Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Educate Emma: TV: Friendship is Magic S2

Hah, you thought I was done with this series, didn't you? INCORRECT. I am still confused as to why My Little Pony is so popular, but I still love watching its cleverness. And I liked season two even better. I felt like it tackled more interesting story lines and the writing was really coming into its own. Episodes like Lesson Zero made me laugh about how applicable they are to my own life. (Yes, Twilight Sparkle is my spirit animal. Hardcore, organizational, I-hate-people spirit animal.) I also liked how they played with the structure of the show on episodes like MMMystery on the Friendship Express, which dealt with a mystery. I think the crowning glory of this season, though, was its finale. The two parter A Canterlot Wedding was a lot more awesome than the season one finale, and handled more of that large-scale-evil that was managed in the pilot. The show is still my favourite guilty pleasure, and it's so funny. Maybe by next season's ending, I'll officially fall in line with the internet's hoard of bronies. If not, I'll still have a great time with this seriously clever kid's show.

Favourite episodes: A Canterlot Wedding was my all time favourite, but Luna Eclipsed was really sweet and endearing. It's About Time sated both my need to watch Twilight Sparkle and my obsession with time travel. Putting Your Hoof Down was hilarious, and probably the first Fluttershy oriented episode that I adored.

Least favourite episodes: Err, I'm seriously having trouble with this one. If I had to, I guess I found The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 to be a tad boring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Dust Jacket Description:

"After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.”
But nothing is what it seems, and Glory’s reality is not reality at all. In this stunningly moving novel told in photographs, pictures, and words, it’s up to the reader to decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along…"
Chopsticks is an interesting feat because it is a story told all through unusual forms of media. Pictures, youtube links, drawings, report cards, advertisements, it is definitely not your conventional novel. Because of this, I've decided to shirk my own conventional review format.

Chopsticks is very good at communicating its story. We learn quickly of the personalities of Glory and Francisco and their struggles. Situations are effectively explained in odd ways. It really proves how a small amount of information can be incredibly communicative. It's because of its medium that I think Chopsticks is worth reading, or more aptly, exploring. Telling stories in a way that incorporates visual and new media is something that I think should happen more regularly. 

While Chopsticks has a great medium, I found myself disappointed with its message. Glory's story of falling into mental illness could have been a lot more interesting with a few more hints of depth. The teens are clearly engaging - with their obsessions with music and language and literature, they're fun to follow for the thirty to forty five minutes that the book takes to read. But their love seems, well, inherently teen-like due to the lack of narration. There's no internal weight to the piece, and so all we see is their mad declarations of love and plans for the future. They talk of their powerful bond, but their relationship just made me want to roll my eyes. It's so...teenage, and without narration backing it, it got annoying. I also found the ending dissatisfying. 

Chopsticks is a gorgeous book, and it is very clever. But the story that it follows just didn't hold enough depth or provoke enough interest to make me feel for the characters. Awesome form, lacking in emotional function. 3 flowers. 


Monday, November 26, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: Inception and Philosophy edited by David Kyle Johnson

Goodreads Description:

"A philosophical look at the movie "Inception" and its brilliant metaphysical puzzles. Is the top still spinning? Was it all a dream? In the world of Christopher Nolan's four-time Academy Award-winning movie, people can share one another's dreams and alter their beliefs and thoughts. "Inception" is a metaphysical heist film that raises more questions than it answers: Can we know what is real? Can you be held morally responsible for what you do in dreams? What is the nature of dreams, and what do they tell us about the boundaries of "self" and "other"? From Plato to Aristotle and from Descartes to Hume, "Inception and Philosophy" draws from important philosophical minds to shed new light on the movie's captivating themes, including the one that everyone talks about: did the top fall down (and does it even matter)? Explores the movie's key questions and themes, including how we can tell if we're dreaming or awake, how to make sense of a paradox, and whether or not inception is possible. Gives new insights into the nature of free will, time, dreams, and the unconscious mind. Discusses different interpretations of the film, and whether or not philosophy can help shed light on which is the "right one". Deepens your understanding of the movie's multi-layered plot and dream-infiltrating characters, including Dom Cobb, Arthur, Mal, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, and Yusuf.

An essential companion for every dedicated Inception fan, this book will enrich your experience of the "Inception" universe and its complex dreamscape."

Review: (*warning for Inception spoilers*) 
I am a hard-core Inception lover. Like, seen the movie six times, read more than a dozen theories about the ending, read fanfiction when I get bored hard-core. My love of the story is intense. It was only logical than my mum pick out Inception and Philosophy when she was at the library. 

I don't know what I was expecting with this work, but it exceeded my expectations. The essays towards the beginning of the book are focused mainly on the main question: was the entire movie a dream? Each essay brilliantly explained the issue of reality while laying the groundwork for philosophical thought. They tightly built on each other - a feat that I've never seen in an anthology before. They made good points, and the general consensus seemed to be that the All Dream/the whole movie was a dream theory made the most sense. Only thing that confused me about this perspective was that they seemed to reject the groundwork made in the movie: you can go three levels down, but after that, you hit Limbo. For the entire movie to be a dream, there would have to be layers upon layers upon layers of dream activity, and the story logic follows that once you hit three, you hit the infinite space of Limbo. Am I missing something? I could be, but I found it strange that not one of these philosophers had thought of that issue.

The beginning of the book is a little repetitive in parts, because everyone seems so obsessed with the end question of the movie. After a while, this got slightly tiring. Once we escaped the end question and got into other aspects of the movie, though, I found myself invigorated again. Of course, once the anthology moved away from the Big Question, it was less tightly interwoven. However, I didn't mind too much for the sake of branching out. Everything from the idea of inception being a metaphor for moviemaking to the movie's use of Asian philosophy was covered. My very favourite essay was about the idea of knowing oneself and the people around you, and how you can only obtain an understanding of others if you are entirely in the present. 

This book not only explores all the brilliant intricacies of the Inception universe, but really provides a general overview of a lot of different philosophical branches and ideas. The bibliographies of the essays act as a great resource for further learning. I have a lot of new concepts that I would love to study more in depth. It succeeds at discussing Inception intelligently and making philosophy accessible to the public, and for that, it deserves attention. 4 and a half flowers. 


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Dust Jacket Description:

"One of the most best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, served as the basis of an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father - a crusading local lawyer - risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime. "

Characters: Scout is feisty and intelligent, but it's her naive narrative rather than her personality that makes her worth paying attention to in the novel. I would have found her slightly annoying if there hadn't been so much else occurring. I related more to Jem and liked the subtle mentions of his struggle with morality of Maycomb. Side characters were exceptionally well crafted and always seemed to exist for a specific point - Miss Maudie acted as a strong Southern woman outside of traditional norms, Mrs. Dubose was a spin on the archetype of grouchy elderly person, and Aunt Alexandra was the epitome of Southern perfection.

Lee also does a fantastic job at writing the economic issues of Maycomb. She showed the differences between destitute families and those like the Finches, and also revealed the tensions between poor white people and the general black population. Mayella Ewell's character in particular does a great job of showing the issues in America regarding being a poor, white female.

The two most interesting characters of the piece are the men Scout is most fascinated by: the mysterious neighbour known as Boo Radley, and her father, Atticus. Scout and Jem's perspectives of Boo evolved constantly over the course of the book, and how they perceived the abused man is what reveals their progressing maturity. I loved this aspect of the book even when other parts left my critical brain turning gears. Boo's kindness in the face of trauma is touching, and Scout's empathy gives one hope for future generations.

But then we get to Atticus.

He's a beloved American character, and his morality is certainly above reproach in this novel. But it makes me wary that The Ultimate Novel About Racial Oppression has a clear white savior at its heart. Atticus defends a black man from rape allegations, acts as the moral centre of Maycomb, and is lauded for his clear conviction for equality. This is all fine and good, but where are the strong black characters? Tom Robinson is seen as a good man who suffers from his situation and nothing more. Calpurnia may be the main mother figure to the Finch household as their cook, but she follows the stereotype of black women in fiction. Black people are never truly given a voice in To Kill a Mockingbird. They are merely people to save.

Sure, there's no doubt that To Kill a Mockingbird is worth reading, and its perspective has validity in the race conversation. But why does it get to be The Book About Race when it's written by a white woman? It should not be the ruler of the conversation when it revolves around white people and white people's struggle with racial equality. I find TKM's dominance to be unbelievably weird and off-putting, because it very much comes from the privileged narrative. It is still an excellent book, but I disagree that it should be the first novel people go to in order to deconstruct racial issues in America - if that is its purpose, it does a pretty bad job. 3 flowers. 

Plot: Scout starts the novel by stating that through this story, she will explain how her brother obtained a childhood injury. This made the story pretty interesting from the beginning, and it gets better from there. The pacing is a little slow at first, but Lee does a great job of setting up the climax as we get closer to the end point. It's overall well crafted. 5 flowers. 

End: I didn't really have any emotional ties to this novel until the end. It's when Lee let go of the race element to the story and really focused on her empathy message. It was there that I could embrace the story and the beauty of Boo Radley. 5 flowers. 

Dust Jacket Description: It takes forever to actually get to the plot line, but hey, does the book really need a hook with its history? 2 flowers. 

Cover: I quite like the colours and structure of my cover. It just screams classic. 5 flowers. 

Overall: There is no doubt that To Kill a Mockingbird is brilliantly written and incredibly compelling. I just hesitant to think that it shows a fair portrayal of the racial struggle in America. It is one narrative. Go find more that are closer to the heart of the issue. 5 flowers for its craft, 3 for its merit as a story, and 4 flowers overall.