Monday, August 27, 2012

August 25 - McLeod Books, Vancouver

Yep, just about my favourite place of all is McLeod Books in downtown Vancouver. It's an easy place to spend money, so principles have to go out the window. For example, I've long bought every 1940s edition I see of Robert Swanson's poetry, because I don't see them very often: except at McLeod's this time, where there were five softcover copies of the first volume (between the first and eighth edition, with the eighth edition signed by the author) and two hardcover copies of the second volume. And not even I'm spending $200 on a bag full of Robert Swanson! Instead:

  • Brian Aldiss, Hothouse ($5, 1962: "In the far distant future, humans are tiny, green-skinned beings living in a vast tree")
  • John Berger, Pig Earth ($7)
  • Canadian Forestry Association of BC, British Columbia's Timber Harvest ($10, 1950: brochure heaven!)
  • Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, National Asset - Native Design ($20, 1956: I'd call this also an example of brochure heaven, except that words thus far fail me for this exploitative puff-piece for More Logging Now that pretends to honour Indigenous art)
  • The Mentor, no. 181 ($5, 15 June 1919: "American Naturalists," by Ernest Ingersoll, with several prints suitable, as they say, for framing)
  • Alfred R.C. Selwyn, Journal and Report of Preliminary Explorations of British Columbia ($20, 1872: geological survey report to Parliament)
  • George R. Stewart, Earth Abides ($5, 1949: "A novel about tomorrow that could happen today ... the aftermath of a catastrophe that has wiped out almost the entire population of America")

Rhona McAdam, Digging the City

Subtitled A Hipster's Guide to Vancouver, Rhona McAdam's new book Digging the City ... wait, what? It's not about that?

Every writer trying to deal with environmental questions, especially in something like the Manifesto series from Rocky Mountain Books that tries to solve one problem or another, has to overcome one key challenge: deferring your reader's despair, so that the reader gets far enough into your book to start thinking seriously about possible solutions. I'm not certain that Rhona McAdam quite manages that for an uninterested reader, but I'm not bothered by any such uncertainty. It's a manifesto, after all -- its actual subtitle being An Urban Agriculture Manifesto -- so the book can be excused if it's engaged mostly in communicating and rather less in marketing.

This book stands out from other attempts to solve environmental crises for being so engagingly written. It's a quiet book, a book of sadness even through its anger, so it reads a little like a manual, a little like a memoir, and a little like testimony. It's personal, in the end, for all its careful detail about global crises and about local crises from around the world, and I mean that as praise for how neatly McAdam manages in Digging the City to sound like she's chatting with her reader, rather than lecturing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Zane Grey, Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon

On a whim recently, I pulled from my vast to-be-read mound Zane Grey's long-ago novel Ken Ward in the Jungle, and since I kind of enjoyed the experience, I decided it was time to revisit his memoir non-fiction novel book Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon. Even with its very odd title, this book has always had real personal meaning for me, even though my copy has been in a box for most of the last 25 years, and even though it turns out that I'd lost track of just about the entire plot.

Chief among the things I'd forgotten was the novel's affecting introduction, in which Grey dedicated Roping Lions "To the Boy Scouts of America and Readers of This Book." These days I teach and research at the intersection of literature and environment, so I'm a little embarrassed that I'd so completely forgotten Grey's activist intent:
Every boy has a heritage. It is outdoor America. Our open country, that is to say, our uncultivated lands, forests, preserves, feeding and nesting swamps, are threatened by the march of so-called progress and commercialism. What is needed is two million Boy Scouts to save some of our green, fragrant, untrammeled land for the boys to come. (p.v)
That word "untrammeled" jumped out at me, especially in an American context, because of how the Wilderness Act (1964) defines "wilderness" in section 2(c): "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Of course Grey was writing many years before the framers of the Wilderness Act, but it's still a striking coincidence. (More here on untrammeled etc.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Zane Grey, Ken Ward in the Jungle

When I was a kid, I read and loved all kinds of older books that reflected different perspectives and places than my own: Clair Bee's novels about all-American sports hero Chip Hilton, Thomas B. Costain's historical novels (especially The Silver Chalice, mysteriously), even Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, which wound up in our house for no reason that I now recall.

But above all the rest, unaccountably, was Zane Grey's 1922 book Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon, a largely autobiographical novel about some time that Grey spent with four rangers in the American southwest. The subject of this book -- stay with me, as the plot summary will get tricky -- is roping mountain lions. And they rope them -- this is the tricky part, honestly -- in and around the Grand Canyon.

Sorry, that sounds like mockery, but it's only because for the life of me, I still can't account for my fascination with this book. I haven't read it in more than 25 years, but my old copy is downstairs, and I think I'm going to read it in the next few days. Recently I've been thinking hard about books that have stuck with me over the years, so it's long been in the plan, but the time is suddenly now.

On a whim, this morning I retrieved Grey's earlier (ie, 1912) Ken Ward in the Jungle out of my TBR mountain, and damn it, now I've got to reread Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon, because it's all just so awesome. I'm hardly the first person to find Ken Ward in the Jungle both inspiring and amusing, in fact I learned of the novel's existence from a friend I respect who felt the same way about it, but sometimes it's enough just to testify. Book reviews? Well, I guess I write some reviews here at Book Addiction, but there's a whole lot of testimony and rambling, too, maybe more of that than of anything else.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Eternal Savage

We've had a good run, but The Eternal Savage marks the end of my Edgar Rice Burroughs summer: this is my seventh Burroughs novel of the year, and probably the last. Granted, I might still track down and read the last of the Pellucidar novels, but I'm badly feeling that there are far too many better worlds for me to spend time in that Burroughs'.

It's not the fault of The Eternal Savage, particularly, even though its plot is thoroughly silly, its evolutionary science absurd, and its characters stereotypic. That's what you get with Burroughs, more often than not, and it's a mistake to expect otherwise (Back to the Stone Age notwithstanding). This one's worse than your average Burroughs, but it's far from the worst you'll get from him.

Part one of the basic set-up: the beautiful Victoria Custer, and her devoted brother Barney, visit Lord Greystoke's estate in Africa. (You remember that Lord Greystoke is Tarzan, right?) Victoria has yet to settle on a husband, though one Curtiss is very keen on her, because of persistent dreams she has been having -- for years and years -- about a seriously impressive warrior she's never known in real life, who's mostly naked, thoroughly savage, and white (naturally). No modern man can compare, so she seems doomed (doomed, I say!) to live and die alone.

Oh, and she's terrified of earthquakes, including landforms that show signs of large-scale or abrupt seismic activity.

While the Custers are in Africa, there's an earthquake, and Victoria faints. Meanwhile....

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorama

I'm not entirely familiar with the conventions of steampunk, and I'm okay with that. I like some elements of steampunk -- airships, the survival of obsolete technologies in general, celebrations of ways not taken (even if there were excellent reasons for not taking them) -- but there's enough else going on in the few allegedly steampunk books I've read that I'm not sure what ought to count as convention, invention, and anathema. So, I try simply to figure out whether and how much I like a particular book that may or may not count as steampunk in someone else's canon.

Maybe eventually I'll start thinking canon, but that day's not yet here.

Jean-Christophe Valtat's Aurorama is an impressively inventive work that kept me interested to the end and/but annoyed me fairly consistently, which evaluation is completely divorced from any questions of its relative steampunkishness. Adam Roberts, who liked the book much more than I did, blends a mid-length review with a long discussion of steampunk, and my post isn't nearly as detailed as his. Anna Perleberg, on the other hand, was not a fan of this book. If you want more than I'm giving you, check either or both of those readers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Aug 9-12, ALECC books

Academic conferences can be wonderful, and they can be not worth attending. Recently I've drawn a circle, more or less, around my home to define the furthest I'll go to attend conferences. ALECC this year fell safely inside the circle, in Kelowna BC, but at this point, I'm prepared to burn a lot of carbon to participate in this community. I'll try to post some comments within the next few days, but for now, let me just say that there's no other group of people with whom I share closer intellectual connections: the quality of papers is very high, the discussions afterward are very good, and the unstructured conversation is the very best kind of shop-talk I can imagine.

In keeping with the blog's mandate, though, I should first note simply that I picked up some seriously appealing books, viz.:
  • Daniel Coleman, In Bed with the Word: Reading, Spirituality, and Cultural Politics ($19.95:)
  • Gatherings, vol. VII: The En'owkin Journal of First North American Peoples (trivia prize at the banquet)
  • Garry Gottfriedson, Skin Like Mine ($15.95: when he read his unpublished poem "1492" at the banquet, he got the night's only spontaneous mid-reading sustained applause, which given the quality of the other three readers is saying something!)
  • volume 7 of Lake: A Journal of Arts and Environment ($10: how can this be the second-last issue?!? Aargh!)
  • Rhona McAdam, Digging the City: An Urban Agriculture Manifesto ($16.95: brand new just this month from Rocky Mountain Books)
  • Harold Rhenisch, Caraway and Pippins (given by Harold to his audience members who promised to send him something in return; a self-published essay about, among other things, the history of apples in the Okanagan)
  • Stefan Schutz, Peyote (translated by Harold Rhenisch, who so kindly gave me a copy)
More on the conference another day, I promise!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games trilogy

Probably I should be writing about each novel separately -- The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay -- but honestly, it's such a tightly integrated trilogy that there's not much point to thinking of them separately. Or rather, while Suzanne Collins' three Hunger Games novels make excellent sense as separate novels, with quite distinct themes, they're an impressively integrated collection.

Plus, argumentation aside, I don't really have time to deal with them separately this week. Sue me.

Also -- spoiler alert! This terribly scattered commentary (did I mention my lack of time?) will be full of them, starting immediately after the jump.