Saturday, January 12, 2013

It Gets Better: Reading in 2013

After a lackluster end of the year I am hoping that 2013 will be filled with more enjoyable reads.  It's not like everything has to be amazing, after all, how can one appreciate all the great reads if there aren't a few clunkers from time to time.  I find that bad reads go in phases, as do good ones.  In order to gear up to some good reads, I went back to what my mainstays: Comic Books.

1) Prelude to Schism - Paul Jenkins - C
I love the X-Men.  They are the books that stuck with me as a child they sucked me into the world of comic books which led to a life-long love (and a depletion of my back account).  I can't fully explain what it is that I love, but after years of not reading comics, they seem to be the books that excite me and bring me back to the fold.  Keeping up with the industry, I know some huge storylines have come and gone that I have missed out on due to not reading monthly books anymore (otherwise I wouldn't be able to afford.....anything else so I quit cold turkey about 8 years ago). On Christmas morning, I was feeling nostalgic and wanting to catch up with my old friends.  I went on Amazon and found out all the books that have come out since I last read these.  When I tallied up how much the books would cost, it was about $140 on Amazon.  To the NY Public Library Website I went instead and reserved these books.  The first was the Prelude to the Schism storyline.  After reading it, I'm very happy I didn't plop down $8 on this book. It was a great character study on the main power players: Cyclops, Professor X, Wolverine and Magneto, but absolutely nothing happened in the book.  It was a prelude to the story that will shake up the X-Universe, but that is all.  I'm glad I read it, but more glad I read it for free.

2) Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Volume 2: Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming - B+
While in the library picking up X-Men, I saw this on the shelf. I've read this book when it came out in single issues back in 2002-2003 since this is a collection of about 12 issues (or a year's worth of books).
Powers is a fantastic story, told by a great writer.  The series follows a police partnership made up of an ex-superhero (think Superman if Superman lost his powers and was human and became a cop) who investigate homicides involving Superheroes in a world where there are tons (much like a world in the popular movie The Incredibles).
Having read this book in a different format 10 years ago, this was a quick re-read and made me remember how much I love Bendis and his writing as well as this book.  I am very behind in what is going in in this world, and would love to catch up since these books are still being released and I have faith that they continue to come out at the same quality.

3) Science Dog - Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker - B+
This was also on the shelf and seeing the name Robert Kirkman made me remember that Science Dog was the comic book read by the comic book character Invincible in Kirkman's superhero book.  I decided to read the one-shot book and it was one of the best written out time-travel tales that I've read since The Time Traveler's Wife.  Kirkman perfectly explained the idea of paradoxes and parallel universes by making Science Dog continue to go further back in time in order to fix his mistakes.  The tragedy of him doing all this to save his friends and one aspect of himself, while putting himself into exile was told so perfectly and this book reminded me of how amazing the medium of comic books can tell a story that is difficult to tell in any other version.  Kirkman continues to write some of the most tragic books with a ton of heart.  I'm sticking with Invincible for the long haul and will check out the side-stories like this when they come to me.

4) The Walking Dead Volume 17: Something To Fear -  Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn - A-
I've been reading The Walking Dead since issue 50 came out about 3 years ago.  I heard "the guy that directed Shawshank Redemption" was adapting a comic book for TV that was written by Robert Kirkman.  I had already been a fan of Invincible, but hadn't read The Walking Dead since I wasn't the biggest fan of the zombie genre.  But when I heard the TV should would be coming out, I bought the Compendium of the first 48 issues collected in one book and devoured it in a very short time.  I even wrote a post about it here.
Since I read those 48 issues so quickly, I couldn't wait 4 years until the next compendium came out, and instead started buying the paperbacks that bundle up story arcs of 6 issues every 6 months.  
That means I have read volumes 9-17 now on their own and this one was by far the most difficult.  The series (TV and book) is known for ensuring that no one is safe and main characters (or who we perceive to be the main characters) are often killed off in some of the most disturbing fashions I've ever read.  This book took the cake.  The intensity and sadness I felt while reading this book on the subway one morning was intense.  During the climactic scene, I literally went cold and paused before turning the page to find out what was going to happen.   I actually felt like I was going to throw up, it disturbed me that much.  (And if you know me, that's saying a lot.  NOTHING bothers me - to a fault).  
The fact that a book and a (black and white) comic book at that can cause such a physical reaction in someone impressed me as a reader, but bothered me as a fan.  I wasn't happy about what happened in the book, but at the same time it has made me filled with more anticipation for the next issue in June or so.  If you like horror (and more psychological horror than gore, although there is plenty of that too), read this book!  You may not thank me because you may have nightmares, but you won't be able to stop reading.

5) Freedom - Jonathan Franzen (562 Pages) - A
I hate validating Oprah, but damn was this book fantastic.  
I read Franzen's more famous novel The Corrections years ago, and liked it, but at this point only remember it was "about a dysfunctional family".  I had heard mixed reviews about this book and thought I'd get to it when I get to it.  
My friend Ed had said that he had just read it and was enjoying it and then it just happened to be sitting there in the library staring at me.  As you know from my last post, I was reading some horrible books and wanted to start off 2013 with at least something more engaging so this book got checked out.  Immediately, I was sucked in.

The first chapter tells almost then entire history of this family in a very quick synopsis about a mother, father and two children and how they lived in this small town in Minnesota while hinting that there was potentially something wrong under their perfect exterior.  
The next chapter now jumps to a first person "autobiography" of the mother of that family, Patty.  She writes about her childhood and going to college and her boyfriends.  Most of what she writes about is very normal. A young girl learning about herself and love and meeting her eventual husband.  And I could not get enough.  When a writer is a good, you can't help but keep turning the pages, and Franzen is better than good.  He tells a story in such an even, simple tone that it is easy to follow even when he is throwing out some big ideas (like the real problem with the Environment that no one really wants to talk about).
From there on out, each chapter is told from a different character's perspective: Patty's son Joey (a strong individual trying not to live in his father's shadow), her husband Walter (a liberal lawyer and stronger feminist than most women), her husband's best friend Richard Katz (a wannabe Rock star/anti-feminist).  The scope of the book is really Patty's entire life since she is the main character of this novel and shows the achievements and mistakes she makes in this life.   
Thinking now about the title of the book, I think the entire thought is about what Freedom means to any one person on an individual basis.  Freedom is really the thing we all want the most in life, freedom to love who you want, to live in a country where everyone and everything is free to live its life to their utmost happiness, and how each person's idea of freedom may actually be the opposite of someone else (especially those they love the most).  
Lastly, the thing I realized about myself while reading this book is I may be the world's biggest voyeur.  I wish I could explain why the lives of this family was so entertaining to me, but I can't.  This is the type of book I feel I could have kept reading forever.  It's not that these characters were so likable or interesting.  In fact, it may be the exact opposite.  But they were real people.  I found myself able to relate to all of them on different levels, but enjoy each of their stories equally.  

2013 is starting off right.  This book in the annals, along with a series of books lines up and waiting for me to read.  I hope to keep this blog updated more often and potentially hit my goal of 52 books in 52 weeks once again.  I'm already behind the curve, but I'll give up quantity for quality every single time.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

End of 2012 Book Post - Warning: It got ugly

After 2011's amazing year of reading 55 books throughout the year (not counting comic books) I thought 2012 would just keep rolling and I would read some more great books.  However, with some misjudgements and some questionable book club choices, it ended up being just a mediocre year of books.  Of course there were some great books that were read like 1Q84 and learning about Ann Pratchet but overall I was a little disappointed with my choices in 2012.  None more so than the final month...

1) Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stephenson (92 Pages) - C
For my constant reader, you will remember that while walking my dog Renly a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon someone throwing away a ton of books.  Since I had never read Dr. Jekyll and remembering how much I enjoyed Frankenstein earlier in the year, I thought I should read more classics.  
The book was very short and only took two days to read so it wasn't totally bad.  The biggest problem(s) I had was that it was just forgettable.  
I was stricken by how different the book was then I expected it to be.  I know the basic story (as most people that are aware of any pop-culture), but the actual book was more boring that what I expected.   I remember reading that The Hulk was based on the concept of this book, so was surprised to read that the evil embodiment that was Mr. Hyde was SMALLER than the normal, good-natured Dr. Jeckyll.  I thought it was a smart concept that the reason for Hyde being smaller was because he represented the evil side of Jekyll, and since the doctor was not a bad man, only the smaller, evil side of him remained behind to become Mr. Hyde.  I also thought it was funny, given the time the book was written, that people seemed to be scared of science and what they don't understand.  The science of the book seemed laughable at times, but again that was a product of the times.

2) Breed - Chase Novak (310 Pages) - D
Wow!  Don't trust the blurbs!
I have been jonesing for a Stephen King book.  More specifically I have wanted to reread his vampire novel Salem's Lot since I didn't like it much when I read it, but since his son Joe Hill appears to have a vampire novel coming out soon, I wanted to compare/contrast them in my head.  But I don't have that book, and instead was in the library and came across this book with a blurb on the cover from Mr. King saying how much he loved it.  In my mind, if it's good enough for Stevie, it's good enough for me, so I rented the book. Oops!
The story focused on a married couple that was having difficulty getting pregnant so they go to Slovakia (or Slovenia) for an experimental procedure and long story short: something supernatural happens to them and their children. 
Jump ahead 10 years, and now they twins that were born from this procedure are scared of their parents and run away from home, but the parents use their preternatural abilities to try and find their children.
I may even be making this book sound better than it even was, and I know I'm doing nothing.  I researched the author after and found out this is a pseudonym of some guy that actually writes romance books and he was trying to branch out into horror and knew his audience shouldn't be reading this.  In my mind, no one should!  The only bits I enjoyed was a since most of the book takes place in New York City, I enjoyed the local flashes.  The biggest problem as a New Yorker was that it felt like it was written by someone that had never lived in New York, but instead just wrote it while looking at a google map of Manhattan.  
I read this book, so you don't have to.  You're welcome.

3) Damned - Chuck Palahniuk (247) - D+
I've read almost every book Chuck Palahniuk has written, and with Damned, I may have read my final book of his.  It's not that the book was bad, in fact by the time I got to the end I was actually smiling and giggling a little at it, but for the first 200 pages or so I found myself asking myself "what's the point of this book?"
It was a comedy that wasn't funny.  It was an homage to Are You There God, It's me Margaret while being the story about a 13 year old girl living in hell by opening every chapter with "Are you there Satan, it's me Madison..."
There were some parts of the book that I understood his social commentary: Since hell is the invention of Christians, only the truly devout Christians go to Heaven and are bored.  Otherwise, everyone else is stuck in Hell including Ghandi and Socrates.   I also laughed at the realization that everyone in Hell has to have a job and Madison gets the job as a telemarketer that only calls people during dinner was funny, until I thought about how outdated the concept of telemarketing is in the cell-phone age.
I was bored by the descriptions of Hell and the rivers of blood and perpetually ever-filling oceans of semen and mucus.  I just couldn't figure out the real point of the book, and since this is the 2nd or 3rd Palahniuk book that I decided to read by my own volition and have not enjoyed, or did not finish I think I've decided that I either "grew out" of his writing style or he's gotten worse. I hope it's the 2nd option, but either way, nothing can take away the enjoyment I got from Fight Club and Invisible Monsters which I remember as being great books.  But it's also possible that with all of the reading I've been doing over the past 13 years since I first read Fight Club, my tastes in writing may have changed.  Maybe I'm even *gasp* growing up!  Probably not.  But maybe.

4) Geek Love - Katherine Dunn (347 Pages) - C-
This is a difficult book for me to review.  It was our latest Book Club selection and I had a hard time ever getting into this book.  The main issue is that Aubrey and I had one copy and I worked around her (slower) reading style.  I started the book, then while at page 90 or so, I handed it to her.  She leaped in front of me before taking a break and giving it back to me.  I bypassed her and then gave it back before finishing up.
With all of these stutters, I had a hard time finding the "voice" of the novel and the narrator in an already unconventional and strange book.
The other thing was that I was surprised about how many similarities this book had stylistically to Damned and other Chuck Pahlahniuk books just with a female touch.  It had the similarities of seeming to be shocking for the sake of being shocking and having numerous quirky/strange characters.
The story of the book is even very strange.  It centers on a family of circus performers.   The parents owned the sideshow and decided to use drugs and (potentially) incest in order to create their family of freaks.  If the babies were born normal, they were immediately aborted, the ones that lived on were the freaks.  These include Siamese twins, a hunchbacked albino (our narrator), a boy with flippers instead of arms and legs with delusions of grandeur and a seemingly normal boy named Chick where something invisible makes him special.  And this is just where the oddness begins.  
Dunn also has a writing style which does not mesh well with my reading style.  In my opinion she over-wrote this book with flowery words to describe the insanity that was going on in this circus, but that was more distracting than anything else. 

That concluded my 2012 reading.  Now that that is over, I am hopeful that 2013 will be even better.  So far this year is proving to be a good one, but that is a post for another day...