Back from France: Updates, Pics and What I Read

I spent the last month in France with my family. Flying direct from Montreal (yes, this actually makes sense when you live as far north in Maine as I do), we landed in Paris, rented a car, and drove immediately to the charming village of Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux tapestry:

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Compost 1

Real_Compost

Like compost, a post full of decomposing and recycled material. Possibly nourishing. Potentially fertile.  May contain shit and piss.

It’s a post that’s a combination of things.

We’re just back from a four day trip to my home state, Rhode Island, for the regionals soccer tournament. Maine teams typically get crushed, thanks to demographics and not having a strong soccer culture. The highlight was tying the 31st best team in the US. My son scored the lone goal that day (he’s a striker), and he did a Wayne Rooney style celebration. I wasn’t sure about the celebration, but I was happy to see him so overjoyed. He’s a nonfiction guy, currently reading I Am Zlatan on his ipad mini and Why Do Men Have Nipples in paper. Here’s an action shot:

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My other little guy is having a great summer on his own terms, which means a lot of all-day-in-his-PJs, meeting his friends at the park, watching episodes of the Simpsons and playing Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and Minecraft on the computer. He’s way into The Walking Dead comics on his ipad right now, but also reads a little in his paper Hitchhiker’s Guide set (he’s on book 2). He also likes to just sit and think about things. He’s a natural philosopher, as you can tell from this picture:

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In other news, I’m still working on my Penhally Bay paper. I’m very undisciplined and prone to forgetting my original research question in search of some more foundational issue. I guess it’s a hazard of being trained in philosophy. So, I haven’t even gotten to talking about the actual romance novels. Instead, I’ve written several pages on method in popular fiction studies and on the dangers of mimetic representational analysis therein.

One thing that’s helped is being part of Jo Van Every‘s Monday writing group. Every Monday we all call in to a conference line and share what we plan to work on. We work. Then we call back 90 minutes later. Over the past year I have tried a few different writing groups, coaches, apps and writing strategies. I keep meaning to write a post on that.

One of the papers I’ve read recently is a classic article in reader response theory from its heyday. The author says reading involves an interaction between self and other. The nature of that confrontation depends on the background of the reader and upon the specific text. 

She says there are three modes of reading, including the dominant pole:

The dominant pole is characterized by detachment, observation from a distance. The reader imposes a previously established structure on the text and in so doing silences it. Memory dominates over experience, past over present. Readers who dominate texts become complacent or bored because the possibility for learning has been greatly reduced. Judgment is based upon previously established norms rather than upon empathetic engagement with and critical evaluation of the new material encountered. The reader absents the text.

Second,

The submissive pole, in contrast, is characterized by too much involvement. The reader is entangled in the events of the story and is unable to step back, to observe with a critical eye. Instead of boredom the reader experiences anxiety. The text is overwhelming, unwilling to yield a consistent pattern of meaning.

Third,

Productive interaction, then, necessitates the stance of a detached observer who is empathetic but who does not identify with the characters or the situation depicted in a literary work. Comprehension is attained when the reader achieves a balance between empathy and judgment by maintaining a balance of detachment and involvement. Too much detachment often results in too much judgment and hence in domination of the text; too much involvement often results in too much sympathy and hence in domination by the text. 

The author of that article makes some claims about gender, etc., which are not my interest (namely, that men are more likely to take the dominant mode, women the submissive). I also would not characterize the three modes of reading in the way she has (her interests were pedagogical, and her readers were students). But I found it interesting to think about my own reading somewhat along those lines. for example, I just listened to a Bella Andre Sullivans book, From This Moment On, which I did not like at all. I could not get into it, and instead of enjoying the text, I kept judging the text (for example, thinking things like,  “If a computer were programmed / or a committee hired / or a focus group consulted to write a romance novel, this would be the product. Utterly bland.” Or when the heroine thought,

Oh God. He was beautiful, but so big. Bigger than her brain had computed, even though she’d seen him, felt him inside of her, more than once already.

…and my immediate reaction was “this is clearly a problem with your brain, not with his penis.”

On the other hand, I’m half way through Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do, and am so engrossed. I’m not anxious, but I am immersed and not judging, just enjoying. It’s a very funny book, and full of the kind of self-aware characters I love.

Google reader is dead. Long live Google Reader. I’m actually now a contented Feedly user, but this was my favorite tweet from today:

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A few people have noticed that my old blog, Read React Review, is defunct. The reason is simple: I stopped paying my web host. I just couldn’t stand the idea of paying for a blog I don’t update. I *thought* I had moved it over here to WP.com, but apparently not. I’m definitely pleased that people remember specific posts well enough to miss them, and I apologize for the inconvenience.

On that note, I’ve been thinking about the many significant ways Romanceland has changed since I started reading blogs (2007). I hope to write a post on it this month.

 

I hope you are having a good Canada Day or Independence Day week, or July, or whatever it is where you are. Let me know what you are up to!

Pablo Neruda and the Singularity of the Common Experience

Romantic_couple_during_a_bali_sunset_(7590461584) by Jimmy McIntyre

Recently, I visited my hospice friend. He has dementia. I’m not sure how many people realize this, but dementia is not something that just normally happens to a person as they age. It is a terminal illness with fairly well defined causes, risk factors, and symptoms. As is typical and expected of hospice patients, my friend has been steadily declining over the couple of months we have been together.

He likes poetry and so I read it to him. His favorite is Robert Frost, but we have sometimes ventured farther afield. On Friday, I read him a poem by Pablo Neruda, I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You. My friend is almost non-communicative. He starts a sentence and trails off. He is not well oriented to time or place or person. But if he really likes a poem, he will sometimes reward it with a curt “that’s good.”

While we talk, he often moves his hands to his face, or around in the air. He’s doing something important, but I don’t know what. To my surprise, when I finished that Neruda poem, he stilled completely, and asked me to reread the last three lines:

Continue reading “Pablo Neruda and the Singularity of the Common Experience”