June 17th, 2007

Yay! Friends List!

Oooh, a nice simple blogomeme I can participate in.

I luuuurrrvvve my friends. When I'm looking for entertainment, they are the first place I turn. And along the way, I am often informed, enlightened and connected to people I know IRL, too.

Yay! Friends List!

_Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle_, Elaine Showalter

Yeah, yeah -- missing accent marks. Whatever.

Apparently this is another of those mysteriously desirable OOP books.

I pulled this off the shelf because Hitchcock's book was so good. This was written earlier (I picked it up used around the same time, IIRC). Showalter's background is litcrit -- and she's a Big Name. She's chair of the judges for the Booker prize this year and one of the founders of feminist lit crit. Her other work involves the novels about/by the New Woman of the late 19th century. And she's done a bunch with middle- and upper- class Women's Problems (from hysteria to chronic fatigue, and let's just say the medical professional and activists for the various diseases she talks about don't much like her) in the same time period. This particular work draws analogies between agonizing about the end of the century 19th vs. 20th so there's some extended discussion of 1980s stuff that might be interesting to readers who otherwise find this kinda obscure stuff.

While Showalter would seem to be a 2nd wave feminist and All About Identity, she is, however, doing some form of queer theory here (you would not believe how much space she devotes to Salome in its various forms. Seriously. Including reproducing a picture of Oscar Wilde dressed up as Salome.), primarily in discussing ClubLand (which is her term for the all-male world of elite men in 19th century London, starting with private schools and proceeding through clubs and the professions), 'molly' culture and what she presents as the opposite number for the New Woman. Unfortunately, either because she's no historian, or because of her own personal assumptions and biases, she asserts that no such lesbian culture exists. She also gets the time frame wrong on when 'molly' culture started (well, at least she doesn't get it right, okay?). We don't really know much about lesbian culture in England because documentation is scarce. But scarce documentation != phenomenon non-existant. Showalter does correctly identify the prosecutions for lesbianism as involving transvestitism. She does write clearly about two different ways of thinking about the gender continuum, and how one of those makes gay men and feminists possible allies and the other one makes them irrelevant to each other if not actually at war, and does a brilliant job of showing how that played out in the 20th century post-Stonewall. She even produces a great story about a Weatherwoman who turned herself in after deciding the leader was a hopeless gender chauvinist.

In addition to the queer theory stuff, Showalter is fascinated by pop culture (apparently she wrote for People magazine?!?). In this respect, she has a lot of the characteristics I more commonly associate with 3rd wavers (as do her observations on how we think about the gender continuum). While this is really great, this book suffers from the same problem that 3rd wavers like the lovely folks over at Bitch magazine do: if you did not happen to participate in their pop culture, the references are going to tend to leave you in the dark.

It was really nice to read a bit more about the Men and Women's Club (and one of its members, Olive Schreiner, shows that the popularity of books written about women/families in Africa has been popular for a long while), since my previous exposure to it had been through much less reputable sources (altho I did not actually read that book by Robin Schone). At least based on what I read here, the Club broke up because the men and women involved were utterly unable to bridge a gender communications gap, to wit, one of the women felt that women weren't going to ever get anywhere except by flipping the hierarchy, and the rest of the women felt so pressured by the men to agree or shut up that the group broke up. And the men were all frustrated because they couldn't figure out why the women didn't just agree with their lovely little theories about Free Love and how relationships would End By Mutual Agreement and there would be no issues associated with the kiddies, etc. etc. Interesting to note that one of the members, when he finally fell in love, did not hesitate to marry. Apparently, once the Theory Hit Practice, Theory gave way to reality and there was no way he was risking being dumped. In a lot of ways, this does a beautiful job of setting up the background for the romance between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane (who, in retrospect, is either a New Woman or one of her descendants -- and google and wikipedia tells me I'm not the first to think this).

On a bit of a tangent here: Vane's experience with her first lover is a fictionalization of Sayer's first relationship, sharing in particular the characteristic that the guy insists on Free Love to make sure She's Really, Really Committed to Him, and intended to marry her if she agreed to it. There are a lot of stories like this kicking around in the last century-ish. If you don't have sex with me, I won't marry you. You said no? Hey, it was really a test. I was only going to marry you if you held out. If you don't live with me, I won't marry you. You won't live with me? Hey, it was really a test. I was only going to marry you if you held out. Diverging slightly, in the Risk issue of Bitch, in one of the articles about drugs, the writer's mother reveals that she has done marijuana and wouldn't want to have as a friend anyone who hadn't (!?!) despite having completely freaked out and worked over her daughter for same as a senior in high school. And I lost a friend when I dumped my last boyfriend, because she felt I should have stuck around longer and pressured him harder about having kids and he'd have come around. Me, I'd rather believe someone when they told me whatever they told me, and my remaining friends from that social circle are in complete agreement. However, there's a noticeable fraction from that crowd that agrees with the lost friend. Since the ex-, when I was dumping him, said he would have married me if I'd told him it was that important to me (for the record: wasn't too hung about marriage; did really want to have a baby). This being the same guy I proposed to more than once, so he eventually told me not to ask him again, but to wait for him to ask me. Clearly, we were incompatible. ;-)

As recently as a month or so ago, I would not have been able to get this far in writing about this tangent without slapping Attachment Disorder on the behavior and sticking it in a little box. Now, however, I'm a bit more interested in how Attachment Disorders sustain themselves and continue to punish adults and those around them. And I think that Showalter may be on to something with her closing reference to Olive Schreiner's dream that one day, we (she means women, but I'd say everyone) will be able to have Love and Freedom at the same time. Unfortunately, in hoping for this (Love AND Freedom) I think Schreiner and Showalter have constructed an inescapable dilemma for themselves. If Attachment is how Love does its business, that Freedom is wanting to be without love. I think what we should be looking for is either something from a Rolling Stones song (can't always get what you want, but sometimes. . .) or, alternatively, Love and Courage.

Before someone gets all on my case about how this is blaming women for being beaten down by The Man (or the men), let me expand for a moment. You only get courage when someone has a sense of agency, and hasn't already been crushed either physically or otherwise. In order for participants on a love relationship to be able to show courage, they have to have some expectation that they might survive and thrive as a result, or at least that it will do some good. The marriage environment of the past has been no such thing -- in fact, quite the contrary. So you only got the martyrs doing much of anything, and you can make a case that martyrdom isn't precisely courage. Discretion being the better part of valor (hey, close, right?), most women did what they could quietly and over time we made great progress.

But this whole Freedom thing was a mistake.

Nice little analogy from one of the parenting books (probably _Playful Parenting_ by Lawrence Cohen): the cup of attachment. One of the strategies for dealing with an often-not-full-enough cup of attachment is to slap a lid on it to keep any from sloshing out. This does protect what you've got BUT prevents you from getting more WHILE allowing you to do just about anything without negative effects (think commuter mug). That's your basic Love + Freedom problem, in Attachment Theory. Ideally, from a Cup of Attachment perspective, you want there to be an ongoing rainstorm. Or at least, a waterfall or faucet readily available.

I could go on and on with this. And maybe later, I will.

newspaper reviews, litblogging, etc.

There's been a bit of a storm lately (involving Jennifer Weiner, really!) about how the New York Times Book Review picks books to review.

http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/the-skim/#comments

I ran across this on the only litblogging site I regularly read, http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php,
which I am sincerely hoping someone will tell me doesn't count as lit, so I can toast them over a blogging flame, because I haven't had a chance to roast someone since I quit paying any attention to the politics list I get in e-mail.

I then went over to google to investigate what other litblogging sites were out there and found a wide variety of other participants in this particularly, er, tempest? Firestorm? Holocaust?

To sum up, in my own calloused and biassed way:

a variety of big newspapers have reduced or eliminated the space they have previously devoted to book reviews, reducing or eliminating staff while doing so

the ones who have kept book reviews have done so, in part, because they generate ad revenue.

A little comment here, conspicuously absent from the online discussion, but crucial to understanding what's happening. The newspapers are not doing this because they are about to stop being profitable. Nope. They are, in fact, obscenely profitable. Their profit margins defy belief. It may be the case that this maneuver will elevate their profits even more, but my money is that this is more about getting rid of any space devoted to anyone (reviewer or reviewed) who might in any way shape or form offend the corporate masters. But hey, that's just paranoid anarchist left-winger me speaking.

Continuing:

some of these big newspapers already hire litbloggers to write reviews for them

many of these big newspapers point people at litbloggers, in their print and/or online edition

none of these reviewers is engaged in Literary Criticism (really. They aren't. And virtually no one says they are, altho read on.)

bloggers post about books, including links to online editions of print reviews

bloggers write reviews of all lengths, from snarky one-worders to actual, full-on Literary Criticism (really. There are actually Literary Criticism-type articles on blogs. Virtually no one says there aren't, altho read on)

some people complaining in print about the demise of this print space are blaming the blogosphere (our corporate masters don't think we matter, because of you guys getting all the attention), saying it's just not right (because the blogosphere is not emitting Literary Criticism), and furthermore, none of you bloggers are credentialled (which is loopy on so many levels it is amazing), and Literachoor will Die Out because if the debate is conducted by amachoors etc.

I think that covers it.

Needless to say, the bloggers ain't happy, and clever ones are drawing analogies to things like the Edinburgh Review in the early 19th century and so forth.

Now, I've actually bought a lot more books as a result of print reviews in the last year than probably My Entire Life prior to this last year, which makes me scratch my head a bit. OTOH, those print reviews were universally in magazines (notably: BusinessWeek, Bitch, Mother Jones, Brain,Child and Mothering -- bet you're wondering about BusinessWeek in that context, hunh?) and universally NOT fiction (I wonder if that's true. Hmmm. I think it is), which apparently takes me entirely out of the debate.

Except it doesn't. Smart Women/Trashy Novels and "Jen"nifer Weiner are complaining because the print media are failing to cover romance novels. Say what you will about romance novels as a category (you will anyway), they constitute like, HALF of all paperback fiction. It would be nice to have someone help us separate the cruft from the good (and, ideally, point out the Don't Miss This Ones, but that might be a lot to ask). And I do read me a lot of romance novels. For a while, I felt a little guilty about this, altho even in the throes of my guilt I was fully prepared to assert that if you read 300 of _any_ kind of books, you were bound to learn something (what? even romance novels? as if they contain nothing at all -- an apparently common belief). Not necessarily as much as if you read 300 of some other kind of book, but just the same.

Now, of course, I am enlightened enough to realize that as romance novels are the literature of romantic bonding and family formation, romance novels _are_ novels, in a way that every other kind of novel (that isn't about bonding and/or family formation) isn't really a novel at all. Ha! That was provocative, wasn't it? I can't believe you've continued to read this far. Please! Complain virulently! I have academic stuff I can cite! Swear!

I hope all the literary bigots out there (yes, I do mean you, the New York Times Book Review) eventually see some kind of light and start pandering to the paying customer. Maybe, when you do, you'll learn something.

what should libraries have

Immanence, will she never _stop_? When the kid comes home, or I recover from this nasty cold/bronchitis. When I can talk, I don't feel quite the need to blog. *sigh*

Anyway.

I had this discussion with a friend about what the collection at our library should be, if it were maintained ideally. I've made some provocative remarks on this subject in the past, so I'll just sum up what I've said in person and electronically, since it's all scattered and a lot of it was private anyway:

We should not have books that do not circulate (outside of stuff we don't allow to circulate but is only for in-library use, altho I could see an exception made for stuff that we knew was used in library even if it did not circulate but it would be nice to track that so we actually _knew_). (Does not circulate defined over a period of time, probably not less than two years, and not more than five.) Period. OOOOOOOoooooh. That's just not nice, is it? Here's the rationale.

We have limited space. I mean, seriously. We're hoping to get a bigger library, but realistically, that's 5-10 years in our future, and even then, we will still have limited space. ILL, correctly implemented (which, I am sorry to say, is not the case here, but it could be) gives people access to anything they can identify. Good staff can help people either (a) find what they want within the existing collection (b) get what they want via ILL or (c) acquire what is wanted for the library so that it is available under (a).

For this to work properly, you have to have staff that can help people navigate the collection. Just having some computers lying around does not, to my mind, seem adequate. Good, frequently changing displays are another component but again, kinda passive. But assuming, for the moment, we could reach this ideal, what would the collection look like?

Well, there would be a lot of recent, genre fiction (romance and mystery, but also some SF/Fantasy/Horror/whatever) and a sampling of litcrit, particularly stuff beloved of book groups (think _Reading Lolita in Tehran_ and unimaginable numbers of books about the women depicted in various famous paintings. I shit you not). There would be a decent array of recent non-fiction (some memoirs -- ditto the book group thing; business books; bios; the books mentioned on the Colbert Report and the Daily Show; cookbooks; diet books; travel guide books; history; medical/disease/reference/my story/whatever; public policy issue of the moment; political books/memoirs/bios/exposes; popular science; parenting/child care standards; field guides to nature; etc.).

Since part of the mission of a small town library is books by local authors/about the local area, I'd even be willing to cede considerable shelf space to this mission, even if it meant a huge chunk of them never circulated. Altho, IMO, if the staff were doing their job, they would circulate -- and just owning the books isn't the mission, is it? Otherwise we could just lock them up somewhere and leave them to posterity.

I'm going to carefully leave children's/young adult out of this discussion for now, and that's purely out of ignorance of the area.

Now, I know someone's going to go, hey! I discovered the coolest dang book just browsing along the shelves. It had never been checked out before and was never checked out after but I _loved_ that book! It was amazing! It changed my life!

I'm sure it did. I've had that happen to me repeatedly, recently, while weeding. In some cases, I felt strongly enough about the matter that I checked that sucker out then and there to make sure it wouldn't meet the criteria (of not circulating, among other more subjective things). That's how I read _The Shoes Outside the Door_ and _Through Fire and Water_. The second made a big enough impact on me that I bought a genealogical CD and several other books about Mennonites. So, okay. I hear you. And I still don't think those books belong on the shelves of my small town library.

I read a lot. I love books. I'm amazing at navigating collections of books. And honestly, I'm being modest when I say these things. I could use a lot more superlatives and stay within the realm of plausibility. But every book I read in my life is one or more other books I don't read. Time spending finding a book I want to read is time I'm not reading. For me, that's okay -- playing with books is a major part of the fun in my life. I like moving books around on shelves, for goddess' sake. I'm nuts. But for people who go to the library to find something to read, fail to find anything they want to read -- despite thousands of books being on the shelves, maybe BECAUSE there are thousands of books on the shelves -- that was not necessarily a fun time, and they still don't have in their hands what they went to the library for.

A former boss of mine used to say he'd be running the perfect bookstore if it only had one book in it, but it was the book the customer wanted when she came to the store. That comment used to piss me off, because I was working on getting as much information (books, reviews, etc.) into the catalog that constituted that store as was possible. At the time, I thought he meant, we need better apparatus for getting the customer to the book they want. But now, I think he also meant, the customer should not be forced to make a lot of choices. If you _want_ choices, if the shopping part is the fun, fine. But most customers want what they want when they want it and they don't want to have to decide not-this, not-this, not-this, not-this ad infinitum. And that is _exactly_ the problem with our library.

Anyway, returning to that Ideal Collection. The Ideal Collection would _also_ contain a random array of books on random topics, bought because patrons wanted the book and it was not in the collection or available via ILL (typically because it's too new to be available readily by loan, but other situations are imaginable, like, we could get it via ILL, but it would cost a fair amount and we can buy it super-cheap in good condition used online). And I'd be happy letting that sucker sit on the shelf for other patrons to discover for some period of time.

My friend (remember the friend?) seemed to think the library ought to have books that patrons Should Read. I objected to this on several counts. First off, who is going to decide? And second, if you think people should read it, certainly you can buy it. But you aren't going to _make_ anyone read it by having it on the shelf. It could sit there for a decade or more, unread. How does that accomplish anything? If someone does read it, then it deserves to be there, sure.

But after thinking about it, the problem is considerably worse than that. Given the contents of most forms of The Canon, having books around that people Should Read are likely to aggravate the (Dead) White (European) Male problem. And again, limited space. If having some DWEMs around means you don't get to read some Living Brown South American Female's book, that's one problem. But if having some LBSAF book that everyone read ten years ago and is looking for something new prevents us all from finding a book by some Living Brown South Pacific Transgendered Something-or-other's book, that's a whole other problem.

As long as people are reading what you bought, and you're buying what they want to read, I think the readers will be happy. The people who aren't reading -- but like to talk about what people should be reading -- won't be as happy, but then, is that really who a library is for?

I thought so.

Addendum: http://www.lib.az.us/cdt/weeding.htm

They suggest a "weed as you go" strategy of weeding damaged/dated stuff as it comes back to the circulation desk. !?! Nice. See? I'm really not being that unreasonable. They also advocate shelf-reading a section before weeding it. Ha! Like we've got the time for that. In any event, given the way the printout shows up (alpha based on shelf tag then random or something not useful) it wouldn't help that much anyway. I definitely agree it would be nice to weed while closed and/or empty. Trying to run circ desk and weed at the same time sucks.

Ooooh. This one's _really_ good.

http://www.ericdigests.org/2002-2/libraries.htm

The Trouble with Literature

Oprah's latest pick, _Middlesex_, is about a very, very rare version of a fairly rare phenomena (intersex). Eugenides didn't talk to anyone who is intersex prior to writing the novel (difficult to know what, if any, research he did at all, beyond knowing about this particular version of the condition from a medical standpoint).

Given my recent reading, I wonder if maybe this particular condition informed some ideas prevalent in past centuries (tribades, women who sexually desired other women, whose clitorises grew through masturbation, etc.). Now, I'm all in favor of some book (_Middlesex_) getting additional play (through Oprah) and therefore getting more attention paid to some little known phenomenon (in this case, a really rare version of a fairly rare phenomena). Googling around suggests that some of the intersex activists have taken advantage of the situation to Get The More Accurate Word Out.

I get that art (literachoor, etc.) can help us Learn Stuff and Make Sense of the World. Heck, the instinct for narration is basic to the human condition; without it, nothing makes any sense at all.

Still, I can't help feeling about this the way I do about the whole Pearl/Jolie thing. Yay, Pearl likes that Jolie is playing her. Double Yay about the whole Halle Berry playing Tierney Cahill. But...still. It would have been nice if it were different.

Here's a far better explanation than I can devise of why:

http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2003/Middlesex-Limitations-MythMar03.htm

Even when I'm reading trashy fiction, I like my trashy fiction to NOT pull me up short with obvious historical, psychological or other errors. I can't help feeling that Literature "ought" to be held to a higher standard (given that it is supposedly setting a higher standard).

acronym

When I was not paying attention, LGBT became LGBTI. I should have noticed this. When did it happen? Hmmm...