The sped-up culture that delivers that novel to your doorstep overnight is the same culture that deprives you of the time to read it.

This ambiguity—fiction as virtue and vice—sheds light on a larger truth about all the components of Amazon’s administration of literary life just enumerated: as state of the art as they may be, they are to some degree self-contradictory, or at least conflicted. For instance, if what fiction most essentially is for us is a volume of commodified time, one of the most notorious facts of contemporary literary life is that there is so little time for it. This is especially so inasmuch as reading a novel is a relatively long-term commitment compared with other forms of cultural consumption. It is…

Trying to Tame Huck Finn

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most frequently banned books in America. I regularly teach it in my American Lit class. I never use “the n-word” in lectures, and I remind my (mostly white) students of the power of the word, but the version of the text I assign doesn’t edit that word out. I also have students listen to an audio interpretation of Pap’s tirade, in order to draw attention to how the author uses humor to mock the most openly racist character in the book. I think they recognize the stereotyping at the beginning of the…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In September, 2001 I was blogging about…

With a grant from UWEC, I was able to invite foundational computer game designer Scott Adams to a seminar on Storytelling in Computer Games. I used tiny analog tape recorder at the speaker’s podium, and later worked with my student Matt Hoy to post a hyperlinked transcript to go along with the audio. (This was really cutting edge stuff 20 years ago, and I’m glad the site still works. This is not the same Scott Adams who created the carton Dilbert, by the way.) 10 Myths about Copyright Explained Online Health Websites Frequently Inaccurate And of course, something I posted…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In August, 2001 I was blogging about…

Broken Links and Poor Information Architecture (and of course the link to that article had broken, and the site taken over by low-value clickbait… but the Internet Archive preserved the original article) Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys (satire from the Onion, from an alternate timeline where typefaces get the respect they deserve) Boys and handwriting (from “equal-but-different” feminist Christina Hoff Summers) Velma from Scooby-Doo (a year or so before the Warner Brothers movie was released) The collapse of the Industry Standard (lifestyle magazine that breathlessly tracked the dot-com gold rush) A (then) new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, restoring…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In June, 2001 it seems I only blogged three times…

I’m not sure what else I was doing during the month of June 2001, but I only blogged three times. All three links were dead, like tears in rain. As is my habit with all items I feature in my “I was blogging about…” series, I’ve replaced the broken links with archived content from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Author “used up all the hardship” from her youth in her first novel (Satire from The Onion) Sci-Tech Web Awards 2001 (Scientific American picks what it things are the best websites) Violent video games encourage violent behavior (Contemporary Pediatrics)  

Breaking up with your favorite racist childhood classic books

A good article analyzes the strong cultural reactions to voluntary changes made by the companies that manage the “Potato Head” toy line and the books of Dr. Seuss. Cries of “censorship” and “cancel culture” rallied passionate citizens who defended their nostalgic memories of childhood and sought targets for their rage. I just read an article on new allegations against Peter Yarrow. I knew that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14yo, though I didn’t remember he was pardoned by Jimmy Carter. When I teach Shakespeare I emphasize that yes, he was a product of his times, but that his…

Narnia board game — enjoyable family activity (but it’s weird that the Pevensies compete against each other)

It’s weird that in the Narnia board game, the Pevensies compete against each other. I thought it would make sense that they would have to work together to defeat the White Witch, but no. Why do they all work against each other? In the book, Edmund betrays his siblings — but they don’t betray him! Before Edmund’s visit to Narnia, we read, “The others who thought she was telling a lie, and a silly lie too, made her very unhappy. The two elder ones did this without meaning to do it, but Edmund could be spiteful, and on this occasion…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In April, 2001 I was blogging about interactive fiction, Roget’s Thesaurus, John Lennon, HTML Frames, and C.S. Lewis

A student newspaper article about interactive fiction (quoting Emily Short and me) Blaming Roget’s Thesaurus Finding the URL of a framed HTML document My visit to the John Lennon Artificial Intelligence Project HarperCollins re-issuing the works of C.S. Lewis Dave Winer on “The Web is a Writing Environment“

Great Twitter thread on Aaron Burr, from the Internet Archive

Funny what you find in books. When digitizing an 1807 book about the trial of Aaron Burr, we discovered this promissory note for a large sum of money, signed by Burr, the former Vice President & man who famously shot Alexander Hamilton. Funny what you find in books. When digitizing an 1807 book about the trial of Aaron Burr, we discovered this promissory note for a large sum of money, signed by Burr, the former Vice President & man who famously shot Alexander Hamilton. pic.twitter.com/6kkwaZNnWO — Internet Archive (@internetarchive) March 23, 2021

Bottled Authors: the predigital dream of the audiobook

There was no way to preserve sounds before the nineteenth century. Speeches, songs, and soliloquies all vanished moments after leaving the lips. That situation changed in 1877, when Thomas Edison began working on a machine that could mechanically reproduce the human voice. Edison’s team successfully assembled a device on which Edison recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a nursery rhyme that would become the first words ever spoken by the phonograph.2 Depending on how you define the term, Edison’s inaugural recording of verse might be considered the world’s first audiobook.. –Matthew Rubery, Cabinet Magazine

Sperm whales in 19th century shared ship attack information

From whaling and sealing stations to missionary bases, western culture was imported to an ocean that had remained largely untouched. As Herman Melville, himself a whaler in the Pacific in 1841, would write in Moby-Dick (1851): “The moot point is, whether Leviathan can long endure so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc.” Sperm whales are highly socialised animals, able to communicate over great distances. They associate in clans defined by the dialect pattern of their sonar clicks. Their culture is matrilinear, and information about the new dangers may have been passed on in the same way whale matriarchs share knowledge about…

Behold this stack of August Wilson library books

Yay, libraries. I’m delighted that my college library has a full set of August Wilson’s plays. I’ve had them all checked out for a couple months, but I’m finished with them for now. During the Christmas break I taught a special topics course on Wilson’s Century Cycle. I thought it was too much to expect students to read all 10 plays during an intensive course that lasts for just 3 weeks, so I assigned four plays that we all read, and broke the class up into groups that covered the other six plays. I hope to offer this course again,…

Dr. Seuss Racism Controversy: A Dr. Seuss Expert Unpacks the Author’s History With Racism, Sexism

Nobody is banning, cancelling or censoring Dr. Seuss. Here’s some great context on why the Seuss estate is voluntarily retiring six titles that contain offensive racial stereotypes. One of the themes across Seuss’ work is the use of exotic, national, racial, and ethnic others as sources of humor. I don’t think he meant that with malice, but to use someone’s nationality or race as a punchline doesn’t land well, especially if you are a person of that nationality or race. I don’t think he thought about how that might be hurtful to the people who identify themselves in that way.…

No, Dr. Seuss is not being “banned” or “censored” — but Dr. Seuss Enterprises is voluntarily retiring six books that contain racist stereotypes

It’s nothing new that Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel used racist stereotypes, particularly in his wartime political cartoons. I’m seeing social media chatter from people who a few days ago were up in arms about the gender of a potato (which was overblown, manufactured hype) and who are now leaping to the defense of Dr. Seuss, who is (according to the memes) being “banned” or “cancelled.” In fact, it was the company Dr. Seuss Enterprises that voluntarily decided to stop publishing six books because they include racist stereotypes. That’s not how I define “banned.” If people really need to read rhymes…

Why Computers Will Never Write Good Novels

If it were possible to build a digital novelist or poetry analyst, then computers would be far more powerful than they are now. They would in fact be the most powerful beings in the history of Earth. Their power would be the power of literature, which although it seems now, in today’s glittering silicon age, to be a rather unimpressive old thing, springs from the same neural root that enables human brains to create, to imagine, to dream up tomorrows. It was the literary fictions of H.G. Wells that sparked Robert Goddard to devise the liquid-fueled rocket, launching the space…

Nellie Bly: A Race Against Time | Heinz History Center

On Nov. 14, 1889, Bly waved goodbye to family and friends from the New Jersey Hoboken Pier aboard the Augusta Victoria steamer. Traveling by steamships and trains, her journey sent her around the world from America to England, France, Italy, Egypt, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, and back to a port in San Francisco. She then traveled by train across the U.S., with four major stops including Harrisburg, Pa., before arriving back in New Jersey on Jan. 25, 1890.