Sunday Links for September 18, 2011

I can’t fathom how someone who wants to write would think s/he could do that without first having read, and read a lot. But apparently that’s a phenomenon among young writers these days, as discussed in this Salon essay about these hapless writers. This seems surpassing strange to me.

Perhaps the problem is that we’re so protective of our children, and so protective of our individual wealth, that we aren’t exposing children to reading nearly as much as we should be. As Steve Himmer writes in this provocative essay in The Millions, we’re so intent on having low taxes that we can’t keep our libraries open for eager young readers. And we’re so concerned that they might read the wrong things that we take books out of their hands. Perhaps this is why I’ve been so intent on being the one who gives books to kids – they can be neighbors, the children of colleagues, or random kids found in libraries or bookstores. My nieces and nephews all know that they’re getting books from Aunt Terry for Christmas and birthdays, and they read them. Anyone out there want to join me in tilting at windmills this way?

Needless to say, I don’t agree with Alan Jacobs, who wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education that you can’t teach anyone to love reading. This article made me want to chew nails. Read it, and read the comments: one of the most interesting things I found was that you can tell from the writing in the comments of those who don’t read that they don’t read! Helen Vendler’s article, “Reading is Elemental,” in Harvard Magazine, seems like a fairly direct response to Jacobs, though he and his article are not mentioned. Vendler’s article makes me want to take her to tea and discuss books and poetry – not that her books didn’t already make me feel that way.

It seems like quite a way to fall from those articles to literary twitter parodies, but perhaps these little squibs bring the lesson home in the way all the scholarly words never could.

Amazon is up to new tricks. This time it is proposing a service comparable to Netflix, only for books. Authors are in an uproar, but really, if this were thought out properly, couldn’t it benefit authors the same way it benefits them to make shorter works available on Amazon as short Kindle reads? It can’t take too many sales before they’ve earned more than they would selling a story to a print outlet, can it? We have to start treating epublishing as something besides a mysterious evil, and start figuring out how to make it profitable for those who do the actual writing and editing, without losing quality or quantity.

I speak, though, as one whose Kindle largely serves as a paperweight. Whenever I reach for something to read, I reach for a genuine book or magazine, not one reduced to pixels and thrown up on the screen of the Kindle. I thought I’d helped to ease that problem a bit when I bought a light specially made for the Kindle, thinking I could read in bed after Fred goes to sleep. Alas, the clicking that signals the turn of a page drives him crazy and keeps him awake. My bottom line: like Peter Croatto, “on the ground, I’m all set.”

Now here’s something repulsive. Writers for young adults report that agents offer to represent them only if they eliminate gay characters from their works. What a stupid idea.

Ecstatic Days asks for favorite SF/F/H beginnings and gets some fascinating responses. I had forgotten how If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino, begins, and rereading it made me want to get the book and dive into it once again. I was surprised, though, that no one mentioned Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Those of you who have read it will know precisely what I mean. The rest of you: go look it up.

Harlan Ellison seems to think everyone’s always copying his stuff. Sometimes he’s right, but if io9 accurately describes the new movie “In Time,” is doesn’t really sound much like “Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman.” But hey, I didn’t think “Terminator” sounded much like Ellison’s work, either, and the court found otherwise.

Oh, I like this idea: Little Free Libraries. I like it so much I’m tempted to start putting them up in my town. It’s more than possible, if you’d like to start this idea up in your town as well.

We’ve needed a sarcasm font for some time now. Thank goodness someone finally put his/her mind to it and got it done!

Yes, I’m still mourning the death of Border’s, but apparently my dismay and sadness have nothing on those of the folks who live near the original store in Michigan. Bookstores are so precious, and they’re disappearing so fast.

There are some folks who think even bookcases will soon become hard to come by, that we’ve so turned from our real books to ebooks and to games and movies and television that we don’t need this sort of furniture any more. Fortunately, reports of the death of the IKEA Billy bookcase have been greatly exaggerated. But the bookcases have nonetheless had to adapt to the times; IKEA is making a deeper version so that it can accommodate a television. Sigh.

And after all that news, here is some beauty to end up on. First, here is some extreme tidying-up – organizational work turned into art. Do watch the video; it’s fun. My favorite is the fruit salad. And these paper structures left at various Scottish libraries, anonymously, with tags identifying them as gifts in honor of reading, books, and libraries, make one’s heart happy.

Head Scratching

The writing without being a reader bit was beyond bizarre. I can't imagine there is a market for such works. Wouldn't it be like a movie made by people who don't enjoy movies? Nonetheless, I have a morbid curiosity as to such a writers' voice. That said, I don't think I would spend money on it either.

Grammar and such

I've always thought that reading was absolutely necessary to writing, if only because you can't really learn grammar and vocabulary well without reading. Some things start to sink in until they just sound right to you, and you start writing what sounds right.

It's said that 80% of Americans want to write a book. I know that nowhere near 80% of Americans have read a book within the last year. And isn't that a tragedy? For the publishing industry, for the country, but most of all for the individuals.

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