It’s been a high-stress, low-productivity week here at Thoughts Like Birds. The augur did not feel inspired to divine the Saturday night message, but is feeling a little more motivated this morning, thanks, in part, to one of morning’s best features: coffee. For our US readers, today is National Coffee Day, which is curious given that coffee is not a US product. We do know how to roast it and drink it, though. Perhaps it should be National Coffee Roasting and Drinking Day. At any rate, the augur would like to remind you that ten out of tens birds divined prefer that you get your jolt from bird-friendly coffee. Look for organic and shade-grown (and fair trade for the workers), or keep an eye out for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center seal on the bag. (Cutting out coffee altogether is probably best, but the augur, after all, is only human.)
In migratory news, keep those feeders and birdbaths filled and binoculars at the ready. Birdcast reports “pulses” of locally moderate to heavy bird movements. Birds on the move include some of the augur’s personal favorites: the hermit thrush, dark-eyed juncos, and the adorable yellow-rumped warbler.
While you’re waiting for bird movements to pick up, why not grab a cup of bird-friendly joe and read Barry Yeoman’s wonderful “Journey to Turkey.” Barry, an ace journalist and regular Audubon contributor, writes about his travels through an ecologically rich, critically important migratory flyway in a remote region of the country: “Northeast Turkey sits at the junction of the Irano-Anatolian and Caucasus biodiversity hotspots, two of 34 threatened regions singled out by Conservation International for their unusual species richness and uniqueness. For birders, it’s a paradisiacal crossroads of migrants traveling to and from South Africa, Hungary, Israel, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, the Russian-Finnish borderlands, and numerous other parts of three continents. And it’s a haven for birds whose populations have crashed in Western Europe.” Like any natural area accessible to humans, it’s in danger of being decimated. Read about this jewel of biodiversity and how you can help protect it at Audubon Magazine online.
In writerly news, I have wasted a great deal of time and energy this week reading accounts of the public squabbling between Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Weiner. And now I shall waste yours telling you about it. First, I should state that I am not partial to either author. I have read a few of Franzen’s essays, most recently, “What’s Wrong with the Modern World.” I find him both compelling and irritating, but I can’t seem to quit him, so eventually I will get around to reading The Corrections, which has been gathering dust on my bookshelf for the past seven years or so, and probably even Freedom. (Also, Franzen gets a churr from the augur for being a friend to birds.)
Jennifer Weiner, I must confess, wasn’t even on my radar–I Googled her after Franzen used the term “Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion” when discussing writers’, to his way of thinking, ill-advised use of social media. Weiner, who coined the term “Franzenfreude” to describe the attention lavished on Franzen by reviewers and the media in general, responded with this smack down in the National Review: “Perhaps Franzen’s recent name-check was payback for when I implied that he was the face of white male literary privilege, or for pointing out that he’s the kind of writer who goes on Facebook only to announce that he won’t be doing Facebook, with the implication that he doesn’t have to do Facebook, because the media does his status updates for him.” Weiner and Franzen have been engaged in this “debate” for going on three years now. Weiner, I discovered, has received reinforcement from the wildly successful Jodi Picoult, among others. And here, amidst the open tabs of the Guardian and National Review and Huffington Post, is where I wandered off the writing track into the sociable weaver bird nest of author-on-author squabbling. By “sociable weaver bird nest,” I mean the meandering tunnels of online bickering. Non-metaphorical sociable weaver birds, it should be noted, live and work cooperatively.
My interest (too strong a word, perhaps) in the Franzen-Weiner face off is rooted in my own authorial identity crisis–though I have long aspired to literary fiction, I came off this long break from writing determined to lighten up a bit, mainly in the interest of not allowing my perfectionistic tendencies to torpedo another novel-in-progress. My current novel manuscript is awfully relationshippy though, and one character has cancer, so I’m wondering if I’m writing myself out of the literary straight into–gasp–women’s commercial fiction. But I’m thinking if relationshippy novels with cancer-stricken characters can work for Harvard-educated Picoult, they can work for me.
I haven’t actually read any of Picoult’s books (but will), and I’m sometimes sketchy on where literary fiction written by women ends and women’s commercial fiction begins. Weiner echoes many a woman writer in asserting that “when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.” I’m still annoyed at Franzen for voicing his concern that The Corrections being labeled an Oprah Book Club selection would put off prospective male readers. But what do I care if some Giller-nominated pill at the University of Toronto says he doesn’t find anything written by women (or by anyone but white, heterosexual males for that matter) worth teaching? (By the time this posts, he may well have been relieved of teaching anything.)
The Weiner-Franzen feud–let’s call it Weinerfranzenfedhe–is not the only fight Weiner has picked. Last fall she sparked a Twitter war with Andrew Goldman over his interview with–wait for it–Tippi Hedren. (It always comes back to the birds.) An avalanche of one-hundred-and-forty-character tongue lashings ensued. But Sunday morning has now become Sunday afternoon and the barred owl is already calling who cooks for you? (no one if I don’t get on the grocery shopping soon), so I’ll close by coming down on the side of Franzen with regards to Twitter. I hate it. I really do. Twitter is no place for a nuanced discussion of–well, anything. It’s certainly not the place to have a constructive, intelligent exchange about sexism in publishing and reviewing, or what constitutes “literary” fiction. I don’t even enjoy the purported “cocktail party” element, introvert that I am.
So I regret that much of this past week’s precious writing time was lost to reading about authors arguing about the value of their work in a world that is tepid to writers in general. Popular author Dani Shapiro said this of Weinerfranzenfedhe: “I am loathe to jump into any kind of fray, but part of me wants to stand up and shout: why do we care? We are all a bunch of thin-skinned, rag-tag misfits, overly sensitive, socially-awkward, and our natural habitat is solitude. Our conducting these kinds of public non-debates –– or even engaging in private snobbery –– calls to mind two enormous, hermetic old tortoises poking their heads out from their shells and staring balefully at each other from opposite sides of a pond.” Sociable weaver birds, we are not.
The message of the birds for the week of Sunday, September 29, 2013: Drink bird-friendly, protect our flyways, and leave the tweeting to us.