Reader Burnout

I’ve often wondered how long this fad for quickly written pulp fiction will last before burnout occurs. While it’s true publishers in the early 20th C cranked out cheaply made books for the masses, they were working with a smaller pool of authors and didn’t, obviously, have ebook technology. Even the term “pulp” refers to the cheap paper they printed their books on. Pulp is a product from a different era, when poor people didn’t have expensive Netflix accounts to sate their thirst for entertainment. That’s the irony of our modern technology; the janitor at the local grocery store scrolls on an expensive smartphone on his break. Quite often an iPhone — which is out of my reach monetarily, and I’m not that poor. Just of a generation that doesn’t care. Or a member of the Apple-hating crowd. Snort. I’m kidding. But I still have an expensive phone I could waste a lot of good reading hours on.

Entertainment is everywhere, and much of it is free. Despite that, readers are readers and will always come back to books as their refuge. However, if they’re anything like me, they can’t keep up with the dizzying publishing schedules of their favorite authors. Not only can’t, but in my case, there’s a definite won’t in there. But my curmudgeonly spirit is meant in the most generous way. See, I don’t want to get burnt out on my favorite authors. I want to feel the joy of finally, finally obtaining the newest book in that series I love so much. I used to have a number of those series I waited for, and the new books in each rarely came out at the same time, which meant constantly having a coveted new read. Those were exciting and heady days for me as a reader.

Now the market is saturated with the ebook versions of pulp: books that are cheaply edited rather than cheaply printed. What’s more, these are mostly indie authors — millions of them, far too many of whom are cranking out books. This might be a current fad, but there’s no longevity in it. A saturated market is not good for individual sellers. In fact, the opposite (scarcity), while probably an equally bad marketing choice, psychologically tricks the buyers into thinking the product has a higher value than it actually does. Flooding the market overwhelms your audience as well as their precious bank accounts.

I’ve gone through burnout on some of my favorite living authors. I just can’t be compelled to buy into their latest series. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. I have a brain wired for change, new ideas and voices. So perhaps I’m at the extreme end of the intolerance spectrum for too much, too much, too much. Eventually, the rest of the readership will catch up to me. I’m positive; I actually think it’s already happening.

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Twitter Crisis

I’m already having one. Without social media, I go through each day accomplishing the work I have: writing/editing in the morning, and tutoring in the afternoon. Without social media, writing excites me. My imagination is in tune with the universe. I matter, my job(s) matter, and my writing matters to the audience I imaginatively conjure.

When I’m on social media, I see the Tweets scrolling by, and I lose hope. The news is bleek and humans are mean and cynical. Sometimes, they’re funny or heartwarming, too, but I’m a passive observer of even the positive. I realize my writing is a raindrop in a vast ocean. It doesn’t matter. By extension, I don’t matter.

I know I’m not alone in the nihilism that falls like a lead apron over my heart, blocking out the radiating sunshine, after using social media. But why? Why does social media cause this? That’s rhetorical; don’t answer. In fact, don’t even ask. It just is.

Don’t ask why. It just is. Repeat chorus.

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Hazards of Time Travel

This is a book by Joyce Carol Oates. I had taken a break from fiction for a while; nonfiction is a refuge for me because it’s almost never boring. That is, reality filtered through human thoughts is perpetually fascinating. I’m not sure this was a good book to get me back into fiction, specifically SF. The author is not, whatever the case, known for SF.

Oates is a silent generation author, liberal-minded, but in a different way from the boomer generation. Oates, although about ten years younger than my grandma (if my grandma were still alive — actually, my husband has a living grandma who is in her 90s; I don’t), shares some of my grandma’s characteristics. That generation lived through the depression, at least for a few years of their childhood, as well as World War II. They have, or had, a steely sort of quietude to the way they approach the world, combined with a penchant for enjoying life despite negative circumstances. They are apt at masking their feelings and acting resourcefully.

Oates brings these characteristics to her stories, and this includes The Hazards of Time Travel. The female protagonist is meant to be either gen Z or the upcoming generation, but she is imbued with much of the silent generation’s resourcefulness and coping methods to get along, despite the world she’s been thrust into. This alone gives this dystopic novel a unique flavor, since most current novels of this genre are written by millennials. Also, Oates has had a long career writing literary novels, which is is not usual for dystopian time travel. Or, I guess I should say, it isn’t necessarily what the readers of the genre want or expect. I’ve heard SF has been overtaken with literary drek these days, but I don’t read much produced by Tor any longer. Also, much of literary brings a boomer approach to storytelling, edgy stuff that’s meant to shock, but rather disgusts instead (e.g. incest and pedophilia).

I don’t know if I wanted or expected Oates’ projected dystopian world, either. It’s a little muddled. There’s both a sharp critique of the extant tradition of conservatism in the early 60s, as well as a sharp critique of what happens when you get rid of it and live in a liberal dystopian nightmare. The time of the past is a happier time for her protagonist, despite the author’s insinuation that it’s all lies and hypocrisy.

But Oates lived it. It’s possible that, in her circumspect way, she’s giving both the good and bad of her youthful days, while demonstrating what the US will become if we throw it away. There also seems to be an unironic examination of McCarthyism, in which the main characters know the cold war doesn’t end in a communist takeover (they are, after all, time travelers from the future), and yet still they rail against the forces that prevented communism from spreading…as if it were never a threat to be taken seriously…and yet, the future dystopia looks a lot like the worst of the KGB or the STASI. So… apparently it did happen, but the author doesn’t recognize it. Also, there is an unironic bent toward pacifism with no understanding of how one creates or maintains that.

All in all, it’s an easy read with a surprising romance. I enjoyed it, but it loses a lot of steam by the end because the essential problem is never confronted or solved. And, as I said, the politics are muddled; there is no answer clearly given for how to avoid the future.

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Chaos Is Evil

The country is getting darker. First, it was New York’s passing of a late-term abortion bill. Then, it was Virginia’s governor admitting that a proposed abortion bill allowing up-to-birth abortions would also allow murdering a child after birth. Sadly, this morning, I learned New Mexico’s Rep. Joanne Ferrary had proposed a similar bill here, which passed in the House committee three days ago. Yes, that’s right: in a one-time Catholic state, they’re trying to bring us abortion without restriction.

Our country’s belief system is chaotic, and underneath, chaos does have a foundation: evil. When Enlightenment thinkers penned the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, they had a foundation that stemmed from the government they came from, which had a state church (and, yes, I believe I’m using state appropriately). Our founding fathers didn’t understand what they were doing when they determined a state religion was anathema to freedom. It isn’t. Rather, it provides a philosophical basis for a nation. If you destroy that, and determine all religions can vie for control of laws, you end up with the loudest voices controlling the system…and, in the case of legalized blood lust, Satan has the loudest voice. Satan will always try to eradicate the light by influencing people to murder babies. Always. He did it in Egypt, influencing Pharaoh to murder Israelite babies. He did it during Jesus’s time, under the wicked King Herod. In both cases, this was an attempt to prevent the Savior from coming to the world. But how much more effective can he be operating under Moloch, and demanding mothers murder their own babies? Wicked rulers aren’t necessary when a nation that should have borne the light of the gospel will murder themselves out of existence.

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Dorothy Day On Anarchism

We’ll see how this post goes. I’ve been without adequate sleep so long now, I catch myself doing wacky things like storing the toaster in the fridge. Yes, it’s that bad. In other news, I’m just finishing the Dorothy Day conversion story and autobiography, The Long Loneliness.

Dorothy Day was a journalist, notable in her younger years for writing for socialists newspapers. I’ve found the autobiography to be tough going, in part because Day keeps an emotional distance in her writing. This is a good skill when writing news articles, but not a great one for writing an autobiography. My dear historical friend James Boswell began a legacy of emotional closeness in the biography genre, and we now recognize his style as being what biography means. As for my personal expectations, the emotional closeness is especially apropos to autobiographies. But Day is clearly a stoic by nature, and what can I say? Stoicism is the way I approach the world, too. How can I criticize her?

But hold on; that’s part of the problem. Day writes about her life, times, and activities, and doesn’t always give comment on them. That has left me in an uncomfortable state for much of this book, not knowing whether, for example, she wholeheartedly agreed with the philosophy of the French Catholic philosopher Peter Maurin. You see, Day began her career mixing with some of the most prominent communists of her time. When she converted to Catholicism, her focus changed. This was when she met Peter Maurin. She and Maurin started the Catholic worker movement, and they produced The Daily Catholic, a propaganda newspaper for the workers’ Rights movement with, obviously, a focus on Catholic concerns. Day clearly admired Maurin, but she’s so circumspect and unemotional compared to him that I would like to know if they ever argued over how his ideals would become reality. She’s idealistic and somehow practical and realistic at the same time; perhaps this is why the two were able to apply his ideals to their charity work and communal farms. They actually did this, and I admire idealists who are able to put their own noses to the grindstone to make the world a better place, rather than using extortive methods to force the government to be society’s daddy-gods.

But I don’t mean she never gives an opinion. She does, but her style is still emotionally distant. As a reader, I have to pay attention and look for it because she’s not going to punctuate it with highlighted passion. Near the end — right before discussing Maurin’s passing, she gives insightful personality and belief descriptions of some of her workers and/or journalists (including Maurin) — she pauses to define that ever-misunderstood term, anarchist. She knows her fellow Catholics have an automatic negative reaction to it, but she wishes to defend it. And she does this by delineating the difference between government and state. Because many people can’t parse the difference, they write off anarchism without much thought. But as she rightly points out, the two are used synonymously when they ought not to be. She says:

…the State is only one form of government. When you analyze what anarchists advocate it really boils down to the advocacy of decentralized self-governing bodies.

This isn’t merely an error of false synonyms, but a categorization error. State, she says, is under the umbrella of government, just as anarchism is. But make no mistake: they are both types of government, rather than one being government and the other a lack thereof.

This is where the book really piqued my interest. She goes on to quote from the Summa Theologica, Question 90, Art 3, where St. Thomas discusses the types of government that can bring about the order of the common good: the whole people, or a public personage who has care of the whole people. Anarchism fits in the former and, therefore, is a valid and even Christian choice of government. Furthermore, she goes further and brings Augustine into it — he made a distinction between coercive and directive government. “The former is a result of sin,” she says. “The latter is not.” Anarchism, of course, fits in the former.

And then finally, she gives her own opinion, rather than just defending the beliefs of others through the early church giants:

I do believe — whether it can be realized or not — that the anarchist society approaches nearer this ideal [God’s kingdom on Earth] than do other forms of government.

But in her realistic manner, she says we must live in hope of this idea because it will give us the impetus to work toward something that is otherwise impractical, given human nature.

Even though she doesn’t precisely define herself as an anarchist in the book, she lived the anarchist life through her work in creating Catholic communal farms. This is what I found fascinating: she wasn’t just a philosopher or a journalist. Her beliefs were so integrated with her being that expressing them rhetorically might well have been gratuitous. In other words, the weakness of her autobiography was her actual personal strength. And I just rambled on, when I called it in the second paragraph. Stoicism. The Greek philosophy, of course. Dorothy Day was a Christian stoic.

I think the toaster is at temp now. Time to eat!

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