Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dreaming better dreams--

Minotaur study by Clive Hicks-Jenkins 
for Glimmerglass
BOOKHOOKERY

Writer bounces out of bed at 6:30 and scurried about making lunch for her third child, packing track-snack in a sack (can I toss in another rhyme?), fixing breakfast, and tossing books in the backpack (there you go.) Mid-way, the writer turns on NPR and hears that 45% of teens read no more than 1-2 books a year. Or did they say less than 1-2? At any rate, not much of note. Writer plunks down at her laptop to have a cup of tea. First thing she sees: novelist Darin Strauss on twitter, mentioning a new book that uses "Jewish man" as a slur: "Nobody cares / even notices." The Author aka "Ass Queen" is featured in Salon (a coup for a writer, right? like her treatment in Slate or on NPR) with an interview about being a porn star and drug abuser--smoking crack in a BSDM dungeon, anybody? Hey, now we know what kind of lively, appealing-to-the-curious book the almost-non-reading 45% might possibly read! Because that's a book-with-a-hook--we writers are always suppose to have a hook that we are willing to share with the world--that will sell, even to non-reading teens, I expect.

WHO KNEW

Who would have guessed that this would one day be the writer's world, back when she first gave her years to making something true and rejoicing in putting words into new shapes? A world where teens don't read and professors complain that their students don't crack open their books. A world where a clever volume reveling in unabashed porn and drug use has more of that desirable quality, hook, and will get more coverage than a first-rate novel (and infinitely more coverage than a good book of poems.)

ASPIRE

All you lovers of reading and shapeliness in words, defy this crazy world! If hopeless, still be brave. Read better books, make better books. Encourage taste, a human achievement that used to support culture. Online or in-person, recommend what's best in the arts. Make the better world, even if you fear that you are the only person who inhabits it. Dream of a better culture, a more worthy gift to hand on to our children.

12 comments:

  1. "Make the better world, even if you fear that you are the only person who inhabits it." Yes.

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  2. I'm really disconnected from the world of pop culture, and whenever I brush up against it, I'm always shocked and disappointed. I like to tell myself that pop culture isn't a true reflection of America, that it's just another form of disposable entertainment and that real people have better things on their minds. I don't know how to get art onto their minds instead of/as well as entertainment.

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    1. You know, once we gave up inculcating the idea of taste in home and schoolroom, well, it became a lot harder. Our world is so flashy, quick, and noisy now, it's hard to settle and be thoughtful--even to read a fast-paced but reflective book appears to be difficult for the current crop of high school grads and beyond. And it's difficult to pass on the idea of things that are true and beautiful and good in the face of all that neon and noise.

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    2. Truth and beauty aren't "cool." I'm working a reference to an ancient homily from the writings of the Greek patriarchs into my current manuscript. What world do I think I'm in? Maybe I should concentrate on the pornographic possibilities inherent in the story instead?

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    3. I think you might be in the same world I'm in... and some other people, here and there. One that doesn't put world success first, it seems!

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  3. I didn't read much when I was growing up, I have to admit. Which suggests there is hope for teens out there right now who haven't discovered what it's like to be immersed in a book that speaks to you, creates a world for you, the way nothing else can.

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    1. Yes, I always think about Melville learning that he loved to read while a sailor! There's hope...

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  4. I grew up in a great family, but one that wasn't much interested in art, literature, or other forms of "high culture." I mostly discovered it myself, and I don't think I set foot in an art museum until I was in my twenties. (When more culturally savvy friends told me they were going to the "Klimt show" in New York, I assumed "Klimt" was a punk band.)

    I found my way, but would I today? Would our shiny, highly customizable culture have kept me so amused, so satisfied by my short-range whims, that I might not have looked up, looked around, or taken a longer view? Would I have pursued certain books or artistic activities if I could have done a Google search that showed me in half a second what a lonely pursuit I was in for? I don't know. The Internet has been very good to me, but some days I'm glad I grew up before it took over our lives.

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    1. Yes, I think I am glad of that also... Just back from 7.5 hours driving and going to a track meet, and one of the things I like about it is knowing that for a fair number of hours, my youngest was away from videogames and out in the fresh air.

      My parents weren't from elevated backgrounds--my father was a sharecropper's boy, and my mother's family had done well but lost a great deal during the Depression--but they both took a lot of pleasure in the arts. My father became of professor of analytical chemistry but also wrote fiction and poetry, and my mother was an academic librarian who was a great needlewoman and gardener, and in her old age has devoted herself to weaving. And I went to a lot of plays and concerts and so on as a child. I expect the internet might have curtailed all those things!

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  5. "Writer bounces out of bed at 6:30" is an image that is too rich for words. Perhaps you need to invest in a less dangerous mattress. In any case, for whatever it might be worth, I continue to follow your blogging even as my blogging will remain erratic and unpredictable (which seems redundant) due to life's many monkey wrenches. Bounce along, fair lady, bounce along!

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    1. "Rocket" might be more accurate... with a touch of electrocution.

      I thought you had left us! Shall wander by later...

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.