Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just say the status quo

The shuttle I ride to work is usually playing the local soft-rock station over the intercom, and a song I've been hearing a lot of lately is Taylor Swift's "Love Story." As I mentioned in my previous post, the melody is awfully catchy. Whoever wrote it knew what s/he was doing. It's the kind of pop song that doesn't leave your brain and has a key change in the last chorus.

Every time I hear this song, I pretty much loathe it more. Maybe part of it is the tossing in of literary references with no consideration of context, like:

"'Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter,
And my daddy said 'Stay away from Juliet'"

Okay, there is a loose plot concordance with Romeo and Juliet as the song progresses , but what everyone forgets who idealizes those stupid teenagers is that they die at the end. (Oh sorry...spoiler alert.) The song also uses "thy" once and modern pronouns the rest of the time.

But those are minor things, you say, that would only bother a tight-assed grammarian or a librarian who needs to get out more. True. What really makes me queasy about this song are its themes of...

girl must be rescued by boy:

"Romeo save me - I've been feeling so alone.
I keep waiting for you but you never come"

if you wait long enough, your parents will come around to you dating someone different:

"Romeo save me - they're tryin' to tell me how to feel;
This love is difficult, but it's real"

then later

"I talked to your dad - go pick out a white dress"

Being alone is bad - try to fix that ASAP:

"Marry me, Juliet - you'll never have to be alone"

Marriage and proper gender roles are the way to go!

"You'll be the prince and I'll be the princess"

"I talked to your dad - go pick out a white dress
It's a love story - baby just say 'yes'"

There's something particularly gross and forceful about that last line.

The video is equally ridiculous, and I'll post it below. Maybe I'm thinking too hard about this, or overestimating the effect this kind of thing has on girls. But Taylor Swift is obviously a popular force; according to that same radio station, she sold out Madison Square Garden in 60 seconds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two reasons to reduce your meat consumption

I recently read a book review by Sheila Ashdown of the book The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Food by Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason which came closest to my explanation of why I don't eat meat other than fish:

I had finally read enough about industrial-scale food production to reach a critical mass of information about the ramifications of what I put in my mouth -- the environmental and public-health impacts and the inhumane treatment of vulnerable animals -- that I had to put down the hamburger and pick up the garden burger."


"The bulk of the book explores the three reasons that vegetarians and vegans forgo meat and animal byproducts: "for their health; for the health of the animals; and for the health of the planet.""

Then I heard about this American Heart Association study linking daily consumption of red meat to earlier death. (One of the most striking lines in the article: "Red meat is associated with death in several ways.")

I try not to moralize about my diet. For one, it's none of my business what other people do and I don't judge them either way. For another, I'm not perfect and I could definitely improve my food choices in a lot of ways. Vegetarianism (or its variations) is not necessarily the answer. It seems to me that, as in many things, moderation is what's important.

Anyway, there's some food for thought for you...heh heh. Get it?

Next up will be a post on a song that attracts me musically and revolts me in every other way. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 06, 2009

The frustrations of reading

I recently read a pair of books back-to-back: Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. And in reading both of them, I found myself occasionally frustrated, but in different ways. This is a really fine line. A good book – a really good one, a great book – should be challenging. It should provoke emotion and maybe have parts that aren’t immediately understandable. But there is a contract any author makes with a reader. You agree to believe and accept certain things. (In one of Wallace’s stories, he actually makes this contract completely explicit, but of course, he would.) I felt that David Foster Wallace was faithful to this contract, while Zadie Smith wasn’t, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Before I read On Beauty, I was reading a review of literary critic Gordon Wood’s book How Fiction Works, in which Zadie Smith is included in a list of “antirealists” (the others are DeLillo and Rushdie). At that point, I’d only read her other book White Teeth, and I thought, really? The book seemed pretty much situated in reality. Then when I was reading On Beauty, I started noticing all the coincidences and inaccuracies within the novel’s universe. Some of these were related to British traditions and phrases occurring in an American college. These range from the very small (college classes generally don’t last all year; Americans don’t call McDonald’s “Macca;” there is no train that goes from Boston to Amherst) to the more widespread – the undergraduate students in the book are so into university politics and academia and scholarly communication. Maybe that’s how it is at a place like Harvard, but not any college I’ve ever worked at or attended. I think the problem here is that Zadie Smith is really good at making realistic characters. It threw me off when these very real-seeming people engaged in behavior or said things that seemed unreal.

David Foster Wallace, on the other hand, dealt in this incredibly acute realism. The stories in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (many of which, but not all, are framed as interviews) include an excruciating amount of detail. He writes about the physical and mental processes that underlie everything we do, but that we rarely think about. There’s a thoroughness and granularity of thought that must have been exhausting to experience and write. One story in particular, “The Depressed Person,” spelled out the hopelessness of depression in devastating detail. It made me presumptuously wonder if that’s what it was like to live inside David Foster Wallace’s head…and if so, I don’t blame him for wanting to get out. Maybe I wasn’t so much frustrated during the book as exhausted. I read it, like everything, mostly in half-hour increments on the bus, and sometimes even that amount of time wasn’t enough to digest what I was reading – either the content or the form. One of the blurbs on the back of the book calls it a “full-scale harassment of the short story form,” which is dead on.

I’ll conclude with a link to a 1999 interview of David Foster Wallace (conducted by mail) for Amherst magazine by Stacey Schmeidel, who falls into the category of people I hardly know but really like. It’s really good.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

This tornado-prone month loves you

A few housekeeping items. I really am trying to catch up. I have a couple of posts planned for the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

I have dragged A Room Full of Books into the next wave of Blogger technology, and in doing so have cleaned up my links and blogs to reflect what I actually read. Especially exciting is the addition to my blog roll of a blog that recently started and that I even more recently learned about: A Matter of Fact, which is written by the librarians at NPR. (Coolest job EVER, incidentally.) I'm also toying with the idea of improving my tags. Are you on the edge of your seat now?!?

I wanted to respond to Thomas's long-ago comment and say that I'm very glad he is now a Poetry subscriber. The Poetry Foundation is so wonderful. Wander over to their website for their "Poetry Tool" (a poetry index! I tried to make one of those for one book and it took me a whole semester), the "Poetry Off the Shelf" podcast, and other lovely things (like lots of readings in Chicago, where I unfortunately - in that sense - no longer live). I also wanted to note that I have put Inkheart on my list of books to read. I love books about books.

Also, Neko Case's new album, Middle Cyclone, came out recently, and it's pretty rad. The two songs in particular I can't get out of my head are "The Pharoahs" and her cover of Sparks' "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth." I haven't listened to it enough to say this intelligently, but there's a lot of feminine imagery in it, but in a nicely subtle way. I think Clare in particular would like it. I'm going to stop now, because I live with someone who could write a thesis on Ms. Case, and I know my place.

Happy March, everyone. I started my month with a snow day that was everything a snow day should be, and I'm taking it as a good omen.