starlady: Galadriel in Caras Galadhon, with an ornate letter "G" (galadriel is a G)
Which is to say, it's a normal Wednesday around here. I wonder if in future my students will better understand how I feel about history thanks to #Hamiltunes?

What I'm Reading
James Tiptree, Jr., Brightness Falls from the Air (1982) - Tiptree's second novel about a motley group of people who show up to view the passage of a nova front on a very isolated planet. I'm about 25% in and already the outlines of the inevitable doomed ending are becoming clear, but it's good--compelling, with interesting worldbuilding, and things move along tautly.

What I've Read
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy (2015) - Well, I loved it, but I think in some ways the first two books are still my favorite. Structurally, the pivot in this book I think comes a bit late, and a lot of the definitive action is reported by Breq rather than actually participated in by her, but these are in the end minor complaints--the same awesome things happening and crunchy thinking about identity and empire are here in spades, and all in all the book was great.

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings (2015) - A novel of postapocalyptic Paris, with the twist that the Great War was caused by warring Houses headed by Fallen angels; decades later, Vietnamese former Immortal Phillipe runs into a newly fallen angel, Isabelle, and is taken with her into House Silverspires, formerly led by Morningstar himself and now just struggling to hold on. I've liked everything I've read by de Bodard, and I liked this book quite a lot; I think her writing has gotten even stronger, and the whole concept is the sort of thing that really tickles my hindbrain where my Catholic worldview will never be fully extirpated. That said, more of actual Paris next time, please! 

Diana Wynne Jones, Witch Week (1982) - A Chrestomanci book set in a world very close to ours but not and following the misadventures of a motley crew of students from class 6B (at least in this edition) at Larwood School, whose lives all get decidedly complicated when someone writes a note to their teacher saying that someone in the class is a witch. Jones is hilarious when she wants to be, and the humor in this book is pretty freaking black, but I was struggling not to burst into laughter on my train repeatedly even though it's definitely on the slighter end in terms of thematic material. (It's a real gem of plotting, though.) I loved it.

Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (2006) - It's been a while since I've read biography, and I absolutely devoured this one, about the long and frankly pretty tortured life of the woman who was James Tiptree, Jr. This old post by [personal profile] coffeeandink gets at a lot of what I thought made the biography so good--Phillips is very clear-eyed but sympathetic to just about everyone, and she explains Tiptree to the readers in a way that makes it clear that she was all too human and all too trapped by her constraints, self-imposed and otherwise.

Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce, eds., Letters to Tiptree (2015) - It's the centenary of Tiptree's birth this year, and this is the book that started it all for me. The bulk of it is letters from contemporary SFF writers to Tiptree, and it's sometimes painful going, given everything that's happened in the field over the last year. I also think some of the letter writers misread the Phillips biography in ways that were necessary and productive for them. But all in all, it was a really interesting work, and it accomplished its goal of making me want to read Tiptree.

Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (2011) - This is, ultimately, a painful and necessary and brilliant novel about the costs of imperialism and the impossible choices forced on people by colonialism. Ghosh does an excellent job bringing the free trade mania of the British and American traders to life (just as horrific and incomprehensible as the gold fever of the Spanish in the 16thC), and he succeeds as well at reanimating the strange vanished world of Canton in a prior age.
starlady: A typewriter.  (tool of the trade)
What I'm Reading
Hostage by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, the sequel to Stranger. I'm enjoying it quite a lot so far--it picks up something like six weeks after the end of the first book, and the time jump allows the authors to continue exploring the ramifications of what went down at the end of Stranger in a way that feels believable. I'm only about 1/6 of the way through, though, so I can't comment on much else yet!

Silver Spoon vol. 7 - I know, I know, I'm so slow. In my defense, my usual commute on the train is only 11 minutes long.

What I've Just Read
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal - Really, really excellent. The book winds up being divided into three segments--Paris; Vienna; Tokyo--and somewhere in the beginning of the Vienna section, the central episode of the netsuke's history and the Ephrussis', the story flipped over and became violently engrossing. I'm not sure I've read such a particularly Viennese portrait of the lead-up to the Anschluss, and the book also brings home all over again the ways in which the inability to deal with Jewish people really seems to be the central problem of modern Europe, even as de Waal stays focused on his family in particular. (I saw a tumblr post the day after I finished the book talking about anti-Semitism in France after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The OP concluded that Europe's response to anti-Semitism will always be "be less Jewish." But in interwar Vienna, as de Waal points out, not embodying anti-Semitic stereotypes was equally an affront to non-Jewish society. It was a catch-22.) More than half of Vienna's population was Jewish at the turn of the C20, but that was immaterial to the hatred that was marshalled against Austrian Jews, and German Jews, and the Jews of France and Eastern Europe. The core of the Ephrussi family survived the war, but at the very high cost of their property and even in some sense, it seems (though de Waal never says this explicitly) their identity. Although brief, de Waal is equally good on the hypocrisy of the newly reconstructed Austrian government ("Austria was the first victim"…no) and its refusal to even consider reparations. It becomes very clear that without his grandmother, the indomitable lawyer and scholar Elizabeth Ephrussi, the story would have gone very differently.

I've lost the netsuke again in these remarks. They reappear after the war, a small collection of objects saved from the wreckage of a family, a city, a society; they make their way back to Japan with Iggie, de Waal's great uncle, and by the end of the book have emigrated again, this time back to London. De Waal refuses to sentimentalize their return in a way that fits with the netsuke themselves; there is no juxtaposition to be drawn between their survival and the destruction of six million people, including many of the Ephrusssis' extended family. I liked the Tokyo section of the book; Showa Japan is gone, but de Waal is very good at evoking it, and in particular Tokyo immediately after the surrender. There are more commonalities between what was going on in Japan and Europe throughout the entire scope of the book than de Waal admits, though to me that was an unavoidable element of the whole story. I also really appreciated the ways in which the Paris section acts as something of a key to Proust's novels, which are wonderful but have more issues than a weekly periodical. In any case, highly recommended. You might also be interested in [personal profile] liv's remarks on the book.

What I'll Read Next
Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks. SO EXCITE.
starlady: ((say it isn't so))
Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost. New York: Mariner Books, 1998.

I continue to think that Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild's second book, is one that everyone should read, and I've heard nothing but praise for this, his first. (I can't say the same for the third, unfortunately.) Given that I've taught the atrocities of the Congo Free State twice now, I wanted to understand them better, and this book certainly provides all the information, and all the justice-based critique, one could want.

The Congo Free State was in fact a more or less fraudulently established fictive entity created at the behest of King Leopold II of Belgium and for the express purpose of his personal glory and profit. After British explorer Henry Morton Stanley's exploration of central Africa, completed in 1876 ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"), Leopold courted Stanley's aid as his personal agent in the Congo and representative in Britain and in Europe. After the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 sealed Leopold's de facto personal sovereignty over the area claimed for the Congo Free State (approximately the size of the entire United States east of the Mississippi), wholesale exploitation of the territory began--first for ivory, recorded by Joseph Conrad in searing detail in Heart of Darkness, published in book form ten years after the fact--and then, after 1895, for rubber. At the height of the rubber terror, from 1895-1903, it seems that the birthrate in the Congo was essentially flat; by the time worldwide public outcry forced Leopold to cede the Congo Free State to Belgium as a colony in 1908, perhaps ten million people or more had died, out of a total population on the continent of perhaps ninety million.

The mass action and agitation of the Congo Reform Association was principally responsible for that cession, and though Hochschild gives due credit to early critical voices such as George Washington Williams, who died in 1891 before he could fully make the atrocities of the Congo known, two of the most remarkable individuals in the book are Edmund Morel and Sir Roger Casement. Though bound no less by their time than by their circumstances, both of them took it upon themselves essentially independently to act against the injustice and slaughter they understood to be happening (Morel never even left Britain; he deduced, correctly, that the Congo Free State was essentially practicing slave labor and wholesale slaughter from the cargo manifests of the shipping firm he worked at in Liverpool), and began the work that formed the Congo Reform Association and together eventually enlisted people worldwide and many of the literary luminaries of the day. You can read Morel's most important book, King Leopold's Rule in Africa, online, as well as Roger Casement's "Report of the British Consul." Hochschild goes to great lengths to incorporate Congolese voices into the story--oral histories are dredged, and vast commission documents thoroughly combed for witness testimony--but too many people died, or were ignored, for this to be anything like a duovocal account.

Further discussion of genocide and mass death )

This is, overall, an excellent book, and it's interesting to see in it hints of both of Hochschild's next two books in passing. Particularly in light of the continued willful forgetting of the Belgian government and people over the origins of their former African colony, to say nothing of that of other people in former empires, this book should be a must-read for everyone.
starlady: "I can hear the sound of empires falling." (burning empires)
Kingsley, Mary. The Congo and the Cameroons. London: Penguin Books, 2007. [1897]

I first heard of Mary Kingsley in Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, where she is singled out as one of the rare Victorian travelers to West Africa whose accounts were not completely racist. When I saw this extract from her 1897 book Travels in West Africa (this extract being part of Penguin Books' Great Journeys series - one of the many awesome Penguin editions we don't get in the States) at Half-Price Books for $2, I pounced.

The book has an extract on the Niger delta and another on the forests of the French Congo, but the meat of the book is the story of Kingsley's ascent of the southwest face of the Great Mount of the Cameroons, becoming the first Englishman (as she says) to reach the summit from that side, in 1893. I was surprised by how much I liked Kingsley - she is funny, self-aware, witty, and has a real gift for the pungent or poetic description, and was also clearly tough as nails. As a good chunk of the book is descriptions of the land and its flora and fauna, her gift for writing matters a lot. She was, one feels, someone one would have loved to have a drink with.

Travel writing always flirts with exoticization, though one suspects that given her audiences in Victorian England, Kingsley didn't need to do much more than tell her story as she saw it. For me one of the most interesting parts of the book was Kingsley's account of her encounter with an Alsatian engineer building a road in the Cameroons who had recently absconded from his post in the Congo Free State - this having been 1892/93, it's only about a year after Joseph Conrad's experience there which he later immortalized in Heart of Darkness. There's no hint in the extracts here of the mass atrocities that Conrad saw and documented in that book, though it was interesting to note that even white men weren't taken very good care of by Leopold's regime.

Although Kingsley's respect for African societies does show through, given that her porters are understandably skeptical of climbing a 13,000 foot mountain in tornado season, a good deal of the account is given over to her tribulations in getting all of them and herself up and down the mountain in one piece, which shows no one to their best advantage - if she isn't outright racist (and she mostly isn't; at one point she specifically disclaims the stereotype of the lazy African, and the Times refused to review her books for their anti-missionary stance), she certainly is patronizing, though it's also clear that she had a will of iron and the determination and ingenuity to match. Most people would probably seem incompetent to her, I'd imagine.
starlady: Kazuhiko & Suu landing (fly)
Hyakunin Isshû | One Hundred People, One Poem Each. Trans. Larry Hammer. New Mexico: Cholla Bear Press, 2011.

The Hyakunin isshû is the single most popular poetic anthology in all of Japanese literature: compiled by the noted scholar and critic Fujiwara no Teika in the 12thC, it selects one poem each from a hundred notable poets from nearly six centuries of Japanese verse, starting with the Man'yôshû and ending with Teika's own era. The poems offer a parade of canonical topics, topoi, images and utamakura (poetic phrases) as well as a fascinating catalog of the transformation both in classical Japanese, the language, and in classical Japanese verse from its very beginnings to the end of the classical era itself.

Larry Hammer's self-published translations of these poems makes this much easier by providing not only transliteration of the poems but also the texts in Japanese of the poems themselves, as well as Hammer's translations. The translations themselves are uniformly quite good, frequently roughly metrical and always decent poetry in the target language, which is, I think, important. There are of course many translations where I thought that Hammer zigged where I personally might have zagged, but these are differences of style and opinion, rather than of meaning, and much of it comes down to the fact that classical Japanese is such a dense, allusive medium that it's virtually impossible to replicate the original in any target language, and I certainly think Hammer does as good a job as, if not better than, more well-known assayers.

If all of this sounds interesting, you're in luck! is currently having a site-wide sale, until the end of the month: follow this link to buy One Hundred People, One Poem Each and use code LULUBOOK305 at check-out to save 25% off your order, up to $50 off. There's also an ebook version available, if I'm not mistaken.
starlady: (tomoyo magic hope)
Sei Shônagon. Makura no sôshi | The Pillow Book (ca. 1005). Trans. Meredith McKinney. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Meredith McKinney has done the world a great service by bringing out a new, comprehensive and compulsively readable version of Sei Shônagon's idiosyncratic classic of Heian literature in English. The previous widely-known version by Ivan Morris, while eminently literary, omitted most of the sections of lists of things with which Sei sprinkles her miscellany, and which form a vital part of the book, conveying much more of her worldview and the culture it came from than at first one realizes.

Sei Shônagon was in service at the court of Empress Teishi from roughly 993 to 1000, several years older than many of her fellow gentlewomen and far outstripping many of them in literary-poetic talent; The Pillow Book is among other things a selected recollection of various moments from the acme of Teishi and her branch of the Fujiwara family's glory, which was cut short in 995 with her father Regent Michitaka's sudden death. Her brothers Korechika and Taka'ie were easily shunted aside by their uncle Michinaga, who married his daughter Shôshi to the Emperor Ichijô on the day of the birth of Teishi's son and who went on to subsidize Murasaki Shikibu's service at Shôshi's court at the summit of Fujiwara and Heian glory, recorded vividly in Murasaki's diary and heavily fictionalized in The Tale of Genji. Sei, associated with Teishi and Michitaka despite her well-known admiration for Michinaga, left the court after her mistress's death in childbirth, and completed The Pillow Book, probably close kin to the commonplace books that many aristocrats and courtiers of both genders kept at their bedsides, sometime later. She did so without the official patronage that supported Murasaki's diary, which is obviously meant as a public record of Michinaga's magnificence and munificence, giving The Pillow Book the freedom to be more personal.

A mini-essay on Sei, Heian Japan, and her book. )
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.

I think this might be the best book I have read all year. it is certainly the most inspiring; at one point near the end I was moved to tears, and that is very high praise from me.

Hochschild, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley's, school of the same, offers a searing and inspiring history of the fight to end slavery in the British Empire, begun by 12 men in a printing shop in 1787 and ended at last by millions around the world, victorious, in 1833. To this story Hochschild brings an unabashedly and unapologetically contemporary perspective, never wavering in his conviction that democracy despite its faults is the best and most desirable form of government, that racism in and of itself is wrong, and that the same goes for the lack of women's and worker's rights in societies of the day worldwide. Equally salutary and crucially, he is clear on the fact that the abolitionist movement would never have succeeded without the input of slaves and ex-slaves themselves, who in writings (like Olaudah Equiano) described unvarnished the horrors they had survived and surmounted, and who in warfare and rebellion, like the slaves of the former St. Domingue and those of Jamaica 40 years later, made clear that they would not wait to be freed by the white man, but would seize those rights for themselves, with all the violence that had been visited upon them by their masters. (In one of history's more agonizing ironies, Haiti paid and has paid for the two hundred years since a terrible price for its denizens' unwillingness to lie quiet in their oppression.) He is also clear that the movement would never have been reignited without the uncredited goad and example of many women's antislavery organizations, under the leadership of women like Elizabeth Heyrick, who had no patience with the gradualist approach their senior male counterparts espoused. And finally, it is in many ways a testament to the unflinching, radically ethical nature of Quakerism even in the centuries before ideas of equality and human rights took root in discourse. Hochschild is also brilliant on the interconnectedness of slavery with virtually every social, economic and political institution in the empire, particularly the Royal Navy, and lays bare these connections with thoroughgoing zeal. It is a story peopled by characters who seem both larger than life (Thomas Clarkson, Toussaint L'Ouverture) and whose inability to make what seem to be obvious connections (William Wilberforce) are brought to vibrant, contradictory, puzzling life. His unwillingness to gloss over these everyday evils, as well as the sheer banal stupidity of monarchy and its scions, ought to shame many writers of historical fiction.

We live with that hope still.  )
starlady: One World, One Dream: Beijing 2008 (more in the breach)
Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010.

This is a harrowing but compulsively readable book, and everyone ought to read it.

Barbara Demick has spent the better part of a decade covering the two Koreas from Seoul, and for most of that time she's been interviewing North Korean defectors, who've made it out of their country at great personal and financial cost. In Nothing to Envy Demick focuses on six particular North Koreans, all living in and around the northeastern industrial city of Chongjin, and through their lives tells the story of the DPRK and in particular the story of the famine of the 1990s, which killed at least one million people, possibly more--it's impossible to know, but most estimates go as high as 20% of the country's population, which would be two million people.

Mass death on this scale simply doesn't happen without state action, or in this case inaction, and Demick and the North Koreans in the book lay the blame for the deaths of their families and countrymen squarely where it belongs, with the totalitarian regime begun by Kim Il-Sung and perpetuated by his son Kim Jong-Il, who is now preparing to hand power over to Kim Jong-Un, his son. Everyone who died in the famine--which hasn't really ever stopped, it's just been alleviated by the deaths of so many people and by the development of a rudimentary market economy--was murdered by their government.

In the United States and in the world at large we have the image of North Korea as a "rogue state," as a member of the "Axis of Evil," but essentially of a pathetic, backward regime whose people are fundamentally deluded at best or laughably ignorant at worst, and Kim Jong-Il is seen as more of a risible figure (cf. Team America: World Police) than as the oppressive dictator that he is. Also, when the famine is mentioned, and for instance I write that "up to two million people died," there are implications of some element of passivity on the part of those people, who naively depended on their government to save them and were betrayed. Nothing to Envy provides an essential corrective to both perspectives; Demick documents the ideological indoctrination that begins literally at birth (the only birthdays celebrated in the DPRK are those of the Kims) and which permeates every aspect of daily life. She also documents the extraordinary measures to which people in North Korea went to save themselves and their families from starvation; that so many failed does not represent their passivity in the face of death, but rather how high the odds were stacked against them.

What will happen in North Korea in the future is a crucial but still unanswerable question--everyone thought the regime was on its last legs in the 1990s, and fifteen years later it's still here. But the "currency revaluation" (aka: the regime stealing cash from its citizens) last fall set off actual public protests of some sort, to the extent that the regime apologized (!) and executed a senior official on whom blame was pinned, and no one has high hopes for Kim Jong-Un; reading Demick's reportage on current conditions, it's hard to believe that the regime can stagger along until 2012, the centenary of Kim Il-Sung's birth. In a way Nothing to Envy leaves it hard to imagine how things could get worse; what already happened is horrible enough.

Further viewing:
  • Dear Pyongyang, a documentary by a zainichi Korean (resident in Japan) filmmaker whose father sent her three older brothers to live in the DPRK;
  • Seoul Train, a documentary about North Korean defectors fleeing to China and trying to get out from there--the PRC claims North Korean refugees are "economic migrants" and deports them back to the DPRK, where leaving the country is high treason, punishable by time in the labor camps.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Berlin, Ira. The Making of African America. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

Ira Berlin is apparently one of the giants of African American historiography, as well as something of a provocateur; in this new book he offers a reading of the history of Africans and African Americans in America that is orthogonal, but complementary and necessary, to the grand narrative of "from slavery to freedom" which has dominated the history books (to the extent that African American history is discussed at all outside African American studies departments, that is; but more on that anon).

The four migrations )
starlady: Sheeta & Pazu watch the world open out before them (think in layers)
LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

I'm going to pound this out while I wait for my dad to get home so we can go to the shore. Landmark book of animanga scholarship in half an hour or less: go!

Disclaimer: I am personally acquainted with Tom Lamarre; he wrote one of my reccomendation letters for my graduate school applications.

Tom Lamarre's overarching concern in The Anime Machine is polemical; as I've discussed at greater length before, he has a bone to pick with the vast majority of (English-language) anime and manga scholarship heretofore, namely that people tend to focus on the minutiae of narratives over technical means and that in these narratives, moreover, people go looking for and thus find some sort of amodern, tautological Other "(traditional) Japanese culture" or whatever. In defiance of this tendency, Lamarre insists on reading anime as what it is, a carefully calculated global entertainment phenomenon, and on looking not at what anime talks about but how it talks, how it thinks, what it does.

How anime thinks technology )
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
Danticat, Edwidge. Brother, I'm Dying. New York: Knopf, 2007.

In this memoir Danticat tells the story of her uncle, who was like a father to her while her parents emigrated to New York City, and of her father, both of whom died within a few months of each other in 2004: her father from end-stage lung disease, her uncle at the hands of U.S. immigration officers' abuse and medical neglect after seeking temporary asylum from gang violence in his neighborhood of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince. The gang members were wrongly convinced that Danticat's uncle Joseph had given U.N. "peacekeepers" his authorization to use his church in their assault on the neighborhood.

It's a horrible story, and after the January earthquake it's impossible not to remember constantly while reading that Joseph's son, Danticat's cousin Maxo, was killed in the quake, and the neighborhood destroyed. But as much as the book is about their deaths, Danticat also writes eloquently about their lives, both in Haiti and in New York, apart and finally together: they are buried next to each other in Queens, since Danticat's Haitian family told them it was unsafe to repatriate Joseph's body for burial (the gangs wanted to behead his corpse). Having watched a parent die slowly in my own home, my heart went out to Danticat (who found out she was pregnant right after her father was given his terminal diagnosis, in an appallingly unprofessional manner) doing the same thing, and I wished uselessly that she and her family had been better able to accept her father's dying while he was doing it. But everyone's experiences with this (including my own) are ultimately personal, as [personal profile] jonquil pointed out in this post, which I really needed to hear without realizing it.

Anyway. I never used to like memoirs; I never used to like non-fiction, period. But I was missing out, and Danticat's book in particular is a wonderful example of what the genre can do.

McGuire, Seanan. A Local Habitation. New York: DAW Books, 2010.

I read and enjoyed the first book in the adventures of Toby Daye, Rosemary and Rue, last summer, but this book has many of the problems of a second novel: to wit, it doesn't move as fleetly, leaving me more time to realize all the ways in which Toby's non-conforming-conformity to urban fantasy stereotypes is grating. Also, I totally spotted the twist relating to Alex after about one chapter, and I passionately hate when I can out-observe the characters without the narration's complicity in keeping the wool over their eyes. At the same time Toby = Luddite is less amusing this time around, and I was rather thrown by the complete disappearance of her human baby-daddy and child from her thoughts. All the same, I'll probably keep reading, because I've been getting these out of the library.
starlady: the philosopher's garden (obligatory china icon)
[personal profile] deepad on vidding as a grassroots feminist praxis quilting together a female gaze.

Chang, Leslie T. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009.

This is a really good book. I had some quibbles (I always have quibbles, seriously), but all in all Chang has done a remarkable job of telling the stories she found rather than the story she wanted to write, and Factory Girls resonates accordingly.

To wit, in this book Chang, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who is married to the writer Peter Hessert, explores the lives of migrant workers in China, mostly in and around the southern city of Dongguan, where (among many other things) 2/3 of all the world's running shoes are made. Migrant workers in China are overwhelmingly young and female, girls from the villages with varying levels of education whose only real option for economic advancement is moving to the cities to work. There are 130 million migrant workers in China, the largest migration in human history according to the back cover.

Going out | 出行 )
starlady: (justice)
Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide. Boston: South End Press, 2005.

I read this book because of this post by [personal profile] viklikesfic in [community profile] feminist50.

So, to cut right to the chase, I think that this is one book that every one who considers themselves a feminist ought to read. Smith does not pull her punches in examining the linkages between sexual violence and the ongoing struggle of Native Americans in general and Native American women in particular for rights, respect, self-determination, equal opportunity, and their rightful sovereignty. The book is particularly good at showing, with vivid description and telling examples, what intersectionality means and how, as Smith says repeatedly, when sexual violence is committed against Native women they are being assaulted not only as women but as women of color and as Native women; the violence is an assault on all aspects of their identity at once, which cannot and should not be separated. She also extends her arguments about sexual violence to seemingly nonrelated issues like the appropriation by mainstream (white) culture of Native spirituality as well as environmental justice and land (usage) rights; these too, she says, are a form of rape. Furthermore, she shows that sexual violence against Native women in all its forms is an ongoing phenomenon in the United States, not something that stopped or only happened in the past. And for my money I think every woman ought to read her chapter on the pro-choice movement, and how framing the discussion in "pro-choice" terms rather than of "reproductive rights" is profoundly disadvantageous for women who aren't middle-class (and white).

This is a book by an activist/academic, but it is not an academic book; it is an activist text, and one aimed primarily at other Native activists and organizers. (Indeed, the lack of background detail at certain points was slightly frustrating. I know a little about such things as the Wisconsin treaty rights struggle by the Anishinaabeg thanks to the worst class I took in college, but I'd much rather have such things explained in-text; given the controversial nature of most of them, they're not something I'd trust to Wikipedia.) For those of a mind to disagree with Smith, the subtitle of the book alone contains sufficient fighting words, and the text has plenty more; Smith was actually denied tenure at UMichigan-Ann Arbor after this book's publication. But the fact that it isn't an academic book is also the reason why Conquest is so readable; and all other things being equal, if I were on a tenure committee I would want Smith at my institution regardless of whether her books were "scholarly," because the academy needs more people like her, and not less.
starlady: Hei poised to strike at sunset (sunset before the fall)
Written at the top: The English translation of the first two volumes of Yoshinaga Fumi's manga Oooku has won the 2009 Tiptree Award! How cool is that? Pretty cool, that's what.

Mechademia, vol. 4: War/Time. Ed. Frenchy Lunning. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

I feel that Mechademia has just been getting stronger and stronger since the publication of its first volume in 2006; while this volume doesn't surpass #3 (Limits of the Human), it's just as good. And since this is the last volume which I will be able to discuss with any real degree of objectivity, I'm going to do so.

In his introduction Tom Lamarre argues persuasively that war/peace is a false dichotomy, that the modern industrial capitalist state is predicated on the existence of war somewhere, and it's really hard to disagree with him. (My inner classicist makes noises here about the circling of modernity back around to one aspect of the ancient; namely that in Greek one declares not war but peace, war being the default state.) But by foregrounding the falsity of that binary, the editors are attempting to call attention to it, and thus to open a space for criticism of it.

Manga and anime are catalysts for the emergence of networks, fan groups, and communities of knowledge fascinated by and extending the depth and influence of these works. )

If any of this sounds interesting, all of Mechademia is now available on Project Muse for free, to those with access. [Obligatory denunciation of academia's opposition to the free dissemination of scholarship goes here.] You can also buy the volume directly, which supports more images in future volumes, and of course the Press. I recommend checking out other books by the University of Minnesota Press on popular culture and anime as well, particularly Azuma Hiroki's Otaku: Japan's Database Animals.
starlady: ((say it isn't so))
Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Danticat, Edwidge. After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.

Some people do disaster tourism. I do disaster reading.

These are both short books (I read each in a few hours), but masterfully crafted. Breath, Eyes, Memory is a brutally unsparing look at how violence is passed down through generations, while After the Dance is a celebration of a place and a cultural institution that have both been grievously damaged by the 12 January earthquake. Given the damage to Jacmel that the quake caused, the book now reads as an elegy.

Before I forget: Hear Edwidge Danticat on WHYY's Radio Times, 21 January. She smacks it to Pat Robertson and Daniel Brooks near the end of her segment, and I cheered in my car while listening.

I don't know what I was expecting from Breath, Eyes, Memory--well, okay, I do. I hated literary fiction when I was in middle school, and I cherished a special ire for the bildungsroman or coming-of-age story (I sort of still kind of do, in all honesty), and given that a lot of the contemporary literary fiction I was exposed to in middle and high schools fit that category, I formed irrational opinions about certain segments of the literary marketplace in the States. So I was expecting something along the lines of Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street--girl immigrates to America and grows up. That is not what this book is; though parts of the book take place in America, almost no attention is paid to the immigrant experience of the protagonist, Sophie. Instead, the core of the book is the relationships among the women in her family, and their relationships to Haiti, and what they have all of them done to each other: a legacy of sexual abuse and psychological damage (anyone who says PTSD isn't a hereditary condition, read this book) fraught with love. It's a painful, all too true story of how victims of abuse can themselves become abusers, and how love is no proof against doing harm to the people one loves. The brief scenes between Sophie and her mother Martine, and their respective lovers, are nauseating in this respect. I don't think there's a pithy way to summarize this book, but the experiences of these women are all too real for far too many women around the world, as well as hyperlocal and Haitian. It's almost certainly a reflection of my own ignorance of this literature that the middle sections of the book, when macoutes beat a vendor to death in the marketplace for no reason, reminded me of Julia Alvarez' In the Time of the Butterflies. That novel was explicitly political, while Danticat takes a more personal look at social ills.

In some ways I wish I'd read After the Dance second, since it offers a much more positive look at Haiti itself, the place and the people. The nature of Carnival, and the theory of masks, is discussed repeatedly throughout. Danticat makes Jacmel, and Haiti, seem like places that would well repay a visit; may it be so again in future.
starlady: (through the trapdoor)
Swanwick, Michael. Hope-in-the-Mist: The Extraordinary Career & Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees. Upper Montclair, NJ: Temporary Culture, 2009.

I mentioned in a recent post that I had ordered this book from the internet on impulse, and it arrived in the Friday post. There is something viscerally thrilling about getting books in the mail, I have to say, at least for me.

Michael Swanwick is now unquestionably the foremost living expert on Hope Mirrlees, though I think eventually Erin of, who is doing her graduate work on the writer, may rival or surpass him. In the meantime, Swanwick's monograph takes an appealing middle course between academic and genre writer in evaluating Mirrlees' life and work, the former being as long as the latter was brief. He's not afraid to state his own opinions, particularly on Mirrlees' first two novels (Madeleine and The Counterplot, respectively), but he also knows when to withhold judgment despite the facts making intuitive sense towards a conclusion, particularly with regards to the influence of Mirrlees' poem Paris on her friend T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.

Essentially, this book confirms my own conclusion that Mirrlees' life effectively ended with the death of her friend Jane Ellen Harrison in 1928; she returned the contract for her fourth novel during Harrison's final illness, and in her remaining 50 years of life produced 1.5 biographies and one chapbook of 12 poems. It seems to be the consensus among Mirrlees fans that her money was her undoing; instead of being forced to keep writing to keep a roof over her head, she was able to rely on the trust her father had set up for her and so had no need to keep writing. Considering that she died when she was 91, that is clearly a treasure trove of books that were never created. (Just think if she'd had Ursula K. LeGuin's output, and LeGuin is only 80!)

Somewhere else on the Internet recently (anyone know who?) I saw someone saying that even if Mirrlees only produced one masterpiece (well, two if you count Paris, which the few scholars who know it seem to do, albeit in a minor way), that's one more than most people ever write, and that's certainly true. But personally speaking, writing is such a central part of how I relate to the world that I literally cannot imagine who I would be or how I would go about my life without it, even if I never publicly posted another word anywhere until the day I died, and so I found Mirrlees' story to be ultimately rather terrifying.

My copy is, somehow, signed by the author, and the book also includes an illustration by Charles Vess, which I may have framed one of these days, and Swanwick's "Lexicon of Lud," which has opened up new perspectives on my interpretation of Lud-in-the-Mist. In light of my comments on Cat Valente's The Girl Who…, I couldn't help but think that I should have twigged to the Ned-Chanticleer-as-Eleusinian-initiate that Swanwick puts forward, because I think it's utterly correct. There are a few annoying typos in the text, and the cover doesn't look as good in person as it does online, but Temporary Culture seems pretty cool nonetheless, and I shall have to keep an eye on them in future.
starlady: the OTW logo with text "fandom is my fandom" (fandom^2)
The Archive of Our Own is in open beta!!! YAY!!!

[staff profile] denise wrote a very kind post of congratulations to the OTW and to AD&T. Yay fandom! Yay womanpower!

I'll shut up about this some time soon, I swear. In the meantime, [personal profile] lian has some links about the plans for translating the AO3, an effort to which I look forward to contributing.

To switch gears completely, I thought Steven Pinker completely nailed the problems with Malcolm Gladwell's worldview and did a good job of sussing out the finer details of what exactly Gladwell gets wrong (and let me just say, um, wow. "Igon values"? Seriously? You can't make this shit up) in his review of Gladwell's new book. Which isn't to say that Gladwell can't be very good on his chosen topics at times--I'd recommend that everyone read his recent piece on football, dogfighting and brain injury, and his piece on criminal profiling and the likelihood that it doesn't really work, which Pinker deservedly mentions favorably in his review (I'm looking at you, Shadow Unit, Criminal Minds, most every cop show ever). But these are pieces in which the numbers speak for themselves, but when Gladwell tries to make the numbers speak for anything else, he often as not goes badly astray.

Oh Yuletide assignment, why aren't you here already?  
starlady: (but it does move)
Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

I'm not sure I can even begin to convey the importance and the earth-shattering content of this book. Mann, a science journalist, marshals more than a half-century's worth of research from an astonishing panoply of disciplines to completely overturn every preconception of life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus that is still inculcated even in otherwise decent history textbooks. Thousands of lost cities, millions of people whose lives were cut short by disease, and countless fascinating technologies and cultural practices march through these pages, conjuring a world that is forever lost yet has many lessons to teach people around the world, particularly the descendants of the colonized and colonizers who live together, often uneasily, in the Western Hemisphere.

In fact, my only complaint about this book is that it seems too short--I would happily read Mann's cogent, well-argued and profoundly sympathetic precis of research on every geographical region and society in the Americas, although in practice Mann focuses less on places and peoples than on three big ideas. In the first section, the revelation that millions of people in the Americas died of infections disease in the decades after European contact, so that humanity lost as much as one-fifth of its members during the long sixteenth century. In the second section he looks at two places where civilization arose independently in the Americas--Norte Chico in Peru and the much-better known Mesoamerica, while in the third he looks at native populations' terraforming their environments, both places in which they succeeded brilliantly (i.e. the anthropogenic forests of Amazonia, which too many people erroneously regard as pristine) and in which the societies failed to find effective solutions (i.e. Cahokia, in what is now St. Louis), and at what relevance this new view of pre-Columbian societies means for contemporary environmental debates. The Amazon in particular may be as much part of our cultural heritage as our natural.

Throughout, Mann maintains an evenhanded tone, even when he details the flabbergastingly horrendous views of the many researchers, and many others, who did so much to promote the wrong-headed views of life in the Americas before the Europeans showed up. In a sense, Mann has bigger fish to fry--his account rescues Indians from their usual roles of either children or savages and restores to them full human agency, both in their achievements and in the consequences, positive and negative, of their own decisions. Despite Mann's non-adversarial tone, most of the non-Indian researchers of the old guard come off rather terribly (I mention Alfred Kroeber, the patron saint of Low Counters, who maintained that only about four to six million people lived on both continents when Columbus blundered in, because he is Ursula K. LeGuin's father), guilty of intellectual blindness at best and racism at worst. People like Patricia C. Wrede and Hugh Thomas, by extension, come off horribly, too--they're so wrong they don't even realize that they're wrong, when it wouldn't have taken much to remedy their ignorance. And indeed, though Mann's research is cutting edge, the general outlines of this re-revised picture of life in the Americas before Columbus has been known in most cases at least since the mid-1980s, and some of the "new revelations" were known in the 1940s. Hopefully Mann's book will take its well-deserved place alongside books like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel as a cornerstone for better understanding human development, and for promulgating a more just history, and a more just future.

Postscript, 10/11/10 -- I think I want to reread Guns, Germs, and Steel again before recommending it so unreservedly, but it is unequivocally an important book for the global approach it takes. There are also some of Mann's concluding points that stick with me daily, in particular his point that 1491 was the last year in which the hemispheres' biodiversity was not intermingled seems to me worth remembering; it ties in with his larger point that so much of what we think of as 'natural' when we look at the landscapes of the Americas is, historically speaking, just as terraformed as Dubai or the Netherlands or some future Moon or Mars.
starlady: (remember remember)
Reed, Thomas C. and Danny B. Stillman. The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation. Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2009.

Despite several serious problems, this book is a necessary read for anyone interested in issues of nuclear security, non-proliferation, and in international relations in general. The authors, both of whom have worked in the U.S. nuclear/national security establishment for decades, provide a refreshingly blunt and clear description of the history of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project to the nuclear follies of the last few years vis-a-vis North Korea and Iran. Among other notable revelations, they detail exactly who got Iran started on the path to nuclear energy, and possibly nuclear weapons (thanks, Benazir!), and they refreshingly take as fact Israel's de facto status as a nuclear power. I often find the sort of insider's name- and anecdote-dropping style to be more than grating (I'm looking at you, Charles DeLint and Charles Pellegrino), but Reed and Stillman aren't afraid to tell stories out of their personal experience to illustrate and to back up their claims, which are very convincing indeed.

This has been a terrible tragedy, Mr. Ambassador. )

On a related note, check out this 3D reconstruction of the Urakami district of Nagasaki, the cathedral of which (the largest Christian church in Asia at the time) was the hypocenter of the Nagasaki atomic bombing (all that remained of the congregation were a few charred rosary beads; note that the link cites one of the lower casualty estimates) by current undergraduates at Choudai--Nagasaki University, I mean. You know what, that's another thing--the United States remains the only country to have deployed nuclear weapons in combat. Reed and Stillman would do well to acknowledge that, if only for that reason, countries wary of acquiescing to the current nuclear regime, which is spearheaded by the United States, have a legitimate concern.
starlady: A typewriter.  (tool of the trade)
David Foster Wallace took his own life a little more than a year ago, in November 2008. Quite aside from the private tragedy of every suicide, Wallace's death was a great blow to American letters (NB: I'm using this phrase more or less self-consciously, meaning "literary fiction, its adherents, acolytes and apologists," amongst whose numbers I sometimes count myself), as reading one his books of collected essays, Consider the Lobster, makes heart-breakingly clear. Though probably the best-known fact about Wallace's magnum opus Infinite Jest is that it's more than 1500 pages long, the pretension of which elicited a certain amount of derisory mocking after hours in my high school English classroom, Consider the Lobster reveals on nearly every page that Wallace was in fact the exact opposite of pretentious--he was a deeply ethical, deeply engaged humanist in the fullest sense of the term, whose desire for an American letters that is unafraid to wrestle with the big questions of life is made clear in several pieces, and which stands out in incandescent contrast to the lazy, small-minded self-absorption of supposedly 'great writers' like John Updike (whose Toward the End of Time Wallace skewers mercilessly and accurately in this book).

Given Wallace's eventual fate, it's admittedly slightly chilling to come across, in some of the essays, interpolative passages on suicide: the propensity of suicides to happen in hotels in "Up, Simba," the propensity of porn stars to suicide in "Big Red Son." I'm sure these were cut for publication (just as the paragraph talking about suicide was cut from the book form of the commencement speech Wallace delivered in spring 2008), but hindsight is perfect, and perfectly sad. Ave atque vale, DFW.

Up, Simba, or some observations on contemporary political campaigns )

No, really, think about the lobster for a moment )

American literature and its need to grow up )

Postscript: Dear Little, Brown & Company: Philadelphia's 180-year old major news daily is the Philadelphia Inquirer, not the Philadelphia Enquirer. Fire your copy editor.


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

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