Truthful speaking would be a simple way to tell the truth, if the truth were simple and could be told.

03 November 2010

In Laura Miller's Defense

Earlier this week, Laura Miller, one of the head writers at (which is a great Web site), wrote a piece actively speaking out against National Novel Writing Month.  This inspired some anger by contributers. Carolyn Kellogg, another critic whose opinion I respect, posted up a response on the LA Times blog, Jacket Copy (my second favorite book blog, right after The New Yorker's The Book Bench).  The comments are filled with even more anger and derision directed toward Miller.

Now, I don't agree with Miller's main argument, but I do think she's right in the fact that too many aspiring writers don't think they actually need to bother reading anything.  My main argument:  she totally went the wrong way of approaching this issue.  The following is a response I posted in the comments section.  It's narcissistic, sure, to post it twice.

One:  in reply to an earlier poster, Miller's "Magician's Book" is very much not an anti-Chronicles of Narnia book.  It's a book about how the things you read generally shift in their meaning and importance as you grow older.  She loved them, then felt betrayed, then came to appreciate them for something that she never realized were a part of the story.  

Two:  Generally speaking, Miller's recommendations of books are frequently spot-on.  Her interests are broad and its appreciable that she's been one of the many professional proponents of the not labeling genre.  (Among her book club choices for this year:  "The Passage" and "Freedom."  One of her best reviews:  Gary Shytengart's "Super Sad True Love Story.")  She's less prejudiced and more open toward a story than Michiko Kakutani and B. R. Myers and James Wood, who escape general ire because they consider themselves so high brow.

Three:  In her article, Miller explicitly stated that she has no desire to be a novelist.  This criticism launched against her must have come from the same place the birthers pull their theories.  

Four:  O.K., she has an argument, and it's not untrue that a great deal of people who are working on a novel don't bother to actually read anything in their free time (or at any time at all) apart from social mediated status updates, but in this piece in particular she does not deliver it well at all, and it's probably unfair to use National Novel Writing Month as her launchpad.  She kind of goes all over the place and makes these oft-mentioned negative generalizations. 

I was an English major; I'm going to be an English major again, and when I went to school I was all stoked that I would be surrounded by people who read a lot of books and had all these ideas and recommendations and everything.  Turns out, I was the one who read all the books and had all the recommendations, all these other English majors were either aspiring teachers (which is an even larger problem, considering more than a few of them did not believe Gregor Samson turned into a vermin, but felt like one for the whole narrative, and I could go on) or just thought they would receive an easy degree.  We were given DeLillo's "Libra" -- a novel that demands patience and rereading -- and hardly anyone liked it because it wasn't immediate and RIGHT THERE.  When DFW died, hardly anyone in any of my classes seemed to care.  Pynchon wasn't a recognized name.   Miller's pieces often helped steer me in some direction, toward something in a line of inspired reading.  

I think Miller's criticism is mis-directed in her article, and you can feel her trying to assemble the disjointed, disproportionate pieces together to form her cohesive whole (which, of course, leaves many gaping holes that we're having so much fun pointing out).  National Novel Writing Month and its participants aren't deserving of her ire.  Still:  she's among the strongest critics writing right now (especially w/r/t those on the Internet) and any activist of reading, even with the occasional misstep, as this one so very very evidently is, is someone still worth listening too.

ALSO:  a few months ago, when The Guardian put out a list of a bunch of writers given writerly advice, Miller contributed a list of elements that readers enjoy.  You'd think it'd be self-evident, some of the things she points out, but there are still plenty of aspiring writers who claim they don't have the time to read but still think they'll produce something great.  Read that instead of this one.

17 June 2010

TV Shows

Pick your five favorite TV shows (in no particular order) and answer the following questions. Don’t cheat!

1.  Pushing Daisies
2.  30 Rock
3.  Avatar:  The Last Airbender
4.  The Simpsons
5.  Mad Men

Who’s your favorite character in 2?
Liz Lemon.  That poor girl who's just trying to find love.  Yeah, I know it's a cheat to heart the main character, but whatever.

Who’s your least favorite character in 1?
Chuck.  She doesn't do a whole lot but complain and whine.  I agree with Emerson Cod about her most of the time. 

What’s your favorite episode of 4?
Tough but I liked the parody of Cape Fear (titled Cape Feare) quite a lot. 

What’s your favorite season of 5?
The third.  The season finale was like the best episode of that show ever.  EVER.

How long have you watched 1?
From the day it premiered to long past its abrupt and inhumane cancellation.

How did you become interested in 3?
Kept hearing about it, seeing toys of Aang, etc. popping up everywhere, reruns on Nickelodean, saw that there was a movie coming out, saw that the first season was streaming on Netflix, and then just got carried away.  Now I don't wanna see the movie for fear that it'll taint the TV show.

Who’s your favorite actor in 4?
Either Dan Castellenta or Hank Azaria.  They do the most characters, so . . . .

Which show do you prefer? 1, 2, or 5?
Number one.  Pushing Daisies is my favorite TV show of all time.  ALL TIME.

Which show have you seen more episodes of; 1 or 3?
Three, just because there are more episodes altogether.  But I've watched the episodes in one a lot more.

If you could be anyone from 4, who would you be?
Lisa Simpson.

Give a random quote from 1.
"Well just because it was ajar doesn’t mean it wasn’t a door before it was a jar which would indicate to most people to a-knock before a-entering."

Would a 3/4 crossover work?
Probably not.  Although they're both animated, their universes are so radically different.  I'm sure four would parody three at some point or another, however.

Pair two characters in 1 that would make an unlikely, but strangely okay couple.
No, because it wouldn't work at all.  In its brief run, Fuller paired up a whole lot of characters, even to the point of making them all awkward and ponderous, so no.  Or just Olive Snook with any of the guys other than Ned.

Has 5 inspired you in any way?
To smoke more. 

Overall, which show has a better cast? 3 or 5?
Probably five, just because Mad Men is live action and everyone is seriously seriously invested, and in Avatar, they were invested in different ways.

Which has better theme music, 2 or 4?
Four, obviously.  The Simpsons theme is a classic.