Monday, October 12, 2015

Book List 2015: September

* = reread

[GN] = Graphic Novel or Comic Anthology

- CB - = Children’s Book

AUDIO = Audio book



The American Plate:
a culinary history in 100 bites

by. Libby H. O’Connell

A look at the history of America’s foods.

A pretty interesting read. Each of the “100 bites” talks about a different food, starting with the first ones eaten and slowly moving towards modern times. The great thing about this format is that it allows you to learn not only the history of America, but the history of food as well.

“While white settlers observed the indigenous use of sassafras as a healing agent, they thought they had stumbled upon a miracle cure, especially for a disease that had plagued the Renaissance era: syphilis. For a remarkable moment in the seventeenth century, Virginia sassafras was the second largest export from the British American colonies after tobacco.     Unfortunately, the combination of good marketing and magical thinking did not turn the leaves into effective medicine for the particularly virulent form of syphilis that grimly reaped more than one million Europeans during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sassafras quickly returned to its minor status as a local culinary herb once it proved no match for sexually transmitted disease. Later, American used it as a flavoring for temperance drinks such as sarsaparilla and root beer.”


Hello America

by. J.G. Ballard

A ecological collapse in the United States of America has left the country nearly inhospitable and its citizens abandoning it. Now, generations later, people have noticed strange radiation readings coming from the abandoned country. An expedition is mounted to see what’s been going on in North America.

I stumbled upon this one while looking to check out a different book by this author and was intrigued. It’s not everyday that you see a post-apocalyptic book about America written by someone who isn’t an American and I wanted to see what the result was.

Ballard’s outsider view of America’s faults and facets was definitely intriguing. However, the plot of the story is quite weak and the science-fiction elements were often too ridiculous to take seriously.

“It was an excess of fantasy that killed the old United States, the whole Mickey Mouse and Marilyn thing, the most brilliant technologies devoted to trivia like instant cameras and space spectaculars that should have stayed in the pages of Science Fiction . . . some of the last Presidents of the U.S.A. seemed to have been recruited straight from Disneyland.”


The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol.1:
Squirrel Power

written by. Ryan North
art by. Erica Henderson

Doreen Green: College Student, Hero, Squirrel-powered agent of justice. These are her stories.

For those of you who don’t know, Squirrel Girl was a super hero created in 1992 as a way to add some light-hearted fun to a comic scene that was, perhaps, taking itself a little too seriously. And while some people would have used the character as a running punchline, Marvel instead went the other way and made her a force of nature. During her time in comics she’s bested some of the Marvel’s heaviest-hitters like Dr. Doom, Deadpool, Thanos, and more! She’s both had a relationship with Wolverine and kicked his ass.

In short, she’s pretty awesome.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of those comics that is great for anyone who’s never read any Marvel comics before, but it’s a whole different kind of hilarious for those that have (think NEXTwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., but for a younger crowd). It’s cute, it’s hilarious, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

“‘I’m Doreen Green, completely regular college student.’

‘Who just happens to have a tail?’

‘Nope! Who knows how to tuck her tail into her pants…
     ...and who just happens to have a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.
Come on, Tippy.
Let’s do this.”
-issue 1


Sick in the Head

by. Judd Apatow

The writer/director of Freaks & Geeks, Superbad, and Knocked Up interviews comedians about their thoughts on comedy.

Overall the interviews were all quite interesting. The only thing I can say against it is that there is a fair bit of Judd Apatow talking about himself. Some of his stories you even hear multiple times as he tells them to different interviewees.

“One of the breakthrough moments for me was realizing that, you know, you can take all the classes you want and learn and practice and get all the advice from other people, but it’s really like learning an instrument that has never existed until you were born. No one can tell you how to play that instrument. There’s a part of that journey that you have to figure out for yourself.”

-pg. 150, interview with Key and Peele

*   110.   *

The Last Continent

by. Terry Pratchett

After the events of Interesting Times, Rincewind finds himself trapped on the mysterious continent of XXXX. And to make matters worse a supernatural entity is insisting that he fixes the continent’s rain problem! All because his present day Unseen University colleagues have somehow managed to muck it up 1,000 years in the past.

I’d say this one is probably one of the better Rincewind stories and yet, like I’ve said before, the travelogue stories are always a bit weak. The satire is just “Hey! It’s Australia, you know! I’m making jokes about Australia. AUSTRALIA!” But, that being, the jokes about Australia are pretty. And, unlike Interesting Times, Pratchett has actually spent a fair bit of time in Australia! Amazing how much of a difference that makes.

She had a very straightforward view of foreign parts, or at least those more distant than her sister’s house in Quirm where she spent a week’s holiday every year. They were inhabited by people who were more to be pitied than blamed because, really, they were like children.* And they acted like savages.**

*That is to say, she secretly considered them to be vicious, selfish and untrustworthy.

**Again, when people like Mrs. Whitlow use this term they are not, for some inexplicable reason, trying to suggest that the subjects have a rich oral tradition, a complex system of tribal rights and a deep respect for the spirits of their ancestors. They are implying the kind of behavior more generally associated, oddly enough, with people wearing a full suit of clothes, often with the same sort of insignia.”
-pg. 186

[GN]   *  111.   *   [GN]

The Far Side Gallery

by. Gary Larson

The first treasury collection of Gary Larson’s infamous comic strip The Far Side.

You know, it’s been WAY too long since I reread some Far Side.

If you’ve never read Gary Larson’s The Far Side you are missing out. This is the strip that every one-panel non-sequential newspaper comic tries to be. Seriously, Larson step the bar so high and I have yet to see anyone pull off that level of quality so consistently and for so long. During the late-eighties/early nineties the two best new comic strips in the newspapers were Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes and Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

But maybe, someone out there right now is thinking, “What the hell is The Far Side?” Maybe they’ve somehow managed to never see a Far Side strip even though Far Side calendars and products are still being made to this day even though the strip hasn’t ran in 20 years. So for you, dear ignorant reader, I’ll try to describe the strip.

The Far Side was a single-panel newspaper comic that ran from 1980-1995. While I feel that a lot of single-panel comics’ humor tends to be either very broad (Family Circus) or very specific (The New Yorker strips), The Far Side managed to do both. Its jokes and themes were all over the map and yet always rooted in a style that everyone can relate to. If I had to try and sum it up I’d say that The Far Side showed an amalgamation of how the world is viewed through the eyes of an innocent child imaginative child and a narcissistic jaded adult. Its world is exciting and light-hearted and occupied almost exclusively with buffoons. It’s a place where the jokes are more likely to be told from the deer’s point of view than the hunters. Where scientists can be both geniuses working on fantastic things and yet still a pack of ridiculous dweebs.

Seriously, if you’ve never read the strip go to your library and check this collection out. Heck, if you have read the strip, you’re probably like me and haven’t read it in far too long and you should do the same. Trust me on this. Your funny bone will thank me.


Between the World and Me

by. Ta-Nahisi Coates

Coates’ book takes the form of a message to his son as he tries to help him understand the issue of race in America and how it will impact his life.

First off, I’ve just gotta admit that I hate when books are written to someone when they were clearly just written for publication. It’s always just a writing tactic to frame their points and it always just comes off to me as incredibly pretentious. And I hate that this book does that.

That being said, the points it makes are still incredibly poignant and it does an brilliant job of clearly looking at and relating what it means to be black in America.

“American deify democracy in a way that allows for a dim awareness that they have, from time to time, stood in defiance of their God. But democracy is a forgiving god and America’s heresies—torture, theft, enslavement—are so common among individuals and nations that none can declare themselves immune. In fact, Americans, in a real sense, have never betrayed their God. When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,’ he was not merely being aspirational; at the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant government of the people’ but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people’ to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you or me. Thus America’s problem is not its betrayal of government of the people,’ but the means by which the people’ acquired their names.

This leads us to another equally important ideal, one that Americans implicitly accept but to which they make no conscious claim. Americans believe in the reality of race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism—the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them—inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.
But race is the child of racism, not the father.”


*   [GN]   113-115, 118-119   [GN]   *

vol. 1-5

Story by. Fred Gallagher & Rodney Caston
Art by. Fred Gallagher

Two friends wind up trapped in Japan with no money to get home. As they struggle to find a way back they wind up in the middle of a series of intertwining romantic entanglements.

Oh, jeez, this is a hard one to talk about. I was really into this series back in the day, but it’s been forever since I’ve reread it so I figured I’d dive back in and see how it holds up.

And honestly? There is quite a lot I dislike about this comic. The rules for the universe aren’t grounded, I really don’t care for the bizarre antics of one of the main characters, and it creates a picture of Japan that is more in line with how American anime nerds mentally imagine Japan to be than how it actually is. It also has a case of wish-fulfillment writing. And anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand it when writers use their writing to create a utopian world for themselves without bothering to ground any of it in reality [Ready Player One, Im looking at you].

The main character in this one is a huge nerd with terrible social skills. He’s dumpy, shy, unobservant, terribly awkward, has some...questionable interests, is constantly telling everyone how much he sucks, and is riddled with anxiety. And yet, for no explicable reason, multiple girls keep falling in love with him at first sight. He was so close to being relatable!

And yet in spite of all that, whenever the comic isn’t A) easing the author’s personal anxieties with wish-fulfillment fantasies, or B) interrupting the story to with an abundance of video-game fueled random side stories, when it isn’t doing those things it is actually an extremely interesting piece of romantic drama. The relationship between Piro and Kimiko is particularly great and I can really relate to some of the inner troubles those two have to deal with in their relationship, because I’ve dealt with a lot of the same troubles in my own relationships.

So there you have it. When it isn’t being really annoying, it’s very well done. And I really, really like those good parts! I would never recommend it to anyone, because to get to the gold you’ve gotta pan through a fair bit of dirt. But at its heart is something I really enjoy.

Also, I’ve just gotta say that I absolutely adore Gallagher’s backgrounds. He was originally an architect by trade and his backgrounds are just the greatest thing. Really. They make you ashamed for all the other backgrounds you see in comics. They are the bar by which I measure all other backgrounds.

Why does Nanasawa always have to see me at my worst?

She’s going to think I’m totally pathetic.’

Well, duh, hello in there!

You are totally pathetic.

And so what if you are? You gonna sit around and wait till you aren’t?’
-vol.4, pg.87

-CB-   116.   -CB-

The Little Gardener

written and illustrated by. Emily Hughes

A little gardener no bigger than a pea does his best to take care of the garden that makes up his home, but sometimes things are just too much for one person to do on their own.

Emily Hughes’ book Wild is my favorite picture book. Period. It is just impossibly brilliant. And so when I saw that her new book had come out I obviously had to get it!

On first read I wasn’t terribly impressed. The art was as drop-dead gorgeous as always, but the story didn’t seem to have the same bursting energy that Wild did. But after reading it a couple more times I’ve completely changed my mind. I now see its subtleties and it’s really grown on me. It deals with some issues I don’t often see in picture books. Things like how sometimes you can try your best and still fail. How some things you just can’t do by yourself. And how sometimes, even if you don’t realize it, you’re an inspiration to those around you for just the little things you do.

The whole thing is subtle and beautiful and I love it.

Seriously though, Emily Hughes’ there a word for art that you both adore, but also secretly hate because you’re so jealous of its beauty?

“This was the garden.
It didn’t look like much,
but it meant everything to its gardener.”

[GN] 117. [GN]

Step Aside, Pops:
A Hark! A Vagrant Collection

by. Kate Beaton

Cartoonist Kate Beaton lovingly pokes fun at pop-culture and historical figures.

What is it Doc, give it to me straight.
Am I dying of heroics? A heart too powerful, a soul on fire?’

Im afraid it’s dysenteryyoure going to poop yourself to death.’ 

Doc, NO.

If youre not familiar with Kate Beaton’s comic strip Hark! A Vagrant then you need to rectify that immediately.

She originally started out doing hilarious comics about history. But in this collection she’s branched out to envelop the world of pop-culture as well. Which makes for a fascinatingly eclectic collection. Jokes about the odd friendship between Frederic Chopin and Franz Listz, then onto the ever-serious Julius Ceaser, and then right into the strange relationship of Lois Lane and Superman.

My personal favorites are when she does this thing where she’ll take a piece of old art out of context and make a comic out of it. Her Nancy Drew ones are pretty much my favorite things.

How are you feeling about being a hero at The Battle of Crecy?’

Bro I am Stoked.’

This is truly a momentous event so far in the war...’

Those French guys were like, WHOAAAA.’

I keep forgetting you are sixteen.’

And my army was like EAT IT
Ka Chow!!’

 -quotes both from her “The Black Prince” strips

(AUDIO)  120.  (AUDIO)

I Must Say:
my life life as a humble comedy legend

by. Martin Short with David Kamp

An autobiography of comedic actor Martin Short read by Martin Short.

My friend got this audio book and recommended it to me so I borrowed it and gave it a listen!

It’s definitely one of those books that you need to hear in audio book version. Martin Short does the reading himself so in the audio book you can actually hear him doing impressions of all the celebrities he’s talking about and doing his character’s lines in their voice!

I’m not really a big Martin Short fan and I still enjoyed listening to this. There’s drama, tragedy, romance, laughs, and plenty of celebrity gossip. But really, more than anything else, Martin Short just has a wonderfully sweet and engaging air about him that makes him really fun to listen to.

To my beloved friends,
Theres simply no life without you guys. Thanks for the advice and the love and the billion dinners and laughs. Without you all I’d look for new friends and get them.


The Neverending Story

written by. Michael Ende
translated into English by. Ralph Manheim

A young boy steals a mysterious book and hides out in his school’s attic to read it. But some thing’s different about this book. This book has no end and it knows its being read. The inhabitants of its fantastic world are in grave danger and he’s the only one who can save them.

Wow. This book was definitely not what I was expecting.

The first half of the book is essentially exactly the same as the movie they made from it, but the second half? That’s where things start to get utterly doofy. When Bastion enters Fantastica things take a sharp turn for the worse. Pretty much immediately I’m made to just really hate Bastion. Half this book is just Bastion wishing himself perfect and being perfect at everything and just being awful in general.

And, yes, to be fair, at the end he realizes his mistakes, but by then it’s far too late! I’ve already had to put up with far too much of his BS for me to care anymore.

As you can perhaps tell, I just don’t think this book was for me. Admittedly it does a number of interesting things, like the ideas it raises about how fantasy and reality affect one another, and the way real world events are written in Red, but Fantastica events are written in Green. But at the end of the day I just didn’t care about any of the characters. The world of Fantastica doesn’t seem to have any rules so I never found myself afraid of any consequences. And taking the main character and turning him into bland Mr. Perfect for half the book? No thank you.

But it is pretty widely regarded as a classic, so while it wasn’t my cup of tea, perhaps it might be yours? And that’s okay with me.

“Every real story is a never ending story.”

*   122.   *

The Complete Lockpick Pornography

by. Joey Comeau

Two tales about queer men who try to subvert the heteronormative system in their own ways, but end up subverting themselves in the process.

That’s kind of a really over-simplified description, but it’s the best I can do. Like most of Joey Comeau’s work this book is really hard to describe, but nevertheless amazing. He is my 2nd favorite author and his style is one of things I love the most about his work. However, writing style is one of the hardest things to get across to someone who’s never read it! His work is funny and heartfelt. Bleak yet hopeful. It approaches issues with the same carefree abandon of a kid running through a sprinkler. He distracts your attentions with his energy and humor all the while picking your pocket. You think it’s one kind of story and then the ground falls out from under you and you realize it was a different kind of story all along.

It’s hard to explain why you love something isn’t it? I mean, it’s easy to say why you like a plot or a character, but when you like something on a deeper level? I don’t know. I’m not even going to try. I love this book, but it’s a personal kind of love, so who’s to say what you’ll make of it?

So do with that information what you will. But know that I am a huge fan. The second story is particularly relatable to me.

"In Peanuts, you see strip after strip where it’s joke, joke, joke, and then there’s a comic where Charlie Brown is in his sandbox, building a sandcastle. A girl comes along and kicks it down, and Charlie Brown just sits there. Then he goes inside. At home, he takes off his clothes. He climbs into bed and just lies there looking sad. Then, next comic, Snoopy is a World War One flying ace! Linus loves his blanket.

One of the last Sunday Peanuts strips is Peppermint Patty playing football. She yells at Chuck, hey great game, right? Is he having as much fun as she is? It’s still his ball. What’s he going to do? Chuck? And then here comes Marcie to tell her everyone’s gone home. Patty should go home too. It’s dark. And Peppermint Patty asks her if they had fun.

Yes, they had fun, Marcie says. And then she leaves Patty there in the rain.

The last panel is Patty, standing alone. And to the empty field she points out that nobody shook hands and said, Good game.’

I love those dark moments in Peanuts. I love that theyre in there, that Charles Schulz put the sad, lonely bits of himself into the comic. I love the silliness too: the dancing Snoopy strips; the little boy Rerun drawing basement’ comics about Tarzan fighting Daffy Duck in a helicopter. Those are the bits that keep me reading. The funny parts! The fun parts. The silly bits that don’t make sense. And when I get to the sad, lonely Peppermint Patty standing in a field wondering why nobody shook hands and said, Good game, well, it works because that’s not all she was. I try to think that way about everything. That’s the kind of person I want to be.
-pg. 138-139

[P.S. For those of you aren’t die hard Peanuts fans here are the strips he’s talking about: March 21st, 1954 & January 2nd, 2000 ]


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by. Lisa See

In 19th century China a young girl from a poor village makes a pact of friendship with a girl from a rich village. With their fates now intertwined they grow up, but with a bond that cannot be broken.

A friend recommended this one so I figured I’d give it a go.

It’s a really engaging read, but I felt like it is one of those books where you really want to like all the characters, but they’re all kind of awful people in their own ways so you really can’t. But you want to! But you can’t. But you want to!

“I am old enough to know only too well my good and bad qualities, which were often one in the same.”


Go Set a Watchmen

by. Harper Lee

In this To Kill A Mockingbird sequel, a now 25 year-old Jean-Louise Finch (aka Scout) returns to Maycomb, Alabama for a visit. But while she’s there she learns some unpleasant truths about her father Atticus that force her to rethink her entire life.

I kind of get the feeling like Harper Lee got really annoyed with all the praise To Kill A Mockingbird got and with everyone’s near deification of Atticus Finch. And then wrote this book to shatter her previous book’s altar and ground it and everyone’s thoughts of it.

I know, I know, this book was actually written first, so that’s obviously not the case. But that’s what it feels like. And maybe that’s what prompted her to go ahead and publish it after all?

I’ve got to hand it to Harper Lee. When most people write about civil rights and racism these days they do it from a holier-than-thou present-day lens. But Lee writes in a way much more grounded in her novels time period. I mean, most books won’t present a conversation about race and civil rights and defend the people with opinions on both sides. With the color-blind Jean-Louise as her main character she sets the moral compass of the novel and through he supporting cast we not only see people with differing view points, but why they hold those viewpoints.

In fact, one of the main points of the novel is that refusing to acknowledge other people’s views makes you just as bigoted as the people you’re fighting against. You might not agree with other people’s opinions, but if you refuse to talk with someone enough to not only understand what they’re saying, but WHY they feel that way? Well, then how can you say you stand for equal rights and freedom of speech if you’re not personally willing to accept that means standing side by side with those who are different than you are?

I really enjoyed this book. And as set, I think these two books ask some really important questions and compliment each other extremely well.

“I was taught never to take advantage of anybody who was less fortunate than myself, whether he be less fortunate in brains, wealth, or social position; it meant anybody, not just Negroes. I was given to understand that the reverse was to be despised. That is the way I was raised, by a black woman and a white man.”
-pg. 179

No comments:

Post a Comment