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Monday, February 22, 2021

Reader's Diary #2171 - Yilin Wang: Sparrow

 Yilin Wang's short story "Sparrow" tells of a young woman who's travelled to a city to work at one of the few jobs available to her: washing windows of a high rise. Unfortunately she's about to lose even that job as a robot is replacing her. 

The story is rather fatalistic with strong themes of alienation. This makes the choice of a 2nd person perspective all the more interesting. On the one hand, had Wang written it in 3rd person, it might make the central character's situation seem even more isolated. But on the other, maybe 2nd instills some empathy in the readers.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Reader's Diary #2170 - Tom Farr: The Interview

 Tom Farr's short story "The Interview" revolves around a famous, reclusive movie director who has decided to finally grant his first interview and plans to use his spotlight as chance to make a shocking confession.

I enjoyed the details and world building as it were but the surprise ending didn't really do anything for me. Still, the themes of guilt and penance might appeal to some readers. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Reader's Diary #2169 - Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn: What's For Sale

 Any short story naysayers who still complain that they don't provide enough space to richly develop characters, setting, and so on should read Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn's "What's For Sale." Honestly, I felt as rewarded as if I'd just read a novel.

Set in Jamaica and revolving around a tourist market vendor named Delores, Dennis-Benn slowly building up the empathy for her until boom, there's a sucker punch to the gut. I won't say more on that. It's not, though, I should say a suprise ending sort of story, not that there's anything wrong with those. Instead it's a rich story about desperation and poverty and family.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Reader's Diary #2168 - Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer

I missed the part in the Seinfeld episode "The Library" episode where they implied Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was a rather vulgar book. All I knew was that it was a classic I hadn't read and finally got around to it.

Not that I'm opposed to a vulgar book per se, and Tropic of Cancer is that indeed and definitely not the dry literature that "classic" usually suggests. Every other word is "cunt." But I won't necessarily like something just because it's vulgar either.

Apparently a semi-autobiographical novel about Miller's time in Paris, I've decided I'd not have liked him as a person. There's a certain smugness about him that I couldn't take to. Plus there are plenty of glimpses into his biases: against women, Jewish people, people of colour, disabled people, etc. Quite frankly he came across as a sociopath and reminded me somewhat of the girlfriend from Pulp's "Common People" song, romanticizing the poor. He judges the working class for taking life too seriously yet owes his existence in Paris on their handouts. 

Also, there's not a plot to be found.

That all said, he could write a good sentence. And that's what kept me going. I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris and the trainwreck of his experience there, despite the fact that he didn't view it that way at all.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Reader's Diary #2167 - Ethan Sacks (writer), Paoli Villanelli (artist): Star Wars Bounty Hunters 1: Galaxy's Deadliest

I may get my nerd credentials revoked, but I've never been a huge Star Wars fan. Yes, that includes the originals. I mean, I liked them okay, but never invested in them they way I did, say, Marvel superheroes. 

I remember particularly getting hung up on the opening scrawl in the very first film. There was so much backstory moving by so fast and I got hung up on it. Other fans either got and understood it all or didn't care. (I had other issues as well but that would be the subject of another post.) Over the years though, they've either filled in the gaps or I've picked up enough to gather the general idea of who's who, the bad guys vs. the bad guys, etc. 

Recently I got into the Mandalorian on Disney+ and have to say, that series is probably my favourite thing that franchise has ever produced. It led me to believe that I might enjoy a comic book series based on their bounty hunters. 

Unfortunately, those old feelings of being lost and overwhelmed came back. I had no idea who these characters were, what their motives were, nor really what the hell was going on. At one point I double checked to see if this was actually the first volume. Sure enough it was. I still have to assume that the majority of these characters were established elsewhere and that understanding this book depends on a much more intimate knowledge than I have. For a pretty surface level fan, it's a complicated, busy mess, and it's a shame because the art is quite good.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Reader's Diary #2166 - Dan Powell: The Ideal Husband Exhibition

 Dan Powell's "The Ideal Husband Exhibition" is a story about unrequited love between a lesbian and her straight friend. 

The story is told as a letter of confession, and so, it's in the 2nd person (the reader is the straight friend). If you're new to my blog, 2nd person is a weakness of mine, so it already had that going for it.

It's also set up a bit as a twist ending, except the ending is so obvious. I don't know if that's intentional or not. She talks about coming out to her parents when she was younger and they were completely not shocked. So perhaps we're supposed to have a similar reaction. On the other hand, when she first came out to her friend years ago, her friend was surprised, So maybe she'd be completely oblivious about her friend's true feelings as well.

It's a well paced story with a great voice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Reader's Diary #2165 - Tatsuki Fujimoto: Chainsaw Man 1

When I compiled my year end lists last year, while I knew my reading was down overall, I was shocked to realize that I hadn't read ANY manga in 2020. I'm not a huge manga reader by any means, but with all the other types of graphic novels I read, there was no excuse for that. Thankfully, I'm already off to a better start with the first installment in Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsaw Man series.

The premise involves a world where devils regularly appear and terrorize people, giving rising to group of exterminators or "devil hunters." One such devil hunter is a real down-on-his-luck guy named Denji who happens to have a devil-dog sidekick with a chainsaw that extends from its face. One da, however, the devil-dog and Denji get intertwined, resulting in Denji taking on the ability to pull a cord from his chest and have chainsaw blades magically appear from his face and hands; a useful tool for a devil hunter.

Yeah, as I said, it's an over-the-top premise. I can find the fun in an over-the-top premise. There's a fine line between it and shock value and I prefer the former as it can be more creative than simply trying to offend someone. If I had any criticism of this first book, it's that it wasn't over-the-top enough! Once the premise is established, Fujimoto starts to build characters and while I can see they'll be interesting down the line, I wanted to see Denji turn in Chainsaw Man more often than he did. 

I think there's potential here, and the art is good (Fujimoto's jaggedy lines in action scenes are interesting), but as I'm terrible at finishing any manga series, it's likely this is the only one I'll wind up reading.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Reader's Diary #2164 - Kris Straub: Candle Cove

 Well, I learned a new term today. Probably familiar to a lot of you already, "creepypasta" refers to horror legends that have been shared across the internet. Kris Straub's creepypasta "Candle Cove" also falls under the banner of epistolary fiction as it's entirely made up of a chat on a message board. 

It revolves around an obscure children's show that the chatters are reminiscing about from the 70s. They're nostalgic at first, but as the chat progresses more and more details emerge about how messed up the show actually was, and then there's an even scarier reveal at the end. 

I truly loved this story. Straub captures the dialogue of chat boards and gen x'rs with such authenticity. And the descriptions are so vivid. It's not surprising that the story was adapted for tv.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Reader's Diary #2163 - Christian Staebler and Sonia Paolini (writers), Thibault Balahy (artist): Redbone

A lot of fans will judge a biography, at least in part, on whether or not they learned anything new. On this measure, I would count Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Band to be a success. That said, I truly didn't know a lot to start. I only listened to a single Redbone album for the first time about a year ago, and even now I can just recall two of their songs: "Come and Get Your Love" and "Witch Queen (of New Orleans)." (Both of which are excellent, by the way.) The fact that they were an indigenous band wasn't that new to me as they were highlighted in the excellent rockumentary Rumble but I knew little else.

In this book, I heard for the first time about their time playing on the Sunset Strip, their encounters with the Doors and Hendrix, and more about their indigenous identity than I'd known. The two songs above certainly don't hint at that aspect of their culture, but they certainly embraced it. One of their albums was called Potlatch and one of their songs was called "We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee," for just two examples. It's most likely no coincidence that their most successful work in the mainstream wasn't the stuff that a racist society would embrace but the writers don't delve into this to the extent that say Andrea Warner did in her recent biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie. Not that they hid it either but I felt it could have been expanded a little. 

That's but a small criticism though as it was otherwise quite well done, including the art which had a sort of scrapbook feel that fits a biography perfectly. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Reader's Diary #2162 - Ben Fountain: Rules of Special Measures

 Ben Fountain's short story "Rules of Special Measures" opens with a quote from the New York Times from an article warning of governments seizing power in the guise of emergency Covid measures. The newspaper article was published in March while the story it inspired in April 2020. Well, a lot has happened since then.

In the story it seems that an some undefined catastrophe has led to the government sending in men to remove items from peoples' homes. It's a provocative premise. What if it was "stuff" and not "freedom"? Maybe we'd care more then?

Of course, we've seen a lot of anti-masking movements since that time in which people are using that very same argument. "Wah, wah, our freedoms!" they cry because somehow that's easier than a piece of cloth in front of their nose while buying Pringles at Target. 

In any case, Fountain's story isn't poorly written, nor am I suggesting that we should never question government overreach. I'm merely suggesting that the time since this story was written has shown to me that it's not a simple right or wrong scenario.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Reader's Diary #2161 - James Thurber: The Curb in the Sky

 James Thurber's "The Curb in the Sky" tells of a man who winds up in an asylum due to his wife. A tragedy, I suppose, on the surface but the tone is more amusing than anything. The wife's biggest flaw seems to be cutting everyone off and finishing or correcting their sentences. Annoying, sure, and I suppose we're supposed to side with the husband, but to be honest I found him to be weak. I don't mean necessarily that he had to leave like so many other men had done prior, but never does it state that he tried communicating his frustrating to his wife. It's hard to blame her when she's never been told how her habit was so problematic. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Reader's Diary #2160 - Trung Le Nguyen: The Magic Fish


Trung Le Nguyen's The Magic Fish is a beautiful graphic novel for younger readers that tells of a mother and son who use fairy tails as a way to bond and communicate. Revolving mostly around the young boy Thien, there's a language barrier of sorts as his mother is a Vietnamese immigrant having difficulty with English plus Thien faces a personal struggle to come out to his parents. While their mutual love of fairy tales doesn't exactly erase all of these issues, their modifications to the classic tales help.

It's a story with a lot of heart and complexity, complete with beautiful art that reminded me somewhat of Little Nemo comics.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Reader's Diary #2159 - Tobias Haglund: Direct Democracy

 Tobias Haglund's "Direct Democracy" has a satirical tone and tackles themes of democracy including the ways it's manipulated to give the façade of democracy. 

But speaking of façades, I'm also hesitant to call it a short story as there's not much of one and instead it comes across more as a way to make political points using the guise of a story. Perhaps that's why it felt a little condescending at times, even if I agreed with many of the ideas presented.