Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge - February 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, congratulations to Raidergirl for winning a copy of Garfield Ellis's The Angels' Share for taking part in last month's mini-challenge to read a Canadian book published in 2016. Canadian Book Challenge mini-challenges are exclusive to members via email.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Reader's Diary #1452- Ted Chiang: The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling

If you've seen the Black Mirror episode "The Entire History of You" you'll immediately recognize the premise of Ted Chiang's "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling." It involves new bio-technology that revolutionizes memory. Cameras are implanted into people's eyes which record every waking minute of their days. It's aided by secondary technology which allows people to think about specific moments and have them replayed back almost instantly, either in one's mind or on an external screen for others to view.

Questions of plagiarism aside, what Chiang does with the idea is quite different. Not better, necessarily, but there's further philosophical debates that make it a very interesting take. Themes of written language versus oral storytelling, colonialism, the purpose of remembering and forgetting are all explored. It is all very well done.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reader's Diary #1451- Hunter S. Thompson (writer), Troy Little (artist): Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Having read the non-comic version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas before, I can honestly say that the only reason I wanted to read this adaptation is because the illustrator is from Prince Edward Island. As much as I wasn't a fan of the original book, I will admit that getting the rights to turn it into a graphic novel is kind of a big deal.

Troy Little wasn't able to convince me that it's a good book (just a rambling Hunter S. Thompson  trying to show how cool he is by doing stupid amounts of illegal drugs and treating everyone else like they're idiots), but I was nonetheless impressed with his artistry. Actually one thing I liked about the original was Ralph Steadman's illustrations. Perhaps one might see an influence in Little's work, but for an entire comic, I'm glad that Little's were more lucid. Granted, they were wild and psychedelic when suitable (often), but consistent enough to keep such an out-there story coherent. And just recently having been to Vegas, I think he did an admirable job of capturing it (especially the outdoor settings).

The zany characters too were well done. Expressive and exaggerated caricatures-- what other kind could he draw from the source material?

On that note, I'll definitely be looking for more of Little's work. Thompson? I'll pass.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reader's Diary #1450- Bruce Handy: The Year in Internet Memes and Social-Media Obsessions

Written just a little over a year ago, Bruce Handy's "The Year in Internet Memes and Social-Media Obsessions" was surprising to find in the New Yorker. Frankly it feels like something a middle school English teenager might assign to his students, hoping to appear hip: try to work all the memes of 2015 that you can find into a short story, a mashup if you will.

Not that it's not an amusing look back at some memes that are hard to believe are 2 years old already, but it has about as much substance as the memes themselves. Again, fine, but the New Yorker? I suppose towards the end it gets a little into satire category (offering a subtle counter point), so the assignment gets an A-.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1449- Tracey Lindberg: Birdie

For all the counselors out there who think calling it a "break through" rather than a "breakdown," is wise: stop. It's cheesy and your clients will mock you behind your back. Not that there can't be some truth to the sentiment.

For all intents and purposes, Birdie, Tracey Lindberg's titular character, is having a breakdown. She was the victim of chronic sexual assault from a young age, had identity confusion, and made some decisions along the way she wasn't too proud of. Now she's drawn into herself, not communicating with those around her and not eating. Needless to say, on an emotional level, Birdie is a difficult read.

But it's difficult in other ways as well. Because much of the story is Birdie's reflections, the timeline is often confusing and the details are sometimes scattered. Sometimes, too, the story switches to the women around her. It's also very female-oriented and about Cree culture; two perspectives that I as a white male do not share. Even the grammar is unfamiliar. Lindberg invents new composite words to capture a feeling or image (e.g., smilesnarl).  Sentence fragments are par for the course.

For all of this, it was not only readable but left me feeling rewarded in the end. I felt as if I learned something about female relationships, about Cree culture, about the written language, about mental/emotional recovery, and most importantly about Birdie. Without that last part, it had the potential to be preachy, but it was all wonderfully grounded in this complex, likeable character... who, spoiler alert, has a break through.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reader's Diary #1448- Makoto Yukimura: Vinland Saga Book One

I can't say that I was expecting to enjoy Makoto Yukimura's Vinland Saga as much as I did with this first book. A Japanese manga set in the Viking days of the North Atlantic would be a novelty, I assumed, but little more.

However, it really had it all: fine story-telling (the use of flashback in this first book is quite well done), compelling characters (each has a mysterious past), and great art (there's a couple of scenes, for instance, with close-ups of hands that have way more detail than I've encountered in manga in a long time). I also quite enjoyed the historical aspect and wound up appreciating the research that Yukimura put in. I found myself at one point following up with Google to explore the Viking/Christianity connection I had either long-forgotten or never learned.

All this and action to boot? I'm not surprised to see that the series won both the Japan Media Arts Awards Grand Prize for Manga and the Kodansha Manga Award.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Reader's Diary #1447- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Arrangements

In "The Arrangements" Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does the near impossible: she humanizes the Trump clan. This is not to be misunderstood as being pro-Trump or even creating empathy, but it goes a little way in at least explaining why the hell they are the way they are and what it is they're about.

The story, thankfully, revolves around Melania  whereas Trump is as much the spoiled, petulant brat behind closed doors as he is in public.

It would all make for a compelling read except for the sad and angering reality.