Monday, November 29, 2010

Beautiful books

As you may or may not have noticed (although I hope by now it's kind of obvious), I have a thing for books. Jonathan Lethem once said: "What I like are books in their homely actuality—the insides of the books, the mysterious movements of characters and situations and the emotions that accompany those movements. The play of sentences, their infinite variety". I would add to that description of the homely actuality of books the pleasure received from the book as a physical object. The way a book feels in your hands when you lift it, the smoothness of the pages, the smell of the binding glue in mass market paperbacks in an in academic trades, the art on the cover.

On this, the eve of my receiving a Kindle, here is an ode to the physical book. I am what Cory Doctorow calls a book-person. In a lecture on universal access and copyright, Doctorow described the relationship that some people have to books:
We are the people of the book. We love our books; we fill our houses with books. We treasure the books that we inherit from our parents and we relish the idea of passing our beloved books on to our children. We enforce worthy books on our friends and we insist that they read them. We even feel a weird, and possibly inappropriate kinship with people we see reading beloved books on public transit or airplanes...We know our tribespeople, the other people of the book, because they inhabit homes given over to books -- walls lined with books, piled on the stairs and beside the bed, even bathrooms filled with damp, swollen paperbacks. Our books are us.

I've never been one to pay much attention to the design of a home (anyone who's been in my apartment knows that I live in what has kindly been called an "intellectual fugue state", which is a nice way of saying that it isn't readily apparent that I pay attention to anything that isn't housed between two covers, like tidiness or cooking), but homes without bookcases feel empty to me. I am loathe to travel without at least five or six books -- hence the Kindle -- and it's a rare moment when any surface of my home isn't host to a haphazard pile of hardcovers and paperbacks.

Today, I bought a lovely cloth-bound hardback copy of Raymond Williams' Culture & Materialism, and it got me thinking about book covers. I've never been a believer that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. You shouldn't judge them by only their covers, but a beautiful cover can be as much of a factor in my purchase of a book I'm not sure I'll like as an ugly cover is a factor in me putting it back in the shelf. And so, without further ado, here are some pictures of books that I love with covers I love. You can't feel their weight or touch their pages, but beautiful covers are one part of what I love books, in all of their homely actuality.

For more book covers, visit The Book Cover Archive. If your tastes run less towards beautiful books and more toward beautiful ways to house your books, try Bookshelf Porn.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quick Hits

Thursday, November 11, 2010

They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old

Remembrance Day always makes me ruminative about the place of history in our current consciences, because it is one of the few holidays where we are explicitly told listen you have to remember this thing that happened ok and, one, people pay attention, two, there is nothing jamming the line like bbq's or parties or football games or chocolate eggs or presents. History: You should give a shit, who knew. -- Kate Beaton

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How to think about science

From January to June 2009, CBC Radio's program Ideas aired a series from producer David Cayley, aptly titled How To Think About Science. I didn't manage to catch the episodes when they aired on the radio, but I did download the podcasts, and listened with rapt attention to and from classes during my last year of undergrad. Other than a history of science & technology class I took in the summer of 2006, I'd never thought much about the sociology of scientific knowledge. How to Think About Science changed all of that. David Cayley talks to the leading thinkers in the Science & Technology Studies pantheon -- Steve Shapin & Simon Schaffer, Ian Hacking, Bruno Latour, Peter Galison, and Brian Wynne are all represented, as are more popular names like James Lovelock and David Abrams.

After half a semester of relatively intensive systematic engagement with the STS literature, I've found myself turning back to the series to re-evaluate. My discovery: it stands up on a second, better-informed listening. It's an excellent introduction to STS thinking, sidestepping detailed description of empirical projects in favour of extended meditations on the nature of science, culture, knowledge and social life. Its not everyone's cup of tea, but for both the layperson for whom the series was intended and scholars interested in STS or the history of science and sociology of knowledge more generally, the series is an excellent (re)introduction to the most exciting perspectives in the field. Give it a listen!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Slavoj Zizek on ethical consumption

Now, I'm no Zizek fangirl -- I like to watch my Hitchcock without Lacanian psychoanalysis, although I will admit the man has an excellent flair for titles -- but this talk (and accompanying video, produced by the always excellent Cognitive Media) really gets to the heart of a lot of the issues that came up in my previous post about the politics of justice and the language of choice. Zizek argues that there is something fundamentally immoral about using private property to ameliorate the devastation caused by the institution of private property, and asks us to take a closer look at our own consumption practices. In a society characterized by what he calls cultural capitalism, we don't just make purchases anymore. "You don't just buy your coffee," he says, "you buy your redemption from being only a consumerist".