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Review: King Solomon's Mines

What's interesting about the book, and what in the end makes it worth reading, is how Haggard can so easily be read as the voice of colonialism. Certainly his smug and cloying tone is like the false superiority that marked colonialism in general. He protrays the African natives as vicious and blood-thirsty caricatures, alternately praising them in the most patronizing way only to turn around and insult them in sweeping generalizations. After the white explorers cross the comically named mountains, "Sheba's Breasts" (complete with snow-capped nipples), they march into the "undiscovered" Kukuannaland, home of the eponymous mines. Once there they proceed to instigate a revolution, in which numberless natives die, and install their own puppet ruler, from whom they procure a promise that they may keep any diamonds and gold they may find in the mine.

Review: The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman

Hodgman's fake almanac, The Areas of My Expertise, is a prime example of a relatively new and increasingly popular genre. That genre is not the fictional resource book, which belongs to a long and noble tradition that goes at least as far back as Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary, released in installments from 1881-1906 and collected in 1911. Rather, what areas is an example of is the comedy of literary-geekdom, a blend of reflexive humor, satire, silliness and surrealism that, if not invented by the McSweeneys' website, is at least exemplified by it.

Why I Hate National Novel Writing Month, and Why You Should Too

Edit: Instead of reading this old thing, why don't you read How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept NaNoWriMo?

So November is "National Novel Writing Month", where people are challenged to write a complete 50,000 word novel in one month. The concept owes it's origins to the 24-hour Comics Day, originally thought up by Scott McCloud (of Understanding Comics fame), though the stated purposes of these two challenges could not be more divergent. The 24-Hour comic was invented because Scott McCloud was dismayed at how slowly his friend Steve Bissette was working. "I'll bet he could do a full length comic in a day if he wanted to!" He thought. Doing a comic in a day was an exercise to stir up the creative juices in a comics creator, and the 24 hour comic website includes a "Random story seed" section to help you pick something for your exercise. "Is this really the best way to make a great comic?" asks the FAQ. "Probably not, ... but that's not the real goal. The goal is to have the experience of trying. It's a creative exercise that can teach you a lot about what you're capable of." This is noble and interesting.

Rather than being an exercise for creators, "National Novel Writing Month," instead posits itself as a challenge for non-writers. Quoth the website:

Review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

Charles Burns' Black Hole is the kind of graphic novel that should bring more readers to a medium whose audience is already growing. It is a story of high school alienation and the lurking fear of 'others' that crosses the humor and realism of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused with the dread and gore of the early EC Horror Comics. Burns has an ear for the dialog of his characters and era, and his vivid black and white illustrations seamlessly blend the surreal with the mundane.

Reading Versus Watching: Take Out

Why do I love Raina Telgemeier's Take Out mini-comics so much? Could it be that there's more to life than guns, explosions and/or androids?

Harm

My walking tour of the southern states got messed up after Texas. I stayed too long in Amarillo with a trucker and got a ride to the border. I waited for an hour and another trucker came along. Next thing I knew I was sitting on a lawn in a hick town somewhere. Everyone who walked by was drunk, or off somehow. Even their shadows were off. One guy walked up to me and said, "You sleep with niggers, don't you?"

Fiction by Sharon Mesmer.

Kenneth Goldsmith and the Cult of Pretense & Boredom

The twentieth century began with a question about what art is. Artists like Duchamp, Tzara, Artaud, Beckett and Breton challenged conventional notions and forced audiences to examine a lot of pre-conceived notions about beauty and the value of the aesthetic. That's done now. It's time to move on. That now, in the early 21st century, people like Kenneth Goldsmith have come to the point where they have completely inverted prior valuations, to the point where boredom is what is aspired to, well, I find the tautological truth that what they're doing is completely uninteresting rather revealing.

Reading Versus Watching: Toward a New Aesthetic

What I really question is whole division between art and entertainment; fundamentally, I wonder why it has to be this way at all. Why can't literary novels be just as entertaining as genre novels? Why can't genre fiction have the depth and psychological sensitivity of literary fiction? Who made this division in the first place and why do so many people take its existence as gospel truth?

The Criticism of George Orwell

For a really fascinating read, one can find nothing better than Orwell's early essay "In Defence of the Novel," first published in 1936.

I think Derrida called it Hymen, so it's time to pop your cherries boys.

I recently had an opportunity to re-read Dana Gioia's infamous essay "Can Poetry Matter?" after a blogger challenged my take on Gioia's involvement in the New Formalism posted here recently. It got me thinking about what it is to be a writer in our culture, and what it is that puts those sorts of thoughts in our heads. By those sorts of thoughts, I mean the ones that gives a relatively successful writer like Gioia the idea that poetry should be doing something different, or that the status of literature in our culture is something other than it should be. I want to uncover and identify that impulse that drives various writers and critics to do the things they do and talk about contemporary literature in the way that they do.