Category Archives: Books

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Really gets at the heart of why Americans are so bad at foreign affairs. You could swap out the American, Pyle, for any number of well-meaning idiots stomping around the globe these days. The protagonist’s voice is so seductive in its jaded, cynical wit–papering over the gaping, roaring hole of want and need and jealousy.

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Batman and Shade the Changing Girl

Shade, the Changing Girl: Little Runaway Cecil Castellucci: Unendingly surreal. It’s no Casanova (Matt Fraction), but there’s some nice visual and narrative experimentation going on here.

Batman: I Am Suicide by Tom King: Someone wanted a Batman/Suicide Squad mashup. Bane makes a pretty good villain for this. Also, the Psycho Pirate is always a fun/weird edition. I found the art somewhat confusing, visually. Maybe it’s just me.

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Vallista by Steven Brust

Book #15 of the Vlad Taltos series. I guess I like them, because I’ve read all of them so far. Each book in the series is an experiment in plot structure or thematic organization. This one’s plot is fairly straightforward, except the plot is about the exploration of a weird castle, mixed up in time and space.

I liked it. Vlad, the narrator, has a pretty delightfully dry sense of humor.

The series is written in such a way that you could start with almost any of them and be ok with understanding what’s happening.

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The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David L. Carlson

I don’t think every story is improved by being told as a comic, but I think this one really does. The art and text work together beautifully. It’s slightly ironic, because it’s the story of a blind man and his son. This is one of those comics that even non-comic-readers could get behind. Check it out!

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2014: A Year of Reading Intermittently

It was a strange year. I can’t say it’s been a good year. I started a lot of books and didn’t finish them. By my count, I only finished 82 books this year. Half of those were probably comic books.

In no particular order, here were some that really stood out:

My Heart is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart

A book of autobiographical essays. Charming and memorable. The one with the lottery tickets was my favorite.

To Be or Not To Be by Ryan North

Hamlet turned into a choose-your-own-adventure story. A delightful mashup.

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Along with Inherent Vice, one of Pynchon’s most readable books. A strange ode to a pre-9/11 world.

Saga by Brian Vaughan

The best comic book I read all year. A true delight. And captures something true about the wonders and horrors of bringing new human beings into the world.

Triton by Samuel Delany

This book captured more closely, in retrospect, the mood of 2014 at large more than anything else I read this year. Written in 1976.

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

Not my favorite of his work, but still an amazing three books. There’s nothing else like it that I’ve ever read. I prefer his more surreal stuff, but good for him for doing what he needed to do to get on the NY Times Bestseller List.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yeah, I cried. What can I say. It’s heart wrenchingly charming and sad.

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

I’ll sing Harkaway’s praises until the cows come home. This one’s well worthwhile, even though it’s such a dude’s book.

Not such a bad year in reading, I suppose. Still, here’s to a better reading year in 2015. It’d be nice to find that rhythm again.

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PARADISE LOST by John Milton

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It was a funny feeling, when I read it in college, to realize that my inherited conceptions of Satan and Hell and the Garden of Eden mapped eerily closely to Milton’s PARADISE LOST. And one more foundation stone got shimmied away.

I don’t remember liking PARADISE LOST very much. It seemed smug and off-putting, and I was super irritated at the lack of religious knowledge of my fellow students. Silly me, I assumed a basic, if not religious background, at least a knowledge of religion (read: Christianity). I found myself veering into self-righteous christianist mode, which I had mostly been trying to steer myself away from. It was Milton who presented the biggest challenge there.

Another time, I was hosting a party at my house, and my friend Ian burst into my living room, all livid and trembling, because he’d read PARADISE LOST that afternoon (one afternoon!) and was a’quiver with occult knowledge. He’d had some kind of numinous encounter with that book, some sort of near-enlightened state. I don’t remember anything he said, but I remember talking to him for what seemed like hours about that book. I got more out of that discussion at a party, than I had over the course of two or three weeks of english classes. Was I a little jealous that he’d had such a profound encounter with that (or any) book? Maybe a little. That’s what happens to non-readers (I’m assuming here) sometimes when they encounter some amazing written thing.

Me, I wonder sometimes if I haven’t just filled my brain up with too many words, or too many not very interesting or well thought out words. Ultimately, I’ve never really bought into the idea that reading for the sake of reading is a good in itself. It does actually matter what one reads. That doesn’t stop me from reading some simply terrible stuff, sometimes, though.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

If any part of Milton’s work changed me or my way of thinking about the world, it was that one.

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OUTSIDE THE GATES OF SCIENCE: WHY IT’S TIME FOR THE PARANORMAL TO COME IN FROM THE COLD by Damien Broderick

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I’m a sucker for incredibly long titles + subtitles.

I’ve long been fascinated by occultic, paranormal, fortean… stuff. Even though I mostly suspect it’s complete hokum, it generates some fantastic stories and perspectives on things. Also, those first few years of the 21st century were so deranged in so many ways that I found my reading roaming in strange places.

The premise of the book–if I can drag it successfully from some dusty corner of my mind–is that there are things outside of what the body of science formally recognizes as real or likely, and that the only ones exploring those things are paranormal researchers, BUT their research methodology is so poor that even if they might discover something, no one else can ever replicate it.

I remember reading the book, and even maybe enjoying it, the most interesting thing being the descriptions of the various paranormal experiments and the stories of the quite eccentric …scientists devoting their time to them.

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WIELDING A RED SWORD by Piers Anthony

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In retrospect, I prefer Terry Pratchett’s Death.

In retrospect, even I don’t believe that I read so many Piers Anthony books.

Of all of his various series, Anthony’s INCARNATIONS OF IMMORTALITY series is probably the one that felt coolest to me, when I read it in 6-7th grade. I remember my friend Luke raving about these books, and that was enough for me.

The premise to the series is that there are these essentially immortal godlike… ideas that are more like job functions than characters, because various mortal human beings inhabit those job functions throughout all of time. So you’ve got things like Death, Love, Good, Evil, and War. The coolest thing about the books (apart from Death driving around in his “pale horse” that could turn into a sweet car) was their interconnectedness. The books weren’t entirely sequential, and often overlapped in their plots, which meant that certain inexplicable actions by some characters were clarified in later books when you could read the same scene from a different perspective. (In retrospect, reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS series, actually.)

To my mind, the first book in the series, ON A PALE HORSE, was the best and coolest, with probably the most likable character. The one about Time was pretty sweet as well.

WIELDING A RED SWORD is all about the incarnation of War. I remember very little of this book, otherwise, unfortunately. I’m pretty sure Death makes an appearance.

What’s amazing is that Piers Anthony is still alive and, as far as I can tell, still writing! As for his Xanth books, I’m sure I’ll get around to writing about at least one of those at some point soon. I did read so very very many of them…

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THE DRAGON LORD by Peter Morwood

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This was not a good book, which, I think, will not surprise you.

I got this book as a birthday present from someone (I don’t remember who) when I was about 10, I think.

An alarming book, for a couple of reasons. I didn’t realize until midway through it that this book was NUMBER THREE in a trilogy, and I was reading it first! The horror!

I like to think I’m a little less of a compulsive completionist, but as a child, I took it as an immense failure if I didn’t complete a book, for whatever reason. This compulsion included series of books as well. To be reading the last book in a series first was very troubling to me. Very very troubling.

And so I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. I felt compelled to finish the book, but I was reading the series out of order. I ended up just reading the book and feeling bad about it the whole time.

At some point, I managed to track down the first book, THE HORSE LORD, but I never did find Book 2: THE DEMON LORD.

Oh yeah, the rape scene was pretty alarming too, which is pretty much all I remember about this book. And there was a dragon in it.

That’s 3-5 hours I’ll never get back… (Or however long it took me to read it.)

The funny thing is, I held onto this book for a long long time, even though I didn’t enjoy reading it, but I think because I kept hoping that I would find Book 2 at some point.

I’m glad I stepped off that completionist train a while back. Mostly.

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A MASSIVE SWELLING: CELEBRITY REEXAMINED AS GROTESQUE CRIPPLING DISEASE AND OTHER CULTURAL REVELATIONS by Cintra Wilson

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I’m almost certain I read this book of essays for its title alone. I don’t remember the cover at all, but maybe I was sheepishly hiding it on the bus while I read it.

One thing I’ve learned about this little project of mine is how very very little I seem to remember from most of the books I’ve read. I recall emotional tone, some scattered details, and occasionally a plot summary. It’s sad really. Or maybe not. Were I still the kind of person who lies awake at night thinking thoughts like: Where are all these words going that I’m shoving into my cranium? I’d probably think thoughts like that. (If I had an editor making editorial notes, it would read: Just wait, just wait. –Ed.) Good thing I can think them in the harsh, soul-crushing light of my computer monitor instead!

So, I don’t remember the contents of this book, but I do remember reading it on the bus, and in the lunchroom at work. I remember laughing out loud. (I do this while reading sometimes. A bit awkward on public transit. I mean, I’m a little weirded out when someone laughs out loud to themself* on the bus…) I remember it being a bunch of essays about the silliness of “celebrity” and whatever that means. Mostly, after the amusement, I felt a sense of relief that my life doesn’t relate in any way whatever minor errors in judgment some celebrities somewhere might happen to be making in sight or sound of ten million eyes and ears.

I should really see if she’s written anything else…She has! Go go gadget browser!

*intentional!

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