Tuesday News: Banned Books Week, blurbs, books in the visual arts, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book recs
Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Sept. 27- Oct. 3, 2015 – A piece of clickbait from Slate reminded me yesterday that this week is Banned Books Week. After the few seconds during which I lamented the deterioration of Slate (and Salon – what the ever loving hell happened there?!), I found the official BBW website, which contains information on events and resources, all sponsored by the American Library Association. And let’s face it – any week is a good week to celebrate libraries and librarians, for the crucial work they do in protecting public access to books (and all of the informational resources housed by libraries). The Slate piece I mentioned took the position that we don’t need to acknowledge BBW anymore, because books are hardly ever banned, failing to acknowledge the obvious fact that fewer books face outright banning precisely because of the activism and awareness created by events like Banned Books Week. As Maddie Crum writes in response to the pitch against BBW:
Almost as an aside, Graham notes that we live in an age where, if a book does happen to be banned from a library or school, citizens can access it more easily than ever. With Amazon! And money. This is fine for those who can afford to buy books that aren’t available to them in libraries, and those who have the knowledge of the existence of such books. Libraries don’t pretend to primarily be serving these communities. They support those who need free access to information.
The piece is headlined: “Why Do We Still Publicize Banned Books Week? The Good Guys Won!” Well. Collectively, yes, the side of free information is on a serious upswing. But this isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon — as evidenced by our storied history of censorship, and the still-waging war against free expression happening elsewhere in the world. It’s thanks to the work of organizations such as the ALA, which equips librarians and teachers dealing with challenges with advice and legal services. They do the behind-the-scenes work that ensures challenges don’t turn into bans; that they’re successful in this is a very important thing worth celebrating, and, yes, publicizing. – Banned Books Week & Huffington Post
Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs? – Well, you can decide for yourself if this article is “irresistible.” It does have some interesting insights, though, from the argument that blurbing started with Walt Whitman’s inclusion of a sentence from Walt Whitman on the spine of Leaves of Grass to the not surprising conclusion that blurbing does not greatly influence sales. Apparently one of the most important components to a blurb is whether the person doing the blurbing matters to you and whether the blurb creates added value for you (which you may not even know upon simply reading the blurb). And this, which explains a great deal in the current market of hyper-marketed books:
If the sales impact of the blurb is, at best, a small part of a larger mix of a book cover’s attractions — or, at worst, a negligible one — the question appears to persist. Why blurb?
Well, the short answer is: The blurb isn’t exactly meant for readers — at least, not entirely. By the time a blurb gets to the reader, by the time it’s resting on a book in a display, it has already done most of the work it’s supposed to do.
“We now very often receive submissions from literary agents to consider a book, and the agent’s letter will have endorsements already in place from authors you’ve heard of,” says Michael Pietsch, CEO of publisher Hachette Book Group. “And that’s the way the agent is getting the publishing community to read this book ahead of all the other thousands of books on submission at that time.” – NPR
The Image of Genre – A really interesting piece by poet Lucy Ives about the book as a form of visual art, and the propensity of visual artists to become, essentially, authors, by using books as the medium for their visual art. Ives thinks about this, not only in terms of literary production, but more specifically in terms of genre, in the way books, and talking about books, and reading books, have become part of a performance of categorical expectations and structured responses, such that people know so well what to expect from books that in many cases we don’t even need to read them to know what they’re about. And the way this highly determined activity has already been anticipated by the form of the novel itself, which captures within its (ever expanding) boundaries, so many other types of writing and speech. She uses the example of lyric poetry to demonstrate the fact that by the time these poems were written down, they were artificially reproducing what was supposed to be a live performance, and were therefore a type of generic writing. Anyway, her piece gives the reader a lot to think about in regard to how the concept of genre can be simultaneously broader and more specific than we often use it:
Since the turn of the century before last, literary experimentation has been good for creating readers fluent in the ways of literary experiment. Whether or not exclusively due to such efforts, we are now familiar enough with the diversity of literary genres, their conventions and interpenetrations, that we no longer require written works to adhere to particular laws of form or content in order to be able to read them. The progressive pastiche of various literary heroes, both modernist and post-, has greatly expanded our conception of what and where a poem might be. Even so, radio and moving images quickly overtook (or, had already overtaken) our experimenting heroes, indicating new levels of fungibility of content. These media simultaneously overtook, in publicness and popularity, a genre-agnostic entity of even longer standing than modernism itself: the novel. . . .
There is a strange promise of privacy in many public displays of books. “You’ll read this later,” such displays seem to say. And when one is alone or, at least, at home, if one is not reading something else, one might indeed read. But the promise might also remain just that: a promise, and a kind of fantasy. Sometimes displays of books or book-like displays are also an image of a kind of reading, a kind of reading worth describing as an image precisely because it is so difficult to obtain in a time of ubiquity of text. The limits of the book are, perhaps, more porous than ever; sometimes, particularly if the book in question is a PDF, I find these limits nonsensically breeched by my email. The book could, in the context of an exhibition, be a metonym for a kind of historical knowledge or cultural production, but it might also be a metonym for a kind of attention, style of reading, or even a mode of consciousness. And in standing in for a kind or convention of reading, the book-as-image is a vague image of genre. (Such images become increasingly precise and focused when they bring us closer to acts, rather than fantasies, of reading — though fantasies of reading are also pretty interesting.) There is really a great deal of exhibition of reading these days. Reading is variously and frequently — via reading rooms, performances, and installed printed objects — purveyed as a notable and attractive habit of everyday life, which it also, to be clear, is; in this sense, displays of reading are a lot like genre paintings. — Los Angeles Review of Books
Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read – When someone on reddit asked Neil deGrasse Tyson what books should “every single intelligent person on the planet” read, the astrophysicist provided an interesting list. Not interesting because of the books themselves, or the fact that they’re all written by men, or that most of them are considered the kind of classics that people often complain about reading. No, his list is interesting because of the reasons he gave for reading these particular books. Case in point:
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift– “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.” – Open Culture