1.08.2012

On the nightstand

Feed (M.T. Anderson)
Fiction. Seven years ago, Mr. M-mv and I read this with our son. At the time I wrote:
Another book that has, for better or worse, (re)shaped the geography of our imaginations this week is M.T. Anderson's Feed. The book has been pitched to "young adults." [...] Hence, a number of children will read it. The clever among them, then, missing the [point], will dismiss it as "shallow" or "dumb." The rest simply won't get it. Frankly, many teens won't get it. Far more worrisome? Most adults may miss the point. Or will get it, and, in their great discomfort, reject it. We're not pretending this is great literature. But, "Oh? Wow! Thing!"
Well, in addition to Coriolanus (related entry here), the family book club decided to read Feed this month. Does it hold up on re-reading? Both Mr. M-mv and I agree that it does. He revisited the book via an excellent audiobook edition, read by David Aaron Baker ("Terrific!"), and I split my return nearly equally over the paperback I first read and a Kindle edition. Our recent book club discussion included such issues as the novel's prescience, its spot on riff on the vapidity of "teenspeak," the fact that Violet is (of course!) homeschooled, and the observation that Titus is not an entirely an unsympathetic character, nor is Violet an entirely sympathetic character.

Some passages for the chapbook:

p. 4
The thing I hate about space is that you can feel how old and empty it is. I don't know if the others felt like I felt, about space? But I think they did, because they all got louder. They all pointed more, and squeezed close to Link's window.

You need the noise of your friends in space.
p. 31
I wanted to buy some things but I didn't know what they were. After we walked around for a while, everything seemed kind of sad and boring so we couldn't tell anymore what we wanted.
p. 47
People were really excited when they first came out with feeds. It was all da, da, da, this big educational thing, da da da, your child will have the advantage, encyclopedias at their fingertips, closer than their fingertips, etc. That's one of the greatest things about the feed -- that you can be supersmart without ever working. Everyone is supersmart now. You can look things up automatic, like science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in and shit.
p. 135
The place was a mess. Everything had words on it. There were papers with words on them, and books, and even posters on the wall had words. Her father seemed like a crank.
By the way, can I give a little "Squee!" about the synchronicity / serendipity / synthesis at work here? Re-reading Feed while still engaged with Nicholas Carr's The Shallows was, in a hyphenated word, mind-blowing.

Like Shaking Hands with God: A Conversation about Writing (Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer)
Non-fiction. From Daniel Simon's foreword to this slim but wonderful volume:
There is a sentence in a Jewish prayer: A person's thoughts are his or her own, but their expression belongs to God. You feel it in the writings -- and the talk -- of both these men. As one who believes in the redemptive power of literature, I think Kurt and Lee both write to catch His eye. Neither one of them is taking any chances.
That I love Vonnegut, most of you already know; this transcript of his October 1, 1998 conversation with Lee Stringer only increased my affection. And I added Stringer's Grand Central Winter to my Kindle after closing the book.

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Reading Matters in a Distracted Time (David L. Ulin)
Non-fiction. Ah, the irony. Yes, I'm reading this on the Kindle. From Ulin's essay of the same title (Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2009):
Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves. This is what Conroy was hinting at in his account of adolescence, the way books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.

Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr)
Non-fiction. Still working on this one. I mentioned it in last week's "On the nightstand" but will repeat here: Carr created a stir three and half years ago with the publication of the essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (The Atlantic, July/August 2008; related M-mv entry here). The book is every bit as compelling as the article led me to believe; a chapbook entry will follow. Until then, two links -- NPR's "All Things Considered" on "'The Shallows': This Is Your Brain Online" and Carr's blog, Rough Type.

Adventure Unleashed (______ __. _________)
Fiction. The comb-bound book on the bottom of this week's pile is my daughter's self-published novel, the first in a fantasy trilogy.

4 comments:

ChristineMM said...

Ooh the last one is the most exciting! :)
Write away, young lady!

Crissy said...

Jeffrey and I have been having on ongoing conversation about eyewitness identification and the death penalty over the past year or so.
When you mentioned The Autobiography of and Execution in a previous post, I thought it would be an interesting one to share with him.
I picked it up at the library this morning, but it's his day off so he has been reading it. I think I might get to start it tonight.

Girl Detective said...

I went to a Book Festival where MT Anderson spoke, and re-read Feed before I did. I remember being underwhelmed the first time I'd read it, very impressed at how well it stood up when I re-read it, and after hearing him talk, even more impressed. He said one thing he'd failed to predict was the Facebook/webpage/narcissism that so permeates our culture nowadays.

Joseph said...

I picked up LIKE SHAKING HANDS WITH GOD at the library and read it this afternoon. Wonderful. I am very fond of Vonnegut, and now I am excited to have discovered Lee Stringer.

I also picked up FEED on audio for my daily commute. I find that audio books are the best way to pass the time on my 45 minute one way drive each weekday morning.

As always, thank you for the recommendations. You have never pointed me in a wrong direction book-wise.