Monthly Archives: August 2010

review but not a review – kraken

It is with both heavy heart and eyelid that I confess that I cannot finish China Mieville’s latest offering Kraken.  Whereas I have been wildly amazed and fascinated with his imaginative offerings like Perdido Street Station, The Scar and his short story collection Looking For Jake, Kraken has cemented within my fragile psyche a valuable rule for my slow reading habits, namely: don’t read shit (and I use that term non-insultingly) that’s too long and underdeveloped.

If  it were simply just long I may have actually finished it by now, but because of his underdeveloped-ness in nearly all aspects of the work, the combination of long-windedness and courageous circumnavigation in terms of character development, setting and pace, not only do I feel “disappointed” in that uneasy parental way (and mind you, I’m probably younger than Mieville), I am simply too upset about it to let it go.

You see, Mieville is a fantastic writer.  I am anxiously looking forward to reading his recent award nominated City and the City, but despite the five hundred plus pages of Kraken, I can’t help but feel he went through the motions with this one.  Or rather, he simply overextended himself and spread his chunky, steampunky imagination too thin on this particularly under-toasted canvas.

The story is about London, its competing cults and the guardian forces surrounding those cults in an age where the archaic meets the digital.  Mieville creates the atmosphere by mentioning all the different groups and entities, but never really describes them in depth, even in passing.  Much of what we gather is through dialogue, particularly of the naive and bewildered main character, Billy Harrow.  Other characters, like The Tattoo, Dane, Wati, Collingswood, and Grisamentum, while all very interesting and mysterious initially, simply fade away into their own colorful dialogue without any real descriptive depth into their character. Quite simply, too many characters, too little detail. Furthermore, in his appreciation beaming technology and stun settings, Mieville attempts to bridge fantasy with science fiction in the work, and almost succeeds; however, an undertaking like this cannot compete with so many other variables in an already overreaching work.  Lastly, the feel and mystique of London is really lost in the comings and goings of these events and people; perhaps this a book specifically written for Londoners, but the description however, simply didn’t emanate.

The more I think about it, the more I feel Kraken is simply a thought experiment, a literary dry-erase board full of image dropping and references to pop/sub culture than it is a tightly coherent work of fiction. It’s simply too busy, a overly-written mash of fancy that never really coalesces.

review – the suburbs

Confronting the ever-impending threat of death, Arcade Fire has never lacked angst or even outright anger in its music.  “Funeral” is a very literal reaction by the band after experiencing the deaths of relatives while recording.  “Neon Bible” apocalyptically outlined an emergent generation’s fears of demise of their nation or greater society. With their latest release The Suburbs, the trend continues with an equally yet more localized destruction, this time focusing on crumbling pockets of isolated community.  But rather than another version of accepting death, The Suburbs is more a declaration of war on dual fronts.

On the one hand, it is a not very subtle declaration against certain waning generational forces, namely the baby-boomer generation (as my wife BiancaNDM will strenuously assert, I must add).  Songs like “City With No Children” describe the anger against millionaires rotting in their decaying private prisons, “Sprawl” visualizing endless mountains of illuminated shopping malls, where we are urged to “quit our pretentious things and just punch the clock”, the insignificance of buildings built in the 70s that crumble without anyone caring, or worse, even noticing.

A double edged sword, the album is also a declaration of war on our internal forces.  Generation X has now grown up, and has to face not only the excess of the boomers but perhaps the lack of our willingness to overcome the boredom of the suburbs and mature beyond ourselves. Indeed, in the title track, Win Butler sings of a desperation to avoid something worse than death, not only growing old but having a family as a “grown up”.  Furthermore, the songs touch upon a future unable to be prepared for: losing friends to adulthood, remembering the glory and perfection of our wasted time in youth, realizing it may have been better to remain a kid on a bus longing to be free than to be an adult and dealing with the all-encompassing sprawl. It has a definite ‘80s nostalgia but with a 21st century gut-wrenching epiphany of excess.

Musically, this is the tightest release yet by Arcade Fire. The vocals from Win Butler seem a little more constrained than Neon Bible, perhaps to rest his voice, but also to follow the psychological tension of the album.  Regine Chassagne has expanded her backup singing and really perfects the vulnerability in Sprawl II.  Admittedly, this is less Americana than previous albums, as the effervescent violin and volatile percussion is distinctly muted, nevertheless achieving its suburban atmosphere. There are too many excellent songs to list, but my favorites include “Wasted Hours”, “We Used to Wait”, “Modern Man” and the title track.  The Suburbs is a really powerful album, a quietly desperate Brian De Palma suburban gunfight erupting within indiscriminate cul-de-sacs across the country, perhaps right now in your neighborhood.

consider kali

Often times it is somewhat embarrassing to encounter the mindless conception of ourselves and our profession among the uninitiated masses. Most people I encounter do not have an accurate representation of what libraries are or more importantly, what librarians do.

Part of that is our fault. Libraries serve as a refuge, and it has been out of our compassion to accept more social responsibility than to specifically limit our professional responsibilities that we do a great many things to a great many people. Typically, we are left picking up the pieces of our shattered reality before we can attempt to promote our significance.

Rather than outright say what we are for others, for that would be a really boring post, I’ve been concentrating on others’ misconceptions. Normally the first thing associated with us is some form of nostalgia commonly associated with a rural family farmhouse. A little outdated, we are represented by the elderly, matronly, meek and respected guardians of the nourishing, sacred tomes and the all-around country quiet; though not quite altogether upstairs, we however are quaint and eccentric all the same, deserving of some form of respect as well as a new coat of paint before we meet our abrupt and untimely foreclosure, mostly figuratively speaking. Sadly, our image, our stereotype is rapidly in flux and we must redefine it.

If people were to see our work more through our eyes, more would understand why we are a little off, why our conventions are typically booze filled and generally outrageous. But again, without spelling it out, I humbly present an analogy.

At the risk of sounding a bit too high and almighty or righteous I propose that in order to reclaim and expand upon our identity, we should think big and identify ourselves with the more recognizable figures, for example religious and philosophic deities. I nominate the Hindu deity Kali. The connections are simply too logical. Continuing the stately female-centric image, which as a male librarian I fully endorse, I can think of no more fitting stereotype…ahem, representation.

A symbol of death, destruction, even time, Kali first and foremost signifies the death of library patrons’ ignorance and the change that will slowly blossom from the ashes of our jarring instruction on the nature of information. We are an urgent force and need to get peoples’ attention. Kali demands attention: she’s naked, crispy, wears a necklace of bloody heads and carries swords, among other trophies.

Secondly, her image endures due mainly to her batshit rage emanating from her presence, inciting instantaneous fear in enemies. This is appropriate especially with those in the public service side of the profession, who incessantly deal with patrons trying to take our pens and staplers, deceive us out of their printing and late fees, as well as expect us to babysit their children while they’re off scoring their next fix. With a bit more of our tough instruction, people will learn to respect our professional boundaries and our wrathful knowledge.

Thirdly, she is a multitasker, as evidenced by her numerous limbs. I think nearly everyone in libraryland relates to this, though I couldn’t think of any deity possessing many emanations wearing an assortment of hats. In any case, we do a lot of different stuff, things not normally expected of us and often times without extra compensation or simple gratitude. I cite the wrath mentioned above, all things being feeding off each other and stuff.

So as a passing warning to library-goers, if you’re ever wondering why that circulation or reference librarian is looking especially pissed off, consider the Kalis among us. We are only invoking our disdain upon the complacency of the masses for their (your) benefit. We will happily destroy your ignorance with violent force by: simultaneously instructing you on OPAC searching techniques with one pointed, scarred hand, accepting your overdue fines with another clawed and outstretched palm, shushing you with a third as we hold a bloody finger to our charcoal lips before a dangling and frothy tongue, and grasping a mobile device in a final hand, tweeting your idiocy to the world as we dance upon your expired library card which we can make happen anytime we want.

So in our grand quest for identity, it may better for you dear patrons, as well as fellow librarians, to think of ourselves as such.