Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy Friday

Review: A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown

When I was first discovering that there were graphic novels out there that dealt with real life, not superheroes and spandex, but everyday life, one of the best books I came across was Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy. That Clumsy was about the difficulties and awkwardness of long distance relationships  a topic I know a little about, only made it feel more true.

So I was thrilled when the folks over at Top Shelf gave me to the chance to review Jeffrey Brown's A Matter of Life, which comes out next month.

A Matter of Life is about Brown's struggle with religion, his parent's faith and their refusal to reject him despite his rejection of faith. Where Craig Thompson's Blankets is about the breaking of relationships over faith (and, in that way, echoes Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man's bildungsroman), Brown's life never seems particularly ruffled by his decision. Of course, there is some tension and there are awkward moments. But on the whole, Brown's life is happy, good, normal. A normal life isn't usually best-seller material, but when the story is told as honestly as Brown tells it, normal life becomes compelling.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson's Ghost Map was brilliant while it focused on the heart of its story: the unlikely collaboration between Dr. John Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead in combating London's recurring cholera outbreaks in the mid-nineteenth century.

Johnson steps deftly between the science and the sociology of the era; he explores the prejudices of the city's leaders, the moralistic and pseudo-religious views undermining theories about the spread of disease, and the technological advances accompanying London's transformation from an Elizabethan city to a modern metropolis.

Snow and Whitehead are fascinating men. A little bit Sherlock Holmes and a little bit Tetrius Lydgate, each provides the elbow grease that spurs a revolution in how we think about disease that can look, in retrospect, like the nexus of progress and good luck. Johnson shows us the hard work Snow and Whitehead put into their search for the cause and cure for cholera, which was for each of them, a consuming and noble hobby.

I recommend that story whole-heartedly.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Happy Friday

Yeah, I love my city.
It's not Harlem, but it's wonderful all the same.
Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Poetry, Fiction and Payoff

So I'm a sap when it comes to well written music. Any genre, any singer; if the lyrics are good, I'm hooked.

This often leads me down a rabbit-hole of folk music, and lately I've been hooked by Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now. And on a recent road trip, while I was thinking about the two graphic novels I've just reviewed (Archeologists of Shadows and Akira), it occurred to me that what I want is for the two books to be like Both Sides Now.

Let me explain.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Archeologists of Shadows by Lara Fuentes and Patricio Clarey

Is it despite or because of Archeologists of Shadows: The Resistance's slick graphics that it reminds me of a video game?

RPGs are one of my favorite forms, but they (almost) all follow the same trope: we, the heroes, dive into the world and are slowly introduced to its key elements. We are Neo, and we need a Morpheus to walk us slowly through the game mechanics. We are Frodo, lost if not for Strider's explanations  It's a trope underscoring one of the great weaknesses of science fiction- as the world becomes more unrecognizable, the author's impulse is to explain. And Archeologists is, at times, unrecognizable from the modern world, a cyberpunk alternative to The Matrix, where humanity has become the machines.

The really great works of science fiction simply pull us headfirst into the world, knowing we'll pick it up as we go along. For all of the (just) criticism leveled against George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (sorry to have brought it up in successive posts), one thing it does well is trusting the reader to swim along in a cascade of information. This is why the story is so much more illuminating upon re-reading. Habibi, Ender's Game, Slaughterhouse Five; these books never really worry that the reader won't get it, they just plow on through.

Fuentes and Clarey strike a middle path. That the main characters of Archeologists of Shadows stumble through their world, finding just the right combination of wary but helpful strangers, nearly made me set the first volume aside. That their success appears to have been part of a more elaborate scheme by the hegemonic enemy sets up quite the Chekov's Gun. Either Fuentes and Clarey have a masterpiece or a dud; if there is a payoff waiting worthy of the immense cliffhangers provided by this first volume, this will be a series worth digging into.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

Of course, if you made it to the Open Mic, you already know what I've been re-reading.

I read a lot of memoirs in graphic novel form, and that is not what Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira is.

For all that made it groundbreaking in the 1980s (one of the first manga to be translated into English), volume one of Akira is also a throwback. The sound effects leap off the page like the old Batman live action tv show. The set-up is classic comic: young men, apparently still in school but independently resourceful enough to operate a drug dealing motorcycle gang, stumble their way into an adventure that unfolds slowly enough for them to figure out most of what's going on without any of main characters coming to serious harm.

Fandom has given a lot of attention to how numbing the violence becomes in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (and especially the novels after Game of Thrones). And while it's true (for me, at least) that I find it annoyingly disengaging to see Martin kill off major characters just as the readers have gotten to know them well enough to become attached, I also find it ridiculous to see multiple characters survive a dozen close calls within the span of a few hundred panels.

Because of this disinterest in the plot, I've never gotten around to buying volume two of Akira. But on re-reading, I found enough to like that I'm reconsidering my position. Especially in Otomo's framing and shading, and most especially in his speed lines, I find a lot to hold my attention on each page.

Happy Friday

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Being Disappointed in Beckett

Before I dig into In Search of Lost Time as the central pillar of my 30 Before 30, I checked a few books out of the local library to help me get started.

The most disappointing was Samuel Beckett's Proust.

I think my disappointment stems from my sincere enjoyment of Beckett's fiction, plays and poetry. I expected insight and connections from a writer of such cerebral work. Instead, most of Proust was just the kind of psuedo-psychological garble that reads like a parody of Foucault.

It's a slim novel and I was only able to wade through two-thirds of it. Beckett's thoughts weren't organized in a way that I could follow. Having not read Proust's work yet, I can hope that once I begin some doors will open, but despite my excitement at reading one master's views on another, this was the wrong book to start with.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Things That Might Slow Down a Blogging Schedule

1. Buying a house might do it.
2. Being behind on your reading might do it.
3. Responding to comments on an Open Mic might do it.

These are reasons, not excuses, and I promise there's several book reviews just around the corner. Just as soon as life gets out of my way.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Happy Friday

Big day in Chestertown. Maybe there will be pictures later.
It's spring. We've got plans and pontoon boat.
And it's First Friday.
Happy Friday world. You've got nothing on me!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney

All of us who have suffered from, or who have loved someone who suffered from a mood disorder can related to Ellen Forney's struggle to cope with bipolar disorder. With brutal honesty and just as much humor and grace, Marbles documents Forney's entire two steps forward, one step back history.

Forney's pages have a rich variety. When framed, her pages are regularly three row, usually two column but occasionally mixing in a page-width row. When unframed, her images and words spill over each other. The more manic the scene, the more disordered the framing. My favorite image comes at the end of the third chapter- a sideview of a black drain, with an image sliding down one side. Is it water, or is it a three part liquified stick figure melting away? On one side of the drain is a long list of the negative side effects and risks of lithium use. On the other side is the sober reality that lithium wasn't the best drug for her at that moment. As a story teller, Forney balances her text-heavy tale with great, often brilliant black and white art.