Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bibliophile: The Digital, The Canadian, and the The Digital Canadian at Mount Allison University

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
― Oscar Wilde

This week, we're looking at the Université de Saint-Boniface. Or we would, if I could speak French. Since I'm pathetically monolingual, we're going to go straight to the next one on the list, which is in another province altogether: New Brunswick's Kingswood University. ...Or we would, if it allowed searches for specifically 2013 published books. So we're going to the next one on the list again, Crandall University. But considering that it's a Christian university, and searching from the subject "religion" gets no results between 1913 and 2013, I'm going to guess their search engine isn't working right now. Continuing ever further on the list, we have Mount Allison University. And finally, we find a library we can mine. MAU doesn't have a new books page, but it does allow searching by subject and limiting by year, so we'll do that--after the break.

First Keyword: philosophy. Prose of the world : modernism and the banality of empire / Majumdar, Saikat.
Majumdar that the modernist fiction aesthetic was, on a colonial level, shaped by the boredom and banality of life on the periphery. As such, he looks at writers from New ZAealand, South Africa, Ireland, and India, including James Joyce, and Amit Chaudhuri. If we think of the novel as something driven by excitement and speed, he argues, then the lack implied by the banal produces something radically different. The cheap joke here is that I certainly associate modernist writing with banality and boredom. But seriously, it's a fair point. Banality is a big part of human existence, and it's generally left out fiction precisely because it's defined by being uninteresting. But by leaving it out, we're ignoring a large part of human existence. It's also a big subject in videogames, surprisingly enough.  We think of games as these big spectacle driven things, but how much of the average game experience is shaped by going through well-known routines and rout behavior? Banality is the new black--if black was something you were utterly bored with and didn't want around. 
Jury selection / Kovera, Margaret Bull, 1966-and Brian L. Cutler
When I was growing up, I eventually read more or less all the books of interest to me in the local library, and then started on the ones that were of lesser interest, because what else was I going to do, go outside? And that meant I read a lot of John Grisham books.  And I haaaaaaated them. All of them. A Time to Kill resolved itself based on a jury argument we see reported third hand, rather than by the protagonist. The Chamber has an ending where it turns out that the protagonist has no discernible effect on the course of events at all. The Runaway Jury is filled with unlikeable characters on all sides. The Street Lawyer ends randomly, without hitting anything that resembles a climax. And so forth. The only author I harbor as much a distaste for as Grisham is Chuck Palahniuk, and at least in his case, I can respect his work for its literary value. Grisham? Not so much. The reason for this long digression, though, is that I did learn something about legal processes through him, if only at a rather oversimplified level, and one of the things I learned was jury selection.  (We took the long way tro get the book this time around.) This book is a more detailed, less fictional how-to account of selecting jurors, written by a professor of psychology and a professor of social sciences and humanities.  The book opens with the point that jury selection is crucial to the outcome of a trial, and offers the O.J. Trial as an example.  "Five of the seated jurors reported during jury selection that they thought that the use of physical force against a family member was sometimes acceptable; two thirds of them revealed during pretrial questioning that they believed Simpson was unlikely to have committed murder because he was an outstanding professional athlete." The book looks to be a bit of pop-law/psychology book, with perhaps a nudge toward use in the classroom.

You know what? Since there's just 299 books from 2013, I'll do them all in one lump, and forget about the subject areas. 

 Inheriting a canoe paddle : the canoe in discourses of English-Canadian nationalism /Dean, Misao.
Here's a pretty specific topic for you. If you can squeeze a book out of the canoe, I imagine there's a whole slew of other possible topics, from the beaver to maple syrup and back again. This book, party of the Cultural Studies series, is from a professor at the Department of English at UVic, and outlines the history of how the canoe has come to symbolize love of Canada for non-aboriginal Canadians. Dean explores the canoe in terms of what it means to her personally-as she inherited her father's paddle--and how it played a role in exploration and trade in Canadian history, a role in Trudeua's patriotism, and a role for Canadians wanting a national symbol distanced from the British and American myths. It's a nice coffee-table book, of the sort you buy someone for Christmas, and you don't entirely expect them to read. I'm not saying the book's not worth reading--just that that's how Canadians in general tend to treat books about their heritage. On the one hand, that's a shame, but on the other hand, we never had to have freedom fries.

 Dear Sir, I intend to burn your book : an anatomy of a book burning/ Hill, Lawrence, 1957-
One of the casualties of going digital is that the good old fashioned book burning is threatened with extinction. There just isn't the same thrill for deleting a digital book. Nor, I suspect, is there the same emotional uproar when that happens--I know Apple routinely decides which books are acceptable and which aren't, but with the exception of the Saga hooplah last week, I never hear anything about those decisions.  As you might expect from my career of choice, I'm against book burning, in more or less any form. I understand the rhetorical appeal of destruction, but the idea that you'd be opposed to an idea so vehemently that you want to destroy its physical incarnation is pretty alien to me.  Hill's book--all 33 pages of it, from the Henry Kriesel Lecture series--is a transcript of a lecture he gave after a Netherlands book burned the cover of his previous novel, The Book of Negroes. It's a segue into 21st century censorship problems faced by Canadian writers, and whether such acts are ever justified. If nothing else, it's brief.
Austerity : the history of a dangerous idea / Blyth, Mark.
Between my listening of the Planet Money podcast and the playthrough of Jonas Kyratzes' The Sea Will Claim Everything (probably the only videogame devoted to the subject), I feel like I've been following the broader international discussion on austerity, particularly how it's unfolding in Europe. Blyth argues that the response to living beyond our means is attacking the wrong source--the debt came from private folk bailed out by government money, who now get off scot free.  The problem with austerity when practiced on a large scale is that it shrinks the global economy, and Blyth argues that such actions "worsened the Great Depression and created the conditions for the seizures of power by the forces responsible for the Second World War: the Nazis and the Japanese Internment camp." I'll acknowledge that it's fairly accepted that the economic state of Germany was a contributing factor to Hitler's rise to power--but Blyth may be overstating the case a tad. More significantly, austerity demonstrably worsens people's lives, without much evidence existing that it will eventually improve them. This might be a book worth checking out, if financial markets are your thing. 

Brilliant Falls / Terpstra, John.
It's a collection of poetry. I never know how to describe a collection of poetry. I think I lack the vocabulary to do it justice. I often can't get a good grasp of the themes without reading the whole thing and really considering it. And I can't just recall the plot like I'd do with a work of fiction, because there usually isn't one. According to Terpstra, this collection is about juxtaposition, "the fault lines were two seemingly opposing truths rub together and make a sort of music."  That's either a good theme for a book of poetry, or an excuse for a bunch of poems that have nothing to do with each other. Poems include Terpstra imagining street racing with the Queen of England, meeting Sitting Bull as a crow on a Saskatchewan highway, and being interrogated by Saint Peter in Heaven's immigration queue. I do, generally speaking, prefer poetry where events you can discern happen, so I'm cautiously inclined toward this collection. 

Digital disconnect : how capitalism is turning the Internet against democracy/ McChesney, Robert Waterman, 

Shut off : the Canadian digital television transition / Taylor, Gregory
Taylor presents a history of Canada's transition into digital television, juxtaposing it with the same change that's been happening on a global scale. And it gets into some wider issues regarding Canadian industry and the Canadian government; I don't think that it's much of a surprise to anyone (or at least anyone Canadian) to learn that either of these groups have been acting in ways that suggest they may not have the best interests of the masses at heart. I wish I had more to say about this issue--being a digital media scholar it should be at the forefront of my general knowledge--but the truth is that I'm pretty ignorant on the subject. Going from the index, there's a lot on Canadian cable companies, The CBC, The CRTC, The CTV, and everything else you'd expect to be there.  It's a recent history, but one probably worth knowing. 
Women in Old Norse literature : bodies, words, and power  /Fridriksdottir, Johanna Katrin, 
Most of my knowledge of Norse literature comes from Marvel's Thor comics, and they're pretty big on powerful women. At the moment, for example, Odin has stepped down and the Norse are led by a trio of women, called the All Mother.  And Journey Into Mystery stars Sif, a woman rapidly losing control over her own anger regarding the way her people have been constantly under threat for the past few years in ways beyond her control. (That's a common hazard in Marvel Comics; recently, the citizens of Marvel Earth have been subject to super hero civil wars, a global Skrull invasion, devastation from lost Norse gods--that one was Odin's bad--the near ignition of the world's atmosphere, and a few other things I'm probably forgetting. It's a rough life.) Fridriksdottir studies Old Norse texts under feminst, queer, monster and speech act theory, to bring out how the sagas constructed the relationship between women and power.  I can't find exactly what Old Norse stories she's covering--the pairing of female and monster suggests Beowulf to me--but it could be a good read.  It's part of a series, the New Middle Ages. 
Steaming into a Victorian future : a steampunk anthology/ Taddeo, Julie Anncomee, Cynthia C. Miller.
Steampunk is an easy label, but covers a lot of ground--almost any sci-fi or fantasy story set in Victorian periods could technically qualify. I've been exposed to steampunk in a few different media--I regularly read the webcomic Girl Genius; I've watched the anime Fullmetal Alchemist;  in comics, there's the Batman special Gotham by Gaslight, and Keiron Gillen dabbled in it in his turn at Journey Into Mystery; videogame-wise there's Bioshock, the Final Fantasy series, Arcanum, Wild ARMs, Dark Cloud 2.  And yet I haven't read a lot of steampunk literature. There's China Mieville's stuff, although that's borderline weird fantasy, whatever that means.  I did a review of Havemercy.  But that's it. ...So mostly, picking this book was so that I'd have a chance to list random stuff I've read/played/watched. What's not quite clear from the title is that this book is an anthology of essays on steampunk works, rather than steampunk works themselves. Part I is "Reimagining Chracters/Reconfiguring Relationships": it's got Mike Perschon's essay on social retrofuturism in the novels of Gail Carriger and Cherie Priest; Taddeo's awesomely titled "Corsets of Steel"; and, at least equally awesomely, an essay in steampunk remix and Professor Elemental's The Indifference Engine. I haven't heard all of these, but Fighting Trousers is good, and Cup of Brown Joy is very good. Part II is "Refurbishing Time and Place": it includes Elce's essay on Tardi's The Arctic Marauder (That's another one I've read--good stuff); Jules Verne, Karen Zeman and Steampunk Cinema by John C. Tibbetts. Part III is "Retrofitting Things": it includes Bix's essay on the history of technology and steampunk design; and Van Riper on the steampunk inventor as depicted on page and screen. It's a fun collection.

 The parent app : understanding families in the digital age / Clark, Lynn Schofield.
Clark investigates how parents and families can cope with digital media and the rapid acceleration of technology. As she admits, things are moving too fast to create a comprehensive guide; this book is meant to serve more as a discussion. She interviews several parents, identifying how their digital approaches differ, and how they differ according to family income (how's that for the relationship between digital domains and economic power?). Upper income families encourage their children to use media that enhance education and avoid use that distract them from goals of high achievement; lower income families encourage use that are more family focused. That's... a troubling generalization. Clark specifically looks at family communication, online predators, cyber bullying, sexting, gamer drop-outs, and helicopter parenting--it's like a best hits list of a contemporary CW drama.

Anne around the world : L.M. Montgomery and her classics / Ledwell, Jane and Jean Mitchell
This collection of essays looks at how Montgomery's work has been interpeted on a global scale, including Iran, Australia, Sweden, and Japan. I can find a list of authors online, but not a list of editors, so I can't do the usual anthology list. To be honest, though, the only reason I picked this one to begin with is so I can link to Kate Beaton's recent Hark A Vagrant webcomic, featuring an Anne of Green Gables / Anne of Cleves mash-up. Canadian history majors, as it turns out, make pretty awesome webcomic artists. We were talking about canoes as national icon earlier; Kate Beaton, personally, is my favorite Canadian icon.

That's it for this week.
Later Days.

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