Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chi's Sweet Home, by Kanata Konami

Chi's Sweet Home (Volume 1), by Kanata Konami 

Reason for Reading: I'm trying to encourage my 9-year-old reluctant-reader nephew to enjoy books more. I thought he might appreciate a graphic novel, and this one is appropriate for young ages. Plus, he's been bonding with my young cat recently, so I thought he'd be able to empathize with Chi. :) So far, he hasn't read it - but he says that he will.

Chi is a "newborn" kitten who gets lost in the big, scary world. She is rescued by the Yamada family, who aren't allowed to have cats in their apartment. They search in vain for someone to adopt her, but eventually they fall in love with with Chi and decide to keep her. Chi's thoughts, dreams, and fears are all displayed with adorable big-eyed drawings. I'd read this book within an hour of its arrival on my doorstep. I was sucked right in to Chi's story because she reminds me so much of my own rescued kitten (both in appearance and attitude). Even if my nephew doesn't ever read this book, I'm SO glad I discovered it. :D

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Reason for Reading: Group read on LibraryThing's Green Dragon 

When a unicorn realizes that she may be the last remaining unicorn, she leaves her peaceful home on a quest to find out what happened to all her brothers and sisters. Along the way, she picks up bumbling magician seeking his talent and a dour cook looking for her lost innocence. The unicorn soon discovers that the world has changed since she last ventured out. Humans have lost their youthful innocence, and they are no longer able to see things as they truly are - humans have excelled in the art of deceiving themselves. 

When I originally picked up this book, I'd expected a cute young adult tale, but never expected such depth. The Last Unicorn is a multi-layered allegory: about lost innocence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-deception. But these cynical themes aren't the main point. The main point is that only in fully understanding humans can the ethereal unicorns save themselves. Only by sacrificing a piece of their ineffable essence can they form a closer bond to humans. And this closer bond can lead humans to do wonderful things. 

Yes, it is a Christian allegory by my interpretation. But I think it's amazing the way Beagle didn't just throw in a Christ Figure and be done with it....The allegory of Beagle's unicorn isn't uniquely Christian - it defies religious boundaries. It is a story of love and innocence that mixes cynicism and hope. Quite extraordinary! :)

I was also a HUGE fan of the bumbling wizard Schmendrick who (in my opinion) was only fooling himself into believing he wasn't a capable wizard. He's like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz - just the fact that he wanted so badly to be a wizard made him into one. He could laugh at all the people who deceived themselves, as he unconsciously deceived his own self. He reminded me of myself when I'm in a glum mood thinking I'm not capable of anything when, of course, I'm quite capable if I'd stop expecting so little of myself. ;) This book was a good reminder to have faith in yourself and think about the consequences of your beliefs. :)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

Reason for Reading: Group read with Simpler Pastimes

This classic fairy-tale-style story is set in a land where the Goblins and Humans have had a "cold war" for many, many years. Long ago, the Goblins threatened that some day they will steal a princess...and their day finally comes when Princess Irene's nurse accidentally keeps the Princess out after sunset. Luckily, they are rescued by a miner's boy, Curdie - but now the Goblins know where the Princess lives and what she looks like. When the Goblins hatch a devious plot, Curdie and Irene become fast-friends as they act in turn as heroes. First and foremost, this is a fairy-tale. But it is also an allegory about faith. Princess Irene has a great-great-grandmother - a mysterious and heavenly woman that only she can see. Irene's very-great grandmother gives the Princess a magical string and tells her to follow the string whenever she's afraid - never doubting it or deviating from it, regardless of where it may take her. Irene must learn to have faith even when she thinks that the string has led her astray. And Curdie must learn to have faith in a very-great grandmother that he has never seen.  This is a sweet story, nice for reading aloud to young children. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Sandman - Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman

Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman

Reason for Reading: Group read on LibraryThing

In this classic graphic novel, Dream (The Sandman) is captured by a sinister magician and remains trapped for decades. While he is gone, his kingdom falls apart and dreams on Earth are disrupted. I'm not very experienced with graphic novels, having only read Satrapi's Persepolis before this, so reading Preludes and Nocturnes took some getting used to. But I'm glad I decided to climb out of my comfort-zone for a while - I was REALLY enjoying the book by the time it ended. Neil Gaiman's mind never ceases to amaze me. He's so darkly creative. There are a few issues I had with this book, though. I thought the tie-in to DC superheroes was a bit cheesy - though I recognize that this cheese was do to the development of the graphic novel as a genre. I hear these elements disappear later in the series to leave only the good stuff. :) Also, I found one incident at the end of the book darkly depressing. It made me very sad to see the dark insides of humanity (as Gaiman and his illustrators see them)...but I guess my emotional reaction is exactly what Gaiman was going for. So, points to him. ;) Overall, this was a promising beginning, and now that I am more used to the graphic novel style, I'm looking forward to enjoying the rest of the series much more - after all, it's only supposed to get better from here!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Midnight Riot, by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot 

Written by Ben Aaronovitch, Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Reason for Reading: Real-life Book Club

Peter Grant is a bumbling, easily distracted constable on the fast-track for a paper-pushing job. His luck unexpectedly turns when a ghost approaches him at a murder scene. Apparently Grant does have a talent - he can see dead people. Suddenly, he is adopted as the sole apprentice of Detective Chief Inspector Nightengale, who heads the supernatural division of the police. Grant is up to his ears in weirdness as he tries to solve the murder while learning the ropes in the unexpectedly supernatural world. I mostly enjoyed Midnight Riot for its interesting world-building and a lot of dry humor. The character of Grant was likable enough - even if he was bumbling - and I suspect I'd grow attached to him after a few books in the series. The plot tended to stray a bit more than I prefer, though. Nothing too bad, mind you, but there were a few moments where I wondered if we were still trying to catch the murderer or just enjoy the scenery. I prefer a little more focus. But these passages were never very long, and the book was, for the most part, quite enjoyable. I'm sure I'll pick up the next in the series some day.

As for the narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith...I think his cadence, tone, and delivery was done perfectly for our character. He was so dead-pan with the dry humor that I sometimes only caught the humor by delayed reaction. Which made it funnier. :) On the other hand, he was a rather loud (and wet) breather. I figured at first that this was put on for the character effect - but then I realized that such breathing would be difficult to fake unless he narrator was really congested. So...the loud breathing wasn't enough to put me off, but it might be enough to put SOME people off. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I've been going through the Harry Potter books by audio now. This is my first time reading straight through the entire series, and by "straight" I mean I finish one every one or two months. ;)

Review (WARNING: Contains unavoidable spoilers from earlier novels!!!)
Voldemort has recently returned, and Harry Potter has spent the entire summer listening to the muggle news for some sign of terror. But it turns out that most people don't believe Harry and Dumbledore that Voldemort has risen, and Voldemort is using that ignorance to his advantage.  Furthermore, the Ministry of Magic has decided that Dumbledore isn't stable, and they're interfering at Hogwarts with the addition of a new teacher - the throttle-worthy Dolores Umbridge. *Yes. I wanted to throttle her EVERY time she entered the narrative. That shows excellent caricaturization by Rowling.* This year, Harry must battle the disciplinary hand of the Ministry and skepticism from his fellow students, without losing focus on his upcoming OWL exams. Will he pass Potions?!

This is one of the more complex books in the series (which wins it bonus points with me), but it is also the angstiest book. Harry spends the entire book angry at his friends, angry at Dumbledore, angry at the Ministry, angry at Umbridge, and just plain pissed off in general. His confusion is compounded by his interest in Cho, who is still mourning the death of her dead boyfriend Cedric. Overall, it's a good book because it advances the story and develops character, but I got a bit tired of angsty Harry. This is my least favorite (though still highly enjoyable) of the Harry Potter books.

Jim Dale's narration is quite enjoyable now that I've gotten used to it. He has recognizable voices for each of the characters, and his voice is entertaining and engrossing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Short Retellings of Donkeyskin

"Thousandfurs," by Doug Allyn (in Once Upon a Crime, ed. Ed Gorman): When mob-boss King's wife dies, he starts losing his sanity. In hopes of salvaging his career in crime, King's second-in-command hurries to find a look-alike to appease his boss. But the actress just happens to be the daughter of King...
-This was an interesting retelling of Allerleirauh which placed the characters in modern-day Detroit and made the King into a mob-boss. The concept of the coat of a thousand furs had an interesting twist. :)

"Donkeyskin," by Terri Windling (in The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors, ed. Terri Windling): In this striking poem, Windling mixes gritty modern-day reality with fairy tale imaginings. A girl runs away from her abusive father and becomes a waitress at a truck-stop. There, she hides behind a tough skin, waiting for her prince.
-One of my favorite short retellings

"Allerleirauh," by Jane Yolen  (in The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors, ed. Terri Windling): In this fairy tale retelling of Allerleirauh, a motherless princess would like nothing better to win the love of her father - but he blames her for the loss of his queen. But...what happened to the fairy tale ending?

"Suit of Leather," by Barbara Wilson (in Salt Water and Other Stories): Carter grew up a sheltered heiress, but when her father attempts to sexually molest her, she runs away to the streets. She buys a suit of leather, which makes her feel tough and protected from the world around her. It makes her feel attractive and it hides her identity of "runaway heiress" well. She finds a dishwashing job (and a room off the kitchen to shelter her) in a gay restaurant. There, everyone decides she's butch because of her suit of leather, but she is secretly attracted to Nat - a woman who is interested in a more softly-clad type. Carter must climb out of her protective leather suit in order to get Nat's attention. 
-This was a very well-written story, and possibly one of the most memorable. But I personally found the adult content a bit off-putting. 

"The Tale of the Skin," a short story by Emma Donoghue (in Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, by Emma Donoghue): This is an almost canonical retelling of Donkeyskin, except that it has a cynical twist at the end.  

"Tattercoats," by Midori Snyder (in Black Thorn, White Rose, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling): On her wedding night, a princess inherited three walnuts which housed her mother's golden ring, spindle, and reel; her mother's dresses the color of the sun, the moon, and the weather; and a raggedy old coat. At first, the princess thinks the raggedy old coat is useless and ugly - but her mother explained that the coat helped her to better know herself. Years later, the passion of the princess' marriage is fading, and she finally decides to make use of her mother's gifts.
-This is an interesting sequel to Allerleirauh, but it has adult content.

"The Color Master," by Aimee Bender (in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, ed. Kate Bernheimer): When the Color Master falls ill, an apprentice must fulfill an impossible request for three dresses for the princess - one the color of the moon, the next the color of the sun, and the third the color of the sky. The apprentice must put all of her passion and anger into the dresses in order to provide courage to the troubled princess.
-This is a retelling of Donkeyskin from the point of view of the dressmakers. A very imaginative story, with colors like poetry. :)

"Dancing in the Ashes," by Richard E. Friesen (in Once Upon a Galaxy, ed. Will McCarthy and and Martin H. Greenburg): In order to escape her emotionally abusive father, Ally uses her mother's time machine to travel into the Middle Ages. There, she discovers that not everything is as romantic as she expected. There is filth and stench everywhere, not enough food, not enough water, and a social hierarchy that she'd never dreamed of. Will she be able to find her handsome prince in this world? Or can she find a way back to her own?
-This is a retelling of Donkeyskin/Cinderella that was written by Friesen as an example to modern readers that our fascination with the Middle Ages wouldn't last very long if we actually tried living there.

"Moss Gown," by William H. Hook: When Candice's father decides to split his lands among his daughters, he puts them to the test by asking each how much she loves him. Candice's sisters flatter her father with fancy words but no sincere affection. Candice answers that she loves her father like "meat loves salt." Candice's father doesn't understand the simple elegance of Candice's answer, and he gives all his land to the two older sisters, who banish her. While running through the forest, she meets a witch who gives her a magical gown made of moss. She finds a job in the kitchen of a rich man's house, and attends his balls dressed in her gown of moss (which becomes a beautiful dress at night). They fall into insta-love, and the young master yearns to meet the young lady again. Candice learns that the young master is able to lover her despite her tattered clothing. They get married, and the father (now blind and abandoned on the streets by his older daughters) shows in the area - begging for food. Candice throws a feast cooked entirely without salt, and this is when her father discovers how much meat loves salt. 
-This children's picture book has elements of Cinderella, Donkeyskin, and King Lear. A cute story, especially for little girls.

"Princess Furball," by Charlotte Huck: When a king promises his daughter in marriage to an ogre, she tries to postpone the wedding by requesting four impossible gifts - three unearthly dresses and one fur coat made from the fur of all the animals in the kingdom. But when these gifts are quickly provided, she runs away and becomes a servant in the kitchen of another palace. She attends three balls dressed in her beautiful gowns, and the prince falls in love with her. 

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Reason for Reading: Well, actually, it was an accident. I watched the BBC movie with my mom and she asked me how similar it was to the book. I said that it was very close to the book, but that there were a few things in the movie that I didn't really believe happened that way in the book. So I picked up the book and started reading. Got sucked in. :) I was wrong, though, all three incidents happened in the book. 

This is the story of two very different sisters: Elinor is a sensible (yet secretly passionate) young woman who must continuously reign in the wild passions of her mother and sisters - especially Marianne whose head is filled with romantic notions of one-true-love and tragedy. When their father suddenly dies with their newly-acquired estate entailed away to their half-brother John, the sisters are left destitute. John and his wife Fanny descend upon the mourning family within a fortnight and make the sisters and mother feel like unwelcome guests in their beloved home. Elinor soon forms an attachment with Fanny's brother Edward, but Fanny doesn't approve of Elinor's lack-of-fortune-or-name. So the family moves away to a cottage, leaving Edward behind. Poor Elinor must struggle with her own worries about Edward while at the same time monitoring the expensive of the house and trying to reign in the wild, all-consuming attachment of Marianne to the dashing young Willoughby. The romantic hopes of both girls spiral downwards as more and more obstacles appear. 

I love this story because I've always admired Elinor for both her passion and her ability to handle all problems that come her way. I also admire Colonel Brandon for his devotion to Marianne despite her ecstatic preference for the younger, handsomer, and less reserved Willoughby. This time around, I also really appreciated Marianne's character. Her youthful ideas about love were cute - and realistic for many girls of 16. :) Her development throughout the story was extraordinary. I loved the way she slowly, cluelessly, began to understand the world around her. I don't admire her, but I think she's cute and very funny. And, frankly, a more interesting character than Elinor (due to her development-of-character).

To be honest, this book is just as much a favorite as Pride and Prejudice. Yes. That is right. I ADMIT that I like this book just as much (possibly a little more) than the beloved P&P.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hamlet, Act III

Act III is the pivotal act in Hamlet. The Prince had been dragging his feet for months trying to force himself to avenge his father's death. At one time, he'd be certain that the ghost was truly the restless spirit of his father seeking revenge; another time he'd fret that the ghost may be a demon sent to tempt the Prince into a fatal and condemning act. In scene i, he had his famous "get thee to a nunnery" fight with Ophelia. Frustrated with his own impotence, he extended the blame of his mother's inconstancy to all women. Maddened at the thought of Ophelia's future marriage to someone else; maddened at what he saw as her certain inconstancy in the future, he demanded that she commit herself to a convent. His interaction with Ophelia was observed by Polonius and Claudius, who decided that he was dangerously addled and must be sent away to England (presumably with hopes that the distraction would clear his mind). 

In scene ii Hamlet made pointed remarks during a play, hoping to draw out Claudius' guilty response. Hamlet succeeded in drawing out Claudius, who angrily retorted at the content of the play and stomped out of the room. In the immediate rush of  fear at Hamlet's knowledge, Claudius suddenly felt his own guilt. He regreted killing his brother - not because it was a treacherous act in itself, but because he had been found out and might suffer consequences. He knelt down and prayed that God help him; he asked forgiveness while simultaneously acknowledging that he's not really sorry that he got the Crown and the Queen, but he was very sorry that Hamlet found out about the murder. The Prince discovered Claudius praying and at first set his mind upon killing the King here (when the royal back is turned). But then Hamlet worried: if he killed Claudius now, while praying, the King's soul would be clean and he would be dispatched to heaven. Hamlet wanted Claudius to be damned, like the late King Hamlet. The prince decided to wait.

In the final scene, Hamlet was summoned to the Queen's chambers, where she tried to talk sense into him. There, Hamlet swelled again into his accusatory rage at the inconstancy of women. Polonius, who had hidden himself behind the curtains upon Hamlet's entry, thought to rescue the Queen from her raving son - but when he called out, the infuriated prince stabbed at the curtains and slayed Polonius. With this act, Hamlet's path of revenge was cemented. He had killed once, he had no choice but to continue with his revenge quickly or fail entirely. Shakespeare punctuated this pivotal act with the ghost of dead King Hamlet - who only the prince can see. Prince Hamlet's shock at the escalation of events and the sudden appearance of the ghost muddled his already maddened state, and he ranted wildly while the terrified Queen tried to calm him. The act ends with Hamlet lugging the body of Polonius off stage.


Hamlet and Ophelia
Hamlet (1996)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Act III, Scene i: The King and Polonius decided to observe Hamlet as he interacted with Ophelia. They told Ophelia to linger where she was sure to meet Hamlet, and the two men hid. Before noticing Ophelia, Hamlet was deep in his own meditations. To be or not to be? Apparently, Hamlet was considering suicide. Did he know the King was watching? Or was his doubt genuine? There is no indication that he knew the King was near. Personally, I think Hamlet was genuinely considering suicide. He'd experienced some terrible blows in the last few months - his father died unexpectedly, his mother married her brother-in-law, and Hamlet was being haunted by the ghost of his father who was making shocking demands of the Prince. Hamlet was tortured by a feeling of failure that he hadn't avenged his father, stress at the idea of killing the King, and doubt about the nature and intentions of the ghost. That's enough to make any sane person consider suicide. The sudden appearance of Ophelia reminded him of yet another failure in his life. 

Like Claudius and Polonius, I observed Hamlet very closely in this scene because I wanted to consider the age-old question: was Hamlet mad or was he faking it? I saw no signs of actual insanity, despite Hamlet's nonsensical word-play and his irrational anger at Ophelia. He seemed genuinely enraged at Ophelia's perceived inconstancy, and he blamed her for future inconstancies which she had not yet committed; but sane lovers can also be irrational in this way. 

Another question I pondered during this scene was whether Hamlet meant to imply that Ophelia wasn't a virgin (since Harold Jenkins, the editor of my edition, claims that there is no evidence that Ophelia and Hamlet had any pre-action action). And, frankly, I have to agree with Jenkins. There is a lot of double-meaning innuendo during this scene (and the next), but that doesn't prove that they'd been together. Men are quite capable of innuendo in the company of maidens. That proves nothing in itself. So I leave that one open to interpretation.

The Play
Hamlet (2009) Royal Shakespeare Company
Directed by Gregory Doran
Act III, Scene ii: In this scene, the troupe of traveling actors put on a play which closely resembled the murder of King Hamlet. The Prince made continual jibes and probes at the King until Claudius angrily announced that he'd had enough and stomped out of the room - which was exactly the guilty reaction that Hamlet was hoping for. Now Hamlet could avenge his father's death with confidence that Claudius is guilty.

This scene is scrutinized closely by critics. The play began with a dumbshow which silently portrayed the murder - but Claudius apparently didn't respond to this dumbshow. The King only responded upon seeing the murder in the spoken play. Critics ask the question: did the King see the dumbshow? Why wasn't he offended by it? Why did he wait until the second enactment of murder before retorting? Some directors believe that Claudius didn't see the dumbshow. They have him turned away from it, chatting with a neighbor. Others believe that Claudius saw the dumbshow, and silently blanched, but wasn't truly provoked until Hamlet's comments during the second enactment. Harold Jenkins (forever the literalist) believes that neither of these two things happened, because otherwise it would have been mentioned in the stage directions. :) A sophisticated connoisseur of Hamlet apparently watches Claudius during this scene in hopes of determining which interpretation the director has chosen.

Hamlet almost kills Claudius
Hamlet (2009) Royal Shakespeare Company
Directed by Gregory Doran
Act III, Scene iii: Shocked by the realization that Hamlet knew Claudius' guilt, the King prayed for help from God. Hamlet discovered Claudius praying, and almost killed him there...but then decided that if he killed Claudius when his soul was cleansed by prayer, Claudius would achieve salvation. Hamlet wanted Claudius to be damned, so he waited a better opportunity for revenge.

The question I asked while reading this scene: Was Hamlet just procrastinating, or did he really not kill Claudius in prayer because he wanted to damn Claudius' soul? Personally, I think he was procrastinating. He had resolved that he must kill Claudius, but he didn't have the nerve to do it in cold blood. 

Hamlet in the Queen's Closet
Hamlet (2009) Royal Shakespeare Company
Directed by Gregory Doran

Act III, Scene iv: Hamlet ranted at the Queen in her chambers. Polonius, hidden behind the curtains, moved to assist the Queen, and Hamlet stabbed him. Hamlet seemed rather surprised to discover that he'd killed Polonius. What did he expect? That the King was hidden behind the curtains? Personally, I think he wasn't thinking. He had worked himself up into a frenzy talking to the guilty Queen, and was surprised by Polonius' sudden call. He stabbed the curtain, not knowing what lay behind it, and only afterwards asked "Is it the King?" His confusion at finally having spilled blood - though the wrong person's blood - was compounded by the sudden appearance of the ghost. This is the first scene where Hamlet truly appeared, to me, to have lost his wits. He was acting violently without thought of consequence or purpose. His speech was confused. He was utterly out of his depth. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1930 and has been sitting on my shelf for years. 

While sitting idly one evening in her antique shop, Hitty, a 6-inch-long doll carved out of Mountain Ash wood, decides to write her memoirs. She begins her narration with her birth into the brave new world of 1830's Maine. Her little girl drags her on many adventures beginning first with their village and ending in a far-off land...where she finds a new owner. Follow Hitty's adventures over a hundred years as she changes hands and lands and occupations. This is an adorable little classic of historical fiction for 8-9 year-old girls. The story is sweet and generally easy to read (though some of the historical references went over my head, and the book succumbed to the racial stereotyping common for books written around the turn of the century). I'm glad I finally picked this one up. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1941. It's been sitting on my shelf for years.

Mafatu is afraid of the ocean because he almost drowned when he was a boy. But in his culture, fear is scorned and laughed at. Mafatu feels that he must redeem his good name and prove that he is not afraid anymore. He climbs in a boat and goes on a voyage, but he soon finds himself shipwrecked on an apparently-deserted island. There, he keeps himself alive by making all of his own tools, weapons, and a new canoe. He battles a tiger shark, an octopus, and a boar. He defies the cannibals when they return to their island. But will he be able to return home? This was a cute book, and I enjoyed the adventure - though it's very short and all the adventure is packed in at a very unrealistic pace. Regardless, I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with it. I think a young reader might find this book fun. It's appropriate for someone reading at maybe the 3rd grade level. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, by John Coates

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings, and the Biology of Boom and Bust

Written by John Coates, Narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

Reason for Reading: This book was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. 

In this Wellcome Trust shortlisted book, Coates describes his research into the feedback loop between testosterone and success in the financial market. When a person has high levels of testosterone, they are prone to risk taking - which generally promotes the market; however, success raises their testosterone levels, which increases their risks and creates bubbles (like the dot-com bubble) which are unnatural and eventually pop. Loss of money leads to decreased testosterone levels and release of stress hormones - which, if sustained for long periods of time can lead to a depressed, risk-averse market. This is when the government should step in and perk up the market themselves. (You can probably guess Coates' politics from that statement, but the book is generally apolitical.)

I found Coates' research quite fascinating, and his writing was engaging to someone who's interested in the topic. I, unfortunately, am not generally interested in finance and so my attention wavered a bit during the finance-heavy bits. But the book was written in an approachable way such that I (who know nothing of the matter) could understand the financial/market bits and that someone who knows very little medicine could understand the science bits. In fact, it was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize because because it makes medicine approachable to the general population. For anyone interested in how hormones/neuroscience/psychology can affect the market, this would be an excellent book to pick up. An easy and interesting read. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for reading: This is the seventh (and final) book in the Chronicles of Narnia, which I've been reading in order-of-publication. I plan on rereading them all in chronological order using Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward as a guide.

The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia depicts the apocalypse of Narnia. When a shrewd monkey teams up with Calormen to trick the Narnians into thinking Aslan has returned - and they are his spokespeople - Narnia is cut to ruins. Forests are destroyed, Narnians begin to doubt Aslan, and cities fall to heathen invaders. I'm afraid to say this was my least favorite of the Narnia books (though I still liked it quite well!). Intellectually, I know Lewis had to have an apocalypse - whatever begins must also end - but it was still a bit dreary.  So although I understand why the apocalypse had to come, I still liked the other books so much better. Not only because they were much more cheerful, but also because they had more fun-filled adventure.

However, despite my misgivings about uplifting-yet-dreary endings, I want to address Philip Pullman's opinions about the Narnia series (which I first mentioned in my blog post about The Amber Spyglass). WARNING: This commentary will have spoilers for the Narnia series! In his 1998 article in The Guardian, The Darkside of Narnia, Pullman stated his opinion about the Narnia series: “there is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read.”   Pullman is an atheist, and he believes that the being-dead-in-Heaven-is-better-than-being-alive-on-Earth philosophy is "life-hating." It is unsurprising, therefore, that he feels The Last Battle is "one of the most vile moments in the whole of children's literature." Happily, I disagree with his anger at this belief in Heaven. Even though I found The Last Battle to be a bit dreary, I appreciated the message of love and Heavenly gift that Lewis was portraying.

Pullman continues to say:
But that's par for the course. Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it.  
I agree that Narnia conveys some rather sexist and ethnocentric views, but that's what English literature of that period was like. Lewis (and the Narnia books) are a product of their time.

I don't think any of those arguments is strong enough to merit my discussion alone. The reason I felt moved to discuss Pullman's opinions are in this paragraph (which I unfortunately read before completing the series):

And in The Last Battle, notoriously, there's the turning away of Susan from the Stable (which stands for salvation) because "She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn't approve of that. He didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she'd been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.  
When I read this paragraph, I wondered what Lewis actually did do with Susan in the book. But when I read the book, I interpreted those events differently than Pullman: Susan wasn't allowed into Heaven at that time. It was made clear that Susan was in one of the silly stages of life, but it was just a stage. She still had a chance to grow out of it. She hadn't been rejected from Heaven permanently, and it wasn't her time to die. Susan lived. And Susan had the ability to change (just as Pullman points out). Lewis wasn't saying that grown-ups can't go to Heaven. After all, the kids' parents went to Heaven, didn't they? Lewis was saying that Susan was in a phase where she idolized material things - and had thus turned away from her spiritual health.

Also, I'm not certain Susan really is the most interesting character. By Pullman's definition (he-who-changes-is-most-interesting) I believe Eustace's character developed much more than Susan's character. Why is Pullman ignoring Eustace?

What do other people think about Susan's character? Do you think Lewis meant for her to be denied Heaven permanently?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Losing Christina: Fog, by Caroline B. Cooney

Losing Christina: Fog, by Caroline B. Cooney

Reason for Reading: I had hit a reading slump and wanted to perk myself up by reading something "exciting." I was browsing through the ebooks at my library, and found this. I remembered how much I loved it when I was a child and thought "I wonder how bad it could be?" So I borrowed it. :) I'm rather glad I did!

Christina is excited because this year she is 13 and she gets to leave the island she grew up on and attend junior high on the mainland in Maine. Despite her excitement, she is torn by worry about whether she'll be bullied by the mainland kids, who think islanders are stupid and poor. But those worries soon take second place when she realizes that the owners of the bed and breakfast where she and her islander friends lodge are using psychological torment to suck the souls out of girls. She's terrified as she watches the beautiful and brilliant senior Anya fade away. And soon the psychopaths are after her own mind. 

When I was pre-junior high I used to gobble up these Point Horror books like a turkey dinner. (haha. ok, I know that wasn't funny. Just work with it.) There are very few of those books that I actually remember liking though. This is one that has really stuck with me through the years. When I found it in the library recently I thought: "I wonder..." And I'm glad I did, because I found this book terrifying. When I was a teenager, I think I found the spooky psychological aspects of going insane scary. Now, the book is even more terrifying, but for a different reason. Those psychopath adults who have FULL control over those poor children were horrible! They were charming, and fantastic liars, and those kids' parents weren't around to see what was going on. They just believed whatever the adults told them rather than believing their own children. And the things those psychopaths said to the kids! Ohhhhh shudder. Yes, the book lacked subtlety. But the fact that it terrified me even now gets it four stars in my blog! My only complaint (besides the lack of subtlety - which is really due to its target audience) is that it ended in a cliffhanger. This is a trilogy of short books. It really should be one longer book. Even combined, I think the book would still be reasonably short. But it WAS Point Horror, after all. They had to be short.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis

The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for Reading: I'm finishing up the Narnia chronicles in order-of-publication. This is the penultimate book. :) I chose to read this book NOW because of the Classics Children's Literature Challenge.

When Digory's evil magician uncle tricks Polly into entering another world,   Digory must rescue her. Their adventure heightens when they discover an evil witch and then witness the creation of Narnia. This is the first time I've read this adorable classic. I've heard it was the book that Lewis meant to start the series with, but it was so difficult to write that he put it off until he had developed Narnia a bit more. It's probably good that he did, because I enjoyed seeing references to the earlier books...like the story of how the light-post ended up in the middle of a forest in Narnia. :) I look forward to re-reading this book later (this year?) when I read them in chronological order. :D