Thursday, June 17, 2010

3-fer Thursday

… Which is what W3dnesday is called when I don’t get it posted on time. Same deal, though, where I answer three burning questions:

What have I been reading?
What am I reading now?
What will I read next?

(Thanks again to
Librarian Who for turning me on to this weekly writing exercise.)

Lost Worlds and Hair Gel: Allan Quatermain and friends have once again succeeded against seemingly impossible odds in Allan and the Holy Flower. By now, Readers Mine, you know that I find
H. Rider Haggard thoroughly enjoyable, and think he possesses far more literary merit that he is usually given credit for. That being said, I’m going to skip over him this week as there are still four more novels in the omnibus I’m reading, and therefore plenty of opportunity to rave about Haggard on future W3dnesdays, and I really want to get to Stacey Abbott’s Angel.

I have begun to refer to this slim (less than 110 pages) volume as “The Pocket Guide to Angel,” which is exactly what it is. Abbott has provided a concise critical overview of the series while maintaining a highly readable, informative, thought provoking, and entertaining style throughout. Abbott examines the intricacies of the Mutant Enemy writing staffs over the course of the show’s five seasons, the use of multiple and mixed genres, the portrayal of masculinity and male friendship, and ties all of this together to demonstrate that, far from being yet another cookie-cutter sexy vampire TV show, Angel pushes the boundaries of its medium to repeatedly ask more of the viewer than passive reception, and continues to richly reward critical study. This book was a joy to read, something that seems to be far too rare in the realms of academic writing, and illuminated not only the show itself, but also the methods used to critically examine a television show. Abbott’s book has made me determined to re-watch Angel from start to finish, and is an indispensible starting point for critical analysis of the series. Go and buy it.

On Deck: Unfortunately,
Leonard F. Guttridge’s life of Stephen Decatur Our Country, Right or Wrong is turning out to be far less of a good read. Commodore Stephen Decatur was one of the most famous commanders in the early United States Navy, and a fascinating character, but Guttridge makes little attempt to relate Decatur’s life to the historical context in which it was lived. Stephen Decatur’s history is inextricably intertwined with that of the early US Navy and with the rapid changes which took place in the politics, economics, and military of the young United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Indeed, the very act of creating the standing navy to which Decatur would dedicate his life was the cause of ferocious debate and one of the core political differences between Republicans and Federalists. One of Jefferson’s first acts as president was to mothball the service’s existing capital ships and halt new construction in favor of an ill-conceived idea to rely on scores of light gunboats to protect the coast. Guttridge fails to provide even the slightest detail on this fundamental (and fortunately short-lived) change in naval policy, and the reader is left to wonder how and why Decatur has suddenly gone from commanding oceangoing warships to overseeing the construction and outfitting of small craft. Guttridge continues as he begins, and provides almost no historical background with which to understand the circumstances of Decatur’s career. Worse, Guttridge succumbs to the temptation of imagining what people may have felt or done or who they might have talked to in an effort to dramatize his story. If you’re interested in this period of American naval history, I recommend skipping Our Country Right or Wrong and picking up Ian W. Toll’s Six Frigates, which while having a broader focus, also manages to give as much real detail on Decatur’s life as Guttridge’s entire biography.

I’m also reading
The Television Genre Book, edited by Glen Creeber. There is a lot of good information in this book, but at times it is the exact opposite of Stacey Abbot’s Angel when it comes to readability. I’ve set myself the task of reading two (short) sections a day in this one, and to this point “task” is the right word. Again, good and accurate information, but often presented in a fashion that my father would have called “deadly dull.” Still, this text was recommended as a good primer, at least until David Lavery’s Television Art comes out….

Next On the Pile: I’m thinking its time for a dip into SF with
Jack Williamson’s Lifeseed, and more adventures with Allan Quatermain await with The Ivory Child by H. Rider Haggard, but I’m definitely thinking that the next book is going to be on the lighter side of things.

Lastly, Readers Mine, my apologies for the delay in wrapping up my Slayage posts. I really will get that posted ASAP!

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