KINDLE FREAKS: A SELECTION OF GOOD READING FOR FREE

Last post of 2013!!

Other bloggers use the label ‘Kindle freak’ meaning someone in love with their e-book readers, as sold by Amazon. This is not quite how I use the label here, as, although I like my Kindle Touch e-book reader fine I am not much in love with Amazon’s attempts to control me and my reading habits. Once, as I loaded up new texts onto my Kindle I got a message from Amazon saying I should purchase ‘legally’ a classic I had downloaded very legally from Project Gutenberg. This is why my Kindle has always been off-line since then and why I use it basically to read texts I can access for free. I have not yet purchased any e-book nor intend to do so for the time being.

So: the label ‘Kindle freak’ means to me the kind of heavily addicted reader that is willing to upload any odd text onto their Kindle (or e-book) reader just for the sake of giving it a try, or ticking off an item from their own endless reading list. Since copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author according to US and UK law, this means that I’m reading plenty written by authors who died before 1943; also texts that for whatever reasons authors have simply made available. I assume that what is on offer from Project Gutenberg or Many Books fulfills these requirements. I’ll leave for the time being aside the thorny matter of piracy.

My transformation into a Kindle freak, I must explain, is also a result of the current economic crisis in Spain. Suddenly, it makes no sense to spend 100-150 euros on books every two months just to feed my reading habit as I used to do. So, I’m just buying what I must buy necessarily while I use the e-book reader’s possibilities to curb down reading expenses. Blame dear Artur Mas for that, as he’s been taking off my salary about 250 euros (after taxes) per month for the last six months or more. The downside for the book industry of my Kindle freakishness, of course, is that I’m less and less willing to spend much on paper books, and even less willing to spend much money on e-books. I thought nothing of paying 25 to 35 euros for a book a few years ago–now I’m beginning to call myself Ms. Scrooge.

My Christmas present for you is a selection of texts (in no particular order) which I have read for free and that might interest you. There’s a little bit of everything, so hopefully you’ll feel curious about at least one or two. Do use Wikipedia for extra information, it’s much more interesting than my providing comments… And enjoy!!

Four Stars Reading out of Four:
Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil’s Dictionary (1911), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/972.
Defoe, Daniel. Journal of the Plague Year (1722), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/376.
Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 (1845). Trans Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17306.
London, Jack. The People of the Abyss (1903), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1688.

Odd Classics:
Dickens, Charles. Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Everyday Life and Every-day People (1836), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/882.
Stevenson, R.L. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/535

On Women and Feminism:
Gillman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland (1915), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House (1879), trans. not specified, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2542.
Sanger, Margaret. Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography (1938), http://archive.org/details/margaretsangerau1938sang
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences 1815–1897 (1898), http://manybooks.net/titles/stantone1198211982-8.html

Solid Fantasy of the Old Kind:
Dunsany, Lord. Tales of Wonder (1916), http://manybooks.net/titles/dunsany13821382113821-8.html.
Hodgson, William Hope. The House on the Borderland (1908), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10002.
MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin (1872), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/708.
Sarban (John William Wall). The Sound of his Horn (1952), http://www.munseys.com/book/21900/Sound_of_His_Horn,_The.

SF Old and New:
Bates, Harry. “Farewell to the Master” (1940), http://manybooks.net/titles/batesharryother09farewell_to_the_master.html
Bloch, Robert. This Crowded Earth (1958), http://manybooks.net/titles/blochr2577625776.html
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother (2008), http://manybooks.net/titles/doctorowother08Little_Brother.html
Forster, EM. “The Machine Stops” (1909), http://manybooks.net/titles/forstereother07machine_stops.html
Lovecraft, H.P. “The Color Out of Space” (1927), http://manybooks.net/titles/lovecrafthother10Color_out_of_space.html
Norton, Andre. Star Born (1957), http://manybooks.net/titles/nortonaother05star_born.html
Stross, Charles. Scratch Monkey (1993), http://manybooks.net/titles/strosscother08Scratch_Monkey.html

On Theatre:
Irving, Henry. The Drama (1892), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13483
Terry, Ellen. The Story of My Life (1908), http://manybooks.net/titles/terrye1232612326-8.html

American Novels:
Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! (1913), http://manybooks.net/titles/catherwietext92opion13.html,
Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt (1922), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1156

Non-fiction on Slavery:
Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11030
Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography (1901), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2376.

British Novels:
Barrie, J.M. The Admirable Crichton (1902), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3490.
Corelli, Marie. The Sorrows of Satan (1895), http://archive.org/details/sorrowsofsatanor00coreuoft.
Hilton, James. Goodbye, Mr Chips (1934), http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500111h.html.
Hilton, James. Lost Horizon (1933), http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500141h.html.
Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men in a Boat (1889), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/308.
Lowndes, Marie Belloc. The Lodger (1913), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2014
Rohmer, Sax. The Insidious Fu Manchu (UK title The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (1913)), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/173

WWI- British:
Raymond, Ernest. Tell England: A Study in a Generation (1922), http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15033.
Ewart, Wilfrid. The Way of Revelation (1921), http://www.archive.org/stream/wayofrevelationn00ewaruoft/wayofrevelationn00ewaruoft_djvu.txt
WWI – Other languages:
Latzko, Andreas. Men in War (1917). Trans unspecified, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8440 (Hungarian writer, novel in German)

I assume everyone knows about Calibre, the programme to transform files to the format your e-book reader accepts, but just in case check: http://calibre-ebook.com

Happy New Year 2014!!! May you read and enjoy much Literature.

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just remember that I check them first for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be available. If you like my blog, you can subscribe using the RSS feed (right-hand column, below Blogroll.) You’ll get an email message for every new post. VISIT MY WEB: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

UNLIKELY PLACES TO FIND USEFUL COMMENTS ON GENDER AND RACE: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PACIFIC RIM

If you have already read my posts for the films Battle Los Angeles and Warrior you must already know that I find testosterone-driven Hollywood films very useful to grasp the real state of our current gender discourse, and, thus, correct the utopian drive of (pro-feminist) academic theory.

As I have been preaching for the last twenty years one of the very odd effects of feminism is that men routinely incorporate in these macho fantasies female characters that are often much spunkier (I mean agentive in the current academic parlance) than most female characters imagined by women writers. Are you worried that your little daughter is too fond of princesses (who need rescuing)? No problem: have her see Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. She’ll find there Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi), co-piloting with a man a gigantic robot… and kicking to pieces the colossal sea monsters that threaten to exterminate the human species. Yes, rescuing us.

Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro borrow for the plot of Pacific Rim two classics of post-WWII Japanese popular culture: the giant monster Godzilla and the giant robot Mazinger-Z. Godzilla first appeared in 1954 in the eponymous film by Ishirō Honda and has spawned other 28 films (by Toho Company), plus the Hollywood version, and countless apparitions in other media. He is a ‘kaiju’ or monster, and indeed the origin of the long list of Japanese ‘kaiju movies.’ In case we miss the allusion, Beacham and del Toro call their frightening amphibious monsters from the abyss ‘kaijus.’ Mazinger, which appeared in 1972 as a character in the popular anime TV series, is the originator of the immensely popular ‘mecha’ (or giant robot) sub-genre of Japanese culture. In Pacific Rim, the mecha are called ‘jaegers’ (or hunters). The idea is quite simple: a devastating species of ‘kaijus’ emerges from the deep to wipe out the human species and colonise Earth –nothing will stop them, except the (quite cumbersome) ‘jaegers.’ Ironically, the creatures can only be destroyed by using a nuclear device –I say ironically because Godzilla is the product of the atomic bombs dropped by the Americans on Japan.

Now, here’s the funny thing: the jaegers require not one but two pilots who must be connected via a neural interface with each other and with the machine –one is the left hemisphere, the other the right one of the mecha’s brain. The pairs are mostly male but the film focuses on a mixed-gender team.

Pacific Rim would never pass the Bechdel test, which comic book artist Alison Bechdel introduced in her strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1985). A pro-feminist movie should: 1) have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. In Pacific Rim we don’t see any women until the classic first turning point (minute 20). Once Mako is introduced, as a demure scout for new male pilot talent, she’s alone for the rest of the movie –there’s a Russian female pilot but they never speak to each other. Predictably, Mako is chosen by hunk Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to replace her dead brother. Unpredictably, his choice is based on his feeling perfect empathy with her, based on her combat and pilot skills and not on sexual attraction.

The obstacle she needs to overcome is her protective dad, Stacker Pentecost, the military officer that runs the ‘jaegers’ in full rebellion against the inefficient political authorities. Here’s another unexpected twist: the father (Idris Elba) is black and he has raised his Japanese adoptive daughter on his own. He’s protective but not obnoxious and soon sees that Mako must be allowed to make her choices. Do tell me about another film were you see this unlikely racial/gender/parenting combination. Even more: another pilot team is former by two Australian men, father and son, and, yes, the father is also a single dad. He even tells Raleigh when his son misbehaves that it might be his own fault for hesitating to give him a hug when required. Again: name a film with not one but two single dads, doing on the whole very well.

Mako is, surely, closely related to Sayaka Yumi, the girl who piloted the ‘female mecha’ Aphrodite-A in the Mazinger-Z series. The idea that robots are male or female is, of course, very silly but the image of Aphrodite-A firing her Oppai Missile System (yes, ‘boob’ missile system) has staid in the imaginary of all kids born in the 1960s. It seems that Sayaki never yelled said “breasts out” in the same way that Mazinger’s pilot Koji Kabuto yelled “fists out” to launch its missiles, but Spanish boys playing in school yards made Sayaki’s war cry also part of our culture. Anyway: here’s my addition to the Blechdel test –a heroine is not a heroine unless that is her story. Ergo: neither Mako nor Sayaki are heroines. They are sidekicks and, well, poor Mako is a little bit of a liability for Raleigh, as she still suffers from the childhood trauma of seeing Tokyo wiped out and collapses a few minutes before the final attack is carried out. Raleigh does rescue her, I’m afraid, but, then, it is clear, he could not have succeeded without her.

Where am I going with all this? Well, Pacific Rim teaches boys that girls can make excellent team mates, to begin with. Also that being a single dad is ok, whether of a boy or a girl. Not bad, all considered. It celebrates brute force but rejects interpersonal violence. Now, the problem is how I convince my little nieces that Mako is much cooler than any idiotic princess. Also, how we women start creating other Makos that instead of sea monsters fight (teamed up with men) the real monster: inequality.

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just remember that I check them first for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be available. If you like my blog, you can subscribe using the RSS feed (right-hand column, below Blogroll.) You’ll get an email message for every new post. VISIT MY WEB: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

THE COMPETENCES OF THE TEACHERS (BUT WHAT ABOUT THE STUDENTS’?)

The Office for the Quality of Teaching (Oficina per la Qualitat Docent, or OQD) of my university asks me to pass onto the Department’s students a link where they’ll find a survey about which competences are desirable in a teacher. Curioser and curioser, I discover that the survey demands no ID, so I take it (I do tell them about this odd omission…).

The questions are based, as I eventually discover, on the work of the Grup Interuniversitari de Formació Docent (GIFD), to which UAB’s OQD belongs. In particular, the survey refers back to the results of the research project “Proposta d’un marc de referència competencial del professorat universitari i adequació dels plans de formació basats en competències docents” (RED-U2012). RED-U is, by the way, the Red Estatal de Docencia Universitaria (http://www.red-u.org/). I do recall having taken the survey addressed to the teachers. The rationale, as you can see from the project title, is that if a set of necessary competences that all good university teachers should posses is established with the participation of teachers and students, then better teacher training can be offered and, so, higher education improved. Fair enough.

Now, the questions I asked the OQT are 1) whether they are aware that the competences which the survey highlights are by no means the qualities students prefer in teachers, as suggested by our habitual semestral surveys; 2) when they are going to elaborate a set of similar competences for students and survey teachers on these… No answer so far.

Have a look at the very interesting article “Identificación, desarrollo y evaluación de competencias docentes en la aplicación de planes de formación dirigidos a profesorado universitario” by the members of GIFD, published in the monographic issue of REDU. Revista de Docencia Universitaria (10:2, May-August 2012, 21-56) on “Competencias docentes en la educación superior.” (http://gifd.upc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/REDU-Identificaci%C3%B3n-desarrollo-y-evaluaci%C3%B3n-competencias-docentes-GIFD1.pdf). After selecting competences from different sources, the team established a set of six competences: communicative, methodological, interpersonal, planning and management, innovation, team work (which I have reproduced here in the order preferred by the teachers themselves).

Logically, the authors are concerned that teachers are resisting the idea that constant teaching innovation and team work are very necessary competences. I do find this worrying, although I’m quite sceptical about the idea that innovation should be tied up to the use of digital technologies. Team work, yes, by all means: as I know first hand sharing a subject with someone else is always being in good company and does not detract at all from the freedom to teach in your own style in class.

My point today, I’ll insist, is that there is no corresponding set of competences for students. Having written the competences for ‘Literature and Culture’ in our BA degree in English Studies I know very well what I’m talking about. We do have an impressive set of competences (just revised) but none that really refers to basic study skills. I’ll take, then, the teachers’ own and offer a similar set of students’ competences (in the order I prefer):

1) methodological: students read carefully the Syllabus as soon as it is published in July, buy the books and read them in summer; students prepare in advance of the lectures/seminars the necessary texts and exercises; students follow the teacher with their full attention and make notes (preferably not of what the teacher says but of what they think).

2) planning and management: students, having read the Syllabus for all their subjects in July, plan their work week by week, taking advantage of the assessment calendars we publish; students check at the beginning of September, when the complete programmes are published, that these match the assessment calendar; students complete the agenda for the academic year making sure that they adequately combine study and assessment; students are completely autonomous and do not depend on the teachers’ reminders for specific tasks.

3) innovation: the real innovation, as things are now –sorry to be, possibly, offensive to some students– is that students apply competences 1 and 2 to their work; innovation competences also refer to student’s ability to use competently the internet for study, the databases we teach them, the library catalogue and any other digital resource.

4) communicative: students see the classroom (both presential and virtual) as a space for intensive dialogue and for the debate of ideas with their peers and the teachers; students always participate in class discussion and never assume a passive role.

5) interpersonal: students use their teachers’ expertise as a resource from which they can greatly benefit by establishing a friendly, respectful dialogue with them; students value their teachers for the work they do and not for their availability, personal charm or for how easy it is to pass a subject with a particular teacher; students take advantage of the teacher’s office hours to benefit from the teachers’ guidance.

6) team work: students understand teaching as a collaborative effort and see themselves as part of a team (the whole class) helping the teacher do his/her work; students show a clear disposition to make higher education work for all involved.

Now that we know what’s an ideal teacher and an ideal student, let’s see how we can help real people match the ideals…

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just remember that I check them first for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be available. If you like my blog, you can subscribe using the RSS feed (right-hand column, below Blogroll.) You’ll get an email message for every new post. VISIT MY WEB: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

MUFFINS AND CUPCAKES: THE INVASION OF UNITED STATES BAKERY (WITH A PLEA FOR COSMOPOLITAN RESISTANCE)

Jaime: This one is for you…

I’m sure you have noticed the relentless advance of US-inspired bakery in our cities and towns, aided by diverse TV shows (currently, for instance, Cupcake Wars on Divinity). This invasion of muffins, cupcakes and an endless variety of decorated cakes has been quite fast and, as it happens with fashions that take on very quickly, it seems to have left us with the impression that American bakery is already part of our local Spanish culture. Well, it is not, though I assume it is here to stay.

Reconstructing the history of this recent cultural import is by no means easy. (In case you have been on planet Mars in the last decade, you can take a basic tutorial from “Magdalenas, Muffins y Cupcakes: Diferencias” at http://denikatessen.blogspot.com.es/2013/05/magdalenas-muffins-diferencias.html). To satisfy my own curiosity I did a Google search limited by year, beginning in 1996, and although I do know that this is not 100% realiable, the results seem to make a certain sense. Let’s start with the muffins, then move onto the cupcakes.

Muffins seems to be a McDonald’s import, at least this is what a question formulated back on 1/02/2001 in the website El Preguntón (www.ruper.net/El%20Pregunton.htm‎) suggests: “¿Por qué en el McDonald las magdalenas se llaman Muffins y no McDalenas?” The first references to ‘muffins’ I’ve come across go back actually to 2000: an early recipe for honey muffins (10/03/2000, http://jgmoyay.apagada.com/recetas.htm#38), and an article on polidextrose (02/02/2000, www.espatentes.com/pdf/2207816_t3.pdf‎) in which the author considers s/he needs to explain that muffins are “bollos o bizcochos similares a la magdalena.” So… the next step would perhaps ask McDonalds Spain… Funnily, I was under the impression that Starbucks was responsible for the popularisation of muffins, but it landed in Spain in 2002 when McDonalds was already offering muffins –or so it seems.

Now –cupcakes. This is complicated… and for a very peculiar reason it’s easy to detect plenty of rivalry regarding claims as to who opened the first cupcake establishment in Spain. I’ll stake the totally unproven claim that cupcakes were introduced in Spain in 1994, when the first Taste of America shop opened (http://www.tasteofamerica.es/historia). At least I’m reasonably sure that they must have sold already products to bake cupcakes at home. Now, I’ve found at least three likely contenders for the title of first Spanish bakery especialising in American cupcakes: 1) Acaramelada in Madrid (it seems to have opened in November 2000), offering “repostería creativa” (the finished product, courses, materials); 2) Patricia Arribálzaga’s shop (http://www.tartasdecoradasycupcakes.com/), which opened in 2001 and specialised in ‘designer cupcakes’; 3) and Golden Cupcake (http://goldencupcake.com), from León, which announce themselves as “la primera franquicia de repostería creativa” though I should contact them to find out when they started. By the way, the most popular blog in this area seems to be “El rincón de Bea” (http://www.elrincondebea.com/), since 2008.

You may have heard something about cupcakes and the TV series Sex and the City. Yes, correct: Mikel López Iturriaga explains that “Carrie y sus amigas no sólo enseñaron a las americanas que los cupcakes eran cool y te curaban de cualquier tipo de desencuentro con la vida, sino que les hizo vivir la fantasía de que no engordaban.” (“Todo lo que debes saber sobre los ‘cupcakes’”, 21/07/2010, http://blogs.elpais.com/el-comidista/2010/07/moda-cupcakes-magdalenas.html). In particular, Carrie and her posh friends were the clients of Magnolia Bakery (http://www.magnoliabakery.com/). Now, Sexo en Nueva York was first broadcast in Spain by the subscription channel Cosmopolitan in 2000. It seems, then, quite likely that cupcakes, introduced more or less by then, actually came to Spain on the personal initiative of travellers who discovered in situ American bakery. The series may have just confirmed the popularity of cupcakes among middle- and upper-class urban women.

Personally, I don’t like very much neither muffins nor cupcakes –too rich, too cloying. I’m not going to defend ‘magdalenas’ here, which, ironically, are also a cultural import, this time from French baking culture. I simply like much better the very fine local patisserie in Barcelona (think Farga), which seems to me much more elegant in texture and flavour than the US-inspired bakery. As I’m sure you are noticing, I feel actually quite annoyed by this American import because it seems to be yet another colonial surrender to a culture that has already overwhelmed us in excess.

In contrast, I’ll defend the cosmopolitan virtues of another cultural import to Barcelona: the patisseri Ochiai with its Japanese specialities (http://www.ochiaipastisseria.com/). This is run by Takashi Okiai since 1983 (he’s one of those ‘romantic’ migrants few studies of migration seem to notice). One of his star products is the ‘dorayaki,’ “а red bean pancake which consists of two small pancake-like patties made from castella wrapped around a filling of sweet Azuki red bean paste” (Wikipedia explains). All Catalan kids know about ‘dorayaki’ because it’s what the space cat Doraemon eats in the eponynous cartoon TV series.

There’s, as you can see, a great difference between the cosmopolitanism of cultural variety (= the dorayaki) and the invasion backed by US imperialist cultural colonisation (= the muffins and cupcakes).

This post, by the way, is 100% Cultural Studies… I’ll let in other hands the continuation of the work started here, you’re very welcome. It’s been fun!!

Comments are very welcome! (Thanks!) Just remember that I check them first for spam; it might take a few days for yours to be available. If you like my blog, you can subscribe using the RSS feed (right-hand column, below Blogroll.) You’ll get an email message for every new post. VISIT MY WEB: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/