Carl Sagan on Books

François Boucher. Madame de Pompadour. 1756, oil on canvas, Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Literacy is one of the great tools of civilization. Etymology is one aspect of this tool. Your ability to read my writing—another. The moral imagination invoked is a third. Unfortunately, writing is a recent invention—we’re still getting used to it. As Sagan notes in The Demon-Haunted World (335):

For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made. Except for firsthand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the children’s game “Telephone,” over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.

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Perrine on Escape and Interpretation

The first question to ask about fiction is, Why bother to read it?

Rembrandt van Rijn. Scholar in His Study. 1634, oil on canvas, National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.

Laurence Perrine, an English professor whose Sound and Sense textbook series was immensely popular, splits literature between escape, which helps us “pass the time agreeably,” and interpretive, “written to broaden and deepen and sharpen our awareness of life” (3). Escape and interpretation are not “two great bins, into… which we can toss any given story” but a scale with each inhabiting opposite ends (4).

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Failed—Desmorious

Every writer has several projects initiated with gusto, abandoned with reluctance. My first was a forty-page novel in middle school—a Lord of the Rings knock-off called The War of the Bowl. In high school, my friend Jon Ying and I devised a western desperadoes-and-dragons webcomic called Dustbound. In college, I wrote rough drafts and buried them in the rough. Even now, as I revise my novel, I fear its future in a back-folder on Dropbox.

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Review—Neil Gaiman, Cakes, and Writhing

Gaiman was the reason I always had purple baggy-eyes in elementary and middle school. The simplicity of his writings, the interweaving of mythology, monsters, and modernity, and the cruel world behind-the-magic offered my child-self something gripping, something utterly fantastic and appalling to explore late in the night. His writing still does—today—in my late twenties. Personally, my favorite work by Neil Gaiman is The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and not only because Fiction Beer Company has a citrus wheat beer inspired by the novel). I have a theory about literature (I’m allowed a few theories, being an English teacher) that great works must inspire the moral imagination, even if the wisdoms aren’t the sort we want to hear. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the title clues us in—Harper Lee wants us to understand that it’s a “sin to kill a mockingbird” for they “don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” The book indicts an American culture which regularly commits this sacrilege against its disadvantaged and minorities. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, behind an incredible narrative about magic and outsiders, there is an abundance of dark truths about adulthood—its deceptive ontology of control, its routine mindlessness. Gaiman reminds us “Adults follow paths. Children explore;” “Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside;” and—in the most incredible line I’ve read in literature, something that explains the opus of Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft better than they did themselves—that what marks adulthood is not some maturity or inner growth, but the awareness of how fragile the surface of our lives are, the recognition that reality is “a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”

Someone else’s tumblr

Well didn’t I pick the perfect brand for my blog?

(Hint: sarcasm stirred with a dash of self-defeat and a weird smell, probably cheese coming off my beard.)

I chose Desmond, Write to be a call-to-the-craft, a personal reminder to “write already” or “go blog you dumb fart.” It helped that my slogan rhymed with my name: “Where Desmond White goes to Write.”

The problem? I’m not the only one to use desmondwrite.

Turns out, someone else has. Had? Did. Because today I found this on tumblr. Don’t want to click a mysterious link? Here’s a screenshot:desmondwritetumblrDiscovering my double has been an unsettling experience, a William Wilson of sorts, especially since this double is dedicated to a fandom I’ve evaded like ebola (averted like avian flu? bypassed like bronchitis? dodged like diphtheria? sidestepped like syphilis?). Which means for three years anyone curious as to whether I had a tumblr probably thought this was mine—this, a blog that begins its introduction with “Hello everypony.” If they were confused, if they thought I was joshing, they could check the bio where stands a blue pony in-miniature, a nag who’s probably named Crystalwit or Dusky Snufflebuns Jr.

Well. At least this writer has a better demographic than my blog of blah, specifically the multitude of My Little Pony fans. The site is clear about its intention to “entertain everypony” but unclear as to how—whatever the blogger intended was going to “involve literature,” maybe even “random things.” Unfortunately, the site appears abandoned, so we’ll never know. But what this tumblr lacks in prose, what it lacks in promise, it makes up for in permanence, because the thing has been sitting webside since 2015 without anything but an introduction—it persists.

Just to be clear. There’s no affiliation between my site and theirs. This blog has been up for longer and has more content. But I don’t want bad (sparkly) blood between us. Des, good luck, bro(ny). After all, as the subtitle of a popular horse-related franchise goes, friendship is magic.