What we reap.

The word is not good.

On a recent journey, it was simple enough to find a bookshop in a major city. A few perhaps. A Barnes &  Noble. An independent bookshop. Larger cities might even have two or more. Especially if there is a university close. Perhaps, if the city aspires to a significant intellectual life, you will find a good used bookshop as well. But most American cities today do not have an independent bookshop. A fact. Many do not even have a book chain outlet. The great majority do not have a used bookshop. read more…

Concerning Modern Slavery

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This was adopted in 1865, seventy-four years after the first ten amendments—a full lifetime–and at the cost of far more than the 620,00 lives recently lost in the Civil War.

Slavery, the forcible enslavement of one human being for the purpose of another, is variously defined as bondage, servitude, and thralldom–all aspects of ownership, subjection, control, and captivity.

Now the question arises: what part of this idea, if any, do you not understand today?

Let’s make this personal. Speaking at the safe remove of the third person is a waste of breath and ink or ether. I am personally interested in the answer. What is your difficulty with this Constitutional prohibition on slavery or the definition given here? Do you disagree with it? A part of it? What part is that?

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Tales from the Athenaeum

We can assay the weight and substance of a given work and argue its merits, but essentially the value of the thing is in its power to move us and hold us and remain in our minds long after the event of our first reading. For example, Tarzan of the Apes is a silly work in almost any critical regard except in the way that matters.

When art and craft are brought to a work that has that power to endure, we have the transcendent experience of stepping beyond our petty concerns into other places, in other times, and living larger lives than what we have managed by ourselves.

Not every great work is a Moby Dick, or should be. Not every reader has the stamina, or the need for the quest of a Frodo, or a picaresque journey by raft on the Mississippi. And often enough, the best of our literature is not fiction but memoir–that assembly of fact from memory that bears truth more than history.

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The Powell’s Posts

I was recently asked to contribute to the Powell’s Books website as a guest blogger for the week of Monday, October 19 through Friday the 23rd. I was quite pleased to do it. The idea of a new audience of potential readers at this moment when my first novel is just out was a great opportunity.

But then there were choices to make. Should I pick a different subject each day or carry a theme. Should I be light or jump headfirst into those darker thoughts that plague me.

In the end I chose to write on a single theme, the death of the book, but avoid my worst nightmares for the sake of some degree of polite conversation. After it was done, I thought it came out fairly well. No loud ranting. No dead bodies.

Powell’s has kindly given me permission to repost my entries here and I have decided to put them all up at once in consecutive order:

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Musing about mysteries.

I have been reading mystery and crime fiction since I was twelve and first discovered Mr. Holmes. The contest of good and evil was a fine caution for a teenage mind bent on breaking the rules. I did study the genre briefly in the 1970’s for the purpose of developing a mystery magazine to complement the science fiction monster that was swallowing me then, but that came to naught and in general I do not like to spend my time watching the sausage get made. I just happily eat it. When I made the decision to write a fiction about the death of the book some years ago, I quickly adopted the mystery genre as the right vehicle for the getaway. It was then that I decided to catch up with what had been going on since Travis McGee took permanent retirement.

In short, very few detectives drive Oldsmobiles these days (or an old Rolls-Royce converted to a pick-up truck for that matter). The psychology of the criminal act has taken the place of any moral judgment for a large percentage of mysteries. Social concerns often outweigh catching much less punishing the criminal. Criminality in and of itself is frequently in question, no matter the ultimate nature of the crime. The ‘mystery’ is more often an exposition of a crime and its aftermath.

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The Anti-heroic Phallacy

Modern fiction is, by authority, a literature of anti-heroic impulse, anti-heroes, and the failure of mankind. Most primarily the dramatic action of the modern novel is dependent on a Freudian fallacy which pretends that human behavior is guided by sexuality, and as a subset, by greed as a form of sexual domination. After the misguided suppression of sexual matters in the Victorian age, this sort of ad hominem theorizing once appeared liberating to an intellectual elite already estranged from the daily toil of the larger community. Don’t we all have these sexual feelings? Are we all not guilty of the original sin? The ‘hero’ does not save the damsel in distress for reasons of good will and humanity, but to rape her.

We have several generations of this sort of tripe polluting the academic mind at this point. I am 62. I was first introduced to a supposed sexual subtext of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ when I was 16–in a high school class no less. The joke is that such pseudo-intellectual claptrap is still being foisted on new generations of sixteen year olds as if it is recent revelation. The Victorians are still being challenged as if they are ‘the Man,’ in the same way as Nazi’s are still the villains in so many movies after sixty years of Pol Pots and Stalins, Idi Amins and Che Guevaras, Mao Zedongs and a dozen other mass murderers more relevant to the current world scene.

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