Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Read in May

Earlier this year, I had a half-baked plan to make May the month where I'd only read books on my iPad -- since, as we all know by this point, digital is the wave of the future and print is for squares, man! -- but it didn't quite work out that way. My thought was that, since I was starting the month with a week-long business trip to Florida, wouldn't it be keen if I could manage not to take any books, and pack a little lighter?

It didn't quite work out that way -- I took one emergency backup mass-market on that trip, which I didn't open, but I also read two novels this month in library hardcover and close to a dozen graphic novels on paper as well -- making it about par for one of my plans.

But I did read four books entirely onscreen this month, and (as of the moment I'm writing this) about two-thirds of a novella-length report on the future of digital journalism, so I haven't entirely punted on that front.

And I do have plenty to read on the iPad, in a half-dozen reading Apps -- Kindle, OverDrive, Bluefire, Stanza, GoodReader, and iBooks -- to keep me going for several months if I wanted. But, unlike a printed book, my iPad can also play solitaire, or Angry Birds, or check my RSS feeds, or Twitter, I'm much more distractable on it.

But here's what I did manage to read:
  • Joe Daly, Dungeon Quest, Vol. One (5/2)
  • Doug Savage, Savage Chickens (5/9)
  • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto, Vol. 49 (5/11)
  • Matthew Hughes, The Damned Busters (5/11)
  • Adrian Tomine, Scenes from an Impending Marriage (5/12) Of all the books one might expect from Adrian Tomine, a cute little comedy-memoir about wedding preparations would be really far down the list. And yet -- perhaps showing that absolutely anyone turns to mush in those circumstances -- that's exactly what this book is: a collection of short comic strips about how Tomine and his then-fiancee, Sarah, planned their wedding and all of the funny/annoying things that happened to them along the way. Even less likely, the book Scenes from an Impending Marriage is a slightly expanded (by a six-page Epilogue) version of the actual favor given out to all of the guests at that wedding -- so, somewhere down the line, look for the super-rare "wedding edition" of this book to turn up on auction sites and on the wall of very particular comics shops. The book itself is sweet -- again, not what we've ever expected from Tomine -- and just long enough not to outstay its welcome; if you've ever gotten married or been in love, there will be plenty here that's familiar and raises a smile.
  • Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto, Vol. 50 (5/13)
  • Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba, Casanova: Luxuria (5/16)
    I'm afraid this very stylish alternate-universe super-spy story didn't involve me as much as it has other critics -- this has been glowing reviewed all across the bits of the 'net that read comics -- mostly because the main character is so relentlessly passive, entirely acted upon and forced into other people's schemes. Ba's art is as crisply energetic as ever, and Fraction's story has plenty of action, quirky ideas, and complicated triple-crosses to keep it all humming along. But the whole thing felt like a lesser version of The Umbrella Academy -- another dysfunctional-family story, with borderline superheroes, the Fate of the World, and complicated matters of ontology and reality. But Casanova himself isn't interesting or active enough to really hold up the story himself, and everyone else here is deeply secondary. So the whole package was definitely stylish fun, but the substance, in the end, was lacking.
  • Dennis Lehane, Moonlight Mile (5/16)
  • Kevin Huizenga, The Wild Kingdom (5/17)
    Now this is...well, it's a thing. Definitely a thing. It's solid, taking up physical space -- you can pick it up, leaf through the pages, read the words, follow it from panel to panel. It's absolutely a graphic novel of some kind, featuring Huizenga's regular character Glenn Ganges, and tries to explicate some kind of complicated relationship between the natural world and the manufactured human world (particular as seen through mass advertising), though a sequence of mostly short, elliptical story-fragments, which don't directly follow each other in any obvious sequence. Yes, this is pretty aggressively art-comics -- even though Huizenga, as usual, draws in a clear, slightly cartoony style, and has a lot of text on his pages as well to comment on the images or ape well-known advertising slogans. It's not graphically artsy; it's conceptually artsy, a book about a subject that's difficult to describe clearly, and one that I really can't say if it was successful or not, since I'm utterly unsure what it was aiming to do. It's definitely less directly engaging and cooler than other Huizenga stories I've read, and I doubt anyone would want a steady diet of comics like this. But, once in a while, it's invigorating to see a creator light out for the territory at high speed like this.
  • Matt Howarth, The Downsized (5/19)
    Howarth spent the '80s and '90s putting out lots of odd comics in his distinctive thin-line Rapidograph style -- centered on the related series Those Annoying Post Brothers and Savage Henry -- and then, from what I can see, moved largely online and into downloadable forms, but kept up his high rate of production. (Unfortunately, I lost track of his work for most of that time, since I was still pretty focused on the ink-on-paper world.) This is one of his rare on-paper works these days, so I actually found out about it, bought it, and read it. Downsized is out of character from my experience of Howarth stories -- of course, I have to point out, again, that I haven't kept track of his work this past decade. But Downsized feels like Howarth doing late-period Eisner: it's a family story, centered around a big family reunion for some of the main characters' parents' fiftieth reunion, out in a big hotel. Howarth's work on such a down-to-earth book -- focused on interpersonal relationships, growing older, and lost opportunities -- is not entirely successful: his dialogue aims for naturalness, but often stumbles, and this is a story entirely driven by naturalistic dialogue. But his people are as lovingly depicted as always; Howarth excels at telling the stories of characters who are bundles of foibles and accumulated bad decisions, and those folks drive this story forward.
  • Roger Langridge, The Muppet Show Comic Book: Muppet Mash (5/20)
    This is the last collection -- at least for now; there are some uncollected and/or unpublished stories that still might see the light of day -- of Roger Langridge absolutely excellent work translating everything that made The Muppet Show such great TV into equally wonderful comics. (And I literally mean "everything;" Langridge's 22-page comics closely track a TV show of the same running time.) I've written about Langridge's Muppet work before -- see volumes one, two, three, and four -- so, this time, I'll just say that it's more of the same, and that it's still lovely, funny work that is certainly not just for kids.
  • Steve Dublanica, Keep the Change (5/24)
  • Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted Glass (5/27)
  • Karl Shaw, 5 People Who Died During Sex and 100 Other Terribly Tasteless Lists (5/31)
    I read this, very appropriately, in the smallest room of the house, and wasn't disappointed. This is a conglomeration of lists from four separate UK books of Shaw's -- arranged into nine thematic chapters, covering religion, sex, death, food, entertainers, criminals, and so forth -- with this selection presumably chosen for the shorter attention span of the American audience. It was published over here just over four years ago. (I got it as a bound galley around the turn of 2006-2007; I'm still working through things I took home for the Bookspan giveaway shelf, and probably will be doing so for another decade at least.) The point of a book like this is to remember some of the horribly interesting facts and spring them on others at opportune times, but, sadly, I have a lousy memory for trivia like this. Still, this was very entertaining to read, and my mother-in-law has already asked for it once I'm done -- so I have to count this book as a major success.
And that was what I read in May. June, as I've already groused about several times here, will see me flying off to hither and yon, so we'll see how much reading I can get done along the way.

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