Fetishizing books is not the same thing as loving reading

Disclosed book on a table. Close-up.
Image: Getty Images

If you follow a lot of people who watch a lot of Netflix, then you’ve probably spent a lot of 2019 so far watching them argue about books. Specifically, about Tidying Up with Marie Kondo‘s approach to books.

“Keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off my book piles, Marie Kondo,” gasped The Washington Post. “Marie Kondo, back off! Why this book hoarder refuses to tidy up,” declared Cnet. On Twitter, some bibliophiles expressed shock and horror, while others reacted to that shock and horror with snark and bemusement

Kondo’s method for books is exactly the same as her method for pretty much anything else you might find in a home, like clothing, sporting goods, or kitchen gadgets. Yet it’s only the books that have provoked this level of disgust, and that’s because a lot of people have no chill when it comes to what other people might be doing with their books. 

Though this particular Kon-troversy is new, it’s really just the latest in a long series of book-related outrages over the years. 

Last year’s was the collective hand-wringing over backwards bookshelves. Before that was the outrage over books getting cut up for crafts. There’s been huffing over shelves curated by color and selfies over piles of open books, and disagreements over whether a large stack of unread books is cause for pride or shame

What all of these scandalous actions have in common is that they don’t actually affect anyone at all but the person making them. Instagram influencers aren’t sneaking into your home to rearrange your shelves, and Kondo isn’t signing legislation to outlaw large book collections. (She actually encourages you to keep your books if the thought of discarding them makes you mad.)

Why, then, do some bibliophiles get ranty at photos of spine-in books, or see red when a Kondo client throws another novel in his discard pile?

For many, it has to do with what books represent. Books don’t exist solely to spark joy! Books are objects of wonder, and souvenirs of our personal journeys! Our collections reflect our tastes and our personalities, and express them to any curious visitors who might come looking. They’re not mere decorative pieces or functional tools, and only a non-reader would treat them as such.

Books may mean a lot to some readers, but they don’t mean the same thing to all readers.

Or maybe they would. 

Books may mean a lot to some readers, but they don’t mean the same thing to all readers. A skimpy shelf could mean someone hates books, or simply that they prefer ebooks and libraries. An overstuffed one might be just as self-consciously curated as a streamlined one. Those spine-in volumes could belong to someone who loves reading and favors a minimalist aesthetic.

There’s a difference between loving reading and fetishizing books. While there’s nothing wrong with the latter, it’s worth acknowledging the difference — if only so we can collectively stop flying into a blind rage whenever some Facebook rando shares a photo of the secret book safe they just DIYed. 

There are exceptions and caveats, of course. Books that are rare or very old should probably be saved and preserved. Newer books could probably be donated or recycled, rather than trashed, for the sake of the environment. It also goes without saying that I’m talking here about personal collections; it’s obviously a much bigger problem if the government starts burning books, or a public library reorders them all by color just for the ‘gram. 

As a general rule, though? Mind your own books, and let other people mind theirs. 

If you can’t wait to KonMari some boring books out of your life, have fun tidying up. If you’d rather die by a billion paper cuts than let go of even one single volume, hold on to them for as long as you’d like. If you’d like to stock up on vintage volumes you won’t read to make yourself look smarter, or if you love judging people by their book collections — honestly, knock yourself out. 

Whatever you decide to do, though, remember that it’s not the bound stacks of printed paper that matter. It’s what they do, what’s inside them, and what they mean to you that does. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to cut everyone else a break for whatever they’re doing with their own piles of paper. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/books-marie-kondo/

George RR Martin says that Daenerys would benefit from reading ‘Fire and Blood’

George RR Martin says that even Daenerys Targaryen should be reading his new book
Image: WireImage

A lot of Game of Thrones fans are still slightly upset that George RR Martin took time to write a 700-page book of Targaryen history, when he should be spending all waking hours finishing The Winds of Winter. 

But, we now know that Fire and Blood does contain important information relating to GoT. And Martin just emphasized again that Fire and Blood is not just a bone he’s throwing his fans to get them to leave him alone for a while. 

In an exclusive video published on Esquire, Martin said that even Daenerys herself should probably give the book a read to better understand how to play the game of thrones. 

“This is a book that Daenerys might actually benefit from reading,” Martin said. 

Image: Courtesy of HBO

Fire and Blood is Martin writing as Archermaester Gyldayn, resident of the citadel in Oldtown, Westeros. And though Daenerys is busy elsewhere getting people to bend the knee, she would really benefit from a reading trip to the citadel. 

“She has no access to Archermaester Gyldayn’s crumbling manuscripts,” Martin told Esquire. “So she’s operating on her own there.” 

But he says that this text holds important information for the Mother of Dragons. “Maybe if she understood a few things more about dragons and her own history in Essos, things would have gone a little differently,” he adds. 

If we all promise to read Fire and Blood, will you please finish the other one already, George?

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/george-rr-martin-fire-and-blood-daenerys/

The radical, democratising power of Instagram poetry

Image: vicky leta/mashable

We millennials like our poetry typed out in neat fonts on rustic pastel backgrounds, centred in a tiny square on a small screen. We read short, simple, and relatable poems which may strike a chord with us for a second before we scroll on to the next Timothée Chalamet appreciation post or #brunch pic.

I’m talking, of course, about poetry native to Instagram. A budding genre scoffed by the literary community but loved by millions of young readers. 

This Insta-friendly verse, with its distinct tone and aesthetic, is serving sincerity and feeling in the place we need it the most: the ever ironic, cynical internet. It’s this vulnerability on a platform that’s more-often-than-not replete with inauthenticity and polished veneers that makes it so striking. 

Roll your eyes all you like, but Instagram poets are defining the genre for the millennial generation with a radical democratisation and push for diversity in the poetry world. Their work is accessible in more than one sense of the word, and while the critics may not always like it, their work is now being celebrated as “gateway poetry” — and that can only be a good thing. 

Household names in the Instagram poetry realm are now also recognised names in bookstores and the literary world in general. The most famous poet of Instagram is 25-year-old Rupi Kaur, whose poetry has — apart from securing seven-figure sales numbers — reached the level of popularity and recognisability where it is now a (frankly hilarious) meme. R.M. Drake, or Robert Macias, is perhaps best known for being reposted by the Kardashians, but he is also the author of several bestsellers. British poets Charly Cox (read her poem about kale) and queer poet Yrsa Daley Ward are making strides in Europe. Not to mention Nayyirah Waheed (read up on her plagiarism dispute with Kaur for real-life Insta poet drama), Tyler Knott Gregson, Amanda Lovelace, and Lang Leav. 

This is a diverse group of poets, many of whom have long since graduated from Instagram to print poetry, causing some to argue that the term”Instagram poet” is a lazy one, that their medium is the least interesting thing about them. But these poets do have more in common than their platform of choice, poetry experts say. The Instagram poets have given birth to a genre of their own.

“What the poets of Instagram tend to have in common is what I would call emotional relatability or accessibility, and a tone and vocabulary that is reminiscent of the self-help or self-improvement movement — many read like motivational quotes,” says Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan, digital director of the Institute of Poetry and Poetics at Durham University.

“It is not really about complex language, it is more about easily translatable universal emotions.”

It is precisely this relatability that makes Instagram poetry so resonant among millennials. Rather than alienating a young audience with convoluted language or complicated form, the ultimate goal of the Insta poets is always to connect directly with their audience. 

Judith Palmer, Director of the Poetry Society, says that one of the defining characteristics of Instagram poetry is that it’s less about flexing your linguistic muscles and more about gaining instant understanding from readers. “The language isn’t often being pushed and I don’t see a complex vocabulary,” says Palmer. “It is not really about complex language, it is more about easily translatable universal emotions.”

While short form diary-style writing has been an internet culture staple pretty much since the days of LiveJournal, Insta poets are breaking new ground by insisting that their writing is poetry and demanding it be viewed and respected as such.

According to Martha Sprackland, Associate Editor at Poetry London, that’s one of the things that sets high profile Insta poets apart from your average inspirational quote account. 

“There has long been light verse, slogans, inspirational quotes, whatever else; what’s more recent is their determination to be included in the bounds of ‘poetry,'” Sprackland tells Mashable. Per Sprackland, their dedication to belonging in the poetry genre is part of what has helped them gather an eager young audience around poetry. “I know that the rise of Instagram poetry has changed the perception of ‘poetry’ as a whole for large numbers of young people,” says Sprackland. 

While Instagram poets have achieved great mainstream commercial success, literary critics have unsparingly criticised them and their supposedly “amateur” writing. With their style and medium of choice, they are leading a commercialisation of the poetry genre and diluting the quality of poetry, a once high-brow literary genre. 

Poet Rebecca Watts argues in the poetry journal PN Review that Instagram poets are ruining poetry as an art form. “In the redefinition of poetry as ‘short-form communication’ the floodgates have been opened, writes Watts. “The reader is dead: long live consumer-driven content and the ‘instant gratification’ this affords,” Watts writes in the piece entitled ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur.’ 

Watts wants the literary community to “stop celebrating amateurism and ignorance in our poetry, ” and insists that the size of one’s following says nothing of the quality of the writing (Watts even goes as far as to make a comparison to Donald Trump).

There is of course some truth to the point that a massive following does not ensure quality, as one trickster poet attempted to prove when he obtained thousands of followers writing four word poems on Instagram. 

But, according to the poetry experts, we’re looking at emerging poetry the wrong way. The exposure that Instagram has brought to the genre is a good thing, despite the fact that they’re taking the genre in a direction that the critics might not like. 

“What are those critics doing over there?” Sprackland asks. “It’s not for them. It’s a different genre, and it’s daft to try and approach it bristling with all the usual tools of the ‘contemporary page poetry’ critic,” Sprackland says. “It’s not a case of merit, but of misfiling, of mislabelling, and then a wilful refusal to admit that mislabelling for fear of either causing offence or appearing snobbish.”

But, this critical snobbery to newcomers to a genre isn’t exactly a new thing. Spencer-Regan points out that frowning upon art in a new more accessible medium it is “definitely not a new response.” 

“The emergence of this new kind of poetry can really make us question what poetry is and what makes it good. But these poets do reach large audiences, and their work clearly resonates with a lot of people — though it may not be to the personal taste of many academics and literary critics,” says Spencer-Regan. 

“It’s giving opportunities to many women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people who publicly disclose mental illnesses.”

Spencer-Regan argues that the Instagram poets have, in fact, succeeded at securing more diversity in a genre traditionally perceived to be dominated by white, straight people (both when it comes to both readers and writers). Spencer-Regan argues that these poets and their strategic use of social platforms have in fact reinvigorated and democratised the poetry world. 

“This is a radically democratic method of publishing that is giving opportunities to many women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people who publicly disclose mental illnesses,” says Spencer-Regan. “These people are rejecting the old rules of a literary world that they feel may have rejected them.”

According to Palmer of The Poetry Society, the Insta poets have successfully managed to bring poetry into people’s everyday life. Many poems deal with topics found in all sorts of Instagram content, such as body image, sexuality and gender. 

“What we’re seeing is contemporary life reflected and that is the big appeal. People have for too long had this idea that poetry is a small world, and that poetry is one thing. This is an unnecessary narrowing,” says Palmer. 

And, like it or not, Instagram poetry has introduced young people to a genre that, in the recent years, hasn’t had much of a hold on them. 

The poetry of Instagram may not be to the critics’ likings, or the likings of some adult readers, but that shouldn’t make us write it off as meaningless, trivial diary scribbles.

“Poetry will no longer be something remote or intimidating, but an art form that these young readers feel they can claim as their own.”

“You could argue that some of the poetry is trite, clichéd, bland or derivative. But we’re coming to it as more mature, more sophisticated readers,” says Spencer-Regan. “I can imagine being 14 and then finding these pages — they would speak to me in a whole other way, giving voice to feelings and experiences that I perhaps couldn’t have articulated for myself at that age.” 

Spencer-Regan sees Instagram poetry as a harnessing of the power of social media to get young people excited about verse. 

“We talk about Harry Potter as a ‘gateway’ book, and I suspect that these poems can work in the same way — to make young people curious about poe,” Spencer-Regan says. “Poetry will no longer be something remote or intimidating, but an art form that these young readers feel they can claim as their own.”

Whether you like or dislike the poetry in your feed, or you relate to the minimalist relatability of the Insta poets, their influence must be acknowledged. After all, if you have haters, you must be doing something right. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/article/instagram-poetry-democratise-genre/

Twitter rips awful Forbes take about replacing libraries with Amazon

Libraries are amazing and bad takes in Forbes are not.
Image: Mark Lennihan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

UPDATE: July 23, 2018, 1:48 p.m. EDT As of Monday afternoon, it appears as if the story has been pulled from Forbes without a note or any other reason. The story has also been removed from Mourdoukoutas’ author page. I’ve reached out to Forbes for details but, for now, you can read a cached version of the story here and an updated version that was briefly on the site is here (via Wonkette).


There are bad takes, and then there’s the take by Forbes contributor Panos Mourdoukoutas (who also serves as Chair of the Department of Economics at Long Island University) that local libraries should be replaced by Amazon book stores

Among the reasons Mourdoukoutas offers are: libraries don’t have as many public events as they used to because of school auditoriums; people go to places like Starbucks to hang out and work and read now instead of their library; and because technology makes physical books obsolete.

These arguments are easy to rebut. School auditoriums are hardly new and libraries remain bedrocks of local communities, Starbucks locations don’t offer free loans of books, and libraries all over the country have amassed huge ebook collections, meaning you can still check out books in whatever format you want for free, which is way cheaper than any price on Amazon. 

Also, since Mourdoukoutas brings up the demise of video rental places for some reason, it’s worth pointing out that plenty of libraries now offer streaming audio and video services. And many larger libraries, including New York City and Chicago, loan you free museum passes using your library card, proving they’re still mighty useful to the community.

It’s a poorly written and barely defended take. The one cogent argument Mourdoukoutas does make is that such a move would save residents in tax dollars and would help Amazon stock holders. Because apparently being the richest man in modern history isn’t enough for Jeff Bezos and harming lower-income communities where residents rely on libraries as their primary source for books and more is totally fine.

Bad takes aside, it seems a majority of Americans still consider the library vital to their community, with that being particularly true among millennials. A 2017 report by the Ohio Library Council found that from 2013 to November 2017, Ohio voters approved 162 out of 172 (94.2%) levy increase proposals to benefit their local libraries. And there are plenty of other examples of such approvals, at both state and local levels.

Twitter smelled Mourdoukoutas’ bullshit and was happy to push back, starting with an actual library.

TL;DR: this take was very bad and libraries are very good. Support and patronize your local library today. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/07/22/forbes-library-amazon/

Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls review radical, unsettling, relevant

A superb new biography of the seer of Walden Pond reconsiders his reputation as tax-refuser, recluse, environmentalist and writer

In March 1845, Henry David Thoreau borrowed an axe and set off for Walden Pond, near his home in Concord, Massachusetts. He was going to build a hut, and he knew exactly where: on a spot near the water, backed by a pine grove and fronted by smaller pines and a chestnut tree. Before stopping for his first lunch break, Thoreau had cut and trimmed enough of these pines to make the houses main timbers.

Then he paid $4.28 to buy a shanty from a railroad worker who was moving on the line had just been built past Walden Pond. Thoreau dismantled it and dried its planks in the sun to become the huts roof and sides. He laid a chimney foundation using cobblestones from the pond. When he finished the house that autumn, it had weatherproof shingles on the outside, neat plastering inside and a few carefully counted possessions: three chairs, a desk, one cup, two forks. He planted rows of potatoes, corn and peas and miles of white beans making the earth say beans instead of grass, as he put it. The project had begun: Thoreau would live there, dedicating himself to the principle of simplicity. He would observe nature and write.

The idea had come from his friend and neighbour, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said a writer must have a hideaway. Walden was an obvious choice: Thoreau knew it well, and had spent lazy days in his youth drifting in boats on the pond, playing his flute. Now, he had a more serious purpose. He lived for two years in the hut, then spent a further seven working up his notes for publication. When he produced Walden, he made the earth say a lot more than beans. This cranky, observant, mystical, polemical, exhilarating masterpiece became a classic of 19th-century Americana, studied by schoolchildren and stuffed into pockets for journeys on the road with generations of young idealists. Through this and his essay Civil Disobedience, which urged non-violent political resistance and the principled withholding of taxes, Thoreau called on Americans to tune in, drop out and seize control.

Walden had a rousing effect on me when I first read it. It still does, but I now find it disquieting, too. Besides nature lovers, Thoreau speaks to a spirit of refusal that runs through the modern US (and elsewhere). This spirit rejects political institutions, large-scale civic structures and tax-paying, in favour of holing up in a woodland fastness following only ones raw sense of personal rightness. It unnerves me to read the famous line in Civil Disobedience, That government is best which governs not at all. It sounded good once; now it evokes the kind of thinking that considers public healthcare an evil.

Others have raised milder doubts. After Walden came out, Thoreaus friends and critics alike voiced surprise at the books portrayal of a proud recluse, when they knew that Thoreau had gone on doing regular handyman work around Concord during those years, as well as popping home once a week for dinner prepared by the family cook. Friends visited him all the time, despite his lack of a full set of forks. He was a frequent visitor to other households so much so that Emersons young son Edward was surprised to learn that Thoreau had been officially resident at the pond during a time when he thought the writer was living with them.

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Dedicated to simplicity a replica of Thoreaus house on Walden Pond. Photograph: Alamy

In her superb new biography, Laura Dassow Walls defuses such cavils with a wry, understated humour. No other male American writer, she says, has been so discredited for enjoying a meal with loved ones or for not doing his own laundry. That quiet male is characteristic; like Thoreau, Walls lets her sharpest observations slip through to the readers consciousness without touching the sides. The observations and interpretations are not hammered home, yet they are persuasive. She gives us a Thoreau who is more interesting, more intellectually curious and more subtle than I (for one) had given him credit for despite his unsettling side, or perhaps because of it. Exploring his environmentalism and radicalism, she shows us why he might be worth reading differently in the 21st century.

The standard biographical way-stations are all covered. Walls explores Thoreaus childhood in Concord, his far from glittering years at Harvard, where he felt out of place (though he did master five languages and would spend his Walden evenings reading Homer in Greek), and his early attempts at schoolmastering. She then focuses on his writing life. Walls inspires us to read not just Walden, but his lectures, his essays and especially his journal.

This downright weird journal forms a backbone to his life and in Wallss biography is a theme in itself. He began it while under Emersons spell, opening it by quoting a question asked by his mentor: What are you doing now? Do you keep a journal? Later, his journal-keeping picked up tempo by adapting a modest volume of Nature Notes kept by his brother, John, who had died horribly from tetanus following a slight skin cut. Where John simply noted what he saw, Thoreau took it into a different dimension. Walls describes the uncanny feeling she had looking at this notebook, where Henrys raw and angular handwriting spills down the page, ripping open a vortex in Johns tidy checklist.

Later, Thoreau repurposed the journal as a professional naturalists log, but combined this with an attempt to capture every moment of each days experience, writing pencil notes almost continuously and transcribing them the next morning. (He used Thoreau family pencils, incidentally: their fortune had started from a graphite find, and he continued to work out ways of refining the pencils hardness.) By delicately juxtaposing her stories, Walls implies an intriguing possibility as to why this shift of style may have occurred. At around the same time, his friend Margaret Fuller had died in a shipwreck with her family, leaving Thoreau in grief. He wrote to himself: If you can drive a nail, and have any nails to drive, drive them … Be native to the universe. Perhaps, faced as well with the loss of his brother, Thoreau was attempting the impossible with his journal: to capture and preserve every scrap of experienced existence before it vanished.

Walls biography allows Thoreau to breathe his own air on her pages, while turning her critical gaze on each of the public roles he played as political activist, mystic, tax refuser and environmentalist. In the end, they all come together in Thoreau the writer the person who said: A man writing is the scribe of all nature he is the corn and the grass and the atmosphere writing.

Writing, for Thoreau, meant living with full attention and awareness living deliberately at every moment, in the sense of applying proper deliberation to his life. It meant, Walls says, living so as to perceive and weigh the moral consequences of our choices. If this isnt a reason to see Thoreau as a man with something to say to our times, I dont know what is.

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls (Chicago, 26.50). To order a copy, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of 1.99.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/10/henry-david-thoreau-a-life-by-laura-dassow-walls-review

Paradise Lost ‘translated more often in last 30 years than previous 300’

Global study finds Miltons verse epic rendered in languages from Tamil to Tongan, and argues interest is linked to social turmoil and political revolutions

Three hundred and fifty years after it was first published, John Miltons epic revolutionary poem about the fall of man, Paradise Lost, continues to find relevance around the world, with research revealing that new translations in the last 30 years outnumber the previous three centuries output combined.

More than 50 academics around the world collaborated to research a new book, Milton in Translation, discovering that the works of the 17th-century author have been translated more than 300 times and into 57 different languages. These range from Faroese and Manx to Tamil and Tongan, from Persian and Hebrew to Frisian and Welsh.

The scholars, led by Purdue Universitys Professor Angelica Duran, Birmingham City Universitys Dr Islam Issa, and Grand Canyon Universitys Dr Jonathan Olson, found that translations of Paradise Lost often mirror[ed] periods of rebellious ideology or nationalism. In Soviet Estonia, the translation was an act of national resistance against the USSR, they said, while in the Middle East, translations took place during the Arab spring uprisings. Yugoslavian political prisoner Milovan Djilas translated Paradise Lost into Serbo-Croatian in the 1960s while he was imprisoned, writing the epic out on toilet paper with a pencil, and smuggling it out of prison.

We were surprised by the number of languages [Milton] is translated into, said Issa. We expected lots of translations of Paradise Lost, but we didnt expect so many different languages, and so many which arent spoken by millions of people, such as Manx. You assume Spanish or French, but you dont assume Welsh and Manx.

Paradise Lost is, according to Issa, a very universal story Adam and Eve, the fall its timeless. And with Milton specifically, there is the revolutionary nature of his writing. He was a republican who played a part in the execution of Charles I, he was anti-Catholic, and theres his characterisation of Satan, trying to revolt against God the father. As a result, at times of political and religious struggle, such as countries trying to move away from Soviet rule, or the Middle East during the Arab spring, people are translating these revolutionary ideas.

First published in 1667, the blank verse Paradise Lost tells of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste / Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, / With loss of Eden. Miltons Satan is cast out from heaven with his rebel angels, Hurld headlong flaming from th Ethereal Skie / With hideous ruine and combustion down / To bottomless perdition, there to dwell / In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire. He goes on to tempt Adam and Eve, and to bring about their expulsion from Eden.

Milton in Translation, which is published on Thursday by Oxford University Press, is, say the scholars, the first ever detailed research into how Milton has been translated and read across the globe. Issa said: This book shows the real reach of literature, even if its from 350 years ago. It also confirms that Miltons works, particularly Paradise Lost, have themes that are both universal and adaptable to different contexts.

He added: For me, the most fascinating thing was seeing how all around the world, religion and politics have been so closely linked with what people choose to translate and how they go about it. There were many common trends. So readers going through independence took real interest in Miltons revolutionary ideas. Or, interestingly, translators in Egypt, Estonia and Spain from completely different times self-censored the exact same sexual scenes.

Issa said: I think he should be more widely read. Paradise Lost is possibly the most important poem in the language. It affects so much of what comes after it. He is the first poet to not use rhyme, to not be confined by anything, and you can see the influence of that today. I think we are missing out if we are not realising his position.

The list demonstrates that around the world people are taking real interest in Milton … And here in the UK we are not doing that so much, even when his writing speaks to us today.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/20/paradise-lost-translated-more-often-in-last-30-years-than-previous-300