December 8th, 2012


Links I found interesting for 08-12-2012


December non-fiction

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My top five, in chronological order of reading them:

Time And Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, edited by David Butler - of the various books about Doctor Who as a phenomenon which I have read, this is the best collection of essays from an academic perspective, though almost entirely concentrating on Old Who.

The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank - the extraordinary tale of a teenager in hiding from the Nazis, frankly describing her own arrival at adulthood in appalling circumstances.

Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by Tom McCarthy - for us fans of Hergé, it has always been clear that there is some deep meaning behind the best of the Tintin comics. McCarthy attempts to work out what that is, with some success.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science, by Mary Roach - sex, of course, will never go out of fashion; and Roach reports on scientists' desperate attempts to research it, with hilarious consequences.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vols 5 and 6, by Edward Gibbon - pars pro toto here. Gibbon is wrong on many things, including his own basic theory (as far as he ever explains it), but always eloquently so, and the book is a delight to read. I did it over a two-year period, taking it a chapter a week, with frequent breaks.

Honourable mentions to:
The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia, by Darra Goldstein
Slide Rule: An Autobiography, by Neville Shute
The Genius of Shakespeare, by Jonathan Bate
Memoirs Of My Life, by Edward Gibbon
Vanished Kingdoms, by Norman Davies

December Books 3) Ōoku: the Inner Chambers, vol 6, by Fumi Yoshinaga

Yet another in the alternate history series where most Japanese men are wiped out by a mysterious plague, and a chosen few are secluded in the Ōoku as personal attendants and occasional lovers of the shōgun, who in this version of history is a woman, women having taken over all leadership positions in society.

This volume crystallised some of the problems I have with the series for me. Because it is set in the Inner Chambers, we basically have a continuing repetition of new shōgun takes power, some internal politicking in the harem, a disputed process for producing and recognising an heir, a dead child or two, then the shōgun dies and we go back to the start of the cycle. It is getting a bit repetitive.

Also, it is now clear that this is actually meant to be not an alternate history but our own timeline, a secret history of the real reason why Japan chose centuries of isolation. All the history of Japan in the early modern period which we think we know, in other words, is actually about women rather than men. That will create problems when we reach the nineteenth century, but I guess one can go with the flow for now.

But I think you do need a better knowledge than I have of the "real" course of Japanese history to appreciate this; I suspect that some of the charm of the series must be to see how the author manages to gender-flip some of the dynastic dynamics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which are presumably well known to those who know anything about that period of Japanese history. Unfortunately I am not among their number, so it leaves me rather baffled. This volume concludes by promising that in the next, we will read of "the greatest scandal of the mid-Edo period, the Ejima-Ikushima affair". I am afraid these are not words likely to entice me to get volume 7. So, unless someone persuades me otherwise, my exploration of Yoshinaga's world will stop here.