November 3, 2019
The recent redesign of this website indicates that I’ve got a new book coming soon, titled Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen. It’s a change of pace for me from the more-or-less science-fictional books I’ve written before, a historical novel set in 18th-century England with no overtly fantastic elements (though given that it’s largely about a woman who purported to give birth to rabbits, it might be more accurate to say that the England of the 18th century is just as fantastic as the alternate-history 20th century of my first novel, or the near-future America of my second).
The redesign has also made me think that I should get back to blogging, which I used to do occasionally before the advent of social media—I used to think Twitter was fantastic, and I can’t deny that it’s been wonderful for me in some ways, introducing me to people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, entertaining me, and helping with my career. But I can’t avoid the feeling that there’s something poisonous about it—aspects of it seem specifically engineered to make smart people into sloppy thinkers, and it’s hard to ignore the way that sensationalist interpretations of ideas spread far more quickly than nuanced considerations, or how certain figures who make such nuanced arguments are likely to find that these arguments will be venomously caricatured*, or how even I myself am occasionally susceptible to misinformation on Twitter despite staying on guard against it. As much good as Twitter does, it may still well be that it does more harm than good; if that’s the case, it’s worth asking myself if I should be adding value to it through my posts and my attention.
So I like the idea of withdrawing from Twitter for a while, eventually, and using this space as a place to work out ideas and chatter idly without calling attention to it. (Will I even link to this from Twitter? I like the idea of not doing that. Maybe I’ll turn on comments here eventually; maybe not. It remains to be seen whether I am disciplined enough to forgo Twitter during an election year.)
In the meantime, other than preparing for a short book tour in November (about which, more in a few days), here’s what I’ve been up to:
—Reading Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School, which took me a little over two months, on and off. In the end, it earned its keep, though it made me realize what a high-risk proposition taking up a 1,000+ page book is when you like to finish things you start and you are increasingly conscious of your mortality. If I had not gone to grad school in English literature, it would have blown my mind; as it is, though, much of the thinking about masculinity and the bourgeoisie, e.g., was not novel to me, though it was interestingly expressed (the translation, by Anthony Shugaar, is beautiful). If there is one idea I think about from that book, weeks after I’ve finished it, it’s the idea that the life cycle of fascism in a country usually coincides with the life of the person that movement designates as its “Duce.” It’s a troubling proposition, new to me, that Albinati throws out almost as an aside.
—Playing Ring Fit Adventure on the Switch, an “exergaming” deal that combines an RPG with a sort-of-Pilates ring in a peculiarly Nintendo-like way. Interesting, if not always successful in its design—the constant problem is that the RPG mechanics are at odds with what you usually want to get out of exercise. So, for example, if you’re good at using RPG strategies to over-level your character and take advantage of enemy weaknesses, you end up doing fewer reps. That said, I did get a pretty decent workout out of it today.
—The Watchmen TV series is turning out to be far better than I’d thought—I watched the first episode purely out of curiosity, and after three episodes I’m sold. Most interesting is the way in which the structures of the episodes mimic the elegant structures of the original comic issues (e.g. the long joke running through episode 3 that gives it a shape). A lot is riding on how this ends—narratively, there are a lot of mysteries that have to be solved, and I have my doubts they will be—but I’m along for the ride now.
Okay—that’s it for now. But more site updates soon-ish.
*Offhand I’m thinking historically of both the debacle between Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates a few years back that ended up driving Coates off Twitter, and of the response to Jonathan Franzen’s recent New Yorker piece on climate change, but the list could be much longer, and adds new entries weekly.