Currently Reading:

Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Low Resolutions

It’s a bit past due, but for quite some time now I’ve had pictures of The Jugbusters posted from our New Year’s Eve gig at The Cellar, courtesy of Her Ladyship (who cleverly and studiously avoids camera time).
The gig was a great time, we were sloppy but energentic, and I got my New Year’s kiss. Funny how in my adulthood I seem to be making up for all of those New Year’s Eves of my youth spent reading alone in my room. But nice that I can say in all honesty that my life is generally better now than it’s ever been.
Oh — some of the pictures may appear to be a bit blurry. That’s not the fault of the camera nor the photographer. The truth is that we actually were that blurry. What can I say? The bar was being generous to us.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Whenever a film is based upon some book, comparisons are inevitable. If you’re the sort of person who wants others to think of you as an intellectual, whenever the subject of the film is raised in conversation, you’re supposed to say that the book is better. (This is particularly effective when you’ve actually read the book, or know someone who has.)
The intended effect is two-fold: first and foremost, it is intended to be impressed upon your audience that you are the sort of person who reads books, unlike the unwashed masses who have only a long enough attention span to sit passively through a two hour film. Secondly, and by extension, it is intended to belittle film as an inferior medium to the written word, particularly if the film has enjoyed any commercial success, and particularly if the speaker fancies himself a bookish type. If you have not in fact read the book, under no circumstances should this be admitted. You should instead direct discussion to the relative merits and detriments of the film qua film (use the word “qua” to do so), paying particular regard to the camera work, lighting, blocking and other aspects of the film in which you’re hoping that the other bookish types won’t be quite so conversant. And if you get cornered, nod sagely and say nothing until the conversation veers elsewhere. Better to say nothing than to be mistaken for one of the unwashed masses.
The film Bladerunner, as the bookish types will tell you, is based loosely on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? “Loosely” in part because Ridley Scott had a vision, and in part because he reportedly never actually finished the book himself before making the film. I’d be lying if I said that I like the book better. It is, without question, a brilliant book. However, in no small part because it’s a bit dated by now, it relies on technological gadgetry a good bit more than the film, and that makes it read more like stock science fiction than Bladerunner. While Do Androids Dream… is full of robotic sheep and flying cars, Bladerunner focuses more on sweat and dirt. Yes, the book plot is more complex. But the film environment is, to my eye, much richer and actually more immersive. It leaves less to the imagination, but the details included share the director’s imagination in fascinating ways. I’m very glad that I read Do Androids Dream… It’s a great book on its own merits. But it’s also a great book as backstory to a great film. Bookish types and the unwashed masses alike would do well to pay attention to both.

How The Irish Saved Civilization

How The Irish Saved Civilization
Thomas Cahill

How The Irish Saved Civilization
History has never been my strong suit. I’m not sure what my strong suit is, but it isn’t history. I have in my head a smattering of names and dates and events, but generally haven’t done a very good job of treating them as anything other than an isolated smattering of names, dates, and events. Which of course isn’t where the interesting bits of history exist at all. It’s the connections and disconnections among all of the smatterings that bring coherence to the world as a whole.
Book of Kells
How the Irish Saved Civilization does a nice job of helping a poor slob like me put some otherwise disconnected pieces of information into perspective. For example, I’ve read Saint Augustine’s Confessions, and I’ve read a bit of Irish history about Saint Patrick and his mission in Ireland. But I haven’t read anything else that explicitly discusses the two as Christian contemporaries (which they were) and puts them in the context of the dissolving Roman empire. I’ve read about the Irish warrior kings and I’ve read about (and visited) the monasteries in which the early European Christian texts were preserved. But up until Cahill, I haven’t read anything that discusses how illiterate barbarians became skilled Latinists and book preservationists within the span of a generation or two. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other books out there to have done so; I just haven’t read them.
Therein, I suppose, lies the value of secondary historical sources. The story isn’t in the events; it’s in the seams between events. And those living in the seams usually don’t know that they’re in them. Reading Augustine, it never once dawned on me that I was reading what is possibly the first spiritual autobiography in the history of humankind, authored by someone whose civilization was collapsing around him. I suppose it’s possible that it never dawned on Augustine until the barbarians were at the gates of Hippo.
How the Irish Saved Civilization is not an academic history. It’s isn’t heavily footnoted, sources are not always obvious, and the most of the details are far from detailed. But as a means of connecting the data from other sources in interesting ways, it serves wonderfully.