Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1963- Tanya Tagaq: Split Tooth

"The drunks came home rowdier than usual one night, so we opted for the closet. We giggle nervously as the yelling begins."

The above sentences from the very first page of Tanya Tagaq's debut novel Split Tooth reveal a lot about what the rest of the book will be like. Obviously there's real life drama, but there's also some laughter. More importantly the book is a challenging read despite appearing on the surface to be straightforward. (More than a few people I know have remarked that they finished the book, slightly less than 200 pages, in one sitting.) What's so difficult about the above passage?

The tense switches from past tense to the present without any warning. It speaks loudly about the power of memory, for sure, but Tagaq and/or her nameless protagonist have an interesting relationship with time that may be the key to understanding other intents. "Time," she writes later on, "has a way of eternally looping us in the same configurations."

I found myself dwelling on this quite a bit. So much so that in a chapter dated 1978 when she mentions wearing acid washed jeans and a colour changing heat-sensitive sweatshirt and bangs hairsprayed high, I almost convinced myself that this image, clearly from 1988, was intentional. (I'm now more inclined to believe that the fashion description was a mistake and that there's an earlier draft of the book that has it all set a decade later, but this is all a guess on my part and not really vital to the larger story.)

If you've concluded by now that I was confused by this book, you'd be right. If you've assumed that I didn't enjoy the book, however, you'd be way off base.

It may be interesting to note that I was reading Tagaq's book simultaneously with Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace, a book far more traditional by CanLit's colonial standards, and enjoying them both. A fan of Tagaq's music as well, I knew enough to not expect anything easy or necessarily comfortable. She once wrote on Twitter, "I'm not weird you are just boring." I'll also note that Split Tooth incorporates a lot of traditional Inuit stories and spirituality, both of which I've only had passing (but fortunate) encounters with.

Still, there was enough of a plot that I could discern (it's actually similar to the origin story of Nelvana of the Northern Lights- can we please start a petition asking Tagaq to revive and reclaim that comic book heroine?) and the more artistic experiments and philosophies gave my brain a much needed workout. I'll be dwelling on it for some time.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1962- Aleksis Kivi: Seven Brothers in the Sauna

Aleksis Kivi's "Seven Brothers in the Sauna" was originally written in Finnish and is mostly made up of a conversation.

It's also strange. I'm going to assume that some of the story would require more than a passing familiarity with Finland and her customs (all I know is that they rake their forests) and also that there's likely a lot lost in a rather awkward translation.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1961- Ashley Spires: Fluffy Strikes Back / Gordon Bark to the Future!

I began with Ashley Spires' Gordon Bark to the Future! the second in her P.U.R.S.T. Adventure series of graphic novels. I didn't, however, realize it was the second. But when the book began with the line, "It's all up to Gordon now" I began to assume there was an earlier book that left off with a cliffhanger.

It is a time-travel book though so to some extent gaps in my knowledge were filled in courtesy of visits to the past. However, time travel creates a whole other slew of complications and the plot was sometimes a bit of a rushed mess.

I also wasn't crazy about the scatological humor. I'm not offended at poop or pee jokes, and believe it's even possible to be (but not usually) funny. Here though panels of Gordon peeing or pooping just seemed thrown in. And when more panels could have been devoted to clearing up the plot, these scenes were just annoying.

Art wise, if your a fan of Spires highly stylized characters, you'll be fine. I think Gordon looks an awful lot like the way she draws cats (which also don't look like cats).

Not having been overly impressed with Gordon Bark to the Future! I decided to go back to Fluffy Strikes Back, the first P.U.R.S.T. Adventure. It's definitely an easier to follow, and funnier,  story though didn't exactly pave the way to Gordon's tale.

I will say, on a positive note, that I enjoyed Spires' experimentation with genres; spies in Fluffy Strikes Back and sci-fi in Gordon Bark to the Future.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1960- Debbie Tung: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World

Debbie Tung's Quiet Girl in a Noisy World is somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Anderson's or Allie Brosh's comics in that they take comedic approaches to their own lives, especially focusing on their insecurities. As it happens, their insecurities are also my insecurities, so if anyone wanted to know me better (anyone? no?) I'd safely recommend any of these.

Tung's book is subtitled An Introvert's Story and herein lies the source of most of her insecurities. The book however explores how society has made her, and me, insecure about that, convincing us that it's a weakness and something to be ashamed of. However, she still leads a successful life, has a healthy relationship (her extroverted spouse reminded me of my own), and as she starts to discover, there are plenty of introverted people with very similar traits and just knowing that can be a revelation and a source of comfort. This is why the book is so important.

Unsurprisingly, the book is in black and white with grey watercolours. Not goth necessarily, just no need to be flashy.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Reader's Diary #1959- Ben Clanton: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt / Peanut Butter and Jelly

When I read Ben Clanton's Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea originally, I was left with some misgivings that it was a tad too sweet and the art was overly simplistic. But knowing how popular the series has become among young readers, I felt I owed the books another look.

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt is the second in the series and already I was coming around to the appeal. The characters are getting a bit more defined (Narwhal seems to have the bigger imagination and Jelly is more of a skeptic) as their friendship remains sweet. Art-wise, it's still pretty simple but there is some use of collage and patterns thrown in which amps the skill level without making it intimidating.

This all continues with Peanut Butter and Jelly, the 3rd book of the series. My only reservation this time around was the potentially bad messaging. Basically it's a rip off of Green Eggs and Ham as Jelly tries to get Narwhal to try a peanut butter cookie. Spun right, it's a valuable lesson of not knocking something until you try it. Spun in another direction, it could be argued that kids should give into peer pressure.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1958- Ian Lendler (writer), Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (illustrators): One Day a Dot

It's not every day you come across a picture book that seeks to explain the Big Bang theory and evolution to the very youngest of readers. Yet, I'd say Ian Lendler, with the assistance of illustrators Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb have definitely pulled it off in a way that is fun and easy to understand in One Day a Dot.

Of course, to simplify billions of years of history in such a way undersells how long these things actually took and also implies that the time between events was equal, but as an intro it's fine. The only small change I'd personally make is the section on the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. They make it seem like the only land animals that survived were mammals when that's not true. Perhaps Neil deGrasse Tyson would have other critiques, but mine are minor and overall, I'd recommend it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1957- Mairghread Scott (writer), Robin Robinson (artist): The City on the Other Side

I'll admit not having high hopes for Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson's The City on the Other Side. It's fantasy and while I've read a bit from the genre here or there, I'd hardly call myself a fan. But more concerning, I recently read a Transformers / G.I. Joe crossover comic penned by Scott and I really didn't enjoy it all all.

However, I was won over.

Actually, urban fantasy would be a more precise category for the book being set partially in San Francisco, partially "behind the veil" of San Francisco. For Stranger Thing fans, think the upside-down but instead of gorgons, think two sects of warring fairies, the Seelies and the Unseelies. I quite like San Francisco, so I was happy to find it set there and intrigued by the time period, shortly after the 1906 earthquake.

Centered around a human girl named Isabel who feels rather ignored by her parents and one day inadvertently finds herself behind the veil, with powers no less! she and her situation are a bit of a trope I would argue. (Could her magical amulet be akin to Dorothy's slippers?) In any case, there's enough creativity in the delivery and details that it hardly matters. I especially liked that war was explained in a way that wasn't completely black and white.

Robin Robinson's art was also good, and I especially enjoyed her used of panels. In one particularly interesting sequence, one story is going on in the panels while behind them another is happening; this was especially appropriate considering the whole "veil" idea.