Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bibliophile: Looking for Love in all the Wrong Genres at University College of the North

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye 

I'm having my wisdom teeth removed Wednesday morning. Which, given my body's typical state of recovery, means the rest of that week is shot. And Tuesday's shot thanks to a tour I'm going on for out-of-academia job opportunities (because post-graduates must take what they can get), the end of the class I'm sitting in on (always fun to watch projects I don't have to do), a meeting with my supervisor (in which I explain that I won't be working on that dissertation thing until the teeth are better), and shopping (for some non-chew-heavy food). I'm pretty thankful for Monday, which is obviously against the natural order of things.

But you're not here for that. You're here for the books. Let the books be our guide. 

This week, we're touring the new books at Manitoba's University College of the North. The tour begins after the break.

The first stop on our tour is a gaping hole. UCotN's library *has* a new books page--it has four of them, in fact, one for each of its branches. Problem is, out of the four, three aren't working, and the one that is hasn't been updated since 2012. So we'll resort to the plan B, using their search function to look for books published in 2013 The result is... 88 titles. Well, this'll be a short Bibliophile, then.

Hmmm. Even shorter than I thought. Most of the listings are textbooks, which are great for the undergraduates going to the university, but slightly less interesting for my purposes. Focusing on the non-text book items seems to have brought us directly to the genre fiction area. 
Bullying / Hile, Lori.
This is... still a textbook, actually. And for grades 6-10. I have no idea how to evaluate textbooks for kids. The subject matter means that it's different from the same subject for adults, in that, for an adult audience, hopefully their bullying days are behind them.  For kids, there has to be a healthy dose of "so stop being a jerk, okay?" as well as "unless you're being bullied, in which case, let's talk about that." That's what this book is about, really: convincing kids that the people on both sides of this equation are actually just people, acting out their own fears and problems, and providing methods for them to work together. It's a brief book, at 56 pages, but I suppose that may be enough to get the job done.

 Self-harm 1st ed/ Senker, Cath.
Speaking of high school problems ripped from after school specials (I use the expression, but I've never actually seen a high school special. I'm a fraud.) we have "Self-harm." It's a book from the same series as Bullying, and has the same sort approach, humanizing its subjects, and presenting ways to talk about the issue. Unlike bullying, it was never part of my high-school experience, but it's an issue that should be addressed in a non-sensationalist manner.

Curses for sale/  Brezenoff, Steven.   
Horror for kids is a tricky prospect. Not because it's particularly hard to scare kids--basically, you can use the same things as for adults, but obscure some of the sexual elements--but because literature for children always seems to involve some sort of censoring process, where things are slightly filtered to appease not so much the kids, as the parents. I suppose this isn't entirely a bad thing; my childhood may have been much more peaceful if I hadn't encountered Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Here's a collage of illustrations from that cheery little series: 

 So yeah, I don't mind a little sanitization in kid's horror stories.  Anyway, the plot of this book at hand is that its protagonist goes to a garage sale at Raven's Pass and comes away with a remote control car that can move by itself. There's a lot of comparisons to Christine and the Goosebumps books, and in fact, the book itself explicitly references Christine. Is it a good idea to be leading kids from this to a Stephen King movie? I haven't seen the movie or know anything about what's age appropriate for kids, so I really don't have any way to weigh in here.

Alice Munro / May, Charles E.
 The only Munro I've read is an anthology of works, No Love Lost, and the first story in another anthology, The Progress of Love. Judging by those two titles, at least one of us may be focused on the issue. Anyway, this book isanthology of writings on Munro's work, edited by May, a retired English professor. In general, I'm in favor of English professors retiring, at least until I become one. Though how retired are you if you're still writing, May? Hmmm? Maybe give someone else a chance? Ahem. I couldn't find a list of the essays in the book, but the pubisher's description says that it includes a biographical sketch, introductory essays placing her in terms of critical reception, contemporaries, and themes, and more advanced discussions of the psychology of her characters, her aesthetics, and her Canadian identity. It sounds like a good book to glance at for Canadian women writing, and a necessary one for Munro studies.

The husband list 1st ed / Evanovich, Janet and Dorien Kelly.
This is a return to the family from the authors' previous book, Love in a Nutshell--but it's set over 100 years earlier, in 1894 New York. So... I guess that makes it a prequel with none of the same characters but some of the last names? Or perhaps it's more of a thematic sequel. Caroline Maxwell wants to go on adventures with her brother Eddie, and his friend Jack Culhane, but she's stuck fending off her mother's suggested matches. "But Caroline's dark hair, brilliant eyes and quick wit have Jack understanding just why it is people fall in love and get married." I'm not one for period piece fiction, to be honest. I appreciate the emphasis on new money, business ventures, and the general theme of forging ahead for new adventure--it differentiates the work from, say, the general plot of a Jane Austen novel by referring to prevailing American romanticisms. But it's rather not my thing, all in all.

The lives we lost : a Way we fall novel First edition / Crewe, Megan.
This is the second book in Crewe's The Way We Fall series; in the first book, a deadly virus causes the government to quarantine 16-year old Kaelyn's community, forcing her to deal with dwindling supplies, falling family and friends, and growing hostility. In book two, the disease has spread to the world at large, and she and her friends have the only remaining vaccine, which a lot of people are willing to do pretty much anything to get their hands on. The books seem to not be very well known, but both have been well-received by their readers. Post-apocalypse stories are a dime a dozen these days, but books that do a good job portraying a female protagonist in the midst of such collapse are few and far between. Might be worth looking at.

 Louise Erdrich / Hafen, Jane P.
It's a book from the same series as the earlier Munro book, with one difference being that this time, I have no idea who the subject is. A search of the publisher's site tells me that Erdrich is a Native American novelist, well-known for books such as Love Medicine, Plague of Doves, and Shadow Tag. Again, there's the biographical sketch and contextualizing essays, followed by essays about Native identity, spiritualism, language, assimilation, relationships, economics and social issues. Again, something to look into, especially if you're familiar with the writer in question.

Until the end of time : a novel 1st ed. / Steel, Danielle.
I went through a romance-phase in my late high school readings (no, it didn't much help much with my overall popularity, though frankly, I can't say it made much difference at that point.), and for the most part, determined that they're not for me. There's one thing that keeps me coming back every few years though--the genre. I'm a sucker for anything that comes from an identifiable genre--I love being able to pick it apart for its individual element and decide how a work deviates or conforms to a given set of tropes. This particular book takes an approach more commonly found in the subgenre of fantasy romance: reincarnation. First, we have Bill, a lawyer who followed his dream and became a minister in rural Wyoming, and his wife Jenny, who left her work as a stylist and fashion afficiando to be with him. Fast forward 38 yearws, and there's Robert, the independent book publisher, and Lillibet, the young woman who's risking banishment from her Amish community to get her dream book published. And the two stories, it's hinted, are related, in some nebulous way. One of the interesting things about romances, especially ones like this that bandy about the term destiny every four sentences like clock work, is that they're almost in opposition to mysteries--a mystery is figuring out who did what, or what the end will be, but with a romance, the end is plainly in sight the whole time, and the tension comes from how the present moment's going to get to that end. If forced, though, I'd rather read the period piece. And I'd much rather read the apocalypse story.

Love in western film and television : lonely hearts and happy trails / Sue Matheson
Matheson's book is a collection of essays on just the subject that its title declares. Matheson's a professor at the UCotN, and specializes in popular culture and frontier narratives, which is an admittedly fun thing to specialize in. Speaking of Genre works, I've always meant to watch more western movies--while the subject is clearly allegorical for some idealized American state, it's the variations on the theme that really makes it interesting. The book begins, for example, with an essay on the brides in John Wayne films, but also contains an essay on interracial romance on the Western frontier, Noir-like women in Stewart/Mann westerns, the military mind in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. I'll note that there's not much from recent offerings--no Deadwood, True Grit or Brokeback Mountain. I guess they're sticking to films where the inclusion of the love part is a little more clear.

Real mermaids don't need high heels /Boudreau, Hélène.
Here's an entry to a genre that, prior to Twilight, was still rather niche: the young adult supernatural romance book.  This is the third book in a series, where the premise is that Jade, "plus-sized, aqua-phobic, mer-girl," is the daughter of a mermaid, and thus has a tendency to sprout a tail herself when submerged. It probably says a lot about my opinion of Young Adult novels that I thought her being plus-sized was more unusual (and welcome)than her being a mermaid. Between this and the post-apocalypse story, I'm ready to reaffirm my statement that there are better rolemodels out there than Katniss. You were just in the right Hunger Games at the right time, bow-girl.

The readings skewed heavily to the fiction side of things this time. It was a nice switch, but I hope we can return to more theory-laden stuff next week. My list of fictional stuff to read already distracts me overly from my studies.

Later Days.

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