I recently got to read an advance reading copy of Conversations from the Edge by Joy Ward, a collection of interviews she conducted for Galaxy’s Edge magazine since 2014. I spend a lot of time thinking about SF—what it is, how it works, why I love it (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). It’s wonderful to hear SF writers talk about the genre and how they see it.
There were two quotes about science fiction in this collection that particularly struck me: one from Nancy Kress and one from Connie Willis. (This is an ARC so apply the standard disclaimer that the accuracy and page numbers of quotes might change.)
From the interview with Nancy Kress in which she talks about how science fiction gives her a big canvas to work with:
I was talking to my parents recently about some of the poetry I’ve written in the past few years. I mentioned how I’d developed a fascination with ways to integrate technology into poetic experimentation. I explained how much I enjoy Google search poems. I told them how I created a method of generating something akin to found poetry, using my smartphone’s auto-suggestion typing feature.
I look forward to authors exploring the ebook format as something more than just a different package for print books. Ebooks are a format, distinct from print, and can do things that print can’t, tell stories in ways that print could never accomplish.
It’s more than the obvious idea of integrating multimedia elements (but how cool would Rigg’s “Peculiar Children” books be if the images were subtle animated GIFs?). Ebooks aren’t ink on paper, which means the text doesn’t have to be permanent. The words themselves could be made changeable.
Why do stories work the way they do? Why are they structured the way they are?
These questions fascinate me. Storytelling—its nature, how it works, the role it plays in human lives and society—fascinates me. As much as anything, storytelling is what marks human beings as unique among all the animals of Earth. The act of telling stories partakes equally of our capacity for imagination and our need to discern pattern in world around us. We use stories to try and make sense of our experiences and simultaneously celebrate the mysterious and unknowable. It’s both creative and formulaic.
The stories we choose to tell, and the ways we choose to tell them, tell us who we are and how we understand our role in existence.
I’ve been rather silent on this blog lately. That happens sometimes. In this case, I’ve been worn out from working on projects around my house. Totally worth it, though, because I now have (among other things) a whole floor-to-ceiling wall of built-in bookshelves!
I’m also excited to announce that I’m now reviewing for Booklist Online. My primary focus for them will be adult SF with an occasional nonfiction title thrown in. So… not all that different from the kind of books I review here.
A few weeks ago, I read Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and I loved it. I went to my Goodreads account and posted a glowing review.
I recommended this book to some historians I know and they both read it. I’ve been speaking to them about it and I was surprised to learn that they’re far more critical of the work than I am. Not because of their religious beliefs but because they don’t think it’s very good history.
Both of them have advanced degrees in history. One of them works as an administrator in higher education. They’ve both been trained in the work of history and both have expectations molded by the standards of academic work.
They see significant flaws in Dr. Aslan’s book. If someone expects to challenge the orthodox historical consensus on a subject (as Dr. Aslan does) there are standards that must be met, the work must uphold a certain level of academic rigor.
Zealot fails to meet these standards. As my friend suggested—he can’t believe that this work would ever survive peer review.
After hearing what my friends had to say about the work I decided to do what a good librarian should do and find out more about Dr. Aslan’s qualifications, his authority to speak on this matter, and the critical reception his work has received from professional historians in the field.
I keep thinking about the novel S. and how Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams intended it to be a celebration of the printed book—they created an experience calibrated to take advantage of aspects that are unique to printed material.
It has me wondering—how do you create a story that equally celebrates ebooks and takes full advantage of the aspects that are unique to electronic formats?
I was a voracious reader on my own but I hated reading for school. It was never any fun when it was for school. I understand that reading is essential for childhood learning in almost every respect—but this is not the way to encourage kids to want to read.
Ironically, I never read any of the assigned books for my classes in junior & high school—but I’ve read every one of those books on my own just for fun (and because I think it’s important to be well read) since then. The mere act of assigning the book automatically made me not want to read it.
Over the years, I’ve spoken about this phenomenon with many people—friends, coworkers, classmates—and I’ve been struck by how many people had the exact same experience in school. Moreover—it tends to be the most well-read and best educated people who felt this most acutely.
When the people who love reading the most hate reading for school… that should tell us something.
I feel a bit guilty that I’ve allowed this blog to languish lately. Aside from a spate of posts the other week, my frequency has dropped noticeably over the past couple of months. It’s summer, so when I’m home I want to be outside and not sitting in front of my computer writing. And we’ve been really busy here in the Kansas City Public Library’s Digital Branch so I haven’t had the kind of time I normally do to write.
We’ve had our Summer Reading Program going on; we’re also setting up for a major Big Read program this fall and we’re planning to make the online components more robust than we’ve ever done.
We’re getting close to launching our revamped dedicated local history website, The Civil War on the Western Border, which has been in development for some time now. It’s going to offer some features that are truly unique for history websites.
We’ve begun the first steps toward planning a complete redesign & upgrade of the Library’s website and we’ve made some initial incremental changes already.
It’s exciting times!
Today is the 5th anniversary of my first date with Julie – next Tuesday is our 4th wedding anniversary. Yesterday was the 2nd anniversary of me starting my employment at KCPL. July 1st is the day we left Chicago and arrived in KC to stay.
With all these big milestone anniversaries, I’m thinking a lot about all the decisions I made, and actions I took, that have brought me to where I am now. So I’m working on a couple of personal reflection posts to go up in the next week or two.