Category Archives: Books

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

(Warning! No actual samurai appear in this book, unless you count the film samurai from the movie Seven Samurai, who do.)

As my old friend Eric wrote, this book is a “Stone cold masterpiece”. I whole-heartedly agree. Seriously, this book is really great. I can’t say enough great things about it. It’s funny and moving and clever and is probably one of the most insightful novels written about fathers and sons and mothers and sons and children and parents generally. It’s got a lot on education and human potential and it makes it seem like learning languages is not so hard. (I found learning languages extremely difficult, but maybe I just didn’t think of it the right way.) Also, it made me want to watch Seven Samurai again.

A book that’s very much worth reading. You won’t regret it.

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Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

This book is much shorter than I expected, but then it is a couple of lectures that have been turned into essays. The essays are quite smart and highlighted some things I’d certainly never considered.

The first essay begins by focusing on a scene I’d never given much thought to: in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ house is filled with suitors who want to marry Penelope, the assumed widow. A bard starts playing a sad song about all the men who went away to Troy and died. Penelope is overwrought with sorrow and asks the bard to sing a different tune. Telemachus rebukes her and tells her, basically, go do a bunch of womanly things, public speech is men’s work and I’m in charge here! Beard then goes on to draw parallels between that scene and other pieces from art, history, and literature from then to the present day.

The second essay is more about the ways that women are permitted (or not) to engage in the political sphere. She makes a compelling case that, even though we may not consider it, art and literature from the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds cast a long shadow that influences us still today. (For example, the imagery of Medusa as it’s been used through time.)

The only quibble I’d have with the book is that it’s not a manifesto. Beard has no call to action, no ideas for what to do. That being said, I think she’s doing a valuable service raising these parallels between the culture of antiquity and that of the present. Check it out! It’s a quick read.

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Another Country by James Baldwin

I finished this book last week, but I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. It’s so beautifully written. The internal lives of its characters are almost too rich to fathom. When reading, it was impossible not to feel Baldwin’s constant presence. In a similar way, the novel is haunted by Rufus, a black musician who falls into such despair that he jumps off a bridge early in the story. (It was only later that I read an interview with James Baldwin and he mentioned a friend of his who killed himself by jumping off a bridge.) It’s a book that captures a very specific time and place (New York city in the 1960s) but that feels infinite in its scope–infinite in the microscopic sense, there’s always deeper and smaller to go. I can’t think of another book that captures how fraught with danger (emotionally, physically, spiritually) sex can be between human beings. Or even just a seemingly casual conversation. The kind of book that sort of makes me want to go shut myself away from other people and just read books forever. Also, there’s a party scene in this book with publishing elites that made me infinitely glad that I’ve always lived on the West coast. It’s an amazing book, but I think I got a bit more out of Go Tell it on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time.

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Heretics! The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy by Steven Nadler

Did you ever wonder what was all the fuss about people like Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, but couldn’t get past the mountains of pages? Never fear! This comic book provides an entertaining summary and historical context for some of the most influential thinkers of the 17th century. Seriously, they should probably give this book to college freshmen. The art’s a lot of fun too.

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Batman: The Wrath by Tony Bedard

It’s a Batman story from the 80s! The Wrath is an obscure Batman villain who has an identical origin story, only its a cop who kills his (criminal) parents. This comic is kind of weird and delightful as only Batman stories can be. I finally read it because I’d renewed it 26 times from the library. That seemed like enough, so I decided to finally read it. It was an easier read than this James Baldwin book I’m trying to read for my book club. James Baldwin is an amazing writer, but he’s tough to read when kids are bouncing around the house.

Anyway, Batman: The Wrath. I have no idea why I checked it out. I probably read about it online somewhere or heard about it on some podcast. It was pretty good. The art definitely felt like 80s Batman art, but it works. They were definitely going for a grittier, edgier kind of thing. Maybe this was a deliberate Batman, house-style kind of thing?

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Mother Panic: Under Her Skin (v2) by Jody Houser

I’m digging this alternate take on the Batman thing. Instead of rich, Gotham socialite Bruce Wayne dressing up like a bat and flitting around town, we’ve got rich, Gotham socialite Violet Paige dressing up in a stark, white outfit (it doesn’t seem to have an animal theme to it) and tromping around town. It’s super dark, but no more than many Batman stories I’ve read. I liked it well enough to read the second collection. It’s good to see an alternate take on the whole Gotham-city vigilante thing. I hope it is a nice long run. I dig some of the art a lot, some of the art a bit less, but the writing is solid.

If you like Batman, give it a go.

It’s part of Gerard Way’s DC Comics Young Animal imprint. I’ve been impressed with the stuff they’ve been doing, including Shade, the Changing Girl and a new Doom Patrol run.

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Paper Girls (v. 3 & 4) by Brian K. Vaughan

(You really want to start with volume 1 with these.)

If you liked the show Stranger Things and you like time travel, changes are you’ll like this comic. It’s about four paper girls who end up traveling through time. Similar to the way that Saga deals with parenting and war, Paper Girls sort of explores themes of generational conflict and misunderstanding.

There’s a lot to like in these books and the art by Cliff Chiang is fantastic.

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The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

(I had to check three times to make sure I spelled his name right.)

When I picked this up to read, I couldn’t remember why I’d checked it out from the library–I’d renewed it a bunch of times–and at first, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. Sure, it has time travel (which I love, unreservedly) but it seemed to drift almost immediately into a crime procedural sort of thing (which I don’t love, even reservedly, usually). I’m glad I stuck with it, because this story got far weirder and more interesting than I had initially expected.

This book’s about as delightfully strange and creepy as only a good science fiction time travel story can be. I’d totally recommend it, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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Ghost Devices by Simon Bucher-Jones

I might not have read this one, except that the author left a kind comment on here offering to send me a copy of the book. Instead, I got my own copy and read it.

Somehow, I missed that this was a Dr. Who tie-in novel!

It’s all about this space archaeologist named Bernice Summerfield. She’s pretty great, as characters go. I can see why they did a whole series of SF/Dr. Who tie-in books about her. I can really see the Douglas Adams/Terry Pratchett influence here. I dug it. It was a fun read.

Check it out, especially if you like your SF with a generous helping of wacky hijinks and a nice side of interesting ideas.

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Some Comic Books I Read Recently

Monstress v.2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu: Incredibly rich world-building and the art is beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s very exposition heavy. I kept sort of dozing off while reading it–probably shouldn’t have tried to read it at the end of a long day…

X-Men: Grand Design by Ed Piskor: Summarizes about 30 years of X-Men comics. A love letter to the X-Men, basically. I was delighted by it, but then… I’ve been an X-Men fan for about 30 years. If you’re there too, this book’s for you. I’m very much looking forward to v.2.

All Star Batman: First Ally by Scott Snyder: Exploring the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred. Some good stuff there, about fathers and sons.

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