Sunday, December 30, 2007

Well, you can tell I've been home for the holidays and that I got a whack of new books to read, because I've managed to polish off two more in the last couple of days. Of course, they're not what you'd call difficult reads, as they are techincially 'children's' books, but whatever, I'm enjoying them.

So 29 and 30 of the year are The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. Yup, since the movie has come out, I've been curious about these puppies, and my wonderful husband, knowing this, got me the three books for Christmas.

Of course, part of my curiosity also comes from the fact that a couple of Catholic school boards in Canada have banned these books from their school libraries as basically not being something that upholds the values of the Church, or some such nonsense, so yeah, you bet I wanted to read them at this point. I think their dislike of the books also comes from the fact that Pullman is a self-avowed atheist, and isn't really shy about proclaiming himself as such.

Well, I guess, reading these books as an adult, I can kinda see why Catholic school boards MIGHT have a problem with these books, but I still think book banning at all is a lousy, lousy thing. One of the main characters, Lord Asriel, certaintly looks like he's launching a campaign to kill God, and the Church (or Magestirium) is pretty much the big bad guy in this.

But the funny thing is, I find these books very spirtual overall, but of course, its not a Catholic Church approved spirituallity, it is more... Native American or shamanistic-type spirtituality. Everyone on Pullman's version of Earth has what is called a daemon. This daemon is the physical expression of a person's soul, and it always takes the form of an animal. The daemon's animal form is fluid when a person is a child; the daemon able to take on many animal forms, but once the person reaches adolescence, the daemon settles on one animal form, and that form is refelctive of the person themselves. So basically, the daemon is their totem animal.

The main character of the book is a young girl, Lyra, and her daemon Pantalaimon. Lyra has been raised by Scholars at Oxford University, and, like a lot of fanatsy novel heroines, has grown up half wild and free-spirited. She's saucy and brave and streetwise, not ladylike in the least, a hell of a liar and a tactician, but not particularly polite. She's a handful, and while she annoys those raising her, you also know they wouldn't have her any other way.

Lyra's world starts to change one night when her Uncle Asriel (and just from his name, obviously a derivative of the demon Azreal, I could see where his part in the story was going) arrives at the College with some very startling information; information that nearly gets him poisoned for his troubles. It's only because Lyra eavesdrops on the whole thing and is able to warn him from drinking poisioned brandy that he is saved. This night she hears for the first time of the magical properties of Dust, and hears about the ideas of other worlds you can see through the Aurora Borealis in the North.

Also she finds out about the Gobblers, a scary group of individuals who are snatching children from the streets all over England, for some nefarious purpose that can only be speculated on. In charge of these Gobblers are the beautiful, mysterious, and unmistakably evil, Mrs. Coulter.

Eventually, Lyra heads North to rescue Lord Asriel and all the children snatched by the Gobblers. She travels with a motely crue of gyptians (gypsys), a Texan aeronaut, and a sentient polarbear who has been exiled by his own people. They reach the Gobblers experimental station in the North and find out the they're attempting (and succeeding) in physically separating the taken children from their daemons. By this point, as we've met so many daemons and because Pantalaimon himself is such a major character, Pullman does an excellent job in making us understand just how abhorrent this practice is to the people of this world. The separated children stumble around like they're half dead, and in fact, most die right from the offset of shock. It's a terrible, terrible thing, and it seems that the Church is behind this. Is this Pullman's position on the Church that it is attempting to sepearate its worshippers souls for its own benefits and not really care about their spirituality? Ah, who knows. I can't say I really thought deeply about the whole thing throughout, I just enjoyed it for the story it is.

So while in the North, Lyra finds that she can use the aliethometer (the 'golden compass', a truth telling machine), rescues the children, meets witches, restores the rightful polar bear king to his throne, rescues Lord Asriel, and eventually, finds her way into another world after Lord Asriel creates a rift between the worlds.

Pullman starts the second book The Subtle Knife in our own world, where we meet twelve year old William, who is despereately trying to hide his mother so he can go on the run. William's mother sounds a little schizophrenic, although after a while, well, are you crazy if they really ARE out to get you? It seems William's father was an explorer of some renknown who disappeared twelve years ago on an expedition to the Arctic, and a lot of different people are very interested in what he may have discovered. William, while trying to get away from some men, inadvertantly kills one of them, and he knows that he has to get far, far away. Well, where better than another world? He crawls through a door he finds (quite by chance, but of course we know that nothing happens by chance in all of this) and ends up on world pretty much completely inhabited by children because the adults have all been affected by Spectres, creatures which seem to feed on adult souls and leave them indifferent and infectual in the world. Rather put in me in the mind of Rowlings' Dementors actually.

Anyway, while in this world, William of course meets Lyra and all sorts of hijinks ensue. She finds out that she is supposed to help Will find his father, but she doesn't do this very well, and ends up briefly loosing the aliethometer when its stolen in our world by a man actually from Lyra's world. Lyra doesn't deal as well with our world as it is much nosier, and busier, the terminoligy for things quite different. Lyra's earth puts one in mind of early 20th century Earth; just before WWI when there is techonology, but it hasn't advanced to what we have today. There's still something... quaint about Lyra's world, that quaintness ours lost long ago.

Some of the bouncing back and forth between worlds (and everyone gets in on it really) gets a bit confusing, but its somewhat made easier when Will becomes the bearer of the subtle knife, a knife that can literally cut anything, electrons, atoms, doorways into other worlds, etc. Its a hotly contested item, but can really only be used properly by the bearer. It also carries the name Aesirhaettir, which means god killer, and so Lord Asriel wants it for his campaign against God, or the Authority, as they begin to refer to him here.

The Subtle Knife is definitely more... upfront about its anti-organized religion sentiments, as it has Lord Asriel (off panel the entire book) gathering a vast army so he can re-wage war against the Authority, and win this time. Basically, in Lyra's world, the right side won (ie not the rebels) and so the Magesterium have been stifling human advancement since the beginning of time, and Lord Asriel wants to do things 'right' this time. Of course though, the 'right' side won in Will's world as well, and they (us) haven't been tecnologically stunted. Although, as we have no visible daemons, we may be spiritually stunted somehow... dunno.

Anyway, overall, I'm really enjoying these books. The overall feel of Lyra's world is a very interesting one, its got that nice famliarity with enough differences for it to still feel "other", and the characters are interesting and diverse. Mrs. Coulter is a hell of a bad guy, in some ways even more scary than Voldemort or Sauron, and hey, any world that has sentient polar bears, I'm all for that.

I find it sad these books are banned in certain schools. I don't think there's a need for that.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wow, what do you know, I managed to sneak one last book in this year. Number 28 is Touch Wood: Confessions of an Accidental Porn Director by Anonymous.

Now, we should probably just get it out of the way right now that I don't have a problem with porn. In fact, I rather enjoy it in small doses. I look at porn as a nice little appetizer before the main course, if you get my drift.

ANYWAY, G found this book while we were out shopping for Christmas gifts, and thought it looked amusing, so we picked it up. The book details one British man's foray into the world of adult entertainment. He knows that there is money to be made in porn, so darnit, why shouldn't he be able to get a share of that money?

He sets about starting up his company, Touch Wood, secures loans, the help of friends, etc. But of course, the course of true smut never does run smoothly.

The book is pretty hilarious. It details all the things that could possibly go wrong while filming a porn film and do. From two stars who don't want to fuck one another because they've done so many time that they feel like 'brother and sister', to diva pornstars, to getting busted by various people who 'know what you're up to'.

Basically, this whole book is a Danny Wallace/Dave Gorman 'stupid boy-project' taken to the Nth degree. (Oh, and to take the 'stupid boy-project' analogy a little further, the unnamed narrator even has a disapproving, Norweigian girlfriend. It really made me want to know if Ana and Hanne ever met and just how they'd be able to bond over their dislike of 'stupid boy-projects'.)

Of course, for the most part, what this book does is take all the 'romance' (hah!) out of porn and boil it down to its most clinical aspects. This is porn deconstructed all right. Its still amusing, but there really is nothing sexy about it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In what is likely to be the last book I read this year, we come to number 27, Yes Man by Danny Wallace.

It was probably late 2005 when G introduced me to Danny Wallace and his cohort Dave Gorman as they embarked on a world-wide journey to meet 52 other people named Dave Gorman. I thoroughly enjoyed Are You Dave Gorman, and so when G offered me other books written by one or the other, I read 'em. But funny enough, neither of Dave or Danny's solo efforts wowed me as much as AYDG did.

Until Yes Man.

Danny Wallace, after having a conversation on a bus with a mysteriously wise man, takes up the man's challenge to 'say yes more'. At this point in Danny's life, his long time girlfriend has broken up with him (she'd had enough of all the 'stupid boy-projects' in his life) and he just wasn't going out at all. He was saying no to everything.

So, for a good chunk of a year, Danny decides to say yes to everything. He says yes to buying a car, he says yes to journeying to Amsterdam to help out the son of an imprisoned sultan (yes, it is an internet scam), he says yes to going out with friends, he says yes to flyers and freaks he meets on the street, he says yes to a new job, he says yes to everything.

And mostly, everything turns out well. Indeed, Danny seems much happier with everything. Oh he goes through some ups and downs and at times he desperately, desperately wishes he could say 'no' (one of the biggest ones being when he runs into his ex-girlfriend and her new beau on a date, and when the guy asks Danny, out of sheer politeness, if he'd like to join them, Danny of course says yes), but overall, it sounds like saying yes more definitely turns out to be the positive experience he hoped it would be.

Of course, it also does leave him in some debt, but due to his new job at the BBC, he seems to be able to handle it again.

Its interesting to read this and think about your own life and all the things you say 'no' to. No to going out to friends, no to travelling to places you've always wanted to go, no to various opportunities etc. We say 'no' a lot because, as Danny discusses, it is easier than 'yes' most of the time. No can be a lot safer than yes. I'd like to be able to say yes more, but sometimes, I also think I say yes enough. But Danny did also prove that no is necessary.

Necessary, but oftentimes overused. It is something we should all think about using more judiciously, and not just out of habit.