Friday, September 11, 2015

Book List 2015: July/August

* = reread

[GN] = Graphic novel or comic anthology

-CB- = Children’s Book


-CB-   88.   -CB-

The Princess and the Pony

written and illustrated by: Kate Beaton

A little princess in a land of warriors wanted nothing more her birthday than a powerful war stallion, but her parents got her...a roly-poly pony?

Oh, Kate Beaton, is there anything you can’t do?

Such a fun little children’s book. It’s cute and funny, but also has a pretty great moral for kids too.

“In a kingdom of warriors,
the smallest warrior was Princess Pinecone.
And she was very excited for her birthday.”

[GN]   *  89.  *   [GN]


written by: Alan Moore
art by: Dave Gibbons
colors by: John Higgins

In an alternate timeline to our own, individuals around the United States began to put on costumes and fight crime. However, when the masked vigilantes got out of hand the government cracked down on them. Now, years later, the cold war is heating up, the world is on the precipice of global thermonuclear war, and someone has started attacking former costumed crusaders. Something big is going down and the former crime-fighters are the keys to unlocking the mystery.

Watchmen is one of the best structured pieces of literature I have come across. The story it tells is at times so epic that the characters themselves seem to be dragged along by the force of its tides. It is one of those rare stories that is perfectly suited to its medium. Like how House of Leaves cannot be told as anything but a book, Watchmen cannot rightfully be anything but a comic.

Yes, yes, I know: they did make a movie out of it. But trust me, the comic is so much better. The story was kind of able to make the shift to movie, but the tone and depth were completely lost

The first time I ever read it was when my mom found it at a used book table at a community ice cream social and picked it up for me because she knew that I liked comics. I was probably too young for it and when I first paged through it I was thinking, “What the f---?” There was pulp fiction-style violence, nudity, old-school art & coloring, sections that seemed to be out of a textbook and had no pictures at all. It was crazy! I started reading it regardless and it blew my mind. Once I got started I sped through it in an entranced rush all the way to the end. And mygoodness! What an ending!

At its heart its a story about mankind being inherently and inescapably flawed. Some embrace it, some fight to rectify it, some ignore it, and still others rise above.

But at the end of the day those flaws are what it means to truly be human.

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”


Private Demons:
The Life of Shirley Jackson

by. Judy Oppenheimer

A biography of Shirley Jackson, the author of such classics as “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House.

In case you weren’t aware I’m a big fan of Shirley Jackson’s work and was curious to learn more about the woman herself. Turns out she was a very different person than I had assumed from the snippets I had heard about her. Yet, at the same time, exactly the same. She was cognitive dissonance personified: a living contradiction. She both loved and hated so much of her life and herself, just as she sought both the acceptance and exclusion of the world around her.

I can’t really say if this book is going to appeal to anyone unfamiliar with Shirley Jackson, but if you’re a Jackson fan and are curious about the woman behind the text then this is a pretty darn thorough way to do it.

“It was Shirley’s genius to be able to paint homey, familiar scenes like this, and then imbue them with evil—or, more correctly, allow a reader to see the evil that had been obvious to her all along, even in sunny Burlingame. One felt the presence of a grinning skull behind the cover of surface gentility, homemade biscuits, shining floors, and this is what made the tales so disturbing. Shirley never had to search for exotic locales or strange characters. You see, her stories seemed to nudge lightly, insistently at the reader, it was right in front of you all the time.”

-pg. 101

*   91.   *


by. Terry Pratchett

A new island has just surfaced in the ocean of the Discworld and the great countries of Ankh-Morpork and Klatch have both laid claim to it. Now war is on the horizon, politicians are scheming, generals are rallying, and the policemen are doing whatever they can they can to protect everyone from the politicians and generals.

I’m not a big fan of the Discworld travelogue stories; their satire tends to sit right on the surface waving at you. I mean, it’s still a Discworld book, so theres always some brilliant writing taking place, it’s just that the format dulls the usually razor edge of its satire.

This particular book satirizes international politics, the concept of war, the Middle East, and the Western world’s ridiculous ignorance surrounding the Middle East. Luckily this time it did not stray into the off-putting world of ignorant racism like Interesting Times did. It dipped its toe in from time to time, but it always kept a foot firmly in “We westerner’s are just so utterly clueless about other parts of the world and look how dangerous our ignorance is.” Which, frankly, is a very accurate point that you don’t hear nearly enough these days.

This book is in the area where Pratchett has started pushing the boundaries of his writing. Where he starts undertaking much more epic plotlines, but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. He’ll attempt epic political storylines of this kind later and pull them off brilliantly, so it’s hard not to compare it with them.

Like all the Discworld books it is filled with brilliant observations, amazing turns of phrase, and lots of fun. But I have to say that there are too many eddies in the flow of the plot to make it brilliant.

It does, however, prominently feature the Watch and they are always a treat. Sam Vimes is everything we wish our own police force would be and more.

“And then he realized why he was thinking like this.

It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.”

-pg 205-206


Jurassic Park

by. Michael Crichton

A foolhardy millionaire uses genetic engineering to bring dinosaurs to life in order to create the world’s greatest theme park. But his group of consultants and he are about to learn that when it comes to a park full of gigantic killer dinosaurs...there’s a lot that can go wrong.

“Living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they’re not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse.”

I’ve always been meaning to read this book and yet for some reason I just never got around to it. But now I have!

First of all, let me just say that the beginning to this book is pretty brilliant. In fact, I’d say it’s much better than the movie. The set-up is so much more creepy and tension-building. However, when they get to the park the power of the cinema definitely overshadows the events of the book.

The really crazy thing is that every single Jurassic Park movie has been taking scenes from this book! Every. Single. One. I was not expecting to keep seeing parts of the other movies popping up left and right.

If you are like me and loved the movie, but never read the book, then I think you should read the book. It’s pretty darn fun getting to see what started it all. And plus it’s a book about dinosaurs. What’s not to love about that?

“You know, at times like this one feels, well, perhaps extinct animals should be left extinct.” 


[GN]   93.   [GN]

Rocket Girl, vol.1:
Times Square

story by: Brandon Montclare
art by: Amy Reeder

A time-traveling detective from the year 2013 goes back to 1986 to attempt to stop a group of scientists from disrupting the time stream.

I found out about this one because I was intrigued by Amy Reeder’s work on Ms. Marvel and wanted to see more of her art.

Overall it’s a pretty fun story, but I felt like it fell in that usual time-travel trap of making itself too convoluted to be easy to follow. And being hard to follow doesn’t quite work when you’re doing a fun quick-paced action-adventure.

So all in all: great art, fun premise, interesting characters, clunky plot.

“I’m detective Dayoung Johansson of the New York Teen Police Department

    I’ve come from the year 2013 to investigate crimes against time

         And you’re all under arrest.”

-issue 1


City of Thieves

by. David Benioff

During the siege of Leningrad in a starving and war-torn WWII Russia, a young looter and an army deserter are given a second chance. They can either, A) somehow find an influential Colonel a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake and have their records cleared, or B) be executed for their crimes. Together they embark on a strange and dangerous mission where war, death, hunger, and cold are around every turn.

When this one was recommended to me I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as light-hearted as it is. I mean, sure, it deals with some very dark material, but nevertheless it always carries a unique sort of humor with it.

Although in the same breath it’s that same omnipresent humor that prevents the story from achieving any sense of true drama.

In any case, if you’re in the mood for a light and intriguing adventure story this one is a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable read.

“Contrary to popular belief, the experience of terror does not make you braver. Perhaps though, it is easier to hide your fear when you’re afraid all the time.”


The Toughest Indian in the World

by. Sherman Alexie

A collection of short stories centering around Native American life from author Sherman Alexie.

As far as Sherman Alexie collections go this one this one is far from my favorite. But there are still some real gems in this one. “Saint Junior” and “Dear John Wayne” were my favorites.

If you’re a fan it’s worth a read, but if you’re new to Alexie I’d recommend you start elsewhere.

“Inside their small house, Grave listened as Roman stood from the couch and walked into the bathroom. He sat down to piss. She thought Roman’s sit-down pisses were one of the most romantic and caring things that any man had ever done for any woman.

After the piss, Roman pulled up his underwear, climbed into a pair of sweatpants hanging from the shower rod, slipped his feet into Chuck Taylor basketball shoes, and stepped into the bedroom.

Grace pretended to be asleep in their big bed, warm and safe beneath seven generations of sheets, blankets, and quilts. She was a big woman with wide hips, thick legs, large breasts, and a soft stomach. She was deep brown and beautiful.”

-pg. 162-163



by Mary Szybist

A collection of poems from Mary Szybist and the 2013 National Book Award winner.

Mary Szybist was a professor at my college. I never had a class with her or anything, but nevertheless it made me a little curious.

I think I’m going to have to check out a different collection of hers sometime though, because there were some reoccurring patterns/themes in this collection that I wasn’t a fan of. But considering the awards this collection has won, I am clearly in the minority there.

Poetry is an ever-so subjective arena, don’t you think?

Here, There Are Blueberries

“When I see the bright clouds, a sky empty of moon and stars,
I wonder what I am, that anyone should note me.

Here there are blueberries, what should I fear?
Here there is bread in thick slices, of whom should I be afraid?

Under the swelling clouds, we spread our blankets.
Here in this meadow, we open our baskets

to unpack blueberries, whole bowls of them, berries not by the work of our hands, berries not by the work of our fingers.

What taste the bright world has, whole fields
without wires, the blackened moss, the clouds

swelling at the edges of the meadow. And for this,
I did nothing, not even wonder.

You must live for something, they say.
People don’t live just to keep on living.

But here is the quince tree, a sky bright and empty.
Here there are blueberries, there is no need to note me.”

-pg. 59

[GN]   97.   [GN]

Rat Queens, vol.2:
The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

Story by: Kurtis J. Wiebe
art by: Roc Upchurch & Stjepan Sejic

The adventures of The Rat Queens continue! Someone has stolen a powerful relic from Dee’s former flying-squid cult and now she’s the only one with the tentacle know-how to save the world from some tentacled elder-god-style Doom.

Overall I’d say this volume wasn’t quite as strong as the first one, but it was still lots of fun. We get a lot of the backstories to the characters and they are all amazing. However, the plot device by which those backstories occur seemed rather forced. I actually found myself kind of bored with the main story, but adoring the backstories. So go figure!

In any case, I’m excited to see what the next volume has in store.

“‘You’re not wearing...any of the clan symbols on your armour. Are you a mercenary?’

‘Hah! I wish! then I’d get paid for all the work I do.’

‘What then?’

‘A mom. And you know what that means. Cleaning up everyone else’s garbage.’

‘What’s with all the rats?’

‘Don’t you know your mythology, girl? Rats are the harbingers of impending destruction.

      I like to give my enemies a bit of warning before I destroy them.’

‘You shaved your beard...your clan, they allow it?’

‘Fuck no. I just felt like doing it.’

‘But...what about tradition?’


     Fuck tradition.’”

-chp 8

*  [GN]   98-99, 102-104   [GN]  *

Scott Pilgrim
[Color Editions]

story&art by: Bryan Lee O’Malley
color by: Nathan Fairbairn

A twenty-something bassist named Scott Pilgrim doesn’t have much motivation in his life. But all that changes when he meets a girl named Ramona Flowers. He’s determined to win her heart, but in order to do that he’s going to have to first defeat her seven evil exes.

Most people I know have already read and loved Scott Pilgrim. So they already know why the series is amazing. Instead I’ll use this time to address the people who don’t want to read it.

Generally when I happen to meet someone who isn’t interested in checking the series out their reason for not wanting to try it is that they “aren’t interested in any of that ‘manic pixie dream girl’ bullshit.”

However, they’re misunderstanding the premise of the series. You see the entire story of Scott Pilgrim is filtered through Scott’s mind. Just like we all use stories and pop-culture metaphors as ways of understanding things, so does Scott. He sees himself as the hero of a video game who has to defeat his girlfriend’s evil exes in order to be with her. But as the story unfolds we slowly find that Scott’s view of things is at odds with reality.

When he first meets Ramona he sees her as a “manic pixie dream girl,” but as her character is fleshed out we see that she’s really not. In fact lots of the characters turn out to not quite be how Scott sees them. Scott himself isn’t who he thinks he is either. This conflict between his perceptions and reality slowly build until they, not the evil final boss ex, prove to be the real final obstacle Scott needs to overcome to be with Ramona. He has to accept her for who she is and accept himself too.

Personally, I adore this series. The whole thing is this wonderfully brilliant metaphor of epic proportions. Whether you’re in the mood for cartoony fun, geeky references, shounen action, modern romance, or 20-something adventure, there’s something here everyone can enjoy.

“I know Im changing. Were all changing.

Just...don't forget me.”

-vol.6, pg.54

[GN]   100.   [GN]

Lumberjanes, vol. 1:
Beware the Kitten Holy

written by: Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Illustrated by: Brooke Allen

A group of friends at Lumberjane camp (think modern and badass version of the Girl Scouts) discover some supernatural things are afoot at this camp and they’re determined to get to the bottom of it.

If I had a young kid you can bet your ass I would be buying them some Lumberjanes to read. Buuuut the series plot structure is much too little kiddy for me.

And who cares! I am clearly not the demographic for this thing. It’s well suited for kids, it provides some amazing role models for them, and I say well done.

The Lumberjane Pledge

“I solemnly swear to do my best
Every day, and in all that I do,
To be brave and strong,
To be truthful and compassionate,
To be interesting and interested,
To pay attention and question
The world around me,
To think of others first,
To always help and protect my friends,
Then there’s a line about god, or whatever
And to make the world a better place
For Lumberjane scouts
and for everyone else.”


Modern Romance

by. Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg

How does romance differ today from our grandparents’ generation? How does technology affect our relationships? Comedian Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg team up to answer these questions and more as they investigate the world of modern romance.

There’s some pretty interesting stuff in this book and also some funny jokes. But there’s also quite a lot of Aziz Ansari talking about how much he loves food and other random shit.

I mean, there is something refreshing about someone who isn’t a professional scientist doing the talking about what science has discovered in a social area they are active and interested in. But I’d say about 40% of this could be cut out without impacting the quality in the slightest.

It’s quite a light read though and the good material in it definitely made up for the doofy stuff. So if it sounds intriguing to you I say, Go for it!

“Conceptually, sexting is a timeless phenomenon. Nude photos, erotic letters, and the like have been documented throughout civilization. While something like the Anthony Weiner scandal seems unique to our time, there are precursors, such as the salacious love letters written by U.S. president Warren G. Harding to his neighbor’s wife, in which he nicknamed his penis Jerry and her vagina Mrs. Pouterson.

I wish I had been there when the historian analyzing the letters had the eureka moment: ‘Hey, wait a second. Whenever he says “Mrs. Pouterson,” I think he means...his neighbor’s wife’s vagina?’

Most strange to me is that, whereas ‘Mrs. Pouterson’ is a horrible nickname for a vagina, ‘Warren G. Harding’ is actually a great nickname for a penis.”