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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Give Up

I'm going to renew both Harper's and the New Yorker. I just can't live without these magazines.

I can face life without Astronomy, but not those.

UPDATED: For one thing, Ursula Le Guin never writes for Astronomy.

As people these days can maintain nonthreatening, unloaded, sociable conversation by talking about who murdered whom on the latest hit TV police procedural or mafia show, so strangers on the train or coworkers on the job in 1841 could talk perfectly unaffectedly together about The Old Curiosity Shop and whether poor Little Nell was going to cop it. Since public school education was strong on poetry and various literary classics, a lot of people would recognize and enjoy a reference to Tennyson, or Scott, or Shakespeare—shared properties, a social meeting ground. A man might be less likely to boast about falling asleep at the sight of a Dickens novel [as an AP reporter recently did - geez, people usually brag about not getting sleep!] than to feel left out of things by not having read it.

The social quality of literature is still visible in the popularity of best-sellers. Publishers get away with making boring, baloney-mill novels into bestsellers via mere PR because people need bestsellers. It is not a literary need. It is a social need. We want books everybody is reading (and nobody finishes) so we can talk about them.

If we bought books over from England by ship these days, crowds would have swarmed on the docks of New York to greet the final volume of Harry Potter, crying [as they did for Little Nell], “Did she kill him? Is he dead?” The Potter boom was a genuine social phenomenon, like the worship of rock stars and the whole subculture of popular music, which offer adolescents and young adults both an exclusive in-group and a shared social experience.

Books are social vectors, but publishers have been slow to see it. They barely even noticed book clubs until Oprah goosed them. But then the stupidity of the contemporary, corporation-owned publishing company is fathomless: they think they can sell books as commodities.

Gotta love Le Guin.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Astronomy is perhaps the science whose discoveries owe least to chance, in which human understanding appears in its whole magnitude, and through which man can best learn how small he is.
Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

February 19, 2008 6:53 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Yes, but Astronomy is a popular astronomy mag. It's full of pretty photos, but let's face it, I already know most of the information it holds. If I see "Q. How do we know how far away the stars are? A. Well, there's something called Cepheid variables..." I'm going to barf. If you have a suggestion for a more advanced astronomy magazine, I'm open to that.

February 19, 2008 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point.

Sky&Telescope probably wouldn't do you much good either.

I can understand New Yorker...I like their cartoons, too!

Unfortunately, as a skeptic, if I throw out religion, then by principle I have to throw out politics. In turn that doesn't leave much to read about in Harpers. And life is too short for non-fiction.

Of course, your Harper is probably my Smithsonian. Your New Yorker, my Discover.

"Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics, do not know what religion is."-Mohandas K. Gandhi

February 20, 2008 6:03 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I thought about and rejected S&T, too. Well, if you throw out religion, then you have to throw out a lot of art, too. And so much for my job! ;-)

I don't throw out religion, I just regard it as it should be regarded - sociologically, anthropologically. Besides, if you don't pick up the current issue of Harper's, you'll miss not only Le Guin but also a fascinating article about what actually happens to New York's waste.

That's human waste.

Askew gazed into the inky pool of untreated wastewater and began to describe some of the marvels the interceptor had disclosed. Aside from the daily intake of leaves, sticks, cans, and paper, the great rake had brought up quite a few vials of cocaine. When cops bang on the door, the toilet is a drug dealer's best friend. Ditto for the professional forger: a good deal of counterfeit money has floated into Steve Askew's hands. Twenty years ago a dog showed up, a living dog that became the mascot of a Brooklyn plant.
"I never saw an alligator," said Askew."

February 20, 2008 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have an issue with the artifacts of religion, just the pathology of it.

As far as New York's waste, I'll wait 'til it's aired on "Dirty Jobs".

February 20, 2008 7:28 PM  

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