Death of the Author

The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author… or so says Roland Bathes in his essay Death of the Author. Are we talking about literally killing authors? No, this is figurative (like most uses of literally). Can Death of the Author include killing the author? Sure, but get a good lawyer first.

Let’s let Lindsay Ellis (and John Green) explain:

My take on Death of the Author is somewhat complicated. I think there is relevant information that the author has that doesn’t make it into the story (think Elvish languages from Tolkien*), but I also think that quite often if it isn’t in the story it doesn’t really exist. I think that stories are really up to the readers to interpret, as viewpoints and interpretations will change over time**, but that doesn’t mean readers always interpret correctly.

This is a hedged way of saying that Death of the Author is probably too simple a way of thinking about how stories should be interpreted. At least, that’s my interpretation of it.

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Source: Mimi and Eunice

*Let’s not get into how “relevant” I think those languages are, or a lot of that world-building from authors in general is.

**You may remember book reviews here where I’ve discussed how older books haven’t aged well due to changing societal standards. Sexism and racism are obvious changes that have happened in the last 50 years which make formerly acceptable, even progressive, moments in a story seem backward and unacceptable now.

Another thing that can occur is changes to society changes interpretations. E.g. The Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy can be summed up as an old song made references to things that we are no longer familiar with, so our interpretation changes. This makes Death of the Author a truly bad thing for any artwork that is “consumed” outside of the social and temporal setting it was made within.

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Book review: Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg​​

Killer Thriller (Ian Ludlow Thrillers #2)Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If your novels keep coming true, do you try and make them more fantastical or more boring?

Ian Ludlow’s latest novel isn’t like his previous one. He needed a thriller that had international espionage, a conspiracy that would justify his Clint Straker character getting into life-threatening situations, and preferably a plot that wouldn’t come true this time. But his far-fetched plot about a Chinese operation has him and his assistant, Margo French, mistaken for spies and the only ones able to stop an assassination.

I always seem to enjoy Lee Goldberg’s thrillers. Whether it be his collaboration with Janet Evanovich (which gets a reference in this book) or his standalone novels, he always manages to make them fun and humorous. Some stories of this sort can fall flat through a lack of tension or poor pacing but neither problem is present in Killer Thriller.

There are quite a few in-jokes in this novel, such as the Evanovich reference, that you may miss if you aren’t familiar with Lee and his writing. I don’t think this detracts from the novel, but it may have enhanced my enjoyment more than the casual reader.

This is a great novel for anyone looking for a highly entertaining, funny, and fast-paced adventure.

I received an Advanced Review Copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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Book review: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

HogfatherHogfather by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Believe in something. Anything. No, not that. No, best not that either.

It’s Hogswatch, the time of year for carol singing, presents, warm alcoholic drinks, and giant department stores to sell lots of stuff. But some “people” have hired Mr Teatime (Teh-ah-tim-eh) to stop the Hogfather bringing presents and drinking sherry. Can DEATH and his granddaughter Susan help?

To get in the festive mood this year, I decided I needed to read an appropriate book. Rereading the Hogfather was an obvious choice. HO-HO… oh yes, HO.

There are many of my favourite characters in this novel, DEATH and Susan being prime examples, as well as some very memorable others, Mr Teatime if only for the proper pronunciation of his name. It is also such a wonderful satire. I think that I enjoyed this novel more upon rereading than the first time around, which means I’ll have to make sure my copy stays on my bookshelf.

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Book vs Movie: Hellboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s instalment of What’s the difference? from CineFix looks at Mike Mignola’s graphic novel and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Hellboy: movie or comic. Yes, I know, how dare you not love Del Toro’s amazing artistic vision! I’ve watched both Hellboy movies multiple times and have not loved them (and despite liking the Blade trilogy, Blade 2 isn’t my favourite – but Pan’s Labyrinth was fantastic). The comics I probably didn’t give them a fair chance, as I tried reading one omnibus after not enjoying the first film.

Anyway, the point I wanted to highlight from the video was something I think too many adaptations fail to do. When you are talking about a series of comics or books, there is often some prevailing themes, motifs, and imagery to them that may be less noticeable in any one edition, but taken as a whole it is important.

Because movies are often only drawing on one book at a time, or drawing on one run (or story arc) of a comic, important aspects may be lost. An example would be the Tim Burton or the Adam West takes on Batman versus the Christopher Nolan version. The latter drew upon more of the Batman comics than the earlier adaptations (not that either of those adaptations was bad*).

So while this doesn’t necessarily result in a direct adaptation, it does result in an adaptation that is faithful to the source material in the elements that matter.

*I’m pretending that the Joel Schumacher adaptations don’t exist. Akiva Goldsman is probably more to blame, given he has a long track record of making everything he is attached to that bit worse.

Book Review: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Being prophetic is really easy when you make a “kids these days” argument.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is Neil Postman’s ode to the “good old days” before television when entertainment wasn’t ruining everything. TV bad, reading good!

I decided to read this book after it once again started to be referenced as prophetic in the modern age. The first time someone mentioned this book to me I couldn’t help but feel the argument was likely to lack substance – you can amuse and inform at the same time.* What I found in this book was a supposition that isn’t without merit – slogans and sound bites can be influential whilst lacking any substance – but is argued in a cherry-picked and biased manner.

One example is how Postman claims that political campaigns used to be written long-form to influence voters, whereas now (meaning then in 1985, but many say it is highly relevant today) we get political messages in sound bites and 30-second adverts. This argument underpins his work and is at best convenient revisionism, at worst it is naive drivel. To suggest that there is no modern day long form political articles (and interviews, etc) is rubbish, just like the idea that the historical long-form articles he alludes to were well read by the masses is rubbish.

Another example is Postman claiming that media organisations aren’t trying to (in general) maliciously misinform their audience. We know that this isn’t the case. Even at the time this was written there were several satires addressing how “news” is deliberately framed for ratings (e.g. Network, Brave New World, the latter he references in the book). Either he has a different interpretation of malicious misinformation or he just thinks the media are incompetent.***

Now, his idea that we should be trying to educate kids to be able to navigate this new media landscape – instilling critical thinking, understanding of logic, rational thought, basic knowledge so that we are less likely to be fooled – is laudable. I completely agree. I’d also agree that there is a desperate need for this in people of all ages when we have an attention economy in place that is less interested in informing you than making sure your eyeballs stay glued for the next advert. I think this is why Postman’s book has resonated with people, the arguments aren’t without merit. But they are also deeply flawed and problematic.

I can’t really recommend this flawed book, but it isn’t without merit.

Interview with Postman:

Attention Wars:

* This modern review from an education professional sums up this point:
“Instead of striking a balance between the use and over-use of media in education, Postman has completely shut down the debate in the belief that there is no good way to use visual media like the television and film in education. If you take his thesis to its logical conclusion, the number of technological tools in the classroom would be reduced to the overhead projector, the ScanTron grading machine, the copier and the laser pointer, and the field of educational technology would be greatly reduced in the process.”**

** Read this review particularly carefully. The author cites a number of problematic sources for claims made, such as Ben Shapiro, David Barton, Glenn Beck, Jonathan Strong (of The Daily Caller). All are known to deliberately misrepresent their sources (e.g. see my review of Ben Shapiro’s book covering this issue).

***Hmmm, could be something to that argument. As I regularly say, don’t attribute to malicious intent that which could be incompetence.

NB: I don’t normally post reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed (3 stars or more out of 5). It is my intention that this particular review will be one of few exceptions.

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A Public Domain Festive Season Gift

It’s that time of year once more. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you readers, followers, and friends for spending time with me and my random collections of (mostly book related) posts in 2018.

Before the New Year, I’ll post one of those Top 10 post lists to discuss the highlights of my 2018 blogging… and the stats, you know I love talking stats.

As a gift for this festive season, I wanted to share some free books with you all. You see, for the first time in over 20 years, on the first of January, books from 1923 will enter the US public domain.

Yes, it has been 75 years already… Wait, quick maths tells me that 1923+75=1998, so shouldn’t these books have already been available in 1999? Why, yes, yes they should have. But apparently, the US Congress decided that for totally justifiable reasons [insert eyeroll] that books from 1923 to 1977 needed an expanded copyright term of 95 years.*

I’ve blogged previously about how copyright has excluded a lot of titles from the public domain. This essentially made any out-of-print titles disappear. And academics like Rebecca Giblin have been researching how copyright needs to change.

But now (some of) the drought is over. Google Books will offer the full text of books from 1923, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. The Internet Archive will add books to its online library, and stores will be able to make these titles available for cheap (studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see herehere, and here.)

A few examples of books that will now be available in the public domain:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Golden Lion
  • Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links
  • Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis
  • e.e. cummings, Tulips and Chimneys
  • Robert Frost, New Hampshire
  • Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  • Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay
  • D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo
  • Bertrand and Dora Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization
  • Carl Sandberg, Rootabaga Pigeons
  • Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front
  • P.G. Wodehouse, works including The Inimitable Jeeves and Leave it to Psmith (Source)

So have a happy holiday and enjoy whatever festivities you celebrate at this time of year with a free book!

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*See more on copyright from Rebecca Giblin’s Author’s Interest project.

Book Review: The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

The Way of ZenThe Way of Zen by Alan W. Watts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you sit, sit. When you browse Twitter, browse Twitter… Maybe there’s a reason social media causes stress.

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts is an introduction to Zen Buddism and its roots in Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. It was one of the first books of its kind and tries to explain “Eastern” concepts to a “Western” audience.

After my forays into various “Western” philosophers and philosophies, I thought it was time to investigate some others that weren’t just footnotes to Plato. Having already read the Dao De Jing and a more modern guide to Zen, I thought reading a bit more on Zen would be interesting. Watts certainly covers some quite different ground to Zen in the Age of Anxiety and puts the Dao in more context.

This was certainly less of a philosophy text and more of an overview or introduction to Zen. One of Watts’ central aims was to make sure the reader understood how the “Western” philosophical tradition has a strict adherence to certain logical structures which the “Eastern” philosophies like Zen do not. This was certainly an important distinction and something that must have helped popularise Zen Buddhism outside of the “East”.

 

I will have to explore this topic further.

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