Finding new books is harder than it should be. Independent bookstores are closing shop, and big box stores who only carry whatever bribes their way past the exorbitant stock keeping fees. Databases and libraries become impossible to navigate unless you already know what you're looking for. Even with online resale, you can only search within your own vocabulary. Now rare are the times when one can simply look upon a bookshelf and see some hitherto unknown title.
I know I must not be the only one with this problem. So, I offer a listing of my own shelves, such that anyone may use my listing as reference for their own.
I will only list books that I liked, were interesting, or at least not terrible enough to be disowned. Self-authored books are not listed. Multiple copies in different languages are listed only once. Scientific work that risks being quickly outdated, (example: C++ Standard Libraries,) are unlisted. Favourites are italicized. Those which I didn't finish or could not fully read are not bolded. Items are listed alphabetically, but not in the order in which I first read them, so inter-related lines of thought between multiple books may be listed in a confusing order.
I take recommendations for others, within reason.
Last updated: February 02019
– Tanya Talaga
(Sciences, New) This book is a chronicle of a series of mysterious deaths, by now far more than just seven, which first began involving teenagers living in the city of Thunder Bay. The seeming heart of the matter trembles with questions of racism, suffered by the children of Canada’s indigenous populations from the descendants of white colonizers and their institutional supremacy. Talaga may have at least attempted to write another hackneyed salve against the common social and historical injustices of the day, but to openly accept this book as only that would ignore something far more sinister at hand. When one follows the details that Talaga lays out, the question is less about what historical forces made these indigenous youth seemed to repeatedly succumb to these mysterious circumstances, and more about where along the way they started being openly hunted by it.
Throughout Canada’s near-north, various isolated villages still exist as traditional aboriginal lands; which these days usually means some combination of subsistence agriculture, what scant employment or capital development they may or may not posses, and whatever federal government assistance can cover the gaps when the others fail. What more they could hope to gain is limited by what little they already have, as the only contact to the outside world is bottle-necked by the singular route in, such as expensive charter plane services which add to the cost of everything else. Food insecurity is rife, as are issues with power generation and water sanitation. Making matters worse is the lingering legacy of Canada’s “residential school” system, a democidal construct enacted by both the government and private religious organizations to “beat the indian out” of entire generations of young children, forcefully depriving whole populations of the culture that once made life on traditional lands tenable – leaving in its place a dire wake of extreme poverty and chronic mental illness.
These communities are desperate to break free of the chains of history, but to do so means to rely on resources they’ve been expressly denied – namely; advanced education, technical know-how, and entrepreneurial insight. This is no easy task for bands and northern villages whose resources are so scant that operating an elementary school would exhaust supply, and often does. Once children need education past the eighth grade, they’re forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known. Their destination was Thunder Bay, at the Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. DFC was founded in 02000 by the Nishnabe Educational Council, in an attempt to deal with this exact problem. It seemed like a perverse solution, especially given how fresh the horror of residential schools were in the memory of many, but NNEC’s hope was that if they could manage a boarding school with centralized resources largely by and for their own, they would avoid the pitfalls of the past and provide their children with necessary tools for the success that indigenous communities so desperately required.
Six months into the school’s first operating year, tragedy struck. Jethro Anderson, a young student from the remote community of Kasabonika Lake, was drowned in the Kaministiquia River in the dead of winter. The death reeled the once-hopeful school and they scrambled to recover. They almost did. Five years later, 02005, Curran Strang of Pikangikum would meet the same fate, washed up on the shore of the Kam. And again in 02007, Reggie Bushie of Poplar Hill, washed up on the shore of the Kam. And again, 02009, Kyle Morriseau of Keewaywin, on the shore of the Kam. And again, 02011, Jordan Wabasse of Webequie, on the shore of the Kam. Yet more have since occurred, and the circumstances regarding their deaths have gone cold.
Talaga’s angle in this subject is largely a human interest story, with each tragedy individually wrought. I was first drawn to it for what I admit may have been a regrettable act of vulture culture. It all seemed so prime to me, the idea of a young person having grown up in the woods, like some acerbically twisted Garden of Eden, only to be suddenly thrown south to the rest of society and all the modern culture it demands. All the necessary elements of a good story were there. How innocently they would get off the plane and excitedly rush for the airport’s Timmie cart, looking upon things so common as timbits and machine-made iced cappuccinos as if they were these rare and delectable treats. They considered the Ontarian industrial backwater of Thunder Bay as “the big city”, an exciting place where seemingly everything could be found. They were utterly unprepared for the change in environment; so much so, the school needed to teach its fifteen-year-old students about things so basic as the walk signal at traffic lights and looking both ways before crossing the street. ... but things aren’t as forgiving as even the already depressed world of CanLit would have it. There are no grand adventures or comedic hi-jinks to follow in real life, and even less liberal hope for innate individualistic strength against the manufactured hardships of mass society. Unmoored, they are simply cast from one type of misery to another, and then they die.
Jethro Anderson’s case is the oldest of its type, and thus has the most definitive conclusions. DFC was still new at the time, all of the students coming in from away, unfamiliar with the city and each other. They also brought with them the emotional baggage from their original homes, and with it came indulgent attempts at self-medication. Jethro’s disappearance was quick and sudden, following a particular night of after-school debauchery at a beachside park along the Kam. The cast of characters for this detective play doesn’t have to reach far, and Talaga’s own investigation points to how the perpetrator of Anderson’s possible manslaughter was also another DFC student. Even the Thunder Bay Police Service’s seeming incompetence as first responders could follow from a type of logic. Boarding students younger than post-secondary are not common within any other part of southern Canada. What legal precedents would they posses to act upon an incident involving a young child, alone in a foreign place with no immediately available family or legal kin? Living independently at a far earlier age than your own age-of-majority laws could reasonably allow? While still somehow being perfectly compliant with all available truancy laws? It was all weird, and definitely a first.
... but by the time of the second and third disappearance, things start going off the rails. Even by the most charitable interpretation of events, Anderson’s case set an unfortunate “drunken indian” stereotype for all other incidents regarding boarding students at DFC, even as things turned towards the uncanny. The school put strict rules in place to prevent the same thing from happening again, which the students, by now fearing for their lives, dutifully followed. Yet the incidents not only continued, but began to increase with frequency. Each time it happened, the TBPS was quick to label the deaths “accidental” with “no foul play suspected” mere hours after the recovery of the bodies. Furthermore, some of the drowning victims beggared belief. Many of these students grew up in the woods of northern Ontario, and were themselves very experienced swimmers, with fishing as part of their traditional land’s subsistence agriculture. Why, the victim’s families often asked, would they wait until moving to Thunder Bay to suddenly decide to drown?
Then the river made a few mistakes. In 02008, DFC student Darryl Kakekayash was on his way back to his boarding house after seeing a movie with a few friends, no alcohol involved, when he was suddenly assailed by a group of three older white men. After a quick and nonsensical interrogation about the criminal gang the Native Syndicate, he was severely beaten and thrown into the river. Against all odds, he managed to pull himself ashore, and wandered the streets with soaked clothing in the winter cold until eventually finding a bus driver to beg for help. Despite reporting it to the police with the full backing of DFC, nobody was charged for the assault. Darryl’s parents responded by withdrawing him from Thunder Bay, deeming the entire city – and their child’s hope for education – no longer worth the risk.
By the time Talaga’s chronicle ends, drownings in the Kaministiquia reached a fever pitch. Beyond 02011, they were no longer simply about teenagers or the DFC, with victims ranging from young toddlers to even older men, whose debit cards were mysteriously still in use hours after the recovery of the bodies. A constant line throughout was the indifference of the police, classifying these deaths all as accidents and “non-criminal”. So legendary was their complete lack of willpower to investigate that entire first nation communities had to resort to flying in whole populations of their remote villages to Thunder Bay at the slightest hint of a possible missing person, just to act as the search parties which the TBPS would not provide. The anger sparked over their reaction to what eventually came to be known as the seven fallen feathers would end up creating multiple inquests and tribunals, most noteworthy of which would be two years after this book’s publication in 02018 by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director. It was a well-researched, but somehow poorly written report, which was at least able to handle the less controversial aspects of the issue. The primary call was giving the provincial coroner’s office more resources to service northern Ontario, instead of requiring the police to prioritize what had to be sent to the main office in the capitol against what shouldn’t. For various reasons, only the least of which being the sudden election of a new provincial government whose prime directive seems to be the deliberate infliction of suffering onto vulnerable peoples, I doubt much will come of it. “Writing a report” is a particularly Canadian way of pretending to do something about a problem, while still doing nothing to solve it.
Amidst all of these rather suspect circumstances are things made all the more strange by their total lack of it. The death of Robyn Harper, as one of the seven fallen feathers of DFC, stands juxtaposed to the rest in how perfectly benign it seems. There is no mystery to how she died. A combination of eyewitness testimony and surveillance footage places her at every point up until her apparent overdose – notably on the floor of her boarding house, and not at the bottom of the river. Robyn’s grim, but otherwise straightforward fate, highlights just how unusual the other disappearances are. While there certainly were plenty of underestimations along the way, DFC was well aware of the issues their students would face, especially as time went on and the limitations of their particular schooling system became more apparent. As twisted as it was, there was a kind of normal that might have otherwise existed for the boarders of Thunder Bay – a normal which logically followed from the impoverished realities of northern Ontario and the fallout from the residential school system. Yet at no point within that normal would there be any need or room for death by River Kam.
If it seems grating that I should be spending all this effort to spoil what might be the rather obvious dramatic tension of this book, I must assure you that I am not. The discrepancies I repeat are ones that Talaga can only flatly state the facts of and move on, almost as the police did. All of it in subtext, impossible to miss, yet required to ignore. I don’t think Talaga is blowing these dogwhistles because she has some hidden agenda; the obvious conclusion is just one that she, legally, cannot state. As a journalist, she can only report on what testimony is given to her and what already exists in the public record. Even if she was going out of her way to bring in voices that were shunned from the limited Canadian mainstream, a reporter she nonetheless remains. She does not represent in this book anyone who wouldn’t openly speak to her about this topic, and theirs is a conspicuous absence. The result can only really be an incomplete look upon events, clearly biased to the stubborn and disbelieving perspectives of jilted families who were begging to speak to anyone out of their unresolved grief. From it, the fatigued conclusions she does reach about the unreconciled injustices of history are the only conclusions one could possibly reach with any degree of verifiable safety, no matter how much the lingering dread remains of “what if it is something much worse?”
By simply saying that it is a systemic problem, one that might be fixed through good policy and capital-R Reconciliation, Talaga may be letting the ones who did this to the seven feathers off the hook. It’s through this that I cynically account for how popular this book briefly became with the small, insular, majority-white Canadian media mainstream. There are others who are not so kind. Around the same time this book was making the rounds, another Anishinaabe writer – Ryan McMahon – also produced some too-short documentaries on the mysterious deaths and Thunder Bay: documentaries which were definitely heard by many at least once, but understandably not promoted thereafter. His work was more openly accusative, not stopping to record the horribly racist things that supposedly-well-adjusted white people freely gossiped of DFC students, but also diving into the issues of corruption in Thunder Bay municipal governance using muckraking and other underhanded tactics. His work was better able to capture the institutional rot which the more above-the-line Talaga could only vaguely gesture at. For McMahon, Thunder Bay isn’t a “broken” machine with the deaths of indigenous Canadians as an unfortunate malfunction of complex historical issues, but rather that Thunder Bay is working perfectly as designed, a meat grinder which shamelessly celebrates the attempted genocides of the past. The white supremacy of “old-stock” Thunder Bay is not simply some sociological oversight in the institutional design of an otherwise egalitarian city, but a very real flow of money and power which frames the “criminality” of fly-in students as possible threats to their own well-protected criminal enterprises. What follows is an aggressive and sophistic form of interracial gang warfare where simply not knowing that you were a member of the notorious Native Syndicate is no excuse for still being a member of the notorious Native Syndicate. Then they cap you and dispose of your body; the police were paid off in advance.
I had completely forgotten I had even read this book. The only reason I’m listing it here on my shelf was because I had my memory so rudely jogged. Thunder Bay was cited in a 02017 article from The Walrus about the death of Marlan Chookomolin, another fly-in student who was found badly beaten on an isolated trail in the city’s north end before he died in hospital. Fortunately, there was a witness to what happened in Kory Campbell, Marlan’s ex-girlfriend. She came in tears to the family, saying she knew who did it and provided the name of the perpetrator. The Chookomolins filed her statement to the TBPS lead investigator without telling anyone else, but it was dismissed out-of-hand. “People are just talking when they’re drinking,” said the detective. Two days later, Kory herself was found dead. By this point, rumours were already circulating online that there was a serial killer in Thunder Bay targeting First Nations youth, and even more that the police may be somehow in on it. It all came rushing back to me then, though unfortunately re-contextualized from your everyday tract on social justice, into a true crime novel who went to the presses all too soon. Maybe it’s entirely within my own imagination, as if through the amazing powers of confirmation bias, I, the ineffectual moron, might happen upon the unique circumstance could restore order for both native and white Canada alike – as if that helps! (It doesn’t.)
– Matt Madden
A graphic novel done in vien of le Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, with specific reference to Raymond Queneau. Like Queneau before him, Madden takes the concept of recurring style and makes it work fantastically in graphic form. However, some of his stylistic changes are a bit too minor, despite their cleverness.
– Paulo Coelho
Another one of the only good books that particular author will ever write. I got The Alchemist upon recommendation from a normally unbookish friend, signalling to me that it must've been unusually impressive. It was! Sadly, having gone through at least three others of Coelho's works, my opinion of The Alchemist has been irrecoverably sullied. Should you decide to read it, make extra careful to stay clear of his other works. They will ruin your opinion of him; so just enjoy it while you can and leave while you're still on top.
– George Orwell
One reads Orwell if one feels the need to depress themselves as quickly as possible, for whatever reason. If 1984 is the right-winger's paranoid ambrosia towards this purpose, then Animal Farm is its left-wing counterpart. Though, I must admit I found Road to Wigan Pier (also by Orwell) to be far more depressing from a left-wing angle, the storied parable of Animal Farm gives it a certain immortality that Wigan Pier lacks, even if that dangerously removes it from its necessary historical context.
– Eugène Ionesco
Donald M. Allen translation. The Bald Soprano hooked me on the entire movement of the Theatre of the Absurd, even if at the moment when I first discovered them I didn't quite know what they were conceptually about. What spurned me to read more of them in detail was a student play called "You Don't Know, Jack" that was an original work done in vien of Absurdism. Sadly, I doubt that particular play will ever find publication.
– Roald Dhal
I normally despise autobiography, considering it a fruitless and narcissistic form of writing. At one instance I was compelled to by my original writing teacher, and Dhal offered a relatively painless way out with his quick-witted, well-tempered, and mercifully short prose.
– Bill Watterson
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, Yukon Ho!, Revenge of the Babysat, and There's Treasure Everywhere. Hand-me-down books from my father, coupled with a few I tracked down to patch up the holes, but by no means a complete set. Calvin and Hobbes is probably what Ozzy and Millie would've been to my father's generation, though the comedy of Calvin and Hobbes is much more timeless, and ages at a much slower rate that Ozzy and Millie could hope for.
– Gwen “Giles” Benaway
I managed to see her perform a miniseries found within this book called "Advice for Abused Children" and I simply knew I had to read the rest. The poems in this book are exemplary by virtue of pure content alone; it's very rare to find arted prose that can bear the full weight of its subject matter while still evoking a poetic style: dark, mournful, yet somehow, sensuous. The book stands quite well on the chapters "Prayers and Invocations" and "Gods of My Fathers", each of which has multi-part poems within them that flesh out the ideas to a very fine degree.
Looking through my other books, I think this is may be my first book written by a Canadian First Nation. I always wanted to look more into aboriginal writing, as it was something that interested me quite a bit as a serious subject, but I never knew where to look. I don't know if this book will be an effective gateway drug to that end, but I'll be keeping an eye out for more. However, there is another reason I'm interested in Mrs. Benaway's writing in particular. Her bio states that she is working on “a young adult novel about a teenaged gay Aboriginal werewolf with Asperger's Syndrome,” and it sounds like the perfect trainwreck. Can't wait.
(Note: this book was written before the author transitioned, and is still published using her older name. I've updated this listing accordingly.)
– Jonathan Ball
The only book of poetry that has ever fully enraptured me. I knew I had to read the full thing when I first saw samples of it in Volume 37.2 of Grain, and it did not disappoint. Should I ever sustain multiple injuries of head trauma and decide that getting a doctorate in English Literature is suddenly a good idea, this book would be the subject of my thesis.
– Aurthur Miller
Another old high school book. Reading it again, I found that the school curriculum that surrounded it did more to defang the clearly anti-capitalist message at the core of the plot and had less to do with promoting true understanding of the work. I think The Crucible is the better of his two plays I've read, but I only keep Salesman as proof of the irony found within my old schooling system's purported goals of "promoting critical thinking," so long as the thinking isn't critical of anything actually important. Perhaps the amount of unbridled annoyance that caused is why I ended up liking the works of Noam Chomsky so much...
– Eric Woolfe
Book of three theatre plays made for a few actors and a lot of puppets. The first play is more akin to sketch comedy, which was pretty hit or miss. The second play had a somewhat awkward premise, but had very nice little musical numbers. The third play was all-around great. Unlike reading other plays though, I do not doubt the difference in reading these versus seeing them performed -- which by now would be quite difficult. Some reviews of the original showtimes say the puppetry lacked verisimilitude, but added a surreality to the drama, wherein one actor playing multiple characters makes you wonder if it isn't just all happening in their own heads.
– Samuel Beckett
The work one inevitably runs into when one is enamoured with the Theatre of the Absurd. When I first read the tragicomedy in two acts, I thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever read. Then I saw it performed, and wondered why on earth I ever thought that in the first place.
– Samuel Beckett
Kinda forgettable, really, even after the Absurdist elements. All I remember were two Oscar the Grouch precursors wandering about backstage, talking about various things that didn't seem to have anything to do with anything at all. Maybe I'm misremembering...
– Beatriz Hausner
I'm unsure how I was possessed to find this book, as I must have only randomly happened upon its title. Not finding it at the library and ordering in, my immediate regret was upon it first arriving and thinking "Oh God, this is not what I think it is, is it?" It kind of was, but then, it kind of was not. A surprising, but uneasy relief; it really could've done without the poorly inked illustrations.
My first reading of this book was a grievous misinterpretation; I thought the trick to understanding how this book worked was reading every left page in a female voice and reading every right page in a male voice. I was mistaken, however, because I was confused by the format at first and ended up missing the right-handed Amy Winehouse reference in the first few passages. The sad thing is, even after realizing my mistake, I thought my version was much more interesting than the "more correct" one I got on a second reading. As such, I cannot recommend this book in any sane capacity to other readers ('cause it's trash), but I liked the version of this book I believe I had read, even if that is not the version Miss Hausner actually wrote.
– Christian Bök
Poetry done in vien of le Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle. While it is impossible not to enjoy reading it, I believe it is ultimately an empty work, in a method I believe is almost emblematic of most contemporary poetic writing today. If I had to pick a poster child for style over substance, Bök would be a prime recommendation from my shelf -- but at least he's redeemable in the pure revelry of language he inspires, unlike others. (Only booklovers should physically buy it. Everyone else can listen to an audio performance of it at UbuWeb: http://www.ubu.com/sound/bok.html)
– Jonathan Ball
Poetry in the sense of it being experimental prose, which makes it a bit more accessible to literary types with a distaste for pretension. His first first book, and probably one of his stronger works, even though it is nowhere close to Clockfire. It can be read in both a linear and nonlinear fashion. However, and I'm sure Mr. Ball would be saddened to hear this, one gets far more out of it in a linear reading than one does in a nonlinear reading -- at least when one has the physical book in their hands.
– Raymond Queneau
Barbra Wright translation. One of the seminal works in le Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle. Like most things Oulipo, it risks falling prey to the usual temptations of style over substance, yet the sheer breadth Queneau is able to cover in his mad quest is highly impressive even in translation, and his tempered approach gives reading the work a kind of modesty that does not merely show off what it is doing, but a true exploration of potential literature. One of the only positive things I left Craft Writing school with.
– André Alexis
APOLLO: Have you seen this newspaper article? "Pets on Prozac: Dogs with separation anxiety feel 'optimistic' when taking antidepressants." Clearly, human intelligence is a plague and the Mortal Justice Warriors have taken things too far.
HERMES: Here's a novel idea; how about we make the dogs actually need the prozac?
ZEUS: Did you just give a bunch of random dogs crippling depression
HERMES: What? No. Of course not.
MAJNOUN: I will never know the true meaning of love.
BENJY: It's me. I'm the asshole who everyone hates.
LYDIA, RONALDNIHO: All of life is torment and suffering.
BOBBIE, BELLA, ATHENA: We only live such that we may die.
AGATHA: Joke's on you, I'm already dead.
PRINCE: Can dogs apply for Canada Arts Council grants?
ATTICUS: What is the meaning of WORDS?!
PRINCE: I just need to look extra pathetic in time for my own death.
ROISE, FRICK, FRACK, MAX: VOTE TRUMP
HERMES: See? I gave some of them an authoritarian streak instead.
APOLLO: Pretty sure those were there to begin with.
ZEUS: This is why we can't have nice things.
– Chuck Palahniuk
Liked it. Haven't seen the movie; but don't feel like I need to. Mercifully, all the "don't talk about fight club" memes out there meant that the main bulk of the story was not spoiled, and can't be. Despite the numerous gifts Feminism has given everyone, there remains quite little out there that explores with the topic of masculinity and patriarchal pressures directly, if only because before Feminism, any such gender codes were simply innate in all things. Fight Club is one of the few I've ever encountered that deals with masculine insecurity in all its fearful rawness, yet I'm unsure as to follow the rest of Palahniuk's work, as I hear they tend to get a little too blow-hard.
– Douglas Coupland
I'm grouping each of these three very different books in a single entry simply because I've become convinced that Coupland's writing suffers from the same problems all-around. While they are very enjoyable to read in the moment of reading, once you are finished with them there is surprisingly little left to actually reflect on. There might be a moment or two that provokes thought, but when you actually dwell on it for a while, it eventually reveals itself to be little more than fluff or mere fashion.
This is more or less an effect of how hyped Coupland's "brand" has become after his first book's breakout success, especially within Canada. He exists only within his own marketing. One cannot read a Coupland novel and be truly satisfied simply because the books are over-advertised and cannot meet the wild expectations they set for themselves. The power of his own marketing was exemplary in his biography of Marshall McLuhan, opportunistically written and released close to the centenary of his birth; but I found it to be so offensively terrible for its Chapters-Indigo 30 dollar price that I've since expunged it from my shelves and will never allow it to return.
For a while, I *thought* I liked Coupland, but the more of him I read, the more frustrating I found him to be. How Coupland got to perform one of his books as a Massey Lecture on radio has less to do with his ability to evoke thought and more to do with the fact that he merely plays the part. Perhaps it is because I've fallen from his graces that my opinions of him are all the more harsh, but one cannot be co-opted by the massive mainstream marketing machine and live to tell about it unscathed.
– Sean Dixon
A play based around the thematic unit of Albrecht Dürer's 1506 oil painting "The Feast of the Rosary." The story takes place 100 years later in 1606, after the Roman Pope of the day excommunicated the entire city-state of Venice, amidst them, the remaining papist Catholics, and against Protestant Lutherans and Calvinists. It starts off with very big homages to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, framing the play as a historical mystery with Archbishop Borromeo as the detective-inquisitor. Without giving much away though, its true aims are different than Eco's, and its ending is not married to what its beginning suggests. Part of its artistry is just how seamlessly it transitions from one to the other. The play finishes as a somewhat polemical work, not at all adhering to what we might consider the traditional structure of a drama. I wonder with what media intention Mr. Dixon wrote this in mind for: a play to be performed, or a script to be read? I felt I understood it better as a script, and I am curious if seeing it performed would even have the same effect at all.
– Agota Kristof
Alan Sheridan, David Watson, Marc Romano translations. A novel trilogy originally en français, collected into a single work via English translation. Each of the three novels was done by a different translator, and they seem to run the gambit of different styles of translation; making it feel as if each of the three novels have little to do with one another, despite the continued stories of the same characters. The first book is definitely the most fun to read out of the three, but how much one would get out of the entire trilogy depends on how tolerant one is to postmodernism.
– Benjamin Renner
En français. Saw bits and pieces of it here and there and finally tracked the full of it down. There is no English edition, but my tenuously Canadian understanding of French actually enabled me to read most of it, even if its actual francophone intention is for people far younger than I am. An extremely charming little book nonetheless.
– Scott F. Fitzgerald
The first "curriculum" book one reads in high school that is actually enjoyable of its own merits. Revisited later, and to largely the same effect, but I suspect it wouldn't nearly be quite as well known if the educational industry complex didn't tout it so fiercely.
– Margaret Atwood
While in High School, I got the terrible English teacher who only taught the thoroughly unenjoyable things, like J.D. Salinger and Robertson Davies. Imagine my jealousy when my other friends with the other teacher actually seemed to get enjoyable books, whose very chapters they would read to me with enthusiasm I thought Grade 12 English completely incapable of inspiring. I must've had all the the good bits of this book spoiled for me already, and gave the book the promise I would read it later with new eyes, after I had forgot the most of it. However, despite Miss Atwood's status as Canada's foremost literary and science fiction writer, when she arrived at Bookfest Windsor in 02013, I found her platitudal book tour publicity speeches to be completely and insultingly insipid, especially when compared to numerous actually interesting authors and presenters that had to open for her much-advertised act. Because of this, the book is likely to remain shelved and unread for quite some time yet.
– Stephen Marche
I was drawn to it based off the premise alone. It was to bend and meld together the all-too-common werewolf archetype into the higher thought of literary fiction, turning the common power fantasy of lycanthropy into the figure of ultimate weakness. I could not dare turn that down, even if the other opinion and article writing the same author did elsewhere made me cautious. It is a very male book, one of the very few I know of that tries to explore the oft-inconclusive feminist topic of patriarchal pressures as they apply to men. This was to my surprise, and I quite liked it as it read. Sadly, while I admire the ambition of the experiment, I don't think it succeeded as much as I would've liked. Part of it is because just how many grounds the book tries to cover: lycanthropic ghost story, existential horror, polemic on economic inequality, and multi-generational Great Gatsby drama. It tries to do so many things at once that it fails to excel at any one particular, leaving weaknesses in its argumentation that likely wouldn't withstand much literary criticism. On the marxist front, it doesn't quite make the full connection between the Wylie methods and the resulting world Cabot faces. On the feminist front, one of the unintended consequences may indeed be a very faint misogyny which reveals itself on reflection after the fact, which may or may not dampen things a little. It did what it thought was enough, yet still needed more. Despite all that, I like this book -- I would daresay I love this book; but given its very strict status as a dramatic tragedy in both consequence and theme, I am obliged to thoroughly despise what it represents.
– Camilla Gibb, Lee Henderson, Rebecca Rosenblum
I have a chronic distaste for the form of the literary short story in a similar way I have a chronic distaste for the book of poetry, and largely for similar reasons. However, there exist exceptions in each case, and for the Short Story, that comes in the form of Sarah Keevil, whose haunting work "Pyro" first captured my attention in EVENT Magazine volume 37.1, which I read, reread, recommended to others, over and over again, until my copy's spine became so worn and the pages began to fall out. I got this compendium of short stories purely because Keevil's work was in it. However, I've had such a hard time locating other stuff done by Miss Keevil. She has no online presence at all, and has not published much outside of obscure literary magazines.
– Rosemary Nixon
An author I've met a few times, and actually helped me to write the final versions of one of my own works. I only managed to read her first novel later on. I found it most interesting in its use of language to communicate different perspectives on all spectrums: build of character, social gender, developmental state of mind. However, it goes a bit too far in its differentiation as the story draws to a close. The final choice in narrating character has a style that reads far too quickly for what should be a more tragic and grovelling handful of scenes -- making a quick reader like me have the entire ending pass by them like speeding train. Should you read it for yourself, keep in mind at some point you will need to slow your own pace down in order to fit the story. (Don't worry; you'll know when.)
– Tracy J. Butler
Lackadaisy was one of the few web-comics I followed in high school that managed to make it to physical publication. Despite the high quality of both the writing and the artwork, being from a small press made getting a copy very difficult and expensive. I would've likely passed on ever holding the book were it not for the sentimental value.
When I was younger and perhaps more underestimating of the world's depravity, the activity of the furry fandom held remarkable appeal. The accessibility is what I admired the most. In visual art elsewhere, drawing human forms is a large roadblock for people just starting out. We have entire structures of our neural chemistry explicitly dedicated to the identification of real human figures, so it should come as no surprise the same discerning standard is applied in art as well. For a beginning artist, as I was then, “anthro” was a way getting around that barrier to entry. The proportions were much looser and could be judged by their own standards, which was an advantage it had over the crippling uniformity anime and manga offered for others in the same boat. It was enough to let any teenage understudy compete on the internet, even while lacking the years of practice otherwise demanded. (Miss Butler, too, first started on Lackadaisy when she was hardly even 20 years old.) I saw an immense possibility space within it, but that possibility space these days has been vastly squandered.
Fashion is a shifting sand, and with the rise of bara in 02009-onwards, furry was slowly re-purposed into a strange exburb of the LGBT. It happened very quickly on the English internet, and I painstakingly witnessed it take place on Japanese kemono sites as well. Gone were the lovingly crafted character profiles, gone were the fantastical and picturesque settings, gone was the focus on using these characters to tell a possible story of some kind. All the parts I liked about it were slowly whittled away, and a makeshift pornography industry was the vile monster that took its place. I don't deny its right to exist, but merely wonder why it had to happen at the cost that it did... It's a betrayal I am still wounded by, and haven't quite gotten over even after all this time.
Despite everything, Lackadaisy somehow was not a victim to the currents. The long-standing focus on character, drama, and story reminds me why I got into this business in the first place. Few things are ever so sacred as that.
– Lewis Carroll
The way public domain book pricing works, getting the full set of Carroll's works wasn't any more expensive than otherwise just buying one of his books. Alice in Wonderland certainly is a fun read and all, but I wonder if the Disneified version of it doesn't over-occupy our cultural imagination, especially since it goes largely out of its way to strike from the record the numerous puns on typography and language included in the original work.
– Bertolt Brecht
John Willet translation, originally read from the Desmond Vesey translation. My first play of Brecht. I was initially against reading Brecht due to having prior knowledge of him as examples in early communication theory case studies -- too much foreknowledge to feel comfortable -- but I was eventually turned around by a radio documentary of a modern Mother Courage production.
Very well constructed, it reads like a Socratic dialogue on the nature of science and how our understanding of the world is constructed. However, the mise-en-scene is all over the place. With fourteen different scenes and quite a number of stage settings, the play jumps through many years of Galileo's life, with some characters appearing as children in early acts and grown men in the next. While it wouldn't be impossible to act on the stage, I'm inclined to wonder if it wasn't originally intended for early cinema, given the point in time at which it was written.
I also ponder the core experience of the work hasn't aged well. Given how many advancements in space science were only made after Brecht's time, the results Galileo makes pains to prove seem all too obvious to the modern reader; whereas before they could've been treated with mild implausibility, the hypothesis of an obscure subject.
– Rob Swigart
A satirical comedy that originates in the American counterculture uprising after the Vietnam invasion of the 01960's. It clearly has an axe to grind against *something*, but I can only guess as to exactly what.
– Nino Ricci
A local author whom I've had the honour of meeting in person multiple times. Admittedly, my introduction to him was not the nicest one, as I was mandated to read Lives of the Saints via high school curriculum instead of by free choice; a cause to dislike of itself. Years later, while on the opposite end of town, a brand-name drug store whom I dread having to visit so often was having a used book sale for charity, and there I found the same school copy I had read -- wearing the same ink stamp on its sides, pilfered from the textbook storerooms and commandeered for sale under a somewhat corporatized cause. I bought it out of irony and reread. With aged eyes, I understood the reason I had so much trouble with reading it back in school was its unusual and ineffective choice of narrator. In a story about ostracism, the only true perspective should fall on the persecuted -- not the person related to them by chance. While it had its moments, the Lives of the Saints is a difficult to understand book simply because the majority of its own plot is inaccessible to the narrator.
– James Sturn
A graphic novel, though I'm not sure it gains all that much in this form. It tells one of those intensely personal and psychological stories that are supposed to feel drawn out and tortured to some effect, but when viewed from a outer, visual lens, even in imaginative metaphor, becomes a little less personalized in the process. Also, since the graphic novel demands quite a lot from their readers in terms of how they are read, this work risks passing by all too quickly. It's one of those instances where the same story might be reimagined in a purely textual form to the same or even greater effect. (One of the few graphic novels I've read that had that problem, the other being a library copy of Radiomaru's pre-Scott Pilgrim "Lost at Sea", though that particular one was so dronishly terrible that not even a literary porting would save it.)
– Franz Kafka
Susan Bernofsky translation, originally read from the Ian Johnston translation. My first work of Kafka's. I would fully admit I had some trouble digesting after finishing it, but reading a literary analysis by Vladimir Nabokov helped me form an understanding of the work afterwards. The emotional resonance is incredibly strong, yet I feel as if there was some important element that was lost -- not in translation, but time. Even though the Metamorphosis has aged very well, there is some dynamic between the characters that is either no longer possible, or simply no longer noticeable: something forever omnipresent, yet shoved underground as if it was taboo. As cerebral as it is, part of me simply wonders "why?" Not, "why" in terms of why Gregor Samsa awoke as a monstrous insect, but rather "why" this particular unusual and slipstream tale became canonical in the literary sense. What about the time in which it was written were the fears it articulated so well, and what is the status of it that still resonates? There is something to be found there, for certain, but I'm still unsure to the specifics.
Donald M. Frame translation. Found in a bargain bin next to individual works of Shakespeare. Read the Misanthrope for a while. Never could imagine the entire world speaking in rhyme for quite that long, even in translation.
– Rosemary Sullivan, Juan Opitz, Colleen Sullivan
An illustrated children's book I acquired after having the met the author. I believe the intended audience is for those less than 5 years of age. A musical book featuring a main character who is a drummer. Comes with an audio CD for musical accompaniment. I think the plot is ultimately a little too light, but I suppose the standards for the intended age group are judged differently.
– Janet Bingham, Rosalind Beardshaw
I got this book because the art looked cool. Targeted audience is those of less than three years old, or so I'm led to believe. Structured as a bedtime story. Upon close inspection, bedtime stories seem to be written quite differently from traditional stories. With the intent being that the listener fall asleep somewhere around three quarters the way through, the plot and development is nonexistent outside of borrowed parental assurances. I imagine this a narrative style more akin to poetry than other kinds of dramaturgy, and is difficult to pull off and very easy to get wrong. If this particular book is an exemplar of the field, I cannot be the judge.
(I would later find out that another book by the same two authors, with the same artwork, and same overall everything would later be published as "Daddy's Little Star." Retrospectively, perhaps this book is really meant more for the sake of the reader than the listener.)
– Suzette Mayr
Read upon recommendation from several other Canadian authors. A plethora of characters and sub-plots all tangled together with overlaps. A funny and impressive work to behold, undeniably well written, (with the brief aside of its nonstandard way of marking spoken dialogue,) and I'd go so far as to call it the Great Canadian Novel of this era, (but only sometime within the next 30 years as it is a little too far ahead of the curb right now.)
However... It's hard to clue in, but the only reason this novel works as well as it does is because it takes place in a suburban or outer-metropolitan setting, small in size and somewhat densely populated. Never stated outright, but if you notice that the students of the school are more or less freely able to wander about as they need to without the need to worry about busing, then that becomes clear. Should it have been set in a rural Canadian Catholic high school as opposed to an urban one, I would've had to call bullshit of the tallest possible magnitude on every single conceit the book operated upon. It is oppressively optimistic in the way it approaches the subject matter -- not quite propagandistic, but something that borderlines on mania. I couldn't help but think there was one very important aspect missing from it -- something that should've been there, yet not -- but whatever it was would've fallen outside the purview as a literary comedy.
Until the time when it could be properly hailed as a classic comes, Monoceros serves one of two possible uses: 1) giving to a suicidal gay teenager in order stave off the inevitable by a month or two, or 2) hiding several copies somewhere in a Catholic high school's library (assuming they still have one) to be highly entertained by the moral panic it will surely spark.
– David Petersen
Volumes 1 through 3, but still ongoing. A beautifully drawn series of graphic novels, notable for its detailed inking and an illuminated vellum texturing, mimicking the style of the tiny medieval world it creates. It's the one series of book I've ever read that wants so desperately to be a video game, yet is aware of its own ludological shortcomings and is fully resigned to its place as literary media. However, as it stands, it operates on a storyteller's debt; it spends the first two volumes with simple plots and shallow characters, under the assumption that it is setting up for something grand. It begins to realize this claim in the third volume with better characters and a more dynamic storyline, yet that debt still lingers. Whither or not Mouse Guard will break the limit of mediocrity anthropomorphic storytelling is so commonly afflicted with depends entirely on if Petersen can realize and surpass that intangible the first book could not make and only promise.
– David Petersen and Various Artists
Volumes 1 and 2, but still ongoing. Sidestories taken place within the Mouse Guard world, written by numerous writers and artists, framed by Mr. Petersen himself. Most are noncanonical to Mouse Guard, even though they make use of its vestigial features. However, if in textual media, the collection of short stories cannot offer the investment and pathos that a full novel could provide, then the story story in graphic novel form is but a fleeting breeze passing by. While I recall a number of them being beautifully illustrated, for the life of me I could not remember any one vignette specifically. By involving so many people in the work and absolving them of editorial autonomy, Petersen's little playground has a severe quantity over quality problem. Yet hope remains, as with the sister series that carries its name, it may yet get better with time. Hopefully.
– Umberto Eco
William Weaver translation. After a long-lost binge on trashy murder mystery novels during my teenage years, this book is all I could ever ask for a piece of historical mystery and literary fiction. Take note however: while I respect Mr. Eco's work as a semiotician, I am fully convinced after having read samples of his other literary works that this book is -- and shall remain -- the only good one he will ever write. The rest range from somewhat uninteresting (Baudolino) to offensively terrible (Foucault's Pendulum).
– Jon R. Flieger
A local author trying to bring a literary style of poetry to a hometown audience. A very small book, and probably be unremarkable to anyone outside our little Canadian bordertown's very limited highbrow reading public that really only exists in full for one week every October or November. Probably living proof that literary media is not and can never really be a local man's game. Also, if you are not from Windsor: I assure you, the title gives terrible advice. We don't have the highest concentration of strip clubs in all of Canada for no reason.
– Gabriel García Márquez
Gregory Rabassa translation. A long and winding work covering several generations of an egotistically-founded, isolationist town. It apparently is canonical to a subgenre of magical realism literature in Spanish with massive political connotations, but I was unaware of most of them upon my reading. It had a great start, better early half, lulls in the middle, somewhat meandering towards the finish, but wrapped up very well in the last moments.
– D.C. Simpson
Prehistronics (1997-2000) and Tofu Knights (2004-2005). A webcomic that temporarily gained traction as a newspaper daily in the Detroit Free Press for a few years. While it's probably a generational thing, I loved it. I don't suspect it will age very well, given the American political satire involved, but what DC Simpson managed to accomplish with Ozzy and Millie during the time was quite remarkable -- or so I thought.
It's actually quite a shame that after she finished Ozzy and Millie, the furries had given matters such a bad taint that her subsequent work inevitably failed as it did. If it was Miss Simpson's own undoing or a result of a peer pressure from what was undeniably part of her own fanbase, I really cannot say, nor do I want to find out.
Ozzy and Millie never found a traditional publisher, and could only get printed through internet mailing-on-demand services. This made finding it through traditional bookstores a very difficult proposition. My collection of Ozzy and Millie only covers a fraction the total amount of work Miss Simpson created during its more than 10 year long run. This particular collection is notable in that it is more representative of the majority visual style the comic used, the exact middle between its stiff ink markering from its early days, and its loosely brushed children's book style later days.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Richard Howard translation. One of those books I loved dearly as a teenager, if only because that was the correct time to actually read it. In finding a bookstore copy, I overspent and splurged on getting a full colour hardcover that came in a blue felt and gold-lettered heavy cardstock encasing. Perhaps that should've been indicative to me the unbridled love of that book is a bit overshared... I somewhat wonder if revisiting it would evoke the same old feelings.
– Jonathan Ball
Poetry in the sense of it being experimental prose, which makes it a bit more accessible to literary types with a distaste for pretension. Mr. Ball is a fantastic writer, but this collection poetry falls prey to the usual pitfalls most collections of mostly unrelated poems suffer with, even through the loose thematic connections. Plus, the fact that it was a follow-up work to the absolutely perfect Clockfire will make whatever light one views it under naturally unfair to itself. It contains its gems, though; my favourites being "WOLVES" and "That Most Terrible of Dogs".
– Michael Healey
Canadian political satire in the traditional sense. Set in an alternate universe where the Quebec NDP Orange Crush was a Blue Crush instead, going to the Conservative party who captured the real-life majority nonetheless. The Prime Minister takes one of the rookie MPs under his wing to teach her what she needs to know about politics, covering the unflinching curriculum of all the political dirty tactics that the Harper Conservatives are known for. I am biased reading this because I never liked the Harper Conservatives in the first place: I recall during high school when they won their first minority on the merits of a stricter juvenile justice bill; whipping up the fears of rascally teenagers in an aging population, an appeal to emotion at the expense of teens who weren't even allowed to vote against them in protest. (That was my own "Welcome to Politics" moment...) However, the Harper in this play is not the same amoral monster in our collective imaginations. Not entirely unlikable and even sympathetic at times - especially in Scene 5, which is my favourite moment in the work - but still, somehow, almost unaware of the swollen depths his own nihilism truly extends. This play was originally almost banned from production due to libel chill from the Conservative Heritage Minister's meddling with the Canada Arts Council's theatre funding. I think it could be revived with better chances as a readable book, but only if it comes equipped with a bibliography and research appendix. Grounding in some historical basis is necessary, lest the play be woefully misinterpreted like a Machiavellian prince; a very real risk this play will have in the long run. We need less Harpers in this world, not more.
– Tom Stoppard
More Absurdism. In the middle between Ionesco's loud and over the top comedy and Beckett's dour depression. Interestingly, the first version of this play I could track down was not the stage play, but the screen play. Having compared the two forms together, both penned by Stoppard's hand, it cemented my belief that the screenplay is an all-out terrible form of writing and is thoroughly unenjoyable to read.
– Thomas Wharton
A semi-modern fantasy novel that makes full use of its own thematic style in ways that set it apart from other works of fantasy and science fiction, making it wholly unique in the world of speculative fiction simply by virtue of the subject matter it chooses to explore.
– Neil Gaiman and Various Artists
Volumes 1 through 10, also containing the sideworks of "The Dream Hunters" and "Endless Nights". The Sandman originally presents itself within the works of the old DC Superhero comics, yet works quickly to evolve and break itself out of that worn mould into something more mysterious and outright surreal. It is an interesting example of what happens when someone with highbrow education writes very wholeheartedly for an all-too-often oversold portion of popular culture. It is a very demanding series. Fans of nostalgic superhero comics who are not familiar with the breadth of the English literary canon will need to rise to meet the occasion The Sandman presents. Hardcore bookworms and uppity scholars of ancient mythologies will need to humble themselves immensely if they want to get access to the rich tale Gaiman weaves. Those new to reading graphic novels mind find The Sandman inaccessible outright. It is a difficult work for most audiences, but like playing Dark Souls or La-Mulana, it can be quite rewarding if you can brave it.
– Jack London
An old edition I was lucky to find in a Prince Edward Island bookshop, which I read in full on the long ride home through the New Brunswick and Quebec countryside. My only Jack London work, though I understand his others are quite different. Has a fantastic first half, but gives up halfway through and decides to try aping up a little Robinson Crusoe in the second half, and not to great effect. Worthwhile enough for the first half alone.
– R. E. Morris, “Blithewine”
Or "The Titillations of Martyrdom, A Series of Vignettes Designed To Induce Ejaculations of Religious Fervour." Also known as "Weird Catholicism.pdf", it is a small chapbook inbetween the line of prose in style and poetry in presentation. No overriding narrative or stylistic concerns, but it reads almost like a written improv or an underground sketch comedy, jumping wildly from one ridiculous scenario to the next, lingering only so far as to let the audacity sink in before it crosses the line a second time. Its presentation and rare release would almost be indie in a punk sort of way, at least if it weren't for the rigorous Catholicism of its duende.
With no known print edition, I copied it out myself and taped it into one of my spare journals so it could share the shelves with my other books. I have this 19-page document there on a literary promise: Blithewine's prose is so good, that should he ever publish a book-length work I immediately want to rub my face all over it. His written form is as darkly beautiful as his choice in content. He has this uncanny ability of writing the most delicious paragraphs, that in only reading one small excerpt you immediately crave more and want to know the rest. It's a writing skill I would kill for, and I probably will.
– Harry Karlinsky
A novel so dedicated to its own verisimilitude that it completely succeeds at sounding like a badly written historical biography. It is obsessively researched and is one of the few major pieces of fiction I have, in the company of Thomas Wharton's Salamader, that comes equipped with an extensive postscript and bibliography. I'm not sure if I should admire its continued attempts to sound as real as possible, because that dedication to form made it somewhat of a boring read, with its academic and research-driven tone of objectivity creating a Freudian displacement in the emotional connections to the main characters of the work: the relatively minor character of Mr. Nobel getting the crux of the character development, while the leading character of Mr. Sohlman is ignored as he dictates the core action. (Was that intentional, I wonder...?) To some frustration, it does not really get super interesting until chapter 10 out of the total 18, and by then most other readers would have given up on the lull following the strong first chapter, leading me to think it might've been interesting to see a version told using anachronistic arrangement. While the results may be variable, I still respect the ambition of this experiment. The story required a lot of setup, and it was at its best when those moments finally could arrive. The Stonehenge Letters is an example of an undervalued genre of fiction one could call the paradoxical name of "historical science fiction", and it is the first of the kind I've ever read.
– Khaled Hosseini
A tale of two Muslim wives suffering under a tyrannical husband over the course of 30 years in late-century Afghanistan. While the book is not bad, I suspect the temporary amount of praise it got during its mid-02000's release was largely an attempt at opportunistic political propaganda in the wake of the United States' armed incursions into the Middle East. I would not have even picked it up had my university bookstore not marked it down to 99 cents -- the reason for which I discovered being the last chapters of the book were misprinted on only half the pages.
– Oliver Jeffers
A picture book written for children, though I am unable to pinpoint the intended age group. Children's books by this particular author are interesting to me, as they are of the few I've been able to locate in the field that can balance age accessibility while still following proper dramatic form -- actual story with plot, even it is simplest expression, without the otherwise condescending See Jane, See Jane Run, Run Jane Run. The illustration style is particularly charming in and of its own right.
– Jonathan Safran Foer
Less of a work of fiction and more a piece of sculpture. Cannot be traditionally "read", but must be "seen" to be believed. Similar to le Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, the book is only fully enabled by somewhat of a gimmick; but, it is not incapable of some crafty poeticisms or two, even if they were clearly unintended.
– Alan Moore
A friend of mine had an almost religious obsession with the movie, which led us both quite naturally to the book. However, it turned out to be one of those rare and almost unnatural times when the movie was quite honestly better than the book. The graphic novel, despite being closer to Moore's original anarchistic intentions, is an utter mess with many different unrelated plot strings and a cluttered visual style with multiple characters that are visually indistinct and difficult to tell apart. I know there is a wonderful story of freedom and political intrigue in there, but the very frame it surrounds itself in is chaotic. I suspect someone more familiar with the political context Moore was writing in could tell me strengths of this work, but I found it very difficult.
– Alan Moore
The one piece of Alan Moore's writing that I actually ended up liking quite a bit -- while I certainly did try with his others. I first found it on New Year's Eve back in 02009 and binged it for nine hours straight into early 02010. Book was better than the movie, though the movie certainly did try very damn hard.
– Richard Adams
A very cute book that I first read ages ago out of my high school's library, yet was unable to finish before returning. Other literary types tell me, having finished it themselves, that it wasn't a very good book in retrospect, yet I massively liked the adventurous first half. Perhaps one day I'll finish it and have to re-evaluate my position.
– Oliver Jeffers
A picture book written for children, though I am unable to pinpoint the intended age group. Even though I am admittedly not quite of this author's audience, I still found his books to be interesting reads -- at least, relatively. I ultimately didn't buy any more of them, though, as I developed a bad habit of being able to read and finish them all without even leaving the bookstore. I suppose that's an occupational hazard when you write books of less than 500 words. (One of the standouts he also wrote was called "The Marvellous Book-Eating Boy", which actually played quite a bit with typographical elements; a feat I previously thought a bit advanced for a picture book.)
– William Shakespeare
A friend of mine managed somehow to get an entire Shakespeare folio on sale for just three dollars. Lucky bastard. The lowest I could find was still a full twenty with tax. While re-reading Hamlet and Macbeth are still fun and all, the version of I could find lacked the historical annotations so common to my old high school texts that I had no idea I was so reliant on until I no longer had them.
– Christian Bök
Book one, of however many. Bök continues my impression of him as the epitome of style over substance, now bringing that distinction to scientific rigour. Perhaps I am not so much mad at him as what he enables in others. My introduction to Bök was in the same breath as Kenneth Goldsmith, and Goldsmith was so obviously awful that I simply assumed Bök must've been as well. He's not, and he deserves the praise he gets; yet my heart refuses to sincerely embrace him. Even if he is literally the One Good Sound Poet in all of human civilization, and even further if his craft is so finely honed that he becomes the paragon prophet of the English language, I absolutely cannot conscionably allow it in my own mind. To read poems by Bök is to be locked in a prison of broken signs, to go to a place where nothing truly matters, to remind yourself that even if we tried our hardest we will all die tomorrow and there would be nothing left.
He seems to be aware of that criticism. The xenotext itself, which oddly isn't even in this introductory book and still seems to be forthcoming, promises to be the one piece of culture which will out-survive the entire life of the planet Earth -- encoded into the genetic sequence of the extremophilic bacterium, deinococcus radiodurans. It is fascinating, but only as technique; not theory. I can't get over the fact that it isn't really about anything. ... and even the xenotext would preserve only form, but not the purpose.
Bök makes language a candy, so sweet on the tongue, but however savoury it is against instinct. True language is the thick hide of a terrible monster, its fangs ripping ever deeper into our doomed skulls, and it hungers yet.
– Terry O'Reily, Mike Tennant
The book form of a CBC Radio show that aired for some time, to moderate success. A book on marketing and advertising, though somewhat deceptive in its true aims. While I do not doubt the honesty of Mr. O'Reily's dedication to public broadcasting, a close analysis of this book would reveal him to not be a completely reformed adman. The book serves to sell on the concept of advertising itself, and any criticisms it makes towards the practice are at times much duller than they rightfully could have otherwise been. Can serve as a basic history on the development in technique of consumer marketing over a limited history, but when reading make absolutely certain to keep one's guard up. If one is lucky enough to find a radio archive of the show, I'd recommend just listening to it over the having the book, as there is little more the book offers. Just a word of warning: the first seasons are great, but it really goes downhill after Tennant leaves.
– Jono Bacon
An early book on community management gimped by its overwhelming anecdotalism within the open source linux world. While it did leave me with a new source of admiration for open source software, the theories in this book are noticeably difficult to extrapolate into other spheres of work. Considering Mr. Bacon wishes for this to be the central tenant of the book's thesis, that limits its overall usefulness. Part of me wonders what exactly it would be like if the very texts of this book were also open source.
– Jesse Schell
One of the primary, albeit pre-Mandeleevian, books on basic ludology. Covers almost every aspect of game production in many different fields. However, his opinions and recommendations on narratology within the craft are, I believe, highly misled.
– Alan Fletcher
A large and highly illustrated tome representing 30 years worth collected wisdom by a highly practised graphic designer, covering many topics within the field of information design. This eccentric book was originally a hidden little gem I found in one of my high school classrooms, a shared treasure of the history teacher and her students.
– Ellen Bryant Voigut
A mostly mediocre book on craft writing focusing on traditional poetry. Has some good bits, but does not really offer a uniting idea to its multiple components, some of which are are just not very well explained at all. If one does not have an ear for poetry, this book is not sufficient enough to gain it.
– Joline Blais, Jon Ippolito
I originally got this as research materials for some writing, but the specific component it had which I needed turned out to be very small. Fortunately, the rest of the book was still alright. It reads like a second-generation art historian trying to understand the impact of digital technologies and the Internet upon art; "second" generation implying they have enough research, breadth, and depth to avoid the common pratfalls of looking at a new thing and drawing hasty conclusions. No triumphalism, no alarmistry, just well-thought out questions with very good examples and edge cases. It's the type of book I wish I had when I was grappling against FLARF, Goldsmithian uncreative, and other Oulipo-derivative styles of writing, since Blais and Ippolito's phrasings on proceduralism and process versus/over product put the questions I had on generative art in a much clearer way.
– Dorothea Brande
One of my original craft writing books upon recommendation from my original writing teacher on the discipline of the craft, written from what looks like the original onset of the creative publishing industry. Interesting in its criticism of the early (and in some sense, modern) craft writing industry, as well as its semi-mystical approach to harnessing creative talent: A 01930's version of what would later by discovered with neurological dualism in the 01970's. It seems I've inherited my old teacher's dyslexia in continuing to mispronounce the author's name as "Doro The Abrand", intentionally or not.
– Matt Mattus
One of my first books I found on corporate media homogenization, though not the best example of the entire subject. Written by an artist who offers some practical solutions to the problem, but it is quite clear that he is operating from within the heavy media system and his aims are not critical enough to be a true panacea to the problems he addresses. I suppose it is only natural, in Mr. Mattus' case, to not bite the hand that feeds him, yet his small media solutions would simply have no effect in the large media aggregate. While I would normally have classified this book as a marketing text, it remains ambiguous work that blurs the line between authentic artistry and commercial design. I suspect, had this book achieved any level success (which it thankfully did not), that critics from the Underground such as Anne Elizabeth Moore would've found much to reproach in the Mattus method.
– Henry Horenstein
Can offer a crash course in traditional film photography for those all too familiar with the ease and comforts of digital photography, as circumstance found I had to quickly acquire. Also a good grounding text for understanding the nature of single-lens-reflex cameras, lens types, and filters, which is common even to digital capture, and arguably to greater effect. I felt it did not quite cover the exact methods for chemical development in necessary detail for it to be completely clear to a first-time attempter, but thankfully circumstance did not require me to actually cover that part. Traditional photography is still interesting in the oddities of visual technique it can still accomplish, such as double exposure and also the unique grainy texture common to black and white film, especially when digitally scanned afterwards. However, I much prefer colour film photography, not only for the strange and unusual colour capture that film is capable of, but also due to the fact that its development process is an international standard and is much less of a crap-shoot in attempting.
– Anna Klingmann
An odd book sitting in the middle between my forays into the study of architecture and the study of marketing. While it was useful to me in writing a few essays, I never actually could stomach the idea of reading it in full, if only because I am untrained enough as an architect to understand the bulk of her concepts, and the idea of actually reading marketing material is still somewhat nauseating to me. It makes me wonder just who exactly this book's desired reader really is, because only in my deepest and most paranoid fears about this capitalist world would any architect be versed in the dark art of branding. If one should want a counterpoint to what this book purports, see the ironically named Steward Brand's book on architecture within time.
– Robert E. Kraut, Paul Resnick
A primer in basic online sociological design published by the MIT Press. One of the few of its kind, and the only one to support itself with a large array of research. It is reflective of the time in that it differentiates between the olden style of online forums and the newer inventions of social networks, which it identifies as identity communes and bonds communes, and is quite detailed about the very stark differences between them. The book, though, is probably most interesting in what its supporting research says about completely different areas of social endeavour than it does about community management specifically, yet I cannot tell if this would be the bias of the authors showing through, or just a completely unintended side effect of the exact points they were trying to make.
– Corvus Corax
Technically not a book, but a music CD songbook whose album has been replaced with a small hardcover book and whose lyric sheets form the binding, with the cardstock insert for the CD on the back cover. A clever idea, and might make me more of a music affectionato if done more often. Covers a full operatic set based on both religious and secular medieval poetry written and performed in Latin, with an accompaniment of both medieval and modern orchestral instruments. Sadly, it was only published in German and the translations of the Latin are inaccessible to me.
– David Starker
One of the more ethical, albeit also one of the harder to find, books on persuasion. Given to me not as an actual volume but instead as a series of ring-binder printouts from one of my more interesting teachers, even if I only knew him for a short while. Starker has a bad habit of repeating the same things over and over, but his work is not singular and tries to find common strings between multiple diverse fields in which persuasive tactics are used. Reading a lot of craft writing books beforehand made many of the concepts feel familiar to me, as they were largely the same things, but under different names. It is not a magic-bullet solution to changing people's minds, but a generalized framework to keep in mind only for when one is truly serious about their persuasion, and is simply ineffective when attempted casually. The ultimate thing that sets this book apart from other attempts at outright manipulation, is the central concept of closure: the very moment when the mind is changed. Closure is something a person must reach on their own, and while you may lead them to it on the best of days, it is not a path that any ethical persuader can force someone to take.
– Orson Scott Card
I was aware of Mr. Card in that I know he wrote a book that was very popular with others I knew when they were younger -- Ender's Game, if I recall correctly. I was also aware that Mr. Card got himself into a nasty public relations bind when he hit the Born-Again-American-Fundamentalist blend of Christianity a little too hard and ended up saying a few nasty things which isolated close to a full half of his original audience. His personal views aside, this textbook he wrote on craft writing in regards to character development did not contain any such flaws, but also did not contain anything I felt was truly new or a unique way of looking at the old subject. Competent, but did not excel in doing so, which I mostly track to its unusually short length for a craft writing textbook. It might be a decent starting point for a new writer who needs to manage their time a bit more tightly than others, maybe. While I cannot say I know what the best craft writing book on character development would be, I can say I at least know of one other book in relation to this one that covers a much larger depth of analysis and technique than Mr. Card was commissioned to put into this text.
– Alberto Manguel
The written port of Manguel's 02007 Massey Lecture for CBC Radio. A series of five presentations that can be better understood when listened to rather than read, and probably can be freely found to listen to online, if one can hide under a Canadian proxy temporarily. It is a dissertation on the nature of using literature to understand the ever-elusive Other, and a strong polemic on the role of literature in the modern century, especially the later chapters on the corrupting nature of modern publishing.
– John Vorhaus
A craft writing book specializing in method for comedy. Humour existing only in its written form cannot impart the necessary sense of timing needed to manage a comedic response, and no singular book would ever give someone the necessary style and taste to develop truly unique subject matter for a comedic routine. As a result, it is slightly misled to believe that one can learn how to write comedy from any one book, but I found Vorhaus is useful less as a book on comedy writing and more as a book on comedy editing. In the least, it gives an editor a few good ground rules to work with when trying to take a rough draft of a comedic work, to know where and when to cut (or refrain) so the essential form is not compromised where traditional editing falls flat. That, and the chapter on practical jokes was absolutely amazing.
– Celia Pearce, Artemesia
A doctoral thesis written as a virtual ethnography on the nature of a particular MMORPG community, how they lost their homeland as a part of corporate restructuring and began the groundswell to reclaim it. Likely one of the first of its kind. Was a nostalgic read for me, given my own history with KWRPG, and Avlein's KPO in particular.
– Amy Jo Kim
An ancient and outfashioned book on early website design in the late 01990's and early 02000's internet. It is notable for its unique and humanistic method in designing online social spaces, as it was written before the insurgence of online advertising and social network data collection that has changed all newer texts in the field for the worst. It was the book I wish I had a full ten years before I could finally track it down, and its purehearted methodology ensures stills holds up in time, even after the business and the technology have already moved on. Though, perhaps I'm just being nostalgic.
– Linda Serger
One of my original craft writing books from my high school's library.
– Daniel Harris
One of my favourite works of essay in English. Despite the subtitle, it is not an academic work, nor is it your usual marketing study. Its frighteningly objective viewpoint can strike fear into what was previously the ordinary. Defining the right voice to read this work in is a difficult choice to make, though my preferred method is to read it with an ominous dread.
– Keiichi Matsuda
Not actually a book proper, but a large PDF I thought was interesting enough that I printed it out and gave it a simple binding so that it may find company in my other books on architecture. From what I understand, it was written a master's thesis, and certainly is one of the more fanciful works on architecture I've ever encountered. It tries to extrapolate the effects of nascent forms of AR (augmented reality) on the practice and style of city building, city planning, and structure forming. The tone it writes in is so neutral and the conclusions it draws are so alarmist that one cannot reasonably tell if it is being either hyperbolic in what the over-advertised dystopian future holds, or if it is in fact actively promoting it. Matsuda goes a bit too far in the assumptions, as even the most conceited bourgeoisie will eventually reject the hypermediated consumerist nightmare Matsuda paints in order to demand a calm connection to the real, even temporarily, even if that real is a little boring. This book, though, is at least notable for me when I had my once chance to meet Lemon Hound writer Sina Queyras, when she presented her thoughts in poetry on the nature of digital media, clearly coming from a place of enamoured ignorance, and rendered unable to answer at least one mildly informed question on the core difference between VR and AR. *snark*
– Christopher Trollope (President), Jonathan Ball (Managing Editor)
I have a small collection of various literary journals -- Grain, EVENT, Prairie Fire -- but many of them are dour and academic and operate on old institutional legacy alone, doing very little to hype and present their well-earned materials to an audience of general readers and not to an audience of other writers. I grew weary of their lot all too quickly, but the only literary magazine I actually ended up liking in any fashion was Dandelion, whom Mr. Ball was the editor of before I had ever even known him. It had this wonderful underground-like quality to it, with cheap typography and a wide array of strange and unusual art installations that did a lot of welcome readers into the texts they presented. Sadly, I could only ever track down one copy of volume 34.1, which contained a short story by Joel Katelnikoff that I quite liked. I never could find more of it, though.
– Derek Powazek
One of the very few of its kind written at the edge of the original dotcom bubble about online community, by my count of which there is only three. Powazek lies in the exact middle, with Jo Kim soaring high above him and Preece far below. At the time of its writing, Powazek knows less than he lets on; he is very clear about the social mission he partakes, but can only speak in generalities as a designer. He tries to link things together by interviewing multiple pioneers of the early and middle web, offering less practical information and something more of a historical perspective -- even calling upon Howard Rheingold, who surprised me with his early book on the matter even back in 01993! Sadly, Jo Kim's methods are clearly much better than Powazek's, both at the time and even now. On the other hand, Jo Kim has since forsaken her writing on the topic of community building, while Powazek has continued to update his interest. Given that state of matters, Powazek might become the more authoritative writer of the two over time, even if his newer knowledge is no longer in book form.
– Trevor Owens
This was a book that needed to be written, and it is with some degree of sadness that I say that.
Since 02009, I’ve always been on the lookout for research material as it relates to the building and maintenance of web community software. It comes with the territory of having once been a community admin myself, as well as having admired and befriended so many others who accepted the burden of being a moderator. We still bemoan the new world of mass-audience “social media” and all that it lacks. It’s not just the ineffective moderation in how these sites could never possibly match the demand their massive scale produces, nor in the rampant trolling and hate speech that festers from it, but also in the vanishing of the possibilities. The rise of websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Google+, along with the craze of “your internet self is your real self” that followed in their wake, signaled the end of cyberspace as an endless frontier and turned the Internet into a tool of social control for the powerful and privileged. Things may have gotten better as a few second-generation social networks eased up on the heavy-handedness, but most of the damage has still been done.
I owe a lot to the web communities I first came to know around 02002 and 02003. I quite literally would be dead right now if it were not for them. They were the ones first formed within the halcyon days of cyberspace liberation, and were a damn sight better than what marketing companies wanted “Web 2.0” to replace them with. I quickly realized if I wanted them to still be around, I would need to dedicate myself to preserving and improving upon their tradition. A lot of the social software we used at the time is now outdated; they were complex systems that many of us could not modify or repair to suit our own needs. No matter how much better old forum software might be in terms of organization, it would all be for nothing if we couldn’t make the simplest of adaptations. I quickly searched out whatever sparse research I could find on community software, which was no easy task given how historically recent the whole subject still is. Works of academic rigour only started to come out after 02011, and until then there were only “gurus” and “practitioners.” I sought out authors like Powazek, Jo Kim, O’Keefe, Bacon, and Howard – all the ones that me and the other mods wished we had known about 10 years prior. ... and they’re all here in this book too! Trevor Owens compiled this PhD thesis as a meta-study of over 28 of the rarest pre-02011 books on community software design, in a grand summary of all their methods!
… which is why it might hurt to see them all so viciously torn to shreds.
The history that Owens lays out is one of an ideological tension: how the dynamic between enabling freedom for software users dovetails strictly against the power of the admin. While Owens has some skin in this game as a user of this same software, his perspective is one of the future librarian which must play internet archaeologist to the remains of old community archives. To him, moderation is an ethical quandary in which any one political being with the power to shape or modify an existing discourse puts a strict limit on what the final result of that media can express, even if that power is seldom ever used. It’s a very simple and reasonable argument that Chomsky and Herman applied to broadcast media systems and Owens shows similar filtering models that can be applied here; not only in when moderation tools operate upon threads, or even when the dynamics of database software puts strict limitations on what could be expressed, but also in how moderators employ social dynamics to influence behavior towards specific goals. Like photographs, web communities are not simply a window to a time once real, but are constructions which further construct what they represent – and this poses a whole dynamic of problems to historians who might want to use them as source material.
The rhetorical analysis of these old textbooks is one of ownership and control, and that has remained a relative constant even while social software underwent several shifts in understanding. When the field of web community construction first formed, it was quickly untethered from any institutional backing because of the move to the WWW. Those who wished to work in the burgeoning field had to pitch the merits of their craft to anyone who could employ them: companies, brands, and corporations. From Jo Kim and Powazek to even later players like Howard, these books were not so much contributions to a field of research as they were prospectuses for the author’s own consultation business. (A constraint only Jono Bacon would be free of, and possibly Kraut/Resnick even though they were not a part of Owens’ study.) So when these books talk about what to do for “your” community, it is a double entendre: equally about the community you belong to as it is about the mass audiences and intellectual properties of its patron owner.
This, of course, is awful and completely misses the point of why building such communities is important. I should belong to the community; it does not belong to me. To do otherwise employs the same cart-before-horse ideology of for-profit capitalism within a place it strictly does not belong, which even practitioners like Powazek eventually had to concede that there is just no social media business model that allows profit of any sort. Sadly, the technology itself is what enabled this expansion. The freespirited nature of the communitarian and BBS eras of cyberspace homesteading was result of people seeing new possibilities while still being a little hazy on how exactly it worked under the hood. Once phpBB, vBulletin, and others like it were released with coummity software presented as a prefabricated construction for anyone to use, it began the trend where the content produced by these systems were ownerships by the managers and administrators of each installation. It gave rise to an age of web communities as form of privatized media, tiny dictatorships, and company towns. (We even see the more corporatized aspect of it today in how the job of “community manager” exists, as opposed to “community nurturer.”) The MySQL-based developments of phpBB eventually led to Web 2.0, and some admins began dropping the community aspect altogether. Owners gave up the hassle of moderation and settled for WordPress blogs with comment sections for their own social gratification: a practice that had way too many theoretical flaws with it even by the standards of social software theory at the time. The lack of a level playing field between the owners and commenters led the way for increased aggression in its userbase, and we only have to look at comment sections on news websites or YouTube channels today to see unfortunate result of what happens without communion.
I’ve never before felt such a wild range of emotions while reading about something I cherish so deeply. For the longest time I had grown so attached to the communitarian ethic these authors had provided, even if I was blind to the critical flaws Owens highlights. The betrayal of it isn’t what gets me; in some ways, I knew that part already. I had only placed so much importance on the earlier gurus like Jo Kim because they still talked about their users as, y'know, people; much unlike the more modern post-Web 2.0 writings like Gavin Bell’s Building Social Web Applications (02009, O'Reilly Media) where any given user was simply a target demographic to be mined for metadata which could then be sold off to an advertiser. What gets me is Owens’ suggestion of original sin in the building social software; how what caused the downhill roll was there from the beginning, and that was the need for control. This... I don't know how to respond to.
I totally understand the way he has to approach the matter of moderation as an historian, a removed and neutral observer to whom absolutely anything is fair game, but even relics once had to live through the problems presented before them. While Owens is at no point wrong in what he proves, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. His analysis lives in a world where trolls and problem users either do not exist or are a necessary part of the overall mosaic, which is completely insensitive to those of us in the here and now. An analysis of moderation tools cannot take place without knowledge of the community rules which they exist to enforce. These regulations are a record of past mistakes and lived experiences, and are necessary to prevent shared spaces from devolving into mimetic rivalries, flame wars, and (now with alarming frequency) hate speech. Even the superstitious beliefs of old BBS systems for limiting users with connections faster than 300 baud must have been borne out by the observable reality they faced, if they knew the real reasons behind it or not. (Posters with faster connections overposting compared to the others, making them feel like the playing ground was uneven; or ruining the pace of the, until then, slow-and-methodological conversation.) When I limit the use of a board’s private messaging system to users over the age of 18, I carry in that control a previous history of having dealt with problem-users abusing those systems to sexually harass the younger 13 year old community members. This is what a good communitarian is supposed to do! Do large social networks take that practice and mix up the scale to the point of having an opaque surveillance state? Sure. Do bad communitarians also exist who just run roughshod over it all to be the king of their castle, like Free Republic's JimRob? Yes, of course, but that's why there is still value in improving the research behind web community software, in order to build up that body of knowledge for everyone. I am sympathetic to what Owens is trying to do as an archivist, but his analysis on moderation tools leaves out how they might be there for a reason other than the Freudian Projection of the administration. Yet he extends this caution to even the threat of moderation, the psychological implications of having moderators around, and even how through design affordances that moderators may want to promote particular kinds of conversation over others. He extrapolates from Burrhus Frederic Skinner and Erving Goffman as they relate to the methods moderators employ, when he should have really been talking about Jürgen Habermas or even Thomas Hobbes.
It's strange, really. If it were Chomsky and Herman talking about how propaganda systems in broadcast media enforce a kind of self-censorship regimen on its actants in favour of the media ownership, I would totally go “yeah man, they're a fucking hivemind!” ... and that's partly because the majority of the old broadcast media have only ever brought me suffering and frustration. However, when Owens comes along implies exact same thing to something I actually like, something that has brought me much meaning and joy, the tables turn and I suddenly realize why people hated Chomsky so much for being an annoying little pedant. But... I have my principles, and just because I don't like the conclusion Owens reaches doesn't mean I can deny it outright. This was a book that needed to be written; it's just a question of what to do with it.
– Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, John D. Smith
This was my first book on communities of practice, which Wenger had popularized quite a lot back in the 01990's early internet. I had sterred clear of it because Wenger's style was so obviously biased towards adapting Internet use for large, already-existing corporations. At a surface level, it never seemed to me like anything other than falsely glib human resources cookery dressed up with all the latest and most fashionable buzzwords, much unsuited for the more informal settings where I plyed my material. I would still classify it as such, but I was at least able to glimpse the more theoretical basis upon which they operated: "learning" as applied in the most non-pedagogical means possible. While there still isn't anything wrong with it, something about it rang hollow to me. The book's method can be so pro-bureaucracy sometimes that, even if I cannot question the pure effectiveness of the technique (... which judging by the brass-tacks it finally got down to in Chapter 6, it most certainly is,) I feel they miss the primary reason why community can be so important and powerful on the individual level. Missing the forest for the trees might be bad and all, but I don't need a whole forest if I want to rest against something in the shade.
– William Strunk Junior, EB White
Was a popular craft writing book for a while covering most topics in advanced grammar, but I hear it has fallen out of favour lately. Wouldn't surprise me. It is a useful crutch while starting out, one kinda has to outgrow it eventually. Good for its short length, but I believe Noah Lukemann covers the breadth of this little book in much greater detail.
– Robert Bringhurst
The 4th edition. One of the masterwork texts in the entire field of typography, covering both the technique and the lettered history of the form. Also covers a more enlightened approach to graphic design. My first work of Bringhurst's, though I would later discover that he would be considered a heavyweight in the Canadian literary circuit. I almost had the chance to meet him in person one year at a humanities research group, but sickness prevented such. Though, I must admit, I don't always agree with some of the propositions. Perhaps it's just my own personal quirk that I love sans-serif type with justified ragging.
– Prophet Muhammad, Thomas Cleary
A highly abridged English translation of the holy Qur'an that I found in a seaside bookshop on Prince Edward Island and read late into the night at a cottage on the tidepool shores. I was enormously interested in finally reading the Qur'an, and even moreso given I was already familiar with the ancient translation work of Thomas Cleary from other sources; a fated pairing that appealed to me directly. However, I began to suspect that this particular translation wasn't all that up to snuff of the regular Islamic quality as the work went on and the abridgement became more apparent. It renders the prophet's highly rhythmic and structured rhyme into modernist free verse, which despite the translator's notes assuring the semantic correctness of his method, made it more an object of poetic admiration and less of a window into a newfound faith. Still remained a fascinating read, despite Cleary's shortcomings.
– James P. Carse
A highly unusual book that can either be interpreted as a work of ludology, sociology, psychology, or philosophy, depending on how one approaches it. A tiny little volume that has long been out of print. When it was first published, it was not well received, but has since gained a sizeable following as people realized its importance to multiple fields.
– Noah Lukemann
A craft writing book focusing on the editing process. One of the first craft writing books I read, though that was all the way back in high school and I might not remember the most of it. Functional for what it offered, but I lack a basis of comparison to see if there are any better alternatives one can find in other craft writing books out there. While I do not doubt the chapters regarding the essential revision of the manuscript itself are timeless, my suspicion is that the chapters dealing with the publishing process itself are now (or soon) outdated given the rapid corporate consolidation and media homogenization taking place in the majority of the English world's media publishers.
– David Goloumbia
Not actually a book proper, but an academic journal article (New Literary History) that I ended up liking so much that I printed it out and taped into the pages of a small moleskine journal just so I could keep it with my other books. An article of literary analysis on massively online multiplayer gaming, which recasts the entire purpose of ludology within the context of neoliberal and neoconservative capitalism. An article I honestly wish I could disagree with, but its argumentation so is solid that I cannot disprove it. If however, you should see out any other works done by this author, make absolutely sure you only engage with him within the realm of published works. I made the mistake of following him for a while on social media, in which I discovered he is quite insane. However pure his intentions, which I have no doubt they are, he's drunken several different kool-aids from several different cults, amazing only insofar as I thought at least half of those rigid ideologies would cancel eachother out.
– Steward Brand
Brand is a biologist and prominent environmentalist, one of the forerunners in the movement who actually petitioned NASA to publicly release the first photos of the Earth taken from outer space. He is probably the last person in the world qualified to write a book about architecture, but it was precisely for that reason that he took such an unusual approach to the subject matter that most practised architects otherwise ignored. The result was a wonderful study of "buildings throughout time", and defined the concept of "shearing layers" which has been applied (sometimes fruitlessly) to other fields like software engineering, seeking to free themselves from the shackles of ephemerality. (For those who cannot track the book down, a BBC Documentary based on the book was produced and Brand himself has been quite open about freely distributing it online.)
– Alberto Manguel
Mr. Manguel is true to his profession as a librarian, though the only problem with himself as a writer is that he has the bad habit of repeating the same things over and over again throughout his several works on bookkeeping. I keep the Library at Night and the City of Words on hand as exemplars of his work, but have not expanded into the rest of his bibliography too far due to continually retreading the same ground.
– Zhuge Liang, Liu Ji
Thomas Cleary translation. A small hardcover that extrapolates on Shun Zhu's manuscript. An odd honours student bloke I knew in my last year of high school carried his own copy of The Art of War in his uniform pocket almost always. His utter eccentricity led me to this copy, but I found it to be a bit too dated to contain any wisdom that wasn't beyond its own context.
– Harry G. Frankfurt
– Louis Cabri
Dr. Cabri was one of my writing teachers ages ago. I considered his style the absolute antithesis of everything I hoped to stand for, which is something you want in a critic more than you want in an editor, but I took it anyway. I thought his other two books were simply the usual kind of bad, with only one or two good poems and the rest are all boring. He's since evolved from that and his third book is amazingly, wonderfully, ecstatically, magnificently, fabulously, brilliantly, completely batshit insane. No really, this book is 100% crazy from cover to cover -- which is more than most books of poetry get. It's better in performance than in writing though, so maybe there'll be an audiobook of it on UbuWeb someday ages from now. However, there is a claim about this book that I cannot substantiate; there is one poem in Chapter 3 that makes fun of me directly. I can't prove it, but I know it. He's edited some of my work, after all, though perhaps nobody else will ever know that.
– Dmitriy Genzel, Jakob Uszkoreit, Franz Och
Not actually a book proper, but a scientific paper commissioned by Google that I printed out and taped into a small notebook. The original PDF is probably still out there, if you could find it. An unusual intersection between literary craft and computer science, it explored the capability of using Google's translation API and cloud computing cluster to translate prose into metered poetry. I viewed this as an interesting antidote to the rise in conceptual and FLARF poetry in English writing, whereby if essentially meaningless writing could be better made by computers rather than by hand, this paper looked towards a method for perfecting the process wholesale -- even if it never saw public release.
– Beatriz Colomina
A terse and academic book on interpreting the changes in style between the early and later figures in the Bauhaus movement in regards to the rise of early mass media. Focuses primarily on the figures of Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, the diametric opposites of the early modernist style. Somewhat useless on its own, but could be combined with other books to form some interesting connections -- enough to make a killer university essay, at least.
– Scott McCloud
One of the early texts of literary criticism aimed at the graphic novel, unique in its analysis as taking the history and nature of the comics industry itself into the form of the comic. Its suggestions towards the whims and cycles of any artistic industry are wide ranging beyond just comics, with a ghastly and morose depiction of industry itself as an oroboros dollar sign, ageing and decrepit, starving to the point where it will do nothing more than eat its own tail.
– Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman
Probably the closest thing to a realization of the ludological field. A terse and academic tome hundreds of pages in length, dedicated to the higher concepts in game design from multiple different angles, and almost obsessively researched. However, it seems to favour board game and card game design over video games, and also favours multiplayer games over single. If this due to the bias of the authors themselves, the slowed inertia of the research bias, or just simply innate to the practice of ludology, I cannot tell, though I hope it will be amended in future editions, even if I lack the courage to embark on reading it once more.
– Jack M. Bickham
One of the first craft writing books I ever found, back in my high school's library. Part of a long series of craft writing books that I have been unable to locate the totality of. I remember liking this one for the time, but it must've been so long ago since I last read it that I honestly couldn't tell you if it was still up to standards. I've heard a common complaint lodged against this book that it essentially comes down to teaching the form of the "plot boiler", and if what I vaguely remember of Bickham's technique is correct, that would definitely be a risk one takes when following his guidelines.
– Robert McKee
If there was ever any one source that cemented my belief in screenwriting as an overall heretical style of script, it would be this one. Praised as "the screenwriter's bible" and assignment to me as part of a screenwriting fundamentals course in university, it is a book that has surprisingly little to actually do with screenwriting in particular. Given how specialized the form of the screenplay is, how strict the formatting is, how many common mistakes are endemic to first time scripts, how high the standard is for finely-formed style, how loose those standards become to those accepted into the elitist club, and how utterly different the content matter must be in order to account for the hypervisual action basis of the screen... to call this book the screenwriter's bible is when it has little to actually say about screenwriting in particular is simply a false statement -- almost criminally so, given its propensity to mislead! I suppose it could be considered a one-stop-shopping location to cover all the areas of traditional dramaturgy, but doing so can deny the breadth the multiplicity of opinion gives from going over a wide array craft texts, and anyone looking for craft writing for the style of the screenplay specifically absolutely must look elsewhere by necessity alone.
– Martin Esslin
An old dusty paperback I was able to find in an independent bookstore where the cashier clearly smoked way too much. While reading a bit of the context in which the plays were first made was interesting, I honestly just like reading the plays a bit more.
– Ralph Koster
An early book on basic ludology. Koster posits a theory that fun is inextricably linked to nuance and the process of learning. While his theory has some basis, with some very true implications, it is ultimately too subjective to look at as anything other than a theory. Possibly the one take-away from the book is that good games will cease to the fun eventually and that existence and abundance of fun levels is part of the natural life cycle of any game. Some critics, however, from within the industry, note that given the prominently unfun nature of the games Koster had a hand in producing, this book is ultimately more of a realization of ideas that various forces might have prevented Koster from actually implementing -- or so we can hope.
– Whitney Phillips
It wasn't the book I was expecting, but retrospectively, I didn't know what to expect. Phillips is like an alternate-universe Artemesia: a doctoral thesis studied and written as an ethnography of people within a virtual, online space – only instead of a happy and inclusive group of very smart and sensitive people on a semi-mystical journey to restore their fallen homeland, it's now 4chan and Anonymous trying to burn the whole damn world to the ground. So alike, yet so far apart.
The book was only published earlier in 02015 and is already dated – too early for mention of GamerGate or the rise of the political “Alt-Right,” which would've helped to further delineate the political split between Big-A and Litte-A Anonymous described later in the book. (Even though that was clearly never for the lulz.) I would define what she lists here as the definitive history of early trolling from 02003 to 02014, but the book is not really so much about trolling itself as exploring the conditions for how trolling becomes possible.
If I were at her PhD defence, the only criticism I could lob is that she assumes the power of “mainstream” media to be self-evident, but that alone may be an unquestioned assumption that proves difficult to back up. When Fox News is your only stable and reliable example of how the dynamic completes, is that not something of a straw man? I may understand what is meant by the “corporate media,” but for how much longer? If there is ever failure of commercial advertising to provide broadcast media with a funding model, and mass audiences break down into smaller sets, at what point does reliance on the larger system of “the media” fail to hold? How would the dynamics of trolling change? Would it cease to be as acerbic as a cultural scavenger, or would it become wholly political in nature?
– Stephen Minot
A textbook which seems to have gone through multiple revisions and reorganizations. (Mine seems to be the eighth edition.) Very dry and only really goes over the broad strokes of craft writing. A few good gems of information -- such as a very rare, actually proper explanation of diction -- but nothing I haven't seen before. Poetry section was a little boring and old fashioned.
Not actually a book proper, but a tutorial PDF that I printed out and taped into a spare journal. Was my first source on typography, though Robert Bringhurst would later replace it in much greater detail. On its own, it tended to oversimplify the art. Probably still freely floating about, somewhere on the net. The poor man's equivalent to Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style, but at a slightly different sort of price.
– Scott McCloud
One of the early texts of literary criticism specializing purely in the graphic novel form. His theory support towards it is astute and covers a very wide area, including an explanation on the nature and semiology of cartoonistry. I believed for quite a while that the first member of my family who ever wrote a master's thesis used McCloud prominently as a supporting source in her explorations of drama in education, but I mistaken; it was actually Art Spiegelman.
– Jonathan Ball, Ryan Fitzpatrick
A point well proven.
– Richard Lewontin
A text print of an early CBC Massey lecture on the ideological consequences of the scientific form. Somewhat useless on its own, if it were not for its place in a long 24 hour audio discussion called "How to Think About Science" by radio producer David Cayley, whose entire folio of work is difficult to find, but has much to be admired. Lewontin is probably the one of the many different scientists that was the easiest to follow along with, leading me to brave the book it was based on.
– Melissa Aronczyk, Devon Powers
An academic cultural studies anthology on branding and its miscreants. Given the wide berth that corporate branding now covers, it's hard tell exactly what and where it is effects can be seen. As a result, this anthology covers a lot of ground, and despite its highly critical lens, it is difficult to tell exactly what this terse volume wishes to talk about exactly. Is it corporate power? Is it consumerist socialization? Is it the reach of the public relations industry? It is difficult to know exactly what and where the crux of the matter lies, and this very terse and didactic volume doesn't pinpoint anything specifically.
– Adam Arvidsson
Probably the best cultural studies book I've been able to find on the practice of branding specifically. It's an advanced, but not terribly long volume that was very difficult to finally track down, and probably not freely available to anyone outside of an academic library. While following Arvidsson's long and winding argumentation was difficult at times, the one takeaway that this book offers that most other books on marketing and branding do not offer, is an exact economic analysis of the value branding itself generates, especially in the realm of economic intangibles where any company powerful enough can simply add a few zeroes to their asset pool by virtue of having won some arbitrarily defined popularity contest. The skeptic in me wonders if it isn't a sign of fraud to generate such something from nothing.
– David Croteau, William Hoynes
A small textbook on media homogenization and corporate consolidation, as well as doubling as a basic textbook in political economy. Clearly written in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 01996, it theorizes the nature of multiple dueling media systems within the larger context of monopoly capitalism. It is very specific in its subject matter, but on its own is not sufficient towards understanding some of the key concepts which underwrite it. It is one of the few texts I know of that actually had the guts to offer alternative visions, but it's not difficult to see its own picture of the public media system over the market media system is clearly somewhat enamoured, however wise it might be in calling for more balance between the two.
– Clifford A. Pickover
A small text covering the basics of most forms of calculus, including differential and integral. Used as a crutch during late high school and college. Effective in covering the majority of the simple theories using perhaps slightly overwrought metaphors regarding Italian cuisine, but the simple case studies used in explanation cannot account for the increasing complexity one would find in their theoretical applications found in homework and on exams. If one struggles in either understanding or practising calculus, a book of this nature will patch the holes in your understanding, but that alone will not be enough to improve one's sagging marks when accounting for the inevitable error the human hand will produce. (Computer science has spoiled me in this regard; I simply cannot understand the point of any largely functional language that cannot be compiled nor see some form of execution.)
– Robert Epstein
An unusual book that found a great following amongst teenagers and high school students, trying to confirm their fears of ageist discrimination within an industrial education system. Covers the entire history of the teenage institution, from its inception due to early feminism until its co-option into the consumerist machine. Sadly, what starts out as a very well researched piece of sociological and psychosocial history eventually starts to whither away and devolve into the same trite and tired "kids these days" arguments in the middle to later half of the work. While it did pick itself back up in time for the conclusion, this is a book a younger version of myself wanted so desperately to be true, even if it perhaps was not. It serves as a marvellous description of several systematic (and surprisingly non-political) problems all western teenagers eventually face with their mandatory inclusion in the education system, but because it lapses into conservatism at the more important moments, cannot offer any reasonable solutions on its own.
– Joseph Turow
A book about the history and development of online advertising, based from its early roots in 01960's advertising and how advertising broke into and changed the early internet, morphing it into the Internet of the early-to-late 02000's and 02010's, morphing from the old cost-per-view model toward the mindless harvesting of personal information. It should be more distressing that after a good 30 years of public internet, we still don't know how to make money on the Internet any other way than plastering advertisements on everything; practice that is very destructive at its worst, and somewhat misled at its best.
– Ivan Illich
Yet another book whose hypothesis I so desperately want to agree with, if only it weren't for the obvious flaws. This book continues that sorry tradition in my library from Epstein's The Case Against Adolescence, even though it is several decades its senior. The primary flaw of Illich here is that he is naught but a free marketeer, demanding that all forms of government in society be broken down into market forces, whatever the consequences may be. Those who are more familiar with Illich and the rest of his work might balk at the suggestion – he is, after all, so much more than that – but for his first book published in 01970 during the lull of the Cold War, anti-communism is what he decided to couch his argument within. Unironic mention of Milton Freedman during the first chapter might have been perfectly fashionable for the time, but knowing the dark history of what came next with deregulatory neoliberalism, I cannot help but see in this book the seeds of some ideas that eventually swelled into something monstrous.
This frustrates me, because what he has to say clearly has merit. His points on the phenomenology of school and the ritualization of progress are shining gems in what might be a sea of nonsense, all slapped together using several mutually-exclusive ideas from both right-wing and left-wing realms of thought. He is an individualist. He clearly wants to believe in each person's own capacities to do what is best for themselves, without the need to impose an institutional monopoly upon it. (Because without social embedding, the institution will forget who it is meant to serve, and will begin making decisions that will only meet the institution's ends alone.) He wants learning to become a purely personal activity. I can see where he's coming from, but I'm still unsure. I too wish there could be a thing known as “education” without the need for “school,” but the more I ponder it the more I fear that might just be an appeal to some higher authority which simply doesn't exist.
– Donald A. Norman
The forerunning textbook in humanistic industrial design, key for its central concept of environmental affordances. Has gained traction in multiple fields, if only because I'm led to believe the otherwise over-hyped and exclusive industrial design field to be too narrow to contain Norman's theory.
– M. Morris Mano, Michael D. Ciletti
I must've poured over this a few times, but due to its large scope one can never really say they know the whole of it. Covers all topics in basic computer engineering: binary representation, boolean algebra, logic gates, logic circuit diagramming, eventually easing its way into the whole of the Von Neumann architecture. Sadly, it is mostly theoretical, and given the high amount of foundational technology it assumes, is probably not sufficient to build your own programmable computer from scratch, especially without any foreknowledge in embedded programming and electronics manufacturing. Probably still good enough for making basic logic circuits on a breadboard using gate chips, but I haven't done that since high school and somewhat wonder if this textbook might be a bit advanced for that level.
– Lisa Stampinsky
When I first wanted to try reading up on terrorism, this was the book that stirred my attention. For a while it was limited by the only publisher being in the United Kingdom, making an import to Canada cost a hefty penny. (I eventually got lucky and managed to get it for a more reasonable price, but until then there were other books that were less than satisfactory.) This book takes an unusual route to studying terrorism, and is likely the first of its kind: a terrorism meta-study. It studies those who claim to study terrorism and how the field of "terrorism studies" came about, similar to what happens when the methods of science are applied back onto science itself.
What we regard as terrorism has undergone several shifts in understanding. Originally, it was a tactic used by rational actors in war. Insurgency theory, as it was known, held remarkable explanatory powers. There was never any question what insurgents who committed acts of terror were wont to achieve, since insurgency theory put motivations at the fore of its analysis. Sadly, no matter how much it understood the problems of which terrorism was a symptom, it did not have the ability to solve any of them. With the Vietnam War considered a failure, the US Military cut ties with the academic institutions which supplied insurgency theory who they partly blamed for the loss, and turned to the private sector for new research. Through this, "terrorism" was the new name which replaced insurgency as a body of knowledge; it holds absolutely no explanatory effects, but as a tool of politics and state power it reigns king. Now, terrorism is not a tactic, but an identity usually given to political opponents or designated Others, justifying pre-emptive action for whatever imaginary crimes they have yet to commit.
There were flavours of reading Chomsky and Herman again about how objective measurements are not applied when media propaganda has to differentiate between political friend and foe, but Stampinsky takes a more nuanced stance. Under Chomsky and Herman, media systems are pawns manipulated by a mastermind of state power, in a tone that would almost be conspiratorial if it weren't for their rigorous documentation. For Stampinsky's view, media systems are very simple machines that operate automatically, and as such: garbage goes in, garbage comes out. This shifts the locus onto the masterminds themselves, who are rarely -- if ever -- masterful and with even less of a mind. It would almost be comical if it weren't so tragic how neoconservatives in the 01980's became so utterly convinced the Soviet Union was sponsoring "terror networks" all over the world (at a time in which the Soviet Union was actually crumbling under its own weight and probably couldn't even sponsor a soccer tournament) would later come back after 9/11 and apply the same fallacious theories without any criticism or accountability, simply because they swapped communists out for jihadists.
Where I think Stampinsky probably didn't spend enough attention, perhaps because it was outside of the scope of her historiography, is in the chapters about anti-knowledge; wherein terrorism experts themselves became persona-non-grata simply because they knew too much about the terrorists they studied, in a time of right-wing ascendancy where understanding the enemy was equated with sympathy thereof. I think the politics of anti-knowledge is still at play, and it comes with very grave systemic risk. If the barriers of basic human empathy for others are removed from active conflicts, they can only intensify even further.
– Chris Hedges
Hedges is an old pastor and writer of the New Left from the 01960's, with a very definite Presbyterian bent. Earlier on, I bought his book "American Fascists" on the rise of religious fundamentalism in the United States as a gift for a good friend who almost revelled in his own joyful atheism. I quite liked reading American Fascists in the brief moments when I had it, and had high hopes for Empire of Illusion as his own coverage on the state of corporate-controlled popular media. Sadly, his moral alarmistry and dour, depressive fear-mongering falls flat in offering solutions to what could otherwise be clearly defined problems. I keep this particular volume around only as a nod to his much better earlier book, which I've been unable to relocate. Though, since then I've encountered many different and nuanced sources on rise of religious fundamentalism in North America that could be more accurate in its analysis and might paint a more enlightened picture going forward, and I fear should I ever revisit him, Hedges might lose the benefit of the doubt I've been giving him.
– Micah White
I've sometimes observed some of the more in the know followers of American Politics describe Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in odd terms. To quote one, "almost everything he writes is extremely consistent and based on perfectly logical reasoning, from insane premises." That was the feeling I more or less had while reading The End of Protest. It was a perfectly logical, reasonable, highly researched, and well versed discursive on the methods and effectiveness of non-violent protest. ... but only so long as you implicitly agree with all of the nuts and bananas that congeals around White's central premise: that social revolutionary fervour is a total good in-and-of itself, completely notwithstanding any possible justification or even in what direction it goes. I suspect he took this incredibly odd approach in order to talk about his subject while getting around the usual political partisanship, taking his blend of left-wing political activism and trying to broaden its appeal to reach possible right-wing allies to achieve common ground on some strangely unspecified causes. I choose to suspect this because the alternative makes him look like a power-hungry madman, not necessarily caring when, where, or why a social revolution is taking place, only so long as he is somehow involved.
Micah White was one of the original organizers for the Occupy Wall Street protests which coincided with the Arab Spring a few years ago. Occupy Wall Street was, in turn, an extension of Ad-Busters Magazine, which White was a contributor. I do not doubt that the magazine was once important, especially to most of my own teachers, but having not lived through the most of its lifetime I could only ever approach the magazine from a forensic angle. By the time I had become interested in its particular bend of politics it already came with a history, and in that very recent history some things had gone Horribly Wrong™. Naomi Klein's No Logo is probably the most prominent example of what happened; how the vanguard of Ad-Busters' style of politics got collectively warped and twisted from being anti-business to pro-business, often against its own will. For its part, Ad-Busters suffered a death by a thousand papercuts along the same route. To quote someone who is more familiar with it than I am:
In about 1992, I am turning 13 and pretty naive of the world. However, the rest of the world is still naive: most of the pop culture is really light and pop. Then, just as I enter puberty, the pop culture gets much more socially and politically aware and confrontational. The birth of "alternative" culture. And then, just as I enter my mid-teens, the confrontational alternative culture kind of gave way to a more twee alternative culture. Its how we got from, say, Nirvana to No Doubt. And along with that, a lot of political and social commentary starts focusing not on confrontational politics, but on deconstructing social messages, looking at how consumerism and social expectations effect society. Ad-Busters is part of that.
... But at the same time as that is happening, that just feeds back into a type of consumerism. Because a big part of Ad-Busters is "I am too cool for mainstream culture," which is the exact same attitude that advertisers are going for. So that is kind of part of the fall of the 1990s, the switch from being confrontational to being cool. I think for the Ad-Busters crew, and for their impressionable young audience, media awareness was a magic bullet that would automatically transform people and make them question "the establishment." When that didn't happen, they thought of other hypotheses, or just doubled down on the media awareness needing to be more absolute, cutting out any type of culture that was at all attached to the "mainstream."
Despite everything, Ad-Busters was not consigned to just be a "product" of its own time. It tried out a hodgepodge of many counter-cultural things, and Occupy Wall Street was its most recent and visible, both in success and failure. Before the months-long protest was eventually put down by the New York Police Department, it had spawned multiple similar protests throughout the English speaking world and even added new terms into our lexicon. We are the 99%, without any statistical question. Yet now, Occupy Wall Street is considered a failure and only mentioned in passing, while their smaller right-wing counterpart in the “Tea Party” movement has survived for many years on, even attaining some degree of political and legislative power. (Though not without some co-option from special interests who suppressed the original message about protecting Medicare and Social Security from cutbacks. ... and that's assuming the whole thing wasn't just an astro-turf in the first place.) The unfortunate corollary could be found in the 02011 Arab Spring; how protest erupted across the middle east, but it only turned resulted in change of governance in countries to whom it was either indifferent or beneficial towards western hegemony. Any place where the protests were fully in opposition to hegemonic interests were quickly suppressed, even at the cost of plunging some countries into civil war. The Arab Spring was the grand experimental hypothesis on the effectiveness of non-violent revolution, complete with fully delineated control groups and everything. Frustratingly, Micah White follows in Ad-Busters' tradition of refusing to admit they might be wrong in the grand scheme of things, regardless of noble intentions in the moment. White calls his book “the end of protest” only to dance around the subject, and still calls for even more protest at the end of it.
I can't bring myself to call this a bad book. It's annoying, shrill, and difficult to read more than a few pages at a time. I regret finishing this book to its final chapter, as it only brought me frustration. In any other instance, it would deserve the classification of the trashbin and it wouldn't even be mentioned here, much less granted a place on my shelves. (Look at this long review! Look at how much I take issue with!) Despite this, I cannot factually call it a terrible book. I cannot throw it away, perhaps for the same reason I gave so much respect to Ad-Busters even though they deserved none of it. I can see, throughout all the heterogeneous mixture of ideological doubletalk and neo-spiritualist nonsense, the calm and reasoned voice of someone who knows this topic much better than anyone else. Someone who has given a lot of hard thought on the matter and has reached a constructive thesis. I simply regret that person has to be Micah White; as I desperately cling to the 20% that is still worth saving while the other 80% rockets off into space. (Perhaps it simply would've been easier for me if he really was the anarchistic sonuva bitch that his writing style suggests he is.)
In some part of my mind, I've always admired the nonviolent protest movements that White was so involved in. I was never a protester myself, but I held deep respect for those who were, for their bravery if nothing else. I admired how they could march to a cause; how instead of simply sitting back and complaining they would actually go and do something to stop it. Which is why how it always ends up being pointless frustrates me to no end. It never accomplishes anything. It takes all that precious energy and willpower and wastes it away. The political left is so enamoured with nonviolent protest as a means of social action, but only because they want to appear as “the good guys” in any given scenario, to achieve results with “legitimacy.” Yet those results never come about, and they can only deny the “legitimacy” of that non-result. Perhaps it is because the forces to which nonviolent protest is known have become inoculated against its effectiveness (as White would argue), or perhaps because nonviolent protest has a completely misunderstood history and we're not even using it for the thing it was intended. Maybe nonviolent protest, as it is used right now, never actually achieved anything of its own merit that wasn't going to already be done anyway. Peaceful protest is a rather modern concept that is advanced in its methods; so when White attempts to weave it with a long 2000-year history of other protest events that were most definitely not peaceful while still proclaiming a modern virtue, he sounds like a thin layer of skin covering up something borderline. Martin Luther King Jr. operated a peaceful protest movement in the same context as Malcolm X did a violent one. Gandhi was only one participant in the quagmire that led to India's sovereignty. In the cases where peaceful protest wins out, it is almost always done as an alternative to a real non-peaceful threat. Even when White talks about it in his sections on voluntarism, peaceful protest has a very strict upper-limit on what it can achieve before it must become unpeaceful to progress any further, no matter what way you cut it. For this reason, I suspect, many police forces take action on peaceful protests as if they were violent anyway, since in their view its only a matter of time before police action would be justified. This is often where peaceful protests are most powerful in their own right, by baiting themselves towards a kind of martyrdom. Yet, it's never enough, no matter how many career photographers capture that moment of unjustified oppression. Hannah Arendt possibly puts into one paragraph what Micah White refuses to acknowledge in an entire book:
[The] decisive step in the preparation of living corpses is the murder of the moral person in man. This is done in the main by making martyrdom, for the first time in history, impossible. How many people here still believe that a protest has even historic importance? This skepticism is the real masterpiece of the [Nazi] SS [in the concentration camps]. Their great accomplishment. They have corrupted all human solidarity. Here the night has fallen on the future. When no witnesses are left, there can be no testimony. To demonstrate when death can no longer be postponed is an attempt to give death a meaning, to act beyond one's own death. In order to be successful, a gesture must have social meaning. There are hundreds of thousands of us here, all living in absolute solitude. That is why we are subdued no matter what happens.
– James M. Van Verth, Lars M. Bishop
Mathematics for computer science is not at all like the mathematics one gets in a classroom. Any programmer versed enough to know the limitations on numerical data types knows this, and more often than not the actual mathematical application is never the optimal way to go if one requires speed on the algorithmic complexity. This large volume covers most basic things in linear algebra and basic physics, all geared primarily towards a computer science context that a generalized university classroom might risk overcomplicating, and in some specific cases, outright misinforming. Sadly, due to its limited scope, it stops just short of entering the meatier subjects in computer science that use specialized math, such as graph theory and cryptographic foundations.
– Eric Klinenberg
A book written in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 01996 in the United States and the subsequent loss of independent local media outlets across the country.
– Nick Davies
A history of the news industry within the wake of rapid corporate media consolidation and the effects it has on media quality and public assurance, as written from the perspective of a long-time British journalist. A different perspective one must take when trying to study the rise of the public relations industry and the function for institutions of publicity.
– Jason Gregory
A practical text on digital frameworks written by the lead software engineer at Naughty Dog, who was essential in programming for the Crash Bandicoot games, if I'm remembering right. It's a massive and heavy volume covering pretty much every topic within the field of entertainment software engine capabilities, but it doesn't cover any one specific one in necessary detail. It's more of a catalogue of topics than it is a one-stop-shop, and you'd probably need to use it as a branching point to other texts within the field more than you would need to use it all to itself, which is a mercy because it is very well researched and has a good list of citations and bibliographies. The bastard went and published an updated 2nd edition just after I finished reading the first, and this 1000 page book was the reason I couldn't even measure up to Jonathan Ball's 95 Book Challenge for one whole year, as it is 20 books of worth weighted as only one.
– William Ury, Roger Fisher, Bruce Patton
I heard this book was supposedly the authoritative text on conflict mediation, though if that turns out to be true or not still eludes me. The basis of the theory was developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project. The book outlines a method of conflict resolution that is reported to work 100% of the time, so long as the trouble parties involved only care more about the material interests at the core of the conflict. But there is an unfortunate corollary: it will not work whenever the material interests are eclipsed by the desire for the destruction of the opposing party. This puts a hard upper-limit on the exact effectiveness of this particular method, making it better meant for preventing smaller conflicts from escalating into larger ones.
Having read it, I can at least say the theory is sound; but things are always better on paper than they are in practice. I'm also not entirely satisfied with the recommendations the authors had for dealing with power differentials between various parties. Even still, what is listed here is a damn-sight better than how most respond to conflict. A key passage of the text is about how the goal should never be to simply eliminate or suppress conflict, but to instead be more intelligent about how to deal with it.
– Marshall McLuhan
My first McLuhan book, and from what I understand, the last actually sane book he wrote before he went five ways crazy. The Gutenburg Galaxy is an unusual work, even as an academic one, drawing various points together from multiple disparate sources, with many threads of logic running concurrently. However, once you realize what the singular running theme of the book is, it is surprisingly easy to understand as a history of written word and the various developments it underwent after the invention of the printing press. Though, as with any glossy history, it can only talk in big broad strokes that can't cover any one specific thing for too long. Alberto Manguel might offer the same history in a much more clear and personable way, but McLuhan is at least interesting from a historical perspective, and how he united these many different lines of thought into a single new field soon known as media studies.
– Thomas H. Cormen, Charles E. Leiserson, Ronald L. Rivest, Clifford Stein
The big white book of computer science. I had to pick it up one year due to a complete inability to understand the essentials of measuring algorithmic complexity due to a very scatterbrained professor with a somewhat dismissive attitude and a very thick Quebecois accent -- an experience I later found to be shared amongst most of his students. Never finished reading it in full, but upon glance at the table of contents today, I picked up many of the core concepts in this text from other sources, with the specialized topics later in the work like multi-threaded algorithms still new to me. Maybe I'll finish it in full when the to-read pile dwindles some more.
– Nina B. Huntemann, Matthew Thomas Payne
An academic anthology quite clear in its aims as a collective study of militarism in mainstream gaming. One of the first actually enlightened works by Huntemann, who before this was only known for her somewhat misfortunate production of a vehemently anti-gaming documentary with Jhut Sally's Media Education Foundation. The work approaches gaming as a method of propaganda, with a large and long history reaching until the Playstation 2, most of the essays actually written by earnest academics and ludologists, not simply moral alarmists as before.
– Gregory Baum
This book was another overview of Polanyi’s economic theories, as written by a Catholic theologian and ethicist. Perhaps that is a sign of the type of person Polanyi attracts, possibly a detraction from his academic pedigree. I decided to go over this small book before visiting Polanyi’s primary sources in order to gap the expanse of time between then and now. Reading Baum has led me to understand the common charge of neo-primitivism which libertarians use against Polanyi – the charge is unfair, but I can understand how it could be made. Polanyi is like the philosopher I would’ve better liked to read when I was a teenager, wondering with some terror at the scale of the opaque and globalized society I was just beginning to understand. The notes on “complex society” are a clear attestation to that. That said, the more I read of Polanyi, the less hope I end up having that I’ll find the solutions I’m after. Only proper, really. Perhaps I understand Polanyi less and more about the reasons for why I am drawn to him in the first place. I might just be a sucker for the very idea of an ethical economics, if only because it seems like such an impossibility in itself.
– J. R. Stanfield
Ever since I've grown politically aware, Economics and Market Fundamentalism have always been one of those things I struggled with as common parlance. Yet, I could never fully explain what exactly about them rubbed me the wrong way. For all unfettered markets were said to create, I've only known them to destroy. Libertarians may still expound Free Markets as a means of collective egalitarianism, but the result of their logic always seems to be atomized societies and massive corporations with large concentrations of wealth. Was economics a science meant to explain observable phenomena? Or does economics only exist to justify and continue pre-existing market conditions? Eventually, I heard a radio documentary on the somewhat obscure Hungarian-Canadian economist, Karl Polanyi, and it was the first time I had clear words given to my hitherto unspeakable fears.
As a contemporary rival to early monetarists and neoliberals like Milton Friedman, Polanyi was an anthropologist who studied the economies of ancient societies. He later laid the groundwork for a comparative economics, where the industrial-capitalist marketplace was only one of many possible routes of social organization. Even later, he turned to criticism of the methodology of economics itself - where it would not be enough to have an alternative economics, but instead have an alternative to economics altogether. Polanyi died in 01964, a ways before my time, so I searched out this book as a precursory review of his theories. It's all here, from the economistic fallacy, to market embeddedness, the problems of fictitious commodities, the double-bind which led to the corporate welfare state, and even a long summary on the meaning of personal freedom in a complex-industrial society.
Sadly, Polanyi's work is aged. For example, his criticisms of economic formalism's scientific evasion and semi-religious character would be given the contemporary name of praxeology. Even Stanfield notes that Polanyi's theories of disembedded economies did not lead him to point at the corollary of a disembedded polity, despite it logically following. Nonetheless, all I've studied about Polanyi thus far has made him the first economist I could openly tolerate! ... at least, without fear of supporting some ulterior motive.
– Michael Kimmel
The first half of the book is the most interesting part. It defines three historical bases for traditional masculinity, each of different source, and how the three strove in turf-war. The Heroic Artisan was crushed by the Industrial Revolution, the Genteel Patriarch gets woefully discredited by the American Civil War, and the Self-Made Man of the capitalist marketplace eventually won out -- and then, lacking opponents, proceeded to cannibalize itself in a pattern that has since repeated several times over. A "Male Privilege Economy" (my description, not his) took form to deal with the distribution of masculine resources and the dwindling sources thereof, as the institution of manhood itself -- like capitalism in many other spheres of study -- begins to offer itself in solution to the very problems it causes. Unable to mend the faulty assumptions it rests on, leading it to fail over and over, in the same method each time.
The book offers a good grounding for the sociological development of many aspects modern masculinity, including the things often thought to be "innate" or "biological" given how eternal they otherwise seem. An example: homophobia as a homosocial construct only has a history since 01900 that was born out of a mix of workplace competition and class-based social control from the bourgeois onto the working class; whereas beforehand, physical and platonic love between even heterosexual friends was actually quite common. ... or so Kimmel's argument would go. A problem of Kimmel's rhetoric is that it assumes the opposite situation in a past state simply due to the lack of evidence towards it, leading to spurious argumentation. He would posit that women were only first disallowed into the industrial workplace by the first wave of exclusionary masculine cannibalism, and that beforehand in agrarian societies men and women worked as equals. (A claim, while logical, I'm not entirely sure I can believe.)
Other problems with the text includes its American-centric argumentation, and how it just seems to denote most problems of manly malaise as culturally linked to the first trauma from the imposition of the capitalist marketplace in the mid-01800's -- in short, it's all capitalism's fault, which is an empty and fatalist thesis. ... as far as what I think of this book personally, though? Well, sometimes, I feel like I'm on the verge of making a huge and irreversible mistake, simply for lack of other options.
– Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman
There are two schools of media study: the McLuhanesque school which studies the physical forms and remnants of "media," largely as a continuation of English literary theory, and the Chomskyesque school which studies the power structures innate to large and distributed systems of information such as "the media," largely a continuation of the Frankfrut School of social criticism that arose in response to the great depression and the insurgence of national fascism throughout the 01930's in Europe. This tome is infamous for introducing the concept of the propaganda model to media analysis, which was largely applied to the political context of the 01960's thru 1980's of the United States, and to almost an obsessive degree that it is somewhat difficult to refute in the sheer quantity of evidence supporting it.
The political context it writes within was a bit before my time, and as a result it read a little more like history and much less like political theory. However, the main take away someone can find in a work as long and winding as this, is that "the realm of acceptable discourse," that is to say what we might define as either right-wing or left-wing, is always arbitrarily defined to some degree -- this assertion, amidst others, hasn't earned Chomsky many favours from powered interests; isolating the Chomskyesque school of media theory from official representation in favour of the McLuhanesque.
One not wishing to undertake a tome as massive as this one might find an audio recording of Chomsky's 01988 CBC Massey Lecture to cover a lot of his case examples, but the common recordings available have usually been either censored or highly abridged, and might not cover the propaganda model itself in any great detail.
– Marshall McLuhan
The first book McLuhan ever wrote, and what a book it is. It is a commentary on various advertisements and pieces of so-called popular culture from the post 2nd World War and early 01950's. McLuhan takes the advertisements, presents them in all their usual forms, and then proceeds to viciously and thoroughly take the piss out of 'em. However, it is not like the defanged parody of mocketing we see in ad commentary today. McLuhan's early writing was as dark and humorous and it was intelligent and cunning. He is harshly critical of the early mass media and its nascent consumerism, and goes even further to link various themes together from seemingly unrelated sources to paint a gruesome sociological picture of mass society through the augment of mass media. He never revisited these topics, and made it seem like he forgot about The Mechanical Bride as the early corporate media subsumed him so. Even the forward to the facsimile copy I finally found tried to paint it as "an odd souvenir from an age long past," trying to hide the true criticisms he presented. What could have caused such a fantastic writer to fall so far...?
– James Winter, Maude Barlow
Books I was either freely given or I pilfered directly from the author himself. I forget exactly what one -- it was a little vague. Several different books on media criticism done by one of my early university professors, which served as my introduction into media studies. Mr. Winter is an old Chomskyite who carries a very distinctive untrusting bent to his view upon the mainstream media that might be labelled as highly conservative due to its obstinate stubbornness if it wasn't so clearly left-wing in its own bias. I am thankful to Mr. Winter for imparting a distrust of most mainstream media and standard brands of politics, but to merely replace one kind of bullshit with another kind of bullshit can only make one more crazy and not less. I wonder if such storming is necessary to overcome and reach a more enlightened position. ... hopefully.
– Colin Beavan
A book that I quite liked reading at the moment, but it was ruined for me retrospectively by the fact that the written material was produced hand-in-hand with a documentary film about similar subject matter. Given the nature of the environmentalist subject matter it covered, I felt it would've been more authentic to do one or the other and not actually do both, else it might risk the illusion that most of the events covered were staged.
– Naomi Klein
A dangerous book, however pure its intentions. It is a book on the rise of marketing in relation to consolidating corporate power. Its aims were to reveal the tactics of indirection used by "the brands" through the marketed power of "branding" to operate economically parasitic functions on both developing and developed world alike. However, since its release, the decidedly anti-business book has since been purposefully misinterpreted as one of the best pro-business books to ever grace the marketing profession, causing numerous ramifications that only further enriched the very brands she took aim at exposing to the vampiric daylight. Klein unwittingly handed her opponents the very club they used to beat her with, which caused her future writing in The Shock Doctrine to take a much darker turn.
– Hannah Arendt
A book on the nature of totalitarian movements, written by a German-Jewish philosopher with a characteristic focus on World War II and its aftermath. Recent political developments spurred me to attempt this unabridged tome, and with some irony it didn’t necessarily help. I even glanced over Eichmann in Jerusalem, but it didn't really answer the enquiry I had. While there were some interesting anecdotes on German and Russian totalitarianism, I am ultimately less interested in the bogeymen of ages gone as I am worried about more current trends towards fascism. (In fact, I understand them less now as I am more aware of what might be my own possibilities towards it, which frightens me even more.) Other parts of the book include the creation of racism as a component of imperialism, which was at least straightforward, as well as the section on the historical development of antisemitism, which was the most enlightening of it all.
When one is not enfranchised, power looks like a secret club one cannot enter, where influencers exchange influence in luxury country clubs that won't let any ol’ nobody in. Regardless of if power and politics actually works that way or not, (it doesn't,) that is still what it looks like to the outside observer. Put into the context of early industrialization, it led the first totalitarians to assume secret societies and shadowy cabals were the puppet-masters behind all the opaque market chaos. Even Eichmann was tasked with fruitless investigations into Freemasonry before the Nazi government ever turned their gaze towards the Jewish Question. But what is stranger still is what happened when these baseless fears were eventually given legitimacy. Those who totalitarianism appealed to had never before understood power on their own; so when they were given power for the first time, they unwittingly turned into the very thing they criticized. They tried to replicate the structures of pre-industrial, close-kinship community upscaled to meet the same requirements for larger populations. The scale didn’t quite work out, resulting in obtuse and labyrinthine administrative structures, impossible-to-understand for anyone who wasn't already within the inner-party's social circles. The plot twist at the end of that story is when the supposedly heroic peoples who wanted to defend themselves from all the dark conspirators must suddenly (or fail to) realize; that they, themselves, were the secret shadowy cabal bent on world domination all along.
Arendt's core thesis is that totalitarianism is a unique evil that exists independent of the political thought it claims to hold; you cannot condemn the fascism of a left-wing party while still being sympathetic to the fascism of a right-wing party, or vice-versa. The reasons for why totalitarianism is horrible are historically evident, but it is obvious Arendt still struggled with the specifics of why it got as bad as it did. Reading between her lines, my takeaway was the abdication of personal responsibility. Totalitarian thought engenders powerlessness in its followers; both before, when Jews and/or Freemasons and/or Wall Street and/or Corporations are all in control of everything and you'll never make a dent on any of it – as well as after, when Dear Leader has everything in this bureaucratic mess all planned out and just trust him everything will be fine. (This actually holds a lot of appeal to nervous persons in what Polanyi terms as “complex society”, when the results of individual actions are too often opaque and unclear.) The problem is, at no point is one's own personal agency actually taken away. The individual person still owns the responsibility of their own actions within a totalitarian society, even if they are continually led to believe otherwise. Thus, totalitarian followers often become unthinking and reckless in what they eventually end up doing, which contributes not only to the hostile clashes that fascists have with liberal society, but also in how the Jewish Holocaust and the Bolshevik Gulags got to be as soul-crushing as they were.
– Margaret Atwood
My first Atwood book read in full. A literary analysis on the nature of monetary systems within early Victorian capitalism. The text version of her CBC Radio Massey lecture, though I found it to be a somewhat slow and difficult read when compared to Atwood's own smooth and well-paced performance.
– Hal Niedzviecki
Chance led me to actually be able to meet this author in person once. However, my ultimate opinion of The Peep Diaries is that even though it captured a particular zeitgeist of the moment at which Web 2.0 social networking first broke the scene proper, as well as the early confusions and social ramifications they presented, its final chapters make fully clear that its writing researched a whole lot less than it ultimately led on. Perhaps it's because this book's home is more within that of social nonfiction writing and I was expecting a more technical document.
– Ian Bogost
Bogost is probably the most prominent ludology critic out there right now, but that doesn't necessarily make him the greatest. Part of that comes with being one of the first in the field, and his earlier works that I have read -- such as Unit Operations -- didn't feel all that successful in their aims. Persuasive Games is the first of his works that succeeds in its own thesis due to its more limited scope. Still, it's a very terse and didactic text, and at times could probably have stood to be a little more critical of the subject matter (advertising) that it inspected. Still though, I admire Bogost enough for his "OAuth of Fealty" which he called a certain social networking API "a shape-shifting, chimeric shadow of suffering and despair, a cruel joke perpetrated upon honest men and women at the brutish whim of bloodthirsty sociopaths sick with bilious greed and absent mercy or decency."
– Daniel B. Klein
A humourist's introduction to philosophy. Was a good read back in high school, but somewhat forgettable in the long run. A long-time reader of philosophy probably won't get all that much out of it, as it was clearly written purely for fresh eyes and does not delve into more modern lines of philosophical thought.
– Mat Buckland
My first book on game AI agents. Covers most basic items from pathfinding, finite state machines, fuzzy logic, to stack-based goal processing. The code it offers is not readily portable, however, and I believe I might also have found another text (or at least the PDF of one) that goes over all these topics as well as more specialized ones such as AI for board games. Those who wish to program mostly action games might find this book sufficient to their purposes, though.
– Joel Feinberg
A collection of annotated basic philosophical texts, ranging from the topics of religious belief, the limits of human knowledge, determinism, and morality. Starts from Aristotle and Plato and runs the gambit to more modern schools of thought. An old and dusty tome I pilfered from a cousin of mine before she moved out west to complete her PhD. (And to think she was just going to throw it away!) While it covers a lot of basic ground in philosophy, and from a very wide array of sources, it is not quite a beginner text nor an advanced one. I would not recommend this specific text, but am sure ones similar enough to it exist out there somewhere as a nice compendium.
– George Orwell
Orwell is most well-known for his fiction, but this book was is a work of essay and journalism reportage that was originally commissioned by a politically leftist book club, and later rejected and outright censored by the same politically leftist book club. Its first half is a gritty and realistic depiction of British working class life during the hardest moments of the great depression. The second half is a brutally honest assessment on the state of the political left of the day, and how the movement of communism had devolved into mere ideology, isolating itself from the very proletariat it wanted so dearly to realize the hopes of. Reading Wigan Pier with a historical viewpoint, it's not difficult to see that history has been advancing to a clearly progressive agenda of some kind, even if the route is not always through clearly defined left-wing or right-wing paths. There is a comfort in that, but a dangerous one that risks complacency.
– Kirstie Ball, Kevin D. Haggerty, David Lyon (Editors)
I heard my university created a course on surveillance studies in the year after my undergrad, so I tracked some of the material down. It was a strange read, giving intellectual rigour to what I always suspected was the case. (Such is both the love and the mania of my alma mater.)
To summarize: surveillance is a form of persuasion born of power relations. It is the continued transcribing of arbitrary information about any subject into an equally arbitrary form of media, meant to persuade a given outcome in favour of the persons doing the transcription. On the side of the powerful, they describe this act as giving "security" -- a sense of entrenchment of their own position within the power hierarchy, rightfully earned or not. On the side of the non-powered, surveillance is not a symbol of security but instead a symbol of mistrust; which in turn breeds malcontent and resentment, further justifying the need for "security" on the part of the powerful. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the subject of surveillance is often targeted at the less powerful in society: political opponents, protest groups, racialized peoples, children (of any social status), even welfare -- which until now I would've considered the only moral component of the State -- was at some point wholly used an apparatus of social control.
However, there were some items that I was expecting this anthology to mention, but didn't. No mention of security theatre, even though the chapter on the proliferation of British CCTV described it perfectly. My thoughts also turned to Parkinson's Law -- that adage about the uncontrolled growth of bureaucracies when agents of power are more comfortable creating subordinates instead of possible rivals -- wondering how that sphere of thought hasn't had any reckoning with the similar growth of surveillance systems. I've heard it said that when the American NSA/FBI or the Canadian CSIS/CSE attempts to interview people for information about any given subject, the usual “reward” for providing as much information as possible is just more visits from the intelligence agencies requesting even more information. There is also the idea in economics of Ricardian Vice, in how what profiling systems may deduce about a person can never fully apply to complex being that inspired it. Surveillance studies is still a relatively new field, and if its scholarship can give a label which encompasses these disparate vices, we would be better at identifying runaway or self-justifying surveillance where it occurs. It could also gain a political edge! The question "does your administrator panel over-emphasize highly intrusive and ultimately meaningless user data?" could easily be equivocated out of. Changing it to "does your administrator panel suffer from [Zuckerbergian Vice]?" demands action and further interest.
– René Girard
Religious school is only a good idea on paper. While it was my only means of learning Christian thought at all, by the same method it dulled, no matter how much I wished otherwise. Not just mere melancholy whenever one's romantic notions of ethics and morals must endure the slings of a vulgar and hypocritical world, but a thing repeated too often for fifteen years straight can take any once-special meaning and rend it nonsense. Soon, I looked at biblical stories as like formulae presented in math class: things other people easily understood, but I couldn't.
Jordan Peterson and Christine Hayes were the secular scholars who helped me reached "an" understanding of the Old Testament, where I could look upon it again and no longer feel a sense of disgust or immense loss. (... if only at an arm's length.) René Girard, too, was my delayed equivalent for the Gospels; but while they no longer ring hollow, the sense of loss prevails.
He's somewhat difficult to get into – even I was only introduced to him through other sources – taking a good 50 pages before you have any idea what he is talking about. Girard lives in an unfortunate quadruple-bind: a man of profound faith, and a humanities scholar in the fine arts, trying to make an actual scientifically-valid hypothesis, about the sociological machinations of entirely religious subject matter. The very definition of a fool's errand, but like other Chomsky-esque iconoclasts, the sheer amount of supporting evidence would make the most adamant sceptic capitulate some small amount through gritted teeth. It's still annoying, though. He always fervently goes through various null-hypotheses at times when I'd much rather him just get to the point. Once he even claimed some assertions are not fully falsifiable, because the suppositions required would end up undoing the entire basis of the scientific process – and that the mere existence of the scientific method is further evidence of his point. (A claim, while technically true in that instance, is the most bullshit thing I have ever heard.)
At risk of confirmation bias, maybe I only weathered this book because I was already predisposed to the general kind of point he argues. More than that, in my search for understanding, Girard not only further demystified my own sense of betrayal against Christianity, but also succeeded in ruining my opinions of all possible mythologies from any religion or religion-like-thing whatsoever. He is a master interpreter, and managed to find what might possibly be the seed of all culture; but it is an explanation so thorough, it honestly frightens me. I don't think I really wished to know how that particular sausage got made.
– Naomi Klein
A long work of journalism covering a good many deal of topics relating to the modern political phenomena known as either "neoliberalism" or "neoconservatism", depending on what direction you come from, which largely has roots originating from the Chicago School of Economics under the aegis of Milton Friedman. After the unfortunate success of her previous book, Klein wrote in a much harsher manner, which made reading this book -- despite my previous respect for her writing -- so outright depressing that I could not finish it in full. I've heard other readers only recommend this book to those wishing to "test the waters of the political left", but I am honestly unsure if that is truly a proper description for Klein's writing. The Shock Doctrine is ultimately a continuation and correction of No Logo, in the sense that it no longer confuses the most visible components of commercial power from the more subtle actual operations of power itself.
– Steve Hewitt
Possibly the prequel to Lisa Stampinsky’s Disiplining Terror that I’m not entirely sure I even wanted. Hewitt’s historiography of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police struck the very same chords of being both humourous and incredibly sad when it came to giving the “counter-subversion” activities of Canada’s first intelligence service an objective eye.
The story Hewitt weaves throughout his historical reconstruction is one of anti-intellectualism and right-wing fanaticism. During and in the lead-up to the Cold War, anti-communism was the raison d’être of the RCMP following the Winnipeg General Strike in its formative years. Aside from being in the thrall of their political masters in the Canadian government who were normally anti-labour during the Gilded Age; the general makeup of many communist parties at the time was primarily working-class minorities such as Ukrainians and Jews, giving racist motivations to the otherwise equally working-class mounties. But while they had no way knowing it at the time, anti-communism involved chasing a dying star. Their constant search for communists well into the 01960’s and beyond ended up leaving them wholly unprepared for dealing problems with that were fully Canadian in source. (Such as Quebec separatism, which they erroneously attributed to communist influence despite all other evidence presented before them.)
Even as the numbers of the actual remaining communists in Canada dwindled, to the point where there was practically none left by the agency’s own reports, the pursuit of communists never dialled down once. The loose and malleable threat of communism and subversion was used as ideological (and hierarchical) justification for whatever the RCMP wanted to justify; supposedly for things that would be problematic if done without such pretence. The focus which Hewitt uses for this is the espionage and infiltration of Canadian universities, making students and teachers the target of government surveillance in the cause of anti-communism, generating thousands upon thousands of ultimately useless intelligence reports whose only practical purpose was as justification for generating even more useless intelligence reports. Only as the MacDonald Commission approached did the RCMP realize the complete lack of value these dossiers on university students had, and eventually reduced them from tens of thousands to only five hundred files; but not before also purging the record of their own wrongdoing in the “dirty tricks” era of RCMP counter-subversion – the scandalous interlude of intra-Canada espionage supposedly similar to the COINTELPRO activities of the American FBI. Even Hewitt’s archival research could only find scattered references due to how effectively the record was erased.
But missing puzzle pieces is ultimately not the weakest part of Hewitt’s work. It is the locus at which this book is focused; the counter-subversion efforts on Canadian Universities, and sometimes even high schools. Part of this is simply academic conceit; it was only through this angle that Hewitt even attained access to the historical records in the first place, but the question of “why on earth were they the draw of so much RCMP attention” never ends up getting a complete answer. The right-wing and authoritarian preferences of a militaristic and hierarchical organization such as the RCMP are well documented, but simply looking at it as a means of established authority asserting its will on its rebellious young is a thesis that doesn’t hold up. When the RCMP first turned its attention to Canadian schools in the 01920’s, the universities were often just as conservative as they were – if not moreso. The “progressive” nature of Canadian youth is not a historical constant, undergoing many ebbs and flows largely depending on the economic conditions at the time, which the RCMP often struggled to keep up with if they were paying attention at all. Political power, while also an influence in the general direction of anti-subversion, wasn’t the source of the concern either; many Canadian governments were often scandalized by the idea of spying on the nation’s own students and children, as many cabinet ministers were alumni of the same universities and often outright forbade the RCMP from continuing this work. (Orders which the RCMP went through considerable effort to ignore.) Every time the government and judiciary did regress on those regulations, it was always at the pleading request of the RCMP, meaning the need and requirement to keep monitoring universities was purely a need that came from within the RCMP itself.
The similarities between Hewitt and Stampinsky are numerous, perhaps especially when it comes to their thoughts on the politics of anti-knowledge, but there is one crucial difference between them. Stampinsky sees terrorism studies’ inability to come to a proper definition as a major problem for the security institutions who rely on it, as it leaves them prone for interior actors to influence them in undue ways that only serve to further individual interests and undermine security as a whole. Stampinsky sees this as a weakness to be overcome if governments wish to deal with an otherwise legitimate problem; yet Hewitt argues that this is not a bug, but a feature. The RCMP saw communism as a form of “make work project.” Each mountie was working to further their own careers within the hierarchical organization: catch the bad guy, be the hero, get the promotion. The problem was that the actual supply of bad guys was merely a fraction of the need which required them, which caused the RCMP to go out and invent communist influence where none likely existed in order to serve their own ends. And in the cases where a lot of counter-subversion work was invested, but no result could be observed, anti-communist rhetoric was just one way of “covering their asses” from rebuke. Younger adults and vulnerable peoples were simply one of the prime targets for seeking out involuntary actors to play the part of the communist, as they would’ve had less means of recourse from the destruction of their lives should the mountie’s own career advancement end up actually successful. (Perhaps the most famous cases of this in recent times is the Supreme Court of British Columbia’s case Rex vs. Nutall.)
The only point at which the “need” to target universities made any sense was at the very beginning of it all. When the RCMP was formed, university education was still the purview of the social elite and had not yet been democratized to the larger population. Due to how low their wages were, the mounties could not afford it for either themselves or their children. In contrast to their American counterparts, the mounties who themselves held degrees were the smallest part of the force, and were the slowest to grow. Any time they had to interface with Canadian universities was fraught with frustration. They struggled with the complexity of the material and interpreted some hidden malice in the things they did not understand. They congregated their subversion efforts in the lighter subjects of the humanities and political science, simply because the technical requirements of the sciences and mathematics would’ve blown their covers for all to see. Even later on in the counter-cultural revolutions of the 01960’s, the undercover police saw in the students a level of freedom which they could not enjoy in their own lives from belonging to a hierarchical organization. Their documents frequently warned of the subversives working to “undermine” the “pillars of government” they were at once a part of, yet disowned from; thus they worked to undermine those same “pillars” of government on their own terms, in the supposed protection of a government they cared for, but cared not for them. Envy alone is not what motivated the RCMP to bully students and teachers as they did, but it was what impassioned it to become as bad it was.
– Marshall McLuhan
There are many who believe that McLuhan was a genius, and that this fundamental text was the one that took the wild and unruly new world of mass media into proper context. These people are liars. I was warned to be wary of McLuhan from one of my first media professors, specifically the one who was a bit of a black sheep among both the university faculty and even the students. He said that McLuhan might still be considered the founding scholar of the field, but he in life he was naught but a charlatan, and one of the first so-called "experts" to be co-opted into the mainstream media system. However, the reason I arrived at this conclusion about McLuhan on my own had less to do with charlatanism and more to do with the fact that there is simply nothing there to truly be understood. This book, written at the height of his popularity, contains numerous theories, none of them supported by much if any evidence, most of them by now outclassed and outdated, continuing to serve no other purpose than to be catchy little one-liners to advertise the mostly-empty merits of mass broadcast media system. He was pressured into trying out many different ideas, and most them did not work for their intended purposes, and instead for other, murkier goals. A very dangerous text, and from what I can tell, the most of McLuhan's writing goes downhill from here. At least it was still useful as an aid for writing papers in university and as a vantage point for its own historical understanding.
– Anne Elizabeth Moore
A book clearly written in response to the horrible wake generated by Naomi Klein's No Logo, and interesting in that it is an independently written analysis on the exact process of co-optation from the cultural underground and into the mainstream media system, a process she describes as much more organic in practice than most artists tend to fear. Led me to wonder what a possible theory of cultural capture could exist within the world of independent art, similar to the way political science and public governance must deal with the issue of regulatory capture. Also covers media homogenization and corporate consolidation to a degree, including various discussions on the nature of artistry versus intellectual property.
– Anthony DiMaggio
A more modern update of the Chomsky-Herman propaganda model as seen through the lens of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama incursions into the middle east during the early to mid 02000's, showing in the least that the propaganda model is still alive and well, but if only somewhat of an easy target, as the common myth that most of the information leading to the middle-eastern invasions were mostly lies was widespread by that point already. It is interesting for its notable (but somewhat limited) studies into how when juggling between the positions of powered interests and greater public opinion, mainstream media systems or elite media systems will tend to lag behind the representation of greater public opinion by at least two to four years, but it could not conclude if this was due to active suppression by powerful interests, or if it was just the slow-moving inertia of a large and disperse system. It also solidifies the propaganda model as a system of analysis from without, rather than from within. I think as the currently-limited scholarship into the public relations industry begins to take off, it will eventually be able to reveal and thus diminish the effectiveness of government media control in a much more wholesale way than the pure-bred Chomskyists could accomplish on their own. Fortunately, the Chomsky school of media criticism might retain a certain level of favouritism that the new school could never muster, simply because public relations scholarship risks becoming as untrustworthy as the thing it inspects.
– George Orwell
– Julie Sanders
(Arts) Research materials.
– John Reibetanz
– James B. Pritchard
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Craig Larman
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Lajos Egri
(Arts) Research materials.
– Markus Zusak
– Betty Edwards
(Arts) Research materials.
– Alberto Manguel, Gianni Guadalupi
(Arts) Research materials. (Technically speaking...)
– Betty Edwards
(Arts) Research materials.
– Erving Goffman
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Guy Vanderhaeghe
– Donald J. Savoie
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Karl Polanyi
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Catherine Perry Hargrave
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Richard J. Trudeau
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Yahtzee Crowshaw
– Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Ben H. Bagdikian
(Sciences) Research Materials.
– Erving Goffman
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, Laura L. Namy, Nancy J. Woolf, Kenneth M. Cramer, Rodney Schmaltz
(Sciences) Research Materials.
– Christer Ericson
(Sciences) Research materials.
– Mike Barnes, Segbingway
– Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess
– P.D. James
(Arts) Research materials.
– Franz Kafka
– Anne Friedberg
(Arts) Research materials.
– Daniel Scott Tysdal
(Arts) Research materials.