Friday, September 30, 2016

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - September Roundup (Sticky Post— Scroll down for most recent post)

1. Click on the icon above
2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as John Mutford (Anne of Avonlea)
4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

And in prize news, Pooker has won a signed copy of Gary Dvorkin's Ransom's Voice for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read something by an author who had not yet been reviewed in all past 9 editions of the Canadian Book Challenge. Congratulations, Pookr! (Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reader's Diary #1387- Tom King (writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (artist): The Vision Volume One / Little Worse Than a Man

There are a a lot of references to Shakespeare, specifically The Merchant of Venice, sprinkled throughout Tom King's first volume of The Vision comics. While the story has little in common with the plot of the play, there are definitely thematic similarities. In particular, the modern struggle we have with Shylock's character (is he a villain or misunderstood and much maligned figure?).

The Vision, whom Marvel fans know as the synthezoid (think an artificially intelligent robot with largely organic or organic-mimicking parts) superhero played by Paul Bettany in the Avengers movies, just wants an ordinary life. Ordinary, in his mind, equates to fitting in with the everyday humans. He creates a wife and twin children to complete the ideal. Granted, he's not trying to fool anyone into thinking he's human. It's complicated as he doesn't seem to try to be something he isn't, yet what he is he isn't sure.

As you might predict while dancing around the "just wants to be real boy" trope, things do not go smoothly. It starts when the super-villain Grim Reaper shows up and attacks Vision's family when he is not at home. Defending her children, Virginia (his wife) winds up killing the Reaper. Instead of coming clean about it, however, she buries the body in the backyard.

The compelling thing about the whole story is whether or not these actions (and the devastation that follow) are human-like. It would seem to me that plenty of humans would have made similar calls in the situation described above and the issue isn't so much that they're synthezoids, it's that they're living in a superhero world with super villains. Perhaps the more compelling proof that they can never be human is the Vision's naivete that they would ever be accepted. We have issues accepting other races, sexual orientations and identities, religions; what chance would a superhero synthezoid have? Then, I'm a pessimistic human, perhaps The Vision's optimism doesn't set him apart from other optimistic humans.

If you are assuming then that this is a tragic tale, yes, it is. And it's thought-provoking. One of the most intelligent and emotional superhero comics I've read in some time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1386- David Mamet: Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross, at just 108 pages, is still not an easy play to read. At first I though the dialogue was off, but then I realized that just the opposite might be true: it may be too realistic. If you've ever transcribed an interview (I have), you'll know what I mean when I say that everyday speech is rarely an eloquent thing. You don't often notice it in actual conversation, but there are weird pauses, lots of ums and other guttural nonsense, sentence fragments and so on. You don't notice it because you're also reading facial expressions, gestures, you're aware of the context and so on.

Mamet's dialogue is full of this and of real estate jargon. I'm sure that if you've seen the play performed (or the movie adaptation) you'd have a much easier time following along, but reading it? It ain't Shakespeare and there's nothing pretty about these words.

Not that this is a condemnation of the play, of course; it was written for the stage, not the page. What is a condemnation is my lack of enthusiasm for the story even after deciphering it. I get that it's about alpha-males carrying too much about, and willing to stoop to any level to get, stuff that most us probably don't care about or wouldn't admit if we did, but plot-wise it drags and never amounts to much. I even read a convincing interpretation that the play is really about organized religions. Fine, but it's all just character, with barely a point and even less of a tale. It might have made a fine painting.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reader's Diary #1385- Junji Ito: Uzumaki

A few days ago I came across a list (which, unfortunately, I cannot seem to find anymore) of disturbing comic plots. Most were from American superhero comics (Wolverine killing everyone, the Joker killing Robin, both made the cut) but the one that caught my eye was Junji Ito's Uzumaki which drew comparisons to both Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and involved a town being haunted by... spirals?

Luckily I was easily able to get my hands on a copy and I'm glad I did. First off, the Poe and Lovecraft comparisons are definitely warranted. There's an overarching plot but each chapter reads like a short story and each has weirdness spiraling out the wazoo. I'd hardly call it disturbing though. Sure there are some twisted images but I've seen worse and more nightmarish in North American comics. Nonetheless, it's all very cool and the story itself is very unique.

The art, too, is quite good. Ito is particularly skilled at using shading and expressions to capture emotion (often fear) in his characters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reader's Diary #1384- Deborah Marcero: Ursa's Light

As adults, we sure do like to classify things. Like arts and sciences. Mutually exclusive, right? Deborah Marcelo's picture book Ursa's Light reminds us all how wrong that assumption is. Not that her child readers would need such a reminder because what arts and sciences have in common is perhaps a child's greatest strength: imagination.

Ursa, the titular character and anthropomorphic bear, has an even bigger imagination than most. Full of wild ideas, she wakes up one morning determined to fly. She studies birds, bats, and dandelion seeds for inspiration, sketches her plans, and of course, experiments, never giving up when one device after another, just like in real life aviation history, has her crashing back down to Earth. Finally though, it is through artistic expression that Ursa succeeds.

Marcero's characters are wide-eyed and friendly and her backdrops are full of subtle but aesthetically pleasing patterns.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reader's Diary #1383- Shigeru Mizuki: Showa 1926 - 1939 A History of Japan

A bit of a Japanophile, I've been eyeing Shigeru Mizuki's Showa History of Japan series for a while, trying to get up the gumption to tackle it. Each edition is over 500 pages and even for a manga that's daunting. It certainly didn't help that in Frederik L. Schodt's introduction he warns that some readers may find it too much like a textbook or too overwhelming. Nonetheless, I pushed forward.

And I'm very glad that I did. I think Showa 1926 - 1939 is as overwhelming as you want it to be. There are certainly a lot of facts presented and there are a lot of facts alluded to. For the latter,  footnotes advise to check out the notes compiled at the end. It is, of course, up to a reader what to do with these. I decided early on not to bother. I felt that I was getting enough facts as it was and to keep flipping back and forth, I'd lose sight of the narrative. But I didn't feel that my reading suffered any. I was still able to get the gist of Mizuki's thesis (that there were a lot of factors, including hunger and poverty and pride and propaganda that led to Japan's war fever) and it's not like I was expecting a test at the end.

Lest I be suggesting that it's a dry read, it's certainly not. In fact, at times there is even humour. Interspersed with Japan's history is Mizuki's autobiography and the way he depicts himself as a violent, curious but none too bright, and altogether odd child adds much needed comic relief.

Finally, the art is stunning. Bearing little resemblance to the style I've become accustomed to with manga beyond the sharp, thin lines, Mizuki's range is vast and expertly employed. Scenes go from highly realistic, especially when depicting national and international historical events, to simple but exaggerated cartoon expressions, especially when depicting vignettes from his own life.

It felt like I was reading something truly special.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1382- Souvankham Thammavongsa: Ewwrrrkk

It's rare that I appreciate when a short story ends abruptly. Usually it feels like an excerpt, incomplete. In Souvankham Thammavongsa's "Ewwrrrkk," however, I don't mind it all and indeed it captures the feeling of the final scene perfectly. Plus, there's a bit of an air of mystery that not only leaves a reader feeling intrigued, but also contrasts with the brutally honesty of the earlier half of the story.

I'll try not to give too much away but it involves a girl being schooled on the birds and bees by her grandmother and later, by life itself. I quite enjoyed the grandmother character in particular who reminded me of a just a tad more blunt version of my own who, though old-fashioned and conservative in many ways, was nonetheless pretty open and forthright about certain biological and societal expectations.