For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
October 28, 2005 - Faulkner Stinks
Last week, I took a few days off to give a talk at a library conference in Jackson, Wyoming.
I decided to drive. The library had gotten a complaint about a multiple-CD book, and this would give me a chance to listen to it.
The name of the book was "Light in August," by William Faulkner. Somehow, I'd never gotten around to reading Faulkner before.
I remember the night (the night before the test, as it happened) when I realized I'd probably better get going on Moby Dick. Then, to my astonishment, I got hooked, and spent the whole night reading it, and in fact aced the test. A wonderful book!
That's been my experience with most of the classics. That's why they're classics.
About the only one I really disliked was "Ethan Frome," by Edith Wharton. (I once found a two sentence summary I still think nailed it: "I met a man named Ethan Frome. His life sucked.")
Now there are two. I have been listening to "Light in August" for almost 18 hours, and it makes me want to scream.
Has there ever been a more mannered, maddening, mumbling author? Has there ever been a fictional universe so inhabited by profoundly brain-damaged people? Has there ever been an omniscient narrator so clueless about his own characters?
Mannerisms: "His voice ceased." "Her voice ceased." Faulkner is the only writer I've run across whose idea of dialog is to tell you that somebody has STOPPED talking. Over and over and over.
Inhabitants: the characters chew on some perfectly ordinary phenomena for a chapter or two, then finally SAY, "Huh." Then their voices cease, they watch the dust behind a wagon for awhile, then they commit an act of incomprehensible violence.
Omniscience: look, Faulkner created these people, right? He can make them say, or do, or want, anything he pleases. But in virtually every scene, he starts opining about POSSIBLE motives for his characters. "Perhaps Joe was thinking [something improbable].... Or perhaps not." Well, which is it? If it's stream of consciousness, fine, OK, swell, but are we talking the AUTHOR'S stream of consciousness? If so, shouldn't the author BE conscious?
Oh, and on occasion, Faulkner waxes philosophic. I studied philosophy for years. I got a degree in it. It is my expert opinion that Faulkner is absolutely unintelligible.
Then there's the story itself. There is not one single person in this book I would choose to spend 5 minutes with. And I have now been in their unrelieved company for 18 hours.
Maybe I'm being too subtle here. I hate this book.
But here's the kicker. Somewhere out there, I just KNOW one of you is thinking, "But I LOVE Faulkner! He's my favorite author! And 'Light in August' is my favorite book!"
OK. Fine. We've got it. Come and get it.
I finally had to cheat and look up the ending in Cliff's Notes because I could not stand to subject myself to another minute of the genuine article. (Cliff's Notes, incidentally, are available from our website, 24/7, and for free, if you've got a library card.)
According to Cliff's Notes, "Faulkner is considered one of the world's greatest novelists." I WEEP for mankind.