Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Professor's Daughter

The Professor's Daughter

The Professor's Daughter / Joann Sfar & Emmanuel Guibert
La fille du professeur. English
New York : First Second, 2007
Originally published: 1997
Translated by Alexis Siegel
64 p.

Three-thousand years may separate them, still... they love each other.

19th-century London. She is the lovely daughter of renowned Egyptologist Professor Bowell, he the dashing mummy Imhotep IV, owned by the professor and awake for the first time in thirty centuries. They stroll through London arm-in-arm and find their way into an abiding love, but everything seems to be getting in the way of it.

Murder, adventure, mystery, kidnapping, Queen Victoria tossed in the Thames -- what more could you ask for?

And yes, love conquers all in this rare gem from two of the most inspires graphic creators of our time.

I've whined about this before, but with the big move and my new TV, I haven't been doing much reading. And with my two group read-alongs, one of which is a monstrous 1,300-page behemoth of a novel, I haven't had anything to review. So over the weekend I went to the bookstore and stormed the graphic novel section determined to find something amusing and more importantly short so I could claim to finish at least ONE BOOK during the month of July. ONE!

I came out with The Professor's Daughter, an amusing graphic novel about love in Victorian England.

And by "love" I mean creepy necro love. The girl is Lillian, the daughter of an archaeology professor and Egyptologist. (She's drawn with like a 9" waist.) The boy is a 3,200 year-old mummy: Imhotep IV, Prince of Egypt. (He has a thin waist too... because mummies don't eat?) Call me gross, but when I'm reading stories like this, I can't help but imagine the.... physics of their intimacy. When people date demons or creatures or... y'know blobs of goo or whatever, my mind always goes to a wrong place like "How in the world do they do it?"

But I digress.

I'd first like to mention that I love the artwork in this book. The panels are uniform -- 6 to a page -- and done in expressive watercolors. The colors are vivid, but with a subdued overall palette, the style is stimulating and appropriate. The story could tell itself through the artwork alone without the dialogue.

On the topic of the story, it takes less than an hour to read, and the story flies by so quickly that I often had to go back a couple of panels because I had missed something.

And it definitely didn't go the direction I anticipated. I expected it to be very tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted, and silly. The Imhotep IV I imagined before I read it (based on the artwork mostly) resembled Ben Templesmith's ghoulish dandy Wormwood (from Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse): prim, charming, and grotesquely human. Instead, the character and the book were much more sedate and... European. To a fault.

There is nothing inherently wrong about understated mood and characterizations, but there is a difference between 'slight' and 'nuanced', and this book falls into the earlier category, the consequence of which is that it doesn't ever commit to a humorous, ironic, or dramatic style. It just sort of floats there, an entertaining story that leaves the reader cold but is definitely enjoyable to read once. The ending would have left a stronger impression had the inflections of style been more acute and the pace more relaxed, both of which would have allowed for more relatable characters.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays -- Villette (II)

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.

So I'm still working on Villette by Charlotte Brontë with the people at The Valve. I'm really starting to get into it, though it took me a little bit.

He left me soothed, yet full of solicitude, breathing a wish, as strong as prayer, that if I were wrong, Heaven would lead me right. I heard, poured forth on the threshold, some fervid murmurings, to "Marie, Reine du Ciel," some deep aspiration that his hope might yet be mine.

I have no idea what this means. I haven't gotten to this part yet. I just like the way it sounds.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Microbe Monday -- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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

The name of the game this week is "What can you read at work to write up a little bit?" The answer is "something public domain on the internet, thx." And so, this week we discuss "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", the narrative poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I'm not entirely sure what drove me to this poem. Maybe because it's famous? We did a Romantic poetry unit in AP British Literature in high school, and I hated it. I had to focus on Wordsworth, and my good friend Emily did Percy Bysshe Shelley, and basically she loved it and the whole thing was a huge disaster on my part because I neither identified with nor felt drawn to any of the work we studied. Then I got mono and missed the final project. So I come at this poem from a solid history of NOT GOOD.

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is about an... ancient... mariner. And he's on his boat and I guess some storm gets them all lost near Antarctica until some GPS-endowed albatross comes with the mist and gets them back on course. For some reason not detailed to my neophyte satisfaction, the Mariner decides to take his bow and arrow and shoot the albatross that is helping them. Everyone's all "Boo, that bird was awesome!" until the mist clears and then they're all "Yay, that bird sucked!"

So they end up lost again and start to suffer from intense hunger and thirst when another boat comes carrying Death, who we know, and Life-in-Death, who we don't. She is a creepy blonde woman. They play dice for the souls of the Mariner and his crew. Death wins the crew, and Life-in-Death wins the Mariner. This is part of their penance for killing the albatross. The entire crew dies, which is gross, and the Mariner suffers this fate worse than death, drifting along with his dead crew. Then some angels (I guess) take pity and possess the bodies of his fallen comrades to steer the boat back to England. Then there's a hermit. And basically the remainder of the Mariner's punishment is his requirement to tell the story to as many people as possible along with its "but for the grace of God" moral. The poem itself is basically meta since it's him telling the story to a guy trying to get to a wedding (and pretty much ruining his day in the process.)

There ends the glib synopsis. So I suppose this poem embodies all you could ask for in English Romantic poetry: passion and the sublime. (Those are my buzzwords.) The poem is hard to follow with the language, but the version I read includes a gloss Coleridge added for clarification. Without it, I'd have been lost. But it reads like a legend... an epic without much humanity to it. Other than the range of emotions the wedding guest displays in reaction to certain parts of the story, there's not much to relate to. In fact, it feels as though the wedding guest is just there to tell us how we should be feeling... like there's a gloss, right, but the poem itself feels like a gloss of the actual tale. I suppose it's an important piece to know considering how oft-quoted it is (see a Wikipedia staple, the ever-relevant popular culture) but I can't imagine it's something you'll need to share with your friends like "You've GOT to see this poem." Though I imagine it would make a spooky short film... or novella.

Oh and I read it online, so... here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wondrous Word Wednesday: Halvsies Edition

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


I said before that I've done like no reading lately, and I still haven't. So this week's not a mammoth Jest onslaught like last time. But still... from Infinite Jest:

trochaically -- consisting of a trochee, a trochee being a foot of two syllables, a long followed by a short in quantitative meter, or a stressed followed by an unstressed in accentual meter

By repeating this term over and over, perhaps in the same rhythm at which you squeeze a ball, you can reduce it to an empty series of phonemes, just formants and fricatives, trochaically stressed, signifying zip.

formication -- a medical term referring to the sensation of insects crawling on or under the skin

Did I experience some formication in detox? I did.

chiasmae -- the closest I can find is that this is related to chiasmus, a term in rhetoric referring to two or more clauses relating to one another through a reversal of structures, but it also refers generally to any "criss-cross structure"

...though the vitreally inflated balloon-eyes, deorbited and hung by twined blue cords from the second floo9r's optic chiasmae to flank the wheelchair-accessible front ramp, take a bit of getting used to...

And the next few are nicer words from Villette:

tisane -- herbal tea

Goton could do nothing for me but bring me a little tisane and a crust of bread...

provender -- dry food, as hay or oats, for livestock or other domestic animals; fodder

...his delight was to feed that ravenous sentiment, without thought of the price of provender, or care for the cost of keeping it sleek and high-pampered.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Teaser Tuesday -- Infinite Jest (II)

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.

Another from Infinite Jest, which incidentally I have made almost no progress on. Hard times indeed.

It was not that the sky was lightening so much as that the stars' light had paled. There became a sullenness about their light. Now, also, strange-looking U.S.A. insects whirred actively past from time to time, moving jaggedly and making Maranthe think of many windblown sparks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Moving On

Dudes! I am so totally out of the reading spirit! How does this happen?

Well I know how it happens. It happens because I've been moving (slowly) to a new place. And I'm not just occupying a new space, I'm making the space my own and preparing for a (hopefully) brand new life. I've been getting all new furniture and moving my old things a little at a time. So far I have no book storage except a little space in a closet, and in the interest of keeping the place airy and uncluttered, I'm going to have people come in to design and install shelves on the walls, especially up high. (I have 10.5-foot ceilings.) But I can't do that until I paint, but I can't do that until I decide on colors, but I can't do that until I finish getting bedding and towels and pillows, but I couldn't do that until all the big furniture came, which is has so I can.

All in all, my days, like my paragraphs, are long and full, and when it comes to be eveningtime after work, my repose consists of sitting in front of my brand new TV watching Heroes through my brand new Netflix streaming service that I get through my brand new Xbox360, a device that steals some time on its own.

Reading is engaging, and I don't want to be engaged any more than I already have been. While fun and relaxing, it takes concentration and commitment, both of which are in short supply right now. If I open one of the books I'm reading my brain goes "What is this words!?" And then it explodes.

Does anyone get like this? What do you do? Just wait until it goes away, or is there some sort of therapy? "Shut up and get over it" is an acceptable answer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Teaser Tuesday -- Villette

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.

In addition to Infinite Jest, I'm also reading Villette by Charlotte Brontë with some people at The Valve. I'm not really participating in discussion with that one because I feel unqualified. (There are smart people there.) I'm just keeping up. Anyway:

A goad thrust me on, a fever forbade me to rest; a want of companionship maintained in my soul the cravings of a most deadly famine. I often walked all day, through the burning noon and the arid afternoon, and the dusk evening, and came back with moonrise.

A Late Microbe Monday -- Shipping Out, or, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

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


his week, in honor of Infinite Summer, I read another well-known David Foster Wallace article, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", originally published as "Shipping Out" in Harper's some time in 1996.

In it, Wallace documents his experience on a week-long Caribbean cruise liner with a discerning eye for amusing details and uncomfortable truths. He talks about the unsettling cleanliness, impeccable yet invisible service, strange characters, and cringe-worthy entertainment and how eventually the expectation of perfection borne of a week of doing nothing for himself caused him to fall into a fit of despair at going back to normal life.

The article is especially amusing if you've ever actually been on a Caribbean cruise. I have, and my experience was much like Wallace's: I felt uncomfortable with the amount of attention I was paid by invisible foreign service professionals, alienated from my fellow passengers (none of whom came from my demographic), derisive of the lame entertainment and organized fun, and overall wretching at the classless classy with which the whole experience dripped. In turn, I spent a lot of the trip holed up in my cabin with Zadie Smith and the at-sea TV stations.

Anyway, the article is both observant and hilarious, in Wallace's signature style (look out for footnotes). Here's a link to the .pdf format of the original through the Harper's website.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wondrous Word Wednesday: Infinite Jest Edition

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


As previously stated, I'm reading Infinite Jest with a group of people online, and anyone who knows anything about David Foster Wallace knows that he was a wordie. That plus the fact that I started late and have had to read a huge chunk of this book to get caught up means this is going to be a long long loooooooooooong WWW. They will probably all be long through the end of the summer even though I'm skipping most of the medical terms of art peppered throughout the novel. Ready? Ok!

wen -- a benign encysted tumor of the skin, esp. on the scalp, containing sebaceous matter; a sebaceous cyst

I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, there there is a wen.

actuate -- to move to action

And in this new smaller company, the Director of Composition seems abruptly to have actuated, emerged as both the Alpha of the pack here and way more effeminate than he'd seemed at first...

presbyopic -- unable to focus clearly on nearby objects ; farsighted

O. stood there, he says, hefting a cold clod, playing with the Velcro on his puffy coat, watching as the Moms, bent way down to me, hand reaching, her lowering face with its presbyopic squint, suddenly stopped, frozen beginning to I.D. what it was I held out...

enfilade -- a military term referring to a sweeping fire from along the length of a line of troops

Uncle Charles, a truly unparalleled slinger of shit, is laying down an enfilade of same, trying to mollify men who seem way more in need of a good brow-mopping than I.

magiscule -- cf. majuscule: a large letter, either capital or uncial, used in writing or printing

...and also an obscenity he had assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along the bottom, with multiple exclamation points

maxillofacial -- of, pertaining to, or affecting the jaws and face

The medical attaché's particular experitse is the maxillofacial consequences of imbalances in intestinal flora.

fantod -- plural: a state of irritability and tension

Roaches give him the howling fantods.

dipsomania -- an insatiable craving for alcoholic beverages

...the father, a dipsomaniacal tragedian progressively crippled by obsessions with death by spider-bite...

mordant -- bitingly painful

feck -- efficacy; force; value

...and devoted his unimpaired hours almost exclusively to the production of documentaries... and mordantly obscure and obsessive dramatic cartridges. leaving behind a substantial... number of completed films and cartridges, some of which have earned a small academic following for their technical feck and for a pathos that was somehow both surreally abstract and CNS-rendingly melodramatic at the same time.

plangent -- loud and resounding; expressing or suggesting sadness; plaintive

...sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.

leptosome -- a person with a slender, thin, or frail body

It's possibly odd that the leptosomatic Mario I., so damaged he can't even grip a stick, much less flail at a moving ball with one, is the one kid at [Enfield Tennis Academy] whose company Schtitt seeks out...

prandial -- of or relating to a meal

calliopsis -- a North American annual plant (Coreopsis tinctoria) widely cultivated for its showy flower heads with yellow rays and purple-red to brownish centers

quincunx -- an arrangement of five objects with one at each corner of a rectangle or square and one at the center

But often on a warm evening sometimes Mario and Coach Schtitt will find themselves out alone... Schtitt savoring a post-prandial pipe, Mario enjoying the smells of the calliopsis alongside the grounds' quincunx paths...

prolix -- tediously prolonged

...locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern.

pedalferrous -- the adjective form of 'pedalfer', which is a soil rich in alumina and iron, with few or no carbonates

fulvous -- of a dull, brownish yellow

They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the east, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine.

teratogenic -- of, relating to, or causing malformations of an embryo or a fetus

... fans atop the hugely convex protective walls of anodized Lucite hold off the drooling and piss-colored bank of teratogenic Concavity clouds and move the bank well back, north, away, jaggedly, over your protected head.

atavistic -- reverting to or suggesting the characteristics of a remote ancestor or primitive type

Besides Hal, who's atavistically dark-complected anyway, the ones here with the least bad piebald coloring are the players who can tolerate spraying themselves down with Lemon Pledge before outdoor play.

semion -- the Greek word for sign

One semion that still works fine is holding your fist up and cranking at it with the other hand so the finger you're giving somebody goes up like a drawbridge.

sangfroid -- coolness and composure, especially in trying circumstances

Maranthe's tone now become derisive despite his legendary sangfroid in matters of technical interviews...

guilloche -- a repetitive architectural pattern widely used in classical Greece and Rome, consisting of two ribbons that wind around a series of regular central points

He exhales a slow breath through rounded lips, looking off up a the ceiling's guilloche border

aperçu -- a brief or detached view; conspectus; sketch

He's thinking in an abstract absent way about limits and rituals, listening to Blott give Beak his aperçu.

osseous -- having to do with the bone, consisting of bone, or resembling bone

The U.S.S. Millicent's hair, which was almost osseously hard-looking, composed of dense woven nests of reticulate fibers like a dry loofa sponge...

boscage -- a mass of trees or shrubs; a thicket

There was no sign of Husky VI of any other model of tripod in any of the thickets and boscages.

murated -- ok I can't find a good definition of this word. It seems like it only occurs in this book and some genetics journals. One guys says it means "walled". Another says it has to do with genetic mutation. The first sounds spurious to me because it's a little "too easy" given the sentence it appears in:

Several times also Maranthe called U.S.A. to Steeply 'Your walled nation' or 'Your murated nation.'

agnate -- coming from a common source; akin

... then every third month Pemulis and Axford work the agnate unsupervised line that snakes across the blue lobby shag, selling little Visine bottles of urine out of an antique vendor's tub for ballpark wieners.

erumpent -- bursting through or as if through a surface or covering

He's never looked better on court or on monthly O.N.A.N.T.A. paper. He is erumpent.

éclat -- brilliant success

Hal's head, closely monitored by deLint and Staff, is judged still level and focused and unswollen/-bludgeoned by the sudden éclat and rise in general expectations.

rutilant -- having a reddish glow

... you're a machine a body and object, Jim, no less than this rutilant Montclair...

That's it! Oy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Teaser Tuesday -- Infinite Jest

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.

It's gonna be like InfiniteJestapalooza up in here for a while since I'm going to be reading it all summer with the good people at Infinite Summer. If you don't believe me, wait until tomorrow's Wondrous Word post, which is already over 30 words long.

Anyway, the random spread I opened to just now is of course two giant text blocks with nary a paragraph break in sight and maybe like 3 periods. One might be a decimal point. I managed to find two short sentences right in a row, thank god. Well... a sentence and a fragment.

As much as his shoulder, calf, toe, and whole right side were hurting, it occurred to Gately that you don't normally think of wraiths or ghostish phantasms as being tall or short, or having bad posture, or wearing certain-colored socks. Much less having anything as specific as extrusive nostril-hair.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Death's Daughter

Death's Daughter

Death's Daughter / Amber Benson
New York : Ace Books, c2009
359 p.

For the last few years I'd been in a state of bliss -- living under a self-imposed Forgetting Charm, because I so did not want to go into the family business. What I wanted was a glamorous career in New York City and the Opportunity for a normal life -- buying designer shoes on sale, daying guys from craigslist, Web surfing for organic dim sum for my boss. And then my father's Executive Assistant, a faun named Jarvis, showed up to tell me that my dad had been kidnapped.

Good-bye, Forgetting Charm. Hello, (unwanted) responsibility. Not only am I expected to step into the CEO slot on the company Board, but I have to "prove my worth" by competing against the Devil's protégé -- who's so hot in more ways than one. The contest involves finding three (why is it always three?) objects of power. In Hell.

One of them is this adorable puppy -- who happens to be a hellhound. The others are turning out to be not much fun. All this so I can take (unwanted) charge of Death, Inc.

My name is Calliope Reaper-Jones, and I'm death's daughter.

To start, I have to say I'm moving right now and for the past week have been lugging and washing and buying and waiting and cleaning and planning and doing pretty much everything a transient does every three years. It leaves little time for reading and zero time for blogging. (And I'm not even living in the place yet. This is why there is no Microbe Monday this week. I know you're so sad.)

So I actually read this book over a week ago at work on a day my computer died and nobody was around to fix it. (Pro-tip: This is awesome and if it happens to you, take advantage.) It's not fresh in my mind, therefore. In fact, I kinda don't remember it at all.

Granted, such is the way with chick lit, a genre term that the snobbish use pejoratively, but that I use because Amber Benson used it herself while we were speaking. (A book signing, I'm not like some sort of insider or Buffyverse stalker.) I don't read chick-lit because I am a boy and because lots of it is trashy, but I have read the first Sookie Stackhouse book on a plane as well as a good portion of Shopaholic Takes Manhattan while I was sick at my mom's place once, so I'm pretty much an expert now. And Death's Daughter, which I only got in order to meet Amber, wasn't half bad!

And honestly, that's a ringing endorsement considering how ready I was to dismiss the novel outright. Yes, like the Amazoners say, Calliope is shallow and whiny. This is definitely not a character-driven story. But Ms. Benson has been working for a long time with some top names in fic and comic book writing, not to mention sci-fi television, and it's rubbed off. She combines and modernizes different world mythologies (somewhat in the vein of American Gods) and uses some clever plot points. The Death Inc. angle was cute, if not as fleshed out as I'd like (get it? because like how death has no skin a lot of the time? I slay.), and there are a lot of fun, kooky characters that keep the pages turning.

And that's pretty much it. There's not a lot to say, really. While rough and a bit incongruous at times, Death's Daughter is surprisingly easy to read, which is good because at the rate things are going, this will probably be the last book I finish ever again.

Dieter on Death's Daughter

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wondrous Word Wednesday

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


From Piercing by Ryu Murakami:

potage -- a thick, often creamy, soup

I'm thinking I'll use a package of cream consommé. Knorr makes a good one, but on a cold night like this, when you feel chilled to the bone, potage is better than consommé, don't you think?

And from 1001 Nights of Snowfall:

suzerain -- a nation that controls another nation in international affairs but allows it domestic sovereignty

satrapy -- the territory or sphere under the rule of a satrap... a satrap being the governor of a province in ancient Persia

Now Snow was a proper woman of demure manners and bridled inwardly at such public declarations from a stranger, even one whose suzerain encompassed thrice three times three dozen kingdoms, city states, and satrapies.

Also, I've been reading some of the original X-Men comic books... I dunno why. Yes I do, they're awful and corny and I love them, that's why. Anyway, From X-Men #17:

mellifluous -- having a smooth, rich flow

perspicacious -- having keen mental perception and understanding

Marvel Girl: Honestly, Hank! Can't you ever speak like any ordinary, normal human being?
Beast: I do, Jeanie! It's just that I employ mellifluous adjectives to do it!
Marvel Girl: Oh, you're just impossible!
Beast: Very perspicacious of you, wench! And therein lies my charm!

Haha, wench! Why are half the quotes I use in this blog so misogynist? In the next panel he says "Prattle away then, female!"

Silly Beast.

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