Sunday Salon: On Water- and Bookbending

This is my last  week in Hawai'i, more or less.  A week from Tuesday I head back to Nova Scotia via Los Angeles to prepare for the start of the Fall term.   D has been asked to stay on indefinitely, which has him feeling a bit morose. ("Don't say this is your last week in Hawai'i," he just moaned, reading over my shoulder, "You should stay for, um, nineteen weeks.")

This has been a week of blog absence, since I have been hard at work on a set of article revisions that were due on Friday.  For perhaps the first time in my life as an academic, I actually got the revisions in several hours ahead of the deadline, an achievement which is undercut somewhat by the fact that Hawai'i is several hours behind the rest of the U.S.

My favorite tidbit, culled from the research I did for this article?  John Huston collaborated with Jean-Paul Sartre on an early version of the script for his 1962 biopic Freud, which starred the great (always a bit ambivalent and haunted) Monty Clift as the father of psychoanalysis.  Later Sartre would renounce all connection to the film, but in these early stages he and Huston were filled with enthusiasm for casting Marilyn Monroe as a patient of Freud's.  She refused the role - because her own analyst had qualms about the potential heterodoxy of the work, which hadn't been approved by Anna Freud (herself a major figure in psychiatry). I've got to get my hands on this film.

OK: I need to seek your advice on a problem that arose while I was working.  Since I am traveling, for the first time I bought a bunch of relevant academic texts in ebook format (either for the Kindle or the Barnes and Noble reader), and I was delighted by how affordable they were - $9.99 for academic tomes. Giddy, I tell you.

But there was trouble in e-Paradise. First of all, since I read Kindle books on my Mac, I can't highlight, annotate or search those works.  Why, Amazon, would you release a reader without these features?  Boo.  But more worrisome still is the problem of citation: page numbers on ebooks don't match the print edition, and Kindle books don't use page numbering at all.  Instead they have Kindle locations, which are stable (they don't change when you alter the size of the font or page), but require your reader to own the Kindle edition if they are to follow your citation.  Hmm.  Not exactly a research practice that is broadly transparent. Normally, I would prefer to cite hard copies of books, because this still carry the greatest "authority" in profession publications (and will until the citation problem has been fixed - this is the only thing that I can think of, besides Luddite snobbery, that is standing in the way), but there is one book that the University of Hawai'i doesn't own in hard copy that I need to use.  I even tried the old stand-by of using Google Books to sync the location of my ebook quotation with its page in the paper edition, but this volume can't be previewed in Google Books.  (Seriously, checking the accuracy of your citations is so much less time-consuming in the age of Google Books. Oh, the glories of being an internet-age scholar.)  So here's my question: have any of you used ebooks (and specifically Kindle books) for academic purposes?  How do you going about citing them? (I am talking here about footnotes or parenthetical citations, rather than bibliographic entries, which are fairly simple.)

So, I sent the article off on Friday, and we headed off to Oahu's North Shore to celebrate.  We visited the Byodo-In Temple on the way (more on this in a future post, I hope) - the perfect place to decompress after a stressful week - and then ate ahi poke and butterfish at the Turtle Bay resort, which is just at the point where the windward coast turns into the North Shore.  We watched the sun set from Sunset Beach, where I kicked back in the sand with my rotation of three books and D wandered in the surf.  And then we came back later that night to lie on the beach and watch the Perseid meteor shower.  The previous night we tried to watch from Waikiki beach, and saw a few "shooting stars," but the light pollution is much worse on the south side of the island, and you can only see the very brightest points in the sky.  I have to admit that I may have been unconscious for a good part of Friday evening - there is something about sleeping in sand amidst almost total darkness, with the surf rushing in the background and meteors tracing their way through the sky, that is very, very refreshing.

Yesterday we went on a snorkling expedition with some of the people D works with on the show, and actually managed to avoid terrible sunburns, although we also managed to avoid any trace of dolphins, which are less active in the afternoons.  Today is more relaxing - getting some long-missed blogging, cleaning up, perhaps going for a hike up Diamond Head later this afternoon, when it is cooler.


I finished Feeling Sorry for Celia this week, an Australian YA novel in epistolary (love it) form.  It features a teenaged heroine who is a long-distance runner, which I confess made me think of my marvelous friend RP, who is both a YA-reader (/librarian) and a marathoner, both of which, I think we can agree, are awesome accomplishments.

In the novel, Elizabeth Clarry has an eccentric best friend who keeps disappearing, an alienated father who is making awkward attempts to reacquaint himself with her, a mother who communicates largely through epic post-it notes (HEY! ELIZABETH!! OVER HERE! IN FRONT OF THIS HOUSE PLANT!! IT'S A NOTE FROM YOUR MOTHER!!!! WEAR EXTRA LAYERS TODAY! IT'S GOING TO BE COLD.), an anonymous admirer who shares her daily bus, a school-mandated pen-pal, and a half-marathon to train for. She is also the target of an endless slew of communications from organizations like "the Best Friends Club," "the Cold Hard Truth Association," and "the Young Romance Society," all of whom seem to think she is making a terrible, deflating mess of the life she has been given.  This was a fun read - once I became engrossed in it about a hundred pages in, I didn't put it down or sleep till I had finished it.  I appreciated how it presented teenaged sexuality - both having sex and never having been kissed are presented as legitimate, realistic, and problematic experiences for a fifteen-year-old, and they neither make you more or less cool, admirable, or sympathetic.  There were problems however, both with the epistolary format and with the relationship Elizabeth has with her best friend, that will keep this book out of my permanent library.  I'm hoping to have time for a longer review before I give it away via Bookmooch at the start of this week.

I am in the midst of two books now, Liz Berry's (paranormal?  I feel it is heading in that direction) YA romance The China Garden and Carrie Tiffany's Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living.  In Berry's book, which I have just begun, Clare accompanies her mother to a nursing job on a remote English country estate in the weeks before she heads off to university.  As soon as they arrive, it becomes clear that there is a lot that has been hidden from her, not the least of which is that her mother was born on the estate, and has long and tortured relationship with the people who never left. My friend CM, who always has great recommendations for thrilling YA, put me on to this one.

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living starts in the 1930s in Australia (what can I say? I'm on an Aussie kick.), where the Better-Farming Train is making its way through the arid farmlands of the country staging lectures and demonstrations on modern agricultural and domestic science.  Jean Finnegan has been hired as the needlework lecturer, and in her year of service she meets Robert Pettigree, a soil expert, who persuades her to embark on the experiment of a scientific marriage.  It is totally engrossing - my only wish so far (and I am halfway through the novel at this point) is that we had spent more time on the train, which contains a cast of characters so vibrant and is a space so interesting that it could have filled a much longer novel. (Also: it appears to be on extreme sale at Amazon right now.  It always irks me to see this after I have already bought a book.  Hrumph.)


Last night we swatched It Happened One Night, which I have been thinking about since last summer when we traveled through northern Maine, with its abundance of old-school housekeeping cottages.  Clark Gable (who is brilliant here, unsurprisingly) and Claudette Colbert finds their unmarried selves in a series of these cottages in the course of the movie, as they flee her worried millionaire father by Greyhound bus, and they deal with the impropriety by erecting the "walls of Jericho" (a blanket hung from a clothesline) down the middle of the room.  This is a surprisingly, delightfully saucy movie, featuring (I have to note) a slow, defiant striptease on Gable's part, but as a romance it has some troubling gender politics.

Besides this, we are totally enmeshed in a revolving array of TV shows that are available on Netflix's digital streaming (which announced this week that it is opening a Canadian service this Fall - hurrah!).  We are making our slow way through the new version of Doctor Who and its companion series Torchwood.  We jumped in to the newest series while we were in London this summer, bringing the greatest possible naivete to the episodes we saw there. ("Wait," D said, "So he travels in a phone booth that is bigger on the inside than on the outside?")  Since then we have gone back to watch all of the Christopher Eccleston episodes, and we are now well into David Tennant's brilliant tenure.  In last night's really sort of dreadful episode, from the third season, I finally learned why I get so many Google hits from people looking for information about the Sycorax.  It's because the Doctor went back to 1599 and casually mentioned his old nemeses - the mind-controlling Sycorax race of alien beings - to the Bard of Avon.  Apparently, good old Will Shagspere held onto that tidbit for many a year until he had need of an unnerving magical back story for The Tempest. It now occurs to me that I have seriously deepened the Google confusion with this post.  Ah well.  Hello, Tardis travelers! Welcome to Sycorax Pine, where we have no intention of controlling your minds via your type-A+ blood.  I promise. (But can you trust me?)

More importantly, we have become hopelessly enthralled to Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Rest assured that this is neither the Shyamalan-helmed movie (let us never speak of that again) nor an epic tale of the colonial oppression of blue, sensitive-tailed creatures.  You will not have to wear special 3D glasses.  Rather it is a visually inventive, richly characterized, well-written animated series with some of the most stunning martial arts sequences I have seen in many years.  It is a highly intelligent work, built out of deceptively simple premises (like many of the best works for children): the episode we just watched had scenes that were obviously influenced by Kurosawa's Yojimbo and its Western inheritors.

The world of Avatar is a war torn one: there used to be four nations that existed in perfect balance (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water), each with its own particular form of magic, which comes in the form of the ability to "bend," or manipulate, the nation's element.  The balance was always maintained by an "avatar," a warrior-lama who has mastery of all the different forms of bending.  But a century ago the new avatar, just a child, disappeared, and shortly after that - for reasons we don't completely understand yet - the Fire nation began a rampaging conquest of its neighbors' territories.  Now, after a hundred years of bloodshed, two Water nation children from the south pole find the young avatar (Aang) and his six-legged flying bison of a spirit-guide (Appa, who is a brilliantly drawn character in his own right) glacially preserved in unnatural youth.  The three children embark on a quest to train Aang, who is the last surviving member of the Air nation, in the bending of the three other elements so that he can turn the tide of war against the hyperaggressive Fire nation.

These three are really well-rendered - each given their own strengths,  weaknesses, areas of expertise, and feelings of responsibility that affect the adventures they have - but their plots tend toward the "very special episode" realm of lesson-learning.  Even better is the emerging story of the ruling family of Fire nation: the crown prince, Zuku, is my favorite character of the series (D tends to favor his uncle, an epicure of philosophical bent).  He has been attacked and banished by his father, and left with a vicious scar on his face from the violent confrontation.  He is a continual disappointment when compared to his gifted and heartless firebending sister, who tries (among other things) to convince him when they are still small children that their father plans to murder him.  His father has told him that the only way to restore his honor and earn a repeal of his banishment is to bring in the avatar as a prisoner, so he singlemindedly hunts Aang from one end of the world to the other.  We see him do callous, cruel things, but the more we learn of him, the more this seems a product of environment, of upbringing.  And the longer he wanders the world, the more his environment continues to work upon him, revealing how much he has in common with the heroic Aang.  His very pursuit of Aang often pits him against his own nation (which has sent other agents to destroy the Avatar), and the lines between capturing and rescuing begin to blur.

I don't even have time to get into the visual ingenuity of the film-making here, but if you can accustom yourself to some clanging moments of manga-style silliness you will also see some strikingly graceful images and movements drawn from (and built off of) that genre as well.

The fights (each nation has a fighting style based on a different discipline of Asian martial arts) are consistently my favorite part of each episode: in a recent episode that dealt with a blind girl who becomes the champion of Earth nation's WWE-style fighting league, her perception of the world around her is rendered so brilliantly that I exclaimed, "I have never seen anything like this."  Really: seek it out, and be patient through the simplicity of the early episodes.  It is one of my favorite discoveries of this year.

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