, but as a writers, it’s total bullshit to try and put myself in such a passive role when it comes to what I read. The shot of it is, it’s the patriarchy’s fault as a whole, because Society popularized those books. In the words of John Green “I am a white man in a society that tends to reward maleness and whiteness”

I didn’t read Gatsby or Huck Finn or Dickens because I chose to fill my head with the words of only white men. I did it because that is what was provided to me as a child and as I grew I sought out other work that felt familiar.

But now I am grown and I’m a professional writer. Which makes me a professional reader. That excuse is no longer valid

Jay Smooth, I feel has a fairly good take on this in what he calls learning the craft of being good

Like Jay, I often feel that MRA/redpill gut reaction of stop making me feel ashamed for being a white male and liking art by other white men, especially because the truth is, when it comes to non-fiction media I follow plenty of not white men. I want to defend myself in a similar argument to but I have black friends so it’s cool.

My RSS/twitter/youtube subscriptions includes a Dan savage, Bret Easton Ellis, Hannah hart, Laci green, Jay smooth, Meg Turney, Stoya, Laurie Penny, what’s her face from black girl dangerous, Molly Crabapple, Coke Talk, Holly Pervocacy, and more (admittedly mostly more white women), just to mansplain a little.

Somehow though, when it comes to writers of fiction, that number drops substantially, racking my brain for this post, the only black authors I know I’ve even read are Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, August Wilson and only one of them was a novelist. There may be more, but not that I can think of in the hour it’s taken me to write this so far.

The woman at the party quickly listed off a number of people I don’t remember cause it was over a year ago and said I should make sure to read all of them. She told me I needed to work on seeking out more diverse authors because it was the right thing to do, it’s make me a better person. With that she put me on the defensive again as she was suggesting I was doing something wrong, by reading what I liked.

More importantly than my own ego however, what concerned me about this line of thought comes back to the title of this post, Pigeonholing.

Bret Easton Ellis, a writer of whom I am a fan, didn’t come out as gay until well into his career. Partially, perhaps because he feared it would hurt his ability to sell books, but according to him, most of the reason he didn’t come out was because he didn’t want his work filed under Gay literature. He didn’t want to be known as a leading queer author. He wanted to be known as a great American author.

I agree with Ellis. I don’t think anyone would categorize American Psycho as gay literature. I don’t think Rules of Attraction is the best candidate for a queer studies curriculum. So does Ellis’s work meet the criteria of the tumbler Social Justice Warrior challenge?

Would his books count before he came out? Does his coming out retroactively make them count, or does his work only count if it was published after he came out publicly?

I think Ellis’s is a totally fair choice and his prerogative as an artist. It makes me ask, when we seek out diversity for its own sake, are we not simultaneously restricting those artists by categorizing them by a single attribute?

(I know there are other authors, black authors, women authors, who have felt the same way, but I use Ellis as an example because He’s the most mainstream and could pass as a white man.)

All the not white men authors I’ve read I read for the same reason I read anything. So if I do go out of my way to get more diverse authors on my list for the year, what does it cost me? I can only read so much in my time here on earth, so what books that I want to read, or authors I love, do I have to give up to be ‘a good person’ or at least, a better person (This of course is the kind of logic that got Edward Norton’s Character started in American History X.) Yet at the same time one of the reasons I think literature is important is that it teaches us empathy.

When you read you see the world from the point of view of someone different from yourself. You realize that everyone else in the world is their own set of biases and emotions and opinions and other complexities. For those however many thousand words you become someone else and my hope is that when we come out the other side we see other people with a little more depth.

Back to my conversation with the woman at the party.

—How about Invisible Man? That’s one of my favorite books.

—Did you read that for school?

—Yeah.

—Exactly, doesn’t count

I read Invisible Man in high school and I loved it. It’s one of my favorite novels. I loved the writing, the storytelling, but what I remember most is the Narrator, his anger and discontent, his struggle to accept himself and his background, all while trying to play by the rules of a modern cosmopolitan racist society.

One of the reasons it was important to me was it was the first time I’d ever read a novel by a black person. I had studied speeches, poetry, learned about the civil rights movement in history. I had black friends, even the man that served as my surrogate father was black, but for me, it took a novel to begin to understand what it meant to be black in America.

This is why we first teach children about the Holocaust with Night and Number the Stars instead of just showing them black and whites of crematoriums. As an adult, the account that has meant the most to me was Maus. Fiction, or comic books, or theatre, or poetry or whatever, plays and important role in our cultural dialogue.

Invisible Man changed me in a fundamental way and helped me grow as a person (Later, when I went on to study theatre at university August Wilson became a favorite playwright of mine, again because a teacher assigned Fences to us.).

I don’t know what else my English teacher had on the curriculum beforehand. I don’t know if he picked it because he liked it or because he thought or was told he had to have a black author on the syllabus, but I certainly benefited from it.

This discussion also seems strange to me because I will often yell about how Hollywood doesn’t make movies with women or people of color as superheroes. I’m genuinely excited about the new Ms Marvel and Thor. I did bought the trade paperbacks when they came out even though I’ve never read either title before, when I could have bought the next DMZ or House of Mystery instead.

I don’t know what it is about fiction specifically that makes me go

—…eh, I got other shit to read.

And I don’t know why of all things I get defensive about my reading habits and my list. But I do.

Like Jay Smooth, I try to practice being good.

This comes back to why I put off writing about this for so long. I don’t want to think about it. Because, like everyone else, I want to see myself as the good guy. I don’t want to acknowledge any biases or shortcomings especially when those failings are steeped in institutional racism and misogyny that, for however much “I didn’t do it”, is furthered by my own tacit complicity in a system that advantages me.

We should self-evaluate. And we should acknowledge when we have weaknesses. It’s the foundation of my belief in science. It’s the only way we can change the world for the better. As a writer, this specifically should be something I should think about it.

For now I’ll leave with this.

On my list for this year I have the following non-white men books:

Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K Le Guin

The Handmaidens Tale – Margaret Atwood

Bel Canto – Anne Pratchet

Beloved – Toni Morrison

I don’t think I’ll make the whole35 for the year now that writing and reading things is a full time job for me, but these four will get a little boost in priority.

For next year, I’m not going to go the whole hog with the challenge (I’m not going to go a whole year without something by Vonnegut, Gaiman, Thompson or Bukowski when I’ve still so much left to read), but I’d like to make sure at least half of what goes on the list are by women or people of color (it beats the roughly ten percent mark from this year). Here’s what I’m putting on so far, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments or message me.

Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K Le Guin

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Eagan

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman (if I like Mockingbird) – Harper Lee

Things Fall Apart –Chinua Achebe

The motherfucking Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Native Son – Richard Wright

The Dispossessed (if I like Left Hand of Darkness) – Ursula K Le Guin

Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Interview with a Vampire – Anne Rice

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Shuffle Says: “Love Theme from Twin Peaks” Angelo Badalamenti

This post is all about me. So if you don’t care about what’s in my head right now(I suspect you don’t) just skip on down to other posts about news and sex and shit.

As it is about halfway through the year I figured I might as well go ahead and post my reading list for the year.  For the past few years I’ve written out a list of fifty book I want to read I started doing this after I heard Sasha Grey say she read a book a week, which seemed like quite a bit for me, but then, I’d never spent much time thinking about the quantitative aspects of my reading habits. So that New Years Eve I scribbled out a list of the first fifty books that came to my head that I wanted to read.

What usually ends up happening is that I get thought about one-third of the list (I’m sure quite a few of these will have shown up on last year’s list), a third of it gets replaced with impromptu items that jump the line and a third get’s pushed back till later. So here’s this year’s list. Many of the substitutions have already been made.

Kick Ass 2 – Mark Millar. Hope to get this done before the movie comes out

Finch – Jeff Vandermeer. Got it for free on Audible, after insistent recommendations by my brother of City of Saints and Madmen. I couldn’t find City on the site, so just grabbed this one instead.

Generation of Swine – Hunter S. Thompson . The second Installment of his short works of unpublished journalism and essays, mostly dealing with with politics and corruption in the 1980’s.

The Rum Diary – Thompson’s novel. I’ve never read any of his fiction, but his journalism reads like beautiful prose and I’m eager to see what’s in here.

City of Saints and Madmen – Jeff VanderMeer. Finished with Finch, which was fuckin awesomesauce. This apparently is also set in the same world.

DMZ (volumes 6 through current) – Brian Wood. A beautiful work of speculative politics. The art is great and the characters are wonderful. Can’t wait for the second half.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman. His new Novel. No reasons needed.

The Beat Reader – The bits I haven’t read. I went trough most of the correspondence portion last year and I’ve read most of the Kerouac and Ginsburg separately.

Mother Night – This will be my Vonnegut for the year.

Preacher – about halfway through this one. Hopefully will get my hands on everything left of it I ent read yet.

Sam Sheppard – about a half dozen of his plays of his are on my stack of shame. A good friend of mine who died last year was a huge Sheppard fan and as I can’t get to know him any better in person I thought I’d go though all the things he loved.

Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon. I avoided The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay for ages after a friend ‘lended’ me the book (read: I still have it, Blaine,  and will return it in exchange for my goddamned headphones). It was one of the best things I read last year and I have thus added Chabon to my list of “Authors who will remain on my list of books to read till I’ve gone though it all” Which includes Hemingway, Vonnegut, and McCarthy.

Fables (as much as I can get my hands on) – More comics I mean to read

House Of Mystery – the problem is that one 15 dollar paper back only lasts a short hour or two unlike a novel which can last a week or more.

Iron Weed – on my list of “pulitzer prize winners certain mentors of mine have expressly told me that I personally need to read”

Garden of Eden – just reread Snows of Kilimanjaro, did The Old Man and the Sea last year. This is Hemingway’s great unfinished work which has a lot of back story I’ll get into later.

Ham on Rye – I’ve never read Bukowski… I am ashamed.

On Writing – Stephen King. Done

Hanging out with the Dream King – Various. I’m a little obsessed. Shoot me.

Sutree – Cormac McCarthy. Trying very hard not to finish everything by him. So this is all I’m Allowing myself to read this year.

Ultimate Guide to Kink – Tristan Taramino. I’m not her biggest fan, but she’s been around for ages and is widely considered an authority on all things sex. Also, some friends/acquaintences of mine have made contributions to this book as have some people I admire. So I’ll probably skip around some.

A Scanner Darkly – partially through. my Phillip K Dick for the year

Children of the Mind – Where I left off with the Ender’s series. My chance to read some OSC for the first time as an adult and see what I really think.

Civil war script book  – a peek into how the whole thing was pulled off. Plus a chance to reread everything from that era and see how it sits now

The Magicians – Lev Grossman. Has reached critical number of recommendations, despite my best efforts.

The Big Sleep -Raymond Chandler. One of my all time favorite movies. I want to hear what his voice sounds like on paper.

 The Maltese Falcon – Dashell Hammet. Halfway through. From my bookshelf of shame.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace – This one is my beast for the year. Friends swear by this thing. We’ll see what happens.

There’s a couple of short stories that are burning a hole on my shelf that are in 50 Great Short Stories. I’ve read about half of the stories in here for one reason or another.

Crying of lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon. I don’t know about this. I’ve started it twice now and just cant get through enough pages to care before putting it down.

The Body Artist – Don Delillo. Because he supposedly is really awesome and I never Finished White Noise and this is, at least, short.

Something I haven’t read by Ray Bradbury, probably the Illustrated Man or Martian Chronicles 

That makes roughly 35 for those keeping score at home. I’ve actually read about half of them so I’m in pretty good shape to finish it all with the exception of Infinite Jest because holy shit is that a monster.

Completion and Leftovers

Posted: 7 March, 2013 in Rants
Tags: , , ,

Shuffle Says: “Map of Tasmania” Amanda Fucking Palmer Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

Filling up a notebook is a giddy, reflective, and daunting experience. Inevitably you are drawn to rereading the whole damn thing to see what exactly it is you have filled used to fill up those hundred or so pages (or few hundred or dozen, I’ve really no clue how many and I’m not about to waste the time in counting. In my personal opinion one should never need to count higher than eight and in that case only get through an octave, which actually is done with letters. OK so I take that back, no one really needs to be able to count past four or as high as the number of children you have and only if you care if one of them is ever missing. So long as you can count to four, music written in 6/8 can measured in 1234 2234. The same principle applies to 4/6, /9, or /12  and so on.).

There’s old entries that make you wand to cocknotch yourself  they’re so bad, right alongside little fragments that are so good you can scarce believe you actually wrote them (unless you’re Calvino, or Eco or even that rambling Thompson who somehow manage to make their random shitfaced scawlings on the mundane sound like they were crafted by a minor deity).  The only way to get past the good or the bad is to remind yourself that these things were written ages ago by a you so distant he or she may as well have been a retarded sea otter.

Unfortunately for me I’ve sucked great monkey testes (which I hear are actually much smaller than humans’) in regards to dating my material. My latest completion has one reference to time of authorship “2010-2013”. I’ll make a note in my next one to be more diligent about time keeping as well as to make some attempt  to keep entries in chronological order (both are unlikely).

I suppose it shows progress. I’ve written enough to fill up this one, so I must be continually wandering in the right direction; that is to keep writing and writing and writing till that blood start to coagulate into something worthwhile. I also remember that I’ve got about a dozen more half filled, another half dozen empty, awaiting my attention and I’m  fucked out of my gourd cause I got no idea what to fill them with.

Anyhow, while perusing I noticed that there are a few entries not of my own hand. The distribution of my own work will be left to my discretion as I attempt to put them in order and sort the sheep from the goats.
For now however, please enjoy these anonymous contributions:

[spelling and line breaks are as written, unless otherwise noted]

roses are red.
violets are blue
periods are red
and Chunky too
-love katie

Roses ar red violet sore
blue. I’m rolling on ex
who wants to screw.

Dearest [revealing nickname],
we read all of your shit.
What the fuck, man?
-Your Friends

TICKLE 
ME
ASSHOLE!

Nano Word Count: 4

Shuffle Says: “Johnny B. Goode” Judas Priest Ram it Down

HAPPY ELECTION DAY!

Hey kiddos, this was supposed to have gone out ages ago, but I’ve been shite with maintainance since I’ve been hiding in the theater for the past month working on a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. In addition to finishing up with that this week I’m trying out NaNoWriMo. This’ll be my first foray into the ‘competition’ so I’ve no idea how it’ll turn out.

For those of you not familiar with NaNo, it stands for National Write a Novel in a Month, a novel in this context consisting of 50,000 words. So for the rest of the month my posts will carry with them a word count at the top so you call can keep track of my procrastination. Enjoy.

In the meantime here’s some old news you may have missed:

Porn mogul and founder of Vivid Entertainment has some serious words with the President of “Morality in Media”

On Changing the industry of Sex Work

Great Scot! The New Inquiry asks  What has the world come to when our security cameras aren’t safe to violate our civil liberties?

XKCD posts a comic that could suck hours out of your day

Kim Boekbinder is back with new material! Check out her single(?) ‘Shell Game’

Kate Black teaches you how to dress for protest

TED talks ban billionaire/entrepreneur Nick Hanaur’s lecture on tax rates for being ‘too political’.

The Weekly Sift takes a compassionate look at The Distress of the Privileged

Shuffle says: “The Hog of the Forsaken” Michael Hurly

Where Children’s Skulls Which Bear Your Name Hang Like Leaves and Are Eaten Like Candy: Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree and The Most Sacred of Holidays.

Just taken off the desk is The Halloween Tree. This has got to be one of the best pieces of children’s literature I have read in a long time. The story follows eight young boys on the most thrilling Halloween of their lives. I didn’t even know this book existed until Halloween of last year.

As always the holiday made me a little nostalgic – last year especially, as I was at a pretty low place in my life – which caused me to go searching for an old kids movie which in the past always made me fall a little more in love with this festival of death. I was all the more surprised when a IMDB search yielded some interesting facts. The script was written by Ray Bradbury of all people which he based on his own children’s novella. What’s more is that the voice of the narrator is also Bradbury.

At the time I knew old ray like anyone else, from reading Fahrenheit 451 in school (I had forgotten that I had read a comic book adaptation of The Martian Chronicles). Anyhoo, I picked up a copy on my next run by Hall-Price and finally got around to reading it last week. This book has some of the finest prose I’ve ever seen and Makes me wish Bradbury had written more stuff for children. The dialogue does feel a little stilted, a whole lot of “golly gee”s and “heck”s, like a child in a 1940’s comic strip. Thankfully the kids don’t talk much. Bradbury’s one “adult” figure Mr. Moonshroud does the most speaking as he’s taking them on a 4000 year tour of the history of Halloween.

The few factual errs (Halloween as we know it is essentially a modern version of the Irish Pagan holiday which was “celebrating” the dark god Samhain [pronounced Sow{as in a lady pig} – Ann {as in the queen} where it hasn’t changed all that much) can be overlooked as what Bradbury is doing is giving the reader an understanding of man’s eternal relationship with Death. It all the ways mankind understands it, he addresses Death as a concept, as a journey, as part of life, as ritual, as a god, and personified. Through this journey Bradbury is working with something even more important, teaching his audience (presumably children) how to confront the idea of their own mortality. It most children’s books this sort of thing gets overlooked or sugar-coated, but Bradbury meets the problem directly without being at all depressing. In fact it’s kind of thrilling. The children become enraptured with the idea of celebrating death, which in turn is a celebration of life.

The eight boys are chasing their friend Pipkin (hmm…pip/pumpkin?) who we are told is the best boy in the history of children and who most loved Halloween (more than ten boys could love Christmas, it is said), across time and the world. Along with their guide Moonshroud, they travel to, among other places, the world of the dead where they are asked to make the ultimate choice for their friend; one not to be made lightly or without full understanding of the consequences.

All in all a riveting read.