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dave-o (boston)

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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
by Erik Larson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
136 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Cannot recommend this book enough, May 23 2004
The vividness of the descriptions in this book coupled with a shifting historical narrative put it a realm of stranger-than-fiction a la "Professor and the Madman". Erik Larson's attention to the intricate details of late 19th century Chicago and the anticipation of the Colombian Exposition held there is riviting. The grandeur of the "White City by the Sea" contrasted with gritty Gilded Age details of power, wealth, and the wanting of a nation to surpass European ideals in spectacle is thorough and left me wanting more.
Reading about the eventual end of the fair left me as saddened as the men and women that saw it burn down after its last day. A truly powerful book and a must-read in our age where the ability to be awed by our fellow human beings through their accomplishments may be a little more hard to come by.

The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials: His Dark Materials - Book III
The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials: His Dark Materials - Book III
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.68
96 used & new from CDN$ 0.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Fitting ending to a wholly original series, March 29 2004
Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' series is a young adult series that niether talks down to its audience nor lessen its grand scope because of it. The Amber Spyglass, while the slowest paced of the series continues to stay true to the characters and their belief in a girl's power to change the course of history.
The tension of the first to books is present in the first half of the book. The gathering rebellion against the Almighty swells to bursting points and characters that were scattered about various worlds are drawn together again. That Lyra is left helpless in the hands of Mrs. Couther and that beings from all corners are swarming in upon their hiding place makes the reader wanting how she will escape. The book loses steam, ironically just as its climax is about to shape in the war that has been building up in the previous two volumes. Characters emerge and fade out. Situations are set up so fast and their result often ambiguous through the lack of detail such as with a bomb incident. The title amber spyglass itself is not an object of fascination such as the altheometer or the subtle knife and the spyglass' creator Mary plays a much larger role but her actions are almost incidental and not as satisfying once everyone comes together in the end.
These are minor quibbles in an otherwise great set of books. Pullman's re-telling of 'Paradise Lost' is engaging, provoking, and wholly original.

Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched but scattered thesis, Oct. 24 2003
Barbara Ehrenreich's overview of the seemingly impulsive nature of humans to violence is a real eye-opener in that it brings points to the discussion table that academia seems to have easily dismissed. The author simply has a respect for both human psychology and geological time: two things that seem simple enough but are often overlooked by researchers.
Her research led her to link killing and war to ritual and sacrifice and how religion and the sacrificial nature of war continues to act as a legitimaizing agent pitting the proverbial "us" against "them". Using texts such as Gilgamesh, the Bible, ancient Japanese and Greek poetry and other texts she points out a common link of fear of the unknown as viewed by the ancients in beasts, women, and nature.
A flaw though in her tone is that it gets a tad repetative and it seems as though she uses the old academic trick of pulling from a variety of sources to make smaller points that coincide with her overall thesis. You eventually see what she is getting act but when she goes back and forth, say from the Inquisition to the Aztecs to Aborginies in each paragraph it tends to be cumbersome.
Don't overlook this one. It brings together recent texts such as 'A History of Toture' and 'Male Fantasies' with a concise passion for the subject matter.

Spirited Away (Bilingual) [Import]
Spirited Away (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Daveigh Chase
Price: CDN$ 28.88
36 used & new from CDN$ 16.71

5.0 out of 5 stars Animation Tour-de-Force, Sept. 1 2003
Hayao Mayazaki's stunning work takes the boundaries of traditional cel animation and stretches it to a point no Western animated movie has in quite some time now. The film owes a lot to Lewis Carroll as much as it does Osama Tezuka. Chihiro is a reserved apprehensive girl who is transported to a world of large fuzzy gods and old Japan-style theme-parks turned marketplaces and bathhouses. Transformation is a large theme in the film: river gods transformed by human pollution; humans transformed into pigs; Chihiro transformed by her domineering employer into 'Sen'.
Like Mayazaki's eco-fable 'Princess Mononoke', this film's Romanticism allows for morals to play through in very clever ways. Characters are more complex than first glance and each has a redeeming side no matter how grotesque. The imagery is stunning at times. Rich Mannerist color schemes with elaborate set designs unfold for the nearly flawless animation to take place in.
Having said that, the only flaw in this DVD package is the credit Disney tries to take for some of it in the Bonus Footage. As usual, the Mouse talks down to their audience in their sophmoric and superfluous explainations. English-Version Producer John Lassater comes off like a big dope that (thankfully) Mayazaki can see through. Who cares about Kirk Wise or any of the other Disney directors that had almost nothing to do with the film itself? Skip instead to the Nippon Television documentary that takes you through Studio Ghibli and the final tense months of production. This segment where the animators and staff work round the clock offers a candid view of the animation film process. The film itself transcends its Western distributor and shines as something very distinct and touching.

JASON HEY WAIT GN
JASON HEY WAIT GN
by Jason
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.59
34 used & new from CDN$ 5.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Clever and simple, Aug. 30 2003
This review is from: JASON HEY WAIT GN (Paperback)
Jason's comic coming-of-age story has many gems. His simplistic style and steady pacing with the use of the same comic panels on every page forge a universe made of a very personal visual language. The lines between adulthood and childhood are clearly drawn (so to speak): adults are tired, working-class that rarely smile as they tread the streets on stilts; the two kids in the story have boundless imagination and their world is populated by undead bullies and comic monsters.
The second part does not read as cleverly as the first, though done with the same care. The symbolism of the first half is only seen when the main character hits his lowest ebb. Its not clear why this character is made to suffer so much as his guilt succumbs to an unsatisfying life. Jason's very linear narrative could have used a little more complexity on this end but is otherwise a work that strikes a dark chord in regards to lost innocence and lost life and the parallels between the two.

Cosmopolis: A Novel
Cosmopolis: A Novel
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Hardcover
56 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Delillo Delivers, July 20 2003
This review is from: Cosmopolis: A Novel (Hardcover)
Dellilo's New York limo ride flows well enough through the first half of the book. The premise allows itself to open an array of bizzare situations: a billionaire twenty-something want to ride in his suped-up stretch limo to get a haircut. On the way he has encounters with lovers, ex-lovers, and advisors in matters of technology, finance, security, and theory. Dellilo's prose is highly restrained with limited, but rich descriptions of neighborhoods that unfold through the eyes of billionaire Eric. There are some truly original hilarious subversive instances where Eric displays his detatchment from society such as when he makes sexual advances to a female executive while getting a prostate exam in his back seat (No pun intended).
As allegory, it holds up; the plot itself fails to hold up at times though because of the limited style he chooses with certain situations. The female characters blend into non-memorable hybrids of slut-artist-vixen-heiress-mystic. In a style very reminiscent of Chuck Palahnuik ('Fight Club') Eric's journey unfolds as his own deathmarch which Eric is all too willing to accept. The social critique is clear enough: the market culture is tainting our humanity and the democracy as corporate-kleptocracy will test what is left of it. Delillo delivers in 'Cosmopolis'. I only wish that his characterization was as substantial as every thing else in his novel.

Scrawl Too: More Dirt
Scrawl Too: More Dirt
by Richard Blackmore
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 1.29

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best graffiti surveys availiable., June 30 2003
This review is from: Scrawl Too: More Dirt (Paperback)
There are a lot of graffiti art books on the market that don't capture the essence of street graphics. They either fixate on a certain style or get caught up in an outdated romanticism of the tagger figure. 'Scrawl Too' is an awesome, beautiful book featuring bombs from all over the world and scores of contemporary graffiti artists.
I got the sense that each of the featured artists has a self-awareness of the state of graffiti art in the market culture. Barry McGee has developed an iconography that captures pathos, suffering, indifference, and humor. Obey Giant emphasizes and parodies the ubiquitousness of corporate logos and has developed a brand more based on 'street cred' than market trends. (Or gives the appearance of doing so anyway). The book also focuses on smaller scale bombs and tags and in doing so a pattern emerges. Most of the pieces seem to be a reaction to the near-loss of urban spaces, both public and private to (mostly)gentrification and a dying connection between the people that inhabit them.

The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing
The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing
by James Elkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
36 used & new from CDN$ 3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Insight on the nature of sight, June 23 2003
Elkins' thoughts on sight and seeing is a multifaceted deconstruction on how we view and are viewed by objects we encounter. It's a subject that we take for granted and draw large assumptions about. Elkins proposes seeing as a metaphor for the life cycle: we awake groggy-eyed like a newborn, go through our day with vigor and energy observing and absorbing, and return to darkness in sleep like blindness and death.
Tied together with many personal anecdotes with flowing use of language, the book is an insight for those interested in post-structuralist analysis of idea, communication, and sight.

What Time Is It Over There? (Widescreen) [Subtitled]
What Time Is It Over There? (Widescreen) [Subtitled]
DVD ~ Kang-sheng Lee
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 61.56
8 used & new from CDN$ 19.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing and truly unique, Feb. 3 2003
The emotional impact of this film and the means by which it achieves its portrayal of three lives in their search for meaning and how we assign meaning within spaces of time is nothing short of beautiful. Its a dramatic contrast to Western films with loaded dialogue, camera gimmicks, and superfluous music scores.
Using the humble film technique of restraint., director Tsai Ming Liang presents a narrative (and an homage to 'The 400 Blows') that unfolds over simple 5 minute or so shots with a camera fixed into position. Perfect timing and stunning compositions contribute to making this film very aware of itself and the sequential nature of both time and film.

For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today
For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today
by Jedediah Purdy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Oversimplifies the Complexities of Irony, Feb. 3 2003
Jed Purdy sees irony as the blight of our American time and his well-meaning but ultimately sophmoric treatise on the subject skims the surface on some subjects and downplays the importance of irony (a word which is misused throughout the book) in art and other reactionary forces.
Purdy's grandiose thesis falls apart when his targets become sitcoms and the prevelence of pop-belief. It wouldn't be so bad except the arrogance of youth and an Ivy-league education kicks in. He paints a nice picture of a West-Virginian ideal childhood and his post-'60s raising to show where he is coming from but why should the reader care?
Experience and age bring if nothing else diversity. I'll wait for the sequel in which Purdy has had a chance to experiment with drugs, live in poverty and oppresion, write for 'Adbusters', intensively study art, reject his privilidge and education to go on a cross-country hitchhiking spree.
The book falls apart in the end because, ironically, it stems from the same privlidged White voice that it always has come from. Ignored is the actual source of the problem...corporate America and the market culture which has succeeded in creating the visual and sensory superflousness in the Western world. If he were to have gone after these guns, he would probably not have had to go any further than his West Virginia backyard.

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