Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bibliophile: Byte to Eat

"Why did you make it all about spoons?"

The man shrugged. "You said 'write what you know.'"

Spoons are funny.

This is Bibliophile.

This week, we're back to Toronto, with a look at the new books at Ryerson University.  Ryerson has a new book page, which puts it ahead of some universities I check.  They also have a toggle that lets you browse through the new books from one month ago, 2 months, 3, and so forth, up to a year.  A month is the most recent, though.  You may also browse by topic, author, and format. Format can also be collected in an RSS feed. They've received 835 titles in August, and about twice as many ebooks as regular books.  Someone's gone digital in a big way, hmmm?  Well, let's get to it.

Deleuze and film / edited by David Martin-Jones and William Brown.
I come across a lot of books centered on Deleuze, but relatively few anthologies.  I suppose there's a bit of a gap there, and if there's anything that seems to generate Deleuzian papers, it's film studies, so it's a good topic for an anthology, at least.  Topics include Godzilla and the Action Image, and homage in Tears of the Black Tiger.  Are there black tigers?  Is a black tiger a panther?  It's a Thai film that's supposed to be a tribute to westerns and romance films, which sounds pretty neat, actually.  There's time image and The Lizard, which is not Spider-man's progeny-devouring villain, but a petty thief who disguises himself as a mullah, and proceeds to draw people with his "on the hoof" sermons.  "On the hoof" is the British equivalent of "off the cuff," because apparently, in Britain, they still have more horses than long-sleeved shirts.  And the anthology finishes with essays on Hellboy, digital spaces, and quasi-objects.  I don't really know anything about Deleuze and film studies other than to know he's a big figure in it, but I appreciate the wide range of genres and topics here.  H.

Failure / Colin Feltham.
 On the face of it, it sounds like few topics could be quite as depressing as a book on failure.  The best case scenario seems to be that it succeeds in talking about the inability to succeed.  The flip side is that failure is what makes our successes meaningful.  And our failures define us as much as our successes.  They have to--there's so many more of them!  Anyway, Feltham's discussion of failure is going to take him on some far ranging subjects, as the book promises discussions of failure from Diogenes, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Camus, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Philip Roth, original sin, non-being, the failure of communism, the failure of communism, hamartia, and, one can only assume, Charlie Brown attempting to kick a football.  The book comes from a series called The Art of Living, and other books in the series include Love, Commitment, Distraction, Hope, Money, and, my personal favorite, a book that's just called Me.  I imagine it's a very easy series to brainstorm new topics for.  Off the top of my head: Obsession, Joy, Jealousy, War, Death.  

The antidote : happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking / Oliver Burkeman.
I like that this concept exists.  Personally, I tend to waver back and forth on the value of positive thinking.  If I see or read something inspiring, I'm positive for a bit, but just as often I tend to dismiss it as naive.  I'm not really a glass half full or half empty type; I'm mostly a "God, can we stop talking about glasses?  So cliched" type.  Unfortunately, the book itself , judging by the description, is a bit of a bait and switch.  It argues that we get stress by trying to constantly eliminate the negative, and that real happiness comes from embracing what we try to avoid.  So it's telling us to turn away from other self-help books and get into this self-help book.  And honestly, that just makes me more skeptical.  "Embracing what we try to avoid" sounds like very bad advice for recovering addicts, for example.  And quotations such as "Oliver Burkeman talks to life coaches paid to make their clients' lives a living hell" make the book sound like it's marketed to sadists, or at least those really into schadenfreude.  I think I want to go back to the failure.  Or maybe even the Deleuze.

Screendance : inscribing the ephemeral image / Douglas Rosenberg.

Rosenberg outlines a history of attempts to record dance, and what is culturally meant by such attempts.  The cover features a dancer's silhouette, illuminated in words, which makes a nice visual, especially for someone like myself who has interest in image and text juxtapositions.  I have basically no familiarity with dance (my lack of familiarity seems to be a frequent theme today), but I can empathize with the concerns Rosenberg expresses in the book's introduction, his uncertainty in how to deal with  sometimes-conflicting goals to teach, to write, and to practice dance.  And dance in particular is interesting for the way it combines the visual (in watching the performance) and the embodied (in doing the performance).  In that sense, his characterization of "screendance" seems a bit at odds with his other stated influences: "It is less a performance than an elaborate, deconstructed photo session, unfolding temporally, frame by frame."  The book will definitely be an engaged study of what happens when a typically embodied experience goes digital.

In the red : the green behind nuclear power / by Heath Packman.
There's a colorful title.  ...Sorry.  It's a report on the economic prospects of nuclear power in Saskatchewan.  It's a bit of a hotly debated issue back home in the Prairies.  Packman argues that the economic prospects are, simply put, bad.  It could triple electricity rates, the potential for exporting is not great, and the pollution can't be forgotten.  Packman has previously been closely associated with the previous government's environmental and industrial policies, so his findings may need to be taken with a grain of salt, but I tend to trust a properly trained economist over my own guesses on the pros and cons of nuclear power, based largely on years of watching episodes of the Simpsons.

May Day : a graphic history of protest / Robin Folvik ... [et al.].
I find this idea really appealing.  It's a graphic novel history of International Workers' Day, with the Canadian context as the emphasis.  There's a definite pro-worker vibe, and probably a hint of pro-union too, if we're talking pro-worker in a Canadian context.  At 32 pages, it sounds rather short, though.  At that length, it might almost be characterized a long form pamphlet than a graphic novel.  That's a little harsh on my part, I know; still, I can't help but think a little bit of story may have helped the flow a bit.  Anyway, the creation of the book was actually a university project, at Trent University, complete with a SSHRC grant for gathering the information. (So that's how you get one!)  Thus, if nothing else, you can expect the quality of that information to be top notch.  And it's gotten some attention on activist-type sites like and BCFederationist, so at least it's attracting the attention it seemed to be aiming for.H.

The second sexism : discrimination against men and boys / David Benatar.
Recently, I gave a guest-lecture on various videogame-related issues, including the Tropes vs Women kickstarter that happened earlier this year.  In a nutshell, what happened was that Anita Sarkeesian started a kickstarter to get some funding to do some videos on sexism in videogames, and was massively flamed for, essentially, daring to be a woman talking about videogames.  There was a counter-flaming of the flaming, as saner, more human heads responded that, no, calling for a woman to die because she thinks videogames are sexist is not a reasoned response, and these people responded with their wallets, giving Sarkeesian over 25 times what she was asking for.  Some males took what they thought was the middle response: ie. "I'm not sexist, but she should really acknowledge that men are portrayed negatively in games too."  It was a red herring of an argument, because first, Sarkeesian doesn't have to acknowledge everything--she's very clear in the video on what topic she wants to discuss, and if someone else wants to speak on videogames and the masculine image, they should feel free to start their own kickstarter.  And second, as an argument, it was trying to equate two things that really weren't equal; sexism against men does exist, but it's not the same animal as sexism against women, and treating it as such only disguises other issues.  The reason this little anecdote is that Benatar's mere title seemed to me to be going in the same direction, trying to drum up a comparison where none exists.  (Reference to boys, for example, enlarges the sense that these people he's referring to are maligned, defenseless victims.)  Admittedly, that's not the most open-minded way to look into a book, but titles hail certain audiences, and repel others, just by being titles.  Honestly, as someone who has experienced social distancing for failing to conform to male stereotypes myself (no, I don't care about how the game went last night.  And no, I don't want to talk about your car.), I can relate to the issue.  But the way he's framed it has already put me on edge.  As might be imagined, Benatar takes a rather defensive tone in the book, and begins by a series of distinctions: disadvantage is not the same as discrimination, and discrimination is not necessarily negative.  (He offers the example of insurance not offering cover for male mammogram tests but offering coverage for women as a discrimination that's fair.)  The book eventually promises to cover sexual assault, physical violence, and affirmative action, if that's of interest to you.  This is the same Benatar, incidentally, who wrote the book "Better Never to Have Been," arguing that it's better for people to never exist, and that we harm children by bringing them into the world.  I think I featured him on a previous Bibliophile, though I can't seem to find him now.  H. 

Murder, gender and the media : narratives of dangerous love / Jane Monckton-Smith.
The Kindle format of this book is $68, which is insaaaane.  It's a sociology book, that looks at multiple  court cases wherein romantic love was used as justification for murdering women--not in terms of getting the accused off scott free, but with reduced, more lenient, sentences.  I think it's a bit of a symptom of the way our justice system is set up: we've organized things so that premeditated murder is worse than murder decided on the spot.  But at the same time, I have to acknowledge Monckton-Smith's point.  There's something in the notion of "crime of passion," especially when it involves murder of an adulterer that seems to imply that it's the victim's fault.  Monckton-Smith wants particularly to show the role the media plays in advancing a narrative of heterosexual romantic love, and how that role perpetuates these crimes.  It kind of puts Benatar in perspective, huh?  As a further depressing note, the first page of the book states that these crimes are typically referred to as Intimate Partner Femicide, or IPF.  Something about coining an acronym for the term makes it really, really creepy.  H.

Naked truth : strip clubs, democracy, and a Christian right / Judith Lynne Hanna.   
Hanna performs (sorry) an in-depth investigation of the Christian Right's attack on strip clubs to demonstrate how it's part of a more concerted effort to replace civil liberties with religious theocracy.  Strip Clubs were (and perhaps still are) illegal in Saskatchewan when I was growing up.  On the one hand, I never had any particular interest going to one myself, but on the other, it did always strike me as oddly puritanical to deny one on legal grounds.  And it was some what hypocritical as well, given the Saskatchewan sex trade--pretending "that doesn't exist here" is kind of hard when you drive through downtown Saskatoon late at night.  It's a complicated issue.  On the one hand, the argument against strip clubs are fairly obvious: they're degrading to women and encourage what we typically think of as undesirable behavior.  At the same time, in the circles I run in, I know some people who would never go to a strip club, but are very much in favor of burlesque.  Is it that burlesque dancers aren't baring all?  Is it that they're amateur?  Is it that they're not getting paid?  Is it that their audience automatically less sleezy since they're composed of open-minded liberals who respect a woman's right to choose rather than those foul-minded folk that frequent the typical strip club?  There's competing visions of female sexuality at work here, and I tend to agree with Hanna that some sectors of the Christian Right are using that competition to push a related agenda.

Deadwood / Jason Jacobs. 
I should probably admit that I've never finished watching Deadwood.  I'm far enough into the series that I can't just pick up from where I left off without being confused, but if I start over, I'm probably going to lose interest half-way through again.  Jacobs is looking at the show's production, reception, themes, and aesthetics, among other issues.  Mostly, what drew my attention to this book is that it's a book-long study by a single author.  Often, when a pop culture artifact gets the book treatment, you get an anthology, and while that can produce some very good arguments and interesting perspectives, sometimes, I wish I could get a more sustained argument.  This book, it seems, offers that.

Gold / Chris Cleave.
The book is about two women, both in competition for the national spot in track cycling for the 2012 Olympics, both 32 and knowing this is their last chance.  Kate is more gifted, but she`s distracted by her daughter`s resurgent leukemia.  Zoe`s driven and obsessed--perhaps so obsessed that she`ll be willing to betray her friend for a chance at the spot.  I`m not sure exactly what it was that drew my attention to this description; I`m not generally one for books that claim to examine "the values that lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships," unless one of those intimate relationships are with a dragon.  I think it was that the book info makes a point of mentioning that Kate's daughter loves Star Wars.  Little geeky girls are adorable.

Phase-space analysis and pseudodifferential calculus on the Heisenberg group / Hajer Bahouri & Clotilde Fermanian-Kammerer & Isabelle Gallagher.
The scary thing is that this is the most straightforward title they could have picked.

Food and social media : you are what you tweet / Signe Rousseau.
That is probably the most groan-inducing title pun I've come across in a while, but I'll give credit to Rousseau for coming up with what sounds like a very intriguing subject.  Essentially, it's a book on social media from the perspective of discussions concerning food: tweet wars from famous chefs, recipe plagiarization, and etiquette in taking photos of meals.  A while ago, I got my hands on an anthology of food semiotics; this is the logical extension of that, considering how new media changes food engagement.  My parents, for example, tell me that one of their favorite uses for the iPad is in the kitchen as a recipe guide.  And when I'm looking for a new restaurant, I look it up on google maps--but I also try to see if I can find its menu online, and maybe a few reviews. I have at least a half dozen friends who have tried their hands at food blogging at one time or another, or know people who do.  Social media and food.  It's a logical combination.  It's a very short book, at 138 pages or so, and I certainly wouldn't want to pay $60 for the hardcover, but if it's available  at a local library, it might be worth looking at.  H.

  We'll call it an end with that one.  Later Days.

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