Monday, January 7, 2013

Dear FaceBook Friends: I Do NOT Like 50 Shades of Grey

A Digital Book World (DBW) post showed up on my wife’s FaceBook stream with a Photoshopped picture of a book cover for “50 Shades of Hunger Games” -- and my face. “Since when do you like “50 Shades,” she chortled. The best I can figure out, because I had clicked “Like” on DBW’s Facebook page in get this -- 2010 -- Facebook had allowed DBW to send their post out to all my friends -- as if I had done it. Just because I liked DBW in 2010 on Facebook doesn’t mean I want all my acquaintances with my mug talking about 50 Shades of Grey or The Hunger Games -- I’m not the mindless, mass produced book mania kind of guy. Now if DBW had asked and wanted to use me in their advertising campaign on FaceBook, I would have opted in if they were going to talk about why so much of traditional publishing’s backlist is unavailable in digital format along with a picture of Milan Kundera’s mug. Otherwise, leave me the hell out of your advertising campaign. It impugns my credibility and independence by co-opting my name and face for your ad. I’m not sure who to be most angry at -- DBW for an ill-advised ad campaign or FaceBook for making it possible to flood the streams of friends of unknowing FaceBook-ites.   I admit I’m somewhat of a FaceBook neophyte judging by the vast unanswered quantities in my various FaceBook icons on the top of my FaceBook page. I did a quick Google search for “facebook ads based on likes”. (Yes, I used Google to find the FaceBook stuff). In case you are wondering, it appears I was a victim of some form of “Connection Targeting.” When you choose to target friends of connections your ad will be targeted to people whose friends are connected to your Page, app, or event. This is a great way to get more likes and potential customers because people are more inclined to interact with a Page, app, or event knowing that their friends are connected. Friends of connections are also more likely to be interested in what you're advertising because they may share the same interests as their friends. Uhh, more like a great way to piss off your connections who liked you once upon a time if you are going to put their Face up along with 50 Fucking Shades of Grey. So there DBW, be warned about your ill-conceived advertising bullshit. I apologize to any of my friends who seem to think I started smoking anything that is still illegal in Utah. I remain a literary snob. As for you FaceBook, I get it -- you went public and now you have to figure out some way to make money, but please leave my face out of it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Response to Michael Bourne and Reading Fewer Books

I just got through reading Michael Bourne’s article over on The Millions: My New Year’s Resolution: Read Fewer Books.   My initial reaction was how stupid a New Year’s Resolution is that?  Then I read the 24 comments after and realized that it was as inane and condescending as my initial repugnance suggested, only much more so.  People are lazy asses and don’t want to read -- fine, but it isn’t something to be lauded.

Writers are self-indulgent.  Let’s face it, we type something out with our word processor in the hopes that everyone will read our golden prose and tell us how phenomenally gifted we are.  Even the purists writing in longhand before their precious words are ever defaced by a mechanical act such as typing crave for nothing more than having those words they’ve written out illegibly, typeset and mass produced and stuck on the shelf at Wal-Mart and ogled endlessly by the adoring masses. Most of the words we write are nuggets, but not of the gold variety.

Bourne unfortunately carries the same surname as the girl that I crushed on from first grade to sometime when I gave up the futile pursuit in high school, so I can’t be assured that my response to his article is completely sane, given my history with the name.  Yet, as I read the article, my initial reaction was maybe my New Year’s Resolution should be to read less articles on the Internet.  (Yeah, I know usage says ‘fewer’, I was just seeing if you were paying attention and you still knew what I meant.)

Bourne starts out the article telling us how many books he has read since he started keeping track on January 1, 2000 in some kind of millennial resolution and has read 776 books in the last twelve years, roughly half fiction and half non-fiction.  He then states how happy he was when he hit 720 books for a 60 a year average.  

This is when the article got weird.  As a compulsive list-maker of the books I consume, tracking the books you read isn’t weird to me.  My millennial book list hit 760 on May 23, 2009.   Not weird in the least.  What was weird is that after reading three paragraphs about his compulsive list taking, Bourne writes this: “No one even knows I write lists.”  Uhh, yes we do.

Look, I read 204 books last year -- yeah, I’m fucking competitive too.  And I have close family members who questions my voracious consumption of books.  And I have a day job that consumes vast quantities of my time and I have a young son in elementary school, not to mention four daughters in college.  And this all has what  to do with my reading and list making?  Absolutely jack squat.

The fact that in 2012 I broke the 200 barrier for the first time since first grade (a 44 year drought) was not a perverse form of satisfaction.  I relished it, cherished it and yes, I wanted to brag, but the accomplishment and internal satisfaction isn’t perverse.  Part of the human condition is to strive for improvement and growth and growth feels good -- unless you are content being a couch potato, in which case I suggest less television viewing for a New Year’s Resolution, accompanied by reading more books.  

The desire to track progress isn’t a bad thing either.  I like going back to 2002 and see the books I was reading and compare that to where I was at in my life.  Re-reading becomes more meaningful when the book is juxtaposed against your own life’s timeline.  And reading carnivorously  does not a genius make.  A simple number of books read speaks nothing of aptitude and genius, but merely one measure of quantity -- page numbers being another.  The weight and gravity of the books read also carry significance.    "I read all of Kundera’s oeuvre in 2012" is more meaningful than any number.  

Reading voraciously doesn’t mean that good writing isn’t appreciated and the books aren't savored.  Think of reading like sex.  Would you ever have a New Year’s Resolution to have less sex in the New Year because I really need to learn to savor the essence of sexuality and come at it sideways?  That's nuts and so is reading less as some sort of sacrifice to the Gods of Writing and Art.  If you have sex a lot, some of it will be mind blowing, swinging from the chandeliers, split you open and some will be nothing more than a feel-good romp.  It's the same with reading.

And like sex, reading transforms you in ways that you can’t predict or fathom.  Participating in an exchange with another human mind through the page alters your own sense of self, incorporates another person’s thoughts into your head and makes the world a more empathetic place.  You can’t read a broad spectrum of literature, non-fiction, essays, short stories and poetry and not alter how you see the world.  Each book, even if through its slipshod language it shows you how you don’t want things to be, focuses the world through a new lens and you will never be able to write or read exactly the same way again.  

Each of us is given a limited amount of time on this planet.  The limited resource requires us to make choices on where to spend our time.  For those of us who love words, narratives and other people and want to write and communicate with the broader world, the cacophony of voices and constant harangue for our attention means that our New Year’s Resolution should not be to read less or fewer, but to read more and to read with more intent and direction.  Who knows Mr. Bourne, if I took your advice and read fewer books, that book I don’t read might be yours.