Toxicity

A few months ago we listened to this audiobook – The Man They Wanted Me To Be – by Jared Yates Sexton . It’s a memoir of Yates’ experience with his father and an examination of the role of toxic masculinity in his life and beyond. If you are a man reading this post and just thought “Toxic masculinity is a bullshit concept and everyone needs to just man-up and get on with things” then you probably need to read the book. The book is especially timely now, as the White House is currently occupied by one of the world’s greatest exemplars and advocates of toxic masculinity.

I’m not going to do a review of the book here,except to say it’s worth reading or hearing. Henry Rollins did this very solid article about it, so you can start reading it here.

What you should know going into the book, I think, is that it isn’t about scolding anyone for how they are. It’s about a man seeking to understand himself and the cultural norms that have been ingrained in him. It’s not a self-help book, but reading it might help you. Compared to a lot of men I feel like I got a light dose of this from my dad, and I’m lucky for that, but the truth is I still got it.

If you are a woman, reading it might help you understand the programming the men in your life have likely received.

 

Robert Silverberg

Last month I finished reading an anthology of science fiction short stories called Infinite Stars. One of the best was a story by Robert Silverberg. He’s widely regarded as one of the greats of the genre, yet I’d never read any of his work. It seems like he doesn’t have any single work that really gained any pop culture notoriety or even kind of a “super hit” in the world of SF. Most readers of SF can easily rattle off a list of books by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, etc. I certainly could. But until now Silverberg was not on my radar at all.

Soooooooo…after a bit of research I decided to read his novel Downward to the Earth. It appeared to be of the same bent as the short story I’d read. I must say it was quite good. I work as a librarian. I keep track of the new science fiction that comes in. It’s rare to find a new SF novel that is less than about 400 pages. It seems that everyone ones to get some of that Game of Thrones TV series type money, so nearly everything is a series as well. So it was really cool to read a novel with big ideas, communicated with style and efficiency, that was only about 250 pages long. For me that’s a 2-day read (if I’m sick, which I am right now, so I’m just laying around all day reading, suffering, or both).

Now, Downward to the Earth is very much of a book of its time. Published in 1970, you are not going to find much in the way of female characters with much to say. I’ve noticed that in more recent SF, that female part of the human race is much better represented. When you go back and read this old science fiction it’s hard not to notice this. This isn’t really a criticism of the work. Just something I thought I’d mention. Having read a bit of Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and the others, I would almost say the male characters are usually kind of secondary as well. The ideas presented in these old SF novels always seem like the stars of the show. The characters are just their to explore them.

Strangely, I find that the more inclusive recent SF seems a bit devoid of interesting ideas. But maybe I’m just looking at the flashy books that show up in the library. I think that Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang, might prove me wrong. A general rule might be “if there are spaceships on the cover, don’t expect your mind to be blown, but you might enjoy it anyway.”

Anyway, back to Silverberg. I’ll probably read a bit more of his work after researching it a bit and deciding what to read.

Sprawl

I finished rereading William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy today. Read it back in the 90s, or at least the first two. Never read the third one, Mona Lisa Overdrive. I enjoyed the trilogy a lot. You can’t rush through ’em. You gotta read them with a good, relaxed rhythm, and really imagine the scenes. You can’t worry too much about not totally understanding what’s going on. It will become clearer the more you read.

Just started reading Virtual Light, first book of his next series, the Bridge trilogy. Digging it thus far.

Post 665

Oh yeah, next post will be #666, so I’d better make it a lot better than this one.

I just wanted to write a little note about Haymarket Books, and how a lot of the time if you buy an actual physical book from them they make an eBook available to your for download also. I think this is really, really cool. I love it. I read better, faster, and with less eye strain on my Kindle, but I still like to have the book in physical form too. I think all books should be this way. It’s rad.

Books and Smart Friends and Bookstores

This will be kind of a rambling post, but there is the thread of a story here, so please keep with me…

I am lucky to have many talented friends. Artists, musicians, scholars, etc. Many of these friends come from the world of skateboarding, which attracts a lot of creative types (and some idiots too, but what doesn’t?).

I’m also lucky to have a really really smart wife, who’s working on a PhD in the Humanities. Because she is smart, and is involved in smart-people-stuff, I’ve met a lot of other really smart and interesting people from the wild world of academia — a world that I would otherwise not experience.

One of our friends is George Henson. George is a Spanish language instructor and is about to receive his PhD in Literary and Translation Studies. In other words, besides teaching Spanish, he’s a literary translator. Over the last few years, George has translated a number of great Spanish language authors, and recently scored massive points by being the first do to an English translation of any of the novels of Sergio Pitol, one of the most important living authors working in the Spanish language. The novel is The Art of Flight.

This is a big deal. The Dallas Observer interviewed George about his work. So cool!

Obviously I am really happy for our friend, who is finding a lot of much-deserved success and gaining a great reputation in his field.

So, a couple of weeks ago there was a book signing for this new translation at the Wild Detectives, which to my knowledge is the only independently owned bookstore in Dallas. George was there signing and speaking, as well as Dr. Ignacio Ruiz-Perez from UT-Arlington, who was a student of Pitol.

The Wild Detectives is such a great place. I wish it was closer to my neighborhood, but it is worth the trip to the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff. It’s a bookstore and coffee shop/bar in an old house. The book offerings are just fantastic. It’s not massive — but the book selection is well-curated, and seems to concentrate on smaller publishers. As a result, there isn’t a square foot of shelf space that doesn’t contain something fascinating to read. After the book signing event, I picked up a couple of new books. I could have filled a shopping cart. It’s not even the kind of stuff I’d normally think about reading, which is what makes it so great.

The store has a small area set aside for events like readings.

You just feel smarter walking into the place.

They also have Mexican Coca-Cola in a green glass bottle. So there you go. Case closed.

Which brings me to one final associated topic — Deep Vellum Publishing – the company that has published George’s translation of The Art of Flight. The company was started by a fellow named Will Evans. You can read about Deep Vellum’s mission here, so I won’t hack it up in this post. I’ll just say that Will started this thing from scratch, and aims to put Dallas on the literary map.

Allow me just descend to a lower rung of the intellectual ladder for a sentence, and say that these endeavors, the independent literature-loving bookstore and the small publisher, their DIY natures, their missions — are PUNK FUCKING ROCK. It takes energy to make good things like this happen. You have to get on it with damned near demonic power. Jerry Lee Lewis — young, sweating, destroying a piano’s keyboard with wild proto-rock abandon comes to mind.

So I’m looking forward to going back down there again, buying more books, drinking a Mexican Coke, and maybe consuming food with the skinny young hep-cats at one of the many eateries near the bookstore, which will all make me feel cooler and smarter for at least an afternoon.