Monday, January 13, 2020

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/11/19

Most of this stuff came in last week, but you may have noticed by now that this blog is in extremely low-content mode. (You may also have guessed that I've been neglecting it.) But I did get the following books recently, and I wanted to mention them.

One came in from a publisher -- bless their hearts! I have no idea why I'm still on anyone's publicity lists at this point -- and three were purchases from Fantagraphic's big Cyber Monday sale that were delayed in transit to me for various reasons.


Hilo, Vol. 6: All the Pieces Fit is the latest in the young-readers graphic-novel series by Judd Winick, who probably wishes people like me wouldn't still think of him as "that guy from an early reality show, you know, the one whose gay friend later died". Hilo is the kid with glowy hands on the cover: he's a robot superhero, more or less, and he's been chasing the Big Bad (Razorwark! a very appropriately Big Bad name) for five books now. This is promised to be the big finale. I read the first book a few years back, and buried a quick note about it in a long post covering everything I read for two months. All the Pieces Fit is a hardcover from Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 4.

Fantagraphics Sale:

Free Shit is a collection of a minicomic Charles Burns has done for shows and festivals for years -- and maybe just made up to send to friends -- with sketches and little drawings and random stuff. (Doesn't seem to have any story content, as you'd expect from a sketchbook.) This book collects the first twenty-five issues.

Reincarnation Stories is the new graphic novel from Kim Deitch, which means two things: it's going to be largely about some oddball corner of the entertainment world in the early 20th century, and Kim Deitch is going to be a major character in what seems to be a fictional, even fantastical, story. In this case, it's all about how he is -- or may be -- the reincarnation of minor (fictional) Hollywood figure Sid Pincus, and how that's manifested throughout his life. Reviews have been great, and Deitch is a master, so I'm looking forward to it.

And last is Tonta, the latest collection of stories from the current incarnation of Love & Rockets by Jaime Hernandez. (As opposed to the latest collection of stories from the current incarnation of Love & Rockets by his brother Gilbert, which I'd have to check to figure out which book that was). It's about The Frogmouth's goofy half-sister, the one Jaime draws with the face he previously reserved only for old ladies, though I think she's just supposed to be a not-conventionally-attractive teenager. (Jaime, for all his skill and ability, has not spent much time drawing people who are not conventionally attractive. Like, hardly any time.)

Friday, January 03, 2020

Quote of the Week: Retail Politics

"Normally, officeholders in a state like Texas have differed from eminent public servants in the federal government  primarily in the way some social scientists claim that lower-class Americans differ from those Americans who have arrived in the middle class -- an inability to defer reward. A commissioner of an important federal regulatory agency is content to live on his government salary, secure in the knowledge that his next job may be as a highly paid executive or counsel in the industry he has been regulating. Distinguished Washington lawyers who serve as deputy secretaries of one department or another are ordinarily not given large retainers to use their influence until after they resign their posts. In some states, though, it is understood that such patience is too much to ask of a poor frail human being who happens to find himself governor."
 - Calvin Trillin, "Reformer," originally published 1972 in The New Yorker, available in Trillin on Texas, p.174

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Favorite Books of 2019

So this is not going to go the way it used to.

Typically, I have a long explanation up front -- see last year for a type specimen -- about how I do this, and why there are twelve books, and then list one top book for each month along with a few other things worth mentioning.

But there are several months in 2019 where I didn't finish a single book: 2019 has been a massive outlier in my reading life (and, I hope, not the new normal). So that style simply won't work.

To be more specific, I only read 44 books in 2019. That's not just down from 2018's record-breaking 433, it's less than a third of the previous low, 2017's 139. I just don't have a regular time or place for reading actual books in my life now, and it shows.

I started typing this thinking that I would end up with a shorter list -- four or five books, maybe -- of recent things I read this year and can recommend. But I also almost completely stopped reading new books as the year went on, instead trying ever-more-powerful re-reads and classics to try to jump-start my reading enthusiasm (current candidate: Catch-22).

So that shorter list would actually be the first three things I read, back in January -- Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, Charles Stross's The Labyrinth Index, and Steve Erickson's Shadowbahn. And that seems more than a little pointless.

In the end, I do not have a list of favorite books that I read in 2019. In fact, I'd like to forget the way I was reading in 2019, along with a lot of other things about 2019, as quickly as possible.

(Also: in past years I would do another first-of-the-year post linking back to the first and last posts of the prior year. Since I've also been posting vastly less often this year, I'm not going to do that at all.)

I have no idea how 2020 will go. I'm coming to think I need some kind of structure in my reading life, as I did in 2018 (when I had basically the same physical set-up and working life as 2019). And "do this every day" clearly works well for me. But the book-a-day metric tends to push me to often-junky graphic novels and manga, which isn't what I want. So I may need to set a page goal: we'll see.

Anyway. I hope 2019 was less frustrating for you (in this way, at least) than it was for me. And best wishes for a better 2020.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/28

Normally, since I missed yesterday for lazy-on-vacation reasons, I'd just roll these books over to next week. But next week is an entirely different year, and I'm also trying to procrastinate slightly less these days.

So enjoy this unprecedented Tuesday edition of Reviewing the Mail!

This time out, I have two books that came in the mail, in radically different genres, and four graphic novels that I bought for myself so that The Wife could give them to me for Christmas. (It's not the most surprising way to get gifts, but it can't be beaten for receiving things you actually want.)

From the Mail:

Peter Watts is an Angry Sentient Tumor is a collection of "revenge fantasies and essays" by the title character/individual/writer. I think it's just a quirkier take on the standard "fiction writer's random nonfiction works" book, but it could, I suppose, be a themed series of very detailed murder plots against people he hates. (That would be out of character for a Canadian, I suppose. Probably isn't.) From a quick glance at the intro, it looks like these pieces originally appeared on Watts's blog over the past decade and a half or so. And now they're all in this book, which was published by Tachyon in November.

Real Pigeons Fight Crime by Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood is one of those pseudo-graphic-novel thingies -- lots of illustrations on each page, with dynamic art that has some sequential elements but isn't laid out as panels, and typeset text running around and between that art -- for younger readers that are so popular these days. It is, as you might guess, about talking pigeons, and I gather that they do fight crime. It's also the first in a series: Eat Danger and Nest Hard are promised as forthcoming. It's coming from Random House Books for Young Readers in January 7, and it looks like a hoot for a certain kind of younger reader (or maybe a no-longer-younger reader, I won't judge).

Pressies (No, the other kind of pressies!):

Maria M. by Gilbert Hernandez -- the full noir story, originally promised as two volumes but eventually (after the first volume was published, and I bought it, and it sat on my shelf for several years waiting for the end so I could read the whole thing) published as one book this past year. I think this is part of his "fictional movies from the world of Palomar" series, or maybe an even weirder variation on that: it may be the movie Killer made about Maria, or an alternate version of that movie without Killer. I dunno; I'll have to read it.

O Josephine! is the latest collection of comics stories by Jason, the Norwegian cartoonist who is nearly impossible to Google. It has four roughly album-length stories in its hundred and eighty pages, three of which seem to be his usual fiction and one the non-fictional story of a walk he took in Ireland (either a follow-up or warm-up to his book On the Camino).

How I Tried to Be a Good Person is a big fat graphic memoir by Austrian cartoonist Ulli Lust, and so basically a sequel to Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, covering a polyamorous love triangle she was involved with some time ago -- the book seems to be vague about exactly when, but I'd guess late '80s or early '90s given that Last Day took in place in 1984, when she was 17.

And last is Glen Ganges in: The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga, which includes the title character's name in the title as if it were a Batman comic when it is in fact about as far from a Batman comic as it is possible to be. (And that is a good thing.) Huizenga is thoughtful and philosophical and grounded and deeply human, and this book has gotten great reviews -- I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Musica, Dein Kannst Lieblich Kunst

No, I don't speak German. (My younger son does, kind of. At least he took it for five years in school.) But my high school Madrigal group -- did I ever mention I was in a madrigal group in high school? I wasn't very good, and am retroactively surprised that they kept me around -- did that song, and it's been stuck in my head ever since.

It emerges randomly for no good reason, and I can't even sing the thing because I 1) don't remember the German well enough b) can't pronounce the German even if I did know the right words, and III) I can't now sing even as well as I did in high school, which (as I noted above) was not that good to begin with.

For instance, right now, when I'm trying to introduce a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs of the past decade, instead I'm rambling about a german choral piece that has nothing to do with any of it. One might think I'm doing this deliberately.

One might even be right....

A lot of people do lists like this at the end of a year, but I don't really listen to enough new music in any one year to make a decent list. However, I saw that the estimable John Scalzi (of whom you may have heard) recently did one for the last decade.

And I thought: "Aha, that's a trick worth stealing." And so I did.

Since the calendar is turning over two digits instead of one in about a week, suddenly any list covering 10 years is just as good -- maybe better -- than one covering this current year. (And, frankly, it wouldn't be hard for anything to be better than this current year.) So here I am.

I'm shamelessly stealing Scalzi's shtick: only one song per performer, that being my favorite for the past decade (but standing in for a lot of other stuff, obviously), and even using Spotify as my widget of choice, since it's free. My list however, is longer than his, because I'm lazier: my initial list had 56 songs, and after a first cut I had exactly fifty, which was such a nice round number I stopped.

The widget seems to default to the order I put them in, which isn't definitive by any means. And I have no way of knowing if you will share any of my musical tastes: I go for either talky stuff or noisy instrumentals, across a few musical subgenres.

I hope you enjoy this; I was just reminded I wanted to do it by seeing webcomics genius John Allison do his list of forty albums for this year alone. And if you don't enjoy it...oh weell.

After the widget: three songs I would have added, but Spotify didn't have them.

The sadly missing:

Empty Space Orchestra, "Exit Strategy"

Yellow Ostrich, "'Til I Disappear" (the album version is longer, but this is the version I like better)

Harvey Danger, "The Show Must Not Go On" (their break-up song, released online something like a year after they actually broke up)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/14/19

I have a book to write about this week as well: a new SF novel.

Lost Helix is by Scott Coon, and I think it's his first novel. (The materials don't mention any earlier novels, and do mention multiple short fiction publications.) It's coming from Dancing Lemur Press in trade paperback, and will hit on June 2, 2020.

It sounds like general SF adventure: our hero is a young man named DJ, who grew up on an asteroid mining facility but isn't interested in any of the obvious life-paths on offer there. But he gets thrown into intrigue when he learns some things he wasn't supposed to, and is soon on the run from the relentless Agent Coreman. (DJ is also a musician, which looks like it could be important to the book -- he's not just some general slacker, but a specific guy with specific dreams.) This all sounds interplanetary rather than interstellar, but the description doesn't make it clear either way.

You will have to wait a bit for Lost Helix, I'm afraid, so if that sounds intriguing, set your calendar now.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/7/19

I aten't dead.

But this blog only exists in as much as I have something to say here, and I haven't had a lot of that lately. Work has been weird this year, in all sorts of ways, and that's disrupted my reading. And the outside world is even more of a dumpster fire in 2019 than it was before...and I don't want to go directly political here. So I've been quiet.

But I'm still here, and this blog will pick up when and if I have things to write about. If I start reading more, for example. Or if I get shiny new books.

As it happens, I have a shiny new book today: The Deep & Dark Blue, a middle-grade graphic novel by Niki Smith, Lambda-award-winning (well, as part of an anthology; does that count? maybe I should say "nominated" to be more strictly accurate) creator of Crossplay and other comics stories.

(I saw an early galley of the book back in the summer; that copy is still sitting unread on my shelf but will be replaced by the shiny new one in a moment...and I'd like to promise that the shiny new one will get read quickly, but...well, you know.)

This is an adventure story mixed with coming-out; twin tween nobles Hawke and Grayson are forced by a coup to flee and hide as Hanna and Grayce within the Communion of Blue, an all-female magical order whose powers manifest in weaving and other textile work. The coming-out part is that while Hawke seems to think of this as just a disguise, becoming Grayce is much more important, and central, to her. I expect it all ends up super-happy, since that's what middle-grade GNs do these days. (Woe is reserved for prose, and for a slightly older audience.)

The Deep and Dark Blue will be published in hardcover on January 7 by Little. Brown.