philthecow: (hitchcock)
2007-03-28 12:23 am
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My Last Reading Journal Entry?

Today I went through 350 backlogged e-mails and managed to delete 300 of them. This is a sort of reading that's not much fun--a lot of looking at subject and sender and deciding on that basis whether it even needs to be re-read, a lot of feeling guilty about not having responded to people sooner, but also a cleaner inbox when it's done, a cleaner inbox which will only fill up with crap again. Terrible.

I felt an obligation to have some sort of final wrapping up entry for my "reading journal," but what to talk about? I've been doing much more academic reading, which prioritizes efficiency over anything else, and that's all I've really been able to notice about my reading habits... who ever said reading was fun?

[ profile] _swallow gave me an idea for my personal reading memoir while we talked (and I cried) in front of the circulation desk and the library.

This is so incomprehensible I cut it for you. )

I'm having a bad day.
philthecow: (hitchcock)
2007-03-25 03:46 pm
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Reading is Writing, Writing is Reading

Remember this?

(An edited version was just rejected by the Swarthmore literary magazine. I'm trying to stave off the crisis of self-confidence.)

At least people liked The Queer History of Swarthmore, except for the guy who didn't appreciate having to scroll past it to get to the sports section. If I had more time to write, it would definitely be more polished. But for what it is I'm proud of it.

I read a lot of old papers to write the article, and I love reading primary documents so much. There's a sense of immersion you get from being able to read an old newspaper, because it's this entire world laid out in front of you, but also a delightful sense of disjunction, because you never were the intended audience and there are things you never will understand.

For example, the best part of my article goes as follows:

"On November 1, 1985, The Phoenix published a story titled 'AIDS Series Continues' which contained the following paragraph: 'Perhaps the most bizarre thought to emerge from the lecture came in the question-answer session, when a student asked whether beating up gay people might be a way to catch AIDS. Supposedly, if one to were assault a gay person who happened to be infected, blood from the person could infect the attacker. Uitert concurred that this could indeed happen, especially if the attacking fists were scraped up, though repeated exposure is probably required for infection.'"

WHAT THE FUCK? What the hell kind of Swarthmore were people living in for that exchange to be possible? Who asked the question? Was some dumb jock thinking "Oh shit, I beat up a homo last week, I need to find out if I have AIDS"? Did the doctor's response make him stop beating up gay people? Or did he just use a baseball bat instead of his fists from then on? What did the rest of the audience think? Were the gay students happy about the doctor's response?

I'm never going to know the answers to any of these questions, but my life has been so enriched by being able to ask them, and in being able to share these crazy parts of the past with other people so that they can ask them too. This is the kind of stuff I thrive on, right?

(On that note, if Small Craft Warnings won't accept my story, I will read an even better version at the Clothesline Project rally. And I will make sure that we are handing out copies of everything read at the rally, so that people will be forced to confront something scary and dark and terrible, and Small Craft Warnings can keep printing one or two interesting pieces a semester, drowned out by a flood of pretentious poetry, and the texts that actually matter can be disseminated by superior means. I will stave this crisis off.)
philthecow: (hitchcock)
2007-03-17 10:25 pm
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One Reading-Related Link

Henry Darger much?

I read this article in the Star-Ledger.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I have a bias towards local papers. I think people who live in New Jersey but who read the New York Times instead of the New Jersey paper are super-lame. I also think it's super-lame that Swarthmore distributes the New York Times instead of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I don't care if the New York Times is somehow objectively better, there's something to be said for local pride and local community and how it can be embodied through a newspaper.

I feel that by selecting the Times over papers like the Ledger or the Inquirer, you're just branding yourself as a snob for whom holding the "right" newspaper is more important than actually knowing the news that matters for you. If we were talking about the Times v. The Mountain Lakes Citizen, I would feel differently, because the Citizen is terrible, but if we're talking about a good-far-away paper v. a nearly-as-good-local paper, I will judge you for preferring the far-away paper.

(Maybe this opinion is why I chose the underdog-Gazette instead of the all-powerful-Phoenix when I came to Swarthmore. But Gazette 2.0 is on the way, and when it lands, you're all going to be scrambling to get over here...)

OK. The point is, this article is amazing. Amazingly creepy, sure, but amazingly Darger! I want to rip it verbatim and put it in my novel. Which I am still writing.

...that was all I wanted to say. I apologize for the tirade.
philthecow: (hitchcock)
2007-03-17 10:03 pm
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Reading Rainbows

I've been reading a lot for my classes but unfortunately not writing enough.

When I need to assauge my guilt over not working hard enough, I tend to take overly detailed notes on my readings. It makes me feel like I'm doing active good-Swattie reading even if I'm not. Case in point? I remember much more of the re-enacting book I read without notes last week than I do of the book about Japan I read, and wrote three pages of notes on, yesterday. Maybe writing notes allows me to displace what I'm learning into another place, copying it like an automaton instead of actually thinking about it. I don't know. I'm so tired of school-reading.


Other reading I've done over break includes Internet-reading (LiveJournal, Facebook, Wikipedia, NYT Online, College Confidential and the Daily Jolt when I want to feel homicidal, my buckets of e-mail) and museum-label-reading, since Thursday I went to the Met and then AFAM with my parents and boyfriend.

At the Met was an exhibition about Modernism in Barcelona. We got the audio guide, which I like because it lets you both absorb information about the painting and look at the painting at the same time. I have a bad habit of spending more time with wall text than with paintings, which the audio guide prevents. That said, I would never not read wall text, and Leon was very happy with the wall text at the Met because "There's no bullshit." In this case, I thought the wall text didn't have enough bullshit. Don't tell me that "This painting features a man and a woman," I know that... tell me what the Freudian and post-structural interpretations are!

It's also interesting to be looking at a language that you used to know or that you sort-of-know because it's sort-of-like another language you do know. In this case, I used to know a little bit of Catalan, and it's also close to Spanish, which I do speak. So seeing bits of Catalan on paintings is like seeing people you knew in elementary school--familiar face, but who are they and what do they want?

At AFAM, we were looking at the Martin Ramirez exhibit, which spans a full three floors (out of four! go Martin go!). I worked at AFAM two summers ago, and I was pleased to see that they were still handing out a flyer inviting patrons to "put the cost of your ticket to a yearly membership" at the ticket desk, an initiative which I recommended in a report I wrote while I worked there. I guess it's working--go Lauren go!

Anyway, the wall text for this exhibit was written by four different people, and so each theme--trains, horses, Madonnas, immigration, was he or wasn't he crazy?--was treated by four different voices. It was nice because each of them had slightly different takes on the art, but they tended to repeat each other a lot, and some of them had really far-out-there theories, and one guy thought he was a poet. (He started a text about Ramirez's drawing of a train with "Where does this train go? To Drawing City," and then described what was in Drawing City. I didn't like his texts very much.)

Leon muttered that the exhibition was "schizophrenic," which was funny, because the artist the exhibit was about was also schizophrenic. He really didn't like all the bullshit he was smelling, but you know Leon. Boy sees bullshit everywhere. Personally, I thought it was awesome.


I'm reminded of how scared people are of the written word every time I hit somebody up for an interview for the paper, which I did yesterday, inspiring this reflection. They always want to see their quotes before they go in the paper, they sometimes drop hints that they've asked around about your reputation and do the flattery thing, they generally have a horror story about how they've been represented in the past, they always think that the story will have more influence than it actually does, and after it's been printed, they sometimes beg you to change the story and end up buying you dinner.

It's all quite a power rush--I would seriously considering going into journalism if I didn't, you know, get jittery and nervous around power.
philthecow: (hitchcock)
2007-03-13 08:12 pm
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Four Overworked Eyes

Well, today was a monumental day for my personal reading history.

My mother is extremely nearsighted, and with my family history on top of my obsessive reading habits, people have always been surprised that I don't have glasses, and for me it's been a source of pride. Being surrounded by a bunch of geeks at Swarthmore and beforehand, there have been times when I've been in the minority in not having glasses. But it looks like my reading has finally caught up with me.

I've been having trouble reading the blackboard and menus on the wall and other things for a while now, but I didn't think it could be a problem, so I didn't mention it to my family until this weekend, when we were at an off-Broadway musical (Gutenberg: The Musical, as a matter of fact) and I couldn't read the names on these hats that were on a table on the stage. I think my dad said "Do you see the hat on the edge? That's a good name!" and I said "You can see those?" and simultaneously everybody looked at me and said "You can't?"

So we made an appointment with the eye doctor, who explained that I had developed some near-sightedness.
Doctor: This happens to a lot of students because they have to do a lot of close work. Do you have to do a lot of reading?
Lauren: You have no idea.
Doctor: Your eyes are probably going to continue to deteriorate. One of the things you can do to arrest that deterioration is after every ten minutes of reading, to take a ten-second break where you focus your eyes on something far away. Somebody who did this religiously even had his eyesight improve! I don't expect that to happen to you, though.
Lauren: Uhhhh... OK.

So now I have to carry around glasses to use when I'm driving, looking at a blackboard, or trying to see anything else far away. Not too bad, I guess. When they gave me the glasses (cute brown-and-blue frames!) and I put them on, I was shocked to be able to start to read a diploma six feet away that had just looked like a gray blur before. Driving home with my mom, I put on my glasses, and blurry trees by the side of the road suddenly had branches. I didn't realize how poorly I could see until somebody told me.

I'm glad we figured this out now, before I crashed the car or something, but I feel like this is my fault for reading too much, and that's upsetting. How can I possibly avoid reading? There's not many other things I know how to do.

We haven't thought about this at all in class, but it seems like the history of glasses would probably parallel the history of reading in some striking ways. I know they were invented in the West during the late 13th century, but when did they improve and how? I'm newly nearsighted, which means that reading is easier for me than other things, but I know a lot of people who are far-sighted, and I know that past a certain age almost everyone needs reading glasses. Were eye problems less common before the widespread diffusion of reading, or did it just become more obvious once people had to read? I imagine forms of close work like needlework would require similar exertions of the eyes. Of course, people also died earlier then, so you had less time for your eyes to get old and blurry. Many questions to answer--the relationship between glasses and reading would be an interesting research topic.

What I'm reading: I finished Lucky, I read a few books about the Elgin Marbles, and I'm working on Measuring the World, which I was intrigued by because it's a "magical realist novel by a German." Imagine a depressed and overly intellectual Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and you have the idea.
philthecow: (spiral)
2007-03-11 11:42 am
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Back Home, But Still Reading

Friday: I returned a total of 23 books to the library. The person behind the Circulation Desk said "It must feel really good to return all of those."

I wasn't enough of a snob to tell her that actually, I had 20 more in my room where those came from, and I was planning to spend my afternoon requesting more books (about historical reenactment, since Tri-Co has pretty shabby resources) through ILL.

Earlier this week I was checking out six books, and all of them were missing those card-pocket things in the front, which led the student to say "Wow. None of these have been checked out in the last fifteen years." I smiled awkwardly. "I'm a history major. It happens a lot."

Many times, when I approach the circulation desk, one of the librarians behind it will say "Oh, I'll get Lauren's books for you," since I have something on hold almost all the time. There's something very strange about having the librarians recognize you as "that problem girl who reads a lot of books" on sight.

Once I was standing in line by the circulation desk and somebody else was checking out books. There was a problem with one of her books, and the student worker called back to the librarian to figure out what it was. The librarian looked up, looked at me, and said, "Lauren's account might have a problem because..." but of course this was the one time when I was going to present no problem whatsoever. I blushed.

This is a long way of saying that I check too many books out of the library. I'm the person who checks out the readings instead of printing them off Blackboard (example? The Cheese and the Worms), the person who orders three times as many resources for a project as she could ever conceivably use, the person who orders things on a whim when she knows she'll have no time to read them, the person who uses the library for self-help books.

At night, I played Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game instead of reading. Mea culpa.

Saturday: My father came to pick me up. I read War Games by Jenny Thompson on the way home. The book is about reenactors of 20th-century wars--I was reading it because I felt I should be doing academic reading, and this relates to a final paper topic, but unfortunately I have two papers due the week after break which I do not feel like reading for. My parents were both surprised to learn that there were Vietnam War reenactors.

When I got home, I devoured two old copies of Newsweek and appraised the contents of a new pile of books on my desk. My parents picked up a bunch of books at the Outsider Art Fair for me--essays by Dubuffet, the Judith Scott monograph, a neat book of A.G. Rizzoli drawings, something about the relationships between outsiders and modernism, pictures from the Shein collection. Yes, all of those names mean something to me, and yes, I collect books about outsider and contemporary folk art. When I grow up I imagine they'll make crazy coffee table books.

There was also a copy of Lucky, the memoir by Alice Sebold about her rape, lying on the stairs somewhere. I finished War Games last night and started another book about the Elgin Marbles--I think today can be a reading-for-myself day.
philthecow: (spiral)
2007-03-09 02:38 am
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What I read today

I am almost done with Lord Elgin and the Marbles for my Orientalism paper. I read it in bed for about an hour, then took a nap, then ran around doing interviews for the Daily Gazette (I talked to Professor Kuharski for over an hour), then translated a riddle for Old English, then skimmed some articles on J-Stor about said riddle, then felt guilty for doing reading that I wasn't supposed to do, then had "social interaction time," which consisted in large part of reading articles on Wikipedia, then read my book for another hour.

The problem with taking reading-heavy classes is that the idea of reading a book for pleasure is mildly revolting. Pleasure means playing computer games, watching movies or TV, clicking around the Internet, hanging out with friends, hell, even having a good cry seems like a more fun idea at this point than reading a book.

This was not always the case. According to a list I kept on my computer, I read one hundred books for pleasure my junior year of high school. This seems preposterous considering that I was taking 5 AP classes at the time, but if you consider that I read for pleasure on my train ride to school (which got me free rides whenever the book was a tearjerker and the conductor felt sorry for me), that I read for pleasure before I went to bed, that I read during commercial breaks for TV shows, and that I spent most of my Friday and Saturday nights pleasure reading, I guess it makes some more sense. I've forgotten how little you actually had to read for those AP classes.

I'm fairly certain no pleasure reading will be happening over break, and all I can think is that I need to scrub out the Swarthmore.
philthecow: (spiral)
2007-03-08 04:26 pm
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On the topic of willful misreading...

If you want to hear about a willful misreading that puts Menocchio to shame, you should contact me sometime. Just provide a punching bag.

I wanted to start doing reading for my Orientalism paper last night, but that kind of went to hell when I started thinking about this particular mis-reader.

(Hint: he comes from a time that rhymes with GASP, and also ASP, and also WATCH MY LIFE GO TO CRASP.)

Once he said to me "You read too fast to understand anything." From him it was an insult, an insinuation that I was the bad reader, not him, but this is a sentiment that has been expressed to me several times in several different contexts. Although it depends on what I'm reading and why I'm reading it, my typical pace ranges from 100-200 pages an hour, topping out at the high end for academic reading (sorry, Swarthmore) and more on the low end for leisure reading. Speedy is the only way I know how to read, which is probably the reason that I've never been a fan of poetry.

My roommate's pretty jealous of this reading business and my boyfriend treats it like a fetish object. (He's been known to lead his friends into my room and say "Watch her read," which is creepy, but also cute, right? Right?) I tend to see my habits in the same favorable light, given that I can always get my seminar reading done on time, but every once in a while I wonder what I'm missing out on. I know that I'm not the best person for picking up the finer points of an argument, and literary language doesn't make much of an impression on me, but I feel that I get what I want out of most books most of the time.

The question remains: is what I want out of books what I should want out of books? I decided to prioritize volume over intense engagement a long time ago: why did I do that, and how has it effected my experience of reading? Was it a "bad" or a "good" choice?

(The tentative answer to that last question?

As long as you're not reading The Second Sex as an apologia for rape, you're doing pretty OK.)
philthecow: (spiral)
2007-03-07 05:01 pm
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Mein Kampf as "livre philosophique"

Yesterday the only substantial reading I did was a ten-page segment of Mein Kampf for my German Studies class.

Then I went out and beat up some Jews.

Just kidding. But it strikes me that Mein Kampf is an interesting book to discuss both in terms of its potential persuasive power and in terms of its iconographic power over time. Our professor asked us, "He's obviously a terrible writer. So why did Hitler write this book?"

None of us could get past "Because he hates Jews?" to start with, and then she said something like "Because every aspiring dictator needs to write a book," which is an interesting point. Is it true? I don't know enough about dictators. Might it be true in a highly literate society like Weimar Germany, part of whose national mythos has always included Gutenberg and the birth of the book? The nation of "Dichter und Denker"? Yeah, I could start to believe that.

According to Wikipedia, the German edition of the book managed to sell a quarter-million copies before 1933. Ten million copies were distributed before the fall of the Reich. The English translation that was produced was apparently bowdlerized so that Hitler wouldn't seem like such a bad guy, so then this reporter from California who spoke German got all angry and decided to produce his own unabridged translation, and then Hitler's publisher sued him for copyright infringement and won.

But this is all less interesting than the copyright situation today, and the iconographic pull that it suggests. Bavaria owns all of the copyrights except to the English and Dutch editions, and Bavaria tries really hard to make sure the book doesn't get printed anywhere. Apparently owning the book is legal in Germany, but illegal in Austria, France forbids it to be sold unless it's in a special "historical" edition with commentary, used to sell it to Germans but doesn't anymore, those Arab nations can't get enough of it, in Mexico you can only get it in "pirate" bookshops, and so on and so forth, with all sorts of legal intricacies about what can be done with what edition of the book in what country and what's publically acceptable.

This all seems very weird to me; I understand that Neo-Nazis are still around and I understand why selling the book in Germany might be a bad idea, but does it really still have that iconographic hold over people that it did in the 1930s? Does Bavaria have to tread lightly when going after people who sell the book for fear of being called modern-day-Nazis? How is it possible that in this age, which is all about the "freedom of information," we still have "livres philosophiques" that can only be found in pirate bookshops?

Maybe I'm invoking the wrath of Godwin's Law here, but why is Mein Kampf what it is, and what other books of the 20th century have earned the same status? How should texts with this sort of power be handled? How do governments justify prosecuting people who sell them? What difference does the context make--would an anti-Semite really care whether it was in a "historical" edition or not? Wouldn't a non-anti-Semitic person be able to read it "historically" whether or not it said that on the cover?

How do those Bavarians feel about my using it for language practice?
philthecow: (spiral)
2007-03-07 02:18 pm
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Welcome to my Reading Diary

Dear Regulars,

We have to keep a reading diary for my "History of Reading" class. I like to read. Sometimes I write about reading in here. If I am going to be writing about reading, I might as well write about it here, so you can read about my reading, and I can read about my reading, and we can talk about our reading, and we can all be intellectuals together, but not ones who deserve a fist in the face. It will be tons of fun for everyone.

Love and LJ smooches,

Dear Newcomers,

As you know, since you are part of my class, we have to keep a diary. I want to keep mine here because the interface is better and because it won't be deleted when Blackboard is deleted. I'm sorry if you find it inconvenient. Please don't let the regulars scare you away.

Welcomes and more welcomes,