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Showing posts from 2016

As Above, So Below: Religion in December

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Religious nonfiction falls into two broad categories - devotional and religious studies. Devotional works are meant to help an individual or group grow closer to the sacred heart of their religious faith. Religious studies, on the other hand, are the academic study of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions. The two are not, of course, mutually exclusive - many people find greater understanding of and faith in devotional practices that incorporate academic religious study, and others are drawn to religious study of their own and other faiths because of their devotional studies.

December's Main Read is brought to you courtesy of Castiel, the Angel of Thursdays, who has long had an interest in the intersection of religion and popular culture. (Just...don't ask him about the pizza man.) Check it out:

Understanding Religion and Popular Culture Welcome to the exciting and rapidly evolving field of study known as Religion and Popular Culture! This relatively new academic area …

The Devil Made Me Do It: Horror in November

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November - particularly this November - is the perfect month to delve into horror. As a genre, horror is supposed to dredge up fear, dread, and the particular type of suspense that makes you want to avoid what you know is coming even while you rush straight into it. It may seem odd to purposefully chase those emotions, but horror can be very cathartic. Horror is a very diverse field, and the evil we face might be supernatural, preternatural, or entirely human and banal. While the plot lines focus most often on death, destruction, or the demonic, the stories often explore more pressing societal fears and turmoil. A book about zombies, then, might be an author's commentary on globalization and the stifling of individuality or censorship and forced conformity - or it might be just a great story about brain-eating undead folk.

 November's Main Read is brought to you by the master of horror himself, the King of Hell (although he's sort of throneless at the moment), Crowley. Che…

I Feel Fine: Post-Apocalyptic October

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For October, we're looking at Post-Apocalyptic stories! While the basic premise of the genre is pretty clear - civilization has ended; now what? - there are a few defining features that may have slipped your notice. Typically, the end of the world (or, at least, mankind's dominance of it) has occurred realistically: disease, war, famine, global natural disaster, and the like. More often than not, we did it to ourselves, and possibly the rest of Earth's inhabitants, too. There's nothing left to do but pick up the pieces.

But the genre does insist that we look at a few questions along the way. What could we have done to prevent this?  A very important question, as we're in a great position now to actually prevent whatever disaster the author portrays, and one that usually more particularly concerns itself with the ethics of modern technology. How can we fix this? Most often, what's left after the apocalypse is a failing and oppressive system - even if that system…

Bon Appétit! Snacking through September

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This month, we're doing things a little differently - rather than focusing on a particular genre, we're looking at a theme! We're going to be talking about something universally appreciated, a core aspect of civilization and community building - food. If there is one constant across every culture, it's the feast - and for September we're picking an entrée and a side dish from a real smorgasbord of books, fiction and nonfiction, centered around food! From novels whose plots are built around restaurants or festivals to cookbooks to histories of particularly beloved ingredients, any foodie will find intellectual nourishment to their taste.

September's Main Read is brought to us by Dean, who has more than a bit of experience with diners and dives across the U.S. - it's seldom possible for a hunter to get a homemade meal, although you'll never find one without plenty of salt. Check it out:

Retro Pies: A Collection of Celebrated Family Recipes Ever wonder wher…

Is It Getting Hot in Here, Or...? Romantic Fantasy in August's Heat

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It has been a very hot month, hasn't it? For August, we're focusing on Romantic Fantasy - a subgenre of Fantasy with elements of Romance. While the romantic relationship will be the obvious focus, other relationships - including social and political ones - are often explored, as well. Magic and supernatural creatures make appearances, as well, but fantasy is often the motif or setting for the primary discussion of relationships. The main characters tend to be young people striving to find themselves and their places in the world around them; like Romances generally, Romantic Fantasy tends towards happy endings. Caution: while the focus is on romance and not sex for its own sake, there are occasionally depictions,sometimes graphic, of sexyfuntimes - and not always between two humans.

August's Main Read is brought to us by Spike! (While he is definitely a bad guy, he has a soft spot for romance - and isn't ashamed to admit it. What's not to love?) Check it out:

The H…

Mythologizing July

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For July, we're going to take a look at modern mythology - a special type of retold tale! Retold tales in general are a neat genre - they take familiar and important stories, ones that have already had a great deal of impact on our lives, and twist them up a bit. By introducing new themes and sometimes controversial ideas into a familiar setting, the author can lead the reader to new perspectives and a chance to reevaluate our own long-held beliefs and cherished traditions in someone else's context. A comfortable story made discomforting can be a powerful thing. Mythology retold is especially interesting - we can see the gods wrestling with the same issues we face, and learn to look at each other differently.

This month's Main Read was chosen by Loki - he thinks it's about time someone heard his side of events. Check it out:
The Gospel of Loki
I know a tale, O sons of earth.
I speak it as I must.
Of how nine trees gave life to Worlds
That giants held in trust. Okay. Stop. S…

What If? Alternate History in June

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[First off, an apology: this was supposed to be a  nonfiction month. We were going to look at historical nonfiction. Why did we end up with alternate history? I'll answer that in a bit.]

"What if...?" is probably a question better asked before making big decisions - but, occasionally, it's fun to ask afterwards, too. Alternate history does just that - questioning what might have happened had a few changes been made to the past. Usually, the author investigates the question pretty straight-forwardly, just presenting the story as though history had been different; sometimes, though, the author has something (like time travelers) actually change history. Either way, the author can play with how one or a few simple changes could ripple into major differences in parallel worlds.

Our Main Read this month comes courtesy of the Doctor, who swears it was history when he last spoke to me. (What exactly did he say to Socrates? He refuses to answer.) Check it out:

Lion's Blo…

May(be): Science Fiction!

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This month, we're boldly going where...well, many readers have gone before, actually. Science fiction is a well-known genre, but one of my favorites, nonetheless!

Science fiction is a type of speculative fiction that incorporates scientific (or pseudo-scientific) tropes like space exploration, extraplanetary colonization, time travel, parallel dimensions, alien encounters, and the like. Generally, science fiction has some grounding in actual science (although some stories cross the line into science fantasy).

Although there are several subgenres, our Main Read this month - chosen by The Clockwork Man - is hard science fiction, characterized by a strong connection to physical sciences. Check it out:

The Three-Body Problem
The Red Union had been attacking the headquarters of the April Twenty-eighth Brigade for two days. Their red flags fluttered restlessly around the brigade building like flames yearning for firewood.
Her life torn apart by China's Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenj…

Espionage in April

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Spy fiction, a sub-genre of mystery and thriller, grew out of a time when world powers and their modern intelligence agencies were heavily involved in intrigue and rivalry. While older works featured spies in various circumstances, it wasn't until the early twentieth century that the spy novel became a recognized sub-genre. Spy fiction became very popular during World War II and the Cold War, and has gained new traction with the rise of global terrorism, technological sabotage, and rogue states.

Very action-packed, spy fiction tends to lead its reader through the twists and turns of political intrigue, often following a particular spy who, we hope, is the good guy (but might be a double agent!) The reader typically receives all the information necessary to figure out what is going on, but must approach it as a puzzle, trying, along with the main character, to see the whole picture before it's too late.

Our Main Read this month was chosen by John Watson, who has quite a bit of …

Marching into Microhistory!

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Microhistory (the first nonfiction genre we're exploring this year) is a special branch of history, looking intensively at a very small area of study - on a single subject, for instance, or a single social movement. Rather than a general, inclusive look at the past, then, microhistories tend to be narrowly focused - giving the author (and the reader) the opportunity to dive deep into minutia that would bog down a work on a broader scale.

Microhistories are also an excellent way for fiction readers to branch into nonfiction, as they tend to have more of a narrative feel to them. The "hero" of the story might be an inanimate object, an abstract idea, or even a revolution - but it is a single thing, with a steady thread weaving throughout the work.

Our Main Read this month was chosen by our third Readers Advisor Sherlock Holmes, so the topic won't be much of a surprise to those familiar with his retirement years activities. Check it out:

Robbing the Bees: A Biography o…

Hi, February High Fantasy!

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Defining high fantasy as opposed to low fantasy has nothing at all to do with quality. High fantasy is set in an entirely other world, one full of magic, so it works differently than our own, non-magical world. (Think Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Low fantasy, by comparison, is set either in our own world or a world that works like ours, only with a bit of magic breaking through. 

High fantasy often features a protagonist who begins as an innocent or even a child, and is aided by a mystical figure in order to grow into a legendary hero, battling a Dark Lord and the forces of evil (usually orcs, wraiths, dragons, and whatnot). The great struggle between good and evil tends to be front and center, with the fate of the world (or perhaps only the protagonist's part of it) at stake. Because high fantasy covers a protagonist's growth into heroic stature and a sweeping epic of good versus evil, it's difficult to fit into one book - so high fantasy ends up usually bei…

New Weird for the New Year!

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Before we get to New Weird, we should take a look at Old Weird! The best - or, at least, best known - examples of Weird literature were written by H.P. Lovecraft, who gave us the darkly disturbing yet strangely beautiful world of Cthulhu, the Old Ones, and the Necronomicon. Lovecraft used his macabre world to explore themes of forbidden knowledge, supernatural influences on humankind, fate, religion, and the dangers of unrestrained science.

New Weird tends to explore similar themes in worlds two steps removed from our own. Alongside mankind dwells entities entirely unlike us, who may mean us harm - or may cause us harm incidentally as they pursue their own agendas. Unlike most horror, the Other is entirely inimical to us - the Monster confronting us is not a reflection of our own darkness but something incomprehensible that drives us to madness.

Our Main Read for the month was chosen just for you by Cthulhu himself! (I tried to tell him that it wasn't one book but a trilogy; he s…

Happy 2nd Birthday, Blog! Let's Change It Up!

The blog is two years old, now! I know I've taken a pretty long break, but now I'm back, and doing things a bit differently.

First things first - how'd I do with my 2015 resolutions?

Read books. Yep! I met my goal of 100 books (and a couple more, just for fun). I also read quite a few mysteries, but I didn't quite finish all of P.D. James's Adam Dalgliesh series. Spend time with my family. Yep! Totally did that. I even got to spend time with my parents and my in-laws!Play some D&D. Yeah, some - and then our group broke up a bit. Those of us left in the area still get together to play games, talk, watch movies, etc. Crochet some stuff. Yeah, I got some of that done, too. I did scarves for the kiddos, and a scarf and hat for myself, as well as a stuffed octopus toy for the cat. That sort of ended it for me. 
Once again, I met all my goals! I think I'll continue the tradition of setting easily accomplished goals for myself. Here we go:

Read books. Well, of cours…