Thursday, March 28, 2013

Today, the Cat Just Wanted It More: Certainty & Ambiguity in Sports

OK Internet, you win.
Every sporting event is a Schrodinger’s box. At the beginning of the game, there are two possible outcomes; Team X wins or Team Y wins. (A third in sports that allow for ties, and obviously, in sports that have more than one competing entity, say a track meet or a car race, there are as many possible outcomes as there are competitors but the relationships holds.) Just like in Schrodinger's thought experiment, where the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened, during a sporting event both possible outcomes exist; Team X wins and Team Y wins, until the box is opened at the end of the game. Then the cat is either dead or alive; either Team X wins or Team Y wins.

Actually, a sporting event is an infinite series of Schrodinger's boxes, as every action or occurrence is in itself a Schrodinger's box; either it leads to Team X winning or Team Y winning, and until the box is opened, every action or occurrence does both. Once the game is over, logically, every action or occurrence lead to either Team X or Team Y winning.

Because sports have final scores, there is a level of certainty in sports you can't find in really anything else. Unlike much of life, in sports, we always open the box. At the end of every game (except when there's a tie) we are certain who won. At the end of every season we are certain who the best team is because that team won the championship. We are certain who the best goal-scorer was because that person scored the most goals. You are certain who the best fantasy baseball manager in your league was this year because that person won the title. Sports all come down to points, all points are rational numbers, and so, ultimately, unless something really weird happens, all outcomes in sports are certain.
What monster invented "Reply All" anyway?

Given all the ambiguity we struggle through in our daily lives; did I word that email the best way, what do they actually think of me, who should I vote for, should I just get off at Park Street and walk, etc, etc, etc, I've always believed part of the appeal of sport is its certainty. We can actually know something for real. But then, when we think and talk about sports, we tend to add all the ambiguity of life back in, even when the outcome is established.

So you find analysts talking about “turning points,” or “big plays,” in a game, where logically, there is no distinction amongst contributors to the outcome of a game. Because Team X won the game, every aspect of the game that preceded contributed to Team X winning the game. We can talk about how athletically difficult a particular play was, how statistically unlikely it was, or how a player performed compared to said player's pattern of performance, but all of those events are inextricable parts of one certain fact: Team X won.

This insertion of ambiguity into certainty can lead to some pretty logically bizarre statements, like this one you'll hear every now and then, “If the Bruins go on to win this game, remember that save.” Sure some saves in hockey are more difficult than others, requiring more technical skill and/or athleticism, and some saves happen in the context of dramatic action, but a save is a save; or to put this differently, the other team scores every time a goalie doesn't make a save, and so, logically, every save is vital to the win (or at least as many saves as is necessary to preserve the point differential, meaning if you win by six, technically, five of your goalie's saves are redundant).

It goes further than that, though, as the insertion of ambiguity is the essential action of all sports discourse. Before the game, it is ambiguity all the time as fans and analysts use preceding patterns to predict future events. (Meteorologists, Bankers, and Sports Analysts: What is three jobs you can be wrong all the time and still get paid?) Then Team X wins, and we spend an obscene amount of time debating, discussing, and arguing about how this incontrovertible fact came to be. We analyze the quality of particular players, we scrutinize the calls of the officials, we isolate certain strings of occurrence and apply qualitative judgments to them, and (because this idea isn't already weird enough) we use statistics—the intended antithesis of ambiguity—as one of our primary tools of ambiguity creation, all the while, completely ignoring the truly ambiguous moments of chaos that also contribute to the outcome, for example, to pick at a fresh wound, the Canadiens scoring a goal after a puck bounced off of Dennis Seidenberg's face and landed right in front of Gallagher, or when the tying goal was scored after a totally ambiguous totally unlucky penalty, off Chara's stick. “Experts” in the field can observe the exact same phenomena and from the exact same certainty (man, Team X is killin' it.) come to entirely different and often passionately held conclusions.

If you're following the logic, you can see a paradox growing. The definitive fact that separates sport from just about everything else in daily experience, is certainty, and yet nearly all of the emotional engagement of sport is through the creation of ambiguity. And, since we're on the topic of the absolute madness of human emotions, the point of that created ambiguity is almost always conflict; induced ambiguity for the expressed goal of disagreeing with each other. Essentially, we take an absolute certainty, inject every single identifiable aspect of it with ambiguity for the expressed purpose of having one (or four) too many drinks and shouting at each other about it. Sport provides us with a perfect balance between certainty and ambiguity; an inarguable fact as a base for damn near endless and often passionate debate.

There are many different layers to the powerful emotional appeal of sports on people. There's the sense of community and identity, there's the camaraderie among athletes and the vicarious camaraderie fans can feel, and there's the visual physical beauty; but there's also the consequence free conflict engendered by the balance of certainty and ambiguity. No amount of debate will change the outcome of the game, and with a few rare exceptions, you won't lose your job or get killed in the context of a sports argument. The result is an experience that reasonably approximates the thrill of combat with no personal risk. Those of us not lucky enough to play sports for our whole lives, still get to compete in them, and even if the box of our debates is never opened, (except, of course, for all the times I am clearly right) we can get, at the very least, a taste of sinking the shot, scoring the goal, making the catch. (In a bar. After all of our other friends stopped caring. But still. It counts.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Most Commercially Successful Work of Experimental Fiction Ever Written

Don't worry, my piece is atonal ontological.
Picture this scene, feeling free to add berets and hipster glasses if you like: A group of men gather at a pub near a university campus. One of them leans forward and tells the others he's got an idea for a new book, something to really blow the minds of everyone who bought into the twaddle he tossed off a few years ago. Being literary young men at a pub near a university campus, they want to hear it. OK, the first thing he tells them is that the novel is going to have an appendix, yeah, that's right, an appendix for fiction; a footnoted appendix with songs, poems, and histories of stuff that happens hundreds of years before anything in the book itself. One asks if they'll be an index. Naturally, he scoffs. Then he moves on to explain that he's drawing extensively from medieval stories, mostly Beowulf but other historic mythologies, to, essentially, re-create, with as much authenticity as possible, a speculative Saxon mythology. (Did he mention, that with the price of paper being what it is, he'll probably need to break it up into several volumes, but one must sometimes compromise.) And he's going to use his hyper-academic understanding of linguistics to invent like, five languages, including their alphabets, their histories, and as much of their surrounding culture as he can squeeze out of his brain before he dies. He concludes his description (after sipping from a local craft beer, of course) by saying he's more creating a life's project than writing what most would consider a “book.” You know, he doesn't want to be limited by what corporate publishing thinks is a story. Sounds, in a lot of ways, like James Joyce or maybe even David Foster Wallace or someone from the linguistically and systemically obsessed Oulipo, or maybe even one of the Hungarian novelists like Peter Nadas or Lazlo Krasznohorokai. Probably published by Melville House or Dalkey Archive, or maybe New Directions.

With a goddamn index.
Of course, I'm describing The Lord of the Rings, and, with that description, contending that Tolkien's novel is simply the most popular work of experimental fiction ever written. Need more proof its experimental?

Tolkien was a professor and scholar of dead languages. Does it get any more ivory tower than that? His characters, for the most part, were recreations of Old English heroes. As I mentioned above, he did to Beowulf what Joyce did to The Odyssey, re-appropriating major aspects of the historic story (Hrothgar is referred to as “the lord of the rings,” because he would give chain mail as gifts.) to modern themes and sentiments. And then there's his storytelling structure and style. As highlighted by what's left out of the movies, Tolkein wandered pretty far afield from his core plot. Can you imagine what a sane editor would have done when reading the Council of Elrond, a 42 page committee meeting, where freaking everybody has something to say? (Yes you can. Said editor would cut it.) In The Two Towers, rather than weaving back and forth between the two sets of characters, as the movie does, as any editor would suggest, as nearly every reader would expect, he tells the entire story of one set of characters (Aragorn and Friends) and then tells the entire story of the other set of characters (Three's Company). The Appendix have footnotes. There's even an index. And let's not forget the last little bit of daring forced on Tolkien by the bold publisher swept up in the euphoria of originality; the title of the third volume GIVES AWAY THE ENDING. (Which, since we're talking about plot structure, the book has a whole extra mini-climax, The Scouring of the Shire, with a much smaller battle with much lower stakes happens, AFTER the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT BATTLES THE WORLD HAD EVER KNOWN. Seriously. It's like ending a James Bond movie with a few minutes of Bond bitching about his cable bill.)

Appropriate signage could've saved the empire.
Finally, there is, at least to me anyway, Tolkien's most important and most groundbreaking creation; Gollum. An ordinary man caught by forces beyond his control who ends up living a life of addiction only to be given one chance to redeem the content of his life and in the crisis moment is overcome by those very same forces that condemned him to tragedy in the first place and it is only through folly (Seriously, dude. The literary cajones Tolkien had to make the destruction of the ring a freaking accident, I mean, the climax of the book is a slip and fall.) that his personal curse is lifted and with it, the threat all of Middle Earth. I can think of two, maybe three, characters with equivalent complexity and contradiction; Lucifer from Paradise Lost and Don Gately from Infinite Jest, with maybe, Quentin Compson from The Sound and the Fury and Absalom! Absalom!.

Christopher Tolkien's used bath wather.
Even when discussing Tolkien's impact on modern literature, everyone pretty much says “The Lord of the Rings is an experimental novel,” without ever using the word “experimental.” Everyone is always saying how groundbreaking it was, how nobody had ever written anything like it before, how it met a previously unmet cultural need, and how Tolkien essentially invented an entire genre of fiction. In short, shift a few terms around to match specifics, remove a gigantic pile of cash, and you find that people talk about The Lord of the Rings the exact same way they talk about Ulysses.

See those books? Dead languages. All of them.
The point is not really that The Lord of the Rings is an experimental novel (though it is) but that somehow the idea of “experimental novel,” has become automatically associated with elitist academics and willfully obtuse authors, (Side note, I don't think such a thing exists. Writers write to be understood and just because a writer's particular vision is difficult to grasp doesn't mean that writer is intentionally trying to avoid being grasped. That would defeat the entire fucking point of writing.) with books that are needlessly difficult and frustrating whose only purpose is to prove to somebody just how smart the author is or how smart the few readers that read it are. (Something similar has happened to the term “post-modern” as well.) (Oh, and since we're talking about authors proving how smart they are; TOLKEIN INVENTED ENTIRE FUCKING LANGUAGES. How the hell does that not count as showing off?) This association misses two key factors.

The first: by definition, some experiments are supposed to fail. As authors try new ways of telling stories, some of those ways are going to totally suck. Or, some of those ways will connect with some readers, while not with others. That's how experiments work, by trying everything everybody can think of until we find something awesome. In fact, you shouldn't like every experimental novel you read. (even I don't, e.g. could not get into One, the “novel,” whose words were written by Blake Butler and Vanessa Place, and then stitched together by Christopher Higgs, as solid an experimental writing pedigree as you can have. It never seemed to find its footing and, in a way, Higgs did too good of a job combining the two other authors as I did not feel what I thought was going to be a very interesting tension.) If you do, then writers aren't experimenting hard enough. This is a long way of saying that not liking a particular experimental work or two (or even all of them you've encountered) doesn't mean there's something wrong with experimental work, it is just an inherent and vital outcome of trying something new.

The second: All mainstream was once cutting edge. This next sentence is going to be very difficult for me to write, but it's true. Jane Austen was cutting edge. So was Dickens. So was Twain. And, in an unprecedented and truly shocking way, so was Tolkien. Like everybody else, we suffer from a myopia of the present and so, to us, the novels we read feel like monuments of storytelling, reflections on some Platonic act of meaning, whereas they are actually just one point on a lineage of experimentation, failure, and success; a lineage that stretches back to the origins of written culture and extends as far into the future as we do. Tolkien is such a part of pop culture now, we forget how radical his book really was. If there are no experiments now, there will be no Jane Austens in the future.

Writers of literature write the books they need to, the books clamoring around in their skulls, keeping them up at night, nagging them in the shower, interrupting their conversations at parties. Some writers have committed themselves to finding new ways to write the books in their head, either because they value newness itself or because whatever is in their head doesn't fit in the available forms or, in the case of the best works of experimental fiction, like Ulysses and, at least from a commercial standpoint, the Lord of the Rings, because they value the new and their story will only fit in the new. Of course, this is all part of my ongoing campaign to reclaim the act of experimentation in literature and not just literature on the fringes, or literature read by other writers of literature, but literature in the popular consciousness, literature on the IndieBound Bestseller list, literature in the few remaining major book reviews. And things do seem to be changing. The Franzenphobia of a few years ago, where it seemed like every major book was another extension of Carver and Hemingway with a touch of Garcia Marquez seems to be fading, and you see A Visit from the Goon Squad win a Pulitzer and I Hotel as a finalist for the National Book Award and Mark Z. Danielewski gets major review coverage, along with the unique (if not quite experimental) storytelling voices of Justin Torres and Karen Russell and you see writers beginning to take risks and publishers bringing those risks to the public. In short, readers shouldn't denigrate or shy away from the experimental, because there is a chance that your favorite book was, at least for its time, an experimental novel.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Exploitation of Duty

OK, the title is a bit dramatic, especially since this is going to be fairly abstract exploration of an economics idea I've been kicking around in my head for a while. If someone were paying me to write these, there would be a lot more research and a lot more organization to the observations and arguments I'm going to make, but, they're not (but let me know if you'd like to), so this is going to be a fairly disorganized, but hopefully still understandable tour through some of my thinking about, you know, the little things in life; the relationship of market based economics to human society.

Perfectly accurate, except he's not wearing PJS.
It is accepted as truth that it is virtually impossible to make a living just by writing. Sure there are a few bestsellers and there's always the chance to sell the movie rights, but the vast majority of people who get paid to write must also get paid to do something else as well. (At least those who are writing art and entertainment. Copywriting is a different animal.) Given the kind of hours that go into a sellable piece of writing, I think it's fair to say that writing is an underpaid industry. Historically there have been about four responses when an industry's workers are underpaid. Payments rise in order to ensure the profits from the industry continue, workers organize to increase wages, the work is done by an underclass, like the immigrants working on our farms today, or the work doesn't get done and the industry vanishes. But none of those things are going to happen in the writing industry because writers don't write for the money (see above); for one reason or another they feel a duty to write. Writing fulfills a deep human need and so, no matter what the economy of the day pays writers, someone will write.

Live! Damnit live! Also! Get our your insurance card!
Now, imagine if the services provided by, say, EMTs were priced according to supply and demand. If you're in an ambulance having a heart attack or bleeding from some a wound, demand is about as high as it can possibly be and you've only got one source of supply. Essentially, according to supply and demand, an EMT could charge “Every single dollar you have,” and that would be a fair price. (Which is why healthcare makes no sense in the private market.) Same goes for fire fighters, police officers, and just about everybody else in the medical profession. But as a society, we have decided to remove medical care (somewhat) from the system of supply and demand, which means that from a purely capitalist perspective, every single person who becomes an EMT will make less than what they economically deserve. And yet, people are still EMTs. Furthermore, people are still nurses and general practitioners even though those professions demand a high amount of effort in return for a relatively minimal reward, especially when compared with other medical professionals. And yet we still have nurses, EMTs and general practitioners. Just like in writing, these professions meet a deep human need, the need to help others, and so, even though they don't make much economic sense, people will continue to do them.

There are plenty of jobs that are vital to society but are not compensated as though they are vital to society. These jobs are filled by people who feel a duty to do them and so a surplus is created. Capital that should go to these professions doesn't, because the people who do the jobs do them out of duty, rather than for profit. Duty is exploited to create a surplus of capital. Inherently, this isn't a problem. In order for a capitalist society to function, there must be some exploitation of duty because otherwise all of the capital of society would be tied up in stitches and potatoes. Essentially, there is an acceptable level of exploitation of duty. But what we have now is something much different, an extreme redistribution of that surplus, part of a grander trend of wealth concentration, that is making it even more difficult for those who follow the call of duty to live comfortable lives, while weakening and destabilizing the economy as a whole.

Simple rule: If you're a white man in a suit, never steeple your fingers
Why does a mediocre financial planner make more money per hour than a great novelist or an excellent nurse? Because odds are, the financial planner is in it for the money. I mean, nobody ever says, “I just had to follow my heart, so I became a financial planner.” Because people go into these professions for the money, they need to be paid a lot in order to do the jobs. How does a CEO who destroys a company somehow make shmillions in salaries, stock options, and bonuses? Because they are doing it for the money and so absolutely everything they do is geared towards getting as much money as possible. Nurses do what they do for the satisfaction of contributing to the wellness of other human beings, writers do what they do because there is human need to create, so nurses get paid in satisfaction and writers get paid in creations. (Of course, landlords still don't accept “creations” for rent.)

Essentially, our current political-economy redistributes the wealth of duty driven professions to profit driven professions. In a way, we already accept that there is something unjust about the level of redistribution in our current society. All of those NEA grants are, essentially, re-redistributions of the surplus of capital created by the exploitation of duty. So are the MacArthur genius fellowships. All the underwriting of PBS programs, all the grants to art organizations, all the cash prizes for books. All seek to re-redistribute an unjust redistribution. They are ways to redress the exploitation of duty.

But recently, these techniques have not been enough. Along with the inherent exploitation of duty every society needs to survive, we have lived for about thirty years in an era of radical wealth concentration. Everybody but the wealthy have seen their wealth diminish. There are lots of different ways to move what we have now to a sustainable society, one in which nurses are still not paid what they're worth, but are paid enough to be financially comfortable in their lives. Some of them involve reforms to specific industries, like creating a single payer universal healthcare system that shifts wealth from actuaries, administrators, and specialists to nurses, EMTs, general practitioners and other support staff that ensure treatment happens, or like Amazon not shredding to teenie bits the book industry by squeezing all of the capital out of it, so there are more stores to sell books and more money to pay authors. Some of them involve economy-wide federally driven reforms, like raising the minimum wage, which should raise wages in general, or an increase in grants and funding to important but inherently unprofitable endeavors. Some involve the rich assholes that are fucking ruining it for everyone to get a fucking sense of decency and community. (Ain't holding my breath on that one.)

As I said in my introduction, I haven't quite pulled all of this together and I'm sure there are aspects of this someone more familiar with economics would understand that I don't. I spend a lot of time in my own head and sometimes ideas congeal enough to warrant a blog post. (Hoo boy, just wait from my Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Content post.) But one thing is pretty solid in my head. As everyone tells you, the engine of capitalism is profits, which means that capitalists will pursue profit above all else, and sometimes the “all else,” includes pretty important stuff. For as long as we have had capitalism, as a society we have done stuff to ensure at least some of that “all else,” happens, whether through government programs and regulations, or people doing things out of a sense of duty rather than profit. In fact, capitalism simply cannot work without these buttresses of “all else.” Whenever our economy has operated with a small number of the buttresses, it has to varying degrees COLLAPSED. Maybe we should reward duty a little more and money a little less.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Genre Expansion Pack: Sci Fi/Fantasy

Though Sci Fi/Fantasy was an important part of my early reading life, once I went from Heinlein to Asimov to Vonnegut, I haven't spent much time in the genre. My interests and experience took me elsewhere. But, as a young man working in a bookstore, I get asked about the Sci Fi/Fantasy section a lot (Even more before I cut my hair and shaved my beard.) and because my rent depends on having answers to book questions, I try to always have an answer. Some of the answers I can just absorb by paying attention to book media and other readers, but I've also made sure to cram some genre books into my reading life. In the cramming process, I've discovered some really good books; Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (which if you haven't read it, read it), Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller (a fundamental dystopian novel that no fan of the genre should miss) and Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (for everyone waiting for the next George R.R. Martin). They've served me well as recommendations, but more and more I've found myself talking to people who'd already read them. (If you haven't, go read them and then come back. I can wait.) So, these last couple of months I've committed to expanding my Sci Fi/Fantasy genre knowledge. Here's what I found.

Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm: I hope Horror-Noir is the next big fantasy genre. For some reason, I really like what happens when hardboiled heroes are forced to deal with demons, monsters, vampires, etc. If you've never read any Horror-Noir, Steven Niles' Cal McDonald comic series is a good place to start, but Dead Harvest (automatic props for the relatively obscure Dashiell Hammett reference) is a top quality entry into the new genre. Samuel is a collector; his job is to collect the souls of the damned. But, as is the case in much noir, something is wrong with his latest assignment. Though it looks to all eyes as though Kate brutally murders her family, when Samuel tries to collect her soul he discovers it is pure. To collect a pure soul would mean apocalyptic war between the Creator and the Adversary. But some powerful forces want that war to happen. What follows is that classic mix of deduction, ultra-violence, narrow escapes, shocking revelations, and sudden turns of fortune that make noir such a satisfying genre. Also, possessions, demons, seraphs, and lucky cat statues. Just fantastic enough to be entertaining, but not so unrealistic that it stretches the bounds of credulity. Like the good Die Hard. With demons. Dead Harvest is the first in The Collector series, followed by The Wrong Goodbye. (Also, props for referencing Hammett before Chandler as Hammett is much, much better than Chandler.)

Gardens of the Moon: Volume One of The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. The right amount of sword with the right amount of sorcery spread around the right amount of politics and fight scenes. One of the downsides of genre fiction is that it's not that hard to produce passable genre fiction. Readers looking to kick back and relax aren't that demanding at that moment and so a lot of eh writing ends up published. I've got no problem with that, but there are just some sensitivities I can't turn off even when I'm reading expressly for lazy entertainment. Gardens of the Moon is well-written, well-paced, well-characterized, and, on the whole, represents a fine work of craftsmanship. Perhaps the most difficult task in the epic fantasy is “setting the table” in the first book; not only because you must keep the reader interested while introducing characters, places, and histories, but because that introduction is the basis for a massive story arc and must naturally lead from one event to another. The engine must be built from scratch and run well right away. Erikson seems to have accomplished that in this first volume, bringing certain story lines to a close so we can feel as though “a book has ended,” while hinting at “the journey continues” for a set of main characters. Though a little less geopolitical (at least at this point) than George R.R. Martin it will satisfy any reader in need of a fix between volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat: By far, this is the best book of Sci Fi/Fantasy I've read in a while. Set in New Venice, a beautifully rendered city constructed above the Arctic Circle, this book is smart and entertaining with political intrigue, romance, magic, and revolution, all told in a style that Valtat describes as “Teslapop.” Fans of the last two Dr. Whos will enjoy this as will readers who liked The Night Circus. The world building is done wonderfully. Most of the time Valtat will just use a foreign term without any explanation. Sometimes you can figure it out from the context clues and other times it's a strange term from an even stranger world. Of course, this only works where there is something inherent about the terms themselves, and Valtat creates terms and phrases that stay just on the correct side of pandering and, thus, I am totally charmed by “the Doges College Ice Rugby Club,” and “Speckstoner Sandwiches.” The best works of fantasy make you half want to live in their world; presenting something exotic enough to be thrilling and foreign enough to be an act of intellectual travel. Furthermore, there is just enough insight to let you know there is a brain behind this story. A brain like Asimov or Bradbury? I won't say yes, but Valtat has, at least, hinted at the potential. Most importantly, there are moments of prose in this book as beautiful as anything else being written now; as stunning as the aurora always hanging in the north above the action and adventure.

Just to prove I'm not praising every book I picked up in my expansion efforts, here are a few that didn't work for me and why.

The Name of the Wind and Virconium. There's a “Pull up a tankard of ale and listen to a tale of days gone by,” voice some fantasy writers use that is far more difficult to use successfully than a lot of writers and readers assume. To me, when not perfectly executed, this voice breaks me out of the story. It feels artificial, constantly reminding me, in a way distinct from, you know, magic and dragons and such, that I am reading a work of fiction. The thing about this “Teller of Tales,” voice is that it is most successful when you don't even notice it, when it is part of the fabric of the story along with the magic and dragons. In both of these, otherwise well-regarded works of fantasy, the style constantly reminded me that I was reading a work of fantasy.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. He seemed to just stick clauses at the end of sentences. I couldn't get through more than a few pages at a time without developing inclinations for self-harm. Yes, clause placement is that important to me. But, if clause placement is not that important to you, the little I did read was interesting and the plot and characters motivated me to read more than my grammatical inclinations preferred.

Genre is an organization and selection tool. Stores and libraries use plot and character patterns to organize the books in their fiction sections to make it a little easier for readers to select what they want. Genre is a description, not an evaluation. But it can't be denied that genres settle into patterns and forms, that even though there is no inherent reason why stories organized around their plots into Fantasy, Sci Fi, Mystery, Romance or whatever else should have a lot of what is essentially “commercial product,” they do. (Though, I honestly believe there is a lot more “commercial product” in what is considered “literary fiction,” than most would care to admit.) There isn't room in this post to actually consider this question, but entertainment is an important part of the human experience and I think we could learn a lot about ourselves exploring why we accept different levels of quality for different types of stories, what the reading mechanism is that allows bad sentences to tell entertaining stories, and how the “reading” mind interacts with the “entertaining” mind. If it is biologically true that “we are what we eat,” I think there is at the very least some neurological truth to the idea that “we are what we read.”