Monday, September 29, 2008

OT: House says No to Bailout

Graph of Dow says it all (graph from New York Times). I know this isn't even remotely related to books, but I find it all so depressing that I can't think of anything else.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Comic-con and getting rid of sexual harassment

Please go read this by Bully and John on how to help get rid of sexual harassment at Comic-Con.

While I've never been to Comic-Con, having had John and Bully as friends for many years, I trust what they say (besides, they are the kind of folks you can trust). The comic and graphic novel scene is very neat, and it's a shame to let a few guys who can't behave ruin it for everyone else.

And Hurray! to John and Bully for doing something about it. Join the effort. Click on the link in the first paragraph.

Rant: Stupidity

Well, we all knew it...the blog is just like the world in revealing the many aspects of human nature. But it happens to be different than the world in that any individual can have their ignorance and stupidity crystallized and revealed for the rest of the world in the way of all fast media.

Therefore, without further ado, I have the displeasure of outing this particularly self-insular and self-centered piece of writing by a young man who had never heard of David Foster Wallace until Wallace's recent sad death.

On the blog, as on in the real world, not knowing something doesn't always imply that the person is not famous; it can just be a pointer at one's own lack of knowledge in certain arenas. Given that all of us are necessarily limited in knowledge due to the limitations of the human brain and time on this earth (I fully admit my ignorance of all things related to pop culture, mathematics and science), there's no problem with that. However, what is a problem is mistaking a serious writer who suffered from a debilitating mental disease as a sensation- and fame-seeker.

Mr. Matthew T. Sussman could only have made such a mistake in ignoring his own ignorance of a very well-known American writer and foolishly deciding to turn his ignorance into a sensation- and fame-seeking piece on David Foster Wallace. He should feel ashamed for his lack of intellectual curiosity as well as a lack of intellectual honesty. In both traits, he is the exact opposite of David Foster Wallace whose writing is much admired for displaying an energetic curiosity towards all things and all beings in the world as well as the ability to work through intellectual questions in a discerning manner.

OT: obit of Joan Winston

Very interesting obituary on someone who sounds very of the original organizers for the Star Trek conventions.

Hope she finds an afterlife in outer space.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I am totally crushing on The Cloudspotter's Guide, a book chockful of wonderful facts about clouds, including elephants....more later.

But, in the meantime, go join the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Violence and its representation

A couple of nights ago, I was too tired from various reports at work to read too much, so I opened Gilbert Hernandez's Chance in Hell about a girl possibly abandoned by her parents in a surreal violent junkyard and rescued by a man who grew up in the said junkyard. Like previous Gilbert Hernandez graphic novels which I've read, Chance in Hell has a gritty social overlay; however, Hernandez also develops a more symbolic language to talk about the psychological effects of violence on his characters. Both trademark traits propel the plot of Chance in Hell in which the main character, Empress, is raped as well as watching people die in the surreal junkyard only to perpetuate an impulsive act of violence herself.

It is perhaps inevitable to be saddened and disturbed by such a book, particularly a graphic novel where the violence is visually rendered. One could argue, of course, that the visual representation of violence has been made quotidian through regular viewings on television and at the movies (and I must disclose at this moment that I gave up television a few years back and only watch television at friends'). However, I found myself startled by the violence in Hernandez's book; in retrospect, I wonder if part of that surprise and deep disturbance is the format of a graphic novel as opposed to a movie or a tv show.

In a book, whether it's a graphic novel, a poem, or a cookbook, one can return to different parts. While I am stating the obvious, I am intrigued in taking this ability to look again and again in conjunction with the fascination with violence and sex (by the way, on a very large theme...why is it that so much violence is often linked to sex in various plots, whether in novels, tv, movies, songs, etc.). In watching a movie or tv, the scene of violence moves. It is not static. Violence in photographs or art is static; it is "captured" in the singular moment or singular representation. Graphic novels takes the static and creates a moving plot...yet, one can replay the plot with a turn of the page. In this sense, violence, as represented in a graphic novel, can be viewed more easily many more times.

In thinking about violence, I am reminded of a friend who cannot watch any violent movies, including Hong Kong cop movies (some of my favorite movies are John Woo films). To me, such films, along with Quentin Taratino's riff on Hong Kong cool, are not real as violence due to the stylization which takes precedence over any pretense of representing reality. Yet, such violence when real, when enacted in life, is a negation of humanity itself. In saying that I don't mind stylized violence, am I unconsciously helping foster a "cool" view of violence? The very question smacks of morality, but I can't help but wonder what happens in an age and ethos when violence is so easy to represent with irony and style whereas tenderness and gentleness is almost impossible to represent without Hollywood sentimentality.

When considering tenderness and gentleness, I still think about the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," a movie I watch almost every year. It remains an emotionally moving film because it isn't saccharine. Instead, the movie ponders a very serious question about a good man on the verge of suicide after financial ruin. I don't necessarily think that "morals" are useful in thinking about the arts. Yet, I do want to consider carefully what is possible in various representations. Is it easy to represent violence? Is it difficult to represent tenderness? Is it easy to represent an evil person? Is it difficult to represent a good person? Or, perhaps even more complicated: how does one faithfully allow for the mix of both violence and tenderness, the mix of good and bad (evil always has such a metaphysical ring that it doesn't even seem to exist), the more likely reality that most of us encounter?

Friday, September 5, 2008

War and Peace, changes, and self-help books

It's been awhile since I've had the mental wherewithal to put a coherent posting, mostly because I've been trying to adjust to some major changes in my life as I just moved cities and switched jobs. Granted, I moved back to the city where I grew up and switched jobs back into an industry where I worked for a number of years...but still, there's all the usual adjustments of learning new commuting times, returning to a four-season climate (including the most hideous of humid summers), and just thinking about every new new thing.

As part of such changes, I just bought...2 self-help books. I can't help but feel somewhat addled and fluffy as a human being just admitting that I bought those self-help books, let alone saying that I am in absolute earnest about reading these books. However, as I recently admitted to a friend, I've learned many things about life from more shallow sources, particularly Agatha Christie's mysteries and Korean soap operas.

So, what have I learned from Agatha Christie's mysteries? As someone who started reading Agatha Christie as an adult (rather than all my middle school friends who were reading them when they were eleven), I loved her psychological portrayal of human beings. Granted, they aren't the deepest psychological portrayals, but I always felt they struck at the essence of certain personality quirks. And sometimes, having a quick thumbnail sketch of human psychology, rather than a long and involved book, is useful as a way of easily understanding certain traits.

In regards to Korean soap opera...I would say that the lesson is, contradictorily enough, the exact opposite: that certain situations and circumstances do not call for deep rumination on human motivations but rather behaving in a way to make the best of a situation. In that regard, Korean soap operas address the deeply pragmatic vein of Korean culture while still turning on all the tears for the melodrama. The other thing I love about Korean soap operas is how the best ones are detail-oriented and based on mores. In many ways, there is a similarity to earlier British novels such as Jane Austen's novels (many Korean soap operas are still about marriages) or something like Anna Karenina (the sprawling multiple family soap operas with large casts, differences in classes and various personality types, the one tragic figure, etc).

So, given that so much of what I know about life does not come from profound sources but Agatha Christie and Korean soap operas...I should be perfectly fine in saying that I just bought Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainity and Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. Pema Chodron's book are brief essays (very brief, roughly a couple of paragraphs each) that takes a Buddhist approach towards life and how to accept different vicissitudes of living. While I am not Buddhist, I find certain aspects of the religion (in its ideal, not institutional, form) jiving with my own hopeful aspirations for myself such as getting rid of one's ego, cultivating gentleness, acknowledging one's flaws, compassionate living, etc.

Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit is about creativity as Tharp has thought about it in relation to her practices as a dancer and composer of dance pieces. Yet, I think that much of how one approaches life, and work as well, is improved in keeping creativity alive and part of everyday living. Certainly, trying to see, whether I am walking the same blocks everyday or on vacation, has improved the enjoyment of my life vastly. Some days, I think there's really nothing more wonderful than seeing a beautiful building; yet, I feel the same when I see a flower blooming during the rare hikes (I am all urban girl). In many ways, creativity is engaging the world with all of one's senses and then interpreting it through one's mind and sensibility. To learn to utilize the senses, sensibility, and the mind is a tremendous resource.

Lastly, I have wanted to buy Richard Pevear and Larissa volokhonsky's translation of War and Peace since it first came out; I loved their translation of Anna Karenina. And I saw a hardcover still available and displayed at a bookstore, so I snagged it. Although the hardcover is pricey, I think it's worth it. Could I have bought it on Amazon for cheaper? Yes...but when I buy a hardcover for $37, it has to be perfect in appearance. And occasionally Amazon delivers books that are not in its best shape, particularly for one so obsessed about making sure the cover is smirch-free, untorn, and pristine.