Category Archives: books

Freakangels

Awhile ago, I posted a link to Cameron Stewart’s Sin Titulo, a free online webcomic by an acclaimed Canadian comics writer/artist… I hope you got the chance to check it out.

Now I’m bringing you another comics link: Warren Ellis’s FREAKANGELS, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Paul Duffield.

Warren Ellis is the legendary creator of Transmetropolitan as well as zillions of other fantastic works in a variety of genres. I was a BIG fan of the limited comics series Global Frequency, which was at one point was going to be a television show. The TV project has since stalled, as do so many TV/movie projects. For we rabid fans who follow the potential adaptation of our favourite geek-works to screen, it’s an immensely frustrating process. I suppose the process of getting ANY film project going is equally spastic and frustrating. Warren Ellis has seen his work transferred to screen with massive success (RED, which came out recently, was based on his work), but more often.. not so much success.

But I digress. FREAKANGELS is quality comics, put up on the web for free by a bizarre and benevolent comics wizard who decided to undertake The Great Webcomics Experiment and put up a totally amazing, professional weekly comic, supported by merchandise and loyal fans. FREAKANGELS is printed and published in graphic novel format as well, but from the beginning it has been free and online. Pretty amazing.

So if you like dysfunctional superheroes, post-apocalyptic worlds, gorgeous artwork, Hott Babes, steampunk (+1 geekpoint if you know what steampunk is, +2 if you LOVE IT), and witty British dialogue, CLICK HERE!  I mean, it’s totally free, dude.

P.S. While I’m on the subject of comics, I must say that “Y: The Last Man,” which my awesome father gave me and my broski for Christmas, is one of the best comics I’ve ever read. Believe the critics! It’s amazing. Not for free on the internet, though. Gotta go buy it. Or borrow it from me, the next time I’m in Victoria.

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Book: The Alchemy of Desire

the alchemy of desire, tarun tejpal

I’ve just finished this book.  I bought it, I believe, in Rishikesh.  But I’m not sure…  there’s a small chance I bought it in Kerala.  Hence the querying post-it on the cover.  Above is the Indian edition; the North American cover looks like this:

A little more hip?  A little more “hot international trade paperback that will make me look cultured and cool when I’m reading it on the bus”?  Perhaps.  I can envision this cover sitting on the “New, Hot Fiction!” table at Chapters.  My copy, however, was most likely purchased at a bookstore in Rishikesh, in early June, while I was on my last trip through India before returning to Canada.  I was with some of my closest friends, and life had never been better.  A quick ballpoint pen drawing from my notebook:

a quick drawing from a pivotal notebook

The reason I doubt that I bought the book in Rishikesh is that it was marked with a bookmark from a store I visited in Kerala, Idiom Books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The goddess on the front is Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, and the consort of Brahma.  I think it’s a delightful bookmark – the goddess accompanies you through the pages, turning her wise gaze on you each time you begin or end your reading.  She’s a private witness to what you might be learning, how the pages are changing you.

Idiom was an equally delightful bookstore.  I found it while wandering the alleys of Cochin in the early evening, a nondescript entryway but an absolute treasurehouse within.  Books!  It was always difficult to find books in India.  We teachers would bring them back to the mountain after the holidays, as precious as our few hoarded bottles of wine and shared with as much reverence.  Idiom had a remarkably good selection, and was a shop of great individuality.  It didn’t fall into the mysterious mustiness and over-stocked disarray of the ubiquitous Indian curio store, but also avoided the fluorescent Western-imitation style.  Idiom’s stock had clearly been selected with a literary eye, and I found European classics alongside obscure Indian titles never published in North America.  I purchased a number of books there…  But “The Alchemy of Desire” was not one of them.

Which brings me back, after that long tangent, to the book I’ve just finished reading!  I loved it, but it’s hard to separate how much was the objective quality of the book (is it even possible to measure such a thing?) and how much was my own response.  The book is set in India, largely in a remote hill station.  The descriptions of travelling up from the stifling heat of the plains into the misty, ethereal reaches of the hill station brought me rocketing back to my days in Kodaikanal, and I spent all 518 pages in a state of nostalgic delirium.

It’s a sprawling book, disconnected, hopping back and forth throughout time, exploring the desires of a disparate cast of characters and the desires of a nation.  I wouldn’t give it a Midnight’s Children sort of status, but it did reach across decades, castes, states, and show some of the soul of India.  And of course, it was deeply sexual.  I was reminded of a favourite book that I recently re-read:  The Venetian’s Wife, by Nick Bantock.  That book also delves into the powerful eroticism of Indian mythology and tradition – the sensuality of the art, scenes of voluptuous gods and goddesses, incense and transgression, ritual and quick passion.  Desire.  The Alchemy of Desire pursues the interplay of sex and love through their blossoming, transformation and death.  From irrepressible just-kindled flame, through all-consuming obsession, slow poison, agonizing decline… Tejpal writes about the lack of desire, its devastating illogic, its capricious comings and goings.  But he also celebrates the gift of desire, and its ties to divinity.

“John wrote, All desire and all love are legitimate.  You do not have to desire for a hundred years or love for a hundred for it to be true.  The love of a fleeting moment, the desire of an instant, is as legitimate and true as that of three score and ten years.  Let no one tell you different.  In the moment you are touched by love or desire you are touched by the divine.  In my life I have been so blessed, again and again; and there is no greater blessing I would seek for you, my daughter.  The apocalypse will not come, or it will, but before that we shall have here itself our paradise.  It is only assured to those with the capacity for desire and the gift of love.” (p. 334)

So, a journey.  A 518 page journey through India, my own nostalgia, and the corridors of desire.  What to read next?

Note: I realize that this post has been a collection of tangents, but that’s one of my favourite things about objects: their power to conjure up the stories associated with them.  Just one of the reasons I’ll always like paper books better than e-books.

mattie ross = katniss everdeen?!

Apparently Hailie Steinfeld, who played Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, is being considered to play Katniss Everdeen in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games. Can I get a fuck yeah?  She’d be perfect.  Like Katniss, Mattie was a great teen girl heroine because she was actually hard-as-nails, all the way through, almost to the point of being unlikeable.  No mid-movie conversion to a more acceptably wimpy and dependent girl.  Moments of human fear or upset, yes, but then right back to her unapologetic, ass-kicking self.

As Ebert writes in his review (in case you didn’t know, Roger Ebert is my hero.  His blog is one of the best things on the internet), “She [Hailie Steinfeld] sidesteps the opportunity to make Mattie adorable. Mattie doesn’t live in an adorable world. Seeing the first “True Grit,” I got a little crush on Kim Darby. Seeing this one, few people would get a crush on Hailee Steinfeld. Maybe in another movie. But the way she plays it with the Coens, she’s more the kind of person you’d want guarding your back.”

OK, now go see True Grit, and read The Hunger Games, so that when Hailie Steinfeld steps into the role that could launch her into a Twilight-style cult of adoration, you’ll be ready.

Forever YA and brief review of The Hunger Games

How sad I am that I didn’t discover this site before plowing through the entire Hunger Games trilogy in approximately 72 hours:  Forever YA.

There has never been a time of my life when I more eagerly devoured books than when I was reading young adult fantasy.  I tore through Lloyd Alexander, Tamora Pierce, Susan Cooper, Jane Yolen, and so many more, at a truly fiendish pace.  We’re talking an average of >1 books per day.  I would curl up behind the couch in the living room and chew them up, one after another.

I recently read The Hunger Games, all three, in e-book format.  Although I agree with reviewers who complain that Suzanne Collins didn’t explore nearly the full allegorical potential of her world, I did adore the books.  Collins dreams up a Battle Royale-inspired dystopia in which the world has been torn apart by war and (possibly?) global warming, and North America has been reborn as the post-apocalyptic dictatorship of Panem.  The decadent, consumer-nihilist Capitol controls twelve impoverished Districts, which each provide a  particular product or resource to the Capitol: food, coal, textiles, timber, and so on.

In punishment for the rebellion of District 13, which took place 75 years ago, not only has District 13 been completely obliterated, but each of the remaining 12 districts must tithe two of their children to take part in the yearly Hunger Games.  The Games are a reality-TV fight to the death which serves as a reminder to the Districts of the power and control of the Capitol.  It is also the entertainment event of the year; an entire industry is built around the Hunger Games, with stylists, gambling, interviews and clever editing and tear-jerker storylines pulled out of the interactions of the contestants just like a season of Survivor.  At the end, only one can be left standing.

The heroine, Katniss, is a strong young woman who desperately volunteers for the Games when the name of her younger sister, Prim, is pulled out of the hat.  Katniss is well-drawn, though occasionally frustrating.  She pushes into hard, cynical territory – she is, first and foremost, a survivor.  Although the burgeoning rebellion tries to push her into the role of firebrand revolutionary leader, she’s refreshingly slow to come around to the idea.  How many times do we meet preternaturally selfless, self-sacrificing heroes?  Katniss battles strict self-interest in a realistic way, and it makes her moments of heroism all the more moving.

What I didn’t like so much about Katniss was her romantic dithering – not that uncertainty in romance is a bad thing, but must we spend hundreds of pages on her tortured indecision between two young men who are, relative to Katniss’ character, boring?  Has Twilight created a tortured-love-triangle syndrome where YA writers must include excessive description of hapless teens’ hormonal internal monologues?  I’m waiting for the story where, after months of tears and see-sawing commitments, our heroes wake up, realize that they’re only 15, and just move on.

I probably enjoyed the first book of The Hunger Games the best.  I found Mockingjay a bit disappointing.  Much as Harry Potter 7 felt like JK Rowling was struggling to preserve the one-year-at-Hogwarts structure, Mockingjay felt like Collins was struggling to fit in another stint in the Hunger Games arena.  It wasn’t really necessary, felt unrealistic, and doused us with meaningless action when she could have been exploring some of the rich potential themes of media, government control, war and violence, disparity of wealth, and so on.  One of the most interesting things about the ending was that she didn’t really provide a happy conclusion, instead implying that conflict and violence are inevitable consequences of human nature, and that the revolution is usually no better than the current regime.  Again, I don’t think she explored these ideas as much as she could have.  (Oh well, gotta sell millions of copies, no big deal.)  There’s a fairly hilarious moment where the rebel leaders explain to Katniss that they’re going to replace the dictatorship with a “republic,” and she expresses extreme doubt about the practicality of such a system.

Overall, a thought-provoking dystopia and a fascinating heroine (slash kind of an anti-heroine).  BUT MORE TO THE POINT, if you haven’t read these books yet, I highly recommend that you do, and I recommend that you read them while partaking in the Forever YA Hunger Games Drinking Game!  Also, if you decide to do this, call me, and I will re-read the books & get wasted with you.  Even if you don’t play the game (or read the books), there are some good cocktail recipes.

the light at the end of the dock

Home late.  Mildly tipsy.  Feel an irresistible urge to finish re-reading The Great Gatsby before falling asleep.

Bookshelf/floor/dresser

An incomplete list of the books that are currently piled on my desk and next to my bed (half on my dresser, half on the floor):

1.  The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Re-reading.
So, I loved this book before I went to Princeton, and  – shockingly – I haven’t re-read it since attending that hallowed institution of higher learning.  I’m expecting to reap all kinds of new rewards from Fitzgerald.  But can anything displace my favourite quote, from the second page (!):
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.”

2.  The Medical Detectives, Berton Roueche.  Picking bits here and there.
This is a collection of non-fiction stories, many of which were published in the New Yorker.  They consist of medical detective stories – accounts of strange epidemics and mysterious symptoms, tracked back by the wonderful Berton Roueche, whose masterful attention to detail and straightforward yet evocative descriptions remind me of In Cold Blood. This book was a gift from my college roommate, S, who has excellent taste in books and knows me very well.

3.  Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence.  Haven’t started it.
But it’s on the pile in hopes that I will start it soon.  I do like Lawrence.  I loved Women in Love.

4.  Mind of the Raven: investigations and adventures with wolf-birds, Bernd Heinrich.  Actively reading.
I’m almost done!  This marvellous book was an impulse buy when I was at Munro’s Books awhile ago – I went in not intending to buy anything, but as so often happens, a title caught my eye and I could not resist.  Heinrich draws frequent comparison to the seminal ethologist Konrad Lorentz, and it is richly deserved praise.  I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to someone that didn’t already have an interest in animal behaviour, because there’s no getting around the fact that it’s 350 pages of observations about ravens…  Heinrich is a great writer, but he’s not a sensationalist.  If you DO have an interest in animal behaviour, this book is fantastic.

5.  Three different knitting books

6.  A collection of love poems

7.  How To Solve It, G. Polya.  Actively Reading.
This is a book about math that my dad lent me to help with the math student I’m tutoring.  My student wants to go to “Math Camp,” a competitive-entry summer camp for advanced & ambitious high school math students in the US and Canada.  Needless to say, I am not helping him to memorize SOHCAHTOA and what it means, and I am very happy to have a professional mathster in the house with me.  Anyhow,  How To Solve It is a book that helps you do exactly what the title suggests:  solve it.  It is a compact, simple, and kinda profound (for reals!) guide to heuristics: the study of the methods, processes, and rules of problem solving, invention and discovery.  It is laid out in the simplest language, by an author who is very pure of intention.
I actually wish I could include the entire introduction here, because it’s great, but I’ll just quote the first paragraph:

“A great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem.  Your problem may be modest; but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.  Such experiences at a susceptible age may create a taste for mental work and leave their imprint on mind and character for a lifetime.”

This entry brought to you by procrastination.  I should be working on my grad school applications…

personal density.

Although I can be terrible at staying in touch, my life has been blessed by the presence of several life-long friends.  These are people that I have been close with since I was five or six years old – a small group of friends who have seen me, and each other, through all of the stages of our still-young lives.  When we get together, we like to reminisce.  This constant re-telling and rebuilding of our own personal mythology is something important to us, a constant theme, a grounding and a reminder of who we are, and how we got to this place called the present. Often, if we’re in the company of more recently acquired friends, we get called out for wallowing in nostalgia.  It’s true – we do.  The tales are told again and again.  Every day of our past, and every square inch of certain elementary school playgrounds, are layered with the richness of a shared past.

To dwell on such things…  Is it good or bad?  Whenever I return to Victoria, I find myself awash in another flood of nostalgia, re-telling the story of myself to myself as I walk through the city.  I expand my personal density, my temporal bandwidth.  This is a notion from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow:

“Personal density,” Kurt Mondaugen in his Peenemünde office not too many steps away from here, enunciating the Law which will one day bear his name, “is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth.”
“Temporal bandwidth,” is the width of your present, your now. It is the familiar “[delta-] t” considered as a dependent variable. The more you dwell in the past and in the future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.
Gravity’s Rainbow, V509

Appropriately enough, it’s actually my willful expansion of personal density that has led me back to this book in particular, as recalling Gravity’s Rainbow brings back a flood of memories that pushes my temporal bandwidth into the past.  In Gravity’s Rainbow, when Slothrop loses his personal density he becomes thin and scattered, practically a ghost, invisible and un-findable.  When I leave Victoria, my personal bandwidth lessens.  Perhaps it’s a good thing – a freedom – but I also thin and scatter.

Personal density matters for collective identities as well as personal.  I’ve just finished Democracy Matters, by Cornel West (notes on the book forthcoming!), and he argues that for American democracy to have any meaning, in order for it to progress and improve and truly succeed as a democracy, America and Americans must increase their temporal bandwidth by confronting the demons of their past, accepting them, and learning from them:

“To confront the role of race and empire is to grapple with what we would like to avoid, but we avoid that confrontation at the risk of our democratic maturation.  […]  To engage in this Socratic questioning of America is not to trash our country, but rather to tease out those traditions in our history that enable us to wrestle with difficult realities we often deny.”
Democracy Matters, p.41

To be fully-realized, we must confront the good and the bad of our pasts… and our possible futures.  We cannot neglect the upper range of the bandwidth, we must also plan – and more importantly, dream – our futures.  Otherwise, we might just dry up and blow away.