August 10th, 2007

Order and Reality

Those are two things we probably need more of or less of, respectively or in concert. I’m not sure. Those who know me know that I’m a far bigger fan of the first than the second: I know where all my books are, even those I haven’t and won’t need in years. I could probably guess how much money is in my wallet within a dollar or so, how much food is in my fridge to the nearest onion, whose number I have in my phone book, etc. I like being on top of my game, such as it is, knowing what’s going on. The more knowledge I have of my little world, the more I feel the world is manageable, and therefore ok.

So it is curious, then, how much I do not like to read nonfiction. I want to read and write novels and short stories about other people’s little worlds; I do not want to read about the big world as a whole. My current theory as to why is because I’m never going to get a grasp on everything in the whole big world. I’ve got complete control over my hard-drive, my spice rack and my wallet–they are available to me to be exhaustively known, and then confidently ignored. Possibly, there is a feeling in the back of my head that if I tried to read about, say, the oil trade, I would not be able to understand more than a near tenth of any article, and then my obsessive tendencies would take over and I would be found a year from now, body crushed under an avalanche of back-dated New York Times.

Perhaps not. But I do know I like manageable things that I can completely consume. And that is why the one form of non-fiction that I let into my life is The New Yorker. Let’s be honest, it’s where I get all my information on the world that I don’t glean from conversation or fiction. I don’t watch television, I don’t read the newspaper and I change the radio station when the talking comes on.

Are you going to stop reading this blog?

Please don’t. I like you.

The New Yorker is a truly fantastic magazine, and it covers political, environmental and cultural issues about as exhaustively as a WASPy American weekly ever could. It’s quite dense for 90 pages a week, but if I read seriously on the cross-trainer an hour a day, I can read every word of every article and review (I skip the capsule reviews of live shows in “Goings on about Town,” because there’s no way I’m going to see them). Then the magazine is fully consumed, I know as much as I’m going to know about the world that week, which is actually not all that much in the scheme of things. But I know everything about The New Yorker that week. I like that.

This strangeness was driven home to me yesterday when I turned to Elizabeth Kolbert’s article. Normally Ms. Kolbert writes about global warming and other environmental issues. She is very thorough and passionate, but sometimes I find her writing a little…technical. I seem to recall her describing molecules. Fascinating, but not my bag. And then this week, our relationship changed (I feel very close to all the regulars at the magazine. This probably also not a good sign about my personality). Her article “Stung” is about an obsession of mine that predates TNY or having my own spice rack or wallet or anything: bees.

As a child, I loved bees and ants. An incipient obsessive, I loved learning about their perfectly ordered societies, rigid life roles and hierarchies. They lived in little cells! They had life roles assigned to them from larval stage and they *never did anything else*. (You know what else I liked as a child? Feudalism.) As I devoured the article, I thought fondly of my illustrated insect guides, my “pet” ants (country children do not have ant farms; I played with ant hills in the yard). Kids are weird, kids are obsessive. Some grow out of it, some don’t. At least I don’t wish I was a bee anymore. Much.

Possibly this is all twitter, and definitely self-involved, better left to for a consciousness-raising seminar (uck, how I would hate that–so unmanageable). But reading matters a lot on this blog and it has long been a sticking point for some (hi, Scott!) that I don’t read nonfiction ever. Isn’t it interesting that there is a solid psychological reason why not?

Or maybe it’s just that I’m actually an insensitive person and don’t care about global warming. Either way, you should really read the bee article. It’s interesting and bees are awesome and Kolbert, when she’s not writing about the end of civilization, is hilarious.

I can’t stand up / for falling down

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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