Saturday, January 22, 2005


Margaret Atwood on her silly remote book-signing machine: "The only difference between the author-at-a-distance and the author-in-the-flesh would be that no author's DNA would get onto the book, and no reader's germs would get onto the author." Did Atwood ever consider that she, too, is leaving her germs on the unsuspecting reader's copy of her book?

From this elitist nonsense, we are supposed to believe her when she says that "[her] intentions are purely benevolent"? In other words, she has the best interest of her readers in mind , and does not stand to gain anything in the process, except more time at home. And the money that she will make from selling the machines to other authors. More like 'benevolence bounces off of you and comes right back over to me'.

Very amusing are the three separate references made to mini-bars and the contents therein; these lead me to believe that her aversion to overpriced snack food might be her main impetus for inventing the Unotchit.

1) "This will mean a lot less angst, inconvenience, starvation, sitting in airports and eating out of minibars."

2) "Think of the plane-trips avoided, the beer nuts left uneaten in the hotel minibar..."

3) "As I...was whizzing around the United States on yet another demented book tour, getting up at four in the morning to catch planes, doing two cities a day, eating the Pringle food object out of the mini-bar at night as I crawled around on the hotel room floor..."

And with this image in mind, I shall stop, leaving us all to wonder what would motivate Ms. Atwood to commune with all those hotel room floor germs...perhaps looking for the beer nut that got away?

Monday, January 10, 2005


Won't the library world be thrilled with the newish designation of "folksonomy" being bandied about on the internet? This is presumably taken to mean a taxonomy for the people, which is further taken to mean that the formerly archaisch undertaking of designing a classification scheme is being stolen from that dying breed known as the classificationists, having been adopted by metadata punks who have stumbled upon an at once utilitarian and complex practice older than Ranganathan himself.

From what I can gather, a folksonomy seems to be a faceted classification scheme that puts regular folks in charge of assigning keywords to describe web-based materials. Here you have a gazillion different users putting forth their two cents on the aboutness of a particular website. How is it kept all in check? Or doesn't it have to be kept in check when considering a nearly infinite domain like the internet? Whatever the case may be, the obscure world of classification theory has been infiltrated by outsiders. But the stronghold has not yet been completely compromised, as proven by a quick search through the pertinent library indexes: 'folksonom*' returned zero hits [searches on Proquest and Web of Science returned the same results]. I suspect that this brand of 'classification theory lite' will have to prove itself first.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


I'm sure that Margaret Atwood's worldwide fanbase will be happy to learn that she finds them to be a nuisance. How else to explain the absurd plan to implement the use of a "remote book signing machine" that will preclude the phenomenon of travelling far and wide to perform this menial and detestable task. Having ostensibly succumbed to Weltschmerz, she seems also to have forgotten the pride and honour that she is sure to have felt on her very first book tour, wherever and whenever that might have been.

As far as the proposed invention being "a democratising device, which could help authors who were not stars [unlike Atwood], and often missed out on signing tours", this is just a transparent excuse to distract her adoring readers from the fact she has outgrown their usefulness, and plans to live out the rest of her years comfortably, albeit curmudgeonly, in her Annex home in Toronto, in which one room will no doubt be newly designated as the autograph-signing-room. I hope she feels quite silly as she sits primed to write some falsely cheerful inscription to a person with whom she will never come face to face.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


I was in Gotham Book Mart in midtown Manhattan when I heard that Susan Sontag died. An employee shouted it to another employee clear across the store. I think I must have let out a gasp after hearing it, my immediate thought being that the loss of such an important intellectual icon would hit the city hard. Not too much later, while struggling to maintain a semblance of solipsistic aloofness in Times Square, the news flashed by on the ABC news ticker, with nary a sideways glance from the hordes of determined tourists in attendance. Had a sideways glance been effected, the response would have surely been negligible. Susan who?

Today I read that Sontag kept a collection of some 15,000 books in her Chelsea apartment. Oh, if only to be the bequeathed of what is undoubtedly a diverse and distinctive personal library. Whomever that fortunate recipient might be would be wise to curate the collection and make it accessible to those with an interest in material that has contributed to the edification of a great mind. It would be a remarkable addition to New York literary culture, and it would also pay homage to Sontag's position that form overshadows content. However, it is possible that Sontag would be fiercely opposed to such an idea, assuming that she held her books as dearly as one's own children, perhaps not wanting to surrender her private realm to the public one. I understand this: book collections are intensely personal things, and when I think ahead to the necessity of drawing up a last will and testament, I still have no answer for what is to become of my own collection of the written word.

To that person, I ask you this: Are you a worthy recipient? Will you respect the provenance of each volume or will you relegate the lot of them to some tawdry lawn sale? Will you intersperse them with your own collection [because you must, must, must also be a collector] or will you keep them separate, made distinct by some fashion of an ex libris or another [though my own diligence should dictate that I affix an ex libris plate or stamp to each before I exeunt]? Will they receive the honour of being housed in shelves, or will they be shamed into hiding inside mouldering cardboard boxes in a nether region of your dwelling? Will you sell them to a secondhand bookstore, or will you keep them as a reminder of me?

Susan, I'm sure you chose well.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


A blank notebook, like a new year, is fresh and clean with no mistakes. Also like a new year, the notebook, along with its fairweather friend, the pen, enables one to reflect on the past, as well as look ahead to the future [though in the case of the new year, I suspect the tendency is toward the latter, with the hope that what is to come improves upon what has passed].

So when words are finally put to a pristine blank page, do they chronicle days past, or do they hint at a future as yet unknown? If we are talking about a writer of non-fiction, the most basic manifestation of which is the journal-keeper, then the past is arguably the more widely explored tense. If we are talking about a writer of fiction, the question becomes less straightforward. The answer seems to depend heavily upon genre. A writer of historical fiction obviously looks to the past. But what about the writer of contemporary fiction? Under the assumption that they rely upon autobiographical tidbits, it might be said that the resulting work chronicles the past and/or the present. So when does the future come into play? If writers of fiction practice their craft in earnest, they run the risk of inventing things that have not yet come to pass, and when we think of things that have not yet come to pass, we think of the future. Do writers, then, carry that power? Can their deft manipulation of words be more edifying than previously imagined?

A character in Paul Auster's Oracle Night opines that "sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren't aware of it. We live in the present, but the future is inside us at every moment. Maybe that's what writing is all about...not recording events from the past, but making things happen in the future."

I like to think that words are that powerful, and can be wielded as such by a capable writer. With this in mind, I can now embrace the new year, with the knowledge that I can shape it to my will. My tools will be words.


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