I was looking over my list of "leisure time" books, and it occurred to me that, entertaining though they were, they weren't really helping me in terms of studies. And in a different problem, I was doing well keeping up with my videogame reading, but my other serious reading was falling to the wayside. So I created a quota system: I could read one fiction for every two nonfiction, and at least one nonfiction had to be relevant to my studies, if you squinted at it a bit. And afterwards, I thought I'd write about them all. (By which I mean, copy and paste the Goodreads reviews I already wrote. Any blog content is good blog content, even if it is self-plagiarization.) This isn't the old dual book review (God, I hope it won't be)--there will be one paragraph each, and one after to wrap things up.The books this time are:
The Exploit: A Theory of Networks by Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker
The Ambassador's Mission by Trudi Canavan
Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education by Iain Thomson
I've been reading Gerard Gennette's Paratexts recently, as part of my research into game manuals. Essentially, the paratext is anything to do with a book that isn't part of what we'd normally consider its content--everything from the title page to the typesetting to the book reviews and author interviews. The definition has been greatly expanded by pop culture scholars, to include anything that impacts on the original text. Applied to videogames, the manual is a form of paratext, in that it shapes the player's perception of the game--if they bother to read it. As you might gather from this description, my use of paratext has drifted quite a bit from Genette's original, and as a result, there's not a lot here to guide my own reading, though it is making me pay attention to the paratext of the manual, such as its warning labels and help numbers. (Paratext of paratext? Paraparatext? Papararatext?)
But honestly, what I'm getting most out of the book is some fun reading. I'm used to doing a lot of heavy lifting whenever I read some French theory, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jacques Derrida. But Gennette is a pleasure to read, filling the book with not only meaningful observations, but witty (well-translated) jokes and amusing anecdotes. In the chapter on dedications, for example, he considers a few cases where the author has later reason to regret a signed message:
biography is rich in changeful inscription-related episodes,
authentic or apocryphal, that may illustrate this type of
embarrassment or conflict. An example: having had a falling out with
Andre Ruyters, he inscribes a copy of his Voyage
au Congo to Ruyters with
this single word: “Nonobstant” [nonwithstanding]. Another
example: Claudel having inscribed a volume of his corespondence with
Gide to his grandson with the words ‘My regrets at being in such
bad company,” and the inscribee having had the good taste to bring
the volume to Gide for him, too, to sign, Gide is alleged to have
simply added this pithy retort: ‘Idem.’ True, Claudel has
already much annoyed him by sending him a copy of what was indeed
their common work with this very insolent inscription: ‘With the
author’s compliments”--an occasion, if ever there was one, for
Gide to feel (in his word) ‘suppressed.’ And we know that in
1922 Gide held a public sale of part of his library, particularlyu
all the books inscribed by former friends with whom in the meantime
he had had a falling out. One of them, Henri de Regnier, took his
revenge by sending Gide nonobstant
his next book, but with the biting inscription: ‘To Andre Gide, for
his next sale.’”
Great stuff. I should note that I'm free to sign any one of these blog posts, if any readers out there want me to take a sharpie to their monitor.
"I have often wondered why there are tyrants, and I have come to the conclusion it is because some men remember their dreams. For what do we know of dreams? What is the truest thing to be said of them? Surely it is that we forget them. And therefore it is also sure that this forgetting must have a purpose. Hungers are conceived in dreams in order to be forgotten, so that the dreamer and his life may go on without them. That is why most men remember nothing--except the sensation of having dreamed.
"But men who do not forget are doomed."
--Stephen Donaldson, "The King of Tarshish Shall Bring Gifts."
I love Stephen Donaldson's writing. Some day, when I have a lot of time, and a great deal more patience than usual, I'll read all ten of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant books.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.
There's something I've been meaning to do for a while, but I kept putting it off, for one reason or another. Actually, that's not true: it was for a single reason, that I didn't want to the show to end. I'm talking about Being Erica, the CBC drama series that ran 49 episodes, from January 5, 2009, toDecember 12, 2011. I finally watched the last episode last night, half a year after it originally aired, and I'm ready to talk about it. And I hope you're ready to talk about it too, because I'm about to open up the metaphorical scotch and pour it over the figurative grave in toast to time travelers in therapy everywhere.
So I was all set to do a regular Bibliophile entry, but then I noticed that the books looked familiar. Really familiar. I did a bit of digging, and it appears that when the library system did its big maintanence thing a few weeks back,it stopped updating the new items, so it's been the same one ever since. ...And I didn't notice. That does explain why there were so few new choices last week. I'll ask a librarian what's up, but for now, it looks like this segment's going to have to go on a forced break.
*edited* because I made a list, then forgot to say what the list was of. Oops.
5 ways in which Community and Adventure Time are very similar:
1. Fairly generic starting premise
Mix of students attend college:
Boy and animal go on adventures:
2. Self-conscious play with genres
3. A large cast of tertiary characters
...and I couldn't find a good image of the Community tertiary members all lined up. Life's hell when you don't have your own photoshop. Just... imagine a collage of Leonard, Fat Neil, Garrett, the Dean, Chang, Starburns, Rich, Magnitude, Vicki, the Greendale Human Being, Officer Cackowski, Jerry, and Annie's Boobs. There. Doesn't it look nice, all shimmering in your head? What? You don't know who any of these people are? Well, you've got google. Get to it.
4. Constant stream of pop culture references and non-sequitors
Shirley: I've seen enough episodes of Friends to know that co-habitation
leads to sex, drugs, and something Parade magazine calls "Schwimmer
Evil Abed: You're VH1, Robocop 2 and Back to the Future 3. You're the
center slice of a square cheese pizza. Actually, that sounds delicious.
I'm the center slice of a square cheese pizza. You're Jim Belushi.
Troy: Me and Abed have an agreement. If one of us dies, we stage it to
look like a suicide caused by the unjust cancellation of Firefly. We're
gonna get that show back on the air buddy!
And what we're all here for:
5. Extreme male bonding
And of course:
And what have we learned from this? Well, I could have written a few paragraphs on why the shows were similar, and spent have the time for a result twice as professional and half the effort. It is hard to make pictures look effortless and good, even when you aren't using pictures you made yourself.
I'm on the second day of biking after a long break. The first day is fine; you pump up the tire, you grease the chain, and you're good to go. And it's fun, and freeing, and you get a nice glow about not having to sit on a bus. Then the second day, you get on the seat, and your ass says, "Oh hells no, we ain't doing this again." Ow.
"Lee's vision of the sentinel of the spaceways was more Suffer than Surfer, and the character was given to endless gnarled-hand outbursts that questioned his very being or expressed his infinite agony in the form of one more claw-fingered gesture in the direction of a mute and merciless firmament. Every issue saw him hurling himself vainly at one insurmountable barrier after another before fizzling back to Earth, limp and futile, but just in time for one more miserable monologue on a lonely mountaintop far from cruel nonsilver bastards. I suspect the yearning warble of Stan Lee's own tortured teenage soul. Somewhere behind the reassuring huckster image of Smilin' Stan lay this sobbing mask of chrome, but readers found the hand-wringing lyricism uncomfortable. The Silver Surfer series lasted eighteen issues before it was put to death with the same ruthless efficiency as Jesus himself."
--Grant Morrison, Supergods.
The funny thing is, sacrilegious statements aside, Morrison is spot on with the Silver Surfer. Even his 90s TV series is one of the most introspective, emo experiences ever to hit children's cartoons. But the way Morrison expresses it... well, you either hate the overtop approach, or embrace it. And since the whole book is like this, I have embraced it. Excelsior.
Allie's eyes widened. "Mom, there's a signed photograph of a minotaur on the wall behind the counter."
"He dotted his i with a little heart."
"Definitely Boris. Your grandmother seemed very fond of him."
Given the way Boris was built, Allie didn't doubt that in the least.
"You are in cattle country, remember."
--The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
People, our search is over! On this site we shall build a new town where
we can worship freely, govern justly, and grow vast fields of hemp for
making rope and blankets.
Yes! And marry our cousins.
I was- wha... what are you talking about, Shelbyville? Why would we want to marry our cousins?
Because they're so attractive. I... I thought that was the whole point of this journey.
--The Simpsons, "Lemon of Troy."
Urban fantasy is all the rage these days, but frankly, it's not my cup of tea. Something about the whole "our world, but with magic" rubs me the wrong way. I think it's the way that, no matter how noble and good the protagonist in such a book appears, they are still usually a part of a vast conspiracy trying to keep the majority of the world from learning the truth about the existence of magic. Granted, this doesn't apply to every urban fantasy series (the Stackhouse books being a case that has it both ways: the vampires are living openly, but still have a lot of skeletons (and other bodies) in their closets), but it does seem to hold for most of them, even some of the most famous ones. (That's right, Harry Potter. I'm calling you a lying liar who lies. Share some of that Expecto Patronum with the rest of us.) And really, any genre that has Still, there are a few series I keep up on. I like Jim Butcher's Dresden series. Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books. And so, when I saw this book, and saw that Trudi Canavan had written an urban fantasy series, I thought it might be one of the good ones.
Did you catch my mistake there? That I mixed up my female fantasy writers writing female fantasy characters? Yeah, that mistake that you caught in a single sentence took me about 100 pages to figure out. And at that point, it seemed a matter of honor to finish what was in front of me. So here we are.
The Enchantment Emporium is set in--and this is somewhat a novelty for the genre--Canada, starting in a house in (or at least near) Toronto, but quickly shifting to Calgary. The central figure is Alysha (Allie) Catherine Gale, a member of a family of witches. Having recently lost her job, the 24 year old is granted a new opportunity when a letter arrives from her grandmother, bequeathing to Allie her grandmother's Calgary antique shop. So she travels out west, and receives the other bequeathed item: the mystery of her grandmother's death. She's soon joined by members of her extended family: her powerful brother David, a gruff Leprechaun named Joe, her cousin and fellow magicker Charlie (Charlotte) Gale, and her gay best friend David. And if you think the gay best friend thing isn't a source for drama, then you're clearly not well-read in your urban fantasy, as Allie has, of course, had a crush on David all her adult life. But all of that goes out the window when she meets Graham, a 5'10'' reporter with "remarkably blue eyes," a straight nose that's "a bit on the short side," and a "longish upper lip." And he just happens to be investigating her grandmother's shop for a story. Meanwhile, there's a monstrous menace afoot, and it begins with d, and rhymes with "wagon." Will Allie be able to stop this threat from destroying Calgary? Will she and Graham put aside their differences and work things out? Will this working out involve a lot of sexual innuendo?
Yes, yes, and most definitely yes.
So what did I think? Well, let's call a spade a spade. For a large part, the urban fantasy genre is essentially a vehicle for delivering supernatural-tinged softcore porn. There are exceptions--Dresden Files is more of a vehicle for delivering supernatural-tinged action porn--but the Enchantment Emporium is not one of them. And its take on sex flirts with some taboos. Gale family magic works, in part, in three stages: there's the magic of the young teens and early twenty-somethings, the magic of the mothers, and the magic of the old women, each of which functions slightly differently. It's basically a maiden-mother-crone deal, though Huff shows admirable restraint in not explicitly naming it as such. The maiden and mother parts, in particular, function in large part through a commitment to polyandrous and polygamous relations with one's cousins. (Hence the Simpsons' quotations.) And, as the quotation suggests, the Gale women aren't above mating with passing minotaurs, dragons, or anything else that tickles their fancy, and if you define that as bestiality, well, to each their own. Now, I know I have some prudish tendencies, but I'd like to think that it's okay to draw the line at sex with group sex with family members. But really, that wasn't my problem here. Rather, it's that we don't actually see any sex: it's one of those books that leads us directly into the bedroom, presents a chapter break just when the pants come off, and then returns to rumpled sheets and two (or in this book, two or more) rather content individuals. I'm not saying I wanted to see that hot cousin action. (Note that the book has forced me to jump from defending myself from being a prude to defending myself from being a pervert in about three sentences.) As a consequence, what starts off as appearing racy quickly becomes a series of running jokes that get run into the ground. I don't think there's a single character in this book whose sexual prowess isn't at least considered, with the possible exception of Allie's dad. If this level of innuendo appeared in a male-penned book it would be considered juvenile, and in the interest of sexual equality, I'm willing to call it that here too.
But there were some elements I did like. Huff deserves some credit for crafting a book composed of a bunch of really strong female protagonists. Every Gale woman is presented as the sort you would not want to cross, and while that indulges in its own stereotypes (the ball-breaking woman and so forth), it mostly affirms one of the better tropes of the urban fantasy genre: the empowered, kick-ass woman. This is no Twilight; while the girl may be occasionally fixated on the boy, that fixation doesn't stop her from going out and doing what needs to be done rather than laying about moping. And Huff also gets points for the localization. While I never again need to hear anyone say about Calgary that "things are happening here," she clearly knows the city, and that comes out in a series of Canadian references and references more local. Location is important in urban fantasy, as the title implies. And while there's nothing in the story that makes it essential to base it in Calgary (basically, anywhere sufficiently far enough away from Ontario and the main family would do), there is enough that places it there to make it seem more than just an afterthought. Finally, I liked the notion of family that pervades the novel. Allie has this huge extended family of aunts and cousins, and the attachment of family and what it means in a person's life is essentially the theme of the book, if it can be said to have a theme at all. As someone who basically only sees his family at Christmas, I approve of that, and envy it, a bit. Granted, my family skews away from the incestuous side, though. We're not that close.
The other big detractor of the book, however, is the pacing. Despite the possible destruction of Calgary, there does not seem to be a lot at stake here, as there's never any doubt that the good guys--girls--will see things through. Likewise, there's never really any doubt that Allie will wind up with her man of choice. And the characters don't seem particularly interested either. Sure, Calgary may end up a smoldering ruin, but first--there's a dinner date to be had. And yes, Grandmother may say she's dead, but they'll believe it when they see it. Things move along at a very slow pace, and the usual third act split between the hero and heroine seems particularly perfunctory and contrived. What that leaves you with is a lot of scenes where everyone stands around slinging witty banter. And while that can work, if you (like me) got bored with the sexual references somewhere in the first fifty pages, there's not really all that much to keep you here. Plus, while I'm complaining, there's a running joke about Graham being short: he is five foot ten. Five foot ten. As someone a half foot shorter than that, I did not find it particularly amusing.
I know that I'm not the target audience for this book. But at the same time, I'd argue that top tier urban fantasy appeals to more than its target audience. The writing's decent, if not stellar, the characters are fine, and I like how it draws on mythology without hitting you over the head with it. But ultimately, there's just not enough other stuff going on here to keep my interest.
This post is part of a weekly series wherein I look at the new books acquired by my university library. It's an opportunity to view and discuss the latest works in the field of philosophy, fiction, pop culture, digital media, and literature, among others. And it begins with three simple words:
This is Bibliophile.
At least, that's how it usually goes. Today, however, and until Tuesday evening, my local university library's database is down for maintenance. It's like they don't even know or care about Bibliophile. It's disheartening, I know. See you Tuesday, folks.