My month in books: July 2015

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Promethea, Vol. 5 by Alan Moore

Solo by Mark Chiarello

Lost in Mongolia: Rafting the World’s Last Unchallenged River by Colin Angus

Blacklung by Chris Wright

New York Mon Amour by Jacques Tardi

Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Sweet Tooth, Vol. 2: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire

Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto

Through Dust and Darkness: A Motorcycle Journey of Fear and Faith in the Middle East by Jeremy Kroeker

Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe

This month has been busy. July always flies by as you try to make the most of your summer. August is the end of the summer and a time to look towards the future, what the fall will bring and where you will be. July is a time to indulge and try to get the most out of life. For the most part I hiked, worked and hung out with friends. I don’t feel like I read that much in July but Goodreads seems to think otherwise.

I have finished my reading challenge for the year with a month to spare before grad school. My goal wasn’t that ambitious in large part because I knew that I’d probably be going to grad school in the fall and wanted to have it out of the way by then. I also think the goal encourages me to do quantity reading. I placed holds on kids books, photo books and graphic novels partially because I like them and partially because they add up fast. Now I can just read whatever and not think about the numbers.

To begin the month I finished Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’ve read the graphic novel version, which I thought was written by Gaiman but turned out to be an adaptation of the book. That was back in Copenhagen so there’s been enough time that I forgot most of the details. It’s not like there’s a huge variation in terms of plot in the Neil Gaiman books I’ve read so far. This isn’t meant as an insult to him. He does his thing very well but you can kind of tell what is going to happen in his novels. Individual encounters magical world, shenanigans ensue.

I really enjoyed Neverwhere. The entire concept behind it is quite clever and enjoyable. I love the way it plays with the world of London and makes use of it. Gaiman is clever at using myths and humour to hinge his stories. I also got American Gods out of the library but didn’t have time to read it and wanted to leave some time before reading another novel by him.

I also managed to finish Promethea, Vol. 5 by Alan Moore. I got through the other Prometheas in June but still had one left. The ending felt suitable enough and was less weird that some of the other plots. It made sense as a way to end the arc.

I placed a hold on Solo edited by Mark Chiarello because I’d heard it was good. I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a collection of comic stories written by some of the top writers working today. They were quite all over the place as you might expect when the concept was to let writers do whatever they wanted. Some of my favourite writers were in there and I had a good time reading through the somewhat random collection.

I started reading Lost in Mongolia: Rafting the World’s Last Unchallenged River by Colin Angus before I left for the Trans Sib last summer. I didn’t get all the way through it and had been meaning to read it for a while. I couldn’t get a real copy out of the Vancouver Library — they have a digital one but that’s just not the same — so I waited until returning to Calgary to get it out. Lost in Mongolia was an excellent read. Angus wrote a book about a previous rafting trip and knows how to write for his genre. It was weird having him talk about a region I’d visited so recently but in the past. When he took the trip I was in fifth grade and the areas he traveled through have changed a lot since then. Some of what he said still rings true and I found myself madly scribbling notes and copying quotes. I also managed to dog ear and damage the book in my long-term goal of damaging every book the Calgary Library has on Mongolia — I did a number on Mongolia: Travels in the Untamed Land by Jasper Becker but didn’t get fined.

Blacklung by Chris Wright was a strange graphic novel. It reminded me of the Sea Wolf. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t up there either. The drawing style was interesting but ultimately the story was too grim and harsh for my liking.

New York Mon Amour by Jacques Tardi also falls into the grim and harsh category of graphic novels. I liked some parts of it and the drawings of New York were interesting. But the story was pretty depressing and it didn’t leave me wanting to read much more.

Chip Kidd is renowned as a book cover designer but is a man of many talents. He has taken to writing on top of graphic design. Batman: Death by Design was  a good comic in that it was driven by an interesting idea for a caper that lead to an interesting story. Using architecture and design as the frame for the story made it different from all the other thousands of Batman stories that have been told. It stood out and was interesting. Good comic writers take the formula and do something special with it. Kidd achieved that.

I’m a big fan of Jeff Lemire. He is one of the many talented world class Canadian graphic novelists out there. I’d heard good things about Sweet Tooth so I took it out of the library. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods was a sad and interesting tale. It reminded me of X the Last Man and DMZ. Set in a post apocalyptic world where half-animal half-human children are born and everyone else is dying of a disease Sweet Tooth is Lemire’s take on the post-apocalyptic graphic novel series. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 2: In Captivity builds on it and leaves me with the set up for the remaining volumes, which are waiting on my shelf begging for a slice of my time. I will have to finish them in August because it is important to finish what you start.

When 500 Essential Graphic Novels says I should read something that’s good enough for me to see if the library has it. I got the book as a Christmas gift one year and have been working my way through it ever since. The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon was good. It seems to be Dillon’s baby. I liked the characters and the story. Dillon did a good job of making it interesting and convincing.

I have been resisting reading Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto because the name is stupid. Another graphic novel with a name I don’t like. I also figured that a graphic novel about cancer would be depressing. There seem to be quite a few graphic novels about cancer and other illnesses. Many of them make top 100 lists but I still avoid them. While placing the holds that lead to me getting The Nao of Brown I also put a hold on Cancer Vixen. I really enjoyed it and liked the way Marchetto told the story. She wasn’t too preachy or miserable just honest about what happened and how she felt. The medical stuff got a bit hard to take a couple of times but that’s what breaks are for.

I saw Through Dust and Darkness: A Motorcycle Journey of Fear and Faith in the Middle East by Jeremy Kroeker a while ago while wandering around a bookstore and have been wanting to read it ever since. They didn’t have it at the library in Vancouver and it didn’t make it into my order. They do have it here and I was waiting for it for a while before it magically arrived. I knew I had to push myself to read it and return it on time. That’s the problem with hold books. You have three weeks to read them whether it’s good timing or not. Fortunately Folk Fest provides an excellent opportunity to get some reading done. Kroeker was funny and frank. Even the religious angle of the book never got annoying or frustrating. I was always happy to tag along wherever his journey took him. He lives in Canmore so I can think of him as a local writer.

I struggled to get through Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe. Part of the problem is that I’ve read a lot of books about cities and they often feel like they’re just going over the same stuff I’ve heard before. There are certain things they have to bring up and cities they can’t help but visit to interview the same people another time. These cities are important for a reason as are the people they talk to or about but it still feels like a broken record. It’s even worse with Copenhagen and Vancouver where I can bring the skeptical perspective of a former resident rather than just accepting what they say. The best parts of the book were when he discussed Philadephia, Toronto and Montreal cities that I haven’t heard as much about.

The biggest problem was the meandering way Grescoe presented the chapters and information. He went to one place and talked about it. He interviewed some people and went to some key places. Then he went somewhere else and saw other stuff and talked to other people. That’s fine as a strategy but the cities have to be pieces of a puzzle that fits together. Otherwise they’re just random places with disjointed facts. If I was his editor I’d have sent the draft back with a comment reading what’s your angle? Aside from the idea that transit is good and cars are bad I couldn’t find a lot to pull what I was given together. There were some great details and facts but they needed a better frame to hang on.

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