Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reading List: July 2008

Graphic novels made up the bulk of my reading material this month, predominately due to a couple of big finds at the used book store. Unfortunately, progress on the thesis barely moved due to my inability to focus. Apparently, many graduate students have trouble when leaving the structure of the classroom and moving to independent research without the deadlines and direction. School starts in about four weeks, so that should get me back on track.

This month I managed to knock out 24 graphic novels, novels, and collections of essays, and this is what they were:

1. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut: Though I read this back when I was twenty, I felt that the use of images might fit in well with my thesis. Perhaps it will, but the use was elementary in comparison to the complex things I am looking at. But he was a trailblazer, and this flawed work is interesting b/c we can see where Vonnegut begins to change into a more bitter narrator, something that intensifies from this point forward in his fiction.

2. Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers! edited by Sean Howe: A collection of essays on comics by a diverse group of writers, including Jonathan Lethem, Glen David Gold, and Chris Offutt. The most satisfying analysis comes from Lethem, who weighs the Lee/Kirby dynamic at Marvel without deifying either party. A decent collection if you can pick it up secondhand.

3. Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch: After listening to a stirring Bat Segundo Show with Disch after learning of his suicide, I reread this novel immediately. It was eerie to hear Disch's voice in place of the narrator's. Focusing on a group of prisoners infected by a substance called Palladine which makes them super-intelligent. There is the forbidden fruit analogy, but Disch goes further with religion arguing against the existence of God. There is also a focus on motivation, whether the ends justify the means, which dovetails nicely with the religion angle. A very satisfying novel, one you should all seek out.

4. The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller: Hated it. Read why here.

5. Havanas in Camelot by William Styron: Blown away by Styron's memoir
on depression, Darkness Visible, I was excited to read this collection of personal essays on a variety of topics. The best is the title piece, which captures something about Kennedy and the 60s that just felt so true and real. He has a way of transporting you to the place he is describing, even though it is a world you could never hope to actually be in. The collection was a bit light though, and suffered a bit from a lack of unification among the various pieces. Still, enjoyable and recommended.

6. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson: Stephenson's futuristic fiction has a way of seeming dated a few years after publication, only to seem prescient a few years after that. Still the case with Zodiac. Focusing on the environment, plot is the main catalyst. There is industrial espionage and attempted assassinations, but none of the characters are all that memorable, even first-person narrator Sangamon Taylor. There are pacing issues, and it is easy to see that this is one of Stephenson's earlier works.

7. Goodbye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson: I liked Blankets when I read it, but this not so much. Chunky is a turtle who is forced to leave his love, a mouse, and venture off. Why, we are never told. It's all an allegory for childhood, but not done all that well and without any realizations by the main characters.

8. DMZ: Public Works by Brian Wood & Ricco Burchielli: Matt infiltrates a terrorist cell in the third collection of this series. I'm just not sure that this whole thing is working, with a complicated backstory that isn't being revealed and characters that aren't drawn consistently from page to page. I'm willing to give it another shot, but this is the least successful of the four Vertigo titles I am currently reading.

9. A Less Perfect Union by William Lesiner
10. Places of Exile by Christopher L. Bennett
11. Seeds of Dissent by James Swallow: Read my thoughts on these novels here.

12. NASCAR for Dummies ostensibly by Mark Martin: Like all these Dummies books, there was a lot of information that was easy to digest. But being eight years old, there was so much out of date that it was almost pointless to read. The Car of Tomorrow negated a lot of the technical info, and none of the points information was pertinent either. But there was a lot of info on the tracks which will help me understand the sport better.

13-17. Fables by Bill Willingham, et al.: The first five collections of the series. I managed to pick up the first nine at a severely discounted price so I am making my way through them. Expect a detailed post when I finish.

18. Lisey's Story by Stephen King: My first King book. I really liked the story that was in McSweeney's, and my friend Brendan Moody praised the novel, so I took a chance and enjoyed it quite a bit. It wasn't without its flaws, but it caused me to do a little thinking about my own prejudices which I wrote about here.

19. The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman, et al.: The single issue stories made up the best of Gaiman's Sandman series, s a collection of seven stories here was quite appealing. The variation on artists suited the mood of the each, and once again I was blown away by Gaiman's imagination and talent with prose. Unfortunately, I am running out of unread Sandman tales, though I am thinking about saving The Dream Hunters for a special occasion.

20. Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale: Better than I thought it would be. Steve Mollmann praised this book highly, and our recent debates have me working on better defense of my issues with Superman. Look for it in the next few days.

21. The Thing About Life is that One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields: This book doesn't know what it wants to be. A memoir about a man and his father? About their
bodies? A collection of facts and quotes about death? It's all and none of these, and it suffers as a result. We find out precious little about the author himself, but a lot about his dad, though with little context. And it causes you to start pondering your own mortality, and I have enough sleeping problems as it is.

22. Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers: A reinterpretation of the myth of Oedipus from Canongate's Myth Series. It concerns an extended conversation between Freud and Tiresias, making the point that since Freud no one can read Oedipus separately from him. But by including him in her story, Vickers is able to sidestep the issue and look at Oedipus in a new way. Very intriguing and highly recommended.

23. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
24. Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez: Read my thoughts about the former here, and the latter here.

Right now I am reading a collection of Disch's short work, and am pondering whether to start Richard Powers' The Echo Maker or Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. I just wish I could get my hands on an ARC of Philip Roth's Indignation.

Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Brendan Moody said...

Looking forward to your thoughts on Fables. I read the first fifty issues and found it entertaining but more shallow than the praise had led me to expect.

I agree that the standalones are the best stories in Sandman, yet for some reason I found Endless Nights disappointing, with the exception of "Fifteen Portraits of Despair." I may have to read it again sometime.