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Umm…Do people understand what they read?

Well, it’s the middle of the night, I can’t sleep, and I don’t usually blog anymore. But I have a question and the outlet of a blog, and maybe one person in the world might find this interesting, so here goes:

Why do people read criticism into perfectly innocent, fact-based commentary?

I ran across some old Twitter criticism about an old WaPo article about Jane Austen. You know she was great, I know she was great, lots and lots of people know she was great, and it’s clear the WaPo contributor knows she’s great. There is no condescension of Austen in the article, and no derision of unmarried women, by the way.

There is simply fact: Jane Austen did not marry. Jane Austen wrote about love. It’s ironic and sad that Jane Austen did not marry if she had wished to, which maybe she did.

In fact, the WaPo writer, herself, underscored the main point of the article in its last line: “No doubt she caught the bitter irony that the only way for Austen to improve her own lot was to keep writing and never marry.”

But, according to this Mashable article, Twitterers – or whatever you call people who use Twitter – got all fired up complaining of a Tweet that teased the article by, really, just juxtaposing condensed facts to reveal an irony. They found the teasing Tweet below WaPo standards. (That’s what they choose to be offended by? There’s so much stuff to legitimately criticize in WaPo….but another time, maybe.) They, for some goofy, out-there, maybe-everyone-was-having-a-crappy-day reason, seemed to think that this poor WaPo writer was equating a lack of marriage experience with an amazement that Austen could write about its pursuit.

She didn’t.

Unless I missed some revealing phrasing or words, nothing like that was implied, much less stated.

So, another question: Is it worth writing an article that praises and empathizes with someone when you will be attacked for writing something imagined in the heads of the readers? For no good reason, mind you. There was no ambiguous language. The words and implication simply were not there. 

I didn’t write the article, but even I find it infuriating.

Then, there are the miserable comments. A petty criticism about writing style that seem to be fueled by the affront (remember, all imagined) to Austen, a criticism that actually proves the WaPo writer’s point, an accusation that marriage equaled fulfillment for women.

Do they teach the identification of main ideas in school anymore? Or implication?

Never mind that the author was stating facts. Never mind that she clearly felt a marriage vs. career conflict was cruel to women. Never mind that so many people have already made plenty of comments about the ironies in writers’ lives and their stories. (Oh, look at that adventure writer…You know he atually lived quite a sedate life!) Readers wanted to criticize and, dammit, they were going to do it.

Well, now I have, too. But, at least, there was something to, you know, actually complain about.

And, here’s a thought. Austen, with her dry look-at-life-screwing-us way, would – Dare I say it?  – probably have had a criticism, too: Why is everyone so taken aback that yet another writer has acknowledged some facts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts after reading a book…

The book I read is called The Witch of Lime Street, Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World and is written by David Jaher. It’s about a Boston society woman who claimed to be a medium but was successfully debunked (more or less) by Houdini and others.

limestreet.jpgSo, I’m just pouring a few thoughts onto the page because they occurred to me and appealed to my ruminating mind strongly enough that I wanted to share, should anyone be interested in reading them.

First, I sailed through the book. It’s interesting material for many different reasons.

Second, ‘sailed’ may be true in the sense that I read the book pretty quickly, but it took effort because there was something in the wordiness and construction of the narrative that had to be dealt with. Also, the writer had a way of referring to something before naming it, and then identifying the name. This is a device writers use, of course, and which works often; sorry to say, it didn’t work here, at least for me. Something to do with the unnecessary slog of wordiness that seemed to be trying to be artfulness, but perhaps simplicity may have been better.

Third, as someone mentioned on Goodreads.com, the book managed to be less informative than one would imagine. It was quite detailed, in some cases bogged down with detail about how test seances were conducted. Despite that, it leaves on wondering so many things: how did she actually do the tricks? what was the result of the investigation into the Crandons and the orphans they kept trying to adopt? what about a summary of the ultimate verdicts on the Crandons? She was deluded? She genuinely thought she could channel her brother, but she did tricks to help people believe what she believed to be true? He believed in these paranormal things, and she took a cue from h
im, and then deluded herself?

Fourth, where are the footnoted references? The writer says that the sourcing could take up a book of its own, and I suppose you don’t need footnotes for everything, but maybe a list of the sources that were used in each chapter might be good. There’s a nice list of books at the end, but I would have liked to know where particular facts and information was drawn from.

I wondered further about sourcing when I dipped into another book on Houdini that referenced the Crandons and did a little cross-referencing. Footnotes would have been nice, perhaps, not necessary, but nice.

Fifth, and further on the topic of navigating information, I was trying to remember a few items from the book after finishing it and turned to the index to help me find them, but there were no listings for the key words that might have helped me. For example, I wanted to find the name of the orphan, Horace Newton, who briefly stayed with the Crandons before, apparently, deciding to go back home to England instead of being adopted by them. I couldn’t remember his name, so I tried words that I remembered from that section, like these: Doric, or
phan, adoption. They weren’t there. Finally, I remembered a person’s name, and found that person (DeWyckoff) in the index, which finally helped me find that section.

Regarding the index, another time I looked on a page that was supposed to mention a keyword (according to the index), and it wasn’t there at all. Occasionally, this is the way indexes are, very annoyingly. I imagine they are hard to put together (though today with computers??).

 

Prior to reading this book, I had no idea about this bit of miscellaneous Boston history, so it was nice to learn about it, and the reading was engrossing. It is the kind of book that, both because it is interesting and because it leaves out information, leaves you wanting to investigate the topic.

 

 

 

 

 

Quick notes on my reading of Melissa Mayhue’s All the Time You Need

ALLTHETIMEYOUNEED-FrontCover-186x300

So many nice things about this book! It didn’t do the usual will-they-won’t-they thing where they nearly come together and then get torn apart by people or circumstances, and you are impatient for the peaceful enjoyment of reading about the characters without the (even though you know it’s temporary) angsty-ness that usually happen at least one or two times in book. Here, a difficulty starts, and within a few paragraphs, you can see order resuming, at least for the individual challenges within the larger story conflict. And that larger conflict is not one that tears at you the whole time you are reading, so you can enjoy yourself without the…suspense? Perhaps it is just me, but I really like not to get into nervous knots when I’m reading most stories, at least love stories. Little bumps in the road easily but smartly smoothed are quite enough for me!

I liked the prologue, too. I liked – is this a SPOILER???? – how the main couple were involved in the prologue.

However, – WARNING that this is probably a SPOILER, though we know there’s happily always an HEA in romance novels – the scene of the return was so fast, too fast, imho. I was really looking forward to it, and then, boom, there it was. Not the momentous, savory occasion befitting an ending or needed. The prologue kind of made up for that, though. I cared a lot for the book and appreciated so much the adventuresome but calm enjoyment I was able to derive from it, that I wanted something longer and more detailed and more….Wow! I can’t believe it’s you! Never, never, never do that again or I’ll die!!! kind of thing. But, of course, written like the rest of the book (i.e. better) than my sad attempt – in italics above – at showing emotion.

Really, really enjoying Melissa Mayhue’s books!!!