Saturday, October 24, 2009

Boston Book Festival

I just got back from the Boston Book Festival. What comes to mind first is how well-executed it was for a first time event. I was nervous about there being enough space in panels, especially since it was free and "just show up" instead of even having people RSVP (except for the writing workshops, which I didn't attend). There were certainly a lot of people there, especially for the keynote speech, but I managed to squeeze in every time. I supposed it helped that interesting panels ran concurrently, so people had to decide what to go to. The Old South Church sanctuary was a lovely setting for most of the panels I went to, I didn't go to any in Trinity, which is a little disappointing, because I don't know when else I could get inside Trinity for free!

The panels I attended were; Ties that Bind, Boston Roots, Power of Place, Beyond the Margins, Eat Your Words, and the keynote speech by Orhan Pamuk. The schedule can be found here, if you're interested;

The one I actually enjoyed the most was Beyond the Margins, which I didn't even plan to go to. There were a couple of panels on new media, Amazons, Kindles, the future of books etc, which I didn't get to attend. This was about "transmedia," or using different kinds of media to form a unique "fandom" experience. The presenters were Reif Larsen and Tim Kring. Larsen interested me the most, he discussed his fascination with the stories told by maps and diagrams and how different people read them, which of course ties into his new, and I believe, first published book, The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet. I want to read it now, and I almost bought it, but I had already bought Day After Night by Anita Diamant (who spoke on the Places panel), and I already have plenty of new books I haven't read yet.

Tim Kring is a producer of the TV show Heroes, and he talked about how it isn't just on television, but online, with commentary and interviews, mobile with texts and games, in print with graphic novels and a magazine, and with several alternate websites that tie into the universe. Being a Star Trek geek myself, I can appreciate this sort of engagement. It reminded me how new technology can bring us together, and how change in the industry isn't necessarily a bad thing. Who knows, maybe there'll be more small, indie writers with audiences due to the internet, just like in music? It's already beginning to happen.

I was happy to see representatives of Harvard Bookstore, the Brattle Bookshop, 826 Boston, the Boston Review, and more Boston-based literary organizations present. Thanks to Brigham Ice Cream too, for the free Rocky Road!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grokking Stranger

57. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

I've been squeezing my "pleasure reading" book in between class books for the past two months, and I finally finished it-by turning it into a class book. We got to choose our own text in Advanced Writing, so I decided to try my rudimentary critical hand at Stranger.

My interest in this book originated in a number of places. I was aware of it as a foundational work of science fiction, it was discussed in The Jane Austen Book Club (oddly enough), and the title is a famous quote from Moses of Exodus fame (which I know because of Fiddler on the Roof).

So Stranger in a Strange Land is about Valentine Michael Smith, the child of human astronauts who was raised by Martians. Smith speaks and thinks in Martian, and has absorbed Martian values and culture. He cannot understand humans and in his attempt to 'grok' humanity, tries to bring Martian culture to a select Nest of "water brothers" (i.e. disciples).

I found the concept of grokking very interesting, used in context, it seems to mean 'to understand, ' but as described in the book, to grok is to become one with a concept or person or object. A similar message perpetuated in the book is the phrase "Thou art God," the idea that human beings are, collectively, God. It seemed very realistic to me how Mike first uses the word, and other characters pick it up from him.

Free love is another idea that the book, published in 1961, helped propel into momentum. In the second half of the book, sex becomes very important, and orgies and nudity are frequent occurrences, though all seen through a sort of higher purpose. I don't know if I can agree with this extreme elevation of sex, and I don't know how seriously it is meant to be taken. I guess I can see why Mike might think it is the "greatest good," since Martians don't have a similar sexual experience, but is Heinlein really suggesting that people can only 'grok' each other fully through sexual activity? Another way of grokking, of course, is cannibalism, but I won't get into that...

There is a lot to work with in this text, the treatment and representation of women jumped out at me. On the one hand, the women are intelligent, powerful characters, on the other hand, they're treated as cooks and secondhand citizens at points. There could also be an argument that the women are reduced to sex objects, but due to the elevation of sex, that could be a compliment? I'll be working with these ideas and more to form my argument.

I recommend this book to science fiction fans, and those interested in cults and especially the 1960s in the U.S.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More Soon...Maybe

56. The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman

Saturday, October 3, 2009

So...I did decide just to continue the count for this year. Especially because I haven't reached my goals for # of books published this year to read, etc. I don't know if I will though, since I'm so busy reading for class. That said, no reviews since I should be doing homework.

54. Fences by August Wilson

I read this for theatre class and we went to see it at the Huntington. I recommend it, though I saw a better version at Arena Stage in D.C. a few years ago.

55. Utopia by Thomas More

I read a different translation several years ago. I thought I hadn't finished it, but everything I remember came from later in the book, so now I think maybe I did. This time, the book made me angry because it sounded so impossible, people just don't work like that, they're not so selfless and humble and obedient. I did like their style of war though, making their enemies fight themselves, and putting out warrants for a few people instead of full-scale war. It is understood to be idealistic, however, I don't think More actually thought people could live like this, he just wanted the ideas to be considered. I still prefer the Machiavelli.