The creator's mindset and lawyers' destructiveness in Cryptonomicon

Rereading Cryptonomicon is always an absurdly pleasurable experience that yields ideas I should’ve noticed before but didn’t. For example, hacker Randy Waterhouse undergoes a life change characteristic not only of numerous nerds I know, who often swerve from the mind-numbingly pointless activities to fantastically enriching ones even though both spring from the same drive, but that also demonstrates the difference between someone who’s just happy to make something and lawyers, who do sometimes deserve their bad rap and rep:

[Randy's] life had changed when Charlene had come along, and now it changed more: he dropped out of the fantasy role-playing game circuit altogether, stopped going to meetings of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and began to spend all his free time either with Charlene or in front of a computer terminal. All in all, this was probably a change for the better. With Charlene, he did things he wouldn’t have done otherwise, like getting exercise, or going to see live music. And at the computer, he was learning new skills, and he was creating something. It might be something completely useless, but at least he was creating.

“Things he wouldn’t have done otherwise” probably also include showering regular and buying clothes when the old ones develop holes, if Randy is anything like the majors nerds I’ve known and, occasionally, been. Most importantly, he’s making stuff. And that’s what distinguishes Randy, whatever his other problems might be, from everyone else. Lots of people talk about doing things and relatively few do. When you find someone who does stuff, it’s notable, even if the thing “might be something completely useless.”

In Randy’s case, he writes a game based in part on information gleaned from a crazy grad student named Andrew Loeb, and, when Andrew finds out, he ends up suing Randy; when the university whose computers Randy used finds out, they sue him too. Naturally, this is only a very light gloss on how it goes down, like the difference between lipstick and car paint, but events ultimately leave Randy here:

In the end, just to cut his losses and get out of it clean, Randy had to hire a lawyer of his own. The final cost to him was a hair more than five thousand dollars. The software was never sold to anyone, and indeed could not have been; it was so legally encumbered by that point that it would have been like trying to sell someone a rusty Volkswagen that had been dismantled and its parts hidden in attack dog kennels all over the world.

Which, apparently, is what happens when deranged, unreasonable people meet certain kinds of lawyers, or come from them. Randy eventually comes to “decide that Andrew’s life had been fractally weird. That is, you could take any small piece of it and examine it in detail and it, in and of itself, would turn out to be just as complicated and weird as the whole thing in its entirety.” But we have no society-wide immune system to people whose lives are “fractally weird” and want to makes others’ lives miserable, via abusing the legal system or some other means. The people who will make others’ lives miserable don’t really understand the mindset of creators, who’re just trying stuff out to see what happens. And they often don’t realize what other people are like, either, because they haven’t developed the intellectual immune system necessary to protect them from crazy assholes. Creators often live in a gift economy while others live in a commercial economy. So they get in situations like Randy does, having “to hire a lawyer” and cut their losses.

Reading over this post, I realize that, as usual, it’s not really possible to excerpt Cryptonomicon effectively, because the scene in question lasts four densely forested hardcover pages and delves into a level of nuance appropriate for Emacs users. And Stephenson’s novels are fractal too: you can examine almost any segment, from the sentence on up, and find that any part is as detailed and intense as the whole. I haven’t begun to dissect what comparing software, a non-tangible entity that can be infinitely copied with near zero cost, to a Volkswagen, which is quite finite and has many other characteristics separating it from software, actually says about both software and Volkswagens.

Through Randy, however, Stephenson is trying to explain hackers, or at least show one in action, since they’ve been conspicuously absent in literary fiction while probably doing more to change the world than virtually any other group over the last 30 or so years. You can’t really explain their core in a short space, which is why Stephenson devotes about a quarter of a 1,000 page book to examining one, and another quarter or so to examining one’s literal and figurative predecessor. But I could imagine an academic paper examining the construction of a hacker’s temperament, how it differs from the straw-man average man’s temperament, and how an eventual awareness of that difference forms the hacker’s outlook. Randy’s encounter with Andrew can be read as the awareness of that difference coming to the fore, rather as a comic book hero comes to realize that his special powers separate him from his classmates. The difference is that comic book heroes usually have their villains pre-selected and presented as suitably villainous, whereas in life it’s pretty unusual to come across someone as conveniently villainous as Andrew is here.

The creator’s mindset and lawyers’ destructiveness in Cryptonomicon

Rereading Cryptonomicon is always an absurdly pleasurable experience that yields ideas I should’ve noticed before but didn’t. For example, hacker Randy Waterhouse undergoes a life change characteristic not only of numerous nerds I know, who often swerve from the mind-numbingly pointless activities to fantastically enriching ones even though both spring from the same drive, but that also demonstrates the difference between someone who’s just happy to make something and lawyers, who do sometimes deserve their bad rap and rep:

[Randy's] life had changed when Charlene had come along, and now it changed more: he dropped out of the fantasy role-playing game circuit altogether, stopped going to meetings of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and began to spend all his free time either with Charlene or in front of a computer terminal. All in all, this was probably a change for the better. With Charlene, he did things he wouldn’t have done otherwise, like getting exercise, or going to see live music. And at the computer, he was learning new skills, and he was creating something. It might be something completely useless, but at least he was creating.

“Things he wouldn’t have done otherwise” probably also include showering regular and buying clothes when the old ones develop holes, if Randy is anything like the majors nerds I’ve known and, occasionally, been. Most importantly, he’s making stuff. And that’s what distinguishes Randy, whatever his other problems might be, from everyone else. Lots of people talk about doing things and relatively few do. When you find someone who does stuff, it’s notable, even if the thing “might be something completely useless.”

In Randy’s case, he writes a game based in part on information gleaned from a crazy grad student named Andrew Loeb, and, when Andrew finds out, he ends up suing Randy; when the university whose computers Randy used finds out, they sue him too. Naturally, this is only a very light gloss on how it goes down, like the difference between lipstick and car paint, but events ultimately leave Randy here:

In the end, just to cut his losses and get out of it clean, Randy had to hire a lawyer of his own. The final cost to him was a hair more than five thousand dollars. The software was never sold to anyone, and indeed could not have been; it was so legally encumbered by that point that it would have been like trying to sell someone a rusty Volkswagen that had been dismantled and its parts hidden in attack dog kennels all over the world.

Which, apparently, is what happens when deranged, unreasonable people meet certain kinds of lawyers, or come from them. Randy eventually comes to “decide that Andrew’s life had been fractally weird. That is, you could take any small piece of it and examine it in detail and it, in and of itself, would turn out to be just as complicated and weird as the whole thing in its entirety.” But we have no society-wide immune system to people whose lives are “fractally weird” and want to makes others’ lives miserable, via abusing the legal system or some other means. The people who will make others’ lives miserable don’t really understand the mindset of creators, who’re just trying stuff out to see what happens. And they often don’t realize what other people are like, either, because they haven’t developed the intellectual immune system necessary to protect them from crazy assholes. Creators often live in a gift economy while others live in a commercial economy. So they get in situations like Randy does, having “to hire a lawyer” and cut their losses.

Reading over this post, I realize that, as usual, it’s not really possible to excerpt Cryptonomicon effectively, because the scene in question lasts four densely forested hardcover pages and delves into a level of nuance appropriate for Emacs users. And Stephenson’s novels are fractal too: you can examine almost any segment, from the sentence on up, and find that any part is as detailed and intense as the whole. I haven’t begun to dissect what comparing software, a non-tangible entity that can be infinitely copied with near zero cost, to a Volkswagen, which is quite finite and has many other characteristics separating it from software, actually says about both software and Volkswagens.

Through Randy, however, Stephenson is trying to explain hackers, or at least show one in action, since they’ve been conspicuously absent in literary fiction while probably doing more to change the world than virtually any other group over the last 30 or so years. You can’t really explain their core in a short space, which is why Stephenson devotes about a quarter of a 1,000 page book to examining one, and another quarter or so to examining one’s literal and figurative predecessor. But I could imagine an academic paper examining the construction of a hacker’s temperament, how it differs from the straw-man average man’s temperament, and how an eventual awareness of that difference forms the hacker’s outlook. Randy’s encounter with Andrew can be read as the awareness of that difference coming to the fore, rather as a comic book hero comes to realize that his special powers separate him from his classmates. The difference is that comic book heroes usually have their villains pre-selected and presented as suitably villainous, whereas in life it’s pretty unusual to come across someone as conveniently villainous as Andrew is here.

November Links: The Dutch and sex, neekerbreekers, Gandalf or Dumbledore?, academia, a rare pair of political links, and more

* Solving America’s teen sex “problem:” The Dutch have dramatically reduced adolescent pregnancies, abortions and STDs. What do they know that we don’t?

* [Ann Patchett] Fights the Tide by Opening a Bookstore. It’s in Nashville, which probably isn’t geographically proximate for most of you. Her new novel State of Wonder is itself wonderful.

* Useful advice: Beware the neekerbreekers.

* An amusing search query that led someone to this blog: “how to respond to sexting”. Answer: in kind.

* Gandalf or Dumbledore? The winning poster gets facts wrong (The end of The Lord of the Rings does not see the world purged of all evil), but I like his style. He also says that Gandalf “shrugs it off LIKE A BOSS,” the latter bit referring a meme, but the phrase is slightly appropriate because Gandalf isn’t supposed to be a boss—he’s supposed to help the natives of Middle-earth, as it were, find and combine their own talents and strengths.

* Why academics should blog, which seems completely obvious to me.

* James Fallows: With Mitt’s Ascent, We’re Back to the ‘Mormon Question’, a very good post and one that changes what I think.

* Without comprehensive sex education, porn is the only solid information kids are getting about sex. File this under “obvious.”

* Trading Up:

When I left academia in 2008 to try to be a full-time writer, the last thing I was looking forward to was the commercial side of my new profession. Like every good leftist and many an academic, I looked on the market as evil, a place that would debase your values and suck out your soul if you gave it half a chance. But here’s what I’ve discovered in the last few years: I kind of like it a little.

At the very least, I far prefer the discipline of the market to the discipline of the disciplines. [. . .]

This is a trivial instance, but I saw far graver versions of it all the time: people who were blocked from getting jobs or keeping them, people whose work was rejected for publication (a body blow in academia, of course), and only because a single individual decided to stand in their way, a single human bottleneck, and often for motives that were purely personal, or self-interested, or just plain arbitrary.

* When did the GOP lose touch with reality? I’m not a tremendously political person but find it worrying when one of the two major political parties in the United States seems to have checked out of “facts,” especially when that party used to consider itself heavily fact-based.

* Slightly more on politics:

In fact, blame for the failure of the congressional super committee belongs with every American who failed to vote in the 2010 midterm election. Nothing encapsulates the dysfunction of American democracy better than the fact that we abdicate responsibility for governing our country (and running our economy) to a radical minority every four years out of laziness and, to a smaller extent, deliberate efforts by both parties to depress turnout they know will favor their rivals.

I do not see a path out of this dynamic.

* Someone found this blog through the search query “penis ass woman tattoo.” I wonder what he sought. . .

* “Beats” (the headphones) appear to primarily be a marketing phenomenon, but the Jesus figure in this video is wearing them.

Google engineer: What I learned in the war.

What does it take to put a past in porn completely to bed?

* Sentences to ponder, job market edition, although I’m not sure how much these anecdotes say about the job market and how much they say about the non-optimal moves of the individuals involved.

Status and sex: On women in bands never getting laid and Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man

Ellen Campesinos wrote “Female Musicians Never Get Laid: The bassist from Los Campesinos! gives us the awful truth about the sex lives of touring bands,” which is a brief study in gender differences among musicians. Campesinos says, apropos of a Tweet from Neko Case, “‘Ladies in bands don’t get ANY action,’ and as a female musician with a frustrated libido, I can sympathize.” Notice the keyword: “don’t” rather than “can’t.” Female musicians almost certainly can get as much action as they want, if they’re willing to get over the various neuroses and disqualifications that Campesinos brings up in her piece. She starts disqualifying potential guys right away, getting to here:

Having eliminated fans and support-band members, we’re left with the guy hanging out at the bar whose friend has dragged him along to the gig. In a lot of ways, he’s the most appealing choice. I want to hear that someone is not fussed about us. The thing is, this hypothetical guy normally throws me some glances, and I shoot some back, but he still won’t talk to me. And I don’t want to reduce it to status anxiety or a power issue, because obviously it’s intimidating to talk to any stranger, let alone someone who was just performing.

If “this hypothetical guy normally throws me some glances” and you “shoot some back,” the solution is pretty damn simple: talk to him. Why doesn’t she? I’d like to say, “I have no idea,” but I do: she’s been conditioned to want to make the guy make the first move, and she probably wants, on some level, to be chased. She knows this on some level but closes off the possibility: “Maybe I could grow a pair and actually talk to that bar-hugging guy myself. But he might think I was making a weird face while I played.” This sounds like a psychological defense she’s using to avoid rejection. So if she’s not getting laid, it’s in part because she’s not making any moves. Welcome to being a guy, honey.

The bigger issue might be simple: Campesinos might not be interested in any guy who’s interested in her. Notice how she says of fans, which male musicians often call groupies: “(And in truth, some male fans actually are slightly creepy)”, which might also transfer to “the guy hanging out at the bar” if he were to do something radical, like, say, open his mouth. “Creepy” is one of these all-purpose words women use to indicate unformed sexual undesirability; it doesn’t really mean anything except to the woman using the term. Although I’m sure she’s right about some male fans, the word “creepy” itself also indicates that she’s closing herself off to forms of sexual expression from guys she doesn’t consider eligible—which is another way of saying that she doesn’t perceive those guys to be sufficient alpha males for her.

Over the course of her essay, she’s basically describing herself as living the anxiety-ridden life of beta males who haven’t read The Game. You can get a sense of how Campesinos’s view differs from a typical guy’s by the start of her last paragraph: “Bottom line: attempting to have sex on tour is an awkward and messy experience with little sense of eroticism.” The bottom line for a guy is that attempting to have or having sex on tour with random hot girls is an awesome experience to be repeated every night. It appears she’s just not driven to get laid that much:

I think Neko should have Tweeted, “Ladies in bands don’t get any action, but that’s okay, because you can make some nice friends and meet some really cool people instead, and worst come to worst, you can always have a wunk — a wank in a bunk. Or not. That’s disgusting.” Probably more than 140 characters, but it’s the truth.

It’s hard to imagine most men writing that they’d rather make nice friends and meet some really cool people in lieu of getting laid, but she seems satisfied to make the trade-off and would rather live in a paradox where the only men she perceives as being available or interesting are ones she won’t approach.

The approach issue reminds me of Norah Vincent’s experience in Self-Made Man. Vincent, who is a lesbian in “real life,” dresses, acts, and lives like a man for about a year. In her first attempt to approach women at a bar, she (as a “he”) is basically rejected and finds that “it didn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of their suspicion” regarding motives. After, she asks a friend, “How do you handle all this fucking rejection?” He has an answer of sorts in parable form:

Let me tell you a story [. . .] When I was in college, there was this guy Dean, who got laid all the time. I mean the guy had different women coming out of his room every weekend and most weeknights, and he wasn’t particularly good looking. He was fat and kind of a slob. Nice guy, though, but nothing special. I couldn’t figure out how he did it, so one time I just asked him. ‘How do you get so many girls to go out with you?’ He was a man of few words, kind of Coolidge-esque, if you know what I mean. So all he said was: ‘I get rejected ninety percent of the time. But it’s that ten percent.’

Campesinos won’t make the first move, apparently doesn’t like the guys who do make the first move, and doesn’t like several general classes of guy available to her as a woman in a band. She’s willing to “make some nice friends and meet some really cool people instead,” which is okay, I guess, but her willingness to substitute nice friends and really cool people for getting laid may explain why she isn’t.

So she fears rejection on some level. Here’s another theory: she just doesn’t want to get laid that badly, and she “knows” (in an evolutionary sense, if not a conscious one) she doesn’t really need to get laid at a particular time in order maximize her reproductive success. If or when she wants to find a guy to have a children with, she’ll probably have no trouble finding many candidates; her only real trouble might being too picky.

In the meantime, people who really want to get laid, get laid. (I’m thinking of some of the women I know who are incredible, expert flirts while also not being irrationally picky about guys; watching them do their thing versus normal women is like listening the NY Phil and then a high school orchestra, and it appears that most women don’t care enough to really up their game). I don’t think a lot of women really understand how much rejection men go through, or what the trade-offs involved in masculinity entail. Here’s Roy Baumeister’s description of Self-Made Man in his book Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men:

One of the most interesting books about gender in recent years was by Norah Vincent. She was a lesbian feminist who with some expert help could pass for a man, and so she went undercover, living as a man in several different social spheres for the better part of a year. The book, Self-Made Man, is her memoir. She is quite frank that she started out thinking she was going to find out how great men have it and write a shocking feminist expose of the fine life that the enemy (men) was enjoying.

Instead, she experienced a rude awakening of how hard it is to be a man. Her readings and classes in Women’s Studies had not prepared her to realize that the ostensible advantages of the male role come at high cost. She was glad when it was over, and in fact she cut the episode short in order to go back to what she concluded was the greatly preferable life as a woman. The book she wrote was far different from the one she planned, and any woman who thinks life is better for men will find it a sobering read.

I don’t buy everything Baumeister says, but he’s lucid and skilled at explaining his ideas in terms of medians, averages, and trade-offs, which most polemics and professional gender people don’t or don’t want to address. And he seems open to revision, provided that the revision is based on data and not just belief. But you can take a lot of what he says, a lot of what Vincent says, a little evolutionary psychology, a lot of band culture, and read Campesinos’s piece not as Campesinos herself does, as a means of throwing up her hands and wondering “why?”, but has having a clear theoretical framework explaining why her self-made situation came about.


Randall Munroe also recommends Self-Made Man. This New York Times review is descriptive and reasonably okay.

Status and sex: On women in bands never getting laid and Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man

Ellen Campesinos wrote “Female Musicians Never Get Laid: The bassist from Los Campesinos! gives us the awful truth about the sex lives of touring bands,” which is a brief study in gender differences among musicians. Campesinos says, apropos of a Tweet from Neko Case, “‘Ladies in bands don’t get ANY action,’ and as a female musician with a frustrated libido, I can sympathize.” Notice the keyword: “don’t” rather than “can’t.” Female musicians almost certainly can get as much action as they want, if they’re willing to get over the various neuroses and disqualifications that Campesinos brings up in her piece. She starts disqualifying potential guys right away, getting to here:

Having eliminated fans and support-band members, we’re left with the guy hanging out at the bar whose friend has dragged him along to the gig. In a lot of ways, he’s the most appealing choice. I want to hear that someone is not fussed about us. The thing is, this hypothetical guy normally throws me some glances, and I shoot some back, but he still won’t talk to me. And I don’t want to reduce it to status anxiety or a power issue, because obviously it’s intimidating to talk to any stranger, let alone someone who was just performing.

If “this hypothetical guy normally throws me some glances” and you “shoot some back,” the solution is simple: talk to him. Why doesn’t she? I’d like to rhetorically say, “I have no idea,” but I do: she’s been conditioned to want to make the guy make the first move, and she probably wants, on some level, to be chased. She closes off the possibility: “Maybe I could grow a pair and actually talk to that bar-hugging guy myself. But he might think I was making a weird face while I played.” This sounds like a psychological defense she’s using to avoid rejection.

So if she’s not getting laid, it’s in part because she’s not making any moves. Welcome to being a guy.

The bigger issue could be that Campesinos isn’t interested in any guy who’s interested in her. Notice how she says of fans, which male musicians often call groupies: “(And in truth, some male fans actually are slightly creepy)”, which might also transfer to “the guy hanging out at the bar” if he were to do something radical, like, say, open his mouth.

“Creepy” is one of these all-purpose words women use to indicate sexual undesirability for unformed reasons; it doesn’t really mean anything except to the woman using the term. Although I’m sure she’s right about some male fans, the word “creepy” itself also indicates that she’s closing herself off to forms of sexual expression from guys she doesn’t consider eligible—which is another way of saying that she doesn’t perceive those guys to be sufficient alpha for her.

Over the course of her essay, she describes herself as living the anxiety-ridden life of beta males who haven’t read The Game. The start of her last paragraph shows how Campesinos’s view differs from a typical guy’s: “Bottom line: attempting to have sex on tour is an awkward and messy experience with little sense of eroticism.” The bottom line for a guy is that attempting to have or having sex on tour with random hot girls is an awesome experience to be repeated every night, if possible. Campesinos isn’t driven to get laid:

I think Neko should have Tweeted, “Ladies in bands don’t get any action, but that’s okay, because you can make some nice friends and meet some really cool people instead, and worst come to worst, you can always have a wunk — a wank in a bunk. Or not. That’s disgusting.” Probably more than 140 characters, but it’s the truth.

Would most men write that they’d rather make nice friends and meet some really cool people in lieu of getting laid? Campesinos seems satisfied to make the trade-off and would rather live in a paradox where the only men she perceives as being available or interesting are ones she won’t approach.

The approach issue reminds me of Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man. Vincent, who is a lesbian in “real life,” dresses, acts, and lives like a man for about a year. In her first attempt to approach women at a bar, she (as a “he”) is basically rejected and finds that “it didn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of their suspicion” regarding motives. After, she asks a friend, “How do you handle all this fucking rejection?” He answers  in parable:

Let me tell you a story [. . .] When I was in college, there was this guy Dean, who got laid all the time. I mean the guy had different women coming out of his room every weekend and most weeknights, and he wasn’t particularly good looking. He was fat and kind of a slob. Nice guy, though, but nothing special. I couldn’t figure out how he did it, so one time I just asked him. ‘How do you get so many girls to go out with you?’ He was a man of few words, kind of Coolidge-esque, if you know what I mean. So all he said was: ‘I get rejected ninety percent of the time. But it’s that ten percent.’

Campesinos won’t make the first move, apparently doesn’t like the guys who do make the first move, and doesn’t like several general classes of guy available to her as a woman in a band. She’s willing to “make some nice friends and meet some really cool people instead,” which is okay, I guess, but her willingness to substitute nice friends and really cool people for getting laid may explain why she isn’t.

Here’s another theory: she “knows” (in an evolutionary sense, if not a conscious one) she doesn’t really need to get laid at a particular time in order maximize her reproductive success. If or when she wants to find a guy to have a children with, she’ll probably have no trouble finding many candidates; her only real trouble might being too picky.

In the meantime, people who really want to get laid, get laid. (I’m thinking of some of the women I know who are incredible, expert flirts while also not being irrationally picky about guys; watching them do their thing versus normal women is like listening the NY Phil and then a high school orchestra, and it appears that most women don’t care enough to really up their game). I don’t think a lot of women really understand how much rejection men go through, or what the trade-offs involved in masculinity entail. Here’s Roy Baumeister’s description of Self-Made Man in his book Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men:

One of the most interesting books about gender in recent years was by Norah Vincent. She was a lesbian feminist who with some expert help could pass for a man, and so she went undercover, living as a man in several different social spheres for the better part of a year. The book, Self-Made Man, is her memoir. She is quite frank that she started out thinking she was going to find out how great men have it and write a shocking feminist expose of the fine life that the enemy (men) was enjoying.

Instead, she experienced a rude awakening of how hard it is to be a man. Her readings and classes in Women’s Studies had not prepared her to realize that the ostensible advantages of the male role come at high cost. She was glad when it was over, and in fact she cut the episode short in order to go back to what she concluded was the greatly preferable life as a woman. The book she wrote was far different from the one she planned, and any woman who thinks life is better for men will find it a sobering read.

I don’t buy everything Baumeister says, but he’s lucid and skilled at explaining his ideas in terms of medians, averages, and trade-offs, which most polemics and professional gender people don’t or don’t want to address.

He seems open to revision, provided that the revision is based on data and not just belief. But you can take a lot of what he says, a lot of what Vincent says, a little evolutionary psychology, a lot of band culture, and read Campesinos’s piece not as Campesinos herself does, as a means of throwing up her hands and wondering “why?”, but has having a clear theoretical framework explaining why her self-made situation came about.


Randall Munroe also recommends Self-Made Man. This New York Times review is descriptive and reasonably okay.

I'm declaring library bankruptcy

The University of Arizona wants its books back, and many of them have been renewed three or more times and have been squatting in my apartment for more than a year. It’s time to declare library bankruptcy and admit to myself that many of the worthy books towards which I once had such noble and good intentions simply aren’t going to get read:

(I scrounged up a few others, too, because library books proliferate like bad ideas on the Internet if you’re not fastidious about corralling and curtailing them.)

I could imagine some of them being checked out again—the ones about Hollywood novels, or J. Hillis Miller’s work. But Critical Essays on Melville’s Pierre seems like an unlikely choice, and in the immediate future I still have lots of books I’ve picked up from libraries or friends, or been sent by publishers (thanks, publishers!), or that I need to read for exams or my own work. This stack feels a bit like failure, but sending it back also feels like the proverbial fresh.

Have you declared library bankruptcy before? If so, how’d it go?

Even sending back books I know I’m likely to read feels curiously bad, like I’m quitting a race three quarters through.

I’m declaring library bankruptcy

The University of Arizona wants its books back, and many of them have been renewed three or more times and have been squatting in my apartment for more than a year. It’s time to declare library bankruptcy and admit to myself that many of the worthy books towards which I once had such noble and good intentions simply aren’t going to get read:

(I scrounged up a few others, too, because library books proliferate like bad ideas on the Internet if you’re not fastidious about corralling and curtailing them.)

I could imagine some of them being checked out again—the ones about Hollywood novels, or J. Hillis Miller’s work. But Critical Essays on Melville’s Pierre seems like an unlikely choice, and in the immediate future I still have lots of books I’ve picked up from libraries or friends, or been sent by publishers (thanks, publishers!), or that I need to read for exams or my own work. This stack feels a bit like failure, but sending it back also feels like the proverbial fresh.

Have you declared library bankruptcy before? If so, how’d it go?

Even sending back books I know I’m likely to read feels curiously bad, like I’m quitting a race three quarters through.

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