Thursday, May 4, 2017

Books I read in April

Comics and Graphic Novels
Bad Machinery Volume 7: The Case of the Forked Road  John Allison
Bad Machinery Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor   John Allison
El Iluminado: A Graphic Novel   Ilan Stavans, Steve Sheinkin
Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne (Atomic Robo, #1) Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener
Templar  Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham, Alex Puvilland
Tetris: The Games People Play  Box Brown
Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey  Ozge Samanci
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye  Sonny Liew
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous   G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 6: Civil War II  G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona
Clan Apis  Jay Hosler
Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson
The Engineer, Vol. 1: Konstruct   Brian Churilla, Jeremy Shepherd
From Under Mountains  Claire Gibson, Marian Churchland, Sloane Leong
Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero   Fred Chao
The Five Fists of Science  Matt Fraction, Steven Sanders
Peter Panzerfaust: Deluxe Edition, Volume 1    Kurtis J. Wiebe, Tyler Jenkins
Shutter, Vol. 2: Way Of The World  Joe Keatinge, Leila del Duca, Owen Gieni, John Workman
Shutter, Vol. 3: Quo Vadis  Joe Keatinge, Leila del Duca, Owen Gieni, John Workman
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 1 Hayao Miyazaki
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 2 Hayao Miyazaki
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 4 Hayao Miyazaki
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 3  Hayao Miyazaki
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 5  Hayao Miyazaki
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 6  Hayao Miyazaki
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 7  Hayao Miyazaki
March: Book Two  John Robert Lewis,  Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
March: Book Three  John Robert Lewis,  Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul Lewis Helfand, Sankha Banerjee
FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 1: The Paradigm Shift   Simon Oliver, Robbi Rodriguez
The New Avengers, Volume 1   Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen
Ghosts  Raina Telgemeier
Saga, Volume 6  Brian K Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus  Orson Scott Card
The Call of Earth   Orson Scott Card
Xenocide   Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead  Orson Scott Card

Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living  Wendy Tremayne

Picture Book
How This Book Was Made  Mac Barnett, Adam Rex

Visual Work
Tales from Outer Suburbia   Shaun Tan

Quick Takes
Fun literary event of the month: On April 22nd, I was on a panel celebrating the work of Orson Scott Card at the 2017 Association for Mormon Letters conference. After I agreed to be on the panel, they announced that Orson Scott Card would be there in person to receive his lifetime achievement award, and that he would be attending the panel. That raised the stakes a little bit, from "talking about an author I like to some random people" to "talking about an author I like in front of the author himself." Thus, the reading and re-reading of a wide range of OSC books this month. Overall, I think the panel went pretty well, and I'll post audio once AML has it up.

I'm a big fan of Steve Sheinkin's 'Rabbi Harvey' stories. So when I saw El Iluminado, a graphic novel collaboration between Sheinkin and religious scholar Ilan Stavans about conversos and marranos in colonial Mexico, I was interested. It's a great, fourth-wall bending tale, with Ilan serving as both author and main character. The plot is a sort of Southwest Da Vinci Code, with the professor getting pulled into noir-style investigation of the theft of documents that purport to hold the key to the history of Luis de Carvajal, a converso who secretly re-converted to Judaism and was hounded by the Inquisition.

You wouldn't think that the history of a medieval monastic order of knights would make the perfect inspiration for a buddy comedy heist stoy, but that the jumping off point for Templar. When the Order is banned and arrested for show trial, their legendary treasures go missing. But several lax Templars missed the roundup when they snuck out of the monastery for a night of carousing. It is up to them to honor the memory of their order and make sure that its treasures are kept safe from the greedy King of France and his devious advisor.

When I first picked up The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, I wasn't aware that Charlie was fictional. I thought that the book would introduce me to an early Asian comics pioneer in the same way that Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew's Shadow Hero introduced me to Chu Hing, creator of the Green Turtle. I quickly began to suspect that Charlie was an invention, but his story is still powerful and deeply moving, and Liew convincing apes a growing and changing artistic style reflecting the growth of the comics medium through the twentieth century, and situates his protagonist's story within the politics of Singapore.

Clan Apis is a fun story about the life of a bee from a practicing entomologist who is also a talented cartoonist. The punny humor may be off-putting to some readers, but I enjoyed it a lot. And it fits fascinating information into a funny and sometimes poignant narrative.

We have a tendency to mythologize our history and selectively forget darker episodes in the American narrative. March, the excellent memoir-in-comics from Rep. John Lewis helps correct that by unflinchingly depicting the difficult struggle of the civil rights movement. We still have far to go, and this series helps remind us how present problems are connected to our history, while still giving us hope that brave, kind people can change the world for the better.

I read Good Life Lab in chunks, on and off, starting in November last year, and finally read the last chapters this month. It's a good primer for starting an off-grid life, and reminds me of Walden in that it is a reminder that there are other ways to live that the one our society pre-programs for us.

Tales from Outer Suburbia is a very different kind of reminder of the same truth. There are many paths, and even the suburbs are filled with the wondrous and strange if we open our eyes. Tan's stories, illustrated with mixed media and filled with all sorts of visual and verbal cleverness, are invigorating and powerful.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Books I read in March

Comics and Graphic Novels
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power  Ryan North, Erica Henderson
Showa, 1939-1944: A History of Japan  Shigeru Mizuki
March: Book One (March, #1)  John Robert Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Mooncop  Tom Gauld
Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
Aya: Life in Yop City (Aya #1-3)   Marguerite Abouet
Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness  Reinhard Kleist
Aya: Love in Yop City (Aya #4-6) Marguerite Abouet
The Shepherd's Tale (Serenity, #3)  Joss Whedon, Zach Whedon, Chris Samnee
Cairo   G. Willow Wilson, M. K. Perker
Better Days (Serenity, #2.1) Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad
Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale: Yellow, Blue and Gray   Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale
Shutter, Vol. 1: Wanderlost Joe Keatinge, Leila del Duca, Owen Gieni, Ed Brisson
Prince of Cats Ron Wimberly,
Alex + Ada, Vol. 3   Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn
Alex + Ada, Vol. 2  Jonathan Luna, Sarah Vaughn
The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan  Bryan Doerries
Those Left Behind (Serenity, #1)  Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad
Ody-C: Cycle One  Matt Fraction, Christian Ward
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984  Riad Sattouf
Civil War: A Marvel Comics Event  Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Morry Hollowell
Out on the Wire: Uncovering the Secrets of Radio's New Masters of Story   Jessica Abel
The Best of the Spirit Will Eisner
The Underwater Welder   Jeff Lemire
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths Shigeru Mizuki
Sorako     Takayuki Fujimura
Something Under the Bed is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection  Bill Watterson

One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God   Ashley mae Hoiland
The Longitude Prize  Joan Dash
The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor    Mark Schatzker
Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College  Mark C. Carnes
Letters to a Young Muslim   Omar Saif Ghobash

Before the Awakening  Greg Rucka
Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5)  Max Gladstone

Picture Books
Pickles to Pittsburgh Judi Barrett, Ron Barrett
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 3: Planet of the Pies  Judi Barrett, Isidre Monés
Zoom Istvan Banyai
Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing  Judi Barrett, Ron Barrett
The Skunk  Mac Barnett, Patrick McDonnell
At Night  Helga Bansch
On Christmas Eve   Peter Collington
A Small Miracle  Peter Collington

Visual Work
Lost: Lost and Found Pet Posters from Around the World  Ian Phillips

Quick Takes
Ashmae Hoiland's One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly is without a doubt the most revelatory book I've read on modern Mormonism. Part memoir, part poetry, part devotional, it examines the web of relationships to family, friends, converts and non-believers that have helped Hoiland find her way in faith and in the world. Rather than treading the same ground as so many other spiritual memoirs or books on the place of religion in our current life, Hoiland examines how a totality of lived experience is bound up in her religion. A truly luminous book.

Aya also visits ground you won't often see in other work. It's the coming-of-age journey of a woman in 1980's Cote D'Ivoire, a soap opera with a heroine straight out of Jane Austen. A biting comedy of manners that looks sharply at sexism in modern Africa (hint: it's not that much different from everywhere else), and a perspective on the Ivory Coast you are unlikely to see elsewhere.

Romeo and Juliet may be the first YA novel. That's an audacious claim, since it's not a novel and predates the development of YA lit as a genre by at least 300 years, but follow me here: it's the earliest literary work I know that focuses on the lives of adolescents, and sets up the future of the genre with its disastrous account of hormones and adrenaline wreaking havoc. Prince of Cats taps strongly into that as an adaptation with a twist-- it follows the plot of the Bard's classic teen love tragedy through the perspective of Tybalt, Juliet's angry cousin who seems to live to fight in his family's feud. It amps up the youth culture aspect of the tale to 11 by setting it in a anime-punk '80's NYC where graffiti and katana duels are the pathway to fame and glory. Channeling the Bard, all the text is in iambic pentameter and is studded with slang and neologisms. It's a stunning tour-de-force from an artist worth watching.

The style of Jeff Lemire's art is unmistakeable, and seems naturally suited to the stories of mystery and loss he tends to tell in his indie work. The Underwater Welder is no exception. It's a masterfully formed tale of a man stuck in his own past, and drowning under the weight of his memories, who somehow manages to surface for air.

Will Eisner is legendary-- there's a reason that US comics main awards are named for him. The Best of the Spirit highlights his talents as an artist and storyteller. I enjoyed this more than any other Eisner book I've read.

Mooncop is a beautiful, absurd little story about the loneliness of modern life. It follows the daily activities of the only cop on the moon after the moon has been surpassed by other, more exciting destinations for space colonization. It manages to be whimsical and wistful at the same time. To get a sense of Gauld's style (and to spend a few hours giggling at your computer) check out his tumblr here.

My introduction to Joan Dash was A Dangerous Engine, her masterful biography of Ben Franklin as scientist, statesman and international celebrity. The Longitude Prize is just an entrancing, tracing the little-known but highly influential story of the first successful nautical chronometer. It's a scientific tale of high drama that pit a self-taught genius against the most highly credentialed academics of his day.

I've been fascinated by the Reacting movement for a few years now, after reading an article about it and then finding out that one of my good friends was in a class that was role-playing the French Revolution. With a pedagogical method based on role-playing, Reacting reminds me of my own powerful educational experience in Mock Trial, Model United Nations, and theatre. Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College is the movement's manifesto, written by the professor who first started using role-palying as a central feature of his classroom. Through studies and the experience of numerous Reacting alumni from across the nation, he recounts how participation becomes a transformative experience that brings history to life and gives new meaning to education.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Books I read in February

Comics and Graphic Novels
SuperMutant Magic Academy  Jillian Tamaki
Get a Life  Philippe Dupuy, Charles Berberian, translated by Helge Dascher
The Sword of Laban and the Tree of Life    Mike Allred, Laura Allred
Captain America: Winter Soldier, Volume 1   Ed Brubaker,  Michael Lark, Steve Epting, John Paul Leon
The Longest Day Of The Future   Lucas Varela
Luthor   Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo
The Private Eye  Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, Muntsa Vicente
Gotham Academy, Vol. 2: Calamity  Becky Cloonan,  Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl
Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening  Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
Batgirl, Volume 2: Family Business  Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr
Paper Girls, Vol. 2   Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq  Sarah Glidden
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1  Ta-Nehisi Coates,  Brian Stelfreeze
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed  G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Elmo Bondoc
Batman: Earth One, Volume 2  Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, Brad Anderson
Star Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes  Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, Laura Martin
Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon  Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen
Descender, Vol. 3: Singularities  Jeff Lemire,  Dustin Nguyen
The Woods, Vol. 1: The Arrow  James Tynion IV,  Michael Dialynas
The Nameless City  Faith Erin Hicks    
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars  Nathan Hale
Hilda and the Stone Forest  Luke Pearson
Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope   Emmanuel Guibert

The Thief Megan Whalen Turner    
The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner   
The King of Attolia      Megan Whalen Turner   
A Conspiracy of Kings     Megan Whalen Turner
Doomsday Book Connie Willis  

19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East  Naomi Shihab Nye

Visual Work
The Singing Bones Shaun Tan  

Quick Takes
SuperMutant Magic Academy is so weird and and makes me so happy. It's a riff on the Xavier School, Hogwarts, and all of the classic tales of super-powered or magical adolescents, but with significantly more ennui, absurdism and-- dare I say it-- mordant wit. Marsha, Wendy, Gemma, Frances, Trixie, and Cheddar's stories interweave along with a large cast of other characters, enough that it really begins to feel like high school. Check it out online in serialized form or get the book.

The Private Eye is a nicely done near-future noir-fable about information privacy. Following a catastrophic event described metaphorically as a data-flood, every bit of personal information hidden in the cloud is revealed publically, with destructive consequences, emotionally and politically. After society regroups, sans internet, intense personal privacy laws are enforced. But there are still things people want to know, and thus there is still space for the private eye, who is a detective/paparazzi hybrid in a world in which the Fourth Estate are the new police, the only people authorized to publish the deeds of private citizens.

Coates' Black Panther lives up to the hype as a fascinating take on the character. I'm excited to see where this goes. The first volume felt too short to capture where Coates is headed with this.

The Nameless City is an interesting piece of fantasy that looks at the impact of constantly changing military rule on a city that sits at the center of a vast trade network. Like the first Black Panther volume, It's clearly just the beginning of a bigger saga. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

The Hazardous Tales books are always good, but sometimes (especially with WWI) it feels like they bite off more than they can chew. That's definitely not the case with Alamo All-Stars, which does a great job of situating the famous siege within the context of Mexico's war of independence and ensuing conflict. The Texan settlers are depicted as neither heroes or villains, but as a complicated group of men fighting a complicated war for complicated reasons. And this is all done in a short, funny history for kids.

Megan Whalen Turner's Eugenides books are excellent, unique fantasy books with rich religious and historical detail. Plus, they have one of the most engaging protagonists ever. After years of hearing how good they are from me and several of her friends, my wife finally decided she wanted to read them, so we read them out loud throughout the month. It was a great experience, and they are definitely good books to read out loud.

For a long time, To Say Nothing of the Dog has been one of my favorite books. It's a cleverly plotted time-travel comedy. But it's not Willis' first time travel story, and this month I finally read Doomsday Book, a much more tragic look at time travel, though it also showcases Willis' farcical understanding of the chaos caused by human nature and especially human pride. I love that in these books time travel (and the study of history in general) in essentially an act of compassion for those already gone.

If you've read my 2016 reading round ups, you know how much I love Shaun Tan. The Singing Bones consists of images of sculptural work he's done to illustrate numerous tales from the Brothers Grimm, alongside brief excerpts from the stories. It is astounding and hauntingly beautiful.