Friday Afternoon Links

I am off to a conference, in Little Rock of all places, so posting might be light for a few days (like it is real heavy otherwise right?). Let me leave you with a few interesting links.

– Thought provoking article in Slate about Young Adult fiction in schools:

We’ve all heard kids complain that they loved, say, To Kill a Mockingbird until their teacher took it apart in class, but the trouble here isn’t that such textual analysis isn’t “fun.” It’s that with formulaic fare, the exercise is critically counterproductive. A book like The Buffalo Tree can’t really bear more than reductive analysis, which reveals it to be a studiously packaged pedagogical lesson, a contrived vehicle for an ultimately upbeat psychosocial message that is at odds with the supposedly realistic setting (“At the end of the novel, Sura … has returned home with his spirit and his sanity intact”). But this is just the sort of saccharine simplicity that high-school kids, newly alert to life’s ambiguities, are beginning to pride themselves on seeing through. It’s hard to imagine an exercise more effectively designed to leave kids with the impression that fiction—in class and out, classic or not—is unlikely to be either very entertaining or enlightening.

I might have more to say about this later, but no time now I am afraid.

– Disappointing and snide review of Porn Generation at The New Republic by Alexander Barnes Dryer. I don’t know if the book is any good or not as I haven’t read it yet. But as is becoming irritatingly typical at TNR these days, the article offers little substance other than see how bad conservatives have become. Here is Dryer’s main complaint:

Where Shapiro falls down, then, is not in observation but in argument. He lays the blame for cultural degradation entirely at the feet of social liberals. Apparently everything from the hookup culture of college campuses to the lyrics of pop music can be blamed on a left-leaning cultural elite. It’s an argument nonsensical enough to defy refutation–it’s non-falsifiable.

Does Dryer then go on to show how social liberalism is not in fact to blame for a coarsening of popular culture? No, instead he goes off on a tangent on how conservative pundits worship big business and therefore have lost touch with intelligent conservatism.

In this tirade Dryer makes a valid point: there are plenty of shrill and vapid commentators on the right whose definition of conservatism seems to be attack anyone who opposes the GOP majority. And he raises an interesting point regarding Shapiro’s language: can one castigate the coarsening of culture from within that coarse culture? The whole South Park Conservative issue intersects here somewhere.

The irony is deep here. Dryer insults and castigates Shapiro for sloppy reasoning and a lack of facts while offering little himself. This is exactly the kind of snark I find useless and that is all too popular online. I hope to give a better review of Pron Generation if I can get through my TBR pile any time soon.

– And since I am taking a tour through political magazines let me point you to an article at the Weekly Standard. David Skinner ponders the daytime talk show host and the author she picked for her book club’s summer reading:

This summer, Oprah and her occasional book club are heading South and reading William Faulkner. And not just one title, but three (As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August) for a whole “Summer of Faulkner.” This selection raises some interesting questions, foremost: Could these two people–William Faulkner and Oprah Winfrey–be any more different? Of course, reading books by people who see the world differently from you is generally considered a virtue, a sign of open-mindedness. But in this case, the author sees man’s condition in terms that directly contradict the reader’s own well-publicized philosophy. A look at a few key points of difference will illustrate that Oprah Winfrey reading William Faulkner is a little like Dr. Pangloss reading Oswald Spengler or Saddam Hussein reading Robert Fulghum.

Have a good weekend everyone and don’t forget about our Short Story Contest.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).