Looking through the data, instead of a wasteland of cut stumps, we find a forest of bonsai.
My last book roundup only had three graphic novels in it. This bunch, though, more than doubles the number I’ve read all year. My rate has also slowed way, way down. (Though I can claim success for my New Year’s resolution of averaging at least a book per week in 2014. No way to miss that mark now.) For both of these, I blame my August move from Iowa to Texas, which sapped huge amounts of my time and attention.
- Mad As Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies by Dave Itzkoff – This was a gift from my friend Samantha Lange, in thanks for introducing her to Network, which she had never previously seen. It’s a fantastic retrospective of Paddy Chayefsky’s career leading up to the film, and a detailed look into the production itself. Easily recommended for other Network obsessives.
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – My mother had been singing Patchett’s praises to me, and so I read Run, which I liked but did not love. Friends told me, though, that I should give Bel Canto a try anyway. They were right. This is an utterly gorgeous book, in the mix for my favorite I’ve read this year. It is a deft piece of kaleidoscopic insight and tenderness, which manages to create some suspenseful, harrowing moments without ever seeming to ask for them. An incredible book.
- The Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune – I’d bounced off this book a few times, but now have finally made it to the end. I think it was more an act of stubbornness than anything else. I’ve enjoyed many of animated projects based on Shirow Masamune’s manga, but find the book itself cold, cursory, almost flippant. He clearly puts a very great deal of thought and attention into the functioning of his imagined future, but the stories themselves seem little more than excuses to get aspects of that future on the page. All of the elements of the famous and influential movie of the same name are in here, but almost completely lacking in the liveliness they had on the screen. I own his other GitS volumes, but it will probably be a while before I get to them.
- Incandescence by Greg Egan – I love Greg Egan. I love his writing, yes, but I also just love that he exists. There is every other hard science fiction writer who has ever been, and then, floating above them in a diamond firmament, is Greg Egan. What he is doing in this book is so much harder than mere hard science fiction that it’s almost a new kind of literature altogether. And while I get great intellectual excitement from that, I don’t mean it completely as a compliment. This novel is, well, hard. Difficult. The idea was to come up with a scenario where a culture inventing science would come up with relativity before Newtonian mechanics. He pulls this off, but it makes for a narrative experience that is didactic and difficult to follow. Exciting if you are excited by the beauty of physical ideas, but a lot more like doing homework than most things I approach for entertainment. In some writing on his website, Egan indicates that he expects that readers will need to keep a notebook nearby to draw some diagrams if they are to get the most out of the novel. Again, I love Greg Egan. I love that someone is writing novels that ask their readers to draw free-body diagrams. But I didn’t do it; I just followed what I could and trusted that it all hung together. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this book less than I have Egan’s others: this book insists on being appreciated on its own terms, and I didn’t want to put in the effort.
- So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – This small novel seems to inspire cultish reverence around Iowa City, so I read it. I enjoyed it. But I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. My experience here may have been soured by overbuilt expectation.
- Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds by Gail Simone and Ed Benes
- Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student by Gail Simone and Ed Benes – I read these two Birds of Prey volumes sitting on the floor of Karen Meisner’s library during my last visit to Madison. I’ve long been wanting to read the BoP comics, and enjoyed these enough that I expect I will track down the rest of the trades sometime soon.
- House of Holes by Nicholson Baker – Verbally clever sex farce. The novelty, and thus the entertainment, wore off for me about 2/3 of the way through. I’ll give Baker another chance though, on the strength of his prose cleverness and his nonfiction writing about pacifism.
- The Hustler by Walter Tevis – I only have two more to go, but it’s starting to look like Walter Tevis never wrote anything that wasn’t good. This, his first novel, is excellent. The prose is rougher than in some of his later work, but in a way that fits the story, so for all I know it was intentional. I watched the Paul Newman movie after I finished the book, and thought it was good in the places where it recapitulated what Tevis wrote, and inexcusable in the places it didn’t. Loved the book, hated the movie.
- Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley – I’m a huge fan of his previous work, Scott Pilgrim, so I was eager to read this book, though I didn’t expect it to be more of the same. Thus, I wasn’t at all disappointed. While there are a few notes of Pilgrim-esque humor (including one direct callback), Seconds is it’s own book, and a very successful one. It’s about the spirits of places, and about fucking up your life by altering your own history. It’s great.
- Dragon Ball vol. 1 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 2 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 3 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 4 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 5 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 6 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 7 by Akira Toriyama – Moving from Iowa to Texas was long, involved, and unpleasant. While I was doing it, I wanted something to read that would take no effort at all, just pure, mindless entertainment. These fit the purpose nicely. I might finish the series someday. I might wait to do it until I’m similarly stressed out again.
- The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem – I love Lem. So when I heard that the movie The Congress was based on this Lem novel, I was very excited to watch it with my parents, also Lem fans. It was terrible, a total train wreck of a film. No one should pay to see it. Read the book instead, which is a minor one of his works, but fun and short.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware – I read this many years ago, but had forgotten much of it. It’s truly excellent, though given the universal acclaim you probably already knew that. The reread was inspired by Shelby Blessing, who identified this as her favorite novel, graphic or otherwise. Also, having recently read Essex County, I was struck by the similarity between this and Lemire’s book. Since they are both collections of work originally serialized, I’d need to know more about the timelines to even begin to guess at vectors of influence.
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – I have been a fan of Ness’s writing since I read his Chaos Walking trilogy. This book, illustrated by Jim Kay and based on a concept by the late Siobhan Dowd, is gorgeous. Gorgeously written, gorgeously drawn. A heartbreaking fable of stories and loss, and clearly deserving of its multiple awards. I own a copy of Ness’s novel More Than This, and will probably read it soon.
She made the Booker Award shortlist for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and already won the PEN/Faulkner award earlier this year. Go, Karen, go!
And this one, created by a volcanic eruption in Papua, New Guinea, is incredible. Keep your eye on the clouds around the island before and after the eruption.
Last night I tweeted myself to sleep playing along with the hashtag game #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly. These were mine.