23 December 2008

Coraline Movie- Enter The World Of Henry Selick's Coraline Movie

I have been very busy this past week prepping for Christmas, doing the usual shopping-cooking-wrapping routine. In the midst of this I picked up a copy of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I was thinking of giving the book to my 8-year-old for Christmas, but I relish the prospect of solid nights of sleep too much to deal with the anticipated nightmares. This book is way spooky - a distillation and twist on every childhood nightmare I had, along with new ones I never dreamed. I stumbled upon a reference to the book on Carl's blog Stainless Steel Droppings, and love it from a marketer's perspective too - how excellent to think that the venture is sending out these inspired-inspiring boxes to dedicated fans such as Carl. Bravo.

The book will become a movie in February. Check out some preview info here -
Coraline Movie- Enter The World Of Henry Selick's Coraline Movie
and better yet, give the book a read beforehand. I'll never look at protective coloration the same way again.

Now for your further enjoyment, see Neil Gaiman's explanation of Koumpounophobia:

14 December 2008

Hunting along the Tumun

Sometimes, an anti-hero can teach us more about goodness than can a straight-up angel. The Ginseng Hunter
by Jeff Talarigo is an excellent profile of an anti-hero. The novel's main character lurches from event to event in his own life with a stubborn refusal to engage with the people around him; he is asocial and proud to be so. He enjoys his solitary existence harvesting ginseng along the Chinese side of the Tumen River and spares as little thought for the people around him as he can get by doing.

As the seasons change and The Hunter continues his steady pursuit of the hard to find Ginseng root, his ability to remain solitary is threatened. Refugees from across the river steal his harvest, interrupt him at his work, and occlude his single mindedness. Soon enough, he ends up intimate with one such refugee, a Scheherazade of a woman and a prostitute who tells him terrible and strange tales of her homeland in North Korea.

The Hunter's moral path is not instantly cleared for him; as with many people in real life, he acts in ways both reprehensible and laudatory. I did not find it easy to predict why in one case he acted nobly and another in a Hobbesian fashion; nor were his motives entirely explained. Still, the tale is satisfying in that the reader realizes that The Hunter does not completely understand his motives either.

In the conclusion, the book is sad and poignant; and the story of the refugees presented in the book is pitiful. I recommend this book, but don't expect moral redemption from it; instead it provides an accurate portrayal of a person thrust into heroic situations unprepared for them.

Scheherazade illustration by freeparking.

The situation in North Korea is terrible when it comes to human rights. I encourage readers to educate themselves, and consider supporting an organization that supports the cessation of human rights abuses in North Korea, such as Amnesty International.

13 December 2008

Religious studies for the admittedly damned

Recently I reread a book published at the brink of the Great Depression on the history and nature of religion. On the surface, this is a very odd choice for me, as I have no more religious impulse than an alley cat and what religious thought is today is of no more interest to me than the politics of UFO seekers. However, this particular book, Treatise on the Gods, was written by H.L. Mencken, one of my favorite authors. For me, only someone with Mencken's wry wit, lucid style, and cynical eye could make such a subject worth reading.

Mencken was best known as a cynic and critic, and I suspect he doubted his own doubts. Religion and the overly-religious were some of his favorite targets; he was one of the primary people behind the scenes at the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. (He was, in fact, the one who recommended Clarence Darrow for the defense.) One might suspect that Treatise on the Gods would be filled with some of Mencken's most fiery prose against the entire institution, but in fact it is quite cool and scholarly. He looks at religion as a force and an institution and a way of thought through a clinical eye. He starts with the best guesses and surmises of its murkiest beginnings, based on theological research and common themes and ideas in religions. Mencken also examines religions from around the globe, from all the continents and many times, to show that the commonality is far greater than the differences. The Spanish, for example, were shocked to find the Aztecs practicing baptism.

Ultimately he focuses on the Judeo-Christian forms of religion; no surprise, since this was (and still is) the dominant form of religion in the United States. It may also be the most-researched religion in the world, thus allowing keener insight into the workings and thought processes of theologians and the religious. Be forewarned, though, that Mencken does say some things about the Jews that are pretty unflattering, though in this they are no different than any group to whom Mencken turned his attention. Born in 1880 in Baltimore, he was unable to entirely escape the prejudices and tastes of his time (who is?) and anti-semitism was more common then, and more tolerated. (It is interesting to note that when Alfred Knopf, Mencken's friend and publisher and himself a Jew, was asked if Mencken was anti-semitic, Knopf's reply was "probably no more than many Jews"; it was a different world. And for all the discussion these last few years about Mencken's anti-semitism, his greatest invective was directed to the poor southern white, whose religion he examines closely and without positive results.)

On the whole, the book is well-researched, well thought-out, an easy read and very moderate in tone. Mencken being Mencken, though, there are a few barbs being hurled, all the more painful and funny for being so true. What stands out most is how little religion has changed. The outward forms and ceremonies have a tendency to drift and alter as time passes, but nothing at the core in any modern religion cannot be found, and documented, in some religion of 2000 BCE. The book may have been first published in 1930, and there may be whole libraries of books on the subject published since then, but in essence nothing has changed, except for new information based archeological research into the gods and religions of the ancients. Even here, from what I've seen, the basics are still the same and some ideas and what are seen as modern developments have proven to be older and more widespread among our distant ancestors than was previously thought.

It is, in fact, this clinging to ideals, some plainly wrong, coupled with a hideboud hyperconservatism, which marks all religions. They may change on the surface, such as the Catholic Church's recent opening up to groups in America it shunned earlier, but that was due to nothing theological, rather to finances: their membership and cashflow ebbed tremendously after the scandals of the late nineties and early aughts, and they needed new blood. In spite of being nearly eighty years old, Treatise on the Gods is still worth reading and still is, as far as I know, the best critical look at the whole field of religion and the religious available.

A Guest Blogger Post by Richard Burton

08 December 2008

2009 Audiobook challenge

I've been really parsimonious about signing up for any challenges lately, but given the length of my commute this one seems do-able. The gauntlet is down, and I'm taking on the 2009 Audiobook Challenge. Already, I imagine that my first set of recordings will be George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series to refresh my memory of the characters and plot before the release of Dance with Dragons. Which is going to happen any day now. Really seriously.

Thank you Ex Libris for letting me know about he challenge, and good luck to you too!