Category Archives: Books

Books for April

south_of_the_border_west_of_the_sunSouth of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami: There’s a definite trend of similarity which runs through Murakami’s work. The awkward young man, who loves a messed-up, pseudo-ethereal woman and his struggles to find himself will be familiar to anyone who has read at least one of his books. Despite that I keep finding myself engrossed in his books with their sad, mysterious and weird characters who live in a very real world that is sometimes interrupted by moments of surreal existentialism. They are wonderful reads, this one included, and I like to think of them as a series rather than standalone books, and that works just great for me.

Hemingway-short-storiesThe Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: As the title says, this is a collection of every short story Hemingway ever published. There’s not much I can say about them, other than that they are good and this is a good book to carry around with you for when you need a little inspiration for your own writing. They’re also good stories for bedtime reading, since they are short and won’t keep you up all night, like the next book in this post will.

under the domeUnder the Dome by Stephen King: This book’s a monster at over a thousand pages, but I’m guessing you’ll get through it pretty quickly. It’s hard to put down. There’s a ton of characters and thick plot that moves along very quickly. In Big Jim Rennie, this book has a character that much like Cersei Lannister in the Song of Ice and Fire series, is so hateable that you will read on just in the hopes of seeing him get his comeuppance. Overall a very entertaining read. On a side note, this is being turned into a mini-series on CBS to be aired this summer. I can’t see how a tv version, especially on CBS can depict some of the savagery that adds to the menacing feeling of the book, but who knows, it could be good.

arlt-mad-toyMad Toy by Roberto Arlt: Translated meticulously by Michele Aynesworth, this is the story of a young man, a teenager actually, who struggles with his place in society and the expectations of his family. He wants to be a great man, but finds himself trapped in the lower class of early 20th century Argentina. Arlt drops a lot of slang and cultural references from that time period into his book and Aynesworth provides footnotes for all of them, making the book somewhat of a history lesson as well. This is a really interesting and thought provoking little book.

Books vs Moving Pictures

At one point last Friday night, while at a bar downtown, a friend of mine turned to me and said, “Have you seen Game of Thrones?” His question had a lot of enthusiasm behind it, and I laughed inwardly because I was immediately reminded of something I had seen earlier that day, which was this:

Now, I of course didn’t yell at my friend like the bearded fellow in the video. I just explained to him that I had read the books long before the tv show came out and I didn’t want to ruin, by watching a filmed version, my self-imagined images of the characters and settings in the book.

A couple days later I found myself thinking about that idea again. Does watching a dramatized version of one of your favorite books really kill the images you’ve created in your head? When I tried to pull up images of the characters from the book series I discovered that I don’t really have any clear images of any of them. Instead, what I have, are vague notions and blank faces. I can picture the places quite well but the characters remain illusive and ghost-like; lacking detail and shadow. Take for example the character of Jon Snow. He is a major character in the books and yet all I could say of him appearance-wise is that he’s a fair-haired, somewhat handsome teenager who looks older than his actual age. Very generic. Even a character with a very distinct look like the dwarf Tyrion, who is described with a lot of detail by Mr Martin, does not hold a strong image for me. The best I can come up with is a very cartoonish-looking short man with straw for hair and a pot belly; and even that image is influenced by a childhood memory of some old cartoon movie the title of which has long since departed my mind. Unable to escape the promos for HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have seen the live-action Tyrion and although I think he is a little too good looking a dwarf to be playing the disgustingly ugly Tyrion I have to admit that he was probably very well cast.

What, then, is the problem? Why am I so reluctant to watch the tv series? I have no reason to think that watching the show will impact my life in a negative way. I mean, why would it?

Back when I was in university, the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings came out. Previous to them coming out, I had read the three-book novel 3 times. It was and still is probably my favorite book. I remember at that time that I felt exactly how I feel now. I very much wanted to watch the films but was afraid they would disappoint me and ruin the images I had gleaned from Tolkien’s words. And then a friend of mine scored tickets to the midnight opening of the first film and gave me one. I thought to hell with it and gladly went to the theater. I liked the movie. I wasn’t impressed with the portrayal of the main characters and various casting choices but the masterfully done CGI and the amazing natural scenery of New Zealand, which matches the landscapes of the book so well, trumped the negatives. Those movies were obviously made by people who cared A LOT about the novel and didn’t want to mess things up. Turned out that watching the movies didn’t kill my perception of the books after all, nor did seeing the characters on the big screen replace my own mind-made images of the characters and the settings.

So, why this hesitation again? If the television series is good enough for the author of the books, then surely it should be good enough for me. He actually works on the show for chrissakes. I suppose I’m just being a book snob. But, I think that by writing this post, I have convinced myself to give the tv version a go.

Imagination, be damned.

Books for March

a-tale-two-cities-charles-dickens-paperback-cover-artThe only non-graphic novel I read this month. Not much I can write about this Dickens classic that hasn’t already been written, so from a personal point of view I will say that I didn’t enjoy this tale as much as I enjoyed Great Expectations. Also when you read A Tale of Two Cities you can feel the serialized nature of Dickens’ writing quite clearly, especially in the first half of the book, but it does start flowing more smoothly later on. It’s a great book about sacrifice, the evils of classism and the dangers of revolution.

 

dmzhiddenwarcaoverDMZ: The Hidden War is a look at six background characters in the DMZ series. With one issue written from the perspective of each character and several different artists used to draw them, the book is hit and miss. I was looking forward to this one, but found only two of the stories to be remarkable. That’s not to say that it’s a bad effort from the series, but it seemed just like filler to me; decent filler, but filler none the less.

 

Y last man cyclesAs I suspected after reading the first volume in the Y series, the second book is better than the first. The dialogue is reined in and the story becomes deeper and more interesting. Yorrick and his two companions stumble upon a seemingly utopian all-female community, while his Amazon-brainwashed sister tries to track him down. A decent read.

 

 

promethea1Promethea is a legendary hero born of imagination who inhabits different human vessels and flits between the realm of fantasy and the real world. Surreal, existential, ethereal… I don’t really know how to describe this Alan Moore-penned novel. A mix between fantasy and sci-fi, it moves along quickly, and at first seems to be a little airy; like something written by an imaginative high-schooler, but as the pages go by, the story becomes much more nuanced and with very solid art work, particularly in the city-scapes, to back it up, it’s well worth a read.

 

FABLE_NEW_EDITION_CoverA super fun book. Great idea (characters from fables and fairy-tales living in New York) with great execution. This first installment is essentially a whodunnit about the murder of Rose Red, the sister of Snow White. Also, the edition I read was the re-issue of volume one, which contains a bunch of bonus material thrown in, making this a great pick-up. This series might be taking over as my favorite.

The Word

A beautifully sad passage courtesy Mr. Dickens:

     […] When he got out of the house, the air was cold and sad, the dull sky overcast, the river dark and dim, the whole scene like a lifeless desert. And wreaths of dust were spinning round and round before the morning blast, as if the desert-sand had risen far away, and the first spray of it in its advance, had begun to overwhelm the city.

     Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing into a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.

     Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

from A Tale of Two Cities, Book the Second, Chapter 5

Books for February

Hundred Year Old Man      The Hundred-Year-Old Man (Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared) is one of those books that starts off rather inauspiciously but picks up as it goes along and in the end turns out to have been a worthwhile read. The author jumps back and forth between the contemporary adventures of a centenarian who didn’t wish to participate in his 100th birthday party and the wild, globe-trotting tales of that same man’s younger days; the protagonist gets mixed up in many of the major events of the 20th century in very inadvertent ways. It’s a funny, full-of-heart read.

the trial     The Trial by Franz Kafka is a fragmented, unfinished book full of absurdity and surreal bureaucracy. It’s too bad that Kafka did not put it together and edit it, because it does suffer in it’s incompleteness. I’m not well-versed enough in literature or smart enough to make a credible review of this book, but to me it seemed to be a story without any point, and perhaps that was what Kafka was going for in trying to show that modern institutions and society itself are full of useless, pointless rules and systems.

How Proust Can Change Your Life     In this bestseller, Alain de Botton tries to sum up the life and major work (In Search of Time) of Proust and how living a Proustian life would work. The title of the book is slightly misleading in that it’s not an advice book nor a book designed to improve your life, at least that was my perspective on it. It is interesting in parts, but I would recommend The Consolations of Philosophy and The Architecture of Happiness over this one if someone were interested in reading any of de Botton’s work.

January Books

Moonwalking_with_einstein     Joshua Foer writes an interesting book about memory competitions, the men who compete in them and the techniques they use to memorize the order of decks of cards, long strings of random numbers and lists of faces and names among other things. I tried the basic technique prescribed in the book and it works very well, but the book is more about the people using the method and Foer’s experience competing in the U.S. Memory Championships than learning how to have a super-charged memory. It’s essentially a long magazine article and it’s a worthwhile, interesting read.

The-Hobbit-book-cover-2Having watched Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit this past December I wanted to revisit the book I hadn’t read since childhood. Remembering that originally Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a fairytale for his children, it’s not surprising that the book reads very much just like that; a childish lighthearted story, which lacks the depth of writing his later Rings trilogy shows. In fact, if I’m being honest, I can’t say that this is a good book. It’s a great story, but it’s not a well executed one. But, that doesn’t mean that every child shouldn’t read this book; they should because it’s sure to stoke their imaginations, which is always a good thing.

1681887-inline-inline-4-demetri-martin-this-is-a-postClever and funny. A collection of random short stories, illustrations and other things good for filling 5 minutes here and there if you feel like having a chuckle. To give you an example of what Martin is capable of, he creates a full size crossword in which all the answers are a series of a‘s. When I first saw it I thought, shit, anybody could do that, but then I saw that he had actually written out clues for all of them. Crazy.

 

Last Few Books of 2012

A quick rundown of a few books I read over the past few months.

 

dancewithdragons      A Dance with Dragons is the 5th book in the Song of Ice and Fire series and it’s a damn good one. The book before this one, I found to be somewhat stagnant (but still good), but this one gets the series moving again, introducing some new characters, and throwing even more wrenches into the mix. As always in this series, there’s a great deal of cruelty, blood, and bawdiness. Unfortunately, we’re probably going to have to wait a great while for the next book.

 

newyorktriology      I read one of Paul Auster’s stories a few years ago and was quite disappointed in it, so I was somewhat reluctant to read this book of three tales, but I’m glad I overcame that hesitation. The book is composed of three stories which are loosely connected to one another. They are wonderfully written and incredibly intriguing. All are set in New York and all feature writers and/or investigators who are driven mad by their tasks. A fun read.

 

Consolations-of-Philosophy      Alain de Botton has a great way of taking sometimes complicated abstract ideas and writing about them in simple well written prose. This book is a nice little summary of the history of western philosophy as it applies to human shortcomings. It was interesting the whole way through and works quite well as a sort of book of soothsaying. It will make you feel better about life. A worthwhile few hours of reading.

 

 

friendly fire sandman2 Sandman-DreamHunters Ythelastman

DMZ: Friendly Fire was a very serious affair about a soldier who is charged with killing civilians, and the consequences of that. The DMZ series continues to be a good read with great writing and art.

The two Sandman books were good, especially Season of Mists, in which we meet all of Dream’s brothers and sisters, save one mysterious hold-out, and Dream gets the key to hell and has to decide what to do with it. The Dream Hunters is a standalone story based on traditional Japanese folk tales, and it’s a whimsical tale with great art.

Y: The Last Man (Vol. 1, Unmanned) is an interesting story told with fairly mediocre art and sub-par writing. The overall story is good, but I found the bad dialogue distracting. The series is quite popular though, so I’m guessing the quality picks up as the series goes on.