Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bibliophile: on the road at UBC

The phrase "you make a better door than a window" has always sounded to me like an oblique threat.

This is Bibliophile.

This week, we're going to go through the library holdings at UBC, the University of British Columbia. It took me a while to actually find the tab for new books, but we're here now.  There are 271 new books, so we'll be able to get through them fairly quickly.

Fair and foul : beyond the myths and paradoxes of sport / D. Stanley Eitzen.
This is the fifth edition of the book, so it must be fairly popular.  Or Eitzen has hit on a very nice racket.  Its subject is the darker side of sports:big business influence, political maneuvering, gender bias, health problems after retirement, budget disparities among schools, price gouging.  If you ever want to get a class discussion going, the darker side of sports is the way to go.  I remember a class during my first teaching assistant position for my PhD, and we read an anti-Olympics essay.  It argued that the Olympics encourage divisive rhetoric and mean-spirited competition, and the argument in the class for and against got heated very quickly.  On an entirely unrelated note, I'm watching the TV series Friday Night Lights right now, and it's interesting to see how they're balancing the darker side--crippling injuries, high school pressure, steroids--with a genuine passion for the game.  Personally, I don't see why videogames get the bad rap when organized sports tend to lead to far more actual and documented cases of violence (ever hear of anyone throwing a video game riot?).  Eitzen's book is for students, so it probably won't be a deeply theoretical examination of its subject, but that doesn't preclude it from being an interesting examination all the same.  H.
UBC receives a lot of foreign language books.  I'm not really well-versed enough to be able to tell you which languages (there's examples from the Asian and Latin families, I can tell that much), but I know they have a lot of them.

The virtual self : how our digital lives are altering the world around us / Nora Young.
This book is an examination on how the virtual information we generate online can be harnessed in a variety of ways.  It's written by the host of CBC radio program called Spark, whose homepage tells me that it's about trendwatching and technology.  Young is arguing that it is possible to take all that information and use it for positive ends, which is marked difference from how people like, say, Sherry Turkle, are regarding information spreading online.  According to this review, Young argues that we should consider our personal online data as akin to intellectual property.  I'm not sure that a practical idea (considering how much trouble people have run into in enforcing intellectual property laws online), but it is an interesting one.  And it draws attention to how little control we have over digital information now.  Did you know I've got a stat tracker that records the IP address of those who peruse these pages?  Are you comfortable with me having access to your information?  Don't worry, I won't do anything bad with it.  You can trust me.  *maniacal laughter*.  H.
Specters of Marx : the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the New international / Jacques Derrida ; translated from the French by Peggy Kamuf ; with an introduction by Bernd Magnus and Stephen Cullenberg.
I've probably mentioned this before, but I've done a bit of Derrida reading, though Of Grammatology, my first introduction to him, is the only book I've read in full. (Wait, no, I lie--I've also read Archive Fever cover to cover.  Verdict?  Eh.  I was hoping for more archives.)  Judging by the title, Derrida is going to be getting political in this one, which interests me; I've seen him dart around politics, but not engage it fully.  The title says "specters" and that's not an accidental choice on Derrida's part: "ghost" is a metaphor that he returns to a lot, as something that is a shadow (or better yet, a trace) of some original thing that is absent.  In the opening pages of this book, he compares Hamlet's ghost to the Communist manifesto, so there will probably be a lot of spirit searching in these pages.  I'm sure I'll end up reading this in full some day, but it's hard to motivate oneself to read a Derrida-authored book for fun, given the intellectual commitment it demands.  H, though the record doesn't say if it's the same translation.
Avatar [videorecording] / Twentieth Century Fox ; produced by James Cameron, Jon Landau ; written and directed by James Cameron.
I don't usually do film, but I'm highlighting this because I wanted to complain about the film.  I saw it in theaters in the original 3-D, and while the technology is admittedly very impressive, it seems a lot more annoying if you consider it in context of the deluge of poorly done or half-assed 3-D films that followed.  And the story--ugh.  It's basically the exact plot of Ferngully, only with less comic relief and a military angle.  It's also problematic from a postcolonial point of view, in that by the end of the film, our protagonist insists that he is completely a native of the culture, which is a strange form of passing.  I thought the plot could have been a lot more interesting if it was established that it wasn't just that humanity wanted the unobtainium (worst name ever) for profit--what if we needed it to ensure our own survival?  Suddenly the ridiculously clear cut moral issues become a little murky, then.  H.
A handful of dust / Evelyn Waugh.
I like Waugh; I was first introduced to him during an undergraduate course on satire, and the dry British wit wins me over every time.  UBC's received an influx of his books this week, and A Handful of Dust is one of many.  The plot of Handful of Dust is that a noble woman, Lady Brenda Last, gets bored with her husband and his Gothic mansion, and takes up with "the shallow socialite John Beaver."  In other words, it's one of Waugh's favorite themes, a story about the changing social classes in early 20th century Britain.  He's always struck me as a little snobbish on the subject, berating that uppity new money, but it can't be denied that the result is highly entertaining.  H.
Test / William Sleator.
I remember reading William Sleator's The Boy Who Reversed Himself when I was young--too young, probably.  It was a sci-fi book about traveling into higher dimensions, which is appropriate, because I think that's how far it went over my head.  But I've kept reading Sleator over the years, long after I passed from too young into "probably too old for YA books."  And even thought they're occasionally a little derivative, I've still got a soft spot for his works.  He died around this time last year, and while he wasn't as formative in my reading habits as some others I could name (David Eddings, Bruce Coville, Terry Pratchett), it still felt like a part of my childhood is gone, if you'll pardon the cliche.  Test is the sort of sci-fi you can only do in YA literature--it imagines a near future, where America's society is divided into two economic groups based on those who pass the Test, and those who don't.  Given the way the SAT has been institutionally enshrined  down south, it's hardly a stretch these days.  It reminds me of another YA sci-fi book that I looked at a while back: When She Awoke. In both cases,the authors aren't being particularly subtle about the issues they want to talk about, but placing them in the future makes them easier to talk about in a class room environment.  Our library, sadly, has only a single Sleator book, and it's a retelling of children's story that runs 45 pages.  Sad.

UBC didn't have very many science-related books this week, but none of them caught my eye anyway, so I'll wrap things up here.  See you next week, folks.

Later Days.

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