I Happen to Be a Fan of Things

I consume a lot of media. Books, comics, TV shows, films, music. It’s all media, stories and concepts and characters and thoughts carefully crafted or haphazardly slapped together by creative people. When I was a kid, I was all about Star Wars and Tolkien’s Middle Earth books. By extension, I was into Kurosawa films and fantasy stories. As I got older I discovered Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sam Raimi, and dozens of other people whose works nurtured and challenged me at a time in my life where I needed a little of both. I like more things now. For the past four years or so I’ve been more than a little obsessed with the Year 24 Group, particularly Hagio Moto.

I like a lot of things, is basically what I mean to say. In recent years I’ve liked a few things enough to try to connect with massive hordes of other people who like them through the social phenomenon of fandom. For those not already aware, fandom is a term for a sort of nerd subculture based around mutual enjoyment of something. The concept is older than you might expect, and I haven’t been alive long enough to be certain it wasn’t always filled with absolute nutters.

That is not to say that all other geeks are crazy. I’ve known many a well-balanced and grounded nerd and don’t want to contribute any more to the prevailing notion that sci-fi/fantasy/anime/video game/comic book fans are inherently messed up. However, I think that Sharyn McCrumb made a good point about fandom in her book Bimbos of the Death Sun and subsequent commentary on the book:

Bimbos of the Death Sun was intended to be an observation of the culture of fandom, and a gentle warning. Science fiction writers build castles in the air; the fans move into them; and the publishers collect the rent. It’s a nice place to visit, but please don’t try to live there.

Since my introduction to internet fandom, I’ve noticed a passive withdrawal from reality and a powerful undercurrent of nastiness veiled in strained consensus. Both things, I think, are facilitated at least in part by the internet.

The constant availability of new facts, new discussion, and new content (much of which is generated by other fans) makes it so much easier to hole up in those sky castles. It isn’t often a conscious choice. I think it’s normal to respond to having yet more enjoyable things by gobbling them up. However, when the flow of new material becomes constant it can be difficult to ween yourself away from the supply and try other things. Or even leave the house.

The internet also presents people with some paradoxical opportunities: You can, in theory, interact with hundreds of people who share you common interest. You can also use screening features to shutter yourself away from opinions you don’t share. You don’t have to have a discussion with anyone you either don’t agree with or aren’t angry enough at to pursue.

So in effect you’re shut up in your room on the computer focused with laser precision on a single topic, and you don’t talk to anyone unless your views are being reinforced or you’re enforcing them on someone else. It’s a scary, confusing place to be when you haven’t been steeped in the law and lore of the land. I still have no functional idea of how to navigate any social situation within internet fandom. If you feel inclined to tell me in the comments section that you can easily treat it just like any other social situation, I hope you enjoy being wrong. 

After my short stint browsing around fandom, I don’t think I want to count myself as a member. I don’t have the laser focus, for one thing. Even now my obsession spreads across about a dozen things, many of them very different from one another. I don’t have the time, either. You’d be surprised how time consuming obsession can be, and I’m spread thin enough as it is enjoying things alone. Mixing other people up in it is just inconceivable.

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What Books Are to Me

I don’t think I’ve ever had what one would call a normal perspective on books. At least not a perspective other book people would consider normal. When I think ‘book,’ my mind remains fixed more on the content than on the object. You can write a 300 page novel and print it out on notecards that you glue to a wall and I would call it a book after some consideration. A book has always been an idea to me first, a physical thing second. They just happen to share a word.

When I was a kid, my books were transient things. A lack of money combined with my mother’s ever-expanding hoard of stuff that tended to swallow things up meant that most of the books I read were either borrowed from the library or bought cheaply and quickly whisked away from my possession. I did manage to keep some to read over and over, but not all that many.

The first thing of any considerable length that I wrote was typed on a computer, and even though I knew that I would never print it or share it with anyone, everyday I sat down to work on it I would think, “I’m going to work on my book.” From then on, I believe the notion of a book as a written collection of knowledge or ideas became fixed in my mind. My book had no binding save for the floppy diskette I used to back it up, but it was still a book to me.

I spent the next many, many years happily writing and reading primarily from a computer screen. The stories I read and the knowledge I absorbed were public domain or posted for free by the authors. My computer was mine and mine alone, and the files could always be found again if they’d been online. Anything I wanted, if it was there, if it was free, could be mine. My time was limited, of course, due to issues of eyestrain and not (at the time) being able to carry the internet around. That didn’t matter. I could read Moby Dick and plenty of miscellaneous supplementary information on the setting and the author without pleading with my father to take me with him on the eighteen mile car ride into town. I could read stories and essays by people I’d never even heard of, young, brilliant, unique people who so greatly differed from the haggard and religiously-stringent Southern Mississippi people I knew in daily life that the knowledge that they existed shook something inside me and made me feel a tremulous hope for myself.

When I first heard of e-readers, I was opposed to the idea of owning one for one reason: It looked like a large lump of money spent so that you could then spend more money on what I suspected would be a staggeringly limited selection of books. I wasn’t concerned about e-books not feeling, or smelling, or tasting like ‘real’ books. I have no such visceral attachment to the physicality of them. My love is with knowledge and ideas, with words, with something much more free-floating and accessible than wood pulp and leatherette.

I could not have imagined the variety, the opportunities, that would open up to me after I received an e-reader. The library, as inconsistent as its content may be, feels limitless. Even if I counted only the books offered for free, there is more than I could ever read. Browsing the selection for the first time was stunning. I thought of The Matrix and its many, many guns.

On top of that, I can carry it around. It’s absurdly light and it holds a great amount of stuff. I can finally take my immense internet library with me. I am no longer limited by location or space, and I am far less limited by poverty.

The definition of ‘book’ changed a long time ago for me. All an e-reader does is make the acquisition of books easier.