Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
A magnificent deskful of guilty pleasures.

So. Earlier this week I did something perhaps I shouldn't have done, and right now I'm doing something else I shouldn't be doing by taking a break at my dayjob to blog, but right now I think the head of the lab and I are the only two people left in the lab (today being MIT's graduation and all) and I've been reasonably productive all day so far and so I'm going to take a break and blog.

Right. Where was I? Ah, yes – the thing perhaps I shouldn't have done.

I spend way too much money on media. Anyone who knows me (and most definitely anyone who's ever visited my house) knows this. My living room is actually a good two-thirds library, and that doesn't count the rather remarkable overflow to be found in my home office, my office here on campus, and in my parents' house back in Ohio. Laura has given me grief about this before, and I'm sure she'll do so again when she sees my latest binge.

But, oh, what a binge it was.

Remember last weekend when I blogged about finding an enclave of writers that seemed to match up with my tastes?

Link's work, which was recommended to me by my friend Shannon a long time ago, is leading me on to explore a handful of anthologies in which her work appears, as well as the work of a network of her peers. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading up on Jeff VanderMeer, Jeffrey Ford, Kim Newman, Delia Sherman, and Ekaterina Sedia, all of whom I'd seen mentioned on Neil Gaiman's blog but had not previously had the time to experience myself. Getting to do so now is like getting handed the keys to a clubhouse, or at the very least being shown where the cool kids' table happens to be, if not being invited to join them. One of the biggest joys of the last year or so has been finding my way to this point, rediscovering the kinds of writing I like to read and now finding that there are more people writing in this vein than I'd ever hoped.

Not long after writing that little passage, I started assembling a shopping list on Amazon. I added and removed, shuffled, prioritized and reprioritized, snuffled through the used offerings to make sure I was getting the best deal, and then finally (wincingly), clicked the 'place order' button. The final damage was well upwards of a hundred bucks, but oh what fine treasures are rolling in now!

The main trust of this particular expedition was, oddly enough, anthologies. There were several that I'd been meaning to purchase already, such as Delia Sherman's Interfictions, but now there was a whole new collection of anthologies that I wanted to own. Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant's The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. Ekaterina Sedia's Paper Cities. James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel's Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology. And two collections edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, The New Weird and Steampunk. Add to this Michael Chabon's new collection of essays on a similar vein, Maps and Legends, and I'm downright giddy.

Why this sudden binge, and why such glee accompanying it? When I was growing up, I had a very keen taste for mishmash literature, blends of high and low culture. Neil Gaiman's Sandman was a perfect example of this – comics that drew from classic mythology and contemporary real-life experiences to form a literature of hybridity. The magical realism of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez gave me similar thrills: chimeras of real life and the fantastic, lashed together and creating something new. That was what I wanted to read, and that was what I wanted to write.

The creative writing programs I attended at the College of Wooster, Kenyon College, the University of Exeter and beyond all had varying tolerances for this kind of thing. Some professors met my taste with out-and-out scorn (one whom will remain nameless here sniffed and told me in no uncertain terms that he'd 'had problems' with students who enjoyed Jonathan Carroll before), while others looked at me blankly when I tried to describe what I was going for. A few got it, and those were gold; but for the most part, the lecturers, like the majority of my fellow students, felt that there was no room in literary studies for the fantastic.

Fast-forward to now, and I'm finding a whole community of fellow travelers in academia as well as popular culture. Big chunks of genre TV have evolved from the cheesy pop of the 1980s and early 1990s into more complicated, much richer stuff – Battlestar Galactica is an easy example, but even the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester in Supernatural draw heavily from folklore and fairy tales for their source material. Entire academic conferences are dedicated to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hybridity runs rampant, almost everywhere you look, and these anthologies are largely embodiments of that attitude.

The short story has never been my forte. Even the short works I turned in for workshop in my creative writing classes tended to be interlocking pieces of something larger. My recent studies into serialized narratives and my studies into the consumption patterns of online video and casual games have all gotten me thinking a lot more about the role of shorter works in 21st century arts and culture. John Maeda's latest book, Simplicity, weighed in at only 100 pages and proved to be a big hit for MIT Press, which is informing some of the book proposal work I'm doing now for the lab. My reason for buying an armful of anthologies now is primarily to try and get my brain accustomed to thinking in a more single-episode format, so to speak. I need to integrate that sense of rhythm and style into my own stuff, and, hopefully, by learning which writers and publications are doing the type of storytelling I'm interested in now I can finally get the fiction side of things off the backburners again. My academic work is going well, but I miss the simple joy of plain old fiction.

And, given that gasoline just hit $138 a freaking barrel, it sounds like the perfect time to stay in and read. Oy vey.

So... What are you folks doing with your weekends?

Post a Comment