Film: A Very Short Introduction
by Michael Wood
2012 • 144 pages • Oxford University Press
On Netflix Instant (currently the capricious master of my media intake during my move), there’s a wonderful series about film called, appropriately enough, The Story of Film. It’s a fifteen hour long series covering both the basics and the history of film, based on the eponymous book by Irish film critic Mark Cousins. Cousins also narrates The Story of Film, and it’s an acquired delight—you might be nodding off during the first episode, but by episode five, you feel like you’re snuggling with a very sleepy but very excited cinephile who just has to tell you one more thing about Japanese cinema.
I’ve never finished The Story of Film; that’s was what I was watching when Demora Pasha, my college laptop, was brutally cut down in her prime by a glass of water. (She’s since regenerated into my sister-in-law’s laptop after her miraculous, year-long recovery.) But it was the first thing I watched after my Introduction to Film Studies class that satisfied my completionist desire to start my personal exploration into cinema at the beginning. I didn’t want to start with a book, because I was so used to literary criticism. With literary criticism, you critique a text in the same medium; that’s what I’m used to and that’s what I’ve been trained for. But, as Matt Singer points out at The Dissolve, even with the proliferation of commercially available video editing software programs, film is rarely effectively critiqued in its own medium. Tony Zhou’s brilliant series Every Frame a Painting is the closest thing I’ve seen, but it sadly remains an outlier. While I now have enough of a background that I can read purely prose film criticism without scurrying off for research, the fact remains is that it can be difficult to tell the basic story of film without, well, film.
Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Toye
Oxford Press’ Very Short Introduction series is a godsend for someone like me. I’ve mentioned before that there are massive, gaping holes in my pop cultural education (I have never seen The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music), but there are some in my academic education as well. Lately, I’ve come to tackle my blind spots with equally blind enthusiasm (“I’ve never seen a James Bond film! LET’S WATCH ALL OF THEM!”), but some are easier to tackle than others. And that’s why this series is perfect for me: in a little over one hundred pages, each volume has more depth and focus than a Wikipedia article and allows me to get a feel for the basics without going deeper into the subject than I need to.
Music: A Very Short Introduction by Nicholas Cook
I have three months left at my noble institution (emphasis on the institution), so I’m pulling as many academic and bizarre texts from my school’s library as humanly possible. Not knowing exactly where I’ll be come fall is nerve-wracking for the usual reasons (who I am going to see The Desolation of Smaug with?), but I also have no idea what kind of libraries I’ll have access to. My last raid on my school library yielded up this interesting little number; given its short length, I figured it would be a good way to get started with Operation: Academic Library Panic.
The Islandman by Tomás O’Crohan
While I was wildly excited for The Last September for my Irish Literature class, I barely even noticed The Islandman until it came time to sit down and read the thing. I’ll be totally honest; I kept confusing it with other books, since the various Oxford Paperbacks of Irish Literature all look more or less the same. They’ve all got turquoise maps, a single photo, and green and red accents. (The image above is one of the only ones I could find in a large enough size.) As time wound down to the due date of the book, I holed myself up on the third floor of my school library (which is the floor with the mysterious tiny doors!) and polished it off without napping. Well, without a lot of napping.
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
My children’s and young adult literature course is winding down; soon, there will be no more writing fanfiction for class. (I find this practice delightfully subversive, and I will miss it.) We’ve still got a pile of books left, but it’s already April—I’ll miss it and the discussions. But to be brutally honest, I won’t miss the majority of the books we read for the class. As I write this review, Speak and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian are ahead of me, and I really hope they’re amazing to make up for some of the lackluster material we’ve read for this class. Alas, Bog Child is definitely in the latter category.