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Entries in booknotes (4)

Thursday
Apr112019

Book Notes: The Hike by Drew Magary

Notes on: The Hike by Drew Magary

 

The story of a short journey that turns into a long journey, by turns funny, strange, sweet, and exciting.

Ben is on a business trip to the Poconos. He's away from his wife and kids, and his hotel is boring, so he decides to go for a quick hike in the forest behind it. He ends up going someplace far stranger and unimaginable, and for far longer than he thought he would be hiking.

Like all journey-stories, this book is about fate and how our relationships with others and our world form the choices we make. Ben meets all manner of strange creatures (including giants, demons, ghosts, dog-faced killers, huge insects) and bizarre people (a 16th century conquistador, stranded out of time, and an irascible talking crab, among others) and these collisions change the choices that he makes while on the Path. And along the way, his memories of his wife and children are the distant light that keep him moving.

Lest I leave the impression that this is some dour, weighty book--Drew Magary is a really funny writer. If you know him, you know his hilarious contributions to Deadspin, and especially his LOL column "Why your team sucks." And while the book isn't exactly humorous, it is very funny in places, whether it's the repartee between Ben and the cannibal giant who captures him, or his maddeningly funny/frustrating experiences early in the novel trying to get his iphone to work. Even when the book is more serious, Magary's prose is fast and rich and his world-building and imaginative set-pieces are really striking.

Monday
Mar252019

Book Notes: The Obama Inheritance

Notes on The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir, edited by Gary Phillips

Date finished: 3/25/19

A wild ride with a really clever premise, and featuring some amazing tales.

It's kind of all there in the title--this is a book in which writers of mystery, suspense, science fiction, and thrillers take, as a given, all of the conspiracies that were drummed up about President Obama, and turn them into a narrative. Given how feverish and bizarre many of these ideas were, it's a rich mine to plumb. The pulp tradition looms large here, with spy thrillers, space-monsters, and action heroes making regular appearances.

As with all anthologies, the results are variable. Some of these stories were thrill-rides, others reveled in the horrific implications of their inspiration, and others used the opportunity to contemplate America as an idea and a lived experience, particularly around issues of race (perhaps not surprisingly, as most of the contributors are people of color). The stories that I liked the best took the feverish, almost psychedelic weirdness of the far-right's swamp of Obama-hate and ran with it. Eric Beetner's "True Skin" and L. Scott Jose's "Give me Your Free, Your Brave, Your Proud Masses Yearning to Conquer" take on the idea of Obama as a lizard-person, with equal parts funny and disgusting results. Nisi Shawl's "Evens" plays with the idea of clones and their implications for succession and term limits.  Other stories draw on other mythologies and fold them into our current political situation--Star Trek for Adam Lance Garcia's "The continuing Mission" and The Scarlet Pimpernel in Gary Phillips "Thus Strikes the Black Pimpernel". Still others are action-filled thrillers like "Michelle in Hot Water" by Kate Flora and "Forked Tongue" by Lise McLendon.

My favorite story is perhaps the strangest--"The Psalm of Bo" by Christopher Chambers, framed as a gospel according to the Obama's beloved water Spaniel, and recounting the story of how dogs inherit the Earth. It's almost quiet and meditative, even as the story it depicts is absolutely bonkers and delightful.

It's hard to escape the world we're in, dangerous and spiteful as it is. But this anthology does the great work of confronting that world head-on. Maybe that's the best approach--certainly it made for an entertaining read.

Monday
Mar112019

Book Notes: Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman

Review/Notes of Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman. (Link)

Date finished: 3/10/2019

I heard of Aickman from John Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats, who described him as a literary influence during his tenure on the Podcast I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats. Darnielle spoke of Aickman as being a very subtle, suggestive writer of horror and strangeness, which sounded right up my alley.

The stories collected in "Cold Hand in Mine" are variable in their adherence to that mission, with some (The Hospice, The Clock Watcher) being almost inexplicable and others (Pages from a Young Girls Journal, The Same Dog) bringing more of a light touch to already familiar tales and themes.


Still, several of the stories in here are absolute masterpieces--the Hospice, in particular is stunningly weird, to the point that it's almost funny. "Meeting Mr. Millar" also has a great deal of humor mixed with the bizarre, as the narrator is an editor of pornographic fiction.


The hardest part for me was that Aickman's prose is very specific and very stylized, and the subtlety of his creepy imagery is easy to miss if you read quickly. Unfortunately, as a father to a new baby (as well as an already dynamic and engaged five year old) it's hard to find time to read something slowly, and this collection took me far longer to read than I think it might otherwise have.

Really fantastic stuff.

Thursday
Feb142019

Book Notes: Encyclopedia of Black Comics by Dr. Sheena Howard

Review/Notes on The Encyclopedia of Black Comics by Sheena C. Howard. Forward by Henry Louis Gates. Afterward by Christopher Priest (Link)

Date Finished: 2/13/19

It's a real treat to be able to read something about a subject you love and feel close to, and discover a whole other side to it that you never knew. This was definitely the case with The Encyclopedia of Black Comics, which (as with any book about race in America) held up a mirror to the world of comics and sequential art and provided an extended counter-narrative to the one I knew.

The real beating heart of this book is the amazing life-stories of the people who make up the biographical entries. Some of the most enlightening to me were:

-Orrin Cromwell Evans, who, with the publication of All-Negro Comics in 1947 became the first African-American publisher of comic books.

-Vernon E Grant, who helped introduce Manga to western audiences through his translations, after serving in the Vietnam war and living in Tokyo.

-Ollie Harrington, political cartoonist for many prominent African-American newspapers, for which he was eventually forced to leave the country for fear of his life and livelihood.

-Micheline Hess, an early colorist at Milestone comics who made the transition to web-comics and now writes amazing and gorgeous comics with Black female protagonists.

-Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, the first (?) Black woman to own a comic store

-Jackie Ormes, the first female African-American cartoonist who wrote some of the first positive representations of Black women in comics in the 1930s and 40s.

-Sanford Greene, who simultaneously drew Power Man and Iron Fist and also illustrated Hip-Hop album covers by MF Doom and other Hip-Hop artists.

This book has also given me lots of great comics to go and check out, and I'm glad to have such an evocative and informative springboard for new stuff to read. Huzzah Dr. Howard!