Archive for the Non-fiction Category

2007: different but not that different

Posted in Books, Non-fiction with tags , , , on November 17, 2012 by Cara Marie

I’m reading a book of Cory Doctorow’s essays, which includes an article, published in Locus in 2007, called ‘You DO Like Reading Off a Computer Screen’.

The premise of which is that when people say they don’t like reading on a screen, they mean they don’t like reading long-form work on a screen. Which is fair enough. But Doctorow then says, ‘A super-sharp, super-portable screen would be used to read all day long, but most of us won’t spend most of our time reading anything recognizable as a book on them.’ To which I go, oh, 2007. My Kindle ain’t that sharp, but it sure as hell gets books read on it.

(Although I guess you could say ‘most of us won’t’ because ‘most of us’ don’t read that many novels or books anyway. But this article was published in Locus: the ‘us’ is readers.)

That statement is funny in a ‘oh, hindsight’ way.

This one is just preposterous:

There’s a generation of web writers who produce ‘pleasure reading’ on the web. Some are funny. Some are touching. Some are enraging. Most dwell in Sturgeon’s 90th percentile and below. They’re not writing novels. If they were, they wouldn’t be web writers.

Fun fact: bloggers aren’t the only people writing things over the internet!

I’ve had the internet since I was eight. For almost that long, I’ve been aware of (and reading) novels people have posted on the internet. Even if Cory Doctorow has never read fanfiction, surely he’s aware of it?

But I guess none of those 100,000 word fanfics are actually novels. If they were, people wouldn’t distribute them over the web!

Doctorow then finishes (finished – this was 2007) with the idea that people will only read free e-books ‘enough … to decide whether to buy it in hardcopy – but not enough to substitute the e-book for the hardcopy’.

Oh, hindsight.

From Girl to Goddess: The The Heroine’s Journey – Valerie Estelle Frankel

Posted in Books, Non-fiction with tags , on August 16, 2012 by Cara Marie

From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey is an interesting enough book, but not overall convincing. Because it dealt mostly with fairy stories, there was little in it that illustrated the complete journey that Frankel describes – each story would tend to cover only parts of it, which makes it difficult to see a pervasive pattern. I would go along with her argument for the course of each chapter … but I never felt I saw the whole thing in its entireity.

I think the book would have been better served by not limiting itself to folklore. Certainly stories like The Labyrinth, The Wizard of Oz and Spirited Away have enough in common with the arc that she describes, and more completely, that they could have strengthened her thesis.

Also, I know I shouldn’t complain about a book that models itself off Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces dealing too much in archetypes. But all the characters in a folk tale being aspects of the protagonist, et cetera, drives me a bit batty. Especially some of the stuff about Athena – Frankel speaks of her as the quintessential woman upholding-the-patriarchy, but then discusses how Perseus defeats Medusa on Athena’s behalf – like Athena is so disconnected from her inner wild feminine that she has to send a man to meet with it on her behalf.

And I am just not quite buying it. Especially in combination with the idea that once upon a time all cultures worshipped a great mother goddess, at least until patriarchy came along, and the goddess was split into her different aspects while gods took over.

I’m sorry, I just find it hard to believe that before the ‘patriarchal’ religions took over, all faith was the same. Surely the patriarchy didn’t invent variety in religion?

So that was that book. I did enjoy the discussion of the individual stories a lot, and the variety of them pleased me … but I think I should just stay away from the Jungian folklore books.

Today in the world of essays men wrote in the 40s

Posted in Books, Non-fiction with tags , , on May 24, 2010 by Cara Marie

Having finished all I can do today on the volume of A.R.D. Fairburn’s poems that I am digitising, I thought I would start cleaning up his book of essays.

The title essay is called ‘The Woman Problem’. It is a charming anti-feminist tract, with bonus homophobia. Lovely. It is a relief, therefore, to find where people have scribbled conversations in the margins. Things like: ‘You are full of shit’, ‘Hear hear!’

Thank you, people! I completely agree, and am grateful that unlike you, I do not have to actually read these essays, only mark them up.

Cheek by Jowl – Ursula Le Guin

Posted in Books, Horror, Non-fiction with tags on December 25, 2009 by Cara Marie

I got Ursula Le Guin’s Cheek by Jowl for Christmas – my big criticism of the book is that it is really too short and I read it all this afternoon. But there is a lot to give me thinky thoughts, and I think I will enjoy rereading it. The main essay is an overview of animal stories, which was quite fascinating, although I think probably quite US-centric – some of the books she talked about like classics, but I’ve never heard of them, so I can only assume they’re actually still in print.

I felt the immediate need to lend it to my ex-workmate who is now doing her doctorate on George Macdonald’s books (having done her masters on Margaret Mahy). Hurrah for kids’ fantasy!

Although I reject Le Guin’s assertion that “as for ‘genre’ fiction [excluding fantasy] – mystery, horror, romance, science fiction – none of it is for children; they begin to read it as they approach their teens, but not before.” The books I remember most vividly from when I lived in Stokes Valley, before I turned ten, are the horrors – Under the Mountain and The Witches, which admittedly I never finished on my own because it was too scary, but was read to us at school when I was eight. If that’s not a horror story, what is?

I also had a collection of horror short stories which I terrified myself on, Marghanita Laski’s ‘The Tower’ being particularly memorable. It’s kind of a pity compared to now, when I don’t get scared reading things, and only rarely when watching them.

My love of science fiction started when I was nine and was given Acorna the Unicorn Girl for Christmas. Yes, it is definitely sci-fi, although the unicorn part was the initial attraction. I can certainly think of sci-fi books that are actually intended for pre-teens, just as I can think of horrors and mysteries. Maybe not the romances :) There are not nearly as many of them as there are fantasy or ‘realistic’ stories, but they certainly exist. So to say children never read them seems an odd assertion.

That minor quibble aside, the collection is excellent. I do love Ursula Le Guin’s brain.

Bauman’s Gardens

Posted in Books, Non-fiction, Science fiction with tags , , on August 8, 2009 by Cara Marie

I have just finished reading Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust, which was pretty epic, in terms of the scope of the book and as a reading experience. I bought it after we read an excerpt for my religious studies class, because that excerpt had pretty much blown my mind. The ideas it deals with, of how society manipulates morality, I don’t think I’d ever really come across outside of science fiction.

So now I’m going to be writing an essay on this book – one of the suggested topics was to do a “critical appraisal”. I don’t really know what that entails, but I figure I’ll figure it out as I’m writing ;)

I have to try not to get distracted by the ways it applies to “my thesis”. Which is the imaginary English Lit PhD I am planning on false utopias in YA fiction. There are so many of them! There is one coming out by a NZ author next month, only a year after another NZ author did one! What does this say about our current society and its fears, hmm? Possibly I just find the proliferation annoying because it increases the number of works relevant to my thesis, and also means I need to update my database.

Bauman uses the metaphor of society as a garden a lot, something that gets designed, with the approved plants being support and shaped in particular ways, while ‘undesirables’ get weeded out. The books I am thinking of focus explicitly on the designed society – small scale, the survivors of some kind of apocalypse. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is probably the most well known (also the only one that I wouldn’t consider straight sci-fi), but Louise Lawrence’s Andra was my favourite as a girl. Spooky how their names are so similar.

Of course, these books are set in societies of not even a thousand people, so you don’t get millions of people who don’t fit into your ordered world and need to be ‘disposed of’. Urgh. Really, Modernity and the Holocaust was about the scariest reading experience I’ve had since I was eight. I wish I only had ways of applying it to science-fictional worlds and not our own – but then there would be no need for that particular sci-fi, would there?

Reading for January ’08

Posted in Books, Comics, Fantasy, Manga, Non-fiction, Science fiction with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by Cara Marie


Day, R W – A Strong and Sudden Thaw
Kirino, Natsuo – Grotesque
Lee, Tanith – Eva Fairdeath
Mull, Brandon – Fablehaven
Nin, Anais – Artists and Models
Pierce, Tamora – Melting Stones
Tiptree Jr, James – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Valente, Catherynne – The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden

In the Night Garden was the best book I read this month. I knew it was necessary for me after coffeeandink posted about its sequel. It is amazing, filled with stories within gorgeous stories, with invented mythology, and characters who choose to be monsters. Now I am waiting for In the Cities of Coin and Spice.


Gould, Joan – Spinning Straw into Gold
Heinrich, Bernd – Mind of the Raven
Jones, David E – Combat, Ritual and Performance: Anthropology of the Martial Arts
Paul, Jonathan – When Kids Kill
Sei Shonagon – The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Tatar, Maria – Classic Fairy Tales

The best non-fiction book was The Norton Classic Fairy Tales, mostly because it gave you several different versions of various tales all next to each other, and it was really interesting to compare them. Maria Tatar writes an introduction for each type of story, then you get versions of the story from different cultures, including a modern-day retelling for most. At the end of it, you have a bunch of essays by various fairy tale scholars – some of which I enjoyed, others that irked me. I’m not very big on Freudian interpretations, see.

It amused me to see the way in which the stories changed – particularly Little Red Riding Hood. When you know the version where the woodchopper rescues them (The Grimms’ version), people say, ah, but originally there was no rescue (Charles Perrault). But here we have ‘The Story of Grandmother’ – which is a folk version on which Perrault’s was presumably based – in which the girl tricks the wolf, and rescues herself. Score!

And next to these, two modern retellings, in which Red Riding Hood is not conned by the wolf – ‘she whips a pistol from her knickers’, as Roald Dahl says (and you really should read that poem, and then this one).

A most worthwhile book!


CLAMP – xxxHolic, vol 7
Hino Matsuri – Vampire Knight, vol 2
Kazuo Umezo – Scary Book, vol 1
Kouno Fumiyo – Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Kubo Tite – Bleach, vol 10
Soryo Fuyumi – Eternal Sabbath, vol 1
Yazawa Ai – Nana, vol 8
Yuki Kaori – Angel Sanctuary, vol 1

Aside from the joy of more Nana, the most exciting manga for me was Eternal Sabbath. I liked the simplicity of the art, and the female scientest protagonist Mine, and how she related to Ryousuke, who is a genetically engineered being who can pretty much infiltrate himself into anything. Mine knows what he can do, and he knows she knows, but neither can do anything about it. I’m looking forward to reading more – and also pleased it’s only eight volumes. I’m very bitter about all these series that run into the twenties.


B, David – Epileptic, vol 1
Kibuishi, Kazu – Amulet, vol 1
Murase, Sho – Me2, vol 1
Pierce, Tamora – White Tiger
Powell, Nate – Please Release
Schreiber, Ellen – Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives, vol 1
Shaughnessy, Ian & Holmes, Mike – Shenanigans
Simmonds, Posy – Gemma Bovery
Various – Yuri Monogatari, vol 2
Watson, Andi – Glister, vols 1 & 2

Kokoro – Lafcadio Hearn

Posted in Books, Non-fiction with tags on August 1, 2007 by Cara Marie

This is an eclectic collection of stories, anecdotes, essays and journal entries. The stories tend to the melancholic, which is well served by Hearn’s elegant, atmospheric style. They’ve probably aged better then the essays, which are quite of their time. References to racial type, which might be quite reasonable in other words, grate. And the Japan that Hearn describes is quite different from Japan now, certainly when it comes to the cityscape. You wonder what he’d think of how things have changed. But most of the essays are actually rather metaphysical, being on Buddhism, or the Japanese concept of the soul. Some of them are better than others, but they all paint an intriguing picture of another world – a world now distant in time, and not just space.