Avid Readers, Occasional Bloggers

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Opinions, perspectives, viewpoints, etc.

It’s all commercials. We live in and are commercials.

To spell it out as plainly as I can, there is no longer a way to post online without the implied desire to grow and cater to an audience. Every social media platform now functions on the basic idea that having a platform is good and having a large one is better. Sure, you can still attempt to grind out a career for yourself within a niche but appealing to base instincts is where mass appeal is born and mass appeal is what keeps the likes rolling in and the algorithm in your favor. It’s all about finding your audience and making them angry, horny, nostalgic, or if you’re truly skilled, all of the above. Most importantly, the purpose of these platforms has not been focused on facilitating communication between people that actually like each other for over a decade. Pretending as though receiving a dopamine hit that would make a medieval king declare himself a personal friend of Christian God isn’t the desired effect of these websites is disingenuous.

There’s an old adage about cooking frogs in boiling water. It’s said that you can straight up tell a frog that you want to boil it so long as you also tell the frog that it might get famous in the process. The delineation between Brands and human beings online has always been stark, but its purpose on the 2022 social media feed is mostly ornamental. When it comes to questions like “why did brands weigh in on West Elm Caleb?” the answer is simple: we told them to. Discourse is started, signal boosted, and sustained because it generates revenue for two groups, influencers and brands. The passive viewer receives nothing aside from a day’s entertainment, a weird headache when they try to read books, and maybe someday getting doxxed themselves. We log into the Commercial Zone every day, and we tell it what has our attention and then we have the audacity to ask why there are so many commercials in the Commercial Zone. It’s all commercials. We live in and are commercials.

Dan Sheehan

MLK Day: A Confession and Some Links to Further Reading

First, the confession.  In the flush of hoping to restart the blog last year, as opposed to this year, I wrote the following:

For the record, I plan to read what you might call primary documents during February, Black History Month. As the Black Lives Matter movement and related issues exploded over the summer I thought it would be interesting to attempt to read in a way that was emotionally removed from this summer but intellectually connected.

Books in this vein I hope to read this year (from my Library of America and Everyman’s collection):

It will not shock you to learn that I didn’t read any of those books last year. In my defense, sort of, I did read On Juneteenth, the novel Juneteenth, and started A Glorious Liberty.

And, inspired by our church service on Sunday, I started reading A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but haven’t made it past the introduction.

So instead of a nicely topical book review, I offer you a few links to past reviews:

Maybe I can get to those Library of America and Everyman’s volumes this year…

Library Trip: Short Books to Read in 2022

As I have probably mentioned before, despite having hundreds of books to read at home I have been unable to get out of the habit of going to the library and bringing a haul of books home. Yesterday, I made such a trip.

I focused on short fiction (I’m reading Dune and so need some shorter books to read) and found these three intriguing.

Comfort Me with Apple by Catherine M. Valente

I have a love/hate relationship with Valente in some ways. Her Fairyland books are some of my favorite books in the world but the other books I have read have left me cold. And yet, I keep reading…

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze….

But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?

Trust by Domenico Starnone

Italian fiction translated by Jhumpa Lahiri?  Sure, I’ll check that out…

Pietro and Teresa’s love affair is tempestuous and passionate. After yet another terrible argument, she gets an idea: they should tell each other something they’ve never told another person, something they’re too ashamed to tell anyone. They will hear the other’s confessions without judgment and with love in their hearts. In this way, Teresa thinks, they will remain united forever, more intimately connected than ever.

A few days after sharing their shameful secrets, they break up. Not long after, Pietro meets Nadia, falls in love, and proposes. But the shadow of the secret he confessed to Teresa haunts him, and Teresa herself periodically reappears, standing at the crossroads, it seems, of every major moment in his life. Or is it he who seeks her out?

Starnone is a master storyteller and a novelist of the highest order. His gaze is trained unwaveringly on the fault lines in our public personas and the complexities of our private selves. Trust asks how much we are willing to bend to show the world our best side, knowing full well that when we are at our most vulnerable we are also at our most dangerous.



Patrick Barron and The Camera’s Eye

Michigan Stadium at night

Maize Out at the Big House Photo: Patrick Barron

I am hoping to write soon about the Michigan Football season this year and my complicated relationship to the program but wanted to give you some emotional background, and excellent photographs, by pointing to this fantastic post from Patrick Barron.  It is a great mix of life and sports in this weird world of the pandemic.

Five Favorite Fiction I Read in 2021

Looking back on the fiction I read in 2021, nothing jumps out at me as exceptional.  Let me rephrase that, nothing struck me as “Wow, you have to read this book!” Instead, there were lots of “Hmm, that was interesting.”  These were books that held my interest but didn’t wow me; books that make you want to drop what you are doing so you can block out a chunk of time to read. Or maybe the pandemic has just taken the luster off of everything…

As an aside, as I mentioned in my 2021 Reading By the Numbers post, with Goodreads, I have a tendency to overrate books; giving 4 stars when looking back I don’t feel like I “really” enjoyed it.  There is such a fine line between enjoying a book and really liking it. Which is why I have been wishing for half stars for many years.

Nevertheless, I did read some entertaining and interesting novels in 2021.  Here are five that stood out:

The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures  by Jennifer Hofmann

A sort of dark and gritty espionage novel but with a supernatural element haunting it and a Kafkaesque style. At first it reads like a typical missing person/spy story but then the combination of the paranoia that comes from living in an authoritarian state where the government is spying on everyone, and everyone is spying on each other, plus a mysterious illness (and perhaps a mental breakdown) leads to things begining to spin.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Grabbed this on Kindle for $2 so that is a plus. I enjoyed reading this and found it fascinating but it also felt like there was deeper meanings that I was missing or some key to the whole thing that I just couldn’t quite grasp. I am not really very good at unpacking symbolism and layers in fiction.

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Quick but enjoyable read. I really enjoyed the mix of Ghana, futuristic and fantastical elements. Has a sense of the mythological even as it is science fiction.

How to Betray Your Country by James Wolff

More espionage and more dark humor. A sort of noir espionage thriller that is dark and yet with a kind of wit and humor. A psychological exploration of grief and depression through the eyes of a spy. I really like Beside the Syrian Sea so not surprised I liked this as well.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

This was one I struggled with rating. I enjoyed it and found it creative and in some ways insightful. But it was also rather depressing and hard to read at times. My natural prudishness didn’t help given the plethora of F-bombs, etc.  But it kept me reading and a unique and imaginative debut.

I am hoping to offer more detailed posts on each of these books as I go through the books I read in 2021 but given my track record I wanted to highlight them as among my favorites.

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