A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘popular literature

[LINK] Andrew Solomon on Peter Lanza, Adam Lanza and Sandy Hook

Author Andrew Solomon‘s extended interview in The New Yorker with Peter Lanza, father of Sandy Hook school shooter Adam Lanza, is very compelling reading. “The Reckoning” lets Peter Lanza tell his own story about his family and his son who went so very wrong.

On the anniversary of the massacre, Peter and Shelley finally went through “the stuff,” reading letters of support they previously hadn’t felt able to face. Peter wanted the writers to know how much their words helped him. “There was a woman whose brother shot up a church,” Peter said. “Killed a bunch of people and himself. Saying how sorry she is. There was a woman whose husband stabbed and killed a child. People having Masses said for Adam.” Some included phone numbers and said to call if he needed anything. Other letters were peculiar: one suggested that Adam had been drugged by the C.I.A. and forced to his acts in order to foment support for gun-control legislation. The anniversary itself felt insignificant. “It’s not like I ever go an hour when it doesn’t cross my mind,” Peter said when we met that day.

Peter has offered to meet with the victims’ families, and two have taken up his offer. “It’s gut-wrenching,” he said. “A victim’s family member told me that they forgave Adam after we spent three hours talking. I didn’t even know how to respond. A person that lost their son, their only son.” The only reason Peter was talking to anyone, including me, was to share information that might help the families or prevent another such event. “I need to get some good from this. And there’s no place else to find any good. If I could generate something to help them, it doesn’t replace, it doesn’t—” He struggled to find the words. “But I would trade places with them in a heartbeat if that could help.”

[. . .]

The last time I saw Peter, he had taken out a picture of himself at the beach with his two sons. “One thing that struck me about that picture is that it’s clear that he’s loved,” he said. Peter has dreamed about Adam every night since the event, dreams of pervasive sadness rather than fear; he had told me that he could not be afraid of his fate as Adam’s father, even of being murdered by his son. Recently, though, he had had the worst nightmare of his life. He was walking past a door; a figure in the door began shaking it violently. Peter could sense hatred, anger, “the worst possible evilness,” and he could see upraised hands. He realized it was Adam. “What surprised me is that I was scared as shit,” he recounted. “I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. And then I realized that I was experiencing it from the perspective of his victims.”

I wondered how Peter would feel if he could see his son again. “Quite honestly, I think that I wouldn’t recognize the person I saw,” he said. “All I could picture is there’d be nothing there, there’d be nothing. Almost, like, ‘Who are you, stranger?’ ” Peter declared that he wished Adam had never been born, that there could be no remembering who he was outside of who he became. “That didn’t come right away. That’s not a natural thing, when you’re thinking about your kid. But, God, there’s no question. There can only be one conclusion, when you finally get there. That’s fairly recent, too, but that’s totally where I am.”

Solomon was well-suited for this assignment. I’ve liked Solomon since I read his The Noonday Demon, on depression and issues of the mind and suffering. More germanely to the Lanza issue, friends have really liked Solomon’s more recent Far from the Tree, about the problems of parents faced with children who are different.

See also an audio interview with Solomon at The New Yorker and another interview with Solomon on NBC’s Today for more.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 11, 2014 at 2:37 am

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Centauri Dreams notes that some astronomers have come up with methods for measuring the densities of the atmospheres of difference exoplanets.
  • Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram thinks that the state of the migration debate in the United Kingdom is grim, given what he thinks is the toughness of even a liberal proposal.
  • Eastern Approaches notes that the Czech Republic and Slovakia aren’t as vocal in their support of Ukraine against Russia as Poland.
  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen Sternheimer explores the role of justifications and excuses in culture.
  • Far Outliers notes that, on the eve of the First World War, Germany lacked settler colonies.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog worries that Croatia might not be able to make effective use of European Union funds.
  • Language Hat notes that Western-style romance novels were popular samizdat in the Soviet Union.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair argues that, between influence from foreign languages and technology, the Chinese language is evolving rapidly.
  • Marginal Revolution notes an argument that state-formation in Europe might have been driven by economics not military affairs.
  • Towleroad notes the recent progressive court ruling on gay sex in Lebanon.

[URBAN NOTE] “Freedom to Read and Reconsider at the Toronto Public Library”

Torontoist’s Jamie Bradburn explains how the Toronto Public Library responds to requests that particular books be withdrawn from circulations. (Apparently Canada’s better than the United States, owing to the protection given library collections by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the strong opposition of professional library associations to censorship.)

Since 2000, around 100 requests for reconsideration have been filed—and only nine items have been removed. The most recent title to be pulled, Date Rape: A Violation of Trust, was withdrawn from the video collection in 2012 because it, “while well-intentioned, reinforces stereotypes and lacks diversity and is, therefore, not appropriate as an educational tool in Toronto’s multiracial and multicultural environment.” Other titles have vanished for reasons including libel threats, unreliable accounts of Romanian history, bad advice on passing business accreditation exams, outdated information on dairy farming—and being poorly produced knockoffs of Pixar films made by the highly esteemed Video Brinquedo studio (What’s Up: Balloon to the Rescue).

Other reconsidered titles find new homes within the library system. Tintin in the Congo, for example, which features controversial depictions of Africans, was moved from the children’s collection to the adult graphic novel section in 2010. Not all suggestions from complainants can be acted upon: one 2003 complaint about eye weekly urged the library to provide copies sans escort ads. And in 2006, a patron requested that a rabbi review the content of Sarah Silverman’s film Jesus is Magic.

The most popular requests for consideration between 2000 and 2013? It’s a tie between Maxim magazine (2005 and 2006; one request suggested users be IDed lest it fall into the hands of innocent youth) and Robert Kaplow’s The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun, a raunchy parody of The Cat Who… mystery series (2005 and 2007).

Library staff have not noticed trends in the complaints, and are proud of how few requests for reconsideration come in. Vickery Bowles, director of Collections Management and City-Wide Services, feels this reflects Torontonians’ “appreciation for the breadth and depth of our collections and the fact we are living in a large urban setting.” She believes that the public senses that “intellectual freedom in the public library setting is very important” and that the widest variety of available materials should be offered.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 26, 2014 at 12:02 am

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO comes up with a list of the top 20 novels set in Toronto and presents a few Toronto laneways and their etymologies.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the protoplanetary disc of protostar L1527.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog suggests that Italy and its new prime minister should look to Mexico for inspiration.
  • Marginal Revolution links to the Economist‘s cover article lamenting Argentina’s relative economic decline.
  • The Planetary Society Blog explains why Pluto’s dust and moons weren’t seen before they were actually discovered, just a few years ago. (Telescope time is key.)
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes first-hand experiences of Albanian politics and politicians.
  • Strange Maps shares a map of Kiev’s divisions between protesters and government as of yesterday.
  • Window on Eurasia wonders if Russia post-Ukraine will crack down on its creative classes.
  • Wonkman points out that the entry of women into the workplace has much to do with inescapable economic reasons that aren’t addressed by people who want women to go back.

[LINK] “Legendary Montreal-born writer Mavis Gallant dead at age 91″

I’ve already shared on Facebook Victoria Ahearn’s Canadian Press article announcing the sad news that Mavis Gallant, Canadian expat and great writer, has died.

Montreal-born short story great Mavis Gallant lived in Paris for much of her lauded career and brought a European flair to her writing, but she made a big impact on the literary community in her native country, Canadian authors said Tuesday after word of her death.

“Mavis Gallant was a marvellous short story writer and a constant hopeful influence on my life,” Nobel Prize-winning short story master Alice Munro said in a telephone interview from Victoria.

“I didn’t know her well. I met her at a few conferences, I think here in B.C. But the important thing was that long before that, I knew about her work and the fact that she was a Canadian and she wrote mainly short stories, which you were not really encouraged to do as your main writing.

“So she was important to me in that way.”

Gallant died Tuesday morning in her Paris apartment, said publisher McClelland & Stewart. She was 91.

The article goes on to talk at length about Gallant, her life, and her writing.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 18, 2014 at 9:18 pm

[LINK] On the rise of Goodreads

Svati Kirsten Narula’s interview at The Atlantic with Otis Chandler and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, co-founders of Goodreads, makes for interesting reading. As someone who maintains a profile there, I like reading about how this interesting online social network came to be.

Let’s flash back to seven years ago when you launched Goodreads. Can you tell me the founding story?

Otis Chandler: In 2006, I moved to Los Angeles to be closer to Elizabeth. The company I was working at before had launched an early social network called Tickle, and I had also worked on online dating sites. So I had a good understanding of online social dynamics.

The interesting thing with dating sites was that they really splintered—every niche, genre, ethnicity, and sport has a dating site! But for as long as I worked on dating sites, I didn’t use them—I was not single. I wanted to build a social network around something that I loved. Elizabeth and I are both big bookworms, and my freshman project at Stanford was building a digital e-reader—so I guess I’ve always had an itch to scratch there.

Elizabeth Chandler: I was working as a journalist at the Los Angeles Times, and I’m a words person. I like writing, [and I was] an English major – probably the typical Goodreads user, especially in the beginning! So I got really excited when he built it, like “This is for me! Now I’m going to catalogue every book I have in my house.”

OC: We found that Elizabeth and all her English major friends were our power users, and we thought, “There’s something here.”

But if there was an epiphany moment, it was when I was in my friend’s room, and he had a bookshelf of all the books he’d ever read, and I just kind of grilled him: “Well, what did you think of this book, what did you think of that book?” And I came away with a long list of five or 10 books I was excited to read.

Putting my social networking hat [on], I thought, if I could only get my all friends to put their bookshelves online and say what they thought of them. That seemed like it would just be a really good way to find good books. And I think that’s been proven true.

EC: People of all types who read all sorts of books really gravitated to the product and loved it. People started making connections over their shared love of, you know, sci-fi or paranormal romance or steampunk.

OC: I think between all our friends and friends of friends, it got up to maybe 800 people. And then it got a little bit of press, Mashable picked it up, and then the blogosphere found it. It turned out there was a massive community of people who had book blogs, and were blogging [as they read books and writing reviews after they finished them], and they each had 10 friends on their blogroll who did the same thing. Goodreads was just a better way of doing what they already wanted to do, and they adopted us in droves.

As noted in April of last year by Jordan Weissman, also at The Atlantic, Goodreads’ purchase by Amazon provided the latter book retailer with a huge amount of potential data.

According to Codex’s quarterly survey (in 2012, the company interviewed some 30,000 readers total), far fewer people are finding their reading material at brick-and-mortar bookstores than two years ago. Instead, they’re relying more on online media (including social networks and author websites) and personal recommendations from people they know (which tend to happen in person, but can also include some social network chatting). What they’re not relying on much more heavily are recommendation engines from online booksellers, like Amazon.

In short, Barnes and Noble’s in-store displays don’t rule the book business like they used to, but they haven’t been usurped by Amazon’s algorithms either. Instead, the business model is moving further towards word of mouth. And, much as a very small portion of Americans do most of the book reading in this country, so too are they responsible for a vast majority of book recommending. Codex estimates that 11 percent of book buyers make about 46 percent of recommendations.

The sorts of lit lovers who like to evangelize their favorite new novel are the same sorts of folks who tend to show up on Goodreads. And so, perhaps unsurprisingly, the site is a great platform for convincing people to buy books. Roughly 29 percent of Goodreads users told Codex they’d learned about the last book they bought either on the site, or at another book-focused social network.* At traditional social networks, the number is 2.4 percent. When all is said and done, in the world of books, Goodreads is just about as influential as Facebook.

In the interview, the co-founders say that Amazon hasn’t tried to interfere with the rich social ecology of Goodreads, particularly by stacking reviews. I only hope this keeps on.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 15, 2014 at 4:21 am

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • The Big Picture features 28 photos from the South after the recent heavy storm. Wow.</li<
  • BlogTO reviewed the Steak Queen, the diner that gained global renown via the now-infamous Ford video. The restaurant doesn’t do well.</li
  • Centauri Dreams and The Dragon’s Gaze both link to the astonishing news that the cloud patterns of nearby brown dwarf Luhman 16B have been imaged.
  • Eastern Approaches explores the turbulent political scene in Serbia as it approaches elections.
  • Language Hat provides a first translation of the recently discovered poems by Sappho.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money has at Rod Dreyer for his racist assumptions insofar as evolution is concerned.
  • Torontoist observes that Ontario’s minimum wage is going up to $C11 an hour. Is it enough?
  • Towleroad notes the apology of Republican Congressman from New York Michael Grimm, who threatened a journalist who was asking him questions, on tape.

[URBAN NOTE] “Book City memoir”

NOW Toronto‘s Sarah Greene has a nice piece talking about how The Annex’s Book City was a hub for Torontonian writers for quite a while.

Book City alumna Alana Wilcox, now editorial director at nearby Coach House Books, worked at various locations including the Annex store for seven years, and still drops off boxes of Coach House books by bike.

“It was a real community space,” she says of working there in the mid- to late 90s. “People would go to the bar, have a drink and on the way home stop at Book City and have long neighbourhood conversations. They’d stay for hours just chatting with their friends.”

Nathalie Atkinson, now a culture columnist and editor at the National Post, concurs. “I loved working the Friday-night shift because it was festive,” she says. “You could tell who was on a date.”

[. . .]

“I was there 74 years,” jokes author Derek McCormack, who was at Book City for about a dozen years and whose first book, Dark Rides, was published in that period, during what he calls the “CanLit boom.” (He now works at Type Books.)

“There was a moment there with Ondaatje and Atwood and Rohinton Mistry when Canadians seemed really proud that we were suddenly stepping onto the world stage, and there was also a boom in young writers and in presses starting up.”

As a young writer/bookseller, he knew he was brushing shoulders with publishers, editors and journalists as well as writers like Margaret Atwood, Graham Gibson and Barbara Gowdy.

“Half of literary Toronto has worked at Book City,” says Wilcox. And I’m not sure that’s much of an exaggeration: André Alexis, John Lorinc, Howard Akler, Chris Chambers, Paul Vermeersch and Jason McBride all did.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 25, 2014 at 4:59 am

[LINK] “Kristen Stewart Is Right: 1984 Is Kind of an Epic Love Story”

The Atlantic‘s Noah Berlatsky has convinced me that Kirsten Stewart was right to claim that George Orwell’s 1984 was a love story. (She’d be wrong to say that it was only a love story, but I don’t think she said that.)

Orwell is, of course, famous for linking totalitarianism to the denial of history and objective reality: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four.” But, as Stewart suggests, the bulk of the novel, and the main content of Winston’s betrayal, is not an exercise in mathematics, but rather the romance plot.

It is when Julia first passes Winston a note saying, “I love you” that his half-formed rebellion takes concrete shape and form. The couple’s first sexual encounter is specifically described as “a blow struck against the Party … a political act.” It isn’t math or history that strikes that blow, but love. “If they could make me stop loving you, that would be the real betrayal,” Winston says. To which Julia replies, “They can’t do that … It’s the one thing they can’t do.” Even if you read that as doomed, it’s still a fairly romantic bit of dialogue, insisting as it does on the existence of love “in a world where,” as Stewart says, “love really doesn’t exist anymore.”

It turns out, alas, that Julia is wrong; “they” can get inside you.

[. . .]

Orwell is able to imagine Big Brother with great power, but when he comes to portraying Julia, he flails. She’s just a stereotypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

[. . .]

Orwell is able to imagine newspeak and Big Brother and the chief torturer O’Brien with great power, but when he comes to portraying Julia, he flails. She’s thoughtless, primitive, interested only in things of the body rather than the mind — “only a rebel from the waist downwards,” as Winston calls her. We never really learn why, or feel why, she loves the older, not particularly attractive Winston. We merely know she does because she says so and because, as soon as they meet in private, she starts calling him “dear.” She’s just a stereotypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s part of Winston’s story, not the other way around. So it’s not exactly a surprise that she betrays Winston immediately, or that, as O’Brien says, just about licking his lips, “All her rebelliousness, her deceit, her folly, her dirty-mindedness—everything has been burned out of her.” None of it was ever really there to begin with.

[. . .]

I prefer to think, though, that whatever Eric Blair’s limitations as a writer of female characters, he did, in fact, believe in love. Winston, at the end, abandons Julia for big Brother. But does that mean that the relationship with Julia never existed? O’Brien would say it didn’t. Memory, history, love; for the Party, none of them are real. It seems to me that Kristen Stewart is on the side of the resistance, and of Orwell, when she says that O’Brien is wrong, and that 1984 is a romance.

The Eurythmics’ song “Julia”, written for a movie version of 1984, could be taken as a sort of secondary proof. If nothing else, it’s an elegant song.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 25, 2014 at 4:37 am

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • BlogTO highlights a new photography exhibition at Ryerson University that I really should see.
  • Centauri Dreams takes a look at the idea of subsurface biospheres on exoplanets.
  • Crooked Timber’s Belle Waring shares pictures from the ongoing protests in Ukraine and starts a debate.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a new model of the evolutions of the Sun and the Earth’s atmosphere that suggests Earth will face a runaway greenhouse in 1.5 billion years, rather later than previously expected.
  • Far Outliers highlights the ongoing Berber awakening in north Africa.
  • Language Log tackles the Jamaican-sounding remarks of Rob Ford and finds them credible.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe links to a wonderful New Yorker article on maps in literature.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a new paper arguing that coal power was essential for urban growth.
  • Supernova Condensate quotes Karl Popper about inductive reasoning.
  • Torontoist notes the plans for a new proposed park to be built at Ontario Place.
  • Towleroad remarks on the recent suicide of an Azerbaijani gay rights activist and notes the doubling of a bounty offered by Hong Kong billionaire to any man who would marry his lesbian–and coupled–daughter.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the new reading list for Kremlin officials.
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