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review 2018-04-09 19:31
A History of Canada in Ten Maps (Shoalts)
A History of Canada in Ten Maps: Epic Stories of Charting a Mysterious Land - Adam Shoalts

This work of popular history by a young man who is a "modern explorer" himself is understandably chiefly centred around exploration maps of territory now within Canada's boundaries. It has a fairly informal tone, but full scholarly apparatus. I enjoyed the thoughtful preface and afterword material, and the summaries of the exploits of various famous explorers were highly readable, with many interesting anecdotes. I also thought the tone successfully avoided any suggestion of hero-worship, and also acknowledged in a timely way the major contributions of named and described indigenous allies and collaborators, some of whom, as expedition members, ventured nearly as far away from their homes as the Europeans or Canadians they assisted. The main disappointment of the volume is one that was presumably out of the author's control: the reproductions of the maps, although coloured and glossy, are constrained to too small a size by the book's standard format to be really enjoyed. A coffee-table format would have been better (but probably too expensive). One of the chief victims of this shortcoming is the Thomson map (one I am very familiar with, having worked alongside the original for many years), but that huge, faded map would likely have been chiefly illegible even in a much larger reproduction: it is largely illegible close up, in its original.


This is not groundbreaking history, nor is it really cartographic analysis, though there is some discussion of the history and techniques of cartography in the preliminaries. It's a sesquicentennial project, aimed at a general audience, and, if my quite vivid recent memories of its tales about the Vikings, about Cartier and Champlain and Hearne and Mackenzie and Thomson and Franklin, are any indication, it has certainly done its job of raising awareness of the role exploration and mapping played in the early definition of the boundaries of the state we now call Canada. The roles of other forces (war, politics and statecraft) are, legitimately I think, largely left aside. As others have remarked, the one chapter on the Fort Erie battle during the war of 1812 seems a little forced and out of place. But then military history is not something I read with pleasure in any case.


Shoalts also seems to be quite an interesting guy, and I recommend a browse through his website after finishing this book.

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text 2018-03-02 22:00
Reading Progress Update: A Cautionary Word on Cats
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling,Stephen Fry

(I'm about 35-40% in now, but going back to the very beginning -- I listened to this in the car today:)

"Mr Dursley blinked and stared at the cat.  It stared back.  As Mr Dursley drove around the corner and up the road, he watched the cat in his mirror.  It was now reading the sign that said Privet Drive -- no, looking at the sign; cats couldn't read maps or signs.  Mr Dursley gave himself a little shake and put the cat out of his mind."

So you think cats can't read maps, can they, Uncle Vernon?



(And her name wasn't even Professor McGonagall ... well, not that I was ever aware, at least!)


And yes, that is a map of London, too.

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review 2017-10-10 00:25
A geopolitical view of the world
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World - Tim Marshall,Scott Brick

All throughout this book I kept asking what he now had to say about this and that because it is three years since he wrote the book and Korea has a nuclear weapons capabilities now and the US has a new president and a number of other significant changes. Fascinating book. It will give you a whole new understanding of the world we live in.

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review 2017-08-17 11:08
There Are no Golden Ages: "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis
New Maps Of Hell: A Survey Of Science Fiction - Kingsley Amis

“No wife who finds her husband addicting himself to science fiction need fear that he is in search of an erotic outlet, anyway not an overt one.”


In "New Maps of Hell" by Kingsley Amis


To put it in another context, imagine I'd be teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald to undergraduates, some of whom would be of African descent. Do we look at the casual racism found in the books and say "that's wrong?" No, we assume that everyone "gets" that it's wrong. But we look at the fact that this was considered normal/acceptable in F. Scott's day. He's still a magnificent writer, but he reflects his own era. Scott’s similar to Amis. His attitude to women is a reflection of the times. We can't shy away from that and pretend it isn't so, and we can't negate him as a writer, because of it.


Imagine yourself living in Lisbon as a young woman; wouldn’t you dread the endless comments, abuse, physical assaults that were part of your everyday experience. Maybe this young woman dreamt of buying an electric cattle prod and zapping those who threatened her. But it was the times in which they lived back then. Women had no rights in the 60s. The literature of the times, reflected that. Shall we zap Amis with a cattle prod for being a man of his time? No. First of all, I believe that all good books, whether niche or mainstream or somewhere in-between, must have an implicit message they are trying to put across, which should stick out almost like a sore thumb. That said, I in no way think this should make books programmatic. Writing a novel with the sole purpose of creating a text more politically correct than anything that has ever been written might take away, all at once, all the drama and conflict that all good novels - needless to say, I am merely expressing my own point of view here - play with to a certain extent. Secondly, SF (fantasy and science-fiction), possibly more so than any other genre, and even at their most mechanically chlichéd, are written and read not simply for "idle entertainment", but as a platform for escapism. And "entertainment" and "escapism" are definitely not the same thing. Sure, escapism includes enjoyment, but there are many other elements to it as well. 



If you're into SF Criticism, read on.

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review 2017-05-21 00:00
Going Sane: Maps of Happiness
Going Sane: Maps of Happiness - Adam Phillips https://msarki.tumblr.com/post/160903888508/going-sane-maps-of-happiness-by-adam-phillips

…Those of us who don’t find madness inspiring are surprisingly short of options; and, at present, there is not much help available.

Being impelled to record notes while reading is always the most promising sign that once again I have stumbled onto a very important book. There is so much good to retain in Going Sane. But the reader should not be so naive as to not expect a bit of disjointed rhetoric when addressing the subject of sanity. Such a wide-ranging topic that would be difficult at best to pin down and keep focussed on. There are diversions to be expected in a concept so insanely complicated to explain.

…Imagining possibilities for ourselves involves telling stories about what we think we are like, what we think we want, and what we think we are capable of…

…The sanity of True Genius, we must assume, is that the True Genius is a fallen creature who can write—who can describe things—from the point of view of the unfallen…The sane genius transforms everything that might disturb us, “the wildest dreams,” into something that is familiar and reassuring…The horrifying, the dispiriting, the bizarre are made utterly convivial by the sane True Genius…Sanity checks the madness…only the sanity of True Genius can manage and bear madness…Madness requires genius to make it viable. Indeed, that may, ultimately, be what genius is, what sanity has to be: a talent for transforming madness into something other than itself, of making terror comforting…Sanity is this talent for not letting whatever frightens us about ourselves destroy our pleasure in life; and this, for Lamb, is essentially a linguistic talent.

Thank goodness for great fiction and the courage it takes to read it. But then to see and understand the truth in fiction and apply it to our lives is where the trouble begins for most of us. Figuring out what makes one tick is key to enjoying a healthy and satisfying life. Exploring all options that come to mind is critical to developing an understanding of what one truly wants. This does not mean to act out every fantasy or dream one holds. It means to investigate the idea, the possibilities, to extend the behavior out by using reasoning in order to consider the consequences. To think we ever have life all figured out is insane at best. To understand and accept that the best we can hope for is a muddling through is infinitely more sane.

The infantile pleasures of being loved, adored, stroked, held, cuddled, infinitely attended to and responded to, and thought about; of only sleeping, eating, and playing, these are the truly satisfying pleasures…It is, in fact, a form of madness to not know, to forget, to attack and trivialize what really makes you happy…The sane adult is aways smuggling his childhood into the future, refashioning his childhood pleasures as legitimate adult interests…It is the madness of modern human wanting not to want to know about its own wanting….

…The deeply sane must not betray their desire; the superficially sane accommodate their desire to the needs of others…The superficially sane tend to convince us that we are the products of our environments; arguing that if you give people the right upbringing and education, you will make them well adjusted. The deeply sane, on the other hand, tell us that there is always more to us than our environments; that there is something within us—call it genius or a life force or instincts or genes—that exceeds the world that we find, and to which we must pay our most serious attention because it is driving us, one way or another, into what we are and will be…

…The sane person’s first acknowledgement is that her life is moved more by luck than by judgment; she sees her relationships as coincidences rather than destinies, her talents as unearned gifts, her bodily life as genetically contingent, her parents as giving her a good or a bad chance, and so on. The only necessities her life has are the ones she ascribes to them. The second acknowledgement of the sane is that they are, peculiarly, animals who are often unconscious of what they want; and that some of the wants they are most conscious of serve to obscure their keener satisfactions. And this is because their third acknowledgment is that what they most want they must not have because it is forbidden them…

…Sanity should not be our word for the alternative to madness; it should refer to whatever resources we have to prevent humiliation.

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