This is a volume that everyone should own, as the $25-dollars-or-so asking price is a smidgen for the quality of the seven books contained within it....moreThis is a volume that everyone should own, as the $25-dollars-or-so asking price is a smidgen for the quality of the seven books contained within it. Anyone can appreciate the writing; despite the fact that he was the twentieth century's greatest Protestant apologist, he was also one of that century's intellectual giants, a man that the word "erudite" hardly seems to do justice to.
This is the very definition of hit-or-miss. This book compiles poetry, lyrics, prose, and paintings from the indie (read: emo) scene. Some of the cont...moreThis is the very definition of hit-or-miss. This book compiles poetry, lyrics, prose, and paintings from the indie (read: emo) scene. Some of the contributors are musicians from well-known bands (Taking Back Sunday, Something Corporate, Circa Survive) and some are from more obscure acts. The best thing, by far, though, is a short excerpt from the diary of Bob Nanna, guitarist and vocalist for Hey Mercedes and, before that, Braid. He describes his vocal warm-up routines: mint throat-coat tea in, spicy food out, and make sure to use a steam inhaler before going on stage. It all seems so comical if you love those bands like I do because you realize that none of it helps... he's kindof a shitty singer. A lot of the poetry falls flat, though, hovering at some line between xteen angstx and ridiculously bad stabs at avant-garde. Worth reading but tedious. Good on Rich Balling (of The Sound of Animals Fighting) for throwing it together.(less)
The most striking thing reading this for a Westerner is the realization that we homogenize all of Africa into one culture in our heads. It's not that...moreThe most striking thing reading this for a Westerner is the realization that we homogenize all of Africa into one culture in our heads. It's not that we don't realize that there are different tribes or anything, just that we tend to think that those tribes have the same beliefs about everything, maybe about as different as the various sects of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Of course, it's not so. German poet Ulli Beier edited this volume in the 1960s after interviewing tribespeople from all over the continent. Some of the stories are amazingly unusual; for example, one where the world is made from ant dung on the branch of a tree. This seems to be a good place to go if you're interested in mythology and have already read Gilgamesh, if you can find a copy. It's long OOP and I found mine in a used bookstore in Calais, ME.(less)
This was average. Basic young adult lit chick drama. Very, very annoying cover. Either that photoshopped chickadee is the size of a bumblebee, or the...moreThis was average. Basic young adult lit chick drama. Very, very annoying cover. Either that photoshopped chickadee is the size of a bumblebee, or the girl's head is 17 inches wide. Your call.
[From my teacher notes:]
The key conflicts work on two levels, literally and symbolically. Literally, there are conflicts between Ivy and her family and Jo and her family. But these conflicts represent philosophical conflicts. For example, Ivy’s conflict with Fiona, described in detail in the start of the book:
Last month Fiona announced that no one had time to “weed through a huge family history of names, stories, and dates” and that she was going have a video family history put together “lickety-split.” That’s one of her stupid sayings. Fiona is a time management consultant and believes everything can be done quicker if you listen to her and watch her cable TV show “It’s About Time.” I watched the show once. Fiona showed how to cut breakfast preparation time by mixing pancake batter the night before and keeping it in the refrigerator… The audience just yelled, “It’s about time!” and applauded like mad when she raced to the shortcut board and read a helpful hint… The power of cable television is fierce.
This is a conflict between the fast pace of modern life and the slow pace of antiquity. Today, we can buy anything and do anything in a relatively small amount of time. Before, all of our food took time to create—we had to raise animals, boil down maple sap, grow and harvest vegetables and fruit. Ivy points to numerous artifacts from the time of slow, such as quilts and hand-carved copper pots.
The conflict between Jo and the other Breedloves is similar in nature, except is has an even more distinctly natural bent to it. She becomes a hermit and befriends several animals, getting back to nature. This surely represents a conflict between artificiality and the organic, between technology and society and the old ways. Mountain Mama is similar to Jo in that she, too, lives in the wilderness, and is perceived as a weird person, off the beaten path—no pun intended. There is also a conflict between Jo’s philosophy of “cultivating peace” and the angry atmosphere of the competitive Breedlove lawyers. Of course, this conflict is resolved, which perhaps alludes to the name “Breedlove,” as in breeding love, a similar thing to cultivating piece. (less)
OK, cool peeps, I'm going to tell you what you suspected all along: the Oprah's-Book-Club crowd says that this sucker is the most inspiring book on ea...moreOK, cool peeps, I'm going to tell you what you suspected all along: the Oprah's-Book-Club crowd says that this sucker is the most inspiring book on earth and that it will change your life, but they're pretty much off the mark. I can see it being impressive if you had never read anything of the sort before, or you had never read any philosophy before, or if you were totally shallow, vain, and terrified of dying. If you are terrified of dying, this may provide some comfort. But if you're not, if you already have life figured out (as I do), and you have come to terms with the fact that people do, in fact, die, and that life is not meaningless because of this, this book is nothing but superfluous, redundant, extraneous. I'm not a cynic. It's just that this is not nearly as inspiring as, say, the opening paragraphs of Richard Dawkins's Unweaving The Rainbow, or the musical and film Rent, or God knows how many other things. It's a poor man's Buddhism, methinks. But... if it changed your life, do not let me take that away from you. Diff'rent strokes, no? It's just that I'm like, "Dude, you're a philosophy prof, and the best you can come up with is, 'When you're in bed, you're dead?'" OK.—maybe I've become too cynical.
Edit: My wife is terrified of dying, but not shallow, vain, etc. I meant no conflation of the two mutually-exclusive character traits.(less)
I will be doing my unit plan on Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws. There is a sense of great, wily fun associated with the novel...more[From my unit plan on Jaws:]
I will be doing my unit plan on Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws. There is a sense of great, wily fun associated with the novel, and I believe that its pulp-fiction flare sets it up well to be taught without a wide array of grunts and groans from even the toughest audiences. It has been one of my favorite novels for years; I believe that it deals with essential themes of human existence such as death and fear, and might help students to understand these concepts better.
I am going to aim my unit plan at a secondary English class, probably grades eleven and twelve. The book’s complexities only become apparent with discussion; the writing itself is not of a particularly difficult strain. Anyone in the aforementioned grades would have picked up enough literary strengths to tackle the work during the course of their high school career.
What I want to do is use Jaws as a way to teach symbolism in novels. Many English teachers over-emphasize the importance of symbols, turning every act of interpretation into a game of “Hunt the Symbol.” The fact is, though, that symbols do exist. What I’m doing here is setting out to do symbols with a novel I feel is very heavily based on symbolism.
The characters are well-fleshed-out and believable, but at the same time, they are almost archetypal. Sherriff Brody is a cop, and it could be construed that he is representative of order; the fact that his life is thrust into disorder defines his character. Hooper, the marine biologist, is symbolic of scientific idealism, and stands in stark, almost yin-yang-ish contrast to Quint, the grizzled fisherman who seems to stand in contempt of nature. The conflicts between these three characters are emblematic of larger conflicts between groups of people with different worldviews.
Of course, the most important “character” in the novel is also the most powerful symbol within its pages; of course, I’m referring to the shark. The shark is no mere fish; it has dark connotations that reach to the very base of our nature. It is ripe for being picked apart by a literary theory class armed with a knowledge of Freud’s theory of the unheimlich or “uncanny,” that sense of “not knowing,” the creaks in the floorboards of a haunted house. The shark is a predator and we still harbour within us the fear of being prey;—in a sense, the shark is death or the fear of death, and at the same time, it is fear in general. Fear is a paralyzing thing, and it counteracts our ability to function; look at the name of the town, Amity. Amity, as defined in The Random House Dictionary, means “peaceful harmony,” derived from the late Middle English “amit,” derived in turn from the Latin “amicus,” and related to amiable and amicable and other friendly words. In this sense, the shark assaults peace. Basically, I think that the artist Damien Hurst knew what he was doing when he chose the tiger shark as the center of his piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living—it’s a terrifying thing to behold, and it forces us to rethink that very “impossibility.” *
The novel could be used to talk about fear and death in a very real way, but at the same time, a very fundamentally light-hearted way. It could be done as part of larger unit with novels like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (dealing with fear of aging and death, easy to tie in with modern plastic surgery) and Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie (the fear of death on a societal basis and rejecting it as an individual).
On its own, Jaws could be tied in with more than a few poems, including Philip Larkin’s “Aubade,” a poem dealing with a very primeval fear of death, and Mark Haddon’s “Great White,” a poem dealing with the fear of fear itself. The film adaptation of the novel could be shown and contrasted with the novel. Discussion, in all cases, is what the classes will be based around. Living in New Brunswick presents an interesting opportunity to visit a marine research station, such as the Biological Station in St. Andrews, on a field trip, to see sharks in an aquarium setting.
* Of course, he is a complete moron for having had a shark stuffed and killed for use in a sculpture, among other reasons, but this is not the time or the place.(less)
To me, the strongest thing about the book is the way that it works as an allegory for today’s cultural...more[Here are some excerpts from my teacher notes:]
To me, the strongest thing about the book is the way that it works as an allegory for today’s cultural zeitgeist, both in a general sense, and even with some literal parallels. I will go into details presently, but let me start with a few quotations. One is from the book Don’t Believe It : How Lies Become News by Alexandra Kitty. Here it is:
No matter how old you are, being uninformed doesn’t only make you a desirable pigeon for scam artists—it can kill you, too. Not knowing what is going on around you is a dangerous and pathetic way of life… The Information Age is a minefield: unless you have the credible and up-to-date facts, your ignorance is likely to blow up in your face. Who do you trust and how do you know you can trust them? (17-8)
We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. No one thinks about the givens. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought. (72)
I think that between the two quote you’ve got the essence of Feed right there. Ignorance is dangerous and the proliferation of computer technology has bred ignorance on a wide scale. Of course, the feed is also a superb metaphor for the corporate zeitgeist of our time: buy this, and you’ll be sexy. Buy this, and you’ll be happy. Buy this, and you’ll be cool. By keeping us distracted, those in power—the major corporations that operate within the United States and their benefactors—can stay in power. As John Lennon put it in the song “Working Class Hero”:
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV And you think you're so clever and classless and free But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see A working-class hero is somethin’ to be A working-class hero is somethin’ to be
The similarities between Titus’s world and ours are many. The disturbing climax of the book, in which Violet lets Quendy know that she is “a monster… covered with cuts… a creature” (pg. 202), is by far the most disturbing scene we encounter, but it’s probably not too far off from what will eventually happen. Today, people engage in massive reconstructive surgeries on their faces, stomachs, and breasts, all in the interest of “staying young,” apparently oblivious of the fact that they will die, eventually, no matter what we look like. We inject our faces with certain military-developed toxins and then peel the skin off of them with different ones. Today, the interest is in defying mortality. But as more and more people start going to higher extremes of plastic “rejuvenation,” the logical culmination of it all is that the hideous visages of Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers, and the once-beautiful Elizabeth Taylor will become the norm. Procedures have become more and more depraved: vaginal rejuvenation, belly-button removal, rolling nails into one’s skin to produce collagen; one woman even had her legs removed, as she didn’t feel sexy with them. We’ve adjusted our definition of attractive, over the years, to switch from thinking pale is sexy to thinking tan is sexy and from thinking that plump is sexy to thinking that rail-thin is sexy. When the jet set starts cutting themselves, we’ll think that’s sexy too. When Anderson wrote about this, I felt about halfway between crying and vomiting.
Ursula K. LeGuin, in the introduction to her magnum opus The Left Hand of Darkness, states that the point of writing science fiction is to be extrapolative. An extrapolation, in writing, is basically a thought experiment—we take a trend we have observed and poetically exaggerate it to its probable conclusion, if left unchecked, over time. Anderson seems to agree, as Feed is almost entirely a work of extrapolation. Anything that separates the world of Feed from ours—Quendy’s lesions, upcars, the annexation of the moon, the President using the word “shithead” in official discourse, the complete trivialization of the music industry, even the feed itself, which we’ll get to in a moment—is, by nature, an extrapolative venture. Even the most disturbingly beautiful scene in the book, in which Titus and Violet canoodle near a vast “filet mignon farm” (pg. 144), draws from the current trend of food science, a fascinating discipline whose practitioners have bred meat in Petri dishes from cell cultures; it and similar dishes can be ordered in swank restaurants in the UK, US, and Japan. Of course, the most poignant extrapolation in Feed is the transformation of the figurative feed—constant bombardment from corporate America—into a literal feed, a computer chip embedded into the brain. If you believe the conspiracies, there are actual plans in the works, spearheaded by the wealthiest families in America, to eventually outfit all citizens with RDIF chip technology, for tracking, and to subdue—protest and they’ll just turn off the chip. Pets are commonly outfitted with similar chips, although just for ID purposes; some babies have them. Militant Christian groups believe that the references to the tattoos of the number 666 in Revelation are actually references to these chips. The film Zeitgeist explores the theories in more depth.
One of the most beautiful examples of irony in the book is that, while Violet is literally dying, she is more alive, in the sense of living life, than are any of Titus’s friends. When Titus says that being touched by Violet “feels like being felt up by a zombie,” my attention was immediately drawn to the phrase “consumer zombie.” There is a very intriguing parallel to be drawn here with the metaphorical imagery of George A. Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead, in which hordes of the undead flock toward a shopping mall, drawn by some latent memory of consumer comfort still in their brains.
[I skipped a few paragraphs here.:]
A few additional books I can think of to tie in are No Logo by Naomi Klein, which deals with brands and how teenagers and college students react to products and interact with marketing and the marketing strategies aimed at them. Other relevant books include Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, and several Disinformation books. AdBusters magazine is a fantastic publication that dissects the effects of media and mass consumerism on society—it even offers a Media Empowerment Kit for teachers who want to teach their students about big media. The editor of AdBusters, Kalle Lasn, is the founder of the culture jam movement, which parodies advertisements and raises media awareness. One of the culture jam’s movement’s most successful initiatives is Buy Nothing Day, which falls on Black Friday, the Friday after the US Thanksgiving and the busiest shopping day of the year. To participate, you simply buy nothing, conscientiously objecting to the consumer process. The magazine has also produced a Bill of Rights for Future Generations, which beautifully parallels the Mayan spell to preserve dying cultures in the book.
Here’s part of the the Mayan spell:
Spirit of the sky, spirit of the earth, grant us descendents for as long as the sun moves, for as long as there is dawn. Grant us green roads; grant us many green paths. May the people be peaceful, very peaceful, and let them not fall; let them not be wounded. Let there be no disgrace, no captivity. Let our people always have days, always have dawns. (187)
Here is the first part of the Bill:
We, the people of the future, like the multitudes who came before us, have the right to air that smells sweet, to water that tastes pure, and to land that is fertile, unsoiled and green.
Of course, this is very similar to Article 1 of marine biologist Jacques Coustea’s own Bill of Rights for Future Generations:
Future generations have a right to an uncontaminated and undamaged Earth and to its enjoyment as the ground of human history, of culture, and of the social bonds that make each generation and individual a member of one human family.
And all of these are reminiscent of the sentiment of the Lord’s Prayer:
Thy will be done Thy kingdom come on earth As it is in Heaven
[And I cut off the end about religion in the novel.:](less)
This is one of the great short novels of American literature, plain and simple. (In fact, his first four novels (Confederate, Troutfishing In America,...moreThis is one of the great short novels of American literature, plain and simple. (In fact, his first four novels (Confederate, Troutfishing In America, In Watermelon Sugar, and The Abortion) all fit that bill, but that's another set of reviews.) The plot, if one may be so audacious as to ascribe plot to Brautigan's narrative, centers on Jesse, a drifter who encounters a toothless, deranged man named Lee Mellon, who believes (rather strangely) that he is descended from a confederate general. Together, they move into a house without power in the wilderness near Big Sur, California, where they encounter all sorts of characters, including a pair of alligators introduced into the local pond to kill the frogs therein. You pretty much just have to read it; a lovely book and a quick read (one night, two tops).(less)
I read this for a course in young adult literature. Prior to that, my wife had had a copy of it that she read in high school. Of course, I forgot that...moreI read this for a course in young adult literature. Prior to that, my wife had had a copy of it that she read in high school. Of course, I forgot that copy when I moved to Maine for my teacher certification program. Luckily, I was given a PermaBound one in class. Anyway, this is a young adult book of acceptable quality when you take it for what it is—a young adult book, replete with all of the bad clichés that infest said genre. Rape. Teasing. Friendships in jeopardy. Misfits. Don't get along with the parents.—you see what I'm getting at. The point of the book is that you should speak up when you see social injustice around you. As a teacher, I see that it would be a good tie-in to use with something like Elie Weisel's Night, also being about speaking out about social injustice (it's a Holocaust survivor's tale). But then I'm not sure I'd force it on my students.(less)