Saturday, October 19, 2013

Books in 2013: #25-30

OK, I'm now on my 40th book of the year, and realized that I've only listed up to 24 (and that was way back in August or something). So now... short reviews of each book, just so I can begin to catch up. Here we go!!

#25 Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
This one came as a recommendation from many friends, and it's a truly fascinating account of the author, at age 26 in 2009, suddenly descending into what appears to be insanity, and just as she was about to be committed to a mental institution because of her screaming, moaning, vegetative states, a doctor was called in who spent a couple of hours with her, did a few tests, and discovered that a part of her brain was off-kilter. Two months later, she was back to living a normal life. It's a fascinating book, one I can't stop thinking about, and I very highly recommend it. Interestingly, the doctor who ultimately gives the correct diagnosis passes a piece of paper over the desk to her at one point and asks her to draw a clock, and she fills in the clock with all the numbers shuffled off to one side, even though to her, it looks like a normal clock, and that's the trigger that tells him what's wrong. I read this, and a couple of weeks later the episode of Hannibal aired where Hannibal got Will to do the same thing, and Will also bunched the numbers on the one side of the clock, letting Hannibal know exactly what was wrong with him (if I'm right, he also describes it as Will's brain being on fire). It made me wonder if Bryan Fuller had also read this book.

#26 & 27 Fables: Legends in Exile & Fables: Animal Farm
I'd been told by various graphic novel readers that I really needed to check out the Fables series; but I'd also read things saying that Fables was the sort of book that non-graphic novel readers who pretend they love graphic novels read... along with things like Scott Pilgrim. (Probably written by comic-book snobs, and by the way, Scott Pilgrim is FANTASTIC.) So I finally picked it up, and while I'd say the plot is a little lightweight, it's still a pretty good and fun read. Much like on Once Upon a Time, the characters are fairy tale creatures who've found their way into our world after a huge coup d'├ętat in fairy-tale land that ousted them, but they live in secrecy. Creatures who look human (like Snow White and Little Boy Blue) can live amongst us, but those who don't (like the Three Little Pigs or the Gingerbread Man) live in a little hidden fairy-tale land in the forest in upstate New York. The first one was pretty good, if the story was a little banal (Snow White, who's the badass ruler, discovers her sister Rose Red has died and needs to get to the bottom of it) but the second one, Animal Farm was much better, when Snow goes up to do her annual check on the non-humanoid fairy-tale creatures and discovers a revolt in progress, where the characters are sick and tired of being exiled to this particular area. It was fabulous, and made me want to move onto the third, which I've just started reading.

#28 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
This is one I'd had my eye on for a long time. Goon Squad is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by the amazing Jennifer Egan, which is effectively a bunch of connected short stories that all tell one long one. There's the record company executive who's past his prime but still trying to find the next best thing; his former assistant; and their friends and family. The story moves into the past, present, and future of the novel's writing, but along the timelines of the people, and by reading it all the way through you really get a sense of the story of these people. There was one section about a filial connection that comes so quickly and wallops you without warning, and I was instantly in tears, and that one moment really stuck with me and coloured the rest of the book (in a really good way). The end of the book looks into a not-too-distant future, where children are all connected to various tablets right from infancy, yet the world still finds a way to connect face-to-face. A brilliant book.

#29 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
This is one of those books I've had for years, ever since it was actually first released, but then the Finding Lost series got in the way, and during the years of writing that series, I barely saw any TV or read any books that weren't connected to Lost in some way, so this is one of those books that I kept starting and restarting, but had to stop to let another book project get in the way instead. So I finally got to read it when it was suggested for my graphic novel book club (hey, check it out, this is the first one on the list that's a book club pick!) I LOVED this book, even though many members of the book club didn't. It's a thinly veiled account of the creators of Superman (even though Siegel and Shuster actually exist independently in the book as Kavalier and Clay's chief rivals), told from Kavalier's origins as a refugee from Hitler's Nazis, through to joining forces with his cousin and creating The Escapist, a Houdini-like superhero who uses his powers of escapism to help the downtrodden and persecuted. Other members of our group didn't love the digressions the story took when it left NYC and the actual comics, but I thought the book was a fascinating look at expats during the Second World War, and what they had to go through as they left their families behind in an attempt to make a new life for themselves. And, of course, of the Golden Age of Comics. Great book.

#30 The Escapists by Brian K. Vaughan
This was the companion book to the previous one; in the book club we were asked to not only read Chabon's book, but one of two graphic novels that have been written to go with it. I thought I had bought the one that was actually artistic renderings of the stories that Kavalier and Clay shape and talk about in Chabon's book, but I'd bought the other one; BKV's sequel of sorts, where in the 21st century three young people buy the rights to Kavalier and Clay's Escapist character and try to bring him back to life with their own comic skills. I thought the book was a little dull, and too much of a love letter to Chabon (with Chabon's introduction being too much of a love letter to BKV) and even though I'm a huge, huge fan of BKV, this is not one of his better efforts. I went back and bought the other one, so I'll read that.

I shall halt there, and list the next bunch soon. Whew, that's caught us up soon! What sort of books have you guys been reading lately? Anything you can recommend to me?

1 comment:

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I would say Once Upon a Time is much like Fables.

Currently I'm reading Playing Sarah Bernhardt, a Canadian novel about an actress with a failing memory taking on the part of Mazo de la Roache. The subject matter interests me but I'm not so sure about the execution.

I'm also reading Songs of Love and Death co-edited by George RR Martin, an anthology proving that he's not the only writer who can kill people in love, but that he encourages others to do it too. ;)

According to my Goodreads stats, I've read 53 books this year (not counting comic books in which I include graphic novels and trades). I'm reading an anthology of Superman comics of the 70s.