Monday, May 1, 2017

April, Take 2.

Because I've already commented a bit on some of the below in my previous roundup, I'm just going to add to that below:
  1. The Extreme Life of the Sea by Stephen R. Palumbi & Anthony R. Palumbi
    • So remember how I said that the Palumbis address the formulaic output that is marine life books? THEY DO IT TOO.
    • I'm afraid my reading a couple of other general marine critter books is colouring my perspective, but I can't help but feel that, once you've read one of them, you've read them all - which is definitely not true, and I know it! It's just that there's so much information in all the books that overlaps to a great extent, even if not in the particulars (only this one talked about why flying fish, dolphins, and whales propel themselves out of the water sometimes and under what conditions they do so - when it's more energy-efficient, because water produces way more drag, dolphins generally jump out of water only after they reach a certain speed - for example), that if I'm not reading these books in one- or two-day spurts, it's hard to keep all the information separate in my mind. I did learn some new things from this slim book, and I would definitely still recommend it, but if anyone's thinking about making the rounds like I did/am doing with the general ocean life books, I would probably tell you to read one, maybe two, then move onto whatever more specific areas you're interested in. Spirals in Time was an absolute delight, and I would love to learn more about octopuses and squid (though I've gone through that phase before, too, my local library doesn't have too many books on either that sufficiently sated my curiosity - to be more specific, the one octopus book was so poorly written I didn't finish it, and the other remaining octopus book was well written but not as informative as I would have liked)
  2. The Penelopiad play, directed by Sue Miner featuring the George Brown School of Performing Arts
    • Incredible! I have to say, the actresses did a wonderful job, and the rhythmic thumping, chanting, and singing by the chorus was very well done.
    • I have seen another performance of The Penelopiad by Nightwood Theatre before, and unfortunately I couldn't help but compare against what I had already seen, because I was completely stunned to the core after watching that, whatever snippets of the songs I could remember having stayed with me since then. The venues are completely different, and I'm sure the budgets were as well, so I feel it isn't exactly fair to compare them on those grounds, and perhaps the ages & experience of the actresses made the performance by Nightwood Theatre much more engaging to me as a whole, especially in the scenes where they play male roles, as well as in how Penelope was portrayed as being much more wry and mature than in this performance. The dry wit of Penelope this time around came across as much more... sweet, or passive aggressive, rather than deadpan, I suppose.
    • However, I appreciated the apparent youth of the maids (and Penelope also!) - physically and in their thoughts, their childlike hopes of being rescued - as that just made everything more harrowing: the rape (and Penelope's inability to stop it); their silencing even as they tried to speak up and how Telemachus, upon hearing their clamouring, was swayed into doubt, only to ultimately listen to his father's authority to kill them without hearing them out (in addition to Penelope's silencing by Odysseus, whose first instruction to Eurycleia is to make Penelope a strong sleeping drought, and doesn't stop first to listen to Penelope's side of affairs at all before setting about fixing the real and perceived issues - the suitors and the maids respectively - through violence); and their regrets and vengeance.
    • There were certainly things I didn't really remember having happened that I noticed this time around: did Penelope ever come clean to Odysseus about the maids doing all that they did for Penelope and Odysseus? Did Odysseus really reveal himself to his son first? So is Laertes still alive throughout, or is Penelope weaving his death shroud before he has even perished, as the last filial act? (If he's still alive, why doesn't he show back up?)
    • In terms of the songs: these had a completely different melody, and struck me on the whole as being much heavier, building up voice by voice until it became so loud it was anxious before suddenly - a deafening silence. At other times, layer on layer the whispers added up, giving the feeling of girls chatting in the background, or spirits wafting about. From what I remember, or at least the feeling I got from Nightwood's renditions, they were much more melodic, highlighting the melancholy and quiet, or at least the behind-the-scenes suffering. Personally I enjoyed Nightwood's songs more, but that might just be because I saw them first; George Brown enacted a very powerful interpretation of the play, and I'm glad I went to go see it!
  3. Super Suckers by James A. Cosgrove & Neil McDaniel
    • Following up on what I said above, it turns out I actually had borrowed a newer book that introduces readers to octopuses/octopodes primarily while also touching on squids and other relatives. Cosgrove and McDaniel relate the information first and foremost to the Giant Pacific Octopus, but I think this slim volume is a pretty good general overview of octopuses in general. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered only because they're not really addressed outright (e.g. do all male octopuses undergo senescence after mating, or is it specific to certain species of octopus? I'm pretty sure from what I've read that it applies to all octopuses, but I don't think it's made 100% clear here; different species of octopus have different mating behaviours and rituals, so do they also have different brooding behaviours, or do all female octopuses stay in their dens until death (or if their death happens prior to the hatching, then dying outside of the den), taking care of their eggs? And do all octopuses make strings of their eggs in the same fashion as the Giant Pacific Octopus, or do they employ different methods of hanging their eggs or otherwise brooding? I think I read something about an octopus that attaches her eggs to her body, but I'm not certain about my memory on this point). As an introductory text, it's easy to understand and covers quite a bit of ground, including lots of anecdotes, though it reads somewhat like a textbook for elementary school at times (which keeps it very accessible, while not sounding too much like they're talking down to you to educate you).
    • Where this book really shines is in the copious amounts of photographs! And the thick, glossy paper they use for the entire book make the quality of the photographs pop, so I'd say it was well worth the investment. The section where they detailed the eggs in different stages, including the hatching stage with one already hatched and another hatching, were an absolute delight!
  4. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
    • Little details make the story and bring Albert Einstein to life, not only as a great scientist, but also as a person. The style of illustration, reminiscent of children's drawings, or crayon drawings, matched quite well with the text and with the character of Albert Einstein that is portrayed in this book.
    • The two pages of extra information about Einstein that couldn't be fit into the story, but are also important personality traits and ideas were a nice touch, as was the list of a few of the more interesting biographies of and books about Einstein and his ideas that the author had read while researching for this book. I also quite enjoyed the endpages, featuring his favourite things.
  5. Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
    • A sober and dark story where the little white rabbit's confusion and indignation amounted to nothing because he learned to keep quiet, to become complicit in the murderous rages of the Terrible Things. The pencil drawings with their sensitive strokes emphasize the confusion of the rabbit and give a sense of foreboding throughout: and then there was one.
  6. The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka
    • I wanted so much to like this, but I suspect it's mostly because I'm not the target audience, especially in terms of age. There is a helpful guide at the back after the story that teaches young children how to make their friends and family that are suffering feel better, to ease their impending deaths, and the story in the Note before the story sets it off to a good start. It's a bit too simple and straightforward for me, though I can appreciate the space it fills in children's books.
  7. Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
    • Quite in-depth story of Louis Braille the person, though it never approached being overwhelming. There is even more information after the story about Louis Braille and the author's motivations for writing this book, along with an FAQ about his invention, Braille.
    • The drawings were a perfect complement to the story, especially the pages portraying his imagination - the way he "saw" the world - and all the activities blending into each other, as when the piano keys and the leather for making slippers are arranged side by side in a book-shaped cavity on the page. The empty books, Braille's despair at finally getting to read the giant book only to discover it fell way short of his expectations, his solitary finessing of his own system, and finally his triumph and realization of his childhood dream (to be like his father) were told in compelling fashion, made all the more compelling by the constant foreshadowing to his young death by lung disease.
  8. My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
    • Ozeki has a gift for weaving together separate but intertwined stories, and this is no exception: despite having no direct interaction for most of the novel, Jane and Akiko exist in such a way to complement each others' situations perfectly. Connected both by Akiko's husband through the show as well as through their mutual appreciation of Shonagon's The Pillow Book, these two women go through similar experiences in completely different form. It was obvious right when Jane & Sloan ditched the condom that Jane was going to get pregnant, and even more evident that Jane was going to miscarry rather than abort (but either way that she wouldn't get to keep the baby), but Ozeki made these foregone conclusions interesting in their own right by adding depth to Jane's character and having her connect with her mother in a way they were unable to prior to this. Akiko's radiant pregnancy signalling her new life and agency - her refusal to accept things as they were and stand up for what she wanted - was also a fitting end (or beginning?), her barrenness before reflecting her state of living.
    • Jane's realization that Suzuki and Oh aren't the caricatures that she had made them out to be at the beginning was also quite well done, in that their comradeship and subsequent loyalty to one another - joined in their quest for a better show rather than promotion of BEEF-EX - was quite touching, especially once Jane reveals her pregnancy. Most of the characters in this novel mature and become more fully developed throughout the story, and it's a joyous occasion indeed when Akiko finally packs her bags and leaves the apartment that she has cleaned and left spotless for "John"'s return. Even more so when she is able to start writing a list to "John", of all the things about him that are detestable, all the reasons why she left - contrasted against the long-suffering and listless Akiko who was unable to create satisfactory lists in Shonagon's fashion, it's a transformation that, though sudden in terms of events, has been a long time coming.
    • Cultural differences. They are highlighted throughout, by Jane who saddles both countries and in contrasting Akiko to all of the American wives, but it never felt like Ozeki was presenting Japanese culture on the one hand v. American on the other: grey areas and issues are explored in both settings, and the focus on each of these people as individuals rather than as "American" v. "Japanese", even as Ozeki fuses each character with traits respective to their cultures, was well handled. None of the characters descended into stereotypes (except for maybe "John"), and although the novel is a critique of the meat industry, it never forces its morals down your throat.
    • I was blown away by A Tale for the Time Being, and My Year of Meats didn't disappoint, so I'm looking forward to reading whatever else Ozeki has written!
  9. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Quentin Gréban
    • This version has obviously been edited the heck out of, in comparison to The Adventures of Pinocchio that I read earlier this month. Many of the (admittedly superfluous) details have been removed, but there was at least one too many details removed: in chapter 17, where the Blue Fairy saves Pinocchio and gives him medicine for his life-endangering fever, the chapter synopsis mentions Pinocchio accepting the sugar but not the medicine, and yet the sugar is conspicuously missing from the actual text. Many of the other details in this edition try to portray Pinocchio in a better light, I think, so that the reader will only think him mischievous or at most impetuous, instead of the impression he makes in the The Adventures of Pinocchio, which is quite a bit worse and makes one wonder if it was such a good idea turning him into a real boy after all. I mean, it's hard to twist the Pinocchio story (without changing it too much) such that he appears to deserve his reward at the end, I think.
    • These watercolour illustrations are gorgeous! Pinocchio is expressive and rather adorable, and the watercolour lends itself beautifully to rendering the tempestuous skies and seas. I especially enjoyed the Pinocchio head endpapers, which look somewhat like a study in drawing Pinocchio from different angles.
    • Does nobody else find it odd that Geppetto plays such a small role in the story? He disappears for a good chunk of it before we even remember him again! And then once he's been found and Pinocchio saves him, the Blue Fairy works her magic to reward Pinocchio for his hard work... and yet the Blue Fairy and Geppetto never meet!
    • There was one formatting error on page 63 where the words extended to the page number also.
  10. Get Out (2017)
    • There's a sense that the movie is trying to be a space to explore white guilt - or that awkwardness that arises of the moment you recognize race in a certain situation and can't erase it from mind even if it plays no part at the time - in a weird way, and I'm left with mixed feelings about the movie as a result. It's as though it's trying to assuage white guilt in the most egregious of ways; in a way, by only taking black people because of the advantages that come with their genetic makeup (except avoiding the whole having to grow up as a black person in America thing - y'know), like "hey, we're admitting you're genetically superior, so at least let us take over your body - we're entitled to that, amirite?"
      • So I read a couple of articles about the movie, and rather than white guilt, it's white racial innocence that's getting the spotlight here: the movie is tearing apart the veneer of a post-racial America and destroying the delusion that is white innocence ("What racism? I'm no racist! Race doesn't even matter anymore" type of (wishful) thinking).
    • In terms of the plot and how it was directed, everything was pretty brilliant. The jump scares were definitely frightening (everyone in the theatre was losing their shit at the right times, all at the same times), and I really enjoyed the use of the hit-and-run throughout the movie, in the way that the memory of Chris' mom dying in a hit-and-run influences his decisions throughout (e.g. stopping for the deer, trying to save Georgina after he hits her with the car).
    • The police car scenes were also very strong: the first when the officer allows Rose's backtalk and eventually even acquiesces (where Chris on the other hand has evidently experienced it often enough to just go along with it); and the second at the end, where you almost expect Chris to be shot by whoever's in the vehicle because he's black and there are a bodies on the ground, and maybe he'll die and Rose will receive help and that would be a very clear critique on racism in America - perhaps too clear, considering the rest of the movie.
    • I get the actual reason Rose talked back to the officer like that when they hit the deer now! It was so that there would be no trace of Chris when he goes missing! It's odd that the blood was on the passenger side though, considering the deer came over from the driver's side.
  11. Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins
    • Yeah, I know. I'm trying to expand the breadth of my reading here. It's pretty much everything you'd expect from the description on the inside flap: a feel-good "be true to yourself!" type of book. The premise is pretty cute (a girl who can't quite control her magical powers and ends up turning into a composite of different animals whenever she tries to turn into something, e.g. a dragon kitten, a beaver kitten, etc., being sent to a class for others like her who can't control their powers), and I can see the series being attractive to young readers. However. I feel as though there was an apology that was notably absent from the text, that I also felt was necessary: when Nory told Pepper to watch out for Pepper at the beginning, and proceeded to feel bad about it but never apologize for it. Learning how to apologize is important, especially when it's an apology that you've missed your chance to give, and that's something that I think should have been given some more attention. She agonizes over it (and over being ostracized), yes, but - and I don't mean to say she should suffer because she was mean, and that it all balances it out eventually - she doesn't make up for what she said to Pepper. Her combining powers with Elliott to save Andre was a nice end, yeah, but that really only makes up for the part where they wanted to leave the class because they were thinking normal > different.
    • I'm also really hoping they address Nory's family a bit more down the road. As it is, Nory kind of realizes (as Elliott realizes about his Sparky friends) that her family's insistence on her being normal isn't the best environment for her, and that they haven't really been there for her, but they never really have a confrontation. I'm sure that Nory's going to save her father at some point in the future with her powers and he'll have to begrudgingly accept her, but I'd like for the brother and sister to start to see things their own way independently of their father before that happens.
  12. The Hunt for the Golden Mole by Richard Girling
    • Girling kind of takes the reader along on his hunt for the Somali golden mole, and I appreciate his honesty about his ignorance or his naivety, but to have the same line repeated again, about how great minds have traveled the road before him already, but he's going to do it again anyway, was a bit much. I'm being picky here, but it really makes me wonder about the editing or advance reading process whenever I see that kind of repetition within a book. I know I repeat a lot of words or sentence structures, or reuse the way I introduce certain parts of my little reviews, but it's a bit different when it comes to a published book, right? Now, onto the contents themselves.
    • It's most definitely not a straightforward search for the mole, and Girling makes no attempt to be doing so as he meanders here and there, dithering about whether to contact someone who might have information or not (because if he contacts them and it's a dead end, his search is effectively done). It's actually quite interesting reading about Ol Pejeto and how the cattle can coexist with its predators with a bit of help from their owners, to the benefit of everyone involved. The numbers on the ivory and rhino horn trade were baffling, as you'd think that even poachers would understand that their own trade isn't sustainable the way they do it, and that they're going to be out of a living soon enough if things continue on this way.
      • Climax at the end of getting in touch with the professor and seeing the bones from the owl pellet was... as expected. Nothing more, nothing less. If anything, his description of Alberto Simonetta was probably one of my favourite parts!
    • The photograph of the pseudo-golden mole in England could have been improved on a lot. As it is, there is so much grey (it features a brown and a marmalade-coloured mole on what I am assuming is green grass, so no surprise if it's grey on grey on grey in a black and white picture) that having the photo there doesn't add much to your reading. That goes for pretty much all the photos included: I feel like some editing to maybe add some contrast would have benefited them all. As colour photos, I'm sure they're fine, but translated into b&w, it gets really muddy.
    • Humans are not the only creatures who inflict self-harm, nor do they have monopoly over suicide. Animals do it too. (And if you're interested in the topic, there are plenty more articles discussing stress and self-harm and self-mutilation in animals.) Now, I haven't read the article in full, and I'm not sure whether animals do this in their natural environments, lacking human stressors. And unfortunately I don't remember enough from where I read it the last time (in class? in one of the other animal books?) to recall whether that was the case or not. But humans are not alone in deliberately inflicting self-harm.
    • Do rats have a worse rep than the wolf in children's literature? Girling says the rat wears a blacker hood, but I'm not really too sure about that... I mean, both have similarly horrible reputations that colour both our language as well as general perceptions of the animals themselves, but I think they serve different enough types of roles that they can both be treated with an equal amount of disgust, hatred, and fear. I'd like to know if Girling's actually right about this, though.
Working on:
  1. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
    • It only recently came to my attention that the Bechdel test is by this same Alison Bechdel. A quick scan through the first page of 2017 movies appears heartening: there are quite a number of green ticks! About as many as, if not slightly more than, red Xs!
  2. Reinventing Gravity by John F. Moffat

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