Sunday, October 16, 2005

On Novels

For the most part, I stopped reading novels about six years ago. I have a degree in English Education and I teach eighth grade English Language Arts but I almost exclusively read non-fiction. I've thought a lot about why I do this and there are basically two reasons:

1) I get obsessive about particular topics. Right now it's disability. Before that it was anarchism. Before that it was sixties radicalism - mainly the Black Panther Party and SDS and before that it was String Theory. In the past year I've read about ten books and probably 50 articles on disability. When I've occassionally allowed myself to read something off topic it's been very rewarding. I bought and read most of a book that collected Robert Creeley's poetry. I also read Life of Pi this past summer. But other than these and a few others, it's been all disability, all the time. I did read one novel that was disability-related: "The Body's Memory." That was a nice intersection. I should maybe think about doing more of that.

2) I feel like one can study novels the way I study particular nonfiction topics. I've actually done this a bit. For a while in college I was really into mid-late nineteenth century American Literature - Melville, Hawthorne, Twain, etc. However, since this is a whole project onto itself, I stay away from novels all together. If I was going to read fiction well I would have to study it - I'd have to do author, period, style, or genre studies. That sounds fun but I've got disability to work on right now and I feel like reading novels now would be a distraction, a guilty pleasure - one that I shouldn't, for some reason, afford myself.

And anyway, fiction is so much harder to read. There's usually so much more you have to keep track of and it takes interpretative skills that I've allowed to get rusty. So the more I do stay away from novels, the more I will stay away from novels.

That said, my favorite books are all novels.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Starbucks and Disability

Standing in front of the 1st Starbucks I was thinking about how it didn't look at all like the other ones I've seen. All over the North West for the 2 weeks I was out there I was able to visit so many excellent, unique coffee shops. I thought a lot about how these were the 3rd places for the people in the surrounding communities. And I thought about what happens when everyone's 3rd place becomes the same. When your 3rd place is everywhere you go, you must feel less of a connection to the one at home - and the 3rd place is not really yours any more. It's a false 3rd place because it doesn't reflect your community or your home town at all. The original Starbucks looks right at home in Pike's Place Market, the other ones all look like boring iterations on a tired theme. Anyway, it seems to me that our desire for every thing to be comfortable and familiar does us a disservice in the long run.

Here is the connection to disability: we don't just want famililarity in our coffee houses, food (McDonald's, Taco Bell, etc), news (Fox) and shopping (Walmart), we want it in our people. It's so much easier to interact with people who remind us of ourselves just like it's so much easier to hang out at a place that reminds of us the places we hang out at home and just like it's so much easier to eat food that reminds of (or is exactly like) the food we eat at home. I won't go into the way in which this erodes the culture of the places that are overrun with chain stores or the way it erodes our experiences of travelling when we visit these places because you could read about that more thoroughly elsewhere. It does seem to me that our experience of other people is less interesting when we surround ourselves with people who look just like we do. The interest in not allowing ourselves to experiences differencel and in fact degrading difference makes for a much less interesting lived experience in the world. It seems to me anyway.