by Tyler Cowen
on May 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm
1. Jared Bernstein is now blogging.
2. Who is best at cutting state spending?
3. Michael Spence summarizes his views on the labor market.
4. Todd Buchholz is now blogging, and here is information on Todd’s new book.
5. Why you like long novels.
6. Parrots choose to work together.
5. And the case against them:
5. This is why I’ve strayed away from “literature” over the years. When I read something like “The Wise Man’s Fear” (1008 page hardcover), when I get to the end, I’m disappointed because *I wish there was more story to read.* That’s how good writing works. The idea that a novel should require heroic fortitude to complete seems absurd. But I suppose that, like high art (and food), the elite need to find something unpleasant to signal their elite status. It’s not very distinguishing if you like Coca-Cola; it is if you like, say, kombucha.
The source of your disappointment is because nothing happened in those 1008 pages, so naturally there is more story to read.
5. I think the argument in the essay is really that tedious books are even more so when they are long. The real Stockholm Syndrome is a culture that insists that Gravity’s Rainbow is a Very Important Book that you should be forced to read.
I started on long books young, and have never since had anything to prove to myself–and could happily put down Gravity’s Rainbow when I was still finding it tedious after 100 pages, to read something I *really* liked instead.
most novels and non-fiction works don’t tackle big ideas because big ideas aren’t in demand. big ideas don’t take up much space, they generally speak for themselves. some of the most life changing things I have read have been the length of a blogpost.
6. “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog” Adam Smith
Actually, I have seen that. When I lived on a boat in Miami, several of us would get together for dinner and maybe grill steaks. There were two dogs. We would give each a bone and one would take it to the foredeck and the other would stay in the cockpit with his bone. For some reason, after a while, they would switch bones and positions. I guess it was the “greener grass” philosophy.
I have seen it also to a degree. Two dogs playing a game of pulling. Where one pulls against the other with both having a chew rope in their mouth. The bigger dog lets the smaller dog win often enough that the smaller dog will keep playing.
The dogs seem to have some sort fairness rule where they know how often the other has to win inorder to keep playing. Not quite a fair trade but not a million miles away from one
5. Is weird.
The authors says how tedoius and unpleasant he finds reading the books he discusses about 10x in the essay, and then comes up with ancillary reasons why it’s “worth it” anyway. I don’t know if he is pandering to the average reader or not, but it doesn’t make for a very strong case. There is also a strange overlap between his complaining-advocating for long books and for books that are densely written stylistic experiments (Joyce, Pynchon, Gaddis, Foster-Wallace). There are very long, perfectly comprehensible realist novels as well. Some people just like reading long books; some people like reading difficult books.
The case for long novels v. short is the same as the case for sitting through a sonata v. a prelude. Yes, it takes a longer attention span, but the grander scope of the form makes for potentially richer art.
The case for prose experimentation v. prose realism is the same as that for representative painting v. abstract painting. Sometimes re-arranging the constituent pieces of art in a way that is not “straightforward” is interesting even if it creates a challenge to take the thing in.
That’s a fairly snobbish response. One who reads long, experimental works has a “longer attention span” and is willing to take on a “challenge,” eh? Well, aren’t you just the better person?
I don’t think you’ve read Matt fairly. Matt distinguishes between experimental and long works, criticising the essay for overlapping them. He says that:
– Sometimes longer works are good because the length allows for work to be on a grander scale, despite the longer time scale required.
– Sometimes experimenting with format is good because it’s more interesting, even if it’s more challenging.
One can have a long work with a standard format, or a short work that’s very experimental.
As for being snobbery to prefer more challenging work, that’s not snobbery, that’s being human. When you first learn something unfamiliar, everything is a challenge. As you practice, the basics become easy, and very often people start to deliberately seek out a bit more challenging material. This is why ski fields don’t consist entirely of beginner’s slopes, it’s worthwhile running a few chairlifts up steeper hillsides.
“The case for long novels v. short is the same as the case for sitting through a sonata v. a prelude. Yes, it takes a longer attention span, but the grander scope of the form makes for potentially richer art.”
Except a sonata is on orders of magnitude shorter.
A few years ago I became somewhat obsessive about reading short novels. It was mainly a reflection of reading longer books that ended poorly and feeling horribly let down. If I read a short novel and it ends poorly (and therefore fails), eh, the time lost is minimal. If it ends well, or even brillantly, I sometimes will start again at the beginning right there on the spot.
Remember the post a few weeks ago about how we’re going to miss pretty much everything? Long novels are part of my cull.
Always such an interesting collection of links. It definitely makes this blog worth it. Just wanted to say that.
1. should come with a warning as to the grammatically correct ignorance that lies behind it. I cannot figure out how one ends up a top economist in the U.S. with an educational pedigree that, from what I can tell, may not have required a single econ. class:
“Bernstein graduated from the Manhattan School of Music with Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts where he studied double bass with Orin O’Brien. He earned a Masters Degree in Social Work from the Hunter School of Social Work, and, from Columbia University, he received a Masters Degree in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Social Welfare.”
That *is* from Wikipedia, so maybe it’s wrong. Does this guy have any econ cred at all? His blog posts read like Krugman if Krugman only read Daily Kos.
This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.
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