An excursion into non-fiction #1: Frans de Waal, The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013)

Some time ago, inspired by Bart from one of our favorite blogs, Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it, we decided to start including some non-fiction on Re-enchantment. While the initial idea was to go for books that provide wider context for popular genre fiction, ultimately we decided to start with one that provides some insight into the very human nature, by exploring the social nature of other primates. Frans de Waal, world-famous (there’s even a TED 😉 ) Dutch-American primatologist, is on Bart’s list with several of his books, we’ve both read The Bonobo and the Atheist recently, and it was a thought-provoking experience, although it provoked slightly different thought in each of us.

Author: Frans de Waal

Title: The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates

Pages: 289

Format: Paperback

bonoboIn search of Humanism Among the Primates de Waal looks not only into the militant chimpanzees, but also the famously peaceful bonobo. Lifetime of research, combined with his private interest in art and philosophy, guide this journey to discover the origin of our species’ morality – and spirituality – in the societal structures and the psychological and social makeup of our closest animal relatives. If all the primates share not only social nature, but also empathy, it was arguably also present in our common ancestors, and our nature is not as rotten as some of us were convinced since childhood. Moreover, he provides us with ample examples of other species showing self-awareness and kindness previously attributed only to humans, and if on decidedly smaller levels, it’s a matter of degree.

Empathy requires awareness of the other and sensitivity to the other’s needs. It probably started with parental care, like that found in the mammals, but there is also evidence for bird empathy. […] If both birds and mammals have some measure of empathy, that capacity probably goes back to their reptilian ancestors.

He does it skilfully, being not only an incredibly skilled and competent scientist (as his resume informs us), but also a gifted storyteller. Consequently, The Bonobo and the Atheist is a great book for both a casual and a scientifically-inclined reader; in addition to its atheism-related theses, already mentioned in the title, it gives us valuable insight into the current state of research of other primates’ social nature.

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11 books that influenced me the most

Why eleven? Because I like to go one step beyond 😉

Well, that’s what Nostalgia Critic used to say in his “top eleven” lists. Me, I was inspired by Ola’s challenge, despite, and some people would feel really hurt in a situation like this, not being included there. But it made me think, and create my own list.

I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There are books I clearly remember were very important to me, but I’m no longer sure why. And they are books that really resonated with me in the last couple of years, but only time will tell if they will stay with me for the rest of my life. So, I decided to go with these representatives of the first category that I still find important. These are all books dear to me, and don’t pay close attention to which is first, and which eleventh… they are all near the top. And, just as Calmgrove observed, a list like that, if constructed tomorrow, might look slightly different… it’s all very subjective.

Please remember, much of what you’re about to read is how I saw certain topics 10-20 years ago, now I’m slightly more nuanced, or maybe hypocritical 😉

I will limit myself to fiction, because it is supposed to be eleven books, non-fiction of all sorts would be at least twice as much. So, maybe another list some other day?

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Patricia A. McKillip, Winter Rose (1996)

I’ve checked our manifesto to make sure, but we actually never claimed to be a strictly book-review blog. Place dedicated to books we said, and, the way I see it, it doesn’t have to be a weekly exercise in literary criticism. Laying out our yet-unread books to form an inscription, or nominating other bloggers to reveal their top 11 is quite a lot of fun. Still, a book review every now and then is probably a good idea… so, I will postpone my top 11 for now to write a few words about a short novel full of magic and mystery, Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip.

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My first encounter with her prose was in 2016, when I’ve read the Riddle-Master trilogy, a simple (but very engaging) high fantasy tale made unique by its wonderful, atmospheric prose. I like the worldbuilding, I follow the events with interest, archetypical characters were written with mastery that made me invested in the outcome, but the most charming thing was McKillip’s style. I’d describe it as a Tolkienian fantasy at its best, not what Brooks practised and Moorcock mocked as Epic Pooh, but a legitimate and worthwhile additions to the genre.

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

And… it’s another Marvel Movie Review (albeit the previous one was from a different studio). What can we say, they hit cinemas about as often as westerns used to in the olden times, and when we add various TV series…

But it’s ok, ’cause it’s freakin DEADPOOL!

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Deadpool 2, to be precise.

We attended a mini-marathon that featured both, and laughed pretty hard from the opening credits of Deadpool till the end of the last post-credits scene of Deadpool 2.

Piotrek: I’ll say again – Deadpool franchise is, for me, another proof superhero genre is mature enough to cover all the bases. We have your solid blockbusters, in the likes of Infinity War, light-hearted family comedies like Guardians, politically significant movies like Black Panther, really meaningful and moving Logan, and both Deadpools fill in the niche for smart, irreverent, fourth-wall breaking parodies. When we add TV, we have one of the best depictions of modern veterans in Punisher, very innovative Legion, and I’d even argue there are echoes of The Wire in Luke Cage.

Ola: …and Shaft 🙂

Piotrek: I have a feeling you really like Shaft. Maybe I should give it a second chance, I remember not being awed, but it was… about 20 years ago?

Ola: It’s not about this movie’s internal values as a piece of filmmaking – it’s about Shaft’s undeniable impact as a work of culture 😛 Majority of the new movies concerning African American, especially in the drama/thriller genre, consciously or subconsciously relate themselves to Shaft, because it was the first of such movies.

Piotrek: New Deadpool though… fun for everybody but the snobbiest critics! We’re so well entrenched the domination might last a while, and there are no significant threats on the horizon – although, to be honest, dinosaurs were certain of that too, right until the meteor hit.

Ola: It does seem the studios are exploiting this niche for all its worth. Your western analogy is very apt – movies based on comic books are similarly uniform in style and content, and as with westerns you can find magnificent movies right next to the epitomes of mediocrity. There was another movie genre in olden days that followed the same path of success and forgetfulness – movies based on the history and mythology of Roman Empire 😀 And there are some I wish I could unsee – like Jason and the Argonauts from 1963…

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Spelling Bee :)

We came across an interesting challenge lately, taken up by two fellow bloggers whose sites both of us frequent often: Chris at Calmgrove and Paula at Book Jotter. The challenge was borrowed from yet another interesting blog, Fictionphile. A silly but fun thing, really, to spell a blog’s name in books from your TBR list.

my-blogs-name-in-books(Piotrek – And let me just take a moment to complement background graphic of the Fictionphile, I have mixed feelings about B&N hardcover classics, I own only their psychedelic Lovecraft, but they look just great there!!)

With rules as follow:

Rules: 

1.  Spell out your blog’s name. (this is where you wish your blog’s name was shorter LOL)

2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your Goodread’s TBR)

Well, neither of us keeps a Goodread’s TBR, so we decided to just use what we have – vast numbers of books waiting patiently for their turn on our bookshelves.

Calmgrove had 9 books to find, we – 23. But we are gonna make it, the entire name of our humble blog, including of the and even the world 🙂

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Spoilers ahead, beware! I’d say, with this movie the statue of limitations is short, and everybody is going to see it anyway, so there’s no point in writing a spoiler-free review 😉

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We went our friend Rodzyn to see the new Avengers movie on the very first day it was being played in Poland. It certainly is a complex, carefully constructed story of epic proportions, aiming to be a climax of the entire theatrical MCU so far. Most of the heroes we’ve met meet to fight the ultimate threat – Thanos. He’s been looming on the horizon since The Avengers, and now stepped up to become THE villain.

So… did they succeed, is it the greatest team-up, the biggest foe, the most epic struggle and the most heart-wrenching story of the MCU?

Piotrek: It… well, it is, for me. Not the best MCU movie, but definitely the proper culmination (or at least the first part of…) of all the interweaving storylines. The scale is bigger than anything that happened before, and a chaotic disaster on the DC scale was a real risk – but it works! It works, because we had a decade to prepare and now it just click together nicely.

Ola: I’m not sure if this indeed is a culmination – or, to be more precise, a final one. The superheroes surely deal with the biggest and baddest foe to date, and it is the most epic struggle of the MCU as we know it. However, the heart-wrenching part is a definite exaggeration on your part, Piotrek ;). It’s a wonderfully made, cleverly written, visually arresting, truly funny and sometimes even quite emotionally gripping – money grab 🙂

Piotrek: Isn’t everything. But it’s quite a good one, as blockbusters go. And it’s more than just a sequence of fights and quips.

Rodzyn: It’s hard not to admire the weavers behind MCU mentioned by Piotrek . After all those years we get to the skilfully crafted final stage, one that avid viewer can enjoy immensely. But neither the decor of epic battlefields nor the sheer number of assembled heroes gave me the most joy. In my eyes the best part of MCU are the relations and dynamics between our protagonists, ‘family drama’ feel of supernatural gathering.

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Yuki Urushibara, Mushishi (1999-2008)

Wow, it’s only a second appearance of manga on Re-enchantment… After Yotsuba&!, it’s time for Mushishi, another of my favourite series. Created by Yuki Urushibara and published for ten years in serialized form in Japan, now it’s available both in English and Polish, collected in 10 volumes.

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This is the only manga I own a whole set of. Well, this and Azumanga Daioh, but the other is just one 700 pages omnibus. Also highly recommended, from an author that later gave us previously mentioned Yotsuba&!, but that’s not for today.

Mushishi is a story about Ginko, a wandering mushi-shi, occult specialist protecting people from mushi, ethereal, supernatural beings not perceived by regular humans, but capable of influencing their lives in usually pretty dangerous ways. Partly a shaman, even more a scientist, Ginko uses his knowledge of the supernatural to help people as he travels through Urushibara’s version of XIX-century rural Japan of the late Edo period.

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