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review 2018-07-08 18:00
Echoes from the Dead Zone by Yiannis Papadakis
Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide - Yiannis Papadakis

This is an excellent book, anthropology mixed with memoir, by an author from divided Cyprus. Coming to this book knowing virtually nothing about Cyprus, I learned a lot about the country. But this is such an insightful look into conflict generally and the ways groups of people become entrenched in and justify their own positions that I think anyone interested in the psychological side of political conflict would appreciate it.

Cyprus has long been inhabited by both ethnic Greek and ethnic Turkish populations, and belonged to both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. In the 20th century, it became a British possession, and groups that had historically lived well together grew more distant, both leaning on their historical motherlands for support. After independence, many Greek Cypriots wanted to become part of Greece, and unrest led to atrocities against Turkish Cypriots in the 1960s, with many of them relegated to ghettos. In 1974, a Greek-sponsored coup led to Turkey invading the country and carving out the northern part for Turkish Cypriots – leading to atrocities against Greek Cypriots who lived there and were killed or forced from their homes. Today, almost 50 years later, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus continues to exist in fact but to be recognized only by Turkey and seen as occupied territory by everyone else. Negotiations to reunite the country have always broken down, and from this book it’s easy to see why.

Yiannis Papadakis is a Greek Cypriot, who after studying abroad returned home in 1990 to begin studying his country. One of the things that makes the book so interesting is that it is as much about his journey, being forced to confront his own indoctrination and biases, as about the people he meets. He visits Turkey to learn Turkish (after some serious initial misgivings about his safety there, he realizes Turks are regular people too), lives with Greek Cypriots near the border and then crosses over to the Turkish side. (I was initially thrown by the way he talks about the Turkish side, making reference to “pseudo-officials” wearing uniforms decorated with “pseudo-flags,” but this turns out to be representative of his opinions at the time the research began, not by the time he wrote the book.) Eventually he winds up living in a mixed village in the “dead zone” between the two sides, where everyone is suspected of being a traitor.

Cyprus’s history and politics are complicated, as is the author’s analysis, so anything I say here will no doubt oversimplify. But there’s an incredible amount of food for thought here. About the ways both sides manipulate history – not necessarily by lying, but by beginning the tale with their own flourishing empire that’s brought down through the wrongdoing of the others; by focusing only on their own side’s pain, emphasizing their own dead and refugees while refusing to acknowledge wrongs against the others; by paying attention to only the extremists on the other side, painting their views as everyone’s view’s; by both defining their own side as the threatened minority. About the ways people refuse to understand each other, about the ways propaganda is used, about the repercussions this conflict has in people’s lives. The author sees and hears some striking things, like the refugee family in Northern Cyprus that moved into a Greek Cypriot home, and kept all the furniture and family photos out in case of the prior owners’ return.

He’s also able to draw a lot of connections between the two sides: the two right wings have far more in common than either would ever admit, both invested in insisting upon the evil of the other while bringing their own side closer to the motherland. The two left wings are also similar and seem ready to reach out to each other and bring peace, though when the opportunity comes, they too choose political opportunism. In the end there’s plenty of blame to go around, and the author doesn’t absolve anyone.

At any rate, I found it an insightful and fascinating book. While the page count is short, there’s a lot of text on each page, so it isn’t necessarily a quick read. But it’s broken up into short sections, often just a couple pages long, and the writing is accessible. It was published by a small, academically-oriented publisher, but has a lot to offer the casual reader; if it had gone through a big publishing house I could see it as a well-known work of popular nonfiction. Only in a couple of places does the author go off on short tangents that seem to be pet interests of his (the myth and symbology of Aphrodite), and his narrative provides a detailed view of Cyprus and his own journey of discovery about his country and people. I would definitely recommend this one if you can get your hands on it.

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review 2018-06-25 09:39
Medusa by Stephen R. Wilk
Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon - Stephen R Wilk

TITLE:  Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon 

 

AUTHOR:  Stephen R. Wilk

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2000

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-19-534131-7

____________________________________

 

From the blurb:

"Medusa, the Gorgon, who turns those who gaze upon her to stone, is one of the most popular and enduring figures of Greek mythology. Long after many other figures from Greek myth have been forgotten, she continues to live in popular culture. In this fascinating study of the legend of Medusa, Stephen R. Wilk begins by refamiliarizing readers with the story through ancient authors and classical artwork, then looks at the interpretations that have been given of the meaning of the myth through the years. A new and original interpretation of the myth is offered, based upon astronomical phenomena. The use of the gorgoneion, the Face of the Gorgon, on shields and on roofing tiles is examined in light of parallels from around the world, and a unique interpretation of the reality behind the gorgoneion is suggested. Finally, the history of the Gorgon since tlassical times is explored, culminating in the modern use of Medusa as a symbol of Female Rage and Female Creativity."

______________________________________

 

This lavishly illustrated book starts off exploring the variations in the Medusa and Perseus myth, then goes on to explore Gorgons in art, gorgons around the world, possible explanations for the common appearance of the Gorgon face, how astronomy fits in with the myth, gorgons and gargoyles (this was a really good chapter!), the author's hypothesis on what the Gorgon really represented, and what the gorgon means to people today.

 

The book is clearly written and explores all things Medusa.  This book is so interesting, with the author covering various aspects from mythology, astronomy, war, art, gutter ornementation, religion, possible origins, where the snakey-hair comes from, movies (author needs an update here), novels etc.  I learned a whole boat load of new things from this book.  I also really appreciate the lack of irrelevant side tangents and biographical ramblings so often found in non-fiction books. I would quite happily read any other dissected myths should the author write something like that.

 

 

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review 2018-03-10 17:35
Wacky, wacky, wacky
The Power of Myth - Joseph Campbell,Bill Moyers

Some of us are old enough to remember the trash bag commercial that referred to the bargain brand as "wimpy, wimpy, wimpy."

 

 

The cheap brand broke, and all the trash spilled out.

 

With Joseph Campbell, it's wacky, wacky, wacky, and all the pretentious bullshit is falling out.

 

In the interest of disclosure, I should add that I was raised nominally Protestant, though I didn't get much education in that faith until I chose to become specifically Presbyterian in my mid-teens.  Much of my maternal family is Jewish.  So I come from a mixed and very spiritually tolerant background.  Growing up, I had friends who were Irish Catholic and went to the Catholic schools, friends who were Italian Catholic and went to public schools, friends who were Missouri Synod Lutheran and went to the Lutheran school, as well as plenty of friends whose religion was completely unknown and totally irrelevant.

 

And as I mentioned in a previous status, I have just enough background in cultural anthropology -- Malinowski and his Trobriand Islanders! -- to come to The Power of Myth with an open and curious mind.

 

The first couple of chapters irritated me.  I couldn't discern a real theme, a real thesis of what is myth, what is its power, how is that power used, by whom is it used.  Because my objective was an analysis of romance novels as myths, this was important to me. 

 

What I found through the 33% of the Kindle edition that I read was gobbledygook.  Bullshit.  Horse crap.  Garbage.

 

But I was determined to continue reading.

 

At the 30% mark, page 74, I came to this:

 

MOYERS: What do you mean? What can you make of the watch you’re wearing? What kind of mystery does it reveal?

 

CAMPBELL: It is a thing, isn’t it?

 

MOYERS: Yes.

 

CAMPBELL: Do you really know what a thing is? What supports it? It is something in time and space. Think how mysterious it is that anything should be. The watch becomes the center for a meditation, the center of the intelligible mystery of being, which is everywhere. This watch is now the center of the universe. It is the still point in the turning world.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth (p. 75). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

At that point, the book became a wallbanger.  Campbell, whose face and mannerisms and even voice I knew from snippets of videos, had become in my mind a pompous old man demanding attention and reverence even though he was spouting obvious nonsense.

 

When I was a graduate student in about 2002, I had a seminar class of seven students with two professors.  One of them I had had before, so I was familiar with his teaching style and I had taken the class partly because of that.  The other, whom I shall call Arthur for the sake of this discussion, was unknown.  Sadly, Arthur did 95% of the teaching.  If you can call it that.

 

We had some very difficult texts by some very difficult authors: Georg Lukacz, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Terry Eagleton.  I dutifully read every assignment, even though I didn't always understand what I was reading.  I came to class prepared to ask questions, discuss ideas, listen to other interpretations.  But what happened was that Arthur took over from the moment the class started, and he never shut up.

 

Non-stop, he rambled, on and on and on and on and on and on.  If one of us raised a hand to ask a question, Arthur would say something like, "I'll get to you in a minute," and the minute became thirty.  The class was two hours long, and he frequently talked for the entire two hours, not even allowing us the customary ten-minute break in the middle.  One of the students, a full-time firefighter, occasionally fell sound asleep.  And snored.

 

Nothing fazed Arthur.  One evening I managed to demand his attention and asked, "You do all this talking, but we aren't discussing the material.  What does this stuff all mean?"

 

He laughed and replied, "Welcome to grad school."  Then he resumed his monologue on some unrelated topic.  I don't even remember the name of the course.

 

One evening Arthur opened the session with a declaration that he was not going to talk more than fifteen minutes and then would open it up for discussion.  All of us who had questions about this reading material were eager to have the chance to air our thoughts.  Arthur of course talked for the entire two hours, less maybe five minutes at the end.  By that time, no one cared.

 

I thought of him often while reading Campbell.

 

I struggled through the rest of that chapter with the watch, because I really wanted to read about "The First Storytellers" and "The Gift of the Goddess."  But I couldn't get past the absurdity of Campbell's thinking.  I felt as if I'd gone back into that seminar room in the Sands Building and Arthur was once again droning on about some stupid shit that mattered less than Rick, Ilsa, and Lazlo.

 

This morning, even though I had already DNFed The Power of Myth, I took it up again to write this review.  I skipped ahead, skimmed some of the text.

 

Campbell gives a nod to the divine feminine in the chapter "The Gift of the Goddess," and I began to have some faint hope.  Very faint.  And I was quickly relieved of even that.

 

Frequently, in the epics, when the hero is born, his father has died, or his father is in some other place, and then the hero has to go in quest of his father. In the story of the incarnation of Jesus, the father of Jesus was the father in heaven, at least in terms of the symbology. When Jesus goes to the cross, he is on the way to the father, leaving the mother behind. And the cross, which is symbolic of the earth, is the mother symbol. So on the cross, Jesus leaves his body on the mother, from whom he has acquired his body, and he goes to the father, who is the ultimate transcendent mystery source.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth (p. 208). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

I added the emphasis, because plainly Campbell still privileges the masculine over the feminine, no matter what he says in other places to the contrary.  And he still privileges the strict duality, despite dismissing it often enough . . . in theory.

 

There was a temptation to give this one or one-half or even no stars, but I went with one and a half because the negative lessons were somewhat worth it.  I still have some old anthro books that might give better insights into the value and true power of myth.  Campbell sure as hell didn't.

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text 2018-02-06 19:53
My weird library

BookLikes is not allowing me to "connect" this post with a book that is in the BL catalogue and is listed on my shelves.  I DON'T KNOW WHY.

 

Even when I "search on my shelves," it says not found.  As you can see, the book page shows that it's on my "Read" shelf, which is where I put it when I entered it a few days ago.  I own this book, the 1966 paperback edition.

 

Why do I own it?  Why do I own Coe's The Maya?  Because of Charles.

 

Charles Cooper Schlereth was my high school Spanish teacher my junior and senior years at Arlington High School.  He was a graduate of the City College of Mexico City, where he had earned a degree in Pre-Columbian History.  As a result, we got a lot more history and culture than most foreign language students.

 

Our textbook for Spanish 3 was the third in the Holt, Rinehart and Winston series, Español: Leer, Hablar y Escribir. Formatted into nine issues of a magazine titled "Leer," the book presented articles, columns, advertisements, and other features originally published in magazines and newspapers in Spanish-speaking countries.

 

 

I enjoyed it so much that many years later -- 1981 or thereabouts -- I paid a visit to the high school and managed to obtain a copy of the book, which was no longer used as a current text.  I still have it.  Of course!

 

My senior year, we didn't have a formal text.  Instead, Charles selected several popular novels for us to read and discuss, among them Doña Barbara, Lluvia Roja, and Pensativa.  We watched the film version of Doña Barbara starring María Félix.  I still remember the opening line of the novel, though nothing of the plot stuck with me.

 

"Cuando el bongo remonta el Arauca.. . . "

 

Our fourth year class was somewhat illegal, a distinction we all took pride in.  School policies required that any class have a minimum of ten students registered or it would be cancelled.  On the first day, we had only nine students present -- I can probably name all of us if I think about it long enough -- out of the ten registered.  One of the ten, however, was known to have moved away, leaving us under the legal minimum.  For the first week or two of classes, Charles dutifully marked Kevin Harvell present each day until the time passed for cancellation of classes.

 

Charles talked occasionally about the idea of taking us to Mexico City, perhaps over spring break, but the topic usually faded.  Then one Friday morning we nine took matters into our own hands.

 

Our class met the first period of the day, and we were all seated like good students a few minutes before the bell rang.  Charles had not appeared yet, and we started talking about this Mexico trip.  How we came up with the idea, I don't remember, but we decided to go on strike.

 

At the beginning of the year, Charles had told us we would no longer speak English in class.  We were, after all, fourth year students and we should be able to converse in Spanish by now.  Sometimes we struggled -- we all had dictionaries and referenced them often! -- but the rule had stuck.  So when Charles entered the room that Friday morning, we simply refused to speak at all.

 

"No estamos hablando," we said in response to his comments and questions.

 

That is, we weren't going to talk until he agreed to look into the possibility of taking us to Mexico City over spring break.

 

That was Friday.  He agreed to see about putting something together, and we consented to participate in class once again.  And by Monday, he brought us the proposal:

 

 

Yes, my BookLikes friends, we went from northwest suburban Chicago to Mexico City and back . . . by bus.

 

 

(My brother on the right, my dad holding my sister on the far right.)

 

It was cold the day we left; everyone else was in long pants and heavy sweaters.  I was the only one in cut-offs and a lightweight shirt.  Two days later it was 90-something degrees in Waco, Texas, and everyone else melted.  I was comfortable.

 

We spent a total of 100 hours on the bus -- 51 hours down, 49 hours back -- and only had six days or so in Mexico City.  We didn't see nearly enough.  The pyramids, of course.

 

 

And Obregón's arm.

 

 

(For those interested, the ultimate fate of Obregón's arm is here

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/10/world/a-mexican-relic-is-buried-at-last.html)

 

I've remained interested in MesoAmerican history and prehistory ever since.  I have lots of weird books, as a result.

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review 2018-02-06 04:54
Swearing is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language
Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne

I've been waiting months for this to come out; I swear like a sailor and my love of etymology and words in general draw me to books like these.  This one was excellent.  

 

In the introduction Byrne sets the expectations for the reader; not all the chapters are focused on swearing specifically - or how swearing is good for you, but all the topics she discusses are topical to swearing, and all of them contribute to our understanding of why swearing can be fun, powerful, and offensive - often all at once! 

 

There is a lot of science here, written by a woman who is a scientist first and a writer second, and a lot of studies make up a good portion of the narrative, with humor to keep the reading easy. Even when the chapters aren't geared directly at the benefits of swearing, they are fascinating.  In a slim volume of under 200 pages, she covers the interrelationship of pain and swearing, Tourette's Syndrome (a tragic, eye-opening chapter that she describes as 'the chapter that should not be in this book'), swearing in the workplace, other primates that swear (so good!), gender and swearing, and finally, swearing for the multi-lingual.  All fully cited and fascinating.  With citations/notes, a bibliography, and an index in the back. 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and should have saved it as a suggestion for The Flat Book Society, dammit!  Though I was never going to be able to wait that long to start reading it; luckily it was good enough to re-read someday soon, so perhaps it will find it's way to the voting list anyway.

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