2016 in Books


I hesitated calling this post “2016 in Books.” It’s difficult to admit that I didn’t read that many books this year, again. I should be reading a book week, not less than a book a month. Perhaps it’s because I’m afraid the one or two people who read this post will judge me: “She must be frittering away her waking life on social media and Amazon Prime Video.”

Well, I have spent some time on the latter, much less on the former. My favorite shows this year, in almost no particular order:

Mozart in the Jungle
Schitt’s Creek

Thanks to Amazon, I didn’t watch much on the actual TV, except “60 Minutes.”

Another thing I did instead of reading more books was read my phone. Before the presidential election, I read the New York Times app, every day that I commuted. The day after the election, I deleted the app from my phone. I know I shouldn’t be ignorant about the news. But the New York Times was so sure Hilary would win. It was like saying the Titanic would never sink. I was lazy enough to believe it and allowed myself to settle into one of the Times‘ deck chairs. I do miss the mini crossword.

My other big time suck was and continues to be my guitar. This whole thing started when I received a ukulele on Christmas day, 2014. I call the uke my gateway drug to the guitar. I bought a used guitar (a Playmate) at Zaborski Emporium in Kingston, NY on Columbus Day in 2015. My second guitar (Taylor Mini GS-e) arrived six months later, purchased at the Grateful Guitar in Key West in April 2016. I rush home from work and play the guitar. Weekends, I play the guitar. Sometimes I still play the uke, especially in Key West– at the Grateful Guitar!

The good thing about deleting the New York Times app is that I now read more books during my commute. The New York MTA is so fucked up that I have lots and lots of time to read on my commute, which should take no more than 30 minutes on a bad day, but usually lasts an hour. It’s longer on days when I have to leave the broken down subway or bus and complete my commute on foot–the point here being that I can’t read.

Related news: I recently joined a book club.

2016 in Books

From the Land of the Moon
Milena Agus
I didn’t love this book. The protagonist’s obsession with the past and her relationship with her husband were largely reported, not analyzed, by the narrator. I guess that analysis supposed to be the reader’s job, but it would have been more interesting to me if the author had delved into her mother’s issues a bit more.

The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It
Leonard Cassuto
Yup, it’s a mess but you should still get a PhD if you want one. You’ll be a better person for it. Of course, there are other ways to become a better person, too–so read this book before you decide. Much of it was published in the Chronicle of Doom, I mean the Chronicle of Higher Education, but Cassuto expands on his ideas here. He’s an elegant writer and thorough researcher.

The Fold
Peter Cline
Good science fiction is hard to come by, and this one had enough dystopian apocalypse to keep me interested to the end.

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
Wonderful, suspenseful book “about a blind French girl and a sensitive German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”

As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner
After The Sound and the Fury, I think I’ve read this Faulkner book the most times. The occasion for this particular reading was the new production of a play based on As I Lay Dying. The writers/directors/producers asked me to be their literary consultant for the play. Of course I said yes, and so far their production looks wonderful.

Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away
Rebecca Goldstein
Loved this book! Goldstein takes Plato’s major ideas and places them, and Plato, in contemporary contexts.

And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hosseini
One of those books everyone reads because they’ve read The Kite Runner, which I haven’t read. The exotic setting, tortured characters, and lovely story that stretches across generations is well done. Don’t be put off by the parable-like chapter at the beginning of the book.

The Fifth Season
N. K. Jemison
It must be nice to have a brain that can produce this type of book. It’s resonant with today and yesterday’s social, environmental, and economic issues, and set in an exotic world, populated with driven, powerful, and sensitive people. Will read the next installment.

Howard Jacobson
This book took me almost 365 days to read. I made it a point not to let it follow me into 2017. The reason I even own this book is because I was flying home in early January 2016. My plane was delayed. The Hudson News was in the process of switching magazine suppliers. They were selling the Economist and magazines on the subjects of crafting, weaponry (yes, at the airport!), and electric guitars (yes, I bought one, but I don’t play an electric guitar [yet]. Visually, electric guitar magazines are music’s equivalent of porn magazines). Nowhere to be found was Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, or even Time and Newsweek. The books on sale were the kind I just don’t read–mysteries, thrillers, stupid sci-fi, and non-fiction about business. But, strangely, in the middle of it all, there was J by Howard Jacobson, previous winner of the Man-Booker prize. This dark, slow-moving (obviously) book describes what happens when the world has tried to blot out memories of the past and forbidden most artistic pursuits and pleasures.

The Code of the Woosters
P.G. Wodehouse
Now I can say I’ve read P.G. Wodehouse. I wonder if there is a gay subtext involving Jeeves and Bertie. Bertie’s profound and overt misogyny gave the book substance.

The New Yorker
The New Yorker is a magazine and I read it every week. I read it first, then I read my book. That has to count for something.

Digital Yoknapatawpha in the Context of the Digital Humanities: Abstract

Wiliam Faulkner used leading technology of the day to write. He also wrote longhand.
William Faulkner used the leading technology of the day to write. He also wrote longhand.

In summer 2016, the Mississippi Quarterly will publish a roundtable on “Digital Yoknapatawpha” (DY).

The papers will be on the following topics:

1. Overview of the project, “Digital Yoknapatawpha”
2. “Digital Yoknapatawpha”‘s progress to date
3. A humanist does digital humanities
4. “Digital Yoknapatawpha”‘s value for scholarship and criticism
5. “Digital Yoknapatawpha”‘s value for teachers and students
6. Faulkner and DH — how they illuminate each other
7. “Digital Yoknapatawpha” and DH << This one is mine!

“Digital Yoknapatawpha in the Context of the Digital Humanities”

A searchable database, a map, a timeline, interactivity, links to archival resources and other digital elements are what make “Digital Yoknapatawpha” valuable to  both teachers and scholars. Those same assets are reasons why this born-digital project, which will never be published via traditional means (because it can’t), is considered a digital humanities project and not just some fancy website. This paper gives a definition and historical introduction to the digital humanities, and then describes some of the methods and practices central to digital humanities projects that have been used to create “Digital Yoknapatawpha.”

And in case you’re wondering…
What is Digital Yoknapatawpha? “Digital Yoknapatawpha” aims to enter every character, location and event from the individual texts into a robust database and then to map that data into an atlas of interactive visual resources, so that users can better understand and study the acts of narrative re-creation Faulkner undertook, according to the demands of a particular story. The project ultimately aims to link the entire body of Yoknapatawpha fictions together and dynamically generate new, cumulative maps. These will enable scholars or students to study, for example, all black inhabitants and the roles they play in his texts, or Faulkner’s representations of violence, or religion, or family.

The project is a collaboration of Faulkner Scholars with the University of Virginia’s Digital Media Lab, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and SHANTI. (Source: Digital Yoknapatawpha)

Albert Einstein, Aliens, William Faulkner, and Chickens: Conference Paper Abstract

Image from Jalopnik.com, “Meet Camilla”

“Einstein and an Alien: Faulkner’s Tools for Building a Better Chicken House”

Abstract for workshop/paper I will give at the 2015 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, in Oxford, MS.

Einstein and aliens: In the early 1920s, these subjects had no place in a southern literary landscape usually populated by plantations and antebellum nostalgia. That’s probably why a couple of William Faulkner’s friends, Julius Weis Friend and Albert Goldstein, editors of the New Orleans-based little magazine, the Double Dealer, published a short story entitled “The Rider through Relativity.” Written by Herman George Scheffauer, it appeared in that magazine’s March 1921, issue. With an alien as one of the protagonists and clear references to Einstein’s relativity theory, this story suited the editors’ aims for their publication, which in the influential cultural critic H. L. Mencken’s words, “doesn’t give a damn for the old gods.” And as U.S. newspaper and magazine editors often reminded their readers at the time, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity challenged the old god Newton, his laws of motion, and claims about the nature of gravity, time and space.

“The Rider through Relativity” is a part of the lively and imaginative discourse about Einstein and relativity theory that appeared in the mainstream and avant-garde press beginning in late 1919, following confirmation of the theory by British astronomers. Scheffauer’s short story uses the alien and literature’s more traditional activity of suicide to demonstrate relativity theory’s claim that linear time is a powerful illusion by imagining a reality where that illusion has been dispelled and, therefore, nothing can ever be lost to the past.

This paper argues that Scheffauer’s story, the national conversation about Einstein, the theory’s notions about time that appeared in the American press, and the theory’s basic concept about the nature of time, all play an important, if subtle, role in Faulkner’s faceted approach to time in The Sound and the Fury. This paper focuses on Quentin’s section (the second section of the novel) to explore Faulkner’s consideration of how the experience of linear time may be especially oppressive during periods of loss. In doing so, he implicitly considers the challenges and possibilities relativity theory posed to the human perception of time and the meaning of personal loss.

Why Faulkner and the Digital Humanities Need Each Other: A Short Introduction

Four Definitions of "Digital Humanities"

On July 9, I delivered “Why Faulkner and the Digital Humanities Need Each Other: A Short Introduction” to the 2012 Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference: Fifty Years After Faulkner. The conference is composed of an international array of new and seasoned scholars who come to read and listen to papers. The audience also consists of secondary-school teachers, college and grad students, as well as many with no academic affiliation at all. They attend because they have interest in (and love of) the work of William Faulkner. All kinds of people show up: Scientists, lawyers, economists, retirees, artists, librarians, and ad execs. Past years have seen at least one beautician and a Waffle House waitress (actually, she was a college student from Ukraine working in Florida for the summer). Some in the audience live in Oxford, MS, where the conference is held, and a few (many have died in recent years) knew Faulkner and his family. Thus, speakers are advised to keep academic jargon and pretension to a minimum and enjoy the sizable audience (50-100 people) that usually is very friendly as long as words such as Yoknapatawpha, Beauchamp, and Lafayette are pronounced correctly (or gentle correction will ensue). Given these circumstances, it seemed appropriate to introduce the panel I organized, “Virtualizing Native Soil: Faulkner and the Digital Humanities in the 21st Century,” with a brief and basic explanation of what it means to say “digital humanities.” Aside from this panel, all the papers were traditional in their scope and presentation.

A Prezi illustrates my talk. The presentation sweeps to the next circle every time CLICK appears in the text below.

As many of you have heard, the latest rage in academia is the digital humanities. In fact, the digital humanities is not a passing fad. It is here to stay.

What are, or is, the “digital humanities?”

The precise definition of “digital humanities” is still taking shape, and there are many definitions. Here’s a few I’ve culled from about three hundred different definitions offered this year by people with some connection to the digital humanities:1  CLICK [italicized definitions are paraphrased in the talk]

“A diverse and still emerging field that includes the practice of humanities research in and through information technology. It also includes the development of digital educational / research / teaching / archival / publishing resources for the specific use and study of the humanities and interconnected disciplines. The digital humanities is also concerned with an exploration of how humanities may evolve through their engagement with technology.
—Ernesto Priego

Ernesto Priego says the digital humanities is emerging; it uses information technology for research, education, archival preservation, and publishing. It is an exploration and an evolution of the humanities through and with its engagement with technology. CLICK

An interdisciplinary field with porous borders that is generally concerned with the impact of digital technology on traditional academic practices of teaching, research, and service.
—Matthew K. Gold

Matthew Gold claims the digital humanities is interdisciplinary. It is what happens when technology intersects with the traditional practices of teaching, research, and service. CLICK

It’s beyond interdisciplinary–it’s a new ecosystem that includes scholars, librarians, archivists, computer scientists, graphic designers, administrators, students, teachers, granting agencies (public and private), and anyone else interested in promoting humanistic ways of experiencing digital media (or digital ways of experiencing the humanities).
—Edward Whitley

It’s beyond interdisciplinary, argues Edward Whitley, because it extends beyond individual academic departments to all areas related to academia: from librarians to computer scientists to deans to granting agencies. CLICK

And finally, according to Roger Whitson, the digital humanities is “Making stuff, and using it to collaborate and connect with the public.” CLICK

I analyzed these four definitions using Wordle. CLICK [See image, above.]

Wordle, if you don’t already know, is a very simple text analysis tool that highlights words in a text according to frequency of appearance. It’s helpful for revealing keywords in a text, but also for revealing what’s not being explicitly stated, but implied (Try putting some Faulkner text into a Wordle and you’ll get some interesting results). Aside from digital and humanities, the words that pop out as being most used in these definitions are experiencing, teaching, research, interdisciplinary, includes, and technology. CLICK

What strikes me about this combination is that aside from “technology” all these words come from the realm of the traditional humanities. “All” we’re adding is technology: But technology changes things in a potentially dramatic way—whether it’s a positive or negative way depends on how the technology is used, of course. Nevertheless, technology can potentially change how we experience or process knowledge; it can change the way we teach and research; it can change the way we publish and disseminate knowledge. Technology forces us to be interdisciplinary: For example, some research projects may require historians, literary scholars, graphic artists, and computer programmers.

Technology also redefines for the humanities what it means to say “include”: For example, we can use technology to make contact with people and sources of information, such as in archives and databases, in multiple locations, simultaneously, any time of day or night. CLICK

Neil Fraistat suggests that instead of asking “What is the digital humanities,”2 we might ask, “What do you want from the digital humanities?” Or, to rephrase that, what does Faulkner Studies want from the digital humanities? CLICK

I think this is why I like the last of those four definitions, which can be rephrased as “We want to make stuff and use it to collaborate with others to connect with the public.” CLICK

Steve Railton’s several projects at the University of Virginia involving Faulkner are wonderful examples of that definition and what we as Faulkner scholars might want from the digital humanities. These projects include online sound recordings of Faulkner speaking, as well as mapping, timelines, and visualizing data. John Padgett’s William Faulkner on the Web is also an incredible resource for Faulkner scholars. Much of this material and its implications for Faulkner Studies will be discussed by the panelists today. CLICK

The integration of computer technologies with traditional humanities research, publishing, and teaching can “can help us imagine academic practices in new ways” (Sayers).3 This panel will give you at least a glimpse of what the digital humanities has and will offer to Faulkner scholarship. I hope it will inspire you to start your own project or contribute to a current one.

1All definitions taken from “How Do You Define DH?” A Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities, CenterNet, 2012.
2Neil Fraistat, “The Question(s) of Digital Humanities,” MITH, University of Maryland, 7 Feb 2011.
3Technology, Scholarship, and the Humanities: A Conversation with Jentery Sayers,” Simpson Center for the Humanities, 21 May 2012.

Panel Abstracts for “Virtualizing Native Soil: Faulkner and the Digital Humanities in the Twenty-First Century”

William Faulkner, 1962, Martin J. Dain, Courtesy Martin J. Dain Collection, Southern Media Archive, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries

The following abstracts are for the panel entitled “Virtualizing Native Soil: Faulkner and the Digital Humanities in the Twenty-First Century,” which will be presented to the 2012 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference. An earlier post contained the panel proposal.

The proposed panel papers:
“Why Faulkner and the Digital Humanities Need Each Other: A Short Introduction,” Elizabeth Cornell

“Hypertext, the World Wide Web, and the Fiction of William Faulkner: A Backwards-Forward Look at America’s Greatest Postmodern Modernist,” John Padgett

“Digitizing Yoknapatawpha: Progress Report on a Work in Progress,” Stephen Railton

“Journey to the Center of Yoknapatawpha: An Experience of Digitizing Faulkner’s Fiction,” Taylor Hagood

Continue reading “Panel Abstracts for “Virtualizing Native Soil: Faulkner and the Digital Humanities in the Twenty-First Century””