Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 15: Karen Heuler

Annual Pleasures 2018 
by Karen Heuler 

A lot of my real and virtual friends have come out with amazing books this year, books that grab the imagination and charm or alarm the senses. I’ve fallen in love with what they’ve created. But, unfortunately, the world of imagination has spread into the political world, and most particularly, the world of headlines and tweets and memes.

 I check a number of sites throughout the day, to see what’s happening, and I lose far too much time plunging after misleading headlines. It’s not merely the current political system that disturbs me, it’s that the distinction between fact and fiction is ending. You’d think, as someone who sees the weird in the everyday, that this would amuse me, but it doesn’t.

The rabbit hole I drop down most often is anything that smacks of new scientific discoveries, but in fact there are many kinds of headlines that take me on a time-sucking romp through the fantastic and the false. Of course headlines are intended to tell you just enough to entice you to read the story, but the end result is that facts are no longer as pleasurable as lies.

We’re addicted to the small bits and pieces now. It’s a hypnotic lure, this “Incredible Frozen Find” and that “They Never Would Have Guessed” and “Scientists Baffled By,” to say nothing of what “Voter Fraud” and “Trade War Threatens” and “Caravan of Criminals” does to us. I suspect that every time we click, we get us a pleasant little shot of adrenaline, so it’s no surprise that the headlines leer and we know it’s nonsense, but still we click. Adrenaline is addictive. Politically speaking, we hear shouts around the corner and have to see what’s happening.

These headlines suggest to me that a new kind of prurience is becoming our national characteristic, and that these bits and pieces of titillation are changing our opinion of the truth.

 I can see it; I am caught up by it. And the thing I’ve noticed is how reading the bits is different from reading a book or a story. Reading the bits constantly gives you little charges, little bursts of (small) excitement. Reading something longer requires us not only to stay focused but to imagine the story by putting us there, by being part of it. Bits assures us that we are the normal and everyone else is either wrong or bizarre. The books I like are more often the books that allow us to see the strange or alien as relating to us, or revealing the distinctions not as threatening, but as informative.

 I am trying to train myself not to go down the clickbait trail. I know that the astonishing things will not be astonishing, I know that the political things will be biased and incomplete, and I know long-term weather predictions almost always fail.

I will try to wean myself off the adrenaline kick and instead, appeal to the endorphins I get from the books my friends wrote—whether I’ve met them in real life or not. I love my nearby friends, but the friends I can only imagine are also writing fantastic books.

But wait! “Scientists find that imagining friends is a sign of genius.”


 Karen Heuler’s stories have appeared in over 100 literary and speculative journals and anthologies, from Alaska Quarterly Review to Weird Tales. She’s won an O. Henry award, is frequently nominated for Pushcart and Best American Short Story awards, and has been a finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction award, the Bellwether Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. Aqueduct Press has published her novella, In Search of Lost Time, and her collection, Other Places.

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