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One of my favorite chapter titles

It reads:


From The Man without Qualities by Robert Musil.

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A Big List of Books I’ve Read in the Last Little While

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier
One of the most charming, delightful, and lyrically imaginative children’s books I’ve read in ages. I’d put this in the top 10 of books to hand just about any kid. Was shaking my head in wonderment at the writing on just about every page.

Batwoman: The Many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett
The most interesting thing to me about this was its use of a Lost-style narrative structure, a kind of dance between past events adding nuance to the present. It’s an effective technique in comics, for sure. It’s a good story, because it doesn’t really require much prior knowledge of the Batwoman character.

The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant by Michelle Cuevas
I loved this book (though slightly less than Confessions of an Imaginary Friend–really an embarrassment of riches). The villain character is pretty delightful. I’ll read pretty much anything Cuevas writes at this point.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Read this for my book club. There’s an amazing amount of historical detail. Lincoln is already endlessly lionized, but I ended up having more admiration for him after reading this book. Read this book and you’ll enrich your knowledge of United States history beyond what most people have. Worth it.

Those Above: The Empty Throne (Book 1) by Daniel Polansky
Most fantasy stories use a kind of bland, European medieval setting that does feel a little stale at times. Polansky’s novel is refreshing because it uses the Roman Republic as its inspiration, which allows for more interesting characters (a political matriarch, lots of senators, legionnaire-equivalent professional soldiers, etc). The story has an interesting take on Elves. Here, they’re birdlike, live forever, and extremely interested in subjuguting and enslaving the human race, which they see as basically little more than insects. A lot of bleak stuff here, though, so if that’s not your bag, you’d be better off reading Polansky’s A City Dreaming, which was one of my favorite books from last year.

Kill the Farm Boy: The Tales of Pell by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson
Really takes the piss out of the standard fantasy Chosen One narrative trope. Sometimes a little too on the nose, but, in general, pretty funny stuff. Humor is hard! The talking goat is a delight.

Batman: I Am Bane by Tom King
I liked this, but I have very little memory of what happened in it. For some reason, I have a lot of trouble remembering what happens in comics.

Fate of the Four by Chip Zdarsky
Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing) team up! It’s fun and witty and generally enjoyable. My kid liked it too.

Batwoman: Wonderland by Marguerite Bennett
A sequel to The Many Arms of Death, which is pretty much required reading for this one. If you liked that one, you’ll probably like this.

Invincible: The End of all Things, Part 2 by Robert Kirkman
When I first started reading Invincible about 20 years ago, it was a breath of fresh air and was one of the things that got me into reading comics again. I read this because it’s the very last volume of this comic’s run. I’d only recommend it if you’ve been on board for the entire ride. In general, if you’re interested, I’d recommend reading early issues of this comic, which were fantastic. This volume was really creaking under the weight of its narrative dead-ends.

Archangel by William Gibson
I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. I’ve read several comics by novelists and I think the skills don’t necessarily transfer. There are some interesting time travel ideas in here.

Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White
Fantastic! Even though I’m not particularly religious anymore, religious symbolism in fiction still hits pretty hard. Set in 1950s Australia, the novel’s about four characters who are tapped into a kind of spirituality that’s alien and alienating to the people around them. A masterpiece.

Paper Girls (Volume 5) by Brian K. Vaughan
1980s paper girls time travel all over the place. A lot of fun. You definitely want to start at the beginning with these.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
A friend talked to me about this book (and its series) and I was pretty intrigued. I found this book baffling and slightly off-putting. It reminded me very much of 1950-1980s science fiction, which focused far more on expressing ideas and whizzbang science fiction gadgets and aliens than creating well-rounded “believable” characters and character interactions. If you like science fiction as a vehicle for ideas, you’ll probably get a lot out of this one. Otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere. I’m not sure I’m going to read the rest of the trilogy, but what do you know? It could happen. Extremely bleak, but in a different way than is typical in American doom’n’gloom SF.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini
A teenager gets an AI implanted in his brain so that he can take to girls, basically. Funny, weird take on contemporary teenage culture. Finished it and realized that the author committed suicide several years earlier. Definitely puts a sad and mournful spin on this book, which is mostly about trying and failing to connect to other people.

Come Closer by Sara Gran
A woman gets possessed by a demon. Dark and effective thriller story. Kind of perfect in doing what it sets out to do.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls and The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola
I finally got to the Hellboy comics I hadn’t read before. The art’s different (I guess Mike’s drawing hand got tired) but there’s a marvelous build of narrative tension to the final issues of the comic run in the next and final volumes. Really good stuff. Hellboy is a comic that stands the test of time like no other, I feel.

The Wild Storm (Volume 3) by Warren Ellis
You really gotta start at the beginning with this comics series. (I struggled a little just trying to remember what happened in the first couple volumes.) Got a bit of the old ultra-violence, so if that’s not your cuppa tea, you may want to sit this one out. It’s superheroes as pawns or players within global and interstellar factions, which is probably more like what would happen in a real world setting.

Dark Days: The Road to Metal by Scott Snyder
The lead-up to the Metal DC comics crossover event. This is comics at its most bonkers and wild. I can get behind it.

Dark Nights: Metal by Scott Snyder
So bonkers and gonzo. Superhero comic doing what superhero comics do best. I mean, the Justice League has a Voltron moment with a giant robot. And Batman rides a Joker dragon at one point. If you’re there for it, it’s gonna give you a ride!

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Lord of the Flies with girls, basically. There’s an interesting technique where some of the chapters are done in first-person plural, the plural being the three sisters who live on this island that’s completely isolated from the rest of the world. Things get complicated when three men (well, two men and a boy) wash up on the island. It’s a science fiction novel in tone, even though it could almost be set in any era from the 20th century onward. The book really shines in its exploration of the relationships between the three sisters.

Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. by Jody Houser
Alternate reality/time travel shenanigans rewrite the status quo for this Batman-equivalent. I feel like this comic is still trying to find its footing.

Nonconformity: Writing on Writing by Nelson Algren
Written during the early days of the establishment of the permanent US war machine, but it could’ve been written today in its diagnosis of US society and its ills.

The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
I don’t think I’d ever read a book by an Iranian writer. A searing portrayal of depression and despair and isolation. One of the strangest books I’ve ever read. So if strange, dark books are your jam, check it out.

Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (Volume 1-4)
Spider-Man and his family have adventures. My kid and I both enjoyed this. It’s pretty light and charming.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The story of two girls and their friendship growing up in Italy in the 1950s. The first of a series of four novels. Deeply fascinating and insightful. I’ve rarely read a coming-of-age story that focuses so closely and thoughtfully on the relationship between two girls.

Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury and The Bride of Hell by Mike Mignola
Nails it. This is the good stuff right here.

Binti by Nnedi Okorofor
A novella about an outsider breaking into an established educational system. All about culture shock and alienation and then everyone gets killed by aliens–who are truly weird. A lead-in to longer novels, that I’ll definitely read at some point, on the strength of this one.

Those Below: The Empty Throne (Book 2) by Daniel Polansky
I’m grateful that this one stopped before moving into trilogy territory, not because I disliked it, but because I appreciate people who are able to tell the story they want to tell in less than three books. Refreshingly non-monarchy-centric. A meditation on the nature of power.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
An ambitious, original science fiction novel about a tidelocked planet. The aliens are so great here, these sort of telepathic communal crab-like creatures that share memories as a way of communicating via these gross mouth tentacle things. So good. Effective use of alternating POV characters. I never knew where this book was going to go. Like the best science fiction of the 70s, presents credible alternative systems of human organization that are each terrible in their own way.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Like Jane Yolken and Patricia McKillip, who she probably inspired, Carter reimagines famous fairy and folktales. Like Grimm’s original stories, doesn’t shy away from the blood, sex, and death that usually runs as an ignored undercurrent through these stories. Deeply feminist, but in the best way.

There There by Tommy Orange
I see a real Game of Thrones influence in the narrative technique of nested and interlocking and interconnected POV narrators. Although I sort of think Tommy Orange does it more effectively and in far less time. The characters converge in a bloody shoutout at a Native American powwow in Oakland. This is the good stuff, right here.

Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow by Jennifer Lee Rossman
Charming and took a couple twists I wasn’t expecting. I really wanted the freaks to be more freakish. Pretty good for a first novel!

The Silk Road by Kathryn Davis
A novel about reincarnation as far as I can tell. Like reading a book length poem. For me, evoked a feeling of bewilderment that I very much enjoyed. Sort of happy it wasn’t longer, though.

Batman: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King
The Riddler and the Joker go to war for inscrutable reasons. Scott Snyder turned the Riddler into a credible Batman villain and Tom King really runs with that here. Joker frowns a lot in this comic, which is hilarious every time.

Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess
Refugees arrive from an alternate earth and experience all the trauma and isolation that you might expect from that. Excellent.

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A whole mess of books I read

Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer: A lot of great art in here. Also, some lovely anecdotes about what’s basically my favorite game.

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem: The West Coast never looks stranger than in the eyes of someone from the East Coast. He’s less of a detective and more of a magnet for strays, people and animals. It captures a certain something about the strangeness of the times we’re living through.

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier by Michelle Cuevas: Recommended by a friend. A delightfully charming children’s book. There are lyrical flights of fancy here that should be the envy of writers everywhere.

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow by Michelle Cuevas: A picture book. Simply charming, as everything by Cuevas is. What if someone told the story of Peter Pan’s stray shadow, basically.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas: A picture book about the guy who delivers the letters found in bottles at sea. What it’s like to feel unappreciated, but then to suddenly realize you are.

Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition) v. 4 & 5 by Yukito Kishiro: These books get increasingly strange. It’s weird that I didn’t really notice (or don’t remember noticing) how super weird they get. It becomes almost like a horror story at points. I suppose I (and probably a lot of other people) was distracted by the pretty amazing art on the first go round. It’s definitely a product of its time and place.

Godbound: A Game of Divine Heroes by Kevin Crawford: I read this because a friend of mine wanted to a run a game of it. A game for those times when you really want to jump to the most epic stuff. This book is quite readable and the game has been a lot of fun to play, which is really what you want out of a roleplaying game book. The world setting is extremely varied and provides a lot of fun character possibilities, from necromantic witch queens to steam-powered robot pilots to pyramid-dwelling gene splicers and a whole lot more.

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner: Probably the most entertaining novel I’ve read in the superhero genre. A fun, light, popcorny sort of novel. Kind of perfect for what it is, like a chocolate doughnut or a candy bar.

Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra: Read it for background info on the forgotten thinkers behind the worst of humanity in the 20th century. Refreshingly, not USA/Europe-centric. Makes a compelling case that the failures behind the promise of the Enlightenment in improving life have created a void of meaning that is easily filled with hatred and violence. I’m super dumbing this down based on my dim recollection. It’s very well-researched.

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross: Book 9 already?! The USA comes off super creepy in this one. What if everyone woke up one day and forgot the president existed? One of these spy stories where nothing goes to plan and no one’s happy, but it kind of works out in the end.

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus: Most pomo novels I find pretty insufferable, but this one is quite good. And so very funny. Is it an epistolary novel if the letters hardly ever get sent? Also, the biggest fuck you by letter I’ve ever seen. Simply brutal. My kids found the title endlessly funny. Which, I guess in a way, it is.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: I read this because I liked her other books. It’s well-written, but so freaking dark. Yeah, I get it, women can be terrible too. Almost no one comes off looking good in this one. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, exactly, but it does what it does very well.

Judgment on Deltchev by Eric Ambler: You know who shouldn’t get involved with intrigue in a Cold War-era Eastern Bloc country? A playwright, that’s who! The protagonist is nerve-wrackingly out of his depth and outmatched at nearly every turn.

The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson: A kind of YA novel that doesn’t get written anymore. Slow and moody and literary and wrestling with big questions of religion, ritual, and tradition. It’s very good. I can’t remember where I read about it, but I’m glad I did.

X-Men Grand Design – Second Genesis by Ed Piskor: If you’re into the X-Men’s convoluted history, these books can’t be beat. I bought this one. Totally worth it.

Ant-Man: Second-Chance Man by Nick Spencer: Almost entirely worth it just for the guy in the Grizzly suit. This Scott Lang is almost too much of a wastrel to be charming. It’s a real fine line. Can anyone be this dumb? Yes, it turns out, yes, someone can be.

Beyond the Laughing Sky by Michelle Cuevas: A book about being different and figuring out who you are. Sentimental without being mawkish. Cuevas can write sentences like almost no one else. (I still like Imaginary Friend the best, though.)

Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials by Reza Negarestani: A book I’d been trying to track down for about a decade then, boom, one day it turned up at my library. Lovecraftean-style horror as told through academic gibberdegook. It was definitely an experience reading it, but I don’t know of anyone who’d have the kind of patience it takes to work your way through it. Strikes me as the kind of book that people love the idea of rather than the thing itself. The kind of post-modern novel that people think of when they talk about hating post-modern novels, obscure and pedantic and inscrutable. Not horror, exactly, but there are horrific ideas in it.

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Books I Got the Most Out of in 2018

  • Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd: I read this because of David Bowie. It was on his list of favorite books and his son started a sort of online freeform book club based on his dad’s favorite books. This book is super weird! A story that eats its own tail (tale?), set in different eras of London. Turns out I love books about London and books about detectives and books about secret histories and architectures. There’s nothing pleasant about this book, except the mesmerizing prose.
  • Gnomon by Nick Harkaway: You can’t go wrong with Harkaway, you really can’t. The man can write! I’ve read every book he’s written and I’ll read every book he writes. A story about (what else?) a detective–actually, an inspector. It’s not exactly a mystery, but it is a fantastic story about memory and identity. It has one of the creepiest characters in a book I’ve ever read.
  • Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls: A married woman falls in love with a sea monster. It’s funny and sad and more people should read it and know about it, probably.
  • Puckoon by Spike Milligan: Another David Bowie pick. This is one of the funniest books I’ve read (while it’s also deeply offensive in almost every way, but what can you do?). An Irish novel from the 1960s. The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is going to go through the middle of a town and the British government is going to put their border crossing station in the middle of a cemetery. There’s almost nothing but crazy hijinks.
  • Six Four by Video Yokoyama: Somehow the PR guy in this Japanese police force solves a mystery. I don’t usually go in for the police procedural stuff, but for some reason, I found this one deeply compelling. It’s just really good.
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell: George Orwell writes movingly about his time in poverty in the early 20th century.
  • The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch: I’m a sucker for time travel stories, even ones like this that are hiding inside of a “thriller” story.
  • The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt: Dewitt writes an extremely moving story about fathers and sons. Well, one son and several fathers. There aren’t any samurai in it, unless you count the cinematic ones.
  • Space Opera by Catherynne Valente: No other book has reminded me so much of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide books. A real pleasure.
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West: The best book I read in 2018 (and many other years). A travelogue of 1930s Yugoslavia. I can’t think of another book that charmed me so effortlessly or that made me feel the burden and weight of history so keenly. Rebecca West is someone I would’ve loved to have known. But I’ll settle for her writing instead.
  • The Earthsea series by Ursula Le Guin: Some of these were a re-read and some of them were new to me. Sometimes you need a little magic in your life. These books are a good place to get them. (See also: Beren and Lúthien by JRR Tolkien)
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman: Europe in the 14th century was probably the worst time and place to be alive as a human being. A little comfort reading. Knights were freaking terrifying (“worms in iron cages”). And disease was pretty terrible too.

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But though there were no formal parties, it is true that there were now two broadly opposing worldviews floating in the political ether waiting to be tapped as needed. As the crisis over the Lex Agraria revealed, it was no longer a specific issue that mattered so much as the urgent necessity to triumph over rivals. Reflecting on the recurrent civil wars of the Late Republic, Sallust said, “It is this spirit which has commonly ruined great nations, when one party desires to triumph over another by any and every means and to avenge itself on the vanquished with excessive cruelty.” Accepting defeat was no longer an option.

Excerpt From

The Storm Before the Storm

Mike Duncan

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January 18, 2019 · 5:45 pm

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

If you’d told me that Helen DeWitt would follow up her exquisite The Last Samurai with a novel about a guy who solves America’s workplace sexual harassment issue by starting a company to provide anonymous sexual encounters as a workplace perk, I’m not sure I would’ve believed you. For a novel primarily about sex, it’s not very erotic or salacious, but it is funny. Doesn’t hold a candle to her other novel or her collection of short stories, to my mind, but for what it sets out to do–satirical take on American gender relationships in the workplace–it does it pretty well. The best thing this book does is present sex as really not that big a deal, because it’s just something that everyone does, so why not be pragmatic about it? Why treat it as something separate and unusual? It’s a refreshing take on it.

Unlike The Last Samurai, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but it’s a quick, smart, funny read.

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A Couple Books

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette De Bodard is a novella-length science fiction story in what might be some future Earth where a race of aliens have come and gone–the Vanishers–leaving disease and desolation in their wake. It’s an intimate story of a human (?) woman living on a Vanisher spaceship–maybe? everything is very vague–with two abandoned Vanisher children. She trades her healing service for the servitude of a young woman to teach her children. It’s described as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and that’s certainly accurate. This story shines in its portrayal of the weird alien technology as a kind of bizarre magic based, I think, in some kind of super-tech genetic engineering. A quick, charming read.

The weirder the better a la science fiction, as far as I’m concerned. The stories in this collection, Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis, are weird. I think I probably checked this book out from the library based on its title. Read it for: the title story, “Moonkids”, “Teacher”, “Sweetheart”, and “Ultimate Housekeeping Megathrill 4”, but all of the stories are worthwhile. The language in these stories is often casually bizarre, as though they’re being written by people used to writing and speaking and English from a couple parallel universe away.

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I Read Some More Books

The Explorer by James Smythe: This book dances on a kind of knife’s edge for the first third of it or so. The book captures the protagonist’s tedium and dread at being the sole remaining survivor of a doomed space expedition almost too well. Thankfully the book swerves into true weirdness after that first third and becomes a fascinating meditation on the inability to see ourselves as others see us. I’ve been pretty down on first-person narratives lately, because of how limiting and constrained they are, but this book uses first person point of view particularly effectively. I dug it.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu: Two of the stories in this collection made me cry and I’d say that almost all of them are worth reading. I especially liked: “The Paper Menagerie”, “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, “State Change”, “All the Flavors”, “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”. I expect many of these stories can be found online. Go digging!

Doom Patrol: Nada by Gerard Way: It’s impossible to read this without seeing Grant Morrison’s influence. Which is fitting, I suppose, given Morrison’s long run on Doom Patrol. I found the issue with Niles “The Chief” Caulder–their former leader–especially satisfying. The story’s pretty gonzo and surreal but manages to keep a slight hold on the reins so that things don’t devolve into pure nonsense. Also, the art is quite lovely.

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Was Too Busy Reading Books Lately to Write About Them

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh: Describes burglars and their relationship to architecture and cities and those who try to foil them (cops, safe makers, architects, etc). I especially liked the chapter in which the author met with members of various lock picking societies. A quick and enlightening read chockablock full of fantastic detail.

Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker: They just don’t write science fiction like this anymore (or I’m looking in the wrong places). There’s almost too much creativity crammed into this book about an alien world divided into hexagons, each one of which has a completely different environment and set of alien creatures. I suppose that’s why Chalker wrote several more books. I enjoyed this crazy romp through this bizarro alien world and will probably read one or two more of these.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: A book that’s probably a lot more interesting than it sounds. The story of the interpersonal dynamic among a crew of alien races on a long distance space journey. The characters are charming, the alien races are unique and strange, and (in what was something of a relief, I realized) the characters solve their problems without the use of violence. This is one of those science fiction books that you could easily hand to both fans of science fiction and not and still find a receptive audience. I intend to read the sequels.

Neverworld Wake by Misha Pessl: I really enjoyed her first book a lot (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) and was delighted when I realized that she had written a couple new books. This is a YA novel with a time travel/Groundhog Day motif. I liked it a lot and I did not see the twist coming (to be fair, I usually don’t). A quick, enjoyable read (what I’m usually looking for when I pick up a YA novel).

The Doll’s Alphabet by Camilla Grudova: Do you like sewing machines? Because there are a lot of them in this book of short stories. These stories have a real Grimm’s fairy tale sort of vibe to them with an often pretty harsh (but fair) take on contemporary gender relationships. Bordering on the grotesque, Grudova has a real unique voice. I’ll be looking for more of her writing in the future.

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin: If you like Le Guin’s other Earthsea books, you’d be missing out if you didn’t read this collection of Earthsea stories. Fills in some gaps in the novels in real interesting ways.

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin: The final Earthsea novel doesn’t disappoint. I think this was the only one (apart from the stories) that I hadn’t read before. Heartbreaking at times, this quiet novel was so deeply satisfying as a conclusion to the Earthsea story. Le Guin writes about the nature of power and the role of gender like no one else. I’m glad I read it when I did, because I think I would have got much less of it if I’d read it at a younger age.

Hellboy (Library Edition, v4): The Crooked Man and the Troll Witch by Mike Mignola: I liked the Troll Witch part of this one best, because Mignola’s still doing the art. The rest of it is fine, but Hellboy definitely loses something without Mignola doing the art. Funny thing about the Hellboy comics, I have a very hard time remembering details of the stories, even as the art remains vivid in my mind.

Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition 2) by Yukito Kishiro: I still like this comic, but I don’t remember being as bothered by the grotesquerie of it when I read these the first time about 10 years ago.

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman: If you’re feeling real down about where the world is at, this history of 14th century Europe could be useful cure. It probably really was one of the worst times to be alive. Plague and violence and famine and daft kings were all the rage. Also, they wore really stupid looking shoes. There are incredible, just flabbergasting details in this book.

The Wicked & the Divine: Mothering Invention by Kieron Gillen: Really effective use of wordless panels, repeating almost identical actions over thousands of years really drive the point home about how much of a drag it would be to be immortal (or to experience reincarnation with the full memory of all that had happened before). I like this comic, but all the characters are such tools, I have a hard time loving it. (But then they are all gods/rock stars, so it kind of makes sense.) The art’s fantastic.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson: Science fiction novels about psi powers were all the rage in the 70s and 80s. I haven’t seen any for a while, but this book reminded me of them. Set in a town in Nigeria that’s been infested/visited by some alien thing, this novel’s brimming with ideas. In a fitting touch, the United States has completely cut off all ties and communication with the rest of the world, so much so that no one knows anything about what’s happening there, except for strange rumors from the occasional refugee. The story’s told non-chronologically, which works pretty well in this case.

Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci: This novel uses Venn (and other) diagrams to show the status of characters’ relationships. I never suspected that a couple circles could be so moving, but it turns out that with the right context, they can be. I picked this one up on a lark at the library and I’m glad I did.

John Dee and the Empire of Angels: Enochian Magicking and the Occult Roots of the Modern World by Jason Louv: Fascinating and weird. You don’t need to believe in magic to get a lot out of this book, because it’s clear that many of the people who rule the world do. It’s a weird (wyrd?), oblique take on how and why the world is where it’s at today. Sometimes I find it useful to get a curveball perspective on things.

Restart by Gordon Korman: My kid recommended this one to me, so I read it. The protagonist bonks his head and gets amnesia. Upon returning to school, he slowly learns that he was the school bully terrorizing almost everyone. It’s a kid’s book, but it’s exploring real interesting ideas around memory and identity. Who are we? The memories that we have about ourselves or the memories that other people have about us? Pretty heady stuff disguised as a pretty goofy a kid’s book.

The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar by Terry Cheney: Pretty intense stuff. I’m still thinking about this one.

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash: It’s about a wrestler who really wants to win at wrestling. I mean REALLY. Another book that suffers from a plot description, because it’s really all about the execution. I like how this guy uses his words.

Fallen Words by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Charming fables set in medieval Japan. Light and funny.

Black Hammer (v1): Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire: Another round of alternate DC/Marvel heroes complete with decades worth of fictional comics continuity to draw from. These heroes have been forced to retire a farm that seems to be a pocket dimension they can’t escape from and their interpersonal relationships sure do suffer as a result! I’m interested to see where Lemire takes it.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl: Speaking of fictional comics continuity, Proehl created an entire fictional comic book industry (complete with characters) to provide the backdrop for this story about this mother and her kid traveling across the country doing comic book conventions. The professional cosplayers form a sort of Greek chorus. The mother’s relationship and concern for her kid I found pretty touching.

The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell: Four barely interconnected short stories set in a world of environmental catastrophe caused by unbridled use of magic. Dark and grim. I wanted the stories to be more interconnected than they were.

Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders: A short (basically novella-length) post-apocalyptic story about a guy who survives for a while by being unconcerned with what happens to his body a la Youtube-style antics. The characters just sort of keep trying to live their lives as the world goes farther and farther down the tubes. Reminded me quite a bit of A Distant Mirror in that way.

Harrow County (Library Edition v1) by Cullen Bunn: She’s a witch! And the whole town’s not what it seems. I sure wasn’t expecting the curveball this book threw. The art’s exactly what this story needs. I’ll check out future collections.

Vita Nostra by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko: What if Hogwarts totally sucked and studying magic was a real drag? That’s basically the premise of this novel. I’m being super reductionist here and maybe unfairly so. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book, but I did find it compelling.

The Wild Storm: Michael Cray (v1) by Bryan Hill: I wanted to like this book more than I did, but I feel like it was kind of a rehash of stuff I’ve seen before. Michael Cray fights evil versions of classic DC heroes (Green Arrow, Aquaman, etc).

Battle Angel Alita (Deluxe Edition 3) by Yukito Kishiro: This is where Battle Angel Alita really starts to get weird. This is also where I started enjoying it a lot more when I read it the first time. The same is true this second time.

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Some Books What I Read Recently

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell: The story of one woman’s life. Shows, in harrowing detail, the emptiness and soul-crushing boredom at the heart of the “American dream”. Funny and deeply sad. 

Milk Wars: A crossover comic with DC’s biggest characters and Young Animal’s. Almost worth it just for the Milkman Man gag. Deeply surreal and weird. Riffing on stuff that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have been doing for decades. It’s great to see someone finally pick up those toys and play with them. 

Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? by Geof Darrow: Astoundingly intricate and ultraviolent martial arts comic. No one does comic action like Darrow does. The mind-controlling crab is pretty great as a villain.

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames: The sequel to Kings of the Wyld, which I liked a lot. These two are probably the best D&Desque novels I’ve ever read, for sheer enjoyment value. The band names are pure delight.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin: I thought this was my favorite Earthsea book until I (possibly?) re-read Tehanu shortly after. Reading these books again has been an experience in realizing how little I understood when I read them the first time. Maybe when I read them again in 20 years, I’ll realize how little I understand now. They’re those kinds of books. There’s something about these books that tries to get at what it means to be a man. What it means to be a good man.

Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin: The strangest thing to me is that I think I read this book when I was a kid, but I have almost no memory of having read it. I think I read it, but it was so outside of my frame of reference that I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get it so much, that I remembered almost nothing from it. It’s really, really good. I haven’t read them all yet, but I think this ranks up there as one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Hellboy (Library Edition v2): The Chained Coffin, The Right Hand of Doom, and others by Mike Mignola: Re-reading these Hellboy comics in a larger size really pays off. The art is so great. I can only think of one or two other comic artists whose styles have stuck with me so much. The story is a lot of fun too. 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: How is it possible to be a good person? I almost read this book in a single sitting. I found it deeply compelling. Nothing much happens in it, except that a young woman tries to figure out what’s important in life. Moshfegh can write. I didn’t like this as much as her book of short stories, Homesick for Another World, which I can recommend unreservedly. In her writing, I think Moshfegh is really trying to get at how pernicious and destructive the lack of meaning in modern American life is.

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja: A goofy military SF story. Good for a quick light-hearted read. I’ll probably read the sequel.

Beren and Lúthien by JRR Tolkien: I didn’t realize how much I missed reading Tolkien’s writing until I read this one again. Worth it just for Tevildo, Prince of Cats.

The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich: My book club wanted to read it. There’s something super weird about those cattle mutilations, y’all.

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