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Well, well, and where have I been?

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Over a year since my last post?!?

Why did that happen?

I suppose the easiest answer to that would be: I work too much. When people get all doe-eyed at the mention of the city in which I live and say “Paris is so ro-MAN-tic!” I really, really want to answer “And ex-PEN-sive!”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s harder and harder as the years go by to imagine living anywhere else. I am up to my eyeballs in Art, History, Culture and Classical Music all of whom I love so much I feel compelled to Capitalize. But let us return to the expensive part. I have to work my — [can i say “ass” on this blog? “There are no dirty words. Ever.” Ah, yes. Thank you Leonard Cohen.]

So I have to work my ass off to pay the bills and this fills up so much of my brain and time that there is precious little left for anything else. One thing I have been getting better at this last year is stealing time for reading. I trade sleep for it. It keeps me going.

Lately, finally, I’m a wee bit ahead of the game, so I can slow down a tad until September.

One of the (many) things I want to do in this time is get back to writing about the books I read. It’s always helped me think more clearly and often more deeply about my reading. Not something you want to go without.

So I’m back. Again.

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The Internet

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Have you ever wondered what computers (in general) and the Internet (specifically) are doing to your brain?

I know I have — more and more lately.

The effects on us in general are, of course, innumerable — positive and negative. In this post, would like to mention a couple of the negative effects because these are what I’ve been thinking about recently.

The first — and probably most obvious — thing it’s done is to deal a serious blow to punctuation. What used to be as natural as breathing is now something I have to consciously mull over. I’m not the only one. Why else would a rant on punctuation become a huge bestseller? I doubt that’s happened before.

Well, now that I say that, I can think of a dozen reasons for it selling so well. Including the fact that it’s a fast and somewhat easy way for people to work up some self-righteous indignation and offers a pseudo-intellectual excuse for scoffing at your fellow man and woman. But that’s being cynical. I’ve been known to write to newspapers and magazines for various punctuation and where’s-the-proofreader-type offenses myself. Incredibley, they always take the time to write back. It’s great fun. (No, I’m not an eighty-year-old, retired school teacher… I’ve been doing this sort of thing since I was a teenager.)

(And no, I’m not counting that other huge bestseller Elements of Style because it’s also about, well… style!)

But I digress…

To me, punctuation is as vital to writing as timing is for a comedian, as breathing is for a singer. Punctuation controls exactly those things in a written text. It gives emphasis to certain words or phrases, gives sentences rhythm, shape and style. Punctuation by itself can change meaning, add suspense, make us laugh. It helps us hear the intonations and personality in the voice of the writer.

So when someone sends me an email with no visible effort at punctuation, or I read an comma-free newspaper article, I just want to scream and stick my head in a salad spinner.

Another thing that concerns me is how the Internet affects my reading, thinking and writing. It does, I can feel it and see it. Interestingly, there’s an excellent article in the Atlantic on exactly this subject.

Thankfully, for myself, I find the effects are not permanent; when I break the trance, stand up and walk away, I slowly begin to regain my normal faculties. (It helps if you shake your head in the manner of a water-soaked dog.) But what about society and culture as a whole? What about people who grew up with the Internet? Can the media actually become even shallower? Will this have a detrimental effect on books and writing? Is this already happening? Hard to imagine shallower, more simplified ways of thinking being a good thing for humanity.

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Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin

Friday, June 6th, 2008

“…so far as you prefer those rapid and ephemeral writings to slow and enduring writings — books, properly so called. For all books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction — it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time. I must define the two kinds before I go farther.”

Sesame and Lilies
by John Ruskin

Sesame and Lilies is a collection of lectures by Ruskin that I’ve just added to my to-buy list. I found a promising edition by Yale University Press (ISBN: 9780300092608) that includes a number of essays commenting on various aspects of the text.

Here’s a good general introduction to John Ruskin and here’s the extensive section on him at the Victorian Web.

If you find yourself in the Lake District, you might want to visit Brantwood, the house where he lived for the last 30 years of his life. (Then again, you might not. It’s entirely up to you. I’ve never been, so I can’t vouch for it.) Also in Coniston in Cumbria, is a Ruskin Museum whose website has some information about a startlingly direct method of contraception for sheep — with photos! These are, of course, the famous Lake District sheep known as Herdwicks.

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“…seemingly of his own free will.”

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

I recently did a post on the Ursula K. Le Guin article on the “decline of reading”. Well, here’s a hilarious follow up to that:

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

GREENWOOD, IN - Sitting in a quiet downtown diner, local hospital administrator Philip Meyer looks as normal and well-adjusted as can be. Yet, there’s more to this 27-year-old than first meets the eye: Meyer has recently finished reading a book.

[ go to full article here ]

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