Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Roll-Call for Readers: Do You Exist?

Photograph of ring in open spine of book, casting shadow of a heart
Attribution Some rights reserved by MissTurner ,
Used under CC license
So, she has been working on her syllabus for the Creative Writing class that she'll be teaching in a few weeks.  A stack of books is teetering on her table, sticky-noted at this story or that poem her students will read and discuss on days they aren't discussing their own creations.

Meanwhile, she has also been reading outside of these books, and maybe it's just her luck, but she keeps landing on rather depressing articles.  For example, Nicholas Carr's article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in which he discusses the way internet reading is affecting our brain patterns and, thus, ability to read deeply.  It's the true, sordid tale of how once-avid readers are losing their reading skills, much like a piano player who, after a twenty-year break, returns to the bench to find that her fingers have lost their songs.

Then, there's a more recent article out in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "We Can't Teach Students to Love Reading"; here, Alan Jacobs compares reading habits from the advent of the printing press to the shift in post WWII students to present-day reading.  Some of his essay is a response to Carr's book that was inspired by the above-mentioned article. Jacobs concludes that, and she thinks rightly, that it is a much different task to teach students who have never experienced deep-reading how to do that by college but that it is more possible to reinvigorate those who have, at some time in their lives, experienced deep-reading and the benefits and joys.

A more, perhaps, uplifting article in The New York Times came out last week entitled "Your Brain on Fiction", which summarizes recent studies that show how the brain is triggered by reading fiction in similar ways as to when it's having sensory experiences outside of reading. Of course, it's a bit disheartening that anyone should have to go to such lengths to prove that reading is beneficial, but that the studies existed and an article was written to relay this information is one of those "sign of our times".  She supposes.  Because while it's nice that people are taking the time to research such things, the conclusions are akin to what Ian Frazier lampoons in his essay, "Researchers Say".
Photograph of a man standing in front of overflowing book shelves in open market
AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Roel Wijnants,
Used under CC license 

But, see here, it seems to her that it might be awfully depressing to be a [starting] writer right now, especially since all these reports keep being released about how people aren't reading anymore, or how, for example, there's evidently something wrong with Oprah for elevating the reading taste of her followers because readers with higher literary tastes don't buy market romance.  (Oh, Culture Industry.  Oh, oh, oh.)

So, this is what she would like: 
One sentence, but no more than ten sentences, in which you explain

1) why you read fiction or poetry (or both), OR 
2) what you look for when you go hunting for a new book, OR 
3) who your favorite writer is and what it is about his or her writing, you think, that draws you back, OR
4) why you no longer read fiction or poetry

Photograph of discarded book stamp card
Attribution Some rights reserved
gypsy999, Used under CC license 
Just post your mini-essay at the bottom of this blog.  Feel free to stay anonymous, although it would be nice if you could state both your general location and age (Ohio, U.S., 41-years old).

Her idea is to then print out the answers for her students and discuss them since, after all, you, reader, are one of their potential audience members in years to come.

For one, she hopes that the responses will encourage her students to know that readers do, in fact, still exist.  And, two, she hopes that the responses will show the variety of readers who read and for a variety of reasons.

Think of this as a sort of  Roll-Call for Readers, a sort of rallying anthem for the troop of writers she will meet in a few weeks and then teach for the next few months.  Writers who, no doubt, have been told already that no one reads anymore and that there is no life in writing about people who don't exist for people who don't exist.

Do you exist, reader?  

(Click on the title of this post to access the comment form.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Inside Their Eyes: Shelter Dog Portraits

Something lovely has been happening in Tuscola, Illinois at the Douglas County Animal Control and Shelter.

Her brother and sister-in-law, Kirby and Cindy Pringle, are professional photographers with a deep fondness for animals, and have begun volunteering at their local animal shelter by photographing the shelter dogs. The shelter then posts the animals' photographs on their Facebook page, along with adoption details.

Whippet, photograph by Dogtown Artworks
What seems like every day, another elegant photograph of a recent addition to the shelter is posted, which becomes a rather disheartening situation because the photography is beautiful but another animal-in-need is not.

As the Facebook page unfolds itself, it is simultaneously becoming a sort of online art gallery.  A gallery that testifies to the bond between dog and human, and the effects the loss of such a relationship has on our dog-friends.

Often, adoption photographs of shelter dogs feature them in the kennels, behind chain-link fence or wire, and the cages often act as a barrier between the viewer and dog, thus causing the dogs to seem as though they deserve to be there--since the nature of the cage is to confine, to isolate, to keep what must be dangerous out.  
Brindle-Mix, photograph by Dogtown Artworks
These non-traditional adoption ads allow the dogs to communicate to the viewers with dignity.  Here, the dogs are allowed to show themselves outside of the fence, in the way that animals at shelters would if they weren't there.

A shelter is--at least for the ones she has visited--an often anxious, stressed environment that would drive anyone, dog or human, into rattling their cages, staring off, or barking despondently, no matter how friendly their hearts and sweet their temperaments outside the cage.

But shelter behavior, of course, is often enough to make the potential adopter move onto the next kennel, and the next (often past the adult dogs and toward the puppies), or maybe just out the door.

These are empowering photographs, and a beautiful testament to the power of art and the power of the bond between ourselves and our dogs.  Together, the world of longing and love is put into better focus.

These are our undesirables.  But the Pringles are showing us how to see them as they are: full of desire.

To view more of the dogs at the Douglas County Adoption
or for information about volunteering or donating, 
please visit their Facebook page.

For more information about the photographers, 
see their website, Dogtown Artworks.

Three puppies at Douglas County Shelter,
photographs by Dogtown Artworks

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lake Effect 2012: Now Available, Contains Sparrows

Underwater design moss green for literary journal cover
2012 Issue of Lake Effect,
Cover Art and Design
by A.J. Noyes

Published out of Penn-State Erie, the new issue of Lake Effect (Volume 16/Spring 2012) is now available for purchase. Her story "Winter's Wooden Sparrows" appears within its pages.

This is her second time working with Lake Effect, as six years ago they published my story "Digging" (Issue #10), a story about a girl and boy who discover their siblings and father buried in the forest.  "Digging" is in The Floating Order, while "Sparrows" will be in her next book, Midwest in Memoriam, which she recently began sending out to publishers.

If a pattern has begun, then in six more years she''ll have another story for another book.  That's a rather nice idea.

Photograph of terrier-mix laying on open book
Our dog Gretta does not like to read recommended works,
evidently, but she had a long day
(Copyright Erin Pringle-Toungate)

The Nortang Bears Forthcoming in Sand Journal

Photograph of various covers for the literary journal SAND
Image from here
A bit of lovely news:

Her very short prose piece, The Nortang Bears, has been slated for publication across the waters in SAND Journal, an English literary journal based in Berlin, Germany.

Due out in May 2012