Thursday, December 31, 2020

My Year in Review 2020 - 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):

7. Ryan Strain - Out of His League
6. Jose Saramago - Seeing
5. Yoko Ogawa - The Memory Police
4. Katłįà - Land-Water-Sky
3. Johanna Stoberock - Pigs
2. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
1. Daniel David Moses - Coyote City

The NON-FICTION ranked from least favourite to favourite:

7. Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon - One Good Reason
5. Lily E. Hirsch - Weird Al: Seriously
4. Andrea Warner - Buffy-Sainte Marie
3. Steven A. Benko and Andrew Pavelich (editors) - The Good Place and Philosophy
1. David Kyle Johnson (editor) - Black Mirror and Philosophy

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2158 - Katłįà: Land-Water-Sky

I read Catherine Lafferty's memoir Northern Wildflower a couple of years back and despite enjoying it, I was nervous to read her latest, Land-Water-Sky (this time published under her Dene name Katłįà). It was largely because this time around it was a novel and I've discovered before that liking a novelist's nonfiction and vice versa, isn't always a guarantee.

I am happy to report that I enjoyed Land-Water-Sky a great deal. It is an epic tale beginning in the north prior to colonial invasion and moving into the present. There are fascinating, legendary creatures that survive these hundreds of years shifting themselves to navigate the changing world, but hanging on to grudges that predate even the humans. It is when they intertwine their lives with the humans that things really get interesting.

Mixed in with the story are important themes of domestic abuse, Indigenous rights, and so on, but these are worked in seamlessly with the unique story and well-defined characters. One thing I haven't seen pop up in other reviews of this book, surprisingly, is that it's often quite scary! As a horror fan, this was a really pleasant surprise and if Katłįà ever decides to write a full-on horror book, I'll definitely have no qualms about digging into that one immediately!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The 2020 Book Mine Set Short Story Online Anthology

52. "Bit Players" - Greg Egan
51. "The City Inside" - Tom Butler
50. "Quarantine" - Arthur C. Clarke
49. "Bear With Me" - Kevin O'Cuinn
48. "Dreams" - Mark McConville
47. "Chasing the Dream" - Mike Dowd
46. "The House on the Hill" - Kate Mosse
45. "Winners and Losers, 2004" - Hannah Storm
44. "Tennessee's Partner" - Bret Harte
43. "Good Girls" - Maryse Meijer
42. "A Fresh Start"- Alicia Fox
41."A Painful Case" - James Joyce
40. "Eris" - Walter Whitman
39. "Our Universe" - Daniel Hudon
38. "The Canal" - Andy K
37. "My Dead" - Peter Orner
35. "What's In The Box?" - Jared Hines
33. "The Frost King" - Helen Keller
32. "The Frost Fairies" - Margaret T. Canby
31. "Ghost Collecting" - Sheila Massie
30. "The Oval Portrait" - Edgar Allan Poe
29. "Cutty Sark" - Gila Green
28. "Ineffable Romance" - Jack Crawford
27. "The Surgery" - John Michael
26. "Louie Armstrong on the Moon" - Dig Wayne
25. "Christmas Cookies" Mary Elizabeth Summer
24. "The Snail House" - Joan Baril
23. "Black-legged Kittiwake" - Julia Zarankin
22. "I Can Dig It" - Jaye Wells
21. "On the Rising Wind" - Patti Weber
20. "A Silly Love Story" - Nino Cipri
18. "Bacon" - Sophie Lovett
17. "The Gift" - Christine Yant
16. "Son of Friedman" - Emma Cline
15. "The Empress's Ring" - Nancy Hale
14. "Those Who Died Are Justified" - Ahimsa Kerp
13. "The Unspeakable Act" - Khulud Khamis
12. "Sew My Mouth" - Cherrie Kandie
11. "Tinder Embers" - Katy Weicker
10. "Chapter V" - Ernest Hemingway
8. "Weinmeier" - Michael V. Smith
7. "The Epidemic" - Dino Buzzati
6. "I Don't Need Anything From Here" - László Krasznahorkai
5. "Night's Slow Poison" - Ann Leckie
4. "Acceptable Loss" - Przemysław Zańko  
3. "Welcome Home" - Lise De Young
2. "White Women LOL" - Curtis Sittenfeld
1. "Morning News" - Jerome Stern

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

My Year in Review 2020 - Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels

Here we go, the first of my year end countdowns. In a year when I had every excuse in the book to read more, I read less overall. In my defense, I feel I read denser this year and that slowed me down across the board, including graphic novels. A few comments on my selections: 

  • shameful that I didn't read any manga (a couple have manga-ish art)
  • for someone who prefers Marvel to DC, I only read one more Marvel title and DC had a higher ranking
  • I read a lot more people of colour (writers and characters)
  • I read a lot more music biographies

Ranked in order from least to most favourite:

38. Terry Collins, Michael Byers - King of Pop: The Story of Michael Jackson
37. Jessica Gunderson, Pat Kinsella - Hip-Hop Icon : Jay-Z
36. Nick Seluk - Heart and Brain
34. Brandon Thomas, Khary Randolph - Excellence Volume One: Kill the Past
33. The McElroys, Andre Lima Araujo - War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery
32. Al Ewing, Joe Bennett - The Immortal Hulk: Vol. 1
31. Gail Simone, Adriana Melo - Plastic Man
30. Keith Giffen, Alan Grant - Lobo: Volume 1
29. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips - Bad Weekend 
28. Tiffanie DeBartolo, Pascal Dizin, Lisa Reist - Grace: The Jeff Buckley Story
27. Derek McCulloch, Shpeherd Hendrix - Stagger Lee
26. Ebony Flowers - Hot Comb
25. Victor Gischler, David Beldeon - Spirits of Vengeance
23. Various - Thor: Ragnaroks
22. Brianna Jonmie, Nahanni Shingoose, Nshannacappo - If I Go Missing
20. Charles Forman - I Am Not Okay With This
19. Various - Bob Marley in Comics
18. John Arcudi, Doug Mahnke - The Mask Omnibus
17. Sergio Aragones - Groo: Friends and Foes
15. Vivek Shraya, Ness Lee - Death Threat
14. Foenkinos, Corbeyran, Horne - Lennon : The New York Years
13. Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, Evan Shaner - Terrifics Vol. 1 : Meet the Terrifics
11. Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford, James Nevlin - Laguardia

10. Mezzo, J.M. Dupont - Love in Vain
9. chris (simpsons artist) - the story of life
8. Various - The Tomb of Dracula
7. Megan James - Innsmouth
6. Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil - Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
5. Vivek K. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson - The Fifth Beatle : The Brian Epstein Story
4. George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott - They Called Us Enemy
3. Gene Luen Yang, Gurihuru - Superman Smashes the Klan
2. Cole Pauls - Dakwäkãda Warriors
1. Michael Allred, Steve Horton, Laura Allred - Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Reader's Diary #2157 - Gene Luen Yang (writer), Gurihiru (artist): Superman Smashes the Klan

Though comics are often abused for propaganda, there's still a certain pleasure when the villains are pretty clearly actual villains. Captain America punching Hitler in the face was a milestone moment. I don't think we see such overt stories anymore as comic writing has largely gotten better, more complex and subtle in their societal commentary. 

Still as racism once again started raising its ugly head in the wake of Trump, it's nice to see a title called Superman Smashes the Klan even if I'd have liked to see him take a swipe at the Proud Boys as well. 

On that note, it would have been better had the book been set in the present day than 1946, considering we haven't exactly gotten rid of the Klan, let alone racism in general. Still Gene Luen Yang uses the setting not only to address racism, but also the history and evolution of Superman as well. In the endnotes he acknowledges that there was a radio program in the 40s in which Superman went after the Klan, and like Yang's update, described the Klan terrorizing a new Chinese American family that have moved into Metropolis. I found this especially interesting as most people tend to think of the Klan as an anti-Black group. In actuality, of course, they're undiscriminating in their discrimination, and hate anyone different than themselves. 

The fight against racism is a personal fight for Superman, as he, too is an immigrant. Unlike the Chinese American family in the book though, he can hide his "alien" identity. It takes the help of the young protagonist Roberta Lee to help him realize that he shouldn't. A great subplot involves another young boy who has befriended Roberta's older brother and wrestles with the fact that his uncle is a white supremacist. Yang handles the story with sensitivity and complexity, while still writing a kickass action tale. 

Gurihiru's art isn't typical of superhero comics, aiming perhaps at a younger audience than most DC Comics and resembling Archie comics with a dash of manga. It's bright and expressive and to be honest, as I've grown tired of superhero art lately, I preferred this. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Reader's Diary #2156 - Candra Anaya: Curious Bunny on the Darkest Night of the Year

I don't often do children's stories for Short Story Monday, but as the title of Candra Anaya's "Curious Bunny on the Darkest Night of the Year" shows, it's an appropriate choice for today. (Here in Yellowknife today, the sunrise is 10:07am and sunset is 3:04pm.) And while I'm sure children would enjoy it-- there are talking animals and a bunny takes a ride on the back of an owl, after all-- adults might still take it as a metaphor for remembering your roots and loved ones when you've perhaps gotten in a bit over your head.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2155- Mary Elizabeth Summer: Christmas Cookies

Not knowing anything about the Beaverton Resource Guide, where the flash fiction story "Christmas Cookies" appears, nor its author Mary Elizabeth Summer, I wasn't sure if the story of a young girl making cookies for Santa would remain sweet through to the end, or if there'd be a twist. Without weighing in on what I was hoping for (so as not to offer any spoilers), I'll just say I wasn't disappointed. Fun, quick story. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2154 - chris (simpsons artist): the story of life

First off, yes, the creator behind the story of life goes simply by chris (simpsons artist) and yes, none of it is capitalized. 

His work first came to my attention on someone's Twitter feed who clearly didn't get it. This was the photo, presented as an example of a shitty textbook in a shitty school:

This illustration, in fact, comes from the story of life and let me assure you, is not meant to be taken seriously. Mostly his art is intentionally wrong and weird. Weird for the sake of weird? Sure, so not everyone's cup of tea (my wife, for instance, understands that it's a joke, she doesn't find it particularly funny, while my daughter and I were in hysterics). I think what I appreciate is how it's presented as someone who tried to be serious, like a mocumentary, but who failed miserably. I also like how consistent it is. Most people have too many fingers and derpy eyes. Most animals have human faces. 

It's also largely positive and clean. Granted I like dark humour as well, there's something bizarrely uplifting about chris (simpsons artist)'s art. Like you believe his naivete and root for him. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2153 - Vivek Shraya (story), Ness Lee (art): Death Threat


Vivek Shraya's graphic memoir, Death Threat details her  ordeal with a series of emails from a deranged and hateful individual named Nain who took issue with her existence as a trans-gendered woman

Nain's exchanges are inconsistent, often incoherent, and out of touch with reality. Clearly not everyone with mental illness is dangerous, but when it's combined with such a level of hatred, Vivek's fear is certainly understandable. Worst than that, it takes a toll on her physically and emotionally. She has trouble sleeping, she begins to doubt her parents and friends. 

Before too long, fortunately, she had the idea to turn the experience into a comic book nad this not only proved cathartic but also took her power back. This seemed to let the wind out of Nain's proverbial sails and the emails stopped. (At least by the end of this book, I'm curious if there's been any word since.) The book therefore is mercifully short, but it's nonetheless powerful and I don't think anyone would be left with the impression that every transgendered individual stops violence against themselves that easily. 

Adding to Vivek's story is Ness Lee's highly creative and stylized art which takes a lot of figurative risks that pay off and enhance the emotion. 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2152- Christine Yant: The Gift

 Christine Yant's "The Gift" is a wickedly amusing story about a down on their luck family who finally have an unexpected treat: dinner!

So it all sounds amusing and like a happy ending, expect for the readers who know something that the family doesn't. 

I really hope I haven't given too much away!

Friday, December 04, 2020

Reader's Diary #2151 - Various artists and writers: Robin / 80 Years of the Boy Wonder

For someone who's shared his disdain on Batman many, many times, I've sure read a lot of his comics. Perhaps even more oddly, very few of these featured Robin, though supposedly they are the quintessential superhero/sidekick team. So it was more out of a completist's goal than anything else to finally read some Robin comics, to try to get a sense of the character and his relationship with Batman. 

Robin: 80 Years of the Boy Wonder is a hefty volume and it includes a lot of must read material, from his very first appearance in print to the passing of the Robin moniker from Dick Grayson to Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne. Reflected in these stories and their art are the values of yesterday to today, the simpler hero tales to the grittier, more complex turn superhero comics took from the 80s onward. 

Despite the size though, I'd argue it's still not perfect as far as being a representative summary. While I realize Dick changed his alter ego to Nightwing, and not Robin, I felt the story of how that happened was missing. Likewise, the endings of partnerships with the latter Robins are never shown. We're told in an essay that Jason Todd was killed off as the result of a fan vote, but this is never shown. Call me morbid, but I wanted to read that! 

Still, additional features, like an essay by Burt Ward who played Robin in the campy 60s live action TV show, helped make up for at least some missing stories. 

All in all, a really good collection, just shy of great.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2150 - Bret Harte: Tennessee's Partner

I'm not quite sure how to take Bret Harte's short story "Tennessee's Partner", not sure exactly what the point is. 

It's a story of a loyal friend who attempts to get his friend, Tennessee, out of a legal pinch by bribing a judge. Well, not really, but his attempt was misguided and perceived as a bribe in any case, and doesn't prevent Tennessee from heading to the gallows. 

With that summary, I suppose it could be seen as highlighting the definition of a true friend. But the tone is off, and I admit, a bit hard for me to gage because of the antiquated language. Tennessee and his partner couldn't be less alike, and yet somehow they remain friends and I don't know if that's meant to be played for comedic effect. Or is it meant to be a tragedy? Or tragi-comedy?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2149 - David Kyle Johnson (editor): Black Mirror and Philosophy

I've really grown to love the Blackwell and Philosophy series and Black Mirror and Philosophy marks my 4th. I'm starting to recognize some of the more common philosophical ideas and theories as well as philosophers. I can't always match up the philosopher with the the philosophy but that's not why I enjoy the books anyway. Basically, I like how they take me deeper into the ideas of pop culture, ones that the creators intended or the ramifications even if they didn't. 

Of course, as fans of the Black Mirror TV show know, there's typically a lot of obviously intentionally provocative ideas about technology and society, so in that regard the philosophers writing for this book had a lot of their initial work done for them. Still, in the Blackwell series fashion, they explored the show more comprehensively and complexly, but in a conversational, usually amusing manner. Still, I doubt it would be of much interest of those who didn't see the show or the particular episodes discussed.

In this book we get the expected debates such a show would
inspire: should we be concerned with the direction technology is leading us in? Are our actions online and in the virtual world a reflection of our true selves and what are the ethics of such behaviours? Can technology help us gain real immortality? And so on. These are all handled expertly in the book and as an added bonus, it made me rethink certain episodes. For instance, I always felt that the very first episode, while good, was a weird way to start the series as I don't find it really representational of the series overall. The discussion in Black Mirror and Philosophy made be appreciate its positioning much more.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2148 - Daniel Hudon: Our Universe

Daniel Hudon's flash fiction "Our Universe" is only faintly disguised as science fiction. He waxes nostalgic for a time when "our" universe was small. But the clue is right there, it's "our", not "the" and I suspect it's as much about a time when he really wasn't much concerned for the world outside his neighbourhood, but awareness, as it often does, began to change everything. 

It's mildly humorous (the opening line riffs on Dana Carvey's "Grumpy Old Man" character from Saturday Night Live) but not without poignancy. Yes there's nostalgia but underneath there's an acknowledgement that change was inevitable. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2147 - John Michael: The Surgery

John Michael's flash fiction, "The Surgery" is a bizarre but entertaining story about a dentist who is so determined to get the job done that he will stop at nothing, including a flood that has entered his office. 

What has caused the flood is never explained, and while I was expecting an answer, I wasn't too disappointed by the lack of one. Likewise, I was never able to determine whether or not the flood was supposed to be symbolic (for fear, perhaps?) but was fascinated by it regardless and impressed with the rich description (even when at one point the description is particularly gross). 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2146 - Hannah Storm: Winners and Losers, 2004

Hannah Storm's flash fiction story "Winner and Losers, 2004" details a journalist amidst a soccer celebration in Haiti. The idea, it would seem, would be for the Haitians to have moment's peace, a break from the recent violence that has fallen upon their home. 

However, you can tell the journalist isn't buying it and as the story progresses we get a little more insight into her cynical outlook. 

It's an excellent premise though at times I found the story a bit choppy and disjointed.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145 - James Joyce: A Painful Case

James Joyce's short story "A Painful Case" is an excellent character study, though of an unlikeable character. I was left to decide at the end if the central character was a fatalist, an ass, or both. 

It deals with a man who likes to think of himself as tolerant of other people, though he quite clearly views himself as superior. Then, suddenly, a woman comes into his life who seems at first to break down his defenses against getting closer to other people. Alas, the second she makes a move he's put off. His bleak outlook is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2144 - Maryse Meijer: Good Girls

I came across Maryse Meijer's "Good Girls" in an article about horror stories one can find online. But when I read it, it didn't immediately feel like a horror story. It was certainly off-putting (heads up, there's some animal abuse) and there are supernatural elements (reincarnation) but nothing that aims to be obviously scary. Still after thinking about it, I guess it could be horror, just with a stretched definition.

Told from a dog's perspective, it's also a pretty unique piece of writing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2143- Brianna Jonmie with Nahanni Shingoose (witers), Nshannacappo (artist): If I Go Missing

If I Go Missing
is an illustrated adaptation of an actual letter written by Brianna Jonmie, a 14 year old Objiwe girl to the chief of the Winnipeg Police Service. It follows the disappearance and search for a young white boy. She thanks the police for their service in this case but cannot help but note the differences in the way missing Indigenous girls are treated both by the police and the media, despite the shocking and sobering statistics about missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women. Should she ever go missing, she pleads not to be treated as just a statistic. 

It's powerful to say the least. It's also beyond upsetting that a 14 year old girl would even have to think about these things let alone take the responsibility upon herself to help change the reality. But huge praise to her for doing so. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2142- Edgar Allan Poe: The Oval Portrait

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oval Portrait" is a short story, the shortest of his stories actually, involving a mesmerizing portrait found by a traveler at an inn and the dark story of its origin. There are themes about art and its ability to capture the essence of life and of obsession.

It made me recall how much I love Poe's ability to paint these really dense, atmospheric scenes. 

This one is tainted by the focus on the young age of the bride in the painting, making me also recall how young Poe's own bride was in real life and yeah, that makes the story creepy but not in the good Halloween sense. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2141 - Derek McCulloch (writer), Shepherd Hendrix (artist): Stagger Lee

There are many different versions of songs detailing the violent exchange between "Stag" Lee Shelton and Billy Lyons, the latter of whom was shot dead. Lloyd Price's 1958 rock version of "Stagger Lee" is undoubtedly the most famous and successful. 

Knowing how widely these songs interpret the case, I was interested in finding a graphic novel that discussed these while also speculating and/or reporting what actually happened that night. Alberta writer Derek McCulloch has written a fictionalized account, but still seems to have researched enough to suggest that the truth was likely less exciting than any of the songs would imply. He also assumes (and given the time and Shelton's race I have no reason to believe it otherwise), that even if Shelton was guilty of murder (vs self-defense; that Billy Lyons wound up dead at Lee's hand isn't in dispute) he didn't exactly get a fair trial. 

Still, there's a lot of padding in the book. There are subplots with only remote connections to Lee and never does McCulloch suggest any real reason why the story of these two men captured the imaginations of songwriters through history (beginning even before Lee died in prison). 

Shepherd Hendrix's art is good though, especially with exclusive use of brown and white which added to the air of history.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Reader's Diary #2140 - Peter Orner: My Dead

It took a few reads for me to appreciate Peter Orner's "My Dead" but it's flash so rereading wasn't a big deal.

I think my initial reading was challenging because I was trying to ascribe a supernatural explanation for the ending. It's called "My Dead" and deals with a séance, so it's not an unreasonable assumption. Was it a trick ending? Was Beth really dead this whole time? Was the narrator forced to live a Groundhog's Day sort of existence with her ghost? 

The funny thing I eventually made this work in my head but still felt I had to force it and faulted the story. Then when I reread it a couple of times, I realized I didn't need to go beyond the literal. The story could simply be a story about regret. 

Now however I have two interpretations in my head (a la the two endings of Life of Pi) and I like the story even more because of it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2139 - John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces

It's been 9 years since I visited New Orleans and believe it or not that's when I picked up my copy of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in a local secondhand bookstore. Believe it or not, this is how long it's taken me to finally get around to it. I'm not sure what prompted me now. Maybe something about the bizarre upheaval and uprising of idiots south of the border?

In any case, having visited the city helped me envision some of the locals, especially the French Quarter. More interesting, to me at least, is that it reminded me of some other New Orleans books I've read. In particular the way Toole seemed to keep adding to his cast of characters, vastly different yet similarly troubled, reminded me of Amanda Boyden's excellent Babylon Rolling. I wonder if this is common in New Orleans literature and if so, if it's a reflection on the diversity in the city.

It also reminded me a lot of Mordecai Richler's writing. The humour, a satirical volume-turning look at society complete with despicable characters has Richler written all over it. I was a little nervous going into the book as I'd heard mixed reactions from library patrons who'd read it and the ones that stuck out to me were along the lines of "this is supposed to be funny?" I should have remembered that humour is subjective and yes, Toole's brand of cynical humour is indeed up my alley. I'd go as far as saying cynicism is a central theme of the book. It's a cynical look at cynicism. Brilliant.

Of course, there could be more serious takeaways as well and one of the more serious angles I wished had occurred to me earlier in the book was the idea that the central character, Ignatius J. Reilly, may be an example of an incel, even long before there was such a term. 

Monday, October 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2138 - Sheila Massie: Ghost Collecting

Not many would consider Twilight to be a horror novel, despite it centering around vampires and werewolves. Likewise, it would be hard to classify Sheila Massie's short story "Ghost Collecting" as horror despite it being about ghosts. But whereas Twilight could easily be classified as romance, I'm not sure "Ghost Collecting" fits into any genre. Unless interesting is a genre.

It deals with a Craigslist ad in which someone is selling a haunted rocking chair. Reminding me of the Simpson's haunted trampoline, I thought it would therefore be an ill-intended spirit. But this is not the case. It also deals with collecting ghosts, which is a fascinating premise and expertly pulled off. 

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2137- The Book of Mormon

Way back in March I loaded up on ebooks to read while on vacation in Barbados. I finished most of those while away, but it's taken me this long to read the Book of Mormon. It's a religious book; what can I say except it took much less time than it took me to read the bible. 

I'm not a religious man, but I do enjoy reading religious texts. Perhaps enjoy isn't the word. It feels, I don't know, responsible perhaps? And on that note, I'll try not to offend with comments about a book so important to them. May I at least say that I found all the mention of murmuring hysterical? Instead of calling out complainers and naysayers, they were always said to be murmuring. Murmurers came across as the most passive-aggressive bunch of assholes. 

Amusement unfortunately didn't last long and it's quite dry as a leisure read. It's like the Old Testament with most of the major miracles cut out but all the fighting and war bits kept in. I mean, war sounds like it should be exciting but not when it's page after page after page. I forgot at one point which side I was rooting for, the Romulans or the Cardassians? 

Things got a bit more interesting when Jesus finally showed up but then it quickly slips back into Old Testament style fighting again. 

Again, I wasn't studying it or looking for life lessons, so obviously my takeaways would be quite different from an adherent of the faith.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2136- David Garvey: The St. Thomas More Band Break Up

David Garvey's short story "The St. Thomas More Band Break up" is an amusing look at a 2000s prog rock cover band who is breaking up. Most of the guys in the band were just not into it anymore and they've drawn straws to tell the one guy who seems to have taken it more seriously. It... doesn't go well.

The story of St. Thomas More, remaining grateful and witty even at his own execution, seems lost on his namesake band and their violent destruction. When they finally discuss it and opt to try for pub rock instead, it seems like it might be a better fit.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Reader's Diary #2135- Andy K: The Canal

The setting in Andy K's short story "The Canal" was well described and though it refers to a mosque and a Buddhist temple, not Protestant and Catholic churches, that part reminded me of Alan Doyle's description of Petty Harbor in Where I Belong. 

The story itself isn't groundbreaking and deals with a man returning to his hometown but unsure why. But I appreciated the slight tone of a parable and the theme of fate. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2134- Khulud Khamis: The Unspeakable Act

I happened upon Khulud Khamis's short story "The Unspeakable Act" through a link on her website. Here she describes it as a story about sexual assault. I'd like to say I would have seen it coming in the story even without this description as it's so cringey. 

It's told from the perspective of a fourteen year old girl who has a crush on an older cousin who she's thrilled that has started to notice her. If that doesn't raise red flags, I don't know what to say. More flags go off as he obviously, to an outsider, begins his grooming. It's both sad and angering. It's also, unfortunately, very believable. Some of this of course, is due to the society we live in, some is a testament to Khamis's strong sense of voice and description in her writing. 

Monday, September 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2133- Nancy Stohlman: I Found Your Voodoo Doll on the Dance Floor After Last Call

The title to Nancy Stohlman's "I Found Your Voodoo Doll on the Dance Floor After Last Call" is almost as long as the flash fiction itself. 

It's an amusing, supernatural tale of a person finding a voodoo doll of herself and not knowing exactly how to dispose of it without injuring herself in the process. At the end the question is moot as the doll finds its way back into the hands of the creator.

I suppose it could be turned into a metaphor about someone finding it difficult to move on after a break up, but nah, it's just fun the way it is.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2132 - Cole Pauls: Dakwäkãda Warriors

What a surprising treat Cole Pauls' Dakwäkãda Warriors graphic novel was! Telling the story of two Earth protectors, Crow and Wolf against the evil Long Ago Person and Bushman, it was like nothing I've ever read before.

Stylistically, it reminded me of Haida Gwaii art, but this is likely due to my lack of knowledge about the Southern Tutchone culture of southern Yukon. It's fascinating and the black, red, and white art was very suited to Pauls' indie comic style, capturing action and emotion while still keeping with the light humour and action of the space opera tale.

Speaking of which, Pauls mixing of the futuristic with traditional tales and with themes of colonialism and environmental protection was brilliant. Powerful but entertaining enough that you'd hardly realize you were learning something! Even more impressive was the way that he worked in Southern Tutchone language. A key was provided but after a while, it became seamless and even I started picking up some vocabulary. 

I cannot speak highly enough of this book.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Reader's Diary #2192- Joan Baril: The Snail House

 I don't typically read creative non-fiction pieces for Short Story Mondays, but I read this one before noticing and honestly it felt like a short story so I've decided to include Joan Baril's "The Snail House" anyway.

It involves a camping trip in Northern Ontario to visit a bizarre snail-shaped house where a hermit lived and mysteriously died years before. It's very descriptive, well-paced, and felt almost like a horror story, especially with the description of the abnormal number of mosquitoes (even for northern Ontario). Had it been an actual short story, I'd have liked the mosquitoes to have tied back into the death of the hermit, but otherwise, a very entertaining piece.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2191- Vivek J. Tiwary (writer), Andrew C. Robinson (artist): The Fifth Beatle

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
is an excellent graphic biography of the famed Beatles manager written by Vivek J. Tiwary with art by Andrew C. Robinson and with Kyle Baker taking on their ill-fated trip to the Philipines.

While there have been many people nominated as the supposed 5th Beatle, Epstein was the only one that Paul McCartney suggested could really wear that title. No doubt he was instrumental in their success. But while I've heard much about the Fab Four, I can't say that I knew much about this man and indeed Tiwary makes the case that he was a fascinating fellow. 

Notably, he was gay at a time when the world was even more unaccepting of gay people than it is today. This would result in a lot of anguish for Epstein, threatening his career, mental health, and life itself. You can sense that success of the Beatles was one of the bright spots that he needed as much as they needed him.

The focus here is absolutely on Epstein, not the Beatles themselves, sometimes to a fault. While Tiwary acknowledges, for instance, the absence of Pete Best in the book it nonetheless jumped out at me, as it would with most people with just a bit of knowledge of Beatles history and honestly, could have been covered with a panel or two without distracting from Epstein's story more than the omission did. 

Another minor issue is the shoehorning of a matador analogy. Perhaps Epstein was obsessed with matadors, maybe even fancied himself as one, but the constant references here seem strange and poorly fitting.

However, the art is gorgeous. It has really strong caricatures reminiscent of Mort Drucker's work for MAD Magazine (I thought I noticed this going through and was pleased to note in an essay by Robinson at the end that Drucker was an influence) which are coloured stunningly. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Reader's Diary #2190- Gail Simone (writer), Adriana Melo (artist): Plastic Man

It was only recently that I read a comic with Plastic Man, DC Comic's equivalent to Marvel's Mr. Fantastic, and enjoyed him enough to look for a solo title. He's just as funny in Gail Simone's take on the character and quite likeable in a flawed way. 

The story though didn't do a lot for me. I enjoyed parts (his origin story, his unlikely role as a father figure to a transgendered kid) but there was a lot going on at times, too much. It involves Plastic Man investigating possible impostors in the Justice League but there's also the set up to a future story getting in the way involving a mafia boss who's trying to recreate Plastic Man's abilities in his girlfriend. 

Still, Plastic Man is one of the DC characters that I actually like. Then, he's essentially a Marvel character: he's funny, sometimes breaking the fourth wall, and not overpowered, or gritty like the majority of the DC crew. 

Adriana Melo's art is suitably fluid and cartoony to match the high pace and comedy. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Reader's Diary #2189- Nino Cipri: A Silly Love Story

It's quite an achievement to let a reader know right up front what they can expect, even how it will end, and yet still maintain the reader's interest. Nino Cipri's "A Silly Love Story" is quite like that; it's a silly love story and as is hinted at early on, it's got a bit of a threat of danger lurking just beyond the ending. And okay, it's not really silly, it's quite lovely.

It's about a young guy named Jeremy, a bit of a struggling artist, who's falling in love with Merion, a bi-gendered person. He also might have a poltergeist in his closet. 

The story itself reminded me somewhat of Merion. Sometimes it's a supernatural story, sometimes it's a love story, sometimes it's both or not really either, and yet it all fits together into a wonderful whole regardless of the label. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2188 - Charles Forman: I Am Not Okay With This

I can't say I'd heard of Charles Forsman's graphic novel I Am Not Okay With This until it was adapted into a Netflix tv show (which I've still not seen), but is was pretty good. 

It's about a teenage girl who has a lot on her plate. She feels like an outcast at school, has unrequited love an older girl who is clearly with the wrong guy, she clashes with her mother, and her father is out of the picture, the result of PTSD and suicide. On top of all that she has the ability to inflict pain upon others just by thinking about it. 

It's that latter bit that I suspected attracted Netflix to the book, as it has that whole superhero appeal, but for all that it feels more like a novel about a girl dealing with stress and reckoning with her capacity for evil. These themes don't necessarily need a supernatural expression, though I can't say it didn't make it interesting. It's also very bleak.

The art is also very much NOT superhero fare, resembling comics from the Sunday funnies more than anything (think Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, or Popeye). For all that, it works. Maybe it balances the heavy topics. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Reader's Diary #2187- Various writers and artists: Mephisto Speak of the Devil

Everyone seems to have their limits on how they'll suspend their beliefs for a story. For me, that often relates to religion. My least favourite horror genre is demonic possession and when it comes to comics, in a reality where there are actual god characters, I find it bizarre when characters like Daredevil or Ms. Marvel are staunch Catholics and Muslims respectively. So, it was with some hesitation I picked up this collection of Marvel comics featuring Mephisto. Still, he's a character I've barely encountered before and so I was curious enough to give it a spin.

To be fair, enough of his lore suggests that he's not supposed to be the Christian idea of Satan just that as his motives are similar, he's kind of just run with it. 

Like most collections, it was uneven in terms of storytelling and art but I'd say there were more misses than hits. I especially didn't enjoy the earlier ones in which he's quite a cheesy character who seems to be defeated when a soul is just too good. However, I came to appreciate his powers and ability to pretty much always get away.

However, if any story in the collection makes it worth it, it's the Roger Stern penned Triumph and Torment which featured the unexpected team-up of Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange facing off against Mephisto. This was surprisingly well written, with neat twists and turns and excellent art by Michael Mignola (Hellboy). 

Interestingly, the only story in here I'd encountered before was the one featuring Black Panther and though I didn't enjoy it the first time around, didn't mind it so much now. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Reader's Diary #2186 - Gila Green: Cutty Sark

Teenagers can be melodramatic at times but of course, this doesn't mean they don't have reason to be. In Gila Green's flash fiction, "Cutty Sark," we're introduced to Dabi, a girl in grade eight who's been forced into a job she hates: running their convenient store in the evenings. Is she just a little whiny or is she justified? She does tend to overestimate how great others have it, but then again...

It's a well-paced story with a strong voice. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Reader's Diary #2185 - Mike Dowd: Chasing the Dream

I'm a little uneasy with Mike Dowd's "Chasing the Dream," a short story about a younger, presumably white golfer, finding himself differential with his assigned caddy, an older, shorter black man nicknamed Major. He's seems aware of the racial divide, stating when he finds out that Major had once caddied for Kathy Whitworth, a champion white female golfer: "[…] at the moment it didn't occur to me to consider how unusual it must have been to have a minority caddy at the height of the civil rights movement."

And yet, the story falls into the exact same "magical negro" trope that The Legend of Beggar Vance had been criticized for back in 2000. I think it's intended to be a nice story about appreciating the wisdom of the older, more experienced person but just feels slightly off. 

Monday, August 03, 2020

Reader's Diary #2184 - Alicia Fox: A Fresh Start

It's not a complaint, a whine about double-standards or any such crap, but I did want to say that I find it amusing that a short story like Alicia Fox's "A Fresh Start" is published in Cosmopolitan as "erotic fiction" when it's basically a porno story like you'd read in Penthouse: Forum only from a female perspective.

It's all good, a pleasant romp in the hay tale involving two old friends who hook up after denying that they could be more than just friends for years. It's got a lot of great imagery (yes, even the non-sexual stuff) and the tone is light and engaging.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2183- Lily E. Hirsch: Weird Al Seriously

A long time fan of Weird Al Yankovic (still the best concert I've been to), I have no issue with taking Weird Al seriously. I seriously wish he'd get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I seriously think the man has serious talent (as does his band who should be inducted with him).

Lily Hirsch tries to take him even more seriously, sometimes trying to paint him as a leftist progressive. I don't disagree that he leans to the left but sometimes her analyses of his work attributes more serious themes than I think he usually intended. She acknowledges that Al himself sometimes downplayed this in their interviews.

Still it's a very in-depth look at the man and his work. I definitely learned a few things. Didn't know he was an architect, that the longevity of his original band ranks up there with U2 and ZZ Top, that he was such an Elton John fan. (Why has he barely parodied Elton John at all?)

And, despite my suggestion that Hirsch's biography was a bit political, it's still a light, often amusing read.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Reader's Diary #2182 - Kevin O'Cuinn: Bear With Me

Usually finding the terms "short fiction" and "short story" interchangeable, Kevin O'Cuinn's "Bear With Me" is better classified (as it is on the Feathertale website) as short fiction. Definitely not a story in the plot-sense, it's the musings of a bear (yes a bear, so definitely fiction) on various topics, as if being interviewed but readers don't get to see what the questions were exactly.

It's amusing, occasionally thoughtful, and has a rich overly-sophisticated voice (which adds to the amusement). I don't know that I'd care to read a longer work like this but it works for a shorter piece.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2181- Ann Leckie: Night's Slow Poison

Ann Leckie's "Night's Slow Poison" is an example of a great science fiction story. Wonderfully developed world, compelling story, and enough reflections on life that have meaning in our very real world.

The most obvious of the latter is how she talks about immigration and prejudices. However, there's a bit of a throwaway paragraph about people using rudeness as a mask that I especially enjoyed. It calls out those folks who brag about how they "say it like it is" and man, did I appreciate that.

The descriptions in the piece are supremely well done. She has a spaceship navigating through a particularly precarious space in which it must proceed slowly and carefully for a few months and wow, does she ever make you feel that.

The one thing I got a little lost in were the various cultures and why they dislike one another. This is more of an issue with me though. I know I had a similar issue with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine back in the day as I found it hard to differentiate between the Cardassians and Bajorans.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2180 - Foenkinos and Corbeyran (writers), Horne (illustrator): Lennon the New York Years

I hadn't been in a major rush to read Corbeyran's Lennon: The New York Years (adapted from a work by Foenkinos). It was hyped a bit at first but then I remembered some critics who said it was full of inaccuracies. I eventually broke down, largely due to Bohemian Rhapsody. As many have pointed out, it's also full of inaccuracies but I knew that going in and still enjoyed it as a movie.

For the most part, I also enjoyed this graphic novel. I do wish though that those who called it inaccurate would have given more examples. Not really having studied Lennon's life before, I didn't pick up on much except it omits any part of him being physically abusive to women or Julian, which he himself has admitted to.

It was interesting to leave that stuff out as other flaws were left in (violence towards men, drug abuse, disinterest in Julian, infidelity) and I suspect it ties back to the frame story. The story's being told from John himself as he unburdens himself from a psychiatrist's couch (this also didn't happen, by the way). I've encountered a lot of framing devices that I really haven't enjoyed, and I know some critics didn't enjoy this one either, but I found it effective in portraying him more sympathetically. I suspect the authors knew the misogyny and child abuse were lines in the proverbial sand that would destroy most readers' sympathies.

Another complaint I've read by reviewers is the repetitive use of certain panels. I will absolutely not knock this or any aspect of the art which was gorgeous (grayscale watercolours). The repetition was always purposeful, a reflection back to a previous scene which now had new context, a reminder that he was sometimes spinning his wheels, repeating previous mistakes.

A will, however, point out that the title is misleading. It implies a memoir of a very specific time in his life, when in actuality it's a full-on biography starting with his birth right up to his death.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Reader's Diary #2179- Various artists and writers: Taskmaster Anything You Can Do...

Hearing that the main villain in the Black Widow movie is going to be Taskmaster I was immediately interested in discovering who he was, not having come across the character before. Fortunately a certain pandemic bought me some time and I've finally gotten around to a Taskmaster collection.

To be sure, he's a great character and I've learned a lot about him. He has the ability to instantly replicate physical moves from a single watching, granted they're not of the supernatural sort or require special equipment (he can for instance, replicate Hawkeye's perfect aim, but cannot shrink like the Ant-Man or doesn't possess the strength of Thor) and I must say, I like that these skills and limitations are well-defined. He also has a schtick of training thugs for hire and has the uncanny ability to escape right at the last second. Oh, and he looks like Skeletor with a cape and boots.

The stories in the collection are all pretty solid though because they've been collected it does grow tiresome that he explains (usually during battle) over and over again what his powers are, presumably for new readers when they originally appeared with lots of time between stories. I also wish collections like this would give a little more info about when they were originally published. I could narrow decades down by context and styles but that's about it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2178- Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon: One Good Reason

Not too long ago I read a memoir by another former Great Big Sea star, Alan Doyle. At the time I commented that I'd been surprised to find how similar our upbringings were despite being from outport Newfound; he was a Catholic and a musician, neither of which am I, and yet still we seemed to have shared so many life experiences.

Despite being a musician and a Catholic and being from the same band, Séan McCann's earlier years seemed remarkably different. And reading about the trauma he endured, Doyle and I should count our lucky stars. McCann had been groomed by a local priest, sexually assaulted, and became an alcoholic.

Billed as "a memoir of addiction and recovery, music, and love" I would say the emphasis is on the addiction aspect, as I would also say that despite given co-author credit, the focus is more on McCann than his wife Andrea Aragon. This is not to suggests any of this particular focus is a problem, just throwing it out there so as other readers know what to expect.

His time with Great Big Sea is nonetheless interesting. A folk band is not what one would think of a group living the Rockstar life, but they certainly did. It was also fascinating to read about the level of fame beyond the Canadian border and what that meant for performances. And while he doesn't come right out and name names or get into too many specific grievances, the sting of the break up of the band was still prevalent during the writing of the book. One does not sense the other guys were particularly supportive of his struggle to go sober. I do wonder if any of them have reached out since the book.

Overall, it's a well-paced, inspiring book. It does beg for a sequel at some point down the road though!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Reader's Diary #2177- Emma Cline: Son of Friedman

Emma Cline's short story "Son of Friedman" is a depressing story. It's well written and she certainly captures father/son angst (not to mention aging, success, as well as a few other themes), but yes, depressing.

The whole story takes place in one night as two old friends, Hollywood types, meet up to go to the premier of a film one's son has just produced. Expectations are low.

As an aside, it made me want a martini and a steak.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2176- Jared Hines: What's In the Box?

Jared Hines' short story "What's In the Box?" practically overdoses on descriptive and figurative language. It's effective though in slowing down the pace and building up the tension of readers who just want to know what the hell's in the mysterious box that's arrived on his doorstep.

I feel that the "reveal"/ twist-ending is a bit on the preachy side, but otherwise a fun story.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2175- Jessica Gunderson (writer), Pat Kinsella (illustrator): Hip-Hop Icon Jay-Z

This is my second musician biography comic from Capstone Press and I'm confident enough now to say I'd advise skipping them. I perhaps learned a bit more from Hip-Hop Icon Jay-Z than I did with the Michael Jackson book but mostly because I just didn't know a lot about Jay-Z to begin with. And to be sure, at just 30 pages I didn't learn a great deal this time either except a few major milestones in Jay-Z's life.

Framing the story around an interview regarding his supposed retirement concert in 2003 isn't a bad idea per se, but the dialogue is forced. The most egregious though is the art. I don't know if there was fear of a lawsuit from using celebrity likenesses or whatnot but not of the people here look like who they're supposed to be. Not Beyonce, not Rihanna, not Kanye, and not even the title man himself.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2174- Various writers and artists: Bob Marley in Comics

Bob Marley in Comics is a biography told with various graphic novelists taking a certain period of his life. Despite being a fan of his music, I didn't know a lot about him and felt I did learn a lot. And also about Rastafarianism and reggae music in general. On this note, I cannot say if diehard fans would have learned much new or not.

He's certainly portrayed as a driven man and maybe in part due to having multiple tellers, a complicated man. I recently complained about a Michael Jackson biography that completed ignored some pretty awful allegations about the man. Despite Bob Marley in Comics coming across as pro-Marley, they did at least include some unsavoury moments. One scene in particular shows him slapping his wife Rita. Whether or not they handled this scene with enough depth or sensitivity is a whole other debate, but at the very least they showed it.

Like most multi-authored collections, I had some favourites and some that I didn't particularly care for, but there was no terrible art. I do wish publishers NBM included little bios, perhaps in a back appendix of the creators though.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Reader's Diary #2173 - Sophie Lovett: Bacon

In case anyone ever wondered how I chose the stories I do for Short Story Monday, there's not much of a rhyme or reason. With Canada Day coming up, I simply Googled "short story" + "bacon" and found Sophie Lovett's short story of the titular meat. It's not really Canada related, nor did I expect it to be, but it is still pretty appropriate for this time of Covid and Trump. It tells of a woman who stockpiles bacon in fear of an impending apocalypse. Eventually her family seeks an intervention.

It's an amusing story with a great voice and imagery. Bonus points for making me recall the bacon scene in Last Man on Earth.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Reader's Diary #2172- Michael V. Smith: Weinmeier

Michael V. Smith's short story "Weinmeier" came to my attention via Twitter when someone remarked their amusement over the length of a penis described. I read the money-shot paragraph at the time, and while I found it amusing, it also seemed like a Penthouse Forum story (or whatever the gay equivalent of that would be). I was surprised that it was in Joyland, a magazine that has a decidedly more literary reputation.

So I gave it a second chance, the whole story this time, and yeah, it's quite good. I think what I like the most about it was the reflective tone of the narrator. He recounts a time in his life when he's able to acknowledge the lessons he's learned in the meantime while still be in awe over the confidence and immortality of youth. He was a young man working in a bookstore finding hook-ups when they presented themselves. And on that note, his youthful attitudes were wildly discordant with the realities for gay men in Toronto at the time who could not publicly seek partners. The result is a nostalgic story of summers and flings but with a hint of sadness and danger underneath.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Reader's Diary #2171- Terry Collins (writer), Michael Byers (artist): King of Pop

King of Pop: The Story of Michael Jackson, by Terry Collins and Michael Byers, is a woefully inadequate look at the life and career of Michael Jackson.

Granted at 32 pages, it was unlikely to be an in-depth look and it's aimed at younger readers, but honestly younger readers would turn in a more thorough school essay than this. It doesn't even mention Janet Jackson, let alone La Toya. And then there's the censorship of certain details of his life. I get that not everyone believes the allegations against him sexually abusing young boys, but to ignore them all together doesn't not paint an accurate picture of his complicated legacy. Instead, the supposed drawback to his fame is demonstrated by outlandish tabloid headlines about sleeping in an oxygen chamber, etc. Like, geez, look at the silly rumours. Then there's his death. It says, "Suffering from chronic insomnia, an exhausted Michael struggled to sleep. The long night was restless and led into the dawn. Once he finally fell asleep, the King of Pop never wakened." So, we're just going to ignore the drugs in his system? He died of... sleep?

At least Michael Byers' art is adequate.