Andrew Meyer: The latest in a venerable American tradition

As if the Andrew Meyer case couldn’t depress me more, we now have this to contend with. He has now, I hear, apologized:

In society, as in life, there are consequences for not following the rules. In this instance, not following the rules has imposed consequences for many people other than myself, people who have seen their school, and perhaps their degree, tarnished in the eyes of others through no fault of their own.

This could not be more Orwellian if he were being frog-marched to the glue factory. Elections stolen? Illegal wars? Torturing? Wiretapping? The probable death of any hope of real democratic change? Fuck that, guys, he didn’t follow the rules.

Suddenly, all is clear to me now. The University of Florida might have been embarrassed by their unconscionable treatment of a harmless student asking a question, and thus Andrew Meyer– the lone student wrestled to the floor and assaulted with a painful, dangerous weapon–has to apologize.

You know, this reminds me of something…

Oh yes, I remember now.

In his statement, Whittington said the past weekend had encompassed friends and family in “a cloud of misfortune and sadness.”

“My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice President Cheney and his family have had to deal with,” he said.

Don’t you just love this country? When in doubt, blame the victims.

How to read books you’ll never talk about

As someone who was a master of the fine art of B.S. in High School and college*, this book– “How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read”–ought to be right up my alley. Or a manual for all sorry Columbia freshmen currently slogging their way through Lit Hum. (Buck up, guys, it gets better in second semester.)

But, actually, the whole idea makes me a little depressed. Surely reading isn’t only a social exercise? It’s the kind of attitude that made me despise Lit Hum (aside from the whole Core Curriculum being racist thing). The thought that as long as we read and were vaguely familiar with the themes of these forty or so works, we could slide by in sophisticated cocktail parties for the rest of our lives. Oh, sure, you should maybe supplement it with a cursory exploration of James Joyce or Philip Roth, but as long as you knew Thucydides and Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, no one would guess you had a weakness for Louis L’amour novels.

This is lame. Reading is an activity to enjoy, not to wield like bludgeon at social gatherings. I’ve been reading a great deal of books this month and sometimes I swear that nothing makes me happier than going into a tizzy over a book. Off the top of my head, this is what I’ve read so far in October:

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson
Indiscretion by Jude Morgan
The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia
Firethorn by Sarah Micklem

I’m all for cultivating your B.S. muscles (especially in academic settings), but don’t lose sight of the fact that literature is designed for stimulation and wonder and–of course– pleasure. I love reading books. Most of the books I read I rarely discuss with other people. They’re personal pleasures. Though, since I’m here anyway, I had a real run of luck this month and I liked every book on that list. I recommend the Westerfeld books, Firethorn and Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson in particular (I know I didn’t read that this month, but it’s her best adult novel). The NY Times review put this very eloquently:

At the risk of sounding like the fusty old crank everyone does impressions of in the faculty lounge, I still believe in the private ecstasy of reading. It’s one thing to jockey for social position by saying that Dostoyevsky introduced psychology into the novel, or that Chaucer had a fuller grasp of humanity than Shakespeare. It’s another thing to experience, with your full attention, Raskolnikov wandering feverishly around St. Petersburg, or the young scholar farting in the face of his romantic rival in “The Miller’s Tale.” Real reading is not just hoarding fodder for cocktail chatter, it’s crawling, phrase by phrase, through a text and finding yourself surprised or disappointed or ruined or bored with every other line. This direct connection—the voice that enters your brain and mingles with your own internal voice—is the only way books really matter, and experiencing it requires a kind of deep surprise at the words in front of you.

See, doesn’t that make you feel better? B.S. The Decameron. But read something you enjoy.

* Just one example, since I can’t resist. My sophomore year I took a class in Victorian literature, which sounded far more interesting than it actually was. A major problem was that my teacher seemed to be under the impression that no females had ever written anything of note during the entire Victorian period, despite, you know, probably the most famous poet of the age being female. But, like, whatevs. So I was editing the college paper at the time and I was not inclined to bust my ass getting to a 1pm class three days a week. Don’t say anything. When you go to sleep at 5am and have to commute in from Yonkers, 1pm requires busting ass. So I attended precisely THREE classes. One to turn in the first essay (oh, how I love essays written on poems), one to turn in the supposed “final” essay that would determine our grade, and one to receive that final essay and learn that actually we were going to have an exam. In a week. I had not bought a single book for the class. In the classes I attended, I worked on my Japanese homework. I was, to put it delicately, unprepared. And since I was so unprepared, I didn’t even bother trying to get a little less unprepared, just on general principle. So you know that nightmare where you realize you have to take an exam, but you’ve never even attended the class, let alone studied for it? Well, that actually happened to me. There were three essay questions about six different Victorian writers. The only one I had ever heard of was Robert Browning. I wrote three essays about the work of six men with whom my only familiarity was that my teacher had chosen to discuss them in class. It was the B.S. Olympics. I defy anyone to say so little of substance while appearing to say so much (the secret: allusions, allusions, allusions). Anyway, I ended up with an A- in the class. I wonder what the hell he thought of that exam. Maybe he took pity on me?

Dear Orson Scott Card: Get your religion out of my secular society

I just read this little gem, from our eminent Mormon Science Fiction Grand Master. You can tell a lot just from the title: “Hypocrites of Homosexuality.” (Thanks–or not– to PZ Myers for blogging about it first). I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been reading a lot about prejudice the last few days, what with the whole “James Watson is a flaming racist” brou-ha-ha and the dozens of moral invertebrates crawling out of their caves to defend him. (Just read the comments on that Pharyngula thread, and tell me that it doesn’t make you depressed about the possible future for fair social policy in the world and in the States.) And reading this utter bullshit from one of the most respected and beloved Science Fiction authors in the world has pushed me over the edge.

Listen, Orson Scott Card, if you want to belong to a religion so filled with racism and sexism and homophobia that it’s become sort of famous for it despite all the competition from other religions, then fine. But dear god (ha), given your position in the community, given the fact that I’m sure thousands and thousands of your fans are homosexual (or somewhere along that LGBT continuum), couldn’t you at least manage to be diplomatic? Disgusting as I usually find “love the sinner, hate the sin”‘ sort of thinking to be, it would be a vast improvement in your case. Come on, can’t you let a little light of understanding and common humanity, and, well, humility shine into that bigoted mass of neurons you use for a brain?

Am I exaggerating? Am I being too harsh? Let’s go to the source:

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Get your corporate ladder off my afro!

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I just have to blog about this ridiculous incident that has already been commented upon plenty. Read the original American Lawyer article for details, but the outlines of the scandal are straightforward: a blogger for Glamour magazine went to a prestigious law firm to give a presentation, with slides, on the “dos and don’ts of corporate fashion.” Now, this sort of exercise in self-congratulatory conformity would normally make me run straight to my leopard-print Keds and kente cloth do-rag, but in this case, unfortunately, duty calls.

So, this savvy, fashion-conscious blogger put her first slide on the screen. It was of a black woman. With black hair. Okay, you might call her hairstyle an “afro.” Why? Here’s a hint: it has something to do with being of African descent, and having a certain type of hair. And it just so happens that this type of hair looks really good, I mean seriously fucking beautiful, if you let it grow out without any kind of “naturalizer” or “relaxer” or “perm”. Don’t believe me?

Angela Davis Afro

Yeah. It almost gives me the chills.

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Harold Bloom flirts with sexism– oh, sorry, “Political Correctness”

You know, I actually like Harold Bloom. His interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew (short version: for God’s sake, that speech at the end is ironic!) is close to my heart. He’s a huge fan of John Crowley, for which I can only admire his taste. But his much-quoted reaction to Doris Lessing’s win of the Nobel Prize in literature smacks (I hate to say it) of entrenched chauvinism:

Judges praised her for her “skepticism, fire and visionary power.” Once again, all the “favorites” were passed over. Just earlier today, the AP was tipping Philip Roth, Amos Oz, and Haruki Murakami. And now the service says “the Swedish academy’s announcement was stunning even by the standards of Nobel judges, who have been known for such surprises as Austria’s Elfriede Jelinek and Italy’s Dario Fo.”

Harold Bloom, as ever, is ready to dissent: “Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.” He says the prize is “pure political correctness.”

Let’s see if we can deconstruct that a little, shall we? By using the deeply coded phrase “political correctness,” Bloom obviously means to imply that something other than her (apparently fourth-rate) literary abilities went into her selection. Now, despite the brave efforts of legions of marginalized SF writers, the cause of equal speculative fiction rights has yet to hit the mainstream (let alone the hallowed halls of august literary prizes like the Nobel). Thus, I can only imagine that the aspect of her selection that offended enough to outrage the professor was her gender.

In other words, he is accusing the judges of selecting this revered and much admired writer because she is a woman.

Frankly, it’s a statement of rank sexism. Professor Bloom, is it impossible for you to state that you perhaps dislike Ms. Lessing’s writing and feel there are better candidates for the award without dismissing the entire judging process as one dependent upon “political correctness”? Because apparently, in your mind, there could be no other reason for selecting this woman than her gender and literary exploration of women’s issues.

Dare I suggest that had the usual white male been the recipient of this award, you might have confined your dismissal of the choice to his actual writing, and not spurious political motives of the judges? Why don’t women get the same basic courtesy? Why must we always struggle, in every recognition we receive, against this sexist, repressive, conservative notion that all our successes are due to “political correctness” and not intrinsic worth?

I wouldn’t have been surprised to read such statements from a Sean Hannity or Pat Buchanan (well, if the subject weren’t literature, anyway), but coming from Harold Bloom they are more than a little dispiriting.

Story up at Pseudopod!

You can hear a lovely rendition of my short story, Among Their Bright Eyes, at Pseudopod right now. It originally appeared in Fantasy magazine at the beginning of this year.

It’s essentially a Frankenstein fanfic, and it’s publication history is oddly long and torturous (originally accepted by Flesh and Blood, held for at least a year and a half before that publication folded, but Jack Fisher was kind enough to mention it to Sean Wallace, who asked to see it and then bought it for Fantasy. Whew!) And now it has a second life as a podcast. How ridiculously cool is that? Anyway, go forth and enjoy it (or not).

Now if only I could sell something new