Feed as an audiobook

Everybody told me.  But, until now, I didn't listen.

Feed by M. T. Anderson is an incredible book, an utterly absorbing snarky sci-fi read about a future in which our brains are wired for digital communication from birth.  The upside is messaging each other with minds alone.  The downside is all the ads from the corporations who, collectively control the feed, and thereby also control our minds.  When Titus meets Violet, whose feed was installed later than his own, he learns all kinds of things that he hardly has space to absorb in his product-saturated existence, things about socioeconomic differences and how expensive it really is to go to the moon.  Which is where he met Violet, on spring break.  This book has possibly the best first line ever:  "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." 

But now I'm listening, and I mean really listening, because I finally got (read:  broke down and bought from audible.com) Feed as an audiobook.  And it is beyond worth it.  The feed is acoustically animated, if you will, bringing the sense of being inundated with ads, stories, images right into your earphones and into your head.  I'm glad I read it first, back when it came out in 2002, rather than hearing it first, because this interpretation (and it really is an interpretation) is powerful.  Even the voices of the characters suggest varying levels of sincerity and vapidity, differentiating them while also defining them in ways that print could not.  And yet, never before have I had the experience of wishing that an audiobook wouldn't end, just so I could keep having the pleasure of listening to the inventive interpretation.

I find that my emotional read on the characters is a little different this time around at a level that goes beyond the voices.  While before I felt sickened by Titus' callousness (and of course I overidentified with Violet. Duh.), this time I hear the cultural context differently.  Violet argues that the feed keeps people from thinking, keeps them focused on desire and gratification, and on the next desire.  This time, that makes more sense to me, and I blame Titus less for his inability to empathize at the most basic level.  The feed is more real, perhaps, and therefore I see its distraction possibilities more vividly.  Or maybe we're at a different point in history now than in 2002, and I'm susceptible to the lures of internet entertainment in ways I wasn't then.

Not all audiobooks are this impressive, of course, but I'm definitely going to pay more attention to the Horn Book audiobook reviews for my own future use.  We change, and, for me, books that I re-read show me how I've changed.  I'm positive the audio format and the extraordinary performance have something to do with this.  But it's also true that I am on facebook regularly, blogging right now, and connected to email throughout my day.  2002 looks old fashioned from here.

"Keep Listening"

From the book The Ethnography of Reading, edited by Jonathan Boyarin (Univ. of California Press, 1992) comes a chapter titled "Keep Listening:  Ethnography and Reading" by Johannes Fabian.  The opening is interesting, walking through arguments about literate vs. oral cultures that have, in short, set them apart and given literate cultures advantages.  On p. 82, he makes an interesting argument.  Writing, Fabian argues, has been dematerialized.  We've paid for "theoretical progress" in our understanding of literacy and/in culture with "a dematerialization of the object of research."  Though he doesn't explore it, I'm curious about the ways that literacy and writing can be thought of as material culture.  If books/scrolls are cultural objects, then is the written page as well, not just its formalist properties, but also its content?  It's simple to say yes, but then again content prompts immaterial interpretation faster than the blink of an eye.

Fabian then goes on to interrogate how the process of writing anthropology is endlessly complex, including the transcription process which we generally think of as fairly simple.  He describes arguments with his informant-collaborator over how certain phrases should be written based on tapes.  Some of this is now relatively old news in anthropology, but still interesting.  My favorite part is when, on p. 92, Fabian insists that the "oral tradition" was a discovery made within a print culture, and amounts to no more than the absence of print.  That's one way to put it, and though it's a familiar idea to look at how context informs what we think of as "discovery," this is still pretty interesting to consider.  Walter Ong has other perspectives on this, and ones that lend themselves more readily to the digital age, but I like what Fabian is doing here, even the relatively simple assertion that "literacy is part of the phenomenon anthropology tries to comprehend."  (p. 83) 

It's not going to serve its original purpose, as a piece for the doctoral seminar 590HR--The History of Readers, the new class that Mak and I are teaching in spring--but it's still an interesting piece for future reference.  The rest of the chapters in this volume are situated more in particular locations as ongoing anthropological and/or historical sites:  ancient Israel, Anglo-Saxon England, Indonesia, Colombia, pre-modern Japan, etc.  Elizabeth Long shows up too, with a piece on collective interpretation.

I promise, to readers and to myself, that young adult (fantasy) novels are coming back! I owe this blog (and myself) several long absorbing fantasy reads, coming soon.  Thanksgiving week, if not before.  It's October, which means Halloween stories next Saturday at Spurlock, and I'll be singing a spooky favorite that dates back to the 1500s in print and who knows how much earlier in the oral tradition.  November is writing month, at least in my calendar... here's hoping for much article-related productivity!

what d&d character are you?

In my fantasy literature and media for youth class (LIS590VV) this week, there's a student group presentation on role playing games.  Did I mention lately that I love my job?

According to this site: http://easydamus.com/character.html

I Am A: Lawful Good Elf Ranger (6th Level)

Ability Scores:







Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment because it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Rangers are skilled stalkers and hunters who make their home in the woods. Their martial skill is nearly the equal of the fighter, but they lack the latter's dedication to the craft of fighting. Instead, the ranger focuses his skills and training on a specific enemy a type of creature he bears a vengeful grudge against and hunts above all others. Rangers often accept the role of protector, aiding those who live in or travel through the woods. His skills allow him to move quietly and stick to the shadows, especially in natural settings, and he also has special knowledge of certain types of creatures. Finally, an experienced ranger has such a tie to nature that he can actually draw on natural power to cast divine spells, much as a druid does, and like a druid he is often accompanied by animal companions. A ranger's Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

contradictions: DiMaggio and Caudill

Contradictions, but not paradoxes, at least not this time.  The two things I need to blog this time are at opposite ends of several spectra...  new and old, nonfiction and fiction, social theory and historical fiction... okay, those last two aren't even on a spectrum together, but you get the point.

"The Iron Cage Revisited:  Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields" by Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell
My favorite theorist, from undergrad social theory class, was Max Weber whose talk about the Protestant Ethic and bureaucratization made sense, for me, out of hundreds of seemingly nonsensical bureaucratic experiences.  DiMaggio and Powell take Weber one step further, to discuss why organizations tend toward "isomorphism," or all having the same shape.  Or you could say, looking the same.  Or at least using the same rationale, like when libraries call their people "customers" and borrow from business models.  I like this kind of theory, in that it takes a big step back from the particular values of the day (such as "cost recovery" in the university) and instead think about why institutions do or don't look the same.  They point out the inadequacy of the business-is-biology metaphor by pointing out that institutional forms homogenize around different central forms, and therefore it's less survival of the fittest and more metamorphosis (hi there Kafka).  Coercive isomorphism, mimetic processes, and normative pressure are the mechanisms they name for the structural homogenization of institutions.  For librarians, or maybe for LIS instructors, the last is the most relevant, in that professionalization tends to lead to homogenization.  I saw this vividly in my research on early children's librarians uses of surveys.  In 1882, Caroline Hewins did a national survey of libraries asking about children's services, using just one open-ended question.  By 1898, the survey had morphed into a nearly 20-question rubric of "good services."

Of course, I'm always thinking about what use this might be... Dimaggio and Powell are building theoretical frameworks.  It makes me think about the ways I continually strive to push my students to contextualize, to understand that, while professional standards are vital, the ways that standards are implemented can and should vary wildly in different locales, different social contexts.  But the real use value for me of this article is simply that it explains why fewer librarians do real storytelling in story hours and tend to gravitate toward programming books.  Institutional isomorphism.  It's safer to tread the path that has been marked, and perhaps it's more efficient.  It's also a recipe for reducing risk, and that's a creativity killer.  We still need librarians who invent, create, and respond to their child audiences in libraries, especially in public libraries, however homogenous and isomorphic the institutional structures become. 

And now for something completely different.

Barrie and Daughter by Rebecca Caudill
It's not a novel I would pick up otherwise, but Caudill's Barrie and Daughter turned out to be a relaxing and reasonably enjoyable read, if very slow by today's standards.  Caudill is the namesake of the big reader's choice award in Illinois, but that's not why I'm reading her.  I'm reading her because I want to see how race was depicted in her books.  They are historical fiction, set in the mountains in Kentucky.  This story is about a girl, Fern, who old-fashioned mother Blanche takes much convincing to allow her to take up shopkeeping when her father, Peter, decides to open a store to compete with the overpriced store nearby.  It's also about Fern growing up, taking responsibility, and very gradually falling in love.  There are guns and horses and really dramatic moments near the end, but for up to 200 pages the narrative meanders like a lazy river, nice to read but not especially gripping.  And the answer appears to be that, in fact, race is completely ignored or edited out of this book.  Fortunately, I have the correspondence between Caudill and her editor May Massee, so I'll know which soon enough.  And that's the topic of the paper too, the editorial/publication process and race in children's literature.  Two more to go by Caudill, Tree of Freedom and Susan Cornish, and then I'll be ready to reexamine the archival documents and get to writing.