Blog Archives

The Books I Read in January 2017

I’m not happy with my January reading.

I wanted to start the year reading more literary fiction. I wanted to start the year off with a Margaret Atwood binge. Nadine Gordimer got in on the binge. I wanted to try Louise Erdrich. And I decided that I finally needed to complete a T.C. Boyle novel (after failing to finish Water Music and The Road to Wellville). ( I also added a few other books here and there. Too many honestly).

I started off with LaRose by Louise Erdrich. I read fifty pages. The novel started strong. I liked what I read. But gradually, an emotional dissonance in the narrative and a sojourn in 1839 (compared to the 1990s setting) threw me out of the novel.

From that defeat, I moved on to Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is a difficult novel about a young woman who has devoted herself to her parents’ political struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. I really should try this novel again when I am in a mood for difficult and great literary fiction.

As far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I tried to read Cat’s Eye for the second time (and was not into it) and The Handmaid’s Tale (which I will not get into- not a fan of dystopia).

I also tried Peter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes and really did not like it. Which is a shame.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come. It is a powerful story about violence and what drives people to violence. I would give it a solid four stars. But the novel is not without flaws. I feel that Sarah, whose story starts out strong, falters as the narrative progresses, becoming little more than an appendage to Adam/ Colter’s story.

I also reread Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand. I first read this selected collection over ten years ago and loved it. But this past reread has cooled my passion for this collection of poems. To say I am frustrated should be obvious.

The problem, I am sure, is that I allowed a form of unintentional peer pressure to create a desire to binge read too much literary fiction. Which ultimately put me off of the whole thing.

In addition to the above books, I also read three comic book volumes. I first read Midnighter volume 1 (“Out”) by Steve Orlando. The book was okay. I enjoyed it. But the art is disappointing, the narrative is disjointed (and not in a good way), and the final confrontation with the villain is beyond disappointing (I expected so much more from Prometheus). I later read Thor volume 1 (“Goddess of Thunder”) by Jason Aaron. I  really liked this volume. I am sold on Jane Foster as Thor. I want to see what happens to her. But, I feel Thor is too good too fast. She can do things her predecessor never did without any training. And every damn villain is a straw man misogynist. I also read Doctor Strange volume 1 again by Jason Aaron. I hated this comic book. Aaron not only rips himself off (the plot is basically Doctor Strange’s “God Butcher” arc) but also attempts and fails to capture Loki magic by imitating Gillen and Ewing. And the art is terrible.

Finally, as I wandered around my favorite library, I checked out Nick Harkaway’s  Angelmaker  and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. I hated Angelmaker. And fell in love with Leviathan’s Wake on my second attempt.

I love this book now. Leviathan’s Wake is wonderfully written and exciting and enjoyable. I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to see them succeed. I yearned to see the mystery of Julie Mao solved. A solid four and a half stars.

There are some flaws. Miller is, perhaps, too much of a hard boiled dick stereotype (down to falling in love with the subject of his investigation). Julie Mao is a woman in a refrigerator who I feel could probably have taken over Miller’s role. But on the whole, I really like the novel.

So that is what I read last month. Again, I’m not happy with it. I want to read more. And finish more books. And like more books for that matter.

Hopefully February will be a better month.

 

Advertisements

Comic Books: Characters, Creators, and Being a Gay Fan

I’m a lapsed comic book fan who has recently gotten back into comic book reading. In an earlier post, I described myself as a DC fanboy who wants to branch out into smaller publishers and creator owned titles. And I don’t know why I’m not enthusiastic about Marvel. I’ll aim to follow those two threads in another post or two on comics in the near future. What I want to discuss here is how I choose what comics I want to read.

Generally, fans of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) come in (roughly) permutations of two broad categories. Readers in the first category (and likely the most prevalent) are those who follow specific titles and characters. Readers of the second category are those who follow specific creators and creative teams. Now, the key to this formulation lies in permutations. Some readers start out being more character or title centric, but become fans of a specific creator or team and decide to follow their concurrent and subsequent work. And there are many other possible permutations (which can be left alone for now).

I describe myself as a mixture of the two. During my first period of heavy comic book reading, I was strongly character and title driven. Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Catwoman, Robin (Tim Drake), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), etc. are some of the titles I followed as a kid, creative team unimportant. Flash forward a few years. I’m now increasingly more a creator centric reader rather than a character/ title centric reader. Although the character/ title does still influence what I want to read.

Of the titles I’m following, the two that most align to focusing on character and title are Teen Titans and Stormwatch. The rest of what I follow are mostly geared towards creative teams. In fact, increasingly whether I like the creative team trumps whether or not I am “devoted” to the title or characters.

Being a gay comic book fan (I won’t describe myself as a geek) adds an interesting complication to things. Yes, part of the reason why I picked up Teen Titans and Stormwatch is because of the inclusion of gay heroes. While I am generally interested in the Teen Titans (and Tim Drake), Bunker did play a role in my picking it up. And of course, Stormwatch is notable for having two of the premier gay superheroes in Apollo and the Midnighter. Now, some could consider my picking up Earth 2 as being similarly influenced by Alan Scott’s sexuality. But at the time I picked up Earth 2 #1, I was under the impression that the new gay hero would appear in Geoff Johns’s Justice League! I picked up Earth 2 because I’m a fan of James Robinson.

There is, to a degree, a sort of politics that goes along with following the adventures of gay heroes. It is important to let the major publishers know that diversity is a good thing and encourage further inclusion. I want to read about the adventures of gay heroes. And hell, what about some gay villains, too?

But, this does not mean that I’m going to follow a series with gay characters if I don’t think it is any good. A good example is Stormwatch. Paul Cornell’s initial run is a great read and introduction to the characters. I hate to admit that I missed issues 7 and 8, and I’ve read issues 9 and 10. Right now, I’m not loving Peter Milligan’s run on the series. It seems to be a series of scattered oneshots and character pieces that don’t really go anywhere. Of all the titles I’m following, it is likely that Stormwatch will be the first I drop. Unless something changes.

Now, a few years ago, I was really into Young Avengers. Personally, I think it is a shame how badly mishandled the series was. Once Heinberg  left Marvel after the first 12 issues, another creative team should have taken over the book. The occasional miniseries that come out in regards to various Events did the property no favors, in my opinion. Marvel should not have waited for Heinberg to finish out the concept with Children’s Crusade. It should have been a monthly ongoing. Now, fans of the team and its members will have to hope that other writes will release them from the Limbo of Forgotten Characters.

How fans choose to approach reading and collecting comics is an important one. And it is important to understand the reasons behind making conscious selections. Making the right choices can alleviate the frustrations that go along with being comic book fans.

As a gay comic book fan, I think it is important to include glbt characters in a number of roles. As I said earlier, I want to read about gay heroes and villains. But comic book shopping decisions must not be based solely on limited criteria.