Sunday, March 17, 2013

I'm on a roll this year

2013 is shaping up to be a heavy reading year.  Not only have I been reading a ton of comic books and prose novels, but my list of books is growing quickly with 4 novels waiting in the wings for me which i hope to complete before month-end.
This post will update my progress along with a brief recap, rating and an aside as to how it came to pass that I read that book  The numbering system starts at 5 because that is the fifth book I have read this year on my goal to 52 (which seems possible, but unlikely)

5.  This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life - David Foster Wallace (137 Pages) - B
This is simply a publication of a graduation speech the author David Foster Wallace gave in 2005 at Kenyan College (which I have no idea where that is).  To be honest, I picked this book up as a cheat in my 52 books contest.  It was a speech with a few sentences on each page.  Having only read some Wallace articles in the past and enjoying them, but never reading a novel I wanted to try some more of his work out.   This was one of those speeches that tells you to enjoy life and stop and smell the roses a times.  Don't get stressed out by the guy that cut you off on the highway, because you don't know their situation.  Maybe that guy's wife is at the surgery and he's trying his hardest to get there.  It's a great way of looking at the world and worth a read.  Anyone can read the speech here.
Something interesting happened later:  I had the book on my desk at work and a coworker came over and looked it over.  She asked what it was and I gave a brief synopsis, then she asked if she could read it.  Obviously, I obliged and she took it.  Five minutes later she frantically ran over to me to inquire about something that was stamped on the title page of the book. Someone had stamped in red ink "THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK COMMITTED SUICIDE".  I don't know if the library did that or a patron, and although it is true I'm curious as to why it was there.  This bothered my coworker very much, since the theme of the speech is to not get carried away by life and to be compassionate.  It's obviously a "Do as I say, not as I do" book since Wallace couldn't handle it. It's pretty obvious that this must have been something that the author had a problem with in his entire life which he eventually succumbed to
My question to my loyal reader is: Does the an author's ideas or his actions matter more?  

6. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story - Sean Howe (432 Pages) - B+
Newsflash:  I like comic books.  There are two type of people in the world DC people and Marvel people, and I've been a Marvel Zombie since I was 10 years old.  This heavily researched, in depth book tells the true accounts of the stories behind the story-tellers.  All of the drug use, backstabbing, power plays and disputes in who created what, and ownership rights.  Ownership of property is the largest issue in this book and going back to Ayn Rand's theory that if you create it, you should fully own it vs. what the US government says of contracts how one can create a character (like Spider-Man), but not own that character because you signed a contract that says anything you write belongs to Marvel Comics as an institution.  It's a question I go back and forth on myself because I like to think if I was to create something that resonated with millions of people, then I would reap the benefits for my ideas and my hard work.  But because I work for a popular company, the only reason anyone ever heard my ideas was because they published my book that had a built-in audience who were able to find my idea because they published hundreds of thousands of copies of my idea without me putting up any money.  It's a very difficult concept and I'm not sure there is a 100% correct answer.  It really is a collaboration, and until we get a fair compensation policy for all, it will always be a problem.  In every industry.

6a.  Fables - Cubs in Toyland 
I will continue reading Fables until it goes ends its run.  The characters are always wonderfully written and I care about them all.  The last few books, however feel like the story is treading water a little.  It seems to have become just another comic book where the characters get into situations, fight back and prevail.  What keeps Fables apart is that there are often casualties since the cast of characters is so large, losing one or even 10 characters is not a problem.
This story was more of a horror tale than anything else, like a classic Borthers Grimm story.  It was an enjoyable read, but in the end it was forgettable.

6b. The Unwritten: Volumes 1-4
I had read The Unwritten volumes 1 and 2 when they came out about 2 years ago and enjoyed it.  While I was feeding my friend Jason's cat while he was away, I noticed that Jason had volumes 1-4.  I leafed through volume 1 and realized I barely remembered it and didn't remember volume 2 at all.  I stole all 4 of his books and read them in a few days.  What a fantastic, imaginative story this is turning out to be.  Tommy Taylor (think Harry Potter) was a beloved children's book.  The author of the books had a son, named Thomas Taylor, and he makes a living going around as "The Real Tommy" but as a 20 something young man, he hates this life.  
What the book eventually reveals is that the characters in all popular novels are real.  Or at least have their own world where you can go.  Tommy begins his adventure through stories that leads to him meeting Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, Frankenstein's monster and a slew of other characters.   Tommy is pursued throughout popular fiction because his father may have hidden some secrets of the universe in him that an occult group is trying to protect or get for themselves.  
Since it is an ongoing series, I am not sure where they are going yet, but this is becoming a great book about the nature of stories and what they mean.  Also, people have to be more well-read than me in order to catch all of the literary references in any given issue.  This is one of those comic books that you give to an English
teacher if they are against comic books, and to ask them if this is not literature itself.

7. The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut (326 Pages) - B+
The more Vonnegut I read, the more I like him.  The best thing about Kurt Vonnegut is that while you are reading one of his books, you are aware that you are reading a Vonnegut book because no one else writes like him.  The imagination, humor, and big ideas that he had were uncontested.  The structure of his books are almost like a joke.  He sets up the characters normally, starts throwing some strange situations at them, and he ends his books perfectly with a punchline that makes you laugh, and makes you think.
This novel (his second written in 1959) was chosen by the previously mentioned Jason as our latest book club endeavor.  The concepts in the book are small-scale: It only tells the story of why human civilization exists and was orchestrated by external forces.  (Oh yeah, for religious nuts and people that think humanity is the point of the universe, you won't be happy with this reasoning)
There is nothing I can write here that will make any difference to anyone. If you want to read a book that is funny and odd and imaginative read this book or any of his others.  If not, go read James Patterson.

8. Merry Christmas, Alex Cross - James Patterson (323 Pages) - C-
"My name is Mitch, and I have a reading problem".  That's the only defense I have for continuing to read the Alex Cross books by James Patterson.  While reading them, I recognize the terrible writing.  I can see the twists coming from a mile away.  I know Alex Cross is going to catch the bad guy and go home to his ever-growing family, but when I see it on the library rack I also know I'm going to knock out a 300 page book in 2 days and there is something about that that makes me happy.
I will continue to read the awful adventures of Alex Cross until they stop being published.  And since the newest one was just published again, I know there will be another Alex Cross book on this list before the year's over.
Oh yeah: In this one, Alex Cross solves TWO cases, not just one.  That's why it's different.

9.  In The Miso Soup - Ryu Murakami (180 Pages) - C
Whenever I go to the library I always pass by to see if there are any books by Haruki Murakami whose writing I love.  A few years ago, I picked up Pierced by Ryu Murakami.  It was basically Japanese torture-porn, but as a horror fan, I enjoyed it.  I picked up this one too (as a short novel, it helps padding my 52 books as well) and it was more of the same.
This story is really not very good and I'm not sure the point the author is trying to make.  The violence comes out of nowhere and although he tries to explain why the characters behave like they do, I never felt he succeeded.  Murakami wanted to write a book about violence and about the Japanese sex industry in the mid 90s, so he combined those two things.  He brought in a crazy American for the violence (probably saying something about violence in America) and having an innocent travel agent to the brothels of Tokyo act as the pie-eyed innocent.  It never fully worked for me.   But we need to have bad books in the world to truly appreciate the good ones.

10. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (387 Pages) - A
While reading this book the only word that continued to pop into my head was "Beautiful".  This book was just that.  The writing, the mystery, the love of the story is just dripping off the page.  A few people (all women) have told me to read this book, and I pretty much dismissed them.  Not knowing anything about it, I figured it was a "chick-book", and maybe I'd get around to it.  Thankfully the library had it one day and on a whim I picked it up.
I cannot even describe what it is that I loved so much about it.  In the end, it just comes down to the writing style.  This book was written in such a way that I couldn't help but continue reading.  Who are all these characters? How do they come together? What is the mysterious contest about?  All of that is great, but in the end it is the way the tale is told that is the true main character.  The only other book that gave off an aura like this book while being read is Neil Gaiman's Sandman.
There is nothing I want to write about this book out of fear that someone could stumble upon this blog and have any of it ruined.  Just go in and know that I was hooked by page 10 when a character finds out he has an 4 year old daughter and he gains custody after the mother died.  He looks at this little 4 year old and says to her "You're going to be interesting" and I was hooked.  It set the tone of the entire novel, and  it never was a disappointment.

10a - For the sake of completion: I have also read a bunch of other comic books this year, but not much to write about on these: The New Avengers: Book 1; Essential X-Men Volume 10, Anya's Ghost, Thor/IronMan - God Complex, Thor - Vissionaries Walter Simonson Volume 1