The Delicate Weave of Erudition and Discourse … Or … Carpet (F) Bombing As a Debating Tactic

Though the axiom “all generalizations are false” holds deliciously true, huamnity does at times seem to be a highly self-destructive species, our pernicious qualities not being limited to ravaging each other and Terra itself, both Firma and Incognita. Now, I grant you, that’s a depressing train of thought, and one might rightly ask ‘why isn’t he making with the funny? He’s here to entertain us, isn’t he?’

Well, yes, of course I am in fact here to entertain as well as enlighten. But, being all out of silly putty and demonic balloon animals (for the moment anyway) you will have to settle for some intellectual discourse. And perhaps a little silly after the initial salvo (the kind wherein people prove Einstein’s supposition that “[t]wo things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” ).

You see, this entire train, or line, of thought started with a carpet.

Granted, it’s a carpet in the Gungahlin Public Library in Canberra, Australia, but it’s a carpet nonetheless. Work with me here.

On the 22nd of this month, the Cedarbrae branch of the Toronto Public Library put a post on their blog titled “Neil Gaiman on Librarians” (a title which, I think it is fair to posit, cannot fail but engage the trappings of awesome). In it they said, and I quote (with the blog post’s links maintained):

Neil Gaiman writes books for adults and children; he writes graphic novels, picture books and fantasy novels. He also says very wise, timely things including this quote, woven into the carpet at the new Gungahlin Public Library in Canberra, Australia.

The article contains a picture of the carpet in question, which looks like this:

GaimanQuote

Now, you know what happens when people take things out of context, or just aren’t up for the full depth and breadth of the funny. Of course you do. We watch it happen all the time on website forums, chat messge boards, elementary/secondary school playgrounds, elementary/secondary/college/university classrooms/corridors/cafeterias/common rooms/study halls, “news” programs, political debates, the House of Commons …

Well, you know where I’m going with this. 

True to form, the first Comment on this post was a little flippant, a little tetchy, and required something of a calm and measured response. Unfortunately, since I was the first one to respond to the initial Comment the rebuttal was also somewhat lengthy. Not ridiculously lengthy. No, no. That was my second post to the original poster’s further reply.

Again, you see where I’m going with this.

No, I didn’t start a flame war. Oddly enough, all those of us involved in this argument (in the delightfully academic sense) comported ourselves with decorum and aplomb. Well, for the most part anyway. There are a total of 6 Comments for those interested in reading the exchange, and I highly recommend that you do. Two other people dropped by and offered their opinions after I cleverly drew out the initial poster using myself as a live target – why yes, my well-honed spy skills are in excellent form, thank you for asking – and the gamut of Comments all round ranges from the deliciously pithy and erudite (*preen*) to the slightly personal and less than academic (that part is … really not me).

You’ll need to scroll to the bottom of the page to see my second Comment, which didn’t quite go where it was supposed to (Forum style posting + Michael = Fail), but ended up framing the entire course of the discussion rather well I think, misplaced or no. If you missed the link above here it is again:

http://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/cedarbrae/2011/08/neil-gaiman-on-librarians.html

Now, that’s the academic end of the spectrum – otherwise known as the “best possible case scenario“. On the other end of said spectrum lies some staggeringly stupid things put forth by people who bloody well ought to know better (I don’t know them personally, I’m saying that on general principle people should refrain from behaving like ass-hats).

The first of these deeply unfortunate to-dos occured in April, over at “Crossed Genres“. The magazine posted an amusing anecdote up on their blog, and you knew you were in for something special when the title was “One way to guarantee you won’t get published“. This is, much as it sounds to be, the epistolary equivalent of a train wreck. You can’t look away. It’s precious, really it is. Especially when the author in question starts telling Bart Leib (the nice chappy who runs “Crossed Genres“) not only what his publication has “failed” to do regarding their submissions process, but also in some rather visceral terms what Bart can go do with himself. A good time was had by all the readership.

The other incident, equally not current (I like to think I’m … fashionably … late to the party … ) and no less amusing, involves an author by the name of Jacqueline Howett. Now, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t have a clue who that was when I first read what had happened involving an e-book of hers titled The Greek Seaman, and her response to a certain review. And if we’re going to continue being honest, I still have no clue who this woman is. However, her highly unreasoned response to one (aptly disparaging, it would seem) review was an … unfortunate … way to respond to some negative exposure.

There are a good number of ways to use negative press to further one’s own exposure to the world at large. Not all of them are sound though, and it seems that Jacqueline (likely through lack of forethought) latched onto one of the less effective ones – the kind that make one look like an idiot. Or, at the very least, like a highly petulant child. By choosing to not only tell the reviewer that his review is “unfair” and that he “obviously didn’t read the second clean copy [she] requested [he] download that was also reformatted” she attempted, quite clumsily, to place the onus of the negative review entirely on the reviewer.

Does that ever actually work? I mean, really. If a publisher releases a finalized print copy (we’re not talking the ARC [Advance Reader Copy] here) of a hardcover and a reviewer finds several score typos scattered throughout the text the publisher doesn’t say “Oh damn. Really? Here, let us just go fix that for you and re-issue the entire run.” No publisher can afford to do that. And therein, admittedly, lies my issue with a lot of e-book publications. The lack of editorial scourging (where is your cat-o-nine-tails when you need it?) required or available prior to releasing an e-book makes one sloppy. In some cases, *cough*JacquelineHowett*cough*, resulting in books being released that should never have seen the light of day in their present form (or maybe at all: How to Get Almost Instant Obedience from Your Woman). The reviewer, who goes by the handle BigAl, posting in a Comment field response to some of Howett’s accusations (and her ineffably assinine choice to paste in other, more favourable, reviews from off-site in the Comments field – which for any of you who are wondering is both the mark of a rank amateur and a huge faux-pas), chose to post some of the more delectable passages of literary misadventure from Howett’s “book”, both of which I’m including below (because to a professional copy editor like myself these are delicious):

“She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs.”

“Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”

Does anyone know what the fuck that second sentence says? Sure, I can puzzle out what the intention probably was, but why the hell would I bother? In all honesty I’d rather just admit the author has no understanding of the proper syntactical structure of the English language and move on to another book.

BigAl was more forgiving than I, and had the following to say after that point:

I understand what both are probably saying. I do question the sentence construction.

However, I should point out that the review does say the story, which is the most important part of a book, is good. The effort of extracting the story through the errors and, at least to me, sometimes convoluted sounding language, made doing so much too difficult, IMO.

I would encourage anyone who thinks the story sounds interesting to sample the book. Read the first few chapters and decide for yourself.

That’s extremely forgiving, especially since it would appear that Howett may have gotten nasty somewhere along the way (there are an awful lot of Comments with her name attached and the words “This post has been removed by the author.” occuring where text once lived). There was a highly polarized set of responses as well. Some 309 comments were put forth by all sides, and I suspect that Howett removed her more offensive or argumentative comments when people in her own circle pointed out to her that she was shooting herself in the foot … and calf … and thigh … and hip …

And of course all of that spilled blood leaks onto our delightful carpet, which is, if you remember, where this entire hullabaloo began.

So, what about that carpet? Well, the resulting highly academic, delightfully debate heavy exchange that it engendered did what Neil Gaiman’s work always does. It got people talking, and thinking, and laughing (hopefully not at one another …), and generally interacting. See, that’s what good work is supposed to do. And even the silliest of interactions provide food for thought, and discourse, and of course flaming. Where would we be without the flaming?

And it seems the more incensed we are the more responses we produce. Numbers, anyone?

  • The Neil Gaiman inspired discussion: 6 comments
  • The “Crossed Genres” blog post: 11 comments
  • Jacqueline Howett’s endlessly amusing missteps: 309 comments

Apparently, we pay the most attention to people who make spectacles of themselves. Yeah, didn’t see that one coming …

Actually, there’s a maxim in my family parlance for why this isn’t such a bad thing:

You can learn something even from a fool.

Or, as Confucius had it somewhat earlier:

 A fool will learn nothing from a wise man, but a wise man will learn much from a fool.

Oh look, a life lesson.

Quick, someone catch it before it gets away.

But enough ramble for now. Until next we meet on the bactrian hump of life, may your camel spit nothing but dates.

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