Poetry's okay I guess


Twenty-seven of the thirty-five books finished this year are poetry and comics which explains how the numbers are already half of last year's. Of course, all those books added together don't match the word count of the pages read in Don Quixote last year.

Which I still haven't finished....

035) Under Brushstrokes by Hedy Habra, finished February 24

Two observations on this book.

1. Having such a large percentage of a book be ekphrastic ain't great, frankly. Just a list of paintings at the end (the end!) is way too much work for me, the casual reader. This should have been a coffeetabler....

2. Anyone looking for evidence of poetry in prose poems should check this book out. Lots of examples of high overall quality.
five days


034) Rapture by Sjohnna McCray, finished February 20

The speaker of this book is the son of a black man from what our current president would call the inner cities and a Korean woman---an erstwhile prostitute met during the Vietnam war. His childhood involves the tension in this relationship and hints of other tensions---siblings by other mothers, inner-city crime, relatives, etc. The other primary angle the book takes is the speaker's adult love/sex life with other men. Hints of his homosexuality in childhood are too deeply buried for me to find. The closest thing to sex for himself is peeping on a naked woman with his cousins.

The final poem in the collection is multipart and eponymous and helps take the speaker from childhood to adult. We see him explore sex and the gay scene etc etc and find his own grounding as a man in meaningful relationships with other men.

My favorite part of the book comes in the final section of this final poem. Specifically, the underlined parts:

This captures something true about sex that I've never articulated to myself before, and I appreciate the insight.
two days


033) The Destroyer in the Glass by Noah Warren, finished February 19

The foreword suggests this poet is great because hey, check out this poem, the first stanza makes sense and the rest of the poem makes no sense at all QED. I did not finish reading the foreword. I did, however, read all the poems, though I don't completely disagree with the foreword's assessment.

The best poems came in two types: long meandering personal histories, poems about specific and unexpected objects.

The best of the latter was probably "Automatic Pool Cleaner." This poem brilliantly and evocatively explores the cleaner and lets it become a metaphor on its own terms. And then it feels the need to explain it by getting obscure. It's a cheap trick and not an easy one to do well. Warren, I'm afraid, doesn't do it so well.

But he's young and although the collection has few very good poems, very good lines are scattered througout.
three days

Previously in 2017


Finishing up some loose ends. Also poetry.


032) Old Boy, Vol. 8 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 18

So when last we read Old Boy, I was demanding a huge payoff. Did I get it in this final volume.

. . . yes. Yes, I guess I did.

The weird thing is that it really wasn't a huge payoff. It was pretty dang small, in fact, really, by objective measures. But somehow that proved to be more honest than something huge.

Also weird was that I accepted the late addition of hypnosis to this story. That's not something I would normally go for.

I am curious about the movie, though. All it's famed violence---I'm not sure where it came from. I'm imagining it's a rather loose adaptation....


031) Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson et al, finished February 18

More Ms Marvel!

Now that Ms Marvel is an established and important character, and thus being integrated into the greater Marvel universe, she's getting less fun to read. Certain storylines in this volume are overrushed, presumably in order to stay in sync with other titles, leaving character development and moral-dilemma development underbaked and insufficient.

Kamala's trip to Pakistan was similarly overrushed---and thus the growth she undergoes as a character didn't quite ring true.

And certain characters---notably Spider-Man, Nova, and a random woman I didn't realize until right now was her sister-in-law in new clothes---just came out of nowhere without introduction to those of us following only one title.

This is the problem with the large universes of Marvel and DC. The more committed you are to a title, the more your realize that title is not so committed to you. It's just trying to lead you into a more expensive comics habit.


Anyway. This volume, notwithstanding all these complaints, was also good.


030) White Sand by Brandon Sanderson & Rik Hoskin & Julius Gopez, finished February 18

What a blasted mess this thing it. It's boring for one thing. The plot is a clustertrump of events and happenstance. The dialogue only aspires to B-movie quality. The organization of panels is at times utterly bewildering. And the art is that mid-90s style where everyone looks like they were made of dried clay then hit with hammers. I really can think of nothing to recommend it or why I would look forward to further volumes.

fifteen or sixteen days


029) Honest Engine by Kyle Dargan, finished February 17

Like a lot of the poetry collections I've been reading lately, Honest Engine got a bit dull for me towards the end. I wonder if there just aren't many poets who can excite me for a full 80–100 pages? This may reflect poorly on me.

This collection has a couple themes. Race in America. The brutality of men towards women even in consensual relationships. The death of a beloved grandmother. These ideas circle each other, biting and snapping, but not in an attempt to win. The collection is beautifully written, but it feels consigned. It is resigned to sadness and inefficacy.

But sadness coupled with an inability to change the world is very in right now.

Besides: best poem about fellatio I've ever read.
a couple weeks or a bit more

Previously in 2017


Best, Old


028) Best American Comics 2016 edited by Roz Chast, finished February 16

In some respects, this was a banner year for BAC. With one two-page exception, Roz Chast collected nothing but stuff I liked. On the other hand, there's nothing here I liked enough to go buy the book. And in series editor Bill Kartalopoulos's list of notable comics in the band is McCloud's Sculptor---which is better than anything in this collection.

Which would you prefer? Liking everying? Or loving some, hating some?

"Milk" by Joe Sacco

"Bike Fast," Coney Island," "Home" by Sophia Zdon

Adults Only by Lance Ward

Don't Leave Me Alone by GG
month and a half


027) Old Boy, Vol by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 16

The plot thickens! The payoff had better pay off. I can't imagine what it's going to be, but it had better be good....
three days


026) Old Boy, Vol. 6 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 12

Compelling and perplexing. Must read on!
after midnight


025) Old Boy, Vol. 5 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 11
024) Old Boy, Vol. 4 by Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 10
The mystery gets stranger. It never turns the way I expect and I'm as bewildered as the protagonist as far as predicting the villain's motivations or endgame. Excited to see where it's going Further comments withheld for now.

Except one: Even without any sex scenes in these two volumes, the books are still infested with bizarre sex. Does Garon Tsuchiya have some taboo checklist he's working off?
same sitting

Previously in 2017


Make Mine Ms Marvel


023) Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa, finished February 9

I did not know I would someday laugh (quite outloudly!) at a Google Calendars punchline. Or that the same story could make me cry two pages later. If the film and television arm really wants to channel the world with something both beautiful and radical, they have their best option right here. (And who knows---with Captain Marvel and Inhumans movies en route, can Kamala Khan be far behind?

In short, I love our hero. I love the supporting characters (her brother has developed into something wonderful; the characters new to this volume are deftly drawn). I love the visiting icons.

Wilson's plucky Jersey girl is simply one of the best teenaged heroes---and one of the best heroes fullstop---on newsstands today. It's quality writing regardless of genre.
two days


022) Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, finished February 7
021) Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa & Elmo Bondoc, finished February 7

Although crossovers are fun, their writers don't capture the breadth of Kamala's character that Wilson does. They catch an aspect or two, but they fall short.

The story proper, however, as included in these two volumes, is excellent. Even the obvious boy twist was stronger than it deserved to be because of the roundedness of the primary characters. Special shoutout to Kamala's brother who is developing into a pretty awesome dude. To say nothing of her parents. A scene between Kamala and her mother made me tear up, and that's not a common occurrence in superhero rags.
same evening


020) Ms. Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson & Jacob Wyatt & Adrian Alphona, finished February 6
019) Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, finished February 5

Somehow I thought I needed to read these two to catch up to where I'd left off, but in fact I had only read the first and so it didn't take long to find new joys.

And "joys" is certainly the right word. Kamala is a brilliant character. Real enough you'll be sure you went to high school with her, yet thrown into an impossible world. Honestly, she's probably the best teenaged superhero since Peter Parker.

And the dialogue is a joy to read, the art---which shows just the right amount of influence from American manga and Bill Plympton--- is witty in it's own right. Every scrap of trash demands to be read and---is that Marty McFly?

I'm excited to keep reading. So far, it hasn't gotten caught in the quagmire of Marvel mythos, but as Kamala becomes a bigger deal, it seems more and more inevitable. Stay strong, Ms. Marvel!
a day each

Previously in 2017


Let me tell you about some excellent comics


019) Curses by Kevin Huizenga, finished February 4

This is an amazing and beautiful collection of comics not quite like anything I've ever seen before. I picked it up on Noah Van Sciver's recommendation, expecting something unusual but it kinda looks like anything in the genre so, you know, how unusual could it be?

In short, very.

It's a series of short stories, some very short, some quite long. All (except perhaps [perhaps] one) about everyman Glenn Ganges of Michigan. But the stories---especially (but not exclusively) the longer ones---have the rich complexity I would expect from Jimmy Corrigan or Asterios Polyx, not a short. Sometimes the stories are strictly realistic, sometimes they are fantastical---but they are always even-keeled and truthful. Some may stop your heart.

One technique that he employs with aplomb is bringing together seemingly random crap and turning it into coherent and moving poetry. Take the mid-sized piece about missing children and carpet cleaning and Somali refugees and American supermarkets. And it all ties together, yes, but not in the way I would have guessed. Not to say there's some big shyamalanian twist at the end---there is not---but that they do. And he does it by placing the weight of these heavy topics on the least significant of them.

Which sounds almost like a New Testament reference which is appropriate as the final two stories get overtly religious and come at Christianity from opposite ends. The first embeds a theological essay by a side character; the second shares a fictional bit of folk religion that deals with similar concerns. Almost like a superego and id of religious thinking bumping into each other on the sidewalk.

I'm not sure how to insist any louder. Just read the book.
maybe three weeks, tops


017) Precious Rascals by Anthony Holden, finished January 31

I wasn't aware of Holden until a couple months ago, but now I am exceedingly aware of him. This book collects strips he's made over the years FOR his family, along with some commentary, turning it into an interesting hybrid of memoir and collection. The strips are genuinely funny and the look at his (very Mormon) family life is sharp and nuanced and layered and personal and, worth repeating, funny.

Highly recommended!

(I read a free pdf, but I just bought the paper version. That's how much I mean what I say.)
a week or so


015 & 016) Anthem by Ayn Rand, finished January 31

I've read this book so many bleeding times. It's still useful for getting fourteen-year-olds to pull ideas from story, but the more I read it, the harder time I have accepting the shoddy worldbuilding. At first, it was just a nice fable---a tale short on plot on character but full of ideas. But when you're read it as many times as I have, the holes in Rand's fictional creation become more and more difficult to accept.

The good news: the freshmen are reading it for the first time and are just as amazed at its clever aspects as the first batch of freshmen were.
six nonconsecutive days


014) Old Boy, Vol. 3 by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished January 30

So far so good. The sex is a bit adolescent-fantasy but development of the mystery is enjoyable.

Previously in 2017