The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.”
Yeah. That’s Joel Stein in a short (but not short enough) rant called Adults Should Read Adult Books written for the New York Times. Stein says, “I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like… I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read ‘The Hunger Games’ when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”
It can’t be easy to be such a pompous dick. It must take a great deal of practice, so I’m willing to give Stein some credit for his dedication. And I wouldn’t want to deny him the right to object to any genre of literature; after all, I’ve been known to make the occasional disparaging comment about Romance fiction. But I’d never suggest there’s anything wrong with somebody who chose to read Romance novels. Stein’s absolute rejection of the value of Young Adult fiction isn’t what makes him a dick. That just makes him ignorant.
No, what makes Joel Stein an Olympic caliber dick is that he sets himself up as an arbiter of what is appropriate for adults to read when he has written a soon-to-be-released nonfiction book called (and I’m not making this up) Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. The book is apparently about Stein’s panic at learning he is about to become the father of a son, and trying to discover what it means to be a ‘man’ by (and really, I’m not making this up at all) briefly engaging in testosterone-driven tasks. He spends three days (3!) in some form of military basic training, he spends a 24 hour shift with the fire department, he goes camping (with…and lawdy, I wish I was making this up…the Boy Scouts), he does some home repairs. In other words, he pays a fleeting visit to what he believes is the world of manhood in the hope that he’ll learn something profound about masculinity.
Then, in this wee little rant, he writes “You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight.” And that is what makes Joel Stein a dick.
Joel, bunkie, this is where you make your mistake. Men read Young Adult fiction and aren’t embarrassed by it.
Words is my business. I know a lot of them, and I enjoy using them. I enjoy seeing and hearing them used. I adore people who use them well.
One of the reasons I adore Meera Lee Sethi (just one of the reasons; there are so many reasons to adore Meera that you’d need an abacus to keep count) is because she’s engaged in the most wonderful and quixotic projects I’ve seen in some time: 366 Days of Words in Science.
This is more than a mere introduction to esoteric words. It’s partly a sort of diary, and partly a collection of philosophical musings, and partly a work or art (each term is accompanied by a photo that in some way illustrates the concept), and partly an act of immense generosity. It’s a delightful combination of intelligence and charm, and every day it offers something new to captivate the curious.
It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be able to use ‘ceratotrichia’ or ‘palpebral’ in casual conversation, even if I can remember them. I’ve no idea how many of these 366 words I’ll actually fold into my vocabulary. But I do know that each day I look forward to another term, another photograph, and another brief peek into Meera’s mind.
So this little blog post is just an aliquot (a measured portion from a larger sample) of my affection for words and for science and for Meera. The level of my actual affection for words, science, and Meera is only measurable on a galactic scale.
I’ve spent the early part of the summer re-reading the old adventure novels I loved as a boy. I began with Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini–a novel set during the French Revolution, with one of the best opening lines ever written: He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Sabatini loved that line so much he used it as his epitaph. He wrote a sequel, Scaramouche the Kingmaker, a decade later–though whether he wrote it because he liked the character or because he needed the cash, I’ve no idea. In any event, it’s a novel that probably should have remained unwritten.
I also read The Prisoner of Zenda, written by Anthony Hope in 1894. It’s an impossibly romantic story, and I mean ‘romantic’ in the old sense of the term. The novel has the most wonderful sociopathic villain, with a perfectly villainous name: Rupert of Hentzau. It also inspired an entire (and, sadly, cheesy) sub-genre of adventure novels in which dissolute or unfortunate members of royalty are temporarily replaced by doppelgangers who manage to save the kingdom. As with Sabatini, Hope wrote a sequel–this one entitled Rupert of Hentzau, featuring that same charming sociopath. The sequel was less successful, though not as painfully bad as Sabatini’s.
Now I’m reading The Four Feathers, the 1902 novel by A.E.W. Mason about a young man raised in a British military family who is labeled a coward (the accusation of cowardice is accompanied by a white feather). It takes place in the Sudan during the early 1880s, when the forces of the Mahdi took on the British Empire–one of the first modern clashes between imperialism and religious fanaticism. The protagonist proves his courage by secretly traveling to the Sudan (in disguise, of course–romantic fictional heroes always travel in disguise) and over the course of six years, rescuing his accusers and returning to each of them the white feather. Happily, Mason didn’t write a sequel.