The first book in the graphic novel series titled Marchopens with John Lewis in his office on the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. He and Rosa Parks are standing in his office talking when an African American family from Atlanta comes in, asking to see Senator Lewis’s office. They realize that they are standing in front of Lewis and introduce themselves. The woman with the small children explains to Lewis that she wanted to see how far he had come. This moment sets the backstory of a young John Lewis into motion.
Growing up as a sharecropper’s son in rural Alabama, John Lewis explains that he was always a little different. He takes the time to tell a beautiful, hilarious, and heartbreaking account of how he took a strong liking to the chickens of his family’s farm. He would feed them, look after them, look after the eggs, and preach to them. He would write sermons and deliver them to his chickens. Lewis attributes his ability to deliver sermons and speeches to the time he spent delivering them to his chickens. Strongly present in this autobiographical account are experiences seared into Lewis (and all other blacks) in the 1950s South. Lewis began noticing that he was not living the same way that the whites were. The white students rode nice school buses while the blacks rode the rickety old ones. His parents would constantly remind him to “stay out of the white man’s way,” or “don’t start any trouble.”
Lewis saw the Supreme Court decision of Brown V. The Topeka Board of Education, and, logically, remembers thinking that everything would change for him and the other black students–that he would be afforded the privilege to ride on the new buses. No such thing occurred.
In a cathartic and defining moment, Lewis recalls the first time he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice over the radio. He was delivering a sermon wherein he stressed the importance of the “Social Gospels.” King’s speeches further ignited the fire within Lewis that demanded social justice, godliness, and dignity for all humans.
As a young man, Lewis begins to consider going to college. He secures a position at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville where he works in the cafeteria, meeting faculty, students, deans, presidents, etc. He delved further into philosophy, history, religion, and the social gospels. Soon, he begins to look into Troy University, a college that was close to his parents in Alabama. Troy, however, was an all-white school at the time. He applied as a transfer student and never heard back.
It was after this lack of response from an all-white school that Lewis reached out to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For a couple of weeks, Lewis was in correspondence with King’s attorney Fred Gray and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Eventually, they set up a time for Lewis to meet King. King was quite invested in Lewis’s story of trying to get into Troy.
In an unsettling and strongly reminiscent tone, Dr. King reminds Lewis that trying to get into an all-white school in the South could bring a lot of adversity into his and his family’s and his neighbors’ lives. King warns that they could be bombed, beaten to death, lose their jobs/livelihoods. These possibilities were frighteningly still all too real in the desegregated US. John Lewis went to his father to discuss the process of admission. Troy State would need to be sued; John Lewis’s parents would have to sign with permission, etc. At first, Lewis’s parents wanted to be supportive, but in the end, they decided against giving him permission for the very reasons that Dr. King told him earlier.
Once John’s parents decided against pursuing the Troy University issue, John Lewis decided to go back to Nashville, TN to resume his studies. He let Dr. King know by letter, and attributes this later serendipitous moment to the “spirit of history.” In Nashville, John Lewis was attending the First Baptist church downtown when he was introduced to Jim Lawson, a man who was conducting a workshop on nonviolence. This First Baptist church had an all-black congregation who had moved churches when their integrated church still forced them to worship from the balcony. Jim Lawson was a graduate student at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt at the time. He taught the small group at the church the words and ways of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other peaceful activists. “Jim Lawson conveyed the urgency of developing our philosophy, our discipline, our understanding. His words liberated me… I thought, this is it… This is the way out” (77-79). This is when John became an active member in the sit-ins of Nashville. He explains how they studied the ways of nonviolent assembly. The students were gassed with an insect bomb in a certain lunch counter. They were brutalized by civilians. Ignored or threatened or physically hurt by police.
This graphic novel does such justice to history by taking Congressman Lewis’s experiences and activism and making it come even more alive through the kinetic medium of comics. He went from a sharecropper’s son to a congressman. This trajectory is one that we should all be watching–learning. It is important to read the battles that were fought and won so that we can assemble and protest today. Please stay tuned. I will cover books 2 and 3 in the next blogs!
“In 1951, Mohammed Mossadeq, then prime minister of Iran, nationalized the oil industry. In retaliation, Great Britain organized an embargo on all exports of oil from Iran. In 1953, the CIA, with the help of British intelligence, organized a coup against him. Mossadeq was overthrown and the Shah, who had earlier escaped from the country, returned to power. The Shah stayed on the throne until 1979, when he fled Iran to escape the Islamic Revolution.
“Since then, this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.
“One can forgive but one should never forget.”
Paris, September 2002
In the less than two page introduction of the graphic novel titled Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi provides a succinct synopsis explaining the political and cultural climate of Iran leading up to the Islamic or Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. Just as she is quoted in writing above, Iran is balled up into many of our western understandings of the Middle East–a discourse that is usually riddled with overtones of violence, religious extremism, terrorism, etc. In the wake of several bloody attacks claimed by ISIS or ISIL just this year, the recent hostage switch in Iran, the Syrian refugee crisis and civil war, and fear-mongering western ideologies, the message conveyed by Satrapi through her autobiographical comic Persepolis is something we need now more than ever.
Generalized news accounts of conflicts, wars, political events, etc., are much more effective and humanized when there is some form of personal account or narrative to supplement with more macro narratives. Take, for instance, the haunting piece of photojournalism that has dominated the covers of newspapers, magazines, and online articles the past week: the photograph of a shocked, silent, and bloody 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the site of an air raid in the city of Aleppo. His numb gaze is the product of the Syrian civil war. There are many other children like him. Many other children, like Omran’s older brother who died in that same raid, or 3 year old Aylan Kurdi whose drowned body washed upon Turkish shores around this time last year, who are forever silenced. The photographs of Aylan Kurdi and later his morning father started an urgent conversation in Europe regarding the treatment and permittance of refugees fleeing Syria. The parallel between people like Omran Daqneesh’s story and Marjane’s in Persepolis is that readers and viewers can all see the effects of extremism on individual people–people who do not have a say in the trajectory of their own country’s embattlements.
Persepolis is both an autobiography and Bildungsroman. It begins with a young Marji who begins to explain how the revolution in Iran is affecting her and her classmates on a personal level. The great thing about graphic novels is how effectively an image can communicate information in a much more viscerally striking manner. In the image below, Satrapi provides the reader with a snapshot of events that led to the image that many of us attach to Iranian women after the revolution. The veil, or hijab.
As stated earlier, the importance of learning the rich history of certain countries and people is invaluable to our understanding and tolerance toward any given situation regarding human rights, religion, ideology, etc. Perceptions of Iranian people and culture is challenged when we see people like Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin becoming the first Iranian woman to win a medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. Throughout her Taekwando match and after, she wore a veil or hijab which covered her hair and neck.
Persepolis provides a context of humanism rather than terrorism when talking about issues dealing with the hijab and other topics related to Islamic cultural and religious institutions. While Marji rebels against the mandated veil because it does not fall in line with her’s or her mother’s beliefs, the floor becomes open for discussion and understanding when reading about a person’s individual experience with the sometimes controversial garment. In Iran, shortly after the revolution gained enough speed to begin mandating certain aspects of Sharia law, Marji is met with the same resistance and oppression that the sunbathing woman mentioned earlier faced when a group of women wearing veils chastises and threatens Marji for wearing her blue jean jacket and Michael Jackson button. In this book, the dichotomous world of right and wrong is surpassed–ultimately providing a space for considering the places in between two dichotomies.
Persepolis is usually catalogued in Young Adult sections of libraries, making way for young people to critically think about and process certain issues that are otherwise glossed over in all-too-predictable and inaccessible dialogue.
Bear in mind that this analysis of Persepolis is coming from someone who was born in 1989. I had no prior understanding or knowledge of Iran other than what has been in the news since I can remember. Persepolis is often times taught in high schools, an environment where students’s perceptions are constantly changing–their minds making room for both fictional and real human experiences.
Persepolis follows young Marji as she grapples with the changes in the political, social, and religious landscape of Iran. Marji idolizes various revolutionists, social theorists, and activists, including her uncle Anoosh who dies at the hands of prison guards of the revolution because he is considered an infidel. As Marji grows older and witnesses the country around her transform into an isolated country ruled by Sharia law, she only becomes more and more resistant to this transformation. She continues to rebel in various forms–from attending protests to wearing “westernized” or “decadent” clothing. Her mother knows how serious the revolution is. In a stingingly memorable part of this work is when Marji’s mother tells her that she is risking being imprisoned and executed. What’s worse, her mother warns her, is that virgins cannot be executed. This means that an imprisoned young woman like Marji would first be married to the leader of the revolution, raped, then executed. In fear of this brutal reality, Marji’s parents agree to send her to school in Austria. While Marji is keen on leaving the Islamic republic and its ideals in her past, she begins to realize that there are still so many aspects of Iranian culture that she is adamant about defending. She sees parts of herself “assimilating into western culture” and simultaneously gains pride in her heritage. Marji falls in love with Reza, moves back to Iran to attend university, challenges many inequitable institutions in her Tehran university, graduates, and, well, you’ll have to read the rest.
Though the images are provided in a stark palette of black and white, Satrapi presents the reader with a story that explores the gray areas. Please give this book a read. In honor of Banned Books week, which is upon us, this book has been challenged and banned in various locations.
I’ve done over 50 blog posts in my career here at Fontana Regional Library. 50! Seems like a lot. The reason I bring this up is because this post that you are reading right now is my last. I am leaving the library and we are moving across the country (2,674 miles to be exact). And by we I mean me, my wife Christina, who co-wrote the early blogs, and Bellatrix.
So then, what shall we talk about? I thought of a few things, like talking about my favorite books once again, or reminiscing about previous posts. I discarded those ideas, because they don’t take us anywhere. Been there, done that.
Next I thought about the identity of the blog, and specifically my posts. What have I been trying to achieve? What was the point? The answer is obvious. Glaringly, blindingly obvious. The answer is books. Sure, I ventured off the beaten trail a few times (and note how I am avoiding referencing previous posts. They are there. You can find them yourself if you want), but the main focus was always books. It is always gratifying when someone likes or shares or comments on a post, but when someone says they read one of the books I suggested? That is sublime.
I already said I wasn’t going to prattle on about books I already prattled on about, and a couple of posts back I talked about the miscellaneous titles I hadn’t gotten around to talking about yet. So what am I going to talk about? Nothing. Okay, that is a gross oversimplification. If you think you are getting out of this without me slipping in some of my favorites, you are crazy. What I really mean is that I am going to let others do the talking.
I asked a few of my co-workers if they wanted to suggest a title or two, or three, or four in one case *coughEmilycough*. The idea is that while I may not be around to give you reading recommendations, there are lots of other people who are. Remember, these are their words, not mine.
I picked this up while thinking ahead about an upcoming League of Women Voters book and movie display, since one of the characters is a former suffragette, and I thought it might complement the Carey Mulligan/Helena Bonham Carter movie we’ll be showing.
This quiet little book just ended, and burst my heart wide open! Books that make me cry are highly recommended.
Emily at Hudson recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – and not just because they share the same name! Station Eleven is well-written, easy-to-read, and considers the importance of Art as an essential part of survival in a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) world.
This spectacular work covers a single day at the WTO protests in Seattle and forces readers to empathize with characters they would not normally identify with – which is arguably an essential function of great literature.
I have a lot of favorite movies and books, but there aren’t many that have actually affected me in such a way that I remember the first time I experienced them. In fact, I can only think of two.
For both times, I was in high school. The first memory was when I was fourteen, and was out walking with my friend. Neither of us had a car or even a license, so we ended up walking to the movie theater (we had missed a bus to something and therefore had all day to kill). After buying a ticket for a PG movie, we snuck into Pulp Fiction (don’t do this at home, kids!).
My friend and I sat in a mostly empty theater, stunned by the violence, unforgettable characters, and sharp dialogue. We laughed when others gasped and left the theater grinning from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “when I create something, I want to have an impact like that”. It’s still one of my favorite movies.
The second memory involves my favorite all time comic, George Carlin. I was in a bookstore with two friends (one was the Pulp Fiction fellow sneaker), and we spotted Brain Droppings. Curious, I picked it up and began reading it out loud. Soon we were all hysterical, and I made a beeline for the checkout counter. I ended up reading most of it to my friends during lunch but had to stop because we were laughing so hard our stomachs began hurting. I still have the book, and it still makes me laugh.
It was quite startling to listen to Bowie’s final CD and realize that as much credit as he was given we may still have underappreciated him. An astounding piece of work.
Okay, that last one was me. I want to thank everyone for contributing, and hope some of you readers read some of their reading recommendations. I know I will.
Speaking of thanks, there are a few personal ones I want to pass out. I would beg your indulgence, but this is still my blog, so I can do what I want. First, my wife Christina, without whom none of this would have happened. Sounds cliche, I know, but I wouldn’t have started blogging at all if she hadn’t done it with me. Plus she has had to listen to me bounce ideas off of her ever since. Thank you, and I love you. And a shout out to our cats, Bellatrix, Scrambles the Death Dealer, and Siouxsie, who if nothing else provided plenty of pictures for the blog.
Thanks to Don, the first blog admin I had. He provided lots of support and help as I started writing, not to mention spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how I could use spoilers in a post.
Thanks to all the other Shelf Life in the Mountains blog contributors, especially the current ones, Amy and Stephen. Besides her excellent writing, Amy is also the “looks” of the organization. By which I mean she created the new logo, and she creates the images for each new post that we use on the library website. Thanks Amy! And Stephen…well Stephen just keeps going like clockwork. I feel like that in 50 years from now he will still be educating and entertaining us with new posts.
Finally, thanks most of all to the readers. Whether you are a long time aficionado or first time peruser, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few minutes (or a bunch of minutes when it comes to some of my posts) to take a look. None of this happens without your support. We have had readers from near and far, and I hope all of you got something worthwhile out of it. Thank you all.
Just one more thing. I promise! It is easy enough to find bestseller lists and classics and such. One thing I always liked was being able to point people towards good books they may not have found otherwise. So I conclude with a list of some of my favorites, many of which I think not enough people are aware of. No Commentary, just a list and a final bit of wisdom: keep reading!
I received a lot of good feedback on my first post about acronyms. Several people mentioned other ones that they use or see with some frequency, so I figured a second venture into the world of initialisms was warranted. See what I did there?
It has been argued that what are commonly referred to as acronyms are not acronyms at all but are really initialisms. This argument might have some technical legitimacy, but not much. Most reliable sources give the word acronym a wide and broad meaning, and general usage certainly does. Enough so that I think that initialism proponents don’t have much of a letter to stand on.
I will not only define these acronyms, but also use them in a sentence about a book. Unlike last time, these are mostly books I have not talked about before, so I will try to work in some mini reviews as well.
Your mileage may vary. A way to say that other people may not have the same reaction to something that you did.
“YMMV, but I found Prep to be a terrific read. Honest, heartfelt, uplifting, and painful. And avoids the horrible cliches one expects to find. One of the best books I’ve read recently.”
On my way. Like letting my wife know I am heading home from work.
“OMW, but not like in Divergent, where the Dauntless often jump on and off of moving trains. BTW, Divergent is a YA dystopian novel that works better when it explores class structures and the nature of our true inner selves than it does at the action packed ending. Of course, YMMV.”
Shaking my head. Showing disbelief and/or disdain at the actions or words of others.
“SMH that some people haven’t read The Girl with All the Gifts, a zombie-dystopia-action-horror novel that is much more than any of those things. Is a child who is a monster still a child?”
We need to talk. Usually a warning that a Serious Conversation is about to happen. Might precede a breakup, for instance.
“WNTT…about why you haven’t read All Other Nights. Sure , it might not be in any of the genres you typically read, but that shouldn’t stop you. Jewish historical fiction set during the Civil War, ultimately it is a story of the extreme lengths a man will go to escape some things and run back to others.”
As far as I know. Indicates you think you know the answer, but you haven’t fact checked it.
“AFAIK, The Sandman: Book of Dreams is the only true prose collection of stories based on the Sandman graphic novels. And it is better than one would suspect from such a collection. Some real gems in there, from authors both known and unknown, but admittedly aimed at readers familiar with the source material.”
You know it. Affirmation of statement, sort of like “you betcha!”
“Is Silver Screen Fiend a good read? Woo woo woo, YKI! Patton talks about his obsession with film, and muses on how it affected him and his life. I like how he, as many of us do, reflects on what an idiot his younger self was. Note that while he lists out all the films he saw, he does not go into any great detail about them. Also, I do have an interesting Zack Ryder story you can ask me about in person.”
Fixed it for you. A way to show that you corrected an error someone made, or more commonly a way to mock someone else. For instance, if you posted that The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not a good book, I might reply like this:
“The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not a good book. FIFY. It is a story of a teenager who awakens from a year long coma after being in a car crash to find that her loving and supportive family now is hiding secrets, namely secrets about who, or what, she really is. It is not a great book, but it is a good one.”
Personal message. Basically telling someone to contact you privately.
“I’ve had mixed feelings about this series lately. PM me and I’ll fill you in on the details. I did think Archmage was a solid entry. For those not familiar, it is Dungeons and Dragons fantasy, and you’ll really want to be familiar with the previous books to fully enjoy this one.”
I don’t know. Admitting you don’t know something, which we should all probably do more often.
“Are cruises fun? IDK, I’ve never been on one. The people in Day Four do not have fun, as their cruise ship is mysteriously stranded out at sea, and things keep going from bad to worse, both from supernatural events and the actions of people. Like a fair number of horror books, the ending does not quite match the build up, but it is still a worthy read, and a good crossover book, meaning all readers and not just horror fans will enjoy it.”
To be honest. Letting people know you are being straightforward with them. Often in conjunction with a statement that might be surprising or controversial.
“TBH, I am not sure reading Preacher was a good idea. Now I am hooked on another series, and there is even a TV show coming out.”
Too long; didn’t read. This tells someone that while you are responding to them, you did not read all of what they had posted, presumably because it was a wall of text or such.
“This blog was totally TL;DR. You know what isn’t? The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman. A take on Sleeping Beauty, it isn’t very long. It gives the tale enough edge to appeal to adults, while still staying appropriate for most children. Plus it is gorgeously illustrated by Chris Riddell.”
I still don’t know what you are talking about. A reference to how bewildering unknown acronyms can be. I made it up for this blog, but feel free to use it. Viral, FTW!*
“ISDKWYATA, like at all, especially when you mention The Seven Deadly Sins Sampler, which the library doesn’t even own! It is a collection of short stories, two for each of the deadly sins, and it features a sinfully delightful collection of authors. Faulkner, Atwood, Chekhov, O’Connor, etc. And then you come across one you don’t recognize, like Bobbie Ann Mason, and then you read her story Shiloh and realize it might be the best in the book.”
*FTW. For The Win. One fun thing to do with acronyms is make up your own versions. Forget The Waitress! Fang Toothed Walrus! Formidable Tea Wizard! Okay, we’re done here.
The books keep piling up. Most of my posts have a theme to them, such as zombies, or cats, or weddings. It is easy enough to fit books into categories. The problem are those books that don’t quite fit into these niches. This helped give birth to Random Book Day, but that isn’t until November, and I already have a bunch of books lined up. If I wait much longer to talk about them I will forget all about them and have to read them again, and I have far too many books on my to-read list already to do that.
So here you are. Ten books that altogether share only one thing in common, which is that I read them. I think I may have mentioned a couple of these before, but not in any detail. Feel free to fact check me on that.
I spilled coffee on this book, or, to be technical about it, my thermos leaked coffee onto the book. Which means I had to buy it and am now the owner of a well read and coffee stained former library book. At least it is a good book. And it is nothing much at all like her other books.
What would happen to society if everyone, every single woman in the world, became sterile? How would people continue to conduct their business and live out their lives? How would the government (in this case, Great Britain) handle it? And then what would happen if years later a single woman managed to get pregnant? What lengths would people, and the government, go to to protect her, or to obtain her? Dr. Theo Faron, an Oxford professor and our narrator, has to answer these questions as he is caught squarely in the middle of the story.
The story is taut and plausible. It is slightly dated, being from 1992, primarily in the changes in technology since then, but overall that only detracts a small amount from the enjoyment of this dystopian marvel. I haven’t seen the film version yet, simply because I haven’t gotten around to watching it.
I’m not sure where I heard about this one. Perhaps it was featured on this site. In any event, it is the first in a series of children’s novels, which is known as Juvenile Fiction in library jargon. The book (and series) stars three friends: Jasper (an inventor who has a PhD), Katie (who fights monsters), and Lily (who is just a normal girl). And by girl, I do mean girl, as the three of them are still in middle school. Their world seems much the same as ours, except for things like, oh I don’t know, an army of whales on stilts.
Their madcap adventures may seem a bit, ahem, juvenile to adults, but even if they are not for you they are a great series to point younger readers towards.
Bonus points to those who are now saying “wait, those comics were written by Joss Whedon (yes, that Joss Whedon), not by Peter David”, who is a very accomplished comic writer in his own right. Well, you are correct, to a point. Whedon wrote those comics (available from the library in graphic novel form here), but David wrote the novelization.
Yarp, it is a novelization of comic books. You don’t see that very often. In this case it is understandable, because the Gifted storyline is so good. Full of action, drama, and humor, it is a story that doesn’t really require you to have read any other X-men beforehand. The novel tells the same story. You essentially exchange the art of John Cassaday for David’s prose. The story stays the same, so the question is which format do you prefer? Because you really should read it sometime. It is that good.
Oh, the power of social media! Rollins himself recommended, on social media, that I should read this book. Of course that is his pen name, and maybe it wasn’t really him but an intern or publicist or the like, but it did happen. He followed me, and I replied that I guess I needed to read one of his books, and he suggested Sandstorm. And, thankfully, it turned out to be a pretty darn good book. Others must agree, since it spawned a series that numbers 12 titles to date.
This is an adventure novel, sort of an amalgamation of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne and Lara Croft. And it works! The heroes are heroic, with ample skill sets, and are faced with challenging challenges that has the reader wondering how they will ever triumph over the bad guys. High tech mixed with a dash of other-worldliness makes for a fun read.
I think the key part of the title is the word “people”. Dungeons & Dragons has been around in various editions for over 40 years now, and a great many people, boys and girls, men and women, have played it. That is not just rhetoric. In my days I have played with people ranging from 8-45ish, with about as many females as males. The stories I could share! But won’t, since we are here to talk about this book.
Ewalt sets out to show the evolution of the game, and more importantly highlight some of the people who have both played it and shaped it over the decades. He accomplishes this in an approachable manner. That being said, this isn’t for everyone. It is probably too specific for the general reader, although it does work well for a casual fan, or someone just wanting to learn more about what the big deal is. For hardcore players, it might be a little light. I enjoyed it, so there is that.
Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons…Brom first came to real prominence as an artist for D&D products, notably the Dark Sun line. His gothic fantasy art has since appeared in many places. I even have a signed print at home. He has also delved a bit into writing, and this book is one of the results of that.
It is a retelling of Peter Pan. A thoroughly un-Disneyfied retelling of Peter Pan. Brom creates such a dark, immersive version of Neverland that when the characters return back to New York near the end it is jarring. This is not a children’s book by any means. It also features terrific color illustrations, bringing the varied cast to vivid life. And if you want something even more dark, track down Brom’s The Plucker, a book about toys that will give you chills.
In my youth I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (thanks, Mom!), and got my hands on lots of great books. One of these was Strata, which I really liked, but didn’t make me read more by Pratchett, because he was still largely unknown at the time. Years and years later I finally got into his Discworld books, and belatedly realized this was the same guy. Indeed, Strata is sort of a precursor to Discworld.
The main character is a woman named Kin, who works on terraforming planets. A neat little side bit is how these workers hide out-of-place artifacts in these new worlds they are creating. Anyway, Kin gets pulled into what is essentially a hunt for buried treasure, and winds up on a flat Earth, where she encounters what seem to be actual magical creatures. Uncovering the secrets is delightful, both for her (in the end, when she is no longer in danger of being killed), and for the reader.
You might not have ever heard of the book, but you probably have the movie. This is another book, much like Strata above, that I read eons ago and then rediscovered much later. The book is based off of Hasford’s experiences in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. The title refers to those troops who are nearing the end of their deployment.
There are three main sections to the novel, covering boot camp, the Tet Offensive, and finally an encounter with a sniper. The book is raw and honest. The title really comes into play at the end, giving the events an even more tragic feel.
The movie version was done by some guy named Kubrick, and is titled Full Metal Jacket. The movie is not as different from the book as one might think, considering the director, and maintains the same feel as the novel throughout. I had originally read the book before the movie was made, and then saw the movie with no idea it was based on source material I had read, so that was a fun “hey, wait a minute…” film going experience.
Yeah, so, zombies. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ringo’s books over the years, notably his Posleen series, so I was first a bit hesitant to pick up his take on zombies. Obviously I did go ahead and read it, and am glad I did. One thing that interests me with zombie books is the different approaches to them that authors take. In this case, Ringo clearly set out to create a more plausible and realistic zombie scenario, and he succeeded admirably.
This book is set in the real world, if you will, and centers around a former paratrooper named Steve and his family. Forewarned that a biological disaster was occurring, he is able to get his well-prepared family onto a boat. Not only do they survive the initial outbreak, but they eventually start leading rescue and recovery efforts. There are four books in the series, with an anthology volume on its way, so plenty of zombie mayhem is to be had.
As for the setup, these zombies are much more akin to the infected in 28 Days Later than to the more classic Romero zombies. Ringo envisioned how they could come to be, and then extrapolated that out to how they would act both short and long term, and he did it well. I also appreciated that the characters are well versed in zombie lore, even though they are fully aware that these are not actually zombies.
In the end, if you like zombie books, or perhaps even militarily themed books, you’ll like this. If not, you’ll probably want to pass.
I’m a big fan of Harkaway, and Tigerman did not disappoint. The setting is the island of Mancreu, a former British colony, and the site of an ongoing ecological anomaly disaster. Sergeant Lester Ferris is the last official British presence on the island, and he serves as a sort of unofficial police officer. Along the way he befriends a curious 12 year old called Robin, who is a big fan of comic books. This comes in handy, because when various world powers try to use Mancreu’s unique lawless status in order to do naughty things, Ferris has to become a hero to stop them.
This actually starts out innocently enough, as Robin helps him create a costume that he can use to unofficially investigate a theft. Things get out of hand, of course, in part thanks to video footage of his exploits getting onto the Internet, and Tigerman is born. This is a great rollicking adventure story, and one that asks some interesting philosophical and ethical questions as well.
Okay, well, I never know how to end these things, so I’ll just remind you to keep reading what you love to read, and every now and again try reading something else.
What is the first thing that comes to you when I say Star Wars? For me it is that Star Destroyer rumbling down the screen, first seen back when it was just Star Wars, and not yet Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I was 10 at the time, and no other movie experience has come close to that since. My first Star Wars action figures came on 12 back cards, so believe me my fandom is legit.
I think for most people Star Wars evokes visual images such as that. We had the original three movies (plus their theatrically released Special Editions), and the three prequels (one so far re-released in 3D), and now Episode VII: The Force Awakens is upon us. Seven movies spanning, what, three generations? I’m never sure how generations are counted.
Of course there is also The Clone Wars animated movie. Can’t forget that, right? Plus the two made-for-TV Ewok movies. the Droids made-for-TV movie, and the disowned Holiday special (starring Bea Arthur). The television series include Droids (13 episodes), Ewoks (35 episodes), Clone Wars (25 episodes), The Clone Wars (121 episodes), and Rebels (23 episodes to date). Phew, that is a lot to watch. But today we are talking about reading Star Wars. After all, the book came first. Sort of.
The official novelization of Star Wars was released in 1976. Attributed to George Lucas, we now know it was ghost written by Alan Dean Foster. No one paid it much attention at the time because Star Wars wasn’t a thing yet. In 1978 Foster wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) was born. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye is a nifty enough adventure that features Luke and Leia shortly after A New Hope takes place. Fun, but not canon.
Two EU trilogies would follow over the next few years, one featuring Han Solo and the other Lando Calrissian, but then nothing (except the movie adaptations) until 1991. That was the year that Timothy Zahn, like Foster an established sci fi writer, put out Heir to the Empire. This was eight years after the last movie had been out, and not much was happening then in the Star Wars world. Zahn’s book (first in a trilogy) changed that.
In 1992 the sequel came out, plus three Star Wars books aimed at younger readers. In 1993 four more came out, and six in 1994, and 10 in 1995, and so forth every year since. How many are there? Well, that is a tricky answer, tricky because what counts as a Star Wars book?
On the heels of Zahn’s trilogy came many other new books. Initially it was a mish mosh of stand alone books and short series or story collections. All were set after the original movies, continuing the stories of our favorite heroes…and villains. For many Zahn’s are considered the best, and have a true cinematic feel to them. The others often fell into the trope of what new super threat is there now. “Blew up a Death Star or two? No matter, there are more of them” sort of thing.
Scoundrels, by Timothy Zahn (Han and Lando in an Ocean’s Eleven style caper.)
Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig (lead in for the new movie)
Novels for Younger Readers
Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks are vivid reminders of how a lot of Star Wars is aimed at children. As adults we sometimes assume some type of ownership over the franchise that just isn’t there. Anyway, there are plenty of good books for our younger readers too.
The Rising Force, by Dave Wolverton (Jedi Apprentice 20 book series, all but the first one written by Jude Watson. Ages 9-12, but good crossover appeal, like most of these books, really.)
And there are piles more Star Wars book in the children’s area of your library, including many aimed for beginning readers. We even have Star Wars phonics.
Marvel published the first Star Wars comic books in conjunction with the release of the movie, and various companies have been doing the same ever since. There are some good stories in there, and some laughable ones as well. I like looking at the old Marvel ones, when the only source material they had was the first movie. The romantic tension between Luke and Leia is creepy. I suppose they only ever teased that in the comics because they weren’t sure if Leia would end up with Han instead.
Wow, that seems like a lot of Star Wars books, but in actuality I barely scratched the surface. Books for every fan of every age. Whether you have never seen Star Wars on the big screen or will go to your grave insisting that Greedo shot last, there is a Star Wars book(s) for you.
Ah, that rare moment when it happens. You start reading a book, and at some point (usually early on) you realize that it isn’t a book at all, but a BOOK. A revelation. A work of art. This doesn’t happen often, and many times it is by chance. It is wonderful to be surprised in such a way. This happened to me not long ago, and that book kicks off our third annual Random Book Day blog.
I could start by saying that Here is a graphic novel, but that is so limiting. Graphic novels (and I blogged about them before) simply tells us the format of this book. It has pictures. It is illustrated. A much better descriptor of Here is “literary force of nature”.
Here tells the story of a particular room, or more accurately a particular place. Each page is like a snapshot of the room at a different period in time, from the distant past to the far future, but mostly focusing on the last 100 years or so. We can see what was happening there throughout the years, and see the people who were there. Birth, death, happiness and sorrow. Ultimately the story is not as much about the room but about the life that happens there, and believe me life suffuses this book start to finish. Maguire both wrote and illustrated it, and I think he deserves a medal.
I finished reading it while on my lunch break, and it is a good thing I did so because otherwise I would have been late coming back. There was no way I was not going to stop reading it. It wasn’t just my favorite book of the year, it was the best book I read this year.
Speaking of rooms, my next book is called, umm, Room. It is told from the perspective of Jack, a five year old, which that alone would be interesting, but Jack’s life is not typical. He has spent his entire life, all five years, in the same room. His mother was kidnapped and imprisoned in the room by the only other real life person Jack has ever seen, Old Nick. Jack does not realize this man is his father via the rape of his mother.
Okay, you can tell already that this is an intense story. I had reservations about reading something that would be such a downer, but it came well recommended. As in I asked my wife for something to read and she literally stuck this in my hand. While it is intense, everything being filtered through the innocence of Jack (who thinks the entire world is contained within the room) softens the blows a bit. And, mild spoiler alert here, when they escape Jack is thrust into a world of wonder that also terrifies him.
The emotional impact of the book can be rough at times but it is well worth the effort. Many others would second this. And now there is a movie of the book, starring the talented Brie Larson, that is on my must watch list.
And now for something completely different. McCrumb mostly writes contemporary historical fiction set in the Appalachian Mountains. This is not one of those books. It is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention. A prickly author is killed, and the convention attendees are left to both keep the show going and try to discover who the killer is.
Bimbos (the title is the name of a book one of the protagonists had written) serves as a perfectly fine mystery, but also realistically captures the feel of both the setting and the people who inhabit it. There are a lot of stereotypes involved, but McCrumb never makes them seem cliche. Plus, just like me, you can learn about filk music (that is not a typo).
This book may seem at first to be lowbrow, especially considering the pulp style cover, but it rises well above the masses. In fact, it won an Edgar Award. A good choice to do some genre breaking. it is also fun to see the differences in technology, such as a lead character talking about this new thing called email they are using at the university he teaches at.
Hobbs debut novel is quite impressive. Jack is a career criminal, a ghostman, a man who can hide in plain sight and disappear without a trace after a job is finished. Jack is very good at his job, but a mistake he made years ago comes back to haunt him, and to pay off his debt he is off to clean up a botched New Jersey casino heist. Of course the job is not as straightforward as it sounds, and Jack has to use all of his skills to come out alive.
Hobbs does a great job of keeping the suspense high, and of giving an inside view of how a man like Jack operates. I was honestly surprised that a new writer could craft a book is such a masterful way. Fans of Lee Child and Robert Stark are doing themselves a grave disservice by not reading this. Granted, the follow up Vanishing Games certainly falls short of the high mark set by Ghostman, but I am still looking forward to what else Hobbs produces.
In Red by Magdalena Tulli, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
I mentioned I was going to read this not long ago, and indeed I did read it. And it was good enough to add to this list. Set in a small town in Poland in the early 20th century, In Red is a mixture of gritty realism and fancy surrealism. I found myself reminded of The Grand Budapest Hotel in some ways, and also of Salvador Plascencia’s wonderful book The People of Paper. Bouncing from character to character, one scene will be a straight telling of standard doings in the town and the next will feature something like a girl whose heart had stopped refusing to die and going about her regular routine of reading French romance novels, or a bullet that was fired years ago striking someone after completing its circumnavigation of the globe.
I started to grow disheartened as the end of the book, as it all seemed to be heading towards an incredibly sad ending, but Tulli reminds us that these are all just stories, and that stories are told in many different ways. This book is told in a very entertaining way, and my hat is off to both Tulli and Johnston, who translated it so well. Also, I don’t typically wear hats.
I feel a bit bad for this book, because Cline’s first one, Ready Player One, was not only a really fun read but had such a distinctive voice to it that it makes it hard for Armada to get out from under its shadow. Nevertheless, Armada is a fine read, a rollicking sci fi adventure that does some clever lampshading.
Zack is a pretty standard high school kid. Having lost his father at a young age he has some anger issues to deal with, which gives his character depth that many teens depicted in fiction do not. He of course spends a lot of time playing video games, and one day while sitting in class he looks out the window and sees a spaceship directly out of Armada, his favorite game. It turns out that the game all along was intended as a training simulator for an inevitable alien invasion. Zack, being one of the best players in the game, is recruited along with many others to combat the alien threat.
The book stays focused on Zack, but because of his skills and his background he is exposed to the highest levels of the military and we get to follow both his story and the big picture of the invasion. Armada is filled with sci fi and 80s references, but not to a distracting degree, and not to a level that you feel like you are missing out if you don’t get all of them. I also really liked how Cline pokes some good natured fun at the genre. Zack realizes quickly that this invasion has massive plot holes in it, much like so many books and movies do, and he starts asking questions and doubting the official narrative. A fun read, and one that has a bit more depth than is first evident.
Well, enough of the fun and whimsical reads. Swan Song is horror, and lives up to the genre. It tells the story of survivors of a nuclear war who find themselves on the opposite sides of a conflict between good and evil. Sounds a bit like Stephen King’s The Stand you might be thinking, and you would be right to a degree, although Swan Song is certainly not a derivative work.
One thing that happens is that many of the characters start being afflicted by growths that cover much of their bodies, especially their faces. In this way even some of the good guys have the outward appearance of monsters for much of the story. On one side is the girl Swan, who has the power to bring life back to sticken plants, and her ex-wrestler protector Josh. On the other side is former survivalist Colonel Macklin, and his protegee, a teen by the name of Roland who shows us that real monstrosity comes from within.
Swan Song is a long book, and set in the 1980s it is a bit dated now. Plus you really have to wait for the payoff at the end. But that payoff is certainly worth it. In fact it was the co-winner of the first Bram Stoker Award, along with King’s Misery, so that should give you an idea of the quality of this book.
So in full disclosure I will say that I work with someone who is related to the author. That being said, I wouldn’t talk about this book if it wasn’t any good. The title is pretty self explanatory. Waring Wax is the proprietor of a small independent video store in a small college town in North Carolina. Wax muddles drunkenly through life without much concern until threatened by the arrival of a shiny new Blockbuster across the street.
See what Hawkins did there? This is a new book, published in early 2015, and we all know that there are no more Blockbuster stores anymore (sort of). Hawkins presents a standard enough story that has a lot of non standard elements. Wax has to overcome his personal issues, and his employees who chip in to help have to overcome theirs. Throw in a director of a movie being filmed in town who believes himself haunted by the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock and you end up with quite the tale.
Hawkins has said he was influenced by the BBC bookstore comedy Black Books, but I think there is some A Confederacy of Dunces in their too, and there is nothing wrong with that. Plus it has a really cool cover.
This was my favorite book of the year up until the point I read Here. I wouldn’t have said it was the best book I had read, but I sure did enjoy it. Like Ghostman above it is a debut novel, and it was recommended to me by the same person who recommended Ghostman. Hmm, there is another book on my list he told me about. I think I ought to read that one too.
The Rook is the story of a woman who awakens in a muddy park surrounded with bodies and with her memory largely gone. She finds a letter in her pocket addressed to her that starts explaining things. Her name is Myfanwy (sounds like Tiffany) Thomas, and she works for a secret British organization that is basically a supernatural MI6. She herself is a high ranking member of the unit, a Rook. The memory loss was the result of an attack by a rival, and anticipating it she had written the letter in the pocket, and many others as well, so her future self might have a chance to survive. And to track down her assailant, an enemy who poses a threat not just to her but to the Britain itself.
On the surface one might think this was a version of James Bond crossed with Lara Croft, but it isn’t really. Myfanwy is not so much the action type, and in fact previously was loathe to use her powers. Her new self, however, isn’t as timid, much to the chagrin of her enemies and rivals.
I liked the various powers characters had. Many felt fresh in a genre where it seems like we have seen it all before. The book does have a conclusive ending, but is well suited for a sequel(s). Something I am eagerly awaiting.
Well, that wraps up Random Book Day 2015. I hope you’ll find your own random, or not so random, reads this year that will make you want to share them with the world.
Graphic novels! A bit of a buzz word in libraries. It is a term many have heard but not everyone knows what it means. Simply put, graphic novels are comic books. A little less simply, they are comic books that are in book form. And like all books, they come in all shapes and sizes and for all ages.
Now I could blather on about the origin of the term and all that, but that is boring and is also what wikipedia is for. I could also go on about comics in general and their variety (and controversy) and such, but instead I am just going to start listing some varying examples of graphic novels. You might surprised at how variable they really are.
Many graphic novels are just comics books rebound and repackaged. The graphic novel versions often have additional material, such as introductions or alternate cover galleries. Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 1: The Fantastic reprints issues #1-6 of the regular monthly comic book. Captain America Reborn contains all the issues of a limited series comic. Batman The Greatest Stories Ever Told has compiles batman comics ranging from 1939 to 2002. By the way, Thor is now a girl.
Some graphic novels are compilations of newspaper comic strips. Typically these are in chronological order, and it can be neat to follow story arcs and also to see the evolution of the comic over the years. Peanuts is a great example of this, as characters came and went and the art changed over time. I also like reading old Doonesbury strips and seeing what current events Trudeau was incorporating into his stories.
Many well known authors have written comics, and also have had their books adapted into graphic novels. For instance, Jodi Picoult wrote several issues of Wonder Woman in 2007. Max Brooks has a new graphic novel out. Joe Hill writes an excellent comic series. Brad Meltzer has written more than one comic. And not just authors. Patton Oswalt, William Shatner, and Kevin Smith are some of the many celebrities who have penned comics.
Manga are Japanese comics, or comics done in the Japanese style. This is not to be confused with anime, which are Japanese animated movies. Manga has become very popular in the US in recent years. The typical manga book is smaller than the typical graphic novel, being closer in size to a paperback novel. Most of them, whether translated from the Japanese or created in that style, are read “back to front”. While graphic novels can be stand alones or part of a series, manga are almost always part of a series.
Classic works of literature often receive the graphic novel treatment. Shakespeare is common this way, unsurprisingly, and he is joined by many others, such as Poe and Austen. These versions have some similarities to the Great Illustrated Classics series, giving younger readers an introduction to the classics. The graphic novels can provide a nice overview and summation of works that can be intimidating or hard to understand for students, notably with Shakespeare.
Many movies, TV shows, and other pop culture things end up as comics and graphic novels. Star Wars, The Simpsons, Dungeons and Dragons, Aliens, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are just a few. Some of these might simply be a comic version of the movies, such as the first Star Wars comics, or might be completely original stores, such as most of the 100s of Star Wars comics printed since.
The bulk of comics come from the two big companies, DC and Marvel, but they aren’t the only publishers of comics. These days there are many companies putting out comics. Some of these are pretty big, such as Dark Horse, Image, and IDW, while many others remain largely unknown. There was a time, though, that the smaller independent publishers had a harder time breaking out into the mainstream.
Did you know that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as a comic back in 1984? We can go back farther too, like for The Adventures of Tintin, which first appeared in 1929, and since the series has sold over 200 million copies. Indie comics have often broken out of the mold of superheroes, giving readers some nice alternatives to the spandex crowd.
While most graphic novels are light hearted affairs, some tackle very serious issues. Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is a good example in this, as it explores the Holocaust. Maus was the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is an autobiographical graphic novel about a girl growing up during the Islamic revolution in Iran. Newsweek named Persepolis one of the top 10 fiction books of the 2000s, and the movie version received an Academy Award nomination. Blankets is by Craig Thompson and is a coming of age story about a teen struggling with his Christian faith, and an award winning book.
I thought a great way to end this post was to list some of my personal favorite graphic novels.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted. Collecting the first six issues of a new X-Men series, this is one of my all time favorite superhero comics. It is written by Joss Whedon (art by John Cassaday). Yes, that Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and director of The Avengers and so on and so forth. The characters behave like real people. They are heroic when needed but also have their own feelings and drama. Plus an exciting twist. It has even been adapted into a full length novel, penned by longtime comic writer Peter David.
Watchmen. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s tour de force may not have been the first graphic novel, but it is the one that put them on the map. And it stands as one of the great pieces of modern literature, as evidenced by the number of accolades it has received.
The Sandman. Written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by a host of artists, The Sandman series (75 issues) showed how comics could incorporate mature themes and appeal to adult audiences. Issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings”, is perhaps my favorite comic ever. Gaiman went on to become a bestselling author of novels for both children and adults.
Flightis a series of comic anthologies, basically graphic short stories. The series was conceived and is edited by Kazu Kibuishi with a goal of showcasing young comics creators. I really enjoy the series because of the great variety of stories and art you find in it.
Unshelved. I think I would be remiss in this blog not to mention a graphic novel that takes place in a library. Unshelved is actually a webcomic created by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. It follows the toils and travails of the staff of the fictional Mallville Public Library. It is a great way to see things from the other side of the desk. I used to have a Read Responsibly shirt.
I hope that some of you found this post educational and put graphic novels, and all comics for that matter, in a different light.Share with me your insights, favorites, and recommendations!