Monday, October 16, 2006

Getting Buffed

I'm using an upcoming unit in our SciFi/Fantasy class on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an excuse to read up on Buffy criticism. Here's a sampling of what I've read so far:

Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show
This was a great introduction to Buffy criticism. A collection of essays written by scifi/fan authors who are Buffy fans, it includes some fun essays (Is That Your Final Answer...? by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad) as well as some readable discussions of important issues (Where's the Religion in Willow's Wicca?). This one assumes familiarity with all seven seasons of the show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Critical Reading of the Series by Anne Billson
A general critical look at the show overall, this work includes brief summaries of each season at the beginnings of each chapter. The first chapter is a great look at the history of female heroes in TV (or lack thereof) and Buffy's role as a trailblazer for strong female characters. Chapter Two gives some great background info on the show (how it came to be), and the remaining chapters look at issues like "Love and Other Catastrophes" and "Revenge of the Nerds." Again, probably best to be familiar with all seven seasons, although the summaries will help if your memory needs to be jogged.

What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide by Jana Riess
Although it sounds as if it could be a bit preachy, this was a completely readable look at all the spiritual aspects of Buffy - and when I say all, I mean it wasn't just from a Christian perspective. I loved the comparison of Buffy to a lama (she is a chosen one who inherits the wisdom of all those who have come before her) as well as the exploration of the themes of sef-sacrifice, friendship, self-reliance, spiritual mentors & humor's role in spirituality. This is not a stuffy tome that will be a turn-off to non-religious fans, but a great exploration of several of the weightier themes addressed in the show.
Appendixes contain summaries of each season as well as character profiles, but to really appreciate the book, you should watch the shows themselves. There are also a few spoilers for the Buffy spin-off Angel in this one, especially in the chapter on redemption, which examines Angel's character closely.

What I'm Reading: More Buffy books!
On My Book Shelf: Buffy, and Finding Serenity, a collection of critical essays on Joss Whedon's series Firefly

Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels by Roberta Seelinger Trites

A little bit of theory and criticism to get me thinking. Trites is one of the professors in Illinois State University's English Dept, part of their masters/PhD program in young adult and/or children's lit. I'm thinking of applying next year, so I'm doing a little recon.

In Waking Sleeping Beauty, Trites examines several children's/YA novels through the lens of feminine criticism. She begins by discussing feminist criticism, and points out that it doesn't just look at female characters or "girl" books, but at all books where feminist issues of subjectivity, voice, etc. are important. A book can be a feminist novel even if it has a male protagonist.
As literary criticism, most of the chapters are quite readable. I found Trites' explanation of "subjectivity" as a literary term a bit foggy; a more clear explanation would have been helpful since it is an important concept referred to repeatedly throughout the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed the early chapters, examining voice and subjectivity in classics like Little Women (one of my favorites), Cassie Binegar and The Hero and the Crown. However, as I got further into the book, I found myself wondering where the recent title were. The book was published in 1997, but the majority of the YA texts examined were published in the 1970s and 1980s. While the concepts Trites examines are universal and can certainly be applied to books from any era, I missed a discussion that included text that were more contemporary. However, in all, Waking Sleeping Beauty is an excellent introduction to the feminist study of children's literature.

What I'm Reading: Stacks of Buffy books
On my bookshelf: More Buffy books & Finding Serenity

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

When Chicago was granted the right to host the 1893 World's Fair, it wasn't just the biggest event in the history of the city (yes, maybe even bigger than the incident with Mrs. O'Leary's cow), it was one of the biggest events of the 19th century. The honor of a city and a nation was at stake; if Chicago and the United States couldn't outshine the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World's Fair of 1889, then they would never live it down. Paris's Fair had been a marvel of light and technology, and it's finest achievement was a lingering monument to the event: a 75 story tower, then the tallest structure in the world, designed and built by the French engineer Gustave Eiffel.
Fortunately for the pride of the city and the country, Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham was hired to design the fair. Facing and fighting impossible deadlines, financial difficulties, interference by the fair committee, the death of his partner, workers' strikes, an economic panic, fires, tornadoes and fueding women, Burnham persevered, living in a "shanty" in Jackson Park for over a year so he could supervise the project firsthand.
The fair was a triumph for Burnham and for Chicago, and Eiffel's tower was trumped by George W. Ferris's creation of the world's first amusement park ride. But underneath the soft light of the fair's White City was a current of darkness that would not be brought into the light until the White City was falling to ruin.
Dr. H. H. Holmes, doctor, pharmacist, hotel owner and America's first serial killer, used the chaos and crowds of the Word's Fair to find his victims and to cover their disappearances. An accomplished con man as well as a killer, Holmes created a castle of terror in his hotel before leaving the city after the close of the fair.
Daniel Burnham and H. H. Holmes: two educated and talented men of the late 19th century, together in a city bustling with preparations for an event that would awe the world. Two stories woven together in Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. A true crime novel, a historical text and an all-around great story rolled into one, Devil in the White City has appeal for a wide range of readers: those who like mysteries, those who like history, those fascinated with serial killers, those interested in Chicago history, and those who just plain like a well told story.

What I'm Reading: Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels by Roberta S. Trites and Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show

On My Bookshelf: More Buffy books, and still wanting to get to Chabon's Summerland (especially during the playoffs!)