I was pleased to discover Patricia McKillip’s short-story collection DREAMS OF DISTANT SHORES includes her short novel Something Rich and Strange, (though without the original Brian Froud illustrations) as getting it used would have been pricey. Unfortunately, while the story of two lovers captivated by male and female sea deities is vividly written, it ends on a Western Union (give a hoot! Don’t pollute) I could have done without, even though I have the same view. In other stories Medusa becomes an artist’s muse, a witch’s spirit inhabits a wooden mermaid and two lovers discuss the impossible while hiding in a bathroom. Overall very good.
SHORT STORIES BY JESUS: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine is an interesting enough look at Jesus’ parables it makes me want to go back and reread the Gospels (and I will, though I may look for something other than my old KJV first). Levine argues that the allegorical interpretations of the parables — the shepherd with the missing sheep is God yearning for the sinner to repent — don’t make sense: the straying sheep doesn’t repent, the shepherd has to drag it back to the flock, and isn’t it the shepherd’s fault if his charges wander off (ditto the parable of the lost coin, as coins are completely unable to repent going astray). Some interpretations, Levine argues, get downright antisemitic by arguing the message is Christian compassion vs. Jewish intolerance (a Jewish scholar herself, she goes into some depth on how these theories misread the law). Levine is less effective at offering a “real” interpretation, but as her point is that we should push beyond the obvious and comfortable readings, handing me an interpretation might be counter-productive. Thought provoking.
LIBRARIES IN THE ANCIENT WORLD by Lionel Casson shows that libraries go back at least to the Assyrian king Asshurbanipal, who built his own personal royal library (which provides the source for much of the Sumerian literature still extant, but had very little effect on later library developments (like the inventions in The Ancient Engineers, his library was a personal project nobody else followed up on). As a result, library history really doesn’t get started until the Greeks, who founded the Library of Alexandria (during the Ptolemy dynasty’s reign over Egypt) and multiple others, and introduced a novel idea of alphabetization to order the books. One thing that surprised me was that ancient libraries weren’t purely scholastic: literacy was high enough that there was a serious demand for popular literature in Greece and Rome, and later Byzantium.
I’ve read a lot of books filled with dense academese, but in writing THE CULTURAL LIFE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES: Authorship, Appropriation and the Law Rosemary Coombe takes it to new heights with phrases such as “Despite the epistemological bankruptcy of the metaphors of possessive individualism” so I had no qualms skipping large chunks of this and skimming the rest. That’s unfortunate, as I like reading about copyright and intellectual property law and Coombe does have some interesting points about how this sector of law increasingly favors the corporation over the public. If Coca-Cola licensing its logo to T-shirt or towel manufacturers doesn’t hurt the trademark, for instance, why does an unauthorized use of the trademark the same way “dilute” the mark (it’s not as if Coke is endorsing the quality of the shirts). Why is it that the International Olympics Committee’s trademark on “Olympics” isn’t harmed by countless groups and organizations using the word but has to be protected from a Gay Olympics? Why do stars get to trademark their public image when it’s often based on countless other performers (though Coombe gets the facts about one lawsuit involving the Marx Brothers’ image wrong). Despite those gems, Coombe’s opaque writing made it impossible to care about whatever insights into post-modern individualism and its relation to this topic might be.