Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Someday, there will be notes for the notes One of the sadder things I've read today: Contemporary novels appear to be drawing a wider audience thanks to Oprah and company, which is all well and good except that people aren't reading the novels. Instead, quite a few are simply reading the Cliffs Notes or similar study guides, and then waxing poetic about them at their monthly meetings. These two points are particular gems:

Early on, [SparkNotes editorial director Justin] Kestler said, he and other editors began receiving requests from nonstudents who said they wanted notes for their book-club books, or because they had always wondered what "Wuthering Heights" was all about, anyway. Sales of the notes have spiked with the release of books turned movies, as was the case with "All the Pretty Horses."

It's grade school all over again: books are something to be studied, not enjoyed. Now. Before I launch into a Franzenesque tirade, I will admit that I did this once. Pre-September 11th, I was a member of an online book club with some old college friends. (Post-September 11th, it devolved into a sort of private warblog for 10, and things got so acrimonious that I felt it was best to leave.) Anyway, we were reading "The Red and the Black" by Stendhal. I'm sure this is a very good book. I didn't have time to read it, though, so I found the SparkNotes summary on the web. After a cursory glance, I felt like I could at least follow the discussion other people were having. But I sure didn't feel comfortable making any substantial comments on the book myself. And I don't remember anything about TRATB now. Not even the main character's name, which was the one thing I should have been able to take from the notes. So what did I get out of the discussion of the book? Absolutely nothing. You can bet that's exactly what all these other people are getting too, especially in clubs where several people are reading the notes instead of the books. As if the "Malcolm in the Middle" episode weren't enough, this is perfect proof that newly popular book clubs aren't about books at all. They're about everyday socializing disguised as intellectual banter. I would approve of this (hell, what's a blog if not everyday socializing disguised as intellectual banter?) except that in this case, the disguise is so easy to achieve that there doesn't have to be any intellectual input in order to look intellectual. If everyone else's experiences with notes are like mine, and if this phenomenon is common -- as a typically cynical Gen-Xer (the generation and the blog), I assume it must be -- then why bother promoting book clubs at all? Back in the height of the Franzen scandal, my aforementioned book club had a big discussion about book clubs (hey, bloggers blog about blogs). A prominent theme was that Oprah's choices may not be great literature, but at least people are reading. Can you say the same if what people are reading is the literary equivalent of powdered milk? I doubt it.

Principles of Population Genetics
Genetics of Populations
Molecular Evolution
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Evolutionary Genetics
Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution
The Genetics of Human Populations
Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits
Epistasis and Evolutionary Process
Evolutionary Human Genetics
Mathematical Models in Biology
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Narrow Roads of Gene Land 1
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Narrow Roads of Gene Land 3
Statistical Methods in Molecular Evolution
The History and Geography of Human Genes
Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory
Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution, and the Neutral Theory
Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
Evolution and the Genetics of Populations
Genetics and Origins of Species
Tempo and Mode in Evolution
Causes of Evolution
The Great Human Diasporas
Bones, Stones and Molecules
Natural Selection and Social Theory
Journey of Man
Mapping Human History
The Seven Daughters of Eve
Evolution for Everyone
Why Sex Matters
Mother Nature
Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language
R.A. Fisher, the Life of a Scientist
Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology
Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics
A Reason for Everything
The Ancestor's Tale
Dragon Bone Hill
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The Selfish Gene
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Out of Thin Air
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Origin and Evolution of Cultures
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Born That Way
No Two Alike
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The Blank Slate
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Children of the Revolution
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Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations
A Farewell to Alms
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