Archive for July, 2012

ImageI’ve begun listening to the New Books in History Podcast, a series of interviews with historians from a wide range of fields.  I absolutely adore these, seeing as History is my chosen field of study and I’m always happy to hear people enthusiastically discussing the subject (that’s one of the main attractions here–hearing historians enthuse about obscure historical marginalia can be unbearably cute).

My latest listen was the interview with Jay Rubenstein concerning his book Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse.  I was quite surprised to hear Rubenstein started out on the path to this book through studying the works of Guibert de Nogent; I wrote two seminar papers on Guibert’s memoir and history of the first crusade, respectively, in my last year of undergraduate studies at university.  I found Rubenstein’s exploration of crusading discourse(for lack of a better term) and its close connection to the imagery of the Apocalypse utterly fascinating.

Actually, all these interviews are well worth your time.  After getting repeatedly bummed out over the good blogging press surrounding the Hardcore History podcast  (which I do not like one bit), I was pleased to discover a podcast this, well, excellent.

Go thee and listen!   

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In the English world, if War and Peace comes up in conversation, it’s rarely discussed as an actual book that you read. Instead, it has become a semi-mythic symbol for a work so gigantic in scope it’s beyond the understanding of mere mortals. So the first thing that comes up is its length. The second thing: its alleged unreadability. Take a look at the inexplicably hostile TV Tropes entry for War and Peace. Or the countless comments to the effect that a person’s life goal is to read War and Peace cover to cover at some point. The mere act of reading and finishing War and Peace has become an achievement in itself. The book is a colossus, indomitable, towering over all, and yet the discourse surrounding it in popular culture rarely has anything to do with the contents.

Which is a shame. I’ve recently finished my re-read of War and Peace, this time the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation; while I’m usually reluctant to approach highly-regarded classics thanks to general weariness from hearing about them so much, War and Peace is an incredible…thing (more on that later) and one of the great achievements of world literature as a whole.

To review War and Peace is utterly pointless. I know there are one-star reviews on Amazon but seriously, nothing I’m going to say is going to sway anyone’s decision whether to read it or not, and if you don’t recognize the artistry and ambition of Tolstoy enough to at least respect his gigantic project I don’t think there’s much hope for you anyway. Rather, I’d like to collect some thoughts and personal reactions after this re-read. It’s difficult to grapple with a text of this magnitude, so I’ll start with some basic observations.


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The more I look at it, the less I’m pleased by my map of Prydain.  There are a few errors, and at least one egregious misspelling.  After a discussion with Marie (the podcast, remember?), I decided to have another go at it.

I haven’t attempted a “realistic” map, this time; it doesn’t seem appropriate for Prydain, and working out an accurate scale would take much more time than I’m willing to commit.  I’ve used the Gough Map of the British Isles as my basis for style and geography.  I have no idea why I didn’t think of this before, as the Gough Map’s representation of Wales fits much closer to the geography as described in The Chronicles of Prydain than any modern map.  And, of course, I went back to the books to get a better grasp on the relative locations of key places in Prydain.

Thanks to Marie for help with this new map.  I drew it the same day as we recorded the podcast.

(Click to embiggen)

This should mark the end of my Prydain output on this blog, but, well, you never know…

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Not *my* photo, for reasons revealed in the podcast, but these *are* the editions that I own.

What?  Another podcast, you say?

This time Marie and I talk about one of our favourite book series from the Newbery Era, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain.

Apologies for the audio quality.  My current laptop has less-than-ideal speakers, so Marie has been recording the podcasts on her end, then sending the files to me for editing.

Download the Podcast

Marie’s Youtube Channel

Source of our Theme Song (“It’s Dragon Tales” by Butterfly Tea)

Bonus Material

Our 21-second “review” of Disney’s The Black Cauldron:

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Dino sex

Dear Robert J. Sawyer,

Parse this image.  I want you to look at it a very long time, study it, examine it in the minutest detail, and then think very hard about what you’ve done.

Yours truly,

Michal Wojcik

(Some context, for those of you who are wondering)


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Expanding, once more, on something I said in a previous post

You might notice that I don’t review fiction too often. Aside from reviewing some books that are suitably obscure and, I think, deserving of more attention, or when there’s some interesting issues (good or bad) surrounding a novel, or if I just absolutely love something and can’t contain my joy, I don’t keep much of a book blog. One reason is that I rarely finish books I don’t like, and I feel uneasy about flying off the handle over a few pages of text. Another is that reviewing novels well requires a great deal of work. And with the huge amount of book review blogs out there I’ve become a tad disillusioned by certain concepts that creep in, especially when reviewers apply the microscope to sentences in some grand quest to prove arbitrary rules of “good writing” and evaluate texts thusly instead of engaging with anything else. I like good prose, mind you, and I’ve advocated for it repeatedly, but when you get down to cadence and rhythm and the rest, it’s more about the uniqueness in a given text, the author’s distinct voice, and not some ideal perfect writing style. I’ve read enough critics who seem to assume there is one.


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Squeeing for Jane Yolen

It’s not often that I completely fall in love with an author’s work these days, especially in such a short period of time. Or consume book after book by the same person over the course of less than a week. But I haven’t been able to stop reading Jane Yolen since Tuesday and my supply is about to run out and I just needed to tell you all how great she is. I’ve now, firmly, put Yolen up there among my favourite living authors.


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