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akujunkan ([personal profile] akujunkan) wrote2010-05-30 07:59 am
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TWIB-IV: March 5-11 2010

Four books in the week in question. I think I was pretty happy to be surrounded by English-language reading options again.

1) The Enchanted Buffalo - L. Frank Baum
The Enchanged Buffalo is (the very Caucasian product of his times) L. Frank Baum's "retelling" of a "Native American legend." As one might expect, the story features characters with Indian-sounding names to complement its simplistic black-and-white moral message.

Still, I'd been expecting these elements; what intrigued was the chance to see how the South Dakota State Historical Society Press handled them. I was pleased to find that they handled them quite well indeed. Judging from the introduction, the Society envisioned young readers as The Enchanted Buffalo's target audience. Instead of dumbing down Baum's turn-of-the-20th-century prose for modern readers, editor Nancy Tystad Koupal has opted to include a vocabulary list at the back of the book, which does a good job of defining potentially unfamiliar words for readers at both the beginning and intermediate levels. The introduction does a similarly lovely job of providing historical background on the author, the Great Plains, and the story itself in terms suitable for younger readers, but without oversimplification.

That said, the illustrations by Donald F. Montileaux, a Lakota artist, are the crowning gems of The Enchanted Buffalo. Simply put, they're stunning. Montileaux's palette is gorgeous, and he imbues what are essentially two-dimensional line drawings of buffalo with an incredible amount of dynamism. They are sure to delight young readers (and older readers as well, if I'm any judge). The Enchanted Buffalo is definitely worth a look for any fans of Native American art or animal folktales.

2) Strange Days Indeed - Francis Wheen
Subtitled "The Golden Age of Paranoia," Strange Days Indeed claims to be a "dazzling and disturbing tour of the 1970s." Except it's more like a massive(ly random) photo collage than a guided tour: be it by chronology or thematic division, Wheen's narrative lacks any unifying framework or logical progression. The result is a confusing mishmash of individuals, incidents, and allusions that focuses heavily on the Wilson (Great Britain) and Nixon (United States) administrations…although again, without any attempt at logical organisation. Events and personalities in other regions (China, the USSR, Uganda) make sporadic appearances, but I'm at a loss as to what criteria Wheen used when selecting individuals and events for inclusion. (I rather imagine his criteria amounted to something like "I felt like writing about it at the time.") Prior familiarity with the decade allowed me to ignore these issues and enjoy Wheen's wryly humorous prose, but had I known little about the 1970s I probably would have thrown the volume away in frustration after the first dozen pages.

My final verdict? Readers without much prior knowledge about the decade are likely to come away confused and disappointed (unless they're also willing to spend a great deal of time on Wikipedia). On the other hand, Wheen is a talented author, and readers with a good grasp of the decade's events will enjoy his deft and ironic style.

3) Zombie Haiku - Ryan Mecum
I can stomach the conceit that zombies possess enough self-awareness to compose haiku. I can stomach the conceit that they possess enough self-awareness to take photographs and scrapbook their brain-eating exploits. What I can't stomach is that the haiku in this volume contains no seasonal imagery or references to ancient Chinese classics (I suppose the zombie equivalent would be 1940s pulp novels). And if you're going to write a narrative story in haiku, why not just write renga instead? Such are the ways in which an East Asian specialisation destroys one's enjoyment of pop-culture gimmicks.

4) The Night Fairy - Laura Amy Schlitz
According to the afterward, Schlitz authored this book because she felt the young girls who visited her library requesting stories about fairies deserved some action adventure with their feminine preciousness. The Night Fairy largely succeeds in supplying this, although not without a heavy(ly ironic) helping of the women-as-natural-caregivers-and-nurturers-of-others trope, which one typically doesn't expect from action genre protagonists. That said, the story is suspenseful and the illustrations visually arresting. Young girls wishing to read about fairies could do a lot worse.

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