Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Books

Literary culture is NOT under siege

Few things things make me angrier than book-lovers arguing that literary culture is under siege, as Richard Russo does in today’s New York Times. It’s simply not true. People read now more than ever before—they just read fewer paper books. I’m sure these people have no problem listening to MP3s while music fans lament the pseudo-loss of vinyl. Well guess what? Vinyl is still around, because people love it. Books will always be around for the people who want them.

The argument against a Kindle et. al isn’t that it diminishes the reading experience or destroys local bookstores—I’m a book fiend but I can’t stand the pretension of most mom-and-pops. I find it icky. Like it or not, reading is a solitary experience. The argument against Kindles is that you can forget to zip up your backpack and it can slide out and break, as mine recently did, and the half-price you paid for the books suddenly isn’t half-price anymore. I don’t exclusively buy books on the Kindle, just ones I’m reading informationally instead of experientially. (If that makes any sense). I’ll buy a novel, but I’ll also buy a magazine, and a lot of non-fiction is just long magazine pieces.

It’s ironic that writers can get all stuffy about books and also remain beholden to the ideals associated with city living, where space is at a premium. If a book is not good enough to demand it is read in paper form, what obligation do we have to clutter our lives with it? Paper books are bad for the environment, like it or not. Not as bad as vinyl, but not good, either.

We expect novelists to see through their own biases to help the rest of us do the same. By signalling the death of literary culture, they’re failing.

What I read and wrote this summer

Not pictured: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Motherless Brooklyn

Those of you who have followed the WordPress site, and the fewer of you who have followed the Tumblr site, know that I’ve written many, many things over the past few years. The one thing I’ve been bad at is bringing them together in any sort of cohesive way, and I’m going to change that. This is a list of everything I’ve read and written this summer as defined by Memorial Day through Labor Day, because that’s how I’m defining it. I’ll start with the books I’ve read, in the order in which I finished them:

As you can see, I spent a lot of time in the classics, new and old. I picked up Kavalier & Clay because it was one of those books I hadn’t read but every friend of mine had read and liked. Oscar Wao was the same deal, and I actually put a copy of it down at the bookstore to pick up K & C, only to have a friend lend me a copy later in the summer. I had never read Moby-Dick, despite growing up on Martha’s Vineyard: mistake. Somehow I hadn’t read Of Mice and Men, either. Ben got me hooked on David Mitchell, first on his new one—the first half of which probably changed my writing style forever—and later, Cloud Atlas, which I finished yesterday to meet the unofficial deadline for writing this post.

You can probably see the progression from Moby-Dick to Heart of Darkness to Things Fall Apart, or at least the second part of it. Hitchens I picked up because I’ve seen several interviews with him since he fell ill, and realized that I’ve been delinquent. I wasn’t disappointed. Are We Winning? was a review copy based on the interview I did for Leitch’s last book, though I have yet to write any sort of review. I tore through Motherless Brooklyn in less than 24 hours on M.V., during which time I also managed to sleep for eight hours and paint two ceilings. It helps that it mostly takes place within three blocks of my Brooklyn home. Finally, I was iffy on A Visit from the Good Squad until a single paragraph mid-book ratcheted the awesome up to 11 and it didn’t stop until it was over. Highly recommended, especially if you like music.

What I’ve written

I spent the majority of the summer writing imaginary conversations, which I enjoyed immensely. I really liked fitting all the dialogue together, which I had never tried before. It was a little exhausting, though, which is why my production plummeted in August.

  • Sports
  • Baseball busts the barometer; a mistake shows how big the game has become (WordPress)
  • Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (WordPress)
  • LeBron, the Knicks, the Nets, and the red pill (WordPress)
  • If I was LeBron James (WordPress)
  • Chris Bosh, -$28 million man; David Stern, superstar (WordPress)
  • If everyone always did the safest or most popular thing, the world would be a shitty place (WordPress)
  • A few more LeBron thoughts (WordPress)
  • Oosthuizen (Tumblr)
  • “Superteams” (Tumblr)
  • A-Rod at 599 (Tumblr)
  • David Tyree and David Patten (Tumblr)
  • Pet Peeve (Tumblr)
  • Mad Men Recaps
  • Episode 1: Betty’s Alive. Yay? (Tumblr)
  • Episode 2: Enough Foreplay (Tumblr)
  • Episode 3: “You know what’s going on here? Handjobs!” (Tumblr)
  • Episode 4: I’m the asshole (Tumblr)
  • Episode 6: The cure for the common Mad Men season (Tumblr)
  • Humor
  • We’ve changed our name to SeaStreak Martha’s Vineyard (WordPress)

It is my intent to “drop,” so to speak, a post about the 2010 Patriots on Thursday morning. We’ll see how it goes.

Chris Bosh, -$28 Million Man; David Stern, Superstar

I guess Chris Bosh doesn’t need that $27 million summer house in Southampton. The now-former Raptors’ centerish dude has taken $28 million fewer dollars than he would have made playing (presumably) with LeBron James in Cleveland to play (presumably) with Dwyane Wade in Miami. And thus the free market system has told you something about the relative value of two American cities to one Christopher Wesson Bosh, of Dallas, Texas.

Of course, this wasn’t a perfect example of market forces working their magic. The Raptors could pay Bosh the most, and any other team looking to sign him could pay him $28 million less. The Raptors and Cavs had agreed for Bosh to sign the higher contract and then work out a trade. He didn’t, so they didn’t, and now he’s going to Miami.

All of this makes you wonder how much money would be flying around if there was no salary cap. The NBA system is designed to give superstars incentives to stay on their longtime teams, presumably because David Stern has found that it makes the league more marketable. He’s taken the Michael Jordan effect and spread it leaguewide: Have one recognizable great player on each team, and people will tune in even if they don’t know anyone else on the roster. Best of all, make the league such an enticing draw for advertisers that the best players—the ones whose pay is actually being capped by the limits on maximum contracts—don’t actively bark about their pay being limited, and instead work toward endorsement deals. The league’s increasingly squeaky-clean image—promoted by NBA Cares commercials and enforced by Stern & Co.’s zero-tolerance approach to physical nonsense, on or off the court—helps make these endorsements a reality. It’s the After Artest era, one in which Ron-Ron himself almost single-handedly wins Game 7 of the NBA finals and thanks his therapist on national television.

It’s almost impossible believe that with all the money that’s floating around now that the owners are threatening to lock out the players after next season, and it’s even worse when you know they’d be throwing out even more if they could. You don’t think LeBron would hold out for a contract bigger than Alex Rodriguez’s $300 million deal? LeBron has scheduled a prime-time hour on ESPN to announce his decision. Childhood vanity or innate vanity, it’s still vanity, and by the manner in which teams are falling all over LeBron to procure his services, there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t nudged an offer at least into spitting distance of A-Rod’s deal. And yet the owners are going to tell you they’re losing money, which they may in fact be doing. There are rumors that they’ve spent so much this offseason because they know they won’t have to pay up, as they are expected to ask for an across-the-board salary cut, owing mostly to dwindling attendance. Knowing David Stern, they’re likely to get it. Mr. Stern doesn’t lose, even if the owners are making an embarrassingly poor case for themselves right now.

Their counterpoint could be that these are simply the costs of doing business, but they’re not. “Doing business” and building a championship team are not, unfortunately for sports fans, the same thing. Profitability has an easily identifiable blueprint: pay as little as possible for players, win as many games as possible and, whatever you do, make the playoffs. Exactly how far you make it in the playoffs doesn’t matter all that much to the bottom line. At some point you are going to run up against someone else’s vanity project, and to plan to beat that team (not the same as actually beating them), takes money out of your pocket at the height of your moneymaking powers. People don’t want to hear it, but if you follow that blueprint, you’ll make money.

Yet rich people continue to buy sports teams and pile money into them, and you don’t become rich enough to become an owner without being a shrewd moneysmith. At some point, owning a sports team could be classified as little more than a vanity project, which would explain owners’ inability to keep their public statements in line with the actions of their teams. They claim to not want to lose money, but most of them are already losing money when compared to how much they could be making if they were, for lack of a better term, “all business.” So what they’re really complaining about is a movement down a sliding scale on which they’ve willingly jumped. I’m not that sympathetic.

At the same time, the NBA’s system does, at least in theory, strike a nice balance between the rabidly free-market system of Major League Baseball and the proscribed, socialistic payout system of the NFL. Baseball embraced the “watch the money” ethos early on, content to sell as many Yankees hats as it can and crush the dreams of every Kansas City kid; the NFL has far too many players to pay to allow any one team or group to monopolize the talent pool. In the NBA, you can do it if you’re lucky, good and plan well. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh won’t be teaming up in Miami, but they could have. The resulting arrangement should leave title-contending teams in Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Orlando and Boston… and that’s just in the East. Three of those teams are led by No. 1 overall draft picks, which shows how much you need the ball to bounce your way, but that’s no less capricious than, say, relying on Tom Brady to turn into a Hall of Famer. Sometimes it’s about money, sometimes it’s about skill, and sometimes it’s about luck.

So when looking at Chris Bosh’s decision to leave $28 million on the table and go to Cleveland, I wouldn’t sweat about the money. He’s not a good or bad person for doing what he did, he’s just a guy in search of something at the nexus of comfort, vanity, and fulfillment. Or to put it another way: “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” That’s Moby-Dick; I’m still on that. LeBron’s the white whale, sure, but the only thing that comes up more in Moby-Dick than Moby Dick himself is God, created the system that led to the noble pursuit in which Ishmael was engaged and over which virtually everyone onboard obsessed.

I think Melville would have liked David Stern.

•••

Apropos of nothing, I was going to post a clip from last night’s Louie, featuring Ricky Gervais, that is in no way, shape or form safe for work. However, the still shot for the YouTube video is of Louis C.K.’s butt, so I’ll just post the link. If you want to watch it, go here. Do this.

Books on Vacation

Just got an email from the wolves, who’s in Buenos Aires. Subject: “Gravity rainbow” [sic]. Body:

Take 3.
Is getting torn up faster than a Kenyan runner.

You get the point. Misra is in a park in 75-degree B.A., tearing Pynchon to pieces. I know the feeling, and it’s great. Vacation is the best time to read: you’re open to every word, and you’ve got no real time constraints. I took down 100 Years of Solitude in Australia, and it’s still the most lucid reading I’ve ever had.

I get the feeling, albeit to a much lesser extent, when I crack a novel at lunch. I used to do this all the time at my summer job when I was a teenager. I’d go to the park or the benches by the Capawock theater, pare down to a T-shirt, and let some unsuspecting novel just have it. I’d fly for a few chapters before my internal clock would go off at about 10-til, whereupon I would find a good stopping spot two or three pages away. It was so exhilarating knowing that I’d be slamming the book shut at the end of those thousand or so words.

And now the thing is that I just did this. An hour ago, I pulled out Midnight’s Children and moved over to “Secret Park,” a square-cut green space on 28th Street that’s my preferred alternative to Madison Square Park. I took off my sport jacket, rolled up my sleeves, and pinned the book to the table. Rushdie got owned. It wasn’t quite vacation, but it was something like it. I wasn’t just in India. I was in a time machine.

Chasing Lost’s Wild Geese

I don’t think any other show taps the potential of the Internet as well as Lost does, by intentionally sending its viewers on these wild goose chases to learn ancient and modern theories and philosophy in the service of trying to figure out what’s happening on a television show. Shoot, Lost is the only reason I read Flannery O’Connor, which means Lost is the only reason I’ve argued with Mik about Flannery O’Connor, and thus is the only reason I’ve read emails Mary Gaitskill sent to Mik about Flannery O’Connor, and is thus the only reason I’ve then re-read Flannery O’Connor to see how my interpretations match with Mik’s and Mary Gaitskill’s interpretations of Flannery O’Connor. Pushing it further, Lost is the only reason I mentioned Flannery O’Connor to my former roommate James, who said she was his favorite author. And all that is based on three seconds of screentime last spring. I’m not a nut to figure out what everything “means” on Lost, because I know full well that if you’re trying to “solve” it through hidden clues UR DOIN IT RONG, but I was without a book to read at the time, saw Jacob reading a F O’C joint, and bought it. Now I know enough to hold my own in a conversation with serious English Literature hedz. Thanks for jumping out that window, John Locke. Keep plucking that chicken.

If you want to read some good recaps—and Lost is the one show where the recap is, if not crucial, certainly helpful for you to get to whatever level of understanding you desire (even if it intentionally slows your roll)—go here or here or here.

Mungo Fetch

I’m reading a novel about a magician that I’ve actually read before, but picked up and started going through again. I’m two-thirds of the way through so I might as well finish it.

He just got named Mungo Fetch, against his will. Before that, he was Faustus and/or Jules LeGrand. Before that, he was Paul Dempster. After all of this, upon the telling of the tale, he will be Magnus Eisengrim.

Those are some names.

Books, Vince Young, Radiohead — It’s a Rambling Tuesday Post

I have this nasty habit of buying a bunch of books and piling them up, just waiting for them to be read. Right now I’m reading at least three of them simultaneously: The Book of Basketball, Imperial, and Light on Yoga (h/t CF). They sit in a stack near my bed next to loose magazines, and in the minutes before I turn it, I turn to whatever suits my fancy for the day.

I get more magazines than I need. This is a fact. I went on a buying spree in the summer, when ate lunch outside every day. That’s prime magazine-reading time, so in early August I ordered up a bunch of subscriptions because at the time I was only getting The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated (and Sports Illustrated suuuuuucks). By the time they arrived I was back on an indoor lunch schedule, and my indoor lunches take place in front of the computer. For better or worse.

I re-read Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” last night, because I saw a screen shot of Jacob reading the book in Lost, and the cover is the same color as one of the other books I was reading, so I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I bought the book shortly after seeing it on Lost because I think the day before that episode I had finished whatever I was reading previously, so I thought, well, why not? Title story much better on second reading. What is the point of all this? I’m not sure. I just like watching that word counter go up in the lower-left-hand corner.

As long as we’re hopscotching topics, I love the Vince Young resurrection. It’s a great story, and he’s the single best test case for how much harder the NFL is than college football. Dude won the National Championship in one of the best performances of all time, certain the best in the BCS era, without apparently being able to run a complicated offense. He got to the NFL, hit it fairly big on talent alone, then bottomed out, personally and professionally. Now he’s slowly working himself back into a decent NFL quarterback. That’s some The Natural sh*t right there. I actually like Tennessee when he’s playing, but I can’t stand Kerry Collins, so last night’s game was a treat.

Due to the rousing success of Music Monday, and the festivity of the short week, here’s a ridiculous video the MZA pointed me toward yesterday. If your sentiments run anti-Radiohead or anti-Japanese animation/themes, this might not be the video for you. You’re wrong, but it might not be the video for you.

Oh David Remnick, You Prankster You

There’s a really tremendous pun in the first paragraph of this week’s The New Yorker.  The article is about Russia’s new president.

Alexander II, before liberating the serfs, liberated the smokers. (To indulge his own habit, he lifted the imperial ban on tobacco.) Alexander III played the French horn. Nicholas II was a photography buff. Catherine the Great was a passionate equestrienne. Maybe it has something to do with the vastness of Russia’s geography or with the bloody absolutism of its history, but it’s always been easier to contemplate a new master of the Kremlin by seizing on homey anecdotes.

If you get it, it’s really fantastic.

When I play Black, I win because I’m Bogoljubow!

There are many stories about the drinking habits of the Russian players who have dominated chess for more than half a century. Efim Bogoljubow (1899-1952) was a chubby, bombastic drunkard known for his delusional thinking that he was invincible: “When I play White, I win because I have the first move. When I play Black, I win because I’m Bogoljubow!” He reportedly knew only one word of English and, to the delight of his fellow players, had a chance to use it at the great international tournament at Nottingham in 1936. When a waiter in the hotel asked him for his room number, Bogoljubow replied, “Beer.” Bogoljubow died of a heart attack in 1952 after giving an exhibition in which he played several opponents simultaneously.

From King’s Gambit, by Paul Hoffman.

Weekend Reading

Last week, I wrote that I had purchased a book entitled The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup. I’ve read about 8 essays so far, and some of them are good. Two of them are really, really good. There’s an essay by Jake Silverstein about Ecuador’s team that is phenomenal, but the best piece of writing in there (so far) is Tim Adams’ piece on the Czech Republic, which was, wonderfully, published on Salon.com at the time of the book’s publishing. You can read it here.