Weekend Shorts: Wayback Machine Edition

So, this summer went kind of insane on me, and I ended up reading a bunch of comics and then not blogging about them. So this post is about things I read, uh, two or more months ago and am just now getting around to writing about. Please forgive me for everything I am about to forget to mention!

Locke & Key, Vols. 2 & 3, “Head Games” and “Crown of Shadows”, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key Vol. 2Man, I really do love Locke & Key. The art is amazing, the colors are amazing, the stories are amazing… it’s a complete package.

In Volume 2, our creepy ghostly Bad Guy, Zack, has failed to think about the fact that teachers remember their students, especially when said students show up in the exact same high-school age body decades later. While Zack’s cleaning up that mess, Bode finds a key that literally opens up a person’s head and lets you put things in and take them out. This is useful for both studying for a test and for removing debilitating fear, but of course these benefits don’t come without consequences.

In Volume 3, we get an awesome Bad Guy Spirit Fight to start things off, which, awesome. Then we see Kinsey making some new friends who lead her off to see some weird and dangerous stuff for funsies, and we see that Nina’s alcoholism is both out of control and maybe possibly kind of useful in this strange house. But mostly out of control. Also, even better than the Spirit Fight, we get a creepy-ass Shadow Fight, which is really kind of horrifying if you stop to think about it too long.

I’m going to stop thinking about it right now, and maybe go grab some more of these trades off hoopla. Love!

Giant Days, #13-14, by John Allison and Max Sarin
Giant Days #13After the Great Binge of Spring 2016, it took a while for new issues to show up on hoopla. But when they did, I grabbed them! (Of course, now there are a bunch more and I must go get them all!) Issue #13 is a day in the life of Esther — she’s run away from university back to mum and dad, and although it seems like a great adventure at first, it’s not uni and therefore is the worst. Luckily Susan and Daisy are on the case! Issue #14 covers the college student’s worst nightmare — putting off housing so long that there’s nothing left to find! A mad dash and a secret app may or may not get my favorite girls a home in the end. Can’t stop, won’t stop, loving this series.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThis one’s not a comic, but an audiobook. One of my book-club-mates picked this one out as an easy summer read, which, yes, but after my discovery, uh, seven years ago (so ooooold), that the series doesn’t really hold up to a second reading, I was not terribly excited. Then I discovered that I had the option to have Stephen Fry read the book to me, and I was like, oh, well, that’s all right then.

As I said oh those many years ago, a lot of this book relies on its unexpectedness, so again, it wasn’t really the most exciting re-read. But! If you have the chance to talk about the book with a bunch of people reading it for the first time, it’s totally worth it, even if the book club meeting is just people going, “42! Slartibartfast! Vogon poetry! Fjords!” Also, Stephen Fry.

Weekend Shorts: More Volume Ones

I feel like I read a LOT of Volume Ones these days, and then I just, like, forget to read the rest of the series. And it’s not like I’m reading a lot of terrible series; it’s just that there are so many new ones to try that the good ones still get lost in the shuffle.

But, whatever, here are three more Volume Ones to add to the collection!

Descender, Vol. 1: “Tin Stars”, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Descender, Vol. 1I read the first couple of issues of this series in my catchup binge a couple of months back, and I was like THIS SERIES HAS A ROBOT BOY YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID. Which still stands, really, but I’m a bit less excited about it now.

These six issues lay out some very interesting backstory with the promise of intrigue and subterfuge, which are things I am a big fan of, in the present. But the intrigue is less about strategy and more about brute force, which gets boring pretty quickly. I’m really not clear what is up with all the people trying to find my Robot Boy, and I’m not sure the book is either, what with all the trips into Backstory Land that are much more interesting than the main story.

I do have the second volume on hand, purchased at half price before I had finished the first one, and so probably maybe someday I will continue on with the series. But there will be dozens of other Volume Ones ahead of it, probably.

Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang
Paper Girls, Vol. 1This one, on the other hand, I’m regretting reading only because the next issue JUST came out and therefore a Volume Two is still in the distant future. Which is appropriate to the content of the book, I suppose.

The first issue promised me aliens in Cleveland, so of course I was all over it, but what we get is even stranger — time travelling teenagers in some kind of war with a different set of time travelling people, with dinosaurs, and Apple products, and I don’t even know what’s going on but man Cliff Chiang’s art is the prettiest.

This volume could almost have fallen into the same “too much brute force” category as Descender, but there’s enough subtle intrigue with the time travelers (and such a smart cliffhanger ending) that I am happily looking forward to more.

Preacher, Book 1, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Preacher, Book 1I guess this isn’t technically a “Volume One”, as it collects a few more issues than the official Preacher, Vol. 1, but it’s got a 1 on the cover so it counts!

I read this because the people at my favorite comics podcast did a show on it and while I usually skip the shows about things I haven’t read, the discussion was interesting enough to keep listening. That sounds like a vote for a series in my book! And then it was free on hoopla, so it was clearly fate.

But, well, I definitely won’t be reading more of this. Not because it’s not interesting, which it is, with its concepts of gods and religions and hate and fear-mongering and all sorts of other fun human stuff. And not because the art’s not gorgeous, which it is, with incredibly detailed drawings and lovely colors.

What it is is that the story and the art are both just too gruesome for me. There’s this crazy scene that I had to show my husband, because I couldn’t be the only one to see it, with a guy whose face has been flayed and, like, tacked back on, and it is objectively a fascinating panel and an intriguing bit of story, but the fact that it’s only marginally weirder and grosser than other bits of the story means this book is just not for me. I’m really wondering how this has been turned into a TV show, but I really don’t think I want to watch it to find out!

Weekend Shorts: Audiobook Edition

After going through a heavy podcast phase, I did some culling of my playlist and realized that I could probably squeeze in an audiobook in the dead times between my remaining podcasts. Huzzah, more books! But of course, with my podcast-trained ear I am now terrible at listening properly to audiobooks so I can’t really give them full, proper reviews. So here, have some short, improper ones!

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba
The Boy Who Harnessed the WindI knew I needed nonfiction for my first book back in the commute-listening saddle, and it turns out that the library I work for has approximately no nonfiction audiobooks on OverDrive. On the plus side, that made it easy to pick this one, which I had meant to read years ago and which also fits my diversity requirement. I had a bit of trouble with this one as I hadn’t quite worked out the podcast/audiobook balance and ended up listening to it over almost two months.

It was a great listen anyway. What I knew about the book was that it was about a, well, boy who built windmills in Africa. But the windmill-building is actually a very small part of the book. Most of the book detailed William’s life as a kid growing up poor in Malawi, dealing with limited food and money, a year of famine in the country, and his inability to go to school because it required cash and so did buying food.

But William made the best of it, as you do, and spent his time not in school getting science books from the library and scavenging for supplies to build a windmill which not only gave his family electricity to work with, but got him noticed by people on the internet who were able to get him school, funding, and his own TED talk. It’s a great book if you need some inspiration to keep moving, or, alternately, if you need to feel like a failure at life because you are so much older than this kid. Either way!

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
Yes PleaseUm, yes. Please. This book is delightful and wonderful and kind of amazing. I’ve heard rumblings from people who didn’t like this book because they were expecting this or that, and I think that I loved it because I had basically no expectations. I’ve seen Amy Poehler in things, but I’ve never been an SNL person and I never made it past the first episode of Parks and Recreation, so I didn’t really know what I was getting into.

But, again, it’s amazing. Poehler talks about various pieces of her life, from childhood to the Upright Citizens Brigade to SNL to Parks and Rec to motherhood to divorce, and she does it all with sarcasm and dry humor. And, for the audiobook, she invites other people to come read things for her, including Seth Meyers reading a chapter he wrote for the book but also including Patrick Stewart reading haiku about plastic surgery. As Patrick Stewart does, apparently.

There was plenty that wasn’t really for me, like the chapter extolling the virtues of Poehler’s Parks and Rec co-stars, but regardless it was all fun to listen to and sometimes surprisingly emotional. I highly recommend this book, especially the audio version, for anyone who needs a good, solid, sarcastic laugh.

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the FloodAnother road trip, another Margaret Atwood plague-apocalypse book. So it is written. But it’s probably a good thing we were listening to this on a road trip with few other listening options, because the beginning of this book is rough and there were a couple of times we might have thrown in the towel on it.

In the first book, the narration trades off between the post-apocalypse Snowman and his pre-apocalypse alter ego Jimmy, and it’s fascinating because you want to know how Jimmy became Snowman. But in this book the narration trades off between pre- and post-Flood Toby and pre- and post-Flood Ren, with most of the narration at the beginning of the novel coming pre-Flood, so a) there’s a lot of timelines to follow and b) if you’ve read Oryx and Crake you already know what the Flood is so there’s not much suspense on that front.

But once the story gets going, it gets interesting. A lot of the story is focused on the God’s Gardeners group that is briefly mentioned in the first book and which is a sort of religion/cult/commune based on vegetarianism and pacifism and the worshipping of saints like Dian Fossey and E.O. Wilson, which yes, totally. It is pretty cool to see the Gardeners from the perspectives of Ren, who came to the group as a ten-year-old, and Toby, who as an adult is rescued into the group from a rather more terrible life. It’s also fascinating to hear (because audiobook) the sermons of Adam One, the leader of the group, which are interspersed between chapters and whose tones change to match the world outside, and the hymns which are actually set to music for the audiobook. Super neat!

The other big part of this book is that it tracks the story of Oryx and Crake, giving background to the tertiary characters of that book, fleshing out the world outside of Jimmy’s view, and moving just a bit farther forward in time than the end of that first book. On the one hand, this is pretty neat and makes the world that Atwood created that much larger and more real. On the other hand, there’s almost too much overlap between the books to the point where you’re like, oh, Jimmy’s having sex with yet another character in this book? Jimmy meets Ren for the fifty-seventh time? FANTASTIC.

But I really do love the world-building, and I cannot get enough of Atwood’s gorgeous sentences, so it’s all good. I will definitely be picking up MaddAddam when it is time for another road trip!

Recommendation: For fans of plague fiction and the world of Oryx and Crake, although it’s probably not strictly necessary to read them in order.

Rating: 7/10

p.s. One of the God’s Gardeners is called Eve Six and I cannot help but wonder if Atwood is an X-Files fan.

The Last Child, by John Hart

The Last ChildOne of the best things about being in a book club, even with the same members coming every month, is that you can never guess how everyone is going to react to a book, even yourself. One of the weirdest things is when you think a book is kind of okay and then everyone else LOVES it, and you’re like, but, seriously? Such was the case with The Last Child. I found myself in a room with ten people who loved the book and I just couldn’t figure out why.

It’s not a bad book, by any means, and it’s got a pretty decent plot going for it. The story takes place in a rural North Carolina town wherein two girls have gone missing about a year apart. One of our protagonists, Johnny, is the twin brother of the first missing girl, Alyssa, and he’s spent the last year trying to figure out what happened to Alyssa and watching his family fall apart around him — his father left, his mother turned to drink and drugs, and a horrible man stepped in to boss Johnny and his mother around. Noooooot fun. Our other main protagonist is Clyde Hunt, the detective who caught Alyssa’s case and didn’t solve it. He is now on the case of the new missing girl and is hoping, mostly for his own sake, that solving it will also bring Alyssa home.

So, interesting. And the mystery itself is pretty cool, with the appropriate twists and turns and oh-I-should-have-seen-thats. But everything else? Not so great. Hart’s characters are pulled straight from the mystery-character vault; there’s the trouble-making but mystery-solving kid, his only partially willing sidekick, the detective with a vested interest in solving a case, the same detective with feelings for a victim, and, possibly worst of all, the giant black man with the mind and temperament of a child but also mystical powers (see: The Green Mile). And the writing is tough to get through, with every sentence about twice as long as it needs to be and a whole prologue that doesn’t have anything to do with anything, really.

So, less interesting. There were lots of pieces of this book that were really fascinating, like the relationship between Hunt and Johnny and the whole discussion of rural life and politics, but the rest of the book just kind of fell down on the job for me. But there are ten other people, just in Jacksonville, even, who completely disagree with me and want to marry this book and have its babies, so clearly your mileage may vary.

Recommendation: I’d recommend a lot of books over this one, but if you like mysteries and have this one handy it’s not the worst choice you could make?

Rating: 5/10

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

Orange is the New BlackThis was my first pick of the year for my in-person book club, although technically someone else picked it and then I stole it because I didn’t have any better ideas. You know. I had heard about the Netflix series but not watched it, and I figured reading the book might give me some idea of how interesting the series would be.

I was wrong.

I say this because I found the book to be pretty okay, but everyone in the club who had watched the series first either hated the book or didn’t finish it due to utter boredom or both. So, if you’re thinking about this for your book club, maybe don’t let anyone watch the show first? Or warn them that it’s vastly different?

The book itself is a memoir with a purpose, which is two-for-two in things I am not generally a fan of. But it’s also about the prison system, which is a thing I am happy not to know a lot about, in general, but which is something I am intrigued by, so I was excited to learn new things. The book starts with a quick description of Kerman’s drug-smuggling past and the reasons (or excuses) for why she got involved and how she managed to get out unharmed, until someone told on her to the feds. Then she gets dragged into a painfully slow legal process, and five years later she finally finds herself on her way to a very short (15-month?) stint in minimum security prison.

Right off the bat, Kerman acknowledges that her experiences are not, probably, the average experiences of an inmate even in her own prison. She’s white and upper-class and had a fantastic (and highly-paid) lawyer and has a huge support system of friends who keep her stocked in books and magazines and money for everything she needs. But no matter what her world outside is like, she still has to live in the same cells and eat the same food and do the same work and be denigrated by the same guards as all of her inmate friends and enemies, and so I’m pretty sure her descriptions of those things can be trusted. Some of those descriptions don’t seem so bad: Kerman gets guaranteed meals (though of dubious quality), learns basic electric repair, and has the opportunity to go for runs and do yoga. But the parts where Kerman describes verbal abuse from the guards and other authority figures, or where she talks about having to “squat and cough” to prove she’s not smuggling contraband after a visit from her family or friends, paint a pretty bleak picture. It is clear that the punishment of jail is that you get a place to live for a while, but not a place where you can live. And to imagine doing that for years or decades, as some of Kerman’s neighbors had to? No thank you!

Kerman does describe some terrible prison experiences when she has to transfer from her cushy “camp” to some larger, higher-security prisons in preparation for a court date, but I think that the most horrifying parts of the book are when she describes how her minimum-security friends are prepared for release. These women are given the most cursory of explanations of how to interview for a job or apply for an apartment without learning where they can go to find jobs or homes or what to do while they’re waiting to be accepted to either. They’re taught not by professional social workers or employment specialists but by people who work in the prison, and they are never told how to stop associating with the people who got them in trouble in the first place.

It’s a tough book, and it is certainly not fun or entertaining, but I found it to be really enlightening, and I think most of my book-club-mates did, too, even if they wanted to have watched the show instead. File this under: Memoirs that are Not Terrible.

Recommendation: For people who want to know more about the prison system from a rich white person’s perspective.

Rating: 7/10

Stolen Bases, by Jennifer Ring

Stolen BasesI often say that being in a book club is great for reading books you would otherwise not have picked up or even heard of at all. But sometimes, and this is one of those times, I must also say that those books are not always good ones.

Our pick this time was ostensibly about the history of baseball and why girls don’t play it, which seems like a pretty interesting topic, actually. I’ve certainly watched the heck out of A League of Their Own, and was a rabid baseball fan back in the ’90s along with all the other Clevelanders, and even played softball for a summer before realizing I was absolutely terrible at it.

But this book was basically doomed for me from the beginning for the faults of being a) nonfiction, but moreso b) academic. If I’m going to read nonfiction, it’s going to be some Mary Roach-style, dryly funny, oddly interesting nonfiction that has me bothering Scott with “did you know?”s all day long.

Stolen Bases, to put it mildly, does not do that. I did learn some things that I did not know, like that Bob Feller was a little racist and that Albert Spalding apparently had some daddy issues, but they weren’t terribly interesting things. And the book was less dryly funny and more just painfully dry — it often read to me like someone’s research paper that they found out after finishing it was supposed to be 200 pages instead of, like, 20. There was a lot of repetition and redundancy and more than a little bit of seemingly baseless (ha!) speculation, and then some entirely different topics thrown in for good measure.

Those topics were pretty interesting, like the parts about the history of baseball as she is played and about racial discrimination in professional ball and how ladies totally play cricket all the time in those weird countries that play cricket, but they didn’t tie in terribly well with the alleged theme of the book. Even the parts about women playing baseball were presented less from the standpoint of “why aren’t women playing baseball” and more from the standpoint of “why are women systematically oppressed, even when it comes to sports”, which is not quite the same thing. I think if the book had just been called, like, How Baseball Hates Ladies and Non-WASPs and also Britain: a Study of Gender Politics, it would have been covered.

It might also have been helpful if Ring had gone out and interviewed baseball players and softball players and coaches and professional league administrators and whatnot and had gotten some current opinion on the topic, rather than collecting the opinions of dead people and calling it a day (not that you don’t need dead people, there are just a lot of dead people in this book). Or if she had picked a baseball-playing woman, like, say, her daughter, and written a biography of her… basically, I wanted this to be a very different book and I was sorely disappointed.

I thought perhaps I was just too far out of school and all that academic writing business, but those members of my book club who are in the business of writing academic things were also put off by the writing style and the lack of focus in the book, so at least it’s not just me?

Recommendation: Only read this if you’re super-duper interested in baseball and gender, and if you are that interested maybe go write me the Mary-Roach-ified version?

Rating: 4/10