I’m knee deep in an essay which asks the question, “Can book reviews learn something from video game reviews?” Part of writing this essay involves thinking about the book review industry as a whole, and my little portion of that industry. Should I be writing book reviews for free? Is it worth the time investment to get the exposure and add a line to my publications? It definitely seems like it, but what are the ethical implications of doing this work for free? Are there thresholds which I shouldn’t cross in regards to which books I review (both in terms of who wrote the book and who is publishing it), which venues my reviews appear in, and how often I write reviews? (For the record, I just realized that out of my six published and three upcoming book reviews, only two books were written by women. That makes me feel terrible and part of one of many problems. I’ll be more conscious in the future.)
Oddly enough, the question about thresholds makes me think about another aspect of my life: my relationship with food. When people ask, I tell them I’m a vegetarian, even though that’s not exactly true, but it’s a simple label to use and there’s no real concise alternative. I try to be vegan when I’m preparing meals for myself and vegetarian when I go out or eat someone else’s cooking, but I’ll also eat meat if I know it was raised in a way that is ethical and environmentally friendly (which right now is limited to a few farms near Austin and the occasional farm-raised oysters or snails). I consider eating meat, regardless of the source, to be a better choice than throwing it away. Of course, what is ethical and environmentally friendly is largely subjective. It’s also difficult to know. Jonathan Safran Foer makes the argument in Eating Animals that even if you know the meat you’re eating was ethically raised, that it’s still unethical to eat it because you’re raising demand for a product that is produced in most cases in horrific ways. I’m not sure I agree entirely with that, just as I’m not sure I agree entirely with Michael Pollan’s conclusion to The Omnivore’s Dilemma that’s basically him arguing to be mindful of what you’re eating, but allowing himself a can of beef broth every now and then.
It’s tough. On one hand, I know that when I go out to eat and order something with cheese on it, an animal with a terrible life was involved in producing my food. On the other hand, a plant-based diet is not always the answer. If I eat some foods during the offseason, it might come from thousands of miles away. By eating that, I’m participating in environmental damage that might affect way more lives. Hard to say, hard to say. Even buying stuff in season can have harmful ethical connotations – see the documentary La Cosecha – but I have no real alternatives for that. We buy locally when possible and pragmatic, and I know that the habits I’ve set for myself make a difference, but there’s always a lingering guilt about what else I could be doing.
Recently, someone told me I shouldn’t call myself a vegetarian because I’m reinforcing the belief that some waiters apparently hold that a little meat is no big deal, even for vegetarians. Living in Austin, I haven’t ever really come across that attitude, and I’m not really sure what I should do differently. I still get upset if a plate has meat in it when it wasn’t advertised. I still write comments to restaurants when they offer no good vegetarian choices, and I vote with my dollars in a similar vein. Coming up with a different label is next to impossible, due to the whole relative nature of it all. I understand what they were saying though. Conflict, conflict. On one hand, I think it’s important to be aware of what decisions you’re making–it’s easy to not think of them as decisions at all. On the other hand, man it’s complicated sometimes.
Other recent development: I officially hold an MA in Rhetoric and Composition as of a couple of days ago.
Edit! Hey, I forgot the Outside content:
I’ve begun collecting recent short-form prose at /r/contemporaryshortform. I don’t plan on advertising it, so it’ll likely remain largely a personal repository, but I’d be happy to have other contributors.
I’m very sad I’m missing Garrison Keillor speaking at BookPeople tonight (he’s promoting The Keillor Reader), but am thankful I live somewhere with such an awesome bookstore. They have a really awesome blog with book reviews and literary discussion and you should check it out.
Finally, The Onion has the best homage to Marquez.