Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bibliophile: Doing Something About the Weather at Trinity Western

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
― Groucho Marx

After a brief hiatus, Bibliophile is back.  After the break, we have discussion of some new books available at Trinity Western University.

Like so many unfortunate library online systems, TWU is sadly lacking a proper new books tab. Why can't more things be designed with me, personally, in mind?  So we do the next best thing: search through all books published in 2013.  That returns.... three books.  TWU is not a spendthrift in its book buying.

MANOBS : manual of surface weather observations 7th ed. Canada. Atmospheric Environment Service.
This is decidedly the least exciting of the three.  I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the acronym comes from the French version, as otherwise, they've got the order backwards.  Weather lovers with a database leaning are in luck, for the latest MANOBS is available online from the Atmospheric Environment Service, right here. Given that it's free, I do hope TWU didn't pay too much for their own digital copy. A brief perusal suggests that this online collection isn't so much a collection of the data as it is a description of how to properly record the data; it's a set of standards, in other words. Which makes it more boring, if anything. (My apologies to the meteorologists in the crowd.)

Peace and power : new directions for building community 8th ed / Chinn, Peggy L.
The title explains the basic thrust here.  It's conflict management for groups, with a focus on peace and power relations.  It's based very strongly on Chinn's personal experience as a leader in women's groups.The introduction for the 8th edition mentions that the third edition was published in the midst of the first Gulf War--that means this book has a lot of staying power, and it's been in circulation for a long time.  That further suggests that there's an audience for it.  I have to admit, my first instinct to be automatically skeptical of anything that has such a New Age sort of feel.  I know some colleagues who argue that books of a less than exemplar status (read: trashy fiction and pop nonfiction) are still valuable if the people who read them get something out of them. I'm skeptical of that, too; a Nike commercial can inspire you to become a better athlete, but that doesn't change the fact that its main goal is to inspire you to be a better Nike consumer.  Here's a list that appears on page xiii of this book: "A Dozen and One Important Things You Can Do to Create Peace on Earth." 1) Plant and nurture something that grows.  2) Practice the fine art of yielding.  10) Exchange gentle forms of touch regularly.  13) Pass this list on to someone else."  It's... definitely aimed toward a very specific market.  And that market is not one I'm in.

 The feminine ethos in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia/ Hilder, Monika Barbara,
Here's something that's more in my wheelhouse. The Narnia books have a special place in my childhood nostalgia box.  I think I was a little young for the Lord of the Rings, though the Hobbit was an early favorite.  BUt the Narnia books were a good substitute.  Looking back, the Christian allegory makes it a little hard to get through now, and even then, The Last Battle was a little too judgmental for my youthful sensibilities. But The SIlver Chair and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader are two of my favorites, because they're about pure adventure, exploring weird and fascinating fantasy lands. Hilder's take is that far from being sexist of misogynist, Lewis is challenging gender conceptions. She argues that according to Lewis, we are all 'feminine' in relation to the masculine God, and backs that up with evidence showing how Lewis was informed by Milton, Wordsworth, and George MacDonald. It's... an interesting approach.  I'm not sure it dispels the accusation that Lewis is sexist so much as relocating it in much weirder territory.

Since three books doesn't make much of a Bibliophile post, I'll expand the search to 2012 published books.  That brings up... 149 books.  All right.  There's a lot of religious-oriented books, which probably isn't very surprising, for a university that has "Trinity" in its title.

Acceptable words: prayers for the writer / Schmidt, Gary D.
Here's an example.  This book is exactly what the title says it is: a set of prayers chosen specifically for the vocation of writing. "Acceptable Words" offers prayers that correspond with each stage of the writer's work -- from finding inspiration to penning the first words to 'offering it to God' at completion." There's actually a long history of offering a completed written work to God, and more than just religious tracts; it was a common practice in 18th century literature, for example, though it was in hot competition with offering to potential patrons, subscribers, and praising one's own genius. A rather enthusiastic reviewer lists some of the folk quoted and it's an impressive list: Thomas Aquinas, C. S. Lewis (no doubt praising the masculine God), Charles Wesley, Soren Kierkergaard, G. K. Chesteron, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Madeline L'Engle. (I recently read Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time; I'd forgotten  how Christian it was, for a book featuring space travel, malevolent dystopias, and animal men with wings.)

Fallgirls: gender and the framing of torture at Abu Ghraib/ Ryan Ashley Caldwell
 Caldwell provides an analysis of the abuses at Abu Graib, via social theory, gender and power, and first-hand accounts of the court-martials of Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman. The description is a little vague on Caldwell's specific stance; the sense I'm getting is that it's going to thoroughly examine the claims that the abuses were at the hands of rogue soldiers rather than something more systematic, and it's going to use the gender focus to do that examination. I see the turn in the American stance on torture as going hand-in-hand with the use of attack drones; as long as it doesn't happen where people have to see it, no harm no foul, is the basic sense. Such a statement, of course, has a very definite stance on who qualifies as a meaningful human. I  don't know how far Caldwell will be delving into the theoretical part; the index of the book doesn't have any theorists, but it does have expanded entries for gender, photography, and power, which are all obviously relevant issues here.

The underground church : reclaiming the subversive way of Jesus 1st ed./ Meyers, Robin R. (Robin Rex), 1952
Back way back,  I had a Bibliophile entry of a book that critical of the Creflo Dollar's World Changers Church International, who followed Prosperity theology, which says that God wants the faithful to be rich.  I didn't mention it at the time (maybe because it hadn't aired yet? Time is hard to remember.), but it reminded me of a piece Steven Colbert did, where he essentially contrasted the actions of the politically religious in the US with those of Jesus Christ, noting that Jesus was very, very clear on the role of money in Christianity, and how poverty is the road to spiritual growth, and that turning the other cheek was always better than vengeance. And Colbert's point was simple: we either conform better to the teachings, we admit Jesus was wrong, or we're all hypocrites.   And this rambling is all relevant to the book at hand because Jesus is, at his core, a radical, and his message is directly opposed to the prevalent power structures that have been in effect in Western civilization for the last 2000 years. Meyers brings that radical aspect out, and formulates what a church truly following in his example should be. First, Church should not be intertwined with Empire ("God bless America?" Nope.  Not even the watered down Canadian version, "God keep our land.").  Second, he takes the historical approach: everyone knows Constantine quickened the spread of Christianity, but it was also a major step in turning it from egalitarian faith communities into highly structured hierarchies. It shouldn't be able faith, he argues, but trust. Jesus is less an object of worship than a model for living. I can get behind this version of religion a lot more readily than most; I don't think I'd particularly want to live either version, though. It's a little too much "renounce your possessions" for my tastes; I like my possessions.  I guess that makes me complicit with Empire.  Huh.

Sefer: a novel / Lipska, Ewa
I like to have a fiction entry in every Bibliophile, as I think it's as important for scholarly growth and study as anything else.  Sadly, the type of fiction that gets added to university libraries is rarely of the science-fiction/fantasy type because those lack "literary merit" or something.  Bah.  So I'm left reviewing fiction that is less to my personal taste. Sefer is typical of those books; I can see from its description that it's a book worth reading, but the subject matter... well, I guess I should explain that first. Sefer: a psychotherapist living in Vienna deals daily with the trauma of others, but can never connect with his father or his past, which involves "the legacy of the Holocaust for the postwar generation." The novel "Much like memory itself, ... speaks to us obliquely through the juxtaposition of images and vignettes." It's postmodern and has subtle hints of magical realism.  See, I can appreciate the literary value of such a text. Depictions focusing on the narrative of memory can be some of the most elusive yet meaningful works in fiction; see Proust's novels, for example. And Holocaust accounts are important, even fictional ones.  But when it comes to having to sit down and read such things of my own volition... Can I have some dragons, please? (And yes, I realize the inherent problems and escapism associated with that.  But I'd prefer to realize them in the context of vampires.)

Narrative approaches to the international mathematical problems  / Dinh, Steve
As one of the few people with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and English, this title interests me. According to the blurb, what it's about is providing a narrative analysis to mathematical problems used in international competitions. Exactly how that works is a little vague; the rest of the description is mostly spent on how useful the book is to teachers and general audiences. I can say that at 700+ pages, it's a very thorough application to its approach, whatever that may be. It sort of gives the impression that it's a study guide more than anything else, albeit one with a lot of depth.  I can't seem to dig up any more info on this one.  I will note that, in general, word problems are often used in math to obscure information rather than help; it means the student has to figure out what's being asked and provided before the task of solving can fully begin.  So I'd be interested in a clearer description of what the narrative can do to aid the process.  Simply talking out a problem is often helpful; maybe that's what's going on here.

Text, image, and otherness in children's Bibles : what is in the picture? / Vander Stichele, Caroline and Hugh S. Puper
Text and image is a big interest of mine.  I've been listening to Dan Harman (he of Community)'s podcast of late--largely for the D&D segments, to be honest. But at one point, he (or maybe Jeff Davis) talk about he went to a Sunday school where they learned Bible characters visually through flashcards: Isaac had a staff, David had a hat, sort of thing.  And the point was that this was obviously ridiculous, since no one knows how individual people looked thousands of years ago, unless there's a particularly well-preserved statue. Thus, one of the big problems of images in children's Bibles, I imagine.  But rather than just speculate wildly, let's see what's actually in the book. First, it's an anthology. And second, as the title suggests, it's about the tension between image and text in the context of how they present the Other. The first section, identifying the strange other, deals with identification in such stories. the second section, learning how to deal with the other, looks at how illustrators deal with some of the more awkward aspects of the Bible, such as the sexual undertones in David and Jonathan's story, and how the Gospels' differences are homogenized. Destroying the Other, the third and final section, looks at how illustrators have dealt with violence against others in the Bible.  Christian religious studies isn't my particularly interesting to me, except on a historical level, but the anthology looks like a good collection of material on its subject. It should be noted that there's at least one essay on Veggie Tales.  Best essay title goes to Emma England's "The Water's Round My Shoulders, and I'm ---GLUG! GLUG! GLUG!": God's Destruction of Humanity in the Flood Story for Children."

Digital visual effects in cinema : the seduction of reality by Stephen Prince
The notion of deception and illusion is big in video games; on the small scale, it speaks to the narrative/ludogical divide, that the game's story and visuals don't match up with what you're doing.  On the big scale, it's part of the game violence debate, the idea that its simulation of violence leads to actual violence. Prince is obviously looking at a different medium, though, and in a different context.  Essentially, he's addressing the film critic complaint that the turn toward digital in film production is the death of serious realistic movies in favor of computer-generated pure spectacle. Again, you see the same sort of fear of illusion at work. Prince's argument is that digital effects-driven films should be understood as a continuation of narrative and stylistic traditions.  In fact, I'd argue, that's the problem; Avatar is so busy with its visual escapades that it uses exactly the same old hoary film conventions that have defined a half dozen stories cast in a similar mold.  If anything, it would be truly revolutionary if this digital films created a truly new narrative. Prince argues that digital technologies constitute an expanded toolbox, a variety of tools available to enhance realist films and cinematic fantasies.  That's... problematic. It positions digital tools as neutral, which they aren't, entirely; nothing is. He looks at each tool in some detail, "from lighting technologies to image capture to stereographic 3D."  And the book is probably useful on that level, as an in-depth explanation of how these effects work, and the theory behind them.

Bringing sex into focus : the quest for sexual integrity/ Simon, Caroline Joyce
You know what was missing in today's discussion of books featuring cinema, Holocausts, and Christianity?  The sex.  Thankfully, Simon is here to provide. Simon argues that while sex appears everywhere today, it can be thought of in terms of six lenses: covenantal, procreational, expressive, romantic, power, and "plain sex." That last category sounds like a bit of a general catch-all. She's coming at the issue from an ethical perspective, which means her point is to align sexuality to virtue ethics, in order to introduce sexual integrity.  "Here is a book for anyone interested in developing a holistic, biblical sexual ethic."  Oh, you mean the bible that features Lot laying with his daughters, all humanity coming out of the sexual congress of a single male and female pair, and men regularly taking on multiple wives for political gain?  I do appreciate depictions of sex that go beyond physical gratification, at least.  Chapters include virginity, seduction and flirtation, homosexuality, casual sex, and sex as a commodity.  I don't think I'd agree with Joyce on all points, but it would be a thought-provoking encounter.

How Canadians Communicate IV: Media and politics /Taras, David
There's a title begging for a series of jokes. It's an anthology on the subject of how media and politics in Canada have changed in recent years, due to Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, blogs, the 24-hour news cycle.  The party system is still in place, but the rhythm is different.  It's an anthology book, with essays from a number of... "diverse figures," the blurb calls them. I'll note that the entire book can be downloaded for free here, which is admirably generous. And iPolitics has a pretty substantial review of the book, and its relevance to modern Canadian journalism. Judging by the table of contents, we have essays on the uncertain future of the news, blogs and politics, the 2011 election and the transforamtion of the media, the new permanent campaign, e-ttacks and negativity on the internet, myths communicated by the Alberta dynasties, cinema in Quebec, Charles Adler and talk Radio, Contemporary Canadian Aboriginal Art and the Public Sphere, and the space between music and politics in Canada. In some parallel world where I went into political science and communications instead of English and Math, this is exactly the sort of reader I'd want for teaching an undergraduate course.

That's enough, I think.

Later Days.

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