Talkin’ at the Texaco

9 12 2012

Quick (and not-so) hits:

I keep a list of books to find in the empty back pages of a 2009 pocket planner. The books aren’t listed in any particular order: I see a reference to (or given, perhaps by dmf) a possibility, and I scrawl it down. Since I do so much poking around The Strand, I look them up, find out where they’re located (Med Hist, Hist Gen, Amer, Pol, etc), and pen that in, boxing the location in different colors, to make it easier to see.

The fiction, however, I keep on separate pages. I go back and forth on fiction: sometime scooping up bunches, other times neglecting these books entirely.

I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days it became very important to me to track down and list fiction.

There was, in particular, one book I wanted. I must have written it down, hadn’t I? No. In my 2012 Moleskine pocket planner? I found a number of others (The Age of Miracles, Brookland, Zone One, Forever) scrawled opposite a week in October, but not the one tickling me behind my ear.

It came out this past year, I thought. A story in which Saudi Arabia is the superpower, the US a backwater, Osama sulking in the background—something like that. The Stranger had written about it in the Slog awhile ago and, I thought, in the past few weeks, so I went to their Books section and clicked back into their archives. December, November, October. . . nothing.

Dammit.

What was the author’s name? Salim Ahmed? Salem Ahmad? Something like that. A search on Amazon brings me a number of nonfiction books, nothing close. To the Strand’s site, thinking it might be listed. . . somewhere. Found one that seemed interesting (Alif the Unseen), but not the tickler. Barnes & Noble—nothing.

Fuckit.

Back to the Stranger, back to Books, and a scroll back and back and back through the archives. I thought it might have been reviewed January, February, so set myself in, Trickster in my lap, for a slog, clicking on squinched entries to see if the book hid there, moving on, moving back.

K. Silem Mohammed! Was that it? It’s not that far (is it?) from Salim Ahmad?

No, Mohammed is a poet, not a novelist.

Back, back. Fran Lebowitz; Jan Berenstein, “Really Good Books About Lesbians”; Reverend America; David Foster Wallace; Katherine Boo; and. . . page 9, February 9, “The Reverse Jihad”: the book review of Mark Ruff’s The Mirage.

Mark Ruff?! Mark, not Salim? Ruff, not Ahmed?

Damn.

But I got it.

~~~~~

While scrolling back, I found this entry by Paul Constant, dated August 3, 2012, in which he writes

I know a lot of authors who get outraged over the consumer’s belief that they can decide what they pay for the piece of art that the author spent months—probably years—creating. They call it entitlement. (It’s not like the work is completely unavailable; Pogue could have bought a paperback for less than he spent for a pirated copy.) Many consumers believe that they should be able to access the work in whatever format they choose, and they believe that when they buy the work, they should be able to do whatever they want with it. (They accuse author’s estates and publishers of being greedy and out-of-touch.) I know the law says that there’s a right and a wrong here, but I also believe the law is hopelessly outdated when it comes to issues like this. I honestly don’t know what side I’m on, here.

I tend toward sympathy toward the authors (duh), but Constant pretty well sums up my own ambivalence.

~~~~~

I must have the only cat in the world who is afraid of cat beds.

*Jasper*

~~~~~

I’ve bitched about Rod Dreher before, will bitch about him again, and am bitching about him today.

Long ago (and far away) I read First Things, Christianity Today, and National Review Online with some regularity, partly to keep my secular-leftist self honest, partly to keep tabs. I fell out with both FT and NRO as they became less and less thoughtful, although I do read CT at least weekly, and have since added Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrock at Marginal Revolution to my teeth-grinding reading.

Still, I felt the need to keep up with some kind of thoughtful social conservative, and since I’d been reading Dreher from back in his BeliefNet days, I re-upped with him once he returned to blogging, this time at The American Conservative.

Dreher is thoughtful about a third of the time, and mildly-to-quite interesting about another third; that final third, however, is enough to make me reconsider reading him.

He writes well about himself and his own struggles, his family, and what he’s drawn to, but when writing “from the outside” of a phenomenon, he’s terrible: small-minded, close-minded, and mean. When he’s called out on his cruelty his defensiveness rises into bile, or when corrected on a crucial point or reminded of a double-standard, he’ll either double-down or ignore the commenter. When all else fails, he’ll bring out the sneering “you’re-making-too-much-of-this/can’t-you-people-take-a-joke” response.

All are on display in this post, ‘Buckwild’ and Self-Exploitation. The post for the most part is fine, but when he gets to the end, he pulls a classic Dreher move:

Nevertheless, to what extent does the framing of films like this, and the informed consent of its participants, ameliorate one’s moral squeamishness? Jersey Shore was about the sexy trashiness of working-class Italian-Americans from New Jersey. Buckwild is about the sexy trashiness of working-class Scots-Irish Americans from Appalachia. How would you feel if the next installment were about the sexy trashiness of working-class African-Americans from the south side of Chicago, or the sexy trashiness of working-class Hispanic-Americans from El Paso?

That last question is in and of itself is worth asking, but it’s a problem coming from Dreher because he loses his mind when he talks about race.

I don’t think Dreher hates black or brown people, and I have no reason to believe that he would be anything other than gracious to any black or brown person introduced to him. In short, I wouldn’t call him a racist.

And yet. And yet he has a hard time seeing that black people are a plural, not a singular, and he cannot seem to extend any sort of sympathy to those who would argue that racism is still a problem in this country, especially not to those who write from their own experiences.

Unless, of course, you’d count Steve Sailer. Sigh.

Anyway, read the comments, especially his response to those who bring up The Dukes of Hazzard and their car, the stars-and-bars sportin’, Dixie-horn-blarin’, General Lee, and the, um, particular cultural politics of that show.

Dreher’s not having it, not one bit of it.

Now, as I was re-reading the entry and the comments while writing this, I thought, this is hardly the worst of what he’s written—see George Zimmerman’s Bloody Nose, for example, in which his last line is Remind me, why, exactly, is George Zimmerman on trial?—but perhaps this is one of those cases where the more I read Rod on race, the less credit I’m willing to give him.

He used to go on rampages about those horrid gay activists with some regularity, but now, for the most part, he manages to confine himself to saving religion from queer marriage. He’s terrible when it comes to liberal Catholics, especially liberal nuns, and is a damned bully when it comes to trans folk (one faithful trans reader, also from his BeliefNet days, finally had enough and bowed out).

I guess this is all so enraging precisely because he has shown himself to be capable of reflection and reconsideration of what matters to him; that he is is not when it comes to that which matters to others betrays a deliberate meanness.

Perhaps that’s too harsh, perhaps there are simply limits to his reflectiveness, limits which he himself cannot recognize.

Given that I almost certainly have those same limits, albeit in different places, perhaps I have a third reason for reading him that I can add to the two above: as a reminder of the existence of my own blind spots, and that I need to look for what I cannot see.

~~~~~

End of the semester—naught but grading ahead.

Blogging will be more erratic than usual.

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11 12 2012
dmfant

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