Archive for the 'Book Club' Category

Drood by Dan Simmons

2009 May 21

Until a couple days ago, I’ve been really down on fiction. I’d started several books, including some ones that were really well reviewed (The Manual of Detection, The Cider House Rules), got a couple chapters in and then quit because I wasn’t interested in what happened next. In both cases, I think the voice of the books was a bit too aware of it’s own cleverness (in the manner of Tom Robbins or Douglas Adams, though substantially more subdued) and recently I just haven’t been in the mood for that kind of thing. I want a book where the author is just doing what they do and enjoying themselves while not trying to show off how clever they are.

However, yesterday I bought Drood by Dan Simmons. I’m four chapters in and it’s holding my attention great. Apparently Guillermo del Toro is already signed on to direct it, even though it was released this year. The writing /editing isn’t immaculate — there was one sentence that was both self-contradictory and overused one word horrendously — but it’s gripping and the writing otherwise flows pretty well. Plus, the overall premise is fascinating, telling the last few years of Dicken’s life — when he was obsessed with finding a macabre figure named Drood who might have simply been a hallucination — from the perspective of a close friend.

So I highly recommend it, even to people who’ve been down on books lately, as I have.

Book Club: Ritual and Its Consequences

2008 Dec 17

Anyone seriously interested in roleplaying theory should check out Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity, a new book from Oxford University Press by Adam Seligman (Religion, BU), Rob Weller (Anthropology, BU), Michael Puett (Chinese History, Harvard), and Bennett Simon (Psychiatry, Harvard Med) that proposes an alternative approach to the study of ritual and its ubiquitousness in our daily lives. I’ve heard Weller and Puett speak multiple times and they are smart cookies. Plus I was nodding my head on every page so far, due to the strong connection to roleplaying, and I haven’t even gotten to the chapter on “play” yet.

Here’s their discussion of “shared imaginary space (SIS)” and/or Neel Krishnaswami’s “shared symbolic language” (see also Exploration in the Forge Glossary):

When we say of a culture that its members share a symbol system, or a set of values, or a common idea of the sacred, we are in essence asserting that they share the potential space of a shared “could be.” …Much ritual action in fact provides this shared sense of empathy — sometimes even in terms of an explicitly shared “what if.” When Jews sit around the Passover Seder table and are explicitly enjoined to fulfill the commandment to feel “as if you yourselves had been liberated from Egypt,” they create that shared symbolic space where the commonality of the “could be” becomes the very basis of the ongoing collective experience.

However, they also suggest, as many folks have more recently suggested, that the shared symbolic space is ultimately illusionary, that different participants in a ritual don’t actually feel or experience things the same way. However, the ritual space encourages us to act as if we do, which is the social medium (part of the social contract of participating in the ritual) that allows the group to participate collectively, while still retaining a crucial degree of flexibility and subjectivity.

Can’t wait to finish the rest of it.