Odds’n’Ends

Comment spam is really something! I have received spambot messages extolling my insight, articulation, and brilliance. Then they try to sell me the GUCCI LOUIS VUITTON ELECTRIC CIGARETTE ANTIDEPRESSANTS and I realize spambots talk like that to all the blogging girls. Despite feeling a bit cheapened by the experience, I still find some linguistic gems hidden in the broken, discordant and illogical messages.  Here are a couple of examples:

“… mimics the act of tobacco smoking from building a inhaling air supporting this real emotion.” No way!?  Not only do these e-cigs have “novelty, seasonings, and maybe overstated claims regarding safeness,” they build an inhaling air supporting real emotion!

Another spambot tells me that “Both girls and boys really feel the impression of just a moment’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.” This could have been the dark conclusion to an ad for condoms, or the happy conclusion to a dating site ad, but I think they were trying to peddle antidepressants. I don’t know about you, but a complete lack of clarity in any advertisement makes me want to approve their link as a comment on my blog & go to their site &  friend them on Facebook & follow them on Twitter me & invite them over for dinner!

Penrose tiling via Wikipedia

When not engaged with Philosophy of Mind, Penrose does math things.

When I’m not partaking of spammy goodness, I’m reading The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose, physicist.  Penrose takes a stance against proponents of strong artificial intelligence (AI) circa 1989. To oversimplify, strong AI holds that the act of performing an algorithm is synonymous with understanding. If a sufficiently complex algorithm could be created , and if there were computational machinery that could carry out the algorithm, strong AI would hold that the machine would experience an understanding indistinguishable from the understanding of a human mind carrying out the same algorithm. Penrose found this viewpoint to be absurd as well as dangerous, at least in the sense that it would distract research away from areas that might reveal something closer to the essential truth of mind. I’m only into the book about 40 very slowly read and very densely intellectual pages, but already I’m hooked. That’s a good thing, considering this is research for my next novel. I think that after finishing The Emperor’s New Mind, I’ll skip ahead a couple of decades in philosophical inquiry and read everything I can by Nick Bostrom and other members of the Future of Humanity Institute. Ray Kurtzweil, some robotics, a bit of William Gibson and I’ll be as ready as I can be to write. This is going to be fun!

I am also reading The Imaginings by Paul D. Dail. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there are scenes that take place in the underground tunnels of a partially constructed, possibly cursed mansion  that combine psychological anxiety and good, old-fashioned scary. I haven’t joined GoodReads yet (shame on me, I know, but Facebook just about broke my spirit and made me wish I could write novels for a different species), but I plan to join and make a review of The Imaginings one of my two first reviews of indie horror. The other book I am going to review? The Well, by Peter Labrow. He manages to combine so many different types of scary without losing sight of the humanity of his characters.  I read (half of) another indie horror book by a big-name in the biz and that one didn’t come close to matching the complexity or creepiness of either The Imaginings or The Well. Yet another reminder that big sales don’t mean big time enjoyment for this humble reader.

I need to start updating my manuscript with the edits I got back from my efficient, friendly, and very professional copy editor. Why am I dragging my feet, ya’ll?

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

– William Gibson, opening line of Neuromancer.

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The Adventure of a Writer Reading

vino drinker seeks good read.

Image via Wikipedia

In the novel IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER, Italo Calvino writes about a woman who is a pure reader. The act of being immersed in a story is the totality of the experience for the pure reader. According to her, “There’s a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other side those that read them, so I take care always to remain on my side of the line. Otherwise, the unsullied pleasure of reading ends…”. Later in IF ON A WINTER’s NIGHT, Calvino introduces a writer who echoes the pure reader’s sentiment, saying “Since I have become a slave laborer of writing, the pleasure of reading has finished for me.” In Calvino veritas, indeed!

A writer reads to learn how to write. The psychological distance presupposed by the act of analysis is what makes it difficult for a writer to be a pure reader. To be a writer is to inherently dull the ability to read for reading’s sake.

This doesn’t mean that being a pure reader is impossible for writers, just that they’ll have to be reading an incredibly well-written work to get into that zone. Even then, once the afterglow of the read wears off, the writer will be picking through passages to try and understand how it’s possible that a story as seemingly bloated as Joyce’s THE DEAD can deliver such an emotional climax. Works of lesser quality do not even transport the writer; she will observe the story rather than be absorbed by it. The analytical chatterbox in her mind will note every infraction of grammar, characterization, and symbolism. More egregious than badly written books are books where the author makes the decision to include heavy-handed metafiction or some other self-conscious and purposefully precious element. Authors who do that break the sacred contract with the reader by eliminating any chance at the transcendental experience of becoming a pure reader. I’m with Calvino’s pure reader. All we want is to read a novel that “pile[s] stories upon stories, without trying to impose a philosophy of life on you.”

We want to be absorbed, subsumed, enraptured.

It has already been two years since my last experience as a pure reader. The book? AFFINITY, by Sarah Waters. I was skeptical at first because I tend to find books written in diary format to be too contrived to enthrall me. However, Waters’s writing is amazing, and AFFINITY had enough supernatural, sexual, and mysterious elements to keep me coming back, despite my initial reluctance. I read the end on a lunch break; I was sitting in the kitchen at work, seething with emotions. Fury. Betrayal. Horror. Stupidity. Shock. Sadness. The sense of having been used. I was gasping for breath and in tears – in the company lunch room. I didn’t care. In fact, because Waters did her job very, very well, I became a pure reader. There is no lunch room or co-workers for the pure reader. There is only the story.

AFFINITY had serious wow-factor. I was awed, and not certain that there was any place left for novels to go, since perfection had already been achieved. Then the writer in me took charge. She decided that what the world needs are more books like AFFINITY. She started the analysis. She sent the pure reader packing.

What about you, when was the last time you experienced being a pure reader? What book did it for you? The holiday vacations are coming up, and I would love, Love, LOVE to have to have a stack of juicy reads!

  • All quotes are from the 1981 Harcourt Brace & Company (Harvest Book imprint) edition of IF ON A WINTER’s NIGHT A TRAVELER.
  • I cannot take credit for my the phrase ‘In Calvino Veritas;’ that’s all over the web.

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