Monthly Archives: September 2018

Some Books I Read Recently

Hollywood Dead by Richard Kadrey: I’ve read 9 or 10 of these Sandman Slim books now. Super enjoyable in the same way that eating popcorn is. Salty and greasy and delicious! If you like supernatural, LA noir stories about a flawed hero making his way in the world and fighting monsters and such, you should check this series out. Pretty sure you could read them in any old order, because I quickly lose track of the plots of these. It doesn’t seem to matter too much. Super quick read. My only curiosity is why these haven’t been optioned for a movie series before now. Seems perfect for that kind of adaptation.

The Wicked & The Divine by Kieron Gillen: A bunch of music superstars actually get turned into gods. They only get to live a couple years, though. The art (by Jamie McKelvie) in this comic is beautiful. It’s pretty tough to feel sympathetic for any of these characters, but then I kind of feel similarly re. real world pop superstars. I have no idea where this comic is going and the latest had a (for me, Mr. “I didn’t see that coming!”) pretty unexpected twist.

Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition v1) by Yukito Kushiro: I picked this one up to re-read because my kid saw the trailer for the movie that’s coming out soon. It’s funny what a decade will do, because I enjoyed this comic a lot more when I read it the first time. If you want to read it, definitely get this deluxe edition. The art is pretty incredible. Hugo’s trenchcoat is still as goofy as I remember.

The Green Hand and Other Stories by Nicole Claveloux: Wild, surreal comics from the 1970s. Claveloux is a French comics artist. Her work is super strange, but in a deeply charming sort of way. 

The Nine by Tracy Townsend: I had this book checked out for so long that I couldn’t remember why I’d checked it out in the first place. And then I remembered. The central plot point was inspired by Borges’ book Dictionary of Imaginary Creatures–a fantastic book–and I’ll read anything by a Borges enthusiast. It’s less of a heist story than I was expecting based on what I’d read about it (cover jacket) but I liked it pretty well. I’ll probably read the sequel when it comes out.

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The Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff VanderMeer

Not like any bird I’ve ever seen…

It’s not really a sequel or a prequel, but a story sort of told obliquely to the excellent novel Borne. It’s a story about a truly alien creature in a strange and ruined (at least from a human perspective) world.

Short and heart-breaking, it provides an insight or another way of thinking about Borne, even though I think it could stand along on its own merits. Ultimately, a meditation on the cruelties human beings inflict on non-humans, simply by being unable to imagine the value of non-human perspective. It’s not a nice book, but it did get me thinking about the value of compassion toward all of the wondrous variety of living things in our world, not because of what they can do for us, but simply because they’re alive.

I’ll read pretty much anything that VanderMeer writes, I think because he really gets at a certain weirdness and emotional intensity that I really dig. I think this short book stands as one of his strongest works.

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My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

The art is just stunning.

Wow. 

If you liked Harriet the Spy, you’d probably like this one. But it’s no kids book, even though it’s about a kid.

The comic is laid out like it’s drawn on a notebook of lined paper, complete with binder holes drawn in. The art is wildly varied, sometimes intricately detailed and sometimes dashed off in quick scribbles. Like a kid might draw. It’s a powerful artistic technique for telling a story that might otherwise feel a little worn.

It’s the kind of comic book that non-comics readers would probably go for (and comics readers too). Just amazing stuff. The kind of thing where I don’t really know how someone could make it. I can’t visualize the process that went into making this book. I can’t say enough good things about it.

An amazing work of art.

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The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin

This is the cover of the edition I read when I was a kid. It’s strange, because it’s depicting what’s written on the very last page of the book.

When I first tried to read The Tombs of Atuan I bounced off it hard. I was something of a completionist reader at the time and it took a lot for me to stop reading a book. But I stopped reading this one. I only picked it up again a couple of years later and I don’t really remember liking it much. It was too slow and quiet. Not enough wizards and dragons. Very little magic.

Re-reading it as an adult, I was taken by its rich emotional subtlety. Subtlety that, I think, was completely lost on me as a child. There’s a tenderness and a kindness that Ged shows towards Arha that is probably more magical than anything he does in the previous book. There’s something really powerful in the way that Le Guin depicts this growing relationship between a man and a woman, each trapped in their own particular way. 

As a child, I read A Wizard of Earthsea, and I could relate to the raw emotional displays of jealousy and anger and pride. Even though those things cost Ged quite a bit, they also led him to the kind of adventure that I craved, full of magic and wonder and mystery. The kind of adventures that wizards have.

It’s only now that I realize the wizardry of wisdom and kindness and how powerfully Le Guin shows them here. She snuck some powerful stuff into this “children’s book”. I’m probably a better person for having read it as a child, even though I think I missed most of what was going on.

I’m happy I read it again as an adult.

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Demian by Hermann Hesse

I took me a while to figure out that’s an egg and not just a decorative thingy.

I think I liked Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund more. (I’ve been meaning to read The Glass Bead Game for years. I read this on the recommendation of a coworker.

I think if I’d read this as a teenager it would’ve blown my mind. It captures a kind of anxious thinking that beset me as a child. I thought the first 2/3s of the book were exceptionally strong, but the magical mysticism of the last 1/3 sort of left me a little cold, even though that’s probably what would’ve entranced me the most had I read it 20-25 years ago. It’s a young man’s book, I feel. 

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Some Trick: Thirteen Stories by Helen DeWitt

There are thirteen of them, all right! 

There’s a precision and specificity to Helen DeWitt’s writing that I find utterly charming and disarming. If you like getting your toes wet before jumping in the deep end with a novel, these stories are an excellent intro to her writing.

Many of the stories seem to focus on the difficulty of dealing with the world when you care about things that most people don’t care about that much. Like precision in language or hearing foreign language books read by native speakers who also need to have an aesthetically appropriate name. (“Entourage” is a pretty searing indictment of billionaires.)

“My Heart Belongs to Bertie”, “Brutto”, “Improvisation is the Heart of Music” were three that I especially liked.


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Some Books I Read Recently

(It’s a smorgasbord! Sometimes I think, I haven’t been reading that much, and then I go back over my list of recently read books…)

The Wild Storm v1 & 2 by Warren Ellis: Back in the Noughties, I read pretty much all of Warren Ellis’ comics. He’s really tops when writing team books (see also: Planetary, Nextwave, Injection, and others) and this series sees a return to form. Deeply mysterious, witty banter, and the art’s gorgeous. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Clean Room v1-3 by Gail Simone: Bright, vibrant colors make the creepiness and horror muchly more so. If you’re prone to nightmares, definitely stay away from this one. 

Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe by Dean Radin: This book’s got the most succinct and thorough overview of the history of Western occult practices and movements that I’ve ever read. Worth it, just for that. Unlike much occult writing, extremely readable.

All-New Wolverine Vol. 1: The Four Sisters by Tom Taylor: Absolutely injected new life into the whole Wolverine thing which–at this point–is feeling pretty tired. (See also: Old Man Logan.) A nice balance of humor and high stakes.

The Mighty Thor Vol. 5: The Death of the Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron: I’ll read pretty much anything Jason Aaron does at this point. Brings the Jane Foster/Thor story to an excellent conclusion. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Lady Killer by Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones: A showcase of Joelle Jones’ excellent artwork. I don’t have much stomach for gore these days or I might’ve enjoyed it more. ’50s housewife is secretly an assassin. Very Mad Men-y. She’s doing a new Catwoman series. Could be good! Regardless, the art will be great.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: Read this one for my book club. I’ve been seeing this book displayed prominently in bookstores for what feels like years and years. It had a definitively mixed reception from my book club, but I quite liked it. “Hysterical realism” is a phrase I ran across on the internet related to this book and I think it’s extremely on the nose. I wasn’t sure about this book until about the mid-point, but then it really gets cranking and I was very much onboard at that point, thoroughly enjoying the ride. Some useful insight about the immigrant experience, I’m thinking. At the sentence level, the writing is swooping and fantastically exuberant.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente: Perhaps the most worthy successor to Douglas Adams, re funny science fiction. Boundlessly creative, it really is almost too much at times. It’s hard to imagine one brain coming up with all this stuff. But then one only has to read her other books to realize this isn’t just a one-off kind of thing. Me, I just imagine painstaking and painful wordsmithing. Still, a joy to read if you love to see words bouncing around all over the place. Eurovision in Space! Brilliant!

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: A book about magical “librarians”. (Apart from getting their magical powers from books, I didn’t find them very librarian-y. A minor quibble.) I kind of had to read it. Sometimes you want to just eat some popcorn, you know? Gonzo, bonkers, magical weirdness. I dug it.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle: (I liked Universal Harvester more.) (Yes, it’s that John Darnielle. Of Mountain Goats fame.) Captures, in a way that’s harrowing, that dangerous time of life from about 15-22 years old. The protagonist has an adventure-game-by-mail business that’s quite alluring, although I wanted it to be more fantastical. The image of the “wolf in white van” definitely sticks. This book has the kind of eye for detail that makes me think “boy, I really haven’t been paying attention to the world around me…”

Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa: It’s the details that stuck with me, even as the “plot” of the thing eludes me. The small ways that people are decent (or indecent) to one another. The weight of history. The ways in which people relate to art, photography and painting. The small moments that heap together to make a life. It’s a beautiful book.

My Pretty Vampire by Katie Skelly: A silly comic about a vampire. Kinda sexy, in a campy vampire sort of way. Reminded me a bit of Mac Wellman’s Dracula play.

If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel by Elise Gravel: One of the most charming and delightful books I’ve seen all year. On its face, just a bunch of doodles. But so endearing and heartwarming.

Hellboy (Library Edition, Volume 1): Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola: When the Hellboy comic first started coming up, it was a recurring topic of conversation among my friends and I. (We were so excited for that movie!) I wanted to see if 1) my kid would like it, and 2) if I’d still like it. No to 1 and yes to 2. The art is so great. Worth picking up, for sure, if you’ve never read it.

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My son wants me to do a podcast that’s just us doing homework together. Good idea or… the BEST idea?!

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September 5, 2018 · 10:02 pm

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

I think I first read A Wizard of Earthsea when I was 9 or 10. I got bit by the fantasy bug bad when I was a kid, reading Tolkien and CS Lewis at a very young age. I was hungry for more books with wizards in them–even books by Bellairs, more horror than fantasy, but still had the whiff of magic about them.

To say I loved A Wizard of Earthsea might be overstating it, but it definitely smacked of what Lewis called the “numinous”. It seemed to glint and sparkle with a light unseen, hinting at hidden depths and deeper secrets. Much like the way Gandalph seemed foolish and wise at the same time, hinting at some holy power.

I don’t reread books much. Life’s short, you know? But my kids are about the age I was when I read it and it got me thinking about it. So I picked it up for them and then ended up reading it myself.

It holds up. I’d easily recommend it to an adult reader. There are subtleties to it that I know I missed as a child. But the friendship between Ged and Vetch still resonated powerfully with me, much as it did when I was a child when I longed for close friends like that. Now, as an adult, that I have those close and longstanding friendships, I can think fondly of my past self who got this thing so right. Ged is such a solitary creature, but he really comes alive from the light of his friend, like a sunflower turning its face to the sun.

I bounced off Tombs of Atuan pretty hard. It wasn’t the epic wizard tale I was looking for. Ged doesn’t even show up until halfway into the book! Took me a couple years and a couple tries before I finished it and the sheer obstinacy of youth. I’m looking forward to rereading it more than I did its prequel, though.

I once met Ursula LeGuin at Powell’s Books here in Portland. She read from a new book of short stories. I was enthralled. In the signing line, I stuttered and stammered over my enthusiasm and she said something short and wry and scowled at me in a not totally unfriendly way. It didn’t do anything to dampen my enthusiasm, and may actually have deepened it. I went on to read most of her other books. If you haven’t, I’d recommend doing so.

I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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