Shannon Hale vs the end of the world


I'm going to start (trying to remember to start) writing little intros to the books and movies posts so you have a sense of what's coming. Here we have two famous end-of-the-world novels, one of which I spend some time accusing of racism (I could also accuse Mary Shelley of something similar re Mohammadans, but she lived a long time ago, so I'm giving her a pass today). Squished between them: some comics, including Shannon Hale's lauded coming-of-friendship graphic novels with her regular partner LeUyen Pham. They're the best thing on this list, you want my opinion.


089) The Last Man by Mary Shelley, finished August 11

So I am very sad to admit I did not like this book. I'm a huge fan of Frankenstein and I've always assumed the rest of Mary's ouevre has awarded insufficient attention. And while reading this novel I've read of others' reassessment of the novel but, man, I found it a slog.

There were moments where the text really came alive for me and those parts were largely about characters not based on Mary's inner circle. Remove the romanaclefery of the thing and it's pretty great. There were numerous one-page stories where I scribbled in the margins that THIS should have been the novel! (At one point her narrator says he "will not ... what would be a tedious account" of something I was very interested in!)

Mary Shelley
The Last Man is a pandemic apocalypse just before the year 2100 and part of what disappointed me, I'll admit, is the author's low imaginitive efforts to create a future. Other than dirigibles and a (barely) new English political system, it's pretty much her world. Disrupted expectations are a big part of what kept me more anxious than pleasured—I mean!—the bulk of the novel passes before we hear rumors of a plague! It's also, perhaps unreasonably on my part, frustrating how poorly Shelley (or, to be fair, medical professionals of her era) understood disease. But this disease does seem connected to the seasons and the sun and the ocean and all of nature coming down hard on humanity. And it's weird how a crazy leftist like Mary Shelley lets her surrogate (or herself) or his companions (or her own lost family and friends) wax superstitious about the monarchy.

The insightful reader will recognize that most (all?) of my complaints regard Shelley not writing the book I had assumed she would write. How is it her fault I wanted the last man to be the last man before the last twenty pages? She didn't write the book Theric thought she should! Someone call the literary police!

So, yeah: me being unfair. But I'm not going to read it again to give it a more fair shot. I would read a novel about Juliet had she written it. Or one on Merrival. I suspect her biggest error (again, with a big EYE EM OH), was choosing the first person. The third person would have given her more flexibility. Sure, her narrator assumes a near omniscient stance at times, but it ain't the same. I'm not sure how developed third-person was at this point, so again: me being unfair. I'm just saying.

So let me also just say that The Last Man has some lovely lines and brilliant moments and occasions of great character. At two thirds the size and some different foci, it could have been great. She has greatness in her.

since shortly after Christmas 2018

090) Funny Business by Revlio, finished August 13

The Reuben winner for best greeting-card cartoonist in a collection of business-themed cartoons.

I have nothing to add.

one sitting

091) The Sopratos by Stephan Pastis, finished August 15

A Pearls Before Swine collection. I liked it.

say four days

092) Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, finished August 16
093) Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, finished August 16
094) Friends Forever by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, finished August 16

My five-year-old opinion of Real Friends holds up. It is excellent. It takes little Shannon from K through 6. The second book is 6. The third is 8. Each one feels whole. Any one you could believe stands alone or is the completion of the series. So even though I feel quite certain she is done (largely for marketing-category reasons), I could easily accept another volume about a later year.

Shannon's written about how her national publisher made her genericize the Mormon which is disappointing. There are some moments that make you wonder what more she might have done.

Besides the books being entertaining, they also could be a an onramp for their audience to valuable stuff like, you know, mental health.

As an adult I may love the nostalgia and such, but what I really admire about the books are their literary complexity. These are fine comics to get young readers to think more thoroughly about their reading—rereads will reward.

one half took one day then the rest on another day

095) The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard, finished August 20

The Drowned World has been on the (rather long) list of potential dystopian novels my students can choose from. It's been selected by two or three or four groups over the years and they generally result in good work though often they lack a couple elements which I know understand why. This is not a dystopia. It's postapocalyptic, sure, but not all postapocalypses are dystopias. That's why The Road isn't on my list, to give just one for-instance. So I knew before I was halfway through that it had to come off the list. I was sad to see it go, because I need clifi dystopia on my list (kids care about climate issues), but my regrets dissolved away entirely once I got to the second half of the novel. Which gets incredibly racist.

No one told me this book was racist! And this is a very famous book! People publish collections inspired by it!

And no, I'm not saying this book shows racism (like Huck Finn) , I am saying is is r a c i s t. As in racist. And what disturbs me more than the racism itself (which I'll get to in a second) is the fact that my woke students never seemed to pick up on it. I asked my son about it (who read it when he did this project in my class) and he said he thinks his groups just sort or forgot about it because the book didn't make a big deal about it. In other words, it's the insidious opposite of Huck.

It's not immediately obvious that the second half of the novel is a Heart of Darkness story because instead of the protags coming to Kurtz, he comes to them. (Note, if a sciencefiction-oriented Chinua Achebe has already written a takedown of Drowned World, please alert me.)

So anyway, our bright-white Kurtz (literally, he's the only untanned person on this burnt planet and loves white suits) comes to town with a bunch of strapping Negros as his entourage (Negro is not a word that has aged well, but that's the least of the novel's sins). Two of them get names and none of theme get anything like a personality. If one speaks, it's in an exotic patois, but they're much more into whooping and hollering and atavistic dances and playing music on bones and carrying machetes and so forth. One of them gets a conversation that is almost human, but otherwise they are just scenery and human jewelry accenting the depravity of our Kurtz.

The whole novel is about how the hotter sun is returning both the world and the human mind to a prehistoric state, but the black folks we meet were either born preregressed or regressed so naturally that there's nothing surprising about it. Symbolically, they represent where the Englishmen are headed. Though at least the Englishmen have the power to reflect thereon.

The novel has only one woman, but she gets better treatment than these alleged humans who get about as much humanity as the crocodiles who also follow Kurtz around (though are not quite as good at doing what Kurtz tells them to do).

Incidentally, I find it fascinating how the Wikipedia article, at least currently, refers to these subhumans—perhaps overcarefully—as "pirates" or "men." Mmhmm.

But what makes the book so dangerous is that it doesn't realize how poorly it's treating this large percentage of its cast. It doesn't give them attention because it can't imagine them deserving attention. And most readers will just accept that as their attention is on the acting characters and the plot. And that's what I meant when I said the racism is insidious. Just as the sun is sending our hero back into the Precambrian with its subconscious pounding, the novel itself is subconsciously leading readers to accept that black people have no personalities besides animal and no individual capacity to affect the plot. I find that troubling.

 Is the world Ballard created as compelling as claimed? Sure. But it's the parts of his world he did not invent and could not even see that are most terrifying about this apocalyptic wasteland.

weeks possibly months


Previously . . . . :

Previous Posts

Previous Posts

001) U Is for Undertow by Sue Grafton, finished January 4
002) Far Sector by N.K. Jemisin et al, finished January 7
003) Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver, finished January 7
004) The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, finished January 11
005) The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani, finished January 11
006) Bad Kitty Goes on Vacation by Nick Bruel, finished January 12
007) Remina by Junji Ito, finished January 15
008) The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill, finished January 15
009) The Tea Dragon Festival here by Katie O'Neill, finished January 15
010) A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, finished January 18
011) Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon & Dean Hale and Victoria Ying, finished January 26

012) Just Julie's Fine by Theric Jepson, finished January 28
013) The Art of Description by Mark Doty, finished January 28
014) Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh LĂȘ and Andie Tong, finished February 5
015) Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, finished January 9
016) The Art of Mystery by Maud Casey, finished February 11
017) The Art of Bible Translation by Robert Alter, finished February 13
018) No Longer Human by Junji Ito, finished February 15

019) Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani, finished Febraury 17
020) Fuzz by Mary Roach, finished February 19
021) Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection by Junji Ito, finished February 25
022) You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis, finished March 4
023) Audience-ology by Kevin Goetz, finished March 4
024) The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, finished March 7

025) Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, finished March 8
026) The Croquet Player by H. G. Wells, finished March 11
027) Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It by Michael J. Trinklein, finished March 12
028) Nightwing: Leaping into the Light by Bruno Redondo and Tom Taylor, finished March 13
029) Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion, finished date
030) Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist by author, finished date
031) Ghosts of Vader's Castle by a slew of folks, finished March 15
032) The Flintstones Volume 1 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh, finished March 16
033) The Flintstones Volume 2 by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh, finished March 16
034) The Jetsons by Palmiotti/Brito/Sinclair, finished March 16
035) Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan, finished March 18
036) Ballad for Sophie by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia, finished March 19

You tell me whether it's garbage-in or not

037) Bride of the Far Side by Gary Larson, finished March 23
038) Batman: Night of the Owls by the entire DC bullpen, finished March 23
039) The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, finished March 25
040) The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash, finished March 25
041) Slaugherhouse-Five or the Children's Crusade: a Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut / Ryan North / Albert Monteys, finished March 28
042) The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith, finished March 28
043) Jem by Frederik Pohl, finished March 31
044) The Mundane Adventures of Dishman by John MacLeod, finished March 31
045) Because Sometimes You Just Gotta Draw a Cover with Your Left Hand by Stephan Pastis, finished April 4

Books: extralong edition

046) Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline by Leth/Williams/Allegri, finished April 9
047) The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, finished April 11
048) Weird Al: The Book by Nathan Rabin with Al Yankovic, finished April 11
049) My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin, finished April 16
050) The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet, finished April 19
051) Beast of Burden: Occupied Territory by Dorkin & Dyer & Dewey & Piekos, finished April 16
052) Building a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies: Dogbert's Big Book of Business by Scott Adams, finished April 22
053) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder, finished April 27
054) Salt Magic by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, finished May 5
055) Star Wars Adventures: The Weapon of a Jedi, finished May 6
056) Hemingway in Paradise and Other Mormon Poems by Scott Hales, finished May 8
057) Romeo and Juliet: The War by a team assembled by Stan Lee, finished May 10
058) The Dark Horse Book of the Dead edited by Scott Allie, finished May 14
059) A Little Lower than the Angels by Virginia Sorensen, finished May 15

060) Irredeemable by Mark Waid, et al., finished May 20
061) Stanslaw Lev's The Seventh Voyage by Jon J Muth, finished May 23
062) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Simon Armitage, finished May 28
063) Heike's Void by Stephen L. Peck, finished May 30

064) Night Weather by JS Absher, finished June 2
065) Will Eisner Reader, finished June 2
066) Pen Pals by Aaron Cometbus, finished June 4
067) I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, finished June 6
069) Pluto: Urusawa × Tezuka 001 by Naoki Urasawa et al, finished June 16
070) The Gadget War by Betsy Duffey, finished June 16

071) Sensational Wonder Woman, finished June 22
072) Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin, finished June 27
073) 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) by The Oatmeal, finished June 29
074) Socks by Beverly Cleary, finished June 29
075) The Ultimates Volume 1: Super-Human by Millar/Hitch/Currie, finished June 30
076) In China with Green Day by Aaron Cometbus, finished July 4

077) V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton, finished July 7
078) Spin by John Bennion, finished July 10
079) The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker edited by Robert Mankoff, finished July 11
080) The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett, finished July 23
081) W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton, finished July 25
082) How About Never—Is Never Good for You? by Bob Mankoff, finished July 28

083) Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less by Leidy Klotz, finished July 29
084) Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, finished July 30
085) Urban Legendz by Paul Downs / Nick Bruno / Michael Yates, finished July 30
086) The Best Film You've Never Seen by Robert K. Elder, finished August 1
087) It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken by Seth, finished August 4
088) Spencer Kimball's Record Collection: Essays on Mormon Music by Michael Hicks, finished August 7

final posts in this series from
  2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021

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