Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 14

* = reread
[GN] = Graphic Novel or Comic Anthology
[CB] = Children's Book

Barefoot Gen, vol 1,2,3
by Keiji Nakazawa

A partially auto-biographical story about Japan during WWII and what life was like in Hiroshima before, during, and after the atomic bomb was dropped.

Is it just me or was school woefully silent about Japan during WWII? I mean, in America is seems that Japan represents the bookends to our WWII history and nothing more: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was the catalyst for the United States to enter the war, and the U.S. dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was the end.

East Asian Studies major here, I know I'm biased, but guess what? Japan was kind of a big player in WWII (and by “kind of” I mean it was one of the 3 Axis members), and it's ridiculous how underplayed their role in the war is in American schools.

I'm getting a little off topic here, but trust me that I'm getting to a point. You see, I would argue that Barefoot Gen is the best graphic novel about WWII. People love to hold up Art Speigalman's Maus as the pinnacle of comic achievement in that field, but you know what? I find Maus to be incredibly boring. Honestly, pick up a copy of Maus and look at pictures and pretend there are no words. Not only does Barefoot Gen have much more dynamic (if perhaps not as clean) artwork, but it's subject matter is more fascinating (and much rarer). No offense to Maus, but there are a million different stories across all different mediums that tell a story of the Holocaust and many of them do so in a much more moving & informative way. Yet, I have yet to come across anything that matches the visceral feeling I get from reading Barefoot Gen. Scenes from that comic are burned into my brain. I can never look at atomic bombs the same again.

Although, speaking of which, I should warn you that you should be careful with this book if you're overly squeamish...because daaaaaammn. Despite the fact that it might horrify you into a coma, I think even the squeamish ones should read it. Because trust me, you don't know shit about the horrors of the atomic bomb until you've read stuff like this. I mean, what kind of devastation do you think of when you think of the atomic bomb? My guess is a combination of Instant incineration, Radiation poisoning, and those shadows burned into walls. Scary stuff to be sure, but trust me when I say the other stuff that went down will quickly replace your old top 3. I don't want to gross anyone out by mentioning examples,'s terrifying. It was so freaky it reached a point where I could only start laughing, which is generally a sign of your body and brain not having a clue how to handle things.

And that's why you should read it. Even if you don't want to, because you don't want to be grossed out. Because it's important. It's important to know just how bad nuclear threats are. It's important to have horrifying, sickening images come to mind every time someone says we should nuke another country. We should all think about Gen and his family and their struggles and realize that we aren't playing a game here.

Now don't get me wrong, Gen isn't perfect. The main problem being that a fair number of scenes (especially in the first volume) lay on the messages pretty thick [extremely thick actually]. But I'm willing to overlook that, because even while it's laying down some heavy-handed-hind-sight-anti-war message, you're still getting a look at what life was like for a lot of Japanese. So many WWII stories love to demonize the axis members, but Gen does a superb job of showing a variety of viewpoints among the citizens on Japan.

And while the parts about life in Japan just before the bomb was dropped are great, it's after the bomb hits that the story really finds its stride. There are actually 6 volumes in the series, but this time around I just read the first 3. While the whole series is good, if you don't want to devote that much time I'd say at least read the 1st one, the 2nd one if you can, keep going to number 3 if you want to stop reading on a happier note, and if you get to 4 then you've obviously got the gumption and you might as well just read the entire thing...because it's great.

Like a wind from hell, the atomic cloud roared up 6 miles into the sky over Hiroshima..


What happened? It's pitch dark!...night already?

How could that be I was on my way to school...something flashed...and after that I don't remember a thing...

Wow, what's with this wall?


It''s the lady I was just talking to--what's happened to her skin?
pg 252-253

The Enchanted Places
by. Christopher Milne

The autobiography of the son of Winnie the Pooh writer A.A. Milne, although you might remember him better by another name: Christopher Robin Milne.

At the end of Brainiac [BL 2012 #122], Ken Jennings mentioned something about how Christopher Robin Milne deeply resented Winnie the Pooh, as well as his dad for creating it, because he got picked on a lot for it. This struck me as incredibly sad and also possibly overblown, so I decided to go check a primary source.

It turns out Christopher Milne doesn't hate his dad or Winnie the Pooh. He admits that there were times when he was younger that he resented his dad and his works for the unwelcome attention it caused him during school and in the military, but I think it'd be fair to say that everyone resents their parents when they're younger. But he shows in the book that he really did love both his Dad and Pooh. There may have been some hardship because of the books, but I think Jennings and others have latched onto a small part of a larger story and phrased things inappropriately.

Anyways, I quite enjoyed this one. I usually don't go in for biographical stories, but Milne knows what he's doing. he doesn't try to expound on every moment of his life. He chooses a handful of ideas, memories, and events that are representative of the whole. And it makes the book really fun.

Plus if you're a big Winnie the Pooh fan, you get all sorts of interesting information about all sorts of behind-the-scenes happenings.

In the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner our ways part. I go on to become a school boy. A child and his bear remain playing in the enchanted spot at the top of the forest. The toys are left behind, no longer wanted, in the nursery. So a glass case was made for them and it was fastened to the nursery wall in Mallord Street, and they climbed inside. And there they lived, sometimes glanced at, mostly forgotten, until the war came. Roo was missing. He had been lost years before, in the apple orchard up the lane. And Piglet's face was a funny shape where a dog had bitten him. During the war they went to America and there they have been ever since...

If you saw them today, your immediate reaction would be: “How old and battered and lifeless they look.” But of course they are old and battered and lifeless. They are only toys and you are making them for the real animals who lived in the forest. Even in their prime they were no more than a first rough sketch, the merest hint of what they were to become, and they are now long past their prime. Eeyore is the most recognizable; Piglet the least. So, if I am asked “Aren't you sad that the animals are not in their glass case with you today?” I must answer “Not really,” and hope that this doesn't seem too unkind. I like to have around me the things I like today, not the things I once liked many years ago. I don't want a house to be a museum. When I grew out of my old First Eleven blazer, it was thrown away, not lovingly preserved to remind me of the proud day I won it with a score of 13 not out. Every child has his Pooh, but one would think it odd if every man still kept his Pooh to remind him of his childhood. But my Pooh is different, you say: he is the Pooh. No, this only makes him different to you, not different to me. My toys were and are to me no more than yours were and are to you. I do not love them more because they are known to children in Australia or Japan. Fame has nothing to do with love.

I wouldn't like a glass case that said: “Here is fame”; and I don't need a glass case to remind me: “Here was love.”
-pg 78-79

by. Todd Bass

A collection of poems.

You know what? Todd Bass is officially one of my Top 5 Favorite Poets. And in case you're curious here is a list of my Top 5 Favorite Poets: Edgar Allen Poe, Shel Silverstein, Clive Barker, Sherman Alexie, and Todd Bass.

But yeah, it's poetry, so I don't see the point in analyzing it for review. Poetry relies too much on your specific tastes. Just know that I love his stuff. I'd say that overall Pitch was the superior collection, but this one's still great.

 Not Crash, Nor Roar

but the chug of train is how survivors
tend to explain the score of an oncoming twister. Queer,

to compare a work of nature to so
tame a thing as steel wheels riding on parallel rails,

but isn't that how terror assails us: by masquerading
its powers as everyday things, spinning clouds

into funnels, towers into tunnels?
And do we ascertain the sound as locomotive

while the tornado's rough tongue touches down,
or do we apply the metaphoric construction

only after the destruction blows town?
And if that latter, doesn't the sound describe

not terror's arrival, but safety's departure,
as it rumbles over the switches of our survival?

Does it ever get easier for us, the lovelorn,
hugging ourselves against the strain

of being left behind,
on a platform,

in the rain? 

-pg 38

[P.S. I wasn't able to replicate it, but in the book the lines are spaced so that they poem as a whole creates the image of a tornado...and that's awesome.]

I Shall Wear Midnight
by. Terry Pratchett

The fourth, and final book, in the Tiffany Aching series, in which Tiffany must confront the ultimate foe of witches.

You know what? I thought The Wintersmith was the last book of this series, and in that review I expressed my wish that there'd be another one. And no one mentioned the fact that there indeed IS another book! I know for a fact that at least one of you folks knew this and yet failed to mention it. Basically what I'm getting at here is that you're all terrible people.

But enough of that. I love the Tiffany Aching books. And yet my feelings towards this one is a bit mixed. On one hand I felt that it was probably the weakest one of the series, but at the same time I think it provides a wonderful end note to the series.'s hard to coalesce disparate ideas like those.

My problems basically amount to the fact that the beginning of the book sets a tone of danger and excitement that is extremely high and yet it wasn't able to maintain that level throughout the book. The villain is said to be some extraordinary force of evil, and yet it really doesn't seem anything more than a slight inconvenience most of the time.

Like usual, I feel the need to say that me complaining about things in my favorite series comes from a place of extremely high expectations. It's by no means bad, I was just hoping for more than it was prepared to offer. I would recommend not going into this one expecting some epic showdown of Good vs. Evil. Go in expecting a fun story where the loose ends of the series are tied up, leading to an artful end to the series.

Oh, yes—she could imagine the conversation in the pub, with the beer joining in and people remembering where all those things that weren't weapons were hanging in their sheds. Every man was the kind in his little castle. Everyone knew that—well, at least every man—and so you minded your own business when it came to another man's castle until the castle begin to stink, and then you had to do something about it lest all castles should fall. Mr. Petty was one of the neighborhood's sullen little secrets, but he was not a secret anymore.

“I am your only chance, Mr. Petty,” she said. “Run away. Grab what you can and run away right now. Run away to where they've never heard of you, and then run a bit further, just to be on the safe side, because I will not be able to stop them, do you understand? Personally, I could not care less what happens to your miserable frame, but I do not wish to see good people get turned into bad people by doing a murder, so you just leg it across the fields and I won't remember which way you went.”

“You can't turn me out of my own house,” he mumbled, finding some drunken defiance.

“You've lost your house, your wife, your daughter...and your grandson, Mr. Petty. You will find no friends here this night. I am just offering you your life.”
-Pg 22-23

Until They Bring the Streetcars Back
by. Stanley Gordon West

A story set in 1960's St. Paul, Minnesota, about a high school boy who meets a strange girl.

I realize that summary sounds really open and vague. It is like that because it is a quality summary.

I read this one because it was recommended by one of the student workers at the library.

It really wasn't my sort of thing.

The main character is a doofus and the "mystery” behind the strange girl is pretty ridiculous. And by "pretty ridiculous” I mean "utterly ridiculous.” It was so bizarre that I actually started seriously believing that there was going to be a twist wherein we learn that the girl is just messing with him. Sadly that wasn't the case and the whole thing was serious. Did I already mention that the main character is a doofus?

That all being said there were some memorable moments and the fact that it was set in 1960's St. Paul was the pretty darn interesting. I had heard mention of the old streetcars, but never really heard much about their history. It really is a shame that they were all torn up, considering that now we're spending so much money to put lightrail lines back in.

On a lighter note, there was a part of this book that I totally misread. I wasn't reading very closely because the main character was being a doofus. But in my defence, when a teenage boy is said to run off into an alley to "release the zeppelin" after having ridden in a car with a cute girl riding on his lap, I really don't think I can be blamed for my confusion. Turns out he was talking about a fart...I think that is an accurate summary of how doofusy this character was.

In conclusion: this book has potential, a setting I found intriguing, awful doofy characters, a friggin' ridiculous plot line, and reads like it was commissioned by a school to try to make learning about the history of St. Paul kind of "cool."

Peggy was real sad so I promised she could be with me when I let Hot-Foot go. I figured he'd have a better chance if I let him go at night, so just before bedtime, I got Peggy and we tiptoed down the back stairway. When she opened the outside door ahead of me she called into the dark alley.

“We've called the police! The Police are on their way, we've called the police!”

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Scaring away anyone who's lurking in the alley to rob or hurt you.”

I laughed as we crossed the alley.

“There's no one lurking out here to hurt you or anything.”

“You never know,” she said and she followed me closely down the alley.

“Do you always yell that?” I asked.

“Always, every time I come out here in the dark.”
pg 64

157 & 168 [GN]
No Man's Land
by. DC Comics

After an earthquake rips Gotham City apart, the government declares the city a No Man's Land. They destroy all bridges leading to it and forbid anyone from entering or leaving. In order to survive, various factions (most lead by former super heroes or villains) compete for supplies and territory.

I've known the story of the No Man's Land story arc for many years, but I've never actually read it. I finally decided to give it a go after the new Batman movie borrowed a lot of plot elements from it. And thus I borrowed the first two complete volumes from the library.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the story arc, but it what it really comes down to is that these complete collections of No Man's Land are a pretty good example of what I hate about superhero comics. They so often have great ideas that are ruined by the cacophony of voices that exists across titles. You've got like 6 different comics all trying to tell stories with the same characters. Everyone's got a different take, everyone's got a different art style. If you had one team working together to tell this story I think it would have been amazing. But as it stands its just disjointed and hard to follow. I still read all the way through it, because the story, at its heart, is fascinating, but there is so much superfluous and contradictory material in these collections.

So yeah, a really, really amazing story idea, with some really, really amazing moments, that was terribly, terribly executed. I would recommend reading a synopsis of the events of No Man's Land instead of reading the actual comics. You'll hear about all the cool things that go down, but won't have to bog through all the muck to do so.

The Rich and the Rest of Us:
A Poverty Manifesto
by. Cornell West & Travis Smiley

An honest look at poverty in America and what we can do about it.

There are nearly 150 million poor and near poor people in American who are not responsible for the damage done by the Great Recession. Yet they pay the price. The poor did not create the deindustrialization of America, unmatched corporate profiteering and greed, more than a decade of foreign wars, and unregulated tax benefits for the wealthy. When the largest economic institutions in the world were brought to their collective knees, they went crawling to the government's doorstep in search of salvation. The government obliged, allowing Wall Street to socialize its failure on the backs of the Main Street Americans. The housing and job crisis they created fostered a poverty unseen in generations—not just in inner-city ghettos and barrios, but also in suburbs and rural areas crossing racial, age, and gender lines. Nearly one-third of American middle class—mostly families with children—have fallen into poverty. 
pg back cover.

This book is pretty fascinating. They make some really interesting points. For instance they mention that the reason politicians are always talking about the Middle Class is because that's a safe thing to say. And yet the real problems aren't with the middle class but are with those in poverty. That by addressing real poverty we'd be able to make things better for everyone.

It also brought some really interesting ideas regarding poverty to light. Like how we've demonized this notion of poverty so much that no one wants to admit to being impoverished, because they think it says something about their character. But if no one admits to being impoverished then there won't be enough voices demanding help for those in poverty.

Like the title suggests, the book lays out a clear look and plan regarding poverty in America. It's a pretty short book and gives you a solid foundation of facts regarding the issues at hand and what can be done about them. I first heard about it when Travis Smiley and Cornell West appeared on The Colbert Report. So if you're the least bit interested I'd highly recommend you check that interview out.

Have you ever given thought to those curbside cut-ins on America's streets? Bikers use them, baby strollers and luggage-pushers use them. We use them at hotels, restaurants, airports, and more. Well, they weren't made for everyone. They were designed for the handicapped, but we all benefit. The same applies to the civil rights struggle—Black people benefited but so too did women, Latinos, Asians, and other minority groups.
We bring the curbside cut-ins and the Civil Rights Movement to make two points related to the current battle. First, when poverty ends, everybody wins—the economy of the nation as a whole, all classes, races, creeds, and neighborhoods. Second, to achieve this goal, it's necessary to change the outmoded 20th-century mind-sets, perceptions, and attitudes as we dare to bring the subject of poverty into the mainstream. 
pg 148

Equal Rites
by. Terry Pratchett

The seventh son of a seventh son is always a wizard. And so, an old wizard visits a seventh son family on the night of their seventh child's delivery and bestows it with his power before he dies. However, they all should have looked a little closer, because this seventh son of a seventh son is actually a daughter.

I haven't read any early Pratchett for quite some time, but I wanted to reread this one because the main character made a really interesting appearance in I Shall Wear Midnight.

I've been reading the newer Pratchett stuff for so long, I had kind of completely forgotten what his older stuff was like. This one is the 3rd book in the Discworld series so it is extremely early on and you can really tell. He hasn't quite figured out how to go at things, and the Discworld still hasn't solidified into the believable place it eventually becomes. There's some really odd bits where he makes references to things from reality (like cars and Gandalf), which he never-ever does in the later stuff. If he needs to make a reference to something from real-life he'll make a parodying reference to it through a Disc-filtered version, keeping things in context of the fantasy, instead of going outside of it.

So, I think I've lost my ability to judge this one from an outsider's perspective. It certainly isn't a bad book, it's still a lot of fun, but when you're used to Pratchett's later work this one just can't hold a candle.

“So, said Granny, “how goes life?

The other witch shrugged, causing the drummers to lose their grip again, just when they had nearly climbed back up.

“Like the hurried lover, it comes and goe-- she began, and stopped at Granny's meaningful glance at Esk.

“Not bad, not bad, she amended.
pg 69

160* & 161. [GN]
Book 1: The Stonekeeper
Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse
by. Kazu Kibuishi

After the death of her husband a woman moves her family to a new house. While exploring the house the woman is kidnapped by a monster and taken to a fantasical world. Now it's up to her two kids to save her. 

I generally really like Kazu Kibuishi's work, but I really don't like this series. I don't like it to the point that I forgot to take down any quotes and now I'm not going to bother going back to find one now. It is an outstandingly cliche Hero's Journey story. It's just so cliche. I was worried that I might overdose on cliche as I read it. The artwork was great, there's some fun imagery and fantasy elements, but in the end the story is just so formulaic that I just can't bring myself to care about any of the characters.

162. [CB]
Bad Kitty

An alliterative alphabet book about a very naughty kitty.

I was taking care of my friend's cat while she was out of town and she left this book out for me to read in case her cat was acting out. I was surprised to find that its actually a pretty fun book. A lot of kids' books that do the whole alliterative alphabet thing usually just go through the list once. And that's because usually this type of book is for beginner readers. A is for Apple. That kind of thing. This one, however, uses more complex words and goes through the alphabet a number of times, each time using a different theme, and each time it fitting into the context of the story. It's a pretty darn fun book. It's definitely a unique little book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Kitty was not happy.
Not happy at all.

That's when she decided
she would be a
BAD kitty.



Ate my homework
Bit Grandma
Clawed the curtains
Damaged the dishes
Endangered the Goldfish
Flooded the Bathroom
Grappled with guests
Hurled hair balls at our heads

Monday, October 22, 2012

Countdown to the End

Back in September my aunt was laid off from the job she's had  for quite some time. For some reason or another during her last days there she sent me the following text:

"hey! request: I need count down numbers from 10 through 1 for my last 2 weeks of work. starting Monday. Would you do this for me? quirky, fun, illustrations, whimsical, silly or whatever...a mixture of all and anything"

I've been pretty busy working 3 jobs and I don't have a lot of free time, but seeing as how she was losing the job she's had for so long, I couldn't really say no.

After bouncing around some ideas I kind of landed on a rather odd line: "as Death said Ten." I played around with the idea a bit until it led me to the final concept: each number would have a little rhyme ending in Death counting down, and the illustration of the rhyme would depict the shape of the number. I wasn't really sure I should take such a morbid view, but I figured while the character of Death might be a bit depressing, at least true to the moment. Things were ending, changing, and nothing depicts change and endings quite like Death.

I'm really not sure why, but I somehow managed to take a rather basic task and making it so much more complicated by adding a writing element, a design element, and an illustrative element...sometimes I think I must really hate myself, because why else would I do these things to myself?

Regardless, here's the countdown:

It was at this point that my aunt mentioned that they had let her leave a couple days early and thus what I was doing was no longer a countdown. And since it was no longer a countdown I immediately lost the fuel of urgency that had propelled me to make the rest. Before I might have wanted to read a book or watch a show, but I instead used my time to make these because they felt like they mattered. No to mention that there's nothing like a time limit to force you to push something out. But once I lost that aspect, then instead of completing them for my aunt, I would just be completing them for the novelty of a complete set. And, sadly, it probably says something about my character that I quit the project. But those are the breaks. I really don't have much free time these days and I generally need to use what time I do have to prevent myself from going crazy.

I am disappointed to leave it uncompleted, but without that original drive the ending notes just wouldn't be fitting.