Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bibliophile: pop culture and nine year old taste tests

The shelves burst with books. Each shuffles to the front, yearning with every inch of its papery heart to be named, examined, discussed. Which will be chosen this week? Find out, on a very special episode of Bibliophile.

Tickle Your Catastrophe! : imagining catastrophe in art, architecture and philosophy / edited by Frederick Le Roy, ... [et al.]. Gent : Academia Press, 2011.
I was unaware that "tickle your catastrophe" was a Shakespeare reference, King Henry the Fourth part II, by Falstaff, to be precise. Clearly, I need to turn in my English diplomas. Sections include the ruin motif in art and urban planning, catatrophism in general, catastrophe in media form in visual arts and film, and scenario thinking in public policy and artistic intervention.

Zen women : beyond tea ladies, iron maidens, and macho masters / Grace Jill Schireson ; foreword by Miriam Levering. Boston : Wisdom Publications, c2009.
I hear "zen master," I think "ninja." It's not my fault. It's television. And comic books. And so forth. The book attempts to provide exemplary Buddhist conduct by examining the historical roles of Buddhist women.

Why god won't go away : is the new atheism running on empty? / Alister McGrath. Nashville, Tenn. : Thomas Nelson, c2010.
I picture the Atheist-mobile, running on pure fumes and Hitchens juice. McGrath states that modern aetheism debates center around religion defending itself against charges; McGrath would like to flip that around, and attack the tenets of atheism. Reviewers praise the book particularly for its outlining of the modern atheist arguments, particularly those of Hitchens, Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

Better off dead : the evolution of the zombie as post-human / edited by Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro. 1st ed. New York : Fordham University Press, 2011.
An anthology of everyone's favorite undead. After Vampires. And werewolves, generally. And personally, I prefer ghouls. And ghosts. But then it's zombies. Essay topics include Haitian rituals, zombies in radio dramas, zombies and cannibalism, postmodern cinema, the dawn of the dead series, performance art. I actually think the zombie fervor is dying down a bit, temporarily at least. Sure, shows like Walking Dead are still doing brisk business, but a few years ago, there was everything from Marvel Zombies to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I suppose vampires took some of the limelight, but even that's dying down (sorry). But in light of the upcoming Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter, perhaps that's premature. If I had to explain it, I'd say that the key thing about the zombie is that it represents humanity reduced to its basic needs. In comparison, the human survivors in such a story always explore what it means to be human, because, in contrast, they demonstrate what it is to be a human beyond this immediate needs. Or something. It's not something I've really thought about, yet.

How to do things with videogames / Ian Bogost. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c2011.
I've already signed this one out. I'm a little torn on Bogost, to be honest. I think his books are generally well-written, and he clearly is a man who knows his area and a lot more besides. But I also find his public persona (especially his online persona) a little grating. It's over the top confrontational. From his tweets to his personal blog, it seems geared at confrontation, not because the confrontation will force important discussion, but because it'll generate him more hits. (This would be hypocritical if I was using Bogost's name here to get more hits myself, but let's be honest--if I was blogging for the hits, I would have retired long ago, for meager performance.) This book looks at videogames as they enter a maturing phase, and get applied in a variety of different ways. I have a feeling I need to read this immediately, and not just because it'll probably be at the top of the recall list.

Digital condition : class and culture in the information network / Rob Wilkie. 1st ed. New York : Fordham University Press, 2011.
Wilkie argues that the digital realm is increasing class difference and widening the gap between rich and poor. As might be expected from that description, he's taking a particularly Marxist view of the situation. It struck me as I was reading his introduction (available at amazon) that while the premise itself (digital worsens rich/poor gap) isn't new, Marxism in general isn't widely applied to digital economy--at least, not as anything more than the starting point. And that's part of his point; Wilkie argues that digital economy scholarship, with its emphasis on the nuances of subject positioning and turmoil, has emptied the word "class" so that it doesn't refer to the large disparities Marx saw, but to multifaceted aspects of society. Wilkie wants to return the word to its Marxist roots. If this sort of thing is your sort of thing, it might be worth looking at.

Strategies for achieving equity and prosperity in Saskatchewan / by Rick August. Ottawa, Ont. : Caledon Institute of Social Policy, c2006.
Noted for the mention of my home province. Although frankly, given traditional political sentiment, if you want Saskatchewanians to take your policies seriously, getting published in Ontario is probably not a good first step. On the other hand, the policy promotes reducing welfare and expanding employment, which is probably not going to get a lot of objections. I don't really have the background to argue economic policy (surprise) but I have to say, I'm suspicious of an economic policy that believes that financial social responsibility should be in the hands of citizens rather than government--first, because it rhetorically forgets that government is composed of citizens, and second, the free market isn't really known for its social responsibility. To his credit, August is addressing that issue somewhat, but I still have my doubts.

Performing sex : the making and unmaking of women's erotic lives / Breanne Fahs. Albany : State University of New York, Albany, c2011.
Fahs looks into whether women are really liberated, not from common perspectives of economic status or political prominence, but from sex itself: "half of all women report having faked orgasms; 45 percent of women find rape fantasies erotic; a growing number of women perform same-sex eroticism for the viewing benefit of men; and recent clinical studies label 40 percent of women as "sexually dysfunctional." I would like to note that the Amazon suggestion engine pairs this book with "Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva" by Debby Herbenick. Now THAT's a title.

Teen TV : genre, consumption, identity / edited by Glyn Davis and Kay Dickinson. London : BFI Pub., 2004.
Another day, another anthology. Considering the book was published 8 years ago, it's a little odd to see it added now; if nothing else, anyone who was a teen when these essays were written certainly isn't now. I can't seem to find any information about it other than the fact that it covers "Dawson's Creek", "Roswell", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Australia's "Heartbreak High"--all of which have been off the air a long time now. Given that I'm in the digital media field, I try to resist the constant pressure for something new, but I'm still somewhat dubious as to the point of adding this book to the university shelves now.

Performing American masculinities : the 21st-century man in popular culture / edited by Elwood Watson & Marc E. Shaw. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c2011.
Here, on the other hand, is a pop culture anthology hot off the presses. Subjects include Seinfeld, OJ, Obama, "A Boy Named Sue," the metrosexual and advertising, and masculinity in dating. Hmmm. Okay, given this book's focus on past and current events,I take back my comments above; a book's relevance is not measured by its publication date.

Bytes and backbeats : repurposing music in the digital age / Steve Savage. Ann Arbor, Mich. : University of Michigan Press, c2011.
I think I've mentioned before how incredibly little I know about music. And adding digital theory to the mix does not make it any better. Still, this book's opening chapter is on Rock Band, and if that doesn't help, nothing will.

Archabet : an architectural alphabet : photographs / by Balthazar Korab.
Highlighted because I like the cut of that portmanteau jib. "Archabet." It's just a cool word. "A is for Arris, B is for Baluster..."

Alphabet and the algorithm / Mario Carpo. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2011.
Continuing the Alphabet focus, here's Carpo's book. He argues that we're shifting from a period of mass production of identical goods to one of mass customization, via the digital. And we're also continuing the architectural focus, as his argument is particularly about how our architectural design changes under this shift.

Media, popular culture, and the American century / edited by Kingsley Bolton and Jan Olsson. Stockholm : National Library of Sweden, c2010
There's a lot of pop culture anthologies this time round. And still, nothing on Gossip Girl. Shameful. As may be perhaps guessed from the juxtaposition of the title and the publishing location, this book is on the effect that American pop culture has had globally in the 20th century. The book seems to focus mainly on film influence, though there's some mention of television and digital stuff as well. It seems more media and genre based than specific pop culture artifacts, which is probably a good idea, all things considered.

Reading Derrida's of grammatology / edited by Sean Gaston and Ian Maclachlan.
I was in a graduate course where we read "Of Grammatology" to explain the political philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rosseau. To put that into perspective for the non-deconstructionists out there, that's like using a book on Freudian interpretations of child psychology to understand the plot of a Dr Seuss book.

Is that a fish in your ear? : translation and the meaning of everything / David Bellos. 1st American ed. New York : Faber and Faber, 2011.
I really hope this is a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference.

TARDISbound : navigating the universes of Doctor Who / Piers D. Britton. London ; New York : I.B. Tauris, 2011.
Mentioned to satisfy my inner sci-fi geek, which is a very large part of me. The book addresses the basic Dr Whovian issues: transmedia, sexuality, role of the companion, Doctor and the notion of evil. I would add an examination of the show's Britishness to the list of essential Who topics, but, well, it's not my book.

Politics of insects : David Cronenberg's cinema of confrontation / Scott Wilson. New York : Continuum, c2011.
I should watch more Cronenberg. So far, all I've seen is his Fly remake (deeply disturbing) and his eXistenZ (also very disturbing, but slightly less so).

Middle age spread : a For better or for worse collection / by Lynn Johnston. Kansas City [Mo.] : Andrews and McMeel, c1998.
Three For Better or For Worse collections are the sole contribution to the library's graphic novel section this week. With no ill will towards Johnston, I have to say, I think we can do better.

Particular sadness of lemon cake : a novel / Aimee Bender.
A 9 year old girl discovers that when she eats food, she can taste the emotional state of the people who cooked it--starting with her birthday cake, made by her mother. No one should ever be fully aware of the emotional state of their mothers, 9 year old girls included. I may check this one out; it strikes me as a more serious take on the same area examined in the comic book series Chew.

Conversations with Michael Crichton / edited by Robert Golla. Jackson : Univer Press of Mississippi, c2011.
This reminds me of the gag on a later Simpsons episode where the family meets "the world's foremost John Grisham scholar," who plays selections of soundtrack from the Client when hosting dinner parties. I realize there's a bit of a discrepancy here, in that I'm the one who got excited about a book of interviews concerning Joss Whedon. Chrichton probably has a much better claim for relevance in general, given the influence he's had on pop culture, from Jurassic Park to ER.

These children who come at you with knives, and other fairy tales / Jim Knipfel. 1st Simon & Schuster pbk. ed. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2010.
I actually took this book out, based mostly on the title and my interest in fairy tales. The basic idea is that it's modern fairy tale stories. And I don't think I'll be finishing it. I've discussed this issue in great length in my of the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. There's this desire to revisit fantasy subjects and deliver a treatment that's more realistic and less "magic kingdom of wonder." And that's fine. But too often, the result is not so much realism as a kind of melodramatic fatalism that's not just as unbelievable as the fantasy tendencies it's reacting to, but also really depressing to boot. And that's what we're getting here. Knipfel's style leads me to believe he's a good writer, but the stories are so unpleasant, I don't know if I'll ever come back to him.

All flesh is grass [electronic resource] : plant-animal interrelationships / edited by Joseph Seckbach and Zvy Dubinsky.
This title strikes me as deeply disturbing, for reasons I can't fully articulate. (which at this point in the Bibliophile, translates to "for reasons I can't be bothered with, because I really want to wrap things up.")

And on that lazy note, let's call an end to this session of Bibliophile.

Later days.

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