Well, the synchronicity scientists would nod an “I told you so” to the fact that I went to buy a WEB magazine at Vroman’s in Pasadena on Saturday and learned that Jonathan Safran Foer would be there the next day to present his new book, Eating Animals. This after I had recently written my first book blog about this author as I sat at the Vroman’s Cafe a few weeks earlier (see Aug. 7 and 14). Of course, I will riff on his visit, and the book, and on eating animals. But first to my last installment on the two bit word essay I have been building here.
above: an example of a modern version of hocketing in an excerpt from Meredith Monk’s “Hocket” from “Facing North” (1990), performed by Emily Eagen and Peter Sciscioli, members of The M6, at Symphony Space in New York, March 2008.
So how does academic writing differ from an author’s use of two-bit words?
I want to contrast the writing of Michael Chabon’s with an essay by Michelle Kisliuk in Music and Gender, a collection of essays by musicologists studying the participation of women in the music of various cultures.
In the varied and impressive writings of Colin Turnbull (1961, 1965, 1978, 1981, 1983), Alan Lomax (1976), Robert Rarris Thompson (1989), and Simha Arom (1978, 1991), the yodeling, hocketing sound of pygmy singing has served as an icon of social and musical utopia and an image of egalitarianism. 1 (Kisliuk 25).
[ footnote 1: Kisliuk notes that she is referencing an essay, “Can There be a Feminist Ethnography?” from the book, Women and Performance by Lila Abu Lughod]
I read this book of music and gender essays while researching my own book about composer Amy Beach. The sample sentence I provide is typical of that particular essay, and the first example I would cite as to why academic writing is inaccessible to most readers. Often academic writers fill their sentences with so many dates and references in parenthesis that a reader must really strain to find the meat. It is like having to trip over stones thrown in the path of reader comprehension.
During an online reading conference, for which I was the discussion leader (have I mentioned that I am about to complete an MFA in new media writing from Antioch University? – more on that later), several complained about the use of “obscure” vocabulary words by Michael Chabon in his book of essays, Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. For purposes of discussion, I subsequently referred to those words as what my father called “two-bit words.” I remarked that I bet we all had to look up different words, so I wondered which we could really call the two-bit ones.
Our virtual conversation about the use of these words did not go much further than a few complaints before it moved on to other topics. I was sorry that we did not delve into a related comment I made regarding the fact that Chabon’s use of some of these words seemed to hint at irony: they were contrasted with his book’s content about the need to reanalyze and revalue dismissed-as-lowbrow genres of writing such as comic books, science fiction, ghost and detective stories.
One participant referred to Chabon’s two-bit word use as being “academic” writing, and I wished I had time to get back to that comment, too, because I think it was an important one to consider. Well, I will do it here in my blog. Having read many books by university professors on the topics of new media literature / electronic literature over the last two years as part of my new media writing and MFA thesis research, I have a particular take on academic writing at the moment. As I considered the two-bit words of Chabon as being linked with the idea of academic writing, I had to disagree. Academic writing and the use of a sophisticated vocabulary are not synonymous. And it is important that the distinction be made and they not be confused. Continue reading Part I: Chabon’s Maps and Legends and Hayle’s Electronic Literature meet Two-Bit Words and Pygmy Musicians
Julie & Julia made for a great reading break. It is not high literature, but it is one of those entertaining personal journey memoirs that still can inspire and reward a “serious” reader with a delicious sense of a secret daring to read something that is not high literature. My personal interest in new media writing and its possibilities was also rewarded when I discovered that this book began as a secretary’s online blog – when Julie Powell determined to stop her dead-end, boring life as a temp secretary to take on a personal challenge of cooking every recipe in famed culinary queen Julia Child’s famous 1960s cooking world changer, The Joy of Cooking.
For the last two years I have read several national bestseller memoirs. Most were disappointments to my writer sensibility. Mary Karr’s filled her Liars Club memoir with so many obviously made up stories that she lost creditability. Her writing was so in need of a good edit, that I had to wonder what modern day editors are doing – are they victims of our failed modern education system? Are they working for downsized publishers in our flailing economy and overloaded with too many books to edit to do a sufficient job with any of them? What? Liars Club is not a great book, yet it was a bestseller; this fact was a painful observation made by this writer – who still holds out the hope that writing will get attention for its quality not only for the marketing prowess of its author. Continue reading Riffing on memoir Julie and Julia – in light of other popular memoirs
How about if we all were required to create something after we read a book?!
The interactive multimedia (Flash) animation I posted below is an experiment and a work in progress. I hope you will check it out and feel free to comment!
New media lets me express myself and experiment with all communication forms – image, animation, sound, music, video – as well as traditional text. I was fascinated, for instance, by Susan Griffin’s essay about Red Shoes not just because it is a great and interesting essay, but because I had a personal relationship with ballet and with the story of the Red Shoes; I allowed her story to jetison me to thinking and creating my own liteary (new media) piece about the story. I will add additional chapter riffs to that piece as time goes by in addition to continuing my reading diary and new media journal here. Continue reading Some thoughts about my previous new media riff post on The Next American Essay – and the democratization of writing
This interactive new media file is too big for me to post here on the main blog page. Go ahead and click on the animation text title above, and it will take you to a page housing the piece.
Foer grew up with computers, computer games, the WEB, video games, desktop publishing; it is not a great surprise that when he sat down to write novels, he was influenced by his exposure to new media, and made use of pictures, stories told from different viewpoints, typography design and graphical interfaces.
I’m back on Colorado Boulevard reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. This time at my favorite bookstore, Vroman’s. How few independent bookstores are left? Brick and mortar ones? I buy books here often, even if they are a little more expensive than online sources, because I want to keep Vroman’s in business. They host book readings, have this great little café where I am reading, outside again, today. Touching the books before buying is such a delight. Rubbing shoulders with other book readers. Sometimes I grade papers sitting on their patio sipping an iced coffee, and people say to me: “What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that instead of sitting at home in the dark?” Continue reading Contemplating Jonathan Safran Foer at Vroman’s in Pasadena
What better way to start my new media book riffing than with a Thai outdoor lunch in Pasadena and Jonathan Safran Foer’s wonderful book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – a book that stands on the cusp between traditional text writing and the multimedia books of the future.
I took myself to this Thai lunch on August 5 – immediately after posting my success at uploading my second blog post, changing the template from the default one and figuring out how to back up my database. It was a beautiful day in Pasadena, so I treated myself to Thai beef salad at an outdoor cafe, and took Foer along with me. I had the patio to myself, as you can see. This restaurant is a couple blocks east of Old Town Pasadena central. I hear that Old Town has become a famous tourist destination. When I first moved to southern California, not that long ago, I was warned to stay away from it! Winos and vacant buildings and riff raff. Continue reading Pasadena Thai Lunch with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I will be placing my new media book riffs in this category as soon as I get the entire blog set up. Today I added a gravatar picture. Okay, so I should probably be reading a book rather than playing my guitar, but it does go along with my theme of riffing – which is a musical term I used because that is what I am going to be doing here – improvising on books. Also I selected a custom theme from the WordPress rather that the default blue one. This allows me three columns, which I will need. I don’t much care for the blue text, but it will be a while before I learn how to really customize my look. For now we can work with this one. Next visit I will start adding media and my book riffs! Oh that RSS feed at the top right is not active yet, either, and the green is all wrong. If I knew this template designer, I would tell him/her not to mix blue green with olive green. (update note: I found the image file for the RSS feed icon 8-9-09 and changed the color to an olive that matches the template). Must teach tomorrow – back in a couple of days!
Welcome to Riffing On Books! I gave myself the goal today to set up this blog – I did it! Over the following days, I will get through the second half of my how-to book, change the theme, add categories, figure out how to add Flash and video, and begin to add content. This blog will host my new media riffs on books – not book reviews or stuffy book analysis, but new media pieces and essays that I am inspired to create by various books I read. I wanted to host it on my own domain, so that is taking me a little longer to set up than if I had just loaded it at one of the blog hosting sites. Hope to see you back here lots once I get going! – Terry