Books I Haven’t Read

So last night I started a Google Doc of all the novels that have won Hugo and Nebula Awards, with a column listing which of them I have already read.

The answer: very, very few. (I haven’t gotten the Nebulas in quite yet, but you can see/steal my spreadsheet here. It should update automatically as I finish the list.)

Part of me is embarrassed–how can I call myself a SF/fantasy fan when I haven’t read, say, any David Brin or Neil Gaiman or Connie Willis? (And that’s just the beginning.) And how does that affect how I see myself as a scholar in these areas?

But on the other hand, it’s got me thinking about the ways communities hold expectations of standard behavior and standard knowledge. My guess is that people feel this way in any kind of context: entry-level scholars feel like they don’t know as much as their professors and colleagues, who feel they don’t know as much as the big names of the field, who probably feel they don’t know as much as the other big names. Or, in my circle of friends I’m seen as the person who knows the most about Lost and won’t shut up about it, but compared to so many of the super-fans out there, I feel like I barely even qualify as a fan! (“You’ve seriously only watched Season 6 once?! Wash my feet, Hurley-bird!”) Call it reciprocal uncertainty, or reciprocal lower-ness.

(Yes, people sometimes/often perceive this correctly, and it does matter when people really, demonstrably know more than each other. But I’m talking more about perception of knowing-ness, whether it’s actual or not.)

So how does this reciprocal uncertainty affect communication situations, I wonder? When I’m listening to someone who knows more than me give a speech, how do I hear it differently than if I think I know more? What about when it’s a sermon, or a class, or even a musical recital, or watching someone play a video game? Which situations inspire me to respond with my own work, perhaps bouncing off of or remixing their stuff? When can I, when sharing bits of myself, most inspire creative response?

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