Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Year in Review 2019 - Fiction and Nonfiction

The FICTION ranked from least favourite to favouite: Novels, Novellas, Short Story Collections, Plays, Picture Books, and Poetry (Graphic Novels recorded separately):

15. Gail MacMillan - Ghost of Winters Past
14. Scott O'Dell - Zia
13. Anthony Foliot Snowking - Tales of an Old Town Versifier
12. Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man 
11. Shauntay Grant - Africville
10. Richard Wagamese - Runaway Dreams
9. Neil Simon - Lost in Yonkers
8. Brooke Hartman - Dream Flights on Arctic Nights
7. Sean Michaels - Us Conductors
6. Neil Christopher - Taaqtumi
5. Bertolt Brecht - Galileo
4. Tunchai Redvers - Fireweed
3. Judy Blume - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret?
2. Agatha Christie - The Mousetrap
1. Kai Miller - Augustown 

The NON-FICTION ranked from least favourite to favourite:

13. Barry Loewer - 30-Second Philosophies
12. Robin Short - Rock Stars
11. Motley Crue with Neil Strauss - The Dirt
10. Wilfred Buck - Tipiskawi Kisik
9. Brent Milano - Vinyl Junkies
8. Whit Fraser - True North Rising
7. Julia Christensen - No Home in Homeland
6. Nicolas Michaud and Jessica Watkins -  Iron Man vs. Captain America and Philosophy
5. Jacob M. Held - Wonder Woman and Philosophy
4. Alan Doyle - Where I Belong
3. Stephen Law - The Philosophy Gym
2. David Byrne - How Music Works 
1. Susan Orlean - The Library Book


Monday, December 30, 2019

The 2019 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

52. "Missing My Liar" - Tania Hershman
51. "The Gentle Lena" - Gertrude Stein
50. "The Legend of the Christmas Tree" - Lucy Wheelock
49. "Canoe" - Sherrie Flick
48. "Asshole Island" - Ian Couch
47. "The Wedding Ring" - Therese Beharrie
46. "The Night of the Seven Fires" - Chris Miller
45. "Christmas Department" -  Janet Gogerty
44. "The Three Sillies" - Unknown British author
43. "The Ghost of a Very Small Thing" - Cathy Ulrich
42. "Countdown" - Susan WM
41. "Tiled Floors" - Dorothee Floriane Conley
40. "The Plunge" - Lucy Robinson
39.  "Toba Tek Singh" - Sadat Hasan Manto
38. "The Wind Blew" - Leona Brits
37. "Same Old" - Maggie Bolitho
36. "Domestic Violence" - Madeline Ashby
35. "Turboatom" - Steven Volynets
34. "Newfoundland and Labrador Considers How to Maintain its Romance" - Bridget Canning
33. "Street Dog" - Shawn Kobb
32. "For a Look at New Worlds" - Jerome Stueart
31. "Riddle" - Ogbewe Amadin
30. "Eye of the Beholder" - Vicky Daddo
29. "Fighting the Cold" - Arun Budhathoki
28. "Christmas" - Kelly Rufus
27. "The Leonardo DiCaprio of Exarcheia" - Konstantinos Poulis
26. "Without Parallel" - Rachael Dunlop
25. "Marlena Learns to Drive" - Kathryn Milam
24. "But It's Only Rock and Roll" - Ellie Scott
23. "Denver Disappeared Wednesday" - Eric Robert Nolan
22. "Taylor Swift" - Hugh Behm-Steinberg
21. "Likable" - Deb Olin Unferth
20. "Grotesqueries of the Gods" - Kevin Spenst
19. "Wunderkind" - Carson McCullers
18. "A Price Too High" - Russell Waterman
17. "Itch" - Gina Screen
16. "Hannigan's Backyard" - Robert Carlton
15. "The Thing About Benny" - M. Shayne Bell
14. "How a Small Newfoundland Town is Saving Canada's Urban Middle Class" - Gary Newhook
13. "Big-Headed Anna Watches Over" - Stephanie Dickinson
12. "Evil Robot Monkey" - Mary Robinette Kowal
11. "Big Brother" - Melanie Harding-Shaw
10. "Eau de Newfoundland" - David Stewart
9. "Human to Animal" - Wm Windmier
8. "Abbreviated Glossary" - Gay Degani
7. "Blink" - Matt Blackwood
6. "The Doctor's Visit" - Tea Mutonji
5. "Half an Orange" - Cassondra Windwalker
4. "The White Stain" - Rebecca Higgins
3. "Everyone Cried" - Lydia Davis
2. "Green Velvet" - Krzysztof Pelc
1. "Acknowledgements" - Maggie Shipstead

Reader's Diary #2118- Susan WM: Countdown

Susan WM's "Countdown" was a flash fiction contest entry that had to have a New Year's Eve theme and include "glitter."

It's a fun story which adds some real stakes to the countdown. The characters aren't the most likable characters ever, but some of that may be attributed to the stress they're under. There may be a plot whole or two, as pointed out in some of the comments that follow the story, but it's still rather good for speedy contest entry.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

My Year in Review 2019 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Ranked in order from least to most favourite:

45. Shea Fontana, Yancey Labat - DC Superhero Girls: Search for Atlantis
44. Yvan Alagbé - Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures
43. Seanan McGuire, Rosi Kampe- Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider
42. Various - What If? With Great Power
41. E.C. Segar - Popeye Volume 1
40. C. S. Pescat, Johanna the Mad - Fence: Volume One
39. Matt Miner, Matt Maguire -  GWAR: The Enormogantic Fail
38. Ben Rankel - Frank
37. Various - What If? The Complete Collection Volume 1
36. Doug Moench, Paul Gulacy - Master of Kung Fu: Volume 2
35. Various - Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham: The Complete Collection Vol. 1
34. David H.T. Wong - Escape to Gold Mountain
33. William Shakespeare, Julien Choy - Macbeth
32. Daniel Kibbelsmith, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz- Deadpool Vs. Blackpanther
31. Various - Captain Britain: Legacy of a Legend
30. Christos Gage - Spider-Geddon
29. Peter J. Tomasi, Sara Duvall - The Bridge
28. Jim McCarthy, Brian Williamson - Metallica: Nothing Else Matters
27. Devin Grayson, Ryan North,  G. Willow Wilson - Marvel Rising
26. Frank Tieri - Jughead the Hunger: Volume One
25. Greg Smallwood, Meg Smallwood, Greg Scot t- Vampironica Book One
24. Mark Russell, Mike Feehan- The Snagglepuss Chronicles
23. Jeff Parker, Michael Moreci, Dan Parent - Archie Meets Batman '66
22. Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo - Luthor
21. Teresa Wong- Dear Scarlet
20. Daniel Barnes, D. J. Kirkland - The Black Mage
19. Tasha Spillet, Natasha Donovan- Surviving the City
18. Jody Houser, Stefano Martino - Stranger Things: The Other Side 
17. Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba - Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite
16. Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero - Shuri: The Search for Black Panther
15. Jonathan Maberry, Scot Eaton - Doomwar
14. Patrick Allaby - Martin Peters
13. Chip Zdarsky, Mark Bagley - Spider-Man Life Story
12. Wendy Pini, Richard Pini - ElfQuest: Volume One
11. Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo-  Dark Nights Metal

10. Roselynn Akukuluk, Danny Christopher, Astrid Arijanto - Putuguq and Kublu and the Qalupilik!
9. Various- Marvel Two-In-One Presents the Thing: Cry Monster
8. Alex Murchison - Into Blue
7. Gord Hill - The Antifa Comic Book
6. Various - This Place
5. D. Boyd - Chicken Rising
4. Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose - Hungry Ghosts  
3. Youssef Dadudi - Monk! 
2. Gerry Alanguilan - Elmer
1. Tom King, Mitch Gerards - Mister Miracle

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Reader's Diary #2117- Jonathan Maberry (writer), Scot Eaton (artist): Doomwar

It's a long way off until the next Black Panther movie but two of the more exciting rumours about the plot suggest that either Namor or Dr. Doom will make their first appearance in the MCU in this movie. If the latter is true, one of the likely comic adaptation is from Jonathan Maberry's run which saw Dr. Doom getting a hold of all of Wakanda's vibranium reserves.

It would be a timely film for a few reasons:
1. he uses nanites, or microscopic robots, to spy on the Wakandans and I don't think that technology is too far out there at this point
2. he sows seeds of discontent among the Wakandan people a la the Russians and the US
3. Shuri takes over the Black Panther mantle, and as a fan favourite this would please a lot of folks

Given all of that, I quite enjoyed the story. I also appreciated Maberry's depiction of Dr. Doom. He's complex enough and rather than just tell us that he's a genius and evil, he gives us great examples.

Eaton's art was fine but occasional gratuitous butt shots of Storm were annoying.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2116- Kelly Rufus: Christmas

I wasn't a die-hard ER watcher back in the day, but there was an infamous episode from the early seasons involving a horrific childbirth that has stuck with me, as I'm sure it has for a lot of folks. I found myself thinking of that episode once again while reading Kelly Rufus's "Christmas". The way she sets up the story, I was just cringing, waiting for the bad things to happen.

But there's also some good and I'd say "bittersweet" but that doesn't capture the intensity. There's also a faint glimmer of hope at the end (as there should be in any Christmas story). Does she try a bit too hard for an emotional appeal? Maybe, but I'm fine with it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2115- Robin Short: Rock Stars

My interest in curling has ebbed and flowed over the years. I played a bit in high school, I played a bit in Rankin Inlet, and just recently started up again here. I don't often follow the sport but I vividly recall the day Newfoundland's own Team Gushue won the Olympic Gold medal in 2006. I was teaching in Newfoundland at the time and we were given the afternoon off to watch the game. It was truly wonderful.

Just getting back into the game again, and figuring I'd have a better shot at understanding it, I decided to pick up a couple of books about Team Gushue and their historic win.

While I did at least understand Robin Short's book, it didn't always hook me. It bogged down with a lot of play by play, especially in the earlier chapters. And team skip Brad Gushue? Well, he didn't come across as the most thrilling of personalities. There's a local curling hero that occasionally hits the news for the wrong reasons (i.e., partying to the point where he can no longer curl). Brad seems like his polar opposite. Straight-laced and serious. Not a knock at the guy necessarily, but for a dynamic and interesting profile, perhaps at least a happy medium of personalities between Brad and the aforementioned legend would be nice.

It did, however, get more interesting toward the latter half of Short's book when he describes the actual Olympic game.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Reader's Diary #2114- Bryan Caplan (writer), Zach Weinersmith (artist): Open Borders

There's a blurb written by Ryan North on the back of Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration that reads, "This is not a book written to applaud pro-immigration people or to shame those who are against it" that might suggest that Bryan Caplan doesn't take a stance on the issue. To be absolutely clear, this book is VERY pro-immigration.

I'd have considered myself pro-immigration even before starting the book, but to be honest, hadn't put a great deal of thought in it besides considering those against it to be mostly racist. I certainly never thought about the possibility of fully open borders.

Thankfully Caplan does a wonderful job of defining open borders and arguing the case for them. It's accessible, smart, and even funny at times, though he treats the subject with the respect and depth it needs. It's strongest when he addresses the concerns of naysayers, showing in most cases how their fears are unfounded.

One issue though that I wished he addressed: while he provides a lot of examples of how more open immigration has been good for the world, I found myself thinking about the indigenous people of North America and how the influx of Europeans way back in the day has definitely not been a great benefit.

Nonetheless, it's a very thought-provoking and well-researched book.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2113- Lucy Wheelock: The Legend of the Christmas Tree

Lucy Wheelock's "The Legend of the Christmas Tree" is a very short story that seems to exist solely to remind kids about a Bible verse. It's odd. There's almost no build up. Kids invite a cold stranger child into their home to get warm and then, boom, it's revealed to be Jesus who rewards them with a fruit-bearing perennial.

Even the message itself is odd. The kids already seem to get the importance of helping those in need, so why would Jesus feel the need to preach to them about it? Also, he rewards them when initially they were helping out of the goodness of their hearts. Doesn't that seem counter productive? Encouraging selfish acts over selfless ones?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Reader's Diary #2112- Tunchai Redvers: Fireweed

Tunchai Redvers' Fireweed Poems is a powerful and beautiful collection of poetry. Through these poems she works through identity, bigotry, colonialism, racism, and more but in such a way that it's uplifting. She permits people to justify their own rage and sadness while showing paths forward, like fireweed that tends to grow after a forest fire. There's a sense of accomplishment at the end.

These poems are accessible; short and void of those annoying words that only poets use. In that way the book reminded me of Rupi Kaur's work. But unlike Kaur's, I found Redvers' use of language more playful and rich in figurative language.

Another feature I especially enjoyed was the placement of the titles at the end of the poems instead. I found it gave me a chance to decide what the poem was about on my own with an invitation to reflect on it given a possibly new context.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2111- Daniel Barnes (writer), D. J. Kirkland (artist): The Black Mage

Daniel Barnes and D.J. Kirkland's The Black Mage begins much like Harry Potter with a boy headed off to magic school for the first time. Only it's the deep south of the US, and he's the first black student to attend (or so he thinks).

Obviously racism is a major theme of the book and the villains are none other the Klu Klux Klan.

At first I thought I was going to enjoy the story but not the art. It's very Japanese manga influenced (with some Jeff Smith leanings as well) which, though I enjoy that kind of art, wasn't sure if it would have the gravitas to match the important commentary. In hindsight though I think it provided better balance. Yes, it reflects on social issues but it's also a fast-paced, magical adventure story and that's needed as well.

I hope they turn this into an ongoing series!

Monday, December 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2110- Janet Gogerty: Christmas Department

Janet Gogerty's flash fiction "Christmas Department" is a barely disguised rant about useless crap for sale at Christmas. It's not, as it turns out, a rant against all commercialism as I first thought, just specifically knick-knacks and novelties and cheaply produced junk.

It's mildly amusing, with a bit of fantasy fulfillment.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2109- Brian Azzarello (writer), Lee Bermejo (artist): Luthor

When I first noticed the covers of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Joker and Luthor comics, they immediately caught my eye. The art looked great. But rather than start with a book all about the Joker (who is done to death), I opted for Luthor.

I suspected a more adult oriented, complex portrayal of a villain and for the most art I think they delivered. He comes across as exceedingly ambitious which gets at the heart of why he dislikes Superman so much: no human could ever work towards becoming him.

The art is usually great, with a couple of panels here or there that I didn't enjoy (a weirdly posed Superman on one page gives him an odd shaped butt, for instance). The colouring by Dave Stewart and Jose Villarrubia though is exceptional. It's dark and grainy and fits the more mature themes.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Reader's Diary #2108- Matt Miner and Matt Maguire (writers), various artists: GWAR The Enormogantic Fail

Though I was a headbanger in my teenage years, and with a warped sense of humour, I strangely never got into GWAR. I respected their schtick, their crude jokes, cheap-looking over-the-top costumes, and bizarrely elaborate mythology, but their music just didn't do anything for me. Loud, sloppy, and weird? Three things I can sometimes appreciate, just not with GWAR.

I'll suggest that the comic encapsulates GWAR quite well. So I'd consider it a success in that regard. It tells of the members of GWAR (in their fictionalized alien warrior personas) on trial for a failed mission. Unfortunately each member has a different take on went wrong. The premise isn't bad but in true GWAR fashion, is barely even coherent. It is however, crudely funny and excessively violent.

If one could describe art as loud, it's downright deafening here. I enjoyed the fact that each member's account took on a different style and every style had an indie punk vibe.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #104- Gina Screen: Itch

I'm still reeling from the cancellation of Last Man on Earth (especially that cliffhanger) so I was thankful to happen upon a post apocalyptic story where the main character is the last woman on Earth.

Only Gina Screen's "Itch" isn't funny. And her ex-husband happens to be the last man on Earth. And that isn't the biggest twist.

Thoroughly engaging.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2107- Various writers and artists: What If? With Great Power

I just recently read a collection of Marvel's original What If? comics and while I enjoyed it, they were dated and complained at the time that these non-canon stories weren't as outlandish as many of the canon stories that came after. In particular, Spider-Verse, with its myriad universes of alternate Spider-Men but the Spider-Man What If? stories to shame.

So I was curious to see a modern take on the What If? stories. Surely these would have to up the ante. Sadly, not really. In fact, the very first story has Flash Thompson being bitten by the radioactive spider rather than Peter Parker. Yawn. A later sees Spider-Man adopting a Punisher persona. Slightly better. The best ones though were the Exe-Men (a sort of X-Man/ Matrix mash-up) and a story in which Thor had been raised by Frost Giants rather than Loki raised by Odin.

All in all though the collection was lackluster.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2106- Bertolt Brecht, translated by Charles Laughton: Galileo

The version of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo that I had wasn't great for me. I enjoyed the translation and play itself but it begins with a long, dense introduction by Eric Bentley.

I'm a bit of a completionist so I suppose it's my own fault for sticking it through. He talks a lot about Marxist theory, which is not bad in and of itself but his treatment was very academic and dry for what I was in the mood for. Perhaps in a university setting? I was fearful that the play itself would be inaccessible. He also makes references to two versions of the play, while the book only contains one.

Fortunately I quite enjoyed the play and didn't find it dry or tedious at all. There were important themes, but there was also humour. While the introduction skewed me towards a Marxist analysis, really the play could be about anyone who defends or threatens a status quo.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2105- Chip Zdarsky (writer), Mark Bagley (art): Spider-Man Life Story

Chip Zdarsky's often better known for his humorous output and Spider-Man certainly makes enough wisecracks that Zardsky doesn't seem like a poor fit for the superhero at all. But if one was to come into Spider-Man Life Story thinking it would be a laugh-a-minute lighthearted comic, they'd be mistaken. Highly unlikely they'd be disappointed though.

Storywise, it's kind of genius. He takes Spider-Man back to the 60s when the character was first created and tells of how he got to the present day. Somehow though he manages to infuse the spirit and details of the decades with all the important Spider-Man storylines of the time, tweaked enough so that it's not a jumbled, confusing mess but a brilliant character arc and homage.

The art is unfortunate however. A story like this deserves something with the gravitas of someone like Alex Ross (Marvels, Kingdom Come). Mark Bagley's art and Frank D'Armata's art reminded me of Howard Chaykin's. I'm really not a fan, but even if I was I still think it'd be mismatched with this particular story.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2104- Kathryn Milam: Marlena Learns to Drive

I still remember studying the lyrics to Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" in my first year university English course and more specifically how the car symbolized an escape. It does for Marlena in Kathryn Milam's flash fiction "Marlena Learns to Drive" as well. It's not meant to be subtle though; Marlena knows darn well what getting her driver's license means.

Kicking the story up a notch though is the 70s backdrop. History tells us this was such an important time for women's liberation and that conjures up images of protests and bra burnings, but here we see its real, but no less important, effects in a quieter, everyday scene.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2103- Various writers and artists: What If? The Complete Collection Vol. 1

I was very excited to finally be able to sign up to Disney+ but I probably should have held off. I've been excited to enjoy all the promised new Marvel shows but it turns out none of them are ready. One of these shows is the animated What If? shows which, like the comics that spawned the premise, take a canon Marvel story line and explore what would have happened had there been one change. What if, for instance, Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum rather than Steve Rogers?

It sounds more fun that the first collection of comics turned out to be. Perhaps the problem is that Marvel has now been around so long, some of their more far out ideas that first made their appearance in What If? have now actually been done in canon plots. One of the stories here, for instance, asks what if three different characters were bitten by a radioactive spider? Well, the Spider-Verse has since done that, only much bigger and better. Likewise, there's a story here where Jane Foster becomes Thordis. So, Jason Aaron may not have gone with that name, but he did show Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir. And again, his version was far better developed.

One of the stories that I did actually enjoy wasn't a result of the premise at all. It asks what would happen if there was a team of Avengers formed in the 1950s and shows five heroes from Marvel's very early days that have either been long forgotten or remain really obscure. I do love reading about new or rare superheroes and certainly: 3-D Man, Marvel Boy, Gorilla-Man, Venus, and Human Robot fit that bill.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of old fan letters sent in from the original comics. I'm not sure what I found more surprising: that they didn't only publish positive letters or that they included everyone's full address. Who knew the series had so many fans in Calgary?

Monday, November 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2102- Tania Hershman: Missing My Liar

I'm not sure if it says more about poetry or more about me that I expect and tolerate cryptically written poems more than cryptically written short stories. Tania Hershman's flash fiction "Missing My Liar" is, in the sense that I didn't get it, cryptic.

At first I thought the narrator's "liar" was another person, someone she expected to lie to her. Now I believe her liar to mean her ability to lie to herself. This, I believe, comes after a tragic event which has affected her thinking. But it's rather unclear.

As a poem, I suppose it's fine, but it's presented as a short story so...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2101- Neil Christopher (compiler): Taaqtumi

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories may be one of my all-time favourite titles. An Inuktitut word that translates in English as "in the dark" it can also be sounded out in English to "talk to me". If this isn't a perfect title for a collection of Northern horror stories I don't know what is.

Thankfully it isn't just the title that's stellar, the writing inside is great as well. Authors include Aviaq Johnston, Ann R. Loverock, Richard Van Camp, Thomas Anguti Johnston, Sean Qitsualik Tinsley, Rachel Qitsualik Tinsley, Gayle Kabloona, K.C. Carthew, Jay Bulckaert, and Repo Kempt. Like all short story collections from diverse writers, you'll likely gravitate towards some more than others but I'd say I enjoyed all of these. I did perhaps have more difficult a time with the very complex sci-fi world building of a story called "Lounge" but I'm sure a second read would help.

I especially liked the various approaches to horror, from the supernatural to very plausible, from the more traditional to the futuristic fantasy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2100- Ogbewe Amadin: Riddle

Ogbewe Amadin's flash fiction "Riddle" is told from the perspective of a child who is wrestling with the fact that her aunt is a witch. This is, according to her mother, a bad thing but the girl becomes less and less sure as the story goes on.

On the surface, it's fine to leave at that. There seems to be a budding awareness in society these days that a lot of supposed witchcraft was rooted in misogyny, the patriarchy, Christian-based bigotry, and just plain old fear of the different.This story can be added to the voice of those that resist such prejudice.

But even extending beyond that, the story can also be viewed as a pivotal moment is all childhood: when we realize that our parents may not be perfect and may hold views of which we don't always agree.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2099- Steven Volynets: Turboatom

I watched the first episode of the HBO Chernobyl series last night and loved it so much I had to follow up with a Chernobyl short story.

What both short story and tv show do so well is personalize the tragedy. But the tragedy in Volynets story almost takes a back seat to the coming of age story of its narrator. Yes his father dies from radiation exposure, but there are also plots about being bullied for being Jewish and about immigration.

It's a longer story than I typically read for short story Mondays but still held my attention.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2098- Gerry Alanguilan: Elmer

Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer presents an alternate universe in which chickens suddenly acquired intelligence and consciousness on par with humans.

There are a few ways Alanguilan could have gone with this: could have been all for kicks, could have been all for shock, but it's so much deeper than that. It is funny at times, it is shocking at times, but it's all purposefully provocative with themes of racism, vegetarianism, and redemption running large.

On top of that it's all drawn so beautifully, black in white (which you may be thankful for the amount of blood) with lots of additional detail and mood set with hatching and crosshatching.

One of the best graphic novels I've read this year. Definitely original.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Reader's Diary #2097- Patrick Allaby: Martin Peters

Patrick Allaby's graphic novel Martin Peters is a fictional coming of age biography about a teenage boy in New Brunswick with diabetes. Sort of. Though the cover may make you think it's all about diabetes, Allaby strikes a better balance than that. It's as much about relationships, puberty, and music as it is about diabetes. Sure he gets into things like symptoms and dangers and so on but it doesn't come across as an "educational" comic (you know, the sort that teachers hand out because they think all comics are cool but kids have no interest in them because they're so didactic). First and foremost, Martin Peters is a great story.

The cartooning is simple with an indie vibe. He mentions Chester Brown and you can see that influence. Maybe Seth, as well. It's also all done in gray scale which I always feel suits biographies well.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2096- Cassondra Windwalker: Half an Orange

Cassondra Windwalker's flash fiction "Half an Orange" does not involve dream interpretation.

Still I find myself thinking about it. A week or so ago I dreamed about a dying budgie (there were more weird details than that but I know there's nothing more tedious than someone recounting their dreams). Just for shits and giggles I looked online to see what dream interpreters would say about it. The thing is, I don't really put a lot a stock into dream interpretation. I do believe that, at least on occasion, dreams may be our subconscious trying to tell us something, but a stranger has no idea of your own personal symbols. I grew up with budgies so I have very distinct connotations of these particular birds that would be altogether missed by an online dream encyclopedia. Of course, sometimes due to common cultural stories we share some symbols, but even then we likely make it our own.

Here's where Cassondra Windwalker's "Half an Orange" comes in. It involves a stuffed rabbit and there are direct references to the Velveteen Rabbit. While that story typically conjures up ideas about childhood, attachment, authenticity, and so forth, the rabbit in this story also becomes a symbol for unresolved guilt and poverty.

Great story.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2095- Doug Moench (writer), Paul Gulacy (artist): Master of Kung Fu Volume 2

I don't recall having encountered Marvel's Shang Chi character until I heard the announcement that he was getting his own film in the MCU, played by Canada's own Simu Liu. So I tracked down a collection of Shang Chi comics: Master of Kung Fu: Fight Without Pity Volume 2 1975 - 1977.

It hasn't excited me for the movie much.

Some of this is my own preference. At least according to this collection, he doesn't have super-powers and his stories tend to be along the lines of spy stories (he's a reluctant recruit on MI6 missions). I've heard that in later Marvel stories he develops the ability to clone himself, so I'm unsure what Marvel Studios plans are. I'm not a fan of spy stories though. I never really enjoyed James Bond and likewise I'm also not all that excited in the upcoming Black Widow movie which also seems to be taking that sort of tone. Again though, it's a personal taste thing. I suspect many would love such an approach.

I also don't really get a sense of the character. Doug Moench's run on the character is supposed to be one of the better ones, and while there were definite strong points (which I will get to momentarily), strong characterization wasn't one of them. Chi is shown as usually stoic and quiet and the primary thoughts he shares is when he's annoyingly describing the action (this was a drawback to most superhero comics in the 70s and earlier, unfortunately). It doesn't give a lot of insight. I did find myself wondering if I hadn't made a mistake from starting from the second volume. Perhaps the origin story would have given me more of idea of what makes him tick. Then there were there the peripheral characters, largely other MI6 agents, all of whom I found tedious and interchangeable (macho men with racist, sexist tendencies).

I did, however, like Moench's approach to story-telling, often eschewing straight forward chronological timelines. I also liked Gulacy's art (even if it was quite 70s in its garish colours and disco chic style). He had quite inventive use of panels and some of the character faces and action scenes were well done.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reader's Diary #2094- Jacob M. Held (editor): Wonder Woman and Philosophy

Wonder Woman and Philosophy: The Amazonian Mystique is my second foray into the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series and I've quite enjoyed both though they are quite different. Though my earlier choice also had a superhero focus (Iron Man vs Captain America) that one was, due to the nature of the topic, set up more as a debate whereas the Wonder Woman book just explored a whole bunch of angles in the character's mythology and history and how they could be interpreted under a philosophical lens. Is the use of her magical lasso, for instance, ethical?

Another major difference was the introduction of female philosophers. Perhaps it's not surprising that a book about Wonder Woman would have a bit more acknowledgment of great female thinkers (Simone de Beauvoir features heavily) I was a bit dismayed in my earlier attempts this year to explore philosophy to find an almost dearth of female thought. Finally Wonder Woman and Philosophy has pointed me towards more writers to explore that are not men.

One thing that has been consistent across these two books in the series, however, is the (not surprising) fact that as collection of essays from different authors, I appreciated some more than others. Not that there were any I hated, mind you, there were just some I felt frustrated that I couldn't argue or ask questions about point points I wished were addressed.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reader's Diary #2093- Cathy Ulrich: The Ghost of a Very Small Thing

I came across Cathy Ulrich's "The Ghost of a Very Small Thing" on Lunate, a website specializing in "Flash fiction. Short stories. Poetry. Scares." and while it looked on the surface like a piece of flash fiction, after reading it I wasn't sure if it intended to flash fiction or perhaps prose poetry. Not really relying on hard and fast definitions as much as personal connotations. Poetry tends to be less accessible than flash fiction. After a few more reads (the beauty of flash fiction) I found it more accessible than I had initially and I'm more comfortable that it's flash fiction, though it certainly has  a poet's touch with Ulrich's strong use of imagery.

The title is apt as it captures the slight hint of something wrong. Perhaps there's something supernatural at play, perhaps not, and do I sense something just a bit off in the described relationship?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Reader's Diary #2092- Unknown British author: The Three Sillies

My mother used to reference the old British folk tale "The Three Sillies" quite often when I was a child but as an adult I haven't found too many others familiar with the story.

It tells of a man who is courting a daughter and one day while visiting her family discovers them crying over the future fate of a grandchild who may be injured by a mallet that is lodged in the ceiling and which, they assume, could someday fall on his head. (The version I was always told had an axe, not a mallet.) Of course the obvious and sensible solution rather than crying about it would be to simply remove the mallet. The courting man mocks them and sets upon a challenge of his own devising to travel far and find three folks who are sillier. Should he be successful he wishes to marry the daughter. (Why he'd want to marry into such a silly family anyway, I'm not sure-- doesn't sound like he's the sharpest tool in the shed either.)

Of course he is successful, managing to find a series of humorously silly (i.e., dumb) individuals. You can see why kids would enjoy the story of idiocy and slapstick, though being an old folktale it has its share of violence (even in this version which tried to sanitize the axe into a mallet). And I guess there's a moral about simply fixing a problem with the most obvious and easy solution, but I just remember it from my childhood for being funny, not because of any profound lesson.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reader's Diary #2091- Sean Michaels: Us Conductors

I have a thing for rare, unusual musical instruments and the theremin is one of my favourites. I mentioned this recently to a friend of mine who suggested I read Sean Michaels' Us Conductors, a historical novel based upon the Russian inventor Lev Termen.

Largely why the book works so well though isn't the allure of this odd instrument, but the odd character of Termen. On the one hand he's a scientist, full of facts and figures. On the other he's a romantic. The latter, however, also makes him rather annoying. It's a story of unrequited love, told by Termen to the object of his desire, Clara Rockmore, one of the few world masters of the theremin. Annoying, by the way, isn't a critique of the book but rather the authentic type of toxic masculinity in which men can't take no for an answer. Not a surprising personality trait coming from a guy that literally found something that wasn't there in the music of his invention. It's also a trait that arguably kept him alive. Once he's sent to the Siberian gulags for being mistaken as a spy against Russia (he was, in fact, a spy for Russia), it's arguably the misguided hope for a reunion with Clara that keeps him going.

Spies, weird musical instruments, unrequited love? It sounds like it should be a wonderful novel. And I did enjoy it, but I did find it at times to be unfocused, a bit of, "all this for what?" Still Michaels' writing was crisp and his attention to detail was quite engaging.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2090- Sadat Hasan Manto: Toba Tek Singh

Sadat Hasan Manto's short story Toba Tek Singh is about an insane asylum patient (the titular character) who has heard news that the inmates are either going to be moved to Pakistan or to India based on whether they are Muslim or Sikh. Toba Tek Singh however is very stressed and perplexed by this info as he has no idea where the place her previously called home was considered Pakistan or India. Finally the answer is revealed to put Toba in conflict.

It's as relevant now and here as it any time, any place as we, as a species, love to draw political maps that don't always coincide with cultures. It's a curious story though and I feel that perhaps some of the finer satirical points are lost on me, perhaps due to its translation. Why, for example, did it need to be set in asylum?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Reader's Diary #2089- Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Bá (artist): Umbrella Academy Apocalypse Suite

It's been out for a while, but I hadn't really been interested in reading Gerard Way's graphic novel Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite until I head it was adapted for a Netflix show.

I get the appeal though, it borrows heavily from the X-Men but with a smaller, more manageable cast and a goth, almost steampunk aesthetic. However, I feel like I enjoyed the world building more than the plot of this particular arc. It's particularly strong when Way goes way over the top in the mini-stories along the way, but the main tale about a rogue member of the Umbrella Academy-- one previously outcast for not having any super-abilities-- who discovers a hidden talent and turns villainous, falls flat with a lot of build-up and too-quick resolution. Nonetheless, the series itself has a lot of potential.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2088- Leona Brits: The Wind Blew

My wife and I always found it amusing that our daughter, even at a very young age, got introspective when near the ocean. Almost like she thought that was what you were supposed to do. But in all honesty, I also get it. Growing up near the ocean, times alone near it were often emotional experiences; a release, a silent argument, a plea.

So I also get Leona Brits' "The Wind Blew," a flash fiction story about a woman standing near the ocean on a windy day and feeling particularly defiant. The telling is perhaps more poetry than prose, but certainly still accessible.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Reader's Diary #2087- C.S. Pacat (writer), Johanna the Mad (artist): Fence Volume One

One volume down but I'm still on the fence about C.S. Pacat's Fence. Mostly though I'm leaning toward positive.

I liked that it was about fencing, a totally unfamiliar (and unexpected) sport, I liked that queer was the norm, I liked the heavily manga influenced art. I haven't, however, been won over by the characters yet and those, so far, seemed cliched. In this first volume we see a rivalry set up between Nicholas, a poor but ambitious fencing student and the arrogant Seiji, who's unfortunately and remarkably good at fencing. One saving grace here is the mystery as to why Seiji is found at Kings Row, a school without a great fencing reputation.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Reader's Diary #2086- Jim McCarthy and Brian Williamson: Metallica Nothing Else Matters

I liked music before Metallica's black album, but I didn't love it until then. At age 14 "Enter Sandman" became my gateway drug.

My love of comics, however, came much later and long after I'd moved on to other music. Still, coming across a comic book biography of Metallica? Not something I could pass up.

On that note, there wasn't a lot of history up to and including the black album that I hadn't read before. Maybe some I'd forgotten, but not a lot. Nonetheless, it was nice to revisit. Still it was nice to get a little insight into the behind-the-scenes stuff since then, though I was disappointed to see that the book was published in 2014 so there was nothing from the past 5 years. No mention of their Hardwired... To Self Destruct album. I'd also have liked something about their Antarctica concert or (and I admit it wasn't likely to make the cut) their concert in Tuktoyaktuk with Hole and Veruca Salt.

The story telling is good, with a documentary sort of vibe though it wasn't always clear who was saying what and there were at least a few typos that took away from my enjoyment. The art was good though, sometimes maybe looking like photos were traced, but black and white and put together in a scrap book sort of style that was very fitting.

Reader's Diary #2085- Lydia Davis: Everyone Cried

Lydia Davis's Everyone Cried depicts a world in which everyone cries whenever they are even a little upset, by the littlest of things.

She sets it up with an invitation, reminding us readers that to be upset is natural, normal, but once we've crossed over, decided that this is a story of which we can all relate, she takes it such an extreme. I quite enjoyed it and it made me think a lot about the way we discuss mental health. It's seen as healthy now to talk about, to share our emotions, and yet in Davis' world it seems so absurd and doesn't seem healthier at all to be honest. Is it?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Reader's Diary #2084- Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham The Complete Collection Vol. 1

I'm sure for a lot of folks, their first exposure to Spider-Ham was in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie. Of course, some die-hard fans have known of him since his introduction in the 80s. For myself, I remember seeing an ad for those comics back when I was a kid and desperately wanting to get my hands on them (I loved parodies) but not having a comic book store in my hometown, never did get one. So I was ecstatic to find a collection of those published this year.

No doubt I would have loved them as a kid, they are funny, have action, and the art is more in the line of classic funny cartoons rather than traditional superhero art. Reading it through 21st century, adult eyes, I can appreciate those things still, but am also aware of how casually minor racism, sexism, and even fat-shaming was thrown into pop culture.

I appreciated the comic more when it had those old-school slapstick gags of cartoons, sometimes bending the laws of physics or even the comic medium itself (stretching into another panel, for example) and when they played up the parody elements, especially seeing their takes on other Marvel superheroes (Captain Americat and Deerdevil, for example).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reader's Diary #2083- Rachael Dunlop: Without Parallel

Rachael Dunlop's world in Without Parallel seems to be some sort of dystopia where people are born as twins, but one is selected to die shortly after their 19th birthday. The specifics, perhaps due to this being a flash fiction story, aren't exactly clear (is everyone born a twin? Was this a human created condition?) but it's still enjoyable nonetheless.

I particularly liked how in the head of one twin the story is. It leaves the impression that the other twin is not thinking such things, but a twist at the end reveals that's not necessarily the case.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2082- Russell Waterman: A Price Too High

Russell Waterman's short story "A Price Too High" takes the old urban legend about blues legend Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil and combines it with the "pass it on" trope of such horror movies as It Follows. It's clear that a love of music and of the supernatural could only add to your enjoyment of this story.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of the setting. I've never lived in a place that could ever be described as humid and Waterman made me really feel it. It was also well tied into the stifling nature of the curse.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Reader's Diary #2081- Wendy Pini and Richard Pini: The Complete ElfQuest Volume One

I was recently participating in a local reading Bingo challenge where one of the squares required me having to get a recommendation from a staff member at the local book store, the Book Cellar. I was pleased at first to see that she'd recommended a graphic novel. I was then less pleased to discover that it was fantasy (not that I hate fantasy, but not particularly excited by it either) and it was 700 pages (I know comics are quicker reads than novels, but that's still a lot).

But I did enjoy it. The fantasy world building was quite good and I was especially impressed by Wendy Pini's art. I'm not surprised that she was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Her characters are ridiculously good, despite sometimes looking like Bratz dolls (a style that has rubbed me the wrong way before) with their big, bright eyes and oddly sexual bodies. Her line work was bold and defined, with hatching, cross-hatching, and thickly inked almost like wood-cuts.

The plots were fine, but there were annoying moments. The love triangle in the first volume went on for way too long. The fairy character in the last volume was the JarJar Binks of the series.

Still, I can definitely see why the staff member at the Book Cellar was such a fan.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Reader's Diary #2080- Stephanie Dickinson: Big-Headed Anna Watches Over

Stephanie Dickinson's short story "Big-Headed Anna Watches Over" opens on a scene where a 14 year old has just given birth. It's gut-wrenching and doesn't let up from there.

I'm reminded of the recent news story about the teenager girl who just got out of prison for killing her rapist. Though Dickinson's story is set in 1922, it's hard sometimes to think society has gotten any better.

This is a flash fiction piece, but in a short space, Dickinson has developed Angéle into a real character; something the males in Angéle's life never did.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Reader's Diary #2079- Anthony Foliot Snowking: Tales of An Old Town Versifier

When someone says they're going to write poetry in the style of Robert Service, I'm usually skeptical. I'd consider myself a fan of Service, but usually when people say that what they really mean is they don't read poetry but they remember "The Cremation of Sam McGee" from elementary school and find rhymes fun.

In Anthony Foliot's (aka the Snowking) Tales of an Old Town Versifier, one particular poem ("Looks Like My Job is on the Line") describes how this isn't necessarily the case for him. He intentionally studies other poetry but decides (based largely on the enthusiasm, or lack thereof, of his peers) to stick to "versifiying" (aka writing like Service) rather than "poetry."Of course, there's some tongue-in-cheek here, implying that "poetry" is pretentious compared to "versifying," a word which in actuality sounds even more pretentious.

I'd be lying if I said that Foliot was as good as Service, but as he's a fan himself, I'd venture to say he'd agree. The poems don't scan as well and sometimes when trying to find the rhythm I got a little too distracted to catch the stories. However, when they did work, I found them to be amusing blue-collar tales mostly with northern flair.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reader's Diary #2078- Nicolas Michaud and Jessica Watkins (editors): Iron Man vs. Captain America and Philosophy

I should clear up the title before beginning, Iron Man is not taking on both Captain America and Philosophy. Instead, philosophers are debating who is the better superhero, mostly in the context of the Civil War story line.

It's hard to declare who's the ultimate winner, but for my money I think those who championed Iron Man made the stronger case. That's not so much the point though as I suspect the real purpose behind these books is to make philosophy fun and show how it can be used to make convincing arguments. Others in this series include Twin Peaks and Philosophy, David Bowie and Philosophy, and The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. I'm particularly keen to read Black Mirror and Philosophy which is set to be published early next year.

It's definitely a good intro to some famous philosophical ideas, though on the debate side of things, I sometimes wished they'd had more ground rules. With Marvel stories and characters being told any number of times by any number of writers, some canon, some not, some in comics, some on the big screen, I felt sometimes that the philosophers were cherry-picking details to make their cases.

And of course, as with any compilation, I enjoyed some more than others. Most at least seemed to appreciate that the book was to be light in tone, even if they took philosophy itself seriously.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reader's Diary #2077- Whit Fraser: True North Rising

In the preface to Whit Fraser's northern memoir True North Rising, he says he's flattered that his colleagues refer to him as a "natural storyteller" and says it is now "time to put that to the test."

He passed.

I know this because despite the book being riddled with typos⁠— and I mean riddled, perhaps one of the worst books I've read in that aspect— they were not enough to keep me from being wholly engaged.

Perhaps it's Fraser's affable tone, perhaps it's his ability to drop in and out of flashbacks with ease, perhaps it's his keen sense of who and what is important, but most likely it's a combination of all of these things that makes his storytelling reputation so well earned.

Fraser first came to northern Canada as a young, relatively inexperienced reporter. It happened to be during some of the most critical points in recent history: specifically the Berger Inquiry and the creation of Nunavut. These events, and the people involved, would have a profound affect on Fraser and the book is as much about them as the writer himself.

I wonder if those not from, or never having experienced, the north would have the same interest. I suspect that they would and I also believe they'd get a better sense of life here. Typos there may be, but I believe he's still captured it accurately.

I'm encouraged to read on Sarah Minogue's NorthReads blog that a second edition is planned and free of typos. I'd suggest waiting for that one.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Reader's Diary #2076- Krzysztof Pelc: Green Velvet

Krzysztof Pelc won the 2019 CBC Short Story Contest for "Green Velvet" and without having read the other contenders, I'd still say it was a good choice. It involves an immigrant family, told from the perspective of a son observing (and rooting for) his father who's decided to claim a green velvet couch that someone has left out on the curb.

It's amusing with literary intentions-- the couch is clearly meant as a metaphor for and risk-taking. Fitting the couch up and around stairs, of course, is funny to anyone not involved (remember the "pivot!" shouts of Ross on Friends?).

Monday, August 19, 2019

Reader's Diary #2075- Therese Beharrie: The Wedding Ring

Therese Beharrie's short story "The Wedding Ring" is one of those stories where I just need to talk about the ending. Doing so here, of course, means I have to give away spoilers so feel free to clink on the link to the story and read it first.

It's about a heartbroken woman who sneaks into the wedding of her former lover. Clearly it's an emotional piece and I liked debating with myself whether or not she is a reliable narrator. At the end, she notes that her ex notices her briefly then lifts the veil to his new bride and kisses her and I have so many questions. Did he actually notice her and if so, is the kiss warranted (to send the message that his ex should move on) or cruel?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reader's Diary #2074- Wm Lindmier: Human to Animal

The difference between pessimism and cynicism is fine to be sure, but if you compare the Saturday Night Live character Debbie Downer (pessimist) to the narrator in Wm Lindmier's short story "Human to Animal" (cynic) you'll likely have a better idea. Granted, both are ripe for some great dark comedy.

Jim-not-Jim, the narrator, is a security advisor for multiple nations as is paid to think up worst case scenarios. The verdict on whether or not this job has taken on its toll on Jim-not-Jim or if he's always been this way is still out. A favourite line of mine from the story, sees him in a room filled with Doctors Without Borders, who he refers to as, "All these other idiots eating little appetizers and telling stories about human-to-human outbreaks of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Somalia over free cocktails." Idiots!

Underneath it all, there's a theme of how easy it is, especially for us news junkies, to succumb to fear. The balance between preparedness and succumbing to paranoia is increasing difficult to maintain.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Reader's Diary #2073- Various writers and artists: Marvel Two-In-One Presents the Thing / Cry Monster

Marvel Two-In-One was a comic book series that lasted from the mid-70s to the early-80s and each issue featured the Thing teaming up with another superhero, or occasionally a villain.

I'm not the biggest fan of the Thing, and after this my impression of him as a meathead remains unchanged, but I did quite enjoy the premise. Collecting issues from 1973 to 1976, it took a lot of restraint not to peek ahead to see who the next partner would be but I knew that would ruin the surprise. While he teamed up with the usual and familiar characters (Thor, Iron Man, and so on), my favourites were those where he teamed up with lesser knowns: Tigra, Kazar, and even the Son of Satan.

Being the 70s though, the writing and art isn't as good as stuff being put out today, but for entertaining cheese you can't go wrong.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Reader's Diary #2072- Richard Wagamese: Runaway Dreams

Richard Wagamese's Runaway Dreams is one of the more traditional books of poetry I've read in a while; not in a Ojibwe tradition, or in a form poetry sense, just not as experimental as many I've read lately. And while I do like and admire experimental poetry, there was something comfortable about Richard Wagamese's carefully chosen words.

The themes themselves weren't always comfortable (racism, alcoholism, identity, abuse) but often they were (nostalgia, music) and they were always told with alluring imagery and invitation.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Reader's Diary #2071- Judy Blume: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

I recently did one of those "how many modern classics have you read" quizzes and there were a few on there that I wasn't sure whether or not I had read them. Perhaps I'd just forgotten? Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. was one that I'd heard a lot about and seems like something my sister would have had on her bookshelf growing up (which I raided frequently) so I thought maybe I had. I hadn't.

I can say this with confidence thanks to the "we must, we must, we must increase our bust" chant of Margaret and her prepubescent friends. I had a couple of roommates in university that would often recite this (followed by a fit of giggles) and I never knew where it was from. Twenty-odd years later and I'm finally in the loop!

Despite being quite far from the intended audience, I quite enjoyed the book. I'd heard enough to know that it was largely about Margaret being impatient for adolescence (for her period, more specifically), but I hadn't known of some of the other plots (drama with her grandparents, trying to find a religion). I quite enjoyed how well Blume balanced these.

I also enjoyed Margaret's voice, which to me rang authentic. Of course, never having been a girl at that age, I can't say that it really was, but based on the popularity of the book among girls, I'm assuming Blume pulled it off. I wonder too if it still sounds real to a modern girl or whether or not nostalgic moms pass it down.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Reader's Diary #2070- Scott O'Dell: Zia

It was some 12 years ago that I read Scott O'Dell's popular young adult book Island of the Blue Dolphins. I remembered that I'd enjoyed it at the time, though almost nothing else. I certainly didn't recall that Karana, the island castaway protagonist, was indigenous. I think this speaks volumes about the strides that have been made in the meantime in cultural appropriation awareness that one of the first questions I had was whether or not Scott O'Dell had any business telling this story. What kind and how much research did he do for authenticity? Did he attain permissions from cultural knowledge keepers?

While looking into this, I came upon Debbie Reese's critical analysis of Island of the Blue Dolphins which answers these questions and weighs in thoughtfully. While the specific examples are not from Zia, the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, many of the takeaways could be the same. The most generous of these would be that O'Dell was well-meaning, though inaccurate. That Island of the Blue Dolphins is entertaining should barely matter considering that better books, written by Indigenous people, exist.

That Zia isn't even that entertaining makes it even less necessary and I'm not surprised that it's been largely lost to history. Zia is Karana's niece and she is determined to make contact with her aunt after 18 years away. It sounds like it could be a good reunion story, or a compelling story about Karana's re-integration to living among people again after such a long time. Unfortunately the book is poorly paced, meandering here and there by ripping off books like the Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick and taking forever to get around to Karana's return. When she does, it's anti-climactic and there's barely any interaction between Zia and her aunt.