Wednesday, December 12, 2007

STL #63: A Year in Reading

I toyed with the idea of incorporating other "texts" into my review of my 2007 reading, but nixed the idea at the last second. While an interpretation of Bleak House draws on similar skills as one of The Sopranos (and some point in a hierarchy of skills anyway), I'm ultimately partitioning the printed word for somewhat political reasons. Traditional reading is beset by a tangle of cultural forces, though not to the degree some would think. I'm including online reading in the following list as well as other non-book reading. As with my music list, I'm doing away with canonical form, in this case the "book." Unfortunately, my records of what I read are spotty, so I'm relying on memory in the following alphabetical list of notable reading experiences.

  • "A" I begin each year by reading a "big book," sometimes for the first time and sometimes not.* To focus my energy toward completing my dissertation, I read this huge poem entire for fourth time.
  • Assassins The Nicholas Mosley books I've read remind me of Graham Greene. I may have read Greene's terrific Haitian novel
  • The Comedians this year, I'm not sure. Greene's better than Mosley, who I'm including so I can talk about Greene.
  • Epileptic Twenty pages in I knew that David B. had created a unique perceptual world. At this writing, I've only read the first volume.
  • Freakanomics This book shows how economists think. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but the idea that their are modes of thinking about idea is crucial to education, which is what I do.
  • Google Reader has changed how I read blogs. No more aimless clicking, now I get to scan my 25 feeds several times a day, marking some for later reference and letting the rest slide into the dustbin of my subconscious. There are problems with this model of reading to be sure.
  • Iron Fist is my monthly comic of the year, edging out JSA and another Matt Fraction book, Casanova. Fraction's work deserves a longer consideration. Maybe after the current IF and Casanova arcs are done.
  • Love and Hate in Jamestown I don't read much history, but bought this on my house-hunting trip to Richmond to learn a little of Virginia history. There is, needless to say, much more to learn.
  • Letters of James Laughlin and Guy Davenport. Not italicized because I'm not sure of the volume's proper name. I selected this to note the manner of reading rather than the matter. I read this over several afternoons while waiting for my wife to get off work at the bookstore. The fact of its presence there symbolizes the kind of refuge a bookstore can provide. Two relatively unknown carrying on a conversation in face of general disregard. The book is actually quite chit-chatty and even embarrassing (especially for JL), but it marks my general pursuit of Davenport ephemera.
  • Party-Going. My first take on Henry Green is as a funny Virginia Woolf. I think I'll stick with that for the time being.
  • Portable People (Which I finished the day before Freakanomics while housesitting in Austin this spring). Wonderful, short sketches of artists and the ilk in a fat, square volume.
  • "Projective Verse" by Charles Olson. Which I've read many times but really resonated during a recent rereading. There will be a post on Olson soon. (I'm publishing a piece on Olson next year, BTW)
  • The Real Life of Sebastian Knight Wonderfully enjoyable, especially the ending with the narrator listening to his brother breathing. The last novel I read.
  • What the Best College Teachers Do. A great tool for thinking about my own practice.

*I originally intended a history of my "big reading" project to be the topic of this STL, but along the way I got sidetracked. I do at least want to record the list:

1995 Ulysses
1996 Swann's Way
1997 Poetry of William Carlos Williams
1998 In Search of Lost Time
1999 Don Quixote

2000 The Divine Comedy
2001 The Cantos
2002 Middlemarch
2003 Bleak House
2004 Paradise Lost
2005 The Recognitions
2006 The Odyssey
2007 "A"

On 1 Jan 2008, I began rereading Anna Karenina. Not counting 2008 (since I'm only 100 pages in), I've read 13 works, including 7 novels and 6 works of poetry. Since the split will grow after this year, I should read poetry in 2009, or perhaps branch into drama or nonfiction? (I once planned 30 years of reading while working at Boeing. That was a fun diversion, but I don't want to be so strict as to plan my reading years in advance.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

STL #62: Done with ^unplayed

Technology and listening to music.

I made a small move the other day--I deleted a carat (^) from the name of a playlist on iTunes--that's going to have a determinative effect on what music I listen to. An on-again off-again obsession of mine from at least six months was listening to a huge number of songs that I had in my iTunes library but had never listened to on my iPod or computer. That least was huge when I created a 'smart' playlist of all songs with a playcount of 0. This generated a playlist of over 5,000 songs. That number is a little misleading, since it reflects the uploading of many CD's over the summer. Many of these CD's we had had for years, and if we felt like listening to them, we simply put it in the player. But since we resolved to sell those artifacts, I uploaded dozens of CDs with a failing drive. Unfortunately, I was to learn that many of those unheard tracks had blips toward the ends of the songs, and some had distracting skips and blips throughout, to the extent that they are unlistenable. I came to this realization after months of dedicated listening to a playlist I titled "unplayed," or more precisely, "^unplayed." The non-alphabetical symbol caused that playlist to rise to the top of my many playlists, so it was always handy for listening.

As I said, I'm done with ^unplayed for now. At the moment that I'm typing this, there's a trivial 322 songs left to be played, and many of those are classical pieces I listened to intently on CD before uploading for posterity. My present listening is mostly recent music, the smart playlist ^December, and a random shuffle through outside authorities' ^bestof2007. So much of my music-listening is done on my iPod, as I walk to work or walk the dog, that I didn't much regret getting rid of my CDs. Some remorse is creeping in, as the limitations of the mp3 format become apparent. Perhaps when the money loosens up a bit, I will buy the occasional CD that I want to sit down and listen to intently. An upcoming listening project is to rent DVD's of operas, which we'll watch one day a week as a movie. That kind of attention is a model of music listening that I admire but seldom followed, apart from my recent classical education project.

This post has been incubating for so long that I'm disappointed to see how boring it is turning out. Among the notes on how technology has affected my listening to music is "emusic/open source movement," which alludes to the fact that most of our musical acquisition in 2007 was through the online music store eMusic. Only independent labels comfortable with releasing tracks without DRM (and for cheap) are on eMusic, obviously affecting what I listen to. You might link this with the ideological freeware of the open source movement--a democratic mass of individuals courageously offering there labor for little, trusting that they will be paid back by a changed world. That's a crude homoloy that I only mention to satisfying my nagging past self who made the note.

Mentioning eMusic also allows me to make a top 10 of 2007, since we're on the subject of new music. Most, not all of these came through that pipeline. I used play count for music added in the last 400 days to determine what should be on here, then used my judgment to finalize it. For the first time, these mix single tracks with increasingly irrelevant "albums."

1. Lily Allen, Alright, Still
2. Amy Winehouse "Rehab"
3. Panther, "You Don't Want Your Nails Done"
4. Jens Lekman, Night Fell on Kordova
5. Dude n Em "Watch My Feet"
6. The National, The Boxer
7. Burial, "Ghost Hardware"
8. Pigeon John, "Growing Old"
9. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
10. "Lindsay Lohan," Spank Rock

Eh, I'm not crazy about that list, so maybe I'll revise it in a month or so.

STL #61: Numbers

Finding my place in the history of STL, and beginning again.

I promised this bibliographic essay on the numbering of the Simplest Things Last series in the then-unnumbered follow up to the "Test of Poetry." The problem at that time was how to account for my free-form, months long sporadic engagement with the poetry in Zukofsky's anthology. My obligation to my dissertation got the best of me, and I never posted under the title Simplest Thing Last again. Early this year, I claimed the blog spot that unsurprisingly no one had taken and began posting a handful of short essayistic pieces, but did not post them explicitly under the STL imprimatur. The Archives Series (and life, in the form of finishing the dissertation, landing and starting the job) overshadowed these original posts, but with that project over and the free time of winter break imminent, I'm finally ready to return to posting new pieces under the STL banner. First though, I want to sort through the very STL-ish pieces I've written and posted since June of 2005. Doing so will not only give me a number under which to file this, but will help me articulate my intentions for STL posts.

Following the demise of the first generation of STL, I posted (and have archived) 13 posts on my Locus site. The backstory of Locus is simply that it is a CMS created to give CWRL staffers a place separate from where the were posting class materials to work on personal or professional projects. The fluidity of the CMS allowed for powerful searching and sorting, but also broke down boundaries so that students might not recognize the difference between a personal blog post and course materials. My plan was to use Locus more as a notebook, to seed and build on future projects. After making an introductory sketch or blurb on a subject, I could search by tags later to add to or consult it. My 5th Locus post was simply notes on Other British Poetry compiled after reading the anthology by that name and denoting names of authors I'd like to read more of. These notes are then "other" than what I was doing with STL. They do not have a claim to completion nor the acknowledgment of a hypothetical reader. STL posts are nothing if not essayistic: they have some formal structure, a unified purpose or subject, and some notion of an audience. Locus notes thus do not qualify on any of these criteria, but the five posts tagged as "eleven" arguably meet them all. These annotated lists of eleven current enthusiasms do possess a formal structure and are written for an audience. Some clearly have a unified subject: Eleven for Free Comic Book Day is grouped around comics; Eleven from Best American Poetry 2005 is essentially a review of that book, just like STL # 7 reviewed the 2002 volume. The only Eleven that doesn't have an obvious unified theme is the one date 4/13/2006, number 7 in the series. Yet even this one traces a narrative from sickness to health. Therefore, I'm designating the following posts as part of the STL series:

STL 49/Locus 6 Eleven for 3/24/2006 (organized by nerdiness)
STL 50/Locus 7 Eleven for 4/13/2006 (sickness to health--not bad for a 50th post because it avoids the embarrassing pomposity I'd be predisposed toward)
STL 51/Locus 8 Eleven Poems from BAP 2005
STL 52/Locus 9 Eleven for Free Comic Book Day
STL 53/Locus 10 Basho's Narrow Road (selects 11 scenes from the problematic Cid Corman translation. This is a bit shorter and less developed than the others.)
I didn't record the date of Locus 10 and don't particularly want to go back to look. I know that it was summer of 2006, soon after I bought the translation in question on a trip to the West Coast. I bought it at a wonderfully shambly bookshop in Newport Oregon on the way down to San Francisco for a Charles Olson conference. (This will be important later.)

I got back into blogging with the current Blogger space, thanks in part to the conveince of Google gobbling up the company and in essence creating an account for me. (Flooding back to me at this moment is my "creative" blog buspoems which recorded poems I wrote while waiting for/riding the bus to work in the summer of 2005. Someday, someday.) In the current incarnation of STL, any essayistic post is by implication an edition of STL, since it was published under the heading. There must be exceptions: again, undeveloped notes do not count. By the tradition of the first post to the first blog, "meta" posts about what I intend to do don't count. Therefore, the first post to this incarnation, announcing the excellent goals

1. Catalogue my intellectual pursuits by reviewing various "cultural artifacts" like movies, books, and comics.
2. Articulate my critical perception of the world, especially in regard to aesthetics and information literacy.
3. Archive past writing from the aforementioned projects.

and Rules

1. Make one substantial post a week, on Tuesdays if possible.
2. Archive one previously written post per week, on Thursdays if possible.
3. Tag each post.
4. Review each quarter's posts to refine my taxonomy and revise these rules.
5. Eschew obsfucation.

(Yet this post is a meta post, is it not? It's more in depth then the first post or the "15 Minutes to Meta" post and it reflects on the cultural artifacts of previous posts rather than speculating on unwritten pieces. Yeah. That's it.)

Following the initial meta post, I posted 3 or 4 posts on appropriate topics and one underdeveloped post on teaching appropriately titled "Improvised Blather." On January 4 and 5, I posted "Reading Wang Wei" in two parts. After a gentle revision, this will become STL 54. "Three Thrillers" is a piece from which the properties of STL could be adduced. A loose structure drawing together related cultural artifacts, written in an affectedly "charming" style for the purpose of uncovering a personal aesthetic. "Three Thrillers" must be STL 55. The "Comics Round-up" is relatively unimpressive, but not in the manner of a note and so will be swept up as STL 56.

The "Blog Every Day Month" of November saw the end of the Archives Series, but also a few items of new content. Several of these are clearly notes or meta statements of practice ("meta statements of practice"?). Those that are not will also be incorporated into the STL numbering:
STL 57: Detachment (about getting rid of the materials objects of music)
STL 58: Horrorfest 2007
STL 59: Why Study Literature? The Usable Past
STL 60: 300 (followed by a note on a possible future post on the movie, which will certainly never be written)

I've written my way to the present STL 61, which re-institutes the Title/Description format. I do not intend to do the clerical work of editing the above posts in the near future, which makes this piece so important, dear reader. In the coming weeks, expect to see one or two posts on music listening practices, a reading roundup of some challenging and enjoyable novels, and the beginning of another Test of Poetry, this time based on Don Allen's New American Poetry anthology.