Monthly Archives: September 2013

Does Facebook Make Us Unhappy?

This fascinating New Yorker article by Maria Konnikova surveys a number of recent studies about how Facebook affects users’ mood. Most of the studies argue that surfing Facebook tends to worsen our mood because it is a passive activity that often leads to jealousy regarding others’ lives. We are happy during the brief moments when we are writing and posting a status update, but the rest of our time on the site dissipates this pleasure. In other words, our time on Facebook often embodies the old bumper sticker that reads “Every time one of my friends succeeds, a little part of me dies.” How people use Facebook is so subjective that it is impossible to make conclusive statements about how it affects users, but the act of interrogating how it affects us is nevertheless an essential one. Konnikova’s article certainly makes me question how much time I spend on the site (generally between half an hour and an hour per day), and is worthwhile reading for anyone else who finds her- or himself making Facebook a central part of the day.

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Books Acquired Recently

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. 1888 and 1890. Mineola: Dover, 2003.

Frederic, Harold. The Damnation of Theron Ware. 1896. Mineola: Dover, 2012.

I just recently heard of Harold Frederic (Utica College’s student literary society is named after him), who was from my new town of Utica, New York, and is buried less than a mile from my apartment. His major novel, The Damnation of Theron Ware, takes place in Utica, so I decided to buy it (and hopefully read it in the next week or two) as a part of my continuing investigations of the area. If I enjoy it there is a good chance I will include it in my American Literature After 1865 course next semester.

I have also been meaning to buy A Study in Scarlet for a while because it takes place in my just-now former state of Utah. I look forward to seeing how a British author depicts the bizarre realities of pre-statehood “Deseret.”

As an aside, note that for Doyle’s book the name of the volume itself is “A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four,” therefore according to MLA formatting only the “and” is italicized because the volume’s title should be italicized, but of course in italicized titles that include book titles (i.e., in this case, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four) the normally italicized titles must receive another form of emphasis since the entire title of the volume is already theoretically italicized. I understand the logic of this, but it just looks weird. I would much prefer if the “and” were the only word not italicized. I am all for MLA style’s attention to detail, but certain elements of it drive me up a wall.

As a second aside, Dover books are fantastic. I often assign them in my classes when I can because they are so inexpensive. Most people are familiar with Dover as a result of their editions of classic literary works, but they publish a wide-ranging list, including several significant chess books such as Frank Brady’s Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy and Hans Kmoch’s Pawn Power in Chess. The protagonist in Nicholson Baker’s novel The Fermata is in the process of writing a history of Dover as his M.A. thesis, and I’ve always wished I could read it. Baker himself would be the perfect person to write such a history because of his love of print culture, and especially print culture ephemera.

I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s essays for the past week-and-a-half, which is why this post is so footnote-y.

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The New Header Photograph

I decided to update the header photograph of my blog to celebrate my recent transition to Utica, New York. I never feel truly at home in a new place until all of my books are displayed on their shelves, so the new photograph symbolizes my new identity as a Utican. Also, the previous header photograph depicted a shelf from my poetry bookcase, and I felt it was time to go back to paying homage to my first love, fiction.

I chose a photograph of my P-R shelf because it includes representative texts from my favorite subject areas. There is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, one of my favorite African American novels; Alice Randall’s incisive parody of Gone With the Wind, The Wind Done Gone; and a Latino text, Tomás Rivera’s The Earth Did Not Devour Them. There are several queer texts, including John Rechy’s City of Night and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. There is a germinal feminist novel, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Voyeur and two of Thomas Pynchon’s novels represent postmodern fiction while in close proximity with books by one of England’s first novelists, Samuel Richardson. Works by two of my favorite authors from the past, Chaim Potok and Philip Roth, are also present. This shelf would make a lovely autumn reading list for anyone.

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Books Acquired Recently

Ayala, César J., and Rafael Bernabe. Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007.

I have been wanting to learn more about Puerto Rico’s history for a while as a way to help me better understand my Puerto Rican roots. This book looks like it does a good job covering the different facets of Puerto Rico’s perplexing relationship with the United States.

Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse. 1968. New York: Anchor, 1988.

I’ve been thinking about buying this book for years, and found it for a good price. Barth isn’t my favorite postmodern fiction writer, but he’s an essential voice in the field, and Lost in the Funhouse is his masterpiece.

Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London: Routledge, 1984.

I am hoping to teach a course on postmodern fiction in the near future, and Waugh’s book is one of the important early critical examinations of the genre. Postmodern fiction rarely gets taught these days (virtually all of it I’ve read–and I’ve read a lot–has been on my own rather than in classes), but I think it has something valuable to say even though many people view it as a gimmicky phase.

All three books were bought on amazon.com.

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