If you are following Full Stop on Twitter, you already know that when the NYPD cleared Zuccotti Park two nights ago, they confiscated the People’s Library, consisting of approximately 5,000 books, magazines, newspapers and other materials that have been, according the People’s Library’s WordPress site “donated, collected, gathered and discovered during the occupation.”
After reading an account of the evening on the People’s Library’s blog, librarian Raina Bloom wrote an essay/how-to-protect-your-library guide on her personal blog: Rainabloom.tumblr.com. “If your library is located in any sort of contested area,” Boom writes, “someone is coming for it.”
Bloom respects the bravery of the librarians working at the Occupy Wall Street People’s Library, but stresses the need for a predetermined evacuation plan to protect libraries in other contested Occupy areas, to prevent the full-scale confiscation of these collections. Bloom helpful outlines such a plan in six steps – some of which seem self-evident, but having a coherent and universal plan spelled out is incredibly useful.
I will paraphrase her plan here, but her post is still worth a complete read, for specific advice on how to carry out each step:
- Have the collection stored in such a way that it will be ready to travel on a moment’s notice.
- Recognize that you may not be able to save everything.
- Have volunteers to help move books.
- Use your time effectively.
- Have a safe house – public libraries might work, especially if you contact a librarian in advance.
- Ask yourself in advance if you are willing to be tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed (don’t feel ashamed even if your answer is no!) and plan accordingly.
Of all the things I am, one of them is a full-on library nerd and I earnestly mourn the destruction of any free, public collection of literature. Luckily, and contrary to early on-the-ground reports from the People’s Library twitter account, the People’s Library appears to be safe. The New York City Mayor’s office tweeted, with a picture, that the library is safely stored at the 57th Street Sanitation Garage and will be available for pickup on Wednesday.
Update, 10:30 am: It looks like much of the library is not available for pickup. Librarians at the People’s Library report: “There are only about 25 boxes of books; many of the books are destroyed. Laptops here but destroyed. Can’t find tent or shelves.” The People’s Library also has a partial list of missing items, which includes:
- Between 2,000 and 4,000 books (we’ll know if it looks right when we see it ), this includes five boxes of “Reference” materials many of which were autographed by the authors;
- Our custom made “OWS library stamps;”
- 5 (4?) laptop computers;
- Our wifi device;
- Approximately 60 plastic tubs/bins of varying sizes (most small, but several big);
- archival materials (I was starting to collect some stuff in the library);
- posters (including many original posters created by OWS participants);
- periodicals/newspapers/zines (not counted in our book total);
- personal belongings of librarians;
Mayor Bloomberg must account for the whereabouts of these items. — Alex Shephard
Update, 1:30 pm: Freelance writer Melissa Gira Grant live-tweeted a visit to the Sanitation Garage where the remains of the People’s Library is being reclaimed by protesters. She is reporting that only a fraction of library’s original collection is at the garage and 4 out of 5 of the aforementioned laptops are there, but destroyed. She is also reporting that a Reuters photographer asked to enter the garage to shoot photos and a police officer she identifies as Officer Cunningham said press is not allowed to enter. No cameras are allowed in the main sanitation room. — Catie Disabato
Choking on Midtown smog this afternoon, I suddenly and almost involuntarily began reciting to myself lines of the following fable—a fable my mother would sing as she rocked me to sleep among the haystacks and chiming crickets of the family farm. My memory is not perfect, and certain lines recollected here may be spurious, but I’ve reconstructed the piece as best I can; the original source of the tale remains unknown. If only the fables of childhood would not lie dormant in us for so long!
Once in a little country town
A little horsey neighed.
He clomped his hooves upon the ground—
The hooves that God had made.
He galloped to the local store
To buy his horsey grain,
He used a rude and broad-toothed comb
To comb his horsey mane.
His was a happy horsey life,
His quick hooves won him fame,
He raced the town, he horsed around,
He had a horsey dame.
But one day in the local store
(There’s always grain to buy)
A horse’s grooming magazine
Amazed his horsey eye.
Its cover showed a black horseshoe
On some young horsey buck:
“All Horsies Must Have Them,” it read,
“They Even Bring Good Luck!”
And straightaway he galloped off
With horseshoe visions bright.
He galloped toward the city gates,
He galloped all the night.
He thought of bridled city mares
And how he’d chase them down,
He thought of all night horsey clubs;
He cursed his little town.
He galloped till the sun came up,
He had no time to lose,
He made it through the gates and neighed:
“O give me horsey shoes!”
They led him to the horseshoe shop,
They drove the nails straight clear,
He chomped the bit to brace his pain,
But could not brace a tear.
He trotted off with head held high,
though limping just a bit,
He rushed into a horsey club,
Ready to conquer it.
But when he took his horsey stall,
He thought, I must be daft!
No bridled mares would glance at him,
The ones who did but laughed.
He neighed to all “What’s wrong with you?
It doesn’t stand to reason!”
“You horsey fool,” they all replied,
“Those horseshoes are last season!”
He went away into the night,
The harsh city lights shone.
He knew now that this city life
Would be a lonely one.
He did not leave the city, though,
Despite his small renown.
He told himself he liked it fine,
Better at least than town.
And when he was alone at night,
He doffed his shoes, and neighed,
And clomped his hooves upon the ground—
The hooves that God had made.
China, plunderers of Africa and censors of Google, are doing more these days than appropriating our cultural artifacts and selling them back to us at dimestore prices. They may in fact be communicating with aliens.
Long the province of SETI, vanished civilizations, and Dan Aykroyd, humans have been trying to communicate with extraterrestrial life since they realized that the earth is not a flat endless expanse of land and ocean modestly draped by a blanket of clouds and stars. And who else is better poised to speak on our planet’s behalf than the world’s most populous nation?
Incredibly interesting geometric structures have mysteriously shown up in the Gobi Desert (and on Google Earth.) Sure, the headquarters of China’s space program is only 100 miles away. And the Ding Xin military airbase where China test its top secret aircraft is 400 miles away…but don’t these kind of, sort of, somewhat, resemble the Nazca Lines in Peru? Those lines, made by removing the red surface rocks and exposing the white ground underneath, have long been used as “evidence” by UFO fanatics and ancient technologies enthusiasts to prove that…I don’t know…aliens are real and anything is possible and mystery is still alive and well?
I sort of sympathize. And in that spirit, have concocted by own theory: The Chinese government, in its quest for more and more resources, has stumbled across an ancient series of scrolls in Africa that document visitations from extraterrestrial life. From these scrolls they’ve also discerned a way to communicate with the aliens. Following the precise directions of the scrolls, they’ve constructed an intergalactic communication device…and wait…
And now that I’ve inadvertently stumbled upon the truth (or at least something someone somewhere has an interest in taking as the truth), me and everyone who reads this post, will systematically be hunted down and killed. With this eventuality in mind, the best way to understand these images, or anything really, is by reading Umberto Eco.”Beware of faking,” he tells us in Foucault’s Pendulum, “people will believe you.” In his second novel, Eco has a team of bored academics working at a smallish vanity press in Italy to concoct a unifying theory of conspiracies: Knights Templar, The Elders of Zion, Cthulhu, crystals, everything. Problems begin arising when a mysterious person who may or may not be the Comte de Saint-Germain starts believing their story. After they start going missing, what’s to stop them from believing as well?
(Editor’s Note: The current whereabouts of Scott Beauchamp are unknown. The police are conducting an active investigation into his whereabouts and would like anyone with any information to please contact the New York Police Department Missing Persons Division. Scott is believed to be wearing silver gym shorts and a white t-shirt.)
R.L. Stine has written over 300 books, and is probably writing more as you read this. But as we all know, the best of the Goosebumps series were published between 1992-1997, when those books were first planting the seed that grew into our life-long fear of ventriloquist dummies. Let’s take a sartorial trip back in time to our fear-filled childhood years, when a single choose-your-own-adventure Goosebumps book was enough to inspire weeks of nightmares. To be young again!
Thanks goes to Kelly Schmader for her fearlessness, sartorial and otherwise.
One encouraging aspect of the recent interest in occupation is that it has not been domesticated as a “campus phenomenon.” However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking with interest at what is occurring on our campuses. With this in mind I offer the Nation’s recent comparison of police confrontations at UC Berkeley and Penn State and the proceedings from a conference held on the 40th anniversary of Columbia University’s student protests.
You can watch archival footage of what the Columbia events actually looked like , which is a useful exercise given the powerful, but slightly claustrophobic effect of recent clips from Berkeley and Penn State. If you are patient enough to reach the 21 minute mark you will be confronted an essential question: how can we bring the limbo back into radical politics?
Last night I missed a lecture about the Chicago Manual of Style at the University of Chicago’s International House. I’ve only been a Chicagoan for two weeks, so I’m a little behind the curve when it comes to finding out about these things. I only found out about it today in The Chicago Reader, from a post entitled “Twitter and the Chicago Manual.” Most of the article dealt with live-Tweeting during the lecture and Q & A, Oxford commas, and other minutiae, which was sort of misleading for an article I thought was going to be about the relationship of social media to codified style. That relationship is something I’ve thought about as long as I’ve had a Twitter, since it’s so tough to pin down. Those of us who have spent time on the Internet know that style (and general attention to prose) is a mixed bag: on the careful/caring end, you have Full Stop. On the other, 4Chan. Gallant’s Tweets read like haikus. Goofus’ are willful acts of violence on the written word. Etc.
Ben Zimmer was at the forum – which made me all the more bummed for missing the event – and he provided the only insight I’d find in the Reader about this particular issue:
“There is no Twitter style guide. People are coming up with it on their own, organically.”
Obvious as it is, it’s a point of interest. If anything, the language of Tweets evolves on a course more parallel to that of spoken language than written language, even though it’s all text. Since you’re restricted to 140-160 characters, memes (with hashtags and without) take on the added value that they do in colloquial speech. They, along with other shorthands, fall in and out of vogue both on and off the screen. The result is a kind of Internet Pidgin, optimal for transmitting a lot of information very quickly. The second someone tries to impose some sort of codified style on it is its death knell. The same thing has happened in music: when Jazz went to the academy, the rate of its progress went from a sprint to a crawl.
More than anything, Twitter is a medium that lives and dies by its utility. Given its relationship to vernacular, a manual of style would compromise that aspect. Which is where it gets dicey: at what point is social media for transmitting information, and at what point do we use social media used for transmitting ideas? On the one hand, it is truly expedient and effective for getting information out. The Arab Spring and #occupy movements would have been far less visible had it not been for social media. It’s a conduit between itself and other, more idea-driven places on the web (i.e, the Twitter for a publication Tweeting a link to a recent post). So in those instances, Twitterspeak is necessary. As far as expressing more abstract ideas, Twitter and the language people use in Tweets brings the tension between vernacular and formal style to a boil.
Noam Chomsky found himself caught in the crosshairs of this issue when he made some disparaging remarks about social media back in March. Here’s the one that’s given him the most flak, reprinted in Nathan Jurgenson’s “Why Chomsky is Wrong About Twitter” in Salon (10/23/11):
“Text messaging, Twitter, that sort of thing […] is extremely rapid, very shallow communication,” he said to interviewer Jeff Jetton. Chomsky said. “[I] think it erodes normal human relations. It makes them more superficial, shallow, evanescent.”
What does it mean to communicate shallowly? It seems like a fatal mistake to conflate Brief with Shallow. Vernacular thrives on its ergonomic quality, just as Twitter does. Of course, it’s not always appropriate, but neither is formal English. There are good reasons why people speak and write in different registers, and the realm of Twitter is no exception. It’s comical when people get their registers confused (see also: My Cousin Vinny) because it’s a red flag that they’re out of their element.
I don’t mean to insinuate that Twitter should become a grammarless free-for-all (see: 4Chan, YouTube comments ten pages into ANY video). But I don’t think that’s ever been on the table, and that’s a hard pill for naysayers to swallow. If people want to convey information in such a bizarre sphere – and for the record, Twitter is really, really bizarre – let them figure out ways to make themselves understood. Imposing formal style would be too much of a constraint. At worst, people without a handle on the medium become laughable Exhibits A-Z for lousy internet-speak. At best, people’s sorting through linguistic structures in that environment could be great. In another article, this one in The Atlantic, there’s a great (if oblique) Zimmer dig at Chomsky:
Those traditionalists ignore (or distrust) all the ways that social media can enrich the language, in terms of new vocabulary, new modes of expression, and new pathways for innovations to spread.
With e-books on the rise, print news faltering and Kindle owners taking up every goddamn table in the nation’s coffeeshops, it’s understandable that a lot of people are preemptively mourning the printed word. There’s an entire “Drawbacks” section in the Wikipedia entry for “E-book” — and if that doesn’t strike you as odd, consider the lack of a comparable section in the article on mp3s. No one misses video rental stores; our generation tends to embrace new technologies and never look back. More than any other media, then, it is books that inspire purism. The advent of the printing press catalyzed revolutions centuries ago; today, books are the chief holdout of our world’s digitization.
As a college student lacking time and disposable income, my reading habits came to outgrow what I could reasonably obtain. I began to dabble in the world of online reading — begrudgingly, at first, still printing things when I could. Within a few months, I was reading entire novels. I’m not just used to it at this point — I’ve come to recognize that reading online greatly enhances the reading experience. Any avid reader with limited resources who is not taking advantage of the possibilities opened by reading on a computer or tablet is seriously depriving themselves.
All of this isn’t to say digital reading is a substitute for print — it’s not. A tablet can never replace the weight of a good novel in your hand. Think of digital reading as a supplement rather than a competitor, an incredibly useful alternative for when you can’t access physical copies of desired materials.
The world’s largest library at your fingertips
Between library.nu, Project Gutenberg, torrents, and the many publications that make their content available online, the breadth of material on the web is unrivaled by any physical library. It’s not just about having a wider selection, either — the easy accessibility means you wind up reading things you’d never bother with otherwise. Say I have a sudden compulsion to find some biographical deets on Sartre, for instance: in the past, I’d probably forget or lose interest by the time I visited a library. Now I’m able to act on my impulses, instantly combing through any number of sources to find the information I need.
Digital reading is better suited to the pace of our age
When we think of reading, we like to imagine ourselves turning pages in lush fields or spending hours curled up in bed with a cup of tea. Juxtaposed with the reality of modern life, however, such visions are quaint fantasies. Today’s reader is more likely to look through a paper or a magazine in the morning, skim a hardback textbook while waiting for the bus, and read a quick chapter before bed. Computers and tablets allow you to quickly obtain your reading, switch between sources, and take thousands of pages worth of material on the go (which is, literally, life-changing for a college student).
The web supplements reading
I often hear people complain that reading online is too distracting – chat messages pop up, anti-virus software demands updating, Facebook beckons you away. Tune that shit out and recognize that having the web’s resources at your disposal can enhance the critical reader’s experience: look up unknown words; clarify confusing details; get historical context; search through related works; share and discuss passages with friends. It all adds up to a much bigger picture than one author’s page-bound account can afford.
Less friction between the author and reader could alter distribution
More online readers could allow authors to bypass traditional publishing companies. The implications for distribution here are profound. The Guardian reports that Chinese authors are charging readers modest premiums to access self-published websites with great success. There will likely be growing pains if such models catch on in the States, and publishers will certainly bare the burden – but my gut tells me writers and readers both stand to benefit in the long run.
Pirating reading is not unethical
I say this with a caveat. Let’s acknowledge that authors and the publishing industry depend on paying consumers for survival. If people stop paying for great work, we’ll start seeing less of it. That’s a fact.
Another fact: I could not begin to afford to purchase all the media that I consume. Forced to choose between piracy and depriving myself of literature, I’m not going to hesitate. This isn’t just selfishness: I submit that the individual’s education is in the interest of the greater good, for both the individual and society at large. It’s certainly unfortunate that authors are often not rewarded for their work – but placing the blame on piracy would be misguided. Let’s just say that when I’m president, we’ll spend less money on building planes that will never fly, and more on fostering a love of reading in society (not to mention combating poverty and ensuring recent college grads are able to afford a healthy reading habit).
If you’re ready to give it a shot, there are a few resources you should know about: Instapaper and Readability are great tools for reading comfortably, without the clutter and shitty formatting of publication websites. Longform and Longreads both curate excellent online nonfiction and make it very easy to save articles to phones and tablets. Plus, low-end Kindles are now $79.
The powerhouse journal n + 1, the most articulate and intellectually rigorous echo chamber of our generation, has reached a saturation point wherein it’s already becoming a passe matter of course among those in the know, and will probably be lost forever to those who don’t already. It would be gauche to brandish an issue on the subway. You will never convince your parents to read it (well, maybe YOURS, but certainly not mine). Which is all to say that it has become the journal of the moment, like The Criterion or The Dial before it. It speaks for us eloquently, and everyone hates the sound of his own voice.
Last month there was published on the n + 1 website a special Occupy Wall Street edition of N1BReading in which editors and writers shared their recent reading lists. All or mostly relating to Occupy Wall Street, the books share in common the desire to contextualize political action and the circumstances that necessitate it. Or they illustrate some series of details that will flush out the nuances of dynamic social change. Some fiction, some non-fiction. Some American, most not. But all serious and timely suggestions (they aren’t packaged as such, but that’s what they really are, reading suggestions) of material that is reflective and pragmatic.
At the same time I came across this list, I was reading Fiction and the Figures of Life, a book of essays on literature and philosophy by William Gass. When I came to the last essay in the book, “The Artist and Society”, I was really surprised by how much it had to say about the artists role in taking political positions and speaking on behalf of, or in opposition to, whatever reads on the latest student cardboard sign. But I should have seen it coming. The book was published in 1968.
The essay begins with a quote from W.H. Auden:
Why writers would be canvassed for their opinion on controversial political issues I cannot imagine. Their views have no more authority than those of any reasonably well-educated citizen. Indeed, when read in bulk, the statements made by writers, including the greatest, would seem to indicate that literary talent and political common sense are rarely found together…
Gass then goes on to dissect and examine Auden’s sentiments. He takes them apart piece by piece, assumption by assumption, rearranges them, adds to them, comments on them. He brings in new material, like the Soviet State’s distaste (what a tame word for what it actually was) for art without images. “Because originals are dangerous to reproductions,” he tells us, “Because it is humiliating to be less interesting, less present, less moving, than an arrangement of enameled bedpans.”
I won’t take up more space and time describing the experience of reading the essay, this being a blog post and therefore a friendly half-court game. But I do encourage you to read it for yourself. The entire book. It’s a good counterbalance to the general sway of our tribe. And that’s something that’s always healthy, for art and politics both.
Last night, I started reading Margaret Atwood’s new nonfiction book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, which has incredibly awesome cover art, and in which Atwood talks about cover art:
“The earliest mass-market paperbacks of my first two novels, The Edible Woman and Surfacing, had pink covers with gold scrollwork designs on them and oval frames with a man’s head and a woman’s head silhouetted inside, just like valentines. How many readers picked these books, hoping to find a Harlequin Romance or reasonable facsimile, only to throw them down in tears because there are no weddings at the ends?”
Side-stepping all of the complicated issues and problems with marketing a book towards a particular genre, and marketing a book written by a woman, reading Atwood’s reflections on her own covers made me want to gather all of the covers of the last novel I read, 2006’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrel, and review their aesthetics as well as their ability to capture something about the novel:
The cover of the paperback edition I read. I like the photo – I think this image does the best job of capturing the essence of Esme: a daydreamer, out of sync with what she is supposed to want (mostly, a husband) and vilified by her family for it.
I don’t like the peachy-cream color of this cover, but I do like the way Esme seems to vanish in the page. This cover fails to capture any of the difficult, violent feelings expressed in the book.
I’m not sure if the girl on this cover is supposed to represent Esme or her granddaughter Iris, the book’s other protagonist. I like the image, because the way the girl regards the dress captures the thematic nature of the novel quiet well. I don’t like it when graphic designers mix fonts in a title like this.
This cover is the sister of the second cover. I like the aggressive red script font the designer used for the title. I hate that cream color more now that I have to look at it again.
This is the first foreign-language cover and it uses the second best image (after the image on the first cover). I like the colors on this cover as well.
Mixing an image of Emse’s face with a swath of text works thematically, Esme’s love of reading is essential to her character.
Esme spent much of her life in an asylum, and this image does the best to portray her anxious and troubled side. I like the sickly sepia color.
Second-worst cover. There are no mansions or places or estates or castles in this novel. It takes place in England – does England always mean palatial estates to marketing teams?
This is the worst of all the covers. It makes the novel seem like a Robert Frost poem. It never snows in this book.
Under the category “read this blogpost if you want to know about an author you might not have heard of” and “reasons why litmags should continue to exist” add the following:
If you’re a die-hard McSweeney’s fan then you know that their 15th issue was devoted to Icelandic literature. In that issue, which I found at my university bookstore’s yearly liquidation sale (which also marked the beginning of my love for McSweeney’s, a love that slowly suffocated for reasons I can’t fully explain but probably have something to do with the paradox of a counter-cultural corporation and constant rejection letters). In that issue I read an excerpt from Skugga-Baldur (The Blue Fox), a novella by an author named Sjon, translated into English by Victoria Cribb. It was fantastic. Dark, hopeful, and of substance. I wanted to read the rest of it. But I couldn’t find it for sale from any publisher. I emailed the editors. To my surprise they emailed back quickly and warmly with the email of another Icelandic author, Birna Anna Björnsdóttir, with whom I corresponded. She contacted the publisher on my behalf, who then contacted the University of Iceland, whose library had “a few extra copies” of the full English translation of Skugga for $US24. Birna said I’d get it in the mail and told me to send the University a check when the package came. The slim novella arrived with a receipt written in Icelandic. I wrote a check to them as fast as I could and ran to the mailbox, heart pounding with love for the universe.
Like I said, the book is good. Very good. And Sjon is very cool. He wrote an opera. And a movie. He has other books, one of which is coming out in English later this month. And, finally, the good people at Words Without Borders published some some newly translated Sjon poems recently. Please check him out.