Links: A Few Notes During a Moment of Quiet

Things have been busy with non-web writing lately, and are about to get busier, so updates may be sparse (or, I suppose, absent) around here for at least another week or so. Tomorrow I’m headed to Montreal shortly for the International Communication Association 2008 conference, presenting a paper on experimental comics and the concept of visual language. In the meantime, here’s a few links I’m not sure what to do with, but which seemed interesting enough to post.

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Notes on David Anderegg’s Nerds

I just read David Anderegg’s new book, Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them. It’s a very quick read—I got through it in two sittings, taking notes—but rather interesting and engaging. I noted in an earlier comment here that it seemed to lack academic references, but in fact these are at the end, with no superscript numbers in the text to indicate which claims have corresponding endnotes. As a result, it reads much more like a journalistic account than an academic book (though the author certainly employs his own observational data and theoretical background). Basically, this book is meant to convince parents to help eradicate the nerd/geek stereotype among middle schoolers, and to give some helpful tips to parents of beleaguered nerds and geeks in the meantime.

Dr. Anderegg analyzes a variety of statistics and cultural objects in attempting to come up with a comprehensive account of what behaviors get kids labeled as geeks and nerds (sometimes reaching conclusions very similar to those of my own dissertation!). This includes discussion of things like nerds’ interest in “magic” and fantasy fiction, but focuses most of all on why kids might feel like they can’t (or shouldn’t) be good at science and math. His strongest arguments, I think, are those that draw upon his direct experience and knowledge as a child psychologist. His discussion of the connection (or lack thereof) between geek stereotypes and Asperger syndrome is the most compelling I’ve read, and all the quotes from conversations with kids and parents really help give a sense of how non-nerds go out of their way not to be seen as nerds.

With the exception of a brief note in the conclusion about a 17-year-old who considers herself a member of a “Geek Club,” the book mostly considers “nerd identity” as synonymous with “the nerd stereotype”—something negative that we need to do away with. This means, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there isn’t really much consideration of geek/nerd identity and culture as something celebrated among adults; it’s something kids mostly grow out of, the author suggests, before they go on to make tons of money. In some ways, though, this was just a necessary limitation in scope, and I’m hoping to help fill in the gaps in this area myself.

If you happen to read this book yourself, I’d be very curious of your take on it. Please feel free to leave comments on this post or shoot me an email at jason at geekstudies dot org.

Links: Geek Shame, the Lulz, and Two Meanings for “Hardcore”

This weekend’s link drop is brought to you by Church, Jordan, Cabral, various Gawker blogs, and the letter Q.

Confessions of a Sci-Fi Addict:
Let’s start with this link-ful post from the Website at the End of the Universe, brought to us courtesy Church. The main link is to a newspaper column titled “Admitting addiction to fantasy, sci-fi books” (“after years secreted in the book closet”). I was just as interested in the links that accompanied this on the referring site, though (such as these great old Worldcon photos), and the claim that “While not exactly in leauge with the civil rights or suffragette movements, geek acceptance has come a long way from the early days of fandom.”

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Contributing to a Grand Literary Tradition

Publishers weekly declares that “nerds rule at the bookstore” with two upcoming releases: David Anderegg’s Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, and Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People. (Links via Hipster Please, via Church.) Anderegg’s book, released in late December this year, focuses on how “nerd” is still associated with anti-intellectual harassment among kids, ignoring the positive connotations of the term in the adult world. Nugent’s, released in March 2008, is part memoir, part journalistic account of nerd subcultures and the function of pursuits like Dungeons & Dragons.

Between these and Mary Bucholtz’s upcoming book, I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me. After I finish the dissertation next summer, I hope to find their good company on the bookstore’s increasingly full “Nerd” shelf.

Party in the Stacks

Cleaning out my mailbox, I came across a New York Times article forwarded to my from Lee S. several weeks ago about how librarians are hip now.

How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

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Judging Books

Jacob refers me to a bunch of really good-looking sci-fi book covers from the SF/fantasy arm of Orion Books. From the above link on “We Made This”:

Fairyland by Paul J McAuley uses a holographic foil and irridescent cover stock; The Separation by Christopher Priest uses an uncoated stock and a deboss; and Hyperion by Dan Simmons uses a spot varnish over black. […]

From a quick browse of a few online sci-fi forums it looks like existing readers aren’t overjoyed at the new look, but that’s really not the point — these covers are designed to reach out to a new audience who wouldn’t dream of picking up the standard sci-fi book.

There are eight in the series, produced in-house by Emma Wallace, with a brief that was simply ‘do what you want, but bring them to a new audience’. She’s done that in spades.

Jacob and I are sort of design snobs, so this new vision is welcome as far as we’re concerned. He suggests that there are likely many people—sci-fans included—who are turned away by fantasy-art-style covers, despite that the article suggests that “existing readers” prefer the old look. As he pointed out to me, though, there’s probably a big overlap between the readers who like such covers and the readers who frequent sci-fi book forums. I wonder, then, who will really be attracted by this new approach: the less hardcore (or less “faithful”) SF fans, or those who typically wouldn’t even have read SF in the first place?

Academic Libraries Lacking in Geek Support Documentation

I realize that title may sound a little backwards, but I’m just a little disappointed that I can’t find a copy of The Geek Handbook at any of the academic libraries accessible through my school’s library site. I found the book by doing an Amazon search for geek culture, just to make sure I’m not missing anything I should be looking at in book form. I’ll probably just suck it up and buy this one, as I’m already fascinated by the range of user reviews:

Definative anthropological guide to geeks of all ages, June 15, 2000
Reviewer: A reader

This book is that rare and wonderful creation, a humor book that actually gives useful information about a sorely misunderstood segment of today’s population. Mikki Halpin addresses the issues that pervade life with a geek, but in a gentle and humorous way without ever sounding patronizing. Now that the geeks run the world, thank god there is miss halpin to show us how to thrive and survive through all of our geek interactions.

I realize we’re targeting slightly different markets here, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am competing with the definitive anthropological guide to geeks. I’m not even sure I’m allowed to be funny in a dissertation, which puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

Wizards Throw the Best Parties

Fellow Annenberg student Paul Falzone sends along an article from Salon: “Potterpalooza,” one journalist’s take on a Harry Potter convention in New Orleans. The author’s outsider perspective is interesting, describing it as something of a geek paradise:

Despite my quibbles with overzealous fan-fic authors, this was one hell of an accepting crowd, one in which a teenager was as welcome to weigh in as a professor, where discussion of philosophy was as compelling as discussion of technology, where it didn’t matter if you were from a Christian fundamentalist or Wiccan background, and where even the fiercest debate could teach an ardent fan something new.

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