Monday, July 11, 2005

Charlie memed me

with a set of questions which I will not be able to answer as comically as he did. But here goes:

(1) Imagine it's 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer terminal (or whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any topic you want. What do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the meantime?

This is a bigger and better version of my alternate-universe Amazon thoughts below. Basically I would take a shopping cart with me so that I didn't actually break my back carrying home everything I checked out. Of course I would first off check to see that I had published an acceptable number of books in the intervening years (I would hope to see that my BREEDING book came out in 2007 and another academic book, REASON'S NIGHTMARES: FEARS OF ENLIGHTENMENT, in 2011, and a crossover book for academic and trade audiences called AUSTEN FOR BEGINNERS in 2014; and I would hope that DYNAMITE NO. 1 was published in late 2006 and its sequel THE SNOW QUEEN in 2008, plus at least 2 more novels TBA, possibly a futuristic noir series set in a post-genetic-engineering-gone-madly-wrong New York). No, I am not an insane egomaniac, but wouldn't most people check first to see what they'd done themselves? Then I would arm myself with a pen and paper (one thing I can guarantee is that in 2015 I will still be jotting down call numbers on the back of an old envelope or a supermarket receipt) and write down a huge long list of call numbers and hit the stacks and then go home for a huge orgy of reading. I would get David Bromwich's Burke biography (well, this one actually already exists, it just hasn't come out yet) and all the post-2005 novels of Ken Bruen, Charlie Williams, Kevin Wignall, Peter Temple, Robin McKinley, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Susanna Clarke, Kazuo Ishiguro, Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson. I would get the 10 Jack Reacher novels Lee Child would have written in the interim and read them in a single day. I would look to see if Helen DeWitt had published any more novels, and I would be very disappointed if there wasn't at least one more. I would also make sure to get any new novels by Edward P. Jones. I would check out the new popular science books by Matt Ridley and a few others; I would be absolutely delighted if the electronic catalog showed a book by Steven Pinker called APOSTATE: HOW I ESCAPED FROM THE CULT OF THE EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGISTS AND EMBRACED A MORE BALANCED ACCOUNT OF HUMAN NATURE, and in general I would hope that there were a few other recantations in the vein of "ten years ago we were still excessively obsessed with selection and neo-Darwinism and now we have come to a much more complex understanding of the life sciences that foregrounds other factors than genetics." Of course I would also check in on developments in eighteenth-century studies--I'd get whatever had been written in the meantime by Deidre Lynch, Helen Deutsch, Claudia Johnson and a number of others--and I would look for novels and nonfiction books and academic books written by various students of mine (particularly former undergraduates who are creative writers: I would expect there to be at least, oh, 15 or so, maybe more, and some of the first names I would check for are Sarah Courteau, Paul Kiel, Will Welch, Andrew Colom, Gabriel Kuris, Fayre Davis. If you are a former student of mine and are not on this list, do not be offended, it's just the tip of the iceberg!).

(2) What is the strangest thing you've ever heard or seen at a conference? No names, please. Refer to 'Professor X' or 'Ms. Y' if you must. Double credit if you were directly affected. Triple if you then said or did something equally weird.

I am going to reframe this in the form of advice. If you deliver a paper with quotations in a language other than English, in a forum that does not itself assume that everyone present speaks that language, it is courteous to translate them for the audience. If you ask at the beginning of the paper whether the audience would like French quotations translated, and a few audience members eagerly say yes, DO NOT then read your paper and not only offer no quotations but also deliver the French passages in a beautiful accent that says to the non-French-speakers in the audience "You are an ignorant American boor and I am an arrogant and supremely thoughtless but also glamorous and European career academic."

The strangest things I've really ever seen at conferences have all been during job interviews, both as a candidate and as an interviewer, but confidentiality prohibits further revelations.

(3) Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would probably reduce you to awestruck silence.

Those who know me will also know that I am rarely reduced to silence, awestruck or otherwise, and have cheerfully and idiotically babbled on to various literary luminaries without a second thought. The one person who would really reduce me to silence is Lou Reed. That, or else I would confess to my longstanding obsession with him (it has dimmed, fortunately, since my teenage years, but I still have a cult-like interest in his doings) and he would back away from me in horror and dismay.

(4) What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don't seem to be on many people's radar?

Hmm. I think that anything I'm reading others are probably following as well. I always read Gwenda Bond; there are two excellent new blogs by Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld; other regular stops that are perhaps not wholly on the beaten track include Charlie's and Jai's. A friend of mine has recently started an (anonymous) blog that promises to be very interesting.

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