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Once again had a screaming fit in the car when I heard the recent bullshit attempt to deny veterans proper care.

I'm glad the Department of Veteran Affairs has stepped in to insist that this one rogue administrator has nothing to do with their official policy. I'd love to believe them but given the Walter Reed scandal, and the institutionalized neglect and denial that plagues military mental health care, I've gotta say I'm feeling a little thin on trust these days.

Is it sick for me to say I'm almost glad we lost our family's Iraq War soldier, rather than see him come home broken and violent and unstable? To see him come home with a sense that to be a man one must suck it up and never ask for help?  To see him come home and raise a son into a paradigm where pain and suffering signify nothing more than weakness? Yes. It's sick for me to say that. But it's a sick fucking world, kids. It's a sick war, and a sick military, and above all a sick country. Here's hoping we can get our hands on some kind of moral penicillin in the near future.

Happy Memorial Day weekend.
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Did anyone else catch Charlotte Allen's utterly foolish, poorly argued, insulting, backwards piece of tripe in the Washington Post?

I'm waiting to respond until I am not so blindingly furious. Right now my main rebuttals include a lot of swears. But if any of the rest of the brilliant women (or even brilliant men) on my f-list have anything to say to Ms. Allen, have at.

Coming as it does just after I've finished reading Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft, I feel like I should have something articulate to say as soon as the rage passes.
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I occasionally like Stephen King the writer, and really do like Stephen King the philanthropist, but Stephen King the literary critic is really starting to piss me off.

Every single time he gets a chance to address his more literate readers all he can offer is some defensive populist anti-snob snobbery that says nothing about what a piece of fiction can be called upon to achieve, but which only bemoans the pretention of other more cerebral writers. This little rant has been building up for me for a while, because on some counts I agree with King. I do believe a lot of very quality fiction gets exiled to genre racks as a result of the publishing company's whims. I do believe that the fantastic is fertile grounds, and that plot is not a mark of inferior writing. But when his lament turns its bitter eye on tropes and maneuvers that he finds lacking, one can only see a child who has been hit by stones, stooping down to gather them up just so he can fling them back.

Today's short editorial in the New York Times Magazine bitching about the state of American short fiction is his most recent assault. This year King was the editor of the Best American Short Stories collection. Frankly, I think this was a good idea; I like the diversity of editors that BASS uses. And King, though his work to me is incredibly uneven and erratically literary, is undoubtedly an American storyteller every bit as representative as previous editors of the collection. As the editor of course it's his choice what to include; of course it's his prerogative to scorn some of the lesser choices. But to proclaim that the short story is ailing, that a huge amount is "show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers," and then to argue that this is an indication of the form's decline? Foolishness. Of course a lot of fiction is silly, insipid, and vapid. There's more of it being written then ever before, and the ratio of wheat-to-chaff is never what we might hope for. That's why we have awards judged by different types of people every year; that's why we have the Pushcart and the BASS and the O. Henry, in order to keep a discourse about what we value in fiction. What we value, not just what we want to devalue.

This one essay in and of itself doesn't really bother me that much; I am grouchy and critical too, and someday might want to vent my frustrations in a too-short-to-make-a-real-point editorial somewhere. But this essay in conjunction with a lot of King's other recent bitching and moaning just makes me hostile. Hodge made the mistake of reading out loud to me King's postscript to the end of The Dark Tower (in which book, in case you don't already know, the characters actually meet a character--a writer!--named "Stephen King"). Once again, King becomes defensive about the technique he uses, afraid it will make him "experimental" or "pretentious." In his postscript he claims that most other writers use metafiction to be overly clever and cute and show-offy, but King uses it to create a very genuine discourse about art and creativity. Well, of course. Of course King came up with a use for metafiction no one else ever came up with. When you put it that way, Steve, I have a new respect for your convoluted and BY THE WAY self-conscious opus. You will know the definition of "self-conscious" by now, since you're fond of slinging it around as an accusation.

His acceptance speech for the National Book Award a few years back was a bit more graceful, but still oddly defensive. At one point he accuses the judges of giving him the award as a "token," a way to deal with that annoying pop literature issue: "What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?" Yeah, as if quote unquote "literary writers" have nothing valid to say about their culture. As if there's nothing valid or entertaining to be found in the more obscure literary works up for awards, works that don't stand a chance of selling on the popular market and thus funding another year of work. While I agree that the line between genre fiction and literary fiction is artificial and could do with more crossing, I don't know that pure snobbery accounts for Grisham's lack of literary recognition. And some of King's complaints feel archaic, considering the amount of crossover literary success I've seen in the last ten years; the readers of my generation are as likely to be claiming canon-space for William Gibson, Jonathon Lethem, and Kelly Link as they are for more traditional literary writers, and people like Michael Chabon and Glen David Gold have made a number of us recall the joy to find in pure plot satisfaction.

I feel like there's a more organic way to look at literature, across a spectrum of art and storytelling and entertainment. If King weren't so defensive about his own place on the spectrum (or maybe about where his detractors place him on that spectrum), I think he'd have more interesting things to say about it.
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The library I work for recently printed a bunch of little tags that say "Ask Me What I'm Reading!" You can then print an image of the book you want to talk about in the space beneath, and pin it to your nametag. They're very excited about this as a way to foster conversation and find new opportunities to provide a reader's advisory.

On Friday I had a conversation with one of the young hip youth services people about why I hated, loathed, and scorned this idea. Okay, to be fair, it was less a conversation than a diatribe on my part. But it was still sort of an interesting exchange.

Zenithblue: It just opens a can of worms that's not really practical to open while at a public desk. I mean, what if I'm reading something sexually charged or violent or philosophically challenging or religious in nature?

Youth Services Babe: (giving me a sort of are-you-stupid look) But...you don't have to put what you're actually reading on the tag. I mean, I have The Memory Keeper's Daughter just because it's a good recommendation, not because I'm reading it right now.

ZB: Well, I know, but I think having a conversation about books at a public desk, as a clerk, is kind of a bad idea. Any books. I mean, we're not supposed to "see" what other people are checking out, we're not supposed to comment on someone's choice of books, but suddenly we're inviting them to invade our intellectual space and reveal something about ourselves? Don't get me wrong, I love talking about books. I love it. But I'm there trying to take care of their accounts and handle their fines and how much are they going to trust me to do my appointed government-official work if I tell them one of my favorite books is about a love affair between a thirteen-year-old girl and her stepfather? I mean, Portland is pretty permissive, but there are lots of people here nonetheless who'd flip out.

YSB: Well sure, but you just try to pick something fairly safe.

ZB: ...and that's my main problem, the idea that there are "safe" books. All books should be safe. All books should be dangerous. I have no interest in a guarded and euphemistic thirty second conversation with someone about a book.

YSB: You're awfully passionate for someone who works in a bureaucracy.

The whole conversation was fueled by my early Barnes and Noble trauma, the summer I worked at the really lousy Anchorage location. The idea that we were supposed to speak glowingly and excitedly about the one book they were trying to push, even though we hadn't read it: I refused and ground in my heels. This feels like the opposite of that, a move towards a self-censoring conversation about a book I possibly feel passionate about (or else a half-hearted suggestion about a book I found mediocre). Anyone who's read more than one of my posts knows I love talking about and recommending books. I've recommended plenty of books even in my capacity as a library clerk, but only after I get a feel for where the patron is coming from and what they're interested in. I'm not going to put out a generalized, democratized, bland, middle-of-the-road and wholly unoffensive book on my chest for anyone to ask about. I won't have that hanging by my heart.
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Tonight, in poetry class, a girl said a poem was "pretentious."

Reasons why this is the stupidest fucking thing to say about a piece of writing:

As an adjective, "pretentious" means, more or less, "pretending to something," usually pretending to something out of league of the pretender. In other words, you're calling someone a poser. It does not mean "hyperliterate" or "hyperintellectual" or "inaccessible" or any of the other things people mean when they use the word. A piece of writing can't be accused of pretension, because writing in and of itself is a fucking pretense. The writer can be pretentious. Fine. But the work itself: the work itself doesn't have a will. The work itself does not sit there trying to make you feel stupid.

This may seem like a semantic distinction, or a metaphysical one, but the word has become a hollow accusation hipsters use as a catchall to describe anything that uses intertextuality, or classical references, or references to other literature, or any high philosophical questioning. Fucking have some imagination and some insight if you're going to trash on someone's writing. Not only is "pretentious" used incorrectly in the context, it claims to be a meaningful and valid complaint, when really all it's saying is: this poem does not say things the way I want things to be said. This novel was too long/full of big words/full of obscure references.

That girl is officially out of the club.


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