Saturday, December 01, 2012

Read in November

November has been a light month for the past few years -- that's when the big family vacation (so far, to lands of The Mouse) hits, and that vacation seems to bring a certain lassitude to my reading and writing-about-what-I-read life.

That's all by way of saying "gosh, I really didn't read much this month, did I?"

I'd like to read more, or at least I think I do, but, when I have time these days, it seems that reading long-form prose is not at the top of the priority list. (Once again, I can wish that long-form prose was still my job, but it isn't.)

Anyway, here's what I did read:

Gary Fingercastle, Wanted: Bear Cubs for My Children (11/2) -- I picked this up, knowing that it was a collection of strange posts from Craigslist, but thinking that Fingercastle had found, curated, and edited those posts --that it was a work of found art, or of "look at all these weirdos." I was mistaken, though; this is more like those books of annoying letters to famous people that Jerry Seinfeld keeps insisting that he didn't write. Fingercastle has spent much of the last decade thinking up, writing, and posting to Craigslist deliberately strange, offensive, and unpleasant posts, across all of the categories on that site, and Wanted collects those posts. So it's not found art; it's a guy imitating found art, and trying to out-bizarre the real world, which is quixotic at best. It does feel like Fingercastle is making fun of people -- and, even more so, that he's making fun of non-specific, vague ideas of particular kinds of people, which is worse for comedy purposes. It is moderately funny in spots, but the exercise is unpleasant to begin with; Wanted is an extended trolling expedition that got a book deal, and I don't think trolling should be rewarded.

Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth (11/12)

Lisa Lutz, The Spellman Files (11/13) -- I don't know that I have much to say about this novel -- it's a funny mystery novel, which manages to be both really funny and a real novel (though the mystery, in the core genre sense, is slightly skimped along the way -- I didn't mind at all). It centers on a very dysfunctional family of private detectives in San Francisco, as seen by the ne'er-do-well older sister of the family, and it has already been a big success, with praise and bestsellerdom and four sequels to date. (I got to it several years late.) If you've heard about it and were waiting for one more person to rave about it, count me as that final rave -- it's not a demanding novel, but it's both deeper than it looks and a hell of a lot of fun to read. (It was my primary airplane book for the round-trip transcontinental flight earlier this month, and made time in that cramped seat pass admirably quickly.)

Daniel Handler, The Basic Eight (11/16)

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Sean Murphy, American Vampire Vol. 3 (11/26) -- The third volume of the HBO-stylish Vertigo vampire series (see my reviews of the first and second books) isn't as middle as the second book was, though it's still clearly more stuff in a saga writer Scott Snyder intends to spin out for a while. This particular book collects a one-shot story, with series anti-hero Skinner Sweet coming across a Wild West show in 1919, which is mostly to remind us that Sweet is the ostensible core of the whole story. And then there are two longer stories -- "Ghost War" and "Survival of the Fittest," the latter of which was published as a separate miniseries for complicated and probably irrelevant comics-publishing reasons. "Ghost War" brings the main timeline up to WWII, and focuses on the other American Vampire, Pearl Jones, who chases her human husband, Henry Preston (and Snyder does the tedious vampire-story thing of having Preston continually note how he's getting older and slower, while Jones stays young and spry, even though he could become a vampire any time he wants, and have essentially no bad side-effects) off to the pacific war. There's another vampire variant, and the usual mad-scientist tinkering in the realms of God, and Sweet is involved a bit, too. But, all in all, it's just an episode -- a thing that happened to these two characters, without much more significance. "Survival of the Fittest" has an entirely different cast -- primarily Cash McCogan, the ex-sheriff turned vampire hunter, and Felicia Book, the requisite half-vampire vampire hunter, and their secret organization, the Vassals of the Morning Star -- in a secret mission in WWII Europe at nearly the same time. Both stories have a big impressive death scene for a major character -- one of which I expect will be much more permanent than the other -- and both are impressive modern supernatural-comics thrill rides. But they're both pretty surface-y; they don't get deeply into either the characters or Snyder's mythology, so it feels a bit like ticking off boxes: this series is working its way through the 20th century decade by decade, and WWII was a big deal that had to be addressed. It's still solid comics, but Snyder is telling a long story in small episodes, so it might be a while before anything really important happens.

Jacques Tardi, Benjamin Legrand & Dominique Grange, New York Mon Amour (11/27) -- New York circa 1980 was dark, dirty, corrupt, depressing, and ominous -- so much so that even a bunch of Frenchmen knew it. New York Mon Amour collects one long and three short stories, all drawn by world comics superstar Jacques Tardi, written by various hands (including Tardi himself, for one of the short pieces). They're snapshots of a particular era and style -- very influenced by early Scorsese and '70s cinema in general -- of a city seething with anger and resentment, bubbling over with danger and fear, crammed full of death and violence and revenge and hopelessness. It's all very noir -- all but the last, devastating short story, "Hung's Murderer," are clearly over the top -- and all very bleak. There are no happy endings, no moments of grace -- just the big bad city looming over all, and destroying all of the small lives it touches. Tardi has done better, subtler work than this (see my reviews for It Was the War of the Trenches and West Coast Blues for examples), but this is solid noir in the '70s style, though it does get a bit cartoony at times. 

Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot (11/27)

JT Petty & Hilary Florido, Bloody Chester (11/28)

Lemony Snicket, "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" (11/28)

Shannon Wheeler, I Thought You Would Be Funnier (11/29)

Yes, 60% of the books I read this month were finished the last week; I've gotten into an odd rut where I don't read books while I'm on vacations or holidays. (It's not on purpose, but there's always so many other things that need to be done that finding time -- or a place -- to sit quietly and read is difficult.) Well, the boys will be grown and out of the house before I know it -- Thing 1 got his first piece of mail from a college this month -- so I had better enjoy the bustle and excitement while I have it.

Links and reviews -- deep or desultory, time will tell which -- for the missing books will follow at some indefinite time in the future. (Possibly some over this weekend.)

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