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Book Report 1

The results are in. I have recaptured my title as champion in the Mom vs. T.R. Reading Challenge. This third running of the contest spanned the period from Christmas vacation through the last day of school. To win, I had to read more than four times the number of pages that T.R. did. It was a close race.

T.R. read 14 books for a total of 4,417 pages. I read 61 books and 18,494 pages.

Now for the book report part. Today I’ll summarize the comic books (graphic novels, if you must…) and the heavy reading.

T.R. read George R.R. Martin’s comics Hedge Knight and Hedge Knight 2. I had already read the first one, so I only read the second. The books have very cool art and the stories are well done, taking place in the fringes of the world explored in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

T. also read Watchmen. It is the coolest comic book ever. Unfortunately, reading the comic made him disappointed in the movie: he loved the pirate part and it just wasn’t there. Sigh.

Both of us read Usagi Yojimbo 1, which T. bought at the comic convention and got signed! If you like samurai rabbits, you will love this. The stories are both engaging and funny, the art is cool and sweet.

Y – The Last Man, Volume 1 was a lot like I remember The White Plague being, only the other way around and with pictures. I expect I’ll need to continue reading the series, since the book ended with some unresolved issues.

Bone, the first three volumes, felt like brain candy, or maybe brain comfort food. The Bones are funny and the other characters provide the bulk of the depth. I’ll have to keep reading to find out what happens with the princess and the dragon and all.

Marvels was enjoyable in the moment, but left almost no impression on me in the larger sense. I just flipped back through it and I remember liking the pictures a lot and also the sense of perspective—it’s about how incomprehensible superheroes are.

The last comic I read was The Venice Chronicles. The watercolor pictures manage to be both childlike and beautiful. The story has clever self-referential moments that give an otherwise classic and sweet story a more modern sensibility. It made me want to go out and do a sketch crawl, even though I have no drawing ability whatsoever.

Now for the books without pictures.

It is partly because of Palace Walk that Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel for literature. That said, I didn’t like it very much. The setting was, to me, exotic. The characters, while well-drawn, didn’t move me very much. The plot, such as it was, sprawled around lazily. Maybe the rest of the trilogy makes it all add up to something, but I’m not going to plow through them to find out.

Jack London in Paradise was not as good as The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, but still good. Paul Malmont writes tough and flexible prose. The plot unfolds perhaps slightly too gradually, but the payoff is excellent. I got my copy signed when he was at my local bookstore. He’s working on a sequel to Chinatown and I am excited.

The latest from Gregory Maguire is Lion Among Men, another in his Oz series. I like his brainy way of retelling things and his ability to immerse a reader in his reality.

Infinite Jest was a long exercise in frustration. David Foster Wallace was clearly a genius. I have no fault with any individual part of the book. It’s all brilliant prose. The thing is, almost none of it is pleasant. I don’t mind being dazzled by fireworks, but sometimes I want something more rooted. And I swore a lot on the last page because the book does not end; it just stops. After reading 1100 pages, I deserved an actual ending, with a payoff. Yeah, yeah, that was the jest, I guess. Not very nice. As a side note, I have to say that the writer’s suicide should have come as no surprise to anyone reading his work. It is sad that so much talent is now gone.

I already wrote about The Martian Chronicles. Two thumbs up, after the first story. Thoughtful, shapely prose and interesting brain work.

Midnight’s Children had a fair amount of similarity to Palace Walk in terms of being a fairly intimate family story set in a Muslim world. I liked it better. It was funnier, for one thing. Rushdie’s writing makes leaps I am happy to follow. Perhaps it is the fantastical element that gives the book a place in my heart.

I bought What Is the What a long time ago, entirely on the basis of liking Dave Eggers. I still like him, but the book, not so much. The subject of the Lost Boys is depressing. There is a certain amount of disingenuousness lurking in the book. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I find that I don’t trust it somehow. The writing amazes. The decision to tell the story as a series of explanations to the various people in Valentino’s life allows for an interleaving of time and an immediate story-telling vibe. Now I’ve read it and I don’t have to do it again.

Another book with an unsatisfying ending: The Lost City. Great set-up, interesting characters, twists, turns, jungles, cats, drugs, sex, relics, priests, and I set it down at the end dissatisfied. Perhaps I am too picky.

Glen David Gold became my imaginary friend for writing Carter Beats the Devil, so I was happy to see he had a new book out, Sunnyside. It’s more ambitious than his first book, fielding a larger cast of characters, including Charlie Chaplin. I think perhaps it could have been longer, allowing more scope for some of the characters’ stories. Plus I would have more to read. He can hurry up and write more books and I will be happy.

I only managed one book of poetry this time out, Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems. It fed my soul.

More to come tomorrow…

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