Wednesday, July 06, 2005

on white gold, money bins, deterioration, and the games we play

adventures in the slave trade

I'm currently reading White Gold by Giles Milton. Milton is one of my favorite non-fiction authors, having penned Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Big Chief Elizabeth and Samurai William. He has a knack of making history both vivid and readable without sacrificing the details.

His latest, White Gold, deals with white slavery during the 18th century, when the Barbary corsairs of North Africa conducted slave raids, picking off hapless English villagers from their homes. Most of these white folk ended up helping construct the fabulous series of interlocking palaces for the Sultan Moulay Ismail of Morocco. Milton grounds all the drama by focusing on the plight of an 11-year old boy who was captured and survived in the Islamic world. Historical details abound - I wasn't even aware that such a thing existed (always thought that horrible act of slavery had the native Africans as victims), so it's interesting to know that a reversal of sorts happened.

a duck's tale

My best comic book trade purchase is the Eisner Award-winner The Life and Time of Scrooge McDuck by by Don Rosa. Easily one of the best comic trades of the year (Nikki says it's Ultra, still), Life of Scrooge (Lo$) is 12 stories in one volume, tracing the entire history of the popular Disney character as he seeks his fortune. Interestingly, he really has to work for it, facing numerous failures and setbacks in business and in life before he hits it big. It's well-written and finely illustrated and quite a bargain for the cover price. I may need to revise my list of favorite graphic novels because Lo$ is definitely up there.

I admire the way the Duck stories are conceptualized and written, especially the European ones. The target audience is all ages but the stories, especially those of Carl Barks and Don Rosa, are never dumbed down. The historical stories are well-researched and the overall manner is intoxicating - a joy to read in bed. If you love the Ducks, you'll be delighted to see the Donald Duck Family Tree.

sinking into the sea

By comparison, the later Asterix books have seemingly lost their charm. I'm completing the set with the occasional purchase (started waaaay back in high school with mini albums) and recently got the softcover of Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, and sadly, this is not one of the best. The stories have been deteriorating since Alberto Uderzo had to write alone and it shows. The plot, usually quite tight, was all over the place (A handful of galley slaves, led by a Kirk Douglas-ian Spartakis, revolt against Caesar and steal the Roman Navy's finest ship. Pursued by the Roman Navy, they take refuge in Asterix's village. Obelix reverts back to chidhood and loses his strength due to an overdose of magic potion). This one had the barest hint of the charm and power the previous volumes exuded, and sadly, may be one of Uderzo's last ones (not counting Asterix and the Class Act). Here's a pretty good and updated Asterix site.

and a blast from the past

My other nonfiction book is Games People Play by Eric Md Berne. Originally published over 40 years ago and hailed by as “An important book . . . a brilliant, amusing, and clear catalogue of the psychological theatricals that human beings play over and over again.” by Kurt Vonnegut for Life Magazine, this classic reveals the true nature of our social interactions in terms of Transactional Analysis. Amusing, educational and still quite valid, Nikki and I were tickled by the examples of "strokes" (the basic unit of social intercourse).
We think we’re relating to other people–but actually we’re all playing games.


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