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Q&A | August 19, 2014

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Describe your latest book. The Getaway God is the sixth book in the Sandman Slim series. In it, the very unholy nephilim, James Stark, aka Sandman... Continue »
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Lois Henderson has commented on (4) products.

Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities by James Turner
Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities

Lois Henderson, June 25, 2014

The fluent and highly accessible way in which James Turner, Cavanaugh Professor of Humanities at the University of Notre Dame, recounts the evolution of the science of philology makes for relatively easy reading, which is especially exceptional when one considers the complexity of the subject matter of this 550-page book. Attention-grabbing from the start, Professor Turner begins his prologue by discussing a highly apposite adage of the leading humanistic scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, namely: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog [knows] one big thing.” He explains the importance and relevance of the adage to a central issue of this work: whether humanistic scholarship in the West consists of many disciplines, or just one overarching discipline.

Clearly, Turner is a dab hand at unpacking multidimensional and intertwined concepts that might otherwise leave the reader floundering in the midst of an academic maze. His competence and ease in exploring a subject to which he has devoted much of his own academic career instils a sense of trust in the reader that this is an expert who is not only on intimate terms with his material, but who is also vitally concerned with conveying his understanding of the matter to his readers, no matter how new they are to the field. While in no way being condescending towards his audience, Turner explains even the most fundamental of ideas and practices in a pragmatic and fulsome way that gives heart and feeling to Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities. Making no undue assumptions as to the pre-existing level of understanding among his audience, he animates and informs all aspects of the evolution of philology, leaving no stone unturned in his portrayal of the history of the discipline, from the time of the ancient Greeks to the modern day.

Turner has a delightful sense of humor��"he manifests none of the academic stuffiness that is typically associated with the science of philology, and is, in fact, prone to take the mickey out of pedantic claptrap. For instance, he personifies the appearance of philology in academic circles in Northern America and the British Isles as tottering “along with arthritic creakiness. One would not be startled to see its gaunt torso clad in a frock coat.” The author traces the development of the science from its once “chic” and “dashing” form to its present state of apparent decrepitude with the ease and fluency of a skilled rhetorician who is a master of his art. He shows how, from philology’s once all-embracing encompassment of the study of all language and languages, as well as of all texts, the seeming deterioration of the discipline into its present attenuated state came about through its birthing of the many disciplines that currently comprise not only the humanities, but also the social sciences. By giving rise to a plethora of children, as many parents have done since time immemorial, it can clearly be seen to have sacrificed some of its own integrity so that it could give life to a host of new entities, each strong and growing by leaps and bounds in its own right.
In addition to the present volume, Professor Turner has also authored The Liberal Education of Charles Eliot Norton and Religion Enters the Academy, as well as coauthored The Sacred and the Secular University. He is well-known for the depth of his professional insight and for the fluency and accessibility of his writing, of which the present volume is yet another memorable instance.
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The Salt of My Desire by Joan Schrauwen
The Salt of My Desire

Lois Henderson, July 8, 2013

Strongly reminiscent of Joy Packer’s writings, but with a great deal more depth and multidimensionality, Joan Schrauwen’s The Salt of My Desire, set in South West Africa during the second half of the twentieth century, is remarkable for the multiple viewpoints from which she speaks. In turn, all the major characters have an opportunity to express their point of view and perspective on the central themes of the novel. The interplay between the various characters is all the richer for them being empowered in this way to express their individuality and knowledge in their different fields of expertise. Ranging from the Byronic hero, Nicholas Nordman Jr., who was born a half-caste child from a relationship between a local Nama girl and a Dutch farmer, but who was totally accepted into the latter’s household, through the leading female protagonist, Emilie (who is the key narrator, speaking in the first person, while the others are presented in the third person), Emilie’s Zaire-born minder, Shaba, to the Bushman, ’Ki, each adds a different dimension to the politically informed and romantic landscape of this novel.

Joan Schrauwen has extensive personal experience of the South West African landscape and it shows, not only in her intimate knowledge of the various peoples of this war-torn and troubled land, but also in her sensitive grasp of the environmental aspects of which she writes. She is largely a product of this country, and has an amazingly perceptive and insightful view of the geographical, linguistic and political entities that have gone into making the country what it is today. Her linguistic command of the vernacular languages shows throughout, as she interposes expressions that are native to the land. Her overview of the relationship between the Angolan forces and the ruling authorities in South West Africa during the time of the Angolan civil conflict provides valuable commentary on the military and political events of the day.

As an artist who illustrates her own work with line drawings, Schrauwen has an incredibly poetic outlook on the land and its people, which has more recently been shown in her non-fiction work, West Coast: A Circle of Seasons in South Africa, that describes in loving and familiar detail the history and biodiversity of the West Coast of South Africa, which she has now made her home. One feels the intensity of her vision reflected through the various characters in The Salt of My Desire. One of Emilie’s dearest memories is of “the scent of lemon leaves and dust after the first rains” and Nord (a.k.a. Nicholas Nordman Jr.), as a child, loves flinging himself down in the river sand until spots of mica dance before his eyes, clinging “to leaves and blades of grass so that the world shone with silver”. Schrauwen’s respect for, and appreciation of, other cultures permeates the text��"and, as she expresses her admiration for their language, their stories, and their heritage, you, as the reader, start to empathise more and more deeply with what she has to say. She comes across as a wonderfully warm, sincere and well-meaning person, and I have only admiration for the rich texture of her work.
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Let's Make a Difference: We Can Help Orangutans (Coins for Causes) by Gabriella Francine
Let's Make a Difference: We Can Help Orangutans (Coins for Causes)

Lois Henderson, June 12, 2013

This reader on orangutans is the first to emerge from the BBM Books stable, which was begun in 2012 with the intention of providing, among other educational and stewardship aids, books geared towards teaching children about the need for caring for endangered species that, without human intervention, would inevitably die out. Although the basic reader in this case is directed at conveying a sound ecological message, which will be of dire consequence if we do little, or nothing, about it, the tone of the work is far from sombre. In fact, one gains the idea that the author and her team have gone out of their way to make reading Let’s Make a Difference: We Can Help Orangutans an enjoyable experience to share with friends and family alike. Getting the whole family involved is the key to expanding a positive outlook in terms of the environmental movement, after all.

All except for the single page of Let’s Make a Difference: We Can Help Orangutans, which provides a list of “some organizations that work to protect the orangutans and their homes, the rainforest”, are in full color. Many of the numerous photographs picture the young as they go about their daily activities of eating, sleeping and playing. The many different ways in which they resemble human children are emphasised both in the drawings and photos, as well as in the text itself.

Just enough is said about orangutans on each page to make you eager to continue reading, making this book really enticing. Even on pages that largely feature illustrations, an “Orangutan Fun Fact” is included in the form of an inset. An example of such a “fun fact” is “Orangutans can get mosquito bites, too! Since they don’t have fly swatters in the wild, they use branches to drive them away.”

Throughout the book, the orangutans are portrayed not only in relationship to one another, but also to their environment. The stressing of the role that humans have played in the shrinkage of their habitat, as well as what they can now do to protect the few thousand still living on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra is done in such a way as to rouse the enthusiasm of children to participate in the conservation effort. From the smallest task of collecting coins to place in a money jar, through to visiting the orangutans at the Indianapolis and San Diego zoos (and even abroad, if you are one of those fortunate enough to travel to Indonesia, and are within range of a care center), the reader is encouraged to invest their resources, no matter how little, in a way that will make a difference for this endangered species.

For anyone who is keen on inculcating a love of wildlife and great causes in their kids, Let’s Make a Difference: We Can Help Orangutans, is an extremely worthwhile investment. A copy should also be made easily accessible through all school and public libraries, so that the message of conservation reaches even those whose parents are not environmentally enlightened.
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The List Lover's Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh
The List Lover's Guide to Jane Austen

Lois Henderson, May 16, 2013

Just as in Jane Austen’s day, all proper young ladies had to be consummate letter writers (as witness the twenty-one letters that play a pivotal role in plot development in Pride and Prejudice), so is the modern-day woman required to be a doyen of list making (so much, in fact, that their doing so has become the subject of many a radio drama/comedy��"just think of BBC Radio 4’s Kerry’s List, for one). If you think of list making as simply being a boring or mundane chore, and as a rather mechanical way of attempting to manage your increasingly hectic lifestyle, think again. It truly can be fun!

Such a sense of thoroughgoing enjoyment is conveyed through Janeite Joan Strasbaugh’s The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen. As befits one who is such a keen manager of aspects of the literary world that she was able to mastermind organizing the Jane Austen in the Twenty-first Century Humanities Festival at the University of Wisconsin, her latest book raises the art of annotated list making to the level of a new art.

Not only does Strasbaugh list the details of many aspects of the great novelist Austen’s life (relating to her home, family and friends, among others) that enable one to come to a deeper understanding of her work, but she also provides valuable insights into her writing as well. Best of all, these are not simple lists of objective facts, but enrich one’s grasp on what made Austen such a successful author of universal merit and renown, by including a wealth of relevant quotations that facilitate one’s growing awareness of what gave rise to life, love and laughter during the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century. The sources of said quotations are so various and varied that they provide a rich panoply of outlooks on Austen that could not otherwise easily have been incorporated into such a small volume, and in so easily readable a manner. The text is accompanied by numerous black-and-white illustrations that also serve to increase the reader’s understanding of the milieu within which Austen wrote.

One gains the idea throughout that what Strasbaugh is attempting to do by taking what apparently is a very lighthearted approach to Jane Austen and her world is to entice prospective Janeites into a world in which she delights, for The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen has so many hidden depths that it is a provocative and stimulating work, despite its relatively slim size (224 pages in all). A work that deserves to be popular, The List Lover’s Guide could just as easily grace a young girl’s locker as it could an academic’s bookshelf. In short, Strasbaugh deserves to be commended for making a subject that has elicited so much intellectual debate over the years so accessible to all and sundry in the current day.

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