Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Review Post, 6/3/2011

Three books this week. I know! I'm as surprised as you are.

First up,

Francis Fukuyama - The Origins of Political Order

This was a monster. Fukuyama was clearly aiming for a nice middle ground between scholarly and readable, and he mostly hit it. Nonetheless, the book was very dense, and the topic was hugely ambitious. Fukuyama has set out to explain where politics comes from. This book, the first of two, starts with the philosophical construct of the State of Nature - literally, Fukuyama starts with primates. It ends on the eve of the American and French revolutions, the point at which politics and state organisations changed for ever.

In simplest terms, Fukuyama is arguing two things. 1) Human beings are, by nature, social beings, and always have been. Hobbes' position (and Rousseau's) that humans, in the State of Nature, were solitary (and, for Hobbes, brutish; for Rousseau, gentle) is wrong. Any attempt to explain group cooperation as some sort of gamesmanship - "we work in a group because it gets us what we want as individuals, even though we really don't like working in groups" - ignores the fact that, biologically, we are inclined to work in groups. 2) There is no one route to a "modern" state (one which, politically, a) has a strong central government; b) operates under the Rule of Law [the strong central government sees itself as subject to law]; c) the strong central government is accountable to the people). Fukuyama looks at a variety of states, in Europe, in the Middle East, and in Asia, and shows how each approach modernity by different routes. This second thing is, perhaps, more important than the first. Modernity theory, especially in History, has often been condemned as Eurocentric, in that it seems to suggest that "modern" is synonymous with "western" or "European". Fukuyama argues quite the opposite - a state can attain "modernity" without looking anything like a European state. Further, not all European states evolved in the same way.

So. It was dense. It was heavily cited, and the bibliography is daunting. On some level, Fukuyama isn't saying anything that I haven't read elsewhere. On the other hand, noone else has said it all in one place before. As an historian, I liked that Fukuyama put his theory at the end of the work instead of the beginning, thus allowing his theory to flow from his evidence, rather than the other way around. As a reader, I found it somewhat distracting that he kept referring to chapters as yet un-read ("as we will explore in chapter X"). A glossary would have been nice - I don't know that he ever really defined latifundia* (maybe it was in the endnotes). If you are taking a political theory class, or an introductory historiography class, you may well encounter this work. Under those circumstances, it's worth the effort. Otherwise, maybe not.

* Basically, large farms - a situation where a single person owns a lot of different pieces of farm land. Wikipedia explains it here.

Well, so. Dr. Fukuyama wasn't exactly beach reading, so I didn't take him with me to the beach on Monday. Instead, a friend has asked, all wide eyed, if I had any Charles de Lint I could lend to him. Yes, I allowed as how I might, given that I have a whole shelf of de Lint - I gave him Waifs and Strays, but I also pulled Jack of Kinrowan off the shelf - I had, apparently, already loaned him that once. But I re-read it myself, so no harm done.

Charles de Lint - Jack of Kinrowan

This volume comprises Jack the Giant-Killer, which is de Lint's contribution to the Terri Windling Fairytales project, and Drink Down the Moon, which is the sequel. Both are set in Ottawa, in Canada, which was where I was living when I read them. Both are absolutely delightful - de Lint had just begun playing with the idea of fairies and magic impinging on our world, and these are a great example of that. Reading them made me a little homesick - not so much for Ottawa, but for being 19.

Anyway, Jacky Rowan discovers that the fairies of ancient myth and legend live more or less on top of the "real" world, leading a shadowy life that we know nothing about. Due to an accident, she is dragged into that world, and becomes the Jack of the Seelie Court (the good fairies, more or less), killing a pair of giants, and rescuing the fairy princess. In the second book, Jacky's friend, Kate, has an adventure of her own, in which she becomes, more or less, a wizard. Both are nice, simple stories with strong female characters, lots of magic and music, and some lovely descriptions of Ottawa landmarks. My only complaint is that there is no third book - the second book leaves some plot points very badly unresolved (mostly romance-y stuff) and I'd love a book to finish that story out, even if it meant buying another compilation.

Michael Thomas Ford - Jane Goes Batty

This is the second of Ford's Jane Austen books. The premise is delightfully absurd - Austen is a vampire, turned by Lord Byron (also a vampire) and currently living in upstate New York, where she has a bookstore. In the first book, Austen (as Jane Fairfax) has published a book (Constance), which, oddly enough, is viewed by many critics as being very nicely Austenesque. It becomes a modest best seller, and in this book, it is getting the Hollywood treatment. The director has decided to film in Jane's town of Brakestone (which does not, as far as I can tell, exist). Jane's nemesis, Beverly Shrop, has decided to hold a big romance convention in Brakestone at the same time. Jane's boyfriend, Walter, announces that his mother would like to come to visit, to meet Jane. At the same time. Oh, and by the way, Walter's mother is Jewish. Oh, and he may have suggested to her that Jane was thinking of converting. And Jane's editor has decided to come and babysit Jane, who is supposed to be writing her next book, which is greatly behind schedule. So, all that is happening at the same time - lovely complications.

Ford has some lovely characters, and he really puts them through the wringer, tossing in vampire hunters, bringing back characters we thought died earlier, having the movie re-set in the 1950s, twisting a sub-plot involving a pair of twins (one a vampire, the other, not) with annoyingly similar names (Ned and Ted) that no one can tell apart, and generally messing around with everyone at every chance he gets. I think, towards the end, he gets in over his head. In the last 1/4 of the book, he has one of the characters get murdered. My thought was "oh my, that's awfully close to the end of the book," and it was. Everything gets resolved, and the whole thing is pleasantly madcap, but the ending felt a little rushed, and also a little ... tidy. The characters carry the work All in all, I preferred the first book. I will read the third (Jane Vows Vengeance) if and when I see it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Library Activism

This arrived in my e-mail from the ALA (American Library Association). I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I'm Canadian. I live in the States, but I can't vote, and so I feel awkward calling senators and congresspeople who I did not, and will not in the future, vote for. But many of you are American citizens, so you CAN call your elected representatives. So.

"Please call both of your U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121(That would be the Capitol Switchboard number) and ask them to sign onto this letter by close of business Wednesday, June 8.  Also ask library supporters to contact your senators as well.

Senators Jack Reed and Olympia Snowe are leading an effort to increase support for FY2012 federal funding for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and Improving Literacy Through School Libraries.  Tell your senators’ staffers to contact Elyse Wasch in Reed’s office or Matthew Hussey in Snowe’s office.  We need other senators to sign the Reed-Snowe letter as soon as possible.  Please call immediately.

It may help if you describe at least one valuable service that your library provides the community or a success story about a library patron.  Examples include access to computers and data services to aid job searchers, support for small businesses  with marketing data and other resources as well as teaching digital literacy to people of all ages including K-12 students."

Inquiring Minds...

Inquired about the titles for trashy book week. Since I'm testing a new tripod for the camera, here's a photo:

Those are apples to the left of the books. You can click on the picture to embiggen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hickey of the Beast Wednesday, 6/1/2011

(link to serials page here)

Chapter 12

This is mostly character building, establishing and strengthening the relationship between Connie and Autumn, and complicating the relationship between Connie and Jenny. Because Connie twigs to the fact that there's no way that she can think of to rationally explain why she would have dreamed about Amy (who may not even be named Amy) getting sick, but she knows that Jenny will continue to look for a rational explanation. Autumn, however, will be willing to accept that there's something un-, sub- or super-natural* going on.

There's not a lot of action here. Connie limps across campus on crutches, and then has a short heart to heart with Autumn. They discuss the possibility that Connie is pyschic or has precognition of some sort. This is not the sort of thing that normal people talk about - at least not the sort of people that I hang out with. Perhaps I'm hanging out with the wrong people.

In the midst of the chapter, we get this entirely awesome exchange:
It's not like I know a whole bunch about this stuff," she added, sighing. "I've seen a couple bad movies, that's all, and I've read some books. Probably not good books, either. You need...Obi-Wan."
"Yeah, but I don't think Springden admits Jedi."
"I thought you were equal-opportunity," she said, with a nervous little laugh that made me laugh too. "Someone's going to sue you over that one."
Laughing, even at that tense little joke, felt good, like a knot in my back was slowly starting to untwist itself. "That'd be the best trial ever," I said, picturing Luke Skywalker in the witness box and giggling some more. I took a sip of cocoa and actually tasted it this time. "Except wouldn't they use the Force on the jury?"
"Nah. Code of ethics."
which is exactly the sort of thing that real people say (at least, the real people I know would engage in exactly that sort of debate. Perhaps I'm hanging out with the wrong sort of people.)

The chapter ends with this:

"Okay," I said, and remembered the conversation I'd had with Jenny. "So maybe I need to check out the real-world stuff from my dream some more. Julio was a wash, and I've been in my living room without anything happening... but maybe the old chapel gardens?"
"It couldn't hurt," said Autumn.
Which is entirely ominous, neh? Those chapel gardens, where the dead animal was found at the beginning of the book, which seem to be central to the oddness which Connie is experiencing - nothing could possibly go wrong there, right?

My prediction - things will go wrong, and Jenny will find out, and be torqued off that she wasn't included to begin with.

*[Rosencrantz has been flipping coins, and all of them are coming down heads] 
Guildenstern: Consider: One, probability is a factor which operates *within* natural forces. Two, probability is *not* operating as a factor. Three, we are now held within un-, sub- or super-natural forces. Discuss. 
Rosencrantz: What? 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Library Monday - Tuesday After Memorial Day Edition, 5/31/2011

Well, that's a big exciting title, isn't it? Utterly meaningless, however, as I have nothing to put in this post. Here's why.

On Sunday morning, I will be headed to Kansas City, MO, to do research. Long time readers know what that means - trashy book week! There will be two this month, because at the end of the month I'm headed to DC. So, I got a hugeish stack of trashy paperbacks of various genres tonight.

What do I mean by a trashy book? It has to be a paperback. It has to be part of a recognizable genre - I have some sci-fi (I think), a couple of romances, some thrillers, and maybe a mystery novel. Perhaps it is written by a "Big Name" author, someone who writes lots and lots of paperbacks of a recognizable genre. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps it is written by a committee, under a pen name (like the Alex Archer Rogue Angel books - I don't have any of those this trip, but perhaps next trip.)Occasionally, I happen upon something brilliant. Often, I end up with awful dreck. The goal is to read books that shut down my brain so that I can process what I've been looking at in the library. So, that's what I've got, and I'll post about them later this week - maybe Friday, maybe Saturday. I have two plane trips to weather, so I hope my stash holds out!

I should note that my wife did find a copy of Jane Eyre in the Young Adult section.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Contest Post

The libraries are closed today, so my library post will come tomorrow. I suspect that, like me, many of you (in the US, anyway) are headed out to do things in the outside - grilling, swimming, sunbathing - maybe reading outside (that's my plan!) - but I promised you a contest, so here it is!

Zombies vs. Unicorns Photo Contest

The goal is to depict, in photographs, using materials found in the participant's public library, the central premise of the title – a fght between zombies and unicorns.* It is left to the participant to decide which creature, if either, would win such a fight.

The rules:

1) Except for the camera, the participant may only use materials actually found in the library. (If cameras can be found in the library, then the participant is welcome to use them).

2) The entry may contain as many photos as the participant desires, but at least one must show the name of the public library being used – how that name gets included in the picture is entirely up to the participant.

3) Entries resulting from or depicting illegal or immoral acts will be disqualified.

4) Participants should get permission to do photography within the library and also to photograph any human beings in the pictures.

5) Photos remain the property of the photographer; photographer agrees to allow (url) to display photos for the purpose of the contest.

6) One entry per participant.


Photos will be judged based on artistic quality, how well they depict the theme, and how hard they make the judges laugh. Bonus points for showing actual librarians in the pictures.

Entries are due 12:00am, EST, July 31st, and should be submitted to, with “Zombies vs. Unicorns Contest” in the subject line.

Prize – one Advanced Reader Copy of Zombies vs. Unicorns.

* yes, I know that the book does not actually depict fights between zombies and unicorns, perhaps the only failing of the work in question.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Library Activism

Two things this week. First, a note that the Queens library system in New York City has announced that it stopped buying new books in December. Here's the story from the NY Daily News. I don't know that there's anything you can do about it, but consider - the Queens libraries typically buy 8,500 books a year. What does cutting that player out of the book buying market do to publishers? Especially as the trend spreads. Cutting library funding is stupid and short sighted.

Something that you CAN do - the community of Slave Lake*, in Alberta, Canada, was hit by a massive wildfire  early in May; the fire destroyed 40% of the town. (Here's the story from the CBC) Among the buildings burned was the local library. They are asking for donations - of money, certainly, but of books, new and very nearly new (nothing older than 2 years old) and in good condition. Here is a link to their website, with more information.

*Slave refers here to the Slavey nation, and not to slavery. Wikipedia explains it all, sort of.