Monday, July 13, 2009

In Search of Moby Dick: The Quest for the White Whale

an ethno-cultural-historio-contemporary-travel adventure kinda book

by Tim Severin

Pretty exciting and educational, especially the descriptions of the specialized hunting skills of the islanders Severin stays and speaks with. I appreciate that Severin isn't out to discredit Melville but to sort fact from fiction in the quest for determining if such a whale, or whales, such as Moby Dick existed, through his investigation of the various ways in which these whales have come to reside in maritime history, myth and legend, and the public imagination.

Severin is also interested in how Melville developed the tale of Moby Dick, how he arrived at/gleaned information and experience that informed the novel. As far as his encounters with and relationship to the islanders, Severin's writing comes across as mostly objective, respectful, allowing people, environments and situations to speak for themselves, in a sense...

Written in 2000, it's interesting, and disheartening, to consider how things have changed in the last 9 years that seemed to have negatively, rather than beneficially, impacted the islands' inhabitants and their cultures, particularly the loss of the substantial food source afforded by hunting whales. While local governments have been banning hunting and promoting whale watching instead, what efforts have been made to replace the loss of food and bartering material whales had provided?

In addition to how government changes are effecting/re-shaping these cultures, there have been fewer and fewer whales frequenting the waters around the islands in recent years...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

I always heard that Nancy Drew was written by a guy. After reading this, I have learned that while that is partially true, it's not the whole story. Nancy Drew was an idea generated by a male publisher who wrote a bunch of treatments, then hired a writer to flesh out the stories. She developed the characters and followed the plot outlines creating by the male publisher but actually wrote the books herself. She was on a schedule where she wrote about one a month for a long time. While the books were credited to Carolyn Keene, they were actually a collaboration. Carolyn Keene never existed. They were total hits and they kept doing it for years. Then the publisher guy died. His daughter took over his publishing industry, which was kind of unheard of at the time, and kept the arrangement going. This book follows her success as a female CEO on a publishing empire and I kind of skipped over that part because I'm not really interested in females-in-business as feminist-success-story. Still it's pretty cool that this happened and totally interesting in light of the character "Nancy Drew". Later on another woman starting writing the books. Also at some point the early books were re-written, so that while the books you may have read in the 70s were probably the same books your mom may have read in the 50's, the books your mom read were Not the same as the books your grandma read, even though they were titled the same--so there are multiple versions of the same title depending on the year they were published.
If that all sounds confusing, yet interesting, then read the book! It can be done in one or two evenings, especially if you skip over the boring parts.
Writing style is not compelling and the author isn't strong on analysis but if you don't know this history and are a Nancy Drew fan, it's pretty satisfying on that level alone. I'm just excited to discover that Nancy Drew was a frankenstein creation whose character was influenced by several different independent women.

The Hours

So, if you read my other post, you are probably not surprised that I did go ahead and read this one--rather than Mrs. Dalloway again... I don' know how I feel about it. I kind of HATE the writing style--it takes a lot of liberties with the narration and since it's based on 1. history and 2. another novel it seems a little disrespectful with its representations.

There's also a few contrived spots--like there is this whole part about winning a Pulitzer Prize, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize. There's a scene where Meryl Streep the actress is spotted by "Clarissa" in New York and then a few years later, Meryl Streep plays the character Clarissa in the movie version of the novel. Those things really annoyed me, but ok, might not be the fault of the author per se.

I guess what I like is that it's a meditation on death, mortality and suicide. So it's the themes I'm drawn to more than the writing-style or work itself.