this is one of my favorites. it’s huge. it’s at moma. this is a lesson plan about globalization that uses this photo.
I was sent this enormously engaging link yesterday (it’s on the cover of NY magazine!), and the article really made me think and stuck with me even today. I suppose on one level it’s because I have spent so much time thinking myself about the topics covered in the article–magnet schools and selective admissions, asian writers, “tiger moms”–but also because it’s well-written and thoughtful.
This article is about many things, but one thing it’s particularly about (to me) is the Yang’s struggle with Asian identity. He, like me, looks Asian, but had an upbringing that didn’t include honorifics, or close familial ties. Culturally, he’s American. It’s difficult to say what he said, and although I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to say it, he outdoes me on the first page of the article. He settles on the word “twinkie,” which I don’t really care for.
And it is, from a writing perspective, a tad self-indulgent. Of course, this is a big long magazine piece that needs to draw Big Conclusions, but his sopsilisitc excursions into racial speculation are often unwelcome. “If you are an Asian person who holds himself proudly aloof, nobody will respect that, or find it intriguing, or wonder if that challenging façade hides someone worth getting to know. ” It also doesn’t work when he considers his own past: “The world brings low such people. It brought me low. I haven’t had health insurance in ten years. I didn’t earn more than $12,000 for eight consecutive years. I went three years in the prime of my adulthood without touching a woman. I did not produce a masterpiece.”
But little aspects like this can be taken care of in editing. There’s still a lot in this article that resonates with readers like me. I appreciated the throuroughly depressing part about Eddie Chang who bumped up against the “bamboo ceiling” in both the fields of screenwriting and law. I also liked the part about the Stuyvesant kid who wants to be a writer and I understand where he’s coming from–where are the Asian male writers? Do second-generation kids want to wait a few more generations before they become artists and culture mavens?
At the very least, with this impressive feature, Yang has put himself into the category of Asian writers that I see as role models. People I want to emulate. And that, by itself, is the first step in correcting some of the issues on the cover of New York magazine.
I recently had an opportunity to ask a few questions of Mark Athitakis, writer of the excellent book blog Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes and National Books Critics Circle member.
We talked about Washington DC writers, why he writes on American Fiction Notes, and J. Franz’s take on DC dowdiness:
Who are your favorite DC fiction writers? Who should I read?
When I was a child, perusing the children’s section at my local bookstore, I asked my father how many books there are in the world. He looked at me, paused, considered, and replied I don’t know, I think that’s probably a question that can never be answered. Well, that prediction was premature and incorrect. The answer is 128,864,880.
There are a few caveats. First, this number is not about the number of “works.” My edition of Ulysses is different from an earlier edition of Ulysses, every version of a Shakespeare play would be counted differently, etc. This makes it somewhat less interesting, although certainly a great ballpark figure. I would guess that the vast majority of volumes are only printed once. I’m interested in the number of novels, written in any language, published in any fashion. Still, that number seems small. There’s also a possiblity that Google isn’t as good at counting books not written in English. Of course, I have no conception of what 100 million looks like. But considering there are 7,000,000,000 people in the world, the number is a power of 10 less and not enough to give every person a book. Here’s my question: can we expect the number of books produced to rise exponentially alongside population growth?
The Google blog post is fascinating. There’s a lot of library science going into the Google Books project along with the legal and philosophical aspects. Thier process, in a nutshell, is to combine all the existing ways of cataloging books–library of Congress numbers, ISBNs, WorldCat numbers–and use manpower, computer cycles and some interesting programming to remove the duplicates. Their current models estimates the number we have here. On one hand it’s discouraging to add a book to a reading list that’s 100 million and counting. It’s time to start eating some books.