Monday, January 31, 2022

Reader's Diary #2280 - Joy Baglio: Belly of the Beast

 Joy Baglio's short story "Belly of the Beast" takes a common scenario, a spouse who suddenly isn't the same spouse that got married, and wraps it in a fun metaphor (i.e., the protagonist's husband has been consumed by a wolf that now takes his place). Fun, except of course, it's a wolf so there's a hint of danger there which likely comes from gender dynamics. It's quite an enjoyable, well-written piece. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Reader's Diary #2279 - Naoya Matsumoto: Kaiju No. 8 (volume 1)

Manga often has such great premises. Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto is no exception. 

It revolves around a man named Kafka Hibino who's trying out, probably for the last time given his age, for the Kaiju Defense Force. (Kaiju being giant monsters, of course.) The snag in his plans? He becomes a Kaiju himself, or rather possessed by one.

There are so many possibilities where this story can go. I'll likely never find out as I'm notoriously bad at continuing on with any manga series no matter how great that first book, but I can see how readers would be sucked in here. 

On top of the premise, there's some good character building, imaginative art, and great action. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Reader's Diary #2278: Pornsak Pichetshote (writer), Alexandre Tefenkgi (artist): The Good Asian Volume One

The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi had a lot of great things going for it. A noir story about a Chinese American detective in San Francisco 1936? That's something you don't read everyday! The art was great; fittingly dark and gritty. The history of Chinese immigration and the racism they faced was well incorporated. 

Unfortunately, I found the mystery itself convoluted and slow. There was an important development in the case towards the end of the collection but not enough to entice me to seek out the 2nd volume. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Reader's Diary #2277 - Michio Kaku: The God Equation


There's a point in Michio Kaku's The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything where he admits to having cried once when he saw a math equation which he described as "beautiful."

The man is enthusiastic.

He's also a good science writer. He may even be great. I will say though that his idea of dumbing something down is a little more optimistic than mine. Here he gives a history lesson on some of the most important theories in science: gravity, nuclear, relativity, quantum; how these have impacted us in our daily lives; the quest to find a single theory that unites them all; and what that would mean to us. 

No, I didn't understand it all. I feel like I stayed with him up to a point and then more and more started going over my head. It was enough however that it ignited my imagination and started me philosophizing. I've read books like this before and that's honestly all I expected and hoped for. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Reader's Diary #2276 - Daniel Kraus (writer), Chris Shehan (artist): The Autumnal

I've been happening upon, for no particular reason, a lot of horror lately where the monsters are plants. It's such an odd subgenre to me. Who's afraid of flora? Try as they might, no one, including the creative team behind The Autumnal, can make them scary.

Fortunately, it has a lot else going for it. With dashes of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," it involves a troubled woman returning to the weird town she grew up in after her estranged mother died.

The characters are rich and fully developed, the story is suspenseful, and the art is amazing. It has a dark, gritty feel which suits the New England gothic atmosphere perfectly. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Reader's Diary #2275 - Philippe Girard, translated by Helge Dascher and Karen Houle: Leonard Cohen On a Wire

I suppose if you read someone's biography it's a fair expectation that they'd lose some of their mystique. But I'm left disappointed that Leonard Cohen came across as boring in Philippe Girard's graphic novel treatment, Leonard Cohen On a Wire

To be upfront, Cohen slept with a lot of famous women. That should be anything but boring, and yet when it seems to take up much of Girard's focus to the point where other aspects of his life seem rushed, or when these encounters never seem to have any dramatic ramifications, they become rote and mundane.

I did like the frame story of having Cohen dying on his bedroom floor, reflecting on his life. And the art was good. Still, I wish the book had been much longer and dug in deeper to Cohen's family life, his religion, and so forth. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Reader's Diary #2274 - Mark Haddon: Social Distance

 Presented as a "graphic short story for adults," Mark Haddon's "Social Distance" essentially a picture book. And while yes, it's about an adult, but the text is very short and simple. It's about a man with some undefined social/cognitive disabilities whose life hasn't been greatly affected by the covid pandemic, but is nonetheless scared by it. He winds up taking some solace in a deer after a chance encounter.

It's so simple that I can't say it would stick with me much, except perhaps for the wonderful mixed media collages (also done by Haddon) that accompany the text.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Reader's Diary #2273 - Ellen Hopkins: Crank

I've been fortunate enough not to have been really exposed to meth. But I'm certainly aware of its growing problem. So, it felt like as good a time as any to read what is becoming a young adult novel in verse on the subject: Ellen Hopkins' Crank.

It was an entertaining read and while that sounds like a bit of a slam for a book about an "important" subject, I 'll clarify. It comes across a bit melodramatic, but for young adult readers I suppose that's more likely up their alley. Hell, I loved Degrassi when I was that age and there was a different crisis each week. 

Was it educational? Did I learn something, or feel empathy? Well, maybe. I mean the flippant way everyone seems to be using I suppose is realistic in some circles. And I can imagine that to a teen girl wrestling with issues of a neglectful father, identity, and hormones, perhaps meth could at first promise a way of dealing with all that. Until, of course, it takes over and becomes the only problem that matters.

As for it being "in verse"? I can't say that I spent a lot of time reading the book as a series of poems to really consider if they stood up as poetry, but it did make the reading go fast and felt like a complete, "real" novel anyway. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Reader's Diary #2272- Lore Segal: Around the Corner You Can't See Around

 I do believe that money can't buy happiness (necessarily), but I also think that folks struggling just for basic needs must look at miserable people who are financially well-off with a particular annoyance. 

It's a cliched scenario of course but in the right hands there's still some fodder for a good piece of literature. Unfortunately it evolves into a pretentious existential slog in Lore Segal's "Around the Corner You Can't See Around."

It felt like the kind of dialogue New Yorker readers would have.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Reader's Diary #2271- Gord Hill: The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book (Revised and Expanded)

Growing up in Canada in the 80s, we spent a lot of time in school learning about early European explorers in Canada. There may have been brief passages in our textbooks about clashes with Indigenous people (though I'm sure our textbooks didn't refer to them as such), but the subtext was always the achievements of these white folks traversing the globe and setting up in wild lands. 

While the title of Gord Hill's The 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance Comic Book suggests that the focus is on the same time frame, only from Indigenous perspectives, he quickly dispels the myth that these early white explorers are somehow worthy of the amount of  praise they've been given by white historians and the many monuments in their name. Indigenous people discovered and set up advanced societies across the Americas literally thousands of years prior. 

Living in the north for the past 20 years, plus it being a different time, some of these myths set in Canada have been dispelled for me long before now. However, I'm less familiar with the true history of the United States, and of Central and South America. Honestly, this comic book by Gord Hill should be a textbook.

With the factuality of a textbook, it does start to blur together and become dry if read in one sitting, but taken episode by episode, it's not only educational, but hopefully inspiring. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Reader's Diary #2270 - Stephen King - 11/22/63

Stephen King was my first literary obsession and in my junior high, high school days I tore through everything from his 70s and 80s output. Beyond that it's been really sporadic. When I do pick one up these days it feels comfortable. I'm also, however, reminded of my issues with his writing.

11/22/63 is a decent book. Seeing King take a stab at a time travel story is fun and as it's backward time-travel, it fits easily into the nostalgia thing he does so well (though he's careful to show how the late 50s, early 60s weren't the good ol' days either). 

But man oh man, this needed an editor. At nearly 850 pages it honestly could have been half that length. The most egregious thing I've noticed in his later works is his insistency of creating a united Stephen King Universe. The first couple hundred pages in this novel sees the protagonist going back to Derry, where he encounters a couple of kids from It. This whole plot is largely irrelevant to the overall story and is just annoying. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

Reader's Diary #2269 - Ellie Scott: Race

 Ellie Scott's flash fiction "Race" brought me back to my early childhood big time this morning with the brilliantly and accurately described scene of a young boy playing with his Matchbox cars and using that innocently dangerous imagination so many of us had at that age.

Fearing damage to her floor, the mother in the story tries to appeal to the boy's sense of empathy. The lesson however might work too well and the result is dark and hilarious. Just the way I like. 

Monday, January 03, 2022

Reader's Diary #2268 - Te-Ping Chen: Shanghai Murmur

 Te-Ping Chen's short story "Shanghai Murmur" would be a perfect story for a high school class to dissect and discuss for symbolism, and in particular with a focus on an expensive pen. I hope saying this doesn't imply that the story is heavy-handed in that technique, but rather that it works really well. Besides that, this story about a young florist trying to make her way in Shanghai is also rich in voice and imagery.