“Criticism is a lot of different things”

‘Criticism is a lot of different things: It’s a conversation and it’s a form of theater. It’s a way of thinking out loud, while letting everyone overhear you, which means risking getting things wrong and, on occasion, being obnoxious. But what unites these essays and profiles is my struggle – and, over time, my growing frustration – what that hidden ladder of status, te unspoken, the invisible biases that hobbled TV even as it became culturally dominant…This collection is not in any way a list of my favorite shows: It’s mostly the pieces that reflect best on my main argument about television…

…The problem was structural. Poetry was an “elevated” art form. But while everybody respected it, no one read it. On person wrote each book—and even if that book was a hit, the writer made very little money. Under these conditions, the stakes were at once ridiculously high and very low, making even a mixed review feel cruel. If you can’t pan art, you can’t be a critic.’

I like to watch, Emily Nussbaum

 

 

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A book I finished a while back. I need to return it. I had been matched with it as a blind book date and it was spot on. It was very good and made me want to watch Sex and the City (which I have never – maybe parts of episodes here and there). Still not convinced to finish Buffy, though. TV is a hobby of mine and it carries so much cultural weight and history I never knew. The longest essay in the book deals with the #MeToo movement and how we treat the art of predatory men. That essay was a bit disappointing, bc it couldn’t come up with a good answer (not that anyone can). To me, it’s interesting (?) how we can label art with racist depictions with disclaimers or brush them off as just “of the time” or (better yet) toss away the work entirely, but in the case of #MeToo, the art itself is viewed as the victim betrayed by the creator. It seems harder for us to let go bc it is not the art itself that wronged the world. #TV #television #Iliketowatch

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From “The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free” by Nathan J. Robinson

A problem beyond cost, though, is convenience. I find that even when I am doing research through databases and my university library, it is often an absolute mess: the sites are clunky and constantly demanding login credentials. The amount of time wasted in figuring out how to obtain a piece of research material is a massive cost on top of the actual pricing. The federal court document database, PACER, for instance, charges 10 cents a page for access to records, which adds up quickly since legal research often involves looking through thousands of pages. They offer an exemption if you are a researcher or can’t afford it, but to get the exemption you have to fill out a three page form and provide an explanation of both why you need each document and why you deserve the exemption. This is a waste of time that inhibits people’s productivity and limits their access to knowledge.

In fact, to see just how much human potential is being squandered by having knowledge dispensed by the “free market,” let us briefly picture what “totally democratic and accessible knowledge” would look like. Let’s imagine that instead of having to use privatized research services like Google Scholar and EBSCO, there was a single public search database containing every newspaper article, every magazine article, every academic journal article, every court record, every government document, every website, every piece of software, every film, song, photograph, television show, and video clip, and every book in existence. The content of the Wayback Machine, all of the newspaper archives, Google Books, Getty Images, Project Gutenberg, Spotify, the Library of Congress, everything in WestLaw and Lexis, all of it, every piece of it accessible instantly in full, and with a search function designed to be as simple as possible and allow you to quickly narrow down what you are looking for. (e.g. “Give me: all Massachusetts newspaper articles, books published in Boston, and government documents that mention William Lloyd Garrison and were published from 1860 to 1865.”) The true universal search, uncorrupted by paid advertising. Within a second, you could bring up an entire PDF of any book. Within two seconds, you could search the full contents of that book.

What’s amazing is that the difficulty of creating this situation of “fully democratized information” is entirely economic rather than technological. What I describe with books is close to what Google Books and Amazon already have. But of course, universal free access to full content horrifies publishers, so we are prohibited from using these systems to their full potential. The problem is ownership: nobody is allowed to build a giant free database of everything human beings have ever produced. Getty Images will sue the shit out of you if you take a historical picture from their archives and violate your licensing agreement with them. Same with the Walt Disney Company if you create a free rival to Disney+ with all of their movies. Sci-Hub was founded in Kazakhstan because if you founded it here they would swiftly put you in federal prison. (When you really think about what it means, copyright law is an unbelievably intensive restriction on freedom of speech, sharply delineating the boundaries of what information can and cannot be shared with other people.)

But it’s not just profiteering companies that will fight to the death to keep content safely locked up. The creators of content are horrified by piracy, too. As my colleagues Lyta Gold and Brianna Rennix write, writers, artists, and filmmakers can be justifiably concerned that unless ideas and writings and images can be regarded as “property,” they will starve to death:

Is there a justifiable rationale for treating ideas—and particularly stories—as a form of “property”? One obvious reason for doing so is to ensure that writers and other creators don’t starve to death: In our present-day capitalist utopia, if a writer’s output can be brazenly copied and profited upon by others, they won’t have any meaningful ability to make a living off their work, especially if they’re an independent creator without any kind of institutional affiliation or preexisting wealth.

Lyta and Brianna point out that in the real world, this justification is often bullshit, because copyrights last well beyond the death of the person who actually made the thing. But it’s a genuine worry, because there is no “universal basic income” for a writer to fall back on in this country if their works are simply passed around from hand to hand without anybody paying for them. I admit I bristle when I see people share PDFs of full issues of Current Affairs, because if this happened a lot, we could sell exactly 1 subscription and then the issue could just be copied indefinitely. Current Affairs would collapse completely if everyone tried to get our content for free rather than paying for it. (This is why you should subscribe! Or donate! Independent media needs your support!)

At the end of last year, I published a book on socialism, and at first some conservatives thought it funny to ask me “if you’re a socialist, can I have it for free?” They were quieted, though, when I pointed out that yes, they could indeed have it for free. All they needed to do was go to the local socialized information repository known as a public library, where they would be handed a copy of the book without having to fork over a nickel. Anyone who wants to read my book but cannot or does not want to pay for it has an easy solution.

I realized, though, as I was recommending everyone get my book from the library rather than buying it in a bookstore, that my publisher probably didn’t appreciate my handing out this advice. And frankly, it made me a little nervous: I depend for my living on my writing, so if everyone got my book from the library, it wouldn’t sell any copies, and then my publisher wouldn’t pay me to write any more books.

Read the rest.

See also: On Free Art – “What I can’t get behind are artists who rely on capitalism for their art to even exist.” 

Librarianship FAQs

I sometimes (I would not say often) get asked about being a librarian. Why I did it, how best to do it, any other advice for the baby librarians out there. It is a  a common curiosity. Librarianship is still seen as mysterious, romanticized, stereotyped. On one level, people’s expressions shift when they realize you likely need a Master’s degree to even apply for the job (more if you work in a specialized field). On another level, there is genuine public confusion as to what we do all day.

Sometimes I have good answers to questions, other times I don’t. I am not the best person to come to for advice in all scenarios and there are plenty of other librarians I think you should turn to (see the list below). I’ve learned a lot from others and can only speak to my experience working in academic libraries.

We are an eclectic bunch. All librarians come into this field differently. Some have different expectations. Some have more means to understand what they’re getting into before they begin. Librarians talk about it so much that I believe we are in search of constant validation for how our own strange journey got us to where we are. Nothing about librarianship feels “normal” to me in the context of other jobs, so I think it’s only justified. We sit in a place that starts to blur capitalism and socialism, access to information and gatekeeping. Maybe me telling you might thoughts will help you be reassured of your place. Please reassure me of mine!

Here’s my list of frequently asked questions and answers. I will update as I come across new ones.

Q. When did you first consider being a librarian? 

A.  My well-rounded answer would be when I was a pre-teen spending the night at my best friend’s house. I watched The Mummy for the first time and I fell in love with Evelyn (played by Rachel Weisz). I wanted to be just like her (as in, go in adventures and fight evil mummies). But then, as I grew up, I realized that librarians in my typical library didn’t seem to have as much fun so I quickly forgot that thought until my senior year in college. I was an English Lit. major with no plan. I thought about getting alternatively certified as a teacher once I graduated as a backup plan, but knew grad school sounded like fun. But what would I go for? My friend suggested librarianship–that she was tossing around getting her MLIS. We could do it together.  So, with no other great ideas, I applied. It was a rush job. I wish I had known that you should probably plan a year out, but I didn’t know any better. I remember saying up late into the AM to get stuff submitted. I didn’t miss deadlines, but there was a lot of stress. I wish I had looked into what grad school was going to be like a bit more. But, I didn’t know what I did not know. I was 22 and from a family that had never gotten more than a Bachelor’s degree. I recommend finding some “How to apply and survive” grad school books. I’ve read some after the fact and was like “Damn, I wish I had done that.”

It also didn’t help that my school’s MLIS program info was a hot mess. It was scattered all over in various nooks and crannies of their website. Communication was not very clear at the time. There were a lot of moving parts I did not understand. I don’t know if I even should have understood. I think universities are getting better about that sort of thing, though. Email and online applications/portals were just starting to be a standard thing at the time.

Q. What was applying to grad school like? 

A. It was a bit silly. Applying to library school is different than other schools, I feel like. We don’t quite seem to know how best to vet people and every school requires different things. I remember having to write an essay, submit my sad resume, asking 3 people to write letters of recommendation for me. I generally think letters of recommendation are barriers to access. Why can’t my grades speak for themselves? But I certainly think they speak volumes more than any GRE or entrance exam.  Shortly after I had to take the GRE, my school removed the requirement for new applicants. Lucky them! The GRE was a waste of time and money for me. I have a lot of test anxiety and adding very little time to study on top of that did not make applying to grad school a fun experience for me. Though I’m not proud of my score or application, I was accepted. That was all that mattered to me. I did not want there to be an interruption between when I would get my next student loan offering. It was kind of a matter of survival, honestly.

Q. What was grad school like? 

A. I wish I had enjoyed the ride a bit more. Rather, I wish I had been able to. I was paying for it, after all. I’m in debt with student loans because of it. If I could do things differently, I would have tried to take in-person classes, because I completed my degree completely online. Most of the classes I could have benefited from in retrospect were offered on-campus only at the time. I took what was offered just so I could complete the degree. I needed to finish quickly. I cut corners to save time and money. I needed a job. I needed healthcare. I did not have the privilege of supportive parents during this time in my life. I was working 2 part time jobs and squeezing in studies in between. Do I regret doing my degree all online?  No. It allowed me to work my jobs at 2 different libraries and get experience. But if you can do things differently, maybe you should. What I do not recommend is quitting school and saving up money to go or “taking time off” to figure things out. That’s when life will pass you by. You might not go back. There is no point in working a job that barely pays if you can go school and graduate with a degree that will help you get a better job. I would rather have done things slightly differently than never have done them at all.

Speaking of which. I really wish I could have taken a cataloging class. It wasn’t mandatory for me and there were no online course offerings at the time. Another thing I (maybe?) wish I had done was changed my advisor. After the first two meetings with them (the second ending with me in tears), I should have fought for my right to have a a decent one. Mine was not that for me. I went it alone rather than potentially cause a scene. Mine did not keep me informed of due dates and, in fat, mislead me about them. Mine also basically advised me to take only one course my first semester, which I could not do if I wanted financial aid (so she was effectively telling me to drop out), and she also sent my resume to people without my consent. In that last one,  my advisor was trying to help me get me a job as a GA (graduate assistant), which would have gotten me a tuition waiver. It was hard to be mad at that, but I realized after the fact it had harmed more than helped. More on that later.

There was a lot wrong with how the department functioned, but I was too young to know how to complain and it’s probably better that I didn’t. Librarians all seem to know each other and it is not worth burning bridges. There was just so much miscommunication and lack of caring about me as a student that I cannot recommend my school as the place to go to library school. However, it was the only school which is ALA accredited in my state. So, I did not have a lot of choices. I just have no loyalty to my school or program because of it. I complained on exit surveys or faculty feedback forms, though. I like to think my voice might have changed a few things. The program does seem to have gotten better, from what I can tell of the new graduates. However, my program recently got a warning about its accreditation status. It still has a ways to go.

Q. Should I try to be a GA? 

A. I never was one. Like I said above, I did apply to be one. But not because I was well informed about what was happening. I later did not see the point of being a GA, which is basically a work study position. Sure, you can get experience, but I was already getting that in the 2 libraries I was working at and had guaranteed stability at both. GA positions, as I understand them, are available only from semester to semester. So, keeping your position is not a guaranteed thing and I think you might have to reapply each time. They may be worth it for the tuition waiver, but I also didn’t want to lose my foot in the door at the two institutions I was working at. One did offer me a full-time position when I graduated. You have to weigh the pros and cons. I personally find them exploitative in the overall system.

Q. Did you write a thesis? 

A. No. I did a final comp. For Comps at my institution, they give you a prompt and you write it out by a certain date. There was also the option to do a portfolio, where you have to present in front of a panel and get asked questions. That sounded like too much work and, thanks to my advisor, I missed the deadlines on anyway. I am glad I did Comps, though. You defalt to that unless you choose otherwise. I am a strong writer and would choose to do it again if I had to. I’m always surprised to see how many people actually don’t pass Comps. They post the data on it in an email each time it’s given out: “X# took the exam. X# passed.” Alumnus are also invited to attend the portfolio presentations. You might try to attend one of those if you’re thinking about going that route. Find a librarian who will give you the deets.

Q. How was getting a job as a librarian? 

A. I actually got a job as a librarian before I got the degree! I was a part-time librarian for a small seminary library while finishing up my last year the MLIS. A little before that, I got a job as a part-time aide at a community college library. I worked both of those part-time jobs while going to grad school. A little after I graduated, the seminary library offered me a full-time position. It fell in my lap and I do realize how lucky I was to be handed a full-time position. I literally had no plan otherwise (maybe I would have found a PhD program somewhere once I figured out what I wanted to do), but otherwise those two part-time jobs were going to be my meal ticket. Library jobs (not just librarian jobs) do not grow on trees.

In fact, the first library-related job I had was the aide job at the community college. I feel like they only considered me because I had been accepted into grad school. I was blunt in the interview about needing experience and not being sure if librarianship was even right for me (how could I be? I had never worked in a library before!). Before that I only had food industry jobs and experience working at a now-closed video rental store (oddly very close to library work, honestly!). I feel like if you are a grad student applying for certain entry-level library jobs, you are fighting an uphill battle. You are not yet qualified to be a librarian, but you are also seen as a threat to the other librarians who wonder why you are applying to “such a low position.” I have sat in interviews where librarians worried that the graduate applicant would be telling them how to do their jobs, that they would not be happy doing grunt work, that we would lose them when they did graduate. Libraries are not as willing to give you experience as you think they might be. Unless, perhaps, you want to work for free. Shadowing might also be an option, but it is helpful if you know someone willing to set that up for you or ask on your behalf. So, my best advice on applying to jobs as a graduate student is to be humble and reinforce you know your place.

Q. What is the interview process like? 

A. For the first librarian job I got (for a part-time position), it was just one interview. A one-on-one thing. I only got the interview because the dean at the community college where I was an aide (see previous answer) knew I was looking for more work. I had just applied at her college library for an instruction librarian position and did not get it (but the interview was good practice!). She forwarded me the job posting and knew the library director at the library where I would get the first librarian job. Like I said, all librarians know each other!

For the other librarian positions I’ve applied for (public and academic), there have been MULTIPLE stages of interviews. The public library, once you pass the first stage, won’t make you do it again if you end up applying for another position apparently. I have enjoyed attending public library interviews, because you learn a lot about your city that way–and how different they are from academic libraries. Interviews are good practice, and are key networking opportunities (re: dean of community college library still hooked me up even though I didn’t get the library instruction job!). I learned this as I went along, but I wish someone had told me in my first library-related interview. I might have backed out right then and there because I was NOT ready.

I will also say that interviews are good to start while you are still in grad school. Start applying before you have the degree. Go in humbly, and they might be willing to take a chance on you. Interviews will show you what you really want to do in your career, issues you might be overlooking when you look at job postings, and what you need to learn more about.

I once applied for a cataloging position in the college library I currently work at when I was still full-time somewhere else. The first interview went fine and I got a call back to do the second round, but by that time I had realized their vision for the position did not match what I originally thought. It was more than I was willing to invest. I had also learned more about who I would be working with and official duties–stuff they couldn’t cram into the job posting. I was glad I backed out and waited until the position I later got opened up. It wasn’t a good fit–at the time or ever (at the time, my grandfather was put on hospice so changing jobs also did not seem like a good idea). I am really glad I went to the interview, though, because it gave me even greater perspective for how the library functions at the librarian level, which I think helped me understand the next position I applied for with them.

My library typically has at least 2 stages of interviews for librarian positions, depending on the amount of applicants. One with the hiring committee, and one where you do a teaching demo or presentation over a topic in front of all the librarians. For position I ended up getting, there were 3 stages. They added a phone interview to weed out candidates before pulling people in. Presenting in front of peers (and, frankly, people you may have worked with previously or gone to school with because LIBRARIANS ALL KNOW EACH OTHER), is the scariest part, I think.

Q. What librarians should I follow for more advice and insight?

A. These, just to name a few. Drop others in the comments, but these I want to particularly highlight because I’ve learned a lot from them:

At the Intersection

@WildeAtHeart

@edrabinski     

Quick Ask Zoe

@geekandahalf

 

 

‘Banksy Is a Control Freak. But He Can’t Control His Legacy.’

‘Recently, Banksy’s representatives have been using European Union trademark law to crack down on knockoff merchandising. The artist who once declared in one of his murals that “copyright is for losers,” and who grudgingly tolerated unauthorized exhibitions for years now seems to have had enough of others profiting from his work.

Copyright is the traditional way that artists protect their works from unauthorized reproduction; trademark law safeguards commercial logos. But, as Mr. Bonadio pointed out, “If you want to take a copyright action, you have to disclose your identity.” This was why Pest Control was now enforcing Banksy’s trademarks, he added.

Banksy was advised by his lawyers that the most effective response would be to create and market his own merchandise. This would show he was actively using his trademarks in a business, rather than just warding off appropriators.

…The artist does not communicate directly with journalists, but only through a single press spokeswoman, Joanna Brooks, who declined to answer questions for this article. Ms. Brooks said that Banksy would respond if publication were delayed until March, when the artist would make a significant announcement.’

Read the rest. 

‘Inside a Facebook ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ for Cat Drugs’

‘“It’s like the Dallas Buyers Club, when patients couldn’t get the AIDS meds they needed in this country legally. That’s kind of what I like to think that we’re doing for cats,” said Robin Kintz, one of the founders of FIP Warriors.

“That’s not how it’s supposed to be done,” Lyons said. She also questions the wisdom of cat rescues forking over so much money to save a single cat when there are so many kittens in need of food, shelter, and basic veterinary care.
“You’re spending all of this money to save just one cat, when so many could be saved with that same money.” Lyons paused. “I bet you won’t print that.

Almost overnight, the lethargic kitty began to perk up and show interest in food and toys. After a week, Harper seemed almost normal. Because the drug is dosed by weight, Thompson had to increase the amount of medication she used as Harper’s health improved. In total, treatment cost around $5,000, all of which was covered via a GoFundMe account.’

 

Read the rest. 

From “The Dangers of the Appropriation Critique” By Adrian L. Jawort

‘While no work is immune from critique, the Native American art world is witnessing a dangerous trend of “appropriation” arguments escalating toward de facto censorship. Many people will outright agree with and defend the statement by Joy Harjo, a Muscogee Creek and US poet laureate, who wrote in a 2017 blog post entitled “Erasure,” “What about enlarging the purview of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to include the literary?” This act was initially proposed to prevent forgeries of Native arts and crafts. The penalty for a first-time offense is a fine of up to $250,000 in addition to a five-year prison term; a business could face up to a $1 million fine for producing counterfeit crafts. Suggesting that the IACA apply to literature would put potentially controversial art under the government’s microscope. Unenrolled tribal descendants who don’t appease the colonized concepts of blood quantum requirements would fall under this act — unless they catered to political pressure to appease cultural committees like Saad Beez Hózhǫ́’s propaganda-like definition of art should be.

While Harjo’s suggestion was made with the best of intentions — whoever thinks their intentions are meant to hurt? — her proposal could theoretically ban Roanhorse’s books from being produced: under those rules, she wouldn’t have the authority to write about Navajo culture. While it’s unlikely this suggestion would ever be deemed constitutional, it must be noted that on most Indian reservations there are few legally coded free speech rights, so attitudes like these are not an anomaly. (For instance, a Blackfeet man once sat in jail for five days after a post on Facebook complaining about tribal corruption.) Moreover, consider the optics of the US poet laureate advocating government control of literature-as-crime, while those nodding in agreement or condoning it by silence are not right-wing fascists but academics and fellow Native American writers. This is not only failing to see the forest for the trees, but also setting a wildfire to burn it down.’

Read the rest. 

Book Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

This book was far too long for what it wanted to do and the magic/alchemy did not make sense. Like I said in my instagram post, I felt like a lot of this was trying to be meta like The Magicians, but I also honestly feel like a lot of it was inspired by The Automation, where boy-girl twins deal with alchemy stuff and created beings and there is a “book within a book” aspect too. To top it off, that book also drops a lot of Wizard of Oz imagery, but at least there it makes sense. This felt like a meandering knockoff that came out 5 years after and simply got more buzz because of the big publisher and the established author name. It’s cool that alchemy is getting attention in publishing, though.

Other goodreads reviews I agree with:

There is so much back and forth with timelines, lots of repetition on maths and words and the doctrine. But at the end of the day I don’t think it added much to the plot; cause I still have no idea why Reed was doing what he was doing. It sort of starts making sense by the end but then it’s just too little too late.

 

Oh also, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s time travel. (and normally I love time travel, but this timeline is a sloppy mess. At one point a character in the future makes a phone call to a person in the past with no logic as to how that’s possible. Note to authors: time travel without science fiction justification is illogical. You need to define your parameters if you want me to buy into your universe.)

 

This reads more like a fanfiction of a pre-existing work rather than a story in its own right. The prose are self-indulgent and meandering. Details are repeated ad nauseam because the author seemingly found a new way to describe it that felt poignant. There’s heaps of character study for protagonists I don’t care about. 

 

Another thing that I didn’t like is that this is labelled as an adult fantasy but it felt very much like a YA book.

 

If this book tells me anything its that just because you’ve had publishing success before that doesn’t mean you should be publishing everything without someone standing up and asking if the thing you’ve just written actually makes any kind of sense. 

 

Though this is supposed to be a math and logic based sci-fi, it is strange how very little is explained. The lack of details made it hard to picture and suspend disbelief for. I struggled to understand the motivations of Reed or how he really planned to accomplish his ambitions. The “Impossible City” is just a cool-sounding name being thrown around without explanation.

 

The world-building is just… a lot of cool words and concepts are thrown around, but McGuire doesn’t really spend much or any time explaining them. A few things get mentioned again and again and given no context as to how they work or why they’re so important. The alchemy bits are pretty interesting, but they don’t stand alone and those sections aren’t enough to carry the length of the novel. Especially when it’s 400 pages of maths and Roger and Dodger meeting and going their separate ways again.

Book Review: I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

Book Review: Prosper’s Demon by K.J. Parker

 

Book Review: Gods and Myths of the Viking Age by Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson