Tag Archives: politics

Books Acquired Recently

Kuhn, Gabriel. Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics. 2nd ed. 2018. Oakland: PM Press, 2019.

I received an advert about this book from the publisher and ordered it immediately because I was able to get 50% off so it was only $10.00. A steal!

Peters, Torrey. The Masker. N.p.: CreateSpace, 2016.

I loved Peters’s other novella Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones so much that I ordered this one from amazon.com (I wanted to order it directly from her, but her website says she’s on vacation) as soon as I finished it. I can’t wait to read it!

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Books Acquired Recently: Post-Holiday Edition

I’ve begun receiving books in the mail (all of the books in this post were ordered via amazon.com) that I have ordered as a result of my literary experiences over the winter break. I received Knecht’s other novel (Who is Vera Kelly?) as a gift and loved it, so decided to order her first book, and I heard about Awkward-Rich’s and Peters’s books last week at MLA.

Awkward-Rich, Cameron. Transit. Minneapolis: Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press, 2015.

Knecht, Rosalie. Relief Map. Portland: Tin House Books, 2016.

Peters, Torrey. Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones. N.p.: CreateSpace, 2016.

Peters has her MFA from the University of Iowa and has published in a number of prestigious journals, but writes in her “About the Author” statement that “she’s trans, and has concluded that the publishing industry doesn’t serve trans women. So now, she just wants to give her work away for free to other trans girls.” This is a powerful political choice that makes the argument that literature has the power to change lives and that this possibility is more important than furthering one’s literary career via traditional venues. I read through Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones earlier today in one sitting and loved it; Peters is certainly not self-publishing due to a lack of writing skill. You can read more about her work at her website, http://www.torreypeters.com/.

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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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The Northern Illinois University Shooting Five Years Later

Five years ago today, 14 February 2008, I was a graduate student at Northern Illinois University when a gunman walked into Cole Hall at the center of campus with a machine gun and opened fire. He killed five students and himself. I was fortunate enough to be several blocks away at the time of the shooting teaching a class in one of the dormitories on the edge of campus instead of in Cole, which I walked through every day when I was on campus, or in the English building, Reavis Hall, where my office was. Many of my officemates were in Reavis at the time and could see the victims’ bodies being ferried from Cole to waiting ambulances afterwards.

In retrospect, considering the recent massacres in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, the NIU community was “lucky” to only suffer a loss of life in the single digits. But the fact that civilians still have access to the weapons of mass destruction used in these killings is abhorrent. There is no rational argument for keeping these military-grade guns legal. It sickens me to think of all the lives that continue to be lost in the United States because Congress chooses to use the issue of gun violence as a political football instead of taking action to protect its constituents. I am happy that President Obama called for action on this issue in his State of the Union address (you can watch the relevant part of the speech here), and I hope that Congress finally realizes that it is time for action, though I remain skeptical about their willingness to do anything.

To those of you reading this who are against any form of gun control, I ask you to simply think about how you would feel if it were one of your children who had been a victim of these shootings. Doesn’t keeping your children safe warrant an end to the thoughtless political partisanship on this issue?

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Thoughts on the Weekly Reader

The news that Scholastic is shutting down its Weekly Reader elementary school newspaper (read more about it here: http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/25/the-last-weekly-reader/?hpt=hp_bn13) signifies the loss of another piece of my childhood. We would read through it each week in class for several years of my elementary school career (I want to say third grade and fourth grade, and perhaps also second grade, but I’m not sure), and it was always an enjoyable diversion from regular class activities even though I remember being bored by most of its articles. It felt like a big deal that there was a newspaper being published for kids because it symbolized adults recognizing that our intellects were important and acknowledging that we cared about what was going on in the world, too. The physical nature of it, the fact that you could hold the Weekly Reader in your hands as proof of this recognition, meant something (and similar experiences still mean something–I loved print culture then and I still love it much more than digital culture).

My clearest memory of the Weekly Reader is an article before the 1988 election which explained who the two big-party candidates were and included a ballot that you could cut out in order to have a mini-election in class. Being able to vote was so exciting! I voted for Dukakis, but as was the case in the actual election, Bush won in a landslide, something like 22-9. In hindsight, this landslide seems especially surprising because it was a class of third-graders in the Bronx! The fact that many of us had heard of Bush because he was vice president (I remember arguing that this was an unfair advantage for him), but had not heard of Dukakis swayed the vote. I voted for Dukakis because I knew my parents were voting for him.

It is sad that the Weekly Reader will be no more. What were cooler than the Weekly Reader, though, and are really only associated with it in my mind because they were printed on the same flimsy, full-color newsprint, were the Scholastic book order forms that would come four or five times a year. It was so much fun to look through the four-page catalogues for new titles and figure out whether I had enough money saved from my allowance to buy a book or two (the times when I had spent my money on other things [usually baseball cards] and couldn’t afford anything were sad, indeed). During my first few years of elementary school, the books (virtually all paperbacks) were usually $2.00 or less, then they became slightly more expensive in the upper grades when we had graduated to chapter books. I remember buying novelizations of films such as Superman 4: The Quest for Peace and Back to the Future 2, and a volume that included both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story which I still have. You would cut out the order form, fill it out, and give it to the teacher in an envelope along with your money (often a smorgasbord of coins), and the books would arrive in about a month, which was long enough to have almost forgot about them, thus making the day when they arrived super-exciting, like a surprise Christmas. The teacher would always wait until the end of the day to hand them out, and the  anticipation would be excruciating. I don’t really know any elementary school children these days, but I hope that they still have this wonderful experience.

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Real Books Forever! or, Just Say “No” to ebooks

Some of my fiction collection.

There is a fascinating and disturbing article by Ken Auletta in this week’s (June 25, 2012) New Yorker about the current legal face-offs between amazon.com and six large publishing companies in the U.S. (Random House, Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster). Basically, Apple created a deal with the publishers to fix their ebook prices at a higher rate than amazon demanded from them, and amazon then entered into a similar deal, which has resulted in the publishers now being able to sell their ebooks on amazon at a slight profit rather than a loss, but the Department of Justice has initiated an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of consumers as a result (if you want all of the legal nitty-gritty, read the article itself [you need a subscription to the print version of the magazine to read the article online, so support print culture by going and buying a copy at your local newsstand!]—I’m more interested here in the larger ramifications for the future of books in general).

I am normally against big companies setting price controls because they hurt consumers, but in this case I am rooting for the publishers to win because they need the price controls in order to stay in business. Books are essential to a functioning democracy, and, while one could question whether our “democracy” is currently functioning considering how ridiculous the goings-on in Congress have been for the past fifteen years or so, anyone who has an interest in education or civil rights or, to put it bluntly, freedom must recognize the necessity of books and do everything they can to help protect them. If amazon—which I must admit I love and buy print books from frequently (I will never, ever buy an ebook as long as paper books exist), though this article forces me to re-think this practice—is able to force publishers to provide them with books at a loss to the publishers, the end result will be that publishers (especially independent publishers [including university presses], who are the most important because they publish valuable books that are not necessarily profitable, and thus would never be published by large publishers) begin to go out of business, leaving amazon as both distributor and publisher of books, which means that readers will be forced to accept their view of what is important enough to publish or not. I try not to let large corporations make these types of decisions for me.

The issue is not just about physical objects, it is about how ideas are disseminated, and the avenues available for this dissemination play a major role in what ideas are put into the public eye. The more of these avenues that are available, the more new ideas enter public discourse, which benefits everyone because it stimulates further thinking. Books (and print culture more broadly) have been the primary way of disseminating ideas since the 1500s (we see their power in the example of the Protestant Reformation, which would have been impossible without them), and while that does not mean that other forms of idea dissemination are invalid, it does mean that we must do everything we can to ensure that books will survive, which means ensuring that a competitive publishing field survives.

A note on ebooks versus real books: according to Auletta’s article, ebooks “make up about a third of all book sales” (37). More and more of my friends and colleagues, educated people who should know better, prefer ebooks because they are supposedly more “convenient” because you don’t have to carry them around and they take up less space. This is a ridiculous argument. If carrying several books with you is too much of a physical strain, you need to be in better shape anyway (or you are elderly or disabled, in which case I am willing to make an exception), so just think of it as some informal weightlifting. As a compulsive book-buyer, I can see the space argument, but a) you can do wonderful things with modular shelves from a store such as Ikea to maximize the space you have for your books, because any room is made better by the presence of books—they show that you are an intelligent person, which is always sexy; and b) the benefits that physical books have which ebooks do not far outweigh the minor problem of figuring out where to put your books, anyway. Aside from the unquantifiable aesthetic pleasure of holding and smelling an actual book in your hand as your read, enjoying the different fonts in different volumes and thinking about the history of the physical object in your hand if you acquired it used, a major benefit of real books is that you can flip through them, finding favorite passages with ease, or looking in the index for the subject you are interested in and going straight there. With ebooks, you are forced to go through chronologically, or at least chapter-by-chapter, not to mention ruining your eyes by using yet another electronic device (real books give me a much-needed break from the computer) and the uselessness of ereaders once we run out of fossil fuels.

A similar point is made in the article, which discusses how the process of browsing in a bookstore is essential for finding new authors, whereas online shoppers tend to just go straight for what they are looking for. This both hurts lesser-known authors and is less fun for customers. Part of the joy of book-buying is finding unanticipated treasures, and the chance of this is greatly diminished when shopping online. It is true that it is more convenient to shop at a site such as amazon’s—if I know what I’m looking for I can literally buy a book from them in less than sixty seconds—but the most convenient way isn’t always the best way. It’s fun to spend an hour or two just lazily browsing at your local bookstore. I fear that, the way things are going, this activity will no longer be an option when I am older. To prevent that horrific possibility, it is necessary to support printed books and reject their much less satisfying electronic impostors.

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