LiFi Hotspot

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So I wake up at 12:06 this morning, an inconvenient time to greet the day, but I suppose I should have thought of that when I closed my eyes for “just a spot of a nap” at 5:28 last night.

A few projects are quietly nudging me in the background. I’ve got re-revisions of the ook-bay to poke at, and I need to sit down and crank out the narrative text for a chapter of annotations I’m doing. But I am groggy after my “nap,” and am seriously contemplating a sequel “nap,” so I made the decision to procrastinate on those projects. Really had to twist my own arm to reach that conclusion.

“I’ll just blog for a bit instead,” I decided, and then realized I had nothing to say.

“I’ll just read other people’s blogs for a bit instead,” I decided anew. It was a shrewd strategy, one carefully designed to maximize two goals, viz., being lazy, and killing just enough time for me to demarcate the division between Nap 1 and Nap 2.

My plan failed, for two reasons: first, Cute Overload isn’t loading right. This is the sort of thing that strikes me as a national disaster. What’s strange is that the major media outlets are, thus far, silent. There are pictures of cute little pandas and bunnies and kitties that I am CURRENTLY UNABLE TO SEE, and no one but me appreciates the tragic implications.

Second reason: Since my links to Cute Overload yielded a life-isn’t-worth-living screen of blank nihilist white, the one link in my Google Reader that did work was thrown into sharp relief. Hooray for Citizen Reader, rescuing me once again from boredom!

Most days, Citizen Reader presents reviews of nonfiction books. Some days, she presents reviews of fiction books, which is more my cup of tea, except I should realize by now that I usually don’t like the fiction she recommends.

But today she decided to describe some of the websites she enjoys visiting. My eyes began to glaze over—compared to Cute Overload, other websites are meaningless—until I saw that she’d linked to my own.

“Oh shit,” I thought. “People are going to click on that link expecting to find meaningful book discussion here… Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”

Well. My nap interregnum suddenly has purpose. I need to cobble together some sort of demonstration that I am capable of writing intelligently. Preferably I need this intelligent writing to address librarianish issues, like books or reading, and at all costs I need to avoid my normal dithering, with chiefly consists of me fussing about my bras, or simply swearing a lot. (Witness the concluding sentence of the preceding paragraph for evidence.) Ahem:

Jessica’s Intelligent Analysis of Books, Featuring Neither Lingerie Nor Profanity

The other night I finished up The Inheritance, by David Sanger, the Washington correspondent with my favorite source of liberal bias, The New York Times. The book considers American foreign policy during the Bush years, with a jarring region-by-region analysis of our current situation in places such as Afghanistan, North Korea, and Pakistan.

The book was a downer. If it gives you any perspective, the most optimistic chapter was the one that dealt with China.

The book was also the sort of nonfiction I normally avoid. There wasn’t an overarching narrative, and there were no cute pictures of animals whatsoever. But I read it because I figure it’ll be nice to say, with an air of resigned acceptance, “Ah, I totally saw that coming” when Iran goes nuclear.

Having satisfied my duty to not be completely ignorant about world politics, I decided to reward myself with an escapist novel. I chose to curl up on the couch with What Was Lost, by debut author Catherine O’Flynn. Based on Citizen Reader’s review, I was anticipating a thriller, possibly even a conspiracy thriller. Girl goes missing; local young man accused; young man’s sister must solve mystery.

What I got was Literary Fiction.

Now I think Orson Scott Card is a one-man plague, a threat to Western peace who probably should have been mentioned in the Sanger book. (I did enjoy the one novel of his I read, Enchantment, but you won’t catch me admitting to it in public). It kills me to steal a phrase he coined, but I have no choice: “LiFi” is just perfect for talking about Literary Fiction.

As with pornography, I can’t define LiFi but I know it when I see it. LiFi books seek to understand the human experience, but personally I think you could say the same of all books.

(“Even the ones with vampires?” you ask. Yes, ESPECIALLY the ones with vampires.)

LiFi authors attempt to create stylistically beautiful prose. Sometimes they succeed, but I think it’s worth noting that genre authors often attempt to create stylistically beautiful prose. (See the successful attempt in Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Historian, which features vampires.)

LiFi books are usually character-driven (big deal; nearly all novels are) but not often plot-driven (a shame; Western literature has a proud tradition of action-packed storytelling, going back to Homer). Emphasis is on internal thought rather than external events.

I like character-driven books. I like beautiful prose. But, with some notable exceptions, I don’t like LiFi.

Can’t put my finger on it. I love the classics, and honestly the only distinction I can make between the Literary Canon of yesteryear and the Literary Fiction of today is like so:

“The classics are just like Literary Fiction, except that they’re older, and I like them.”

Not very helpful, is it? I’m afraid I shall have to become more articulate before I can seek full-time employment in the field of literary criticism.

…At this point, gentle reader, I find myself struggling to finish this discussion. As always happens when I embark on my LiFi rant, I am butting into a wall: I largely dislike the genre of Literary Fiction, but I can never seem to capture why not. My instinct is to begin swearing but I promised not to.

Fortunately it is past 2 a.m., so I can make a hurried exit (“Oh goodness, look at the time!”) without bothering to gracefully conclude my argument. Check back later for further discussions of literature, which will probably be more interesting as they’ll include more swear words.

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14 responses »

  1. I want you to know that I feel your pain at not being able to connect to Cute Overload. Just yesterday I was looking at photos of a cute koala bear who came up on someones porch to get out of the heat and it made me want to put out a bowl of water in the hopes of attracting a koala.Now that I’ve have dealt with the cuteness issue I’ll go back and read about Lifi

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  2. Tee hee,Interesting enough, Lesbrarian, I was just thinking last night that we function as the perfect Library Thing-esque NONrecommender for each other; at least where fiction is concerned. I think this may be a good way to save ourseles some reading time! :)And wow, color me impressed that you got through "The Inheritance." I am so sick of political books it’s not even funny.

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  3. I still couldn’t tell you the difference between literature and fiction, and now you say there is such a thing as "literary fiction?" *cries* It hurts my brain!

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  4. Hey, my bizarro twin in fiction (everything the exact opposite):Have you read any Louise Erdrich? What do you think of her? I just had a ramble through her latest, The Plague of Doves, and it’s the first title of hers I haven’t hated. So naturally I’m wondering if you did hate it. :)Cara, hang in there. Once at my library we had this big fight about the labels "mainstream fiction" and "literary fiction." So, just when you think you’re getting a handle on it–you can bet librarians will screw that up in their quest to perfectly describe and classify literature.

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  5. Mack,I’m pleased to discover that there is at least one man in America who keeps up with Cute Overload. Good for you! Unfortunately, I need to make you aware that koalas are not native to Virginia.

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  6. Cara,You probably won’t hear about Literary Fiction in your college classes. That’s because college syllabi normally focus on the literary canon, i.e., books I like.LiFi is a newer phrase, a marketing tool of publishers and librarians. It’s supposed to distinguish the Lofty and Important books from the trash. It doesn’t, though.

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  7. Citizen Reader,I’m sure there must be a fiction book somewhere, somehow, that we both read and enjoyed. I just couldn’t tell you what it is. At least we both share common ground in our hatred of Jodi Picoult.Unlike you, I read relatively little current political nonfiction, so it wasn’t too hard for me to get through The Inheritance. If you want to give it a shot, I recommend A) looking at the photos in the middle and B) skipping to the last three chapters, all of which feature doomsday scenarios (an anthrax attack, a nuke going off in America, and a cyber attack). Reading about how we would try to respond to these threats was pretty good fun. Reading the preceding chapters about our relations with other countries– not so much fun. I’ve never tried Erdrich, but then I’ve never felt the desire to. From what I surmise I wouldn’t like her– she sounds like a Southern Fiction writer, except that her setting is in the West. I still wonder what you’ll think of the first chapter of Owen Meany. Considering that it’s the best book I’ve read in ten years, you’ll probably despise it. Actually, that would be a fun game: we could make each other read the first chapters of our respective favorite novels, to see what sort of negative response it inspires.

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  8. Good Heavens, you’re right (not that I doubted a librarian). A bowl of water and some eucalyptus cough drops are not going to attract a koala bear in Virginia. Oh well, at least tonight I can look at cute Overload and see another koala photo, this one of a firefighter giving an injured koala water. Ant they are holding hands. Awww!LiFiI wonder if The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier was supposed to be literary fiction? It was loaded with "stylistically beautiful prose." I came to loath that book. The death of the last person on earth didn’t come a moment too soon but unfortunately was an excuse to increase the quantity of "stylistically beautiful prose" to the point where a lesser person would suffer brain damage.I have high hopes for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." That’s gotta be LiFi.

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  9. Mack,My Cute Overload STILL ISN’T LOADING. And now you tell me there are pictures of KOALAS and FIREFIGHTERS? Holding HANDS AND PAWS? And I can’t see any of it?LiFi: I haven’t read The Brief History of the Dead, but Bookish Jet did. (She’s the one whom you met in the bookstore a few months back, one of our catalogers, remember?) Bookish Jet, like Citizen Reader, is a good human being who suffers from an inexplicable appreciation of LiFi. Bookish Jet and I normally disagree on books, and even when we do like books in common it’s for unrelated reasons.Anyway, she liked the Brockmeier (http://bfgb.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/the-brief-history-of-the-dead-by-kevin-brockmeier/ ). So, though I have not myself read it, I know that I wouldn’t like it. You didn’t like it, Bookish Jet did, ergo I would not.Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes out in May. The library will probably have to order like ten copies because everyone I’ve talked to is salivating to read it.

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  10. P.S. — Now that I’m looking at the comments in that post, Mack, I see that you already engaged Bookish Jet in conversation about the Brief History of the Dead, so it’s not like I’m showing you anything new. I’d just like to state for the record that the Jessica who added a comment on there is not me.

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  11. Re: Cute Overload still not loading – are you on cable internet? Try resetting your modem/router. Every now and then my internet blocks certain sites from loading for no good reason and a reset usually fixes it. đŸ™‚

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  12. Incidentally–I hated "Brief History of the Dead." I was mad, too, because the cover was SO AWESOME. False advertising.Have you tried "I Can Has Cheezburger" as a stopgap for Cute Overload?http://icanhascheezburger.com/

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  13. Brief History of the Dead does have an awesome cover… I think, Citizen Reader, that while we may have few fiction love in common, we share a lot of ground in the fiction books we hate. And personally I think friendships are much more worthwhile when they have bonds of hatred.I like cheezburger fairly well, but some of the captions are just so lame. Cute Overload has the better captions, and usually the cuter animals.

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  14. eleemosenary archvist

    Since lit-is-in-vogue again one feels compelled to recommed(CAVEAT)our common Librarian of Congress’es decades-long series on Russland-USSR.Thanks to miracle of ILLs,(ill,yucky!hadn’t noticed the conex)he sheds light on corners with which few a re concerned Anyhoo, Billington is as dry as many of the records LoC oversees,but Icon & the Axe could be excerpted or reconfigured as a swell Art-History mystery novel.Alas the project must be left to other great writers.ps:even elastic(formerly made in USA) of Brooks Bros boxer shorts eventually ceases to fulfill its mission. Globalization,eh?Malasian sap makes bad elastic keep yer powder dry,Editor!out-4-now.

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