questions for a time of unreason

I am not really going to blog about the kerfuffle surrounding Meghan Cox Gurdon’s book review of YA dystopian fiction (“Darkness too Visible,” The Wall Street Journal, 6/4/2011). You have probably already read it, formed your own opinions, and posted them at your own blog. Although if you’ve not been following the weeks of fracas, the Guardian offers a well-balanced summary with enough links to ruin anyone’s dinner. And my own thoughts may soon appear, albeit elsewhere.

But without offering my opinion, I want to provide a point to consider: Ms. Cox Gurdon has done her job supremely well. She wrote a carefully crafted review which simultaneously appealed to the subscriber base of the Murdoch empire and also which garnered a tremendous amount of attention and discussion elsewhere.

People were talking about the newspaper. About the book review column. Quoting and discussing quotations ad nauseam. Flooding the WSJ network sites with comments and hits. At the present time of writing, the review is the third result on Google for “YA fiction.” The review has drawn attention, and that means traffic, and that means money. I don’t think this was entirely the culture war it was painted; I think it was a shrewd business move. We cannot say that the results have been anything but successful.

And that’s all I’ll say for now.

What I am going to blog about are three questions which have burbled through my mind as I’ve followed the melee. They’re about writing, and writing about writing, and what we write. They’re also below the jump.

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enchanted retellings

A review of Enchanted Conversation, Volume 1, Issue 4

by Donglu Yu, It’s always satisfying for me to read new fairy tale explorations. It’s even more satisfying when those explorations are from Paradoxes regulars. Issue 4 of Enchanted Conversation features a piece from Eric, who’s been commenting here from the first post. And the magazine itself is largely the idea of Kate Wolford, the editor and a faithful Paradoxes reader. Or perhaps I should say I’m a faithful reader of hers? It sort of happened at the same time, and these things are inevitably subjective.

Issue 4, Hansel and Gretel, is the final issue of a triumphant first volume. It demonstrates a firmer, easier control of the subject matter than in previous issues. Despite diverse and sharply different narrative voices within the issue, it reads as a unified whole, with a striking and appealing harmony. In fact, that harmony is both the issue’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

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enter the enchanted conversation


Fairy tale enthusiasts of all kinds, rejoice. The highly anticipated fourth issue of Enchanted Conversation is live online. It continues their ongoing project of reimagining fairy tales through weird, beautiful, troubling, or hilarious retellings.

If you’re not familiar with this wonderful online journal, take the time now. Each issue so far has centred around a specific tale, and Issue 4 considers Hansel and Gretel. Each retelling seems to have a different voice and a different perspective; the editorial staff have outdone themselves this time bringing together a tightly unified, well-written, but diverse issue. Ever wonder what wicked witches watch on reality TV? Or what happens to your mind when you live in a house made of gingerbread? Here’s your chance to find out.

This issue is particularly memorable for me, because it features a story from Paradoxes regular Eric, who also happens to be my brother. He doesn’t mind admitting that The White Bird is his first published fiction, but probably won’t tell you that it’s also his first attempt at publishing fiction. It’s a tale that haunts your heart with hope, even while taking away what you thought were your reasons for hope—to give you new ones.

I’ll be posting a full review of Issue 4 next week, but get a head start on the readings, form your own opinions, and enter the enchanted conversation.

Good Sabbath, everyone.

curiouser and curiouser

Catriona McAra (Photo by Alicia Bruce)Welcome to a world you didn’t know was there. Or maybe you did know. Welcome, regardless.

If you’re looking for a subversive, counter-cultural art scene in Scotland, there’s this amazing blog you should read. If you’re half-academic, half-geek, who likes getting your mind bended around tantalising suggestions of unusual concepts, there’s this amazing blog you should read. If you have an unrequited—or a thoroughly requited—love for surrealism of any description, there’s this amazing blog you should reads.

[Pauses to admire the cleverness of his writing style, realizes that everyone already figured out the punch line, like, four sentences ago, and is glaring at him impatiently.]

Yes—ah—it is all the same blog.

Catriona McAra, one of the two remarkable minds behind Anti-tales: The Uses of Disenchantment, blogs as catrionamcara. That’s her, above right—the larger of the two Alices. I think she’s playing chess the way you’d normally play the piano. But Catriona is doing her doctorate in surrealism, so don’t be too alarmed when you visit her site and find picture you just—don’t—understand.

catrionamcara offers a wealth of information and criticism about the Scottish arts scene, which is a lot weirder than it sounds, and is a useful source for conference reports and calls for papers related to the more intriguing side of academic speculation. Her writing is adroit and nimble, with the posts brief but informative.

Today’s post, for instance, gives the schedule for Spaces of the Unconscious: Psychoanalysis and Surrealism in the Digital Age (October 9, Anna Freud Centre), which is a concept that certainly must have seemed like a good idea at the time and, atypically, still does. Other posts have included critical discussion of Robert Powell’s art, and an interview with the Mad Hatter (yes, you read that correctly).

Go and welcome yourself to catrionamcara. And welcome, Catriona, to this mad, weird world of the life formerly known as blog.

four-and-twenty mockingjays

why I’m not playing hunger games

[Note: The blogalectic is on holiday while Jenna’s on holiday, so you get this instead.]

The world’s gone mad for Mockingjay, the final installment of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy. From the people who brought you Harry Potter (no, really—New York: Scholastic, 2010) comes yet another wildly popular bestseller, leaving pundits happily hazarding bets that dystopic dictators are the new tormented vampires—everybody wants to date one!

OK, so I made that last part up.

The seriousness that surrounds the reception of Collins’s books, however, and the devotion of her fans parallels the wild enthusiasm of Team Rowling and Team Meyer. That’s so well known it’s almost glib. It seems natural that, as someone who follows fascinating questions of market trend and literary inheritance, I’d want to read what critics are praising as gripping, spiritual, and emotionally wrenching tales.

What’s that? You read my subtitle? Aw, shucks—you didn’t hafta do that—I wouldn’t wish that on—while you’re at it, will you proofread this draft of an introduction for me?

(Don’t worry—I read introductions too…)

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