- 2 days ago
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"At this point in our technological evolution, to read a novel is to engage in probably the second-largest single act of pleasure-based data transfer that can take place between two human beings, exceeded only by sex."
- Mohsin Hamid, in a delightful Bookends piece for the NYTimes Book Review.
Two thoughts resulted from reading Hamid’s column and its companion piece by Adam Kirsch.
1) I read quite a bit more than I watch television. When someone asks why I’m able to read so much, that’s the answer. I probably spend 4 hours reading for every 1 hour I spend in front of film or TV.
2) Hamid’s thoughts about what the novel can do that television can’t may have just made me change my mind about what I want to write after I finish THE FIREMAN.
And here’s a third thought, thrown in at no extra charge:
3) after shelling out for a library card, subscribing to the New York Times Book Review is probably the best single use of an aspiring writer’s spare change.
- 2 weeks ago
FOX news speaks for the right
and they say Santa’s white.
They don’t care if children cry;
They just want their ratings high.
But Santa has a thousand faces,
a thousand tongues and a thousand races.
Follow my example if you choose:
Believe in Santa, not FOX news.
* * *
The silly rhyme above - which I dashed off in under five minutes - advances an argument about which I feel strongly.
I refer not to the disgraceful way in which FOX News plays to bigots. That ground has already been adequately covered by others. No, my concern is not dog-whistle politics but doggerel verse.
The other night I was running my mouth on Twitter - as you do - and said:
This was taken as a judgment on the artistic merits of modern verse. In fact, I meant exactly what I said. No aesthetic judgments were implied at all. My opinion is not founded on any notions of literary merit, but is based purely on my sense of the current thinking in cognitive science.
While poetry has always been an art, it was also, in its earliest days, a mnemonic trick. The human memory is a vine: it thrives when it has a structure to climb, something with plenty of places for the plant to attach itself to. And a rhyme is just the thing.
Nursery rhymes may be no great stuff as art goes… but they are easy to remember. Doggerel is, in a sense, the first sticky content. ”Row, Row, Row Your Boat” isn’t exactly Ezra Pound, but no child ever forgets that life is but a dream. I delight in the verse of Jack Gilbert and return to it often. But it would require plenty of repetition and will to memorize one of his better poems, while nursery rhymes operate like earwurms. You won’t find any graduate writing courses in doggerel, but the folks who write jingles will never doubt the insidious power of a glib rhyme (better call Saul!).
The sticky nature of the simplest verse makes it an ideal way to pass along the most important information… such as the alphabet, or the notion that if you fall off a high perch, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men may not be able to reassemble the bits.
When, after World War I, poetry turned away from the sugar coating of rhyme and the adhesive aspects of form, the art truly became unmemorable in the purest sense of the word. This seems to me hardly an argument at all, but a simple statement of fact.
Perhaps it is a healthy evolution, although the species does not seem to be thriving these days, having rejected the very advantages that made it so adaptable to the changing demands of history. It is, in that sense, rather like a bird that has forgotten how to fly.
A friend argued that the time when poetry needed to serve a mnemonic purpose passed long ago, as soon as we learned to write things down. With that in mind, he seemed to suggest, simple rhyme becomes more irrelevant each day, as our machines can increasingly remember things for us.
I respectfully disagree. You are not your devices. Your memory wants to be worked. It wants to be used and the effort of applying it is as much a pleasure as free-climbing a tricky rock. You are a human being, not a human being + electronics. Relying on your apps to remember things for you is, at bottom, as regrettable as wishing you had some machines to have sex for you.
A barnacle is not the boat.
Rhyme with me and stay afloat.
Do it now before your memory’s shot,
Learn some verse and forget-me-not.
(I should add that a lot of my thinking here was informed by Joshua Foer’s delightful Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. David Orr’s Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry undoubtedly also shaped my reasoning. I highly recommend both books to anyone who might have an interest in the subject.)
- 2 weeks ago
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt today announced a new addition to its renowned Best American Series(R). THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY will launch in October 2015 with John Joseph Adams as series editor and Joe Hill as the inaugural guest editor.
- from the HMH press release.
I’m awfully pleased to have been asked to helm BA:SF&F, aided by the peerless navigation of John Joseph Adams.
And because I’m sure I’ll be asked - given my personal history and work, it’s inevitable - yes, we will be considering horror, as long as it’s horror with clear science fictional or fantastic elements. Horror is, after all, not just a genre, but also a feeling, and any collection that seeks to broadly represent what’s happening in the genres of F&SF will inevitably elicit a variety of emotional reactions: joy, wonder, grief, hope, and, yeah, dread. We’re going to do our best to hear from the whole orchestra.
- 2 weeks ago
A poem I wrote 4 years ago. Have twiddled with it off and on ever since. Sometimes I thought there might be a novel in it, but prolly not.
THE SUNDIAL MAN
The Sundial Man has twelve parts:
All man’s science and all man’s arts.
When with his love he stopped to play,
Many hours fell away.
The Sundial Man walks around,
Pacing across his private grounds,
He gently strokes his lover’s face,
Then leaves her for his silent race.
The Sundial Man was born at dawn,
And when it’s dusk, he will be gone.
His corpse will lie alone, unprotected;
but come the ‘morrow – resurrected!
This poem is a nursery rhyme
You need to hear from time to time.