wherein i disagree with rohan — 1 of 2

January 10, 2014

wilde2At last I’ve finally screwed up the nerve to disagree with Rohan Maitzen, an English professor and talented book blogger at Novel Readings. She’s read Gone with the Wind a staggering 31 times. That to my one.

Of course I’m likely playing the upstart to a wiser, more informed perspective. Or not.

If you haven’t read Gone with the Wind, here’s what you need to know to join the party.

The novel is a compelling read, a page turner, and it’s splattered with many vices. Yeah, it suffers from aesthetic limitations as a work of art.

But these aren’t the vices I’m foregrounding (thanks, Tom!) at the moment.

No, I’m talking moral vices.

As Rohan says, “It’s a morally appalling book.” It ignores the iniquity of slavery, adopts an apologetic stance toward the Confederacy, and whitewashes the history of the civil war.

Now I’m not convinced books can be immoral. I tend to agree with Wilde that they’re either well written or not.

The proper objects of moral condemnation are people and their actions.

Not fictional people, those thronging denizens of stories.

Real ones.

You, me, and all the rest, including Margaret Mitchell.

Perhaps she is immoral after all. Assuming the narrator is not only a literary device but is also a kind of incendiary or morally retrograde bullhorn, Mitchell might be writing (read: acting!) immorally.

Even then I’m not convinced.

But let’s assume it is a morally appalling book with a morally offensive point of view and that Mitchell is an immoral author and person to boot.

Let’s just grant all that. Or rather please allow me to grant it when I’ve mustered the energy to press on.

I’ve plumb run out of steam and am ready for bed…

why mr. interpolations blogs at all

January 3, 2014

The highly gifted mirabile dictu posed a series of questions to me and others to source material for a feature on blogging. Because my blog has languished lately, I thought I’d share my answers here. Happy New Years, everyone!

When and why did you decide to start a blog?

I started blogging in July, 2009 at Between the Lines, where I interviewed readers and documented some of their readerly tics and quirks. Bookish people love reading about other bookish people. It’s good fun, you see. But bookish people like me often tire of depending on others for content. So I shuttered Between the Lines about a year later and started blogging at Interpolations, mainly for selfish reasons. When I read a novel, especially a good one, I suffer it like an illness and have to retch up a few observations before returning to health. That, and I hope one or two readers find something useful in my writing.

How often do you blog?

Not nearly as much as I’d like. I’m busy with work, two kids, and other interests like hiking, vegetable gardening, and photography. In the long ago, I blogged twice a week, and if it were at all possible, I’d happily return to that cadence. But that’s not likely for some time. Fingers crossed for the future.

Do you consider your blog at all “political”?

No, my blog isn’t political despite the fact that I’ve called the Second Amendment tosh. In my opinion, the main political issue of our time is the rampant dysfunction in Washington and the massive disconnect between U.S. policies and public opinion. I spend zero time diagnosing this problem or advancing solutions to fix it. Nor do I present a point of view on other issues related to equality, justice and sustainability, even though I have very strong opinions in these areas. No, my blog isn’t political.

Are you also on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites?

In addition to WordPress, I haunt Twitter (here and here), Facebook, LinkedIn, Vine, and Instagram. I also blog at HopeLab in a professional capacity as a Curator of Creative Communications and help manage the foundation’s social channels, among other things.

What are the pros and cons of blogging?

Blogging helps me retch so I feel better. Relief is good that way. It’s also helped me meet other people who are passionate about books, from the U.S., Canada and the Philippines, to England, Australia and Iran. It’s helped refine my appreciation for works I didn’t like at first blush, as was the case with Foe and Vanity Fair. It’s uncovered some gems I wouldn’t have otherwise read like Embers and The Leopard. It provides a record of my thoughts and observations, and even a petty crime (1 and 2). And it’s encouraged me to experiment with different forms of writing. As for the cons, I can only think of one right now, and hopefully it’s particular to me. Good blog writing and reading/engagement has wrecked my appetite for long-form articles. I’m reluctant to touch them even though they’re very important for public discourse.

Do your family and friends support your blogging, or are you writing for a different audience?

Only a few of my friends and some of my family know I blog. I don’t write for them, and I don’t readily speak about my blogging unless prompted, and even then I might dissemble a bit. Again, I write mainly for myself and in the hope that someone finds it useful or entertaining, or challenges my observations or point of view.

Does the courtship of marketers affect you or not? Do you accept products (books for most of you) from PR people? Does it influence your reviews?

I receive lots of requests but always politely decline free books and ebooks. I’m just not interested in them. David Mitchell once kindly sent me an ARC of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, for which I was enormously grateful. It didn’t influence my review at all. I panned it.

Are you concerned when critics belittle blogs?

No, not at all. Their criticisms are either valid or not. If valid, they help improve the form. If not, they help improve our thinking as we defend and evolve the form. So it’s really a win-win and hence a non issue.

Are you more influenced by blogs or book review publications in your choice of reading? 

In general, my reading appetite is dictated by some mysterious source in my head. I submit to it when it tells me what to read next. But I suppose I’m slightly more influenced by blogs than by book reviews in newspaper or magazine pubs, when I’m influenced at all.

What blogs do you recommend?

Whenever I have a chance, I visit the sites on my blogroll. Each blogger does something different, unique, and interesting, so it’s easy to recommend them.

# # #

Gone With The Dream

December 7, 2013

I awoke
Or thought I awoke
And looked into a mirror

Beneath my hat, near my hairline
A piece of folded skin like a postage stamp was affixed

I fiddled with it
And it unraveled in reverse origami

This fabric of skin
Was my face

It had retracted like a screen on a roller


I waited for the pain to start
Of exposed tissue on my nose, forehead, and cheeks
Worse than road rash or a thousand paper cuts


Stretching the skin taut into a sheet
I pressed it onto my cheeks
Fixing it to my chin

I looked into the mirror

I was beautiful beyond charismatic handsomeness
With dark eyes and lusty facial hair
Like Rhett Butler

Minus the jeering snarky contempt for everything

The Nora Ephron Experiment

November 3, 2013

A post on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is in the offing. In the meantime, consider the Nora Ephron Experiment. Imagine you’re a journalist writing for a high school paper. Here are facts:

(1) Ken Peters, principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced that the high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods.

(2) Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Smith, and California governor Pat Brown.

According to legend, there is ONE creatively correct lead. Stop. Think.

Big reveal: There Will Be No School on Thursday

A nice reminder that facts don’t fess up their points of view without effort.

# # #

References: Made to Stick

our nada who art in nada

September 24, 2013

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.
Well, it’s a title and a place. Literally.
The title comes from one of Hemingway’s short stories.
One of his shortest short stories, in fact.
It’s only a few pages.
Joyce calls it one of the best short stories ever written.
The place is a bookstore I haunted in my youth.
I haunted it proper. A little too proper.
You don’t about it,
Without you have read some posts by the name of “Crime and Punishment.”
(Here and here).
But that ain’t no matter.
Unlike a ghost, my physical hands pilfered physical books.
I lifted them clean and well from the store,
Without a remorse in the world.
Until years later, that is.
What am I compared to Hemingway’s brilliant little gem?
And guess what?
That’s the substance and meaning of the story.
As Beckett says, “Nothing is more real than nothing.”
Hemingway agrees,
In a rambling sort of way—

“Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

The passage comes at the end of the story.
Apropos for a meditation on The End.
The “he” is the older waiter at the cafe.
Not the younger one.
He’s too young to see anguish.
Or too young to care.
Like the deaf, 80-year old man,
Who sits in the “shadow of the leaves of the tree,”
The older waiter is also acquainted with night,
With shadows and darkness,
With waning vitality and looming death.
That’s why he feels the pain of the 80-year old man.
And wishes the old man had stayed longer at the cafe.
A clean, well-lighted place, in whatever form it takes,
A bar,
A novel,
A bookstore,
A coffee shop,
Or even a short story,
Is a reprieve indeed from nothing.