Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Venetian’s Wife by Nick Bantock

The Venetian’s Wife by Nick Bantock is a blend of fiction and artwork, a story told in an epistolary fashion through emails and computer diary entries told mostly through the eyes of Sara Wolfe who is offered an unusual assignment by a mysterious benefactor: gather the last four pieces of a collection that has been scattered for several hundred years.

With a variety of elements, the story is further enhanced by the artwork for which Bantock’s books are typically known.  Ephemera and rubber stamps, collage imagery and facsimiles of long lost diary pages, complete with damage.  Almost every page has something visual on it that clarifies the text.  When Sara mentions a dream she has, the image on the next page shows the reader precisely what she describes, filling in any imagination gaps the reader may have.

The story works on several layers, a mystery and a mystical journey.  Mostly the story is about seduction–how art seduces the viewer, how the protagonist is seduced into taking a job that is not clearly defined, and more.  And yet there is no actual sex; rather the novel is more sensual than salacious, luring the reader through words and images.

Did I love the story?  No.  I liked it.  It’s an interesting concept.  Sometimes a concept can blow me away.  Other times, I can appreciate what the writer/artist is doing and still walk away mostly untouched.  I’m afraid that this book left me feeling untouched albeit appreciative.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Randomness

Love heart pencil by Dalton GhettiThis simply has to be seen to be believed.  This man carves pencils into amazing designs.  Don't believe me?  Check out the link and marvel for yourself!

Pencil ArtHere is some more pencil artwork to enjoy.  Different from the above but worth the visit.


This artist makes sculptures with pencils.’s-pencil-sculptures/

For the more practical person, here's another practical use for pencils.

And if you have colored pencils which are idling somewhere in your home, here are some downloadable pages for you to color.  These are more sophisticated than your typical coloring books.  Definitely fun fun fun.

Last but certainly not least, I recently read a review of a new comic in which the artist's use of shading was praised.  The graphic novel itself was all done in black and white and shades of grey.  I only saw the one panel in the review but I wasn't especially impressed because I follow the work of another artist whose work I feel had superior talent when it comes to shading.  By way of example I offer you this image and link so you can see for yourself:

And a bit ol' happy birthday to the artist.  I know you don't like having your birthday highlighted and celebrated and .  . . still . . . let the villagers rejoice.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'm a Terrible Grandmother

I understand that grandmothers are supposed to babysit their grandchild(ren) and when the descendant(s) go home they bounce off walls and drive the parents crazy, all hopped up on sugar and other things that are not good for little children.

Apparently (no pun intended) send my granddaughter home so exhausted from so much fun that she falls asleep in the car.

I suck.

Movie Reviews: Sex and Breakfast, Pizza, and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Sex and Breakfast is an indie film that allows itself to be small and stays that way.  The story is simple: two couples are experiencing a sort of sexual stasis and want to add a little energy to their relationships.  They go to a couple’s seminar where the teacher discusses and promotes partner trading.  The acting is strong and I was especially surprised to see Eliza Dushku not playing a hard ass rebel and by the young actress Alexis Dziena.  The strongest scenes are between the couples when they are home and at breakfast.  When a third party enters the scene, the energy simply fades away.  When the two couples come together (no pun intended), the energy returns.  Had the director/writer and/or editor had the sense to remove the weaker scenes this would have been a shorter but much tighter movie.

Pizza is another indie film that sort of meanders all over the place and lands nowhere.  An overweight girl is celebrating her eighteenth birthday and she decides to tag along with the pizza delivery guy as he makes his rounds.  Perhaps the flaws in this slim movie lie in the predictability of the plot.  Or perhaps it had something to do with how uncomfortable it was to watch the young girl, who is socially inept beyond her years, go through the various parts of the story.  In the end you have a supposedly young woman who acts more like she’s in elementary school following around after an adolescent boy trapped in a thirty-year-old man’s body.  Even the surprising presence of Alexis Dziena as the inevitably bitchy pretty girl couldn’t salvage this one.  (There was, however, some good music sprinkled here and there.  Not enough to merit watching the film or even buy a soundtrack, assuming there is one.)

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist didn't live up to my expectations at all.  Cute.  Okay.  So what?  There are so many cute adolescent movies out there that I think I just wanted something a little more edgy.  I even had the temerity to think that the title implied a solid soundtrack.

Not so much.  Rob and I liked it.  It wasn't a bad movie.  We just won't go out of our way to watch it again.  Cute isn't enough to say Woohoo! over.  I'm really glad we didn't waste our money going to the theater for this one.

Atheism Opposing Viewpoints ed by Beth Rosenthal

Atheism Opposing Viewpoints ed by Beth Rosenthal is a collection of essays which offer two sides of various arguments, few of which actually address anything but politics.  While I would have been content to read opposing essays about whether morality and ethics can be taught in a context that doesn’t include religion or how atheism has not proven to be a better force in society than traditional religious institutions, I don’t really want to read debates on whether prayer belongs in a school or how religious freedoms are threatened by legal decisions.  Even the few essays that purport to be about ethics seem to focus more on how wrong the other side is rather than exploring the validity of one point over another.

Perhaps the fault lies in the brevity of the essays themselves.  These are deep topics worthy of long discussion. Unfortunately, these essays are never more than ten pages long and one is even as short as three pages long–not including the inevitable “box” of side information that the editors seemed to think is necessary for each and every essay.

The editors also seem to think the readers are idiots and need to be told that Nietzsche is a German philosopher whose first name Friedrich in [bracketed insertions] that are an insult to anyone’s intelligence.

Illogical arguments abound throughout the text.  Perhaps if the authors had been allowed to write essays with more depth you wouldn’t find anyone suggesting that the reason interest in Islam rose after 9/11 [which the editors conveniently explain in a bracket occurred in 2001 and refers to a terrorist attack that occurred in America] was the result of religious furor and not merely an intellectual interest in better understanding the thought that could lead to such a heinous act.  (After all, as I write this review I am also reading The Koran not because I am religiously curious but merely intellectually so.)

And let us return to the example of extraneous bracket mentioned in the previous paragraph.  This books is written in English and published in the United States so I think it’s safe to say that most of the readers will be 1) Americans and 2) know what “9/11" means.  But I am fairly confident that the editors hope their readers will be too dumb to know things so they will overlook the poorly framed arguments, especially the ones that are flat out false.  When one writer mentions the flaw in Darwinism by highlighting the evolution of wings, one can only respond with the roll of the eyes because there are many explanations for why birds would evolve from flightless wings because they do, indeed, serve a purpose.

Should I even be surprised that most of the writers seem to not done their own research?

The simple fact that the “atheists” most mentioned are those who are part of the new-Atheism, a group that has been criticized for being condescending towards those who still embrace a belief in God.  Most atheists are not so extreme nor hostile.  Rather, they believe that if others choose to continue to believe in a God (or Gods) then a mutual respect should be afforded to those who believe as to those who do not.  The fact that extreme viewpoints are argued on one side while a more balanced argument is used for the other suggests that this book may even have a hidden agenda.  Page for page, there definitely seems to be a preference for one argument over the other.

This book is not only an insult to the reader’s intelligence it is an insult to the merit of a sincere discussion and debate about topics that deserve far better treatment than this trite text affords.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Zine Thing Done and Forgotten

Remember this post about zine thing?

Less than a week later I had given my son the envelope with the "layouts" for my daughter to scan and email to me.  It took him a few more days to get it to her because oops he forgot.


Last week my daughter said she scanned the pages and would email them to me.

A week later I reminded her and she emailed them to me (finally) over a week after she had scanned them, officially over a month after we did the zine thing as a family.


But hey, once I had them it took Rob only 2 days to print them because my computer is not connected to the printer.


Only there's a problem and a quick look proves that the problem lies back in the original scan because one page wasn't scanned meaning my 24 page zine is only 20 pages scanned.


Now I could start it all all over again and send the envelope home with my daughter on the 21st and then wait for her to scan the one page and then wait for her to email the one page and then wait for Rob to print the one page and then I could see if the layout is laid out right because if it isn't I'll have to fix whatever errors I discover in the mock-up zine before I then . . . get ready for this . . .

  • ask my daughter to print ten copies front and back (which our printer cannot do) 
  • have her and/or my son give me the ten copies
  • cut the ten copies accordingly
  • make the covers
  • staple them into a booklet
  • and then and only then will I have zines to share 
And this is assuming that I would find nothing wrong with the layout the first time because if I did we get to go back to square fucking one.

Which is why I sometimes hate my computer which cannot recognize our printer and why I hate having to depend on anyone else to do something for me because it makes it entirely too much fucking work.

So I give up.  I've filed away my 24 hour zine thing in a drawer and maybe someday I'll have a computer that can see our printer and we'll have a printer that can scan and print properly.  

But to be honest, I don't think this zine will ever see the light of day.

On the plus side, as a result of this fiasco I've decided not to finish working on the second and third zines.  Instead, I'll just forget zines altogether until circumstances change.  There is a delicious irony to all of this.  After all zines are intimately linked with the whole DIY movement and, in case you haven't noticed, circumstances make me completely unable to DIMyself so I'm just going to wait it out.

In the meantime, I'll work on my calligraphy.  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali trans and interpreted by Sri Swami Satchidananda

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda is a translation (with transliteration) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a classic text on the practice of yoga and the eight branches of yoga.  As with any commentary by a single person, the perspective is narrow.  These are one man’s opinion of what the aphorisms mean and how to interpret them in our own lives.

There are times when Satchidananda can be a bit flippant in his explanation, sort of dumbing the text down to make is accessible for the masses.  I can see how some people would read this and find it almost insulting to one’s intelligence.

It all depends on where you are in your yoga practice.  If you are new to yoga philosophy, a more simplified explanation of Patanjali’s text is probably welcome.  I wonder if some people who are familiar with The Yoga Sutras might not also benefit from a more simple explanation.  After all, we tend to intellectualize spirituality and yet all of the great teachers have taught that these things are easy.  Sometimes it is a good thing to step back from the cerebral and just look at these things from a different angle.

Albeit, I think I was/am ready for more depth which is why I can’t say I loved this book.  I have another translation and interpretation to read and I’m eager to begin it but I’ve already committed to reading something else first.  And I’m going to hold onto this book.  When I’ve read one or two other interpretations, I may want to set them up side-by-side and do a comparison.  Like reading different translations of the Bible and commentaries by various theologians, it is always interesting to see how different teachers present and share the same text.

Or it is to me anyway.  I’m rather perverse like that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie

Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie is another luscious novel from a writer who obviously is a master at his craft.  With the same wealth of literary references and poetically evocative style as Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, there are seemingly many parallels between the two novels.

Both take place in contemporary China and are written in the first person.  In spite of this, each novel has a unique tone.  Both novels also include a character, Ma, who plays a violin and who goes to a re-reducation camp in his adolescence.  I have to wonder if the narrator in the earlier novel is not also the same Ma who is a friend of one of the characters in this novel.  I have found no information online to confirm nor deny this and am curious if anyone who has read both novels noticed this as well . . .

But I digress.

Once on a Moonless Night is layered with stories that do not weave together so much as they add meaning to and inform one another.  The narrator, a translator, tells her story while quoting from real and imagined writings of other translators and those stories told to her by her lover, Tumchooq.  Moving through time, the stories cycle from modern day to Ancient China and back, and as the story reveals itself, the choices the characters make become more stark and even inevitable.

My one complaint about the novel itself is that the characters are motivated, for various reasons, to search for the missing half of a scroll.  In the first part of the novel, the text on the one known half is given to the reader and I immediately said to myself, “This sounds like that Zen Buddhist story where . . .”

I won’t say anything further.  I will say that in spite of my misgivings about the content of the scroll, after reading two novels by this writer, I am eager to read more.  I suspect I will eagerly devour any and all novels this man writes as time goes by.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

LGBT Bookstore Supporting Anti-Same-Sex Writer

The other day I received an email from a local LGBT independently owned bookstore.  As always, I read it from top to bottom.  Or I would have if I hadn’t stopped at the announcement that the book group will be reading and discussing The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  Now, if this bookstore were Christian bookstore, I wouldn’t think twice about this.  If it were a chain store that one could find anywhere across the United States, I still probably wouldn’t pause.

However, this bookstore is not Christian nor is it a national.  It is, as the newsletter states, an independent feminist bookstore.  They also support the community–specifically stating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.  They even suggest that their customers support LGBT causes.

Okay.  Fair enough and woohoo!

So why then is this forward thinking bookstore inviting its shoppers to buy a book that is even remotely associated with the anti-same-sex-marriage movement?

Gary Chapman is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and teaches on their radio station.  Moody is openly against same-sex marriage.  I really don’t mind.  I think everyone should stand behind the power of their convictions.  But I also have the choice to not support Chapman by investing hin his literature and while I understand a bookstore needs to make money by selling books one would assume a bookstore that says they are LGBT would not financially support a Christian who is openly against same-sex marriage.

How can this bookstore be pro-LGBT while promoting the book of a man who also serves on the board Tim Wilkins’ ministry?  Who is Tim Wilkins?  He’s a member of NARTH, and founder and director of Cross Ministry, a ministry committed to converting the homosexual to heterosexuality.  He himself was converted and speaks from experience–homosexuality is a choice, a sin, and against God’s plan.

Like it or not, Chapman is not gay friendly and this bookstore has made an egregious error in not doing their research and not taking a stance.  The conservative Christian community are standing in support of one another and their position on same-sex marriage.  It behooves our independent bookstores to do the same, especially if they claim to be supportive of LGBT causes.  You simply cannot have it both ways.  And supporting a writer whose organization has values that disagree with your own by having a book group is disingenuous to say the least.

I am intentionally not naming the store and I am also not going to link to any of the above mentioned people.  I see no purpose in doing so. 

Three Documentaries: Defamation, The Shakers, and Bonhoeffer

Defamation is a documentary by Yoav Shamir that I thought was about anti-Semitism but quickly feels like an anti-Semitic film.  At the beginning, the director interviews his grandmother who lives in Israel.  The woman quickly criticizes the Jews in America for being greedy and lazy, more interested in cheating people out of money than they are in living safely and with their own people in Isreal.

It quickly goes downhill from there and even includes one person protesting that he is not an anti-Semite then jokingly giving a Nazi salute.  The fact that more than one person interviewed for this documentary have since come out and denounced it as slanted and even slanderous says more about the quality of this film than I ever could.

Avoid this one at all costs.  I won’t even link to this one because I would rather not promote this wretched documentary any further.

The Shakers by Ken Burns is a gentle look at the history of the Shaker movement that was probably doomed from its inception.  How can a religious movement that requires all of its members remain celibate hope to prosper?  If your members cannot “increase and multiply” and you don’t actively go out and recruit new members, the only hope is to adopt orphaned children, a practice that allowed the group to flourish.  Although sometimes the children would grow and leave to join the world, some children chose to remain members of the rigid group.

I marveled at the discipline.  Everything is regulated from which foot you use to first step onto a flight of stairs to their work.  No aspect of the Shaker life is not deeply infused with spiritual meaning.  Whether you agree with the reason behind their actions, there is something beautiful in a lifestyle that is so rich with relevance.

Bonhoeffer is a documentary about the Christian theologian who faced a crisis of faith during Nazi Germany.  What is the responsibility a man of God owes to his state in light of God’s word? In his youth, he came to New York where he attended church services in Harlem, immersing himself in the gospel’s power for a marginalized community.  Inspired by what he saw, he returned to Germany and surrounded himself with Christian scholars.  Eventually, the Nazi government would restrict the teacher, not allowing him to preach in public nor publish.

Of course, you can find out what eventually happened to this man with a simple google search but if you have not read any of Bonhoeffer’s writings and are unfamiliar with him in general, rather than spoil his story by doing a quick google or wiki search, read some of Bonhoeffer’s own writings or a biography about the man.  If you are pressed for time, watching this documentary will perhaps inspire you to make time.