Please… send help…

April 8, 2010

I am currently trying to get through Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I am having a hard time considering how sexist it is and the fact that he really, REALLY wants me to be a libertarian. And I am just not feeling it. I don’t mind books that are political in nature (see my review of Iron Council below) as long as the views aren’t set up in a “So, main character, tell me exactly what your political views are for three pages” manner.

I had to throw the book away after reading a line praising the main character’s “mature male drive.” He’s a good candidate for a leader because he is what, full of magic semen? Ughhhhhhhhghhghg.

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Illustration from Through the Looking Glass by John Tenniel

There is so much to say about Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and most of it has already been said in much smarter people than me. But I’ve committed myself to writing critically about everything I read from now on, so suffer these few thoughts on a very tired subject.

Dodgson (Carroll was a penname) wrote Alice in Wonderland for a real girl named Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of a colleague at Oxford. So all the while he was writing this story for her, he was aware of the fact that she would soon grow up, and her personality would change. Dodgson adored children, perhaps even idealized them, and both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are permeated with a sense of the inevitable loss of Alice’s childhood.

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James Joyce

The following quote does well to sum up one of the many reasons why James Joyce’s Ulysses is my favorite book:

Ulysses, published in 1922, marked a departure from the 19th-century novel. In its account of a day in Dublin, the novel depicts events, but largely ignores plot and suspense – the conventional realist structure, in other words, of enigma leading to final disclosure. As an alternative, Ulysses offers dazzling wordplay and the pleasure of unexpected formulations, explicitly displaying language as a succession of games in which the main opponent is convention itself. Nor does Ulysses much resemble Homer’s Odyssey, the work it continually alludes to and parodies: the brilliance of Joyce’s ironic reinscription of the epic depends on that difference. Ulysses is overtly, jubilantly textual and intertextual. Its pleasures reside in the signifier, not in an imagined space on the other side of the writing.

Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey, (103)

In reading this little volume, I’ve come to a strange understanding of why I like poststructuralism so damn much: it corresponds very well with my worldview. I am an atheist, but not a dogmatic or an angry one. I’m not an atheist because religion has done something to piss me off, or because I think science offers truth. Deep down, I just don’t think there is such a thing as truth.

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Kindle Trouble

February 17, 2010

Kindle

So if you’re an e-book reader, or happen to love one, you’ve probably heard about Amazon’s recent decision to go from the fixed $9.99 price per book to a dynamic price range between $5.99 and $14.99 per book. This, as you may recall, is in response to pressure from major publisher Macmillan (Scott Westerfield has a very thorough and fascinating write-up of the situation on his blog. A few days ago, the New York Times did an article on the decision, citing various furious e-book customers, and included the following words from science-fiction author Douglas Preston:

The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

Preston has received a lot of flak for this quote, leading slews of angry readers to give his books a 1 star rating at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. He’s been called an intellectual elitist for this quote, and admittedly he does sound a bit of a prick, but is he wrong?

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Magritte - Pipe

The Treachery of Images, 1928-29

I’ll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about art. I can name at most two dozen famous artists and match their names to their famous works, and I can even bullshit a bit about symbolism, but that’s about it. But lately I’ve been reading Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey, and I’m starting to get into the art of René Magritte in a big way.

I first came across the above image while reading Scott McCloud’s essential graphic non-fiction, Understanding Comics. That comic was my first introduction to poststructuralist thought, though I hadn’t realized it at the time. McCloud explains that the painting isn’t a pipe, it is an image of a pipe, which is a very different thing. McCloud goes on to write, “Do you hear what I’m saying? … If you do, have your ears checked because no one has said a word.”

If that sort of thinking blows your mind, or at least intrigues you a little bit, then check out these paintings by Magritte, and check out Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction. If you’re like me, a newcomer to poststructuralist thought (though you’ve undoubtedly experienced it in some form already, it’s very pervasive), then this volume is a must-read.

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I went into this book knowing I was going to enjoy it. China Miéville is one of my favorite science fiction/fantasy writers working today. How to describe his writing? He classifies himself as part of the “new weird” movement, which itself is rather nebulous but refers to the early 20th century dark fantasy horror of H. P. Lovecraft. Miéville has certainly taken quite a few pages from Lovecraft’s books, but fortunately has forsaken the ones containing Lovecraft’s misogyny and deep-seated disgust and fear of racial impurity. In fact, Miéville’s politics are one of the things that keep me coming back to his work. Miéville is a professed socialist, and his works betray a deep awareness of contemporary social issues as he reworks them into his world of Bas Lag.

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