Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bibliophile: Kickin' it alphabetical style at University of Athabasca

Who wins a fight, Emperor Norton or Prince Roy?  More importantly, in a war, who wins the battle for hearts and minds?

This is Bibliophile.

Well, we're going back to the Wikipedia list of Canadian universities, which means this week, it's Athabasca University in Alberta.  According to their new material list, they received 17 new books in September and 2121 e-books, so it's pretty clear where their purchasing priorities are.  Let's do the 17 list first.

Interestingly, it's mostly a collection of books on aspects of Indian culture.  But nothing jumped out at me, so we'll go on to the e-books.

They're organized in terms of alphabetical order, rather than any call number (in fact, they aren't even listed with call numbers), so this list is going to be all over the place.

Acanthaceae to Myricaceae: water willows to wax myrtles by Mohlenbrock, Robert H
I picked this one because I had no idea what it was talking about, from the title.  I think I confused Myricaceae with Myrmidons, and then thought wax myrtle might refer to some ancient Greek sealing method.  It does not.  The Acanthaceae are a family of plants that have multiple embryonic leaves in their flowers, whatever that means.  The Myricaceae are a family of shrubs and small trees, not an ancient tribal people.  And wax myrtles are a type of small trees and shrubs contained within Myricacaeae.  (I didn`t look it up, but it seems a safe bet that the water willows belong to the Acanthaceae.  That`s the sort of "SAT" logic that I'm known for.)  It's an illustrated taxonomy guide, and the third of four volumes in the Aquatic and Standing Water Plants of the Central Midwest series.  I kind of wish it was the ancient Greek thing.

The affair of the veiled murderess an antebellum scandal and mystery by Adler, Jeanne Winston,
As longtime readers may recall, I've got a bit of previous experience with the pop history/19th century murder category, from my prolonged reading of The Devil in the White City. Affairs (it's an awkward title to abbreviate--it's catchy on a first reading, but loses some appeal on the awkward ground in subsequent reading.) is more focused than The Devil in the White City, if only because it doesn't divide its time between the World's Fair and the first American serial killer.  It's a peculiar case: two Irish immigrants die after drinking poisoned beer, and the accused, Miss Charlotte Wood, was rumored to be a former student of a Seminary and the runaway wife of a British lord.  What is known is that she decided to remain behind a veil for the entire trial (hence, veiled murderess).  Adler draws on newspaper accounts, court documents, and other records, and delves into the role of women and the marginal position of the Irish at the time.  The subject is a bit sensationalist, but it could be an entertaining read, for those that like their true crime to be a little more Victorian.

Apocalyptic futures marked bodies and the violence of the text in Kafka, Conrad, and Coetzee by Samolsky, Russell.
I've read The Trial and The Metamorphosis, and Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, but that's it; I haven't even read Conrad at all (bad literary student, I know).  However, the title here spoke to an interesting enough theme that I thought the book was worth mentioning. Samolsky is interested in looking how certain modernist texts seem prescient in terms of referring to future apocalyptic events.  It's not that these books have a clairvoyant intent, but that they're written in such a way that their future receptions seem to solicit such an engagement.  In particular, he's situating the Penal Colony in relation to the Holocaust, Heart of Darkness to the Rwandan genocide, and Waiting for the Barbarians to torture in apartheid South Africa and contemporary Iraq.  It's easy enough to see how sci-fi works speak to future events--it's kind of their thing.  To see something similar in modernist fiction requires a particular viewpoint, and can easily be extended too far, but Samolsky seems aware of that danger (or so I gather by the qualification that he's not arguing for the clairvoyance of his authors).  

Arsenic and clam chowder murder in gilded age New York Livingston, James D., 1930-
As codified in Bibliophile law, two books on the same subject in a single entry require a mention in the title.  Or at least in the promotional tweet.  This is another book on the subject of 19th century American murder moments, and is in fact published by the same publisher: Excelsior Editions, you've got a thing going.  Here, the suspect is Mary Alice Livingston, on trial in 1896 for allegedly using her daughter to deliver an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder to her mother.  Again, the sensational aspects of the trial bubble to the surface: she was a mother of four out-of-wedlock children, she was arrested while still in her mourning clothes after the funeral, and she was to face the chance of being the first woman put to death in the "new-fangled electric chair."  (Honestly, the book dropped a few notches in my esteem for using the phrase "new-fangled electric chair.")  I can't speak for UA's particular desire to get some ebooks on 19th century murder, but I can see the appeal for the modern reader.  As the saying goes, the past is another country, and the more distant the past, the easier it is to shunt its events as having happened to another group of people entirely.  Thus, you get to explore American history and its past context (gender stereotypes, in this case) without the disconcerting notion that these issues are still present in the same way.  That isn't to say that Arsenic or Affair ignore historical context (far from it, I think) but that it's easier to immerse yourself in something like this if you don't have to worry about it happening to you.
Before Sherlock Holmes how magazines and newspapers invented the detective story by Panek, LeRoy.
 My university's English department offers several slightly more esoteric courses than the run-of-the-mill traditional English department, and one of these is a course on detective fiction.  I think I'll shout the name of this book at whoever's teaching it next term.  Traditionally, the detective genre is traced back to Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, and so forth.  Using some new media searching techniques, Panek identifies the rest of the 19th century history, in terms of contemporary pseudo-histories, magazines, story papers, and newspapers (technically, I believe Doyle and Dickens, among others, appeared in newspapers first, but never mind).  I'm not thrilled with English Studies' uses for digital technology constantly being reduced to digital archives (and even less thrilled when that's all the job posting seem to be looking for) but in this case, it's clear to see how digital archiving has enlarged a field that was previously overpopulated by a chosen few works.  Panek argues that the rise in detective fiction--and in particular, the exchange between the US and Britain--was caused in part by the growing appreciation for law and the similarities in law between the two countries.  It's hard to tell how to evaluate a book such as this, since his commentary is on a body of works that few have had opportunity to look through, but it's exactly that relative scarcity of attention that makes the book worth reading.

Body shots: Hollywood and the culture of eating disorders / Emily Fox-Kales.
Credit for the good title.  Fox-Kales looks at how Hollywood and associated media perpetuate an eating disordered culture, based on promoting constant self-scrutiny  and denial in the pursuit of slenderness and fitness.  The subject isn't that unique or controversial, but Fox-Kales is thorough, with an analysis involving film studies, gender studies, and psychology.  She looks at body narratives with Lindsay Lohan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Oprah Winfrey and their respective battles with body image as creating a "new normal" valorizing chronic body dissastifaction.  There's also chapters on the movie makeover, fat suits and big mamas, and teen bodies.  It's a more pop culture take than many film and gender study approaches take, but frankly, I like it more for that.  It's a little outside my own subject area, but for those interested in body image and the media, it seems like necessary reading.  

Buddy system: understanding male friendships / Greif, Geoffrey L.
Based on interviews with nearly 400 men, Greif examines the subject of male friendships, and, with a hundred some interviews with women, discusses the difference and what men can learn from women's relationships.  There seems to be a lot of social assumptions and overgeneralizations in that last clause, but we'll let it slide.  Greif divides male friends into must, trust, and rust.  Must friends are friends that a man must call when he receives earthshattering news.  Just friends are casual acquaintances.   Trust friends are liked and trusted, but not as close as must friends.  And rust friends are friends with a long history that can drift apart, but pick up where they left off.  As I enjoy being told what kinds of friends I have, I rarely call anyone with earthshattering news; not because I lack close friends, but because I really hate talking on the phone.  Looks like you've got a media bias there, Greif.  To me, masculinity is far too culturally and subculturally variant to divide into sections like this.  Concepts of friendship change from group to group, and person to person.  I appreciate, however, that the third section of the book, featuring on interviews, groups them in terms of age, suggesting that Greif does recognize some form of variation, at least.   While the overall categorizations leave me skeptical, the reviews suggest that the interviews in particular and style are both engaging.

Clio wired the future of the past in the digital age / Rosenzweig, Roy
And we have our second theme: the digital archive rears its head again.  In a series of essays, Roy Rosenzweig outlines the impact of new media on teaching and preserving history.  Rosenzweig was, as that description suggests, a professor of history with interest in digital media, as he founded Center for History and New Media, and is known for articles on the value of Wikipedia and large-scale projects compiling information on events such as 9-11.  While the specifics of the essays don't really stand (they were written before Rosenzweig's death in 2007), the general discussions do.  The aforementioned essay on the value of Wikipedia is collected here, as are a number of collaborative essays: "Brave New World or Blind Alley: American History on the Web" with Michael O'Malley; "Historians and Hypertext: is it more than just hype?" with Steve Brier; and "Web of Lies?: Historical Knowledge on the Internet" with Daniel J. Cohen.  It's always hard to judge the value of books on digital media once their immediate subject becomes a bit aged (especially when, ah, you're judging the book without actually reading it).  But going purely from these topics, it looks like Rosenzweig is on the right track, acknowledging both the flaws and features of earlier Internet research.

Confessions of a young novelist  / Eco, Umberto.
On the subject of confessions, I have never finished anything Eco's written.  Not a novel, not a theory book, not an essay.  The essay I never finished because it was in the middle of a 500+ paged anthology, and I needed to press on in my comp readings; the theory book was never finished because it came at a time when I was on a semiotics spree and I was getting bored of the subject; the novel never finished because a meticulously well-researched thriller on matters dating back to the Crusades can occasionally be really, really boring.  But I've read just enough in all three cases to think fondly of him, and put him on my personal list of "some day" authors.  This book starts with something of a knowing wink, as Eco didn't even start writing until he was nearly fifty, and now, in his late 70s, he's looking back over his career as a novelist.  (I respect a discipline where people can work into their 70s.  I'd respect more if I wasn't in my late 20s and very much wanting a place in said discipline.)  In this book, he explores the connections between his theorist stuff and his novelist stuff.  Good nonfiction, he believes, has a structure similiar to a whodunnit, and a novelist should build through observation and research; the line between fiction and nonfiction is meant to be blurred. The subject to this book really speaks to me.  As a blogger, I made a point of not differentiating between my personal and scholarly studies (within reason).  And yet, at the same time, I struggle to find a creative outlet for my digital media studies.  Eco's concern is clearly not aligned with those digital goals, but I think there may be something useful for me in terms of finding a balance between the fiction and nonfiction.

Corporate wrongdoing and the art of the accusation / Faulkner, Robert R.
Looking over the past twenty years of practice, Faulkner examines how economic wrongdoing has been portrayed and handled in corporate America.  Obviously, this is a period where we're experiencing in a boom in books on the subject of economic malpractice; as much as the 99% movement was derided by some, there is clearly some real frustration in the US over the issue (and by extension, America and the world at large).  Our economies aren't doing great; whose fault is it?  The subject of this book is slightly different: it's not whose fault is it, but how everyone--from market watchdogs to corporate leaders--discuss those faults.  It's a pop discourse analysis of economic issues, to put it differently.  Faulkner's starting point is that these financial meltdowns and malfeasance rarely appear out of nowhere; there's usually warning signs that surface in the media, and he points to several examples, from Ponzi schemes to the Enron scandal. He divides responses into admonition, innuendo,accusation, and indictment, which seem to overlap a little.

Country path conversations / Heidegger, Martin
 Another week, another Heidegger.  This is an original text, rather than the usual application book.  It's three imaginary conversations Heidegger created at the end of World War II.  The first features a conversation between a scientist, scholar, and a guide; the second, a teacher and a tower-warden, and the third a young man and an older man in a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia, where Heidegger's own sons were MIA.  Heidegger's WWII writing is an uncomfortable period for modern scholars, as Heidegger was aligned with the Nazi side of the war.  On that level, seeing that this essay came near the end of the war, where the winners were becoming somewhat clear, I imagine Heidegger's view on war is particularly complicated. It's a rumination on war, technology, and what it means to be in the world. The book's apparently regarded as one of Heidegger's more accessible texts, so it may be of interest to those who are normally turned off by discussions of "standing reserve" and "being-in-the-world" and so forth.

CrackBerry: true tales of BlackBerry use and abuse / Michaluk, Kevin and Martin Trautschold
I know CrackBerry isn't a newly coined phrase, but it still gets points in my book.  Although frankly, from the news I've been hearing, you'd be hard pressed to find a BlackBerry owner, let alone an addicted one. The book came out in 2010, and the relative collapse of RIM and the Blackberry brand since then shows how quickly tech things change (and, perhaps, how inefficient tradiitional print media is at chronicling these changes).  It's a weird book, in that its tone suggests a pop approach, but the subject, technology addiction, is reasonably interesting.  Can you really be addicted to technology?  Or, in line of Simondon, Stiegler, and so forth, are you simply a person who has adopted their personal definition of human to a new device? Chapter titles include "Do I Worship my Blackberry?", "Conscious Contact or Constant Contact?", and "Scooping BlackBerry Poop."  I don't want to know.

Depression and narrative: telling the dark / edited by Hilary Clark.
I know this prof!  She was a professor at the English department for my undergraduate degree.  Granted, I never took a class from her, but at least I remember the name.  The topic here is depression in narrative, from the perspective of contemporary scholarship on illness, which, as they noted, tends to focus previously on physical illness and disability.  It's casting a pretty wide net of media: depression in memoir, diary, novel, poem, oral interview, blog, film, TV, in terms of gendering of depression, identity transformations, communication problems, and association with stigma and shame.  The book is divided into five sections: Negotiating Illness, Identity, and Stigma; Gender and Depression; and Depression across the Media; Literary Therapies; and Depression and the Limits of Narrative.  Topics include "Depressing Books: W. G. Sebald and the Narratives of History" by Eluned Summers-Bremner; "Manic-Depressive Narration and the Hermenueitcs of Countertransference: Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"; "A Meditation on Depression, Time," and "Narrative Peregrination in the Film The Hours"; and "Therapy Culture and TV: The Sopranos as a Depression Narrative."  So yeah, it's a pretty wide net.

Detecting women: gender and the Hollywood detective film  by Gates, Philippa.
And that makes theme three, for those keeping track at home, the detective genre.  Gates explores the woman detective figure, with an emphasis on feminism, performativity, and masquerade.  In particular, she argues that the most progressive models exist on the periphery, in things like 1930s B pictures and 1970s blaxploitation films.  (That strikes me as a bold argument.)  The chapters are broken largely into eras: you have the female detective in the 1940s film noir, the 1970s blaxploitation vigilante crime-fighter, and the female lawyer thrillers of the 1980s.  It's the 90s and modern times that interest me: I want a comparison/contrast of Dana Scully and Bones.  On a more serious note, I'll admit that I'm not very familiar with the female detective genre.  I've read the odd Miss Maple, and seen, well, X-Files and Bones, but a lot of that material has passed me by.  It's interesting that Gates seems to be taking a pretty broad approach to the definition of detective, if she's throwing in thriller characters and vigilantes.  In that regard, I suppose my most read female detective is probably the indominatble Thursday Next. On the bright side, between this and the newspaper books, I have enough fodder to teach my own detective course now.

Encyclopedia of television theme songs  / Mark A. Robinson.
I approve of the existence of this book.  It's organized according to title of show, followed by network, duration of show, title of song, author of song, type of music, cast of show, a description of the show ("According to Jim was designed to be a star vehicle for comedy performer Jim Belushi.  Much of the show's humor was centered on the title character's laziness and his search for an easier way to deal with life's complications."), then a bit od detail on the theme song.  I feel as if this sort of book has been largely made irrelevant by the existence of the Internet, but I am still glad to know it exists.

Ethics and trauma in contemporary British fiction / edited by Susana Onega and Jean-Michel Ganteau.
I suppose an argument could be made that this connects to the depression book, but I'll be honest--mostly, I was interested in seeing what gets classified as "contemporary British fiction." So we'll skip straight to the list of essays: Seteveker on trauma in Pat Barker's Regeneration Triology; Pellicer-Ortin on the ethical clock of trauma in Eva Fig's Winter Journey; Fay Weldon's Heart of the Country and Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach; Whited on child soldiers in Jarret-Macauley's Moses, Citzen and Me; and Onega on the ethics of affect in Winterson's The Stone Gods.  I've read some Weldon, McEwan, and at least heard of Angela Carter, so I'm not as far behind in British lite as I feared.

The advantage of alphabetical order is that it allows me to sample a wider range of works in less time; often, I'm rather burned out by the time I reach the P section of the call numbers.  At the same time, I'm 700 items in, and I'm part way through the F.  I think I'll call it a draw here, but who knows what literary delights lurk in the  zs?  the ys?  The gs, even?  We'll never know. 

Later Days.

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