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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Batch Early Review E-books from LibraryThing, together with some thoughts about the future of publishing, and how cultural icons are rehabilitated, etc.

You may remember me writing about e-books way back in the summer of 2011, (here) that it was like over-indulging in junk food. I found that it was too true, and I was already past the point of satiation. Without the trap of time, spent with only a phone to read from (first travelling and then waiting around in a hospital waiting room), my appetite went down for reading indie e-books. However, I requested some ARCs of e-books from LibraryThing before I really realized it, and here are the reviews:

Things Falling Apart
by JW Schnarr

This one is OK - deft enough, but didn't make me desperate to get back to the stories. Dark, Canadian, random, fragmentary...not bad, but not that special.

by Kristina Meister

The premise is cool, the voice seemed believable, but I couldn't quite stay with it long enough to find out where it was going. I may be able to get back to this and fill out my impressions.

Twice Shy
by Patrick Freivald

The cover resembles my fashion look-book on Pinterest, funnily enough. Cute idea of zombies masked to pass as humans. Readable enough, but not something I find myself choosing when I have a choice of books.

I have stopped requesting new indie e-books to review. However...

ON the other hand, there is something which has driven me back to the world of public-domain classics that are available thru the miracle of the internet.

By this I mainly mean the BBC show SHERLOCK–I sort of feel like I'm part of the fandom, can't get enough, regularly rewatch episodes, getting excited by the approach of the 3rd season in November, and got REALLY excited by the announcement of a 4th season to come– but also including the two Guy Ritchie movies of the more historic Sherlock Holmes, breathe...

I happened upon a short group of Sherlock Holmes stories on my iPad. When I first went "i-" I naturally checked out all the reading resources. I have, and use, and regularly buy for, mainly Kindle, but I also have iBooks, Stanza, and Audiobooks which I hardly use, except to try their free classics, plus an app called Classics, plus a free+ app called Sherlock Holmes. For free it has only a small selection of 12 short stories, but how thrilling to go to the original text when teasing apart episodes of SHERLOCK, to find actual quotations that appear in one or the other, and I even found one of the title episodes.

It also got me wondering. Was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a kind of genius or a popular phenomenon, a gifted hack or...what is the critical opinion, exactly? I recently heard of the rehabilitation of the composer Rachmaninoff and I am there with that. My childhood ears were filled with Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and Puccini and, there but less so, Beethoven and my own first discovery, Dvorak. All super-easy superstars, sort of somewhat denigrated for their very ease of their popularity. I have always LOVED all of them, but as my music theory improved, I wondered if I loved them only for their childhood familiarity, if the music was simplistic. Needless to say, I was very pleased to hear, from Tom Allen on CBC 2 no less (see the link for his twitter feed on the sidebar) that Rach is being reconsidered as a composer, and shifted up somewhat from his lightweight class.

So, back to Conan Doyle, I am thinking of Adam Gopnik writing about Moby Dick in the The New Yorker in 2007, here, with the idea that works that would nowadays be "..., by conventional contemporary standards of good editing and critical judgment, improved..." are, in fact, hailed as genius because of their ideosyncratic irregularity.

Certainly merits some additional thought.

The marigold is wondering somewhat nervously about how one's reputation fares when one admits to liking the popular. What strength of character and reputation is required to be part of the movement towards critical acceptance rather than popular?

Someone besides Nigel Tufnell says D minor is the saddest key, and he proves it!

I couldn't believe it when I heard Tom Allen say that someone had been mashing up works in D minor to home in on a quality or "colour" that defines a key signature. I went to the CBC Radio 2 website, and there it was:

Paolo Pietropaolo's The Signature Series.

Not all the keys are there yet, but my favourite is...
D minor. He does say it is the saddest key! He also credits Spinal Tap. I am verklempt!

Although at this point I could say that no more need be said, but I will undoubtedly say more at some point.

PS Right now there are about a dozen keys defined in this way, and it's all fun.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pajama Press Review or A Fabulous Tudor Moment

By Sue MacLeod
Published by pajama press, 2013

I seem to be having a Tudor moment: a moment in which I am thinking about the place of Henry VIII in the development of Protestantism.

My readers know I ADORE the BBC show Horrible Histories, generated out of the book series by Terry Deary. Among the many importantly repeated characters is Henry VIII, (played by my favourite member of the comedy troop, Ben Willbond. Sigh.) I always get to watch it extra during the summer months. Less homework, you know.

Then, as a silver lining for a long summer in a foot cast (which goes with an even longer story, which I will tell you all about some other time) I got around to a couple of projects that needed some quiet time. I watched Simon Schama’s BBC video series History of Great Britain (he’s another of my heartthrobs). An entire episode was devoted to Thomas Cromwell, who was, for a significant period, a chief advisor to King Henry VIII, although he was one of many during Henry’s long reign.

As it happens, I was also just then reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel, also about Thomas Cromwell. Mantel gives Cromwell as a Protestant of ardent personal belief, who masterfully supports and exploits Henry’s turn away from Rome. Although the wish to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was a motivation, it can also be seen as a flashpoint. It highlighted the power of a foreign Pope over the English monarchy and succession, and came at a time when there were other protestant ideas swelling around Europe: to have bibles in the languages of the people which would allow all to access its message; a general disgust at the corruption of the old Catholic system, with some monks and nuns living in inappropriate luxury and abandon (not to mention priests, bishops, cardinals and Popes); the proliferation and sale of relics; and worst of all, the sale of indulgences.

To have a laugh about it all, watch this video from HH: It’s Your Reign, Henry VIII in which past friends and advisors of Henry are brought in to reminisce about their old times together.

Quite incidentally, I also recently watched and loved the Michael Wood documentary from PBS In Search of Shakespeare, which also centred on the struggle between the “old faith” or Roman Catholicism and the “new”, which became Anglicanism, a struggle that continued to play out throughout the reigns of Henry’s children, Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth, and thus very importantly over the career of Shakespeare as well. I had never EVER thought about Shakespeare in terms of his personal political position on faith, and Woods’ research was stunning and fascinating. Just think of Romeo and Juliet in terms of the quarrel over religion and maybe your world will be as rocked as mine was. 

It was a stroke of good fortune that I received a copy of Namesake to review right when I was in the zone to appreciate it. The premise is effective and intriguing: a current high school student (like my kids), whose name is Jane Grey, somehow finds a small, illuminated, Book of Prayre among the library books she has taken out to prepare an AP History project on Lady Jane Grey.

The two Janes are linked not only by name, but also by the need for a refuge from the difficulties of their lives. Lady Jane Grey is awaiting beheading in the Tower of London for treason. She had been pushed into occupying the English throne as a Protestant for nine days on the death of her cousin, Henry VIII’s sickly young son Edward VI, until the Privy Council reinstated the more proper claim of his sister, the Catholic Mary. Modern Jane Grey lives with her alcoholic and unpredictable single mother, a university professor, who is going through the painful end of yet another romance. When each of the Janes turns to the prayer book for peace, they connect through time!

One of the main themes of Namesake is the struggle between Mary with her Catholic supporters and the mass of people already devoted to a more Protestant practice. Lady Jane follows the new faith. She maintains her faith loyally, and although she acquits herself well in discussion with a priest sent by Mary to bring her back to Catholicism, she declines to revert and thereby save her own life, choosing an honest and honourable death. Pretty rich for a YA book, which is ostensibly about teen-age troubles.

There is simply nothing I love more than offering some real, well-researched, history to kids, through a vehicle that engages them. Not at every minute in my life could I have felt as comfortable with the historical reality in this book, so how very fortunate it came to me just now.  I loved it, and I will be recommending this book anywhere I can, to any kids, teachers and libraries I encounter.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

LibraryThing Early Review

Hijacked: How Your Brain is Fooled by Food
by David A. Kessler MD,
Young Readers Edition adapted by Richie Chevat
from The End of Overeating
Tundra Books, 2013

This is an adapted version for kids, and, sadly, it feels like it was adapted by the "rules" method rather than ability to communicate with kids, with bullet point shout-outs, and breaks in the text. The ideas here are quite interesting, although, like many (if not nearly all) non-fiction books, it should actually just be a long article, as there is too much repetition used to flesh it out to book length. I can only imagine the grown-up version is even worse, with more anecdote and more repetition. (Should I say that again?)

The one key idea is that foods offered by industry with the magic fat:sugar:salt trio are nearly impossible to resist, especially, but not only, if you are not blessed by an inborn ability to govern your appetite. This is an idea to talk with kids about, and teaching my kids to mind themselves and have respect for the temple which is the body feels to me like one of my main jobs as a parent.

My mother is a dietitian, and I am a little jaded about food science, and a bit of a know-it-all, too, but even I was surprised by the fact that processed food is designed to be chewed and swallowed faster SO YOU EAT MORE. I imagine that just pure knowledge of this, and observing it next time we eat something processed, will help move my kids' tastes a little bit back toward food from processed food.

I was also interested to be tuned into the idea that a cute and clever way food companies get around the obligation to list ingredients by amounts is to break up "sugar" into brown sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup and so on, so each one appears as a much less important part of the food, rather than showing us as a single dominant mass at the top of the list. Food label reading is something we do, especially of breakfast cereals, but I think we might read together labels on bread and ketchup to share that thought and increase our awareness.

I was also interested to think about the paradigm of "eatertainment" used by the restaurant industry, and this is certainly a weakness of mine, rather than that of a fussy kid. Not just a hot dog, but 12 varieties of hot dogs, with exotic topping. And what about serve yourself fro-yo in a dozen flavours to be added to your cup. (Have you seen the shock on faces at the cash register when the fro-yo cups are weighed for payment? There should a calorie counter by weight, too.)

The question is, if your kids are not already fighting a weight battle, which has its own motivations, will knowledge be sufficient to retrain their tastes? I will be following some of the suggestions in the book's final section, "Food Rehab", and I was glad to see exercise there as a twin pillar of food management. We'll see. Knowledge is power, and governing one's appetite is a life-long part of good health, so worth some effort and valuable in any quantity.

I keep a few food-health books handy in the kitchen for reference and recipes, The South Beach Diet (for heart health as well as weight control) by Arthur Agatson

and Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health: But Don't Forget the Chocolate, by my friend Liz Pearson and her friend Marilyn Smith. This little book will join them so we can check things out right as they occur to us.