Friday, January 01, 2010

Books Read in December

It's now just barely 2010, which means it's time for the listing of what I read in the last month of 2009. This mostly functions as an index to what I've written about these books -- here and elsewhere -- but there are also short reviews below of the second collection of Jonathan Rosenberg's "Goats" webcomic, The Corndog Imperative; a reference book called The Cassell Dictionary of Regrettable Quotations; The Quitter, another book of Harvey Pekar autobiography, illustrated by Dean Haspiel; the 38th volume of Mashashi Kishimoto's Naruto ninja saga; and the Stephen Jones and Kim Newman-edited Horror: Another 100 Best Books.
  • Greg Houston, Vatican Hustle (12/2)
  • Jonathan Rosenberg, Goats: The Corndog Imperative (12/3)
    I reviewed the first print collection of the "Goats" webcomic -- Infinite Typewriters -- for ComicMix back in July, and I don't know that I have much more to say about the series. Rosenberg does manage the tricky combination of both having a long, continuing story (that makes sense, as much as any webcomic or other story does, and moves forward at a reasonable pace) and having a lot of humor along the way. His dialogue is particularly good, though his people do all talk in a variation of the same voice, in the major tone of Internet Smartass. I haven't read Goats in its original form, but I have to image that it would seem to take forever to get anywhere; this storyline is about 400 pages long (with a strip-and-a-half to a page, and three strips a week -- meaning each spread represents one week) and is only two-thirds done. So I'm quite happy to read Goats as it hits paper, and I still agree with what I said at the end of my review of Typewriters: "Goats makes very little sense, and takes place in a world ruled by whimsy and farce as much as by villainy and evil – but it’s funny in its dementia, and it’s more like Goats than any other strip ever could be. And you can’t ask for more than that."
  • David Byrne, Bicycle Diaries (12/3)
  • David Milsted, editor, The Cassell Dictionary of Regrettable Quotations (12/3)
    Sometimes people say things that sound really, really stupid in retrospect. Occasionally, they're lucky enough not to have anyone remember it -- but, if the stupid-talking person is famous in any way, that stupid saying is likely to be written down and remembered. This book is a collection of those stupid sayings, from The Idler's 1759 assertion that "The trade of advertising is now so near to perfection that it is not easy to propose any improvement" to Zaire's President Mobutu's 1978 explanation that "The people of Zaire are not thieves. It merely happens that they take more things, or borrow them." The stupid sayings are arranged thematically, and Milstead often produces cascades of stupid sayings, with an individual (or individuals) repeatedly asserting one thing up until he is (or they are) inescapable proven wrong. To be less wordy, this is Schadenfreude in concentrated form, and it's wonderful for those with that turn of mind. It does tend to the British -- both Milstead and Cassell are British, so this is understandable -- but that's a minor quibble over a collection of such wonderful, wicked, weapons-grade idiocy. I recommend it highly.
  • JiUn Yun, Time and Again, Vol. 1 (12/4)
    Look for my review in the 4/10 issue of Realms of Fantasy
  • John Mortimer, A Rumpole Christmas (12/4)
  • Masayuki Ishikawa, Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture, Vol. 1 (12/6)
    Look for my review in the 4/10 issue of Realms of Fantasy
  • Gainax/Konomini Project & Ashita Morimi, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, Vol. 1 (12/6)
    Look for my review in the 4/10 issue of Realms of Fantasy
  • JinJun Park, Raiders, Vol. 1 (12/7)
    Look for my review in the 4/10 issue of Realms of Fantasy
  • Jun Machizuki, Pandora Hearts, Vol. 1 (12/8)
  • Julietta Suzuki, Karakuri Odette, Vol. 1 (12/9)
  • George Iida & You Higuri, Night Head: Genesis, Vol. 1 (12/10)
  • Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals (12/10)
  • Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (12/11)
  • Grant Morrison, Tony S. Daniel, et. al., Batman R.I.P. (12/11)
  • Charles Burns, The Best American Comics: 2009 (12/11)
  • Jun Mochizuki, Crimson-Shell (12/14)
  • Allison Hoover Bartlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (12/14)
  • Hiromu Arakawa, et. al., Hero Tales, Vol. 1 (12/15)
  • Atsushi Ohkubo, Soul Eater, Vol. 1 (12/16)
  • Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel, The Quitter (12/17)
    When I saw the movie American Splendor, I wondered "the bits of his life the movie shows are interesting, but I'm already familiar with this time in Pekar's life -- what I really want to know is how he got there. ... What was he like as a young man?" The Quitter explains how Harvey became Harvey -- and it was published in 2005, and must have been in production as the movie was, making them two ends of the same piece of string. I should have paid better attention back then; the answer I wanted was out there if I'd looked for it. Harvey Pekar, back in the late '40s and '50s, was a smart kid for whom schoolwork came easy for a long time -- I know the type; I am the type -- with a strong streak of self-doubt and a huge chip on his shoulder. He obsessed about the things he couldn't do well, discouraging himself for actually working on them, and ran away from every hint of failure -- and thus never got any better at the things he didn't already know. Adult Harvey narrates this book, and he sees his own flaws fairly clearly -- and he's honest and scrupulous enough to present himself as he remembers it, so that the reader can see behind what Pekar is actually saying to understand the kind of person he was. I suspect Pekar had something like panic attacks or fugue states -- he describes not being able to follow a simple explanation, or to work out how to tell clean clothes from dirty one laundry day during a disastrously short stint in the Navy -- and those drove him to stay entirely within his comfort zone, even though that shredded his sense of self-worth. Eventually, Pekar finds things that he can do, and do well: first reviewing jazz records (for free, and, much later, for pay), and then, after knowing and befriending R. Crumb for a decade, turning his own life and stories into comics. If there's anyone else out there who, like me, wondered why a guy so obviously smart and interesting (if crabby and opinionated) as Pekar worked as a government filing clerk for forty years, The Quitter is the book to read. It explains Harvey Pekar, as well as any book can explain any man.
  • Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur (12/17)
  • Masashai Kishimoto, Naruto, Vol. 38 (12/18)
    Several important things happen in this volume, but even a description of those events will be utterly opaque to anyone who doesn't know the series. Naruto defeats a major enemy -- one of the Akatsuki, the top henchmen of the shadowy Big Bad who is trying to kill all of the hosts for fox spirits (of whom Naruto is the most notable and powerful) -- though grit, determination, and a new technique he's just perfected. (As I and many others have said a million times, so many Japanese comics for boys are all about fighting and training, and then training and fighting, with a manic intensity of focus on RPG-style levelling up and learning new techniques.) Meanwhile, his ex-best friend, Sasuke, has a major confrontation with the now-eclipsed previous Big Bad, Orochimaru.
  • Apostolos Doxiadis, et. al., Logicomix (12/18)
  • Stuart Kelly, The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read (12/20)
    This book has been sitting next to my computer for quite some time -- it was published in 2005, and I got a copy when the book clubs offered it that year, so that gives you an idea -- as I read through it slowly. Kelly has a short essay on the life and work of each of several dozen famous writers, from "Anonymous" (the author of The Epic of Gilgamesh) through Georges Perec, with an emphasis on the books those writers wrote that are now lost -- or that, particularly as the book goes on, the writers intended to write, or wanted to write, or talked about writing. It's not precisely a catalog of Sandman's Library of Lost Books, since Kelly often spends most of his essay writing about other aspects of a particular writer's life, but it's along those lines. This is obviously a book for those who love books, particularly readers who have read a fair smattering of the classics, but it's interesting to read about the lost works of even those writers you haven't read personally, or to contemplate how vast Greek drama was (Aeschylus wrote at least seventy plays, Sophocles a hundred and twenty, Euripides nearly a hundred, plus everyone else) and that only a few dozen examples of it survive. The Book of Lost Books doesn't directly make this case, but it does show how rare, fragile, and contingent any art is, implying it should all be treasured.
  • Mashashi Kishimoto, Naruto, Vol. 39 (12/21)
    More ninja action, the way you like it. Sasuke and Naruto each gather a group of compatriots, and set off on paths that will inevitably intersect -- though they won't necessarily be opposed to each other. I try not to feel superior to fans of American punch-'em-up comics while I'm still reading Naruto, since the appeal is much the same. (Though Naruto has the stamp of a single creator's vision, and contains stories that actually do end.)
  • Kean Soo, Jellaby: Monster in the City (12/22)
  • Steve Hely, How I Became a Famous Novelist (12/22)
  • Tom Neely, The Blot (12/23)
  • Mawil, Sparky O'Hare, Master Electrician (12/26)
  • Jamie Tanner, The Aviary (12/27)
  • Stephen Jones & Kim Newman, editors, Horror: Another 100 Best Books (12/29)
    I believe I originally got my copy of this back when I was a World Fantasy judge; it's copyright 2005, at least, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have paid money for it, since I always insist that I hate horror. In any case, it's been sitting around, on various piles of books I'm reading slowly, for several years, and, recently, I pulled it into the smallest room in the house and finally got through to the end of it. Like its predecessor, Horror: 100 Best Books, it has a hundred short essays by a hundred different horror writers/editors (mostly writers, and all familiar names), each writing about one particular book. The essays are then arranged in chronological order in order of the books' original publication, and Bob's your uncle. I generally read books like this hoping or expecting to jot down titles to read myself, but, for whatever reason, I didn't add a single book to my to-find list from this book. So perhaps I'm instead going to consider this research; I now have at least a nodding acquaintance with a hundred books of horror (of very varied kinds) that I didn't have before. For people who do read and like horror, this will be a wonderful book -- the essayists write intriguingly about things they love, many of which are obscure or not generally considered horror.
  • Bill Willingham, et. al., Jack of Fables, Vol. 6: The Big Book of War (12/30)
And that's the way 2009 ended, in my reading life. What have you read recently that was good?

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