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.