The Big Read Meme, and Joss Whedon’s Evil Genius!

Yes, yes, it’s been awhile, lovely to see you again too, no, I’m not dead.
Now that we’ve gotten that all out of the way… I’ve taken the next step into Web 2.0-ness, and created a Google Reader account and signed myself up for a plethora of RSS feeds (notably, a whole bunch of the links in my sidebar over there). Now, all the things that I’ve promised myself I would read regularly, I actually AM reading regularly, yay! (Come to think… I should share a few of the other sites I’ve added over on my sidebar. Right. One thing at a time.)
So, in honor of my marginally increased geekiness (did I mention I’ve gone all Firefox, all the time, now, too?), I offer you: a web event, and the uncloaking of the origins of a web meme.
The web event is fairly straightforward: Joss Whedon is back, and he’s brought friends. Tune in TODAY (and until the stroke of midnight on Sun., July 20, 2008) to the third and final act of…

But FEAR NOT!!! If you’re reading this belatedly and missed the spectacular web event, Joss intends to make it available in other formats (according to his diabolical Master Plan. You DID read the Master Plan, didn’t you?) In case that link goes away too, he states in his FAQ:
“[Q:] What happens when it goes away? Does it go to a happy farm for always like Fluffy did when mommy was crying and the neighbor kept washing his fender?
[A:] No, Dr horrible will live on. We intend to make it available for download soon after it’s published. This would be for a nominal fee, which we’re hoping people will embrace instead of getting all piratey. We have big dreams, people, and one of them is paying our crew.
And somewhat later, we will put the complete short epic out on DVD – with the finest and bravest extras in all the land. We’ll go into greater detail about that at Comiccon, but we’re changing the face of Show Friendliness a second time with that crazy DVD. ”
Now, as for the meme… read on, Dear Reader, read on (and I DO mean that)…

In the spirit of any good web meme, I shamelessly stole this from Mary Warner of The Woo Woo Teacup Journal, who of course shamelessly stole it from someone else. If you work your way through the chain of outrageous piracy, pillage, and plunder (…hey, did you know that pillage (from the Old French) and plunder (from Middle High German) are essentially the same word, except that plunder traditionally refers specifically to the taking of household goods? No, really, go look! (And, for that matter, sack (with the meaning of “plunder”) literally DID come from the sense of “putting booty in a sack”… so my former medieval history professor’s image of the Vandals wandering Rome with giant Macy’s bags wasn’t so far off.) Yet another example of the English language’s differentiation of meaning between Germanic terms and French loan-words. More on that another day, I think. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog entry, still in progress….), eventually most will claim that this meme was stolen from the federal government, specifically the NEA’s Big Read. (Hence the name, Big Read Meme. Simple, ain’t it?)
However, as is the case with so many web memes, this genealogy would be completely FICTIONAL! The Big Read is a worthy thing, but to date they’ve only produced a list of 21 books (note that I’ve marked these up according the the meme below, because, hey, why not? Looks like I’ve read more than half, myself.):
* The NEA Big Read Booklist *
Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
(A novel for all readers… get the 40th anniversary ed., and read the afterword!)
My Ántonia – Willa Cather
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Lesson Before Dying – Ernest J. Gaines
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
(I love Dash!)
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
(Hemingway, on the other hand…)
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
(The opening line intrigues me: “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”)
Washington Square – Henry James
(Maybe… I’ve liked other James novels)
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (excellent, excellent book)
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
The Shawl – Cynthia Ozick
Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
(but I liked The Kitchen God’s Wife better)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Old School – Tobias Wolff
The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Leo Tolstoy (never got into the Russians… but maybe someday)

So, the NEA’s Big Read is *not* the source of the Big Read meme. “But then… what is?”, I hear you cry. (Aren’t you glad you asked a librarian?) Fear not! (I could really get used to that phrase), for I have delved deep into the Web’s annals, and discovered the answer! Travel with me across the pond, Dear Reader, to the shores that gave birth to our Mother Tongue (and forgive me if English is your second language, your pronunciation is excellent, really)…. to the UK’s World Book Day. The meme’s list (and yes, it’s ranked) is of World Book Day’s Top 100 Books that the UK couldn’t live without, for 2007. This is (as the name implies) an annual compilation, and unfortunately WBD doesn’t keep the old lists on its site. But I trust you’ll accept this 3/1/2007 BBC article,”Pride and Prejudice is top read,” as authoritative confirmation.
There now, enough debunking. On With the Meme! (Wow, that sounds like a web sequel to Gone With the Wind, doesn’t it?) I’m not going to quibble too much about what’s included on the list; I’m certain that *everyone* has a “Top 100” of their own, and I doubt that it would exactly match anyone else’s (although, hey! Literary blind date idea!). Yes, it annoys me that this list focuses almost exclusively on the novel (it probably *was* meant to be exclusive, but I think the UK would have been hard put to give Shakespeare the axe); there are so many fantastic plays (Inherit The Wind) and poetical works (The Odyssey, Inferno, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Pablo Neruda…) that should’ve made it. This list gives us a common place from which to start. I’ve read about 47 of the below titles, and made a go at 5 more on the list (which was frequently as much as I could stand of the title, and I do *not* give up on books easily). (As a note, I’ve bumped the font size a little for the lists, because bolding just wasn’t showing up decently– my apologies if it annoys.)

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One Response to The Big Read Meme, and Joss Whedon’s Evil Genius!

  1. Mary says:

    Hi, Gris – Here I am, checking your links. You are a librarian! So cool. I’ve discovered that museum people (me!) and librarians (you!) tend to be birds of a feather and I’m finding that in your commentary on you book list. I soooooo agree with you about Dickens and Tolkien. I can’t seem to choke them down, even though they’re supposed to be good for me.

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