Monday, August 31, 2009

August 2009 Month in Review

So it's been a pretty good month for me, book-wise. Unlike July where I read one short graphic novel that didn't really impress me, this month I finished a good amount of material and liked a good percentage of it.


Graphic Novels 'n Stuff

I joined up to read some Japanese Literature with Bellezza, some screenplays with Michael, and some creepy stuff with Carl. That's all been going well since I'm now reading a book of Japanese ghost stories and a book of ghost stories that were supposed to be turned into teleplays (but weren't).

So all in all, I'm calling this month a good one. Kudos, me.

The Golem's Eye

The Golem's Eye

The Golem's Eye / Jonathan Stroud
New York : Miramax Books, 2004
562 p.
The Bartimaeus Trilogy, bk. 2

At dusk, the enemy lit their campfires one by one, in greater profusion than on any night before. The lights sparkled like fiery jewels out in the grayness of the plains, so numerous it seemed an enchanted city had sprung up from the earth. By contrast, within our walls the houses had their shutters closed, their lights blacked out.

We need to get something straight before I give you my opinion of this book. I have been reading it a few pages at a time since way back in March. I can't explain why because it's got a pretty exciting plot. I just kept forgetting about it. So my idea of the pacing is off and I forgot who some minor characters were between readings, but I'm fairly certain it all came together in my head when I was finished.

That sort of disclaimer would be more important if I were going to pan the book, but in fact, despite my approach, I quite liked it.

Like the first in the trilogy, The Golem's Eye alternates between the perspectives of three protagonists. Nathaniel is an ambitious and scheming young magician working for the British government (a position he earned after the events of the first novel). Bartimaeus is a sarcastic demon that Nathaniel summons as a slave. (That's the way magic primarily works in this world: the summoning and binding of demons of various degrees of power.) They are both from the first book. The third protagonist that makes an appearance here is Kitty, a spirited young peasant (non-magician) who is part of a resistance movement to take down the magical aristocracy that controls Britain and leaves the commoners as second-class citizens.

A bit of a side note on the magic: The demons in the series are loosely based on the hierarchy of spirits in Arabian mythology. Djinni, marids, and afrits make up the bulk of the more powerful beings. If you're at all familiar with the 1,001 Nights or something like Diana Wynne Jones' The Castle in the Sky, you'll find some familiar elements here.

Getting back to it, I liked this book a lot. The class struggle that was the focus of Kitty's plot line is well-crafted and believable, and the reader can really get behind her and her resistance movement, which involves stealing magical artifacts and using them to cause chaos. (It's not terribly effective, but their spirit is inspiring.) Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, meanwhile, are working with the government to take down a golem, a powerful magical creature made by a magician and used as a powerful weapon of destruction. This is interesting enough, but what I most like about their story is that this is one of few young adult novels that masters the portrayal of Bureaucratic Nonsense.

Magicians in Nathaniel's world are power-hungry, conniving egomaniacs who will do anything to gain credit for things that will promote them and divorce themselves from blame for things that will hurt them. It's startlingly unjust and real, and Stroud uses it to his advantage when characterizing Nathaniel. See, he is an utterly hateable character. He's greasy and rude and self-serving without a noble or heroic bone in his body. But Stroud puts the reader on his side by making everyone around him even more unpleasant. You think: "Sure he's a jerk, but at least he's young and there's still hope for him. He's the lesser of a thousand evils, a little pathetic, and his demon puts him in his place with his unending sarcasm so.... Go Nathaniel!"

The story, on top of being rather funny, keeps it real. There's no silly naval-gazing or improbable character shifts like one might expect from a character like Nathaniel in a book for the young. It's a straight-up good story. I look forward to taking 5 years to read the third.

Golem's Eye

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Death of Superman

The Death of Superman

The Death of Superman / Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern
New York : DC Comics, 1993
Pencils by Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens
Collects Superman: The Man of Steel #17-19, Superman #73-75, The Adventures of Superman #496-497, Action Comics #683-684, and Justice League America #69.
167 p.

Earlier today I reviewed a graphic novel on the death of Batman. Now, in an effort to make the world even more depressing, I review another graphic novel about the death of a hero, this time Superman. It is called -- this may shock you -- The Death of Superman.

The story is simple: This crazy strong evil monster who's REALLY REALLY ANGRY arises from somewhere and beats up the Justice League, beats up America, and then beats up Superman until they both die. The end.

That's it. I'm totally serious. I mean come on! This was the Man of Steel. The Man of Tomorrow! Krypton's ichiban ass-kicking muchacho!! And the best death story they can give him is "a big monster punched him really hard"?!?

And Lex Luthor's like: "Punching him! Of course! Why didn't I think of that!?"

The collected story is 170 pages, but it's essentially one long fight scene. The JLA takes on the monster Doomsday first, but they fail. Superman is next. He kinda keeps the guy in a holding pattern, but he essentially fails. Supergirl shows up for a minute but she gets punched so hard she turns into goo. (I'm not sure what was up with that.) And then Superman fights again.

The monster's origin and motivation are apparently not important because they got left out of the story. All we know is he is very strong and very mean. A big mean evil strong thing with stalagmite acne.

Yes, Superman fights with everything he has to save Metropolis. Yes, he's a big damn hero. It's all very noble, and that's precisely why a story about punching to death really doesn't cut the freaking mustard, dudes. Sorry.

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? / Neil Gaiman
New York : DC Comics, 2009
Pencils by Andy Kubert
Collects Secret Origins #36, Secret Origins Special #1, Batman Black and White #2, Batman #686, and Detective Comics #853
128 p.

He is Gotham City's pretector, its avenging spirit, its Dark Knight. For years he has waged a one-man war to keep its streets safe. But tonight that war has claimed its last and greatest casualty...

Batman himself.

Obviously, I bought this for the name on the cover. I mean Batman is pretty badass, but I'd never read any of his stories, so why would I care about his death? Unsurprisingly, Neil Gaiman makes you care. All that's required going into this short graphic novel is a basic knowledge of Batman characters, which you can get practically anywhere: the animated series, Wikipedia, those good movies, those horrible movies...

The story opens and Batman is dead. :-( Sad face. Everyone -- primarily villains, but not exclusively -- is showing up at a sort of wake. Starting with Selina Kyle, they take it in turns eulogizing the Bat and telling the story of how he died. But all of their stories are different. Completely different, not just variations in perspective. Batman's spirit is watching over this and is pretty confused.

It turns into a moving look at death, deeds, and heroism told with the grace, honesty, and sly wit for which Gaiman is known.

The art is beautiful here as well. It's less cartoony and rushed than the usual comic book style.

After the main work and some sketches, the editors filled out the volume with some other stories Gaiman wrote in the Batman comics. Some are better than others. I liked the Poison Ivy story because I've always liked her. And there's an entertaining sort of pomo one where Batman and the Joker are aware they're actors in a comic book. But the real strength of the collection lies in the title story.

It's a quiet story. There is no action or dark evil here. But it's a must for Batman fans and a probably-will-regardless for fans of Gaiman.


Friday, August 28, 2009

R.I.P. Challenge IV

R.I.P. Challenge IV

Ok, one more because I'd been planning on finally participating in this one this year.

Here I throw in my coin for the fourth annual R.I.P. Challenge: creepy, scary, gothic, supernatural is the theme from now until HalloweEeEeeEEeeen! I'm gonna go for 4 books because that's how many I found on my TBR pile.

And if for some reason I actually get through all that with time to spare, I've got this neat illustrated copy of Dracula I might work through. I tried reading an unillustrated edition about 5 years ago and got like 40 pages from the end and stopped for some reason.

So that's it! Have a spooktacular time making horror-ble Halloween puns, fellow undertakers (of the challenge)!

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood / Haruki Murakami
Noruwei no mori. English
New York : Vintage International, 2000
Originally published: 1987
Translated by Jay Rubin
296 p.

I was thirty-seven then, strepped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth and lent everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in rain gear, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So -- Germany again.

This is the story of a boy, Toru, and a girl, Naoko, who share a love colored by the tragedy of death. Kizuki, Naoko's boyfriend and Toru's best friend committed suicide at 17, an event from which Naoko never fully recovered.

As Naoko regresses more and more into her mind at a mental health facility, Toru becomes involved with the outgoing and liberated Midori. Norwegian Wood is the story of his relationships with the two young women told from Toru's perspective as a man in his 30's reminiscing about his college years.

This is a departure from Murakami's usual surrealist style, and many judge it as an exercise or experiment, but I think that promotes a reading that misplaces the strength of the work. It's a lovely and moving book, but I think some of the praise it garners is for the wrong things, taking the focus away from the books true beauty.

The story is framed as a reminiscence, and looking to the past with varying degrees of lucidity is a theme throughout, but I don't get the sense that this is really being narrated by an older man looking back with a supposedly hazy memory. After the beginning of the book, grown-up Toru seems forgotten, and the amount of detail in the novel is typical. Entire conversations and meals are recalled like any other novel not from any particular perspective.

There also seems to be some significance placed on the novel's setting in the 1960's, but this seems to be accomplished more through popular culture name-dropping than a truly atmospheric immersion. The story could easily be taking place in the present. I couldn't help but compare it to Ryu Murakami's novel 69, which paints a much clearer picture of 1960's Japan.

Though presented as a love story, Norwegian Wood is much more a coming-of-age novel. The feelings Toru has for Naoko and Midori are conflicting and move him to ultimately discover himself rather than ultimate happiness. The back of the book calls his love for Naoko "heroic" but I find it the opposite. Toru is lonely and even desperate at times, and though he cares very much for Naoko, it lacks the unique selflessness that I associate with "heroic" love.

What I found most fascinating about the character was his tendency to get wrapped up in the world of whoever he was with. Alone, he is weak and makes nearly no decisions of his own. He gets sucked up in his friend Nagasawa's world of sexual conquest, Midori pulls him along at her whim, and when he's dealing with Naoko, he becomes introspective and trapped in his mind like she is. When he is alone, he is empty, and that is why I believe his character feels so lonely even when surrounded by people who love him.

It is here that the strength and poignancy of the novel lie. The perspective, the time period, and the setting all are secondary to the intense struggle of youth to make connections, find themselves psychologically and sexually through the lens of their relationships, and to ultimately take what they find in themselves and share it. It's not unique to any time, but is a story that's universal.

Eighth Grade Bites

Eighth Grade Bites

Eighth Grade Bites / Heather Brewer
New York : Speak, 2008
The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, bk. 1
182 p.

A tree branch slapped John Craig across the face, scraping his skin, but he kept on running and ignored the stabbing of pine needles on his bare feet. He could hear the man's footsteps behind him, echoing his own.

Right, so I got this book that weekend I was locked out of my apartment and read it in one day. It's that kind of book: fun, simple, and entertaining... all I want in a book about a teenage vampire, really.

Basically Vlad is a vampire halfling. "Me dad's a muggle; mum's a witch!" Wait, I mean his dad was a vampire and his mom wasn't. So basically he eats blood and undercooked meat, but ages like a person. His parents died in a mysterious fire when he was young, so he's raised by his human aunt. He attends a normal junior high where he deals with typical losery teen boy problems.

There's nothing terribly innovative about the basic backdrop of the story, but the direction Brewer takes it keeps it interesting. Vlad's English teacher disappears and is replaced by an off-center man who seems to know something about Vlad. The boy himself discovers old family secrets and gets involved with other vampires he never knew existed. It's a compelling, if throwaway story told with a good amount of intrigue and light humor and the requisite teen angst. I really did enjoy it.

This novel is especially appealing because it stands in contrast with the overwrought, neo-gothic romantic vampire stuff that's been flooding the market lately. (Thanks, Twilight!) This one is fun. It's boyish. Nobody falls in love, nobody cries, nobody SPARKLES. It has more in common with Christopher Moore's vampires than Stephenie Meyers' or Charlaine Harris'. I look forward to reading the next ones.

Eighth Grade Bites

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays -- Norwegian Wood

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

Last night I finished this lovely book, but I read it so quickly I never teased from it.

Midori and I sat in a corner of the room, talking quietly the whole time. She read my palm and predicted that I would live to a hundred and five, marry three times, and die in a traffic accident. Not a bad life, I said.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Words Behind the Pictures Challenge


I've never read a screenplay before, but after seeing them sold on the street so often, I figure there must be a reason there's such a market for them. And so, I will join Michael's Words Behind the Pictures Challenge in which every month for a year, he makes available a screenplay (free, thanks!) and the goal is to read it, watch the film, and document the experience.

Sounds pretty cool. And it's something different. And I haven't been using my Netflix account very much, so that is all.

You should probably join up too.

Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls

Beast Boys and Girls

Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls / Ben Raab ; Geoff Johns
New York : DC Comics, 2005
Pencils by Justiniano
Collects Beast Boy #1-4 and Teen Titans #13-15
168 p.

The spotlight is squarely focused on Beast Boy in two complete sagas. First, in the days before the current incarnation of the Teen Titans, Beast Boy tries to reignite his stalled acting career only to find himself implicated in a murder. Then, Beast Boy is seemingly cured of his animal shape-changing powers only to see the children of San Francisco suddenly run riot, assuming green animal shapes with no experience and lots of panic

My latest assignment from my comic book friend, Beast Boys and Girls contains two stories featuring Beast Boy (obviously) from Teen Titans. In the first, Beast Boy is drawn really sexy (although green) and has returned to L.A. to start over and get his acting career back on track. Apparently there are a lot of roles for people with green skin? Anyway, he's framed for a series of murders a look-alike has been committing. So yeah, he figures that out.

In the second, a virus is released that strips Beast Boy of his powers and turns him person-colored again but also infects all the children in the city with his affliction, and they turn into green animals. Ensue: wackiness.

I think I like this Teen Titans edition because the stories are simpler. As opposed to the convoluted plot lines that have been developing for 50 years in some comic book titles, the stories here are bold, colorful, and easy to follow. They stand alone. In the second story, we also get glimpses of Wonder Girl and Robin and the struggles they were dealing with during that time in the run, but it fits together without being distracting.

Basically, these stories are simple and fun. For a latecomer like me, they were highly accessible and entertaining. More, please.

Thousand Cranes

Thousand Cranes

Thousand Cranes / Yasunari Kawabata
Sembazuru. English
New York : Vintage International, 1996
Originally published: 1952
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
vi, 147 p.

With a restraint that barely conceals the ferocity of his characters' passions, one of Japan's great postwar novelists tells a luminous story of desire, regret, and the almost sensual nostalgia that binds the living to the dead.

Like Kawabata's other novels, Thousand Cranes is a simple story delicately told through highly self-examining characters. Kikuji, after losing his father, attends a tea ceremony hosted by his father's former mistress, Chikako. She intends to set him up with a young girl with a handkerchief with a thousand cranes on it, but he instead becomes involved with Mrs. Ota, his father's mistress for whom he left Chikako. Their affair brings her shame, for which she commits suicide, and he comes to transfer his feelings to Fumiko, Mrs. Ota's daughter.

I just checked Wikipedia, and my summary is almost identical to theirs, but I swear I didn't copy it. It's just... that's all there is to say about the plot.

It's a lovely, quiet novel, though I'm fairly certain I didn't completely grasp it. Lots of it resonated, especially the themes of loss, grief, and regret. My favorite aspect of the novel was how Kawabata uses objects as vessels for memory with tea bowls and utensils carrying an ownership history that comes alive through interaction with the object, especially the difference between interaction in a tea ritual vs. using the object for non-traditional purposes. The objects and their treatment speak louder than the people often do.

And yet, there was something in the novel that didn't exactly strike me properly. It is most likely the cultural divide, but I didn't always understand the rationale behind some of the characters' behavior. Chikako was the most clear-cut with her leftover bitterness at being dismissed in favor of Mrs. Ota. She is outspoken, gossipy, and openly-conniving. I believe on a personal level, I was so divorced from the experiences of the other characters because I've never experienced anything like they have.

Nonetheless, even without forming a profound personal connection as I did with The Master of Go, the rich artistry of this novel makes it stand out against its contemporaries and distinguishes Kawabata as a master of his craft.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Infinity Gauntlet

Infinity Gauntlet

The Infinity Gauntlet / Jim Starlin
2nd ed.
New York : Marvel Publishing, 2006
Pencils by George Perez & Ron Lim
Collects Infinity Gauntlet #1-6
256 p.

For the dark titan, Thanos, the Infinity Gauntlet was the Holy Grail, the ultimate prize to be coveted above all else.

Yeah, this is another comic book collection my friend had me read, this one being a limited series from 1991. Not knowing a lot about the comic book world, I feel like this may have been a big event. It's got a mess of heroes and characters from the Marvel Universe all coming together against a reality-destroying evil. That's pretty serious, right? Like... not your typical day?

Again, I must disclaim that my status as a comic book neophyte left me rather in the dark about lots of the characters here, and man were there a lot. Dozens of heroes came together, each getting at least a couple frames of glory. It focused on the Silver Surfer a bit but mostly on Adam Warlock, who I guess got resurrected. So good for him.

The evil Thanos somehow got his hands on the Infinity Gems, which basically give him ultimate power, and he wants to impress the mistress of death, who's pretty hot, so he erases half the life in the universe. She's not impressed and won't be by anything he does, but he keeps trying anyway. Meanwhile, the universe is going to shit and earth is careening either towards or away from the sun, I forget, but either way it's pretty sucky. He imprisons some godlike people trying to stop him, eliminates the legion of superheroes who didn't stand a chance, and oh no is there nobody who can save Townsville in this moment of crisis??

It has a good "with great power comes great responsibility" moral, but all in all, I found the story too ambitious. Without spoiling the ending, the events in the beginning are SO EPIC that it pigeon-holes the story into one possible ending involving the loaded gun on the mantle uninventively undoing the mess because if they didn't, Marvel would be out of characters. It was so big that it lacked the heart and humanity that makes more Earthbound stories appealing and the dramatic tension that would accompany a plot in which the "bad" outcome is actually feasible.

Infinity Gauntlet

Teaser Tuesdays -- The Three Musketeers

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

Since I locked myself out of my house this weekend with no belongings, I outfitted myself with a tote bag and a couple books to pass the time until the guy who had my spare key could meet me on Monday. So I got a good way into this rather long novel, and I'm loving it more than I even expected.

It was the first such note he had ever received; it was the first rendezvous he had ever been granted. His heart, swollen with the drunkenness of joy, felt as though it was about to fail on the threshold of that earthly paradise known as love.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


VilletteVillette / Charlotte Brontë
Hertfordshire : Wordsworth Classics, 1993
Originally published: 1853
513 p.

I recognize that the graphic to the right isn't a book cover. It's because I couldn't find the actual cover to my edition anywhere, but I loved the portrait on it so much that I decided it would do without the title and such. It complements the novel perfectly. The painting is called Lady Dyke by Sir Edwin Landseer, and I suggest you do not do a Google image search for it while at work unless you use the painter's name.

I've mentioned before, but I read this along with a group of people at The Valve, though I didn't participate in any of the discussions because I was intimidated and consistently 80 pages behind. But the people there had many insightful things to say that instilled in me a great sense of admiration towards this book.

Without going too far into the plot, Villette is from the perspective of Lucy Snowe, a character whose past we know very little of except that something apparently tragic happened in her childhood. Some readers speculate child abuse, but Lucy never shares it with us. Inspired by the her own tenure as a teacher in Belgium, Brontë has Lucy leave her godmother's to travel to France and become an English teacher at a girls' boarding school.

Two major themes of the novel are secrecy and repression, two traits Lucy herself possesses. What makes the story fascinating is that it's told from her perspective, and she noticeably leaves things out of the narrative, some of which is important, and most of which is never revealed. Contrasts with the characters like the coquettish Ginevra Fanshawe and the charming and intelligent Polly de Bassompierre reveal further Lucy's detachment and inability to become a happy, social woman like her peers. She rejects the playful banter and florid dressings of her contemporaries and lives quietly, keeping at a distance her feelings for her godbrother Graham and her colleague Paul Emmanuel, though she eventually does recognize her love for the latter.

It sounds though it would be difficult to sympathize with a character like Lucy, but I personally found myself identifying with her quite a bit. We've all got a part of ourselves that nobody (we think) will truly understand. And there are times when everyone feels they are observing the world through a disconnected filter, watching people around them embrace experiences they themselves can never understand. Lucy comes across modern in her intelligence and if not understandable, then relatable in her interpersonal constriction.

This novel is incredibly complex and can be interpreted in many ways. With elements of the real, fantastical, psychological, and gothic, is a thought-provoking and beautifully-written piece that can be enjoyed on many levels and through multiple readings.


Wondrous Word Wednesday: OMG It's So Hot Out Edition

Hosted by Bermuda Onion, the point of this meme is to share all the new words you came across this week. Yay!



Ok as usual, we begin with Infinite Jest, which I am still inching my way through:

febrile -- marked or caused by fever

... she is not drunk Joelle now sees but has taken Ecstasy, Joelle can see, from the febrile flush and eyes jacked so wide you can make out brain-meat behind the balls' poles...

afflatus -- inspiration; the blow of a new idea

... just a desire to swallow every last drop of saliva she will ever manufacture and exit this vessel, have fifteen more minutes of Too Much Fun, eliminate her own map with the afflatus of the blind god of all doorless cages...

(I still don't get that one.)

apotropaic -- intended to ward off evil

I suddenly understand the gesundheit-impulse, the salt over the shoulder and apotropaic barn-signs.

synclinal -- sloping downward from opposite directions to meet in a common point or line

A large red meaty character with eyebrows at a demonic-looking synclinal angle and very small nubbly gray teeth.

And again, for the last time, from Villette:

emulous -- desiring to equal or surpass another; characterized by a spirit of rivalry

Above the poplars, the laurels, the cypresses, and the roses, looked up a moon so lovely and so halcyon, the heart trembled under her smile; a star shone subject beside her, with the unemulous ray of pure love.

(Isn't that sentence lovely?)

votary -- a person who is fervently devoted, as to a leader or ideal; a faithful follower

Seeing him draw nigh, burying his broad wheels in the oppressed soil -- I, the prostrate votary -- felt beforehand the annihilating craunch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays -- The Golem's Eye

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

I've been reading The Golem's Eye, the second book in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy a couple pages at a time for about 6 months. I'm just about done, so I thought I'd give it a teaser.

Upon the gruesome death of a magician at the hands of a genie he failed to control:

Then the whole place erupted into noise; those magicians who had already suitably bound their slaves, my master among them, stepped from their pentacles and gathered around the scorch mark, stewy-faced and jabbering. We higher beings began a cheery and approving chatter.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter / Jeff Lindsay
New York : Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2006
168 p.

Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people. And his job as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department puts him in the perfect position to identify his victims. But when a series of brutal murders bearing a striking similarity to his own style start turning up, Dexter is caught between being flattered and being frightened -- of himself or some other fiend.

So obviously I only read this book because I recently watched the first season of Dexter and totally fell in love with it. Considering the character has the potential for astronomical heights of literary complexity that I assumed couldn't be captured in a television show (though it captured a lot), I thought the book would definitely be worth reading: challenging, upsetting, and entertaining, giving the character even more depth for when I watch Season Two.

Yeah um so ok guys, it's not.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter closely follows the plot of the television show.... actually, let me not mislead you: The show follows the book fairly closely until about the last third (of the book.) Basically Dexter is a seriously disturbed, anti-social serial killer who, through the tutelage of his father, has managed to find a way to "fake it" such that he lives a relatively normal life with a job, a girlfriend, and a tendency to bind bad people to a table and chop them into pieces. Y'know, guy stuff. But one day a serial killer enters the scene who leaves no blood in or around his victims, and it eventually comes out that he knows Dexter's secret and is toying with him. The story is largely a mystery, so I'll stop summarizing there. Other key players include his sister, a Miami cop who wants to make detective; the incompetent detective in charge of the case, LaGuerta; and... that's it. There aren't many characters in this book.... oh, unless you count the "Dark Passenger."

Let's talk about the Dark Passenger, because he (it?) is part of what made this book so weak. The DP is something that shares Dexter's mind and makes him want to kill. When Dexter gets the urge, during a full moon, eventually the DP takes over his body and makes him do what he does.... or something. It's very unclear, but the problem is that it cheapens Dexter's character into a lame multiple-personality-disorder patient instead of the rich psychotic he could be. Add to that the unrefined writing style, shallow characters, and a detective story solved not by the clever sprinkling and collection of clues but by Dexter's weird psychic ability that tells him all the answers, and you end up with a great story idea with a poor execution.

I don't want you to think I'm a snob or especially a hypocrite for saying "unrefined language" (because I can't write my way out of a paper bag). I don't expect Pulitzer prose from everyone, but Lindsay has a tendency -- to borrow the old favorite -- to tell instead of showing. Dexter is antisocial because the author says so, not because of any evidence. In fact, he's really rather normal if you believe what you see instead of what you're told. And when we get into his head, it's all questions. He's constantly asking himself questions, and half the time we know the answer to them. It's silly.

And don't get me started on how Dexter constantly thinks he's the one who commits the "bad guy's" murders in his sleep. We have definitive evidence that Dexter is NOT at fault during the first half of the book, not to mention the fact that if Dexter WERE responsible, any decent author would make that a twist ending. So Dexter's agonizing over it, and the reader is busy saying "Don't be such a boob!" It's all very frustrating.

So the book is ultimately forgettable. But do check out the show if you haven't seen it. The author did have some great ideas that made it in there.

Darkly Dreaming Dieter

Microbe Monday -- Pages from Cold Point

We're all very into books here, but Microbe Monday is more about the blurb. The article. The short story. The haiku.

So over the weekend, I'll seek out a new literary magazine or open a collection to a random poem or just pick a story I remember from my past and riff on it. Briefly! I don't expect this to turn into a meme, but feel free to gank my little graphic and do it yourself too!

Microbe Monday

My friend Ty lent me the complete stories of Paul Bowles like 6 months ago or more. Probably more. He read me one and then left the book behind, so every now and then I'll pick it up and read one at random. It isn't the type of collection I can sit and read all the way through because I usually like to sit in the feeling the stories leave behind.

I generally am unable to define what I'm left with, and sometimes I'm not even sure I grasped the major themes, but his atmospheric writing always leaves behind some kind of haunting impression. I approached "Pages from Cold Point" determined to write something about it, but nervous I'd be unable to translate my intuitive reaction into words.

"Pages from Cold Point" is from the perspective of a man who moves with his teenage son, Racky, to the far end of a Caribbean island to get away from "civilization," which is personified in the man's brother as ugly, decadent, and superficially moralistic. The full reason for this exile are never fully disclosed, but the rest of the story may arouse some suspicions.

The man loves his son quite a bit, praising his intelligent, yet carefree nature. It's a little creepy maybe how he goes on and on. He gives the kid a lot of freedom and even though he made the decision to live far from any of the major towns on the island, he lets his son travel to them as much as he wants so Racky doesn't feel suffocated.

But it turns out Racky is enjoying the fresh air a little too much when some of the townspeople start complaining to the man about Racky's tendency to, um.... seduce the impressionable local boys. Oops, ok, so the man is forced to come to terms with his son's real persona, and then Racky is effectively exiled again when he goes to live in Mexico. ¡Olé!

People say there is an incestuous relationship implied between Racky and his father, and perhaps that is why they went to the island in the first place. I don't really see it. There's one part where the man contemplates his son's body when he sleeps naked on the bed, but I don't take that as enough evidence. Either way, though, there's definitely some degree of extrafilial admiration, though it seems somewhat one-sided.

This is only the fourth or fifth Bowles story I've read, so I'm hardly an expert, but this is probably my favorite one. The language is understated, suggesting rather than flat out telling, so I've probably got the whole thing wrong. I read a passage from a book mentioning something about Racky blackmailing his father, and evidently that went right over my head. So I'm going to read it again when I get home today.

Nevertheless, Bowles' suggestive style and the lurking themes of exile and solitude make this an intriguing and challenging story I very much recommend.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge III


Ok I'm in. I wasn't going to do anything like this for a while -- at least until Infinite Jest was over -- but I noticed the timeframe was so big and the requirements to liberal that I thought "Ok!" And so: Bellezza's 3rd annual Japanese Literature Challenge.

My own self-imposed rule is that I'm only reading stuff off my TBR pile because it's not even a pile, it's a mountain so big I'd freeze to death before I got to the top. Brrr.

The goal is 1 book of Japanese origin by January 2010. I'm gonna go with three and see where it goes. To begin:

  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter / retold my Yasunari Kawabata -- This is a really neat edition of an old folktale with gorgeous illustrations. It's got the Japanese and the English translation in parallel, and even though I can't read a word of Japanese, it's still cool that it's there.
  • Norwegian Wood / Haruki Murakami -- This has been sitting there for like 2 years so ok.
  • Thousand Cranes / Yasunari Kawabata again -- I read Snow Country and The Master of Go in like 2 days each, so I'm sure all this needs is a good Saturday.

Ok bye.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gambit Classic, Vol. 1

Gambit Classic, Vol. 1

Gambit Classic, Vol. 1 / Chris Claremont & Howard Mackie
New York : Marvel Publishing, 2009
Pencils by Bill Jaaska, Mike Collins Jim Lee, and Lee Weeks
Collects Uncanny X-Men #265-267 and Gambit #1-4
168 p.

When Storm is reverted to a teenage mutant thief, she's rescued by fellow felon Gambit in his first appearance! But befriending even one X-Man means making enemies like the Shadow King, Orphan-Maker and the Hounds! After joining the X-Men himself, Gambit romances fellow southern-born super hero Rogue, but how can a thief steal a power-taker's heart when his assassin bride is back from the dead? Plus: Wolverine, Mystique and more! L'aventure est a l'interieur, mon ami!

Yeah, so a collection of comic books. It's not a book... it's not even a graphic novel in the strictest sense, but when it comes to my blog, you take what you can get. And when it comes to Gambit Classic, what you get is pretty damn good.

I don't know anything about comic books. Outside of Buffy/Angel stuff and the Sandman, I'm pretty much lost, but I've been drawn to it more lately, mostly through my friend Ryan who talks about X-Men a lot and is compiling me an annotated bibliography (as we librarians love to do in our spare time) of all the best stuff to read to kind of catch up. I am promised X-Men and Batman with a sprinkling of Superman. I asked for some about Danger Girl and her breasts, but he doesn't know much about her.

So he handed me this Monday and said "by Thursday." It's basically two story arcs from the beginning of Gambit's... tenure? The first involves Storm who after some purportedly complex string of events, reverted to a teenage version of herself who knows nothing of the X-Men and kinda just goes around stealing things Robin Hood-style until she gets in a bind and Gambit appears for the first time ever and helps her out. Basically this entire story (by Chris Claremont, incidentally, who is credited with some golden X-Men years and some of the best characters like Gambit, obvs) was really confusing to me because it was like coming in during the middle of a soap opera. The Nanny, Orphan-Maker, and the Dark Somethingorother were all over the place, and I had no idea who or what they were, so basically you have to just blow through it saying "Ok, things are bad, Storm is less cool than usual, and Gambit will fix it all!" And then you realize it's a pretty good story except for Orphan Maker, who's pretty lame and the Nanny who looks like a giant robotic Humpty Dumpty.

The second arc in the book is a stand-alone so it makes a lot more sense. All you need to know is that sometime between the Storm story and now, Gambit and Rogue have done a good bit of flirting and are kinda lovey now. There are a couple paragraphs summing it all up. Anyway, Gambit's brother shows up at the mansion and is killed, so Gambit returns to New Orleans to deal with this sort of guild war between the thieves (his family) and the assassins. His wife, who he thought was dead, is dying, there's this other sexy mean woman who he has neat chemistry with, and Rogue ends up following him and taking care of his wife, so there's a lot of boy/girl stuff going on that paints the cavalier, rough, cowboyish-with-a-heart portrait that makes him so generally well-liked by fans. The whole idea of the guilds themselves is kinda lame and doesn't always make sense, but Gambit and Rogue's emotional issues fuel the story.

Aside from the general artistic and story-telling qualities that are always evaluated in book reviews, I feel like comic books have a third dimension among nerds: a sort of Awesomeness Factor. A story can be bad and the art kinda average, yet you still walk away going "OMG COOL!" The art in this book is nice. The stories are pretty ok... but I'm going to posit that any story involving Gambit will have a higher-than-normal Awesomeness Factor and is therefore worth checking out.

In conclusion.... I like the X-Men? Gambit is sexy in the Wolverine movie? Maybe sometimes you're gonna hear more about comic books? The end.

Gambit Classic, vol. 1

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wondrous Word Wednesday: Skipped Last Week Edition

Hosted by Bermuda Onion, the point of this meme is to share all the new words you came across this week. Yay!


Yeah I didn't do it last week. Oops. It's good, though, because I didn't really find anything this week, so... ok from three different books.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace as usual:

scrofulous -- morally degenerate; corrupt

As Tiny Ewell comes to see it, people with tattoos fall under two broad headings. First there are the younger scrofulous boneheaded black-T-shirt-and-spiked-bracelet types who do not have the sense to regret the impulsive permanency of their tatts...

gonfalon -- a banner suspended from a crosspiece, especially as a standard in an ecclesiastical procession or as the ensign of a medieval Italian republic

On Skull's back a half-m.-crag with THE DEAD in maroon on a vertical gonfalonish banner unfurling below...

frustum -- the portion of a solid — normally a cone or pyramid — which lies between two parallel planes cutting it

Hal puts one foot up on Pemulis's little frustum-shaped bedside stool and leans farther in.

glabrous -- smooth; having a surface without hairs or projections

...and for much of the glabrous part of his childhood Hal'd been classified as somewhere between 'Borderline Gifted' and 'Gifted'...

tumescence -- readiness for sexual activity marked especially by vascular congestion of the sex organs erotically circumscribed G. W. Pabst scholar at New York University tortured by the neurotic conviction that there are only a finite number of erections possible in the world at any one time and that his tumescence means e.g. the detumescence of some perhaps more deserving or tortured Third World sorghum farmer or something...

scopophobic -- fearful of being looked at or seen

asperity -- rigor; severity

Unwittingly all but authoring the Union designed to afford the scopophobic empathic fellowship and the genesis of sturdy inner resources through shame-free and unconstrained concealment, W. Churchill -- when the lady, no person's doormat, informed him with prim asperity that he appeared to be woefully inebriated -- made the anecdotally famous reply that while, yes, yea verily, he was indeed inebriated, he would the following A.M. be once again sober, while she, dear lady, would tomorrow still be hideously and improbably deformed.

Ok the next four are from Villette by Charlotte Brontë.

hebdomadal -- weekly

The classes were undergoing sweeping and purification by candlelight, according to hebdomadal custom...

phthisis -- any disease causing a wasting away of part or all of the body, especially tuberculosis; consumption

catarrh -- inflammation of a mucous membrane, esp. of the respiratory tract, accompanied by excessive secretions

...that dungeon under the leads, smelling of damp and mould, rank with phthisis and catarrh: a place you never ought to enter...

oppugnant -- opposing; antagonistic; contrary

He was much taken up with scientific interests; keen, intent, and somewhat oppugnant in what concerned his favourite pursuits...

And the last from Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay:

remora -- a suckerfish!

He was out there, feeding his Dark Passenger, and it was talking to mine. And in my sleep I had been riding with him, a phantom remora in his great slow circles.


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