Gimbling in the Wabe – What We Choose

by Sharon Browning


So I was tooling around on Facebook last night – something I do far too often – and I was getting pissed.  I know that I’ve pretty much created my Facebook feed by liking certain posts computerand following certain pages, so what shows up has been geared to what I’ve established as things I want to look at, and items that merchandizing algorithms have determined I will be drawn to, so I have no one to really get frustrated with but myself.  But I hate clickbait sites – apocryphal headlines that have the express purpose of getting me to click on something else in order to find out what they are teasing me with (which usually turns out to be rather benign, or unnecessary, but still gets my data into yet more algorithms that then feed into other merchandising machineries).

And last night, I had five pretty baldly presented clickbaits on my feed piled up on each other:  10 Must Read Books About Africa!, 10 Must Read Books About High School Romance!, 8 Books You Need to Read This October!, 7 Books to Read Right Now!, You Better Have Read These 80 Essential Books By Now!

Notwithstanding that these books in question may be of merit (except I am so beyond high school romance, fer cryin’ out loud, so what that I loved The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park?), I really don’t like being told that I MUST do this or I’d BETTER do that, and worse, that I need to do it RIGHT NOW!  These commands must work in the broad sense, because I see them so often (and not just about books, but perhaps I feel it more insidious when they target reading rather than “When They Brought Wolves into a Park, They Had No Idea This Would Be the Result” or “I imagine the intern who did this either quit or got a promotion shortly after” or “Abandoned Dog Travels Four Miles a Night – So They Finally Followed Her and WOW!”).  Doesn’t matter – I still detest them.

But just as I was getting my dander up about being told what to do, I took a step back.  I find that taking a step back when I’m upset is a really good way of putting things back into perspective.  And I realized that the problem was not these posts, but that I took them personally.  I mean, geesh.  How hard is it just to scroll past them?  I do that with the “post this for an hour on your page if you love your daughter/son/husband/mother-in-law” (emotional blackmail) or “What Old Person’s Name Are You?” (just plain silly) or even a friend’s constant posts on the status of the shipment of his new iPhone 6 (overkill and yes, just a pinch of jealousy).

It’s my choice to let them bother me, in this day and age of media overstimulation.  I can choose to block them out or to let them get to me (or to be honest – to click on them… my old person’s name, after all, is Doris).

And look at how many wonderful posts I could choose to explore about other, less intrusive literary topics!  Within the same time period where I ran across those demanding clickbaits, I also had these things to peruse (and this is a partial list because I wasn’t trying to be absolutely thorough):

  • The 15 Principles of Highly Successful Authors (The Authorship Program)
  • Promo for B.J. Novak’s “The Book With No Pictures” (Alfred A. Knopf)
  • Submission Regulations for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s Short Story Prize (CBCbooks)
  • Six Indigenous Cookbooks to Warm You Up (Muskrat Magazine)
  • Giveaway for Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” (Penguin Group USA)
  • 2015 RT Booklovers Convention promo (RT Convention)
  • Announcement for “At the Water’s Edge” (by author of “Water for Elephants) (Random House Reader’s Circle)
  • Top Picks for Science Fiction and Fantasy Reads In October (Kirkus Reviews)
  • How Busy People Make Time to Read – And You Can Too (FastCompany)
  • Rereading Melanie Rawn’s “Dragon Prince”, Chapters 19 and 20 (Tor)
  • Tor/Forge Author Events in October (Tor/Forge)
  • “The Scrimshaw and the Scream” by Kate Hall (Fantasy Magazine)
  • Presidential Proclamation re: October being National Arts and Humanities Month (Graywolf Press)
  • Giveaway for Kristi Charish’s “Owl and the Japanese Circus” (Simon & Schuster Canada)
  • Announcement for Laura Lippman’s “Baltimore Blues” (Harper Collins AND William Morrow)
  • Essay on Publication of Eula Biss’s “On Immunity” (Graywolf Press)
  • “3 Audacious Things Lena Dunham Wants” (Random House Reader’s Circle)
  • Book Giveaway: “Ironskin”, “Copperhead”, “Sliverblind” by Tina Connelly (Fantasy Book Cafe)
  • Sarah Stonich and Tom Maltman Joint Reading (Eat My Words Books)
  • iBook Sale Notice (HarperCollins)
  • Nightmare! Women Destroy Horror issue (Nightmare Magazine)
  • Finalists for 2014 Kirkus Prize (LitStack)
  • Comic book recommendation: Lumberjanes (Tor)
  • “Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan (Tor)
  • Oddsmakers Weigh In on Who Will Win the Nobel Prize for Literature (Alfred A. Knopf)

All of those potentialities were/are legitimate.  All of them were, in some way, enticing.  All of them, to me at least, held value beyond mere metrics.

And that list doesn’t include posts directly from authors that I admire and have chosen to follow – Jacqueline Cary, Eden Butler, Tee Tate, Cat Rambo, Brady Allen, Melinda Snodgrass, Michael Alan Grapin, Victoria Schwab, Tad Williams, Daniel Abraham, Ellen Datlow, Kirsten Cronn-Mills, Robin Hobb, Maura McHugh, Paulo Bacigalupi – each of whom posted during this same time frame as the clickbaits.  It wasn’t just self-promotional stuff; these authors posted their thoughts, something of themselves, and allowed those of us who follow them to glimpse the people they are, not just their vocation.

There were more of these accessible authors on Twitter, too, who tweeted during this time frame, authors who consistently share funny, informative, interesting tweets:  Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Patrick Rothfuss, Guy Gavriel Kay, Brent Weeks.  The initial idea shared on Twitter may be 142 characters, but so many tweets invite me to explore deeper – if I want.  If I so choose.

Or I can choose to shut down the computer.  Later that night I watched the reality show “Survivor” in the living room with my family.  We all gathered together as we ate homemade beef stew with warm, crusty French bread and chunks of creamy Swiss cheese.  We’ve been watching “Survivor” together for years; it’s one of our family’s traditions.  We cheer on the challenges and marvel at the duplicity; last night we chuckled when one contestant’s scheming backfired and she was succinctly voted off the island.  Later we caught baseball’s National League wildcard playoff game, my husband and daughter drifting to other platforms while my son and I watched more closely as we are the ones who are the avid baseball fans.  We talked, we joked, we laughed.  We compared thoughts, impressions, ideas.  My husband and daughter paused to watch the more exciting plays. We all reveled in the game together (even though the game the night before had been much more invigorating).

And I could go a step further, if I want.  Shut it all down.  Instead of scrolling through Facebook, glancing over Twitter, surfing the net, letting the TV drone on, I can open up a good book.  Snuggle into my huge, comfy armchair and read while the rain drums on the roof.  Or sit out on the front porch with a cup of hot coffee steaming in the brisk autumn air, the Mighty Belle sitting quietly at my feet watching the world go by with her big, limpid doe eyes.  Read a few pages and at a break in the action, watch the leaves – now golden and red and orange – as they flutter down to the rain blackened asphalt of the city street.

It’s my choice.  What good does it do to rail against something that I myself have the power to ignore?  Better I should rail at my own inertia, at my own narrowing of focus when I could instead be opening up, be choosing my own expansion.  I am the one who, in so many moments in each and every day, controls my own destiny.  The choices are there – they are mine to act upon.

So I take a step back, and choose.

And it’s all good.

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