Monday, June 01, 2015

Read in May

This was the month I got back to work, and it definitely shows: I crammed February through April into one post, since I'd only read eighteen books that whole time. But in May, back to regular commuting, I read twenty-five books. Some of them will get thumbnail notes below, since I have just declared review bankruptcy, but I'm also trying to read chunks of graphic-novel series at a time and turn those into posts (as I did some last year during Book-a-Day), so those will be links, now or later.

And here's what I read:

James Turner, Rex Libris, Vol. 2: Book of Monsters (5/4)

George A. Walker, editor, Graphic Witness (5/5)

Ray Fawkes, Possessions Vol. 4: The Final Tantrum (5/6)

Despite the implications of the title, this is clearly not the last book in the series: there will be at least one more. And the tone, as I expected in my review of The Better House Trap (aka Book Three), has indeed changed. Gurgazon the Unclean, who was so funny and amusing when his insistence that he will kill and eat all of mankind was kept in check by confinement, is somewhat more worrying now that he can kill and eat all of mankind. So this book is in a more epic mode, though the dialogue is still cracklingly smart, and the reader half wants Gurgazon to destroy the world -- or at least a significant part of it -- just because he's so much fun.

Rick Geary, The True Death of Billy the Kid (5/7)

This is another book that Geary produced through Kickstarter, so it's unlikely anybody who doesn't already have it now will find it easy to dig up a copy. (I could be wrong; maybe tomorrow Geary will be acclaimed as the greatest graphic novelist of his time and every last thing he ever did will be reprinted in million-copy printings. That would be awesome, but it is unlikely.)

Like last years' The Elwell Enigma, this is a sidebar to his long-running series of books about famous murder cases. The main books in the series go into depth into cases that are still unsettled or have open questions; Elwell was about a murder that's still entirely a mystery and this book the opposite: we all know exactly what happened and how. But it does give Geary a chance to do what he does best: draw 19th century people in all of their complicated clothes and facial hair, and make schematics of buildings and towns to show exactly where things are in relation to each other, and how events precisely happened. This is a smaller book that most of Geary's recent input, covering a case mostly without subtleties, but it's still fine Geary work, lovely in its art and crisp and precise in its writing.

Hunt Emerson, Calculus Cat (5/8)

Back when TV was the hegemonic media outlet that was twisting our minds and presenting a deliberately distorted view of the real world -- remember those days? -- one of the major counter-attacks was from the pen of Hunt Emerson. (In fact, the prior major collection of this material, more than twenty-five years ago, was under the tile Death to Television!) This new edition collects all of that old material, about the cat who spends his day grinning and running away while people chuck things at him and his nights trying to watch old TV shows while the pitchman on his set instead tries to hard-sell him on Skweeky Weets. There's also some odds and ends that were missed in the earlier book, and a few newer pages -- but this is essentially '80s work, from back when we thought that marketers trying to sell us all exactly the same thing was the horrible thing. (As opposed to know, when we know that marketers micro-targeting exactly our fears and desires to sell us each very particular things is the really horrible thing.)

Dylan Horrocks, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen (5/9)

Cameron Stewart, Sin Titulo (5/11)

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop (5/14)

See my review of the first volume if you're not familiar with the series -- which is possible, I guess, but pretty much anyone who reads comics has probably heard about it by now. The stories in this clump focus more on the male half of the time-stoppingly orgasmic couple, Jon, who is not nearly as happy and well-adjusted as Suzie (who had most of the viewpoint stuff in the first few issues) is. That actually understates it quite a bit: Fraction never actually gives Jon a specific diagnosis, but he clearly has a mood disorder of one kind or another, and it seriously interferes with his life. (And the medication he's supposed to take to deal with it interferes with his life in its own way, and possibly a worse one.) As expected at the end of the first collection, Jon and Suzie have realized that they're not the only ones who can stop time, and they're coming more and more into conflict with the people they call the "Sex Police," who have major financial backing and seem to primarily want to keep their secret very secret. Like any series, it's settling down and getting less aggressively new and live-wire, but it's still smart and interesting and adult.

Christopher Miller, American Cornball (5/14)

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga, Vol. 4 (5/15)

I'm now trade-caught-up with this series -- not the same thing as floppy-caught-up, but I haven't bought floppies since my flood, and I don't plan to start up again ever -- and it's still as precise and thoughtful and encompassing as it started. (See my reviews of the first and second volumes for more details.) Vaughan has an admirable willingness to keep shaking things up and move his timeline forward aggressively, and Staples has an incredible storytelling ability: she doesn't get nearly enough credit for the success of this book, but her work is deeply expressive and has a masterful control of body language and pose. This is more middle of a long, detailed series -- and I'm coming around to a tentative hope that Vaughan will stick the landing better than he did with Ex Machina -- but it's middle that moves forward, and changes up major things, and is clearly heading towards a specific end. And that's the good kind of middle.

John Baxter, The Inner Man (5/15)

Manix Abrera, 14 (5/18)

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (5/19)

You don't need me to tell you about this book. I read it because I'm trying to read short books right now -- to jumpstart that reading life again -- and because I'm also trying to read really well-written books, for the same reason. This qualifies on both counts, and it packs a wallop.

(Do you need me to mention that it's a memoir of the year between the death of her husband and the death of their only daughter? And that the daughter had been critically ill even before the husband died? Are you that cut off from literary culture?)

Joe Ollmann, Mid-Life (5/19)

This is a critically acclaimed graphic novel from 2010 that I had a hard time getting into or connecting with -- despite the obvious parallels with my own life. It's the kind of semi-autobiographical story where the author has to specifically declare that it's fiction: both Ollmann and his main character are fortyish design professionals with twentyish daughters from a very early marriage and a new kid with (substantially younger) Wife Number Two. It's clearly a mid-life crisis book, and I should be exactly in the psychographic for that: I'm in my mid-years, my life hasn't gone the way I expected (just like everyone else's), and I'm just as prone to over-analyzing and obsessing about everything as Ollmann's John.

But I found this talky and something of a slog to get through: John is just so much of a sad sack, and so self-loathingly miserable, that it just wasn't pleasant to spend time with him. And Ollmann doesn't let him really go whole-hog into a mid-life crisis; this is the story of thinking and whining, and complaining, and almost doing things, rather than actually doing them. I suspect Ollmann should have gone more fictional and thrown his hero into the deep end, and that he instead stuck a bit too closely with the details of his real life. Mid-Life is ambitious and interesting, but it's hard to love.

Richard Sala, In A Glass Grotesquely (5/20)

This most recent book by the dependably grotesque and creepy Sala collects his web serial Super-Enigmatix, along with a few shorter pieces. It's not great Sala, since he's generally better with longer stories (his short stuff can sometimes seem like a list of his tics and standard furniture), but it's good Sala, and his art is lovely and sinuous here.

Sala's last major book was The Hidden, which is a better place to go for new readers. Although, I think you can read Super-Enigmatix from the link above without paying anyone anything, and a free sample usually beats any other kind of sample handily. But, if you like that, I'd suggest picking up one of Sala's longer works -- the two Peculia books are also good, as is Delphine and The Chuckling Whatzit.

Helene Hanff, 84. Charing Cross Road (5/20)

Nico Tanigawa, No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 6 (5/21)

Helene Hanff, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (5/21)

Nico Tanigawa, No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 7 (5/22)

P.G. Wodehouse, Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (5/26)

The last, and one of the least, of the Jeeves-Wooster books, originally published in 1974 and preceding Wodehouse's knighthood and death (at age ninety-three) by barely a year. Wodehouse is one of the great comic writers of all time, and the world he created is as solid and self-consistent as any secondary creation ever devised.

I wrote about another late Wodehouse book last year -- Galahad at Blandings, from a decade previous and a different series -- which I think still covers well both the inherent appeal of Wodehouse as a writer and the ways that his late works are slightly lesser than his prime period. (Though it's really only a matter of degree: at his best, Wodehouse constructed plots like cunning clockwork devices, driving out all possible quibbles about ways the real world works or potential escape routes for his hapless heroes. What he lost in his later years was an ability to sustain that pitch of fevered invention, but his language was as sunny and supple as ever and his characters precisely as three-dimensional as they had ever been. A minor Wodehouse book is defined as one where you can poke holes in the sublimely silly plot.)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Tyler Crook and James Harren, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 4: The Devil's Engine and the Long Death (5/26)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Jason Latour, Max Fiumara and James Harren, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 5: The Pickens County Horror and Others (5/27)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Tyler Crook, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 6: The Return of the Master (5/28)

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Laurence Campbell and Peter Snejbjerg, B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth, Vol. 7: A Cold Day in Hell (5/29)

Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built (5/29)

Next month might not be quite as long a list -- or maybe it will be longer, who can say? I'm back on the horse and using a system for picking books that's worked for me a lot over the years: pick one book from the first shelf, then one from the next shelf, and so forth. (I find that reduces the sense of choice when looking at a vast array of unread stuff.)

No comments:

Post a Comment