Thursday, November 6, 2014

Camera Lucida

And now the final RA Favorite Book for this class of RAs in 2014-15, Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes.  Barthes, a French author, publishes this critique and philosophy on the importance and meaning of the photograph. The short book, 119 pages, though dense at times regarding the subject matter, is broken into two parts.  The first provides an overview of what is the importance of photography relative to who is in the picture, what it means, the types of photographs and finally, the difference between photographs and real life.  This theoretical review provides “deep” interpretations and meanings, such as his observation of the three intentions of photographs,   the operator, the spectator and the spectrum of the photograph (get lost yet?), stay tuned as you will, unless you commit to read it a few times.  Yet, I find the author to be brilliant!  I had not thought so deeply about the photo and its meaning previously.  In the second part of the book, Barthes shares photographs of people and locations and provides analysis into what he observes in each of the photos.  Look at the fingers of the kids, the fabric being worn by the subjects, and the incongruities and style of representation that the photographer captures in the photo and what we, the “viewers,” experience when reviewing the pics. Yes, he is pretty darn smart!  There is a significant amount of reflection and depth in the book especially helpful to those who study photography as I have no doubt this is a seminal read for all students in the field.  I love picking up books that have a large impact on my thinking in such a brief account on the topic.  Barthes made me think differently about the field of photography.  The pictures he shares coupled with his thoughtful insights give the student of the art-form subtle hints into how to further their craft.   This one is worth it for anyone who enjoys the field and analyzing the meaning the artist was trying to present.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Redwall by Brian Jacques is a fantasy series about a community of mice and their enemies, friends, life and death, and heroes and demons.  As with any good novel, there is our protagonist, Matthias, a young adventurous mouse living in Redwall Abbey with his fellow mice.  He is told early on in his life of the legendary sword of Martin the Warrior, which he must find to defeat the treacherous enemy, Cluny the Scourge, a large nasty rat!  Cluny has an extra-long tail that has a large barb at the end, which serves as a weapon to kill his enemies. As the story unfolds Matthias and his friends are in constant battle with Cluny until Matthias eventually is able to escape a near death battle with Cluny, find the sword, and yes kill the enemy!  While there is a great deal more in the story, including Matthias falling in love, meeting other animals who befriend him, fighting an army of rats, and losing a few friends during various skirmishes with Cluny, in the end it is a story of two distinct communities fighting for land and prestige.  This is a highly repeated story across history, but having mice and rats as the figures in the story.  I’d say it is an over-told story with a new twist, mice!  I wasn’t a fan of the book, maybe because I listened to it and it was read by British storytellers, so hard to catch the language during some segments of the story. Nothing really kept my interest in the book….  Sorry, just not that compelling or interesting to me.  I bet some young boys from middle school probably liked this one.  For me, I’ll take a pass on the rest of the books in this series.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Butterfly Mosque

I am winding down on the final three books for this year’s RA Favorite Books.  #3 in the list is The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, who tells her true-life story of leaving Colorado after graduating from Boston University to teach English at an American school in Cairo, Egypt post 9/11, a tumultuous time for Muslim/American relations.  Wilson provides the preface to her life journey to Egypt when she was very ill earlier in her life and has an “awakening for religion” when she is at a crossroads for recovery.  Her ‘epiphany’ begins the process of being open to religion after being an atheist. When the opportunity to embrace religion occurs, while preparing to teach in Cairo, it surprises her friend Jo and Ben.  Ben was an impetus for her travel to Cairo as he had taught the year before and sets the stage for her to meet one of his friends, Omar.  When Wilson arrives to Cairo, Omar serves as a host and tour guide, within a month the two are inseparable.  Wilson finally states her feelings for Omar and he immediately holds out his hand, a sign for engagement between man and woman in the Muslim culture, at least that’s how Wilson shares the connection.  The remainder of the book covers the months and year ahead where the couple has to break the news to their families and friends.  The book also captures the wedding and all of the challenges that both Omar and Wilson, who changes her name to Zeinoba, face.  Wilson shares her challenges of being American in a country that does not understand the western way of living, where men and women are very open and visible with relationships and physical contact.  The laws in the Muslim country restrict men and women from the same physicality (especially in public) permissible in our culture.  The desire to embrace and immerse herself in the culture was accepted by her family, much to her surprise.  Overall the entire immersion process of Wilson is described with all of the pains that she experienced along the way. Wilson was able to have stories of her experience published in the New Yorker and she was employed by an Egyptian magazine during her time there.  The story ends as the couple is about to embark on Omar’s first trip to the United States, does this mean a second book?  I learned a good deal through the eyes of an American writer who lives the life of a native Egyptian. The challenge of post 9/11 life makes for some dangerous times for the couple.  The story reads quickly and presents more of a love story, may I say, “chick-let” story.  I was ok with it.  I enjoyed the lessons on Egypt, much more than the quaint “leave my heritage for love” aspects, for sure.