My Old Kentucky Homesite

The Ultimate Interactive Experience

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/12/2010

I get so tired of frequenting blogs that make the same points over and over and over again. Yeah, I get it. Republicans are all bad. Religionists are all dumb as rocks. Cats are the cutest things on Earth.

Of course, if I cared to, I could widen my scope and look for other kinds of writing on the Web: Democrats are ruining the country. Atheists are spawns of Satan. My child said the brightest thing yesterday. Here’s how I like to liven up my scrapbooks (one word: sequins), or cook meatballs and spaghetti (the secret? matzo meal!), or conquer the stock market (tip: start with plenty of your ancestors’ money).

Obviously, as a semi-frequent poster myself, I’m not condemning blogs. And I ought to point out that my favorites are quite interactive. Feel free to leave a comment if you disagree.

But no blog, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, is the ultimate interactive experience. No sirree, Bob! (If you’re one of my few fans not named Bob, I apologize for addressing you incorrectly. But at my age, I tend to call everyone Bob, because (1) some days I can’t even remember who I am, (2) a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, provided you’re not allegic and (3) it’s much easier to type than Zacjarias Aacharias Zacha$&^mmmmm Bob. See? Also, it makes no difference if you pronounce it frontwards or backwards.)

Anyway, interactivity is not normally something that I crave, because in order to be “inter,” I also have to be “active,” which I’m not. The truth is: I’m usually perfectly happy to sit and stare at the TV. Sometimes I even turn it on.

But yesterday, almost as if the event had been planned by my subconscious, I was given the opportunity to engage in an exciting experiment in telepathy. I must confess that it was difficult for me to tell if I was detecting thoughts generated only by the engine, or if I actually did understand what the other people involved were thinking and feeling. But the — what? I guess it was a game, in a way — was totally engrossing. In just a short time, I had “visited” quite a number of exotic places, not all of which corresponded with any reality of which I was previously aware. That’s probably because none of the places I “went” to had a C.S.I. unit or a newscrawl.

It’s almost impossible to imagine an activity nowadays in which you don’t have to do any clicking. (e.g. My wife sends me email to remind me to take out the garbage.) But one of the most amazing things about the whole interactive incident yesterday was that I didn’t have to press a single button, even though some of my buttons were pressed.

So, if you’ve casually skimmed this far — and you are skimming, right? — you’re probably asking yourself: “Self, how come this idiot doesn’t have any links, or polls, or videos, or something, anything, to do here? F’cryinoutloud, there’s not even a cool image I can download.”

Well, here’s the ultimate interactive experience. It’s called reading a novel. Oh, I can imagine many of you godless heathens saying

A novel? What’s the point of that? When I bother to read at all, I dig into non-fiction. I mean, it’s crucially important for us atheists to learn everything we can about evolution, and the Euthyphro dilemma, and the differences between Southern baptists and those other baptists who come from the North, East, and West. In order to win our compulsory daily arguments with religionists, we have to be totally clued in to history, and astrophysics, and mob psychology, and environmental science, and exactly what Richard Dawkins said about the Pope. We must bone up on our theological argumentation skills, heighten our knowledge of comparative religion, and hone our ability to come up with sarcastic spellings like ‘Jebus’ and ‘the Bibble.’ Who has time for some stupid story that isn’t even true?

(Judging from your own words, I can tell you’re an opinionated S.O.B. Aren’t you? It’s no wonder that the most popular kids in school won’t give you the time of day. Of course, another factor may be that kids aren’t taught how to tell time any more. Sheesh! We old farts learned how to do that as early as — judging by my watch — 8:45.)

My advice to you is: Set aside some time each day for reading fiction. I’m not suggesting that you spend hours poring over inane romance novels, or dismissible science-fantasy, or predictable mysteries, although there’s, ahem, nothing wrong with doing that. (Confession: I really think there is, but I recognize that my elitist prejudices have no place in modern American discourse.) In any case, those genres usually (not always) are represented best in movies and TV shows.

What I’m recommending is: Pick up a classic once in a while. Or a contemporary novel written by an author who has something new and different to say. Find a writer you like who seems to be speaking directly to you, who arouses both your intellect and your feelings, who doesn’t want to waste time talking to you unless you’re willing to take an active part in the conversation. A writer who brings characters to life, characters who reach out of the book and forcibly drag you into their world, characters you’d recognize instantly if you met them in the street, even though they probably don’t look anything like Lexington native George Clooney or anyone else you’ve ever seen.

That’s the ultimate interactive experience. I look forward to getting your recommendations (no Proust or Ayn Rand, though, please). If you’d like, I’ll even respond with a few of my own.


39 Responses to “The Ultimate Interactive Experience”

  1. Finding time to read other than during the morning constitutional is difficult. Damn this having a job thing! I don’t know how people do it all their lives.

  2. Philly:
    I hope that during your morning constitutional you’re reading unconstitutionally banned books.

  3. He’s reading stuff conveniently pre-printed on a roll of paper that’s right there next to his reading chair.

  4. […] The Ultimate Interactive Experience « My Old Kentucky Homesite […]

  5. SI:
    I’m not sure the Founding Fathers had that in mind.

    See what happens when you blindly use an auto-search tool to find your links?

  6. Susannah Roitman said

    When I lived in Brooklyn and had a 45 minute commute into midtown on the F(which was always holding for the V)
    I got tons of reading done. I was usually able to make it through the New York Times Bestsellers list for fiction.

    Now I am in not one, but two book clubs. So in order to keep up, I am always reading something.
    A lot of it is bullshit chic lit, but at least it keeps me from watching reruns of 90210.

    I do like anything by Wally Lamb.

  7. Susannah:
    Yeah, I agree: Subway waits/rides are probably more successful at promoting literacy than any course in a college or university.

    Almost every book I read from the time I first learned how until I was well into my 40s was opened at least three or four times on the #1 or the #7.

    Now, in order to read effectively, I have to pay my cat to call out the names of stops.

  8. Catherwood said

    Okay, though these aren’t classics, in the vein of say Pepys or Mark Twain, I still liked them and they allowed me to indulge my love of history. First is “A Distant Mirror”, by Barbara Tuchman. Then there are two by Ken Follett: “The Pillars of Earth” and “A Place Called Freedom.” The first two take place in roughly the same time frame, medieval Europe. The third is set in colonial America. Once I got started on one of these books they were hard to put down.

  9. Catherwood:
    I haven’t read either of the Follett books, although I’ve been meaning to pick up The Pillars of the Earth and its sorta-sequel, World Without End. It’s interesting that you mention the Tuchman book, which I read and enjoyed many, many years ago — because even though the author spins a novelistic story, it’s actually non-fiction.

    But if I remember correctly (although I wouldn’t necessarily count on that), A Distant Mirror is pretty damned interactive in the sense that I mean.

  10. In my whole life there has been one book that I read cover-to-cover twice in one day: Animal Farm. This was close to 20 years ago, when I was a young soldier in a strange and far off land (California).

    Damn. I honestly can’t think of a non-fiction book I have finished in the past year or two that I would highly recommend. I thought the Tales of the Otori trilogy was imaginative and well written as medieval Japanese fantasies go. At the risk of drawing ridicule, I actually read and enjoyed the whole Harry Potter series.

    That is why I have been keeping track of books I read as I read them. I have written at least a cursory review of every book I have read since the fall (the season, not the magic snake incident).

  11. Des:
    How do you draw ridicule? I keep trying, but it just looks like a stick-figure man pointing at the sun.

    I’ve been reading your book reviews, and I don’t remember you ever having the guts to admit you were a Hairy Potterite. (Doesn’t that sound like an Old World monkey you might see on a PBS Nature show?)

    By the way, I went to Amazon to look up the Tales of the Otori trilogy, and fancy my surprise when I noticed Tales of the Otori: Book 4. You’re a math guy, right?

  12. It was written as a trilogy. A couple of years later, a fourth book came out. I wish I could unread the fourth book. Stick to the original trilogy.

  13. I think that’s called the Lucas Effect.

  14. Postman said

    Yeah, the subway is better than the Christian Science Reading Room… for a number of reasons which I’m sure I don’t have to explain. And while we’re all mentioning likely trains, let me say that the D has it all over the scruffy F/V, the antiquated 1 and the hopelessly provincial 7. D train? best reading train ever.
    So here’s a suggestion of a classic work of fiction that also feeds your need for excellent historical research… you do have a need for that, right?
    The “Flashman” series by George MacDonald Fraser.

  15. Des:
    I have the amazing ability to unread most books I dislike, and even many of those I like. As I get older, that ability seems to get stronger and stronger.

    You’re referring, I assume, to the many sequels, spin-offs, and products that were generated by Howard the Duck.

    I’ve often been tempted to read at least one or two books in the “Flashman” series. But every time I fondle one of those volumes at Barnes & Noble, I think “I guess I should read Tom Brown’s School Days first.” Then, I start trying to remember the names of other British novels about boys at school. By the time I’m finished doing that, I always wind up going home and re-reading David Copperfield. Most of which, of course, I’d forgotten (see my response to Des).

  16. Postman said

    You won’t regret it if you get around to it. Actually, I’ve read every book he had published and enjoyed them all.
    I was very sorry to see him go, but at least he had a longer run than Douglas Adams.

  17. Postie:
    To be serious for a minute: I never regret reading anything. Fortunately, I’m not one of those obsessed people who think that they have to finish every goddamned book (or magazine article, or newspaper story, or blog post) they start. If a novel looks interesting enough for me to open it up, I’ll almost always give the writer a 50-page opportunity to grab me. If he or she doesn’t have my full attention by then, I get pretty annoyed. As Dorothy Parker said:

    This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

    I’d say, for novels, my lifetime start-to-finish ratio is somewhere around 40%. It’s even lower for non-fiction, since I find that most authors can’t resist repeating their main points over and over. Of course, with non-fiction, the “skim factor” often comes into play, which is how so many readers can claim to have read an entire book when they see that they’ve digested the author’s one or two meager ideas. FYI: I find most atheist screeds to fall into that last category. It doesn’t take a whole book to tell me why I shouldn’t believe in any gods.

  18. Postman said

    I was going to regale you with the story of The Worst Book I Ever Read. So bad that I forced myself to read it, but couldn’t get through more than about half a page at a time, so it took weeks to finish.
    But the explanation of what the book was and how it was written by someone who’s native language was assuredly not English – after the original author died – is actually a bit long. Just take it from me, if a worse book has ever been published, I’d like to shake it’s hand.

  19. I wish I could just stop reading a book. I am a frequent unfortunate victim of the sunken cost fallacy. It can’t really suck this bad. It must get better. This time, Tom Clancy/John Grisham/Stephen King won’t phone-in the ending.

  20. Postman said

    Ha! Des, phoned-in endings? You haven’t seen bad until you’ve read:

    Casca 23: The Liberator (1999), by Paul Dengelegi: When the ship carrying Casca is sunk, he spends six years at the bottom of the ocean until he is rescued by African fishermen. They worship him as a god, and ask him to free their people from the rule of a tyrant.

  21. Postie:
    Are we to understand that you’d already read Cascas 1-22? I agree that it’s silly for a guy to spend six years under the ocean before being worshipped as a god, but I know an even sillier book about a guy who did essentially nothing for most of his life, then made one liberal speech, gave out some free wine, and was nailed by the local constabulary — before being worshipped as a god.

    I have nothing to add to your comment, but I’ve already spent so much time on this thread that I thought I’d better continue to respond.

  22. I googled the Casca books, and apparently the 33rd installment is due this summer. That seems to be taking the aforementioned Lucas Effect to an absurd extent. One thing about the whole concept of some guy killing Jesus: How, again, is immortality a punishment?

  23. Des:
    How, again, is immortality a punishment?

    OK, here’s the scenario. You have to spend forever with fundamentalist Christians who have absolutely no interests except for scrapbooking, country music, showing off their guns and Chevys, bragging about their kee-yids (no, those aren’t little Jewish children), watching American Idol, drinking light beer, and nagging you for stuff every second of every minute of every day of every year of every … ad infinitum. That’s how it’s punishment.

  24. Postman said

    Larry, are you telling us that you’re immortal?

    And, by the way, I read 1-22 in highschool and spotted 23 in a book store about ten years ago. I thought, “Oh, those were kind of fun. I wonder if they’re any good now that the original author is dead?”

    Phrew! That Dengelegi fella, he’s the very distilled essence of awful.

  25. Larry, you’re beginning to sound like a cultural snob. You may not find that scenario very heavenly, but there are a lot of people (mostly seen at Nascar races) who would die for that kind of heaven.

    Wait. That’s exactly what they’re going to do.

    I see your heaven involving a large aviary filled primarily with owls, and other multi-colored, multi-sounding winged creatures (no bats), wine, the Library of Congress, crossword puzzles, good-n-plenty, and an occasional virgin.

  26. Do you look like Burgess Meredith?

  27. Hey! Where’s part 2 and 3? I want to see what his wife did to his poetry book, the bitch.

  28. Postie:
    On your recommendation, I ordered a Flashman anthology from Amazon. I’ll let you know if I have to add any of the individual novels to my Worst Books Ever Read list.

    FYI: I never recommend anything I enjoyed in high school.

    Wallberg heaven sounds like a great place. I hope it has peanut butter — and optometrists.

    Hey, maybe I do look like Burgess Meredith.

  29. mutzali said

    Des, I too have a hard time quitting a book, hoping it will miraculously improve. I remember getting to the end of Grisham’s The Painted House and thinking, “THATS’S two days I won’t ever get back.”

    On the other hand, I have enjoyed everything of Terry Pratchett’s work.

  30. mutzali said

    OK. I need to relearn how to close italics….

  31. mutzali said

    and how to spell “that’s” with only one s.

  32. I gave up on Grisham a long time ago. On the other hand, I’ve never read any Pratchett, though I have a copy of Small Gods, and a few recommendations to read it.

  33. Mutzali:
    You’ve brought public confessions to a new high. I can only assume that you’ve been watching far too much coverage of Tiger Woods. Or maybe your need to apologize goes back further than that. Did you have sex with Monica Lewinsky?

    Seriously, though: If you’d like to fix one or more typos in a response, just email me. (You can find my email address on the “About” page.) WordPress allows blog owners to make editorial changes in comments. I wouldn’t alter someone’s content, but I see no reason not to allow readers to correct simple mistakes in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, or html, if those kinds of errors get them crazy. And believe me, as a fellow anal-compulsive, I do understand agonizing over booboos like that.

    I don’t read Grisham for two reasons: (1) He sucks as a writer; and (2) Back in the mid-90s, he joined the “let’s string up Oliver Stone” bandwagon when two teenaged idiots “imitated” the main characters in Natural Born Killers. I’m no big fan of Oliver Stone’s, but Grisham’s comments advocated censorship. Fuck him.

  34. mutzali said

    You’d enjoy the assortment of gods in Pratchett’s Discworld. They include Anoia, (goddess of Things That Stick in Drawers), Petulia (Ephebian Goddess of “negotiable affection”), Bast (cat-headed God of Things Left on the Doorstep or Half-digested Under the Bed), Bilious (the “oh god!” of hangovers) and Quezovercoatl (also known as The Feathered Boa). On Discworld, “demon” and “god” are usually interchangeable classifications; Pratchett explains the difference between them as being essentially the same as that between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters”.

  35. Mutzali:
    Which Discworld book do you recommend especially? I read the first one (The Colour of Magic) and was not too impressed, although I didn’t hate it. Is there one that you thought was a real knee-slapper?

  36. Postman said

    If we’re talking about gods and Discworld, “Small Gods” is a good one, though they’re all pretty damned good. Pratchett is a master of satire. “Good Omens”, which is not a Discworld book, is excellent, also.

  37. the chaplain said

    I just finished reading Small Gods earlier this week. I started reading it while on a plane last week. I thought it was hilarious. I started Good Omens two nights ago and am enjoying it. I’ll probably finish it on another plane tomorrow.

  38. Chappy:
    You’re visiting Italy and you’re reading Terry Pratchett? I hope you’re not eating fish-and-chips. Or worse, McDonald’s. (I’ve read that there’s a pretty popular one at the foot of the Spanish Steps.)

  39. Postman said


    Pratchett on vacation? I hope you’ve got The Luggage.

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