“It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that's who thinks them up.”—
From George Packer’s “Change The World” in this week’s New Yorker, an interesting look at the tech world’s new forays into American politics, as well as the myopic viewpoint so many tech nerds have when it comes to inequality. Interestingly, libraries are not mentioned once in this piece about the information revolution and its relationship to government and public services in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Did I say interestingly? I meant depressingly. The answer to why seems summed up in these two quotes, the first from Nate Levine, co-founder of Delphi, and the second from Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn:
If you’re an engineer in Silicon Valley, you have no incentive to read The Economist. It’s not brought up at parties, your friends aren’t going to talk about it, your employers don’t care.
One of the things that we’re getting is, like, ‘I’m really glad I read that book, and I haven’t read a book in a year.’
Despite the lack of libraries in this article, and actually because of it, I think it’s important that librarians read it. (It’s behind the paywall, so go read it in the periodicals section.) As a profession, especially on the younger side of things, incorporating technology into our services is of paramount importance to us. We talk about it constantly. And the people who make those things just do not give a shit about who we are and what we do; what’s more, the principles by which they live their lives and build the tools we use are just different from those many librarians have. It’s like a freshman having a crush on the captain of the football team and scribbling his name in a notebook. They’re not doing it to be cruel, I don’t think. They just don’t know.
Having just survived my first budget process, I am more aware than ever of how much libraries need to consider the next several years of technological changes when making plans, especially for purchasing, and also very aware of how little of those things we can actually plan for, because they are completely out of our hands. Our downloadable materials budget could change instantly with the decision of any publisher to sell or not sell to us, or if Apple removes the 3M or Overdrive apps from their store, or if audiobooks are suddenly universally available as mp3s, or if Amazon starts selling Kindles for $10. There’s no use getting upset about it, because I don’t ascribe to malice what I can ascribe to ignorance. But it’s something to think about: the tech industry doesn’t know what libraries do (and could do in the future, with better tools) and doesn’t care. When I was a bookseller, I saw this sort of thing play out with Google’s interest and then disinterest in working with indie booksellers to sell ebooks, so I’m always ready for the other shoe to drop.
I’m curious about how other librarians are thinking about this stuff. What it means to me personally is that despite not having much interest in hands-on tech stuff, while I’m studying for my MLIS I need to focus more on tech classes than public service ones. There is a paucity of people who believe in the principles and importance of librarianship but have the tech knowledge of these start-up kids. If I want libraries to be part of these conversations and these articles—and I do! I believe with all my heart that libraries should be and can be at the beating heart of any information revolution!—then I need to teach myself how to do these things instead of waiting for a privately-owned company to do it for me. Or at least be ready to have real conversations with these companies rather than pretending to be grateful when signing up for whatever they decide to design.
(Actually, I guess you see this across the book industry, which explains why many book apps and start-ups are super lame. First, they necessarily are created and exist outside popular apps and websites because the needs of book lovers are not already incorporated into the tools that everybody uses, because it didn’t occur to the people who made the ubiquitous tools to incorporate them. Second, most of these apps are not even really addressing an actual problem, because they are based around what the creators know how to do and a perceived market, rather than something that needs a solution. (See Dominique Raccah at Sourcebooks for a powerful example of what it looks like when the book industry focuses their efforts on identifying the actual problems of their customers and creating a solution.))
None of these thoughts are new, of course—I’ve known since I started pouring over MLIS curricula that I really should force myself to take the data architecture class instead of the oral storytelling one. And I’m internally conflicted about this, because I manage a staff of readers’ advisors, and I believe that skills like RA are very important to the future of librarianship as well. Most of being a good readers’ advisor involves soft skills like active listening, being able to read body language, and an alchemical ability to know a person’s desires better than they do. That is a learned skillset that you can train for, and develop for a lifetime, just like programming. And believe me, someday I’d like all the app developers to try their hand at it, if only so they can understand that the algorithms they are trying to develop are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to book recommendation. But when I read articles like this one, it seems clear that I will have to learn to speak their languages first.
Angel Or Demon
You call me an angel of love and of light,
A being of goodness and heavenly fire,
Sent out from God’s kingdom to guide you aright,
In paths where your spirits may mount and aspire.
You say that I glow like a star on its course,
Like a ray from the alter, a spark from the source.
Now list to my answer; let all the world hear it,
I speak unafraid what I know to be true: —
A pure, faithful love is the creative spirit
Which makes women angels! I live but in you.
We are bound soul to soul by life’s holiest laws;
If I am an angel - why, you are the cause.
As my ship skims the sea, I look up from the deck,
Fair, firm at the wheel shines Love’s beautiful form,
And shall I curse the barque that last night went to wreck,
By the Pilot abandoned to darkness and storm?
My craft is no stauncher, she too had been lost -
Had the wheelman deserted, or slept at his post.
I laid down the wealth of my soul at your feet
(Some woman does this for some man every day).
No desperate creature who walks in the street
Has a wickeder heart than I might have, I say,
Had you wantonly misused the treasures you won,
As so many men with heart riches have done.
This flame from God’s altar, this holy love-flame,
That burns like sweet incense for ever for you,
Might now be a wild conflagration of shame,
Had you tortured my heart, or been base or untrue.
For angels and devils are cast in one mould,
Till love guides them upward, or downward, I hold.
I tell you the women who make fervent wives
And sweet tender mothers, had Fate been less fair,
Are the women who might have abandoned their lives
To the madness that springs from and ends in despair.
As the fire on the hearth which sheds brightness around,
Neglected, may level the walls to the ground.
The world makes grave errors in judging these things,
Great good and great evil are born in one breast.
Love horns us and hoofs us - or gives us our wings,
And the best could be worst, as the worst could be best.
You must thank your own worth for what I grew to be,
For the demon lurked under the angel in me.
— Ella Wheeler Wilcox
“Get scared. It will do you good. Smoke a bit, stare blankly at some ceilings, beat your head against some walls, refuse to see some people, paint and write. Get scared some more. Allow your little mind to do nothing but function. Stay inside, go out - I don't care what you'll do; but stay scared as hell. You will never be able to experience everything. So, please, do poetical justice to your soul and simply experience yourself.”—Albert Camus, from Notebooks, 1951-1959
If you are a Surrealist writer on Tumblr, please tag your poems or prose pieces "surrealist ave", and support modern surrealism
Hello, my friends and fellow writers,
my obsession with Surrealism has deepened in hue. It’s obvious that I like things almost disconnected from conscious reality. I appreciate reading words that transport me to an unfamiliar place. So I want to find a way for the Surrealists of Tumblr to communicate and share experiences outside of the obvious tags . If I get enough reblogs and notes on this post, not to mention a stream of posts tagged “surrealist ave”, I will start a new blog for submissions. A blog that will be dedicated to Tumblr writers that have a dream-like style and approach to modern art. If any editors can shake on this idea, please feature this so that more writers can hear about it.
Thank you, Ellery
“You don’t have to think about love; you either feel it or you don’t.”—Laura Esquivel, Como agua para chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate)
“He placed his long-fingered hand on Jeff’s chest. Jeff heard himself whimper quietly from somewhere beyond his control. “And what about content, Jeff? I assume there are restrictions? You have to take the fun out of it somehow.” “Well we’re not allowing crossover, where characters from two fictional worlds interact.” Jeff could barely get the words out now. He had never felt this strange intensity, this lust for anyone. He felt a strange throb where his soul had once been, years ago.”—
Dustin wrote Jeff Bezos fan fiction and it is beautiful.
“If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself.”—Leo Tolstoy
Kevin Hardcastle for #shortstorymonth
To celebrate Short Story Month, we’ve asked some awesome writers, editors, and other literary types to weigh in on their favourite stories and collections, and what makes a piece of short lit great. Today, writer Kevin Hardcastle.
1. What do you love about reading short stories?
Short stories have such immediacy to them, an inbuilt necessity to connect quickly and make inroads into your blood and guts. Every word has significance and every line has to build the narrative towards its purpose. But there are also fewer controls than there are in novel-length fiction, fewer structural or traditional guideposts, which gives a good author opportunity to exert control over the reader, or to really throw you. Consequently, it also gives writers the rope to hang themselves with. Which is why short fiction so often tells no lies when it comes to which writers are really exceptional.
2. What is the best short story (or collection) you’ve read in the last year? And why?
My favourite collections that I read in the last year are The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell, and Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy.
Woodrell is an author that I’ve been reading for some time, but mainly just his novels. His considerable gifts are just as apparent in his short fiction. The standout from The Outlaw Album for me is a story called Uncle. About a young lady who brains her abusive uncle but doesn’t end up killing him, and then serves as his caretaker until he starts to show signs of recovery. Woodrell’s prose style is the main thing I’m drawn to. That bare bones, muscular storytelling, and a real ear for dialogue. I also find myself very much invested in the way he handles dark, heavy material, especially with regards to rural life and folks who live off the beaten path and adapt accordingly.
Dobozy’s collection sort of came out of left field for me. I read a lot of American fiction, and Siege 13 was not on my radar until I was paired up with Tamas for some Writers’ Trust related interviews last year. I went into reading Siege 13 fairly blind and it really knocked me on my ass. My favourite story in that collection is The Animals of the Budapest Zoo, 1944-1945. In which two employees of the zoo try to keep their animals alive, or free them accordingly, as the zoo, and the city around it, falls into ruin during the Soviet siege of Budapest. Dobozy has a very measured yet powerful way of guiding the reader through extraordinary situations. His prose is meticulous and carefully put, somewhat different from most of the writers I admire, but equally important and effective. Some of the images in that story are seared into my brain for good. It is a hell of a story, and collection.
3. Do you have a favorite short story collection? And what makes it your favourite?
The cheat would be to say The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – Finca Vigia Edition, which is a compendium of all of Hemingway’s short fiction, and which holds pretty much all of the ingredients you could need to know how to write. But that is a dirty move. So, I’ll say The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod. I had only read his novel No Great Mischief when I happened upon an old edition of The Lost Salt Gift of Blood in a used bookstore. It fits in my pocket and I often carry it with me and read and re-read the stories in it. That collection changed the way I write fiction. It is very heartfelt but never crosses the line into sentimentality. He has total control of his lines and his language and he flattens you with the weight of those stories. The focus on family, the land, the natural world that acts upon the characters, all of that material strikes a deep chord with me. The Boat is among my favourite stories ever written. I dare you to find many better. That story wrecks me every time I read it.
Kevin Hardcastle’s short stories have been published in Word Riot, subTerrain Magazine, and The Malahat Review. His story We Gotta Save The Leg is forthcoming at Little Fiction.