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 his thrilled that he 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, Seam 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Reader's Diary #2170- Mezzo and J.M. Dupont: Love in Vain

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is often cited as an unholy trinity and the key here is the unholy part. Perhaps no one better personified this than Robert Johnson, even if his music is usually classified as blues (predating rock and roll by more than a decade). Legend has it, of course, Robert Johnson traded his soul at the "Cross Road" to the devil in exchange for his musical gifts.

Mezzo and J.M. Dupont's graphic novel, Love in Vain captures his wild and short life. Was it tragic? By most accounts yes, but rare were the times he was shown to submit to the pain and tragedy around him. Instead he threw himself into music and debauchery, appearing on the surface at least, to always land on his feet. Until of course, he couldn't.

The story is fast and short, entertaining and sometimes poignant. There's a bit of an unnecessary frame story involving a mysterious narrator whose identity is revealed (to not much surprise) at the end, but it's not distracting.

The art is absolutely gorgeous. Very heavy, black ink gives it a look of woodcuts (helping with the historic vibe) and caricatures have a Charles Burns/ Robert Crumb expressive and fluid feel in keeping with the music. I also appreciated the extra attention to detail in the party scenes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2169 - Various artists and writers: Thor Ragnaroks

I picked up the Thor Ragnaroks book as it contained a run on a Beta Ray Bill story, the horse-faced Thor-ish superhero who is rumored to make an appearance in the next Thor movie. I've not read anything with him in it before.

That story turned out to be the best in the collection. The others, "Thor: Blood Oath" and "Thor: Ragnarok," weren't bad (the former was marred by terribly coloured art, the latter by a confusing story-line), but "Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill" was better on both accounts.

A quick word on the second story, "Thor: Ragnarok": it is very different than the movie of the same name. Yes, his eyes turn white, he's without his Mjolnir hammer, and Hela's costume is pretty accurate, but the similarities end there.

And also a note to artists: please never draw Beta Ray Bill without his helmet again. That... looked wrong.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Reader's Diary #2168 - Tom Butler: The City Inside

Tom Butler's short story, "The City Inside" started strong enough. A man is getting results back at a doctor's office and it's clear there's something amiss. It set a mood to put me on edge. However, the results are definitely not what I could have expected and the story then takes a quirky turn, a clearly meant to be funny. The humour, however, fell a little flat for me and instead I found myself distracted and Googling epigenetics. So not a complete waste!

Monday, June 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2167- Curtis Sittenfeld: White Women LOL

This morning Donovan Bailey remarked that Canada had "racism with a smile," explaining that there is less blatant racism and more insidious and subtle racism in Canada, which is often harder to fight.

Similarly Curtis Sittenfeld's short story "White Women LOL" takes on this theme. A white woman asks a group of black people to leave a room after assuming they are party crashers, they record the interaction and post it on social media, and she goes viral as a racist. She's shocked by this assessment. In her head she's appalled by the Klan and that sort. But like many of us white folks, we deny that there are degrees and varieties of racism. It's much easier to be smug in our declarations; that we'd never be like those hood wearing idiots than it is to reflect upon our own actions and attitudes. Vodka Vicky in this story is forced to reflect upon this. At first, I'll admit that I read it thinking she had been judged too harshly for a misunderstanding especially by the social media outrage machine, but in the grand scheme of things, what were these but a few stressful weeks in an otherwise privileged life, especially in comparison. Hopefully she'll emerge a better person.

Wonderful, believable, and provocative story.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2166- Cherrie Kandie: Sew My Mouth

Cherrie Kandie's "Sew My Mouth" features a beautiful love under tragic circumstance. It's of a lesbian Kenyan couple, trying their best to keep loving one another, in secret, away from the eyes of unaccepting parents (the mother may know), neighbours, and society at large.

The story is raw with emotion and left this reader saddened that this strong, healthy couple wasn't able to thrive.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reader's Diary #2165- Steven A. Benko and Andrew Pavelich (editors): The Good Place and Philosophy

The Good Place was one of my favourite sitcoms in years. Not only was its humor and storytelling unlike anything else I'd ever seen, it was thought-provoking and revolved around philosophy of all things. Like many other fans, it awakened my interest in the subject.

I figured I'd start off slow and fun. When I came across the Popular Culture and Philosophy series published by Open Court, I thought they'd be perfect. I'd get a lighthearted introduction and then dig in deeper, check out those philosophers and works referenced in the books. I've now read books about the Avengers and Philosophy, Wonder Woman and Philosophy. And now a book about by the very show that inspired the interest in the first place. Oh and on my nightstand I have Black Mirror and Philosophy waiting for me. It seems like I'll never get to the works of Kant, Socrates, and the rest. And for now? I'm fine with that! I feel these essays are thoughtful and easy to understand, funny and practical. They're written by actual philosophers and if they're "just" an introduction, it still feels in depth.

Of course, there couldn't be a more perfect fit for the Popular Culture and Philosophy series as The Good Place though I suppose it could have gone the other way. I had presumed the show was smart and a good look at philosophical ideas, but maybe philosophers wouldn't agree. I don't know that the essayists in this book are a representative sample, but they sure are fans!

With a similar absurd humor, they discuss how philosophical theories have been explored on the show, concepts of ethics, the afterlife, souls, society and so on.

A minor quibble, or perhaps question I still have, is what the hell Chidi is doing in the bad place. I get Eleanor, Tahani, and maybe Jason, but Chidi's biggest flaw is being indecisive. Not one of the writers here seem to doubt this makes him worthy of eternal penance, but I'm not sold on that part.

Otherwise, brilliant show, brilliant book!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2164- Tiffanie DeBartolo (writer), Pascal Dizin and Lisa Reist (artists): Grace

Somehow Jeff Buckley escaped my attention when his career peaked and he drowned in a river. I've since heard of him of course, but have not really grown my own appreciation for him yet. Yes, I think his cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is wonderful, definitely among the best, but his skills as a singer/songwriter, I couldn't say. I've listened to the Grace album once, maybe twice.

I'd hoped that Grace, the graphic novel based on his life, would help foster an interest in and appreciation for the man. It didn't make me dislike him, but I can't say I walked away anymore enlightened or inspired.

I think the major issue is that I feel things were rushed. In just chapter two right before signing a major contract, Buckley is shown as saying things like, "I've been doing this for years" and "It's everything I've always wanted." But I don't feel as a reader I really got to see or appreciate this supposed lifelong struggle or obsession and so I wasn't really sold on it.

There's also a frame story about a fan who's inspired by his work and manages a chance encounter with Buckley who sets his music career off. Again, it felt a little underdeveloped and therefore unnecessary.

But it wasn't terrible as a piece of entertainment. Plus, the art was great, with heavy manga influences.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Reader's Diary #2163 - Katy Weicker: Tinder Embers

Katy Weicker's "Tinder Embers" won the 2019 Islands Short Fiction Contest sponsored by the Nanaimo Arts Council, Vancouver Island Regional Library and the Vancouver Island University Department of Creative Writing and Journalism. After reading it I was pleasantly surprised it had been chosen. Not that I had any reason to doubt any of these groups would have reason to pick a sub-standard piece of writing. And the writing is soilid, full of imagery, a strong voice, and humour. But it's very adult-oriented (it's about the day after a one-night stand) and I know some folks sponsoring a public contest would fear picking such a story. But good on them!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2162 - Keith Giffen and Alan Grant: Lobo Volume 1

Last week I listened to Melissa Etheridge's Yes, I Am album. It came out originally when I was a teen going through a metal period. It bored me to tears at the time. Now at 43 I was able to appreciate it. It wasn't a teenager's album and that's okay. Sort of the opposite reaction to Keith Giffen and Alan Grant's Lobo, Volume 1 collection. It's over-the-top violent and uses shock for comedy. I would have loved it as teen (when the comics first came out). Now I'm more bored by intentional shock and I didn't particularly like the scenes with maiming. Lobo's supposed to be a likable psychopath I think, and I wasn't particularly endeared to him.

But yes, I'd say I would have enjoyed it at the time. I also appreciated the indie/graffiti style of the art. Reminded me of Tank Girl and certainly fit the stories.

I find it weird though that DC Comics folded him in with the superheros. Without reading those, I think he works better as a solo character. I may be proven wrong, but I cannot see how he can work alongside Superman or Batman and still be this Lobo.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reader's Diary #2161- Julia Zarankin: Black-legged Kittiwake

In Julia Zarankin's short story "Black-legged Kittiwake", a man named Sam goes through his ex's bird-watching notebooks, looking for clues about where their relationship began to fall apart.

It's a fine balance, watching him reminisce. Do we feel sorry for him? Do we start raising red flags that he's maybe another male who can't let an ex move on? Does he see himself, perhaps, developing a passion for his ex in the same way she had a passion for birds?

I'm making the story seem far more dark and sinister than it comes across. There's a moment at the end where I started getting the unhealthy vibe and admittedly that angle is the one rattling around in my head still.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Reader's Diary #2160- Nancy Hale: The Empress's Ring

Nancy Hale's "The Empress's Ring" reminded me of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Normally such a comparison by me would not be a good thing as I'm definitely not a fan of Moby Dick. However, my main beef with Moby Dick is that it's too damn long and already at just a few pages, Hale's is better.

It reminded me of Melville's book mostly due to the possible themes about pride as a motivator. In this case a woman is haunted and preoccupied by a lost ring from her childhood. It's her white whale. That said, it's definitely a more feminine take, without the aggression of Melville's.

It's also quite rich in visual imagery and another reason I enjoyed it so much was because it reminded me of playing cubby-house (or "coopy-house" as we called it Newfoundland) with my sister as a child.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2160- The McElroys (writers) Andre Lima Araujo (artist): Journey Into Mystery

I hadn't jumped into Marvel's huge War of the Worlds event last year until now and this is, from what I can gather, a pretty peripheral story. But it wasn't really that event that drew me in as much as it was the promise of reading about some Marvel characters that I hadn't before: Wonder Man and Ares. In the bargain though War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery also introduced me to a few others I don't believe I encountered before: Death Locket, Sebastian Druid, and a couple of Thor's other siblings, Balder the Brave and his baby sister. If it weren't for Miles Morales and Kate Bishop, the story would have had almost no star appeal.

The story was good with a lot of humour and heart. It revolves this cast of mostly-rejects on a road trip across the U.S. to protect the baby.

The art didn't do a lot for me. I was especially put off my the faces. They seemed inconsistent. Towards the end of the volume though it grew on me more and there was one particular panel featuring Ares leaping from a flaming bus that me realize the action scenes were well done. It was somewhat reminiscent of Paul Pope's style of whom I'm also not a particular fan, but I appreciate it's a style and not cookie-cutter superhero art.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Reader's Diary #2159 - Mark McConville: Dreams

I can appreciate a story inside the head of a guy who's not handling a break-up well.  But there were a couple of sentences in Mark McConville that I really didn't like and they detracted from my overall enjoyment.

Her voice is still embedded in your head like a catchy rock song which has substance and lyrical qualities.

To me this comes off as awkward. Maybe it could be argued that it's a reflection of the narrator's awkwardness?

You’re festering like a fruit bowl laced in small insects. All the flies circle it like little commanders killing what they see fit.

Again, it's another simile which just pulled me right out of the story.

Overall though I enjoyed it, and bonus points for being written in the 2nd person. I have a weakness for that perspective.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2158- Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, Evan Shaner: Terrifics

I've made no secret that I'm a bigger fan of Marvel than DC. My issues with DC are of course generalizations, but I find them too serious (often trying to recapture "cool" 80s grit), too focused on Batman, and too many of their characters are overpowered.

Doesn't mean though I don't pick up a DC Comic now and again. I'm especially interested in reading about characters I'm unfamiliar with and pretty much anything Jeff Lemire writes, so I find myself reading Terrifics, and very obvious and unapologetic knock-off of Marvel's Fantastic Four.

But being a knock-off still doesn't mean it can't be good. Cracked had the occasional good parody, as did MADtv. And Terrifics is good as well. The characters aren't completely analogous to the Fantastic Four. Plastic Man, for instance has the stretching abilities of Mr. Fantastic, but unlike the latter, he isn't the leader of the group and his personality is probably closest to the Human Torch, if anybody. Plus, no one writes families like Jeff Lemire. Underneath the Marvel-esque humour Lemire infuses the story with heart.

The art is good. It's not too experimental or anything, and perhaps could have veered further away from the typical look of a superhero comic and still worked for this different kind of story, but the characters are drawn with great expressions and movement is captured quite well, particularly in the case of Plastic Man.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Reader's Diary #2157- Jose Saramago, translated by Margaret Jull Costa: Seeing

It's been years since I read Jose Saramago's Blindness but I still consider it one of my favourites. To some it may seem surprising that it's taken me this long to read the sequel but I really liked Blindness so much that I was afraid of not enjoying Seeing and that experience detracting from my fond memory of the first book.

Now that I've finally read it, I can't say that my fears were unfounded. While I ultimately enjoyed Seeing, it was nowhere near the same extent. One of the things I liked the most about Blindness was how well the experimental style fit the plot. Eschewing quotation marks or changing paragraphs after a person spoke, a lot of the dialogue was blurred and it was difficult at times to tell who said what. However, in a world where everyone is suddenly struck blind, that made sense. Most of us would have difficultly differentiating between the various conversations going on around us.

In Seeing sight has been long (4 years) to the world and that style seemed less purposeful and more gimmicky. I suppose it did keep the pace up but otherwise I don't know that it did the story any favours.

Also I wasn't sure it worked as a sequel. In fact, it was only about halfway through the book that it's even clear that it is a sequel. The plot of this book involves an election in which a large majority of ballots are spoiled by being left blank. It leads to political chaos and then violence. Eventually, someone points to the doctor's wife, the woman who didn't go blind in Blindness, as somehow being responsible.

I mean it was still all rather interesting, had some provocative themes about democracy and corruption, and the ending was pretty unique. I won't say what happened or didn't happen, but I will say it probably wouldn't be everyone's favourite ending.

Seeing was good, nowhere near as great as Blindness, but it thankfully didn't detract from it either.