Monday, April 24, 2017

Which We is the Destination?

I was reading this article on Public Libraries Online, The Destination is "We" (because I'm clearly not great at separating work from leisure, if you couldn't tell from my ever expanding list of monthly reads since I moved up into my not-quite-librarian post), when I was reminded of The Secret Life of Pronouns. More specifically, chapter 7, The Language of Status, Power, and Leadership, part of which discusses I-you-we word usage and what they signify. The PLO article related an incident where an attempt at leadership went horribly awry, and the article author's supervisor let him know where he had failed:
  1. Room setup placed him at the leader spot, conveying a deafness to other ideas
  2. Not letting other people speak, by spilling over with all the ideas before they could even think about solutions to existing issues
  3. And then finally, "you probably used 'I' a dozen times. A good leader recognizes that the destination is 'we'"
#3 is where my interest piqued. Not because I disagreed with it, so much as I remembered that in The Secret Life of Pronouns, Pennebaker highlighted the different facets lying hidden in "we".
On the surface, we-words sound warm and fuzzy and should, in theory, be related to feelings of group solidarity. The problem is that, in conversations with others, the word we is really at least five different words (p.175)
Sneaky pronoun, that "we". The 5 faces of "we" as identified by Pennebaker are (and I'll paraphrase below):
  1. The you-and-I we, where everyone is included in the group, which sounds pretty ideal, but can lead to issues when those involved don't identify each other (or themselves) as belonging to the group.
  2. The my-friends-and-not-you we is pretty self-explanatory.
  3. The we-as-you we: I say "we"; I mean "you"
  4. The we-as-I we, aka the royal we, has the advantage of gathering support from people who may or may not exist, or fall back upon the untouchable institution, with this "we" umbrella.
  5. The every-like-minded-person-on-earth we, which is (arguably) the worst - who is this "we", even? This also, like #4, has the sneaky advantage of gathering support from people, who less likely than not, might exist. (I say less likely only because it's a type of person that this draws support from, and it's less likely that there will be many of such prototypes that exist to agree with whoever's saying whatever they're saying.)
 Furthermore, "those higher in status use first-person plural pronouns (we, us our) at much higher rates than those lower in status" (p.174, emphasis in original), which makes sense even if you just think about those five "we"s listed above, but I wonder whether the listeners realize that speakers who use "we" more often are positing themselves as being higher in status than themselves? All this to say that I think some qualifying is in order here when the author says "the destination is "we"": which "we" are we talking about as the destination, and which "we" do we use to get there?*

*I should say that it's pretty obvious the destination is #1 we. It's just that #1 we doesn't necessarily have to be the vehicle that transports those involved to the destination.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

April Reads (Part 1)

So I'm going to be splitting this month up into two parts. The second half will likely be much shorter, as there are really only 10 days remaining of April, but this is getting ridiculously long. Perhaps I should try doing individual reviews as I finish what I read or watch instead, and complete it a roundup every month?

I can't believe I forgot to mention this one last month!
  1. City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems
    • I was so close to tears after reading this. So. Close. It's such a powerful book and you don't expect it - I mean, you expect part of it - which just kind of makes the story that much more of a punch in the gut. Read it, have tissues in hand, and weep. But also read it to everyone you know.

Tons of marine life in this one! I've briefly discussed #1 and 2 on the list, so I'll just add on to what I said last month about them.

  1. Spirals in Time by Helen Scales
    • I was just clicking into one of Quanta magazine's articles about the rate of genetic mutation (and consequently evolution), and then I read about the studies on phytoplankton - specifically coccolithophores - that deal with whether and how these organisms will adapt to rising carbon dioxide levels in the oceans, and how it would simply be unrealistic to try to carry out the same experiment with larger species such as nautiluses because they take years to reach sexual maturity, and how genetic mutations (and therefore evolution) happens at a quicker rate in phytoplankton precisely because they reproduce in such short timeframes (p.276-277). The study ran over 1800 generations of the phytoplankton and found that they were able to adapt to rising carbon dioxide levels in testing conditions.
      • The article actually talks about how if we look at RNA & DNA mutations over a much longer time period, the ACTG bases change multiple times (as they change quite quickly when viewed over short periods of time), which occasionally results in the bases changing back to their original nucleotide base (e.g. an A might change into a T, then a C, before changing back into a T, then skip along to become a G before finally returning to home base at A). In the long run then, genetic mutations happen at a much slower pace than previously understood; this means that we might be underestimating how old some things actually are (the example given in the article is when foamy viruses originated).
      • It's not quite the same as what Scales is talking about in that chapter, though the title sure got me,  but I feel like related subjects keep popping up right after I read about them and it's a wonderful thing. Most likely what's happening is that they happen independently of me anyway and I have simply become more sensitive to noticing these articles and other such pages popping up on my feeds because I've been primed to do so after reading about similar topics.
    • Scales exhorts readers, in the end, to keep in mind all the various uses of molluscs and other creatures in the oceans, if even just for our own selfish uses (e.g. studying mollusc glues that make use of L-dopa; identifying conotoxins and using them for pharmaceutical purposes), by reducing the amount of pollution that we produce that reaches the oceans either directly (e.g. plastic bags, chemical waste) or indirectly (by way of CO2 that gets absorbed by the ocean) as well as making conscious choices in what we consume, both in terms of the beautiful shiny shells - less regulated than the mollusc food industry, decorative shells that are in good shape have most likely been taken from a living animal that was killed for the purposes of taking and selling their shell - and the molluscs we eat, for which we can choose to do a bit more research and purchase more environmentally friendly choices (e.g. rope-grown mussels).
  2. Spineless by Susan Middleton
    • Go read it. The photography is beautiful and the essays help guide the way you view the invertebrates featured. There's also a spread of an octopus as it's changing colours, as well as one of the egg... I forget its name, but I believe it's a mollusc - anyway, it really does look like a black egg cracking open into the white, creamy contents (that are its flesh)!
    • At the very end, there's also a character profile of each of the invertebrates featured in the photographs within the book, which is absolutely amazing! What a delightful addition to this volume, and what a way to end after the essays! The length and amount of information presented in each blurb ranges from a short paragraph to almost an entire page (for the hermit crab). This is a treasure trove! At first I was thinking I'd have to go back and review all the creatures I wanted to look into more, but honestly that's a daunting task because basically everything featured looked really interesting. That was when I stumbled upon the back species profiles, which gave me the extra information about each animal that maybe doesn't answer all my questions, but sates some of my curiosities along with fueling other ones. I didn't actually make my way through all of them since someone else was waiting for the book, but it's something I'd like to peruse in detail in the future!
  3. Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime by Ellen Prager
    • One of the first things that Prager does in this books is set out definitions and introduce terms and creatures that the lay reader might not be completely familiar with, which is amazing! It should be pretty routine, but it isn't (Poison, I'm looking at you), so I really appreciate that Prager did it. For example - and this seemed very relevant to my interests at the moment because I started Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime immediately after finishing Spirals in Time, which did talk about coccolithophores in the later parts of the book - Prager details the three major types of phytoplankton (the copepods, coccolithophores and dinoflagellates), introduces zooplankton and krill, and a variety of other microscopic organisms that flood the oceans unseen.
    • On the whole, I'm pretty disappointed in this book. Prager does feature a bunch of interesting and weird creatures, as well as covering sex habits of ocean critters that seem odd to us, briefly mentioning various venomous cocktails generated by other invertebrates (like the infamous cone snail) and describes copious amounts of sea slime. So she covers all three of the features of the title. But she doesn't go into enough detail for me to actually care much, and at some point, the one-liners about how these animals have sex or how much slime they produce kind of struck me as perfunctory mentions rather than actual points of interest. And for a book that purports to introduce the reader to the slimy, drug-infested waters filled with kinky sex, it really doesn't deliver. If this was the first book I had read about ocean creatures, I'm not so sure I would have gone down this rabbit hole.
      • Most of the things mentioned in this book are pretty run of the mill: cone snails, octopuses, penguins, polar bears (which are neither particularly sexy, drug-addled, or slimy), some sharks and a couple of the whales. I'm not sure if there were any mentions that I hadn't read about in another book already, to be honest. In addition to which, it would have been pretty cool to mention beyond two words how killer whales work together to create a huge wave that slides seals off their ice floes. Or actually mention the scientific differences between dolphins and whales if you're going to say something about how teethed whales are essentially dolphins (I'm pretty sure the distinction has a bit more nuance than that). 
    • As for the writing itself, I'm going to have to say it was kind of poorly written. Some of the sentences strike me as run-on sentences, which is more distracting than I'd like to admit. Where a colon or two might have saved sentence construction, commas generally overrun the text. I'm being super nitpicky here - the information is interesting, and overall it's well written and engaging - and I'm sure that I commit many many errors of the sort as far as run-on sentences go, but it does detract from the text and makes me have to read a number of sentences over once more to make sure I'm reading them in the right tone or putting emphasis where it's supposed to go.
      • ALSO. That part about Donald Trump's "You're fired", except it became "Your Fired"? I'm so confused! Was it a pun? Was it just not edited? What's going on??? In addition to which - ok, this was published 2011 - it strikes me as rather ironic that Prager is mentioning Trump in the "let's do our part to help reduce our ecological footprint and save the environment" section. She really didn't need to make that reference though, either way.
  4. The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt
    • It's got flip-out flaps on that one spread! Nice intro to Monet's artwork, complete with a brief bio and interesting facts at the end. I did find it odd that the girl trusted the old man so quickly (to the point of what looks like sitting in his lap when he shows her the saplings), and rather serendipitous that Louie didn't trample on any of Monet's paintings lying around and only painted on the empty piece of paper... but it's a picture book. Quite lovely!
  5. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
    • This is such a sad story and I'm not sure whether to read it as a critique or as being a symbol of its times (published 1964), or even just a story of pure unconditional love. The great thing is that I think it can be interpreted in all of those ways, which opens up dialogue. Personally, I would prefer to read it as a critique of the expectation placed upon parents regarding their unconditional love towards their children (perhaps specifically placed upon the mother, since the tree is emphatically female), or even just upon women in general and how women are/were expected to sacrifice themselves for men. Either way, because of the openness to interpretation, I would definitely place this book among my list of recommended reads, though perhaps more for adults (or not - I could be being patronizing to children right now).
  6. Eugene's Story by Richard Scrimger
    • So was it all a figment of Eugene's imagination? Or did he conjure up a new fantasy world in which to escape the brutality of reality that is his older sister and his own inability to cope with his inferiority to her?
    • At first, while reading it, my impression was pretty "meh", but that ending was wholly unexpected and I'm not sure how to read it anymore. I still don't enjoy it to the extent that I would read it again, but it threw me for a loop, for sure.
  7. Me & Death: An Afterlife Adventure by Richard Scrimger
    • I read this under the impression it was a junior novel, and was quite confused how many times there was relatively mature content featured for something in the J Fic category - until I realized I was just mistaken about the whole thing, because obviously this belongs in (and is correctly categorized as) YA Fic.
    • Me & Death is quite a quick read, and Scrimger refuses to tie up all the relationships Jim has neatly - for example, him and his sister have found common ground, but it's not like everything's rainbows and butterflies now; and Raf and Jim no longer have the same perspective on things, and Jim realizes this after agreeing to help Raf out - and yet everything comes around full circle. Interesting throughout, the novel also tackles some of the grey areas of relationships, whether they be the mother-son ties, which are far from what might be considered ideal, or ties of the romantic sort, where Marcie and Jim have an overly simplified romantic encounter that you can probably already sense running into troubles down the line.
    • The only thing is, it kind of felt like everything was oversimplified: it's not like everything in life can be resolved with an apology. That being said, Scrimger does a pretty great job introducing grey zones with the ghosts, since there's no mention of any possibility of redemption for them, as well as with Cap & Sparks and the fact that Jim couldn't make it up to Mr.K. Maybe it's just that everything goes so smoothly for Jim? That he wakes up and he actually does become a nicer person? It would have been interesting to see him wake up and continue on his way before realizing sometime later.
  8. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, translated by M. A. Murray
    • IT'S ACTUALLY A SHARK. Who changed the original shark over to a whale in the first place??? Was it Disney? This is game-changing. The projected image in the Pinocchio ballet makes more sense now (although kind of not... it was more not-shark-fish-like than it should have been if they were aiming for an actual shark, besides which they referred to the creature as a whale in the ballet, too). Although I guess it's a mix in kind of the worst of ways, then, since it just befuddles the viewer altogether.
    • So the driving motivation for Pinocchio trying to reform himself (albeit half-heartedly) throughout the story is actually not that he can become a real boy, so much as that he actually feels bad about disappointing Geppetto and the Blue Fairy, his stand-in mother (who, oddly enough, never really interacts at all with Geppetto). I found much of it incredibly odd, to be honest, and if the message is that children should be industrious, then I suppose it's pretty clear. In terms of teaching morals to children, though, I'm not too sure. (There are, I think, many curiously amoral fairy tales though, from what I understand, so this falls within that spectrum pretty well.)
    • The Blue Fairy is also much less immediately forgiving of Pinocchio than is usually portrayed: she does punish him after each misdemeamour, even if she decides to once again place her trust in him.
    • Lampwick totally gets ditched. Is he meant to represent children who are actually beyond all hope of reformation? Or is it that if not set on the right path early enough, it'll become impossible to correct them? Also, Funland continues to operate even after Pinocchio gets sold, so I suppose the danger lurks in the background anyway: the evil is never truly defeated.
  9. Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats) (2010) by Xavier Dolan
    • Whoa. That ending scene kind of made it seem like Marie & Francis go through the cycle all the time. And Francis' reaction to Nicholas one year later (even though Nico's reaction to Francis' confession was admittedly brutal) was pretty wild. Same goes for Marie. Besides which, if Nico didn't reply to your letter with the poems, even before you tried to explain yourself away, then his answer seems pretty obvious to me.
  10. Kimi no Na Wa (2016) directed by Shinkai Makoto
    • First off: Shinkai's sceneries are always so incredibly beautiful! They glisten and shine like nothing else and it's instantly recognizable even if you don't see anything else in the movie. (Kind of like how I recognized the Ghibli hand in The Red Turtle from the trailer, even though it was so very un-Ghibli-like.)
    • On a completely unrelated note, also: before the movie proper, there were trailers/commercials for upcoming movies re: 1)Renaisssance painters (one of the taglines was "travel back in time", and 2)the Devil's Mountain or whatever it's called, that really dangerous racing course where the narrow mountain roads snake around. And I mean, we got number 1 right away and its connection to the movie: there's time travel involved, so while that's a tenuous link, that can be explained away. Halfway through the movie, though, there was this shot of the mountains at Itomori, with the road winding around the mountains, and I got so excited because I realized why they must have suggested the other trailer to us! Anyway. The movie.
    • Beautiful, as with the other movies directed by Shinkai Makoto that I've seen (Koto no Ha no Niwa and I believe I've also watched Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho), although this one featured a lot more light-hearted humour than I expected based on his other works. I also really wanted it to end differently, more similarly to 5cm per second from what I hear from my friends, in that everything working out kind of struck me as too serendipitous. When Taki saved Mitsuha and the other villagers by travelling back in time in the god's sacred space, I figured that the most important thing - their other halves - that they had left behind were their memories. And what god would be lenient enough to let them recognize each other? It would have been fine if they had gotten to know each other some other way - that's not really what I'm having an issue with! - but it wrapped everything up way too neatly for me. Also, it would have been such a beautiful place to end the movie when Taki realizes Mitsuha's been dead all that time, for the entire duration of their correspondence, and if he were to forget about her (as he did), but still have had his life changed by the experience, in ways he might not notice.
    • I still did enjoy the film immensely, though the English subs could probably have been better/more consistent, but would probably recommend his other films more than I would this one.
  11. Kiss written by Guillermo Calderón
    • I thought it was weird that the program didn't actually have any information about the play's contents. And when Bana (played by Dalal Badr) said that they hadn't actually gotten the rights to reproduce the play. But I was still completely taken for a ride - is it improv? is this scripted? I know they're actors and actresses, but man, their improv is good! and what looked like arguing on stage inserted into the dialogue of the "improv" bits really got me, too - which I think is a real testament to everyone involved in the production of this play, especially those on stage. The lighting was also a bit suspicious because of how on point it was even during the second half, but I felt that sort of "Oooohhhh man. They goofed so hard." after the interview (and during the interview because the questions were rather insensitive) all throughout until Ameera's sister came up on screen again. Amazing!
    • I say more about it below in my blurb on White Tears.
  12. J'ai Tué Ma Mère (2009) by Xavier Dolan
    • Things were made rather difficult by the lack of subtitles, so I was under the impression for the longest time that Hubert actually kills his mother (wikipedia later revealed that it's something his teacher said in response to his lie that his mother was dead). I watched Mommy (2014) a while ago, also by Dolan, and I wonder whether he has produced more films that deal with this turbulent type of relationship between mother and son. I feel as though all the relationships portrayed by Dolan in the films I've watched thus far have been pretty dysfunctional (though perhaps I'm judging based on stereotypical - and thus unattainable - notions of how relationships should function). Also, it kind of feels as though Niels Schneider is everywhere.
  13. Laurence, Anyways (2012) by Xavier Dolan
    • Making my way through Dolan's works.
    • Seeing Laurence and Fred change, as individuals and as a couple, was a slow kind of heartbreaking. You see the moments, you feel the fissures, and there are specific events (like the abortion, Fred not talking to Laurence about it at all before making her decision), but it's not even just their accumulation that destroys them. It's everything that happens: the stress, the loneliness, their inability to communicate as fully as they once did. And that they couldn't recover what they had - that Fred didn't see the beauty in that one couple's life that Laurence brought her to meet, and that she had planned all along for Laurence to only be a temporary blip in her life once more - is sad to see. All the same, Laurence flourishing as a woman, finding her place and being able to stand her ground as a woman, to leave Fred behind at the bar years later, was still a beautiful end.
    • I also think this is the first time I've seen such a good relationship between mother and son in Dolan's films! Albeit one that started rather in a storm. The evolution of Laurence and her mother's relationship to one another, and their frankness with one another, was delightful to see, if a bit anxious for the viewer: "I always saw you as the woman who lived in the house. Never as my mother" "I never saw you as my son. But I see you as my daughter, now." (Not exact quotes.)
  14. White Tears by Hari Kunzru
    • This is one of those novels you can read in a day, and I say this not because it's particularly short, so much as it's absolutely riveting and you can't tear yourself away.
    • Wow. And immediately after watching Kiss (above), too, which explored the same topic of appropriating another culture's history, trying to insert yourself into their suffering when you aren't actually a part of it, and the inevitable dissonance that arises of that. In White Tears, this results in complete tragedy: the Wallaces fall, one after the other, for their part as well as in Carter's dogged pursuit of an authenticity that is beyond the reach of reality - an authenticity that, ironically, could only be created by creating a mashup of sounds and the recorded song, rather than be found already existing.
      • A few quotes from the Kiss brochure/handout:
        • "Transnational solidarity efforts can often serve as a racial alibi for white, Western privilege that is leveraged in support of those facing human rights emergencies in the global South, producing savior-victim narratives that can easily be mistaken for modern day forms of imperialism... in what ways can activism avoid paternalism? On what grounds can solidarity be achieved when these disparities limit activists' ability to understand the circumstances, cultural contexts, and lived experiences of those they seek to liberate? In other words: What are the ethics of taking on a political struggle that is not one's own?"
          • Kunzru highlights this in an even starker light: Carter comes from a line of wealthy white people who used to own slaves, Charlie Shaw being one of them. In the same way, Leonie also struggles with her place of privilege within the arts sector that she has chosen to for herself; she can never be free of her mother's position within the arts as a collector.
          • When Charlie Shaw takes on his revenge using Seth's body, even then there is a clear demarcation of race, as though to scream out Seth's white privilege: "If I'd been black they probably would have shot me, just put me down right there and then. Instead they hung a coat round my shoulders as they led me to the car."
        • "... where the desire to be a good person doing good things is displaced by an uncomfortable and persistent sense of inadequacy and humility, knowing that one can never fully know"
          • In the context of White Tears, Carter both recognizes and is unable to find a solution to this issue: Seth notes that there was a time when Carter wore a red, gold and green beanie hat, but that he now lived in fear should ever one of those photographs reemerge. They tried to hang out with the black students that fit their stereotype of what passed for authentic, only to find that they weren't quite "black" enough for them. They weren't "real", in the way that nobody could be, because in their desire to be part of the culture, to take on the history, they had already reduced black people to a stereotype.
    • As Seth becomes further and further mired in his confusion, his tendency, as he noted even from the start, of becoming lost in the past, being dragged into decades past, the reader too gets more and more lost where exactly each chapter is: are we with Seth? with JumpinJim? is it the past come to haunt the present? But once Charlie Shaw takes over, everything calms; everything is, perhaps for the first time in the novel, absolutely clear. In the end, though, we can never be sure whether Seth has lost his mind, or if the past really has come to haunt him because of what Carter's interminable search for this song, this sound, set into action. But something that really struck me was when Seth went to Farish Street, and an old woman confronts him as he's being a tourist in the area, taking photographs: "Look, I had nothing to do with whatever happened to your neighborhood. I'm not the one to blame."
  15. Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid
    • Another YA, on recommendation after I mentioned how I would have liked to see Dante & Aristotle figure themselves out without being mutually in love with one another. She said things go in ways I never would have expected, and I'm so very glad Gretchen wasn't thrown into the mix just as a catalyst for Dave & Julia, but it didn't throw me for as much of a loop as I wish it did! Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place (YA Fic) for the type of thing I want to read (existential crises, unhappy endings...)
    • I loved seeing the characters mature and realize their own contradictions (avoiding clichés to be unique, yet not realizing that that's just another type of cliché), and how Alsaid tackled the uncertain and ephemeral nature of relationships, even when the love is mutual. There were many grey areas in Dave & Julia's relationship, and that's part of what made them them (that they were kind of practically dating before they actually started dating), and Brett's interest in Julia was hinted at throughout though never acted upon (I thought for the longest time that the way the novel was going to throw me for a loop was actually that Julia was going to realize she loved Brett and Dave was going to have to be rejected outright and it was going to be a bit of a mess, but it didn't go that route). That not every character we get to know is paired up by the end of the novel is also rather refreshing!
    • There's always something I'm unsatisfied with, though, and with Never Always Sometimes, I'm really kind of pissed at Dave, who is portrayed all around as the nicest human being around and yet cheats on Gretchen, and with how easily it's all resolved. I really wanted Gretchen to have responded with "I don't want him back" when Julia told her she could have him. It's as though that wasn't even an option, and it would've been great if Dave had been able to go to UCLA alone, and still have been able to live with himself (or not). The ending part was also a bit too cheesy for me, besides which it also makes it seem like Julia & Dave just hadn't learned their lesson and are reverting back to their old ways, although I'm not sure if Alsaid is playing on the whole clichéd theme or what in this case.
  16. Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin
    • Wilkin hit it on the head when she says in her essay that when you mention Edward Gorey, "you are most liekly to get one of two reactions: a blank "Who?" or ane xcited outpouring of enthusiasm" (p.9). It's the sort of thing you feel as though you want to keep under wraps because it's got something special to it - something you want to hide from the world and make your own - and yet I'm willing to bet there are more Gorey afficionados than I would expect at first guess. Even just from mentioning Gorey at work, about half of my coworkers knew of him and were eager enough to talk about his books. Keeping in mind I work at a library though, so perhaps it's the perfect environment for Gorey lovers to gather? The topic of discussion at hand though was how The Epiplectic Bicycle (currently the only Edward Gorey item we own written by Gorey himself, as we do own The Jumblies and The Shrinking of Treehorn, among others) fits into the category in which it's been put: the Junior Picture books. The apparently adult themes (death, namely, and violence) don't seem like they should be meant for children reading picture books, nor perhaps as a bedtime story for those adults reading to their children, and yet I would be quite afraid for its life if it were to live in the adult section - I'm almost willing to bet it would be weeded out in a short while because it doesn't really look particularly like an "adult book", whatever that's supposed to be. And Wilkin addresses this ambiguity in her essay: who is the target audience, and what did Gorey himself say about it? (In fairness, Gorey was as contradictory in his own remarks about whom his books were meant for as they remain confusing in their ambiguity today, so I'd say he achieved, at least in this realm, the uncategorizability that he wanted.)
    • I also very much appreciated those envelope drawings! It makes me want to write more letters out to people if just so that I can draw more on the envelopes! (That being said, I think there's a limit to how much you can mess around with the general layout of the envelope before the people working at the Post become confused or the machines misread which address is which.)
These below are what I'm either working on or have already borrowed, that are just waiting for me to get to them, preferably by the end of this month.
  1. The Extreme Life of the Sea by Stephen R. Palumbi & Anthony R. Palumbi
    • It's a father-son duo! And they address the formulaic approach that I've also noticed in the above books about marine life: illustrate all the wonders of the sea that are relevant to the purported topic of discussion, then detail how human action has and is continuing to destroy what ecosystems exist that we both know about (and can thus measure the degree of our destruction, to a degree) and are as yet unaware of (and can thus only hope that we are doing less damage than we probably are), before finally exhorting the reader dear to please take steps to reduce their aquatic footprint. Which is all right and well - I absolutely agree that we should be protecting marine life, if even just so we can discover what other benefits they hold for us personally, although I do believe they are worth protecting in their own right - but after reading the same gist in maybe 3 books, by the 4th one, I'm starting to get a little weary of the entire formula everyone's adhering to so tightly. I have to say that Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime was probably the worst perpetrator in this regard, simply because Prager split up each of her chapters into subsections, one of which details what those animals have that can be used for our benefit (I think the section is called "Why We Should Care" or something like that, which kind of assumes the worst, or at least the most selfish tendencies, in her reader. Which is odd, because I'm thinking that the target audience and the readers that are willing to invest time in reading the book are already converted to lovers of marine life, or at least awe-struck spectators to their wonders, so it's kind of like preaching to the choir in a somewhat condescending manner?)
    • The writing is easy to get into, though it stops short of being descriptive or tantalizing enough that it reads as the exhilarating fictionalization of events heretofore unseen that is suggested at the beginning in the disclaimer or preface. I forget whether it was promised, but it was a bit of a disappointment that the fictitious accounts hook me in no more than the hard facts or theories; myself personally, I feel as though if you're going to indulge in fictitious accounts to add flair to your writing and detail hypothetical situations extrapolated from evidence (e.g. Giant Squid v. Sperm Whale showdown as hypothesized from squid beaks found in sperm whale stomachs), then you go the whole hog, right? I didn't feel that writing the imaginary battle between the two added anything beyond what can be said in terms of "we think this showdown happens because we see squid beaks in sperm whale stomachs & also because there is evidence that suggests they both evolved at around the same time in startlingly similar ways (all giant squids very similar genetically, and same with sperm whales, though correlation does not equal causation, as always)" (not a quote). For some of the other sections that might be categorized as fictionalized accounts, some of them I would say are just descriptive passages of how things happen rather than a work of fiction.
    • There's a sentence that's basically repeated from one page to the next (flipped) page, causing me to reread and flip back to make sure I hadn't actually read this page yet, talking about drag in water: the first page referring to flying fish, and the second to dolphins, both with respect to payoff.
  2. The Hunt for the Golden Mole by Richard Girling
  3. The Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts
  4. Reinventing Gravity by John F. Moffat
    • I'm reading this in spurts right now during my breaks (at work), so it's not quite as easy to get into that mode as it should be, but Moffat is really good at breaking concepts down such that they're understandable for laymen! He makes sure to cover the ground that he wants to question, though I'm not yet at the reinvention of gravity just yet, which is great form (and really shouldn't surprise me, but the fact that it kind of does - that he covers Newton & Einstein in such detail - is sad because it suggests I've come to expect precious little).
  5. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Yellow Holes

It's such a nice fit! And super comfortable, too!

Jutta von Hinterm Stein has designed a beautiful cardigan that can easily be dressed either up or down, the Holey Comfort, just in time for spring weather! Even better, I got to testknit this beauty for her! This is actually my first time knitting one of her designs, although I had been drooling over a couple of them over the years. See the Low Budget Pullover, Turnaround Diamonds, Louvre,  Slim Lines, Cross Pockets, and Hourglass, to name a few.

The entire cardigan looks so beautifully structured, but it's completely seamless!

Because it was my first time knitting one of her patterns, getting used to the way the instructions are written took a bit of time. Jutta is very clear in her instructions, but do make sure to read through everything in the section before starting so you know what's happening. In my haste to knit up this cardigan, I misread some sections and ended up having to rip back the equivalent of about one whole sleeve's worth of knitting! However, the pattern itself is very detailed, and Jutta takes care to introduce charts where they are relevant within the instructions instead of putting them all on another page at the end, which I quite enjoyed. There are also many little details that make the finished cardigan fit beautifully! I was worried at first because the armhole seemed so large (it stretched a couple of inches further down from my actual armpit than I would have expected it to when I tried it on), but just trust in Jutta and knit on!

Should I make another?

I made no changes to the pattern, but here are a couple of notes for anyone observant enough to notice and wonder why it's a bit different:
  • My gauge was off, since I couldn't get the specified 25 sts x 34 rows despite several gauge swatches and yarns/needles combos. I had 27 sts by 38 rows, so I knit up a size (M) to get what I needed (S).
  • The yarn was held double, so it took me about 1730 yards, which is much more than the specified estimated yardage for size M (1250 yards). I suspect this is due to my gauge difference, and would trust Jutta's yardage estimates over mine.
    • Another note on the yarn: while it's lovely stuff, there's a ton of oil in it and it biases like nothing else I've ever knit with (except for maybe my own overspun yarn). I'm not sure if the milky yellow that washed out was the oil or the extra dye, or both, but it looked pretty disgusting, to be honest. Prewash the yarn in hot water with some citric acid if you can. Otherwise, go through a couple of hot soaks before blocking, with citric acid. I noticed the same thing happening to a slightly lesser degree in my mokoshi, so now I'm absolutely certain that it's caused by this yarn and not the Louet linen.
  • I made a mistake in the right neckline by a couple of rows. It's not too noticeable, so I kept it (also because I was pretty behind in terms of the test deadline). It also did not affect my stitch count, so all's well.
  • When I connected the sleeves in the round, I'm not sure what I did wrong, but I kept getting a hole in the armpit area, so I just left it and sewed it up afterwards. If this extra little bit of sewing will irk you, I would probably just knit the sleeves flat and then do a major seaming of both of those after blocking instead.
Whaddya mean my yarn biasing means the back increases aren't centred?

This was also a huge stashbust in that I've got less than one cone - specifically, 365 yards - of this yellow left! Hurrah! I mean, I love the colour and the yarn itself, but I don't actually need that much sunshine yellow in my wardrobe (or at least, I don't think I do?). The major biasing that I can't fix even when blocking is also a bit of a downer, so I'm pretty happy I'm using it up and getting lovely results out of it!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Aristotle and Dante and The Bear

  1. The Bear Who Wasn't There: And the Fabulous Forest by Oren Lavie illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch
    • I knew I loved his music, but ohmygoodness this picture book is PURE JOY. A bear materializes out of just about nowhere (well, an itch, but that itch is nowhere really before it encounters a tree against which it scratches itself, producing the bear!), WITH A POCKET, and proceeds to try to find - what turns out to be - himself. Along the way, he bumps into the Convenient Cow, conveniently the shape of a sofa, upon which is lounged the Lazy Lizard, too lazy to move himself, too lazy to fall, even, except for the rare occasion. Apparently they're all friends. The Bear skips along to find the Penultimate Penguin, who haughtily informs the Bear that there is nothing that the Penguin is not already thinking of, and so the Bear is not allowed to infringe upon what thinking matter has been already claimed by said Penguin: not even nothing. The Turtle Taxi is probably my personal fave, transporting the kind Bear, who calls for a taxi to humour the Turtle, Forward. Are they lost? Yes, but it seems like being lost is a transitory step to arriving at Forward, so all is well. Until finally, after bidding adieu to the Turtle, the Bear traipses along in the forest to find a house! And of course, whose house can it be but his own?
    • Delightful for both a younger reader as well as adults alike! Lavie plays with words and semantics like a child with building blocks, and it's incredibly charming to see. The illustrations also go perfectly with the story, what with the somewhat clumsy-looking bear and the outline of a bird that is never addressed - is it even there? is it less There than the Bear who wasn't? - to the portrayal of an itch, it's all just a complete joy to meander into this forest (which grows even when it's not being observed) with the Bear!
  2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
    • This is such a beautiful novel, capturing very well the uncertainties and frustrations associated with growing up while at the same time negotiating each of the characters' identities. Sáenz's writing does not immediately register this novel as being for teens, in that the writing itself is not reminiscent of the self-consciousness I associate with YA novels - the teenage characters themselves do exhibit these doubts, and there is a self-awareness of their being not quite an adult, yet no longer a child, and the subsequent frustration this results in. The fact that these characters are teenagers and at the cusp of change is highlighted not in the style of writing, so much as what is being written, and how they are portrayed, which makes this such a triumph, for me personally - I mean, alongside the plot, and the character developments, the self-revelations, the relationships these characters have with one another. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a beautiful novel touching upon friendship, love, sexuality and the discrimination that is targeted at homosexuality, growing up, family: the secrets of the universe.
    • None of the characters are perfect, but they're very human, and Sáenz has done a wonderful job portraying them as flawed human beings trying to figure out their place in the world and attempting to navigate human relationships.
  3. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
    • This was another book recommended to me by a coworker, and there's going to be a musical playing in Toronto, for anyone interested. The parallels that Bechdel draws between herself and her father, coupled with the title "Fun Home" (in reference to the Funeral Home in which Alison and her brothers grew up), makes for the feeling that the story told is sad, but not all sad, in the same sort of ambivalence one might get from a funhouse at the fair: it's amusing, but in a somewhat disquieting sort of way. (Not that I've been to a funhouse, mind you, but the idea itself strikes me as such.)
    • There is also an irony in Bechdel analyzing her parents' lives in a manner similar to the literary analysis she views with such skepticism. Bechdel's residual confusion is palpable, because she can no longer confer with her father (with whom she was, according to a family friend, towards the end of the book "unnaturally close", a description that didn't seem to come through in her own retelling of their relationship, where she appeared to always be craving more attention from her father, more understanding, more openness) about his sexuality, his decisions.
  4. The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi
    • We were off to a bad start, this book and I: there was a run-on sentence not long into the first pages of it. A semicolon would have sufficed - not even a full stop! - where a comma instead sat. I forged ahead.
    • As the story progressed, I came to expect more and more that it would deal even more strongly with death as it visited Honora Lee, but I think De Goldi has done a marvelous job here depicting Perry's understanding and acceptance of death, her sensitivity to the fact of death and her celebration of the lives of the deceased in her ACB book. I loved the connection made between the nonsensical tangents of conversations at Santa Lucia and those at home between her parents: her Gran might have said of another resident that they're bonkers (for B!), but the same could apply to her parents, of their comments about Gran.
    • The illustrations throughout were a treat, especially the bumblebees that have collapsed throughout the book, more frequently found in the beginning when Perry and Claude collect most of their bees, their numbers diminishing over time.
  5. Blood Brotherhoods by John Dickie
    • I sped through this because someone else had requested the book out of my hands, so I probably didn't absorb the information quite as deeply as I would've liked. It strikes me as incredible, though, that it took so long for the Sicilian Mafia to be recognized as a criminal organization rather than scattered gangs or even just a mindset, and even more that the 'ndrangheta has yet to be recognized as such. Of course, if the decisive evidence isn't there, it makes perfect sense that it should not be legally recognized as a criminal organization, and going by Dickie's description of the way Italy's legal system works (or doesn't), perhaps it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise.
    • Not so much an update on Cosa Nostra so much as a separate volume altogether, comparing the histories and structures of the three main crime organizations hailing from Italy: the camorra, the Mafia, and the 'ndrangheta. One of the things that stood out to me the most is probably that it's the constant switching of sides on the part of the government, over such a long period of time, that contributed so much to the issue of organized crime in the form of the Sicilian Mafia, the 'ndrangheta, and the camorra, not to mention the various other unspecified gangs or collectives. I found that this volume was great at putting things into context, in terms of how powerful the Sicilian Mafia is/was and where it stands (and stood) with the 'ndrangheta (less so the camorra).
    • Someone please write this volume encompassing also criminal organizations around the world and the ways in which they interact with one another and in their respective societies! Even just the three main mafias in Italy took up these 660 pages (or thereabouts), so I'm assuming it would be a rather monstrous undertaking requiring probably multiple lifetimes (preferably with access to different languages per lifetime) to put together a worldwide edition of organized crime. That's the question that got me into reading about the Mafia, though, so I'd really appreciate it if someone could just get started on that tome right now.
  6. The Bird King by Shaun Tan
    • Delightful sketches that are getting me pretty excited to read Tan's books! I really enjoyed the typewriter on tea-stained paper aesthetic, as well as the way the sketches were split up into different categories.
  7. The Jumblies by Edward Lear illustrated by Edward Gorey
    • Who are the Jumblies? What are the Jumblies? It says they got taller, but THEY CLEARLY DIDN'T. Is one of the sections missing a line (with the Jumblies carrying stuff in their arms)?
  8. The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Perry Heide illustrated by Edward Gorey
    • Whoa. So it's a trilogy? It stands perfectly well alone, too.
    • "Maybe it's better if I don't say anything - that way they won't notice." It's less trouble, after all, when the adults simply ignore you anyway. Amusing depiction of the way in which ingrained beliefs, such as "there's no such thing as people shrinking", affect the way people choose to interpret events ("it's alright if you're shrinking; just don't do it at the table, dear"). It's also a nod to how adults underestimate the importance of the problems children face, leaving them to deal with it themselves, with the possibility hanging over the reader the entire time that although you're pretty sure Treehorn will figure it out, perhaps he'll simply disappear (this is Gorey after all...) and that'll be that! It's not even necessarily adults ignoring children when they speak: adults do it to other adults, too.
  9. The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
    • Are you seeing a pattern here? I actually read this on Brain Pickings after a coworker asked if I had heard of this abecedarium, and was thoroughly delighted. It rhymes! It uses odd names (I've never heard of a Prue)! The illustrations hint at what's outlined, and the tinies die of ridiculous causes (such as Neville, who dies of ennui), some of which quite befit the name: Yorick's head gets knocked in. This is PURE GOLD.
  10. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
    • I recommended this to two people shortly after reading it and both said it gave them goosebumps - THAT GOOD. And I agree wholeheartedly! Duck and Death strike up an uneasy but heartwarming friendship, with Duck offering to warm Death when he gets cold after dipping into the pond; the reciprocated action by Death parallels the warmth of the gesture, except it's the hug of Death: Duck's time has come. The raven/crow introduced the page before that also foreshadows the inevitable (what would be the point of personifying Death if death never comes to Duck?) as the only other character apart from the titular three, with the Tulip appearing as a reminder of Death's role. I also really enjoyed Duck getting goosebumps, along with the dynamic shown between Duck and Death. And those illustrations! If I could give more than 5/5, I would.
  11. The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup
    • This was a sweet story that starts off with the death of Fox, but is really about the celebration of Fox's life by his forest friends, and how that celebration helps them move on (in the shape of the orange tree that grows as they recount their stories, and continues to grow as the seasons go by). The story the rabbit told about the fox playing tag with her in the grass did make me chuckle a bit.
  12. Shine: A Story About Saying Goodbye by Trace Balla
    • I didn't enjoy this one much at all - the horse constellations traverse space in mind-boggling ways, shifting between the stars in space and a mountainous terrain, and it seems like the story tried to tackle way more than it needed to in going through the whole cycle of life. It takes the focus away from the death and grief aspect of the book, which I believe was supposed to be the main theme, and instead tells a really abbreviated version of the life of Shine, a constellation horse. It also reinforces stereotypes of what a family is supposed to look like, as well as falling completely in line with heternormativity, so I can't help but feel like there are already more than enough books that help children understand death and grief without needing another one that doesn't really target the concept that well.
  13. The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life by Alex Bellos
    • Easy to understand and read, with appendices that detail specific explanations if you're so inclined to read them, or for you to skip over if you aren't. What really interested me was the Game of Life at the end, and how really simple rules using a grid and either alive or dead (1 or 0) could result in such complex actions. It's of particular interest of me because I'm taking a workshop on how to host a coding workshop at the library right now, and it feels as though using the creation of a game (make up rules, run the game, see what kind of real-life applications this game might have, or what can be learned from the game) could be a pretty good prompt. It would incorporate math into the coding, in addition to game theory, with prizes for the hackathon!
    • I feel as though some things could be expanded upon, but I also realize that expanding on them would be outside of the scope of this book, so I'm perfectly alright with that.
  14. Pinocchio Ballet
    • I wasn't expecting the use of the screens as overlay - they worked marvelously, especially for the ocean swimming scenes, but most of all for the dark ocean scene when Geppetto and Pinocchio couldn't reach each other! That being said, there were a couple of things about the projections I would have liked to see changed:
      • That monster was not a whale. Sharp teeth and eyes on either side of the screen? Not a whale. Not even close!
      • The Pac Man-esque silhouette of the whale coming to swallow Pinocchio was also kind of juvenile. I feel as though there was a huge jump from the really well-done graphics to the other, really half-assed seeming ones.
    • Now I'd really like to read the original Pinocchio, to see what had changed, because I couldn't really get a straight moral tale out of the ballet at all. Even the Blue Fairy's birds tell Pinocchio curious things (e.g. "What make a real boy, is dough (i.e. money)"), and Pinocchio doesn't repent for long - in any of his lapses - so I can't see why the Blue Fairy decided to reward him by turning him into a real boy, even though he saved everyone from the whale's stomach. I mean, I do understand, but at the same time I get the feeling that because Pinocchio has demonstrated a track record of not really feeling guilty over doing "the wrong thing" over and over again, he's going to relapse into it as a real boy.
  15. Poison: Sinister Species with Deadly Consequences by Mark Siddall
    • I was so excited about this when I saw it on the shelves! That cover! The illustrations! In retrospect, given the size of the volume and the sort of book it appears to be, I probably shouldn't have raised the bar so high in terms of expectations as to how deep the coverage would be for each creature/category. It's still relatively well put together, although I find that the critters in each chapter are a bit too separate from each other, as though it were more just a collection rather than a cohesive volume. Even as an introduction to poisonous and venomous animals, insects, and arachnids, I don't feel that Siddall covers quite enough ground: neurotoxins are mentioned and described, and I have the advantage of having read Venomous before (in addition to having taken psychology), but it's only at the end where there's a glossary (which, I might like to point out, is not mentioned at all in the text) that tells you what each of the molecules referred to (e.g. dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, etc.) actually do. It's kind of clear in the text - you can infer what each of them might mean - but it would have been great to see better explanations in the introduction. Likewise, I'm still not 100% clear what the difference is between Müllerian and Batesian mimics. I think I've got the gist, but it was never truly defined; I suspect straight up definitions were given up in favour of the cheeky tone that dominates the entire book.
    • I did enjoy the tone of writing and the writing itself, but it feels more like an unofficial guidebook (the sort that doesn't give you quite enough info, mind you) you might get at an exhibition - perhaps an art exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. Who knows? Even as far as the anecdotes go, Siddall doesn't always tell the full story: he gives you the names, he gives you the creature they encountered, and then there are times he just sort of leaves you hanging. Case in point: did the taipan captured by Budden serve its cause? Did he sacrifice his life in vain, or was that the heroic deed that helped generate the antivenom for what killed him?
  16. Wooden Bones by Scott William Carter
    • So I immediately put a bunch of versions of Pinocchio on hold at the library right after seeing the ballet, along with this riff off of Pinocchio, or rather a telling of the story of the boy who was once Pinocchio (he now goes by Pino - I have no clue where the stress goes). That cover's pretty gorgeous, and set the tone quite nicely for the story, which does get quite dark (Geppetto almost dies, there's a dark forest with dying trees all around, one of the characters does a 180 - maybe not, more like a 90? - and declares her one and only wish after being made a suit by Pino that allowed her to move, was for everyone who had taken care of her to die, etc.). Carter shoves a lot of stuff into this slim volume, which I kind of understand as a parallel to the original Pino, where Pino does goof up a number of times before finally becoming a real boy, but I kind of wish everything tied together more. As it is, once Pino & Geppetto are done ruining the lives of those left behind, they skedaddle and make for the next town or city, and the voice of the fairy in the cave never gets mentioned again. I do think Carter did a pretty good job in tying in the lesson to be true to yourself, because one of the things about the original story, from what I know of it (because I have yet to read the translation), is that there is a very real pressure to become a real boy: that's the crux of the entire story, and Pinocchio never really questions whether he wants to become a real boy or not, or whether it's better to be a puppet or to be a real boy. In Wooden Bones, while Pino does still want to remain a real boy, trying his best to fit in to the "real boy" role, he addresses the issue of identity beyond the dichotomy of wooden puppet v.s. flesh and bone.
    • As a children's novel, I think it's pretty great. As a novel in general, reading it as an adult, I think it's missing something that encompasses the entire plot, making everything cohere. However, that could also have been a conscious decision by Carter, in order to better follow the style of the a fairy tale proper while still transforming it into a novel, by keeping the characters (apart from Geppetto and Pino) and overall plot facile - each encounter is simply a challenge to be overcome rather than an event that directly changes the main characters, and it is only in the amalgamation of the encounters that Pino reaches his decision.
  17. Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
    • The same artist who created the beautifully enigmatic and haunting (haunted, perhaps, by the souls of the characters trapped within the fairytales?) sculptures for The Singing Bones, as well as the collection of sketches and drawings The Bird King (above), is the author of this compendium of fantastical short stories. My personal favourites are No Other Country, Alert but not Alarmed, and The Nameless Holiday. This collection is not just a collection of short stories with their accompanying illustrations: each of the stories is somehow fully integrated with the illustrations, even those where the drawings are separate from the words - for those where the written story is encompassed by the collage-style image, this cohesiveness and unity is emphasized even more.
    • I've also borrowed The Arrival and Lost and Found, and am very eager to start on both!
  18. Ida, Always by Caron Levis
    • I read this on recommendation after recommending Duck, Death and the Tulip (above) to my coworker, and I'm so glad I followed up on it! The two polar bears have such a great friendship and are clearly the centre of each others' lives (whether that's out of choice or not is another story altogether, their lives being confined to the zoo), and it's wonderful that Levis chooses to have the two go through Ida's slow-coming death together, with full understanding of what is going to happen in the future. They make the most of their remaining time together, and when Ida has gone, Gus remembers all that they have done together and knows that Ida is with him, always, in everything that is around them.
  19. Life and I: A Story About Death by Elisabeth Helland Larsen
    • Those illustrations! The plants and the creatures and the people and Death personified into this rather odd creature reminiscent of a person, yet different, without whom Life cannot be Life - Life and I is a beautiful and sensitive take on life and death and the interplay between the two, that discusses how one cannot exist without the other, and offers Love as the solution to the sadness arising as a consequence of Death's visit.
  20. The Flat Rabbit by  Oskarsson
    • Honestly this one was a bit of a let-down. The dog and mouse's ignorance regarding the true state of the rabbit is a big part of the plot, yet the thing is, they understand the concept of death, because they want to move the flat rabbit off the road in case another animal comes around and eats it up. Flying the rabbit up in a kite was a novel idea, but also returns back to the refrain told to children about their pet dog or cat or rabbit going up to pet heaven.
  21. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
    • No words are used in this story; no words are needed. The progression of what is happening is clear, and the experiences relatable to anyone who has ever traveled someplace where they were not familiar with the language or the customs, as well as (obviously) to those who have immigrated, especially later on in life. The kindness of all the strangers he comes across, and the pet that he finds in the jar in his room, is repayed in kind when the man's daughter helps someone else out - it all comes full circle. There is also an ambiguity to the nationality of these characters, though not all of them, which I appreciate, because they remain familiar and relatable to what I would believe is a wide audience. In addition to this, the choice of a made-up country with customs the reader is unaware of as well - along with odd food items and fantastical critters that abound wherever you go - played out very successfully.
  22. Lost & Found by Shaun Tan
    • I found these incredibly dark and evocative, exploring such concerns and issues as depression, losing your attention to details and ability to empathize as you grow older and fit yourself into the dullness of society, and colonialism. And they could be read as very depressing and pessimistic if you interpret it one way, or the exact opposite, adding layers of depth to the stories and leaving it open to interpretation.
    • I am fast becoming a big fan of Shaun Tan!
And as always, a couple of things I'm either working on or have waiting in the ever-growing wings:
  1. Spirals in Time by Helen Scales
    • Shells and the creatures that live inside of them. SO COOL. Also I love that I just finished reading Grapes of Wrath, which talked about the Sierpinski Sieve and how it very closely approximated existing patterns on a specific shell-bearing species, and then it gets a mention in Spirals in Time and in Spineless! The different theories about how shells are made are pretty interesting, and even more interesting is that the patterns on the shells might have something to do with memory. And if it deals with memory as we experience it, despite these animals not having any brain (as opposed to simply reacting to particular chemicals linked to the pattern that triggers a specific set of shell-building action), then we might need to revise our thoughts about intelligence.
  2. Spineless by Susan Middleton
    • Everything is so beautifully captured! There's one invertebrate, I think it's a nudibranch, though I don't have the book in front of me, but it looks like it's really casually flipping the bird and I love it.
    • The essays are interspersed throughout the book, which was unexpected, but effective at holding your interest and helping to gently guide the viewer in how to see the creatures portrayed in the photographs. One of the things about some art books is that they contain all the information at the front before moving on to all of the plates (the images), which for myself personally serves only to sever the connection between the image I'm seeing and the information I just read, or if not sever it then at the very least place the image and the essay at a further remove from each other. Sometimes I'll have to flip back and forth, and I still do have to do a bit of that in Spineless, but it's more because some of the captions refer to an overleaf spread rather than because the essays refer to specific plates that don't immediately follow. The content of the essays themselves from where I am in the book right now generally inform the reader as to how few phylum of the natural world humans (and all other vertebrates) make up - chordata only occupy one of 34 phyla, and even still there are invertebrates in the chordata phylum - and how we should make a greater effort to learn more about and to help protect all the life in the oceans, because they in turn help us to survive. This reminds me of Phytoplankton by Elizabeth Mitchell.
    • Something I find interesting is the thought that most likely all of the creatures photographed in this book have never been seen in such a way before, and probably were never meant to be viewed as such (in nature, I suppose, is how I mean that, in that its fellow inhabitants of the seas, wherever they live, most likely do not see them as they have been photographed, even if we take into account that they've been taken out of all context).