Sunday, May 06, 2007

Let's Have a State Book (Contest)!

Ignoring the amusement at beating the Globe to the punch by several days (who knew you could scoop someone on an editorial?), the Globe's stance on an official state book did convince me of one thing. First, though, here's a quote from the editorial.

There are undoubtedly less literary states where the official book designation would be as lightly contested as a Massachusetts congressional race. It would be to the state's credit if a proposal for an official state book did set off a donnybrook here.

And before legislators come down on the side of any of the candidates, they should be reminded that every corner of the state has writers at work on books that in a decade could leave Melville, Wharton, and company in the dust.

Well, now that you put it that way...

The other day, when I wrote my blog, I thought it was all a bit trivial.

I guess the real lesson here is why do we need a state anything at all? With a few state anythings, it's almost as if there's a state everything - causing state somethings to be devoid of the meaning behind the efforts of their installments to begin with. Soon, they're as meaningful as Quequeg's harpoon up against the belly of the great white whale, as Massachusetts becomes the Pequod in the stormy seas of legislative productivity. It seems as if that great push for Moby Dick will - or ought to - fall flat against the impenetrable Moby Dick Beacon Hill.
While all of that is true of the state donut, and in some capacity would be true of a state book, there's something a little, well, more meaningful to a state book. Imagine how fun a state-wide debate would be if it were about literature. Heck, we can even compare the poll numbers on Walden versus Moby Dick, or start a March-Madness esque tournament. Instead of people talking about Sanjaya being tossed from American Idle, maybe some of them would have an healthy debate on whether or not Melville's whale of a tale is more deserving than the Scarlett Letter. Or, is the "influential" Walden more deserving than the read-by-all Red Fish, Blue Fish?

Such a state-wide debate would be so, well, weird and fun, surreal and once-in-five-lifetimes-ish that I just don't think I can miss it. It would be like missing the Revelation, because all of the stars have to be lined up for this kind of a heated political contest. In fact, if we do enter into this debate, I promise to read all of Emily Dickinson's poems, Moby Dick and the House of the Seven Gables just so I can give my expert educated opinion. Ryan's Take on the politics of literature in politics is just too good to pass up.

Just imagine the phone calls to your state rep!

PS: I need a funny tag for all these stories, since it seems like there could be more blogs ahead. Best one in the comments win.


Laurel said...

I'm with ya Ryan. I'd be great to have the state debating the merits of home-grown literature! It ouwld get especially fun if it included contemporary works alongside those on everyone's HS reading list.

For your label, how about:
Book of the State Club?
Bay State Donnybook '07 (misspelling intended)

joe said...

It wouldn't be fun. It would just be Drizzt Do'Urden maiming everyone. I look forward to him summoning a globe of darkness and gutting Hester Prynne.

Did I mention I didn't like most of the books they made me read in high school? The only real exception was senior year English when we read A Prayer For Owen Meany.

Ryan Adams said...

Oh, Joe, you don't actually have to read (or even like) the books to appreciate the supreme moment of cool geekiness it would be. Like I said, all the stars would have to align for it.

And, Laurel, the Book of the State Club made me laugh. I may use it.

tblade said...

I say no state book. Less literary (literate?) states have a state book probably because it's much easier to choose. Naming a state book in Massachusetts would marginalize far to many fantastic books and authors. I would be in foavor of a state literary canon (and perhaps a state literary cannon used to attack those unliterate bastids in Rhode Island! Is 'Family Guy' the best you can do? Suck on Henry James!).

If I had to have a horse in the race, I would nominate "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass". I bet Ryan could get behind this; it's an iconic moment in Civil Rights that represents both South Coast and North Shore - Douglass escaped slavery by coming to New Bedford and wrote the Novel in Lynn.

laurel said...

Excellent choice, tblade. Of course, that is a memoir, so you raise the question of should there be a state book in each of many genres. Joe should be all for that, since he could ignore the debate over pre-20th century fiction and not have to daydream about dark lord thus and so doing atrocious things to fictional women from other genres. Joe, what would the name of your favorite genre be?

joe said...

In high school it was Fantasy. When I graduated, I donated my fantasy collection to my high school, which was somewhere in the ballpark of 120 books.

Right now I've moved to more historical stuff. Currently reading: How Catholicism Built Western Civilization.

laurel said...'re still into fantasy... ;)

Ryan Adams said...

One of the things I've decided lately is that I really want to try to write novels and seeing if I can kind of, sort of make a living off that - at least after I've gotten a few books published and hopefully one noticed.

I've been writing a book now for a very long time now; it's a fantasy. I'm fairly far into it and the entire thing is planned out, so hopefully I'll finish it by this time 2008.

However, recently I've developed a new idea for a book in a genre I've never really considered (or read)... historical fiction. It's the coolest thing ever!

Anyway, that was the longest explanation ever when all I had was something tangently related to either Laurel or Joe's comments, but it's been so deep in my head right now that I just had to let it go.

joe said...

You know, Laurel...the WORST lit I read in high school was The Importance of Being Earnest.

laurel said...

If "Earnest" was the worst you had to read, you read some fantastically wonderful stuff. Congratulations!

Ryan Adams said...

hmm... never read it.

I'd say the worst for me was "Beloved." And I'm still sticking with a Toni Morrison book up until this point, just instead of Beloved it's "Paradise."

joe said...

they made it into a movie. here's the tagline (IMDB)

"In 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues."

No it doesn't.

tblade said...

Ryan, you hate "Beloved"? Damn. I thought it was fantastic, but I read it in college. I hated Dickens in High School. I will say this, the further you get away from High School the more your tastes change.

I used to hate almost any and all poetry. Now, however, if I had a second horse in the Mass Book race, it would be Sylvia Plath's "Ariel", published after the poet killed herself. Vivid, visceral, and the quintessence of the confessional genre, Plath's readers imbibe pathos and misandry, and her beautifully crafted words ooze the darkest contempt and disdain for her father, her husband and life.

"Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children". Her stuff kills me.

Ryan Adams said...

The thing is, for a while I didn't think I'd mind Beloved at this point... but I was just assigned "Paradise" now and it's far from my favorite. I still may not mind Beloved, but after reading Paradise that's enough Toni Morrison for me. I'll admit, Toni Morrison has beautiful language, but she's the kind of author who I think is intentionally difficult. I don't find that advanced literature, I find it pretentious.

I like books that deeply examine issues through their fiction and go after a reader's emotions, using their language efficiently and simply. I actually think it's more poetic and beautiful. On that line, Orson Scott Card is my favorite author, though I've only read about 4 or 5 of his books. I'm reading Jane Austin right now and really enjoying it.

laurel said...

Jane Austin is a hoot. But the single book I read in college that has stayed with me the longest is "Weeds" by Edith Summers Kelley. She was Canadian, so sadly this won't be an entry in the Book of the State race. You can read the first few pages at Google books

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