Wiki Wednesday #26

3 10 2007

During last week’s travels, I forgot to do the WW. Did you miss it? Hmm. Well, to catch up, you’re getting two doses today.

As always, I go to Wikipedia, click on “random article,” and report on the outcome.


TraderTalk is the language used by the cultural group Traders in Tamora Pierce’s fantasy world Emlan [sic] (Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens ).

Huh? Gosh, I feel so out of it. Since the Wikipedia entry is so spare, this required some research to understand.

Tamora Pierce, it seems, is a fantasy author who set a couple of her series in Emelan (not Emlan, as the Wikipedia entry for TraderTalk indicates). Traders are apparently an unpopular race of, um, beings. TraderTalk, anyway, is their language. There are a few TraderTalk words in the entry (lugsha means artisan, for instance), but I don’t think you’ll learn very much from the list.

Perhaps Probably more interesting than any of this is the warning that a Wikipedia editor slapped (in May 2007) on the entry for TraderTalk:

The subject of this article may not satisfy the notability guideline or one of the following guidelines for inclusion on Wikipedia: Biographies, Books, Companies, Fiction, Music, Neologisms, Numbers, Web content, or several proposals for new guidelines. If you are familiar with the subject matter, please expand or rewrite the article to establish its notability. The best way to address this concern is to reference published, third-party sources about the subject. If notability cannot be established, the article is more likely to be considered for deletion, per Wikipedia:Guide to deletion.

Basically, the “notability guideline” asks whether a Wikipedia entry is worthy of notice. With all due respect, I tend to think TraderTalk probably doesn’t merit the attention of even a comprehensive online encyclopedia.

But, hey, I’m not saying that Pierce (you can find her official website here) and her work—which is apparently for young readers—aren’t worthy of mention in Wikipedia. By itself, though, TraderTalk seems pretty darn obscure.

I’ve never heard of Pierce, but that doesn’t mean much. Does anyone out there follow her work?


Happy Belated Bloomsday!

17 06 2007

I’ve been away from my apartment, and my computer, for a couple of days, so I wasn’t able to wish you a proper Bloomsday.

James Joyce set Ulysses on June 16, 1904, and the novel—perhaps the greatest of all time—chronicles the day-long odyssey of Leopold Bloom around Dublin. Bloomsday, of course, celebrates Joyce and Ulysses. Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum, which is home to the original handwritten manuscript of the novel, hosts one of the most elaborate and best-known Bloomsday celebrations. That’s where I’ve been.

As you may remember, I spent much of the last year reading Ulysses as a part of the Rosenbach’s annual reading group. The group met only once a month, and—as I intimated a few months ago—it sometimes seemed like a real chore. Our last class was on Wednesday. When I finished that reading, the last episode in the novel, I felt absolutely liberated.

Some of that, I suppose, might have been because that last episode, Penelope, is a daunting bit of text, er, unencumbered by punctuation or much paragraphing. But the last episode didn’t actually torment me all that much. In fact, I think the liberation I felt was more about conquering the novel, which had always just seemed downright unreadable to me.

Of course, I didn’t really conquer the novel at all. I’d have to read Ulysses dozens of times, I think, to feel any sort of competency about it. During the year-long course, I quickly realized that I’d just have to settle, on this first reading, for understanding a small percentage of the text. I read every word, to be sure, but I came away with only a fairly macro understanding of the text. It was so helpful to be reading Ulysses alongside other group members, too, because we could frequently provide one another with plot details and hints. (Our instructor, Janine Utell, a Joyce scholar, discusses this support-group approach a little bit in a one-hour WHYY radio piece that aired this week prior to Bloomsday.)

One of the, um, perks of participating in the Rosenbach’s reading group was that I was entitled to read at the Bloomsday celebration. From noon until 7 p.m. on Bloomsday, “notable” Philadelphians—and schlubs like me—take turns reading noteworthy passages of the book. (You can see a list of this year’s readers here.) The celebration takes place on a lovely, residential-ish street setting, just in front of the Rosenbach. The city closes the block to traffic, and the museum sets up microphones and a couple of hundred chairs. This Bloomsday was gorgeous—warm but not hot, mostly (but not too) sunny—and there was always a healthy crowd in attendance.

Having survived the previous night’s Irish pub crawl, I first wandered over to the Rosenbach about 12:30 to hear the first of my fellow class-members. She got to read the justifiably famous opening of Calypso, the book’s fourth episode, which (finally!) introduces the reader to Bloom:

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

She read wonderfully, for several minutes, even managing to pull off a variety of cat sounds that punctuate that episode. I stayed on for a couple more hours, providing support for several other class members (and to the notable Philadelphians, too?) for their readings. After that, I wandered off, on my own odyssey, to get some coffee, lunch, and—to be entirely candid—a well-timed black Russian to steel my nerves.

My great fear is public speaking. I’m shy, and my voice sometimes trembles when I have to speak in front of a small group. Even when I know the small group. So the thought of reading in front of a couple of hundred strangers, over a microphone, terrified me. And that’s not even factoring in the difficulties of Joyce’s text.

But I try to be open to new experiences, and I signed up. I picked a fairly short reading, one that made sense and made me smile. My reading was from Eumaeus, the sixteenth episode of the novel, when Bloom and the young Stephen Dedalus are heading home from some scary experiences in “nighttown,” Dublin’s red-light district:

They thereupon stopped. Bloom looked at the head of a horse not worth anything like sixtyfive guineas, suddenly in evidence in the dark quite near so that it seemed new, a different grouping of bones and even flesh because palpably it was a fourwalker, a hipshaker, a blackbuttocker, a taildangler, a headhanger putting his hind foot foremost the while the lord of his creation sat on the perch, busy with his thoughts. But such a good poor brute he was sorry he hadn’t a lump of sugar but, as he wisely reflected, you could scarcely be prepared for every emergency that might crop up. He was just a big foolish nervous noodly kind of a horse, without a second care in the world. But even a dog, he reflected, take that mongrel in Barney Kiernan’s, of the same size, would be a holy horror to face. But it was no animal’s fault in particular if he was built that way like the camel, ship of the desert, distilling grapes into potheen in his hump. Nine tenths of them all could be caged or trained, nothing beyond the art of man barring the bees. Whale with a harpoon hairpin, alligator tickle the small of his back and he sees the joke, chalk a circle for a rooster, tiger my eagle eye. These timely reflections anent the brutes of the field occupied his mind somewhat distracted from Stephen’s words while the ship of the street was manoeuvring and Stephen went on about the highly interesting old.

— What’s this I was saying? Ah, yes! My wife, he intimated, plunging in medias res, would have the greatest of pleasure in making your acquaintance as she is passionately attached to music of any kind.

He looked sideways in a friendly fashion at the sideface of Stephen, image of his mother, which was not quite the same as the usual handsome blackguard type they unquestionably had an insatisable hankering after as he was perhaps not that way built.

Immediately following a local radio personality, I went on. I didn’t focus on the crowd. I tried to think about nothing but the text. My voice quavered a couple of times, but I remained steady on my feet (that’s sometimes the real challenge!). I got through the whole damn reading without getting tongue-tied or slipping up. I think it even made sense.

By the way, living with these few lines for the past month has been something of an experience. As I said, I picked that passage because it was short, but it had also been memorable to me. I laughed when I first read how Bloom wished he’d had a lump of sugar but knew “you could scarcely be prepared for every emergency that might crop up.” So true.

To give you a sense of some of my troubles with Ulysses, though, there’s also this: Having read the passage from Eumaeus dozens of time, many of them aloud, I only realized a couple of days before Bloomsday that the text included a comparison between how animals, such as the camel, were built and the way that young Dedalus was “perhaps not . . . built.” I’m (despite this story!) a fairly smart man, but there’s just so much in any given part of Ulysses to absorb. You could spend a lifetime reading Ulysses, over and over again.

But I’m not going to do that. Life’s too short. And there’s so much I haven’t yet read. Still, after a year of feeling abused by Ulysses, I’m feeling sort of nostalgic about the whole thing now.


Update (6/28/07): Here’s a collection of photos from the Rosenbach’s Bloomsday celebration.  The t-shirt, by the way, was signed by all the readers, including me.

Vox Hunt: This Book Is a Gift

9 05 2007

She Had Some Horses
Vox Hunt
: Show us a book that you like to give as a gift.
Submitted by Ross.

Joy Harjo is my favorite poet, and She Had Some Horses is my favorite chapbook. Harjo writes in free verse, but it’s frequently a rhythmic free verse, a style that really appeals to my ear. Indeed, she also makes music. Her themes—American Indian experiences, imperialism, living in (astride?) two worlds, the personal, etc.—also interest me, of course. Plus, Harjo and I are from the same part of the world. How can I not like a poet from northeast Oklahoma? (Random aside: Actually, John Berryman‘s birthplace is near my own, and I’m not a particular fan of his.)

You can read the title poem from She Had Some Horses here. It’s a helluva poem. And it always gets me thinking….

Very Short Stories

20 04 2007

I’m not sure how I missed this last fall, but Wired asked several sci-fi writers to produce six-word short stories (link via Death By Ulysses, an excellent blog about books). Some of my favorites:

                His penis snapped off; he’s pregnant!
    -Rudy Rucker

    Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth.
    -Vernor Vinge

    It cost too much, staying human.
    -Bruce Sterling

    The baby’s blood type? Mostly human.
    -Orson Scott Card

    Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.
    -David Brin

    Dorothy: “Fuck it, I’ll stay here.”
    -Steven Meretzky

    I’m sure this is really difficult, but I may just have to give this a try….

    Vox Hunt: Help Me Out Here

    3 04 2007

    Work as a Spiritual Practice
    Vox Hunt
    : Share a self-help book that meant a lot to you.

    I’m not a big believer in self-help books. Happily enough, I seem to have the survival skills necessary to get through most everyday tribulations. And, anyway, I guess I don’t have a lot of confidence in the types of people who write the self-help books I obviously need. Books like How to Move On When Your Soulmate Dumps You for His Mother or Coping When Your Man Decides He’s Straight or, even, Fundamentals of Dating: The Over-40 Edition. The “experts” in love seem—all too often, anyway—to be quacks.

    But a few years ago, when I faced a difficult problem on my job, I did turn to a self-help book. The book, Lewis Richmond‘s Work as a Spiritual Practice, really impressed me.

    At the time, I was living and working in New Orleans. I loved living in New Orleans—or, at least, I would’ve if my job hadn’t been consuming my life and making me generally unhappy. The expectations on the job were unrealistic, and I felt like I needed to spend 12 hours a day there just to cope. Others coped by doing shoddy work, but my perfectionist streak wouldn’t let me do that. Perhaps worse than that, my office space was a dungeon: I was assigned space in the basement, and it “featured” awful fluorescent lighting. I could never tell whether it was morning or afternoon or, sigh, evening…. Plus, the office’s air conditioning system was constantly on overdrive. Even in the middle of a typically hot, hot New Orleans summer, I needed a sweater to get through the work day. And every so often, I had to go outside and hang out with the smokers just to warm up my fingers.

    If all that sounds bad, well, it was. But the real problem was boredom. The work was soul-stealingly boring. My employer, it seemed, had managed to drain any and all creativity out of writing—which, of course, ought to be inherently creative. If a creative decision was to be made, an office “style sheet” provided the answer. And if the answer wasn’t there, I was supposed to let my immediate manager make the decision. I felt like a glorified typewriter.

    I was downright miserable.

    I picked up Work as a Spiritual Practice, and it really forced me to approach my workplace from a different perspective. Richmond’s text asked me to consider what I could learn from the situation as well as what I could bring to the workplace in order, well, to be happier. The book is filled with Buddhist-inspired techniques, and it’s organized around four types of experiences posed by work—conflict, stagnation, inspiration, and accomplishment. I focused on stagnation, of course.

    What I learned is that if I’m bored, it’s likely because I’m being boring. Boredom means that I’m not bringing enough enough passion or fire or spark or humor to the task at hand. Yes, my job was fundamentally flawed; yes, my job was fundamentally unstimulating. But I had given in to the boredom. I’d surrendered—just when I should’ve been investing more of my personality than ever.

    I decided to memorize the damn style sheet, to really learn the nuts and bolts of it. In fact, I learned it well enough to subvert it from time to time. I played games with myself, challenging myself to work unusual words and phrases into my memos. I paid attention to my co-workers, listening to what they had to say and how they coped. I started to view my job as an elaborate system to be outsmarted. Some days, when I was most successful, I played with the stultifying atmosphere.

    The job was still far from fulfilling, of course, and I ditched it at the earliest, best opportunity. But Work as a Spiritual Practice got me through the rough patch. In the process (it’s all process), I learned something about boredom, and about myself, that I’ve taken with me since.

    If you’re not interested in the Supreme Court, maybe the snowshoes will keep you reading.

    13 02 2007

    Supreme Conflict
    Sorry about being so quiet lately. Life sucks a little bit lately. That’s probably not permanent, huh? God, I hope not.

    Anyway, tonight’s big adventure was a trip to the National Constitution Center for a program called “The Supreme Court Revealed.” You’re probably nodding off now…but I’ve been fascinated by the U.S. Supreme Court since I was a kid. On the program were the authors of two recent bestsellers about the Court. Jan Crawford Greenburg, who’s currently the Supreme Court correspondent for ABC, talked about Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court, her very cool behind-the-scenes look at the Rehnquist Court. (If you liked The Brethren 20 years ago, and you know I did, Greenburg’s book is a must-read.) Law professor Jeffrey Rosen, author of the companion book to the recent PBS series on the Court, also spoke.

    Both Greenburg and Rosen were awfully entertaining. I especially enjoyed Greenburg’s stories about current Court members. Rosen, unsurprisingly, was much more professorial. Although his mostly historical material was more familiar to me, I was impressed with his passion for the re-telling of it. The entire program lasted an hour and a half, and I easily could’ve listened to Greenburg and Rosen for another 90 minutes.

    The program was videotaped for showing on C-SPAN2’s Book TV. I was afraid that would mean that the Q-and-A session would be filled with oddballs asking questions just so they could see themselves on their TiVos. Happily, there really wasn’t much of that.

    The weather was miserable tonight in Philly, and I guess I’m proud of myself for not just schlepping right home after work. (Well, not all that proud. It’s not like I won the Nobel Prize.) The program was worth it. After the program, though, the commute home was ugly. My train never showed, and the ever-helpful transit authorities never made an announcement. So I basically stood outside in the sleet and cold for 50 minutes until the next train, which was itself 20 minutes late, finally arrived. Then the train crrrraaaaawlllled all the way to my stop.  I could’ve snowshoed home faster, I bet.  But if I’d done that, I’d probably have no feeling in my toes right now.  Oddly enough, I like having feeling in my toes.

    And, oh, I don’t own snowshoes.

    Question of the Day: Life-Changing Books

    1 02 2007

    What are five books that changed your life?

    Inspired by Ms. Genevieve.

    1.) A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins — This was the first of Jenkins’s books, and it recounts his mid-1970s walk (yeah, a real walk) from upstate New York to New Orleans. I probably read Walk five times before the end of high school. I was really taken by the gumption it took for Jenkins to do this, by the freedom he had, and by his openness to everyone he met. I wanted some of that, some of all of that, in my life. I still haven’t walked across America, or even across town, but I think the book helped me get determined to leave my small hometown.

    2.) Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson — As a kid, I was interested in politics and journalism, and I fell for the great gonzo journalist’s account of the presidential campaign between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. (It’s amazing I wasn’t invited to more parties, huh?) Reading it made me feel a little bit like I was on a crazy, neverending presidential campaign. And the contrast between the two candidates helped me figure out where I was on the political spectrum. Even if you don’t like politics, you’d surely find Thompson’s, um, wild account to be entertaining.

    3.) The Hite Report on Male Sexuality by Shere Hite — Like a lot of gay men, especially those from small towns, I came out at the public library. Sorta, anyway. By the time that I was in my early teens, I’d known for a long time that I was attracted to my own sex. I just didn’t know anyone who could explain it to me. My parents, although really good people, didn’t seem like plausible resources. And I certainly didn’t know anyone who was openly gay. As it turned out, though, I just needed my library card. The books at the library, and there were many of them, helped me figure out that being gay was perfectly natural and nothing to worry about (and I didn’t). The Hite Report made a big impression on me, in particular, because of the first-person narratives provided by so many men. If those guys were normal, I knew I was, too. (Plus, many of the stories were downright hot. It was sort of my first, um, porn. Blush.) The Hite Report, and other books like it, were so important in my life that I probably should’ve listed this as No. 1.

    4.) Europe and the People Without History by Eric Wolf — Wolf’s book is a masterpiece of anthropology and sociology, and it helped define what is known in those fields as world-systems theory. That approach views large parts of the world as elements of a single, global social system; in other words, it’s a kind of global analysis. Wolf’s contribution was to take that approach even to pre-industrial times, and his book documents how even the remotest parts of the world were drawn into, and affected by, the larger global social structure. I know that sounds dry, but the book is absolutely fascinating. It played a large role in my master’s thesis in sociology….

    5.) Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis — Lewis, a Nobel Prize winner, is my favorite American author of all time, and Babbitt, from 1922, is my favorite of his novels. It’s a send-up of American conformity, civic boosterism, religion, and isolationism; it’s a biting critique of commerce practiced for the sake of commerce. The protagonist is George Babbitt, a moderately successful real estate broker. Babbitt is unhappy with the limits of “successful” American life, yet he’s too afraid to do anything about it. Although that may sound dull, the book is actually laugh-out-loud funny, and—in the end—the distasteful Babbitt becomes an object of sympathy. He’s a victim of the hollowness of the American Dream, at least as that Dream was understood in the 1920s.

    Other contenders: Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground; The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong; Sociological Theory by George Ritzer; Main Street by Sinclair Lewis; Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors; Collected Poems by Allen Ginsburg; and Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.