Archive for the '2011 Books' Category

“Sweet Tooth v1: Out of the Deep Woods” by Jeff Lemire

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Sweet Tooth was the recommendation I got at the comic shop recently when I asked “what am I not reading that I should be?” I’d heard good things about this book for a while, so was open to give it a try.

In a post-apocalyptic world, a boy named Gus lives with his father in the deep woods. The twist is that he’s something called a hybrid–he’s got deer antlers which seem to be a result of whatever catastrophe caused the outside world to collapse. The father warns the boy never to leave the woods, but when he inevitably dies, the boy meets with a mystery man who promises to lead the boy to a haven.

Sweet Tooth is indeed worth reading. Gus is engaging, and I quickly cared about what happened to him. The book uses many, many elements of post-apocalyptic fiction. I was strongly reminded of The Road and Riddley Walker

I'll take a moment to vent a pet peeve that's been growing for a while and that disappointed me with this book. ENOUGH WITH PROSTITUTES. Especially enough with them as convenient plot devices to stand for people without power. Using them as stock characters is lazy and insulting storytelling. Cut it out. I mean it.

“An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

A dear friend of mine highly recommended A Suitable Boy to me many years ago. I was suspicious of its length, and put it off for years. Finally in 2007 I had a long stretch of time so I decided to dip my toe into A Suitable Boy and see what happened. A few weeks later, I came up for air, disappointed to be leaving the characters I’d come to love and admire.

Since then, I’d meant to read Seth’s shorter novel, An Equal Music, so when a book group member suggested it recently, I was excited for the opportunity. Then I began the book. I waited for it to involve me. And waited. Asked other friends in the book group what their experience had been. They said it took a while to get into it. I kept reading. But my dislike of the narrator, a self-involved violinist pining for the girlfriend of youth, only grew. When the past love was introduced, neither did I care for her. When something was revealed about her, I was told it was tragic and horrible; I never felt this.

The only thing I felt as I read this novel was a sense of duty to the members of my book group to continue to the end. Which I did. And was glad, very glad, to close that book and leave it behind. I found it dreary and uninteresting. I do look forward to our discussion of the book, to hear what other readers found and felt where I did not. If you, like me, disliked this book, do not let it deter you from A Suitable Boy, which I continue to hold dear, even if one character married THE WRONG PERSON, which I’m still angry about, years later.

“The Thousand” by Kevin Guilfoile

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

A periodic treat at The Morning News is when John Warner assumed the mantle of Biblioracle, and invites readers to list the last five books they enjoyed. Based on those, he suggests the next book to read. After the summer round, he suggested his friend and fellow TMN writer Kevin Guilfoile’s second novel, The Thousand. I’d seen a negative review from Publishers Weekly, and didn’t consider it after that. But the Biblioracle struck again, because I enjoyed it tremendously.

The story switches between several characters, but the central one is Canada Gold, a petite woman with a famous dead father and a talent for counting cards in Vegas that’s gotten her into more than a little trouble. Canada is the kind of smart, scrappy, supernatural heroine its easy to cheer for, not unlike Lisbeth Salander though slightly less crazy. As a child, she got a neurostimulator implanted to control her seizures. The “spider” as she calls it, did what it was supposed to but brought a host of weird side effects. These come into play when she becomes the center of various plots of a shadowy group called The Thousand, fanatic and secret followers of the ancient mathematician Pythagoras.

This is a speculative thriller in the style of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. It has a number of similarities to a previous Biblioracle rec, Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, which I loved earlier this year. This was a fast, entertaining read in the midst of a bunch of heavy books. I enjoyed it a lot and look forward to checking out Guilfoile’s first novel, Cast of Shadows, as well as the latest recommendation for me from the Biblioracle: The Family Fang.

A Bevy of Books (Because I’m Behind)

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Trying to catch up here at the blog. In home news today, I changed sheets to flannel and mended a pair of footie pajamas. Winter is coming.

Everything is Illuminated
by Jonathan Safran Foer. When I began this book, I was impressed, as in, head tipped to the side I said, huh, this is different and good. Chapters are of three kinds. Two are narrated by Alex, a Ukrainian tour guide, who in one type of chapter corresponds with the character Jonathan Safran Foer, and in the other recounts his side of JSF’s recent trip to the Ukraine to unearth details of his grandfather’s early life. The third type of chapter is told ostensibly in third person omniscient, but really by JSF (whether the fictional, the author, or both) of his family history based on what he found on (or what he’s making up after) his trip. As the book wore on, though, so did the JSF family history chapters. While I continued to delight in Alex’s fractured English and point of view, I came to loathe the history chapters. They brought nothing new to tales of persecution during WWII, but they did concern themselves in disturbing detail with the bizarre sexual habits of grandparents and great-greats. I’m all for grandparents having sex or people having weird sex. But I don’t have to know the details. So, by the end I still really liked about 2/3 of the book, but hated the other 1/3.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by JSF. For a book group because of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Narrated mostly by precocious 9-year-old Oskar Schell, who is weird but lovable and understandably deeply damaged by his fathers death on 9/11. Other chapters are letters written by his grandfather, who left his grandmother when she was pregnant with Oskar’s father, and the grandmother. The book is full of quirky bits, like photos from Oskar’s personal collection, pages that are blank because they were typed on a typewriter without a ribbon, four full pages of people’s doodles, numerous photos of doorknobs, and more. I’m reminded of a line from Spinal Tap: the line between clever and stupid is very thin. As with Everything is Illuminated, there is far too much detail about the weird sex of grandparents. The parts about Oskar and his mom were touching and interesting. The inclusion of Dresden is an intriguing contrast to 9/11. But the gimmicks and the grandparents didn’t work for me. Like EiI, a mixed bag of engaging, talented and really annoying writing.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Moving, with great characters, especially Rusty, who will stay with me a long time. A good example of taking something specific like polygamy and making it universal.

Savages by Don Winslow. A selection of this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books that I finally got ’round to. A fast, entertaining read about a trio of marijuana growers who get mixed up with Mexican cartels. It’s told in short, devourable segments that sometimes switch to screenplay form. This reminded me in good ways of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell and Breaking Bad on AMC: extremely violent but incredibly entertaining with involving characters.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. A fable about an orphaned boy’s search for his sister, presumed dead. There is also, as promised in the title, a magician and an elephant. Lovely, evocative illustrations and a good tale.

The Fate of the Artist GN by Eddie Campbell. I’ve loved some of Campbell’s other works, and he’s undeniably a great artist visually and holistically, but this didn’t work for me. Way too meta, which I can sometimes love but apparently wasn’t in the mood for this time. I’ll go back to it, though.

God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam. Margaret, eight years old, has to navigate a lot of adult weirdness, like her vague mother, Jesus-obsessed father, bawdy nanny, a mysterious house in the woods and two recently returned friends of her mother’s. Like her more recent novels Old Filth and The Man with the Wooden Hat, it’s peopled with complex and fascinating characters. I loved it.

“Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

For one of my book groups, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of the Biafran war in late-60’s Nigeria. It was a time and event I knew nothing about other than that Biafra is not currently a country in Africa, so I could guess the broad strokes of the ending. The story is told through three main narrators, Ugwu, a village-born houseboy; Olanna, an upper-class Igbo woman; and Richard, a British ex-patriate who adopts Nigeria, then Biafra, as his home. Of the three, Ugwu was the most interesting and sympathetic to me, though the others were satisfyingly complex.

Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu’s aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. “But he is a good man,” she added. “And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day.” She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.

Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectations, too busy imagining his new life away from the village.

Together, their stories and the ones of those around them form a striking narrative of a terrible time in history, perhaps the origin of the phrase “starving children in Africa.” It’s a long book that moves slowly at first, then has many events in the last hundred pages. But the shift in pacing makes some sense; it gives a vivid portrayal of life before, during and immediately after the war. I found this book moving and informative, though didn’t really fall in love with it.

Wondering: why is there a whole sun on the cover when “half of a yellow sun” is in the title?

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul” by Douglas Adams

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Back in the 80’s, I was a fan of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (you know, the one with four books in it?) and eagerly snapped up Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, his follow-up novel, which I enjoyed and has sat on many shelves in many domiciles over the past twenty three years. I was put reminded of Dirk when I recently re-read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and my husband said, “Isn’t the plot of that awfully similar to that [of the Dirk Gently sequel], The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul?” And thus two more books leaped onto my to read list. I thought to myself, no big deal, they’ll be fast, run reads, I’ll enjoy them and move on.

But I didn’t enjoy them a great deal. I enjoyed them some. I laughed sometimes. But not nearly as much as I remember doing the first time I read these. And both finished up in a whirl of action just past the climax really, with no denouement and incomplete story lines.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency has chapters that alternate between a man who is murdered, another who gets blamed for it, an Electric Monk whose job is to believe things, the sister of the murdered man, and a strange, possessive entity. This is in addition to a sofa stuck in a stairway. Dirk enters the picture to figure out what’s going on, and he does, kind of, eventually. See? It sounds funny. And it was, rather. But it took me several days to work through it, and it was fine, good perhaps, but I can’t grant it much more than that.

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
is about Norse gods roaming the earth among us. This story alternates among Kate, who gets injured when the Norway desk at the airport blows up because the large, not-too-bright man (guess who!) loses his temper; Dirk, who’s locked in a struggle with his housekeeper over who will open the refrigerator first; and Mr. Odwin, an old man who’s enjoying a pretty cushy lifestyle at a luxe retirement home. Again, it’s funny. Again, Dirk kinda sorta figures out what’s going on, but not before some poor schlub loses his head (literally) and the ending ties up too quickly and not entirely satisfactorily. I am glad I read it, though, as Mr. Gaiman owes more than a little of the premise of American Gods to this.

(Noted by a writer on Tor, here by Nicholas Whyte, and here at The Labyrinth Library.

In all, the Dirk Gently books and I have grown apart. Is it me? Did the suck fairy get into them? Don’t know. But I can’t heartily recommend them.

“News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist” by Laurie Hertzel

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

I won a copy of Laurie Hertzel’s News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist (book trailer here) last year on my friend Amy’s blog, New Century Reading, after leaving a comment about one of my own accidental job choices.*

I felt bad because there has been little or no free reading time in the months since I’ve started a book group, in addition to the two I already attend. But when I finished through both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours, I thought, it’s finally time. And what a joy it was to find the time.

I was eleven or twelve when I decided that journalism was my future. I loved to write, I loved to snoop, I always wanted to know everything first. Those are pretty much the only qualifications, when you get right down to it.

Hertzel started working in the newsroom of the Duluth paper(s) in the seventies, and got shoved out of copy editing into reporting at one point. Reading the book is like sitting down with a smart funny friend who tells great stories. I loved hearing about the old school days of newspapers along with the many and various personalities of the newsroom, which reminded me pleasantly of The Imperfectionists. She also has a fascinating tale of how Duluth came to have a sister city in Russia full of Finns, and the strange and wonderful coincidences that followed from there.

This is a great book for those who love writing, are interested in newspaper history/evolution, the Northern Midwest U.S., or the emigration of Finns during the Great Depression. That’s a terrible sentence, and a good copy editor would fix it.

*Edited to add: my accidental job experience happened in the fall of my sophomore year of college. My roommate was reading the campus newsletter and said, “Didn’t you have good SAT scores? This ad says you can earn $15/hour for The Princeton Review.” I went to an interview, got called back, then trained, then taught classes, then trained some more, then got a management position, and then an executive management position, then got sick of marketing, nearly eight years after that initial interview, and went to grad school to study religion on a scholarship I got largely due to GRE scores higher than they would’ve been if I hadn’t worked for a test-prep company for eight years. I have found ways to sneak in teaching and presenting in many ways since then, even if those have not been officially my “job.”

“Odd and the Frost Giants” by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

As part of my reading of Norse myths and Gaiman after my re-read of American Gods, I read Odd and the Frost Giants aloud to my boys, nearly 8yo Drake and 5yuo Guppy. Read aloud to my boys after reading Gaiman’s American Gods last month. It’s a story (or myth, if you will) based on characters from Norse mythology. In short, a young man named Odd leaves his village and goes into the wilderness. Strange things happen when he encounters a fox, bear and eagle. My appreciation of it was heightened by having recently read D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, which explained a certain joke about a mare among other details. Guppy said he liked it “medium” but Drake really enjoyed it, as I continue to struggle with figuring out age-appropriate read-alouds for these two.

“The Hours” by Michael Cunningham

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Now that I’d finally read Mrs Dalloway, it was clearly time to read Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, an homage to Woolf’s classic novel. Cunningham alternates among three women. Clarissa Vaughan is “Mrs Dalloway” a 50 something woman in NYC preparing for a party for a friend who calls her by the name of Woolf’s famous character. Mrs. Brown is a 50’s housewife in California, married to a recently returned decorated soldier of WWII. And Mrs. Woolf is Virginia, in the process of conceiving and beginning her famous novel.

I believe this book would be good even if you hadn’t read Mrs Dalloway. Yet reading them together was dizzying, in a good way, with echoes and enhancements as each made the other a much richer reading experience. I hesitate to watch the film of The Hours in case it might negatively influence my very happy experience with these books.

“Mrs Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

I started a book discussion group earlier this year, and several selections have been heavily father/son themed: Gilead, The Road, Lamb, and American Gods. I selected Mrs Dalloway because I thought it would be an interesting mother/daughter contrast, though I’d not yet read it. Once I did, I found that the mother/daughter theme indeed present, but one among many intriguing things to discuss.

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning–fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark, what a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged into Bourton into the open air.

Clarissa, the Mrs of the title, is preparing for a party. She’s also juggling memories of the past with senses of the present, and moving in and out of complex encounters with her husband, daughter, and a former suitor. Her character, and the beauty and fortune that goes with it, is mirrored darkly in that of Septimus Warren Smith, a decorated veteran of the Great War as he struggles to navigate life and London, which Clarissa does with apparent ease and skill.

This is a short novel, not difficult to read, but deceptively complex and thought provoking. With its suddenly shifting points of view and intertwined narratives, it reminded me of films like Crash and Babel, deploying now in film what was once an daring experiment in writing back when a novel was written, not written to be filmed, as so many are today. I followed this with Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which I enjoyed both on its own and as it helped illuminate Mrs Dalloway, to which it is an homage.

“D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths”

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

I borrowed D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths from the library to read along with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I remembered had a great number of references I wasn’t familiar with. I don’t recall reading the D’Aulaire’s Norse Myths as a child, though their Book of Greek Myths was one of my favorites. The new edition of the Norse myths has an introduction by Michael Chabon (which is also collected in his Maps and Legends) and was such an engaging, fantastically illustrated book with great stories that I went out and bought a copy for our home library. I don’t remember having this growing up, but I want my kids to. It indeed contributed to my enjoyment of Gaiman’s American Gods, as well as his Odd and the Frost Giants, which I just finished reading aloud to my two boys.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

Monday, July 25th, 2011

American Gods was my pick for the discussion group I’ve started on novels with themes of myth and religion. I’d been thinking about it before I became aware that its 10th anniversary was pending, that Neil Gaiman was going to appear as part of the Wits series at the Fitzgerald, and that it had been picked up by Tom Hanks’ production company as a series for HBO. It soon became clean that a July American Gods synchronicity was going on. I hadn’t read the book since it was released in 2001; I read it before September of that year, when the term American suddenly became more complex and problematic. I was more than ready for a re-reading.

The novel is an answer to a question Gaiman puts up front in the introductory epigraph:

One that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands.” (Richard Dorson, “A Theory for American Folklore”)

The main character, and the everyday person the reader is supposed to use as the lens into the world Gaiman has created, is Shadow, a man serving time for a crime never detailed. Shadow is less an everyman, though, and more a traditional noir hero, a hapless, goodish guy who is at the mercy of various femme fatales and manipulative bosses. Part of the novel is a travelogue through some of the weirder tourist spots of the U.S., like the House on the Rock and Rock City. There’s also a substory set in Lakeside, an idyllic Wisconsin town.

This is involving, intriguing stuff, though I found it sometimes too sprawling especially in the war of the gods storyline. I liked much better the interactions of Shadow with other mortals, and with mortal incarnations of various gods and legends. Here, an interview with Gaiman by John Moe that took place recently at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, which I was fortunate enough to attend.

While there wasn’t universal love for the book at the recent discussion of it for my book group, yet it did generate a fascinating and deep conversation, so I think it was a very good pick.

“The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

After I finished reading The Mouse and his Child to 5yo Guppy and nearly 8yo Drake, I cast about for another book, and when I said “Narnia” Drake perked right up. I was torn between reading them in the order I read them growing up, which was chronological by publishing date. But I have a hardcover set that puts them in order by the events of the story. Since Drake can be a stickler for things like that, and I didn’t feel like arguing, we started with the book labeled 1, The Magician’s Nephew; the story takes place before that in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

A young boy named Digory moves to his aunt and uncle’s house in London when his mother falls ill. He makes friends with Polly, the girl who lives next door, and they discover that Digory’s uncle is trying to find ways to travel among worlds. The uncle tricks the children into exploring for him, and their adventures include a dying world, a wicked witch, a just-created world, talking animals and much more. Christian allegory, which I didn’t recognize so clearly when I read this as a child, abounds. It is a solid adventure story featuring interesting child protagonists confronted with a variety of moral and ethical dilemmas. There is some humor, but it was more apparent to me, the adult reading the book, than to my young children who listened to it. I enjoyed revisiting the book. Their verdicts? Drake said he liked it and was interested in the next book. Guppy was grumpy, and said he did not, so I may have picked a(nother) book he’s not yet ready for. I’ll keep trying. Next up is Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants.

“The Wordy Shipmates” by Sarah Vowell

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I wanted to re-read Sarah Vowell’s Wordy Shipmates in the wake of Marilynne Robinson’s passionate defense of Calvinism and Puritanism in The Death of Adam, and Margaret Atwood’s dim view of Puritans, on whom she based the theocracy in her dystopic Handmaid’s Tale. Who was right, Robinson or Atwood? I figured I’d read Vowell and see if her book on the Puritans shed any light on the disagreement. And it did.

Vowell writes in a breezy, funny voice that is all the more interesting given the amount of historical fact and the depth of empathy she brings to her subjects, here the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony after departing England in 1630. She quotes Puritan scholar Perry Miller, one of the Handmaid’s Tale dedicatees, as she details who these people were based on their journals and recorded sermons and more. She is writes mainly of Governor John Winthrop, the author of the phrase “we shall be as a city on a hill,” based on a biblical verse in the book of Matthew, but also of Roger Williams, an early proponent of separation of church and state and the founder of Rhode Island, and Anne Hutchinson, who so exasperated the Massachusetts Bay Puritans that they put her on trial and banished her to Rhode Island.

Vowell quotes original texts and scholarship to present a complicated, engaging, and very human portrait of these historical figures. Reading this helped me determine that Atwood is talking about Plymouth puritans, while Robinson is quoting her own translations of John Calvin’s works, centuries before either of these groups. Are the Puritans good or bad? Robinson says good; Atwood says bad; Vowell says, “it’s complicated.” I’m with Vowell.

“Gingerbread Girl” GN by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I picked up Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover at my local comic shop on a recent Wednesday. I’d enjoyed Coover’s art on Banana Sunday, a book about magical monkeys that my elder, 7yo Drake, also enjoyed. This one is decidedly not for the kiddoes, though.

26yo Annah Billips is a comic-book Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s cute, bisexual (so there’s a brooding girl- AND boyfriend), and she thinks she has a lab-grown clone sister of herself named Ginger running around in the world, which may or may not be a psychological coping mechanism she developed as a girl during her parents divorce. The book is narrated by a stream of characters, including the boyfriend, girlfriend, a pigeon (looking awfully similar to Mo Willems’ famous creation) and a bulldog. The art is clever and charming, but the story felt a bit twee. I didn’t care enough about Annah to be invested in whether her missing sister might be real or not. I felt similarly uncharmed about the film 500 Days of Summer, which also has the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, so perhaps that’s what I don’t engage with.

Summer Reading List

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Inspired by the reading lists at The Algonquin Books Blog, (via The Morning News) I am updating my summer reading plan. Remember how I wrote I was going to do a summer reading project, going through Lizzie Skurnick’s book Shelf Discovery, and reading a bunch of the books she mentioned in it?

Yeah, that’s not going to happen. For good reason, though. I continue to read in preparation for the book group I started, on fiction with themes of myth and religion. Our June book was Louise Erdrich’s Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (I look forward to the day I no longer have to type that title all the time). It made me want to go back to Love Medicine and read everything she’s written, though I’m not going to right now.

The July book is American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which coincides nicely with its 10th anniversary (will I be able to resist buying the 10th anniversary edition, as I already own a signed HC and a MMPB?) and the recent announcement that it’s getting the HBO treatment. Related reading I hope to do along with American Gods is the sequel, Anansi Boys, and Douglas Adams’ Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, which my husband says is very like it. (Does that mean reading Dirk Gently again?) Possibly also D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths.

The August book is Mrs. Dalloway, and I picked up a copy of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, so I hope to make it through that. Related reading with be Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, I hope.

Right now I’m re-reading Warren Ellis’ Planetary, that ended last year. I didn’t want to read the final issue until I re-read from the beginning, so here I am. I also plan to do this with the crime series 100 Bullets. And I mentioned recently that I’m interested in going back to the beginning of Carla Speed McNeil’s series Finder and re-reading up to the present.

So I’ve got an ambitious reading list, though the only Musts are American Gods and Mrs. Dalloway.

I am trying not to attend to the voice inside my head that says she wants to re-read Game of Thrones. There will be plenty of time for that. If I’m smart, I’ll wait till he finishes the series (no jokes or snarking allowed), see how folks like the ending, then decide whether to give it a go.

What do you hope to read this summer?

“Batwoman: Elegy” by Greg Rucka

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

After the dust settled in the Batman universe last year, I bade farewell to the last superhero titles I was reading. I mostly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s take on Batman et al, but once Batman Incorporated started I lost interest in the reboot.

Then I saw the Batwoman: Elegy graphic novel collection, by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III, with an introduction by Rachel Maddow, featuring an ass-kicking redhead. I knew that book was coming home with me. It did not disappoint.

Like her namesake, Batwoman is a vigilante in a mask with a secret identity: Kate Kane, a former West Point cadet. We are soon shown she’s a lesbian (the most prominent gay character in the DC universe), which matters in her personal life. Behind the mask, though, she seeks to confront a new villain coming to town who will be head of Gotham City’s many covens.

The contrasts of personal and private life, painted and penciled art, plus easy-access introduction to a new, compelling character and villain made this a fast, enjoyable read, and a welcome return for me to the DC universe.

“Finder: Voice” GN by Carla Speed McNeil

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I am very, very sorry. How is it, why is it, I’ve never written here about Carla Speed McNeil’s comic-book series Finder? There is no other series I’ve been reading as long as I’ve been reading Finder, which is since the beginning, about 15 years. But I’ve never yet written about it, probably because up until “Voice” I’ve purchased single issues and not read them in graphic-novel collections. But now they’re being collected by Dark Horse Press, and they’re in pretty shiny packages with tons of explanatory notes at the end. So I picked up Voice and am writing about Finder for the first time. And for that, I apologize. Because if you like comics, and you like speculative fiction, then perhaps you, like me, will LOVE Finder, which the author described as “aboriginal science fiction.”

Finder refers to Jaeger, a mystery man, who is introduced at the beginning of the series in the storyline “Sin Eater.” He’s living with Emma Grosvesnor and her three daughters. Subsequent stories follow Jaeger, the Grosvenors, or other characters in this rich, fantastic world. In “Voice,” we follow the eldest Grosvenor daughter, Rachel, as she goes through the “conformation competition” for her clan. This is a coming of age novel as we follow a character who starts off light and shallow. When she is mugged and a necessary heirloom is stolen, she had to delve deep, into her world, looking for Jaeger, and into herself, to figure out what to do next.

McNeil has distinct, accessible, manga-influenced art, and her characters are engaging. Rachel’s internal and external journeys had me enthralled. I devoured this book in fewer than 24 hours. Additionally, I plan to buy the stories in their new collected forms and re-read from the beginning. This fills me with a great deal of geek joy.

“Absence of Mind” by Marilynne Robinson

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

I requested Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of Self months ago from the public library and my turn in rotation finally came up. It’s a short, small book containing essays based on a series of lectures she gave at Yale University. In them, she covers some of the same ground as she did in her previous collection of essays The Death of Adam, such as the faulty facts deployed by those who denounce religion in the face of what she calls “parascience.” I savored and was challenged by The Death of Adam, but did not have a similar experience with the four essays in Absence of Mind.

“On Human Nature” argues that “the mind as felt experience had been excluded from important fields of modern thought.” In “The Strange History of Altruism,” she questions the recent spate of articles supporting social Darwinism that humans are selfish creatures, altruistic only to those who do (or might) share genes. “The Freudian Self” details some of the reductive understanding by and about Freud of the relation between people and sexuality. And “Thinking Again” notes that those who argue against religion in the name of science talk about research as if it’s complete, finished, and finite. (See, for example the title alone of Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith.)

While her points are well taken, I enjoyed them more in The Death of Adam. Here, they were weighed down with what I think of as ivory-tower jargon, including one of my least favorite terms (I find it needlessly esoteric, and thus alienating), hermeneutics, i.e., the study of texts.

If there is an agenda behind the implicit and explicit polemic against religion, which is now treated as brave and new, now justified by Wahhabism and occasional eruptions of creationist zeal, but is fully present in the rationalism of the eighteenth century, it may well be that it creates rhetorical occasions for asserting an anthrolopology of modern humanity, a hermenuteutics of condescension.

The essays didn’t feel accessible or engaging to me, though this could certainly be due to faults in my own understanding or attention. My dislike of this book disappoints me, as I’ve appreciated and enjoyed Robinson’s novels as well as The Death of Adam. While I appreciate her arguments against facile proofs and reductive science, they are couched in such difficult, dry prose I struggled to wade through this slim volume.

“Fables v. 15: Rose Red” by Bill Willingham

Friday, June 10th, 2011

With Rose Red, I’m on the fifteenth volume of Fables? I don’t know that I’ve ever read a comic series as long as I’ve been reading and enjoying this one. The comic book series posits a world in which storybook characters, like Snow White and Rose Red, are real and live secretly among us “mundies.” In this volume, the Fables continue to be pursued by the scary Dark Man as the witch Frau Totenkinder prepares to battle him. Additionally, Rose Red FINALLY gets over her depression about the departure of Little Boy Blue, and gets her butt out of bed to take back control of the Farm, where the non-human Fables, like Reynard the Fox and the Three Little Pigs, live. We get history of Rose Red and her sister Snow White, as well as a new mystery or two. There’s lots of extra material collected from the 100th issue. For fans of the series, this is another strong entry. For those who haven’t tried it, go to the library or comic shop and check out volume 1. There’s a lot here to like.

For others who have read this, though, I have a question: did we ever find out Totenkinder’s secret?