First lines

March 31, 2008

Do you know one of the things I like about the Bible? I like how certain beautiful phrases come up over and over again in church and in our our cultural vocabulary. As a Congregationalist/UCC-er, I’m not hung up on whether or not this kind of appreciation cheapens the spirituality of the text–we are pretty clear on the fact that God didn’t write it, human beings did, and so we believe it draws its power from being the collected wisdom of human life pressed into literary form. They are beautiful and meaningful because they are human, not despite.

That was kind of a roundabout way of introducing how I felt when I ran across this list of 100 best first lines of novels this morning, here in text form and here in graphic form (provided by one of my favorite librarian bloggers). We all know that 100 best lists are always arbitrary and stupid, but I still think this a good collection of reasons why I am a writer and a student of literature. I love the ring and permanence of these sentences, and I love remembering the world they invited me into. I like saying them under my breath as I sometimes say snippets of biblical verse. They are a little like prayers.

So how lovely that the scripture lesson begins with a reading from the book of Melville:

1) Call me Ishmael.

And continues.


Thanks to Brian for the tip-off.

Who here has been to Key West?

In Key West, there’s a lot of t-shirt shops. Some of them sell tacky, faux expensive looking shirts that you could wear back in Michigan. Most of them sell tacky, sexually themed shirts that could wear back at the Delt party if you are a dude who feels the need to do such a thing. You know, shirts that say things like “I need some lotion applied here” with an arrow pointing down, or “Breathalyzer test” with an arrow pointing in the same direction. They are shirts for frat boys. Funny how this guy over at Kos thinks that a similarly phallus-centric shirt sold at Spencer’s thinks it is also a shirt for politically enlightened people:

I work at Spencer’s Gifts, a store that prides itself on being fairly humourous and “edgy.” We sell a shirt there that shows portrait shots Hillary and Obama side by side, seperated by the words “Bros before Hoes.”

Apparently, to him the only issue is, should Spencer’s be selling the shirt? What a non-question. Of course Spencer’s can sell the shirt, it’s Spencer’s and we know what kind of people wear shirts from Spencer’s. 14 year olds. The question should be, should I wear this shirt, and the answer to that is a definite no. You have a problem with Hilary, fine. But the same way that we wouldn’t wear a shirt that says “whites before blacks” if we had a problem with Obama, we shouldn’t wear a shirt that says “men before women.” Even if you think it is funny in context, it is disgusting.

Why can’t all men be more like Ernie?

I mostly just love

March 27, 2008

That this is news.  That the Guardian felt it important to reveal that sometimes, British people watch the movie instead of reading the book, even when the book is classic that all Britons look to as a source of national pride.  This would be a non-survey in our fair nation, I think.

Friday Red: M Edition

March 21, 2008

Malbec  (Dona Carla) + Michael Clayton, aka the longest post-release netflix queue wait ever. Oh yeah, pour and play, it’s Friday.

UPDATE: After conferring w/ my boss here in the digital library division, I have learned that my school’s institutional repository does have this scenario covered–MFA students will be granted an automatic waiver from global access, other students w/ patents pending on their material will also be after the patent process is confirmed (eg Engineering students). So, our TDs will be accessible on-campus but not on the open web. UMI’s copy will still be available for anyone who can their hands on it. Works for me.

I think that the the open access publishing model (where the academic community takes control of scholarly publishing using web-based journal tools and institutional repository space that individual universities own) is crucial to the future of academic work. Why? 1) The ballooning costs of buying access (not even ownership in the case of online journals) to scholarly work are crippling academic collection building and will continue to do so as the market is basically built on monopolies and 2) as the publication of scholarly work depends on publishers who are 100% for-profit entities, it is going to become harder and harder to gain rights to republish scholarly material of any kind. These publishers are not built to recognize the intellectual value of the material they own–they increasingly want large sums for anthologies and other reprints that cannot be paid by the authors and UPs who want to publish the work and never expect to see any kind of profit based on doing so. We must take ownership of our work, or we will lose it in a more permanent way than ever before. It won’t be free to do this, but it won’t cost as much as what we currently pay to rent access to scholarly work.

One wing of open access publishing is the use of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). This, eventually, could mean no more waiting for to get a physical copy of someone’s dissertation mailed to you–you can click and open any time. (BTW, this is already true for more recent TD’s if your institution has access to Proquest TDs.)

Of course, there are numerous implications to this model which, even in my most librarian mode, I am not blind to. Which leads to

Exhibit I: The U of Iowa recently instituted mandatory electronic deposit of all graduate theses and dissertations henceforth. Again, I am generally in favor of this, and newsflash, this is the way the academic world is heading. My own U is trying to go 100% digital for graduate T&D’s starting this fall. These documents will be made publicly available in our institutional repository.

The U of Iowa, of course, is home to the most famous MFA program in the country, the Writer’s Workshop. As the MFA is currently structured, it is considered the terminal academic degree in the field. As such, the final product of the degree is considered an academic work, created w/in the academy for academic purposes.

Only, that’s not really how it works. Although it may look like and academic degree and act like one in the job market (after you have a publishing career anyway), students in MFA programs think of themselves as writers, not academics, and the MFA is usually a period of intense, focused work geared toward the production of a saleable manuscript. I think it even says that in a lot of MFA descriptions–you need a booklength manuscript to graduate. That’s a measure that reflects the demands of the marketplace, even if the degree is earned in the academy.

So you know where this is headed. U of Iowa MFAs don’t want their TD’s electronically accessible. They are afraid that having a clickable version online will disqualify that work from consideration by publishers. They might be right–we don’t know yet, although there has been no trouble for writers of more obviously academic work getting their stuff published once it has been made electronically available. It also remains to be seen just how visible these ETDs will really become. Institutional repositories are not indexed by Google or any other web search engine. They are stuck underneath layers and layers of library gateways. To find one, first you would have to know it existed. Of course, you could just make a habit of frequenting the IR’s of schools whose ETDs you wanted to keep abreast of… it would be possible to find them, but it’s not like you could just type it into Google and wham. At least not yet.

This is a quandary for me, as both an MFA student and an MLIS student. I resent the attitude of exceptionality displayed by the departments in question at Iowa–the idea that their work should be exempt from a policy geared toward the general good, not toward any kind of desire on the University’s part to make money from their creations. That’s paranoid, but also a sign that the academics and librarians who support open access are not getting the message across (although Peter Suber always tries). Getting control is not the point behind this, the point is maintaining access. If your work is different from other products of the university academic community, then maybe you ought not do it within the academy. Letting you off the hook (which is exactly what the Dean eventually did) sets a precedent that could allow departments to beg off and defeat the whole… well, movement sounds a bit ideological, but a movement it is.

On the other hand, well, if having my MFA thesis online means I can’t publish it, that sucks. And I’ll have to raise a fuss about it when the time comes for me to upload, although I kind of doubt that the Deans at my school will take my concerns as seriously as Dean Lopes at Iowa. In fact, I should probably start raising this issue now if I have any hope of getting around it…

The only real solution, I think, would be to require some kind of critical piece or let the artists’ statement alone count for the actual “thesis” in question and make the manuscript of creative work part of an unpublished defense process, b/c simply letting MFA’s off the hook is problematic both to the status of the program w/in the academy and to the process of gaining control of academic work.

[Probably going to be cross-posted at my library blog.]

Now that I’m no longer a Salon subscriber, maybe I should use some of those freed funds to continue getting The Nation. (Nobody owns The Nation.) D got a trial subscription for being a teacher and that opened my eyes to the fact that they publish highly intelligent book reviews and other writing about literature. Also, they apparently publish Rosmarie Waldrop. Heart!

Coin flipping

March 18, 2008

Gentle readers, please respond in the comments if you have the time and inclination:

Nella Larsen or Virginia Woolf?

The author receiving the most votes may be the subject of a biography seminar paper coming soon to a blog near you.