Thursday, May 24, 2007

Reading Into the Past: Week of 5/20

This week the random number is five, and the books I'm trying to remember are from 2002. The past is safe, right? Well, 2002 was my annus horribilis, and this was the week in question. So let's return to the scene of the crime...
  • Ted Heller, Funnymen (5/10)
    Heller wrote a very good first novel called Slab Rat -- both funny and cutting, like the best satire -- and I was greatly looking forward to this, his second novel. Unfortunately, I was reading it on the day of May 9th, 2002, the day I ended up admitted to Roosevelt Hospital for heart failure. So I ended up mostly reading it in the hospital, and I a) don't thus remember it well and b) associate it with unpleasant things. (I read it, mostly, lying in a hospital bed with an IV drip in my arm and a monitor going off at frightening intervals.) The book itself is, from what I can remember, a good bittersweetly humorous novel in the form of an oral history, about a very Dean-and-Martin-esque comedy team. I suspect it's better than I remember, but I don't expect to ever go back and look. And I don't remember if Heller has written anything since. Sorry, Ted -- you remind me of hospitals and scary machines.
  • John Gregory Betancourt, Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amber (5/12)
    The twelfth was a Sunday, and the day before I'd had no luck getting in to see a doctor. (When you check yourself out of a hospital, for whatever reason you do so, the medical profession closes ranks in front of you, and you get the feeling they'd be happier if you'd just die, to prove that they were right. Luckily, I didn't, but no thanks to any doctors.) To take my mind off of the various possibilities -- and because I really needed to just sit quietly until Monday, when I could actually see a doctor, I read this pretty much harmless book. I don't think this is the one where Oberon spends a third of the book trying to get out of bed, which is a pity, since that would be very appropriate.
  • John Bellairs, The House With a Clock in Its Walls (5/12)
    I'd had the vague thought of doing a Bellairs omnibus, but I found this one (and a bit of the next) quite juvenile and not terribly interesting for adults, so I gave up that idea.
  • Matt Wagner & Arnold & Jacob Pander, Grendel: Devil's Legacy (5/13)
    The second Grendel story, which had finally been collected, something like a decade after it was originally published. The Pander brothers had a very garish, almost fashion-magazine-looking style that was very '80s, but it was perfect for this story. (And whatever happened to them, anyway? They did one or two other comics projects after this and then lit off for the territory, as far as I can tell.) You can start reading Grendel here, and this might even be a better beginning than that Batman-as-a-villain creep Hunter Rose, especially if you like your main characters to be sympathetic.
  • P.G. Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning (5/14)
    The other book I had with me in the hospital. It's what got me back to reading Wodehouse, after stalling out a few years before after reading all of the Jeeves in print and bouncing off one or two Blandings books (which I now love -- go figure!) If you ever need a book to take your mind off your own troubles, I highly recommend this one.
  • P. Craig Russell, The Ring of the Nibelung, Volume One (5/15)
    I can only suppose I was wallowing in existential despair at this point. I think I got back to work on this day (Wednesday), since I was now on serious medication designed to make my heart work so hard that it wouldn't have time to think about stopping. (It seemed a bizarre treatment to me then -- if my heart is weak, why is the treatment drugs to slow it down more and thin my blood out to make it harder to pump? -- but I can't argue with the results. Hm. Maybe doctors do know better than me.) Anyway, Russell is one of the mad geniuses of comics, and his particular genius is for adapting operas. The wonderful thing about comics is that you have people like that, who do things that seem really unlikely and weird and yet create wonderful works of art along the way.
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (5/16)
    The heart medication was making me very slow and sleepy, so I was re-reading old books that I knew I would like. And I guess that does mean I'm the kind of guy for whom Slaughterhouse-Five is a comfort read; oh, well, that's just who I am.
  • Lawrence Block, Burglars Can't Be Choosers (5/17)
    The first in a wonderful light mystery series by one of the greats of the genre -- again, more comfort reading. Books like these kept me awake on the bus, when very little else would have. (By the way, did you notice I went on a Book-A-Day kick because of the heart scare? As they say, when something in your life is out of control, sometimes the best bet is to find something you can control, and focus on that for a bit.)
  • John Kovalic, Dork Shadows: The Collected Dork Tower, Volume II (5/18)
    The second collection of the popular gaming comic. I saw it and said "It must be mine!"
  • C.J. Cherryh, Explorer (5/19)
    This is some piece of her atevi series, and, though I've enjoyed reading all of the books, I'm afraid the very similar titles mean that I can't remember which one was which.
  • Anonymous, ed., Dirty Stories, Vol. 2 (5/20)
    The second anthology of pornographic art comics (or perhaps artsy porno comics, depending on how you look at it) was vastly less successful, interesting, and fun than the first. The first Dirty Stories was fun and interesting; this was like wallowing in a sewer. (Am I paraphrasing Voltaire's "Once, a philosopher. Twice, a pervert."?)
  • Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt (5/21)
    This was surprisingly good, for a everything-that-was-left-in-a-dead-man's-desk-drawer book. (Particularly after Mostly Harmless, which was a real disappointment.) Of course, you do need to be a big Adams fan to want to read his collected marginalia and unfinished works, but there were (and still are, I think) a lot of us. I also must have started feeling a bit better about myself to be reading this, because, as a spectre of sudden death from heart troubles, it's hard to beat poor Douglas Adams.
And that's what I was reading the week of my heart failure. And how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

(Just for the record: I rolled the five, and typed in the titles, on Sunday night, though I didn't get to the descriptions until just now.)