First! Five! Books!


The year is off to a brilliant start! Two good Batman books, a vital novel from my childhood, a classic read for the first time, and Mr. Monster. Let's start there and work back.

005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10

At first I was unsure this book was going to reach the heights of its predecessor, but it did oh it did.

A little past the halfway point, the story took I turn I did not anticipate (but should have), making it the most terrifying thing I've read since JCO's Zombie. And honestly, I'm not sure I could have survived another hundred pages of that kind of mental stress.

Then the book took another unanticipated turn and I returned to a feeling of safety on one hand and the introduction of a Lovecraftian horror on the other (not exactly a fair trade; thanks a lot, Dan Wells.) And, the final paragraph, thrilled me to the marrow.

I don't often read the second book in a series anymore. I read for breadth, not depth. But these John Cleaver books are the most horrible fun I've had in ages. I really can't recommend them enough. Start from the beginning and hurry up. Book three's already available for preorder.

five days


004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6

The Red Badge of Courage is no longer standard high-school fare and has not been for quite a while. I’m not sure why. It’s short, it’s terrific, it’s about a kid in war. Seems like an obvious book to keep around. How many of you read it in high school? Does any school still retain it?

I’m an unabashed fan of Crane’s poetry (though that may not be obvious) but I’ve never really read his prose. Which is bad since in my MFA applications (to write prose) I used my age in relation to Crane’s as a starting point for my personal statements and Red Badge in support of that metaphor. So it occurred to me that before any callbacks came in, I should make sure I had actually taken this book off my shelf and read it.

I’m glad I did. I’m not big into war stories, but no question they are an important part of exploring the human condition. This book now ranks among my favorites. It’s tale which, except for the opening chapters, takes place entirely within one boy’s couple hellish days, feels so true and honest, I feel like now I know how I would react, if ever forced into battle. And I understand why soldiers so rarely speak of what they’ve been through.

What amazes me most about Crane though is his importance. Not that he is important --- that doesn’t amaze me at all --- but that things he did were against the rules of fiction in his day. Describing emotion with color. No one did that.

I can’t imagine a literary landscape where Crane’s work is shocking --- he helped create our literature in such significant ways that his innovations are our norms.

And this is what makes innovation, yes? Somehow changing that no one else realizes can be changed. I admire that.


about a week


003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5

You need to know about my history of this book before we move forward. I was a kid at AJ Winters Elementary School and this book was in the school library. I don't know when I first checked it out, but I checked it out over and over again until we left Idaho when I was in the fifth grade. When we moved, I had, singlehandedly, nearly filled out both sides of the book's check-out card. Assuming I read the book within 45 days of our moving, I last read the book in 1987.

In 2001 or 2002, Lady Steed and I were back in Montpelier and we swung by the old elementary-school library --- in large measure because I wanted to see if I could find this book that had played such a large role in my childhood. The librarian, incredibly, remembered me, and she was able to help me run down the name of the book even though it was no longer on the shelves. I copied its title down, its author, its ISBN, it's LoC number. I put it in my wallet where it remained for years.

When Amazon started carrying used books, finding a copy got too easy not to just buy the book, but something kept me from doing so. Was it my abject disappointment in reading the Hardy Boys again at age 21? I don't know. But I added Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard to my cart over and over again without ever actually buying it.

One time I nearly did and Lady Steed told me not to in a way that let me know I just needed to wait.

So now it's 2011 --- 24 years after last reading it, and the Big O gave me an old library copy from Louisiana for Christmas.

We've read it together over the last few nights and --- surprise, surprise --- it didn't live up to my new grown-up standards. But O and S were spellbound and loved loved loved the book --- couldn't get enough of it. The kids and their missing map and the hope for bones and the cougar sighting and the mysterious geologist and the pack rat and so on engaged them much, I imagine, as I was once engaged. Will they read it over and over again as I once did? I don't know. But I do know that now I want to also buy The Riddle of Raven Hollow. . . .

One thing I've long wondered about is whether or not reading this book would bring it all back in a rush or if it would be like reading it for the first time. Fact: Except for the cover, I really didn't remember anything. At all. It wasn't hard to guess ahead for most of the story (it's not terribly sophisticated storytelling), but it really was like reading it for the first time.

Next up: The Hotel Cat. Large S gave it to me for Christmas and I haven't read it since second grade. Not since 1984, almost 27 years ago. I can't wait.

since shortly after christmas


002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4

I don't know about you, but I never knew that Dredd was anything other than the presumably crappy source material for a presumably crappy Stallone flick. I had no idea he was a respectable European comic book.

So ignorant was I, that when I was given this book I wasn't even sure I could be bothered to read it. But I did and boy oh boy am I glad. Not so much for the writing which was just okay, but for Bisley's art. Big and bold and mythy and graphic and gory and heroic and just really darn great.

************Check out my Fob Comics post for pictures.************

two evenings


001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2

It feels like I haven't been reading very many good bulging-muscles comics lately (perhaps mostly because of the sour taste this left in my mouth), so i'm happy to report that venom was quite good. Batman gets addicted to a performance-enhancing superdrug is the story and it leads into the Bane stories (which I've never read but which are Important).

Mostly I'm impressed with the writing and since O'Neil ran the Batman stories for many years, I'm feeling a little sad I didn't develop an addiction to them myself, back during high school.

under an hour


  1. Very unfortunate that you didn't develop that addiction. We could have been friends.

  2. .

    This haunts me nightly.

  3. Awww, the dinosaurs. That makes me want to go hoard BILLY & BLAZE books, and reconstruct my Nancy Drew library...

  4. .

    Childhood rereads are the best books there are.