Rue’s Race

Were there really readers who thought that Rue was ” the little blonde innocent girl you picture“? The text says specifically – and on a variety of occasions – that she has dark skin and thick black hair.

One has to have major issues going on to imagine a character described this way as “blonde.”

As a literary critic, I find it very curious when people impose their own psychological problems on the text. I’m now reading criticism on a novel where a 50-year-old protagonist leaves her husband and finds a much younger lover. Many male critics of that age bracket obviously bring something deeply personal to the reading of the book and give strange moralistic rants on how it’s wrong to leave one’s husband right in the middle of their scholarly articles!

I also remember how a very famous critic read the scene where a former husband viciously brutalizes his ex-wife as evidence that their relationship had progressed and they would now be very happy together.

The good news is that in literary criticism such things are rare enough to be memorable. In sociology, however, people do nothing but sell their psychological hangups as scholarship.

Classics Club

Some talented and curious people are organizing a Classics Club for bloggers. Here is the information in case you want to join this great endeavor. I visited some of the blogs by people who have joined the club and they are really amazing folks who love reading. I wish my students could see these blogs and realize how silly their “I hate reading!” sounds.

The first step of the Classics Challenge is to make a list of 50+ classic work of literature you pledge to read in the next 5 years. The beauty of the project is that nobody will dictate to you what should go on the list of classics, so you can create your own canon. And you have an excuse to read books you always wanted to read but never got around to doing it. I always feel so guilty for reading anything that is not research-related that it’s good to be part of an initiative that will take the guilt away.

I’m putting the bulk of this post under the fold to avoid cluttering people’s Google reader feeds.

Continue reading “Classics Club”

Saturday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion

The crop of great posts has been really good this week, which is why I’m posting it a day early. Otherwise it will grow to an even more humongous size. Sorry if it’s too huge. I just didn’t want to deprive people of some really good sources. If enough readers tell me that they want to see a shorter Link Encyclopedia, I’ll try to control myself in the future.

A really great article on why teenagers spend so much time online. (If you have no time to read the article: because that’s the only place where they can be away from the gaze of the helicoptering parents.)

An absolutely brilliant article on the parents who concealed their son’s gender for five years. “She is afraid to break society’s rules. That’s why she got someone else to be transgressive for her. She wants to be (thought of as) a progressive, to (appear to) challenge society’s rules, but being a coward she instead forces her kid to bear all of the negative consequences of this challenge.” That’s what I’ve been saying from the start.

“French Children Don’t Throw Food.” And their poop surely smells of roses.

I’ve read many fantastic posts during the Blog for Choice Day, but this one really stands out.

Adjuncting and Stockholm Syndrome. Casualization of academic work force is a tragedy for educators and students alike.

A great post and great comments on the nature of privilege.

Some well-known facts about abortion that the anti-choice crowd somehow manages to disregard.

Zizek on the revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie.

An anti-bullying campaign. Visit, link, spread the word! Bullying is never acceptable.

Newt, in his latest flight of fantasy, has no hesitation in declaring that the Moon will become America’s 51st state during his second-term presidency. . . Presumably, the Moon State will provide Newt with an inexhaustible supply of ever-younger wenches and an inexhaustible supply of pork to satisfy his twin appetites.”

What science isn’t.

The creepiest pictures of mothers holding children that you will ever see.

Arranged marriage explained in depth by somebody who knows what they are talking about. Great post!

I recently found this fascinating blog of a Dutchman in Missouri. Highly recommended.

Finally, somebody writes a post dispelling the pernicious mythology surrounding the physiology of the hymen: “It usually doesn’t bleed. Any blood with first penetration is more likely due to general vaginal tearing from lack of lubrication.” Got it, ignoramuses? This is what I’ve been saying for years, but people never wanted to listen.

The Canadian immigration minister who banned the face-covering burqa in citizenship courts was honored by a Muslim group Sunday. The Muslim Canadian Congress praised Jason Kenney at a Toronto reception for prohibiting new citizens from wearing the apparel during swearing-in ceremonies, clothing described by former Congress President Farzana Khan as symbols of gender inequality and Islamic extremism.

A woman kidnaps and sexually assaults two 11-year-old boys and gets only two years in jail for that. Completely egregious.

The hypocrisy of Rand Paul. I know you know this but this particular instance is seriously funny. In a very disturbing sort of way, of course. just like everything he does.

Finally, when talking about evolved differences in behavior between males and females one cannot make statements like “when it comes to personality men and women belong to two different species”  without noting the biological reality that we are, indeed, the same species.  There are no consistent brain differences between the sexes [iii], there is incredible overlap in our physiological function [iv], we engage in sexual activity in more or less the same patterns [v], and we overlap extensively in most other behavior as well.”

If you are or planning to look for a job in academia, here is a fascinating account of what factors influence the hiring decisions. This rings very true to me, people. This is exactly how things are, and you need to be prepared. Don’t believe anybody’s slogans. Listen to what this anonymous poster tells you.

Another important piece of advice for PhD students: “Start cultivating a third or fourth recommendation letter writer who is not from your Ph.D. granting institution. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but having all of your letters come from faculty from your Ph.D. institution/committee is a sure-fire sign of a job candidate “Not Ready For Prime Time.”

If there is one thing I absolutely detest, it’s animal print. It’s so incredibly vulgar that I can’t stand even to look at it. It seems that it’s coming back into fashion, so poor me.

If you missed the State of the Union address this week, make sure you read this hilarious account of it.

Male victims of sexual assault.

Why is it that everything one ever reads about Israel is so supremely stupid. See this, for example: “If the occupation is destroying Israel’s fundamental character, dismantling the state, and corrupting the people, as Gorenberg contends, then Zionists above all should want to end it, as swiftly and comprehensively as possible, and not try to hold out for the most favorable terms.” I thought we had moved away from discussing the “fundamental character” of nations. How can anybody write books about nation-building without learning even the basic facts of how this process works? Jeez, people, when will this endless stream of “they just need to stop building new settlements and recognize Palestine because it would help them restore their fundamental national character” finally end? How is it possible not to see that such pronouncements are right at the level of “let them eat cake”?

2013 will be ugly.  If Obama wins he will stop pandering to progressives and liberals.  Since he never has to be reelected again, he will be even worse than he was 2009-2011.  If you want anything from Obama, anything, get it before the election, do not believe promises, do not accept promises, accept cash only.  If Romney or Gingrich wins, well, it’s not going to be any better. SOPA and PIPA will be back in 2013 in some form.” Does anybody doubt these predictions? If so, please be so kind as to explain your reasoning to me in the comments and I promise not to argue or even object. I so want to believe.

“If at first the jerks try to stop you, try again.” (This could have been written by me but it wasn’t.) A brave kid defies stupid bureaucrats and helicoptering adults and fulfills her dream. I wish I had more of such feel-good stories to share with you.

Google is going to start tracking what its users do online even more aggressively than before. If you use more than one Google service (say, the email, the Google Calendars, and YouTube), you need to be aware of this and maybe take some action.

Paulo Coelho on SOPA: “Pirates of the world, unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written!”

A post where I get blamed. But this is the kind of blame I am more than willing to accept.

Bloomberg Businessweek thinks that placing a photo of a bloodied and beaten face of Mitt Romney on its cover is funny and appropriate. I find it completely disgusting that violence should be treated in such a cavalier way.

30 top reasons why women don’t get pay raises. Very funny.

If you are a progressive who is sick and tired of voting for the Democrats in the “lesser evil” principle, I think you will find that this post has perfectly articulated your feelings on the subject of American politics. I know it did that for me. A very good post from a talented blogger.

A brilliant strategy to bring thousands of visitors to your blog overnight. I wish I had thought of it. But at least I can be proud that my dear colleague did.

How memes are crated and spread around. Very insightful.

Spain’s unemployment rises to 22.9%. This is tragic, people. Me duele España.

And the award for the most brilliant post of the week, or maybe even the month, goes to: “No woman should need to announce her womanhood, her personhood, either by having a kid or by asserting her “choice” in not having a kid.  At the end of the day, a woman’s personhood shouldn’t have a thing in the world to do with her reproductive organs. That, for me, should be the point of reproductive choice.” It’s nice to know that such brilliant people exist.

Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire: A Review, Part I

I’m a huge fan of Thomas Frank. His What’s the Matter With Kansas was absolutely brilliant. Since I discovered that great book, I’ve been following his articles and interviews and eagerly awaiting his new book.  You can just imagine how happy I was when I got the chance to read the proofs of his Pity the Billionaire, a book that analyzes the reasons behind the rise of the Tea Party movement. The book strives to answer the crucial question: how is it possible that the Americans’ response to the global economic crisis that happened as a result of unbridled free market practices led them to form a movement that would defend the free market rather than to a movement that would ask for regulations?

The book, however, turned out to be a massive disappointment. Frank’s trademark wit is gone. Aside from a few forced jokes, the book is written in a plodding, unimaginative style that I had no idea this author was even capable of.

His analysis of the “right renaissance” is also unimpressive. People who have been reading my blog for a while know that I’m no fan of the Tea Party. Still, I have to recognize that Frank is being intellectually dishonest in his characterization of the Tea Partiers. For instance, he blames them for the apocalyptic tone they often adopt and the doomsday scenarios they enjoy generating. This, however, is not a distinctive trait of just the Tea Partiers. It is just as present among the Progressives. The Liberal blogs I read are filled to the brim with endless apocalyptic scenarios. By the way, Slavoj Zizek’s 2009 book is titled Living in the End Times. You don’t get either more apocalyptic or more progressive than that.

Another fault that Frank ascribes to the Tea Partiers is that they erase the class distinctions and see no difference between a share-cropper and a small-business owner. Does this remind you of anything, by any chance? Yes, right you are, the #Occupy movement that lumps everybody who is not a billionaire into the imaginary downtrodden 99%.

Frank then proceeds to blame the Tea Party for its rhetoric of self-pity:

[They] advance their war on the world by means of a tearful weepy-woo. Self-pity has become central in the consciousness of the resurgent Right. Depicting themselves as victimized in any and every sitiation . . . is essential to their self-understanding.

Again, #OWS, anyone? Remember this statement from a prof with no debt, a house of his own and a wonderful life, who wallows in self-pity because his life is so complicated and anxiety devours him? So why do the Tea Partiers get blamed for their weepy-woo while Liberals don’t?

[To be continued. . .]

Vargas Llosa to Speak at St. Louis University!

You probably think we have all just fallen off our pumpkin carts here, in St. Louis Metro area, right? Well, think again. Our cultural life is rich and vigorous. Next Monday, for example, Mario Vargas Llosa, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, the greatest Peruvian writer and my favorite living Latin American writer (and he’s just one person, too), will be speaking at St. Louis University:

Noted author Mario Vargas Llosa will receive the 2011 Saint Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates at a special event from 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, in the Anheuser-Busch Auditorium at SLU’s John Cook School of Business, 3674 Lindell Blvd. A book signing with the author begins at 4:30 p.m., followed by the presentation of the award and a conversation with Vargas Llosa led by Olga Arbeláez, Ph.D., professor of Spanish in the University’s department of modern and classical languages.

To say that I’m excited is an understatement of the month.

If you haven’t read anything by Vargas Llosa, please, please do. He is really amazing. Garcia Marquez doesn’t deserve to bring him his slippers (in my highly subjective opinion). The writer’s books are all translated into English.

You can start with his early work Cubs. It’s short and much easier to read than the writer’s longer novels. And, of course, Vargas Llosa’s great novel The War of the End of the World is highly recommended. People often disagree but I think this novel is his masterpiece. For the romantically minded, Vargas Llosa’s attempt at a non misogynist Latin American novel about love, The Bad Girl, might be of interest.

If you follow the links I provided, you will see that Vargas Llosa’s books can be acquired very cheaply.

My sincere gratitude goes to Nancy P, a long-time reader of this blog who informed me of this important event.

Comfort Reading

I think time has come for us to discuss what we read for comfort. What is the trashiest kind of reading you enjoy when you are exhausted, sick, or simply need some really mindless entertainment?

For me – and I’m kind of ashamed to confess this secret that nobody knows about me – the trashiest author of choice is Jodi Picoult. If there is one author who knows nothing about psychology and always presents the most incongruous (from the psychological point of view) plots, it’s her.

She keeps creating characters who embody the most monstrous type of motherhood you can imagine. From a mother who gives birth to a child to harvest organs from her and who doesn’t relent even after the kid goes to court to stop the barbarity, to a mother who responds to a daughter’s incarceration by having another baby to substitute for the child who came out wrong – Picoult loves celebrating this type of outrageous mothers. She never condemns them, mind you. They are all heroes in her novels. The fathers are usually simply absent, clueless and useless.

All of Picoult’s novels are badly written and quite ridiculous. One that is the least so is Nineteen Minutes. It narrates a story of a school shooting and its aftermath.

Whenever I’m sick or very tired, I read or re-read a novel by Picoult. No matter what’s going on in your life, you will never fail to feel very normal and adequate in comparison to her characters.

And now that I’ve shared my deep, shameful reading-related secret, feel free to share yours.

How do you decide what book to read next?

Joshua Kim’s article in Inside Higher Ed made me consider this question. Here is the answer Kim provides:

I always go first to nytimes.com/books . A good review attached to a subject that I’m interested in, or an author that I like, will almost always result in a purchase (as an Amazon Audible audiobook or a Kindle e-book). A middling or bad review – no sale. Sometimes I’ll do a Google search for “book review (book title)” – and read reviews from other sites – but rarely. If the book is reviewed on IHE, then I’m definitely buying. This book selection process has been seriously disrupted by the NYTimes paywall. Sure, it is easy to get around (just do a Google search with the headline of the article you want to read) – but this is an extra and unpleasant step.

I find this account very curious because it is so different from how I buy books. For me, the main – and I’d say the only – source of reading suggestions is the Amazon. I’ve spent so much time and money there that Amazon really knows me well and always recommends books that will interest me. I’m very familiar with Amazon’s structure and the different ways one can search for reading matter on it. I now try to avoid the site as much as possible because it’s hard for me to leave it without a purchase.

It’s strange to me that Joshua Kim relies on the NYTimes so much for his choice of books to read. I dislike NYTimes and discontinued my Kindle subscription to NYTimes Book Review because, for the most part, the books it reviewed were part of what I refer to as “reading for housewives”: cheesy, overly sentimental fare of the tearjerker variety. The reviews were always dedicated to retelling the plot in as much detail as possible, which is something that even the least bright among the Amazon reviewers know not to do.

In my opinion, Amazon reviews are always going to be more reliable than the ones that appear in print media for the same reason that independent bloggers will eventually destroy traditional newspapers. Amazon reviewers and bloggers can only rely on their own hard work and the reputation they manage to build for themselves among their readers. The NYTimes, however, can manage its affairs right into the ground and then rely upon somebody to bail it out. Besides, there is absolutely no reason to believe that newspaper journalists will offer their honest opinion about books. They don’t seem to offer honest opinions about anything else, so why trust them on this subject?

And how do you decide what book to read next?

P.S. If this passionate diatribe on what might seem like a pretty trivial subject surprised you, I have to confess that I’m one of Amazon’s popular reviewers.