Getting My Mellow Hate On

Mallory Ortberg at The Toast is a wry, honest author who has been more than usually funny on the subject of literature and art lately (see: Every English Novel Ever and Women Listening to Men in Western Art History as representative examples).   Today, though, she broke through the, “Oh isn’t that funny – I have that same experience too” filter and went straight to the middle of my brain in a post called Let’s Talk About the Books You Hate the Most:

As a young woman, the book I hated more than anything in the world was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I wanted to love it. I was prepared to love it. I opened the book expecting to love it (the cover is of a woman in a gown carrying a sword riding a majestic white horse! I wished to love it), and was horrified by my own disgust when I began to read it. It is ten million pages of nothing happening over and over again. 

Everything about what she describes, I felt: I will add that the weight and heft of the trade paperback promised me hours of immersion in a world where a woman in a gown carrying a sword riding a majestic horse (or the many women who this woman clearly represented) would enthrall me.

Reader, this did not happen.

Instead, I had I don’t know how many hours of tedium where, as Ortberg relates:

Powerful witches sit around casting no spells while the world falls apart around their ears. A great many characters almost have sex, and then don’t. Eventually someone has sex in a muddy field, then for about four hundred pages Queen Guinevere (Gwynhywywhfarre in the book, I believe) is afraid to go outside. Then she does not go outside. Then Christianity ruins everything, and Morgaine continues to do absolutely nothing with all the magic she’s full of.

Now, a lot of people like this book.  A lot of people whose taste and intellect I admire really like this book (and others that I also hate or merely aggressively didn’t enjoy – I’m looking at you, Middlemarch).  For a long time, I felt this must be a profound lapse of taste or intellect in me.  While this may in fact, be true, I prefer to take another mental and psychological path for several reasons.  I am now proposing the “mellow hate.” Here are the tenets of the doctrine of the mellow hate (applicable only to things, I note, not people):

  1. I (or you) hate a thing,
  2. This hate has only to do with the thing in question,
  3. It has nothing to do with those who may love it,
  4. It also has nothing to do with those who may also hate it,
  5. For the loving and the hating of a thing is personal and the reasons of either do not transfer lightly or easily or even sometimes at all from person to person,
  6. So do not try to argue a person into the loving or the hating of something, for verily it will not work,
  7. And it may piss that person off, for few if any appreciate incursions into their personal preferences.
  8. So if a person loves or hates and you disagree, leave them to their love or hate as they should leave you to love or hate.
  9. But if in the fulness of time you find another that hates the thing you hate and are able to muster arguments that make sense to you as to the reasons why your hate burns with such passion or sluggish loathing, by all means make common cause with that person and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
  10. Same for those who love what you love, but you probably don’t need a rule for that.

A disturbing realization

I’m plowing my way through the first in the series of George R.R. Martin’s epic potboilers, A Game of Thrones.  Finally.  Well, I’m finally successfully doing so.  And good grief, but it as actually brought me to a personal epiphany.

I have tried before to read this book and failed miserably.  But John really likes it, and I value his opinion, so I kept trying.  Also, HBO is putting together a series based on the books and it looks really, really good.  Getting it on the Kindle helped (700-page epic doorstop novels are high on my list of things that give equal on the plus and minus sides in entertainment value and repetitive stress injuries).  But for someone like me, this book was sort of like signing up for voluntary sandpapering of second-degree burns or giving Joss Whedon the license to direct the activities of your nearest and dearest for the next few months.  I felt like a petty god was sitting somewhere and saying, “Oh – wait: you like this character?  DEAD,” over and over and over again.

Why so sensitive, Jill?  I don’t know – but I know that I was the person who couldn’t fathom being a divorce attorney because I knew I couldn’t tread the fine line between the empathy required to advocate passionately for my clients and the necessary detachment from their plights to enable strategic thinking.  My emotional balance is wonky that way, even when I read a book.  I read a news report a while ago that talked about people who actually feel pain when they see someone else receive injury – the pain areas in the brain of the person doing the viewing actually light up.  I am pretty sure I am one of those people, and the more I empathize with the person in question, the worse it gets.

This even happens when I read.  Yeah, yeah, yeah – I was one of those kids whose parents said the house would burn around my ears while I read.  About ten years ago I finished The Golden Compass on a Southwest flight in a seat that faced a fellow passenger (a stranger).  When I finished the book and slowly returned to reality this person commented, “I didn’t think you were coming out of that.”  The more I do that deep dive, the more I empathize with death, injury, or loss suffered by the characters I like.  Considering the shelf footage this series takes up, I knew I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to go through that much bloodshed with my nerves exposed.

So, at long last, I realized that I couldn’t read the book with my usual 100% investment.  I had to view it somewhat dispassionately.  Don’t get attached – everyone’s going to die and probably horribly.  When I made that decision, the pages started ripping by.  And I like the book – I really do.  But I can’t love it the way I have loved other books that were also intricately constructed, intelligent, and well-written.

Here’s the disturbing epiphany.  I have been doing the same thing in life with a lot of 2010.  Not in my personal life, but in my reaction to the constant barrage of bad news.  At some point I flipped from the empathetic to the dispassionate to save my nerves.  And somehow I need to try again to sort out a way to walk that fine line.  Because being dispassionate is not the way I want to face the world.  At least, not entirely.

Edit: here’s my real incentive (to read the books, not to step back from the brink of being a completely dispassionate person-analog) – an HBO series with actors like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage? Yes, please.

Preemptive apologies may be necessary for the library neepery.

…..and she breaks her (completely unintentional and oh my goodness how did the time get by me like that?  I know: we’ll blame school) silence.  Lucky you, reader, you get – well, not so much a cabinet of curiosities but a catalog of irritants.  But they’re themed irritants, at least.  They are on the subject of libraries and perception.

Yup – just lost 80% of my librarian and librarian-to-be readers.  We hear this stuff all the time.  We say this stuff all the time.  Well, at least I will have vented my overloaded spleen.

Irritant #1: I recently had a brief conversation (well, okay – it was on Twitter) with an acquaintance.  He moaned about information overload (with the corollary that most of the info he found was crap).  I quipped, “sounds like you need….a LIBRARIAN! (cue triumphant music).”  His response?

“Google is my librarian.”

Let’s back away from that statement for one tiny moment.  Take whatever it is you do for a living – bonus points if you’re passionate about it and think it’s a worthwhile thing to do.  Then, at a cocktail party or on Twitter you find someone who is in need of the services of your profession and they respond that a tool of your profession is your profession.  Just think about that for a moment:

“This pencil is my architect.”

“AutoCAD is my industrial designer.”

“This sledgehammer is my contractor.”

Fill in your own blanks for your own profession.  It somehow manages to miss the point and be rather insulting at the same time, doesn’t it?  Yes, librarians use Google.  They/we use it all the time.  It’s useful in a similar way to Wikipedia – easy, fast, imprecise, with lots of suspect sources.  A pilot trusting to Google’s output for plotting a course might get you to where you’re going efficiently and safely, or they might well be Bugs Bunny: “Dang.  I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque!”

So, Google: interesting tool?  Yes.  Librarian?  No.

Irritant #2: John and I were recently given a copy of This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  I snagged it for train reading (where I really should be doing homework, but that’s a different post).  It is, I have to say, about what I expected.  Even though the writer takes the public and the media to gentle task occasionally for clinging to old stereotypes about the profession, there is a whiff of Margaret Meade or “Wild Kingdom” about the book.  Watch as Bob stalks the librarian in the stacks – note her colorful plumage, achieved with three colors of Manic Panic, a nose ring, and barely-visible tattoo.  This seemingly shy creature can be found in any urban library when she’s not participating in an ALA Book Cart Drill Team.

Fancy that, librarians are individuals too.  Who’da thunk it.

That part really doesn’t irritate me that much, though.  Yes, librarians can be incandescently weird.  So, I am sure, can the members of any profession.  But the weird does make for better reading and I know that I’m not necessarily the prime audience for this book.  For the most part, I am enjoying the picture of the (mostly public) librarians she paints.  She clearly has affection for those of us who are info-geeks.

The irritant was actually a throw-away bit in the second chapter, where the author describes looking for a copy of Easy Travel to Other Planets.  She finds a copy on microfiche and states, “Though it’s a literary novel, Easy Travel had been stashed on a reel with a bunch of science fiction.”

Excuse me?  A book set in the future with extrapolations based on current science being stashed with science fiction?  Call the cataloging police, because we know that if something is “literary” it couldn’t possibly be science fiction.

“Oh, you’ll hate that.”

I have this funny, perverse mental habit.  When someone tells me, “You HAVE to watch X.  You will LOVE X,” I immediately find myself averse to ever looking at such a thing.

My mother is a very smart woman.

She now precedes all recommendations with, “So – you will HATE this.  You don’t want to watch/read/listen to it.”  For some reason, this actually works.

Funny little thing, brains.

In case there was any doubt…

…yes, I may be officially crazy.

Because, in addition to my commitments at school, work, and home, I seem to have helped craft a new writing project idea for November.  You may have heard of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  The idea behind this is kind of crazy, kind of compelling: write a novel-length piece of prose in the 30 days of November.  Conceptually, I can see how this might get me past my, “I want to write a novel-length piece of prose, but what if it’s crap?” problem.  Because the idea isn’t to write a good novel, just something that is that long.  Once convinced of your idea that yes, you can string that many words together about one story, perhaps then you can get out of your own way and proceed crafting something of a decent quality.

It may work, it may not – but I do have one friend who turned the concept into a book contract.  There are probably others.

But procrastinating about writing is more than a common occurrence – it’s a cliche.  So many of us who like to write, like stories, like to read, and want to tell our own stories end up putting it off indefinitely.  Thus it is so that I have about a zillion pieces of ideas around a novel-length piece of prose and have only committed a few of them to pixels.  The rest of those ideas keep rolling around in my head like laundry on an endless tumble-dry, going nowhere.  Perhaps shrinking.  Perhaps I’m letting this metaphor get out of hand.

Enter an idea that sort of bounced around among Rana of Frogs and Ravens, Amanda of Household Opera, and me: NoNaShoStoWriMo, or Not-National Short Story Writing Month.  Instead of committing to a 50,000 words in the next month, we’re shooting for the more modest, achievable goal of about 7,500 words.  I’ve decided to use the ideas/concepts that have been doing the tumbling and spinning and see where I get with it – perhaps that will get me enough of a start so I can use it as a springboard to an actual long-format work.

Anyone with us?


And yes, the name does sound like something in Judoon, for all you Doctor Who fans…

Oh, for crying out loud

E-book manufacturers, get back to me when you’re serious about providing a product that doesn’t treat me either like a criminal or a child.

Color me cautiously intrigued

I was pretty jazzed about the Kindle when it first came out.  Sitting here as a Metro commuter at the halfway point in my second graduate degree, just the idea of not having to lug a bunch of textbooks is enough to get me at least mildly excited about the prospects of e-readers.  However, then there was a bit of disillusionment with how the device’s accounts were handled. And then more with how content was handled, add that to the fact that there’s no native PDF support (a lot of my reading these days is pdf downloads of journal articles), a few other irritations, and… no thanks.

So I’m mildly intrigued by the prospects of Barnes and Noble’s “Nook:”

  • Multi-format support?  Check
  • Native PDF support?  Yep.
  • Ability to lend to other e-reader owners?  Uh-huh.
  • WiFi downloads?  Yessir.
  • Touch-sensitive navigation?  I do love my iPhone.
  • Ability to peruse entire volumes (inside a B&N store, but still)?  Interesting.

All in all, this has me thinking, “Well – sometimes people give me B&N gift certificates for Christmas…”  Because it looks like B&N is actually looking at the behavior of real readers and designing a product that has a lot more potential to accommodate the way they think and behave.

Did I mention I don’t want a Kindle anymore?

Yeah.  Not until they fix this sort of bull. Or never.  Whichever comes first.

Why I went from being excited about the Kindle to… not.

First there was the text-to-speech debacle. I pretty much agree with John Scalzi on the silliness of it all, and yet Amazon both caved to the Author’s Guild on this one and also demonstrated that they maintain a pretty fine level of control over what you’ve already purchased on the device.  I am exactly crazy about this idea.

And now this.

Heck with it.

My hero…

What an absolutely terrific clip – Neil Gaiman on Colbert: