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.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2156- Nick Seluk: Heart and Brain

Starting to think I should just avoid books  published by Andrews McMeel Publishers. Usually featuring comics taken from the web, I'm sad to say we don't usually share the same sense of humour and I can't put my finger on why. On the surface, they tend towards quirky, slightly dark which is exactly what I go for. Unfortunately, I'm always left underwhelmed. Same goes for Nick Seluk's Heart and Brain.

The premise is decent: a heart and brain debate responsibilities and living in the now. Could be some smart psychological insight here, a riff on the id vs the ego. Except it's the same joke over and over. The brain is typically right, until he's not. The brain is over-serious, the heart is goofy.

The art is simple, which would be fine if the jokes held up their end of the bargain (we wouldn't need complicated art getting in the way). But when the jokes are just meh, I found myself wanting more from the art.

I did find the brain's pestering of the Awkward Yeti (the host body) just as he was about to fall asleep worthy of at least a chuckle.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Reader's Diary #2155- Dig Wayne: Louie Armstrong on the Moon

Last year I read Youssef Dadudi's brilliant graphic novel Monk! and commented at the time that it had the feel of jazz yet remained accessible, unlike the reputation of actual jazz music. (I'm assuming  actual jazz musicians would disagree that their chosen genre isn't accessible!) This week's short story, Dig Wayne's "Louie Armstrong on the Moon" also has the feel of jazz music, again almost to the point of cliche, but perhaps less accessible.

It compares the styles of Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong to the space race and the first manned moon landing and that's really enough. Maybe not an easy read, but a fun read, with jazzy rhythms and more poetics than prose.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2154- Various writers, artists: Wonder Woman / The Cheetah

Looking forward to the next Wonder Woman movie, I felt the need to brush up on the Cheetah character, a villain that will be portrayed by Kristen Wiig. I'm nowhere near as familiar with DC Comics as I am with Marvel, and I admit, I barely know Wonder Woman, let alone her rogues gallery.

This collection, no doubt put out because of the movie, does a good job of highlighting the character's publication history, with stories from her original appearance right up to 2016. But it also highlights the issue that the writers have had keeping the character consistent (though bonus points for later authors trying to rein it all in). Her identity, origins, and powers are all wildly inconsistent and it makes me wonder which ones the movie will focus on. I do hope that they keep the super speed though. Her character is based on a cheetah after all and there's a real dearth of fast female superheroes.

And as I often point out with collections, the quality varies. For the most part though, I found the stories engaging. One even tried to provide commentary on striking a healthy balance with environmental activism, which I enjoyed. My larger issues against involved racism and sexism, neither of which were in the earlier comics as you might expect, but some of the more recent ones. One artist, for instance, seemed to shrink Wonder Woman's outfit more and more with each passing panel. She deserves better.

Overall though I do feel more prepared for the Cheetah's entry into the big screen. I'm very curious about the choice of Wiig though. I'm a fan, but she's a comedian and none of these stories hinted at the Cheetah being a particularly funny character. A worthy adversary, yes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Reader's Diary #2153- Al Ewing (writer), Joe Bennett (artist): The Immortal Hulk vol. 1

It's a cliche at this point that no one stays dead in the comics. And while it's usually just laughed off, I'd say that it's a real problem. It's why in 2016, when Hawkeye killed the Hulk, it should have been shocking, should have had readers in tears, but instead it was met with shrugs. We all knew he'd be back and most likely soon. Sure enough, he's back. And to add to the problem, new writers are coming up with new characters all the time, some of whom are even obvious replacements. But with publishers insistence that readers will miss legacy characters too much or some nonsense, we wind up with a world way too populated with superheroes and no one really given the chance to invest in new versions (unless it's Miles Morales, maybe Ms. Marvel). Sure The Immortal Hulk is good, but there's no reason a similar story couldn't have been told with the Amadeus Cho version of Hulk rather than drag Bruce Banner back from the meaningless dead.

Jeff Lemire writes the intro to this collection and based on his high praise, I was convinced it would be so good as to make me forget all that. It was not. Again, it's a decent comic. There's an arc but each story stands alone, it has horror elements, and the art is fantastic. Plus I liked cameos by characters I've not really had enough exposure to (notably Sasquatch). But overall, I was never able to shake the feeling that there's no reason for the book to exist.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2152- Walter Whitman: Eris

Yes, Walter Whitman is Walt Whitman, the poet behind Leaves of Grass. I didn't know he also wrote short stories until now. "Eris; A Spirit Record" was published under "Walter Whitman" hence the name chosen for this post title.

Would hate to base a preference for one form of his writing over another based on a single piece of short fiction, but it certainly didn't capture me like some of his poetry has. Besides the dated language, which he can hardly be faulted with, I found the story overdosing on adjectives, adverbs, and figurative language.

But I did enjoy that it had the air of an old Greek myth. With themes of unrequited love, it tells of an angel who breaks the rules to confess his love to a mortal he had been meant to oversee without interference. (Yes, it also reminded me a little of Nicolas Cages' City of Angels.) Anyway, without giving to much away, it doesn't work out in the end.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2152- John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke: The Mask Omnibus

I had heard the Jim Carrey Mask movie took many liberties with the source material, notably cleaning up the violence to a PG level. It still didn't prepare me for the first comics, especially the misogyny. Lesser of an issue: the shoddy art.

Nonetheless, I stuck with it and once the misogyny was dialed way down and the art approved, it grew on me somewhat and I could better appreciate the humour and over-the-top world building. It might even be said to have philosophical themes about absolute power corrupting absolutely.

To be sure though, the mask is definitely not a hero and only at times does it approach anti-hero territory.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2151- The Avengers/ Doctor Strange: Rise of the Darkhold

Excited for the upcoming Wanda Vision TV series and Doctor Strange sequel, I can only rely now on rumours: I've heard that they'll connect to one another, that Scarlet Witch may turn evil, and that Doctor Strange may have strong horror elements. I've also heard that the Darkhold storylines may be used and hence my reading of this collection.

I'm not sure that the Darkhold itself will make an appearance as it's already been featured in the TV show Agents of Shield and quite frankly, is kind of lame (it's an evil book, in a nutshell). But should any other element come to fruition, it could be interesting. There are a lot more possible characters that could be introduced for one, including Modred the Mystic, Jack Russell the Werewolf by Night, Dracula, and the High Evolutionary. Werewolf by Night and Dracula could certainly work for the horror angle and the latter could tie in with the Blade reboot, and the more Marvel Dracula comics I read the more convinced I am he belongs in the MCU. The High Evolutionary is also rumored to be making an appearance in the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, to explain Rocket's origin.

All this aside, if one is not interested in the movies, just the comics, I think they'd still have a good time with this collection. It's more on the magical side of things than superhero sci-fi or crime fighting, it's primarily from the 70s so one can expect a lot of garish colours and cheese typical of comics from the time, and the stories are more or less coherent, though some familiarity with Marvel comic characters would help. I also think it's fair to say that Marvel's usual wise-cracking light atmosphere is pretty absent in most of their more magical stories. I'm not sure what the logic of that is, but I suspect magic is an even bigger leap of faith that other superhero tales, so they have to give it a "serious" air.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Reader's Diary #2150- Patti Weber: On the Rising Wind

Coming from Newfoundland, I can trace my roots back to England, but I don't feel much of a cultural connection to the place. Like most Newfoundlanders, there's a bit of a pull toward the place and of course, Ireland, but the rest is just the United Kingdom and we don't really give it much thought. The Nova Scotians have Scottish roots and who the hell knows anything about Wales?

Patti Weber's "On the Rising Wind" is steeped is Welsh culture and though it comes across as a seaside culture in the story, the sheer Celtic-ness of if seems almost foreign to me. Like folklore and witchcraft all rolled into one. And of course words with an assortment of consonants that I cannot fathom how to pronounce.

For these reasons, I loved it and was entranced by it. There's a melancholy mystery about it though that feels like a secret in the fog.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2149- Ebony Flowers: Hot Comb

In the very first story in Ebony Flowers's Hot Comb, she recounts getting a perm as a young girl. It made me remember getting a perm as a young boy, probably around 11 or 12. My mom had been taking a hairdressing class and I was her guinea pig. It was hysterically bad as my wife, who has since seen the pictures, likes to remind me.

It's natural, I suppose, as readers to make such personal connections to a text. But Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb is a memoir of how her hair, and in broader terms how black women's hair, has had an impact on her life. It's an experience that I, as a white male, can only begin to appreciate thanks to stories like these.

These were engaging, funny, sometimes sad or infuriating, and like any collection of short stories, I felt some were more fully realized than others. The art was interesting, very stylistic and in the use of thick, curvy black lines, I wondered if it was a conscious choice to draw in a way reminiscent of hair or if this was just a coincidence.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2148- Ernest Hemingway: Chapter V

My verdict on Ernest Hemingway is still out. I really hated The Old Man and The Sea. And I thought I loved his incredibly short (and oft parodied) story "Baby Shoes" but there's debate about whether or not he actually penned that. But he did write the flash fiction "Chapter V" and okay, so I liked it.

The story of six cabinet ministers facing a firing squad, it's the somewhat strange way its told that really sells this story for me. The sentences are short and repetitive but it all adds to the tension and impact. It ricochets around in my head.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Reader's Diary #2147- Jim DeFede: The Day the World Came To Town

I read Jim DeFede's The Day the World Came to Town during my most recent vacation to Barbados. The plan was to visit New York City after Barbados and see Come From Away on Broadway. Both, of course, are based on the stranding of international flights in Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11 and the hospitality received by the passengers.

Our trip to New York didn't wind up happening. With Covid-19 hitting North America, Broadway closed down and we followed Trudeau's advice to Canadians abroad to get the hell home. Borders were closing and flights were being cancelled. It was stressful.

And not that two events are really comparable, but perhaps that played a part in my emotional reaction to Jim DeFede's book. I'd heard the stories many times and though I'm a voracious reader, I don't usually have strong, immediate feelings about a book. (Most books that really resonate with me have a slow-burn effect and I think about them long after the fact.) For The Day the World Came to Town though, I choked up. A lot. Sometimes it was over something sad (a passenger worrying about the status of a loved one who may have been at the Twin Towers that day), sometimes it was over something touching (a small, but thoughtful gesture by a Newfoundlander trying to make someone's impromptu and inconvenient stop a little more bearable).

Of course, I'd be remiss not to give some credit to Jim DeFede for the connection I made to the book. Despite hundreds of travelers and helpful locals, he managed to take just the right amount and right assortment of stories and characters to focus on. And the way he revisited and intertwined these stories throughout each chapter was handled superbly. It could have easily been a confusing mess but instead I felt like I got a real sense of individuals. That makes all the difference.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Reader's Diary #2146- Andrea Warner: Buffy Sainte-Marie

Anyone who follows me on other social media, likely knows that my other pop-culture love, outside of books, is rock music. And very specifically, I'm a bit of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame junky. Like other followers of that institution, I have my list of snubs that should be in but I'd not given much thought Buffy Sainte-Marie before and honestly it's just simply that I hadn't been exposed enough to her, her music, or her legacy.

After reading Andrea Warner's biography though, I've filled up my phone with Sainte-Marie's songs I need to listen to, realize that a large part of the reason I'm so in the dark about her music is by design (it's revealed that she was blacklisted from much tv and radio just as her career should have been exploding largely due to her race, gender, and activism), and that Buffy Sainte-Marie belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I should also say that Warner's biography is one of the best I've read, regardless of the subject. Too often I've read biographies that pretend they're not biased when they're really about either exposing a bad side or promoting an artist. Warner is upfront that she's a fan. But she's not a fawning fan. She analyzes Saint-Marie's work with critical depth and uses Sainte-Marie's own words to push the narrative forward (as close to an autobiography as you could get without being one). It's balanced, enlightening, inspiring, and engaging. I really felt I got a sense of Buffy Sainte-Marie and her music even without yet having a chance to go back and explore her music more fully.

One of the biggest surprises for me personally were the the number of musicians that covered her songs, especially back in the 60s, including the likes of Cher and Elvis Presley, though even Hole covered one of her songs in the 90s. I think this in itself shows how much of an influence and how great a songwriter she was.

Of course, beyond that, her tireless activism, especially for the rights and recognition of indigenous peoples are even more of a reason she should be in the Rock Hall (which is also in dire need of more diversity).

Monday, March 30, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Kate Mosse: The House on the Hill

There's a delicate balance in creating a classic ghost story vibe and something original. On the one hand, you know certain elements have become entrenched in readers' minds as creepy and you'd be a fool not to rely on some of them. On the other hand, if you're just going to throw out one horror story trope after another it loses its appeal after a while.

Unfortunately, Kate Mosse's "The House on the Hill" does not find the balance and is a colour-by-numbers horror story. The most annoying detail is a dollhouse, a miniature version of a haunted house, which has a mysterious light inside just like the real one. My god, how many times have we seen that.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2145- Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I hardly ever read self-help books and didn't go looking one for one this time around for any big reason; I began it before the Covid-19 craziness and I'm more content in my life now than I've ever been, but a couple of guy friends mentioned this book to me in passing recently and as books don't often come up amongst my guy friends, I decided to see what drew them to it.

While I've read a few positive reviews of the book written by women, the book very much felt like a book for guys: the course language (it's not actually gratuitous as the title much suggest though), the no-nonsense, tone. And to further generalize, it's also from the perspective of a straight, white, middle-class male. So while I did agree personally with a lot of his insights and arguments, I'm not entirely sure those not in his demographic would agree or find it useful. I mean the gist of his argument is that we'd be happier if we took the hard times in life as opportunities and if we refocused our values, so maybe those concepts are universal. Who am I to say? It's still pretty entertaining though even if one doesn't take away any profound life changes.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2144- Arthur C. Clarke: Quarantine

I enjoy a lot of short stories with an unexpected twist or reveal at the end. Arthur C. Clarke's "Quarantine" is not one of them.

 The premise up to that point is fine: organic, artificial intelligent satellites (ahead of his time on that!), have to be quarantined as they've picked up a virus of sorts, an unsolvable problem that has rendered them useless and in danger of infecting other satellites. The reveal though is quite stupid.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Reader's Diary #2143- Margaret T. Canby: The Frost Fairies

Last week I looked at Helen Keller's "The Frost King" a short story for which she came under accusations of plagiarism for its similarities to Margaret T. Canby's "The Frost Fairies". The general consensus seems to be that it was plagiarized but probably unintentionally so. Helen Keller had been introduced to Canby's story in her youth but claims to have forgotten that while the story itself remained in her head. This is a similar defense that George Harrison used for using the tune of the Chiffons' "He So Fine," for his song, "My Sweet Lord."

Canby's story seems a little more sophisticated than Keller's version. Not that Keller's is poorly written but it's just more obviously aimed at children. Of course Canby's still features mythical beings that would be of interest to kids: Santa, fairies, etc. It's largely the same origin tale of how the autumn trees first got their colours. Interestingly though she adds a new character of King Winter, different than King Frost (or Jack, used interchangeably in her story). King Frost is a friendly chap who brings the delights of winter, while King Winter brings the bad stuff (the cold, etc).

Monday, March 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2142- Helen Keller: The Frost King

I only recently heard the story about Helen Keller's unintentional foray into plagiarism. It was also new to me that she had ever written a short story in the first place. Today, I look at her version, "The Frost King" (scroll down for chapter v) and next week I'll look at the original. 

Even ignoring the plagiarism case, it's hard to not think of the writer when reading "The Frost King." Being blind, her strong use of visual imagery is jarring. That said, I did have a blind great uncle who always used visual descriptions as well so it's not unheard of. 

Besides the rich imagery, it's a pleasant enough myth story explaining to children how the frost king came to give us the rich autumn colours of leaves and features fairies and Santa Claus. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a claymation version of this.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Reader's Diary #2141- Ryan Strain: Out of His League

Despite not really being a hockey fan, I've enjoyed enough books on the subject now that I was actually looking forward to reading Ryan Strain's Out of His League. Of course, it also helped that Strain is a local boy and a large part of the novel is set in Yellowknife. It did not help that it was a self-published book and I've had less than favourable experiences with those.

And too be sure, like a lot of self-published books, it has its fair share of typos. But it was not the worst that I've seen, even including some put out by actual publishers (Charlotte Gray's Gold Diggers comes to mind). In fact, rather than coming across as a self-published book, it instead just felt like a first time novelist's book (which is was). The dialogue was a little stilted, but it also had some real strengths. I like some of the idiosyncrasies that gave the main character, Cal, a bit more depth: his Young and the Restless fandom, for instance. I also enjoyed the hints of a controversial story in his past that Strain wisely chose to hold back for most of the book.

However, it's very hockey jargon-y for non-fans like myself and I found some of the play by play stuff tedious. It also seems to glamorize the misogyny and homophobia barely disguised as jokes prevalent in locker rooms.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Reader's Diary #2140- Dino Buzzati, translated by Judith Landry: The Epidemic

Dino Buzzati's short story "The Epidemic" reads a bit like a satire. It involves a Colonel in a military office whose staff has been hit with influenza. As more and more of his staff go absent, a mistrusted secretary of another department plants the idea in the Colonel's head that the the flu virus has been engineered by government scientists to attack only those who are treasonous to the regime.When the Colonel himself starts getting sick, he pushes on, coming to work every day lest he be perceived a traitor.

It's preposterous of course that a virus could tell who's loyal or not, but I did find myself thinking that it's not entirely impossible that people would be stupid enough to believe it. After all, some believe that certain diseases are sent by God as punishment for sinning, it's not such a far stretch. It also speaks loudly about those a-holes who come to work knowing that they're sick, "proving" that they're dedicated to their work but putting everyone else at risk.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Reader's Diary #2139 Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred: Bowie Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams

On the credits page of the graphic novel Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, rather than list roles as typical for such a book (writer, pencils, colours, etc) they instead list them as (Screenplay by, technicolor cinematography, and directed). While it left me a little confused as to who did what exactly, it did make me appreciate how much it actually felt like a biopic in the same vein as the recent Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. All three used creative license and eye candy visuals and focused on a particularly successful period of a musician's life.

The period here ranges roughly from Bowie's beginnings as a musician to the retirment of his Ziggy Stardust character. I particularly enjoyed the cameos from other famous rock stars of the area: the respect/rivalry between him and Marc Bolan (T-Rex), the friendship with Alice Cooper (who knew?), and the mentor/mentee relationship which often reversed roles between him and Iggy Pop.

Though the book is beautifully creative in both storytelling and art, you still get a real sense of the facts. Albeit, it's definitely from a fan perspective and some of the more controversial rumours of Bowie at that time were notably absent.

At the end, there's a visual montage of Bowie's life after the Ziggy Stardust farewell concert and these images were a lot of fun, hopefully also a teaser for subsequent volumes.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Reader's Diary #2138- Victor Gischler (writer), David Baldeon (artist): Spirits of Vengeance War at the Gates of Hell

In the Marvel vs DC Comics debate, I'm a die-hard Marvel guy. Except for Justice League Dark which is almost on par for me (except when Batman shows up and ruins everything). Victor Gischler and David Baldeon's Spirits of Vengeance feels the most like JLD.

That said, it's very plot driven and while I was excited to learn more about Hellstorm and Satana, of whom I was unfamiliar, I'm still not overly knowledgeable. I'm also a little unclear as to why Blade was on the team (I would think Doctor Strange and/or Scarlet Witch would have made more sense). Still, the story was good and fast-paced.

The art was decent and well-coloured, though perhaps not particularly complementary to the story which maybe would have been paired with something either more "out-there" or goth. Then again, Baldeon's style here is more humorous and a case could be made that it added some levity to what could have been an overly heavy tale.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Reader's Diary #2137- Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph: Excellence Volume One Kill The Past

I started off thinking I'd enjoy Brandon Thomas' and Khary Randolph's Excellence: Kill the Past much more than wound up happening.

The art was great, and remained so, but the story left me confused and wanting more. Out of the gate, the themes were evident: legacies, father issues, masculinity, identity. All good. But the world building was confusing. Heavy on magic and some sort of training institute with an muddled purpose and unclear family tree dynamics. It reminded me somewhat of sci-fi which often starts out writing like the reader already understands the world but subtle world-building and context helps the understanding come later. Unfortunately it never did become clearer here and instead even the plot got lost in it all.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Reader's Diary #2136- Przemysław Zańko: Acceptable Loss

It freaks me out a little that multiverses, that old comic book standby, aren't rejected outright by physicists.

In Przemysław Zańko's brilliant short story "Acceptable Losses," not only are such multiverses proven, but people have found a way to travel to them. Don't like the current version of your spouse? In an alternate reality, you can find one whom you are still very much in love. Okay, so none of this is new to Rick and Morty fans, but it's still a good story, especially when it revolves around a man who's about to shut down all the rest. It brushes up against the ethics; is this genocide? It even draws parallels to the ideas of open borders in our current reality.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2135- Neal Adams (writer), Denny O'Neil (artist): Superman vs. Muhammad Ali

Sometimes going into something with no, or low expectations is the best. I was attracted to the Superman vs Muhammad Ali comic more for the novelty than anything else. I'm not a huge Superman or even DC Comics fan but more importantly I thought the whole premise was a bit dumb. Yes, Ali was the greatest boxer of all-time but were we really to believe he could bit a superhero?

Thankfully, Adams addresses that and has Superman compete against Ali in a scenario where Supe's been stripped of his super-powers. Okay, so still comic book dumb but not dumb dumb. And it's fun. It has a classic Star Trek kind of vibe actually. Plus I think Adams keeps the essence of both Superman the character and Muhammad Ali the man in tact.

And the art by Denny O'Neill is fantastic. It has a classic comic book look but infused with a lot of detail that made me appreciate all the work that went in to it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Reader's Diary #2134- Sergio Aragones: Groo Friends and Foes

As a MAD Magazine fan, I was looking forward to finally reading a collection of Sergio Aragones' Groo stories. But it's probably more suited to fantasy fans and/or Conan the Barbarian fans who also have a sense of humour.

Like Conan, Groo is a muscle-bound wanderer. The similarities probably end there though. He's well-intentioned for the most part, though his assistance usually results in slapstick tragedy for those he's trying to help, thanks mostly to Groo's pea-sized brain. He also appears to have skipped leg days.

The premise and visual gags grew old for me before long however.

Nice to see what he's all about but not enough to make a longtime fan out of me.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Reader's Diary #2133- Greg Egan: Bit Players

It took me a while to get into Greg Egan's short story "Bit Players." It begins with a bizarre scenario in which the Earth's gravitational pull has altered to pull East rather than down. The protagonist, Sagreda, however knows enough about physics to know how it's not possible and that rules are being broken. It sounds like an interesting premise but something of the delivery just makes it come across as Egan himself having heard the gravity-premise elsewhere and rather than just criticize it directly, threw a thin short story over his arguments.

Then it takes a bit of an unexpected turn in which it's revealed that the story's characters are actually AI characters in a video game and composites of real life humans. The plot still fizzles a bit, but it's overall an interesting piece.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2132- Various writers and artists: The Tomb of Dracula

After reading a disappointing collection of Blade comics recently, I went back to where it all started. His first appearance was in Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series from 1973.

He's really only the focus of a couple of stories in the collection, but still much better than the more recent one I read. Dracula is, of course, the star and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

A vampire fan, I wasn't particularly fond of Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, he seems tailor-made for Marvel. If you think of all the powers he has, they all pretty much have their equivalents in X-Men. He's shown to shape shift, control weather, hypnotize people, fly, possess superhuman strength. He's a super-villain! (I still think the aversion to crosses is pretty asinine though- does he never encounter a lowercase t?)

Plus the art and stories were great pulpy horror tales.

If they want to introduce Dracula into the MCU, that'd be just fine by me.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Reader's Diary #2131- Jack Crawford: Ineffable Romance

Recently, in anticipation for an upcoming trip to Guadeloupe, my wife and I started watching Death in Paradise, a lighthearted crime drama that is filmed there. And it's odd to call a show where there's a murder every week lighthearted. But even those that don't share my dark sense of humour seem to appreciate these type of films and books.

I wonder where Jack Crawford's flash fiction "Ineffable Romance" falls in this weird spectrum that ranges from cozy mystery to darkly shocking. It involves a murderous couple who meet and start a romance while each having gone to dump a body. I enjoyed it and found it amusing though I wonder if it would appeal more to fans of Murder She Wrote or of Dexter. Personally, I'd place it solidly between.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Reader's Diary #2130- Johanna Stoberock: Pigs

Recently I read Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police and while I enjoyed it, I'd be reluctant to recommend it, assuming that the vague nature of its theme(s) would prove too frustrating for too many people.

Johanna Stoberock's Pigs has a similar parable sort of vibe and the ending comes with many questions remaining. However, it's faster paced and most themes are at more accessible, so I think it'd be a safer recommendation.

In a nutshell, there's a small group of kids stranded on an island with a herd of pigs. But not just any pigs, garbage eating pigs which comes in handy because this is where the world's garbage washes up. They're miracle pigs though, able to eat anything including metal, glass, and even toxic waste, with no ill effects. However, there's also a group of adults on the island who are selfish and shallow and dangerous.

Pigs and islands and kids likely allude to Lord of the Flies, but this book has more of an environmental message. I believe that they're kids may represent the way most people if richer countries view the people of "third world" countries without giving much thought to how our capitalism and pollution affects people there. There's another broken adult who comes to live with them and I think he may represent those that visit such countries with "white saviour" complexes (and fail miserably). Perhaps the adults already on the on the line represent those that, while are more aware of such countries, only see them as another resource to exploit. Not sure what the pigs themselves represent though. There's definitely a message about tipping points in there as well. But with all this talk about representation and possible symbolism, it could make for a great book club selection.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Reader's Diary #2129- Jaye Wells: I Can Dig It

Seems like I've been reading a lot of vampire stuff lately, first Blade, then Jaye Wells' short story "I Can Dig It," and I'm currently reading Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula. When I was a kid and really into monsters, vampires were my absolute favourite so it's been a fun time revisiting that.

And fun is a perfect way to describe "I Can Dig It." Though it involves grave-digging, vampires, and a murder, it's far more comedic than scary. Still in a short space Wells effectively establishes the story's take on vampire lore and laws, plus offers an engaging voice.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Reader's Diary #2128- Marc Andreyko, Don McGregor, Bart Sears: Blade Blood and Chaos

Image result for blade blood and chaosI probably wasn't as excited as most when Marvel Studios announced that they'd be revamping Blade with a new movie. I was excited, I suppose that Mahershala Ali would be taking the title role, as he's a great actor, but shamefully I was pretty in the dark about the character. I still haven't seen the Wesley Snipes films and I'd never read any Blade comics. He may have popped up in a cameo or something in some other comics, but I can't recall any.

So I thought I'd remedy that with the collection Blade: Blood and Chaos (originally released in the 90s). Yeah, these were awful.

The first Blood arc wasn't horrendous. It was set in New Orleans, which is always cool, and the story was passable, but the art left a lot to be desired (looked rushed), and worst of all it was cancelled after three issues with a huge cliffhanger.

The next Chaos arc wasn't, unfortunately, cancelled. This thing is a mess from start to finish. The art is bad, the dialogue is ridiculous, and the story is a convoluted to the point of being incomprehensible.

I suppose I got a bit more insight into the character's origins but man, any character deserved better than this. The only bonus? Marvel Studios has a pretty low bar to do better than this.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Reader's Diary #2127- László Krasznahorkai: I Don't Need Anything From Here

It's not unusual for flash fiction to blur the lines between short story and poetry, but I still prefer those that have a plot (and a resolution for that matter, otherwise it seems like an introduction to a longer piece).

László Krasznahorkai's "I Don't Need Anything From Here" however definitely falls further into the poetry side despite the New Yorker's labeling it as flash fiction. Actually, it's more like a personal mantra or prayer (complete with religious themes of the afterlife). Perhaps there's a hint of plot in the very last line, but that's generous.

Whatever it is, it's pleasant and some would even say beautiful.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Reader's Diary #2126- Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder: The Memory Police

Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police had such an unusual premise that I was entranced. Essentially there's an island on which things randomly start disappearing. Not disappearing exactly but rather start being erased from memory and followed up by people getting rid of the forgotten things. The reason and exact science of what happens remains elusive. There are some, now unfortunate, souls on the island however who don't forget. These are rounded up by the dreaded memory police. The narrator of this tale decides to hide one of these folks, a la Anne Frank, in a secret room in her house.

Though I enjoyed it, it would be a hard book to recommend. It's bound to be too frustrating for a lot of readers. It has the feel of a parable or a metaphor for something but I can't put my finger on it. I would like to find another reader to hear their theories. Throughout, mine changed. Was it something about those ideas that get edited away during the writing of a book, forever forgotten? Is it something about losing our individuality in love? Is it about the ephemeral nature of life itself?

Answers do not not come. The mystery, combined with Ogawa's rich but accessible descriptions, held me much longer than I would have thought. Still, I'd not judge anyone who gave up on it or who were angered by the ending.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Reader's Diary #2125- Jerome Stern: Morning News

There's a line, a word really, in the first paragraph of Jerome Stern's flash fiction "Morning News" that I cannot shake for how much I like it. The narrator has just gotten bad news, clearly has a very short time to live. Then: "The doctor, embarrassed, picks me up off the floor and I stagger to my car."

What business does the doctor have being embarrassed? Like there's something unreasonable about this guy's reaction. Is the narrator projecting? Does the doctor deliver so much bad news that this particular reaction is the most undignified he's ever seen? How much do I love embarrassed here?

The story overall is wonderful. It should be bleak but I found it darkly hilarious. Like there even is a proper way to deal with death? Or with life either for that matter.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reader's Diary #2124- Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: Bad Weekend

I don't know why it's striking me so odd that I just found Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' graphic novel Bad Weekend good. Maybe it's my personality, maybe it's the nature of book blogging, but I tend to want to label things as great or terrible. Bad Weekend didn't strike me as either of those things. Good seems almost insulting? Or as a review, lazy?

I enjoyed the characters in Bad Weekend the most. It's told from the perspective of a reluctant chaperone for a cantankerous old comics legend to a local convention. The legend, Hal Crane, reminded me a hybrid of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and a few others whose talents and amazing past work too often provide excuses for currently shitty behaviours and personalities. So not a likeable character by any stretch but a wholly plausible one.

The story though didn't overly excite me. Again, it was good, and gave a little insight into Hal as a person. Plus, the art was realistic and gritty with muted colours which complimented the tone and pace of the story. I'd be hard pressed to find any fault except that it didn't personally thrill me as a package.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Reader's Diary #2123- Daniel David Moses: Coyote City

A few years ago I created a list of plays that I felt I should have read but had not yet gotten around to reading. I worked away at this list, not religiously or anything, but tracking them down on occasion and tackling them when the mood struck:

1. Ann-Marie MacDonald- Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
2. Joseph Kesselring- Arsenic and Old Lace
3.Thornton Wilder- Our Town
4. Oscar Wilde- The Importance of Being Earnest
5. Tennessee Williams- A Streetcar Named Desire
6. Eugene O'Neill- The Iceman Cometh
7. Edward Albee- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
8. David Mamet- Glengarry Glen Ross
9. Tom Stoppard- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
10. Neil Simon- Lost in Yonkers
11. Agatha Christie- The Mousetrap
12. Moliere- Tartuffe
13. George Ryga- The Ecstasy of Rita Joe
14. Daniel David Moses- Coyote City
15. Sally Clark- Moo
16. Anton Chekov- The Cherry Orchard
17. Euripides- Medea
18. Tony Kushner- Angels in America
19. Lorraine Hansberry- A Raisin in the Sun
20. Bertolt Brecht- Galileo

I've enjoyed most (not so much Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?) but a favourite was also one of the hardest to track down: Daniel David Moses' Coyote City. It's funny, smart, thought-provoking, and creative.

The story revolves around a lovestruck young woman who gets a phone call to reconnect with her boyfriend in Toronto. The only issue? He's been dead for six months. Is she crazy or is there something supernatural going on? At the end, comparing the situation to tales of Coyote's trip to the land of the dead (the cast is from a First Nation), Moses made me really consider what the truth was and if it even mattered. Themes of grief, memory, legacy, and love abound.

Not I'd like to see just one of these performed!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Reader's Diary #2122- Megan James: Innsmouth

Megan James's Innsmouth, a comedic Lovecraftian graphic novel, is excellent. It honours the source material (but not the man behind it; more on that in a bit) while infusing the weird brand of horror with a cool story, wonderful characters, and humour.

In the introduction, James acknowledges that Lovecraft was a xenophobic twat but the man himself put his ideas into the public domain, so they were fresh for the reclamation. And reclaim them she did. Thankfully she salvaged the weird sea/inter-dimensional themes, but then made one of the main protagonists a smart, hijab-wearing, Muslim. Further, her know-it-all/know-nothing and hapless coworker, I believe is meant as a stand-in for Lovecraft himself (which is perfect).

The art is great, with a style that is consistent with the tone and pace, though I wish for the more way-out there sequences it was a bit brighter and/or glossier. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Reader's Diary #2121- Nnedi Okorafor (writer), Tana Ford and James Devlin (artists): Laguardia

Quickly becoming a fan of Nnedi Okorafor's work, Laguardia, a sci-fi graphic novel, further entrenches my appreciation.

The cover of Laguardia shows a pregnant woman protesting with a bunch of aliens (the outer space kind) who also happen to be aliens (in the immigration sense). One of the many signs reads, "Immigrants Make America Great!" and most modern readers know why such a book would be relevant today.

The fascinating, maybe fascinatingly depressing, thing is that the book doesn't really present a dystopia at least compared to how I think it would go if aliens did actually try to move to Earth. Considering how poorly we treat humans, I think if aliens were left alive, left to protest, that in itself would sadly be progress.

On top of the obvious statements about open borders and injustice, Okorafor also delves into some of the more complex issues. When people do immigrate, for instance, are they aware of, are they sensitive to the locals who themselves may be mistreated? I couldn't help but think about refugees to Canada and whether or not they consider the complex relationships between the indigenous peoples and colonizers.

She also works in a love story.

Laguardia is full of thought and imagination and is wildly entertaining. Better still, it's complimented wonderfully with rich art and colours by Tana Ford and James Devlin.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Reader's Diary #2120- Lauren Fox: Happy This, Congratulations That

I so badly wanted Lauren Fox's "Happy This, Congratulations That" to keep going.

But, I suppose, that's as much as praise for the preceding story as it is critique of the abrupt ending.

She does such a wonderfully engaging job of developing the narrator's character, supported with a wealth of realistic details. It could be on the depressing side (the narrator recounts her divorce and how she went from dental hygienist to working in a mall bakery. But on the other hand, I sensed that she found sound solace in her observations while working there: we're all miserable and going through crap.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Reader's Diary #2119- George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott (writers), Harmony Becker (art): They Called Us Enemy

While Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott assisted with the writing, the graphic novel They Called Us Enemy is George Takei's memoir detailing his time spent as a child in American concentration camps; a result of racism and wartime fear.

While definitely not a "both sides" sort of book, it's quite notable for the balance. Presenting himself as an optimistic sort of kid who could find positives anywhere, even as far as fond memories inside the camps, he (with subtle but strong emotions depicted in facial expressions by Harmony Becker) manages to show the stress and hurt of his parents as they coped during such traumatic times. Of course, as he grew older and talked more openly with his parents, Takei quickly understood the injustice of it all.

Likewise, he's takes a nuanced and balanced approach in his reflectionson those interred Japanese-Americans who signed loyalty oaths to to the US versus those who chose not to.

While he doesn't belabor the point, Takei acknowledges that this important piece of history is just as relevant now as it ever was, perhaps even more so under Trump's crazy, fascist, and racist rule.