Murakami & Anniversaries

Hey all,
On Tuesday night I was able attend the 2 year anniversary of The Hard Boiled Book Club at Sam Weller's Books. I'm one of the few who remember when the book club first started in March 2008. At the time I worked with the moderator Zach Sampinos and figured it would be interesting. Unfortunately at the time I had to work on Tuesday nights so I wasn't able to attend, which bummed me out. However 5 months later my scheduled changed and Tuesday nights opened up. I've been going monthly ever since because it's a good time as well as stretching what I read fiction-wise.

As part of the celebrations there were libations and prizes. Unfortunately I was an utter failure at the Murakami trivia, but I still gained a book as a pity prize. I've definitely been shamed enough that I'll be prepared next time. Zach definitely needs to come up with a plan B if we all suck at the quiz. He was noticeably flummoxed and I don't think it was the booze.

A fun time was had by all as we talked about The Elephant Vanishes by Harucki Murakami, which is a group of short stories featuring the mystical and surreal. I've been apprehensive because I was worried about the translation into English, but I think his dream-like writing style allows for a lack of specification. In fact the majority of the male characters in these stories are literally floating through their lives. They are unemployed, newly-single, working at dead-end jobs, or trying to figure out how an elephant disappeared. The timelessness of their lives lends more to character's going through there own internal emotional pondering. Murakami seems not to be interested in plot at all. Rather he's interested in character studies and rich interior monologue.

As lyrical as his prose is, what I enjoyed the most about this collection was the fact that I had no idea what would happen next. The moment I thought a story would take an awful turn, it never did. I was surprised again and again which is fantastic. Like the concept of a vanishing elephant Murakami is able to see outside the box. I'll admit that it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm willing to try one of his novels. I'm certainly intrigued.


Reading List 3/30/2010-4/6/2010

Here's a hopeful week's reading plan.

Reading List
Savage Detectives (Playing Catch up after vacation)
Alias Omnibus

52 #5 (for that other blog)
Some Comics Catch Up

Four Four Two

Also I am a lucky girl because I get to watch the new Emma adaptation which I enjoyed immensely. Also I'll get to see some 12 Angry Men so I can compare it to the play version I saw last month. Good times.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Quotes from the Vowell

Hey folks,
I have been psyched all week to see Sarah Vowell. She is the closing speaker here at the conference I am attending in the magical world of Portland. Long-time readers of this blogs will remember that I love Sarah Vowell. Here's some quick links to posts that share my heart-filled enjoyment of Vowell and her work:
-Here's a video clip of her on Letterman talking about Wordy Shipmates
-My review of Assassination Vacation

In her speech she pretty much was her funny, irreverent, nerdy self. She read sections from Vacation and Wordy Shipmates, as well as previewing her next book about the history of Hawaii. It sounds fascinating and I can't wait. So here's some great lines that I, and the audience, enjoyed that I've parsed out for you all.
"It turns out I’m an imperialist"
"I end up identifying with the people I set out to loathe."
"The thing I like about books is learning about people who are unlike you."
"I don't know if there's an archivist vs. librarian turf war."
"Libraries are homes to truth."
"The bible is full of anecdotes that prime the pump of treason."
"Go forth and peddle your truth and smut."
Obviously it was very entertaining to see her speak in person and a fitting end to my conference odyssey. Next week we'll be back to book reviews and comics.
Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


Dispatches from a Reading Traveller.

To state the obvious, Powell's Bookstore in Portland Oregon is everything that an independent bookstore should be. Walking around in there today made me miss my former employer Sam Weller's. However Powell's is much more successful and better managed by far. While I marveled at their vast inventory, ultimately I was captured by the little touches of originality that always appear in stores like this. There I was able to find a book that had slipped through my fingers long ago. This is the book:

I snatched it up and will be adding it to the TBR pile. Otherwise I showed a lot of restraint and just marveled at what they have. Every book lover owes it to themselves to visit Powell's. It's a book mecca not to be missed.


Portland & Some Merchant

Sorry that posts have been scarce this week. I am in the magical world of tragic hipsters: Portland, Oregon! For a few days the weather was awesome, but then it fell apart and became horrible. I'm here to attend a librarian conference with people from all over the country. I will try a few short bits now, and a wrap-up of the experience.

On the first day we were graced by a concert by Natalie Merchant featuring material from her new album. Just the very concept of the album Leave Your Sleep already had me interested: Merchant adapted works of poetry, primarily from pre-1920s. Being a poetry nut this was made for me. I enjoyed the material, particularly an adaptation involving a work by E.E. Cumming. However I will say that unless your interested in something unique, offbeat, even quirky, then I don't see Leave Your Sleep being more than an "arty" blip. Music culture has changed so immensely sing Merchant's real hey-dey in the 90s that I don't see this album getting much attention.

In essence she was playing to the right audience, librarians, who ate it up with a spoon. This included myself, but then again I think that Merchant is an auteur who doesn't really care about being the top of the charts. It's not like she does duets with Miley Cyrus. So this new album will play to a very small niche. I still enjoyed her performance and will be seeking out her album when it's released.

I'll try to post more, Have a great week! Book Slave.


Reading List 3/23-3/30/2010

Hey All,
Here's the plan, it's a little less than usual because I'll spend most of the week either travelling, conferencing or walking about.

Reading List 3/23-3/30/2010
The Elephant Vanishes (Book Club! My first Murakami!)
The Zinester's Guide to Portland
Maybe Savage Detectives (if it can fit)

Four Four Two

And that's all folks! Have a great week! Book Slave.


Erin Go Bragh: Seamus Heaney

So I've been holding off reading Seamus Heaney for far too long. I originally first heard of Heaney when I read his version of Beowulf for my classics lit course. His work with that adaptation was epic but still capture the violence and bloodiness of old school mythological heroics. It's the standard now and should be read by everyone.

Here's some background on Seamus Heaney:
*Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland.
*He won a scholarship to a catholic boarding school. While he was away his 4 year old brother Christopher was killed in a roadside accident.
*He ended up studying and lecturing at Queen's University in Belfast.
*He started publishing poetry in 1962, with his first book being published in 1965.
*In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
*In 1996 Beowulf: A New Translation is published to great success.

Now really these are just facts. What I find interesting about Heaney is that although he grew up in Northern Ireland he sees himself as Irish rather than British. In fact he asked to be removed from the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry by writing:
"Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen."
The civil war in Northern Ireland was particularly contentious during the 1960s and 70s when bombs and death became commonplace. His poetry is not often overtly political or militant, and is far more concerned with profound observations of the small details of the everyday, far beyond contingent political concerns. He also focuses on history and tries to put the Irish heritage into a larger context of an agricultural society. He also focuses on the tension of the Ulster Industrial Revolution and the tension that it causes between these two dueling developing cultures.

I decided that this St. Pat's I would finally pull down my Seamus Heaney Selected Poems 1966-1987. I was captured by two poems early in this collection: "Digging" and "Mid-Term Break."

I particularly enjoyed "Digging" for how it linked his agricultural roots to his current work as a writer. He cannot match “men like them” with a spade, but he sees that the pen is (for him) mightier, and with it he will dig into his past and celebrate them. Heaney challenges the stereotype of the "paddy with the spade." He sees the dignity, work ethic, and expertise of the agricultural Irishmen. This poem also showcases Heaney's early use of onomatopoeia (where the sound resembles or suggests meaning) in “rasping”, “gravelly”, “sloppily”, “squelch” and “slap”.

Another stand out of Heaney's early work is "Mid-Term Break" which was published in 1966. This work is about the accidental death of his infant brother and the families reaction. He is embarassed and uncomfortable at first with his father's weakness in grieving. In a gender reversal it is his mother's anger that keeps her from crying. Neither parent acts in ways that young Heaney (who was in his teens at the time) expects them too. As a young man he's caught between what he expects and what actually occurs in tragic circumstance. Later he is alone with his brother's corpse and can act naturally. A transferred epithet changes a "bruise" to a poppy that the "sleeping" boy "wears" as if he could take it off. Heaney likens the bruise to the poppy, a flower linked with death and soothing of pain (opiates come from poppies). At the end of the poem Heaney is able to grieve honestly as he poignantly writes in the last line that the size of the coffin is the measure of the child's life.

This poem also has a clear formal structure which makes it a contrast to "Digging." In "Digging" Heaney uses an informal stanza structure where each line is only as long as it needs to be. There's no rhythm or iambic pentameter at work, whereas "Mid-Term Break" is in 3 line stanzas. "Break" has occasional rhymes with the last two lines forming a couplet. "Digging" has none, which seems to emphasize the more rural subject matter. The loose iambic rhymes of "Break" seem to bring out the sadness of the loss of a child. Heaney showcases his skill by being able to utilize all the aspects at his disposal in order to bring his themes home.


Reading List 3/16/2010-3/23/2010

Hey all,
Here's the plan before I head off to Portland next week. (BTW I'll never tire of saying that.)

Reading List 3/16/2010-3/23/2010
Collected Seamus Heaney
(Perennial re-read every St. Patrick's Day)
A few pages of Savage Detectives if I can fit it in.

A whole heaping stack. Gotta get it done before next week.

Entertainment Weekly

There's a lot to do. I only hope that I can get done what's listed here, otherwise some tough choices will need to be made. Painful sacrifices, to be sure.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Amazing! Thrilling Exploits! Glorious Nostalgia!

Retro Fun: The Rocketeer
At the end of the year I heard all this praise for a new hardcover collection of the series The Rocketeer. Apparently it had some amazing coloring work and was just a fun retro read. So when I saw it come through at the library I snatched it up.

My only knowledge of this character was from the movie that came out in 1991. I saw it in theaters during that summer, and remember liking it. I've revisited it a few times over the years since and I still think it's highly enjoyable. The film stars a young Billy Campbell, Alan Arkin, and Jennifer Connelly. Timothy Dalton does a fine job playing an Errol Flynn type actor, although at the time that I saw it originally I only knew him as James Bond. It's just goofy retro fun, and as long as you don't take any of it seriously, then sit back and enjoy.

However because of my limited knowledge I just thought that the Rocketeer was one of those old radio characters like The Shadow. Reading The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures I discovered that this character was created in 1982 by Dave Stevens. The comic series first ran in 1988 but then only sporadic since then. Stevens died in 2009 after a battle with leukemia.

Stevens meant Rocketeer to be a homage to the past pre-war heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow. His art style is a complete reflection of that. I loved the painterly style and rejection of realism. There is a definite intent to use the art deco edges on the covers, but inside the pages all the characters have a glossy rounded sheen. Cliff is a scrappy guy, not your usual superman type hero. He is often his own worse enemy. I think that Cliff is caught up in that whole 30s-era pilot persona. He's cocky, romantic, and not afraid to throw a punch. Headstrong to a fault, he's just crazy enough to strap a rocket to his back.

(Side Note: Cliff Secord looks exactly like Yorick Brown of Y the Last Man. Of course without the monkey and gendercide. It was a little distracting and strange considering the series were released almost 20 years apart. Go ahead compare them, it's eerie.)

Secord's girlfriend Betty is a straight-up pinup. Obviously Stevens meant her to be Betty Page, whom he was friends with. It was nice to see a woman who was voluptuous but also loyal to her man. It doesn't feel exploitative because Stevens imbues her character with a genuineness. She is caught between love and money. I loved the panel where having been rejected by Cliff, she tells his New York buddy "You said you had a job for him...Make him take it!" It shows that she does care for Cliff, but also understands that he's self-destructive sometimes. Stevens really creates a sense of the old-time 30s romance between them.

In the end this was a wonderful surprise that I suggest to comic readers who like fun. Have a great week! Book Slave.


Luck o' the Irish

Hello All,
Hope you are all having a great spring-like week. In the City of Salt it has been magical, but every bone in my body tells me that this can't last. I desperately want it to stay awesome since it is St. Patrick's Day weekend. The family and myself will be sitting early tomorrow morning for the parade which is always fun. I've got a steady diet of Irish tunes ready on the Ipod. I'm good to go and excited.

I've always wanted to read more Irish literature, but I've never delved in. Modern Irish stories tend to have a great mix of earthy humor and horrible tragedy. Obviously this is born of their history which is wonderfully rich and interesting. The closest I've come was reading Breakfast On Pluto which I enjoyed. I've already got The Sea and The Gathering sitting on my shelf, but I'm also interested in Roddy Doyle and Sebastian Barry. Again there's just not enough time, ever.

Another St. Pat's day tradition for me is a re-read of the Dubliners which I wrote about here. This year I also want to tackle an Irish poet which I've been meaning to read for some time named Seamus Heaney. Years ago I picked up his Collected Poems and a study guide of lit criticism on his work. I first heard about Heaney in regards to his excellent adaptation of Beowulf. His version of the epic poem is a very earthy, natural translation which I enjoyed reading for school. I highly recommend it. But I really wanted to read some of his modern poetry and now feels like the time. So look for some Heaney talk next week.

Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


Reading List 3/9/2010-3/16/2010

Here's the plan for this week. Let's see what happens.

Reading List
More Savage Detectives

Four Four Two

52 #2 (for more on this check out here)
Wonder Woman #41, Superman #697, Wolverine #83, Amazing Spider-man #622, Incognito #5 & #6

Also I have some wonderful music to listen to. The Britpop obsession continues.
Have a great week! Book Slave.


Nobody's Perfect. Even superheroes.

Here's a short review, old school style.

Nobody's Perfect: Infinite Crisis

Infinite Crisis (IC) is a sequel to the legendary Crisis on Infinite Earths (CIE) from 1985. CIE was DC's attempt to clear up it's already convoluted continuity. Trust me there's been plenty of discussion on that event as it is. But the most important thing to remember about CIE is that it wiped out DC's multiverse, trimming down the universe to just Earth-1. Then in IC Batman, Superman and Wonderwoman are at odds with each other. These pillars of the DC Universe have each made choices that are ethically sketchy. It is because of the judgment that is laid down in IC by Alexander Luthor, Superboy Prime, and Kal-L, that these three take a year off.

I have been incredibly intimidated to read anything with Crisis in it's title. Final Crisis had been a very difficult read, and I was worried that Infinite Crisis would be the same. I was very wrong. I have a new motto: In Geoff Johns We Trust. He has the incredible ability of making Silver-Age retro concepts and making them accessible. Here he takes central characters from the original CIE and makes them understandable, even though I haven't read CIE. Superboy Prime is a great villian. He reminds me of every whiny teenager that I deal with on a daily basis. Unfortunately Superboy Prime could punch my head off.

Johns is great at taking superhero characters and giving them human vulnerabilities. I really enjoyed how he resolved the inner conflict of Batman's paranoia. Of course he would isolate himself and not trust anyone. Batman doesn't want to be vulnerable ever and the OMAC crises is the result. Wonder Woman has become a killer, and Superman has to fight his counterpart Kal-L from Earth 2. It's great to see these pillars of the DC Universe given the chance to fight for their existence while realizing that it's okay to be imperfect.

Of course this series requires a much more in-depth analysis but I don't feel like I have enough experience to do it justice. So here's some links where you can find more on Infinite Crisis:
Infinite Crisis
Annotated Infinite Crises
And I really suggest listening to the 7 episodes of coverage by Comic Geek Speak.
And I talk more about Infinite Crisis over at my new blog here that is focusing on the series 52. Have a great week! Book Slave.


Music is Magic: Phonogram vol. 1

I hope you are all having a great week. I am doing well myself. So let's get into it shall we?

Music is Magic: Phonogram vol. 1: Rue Britannia
Ron Richards at Ifanboy has been championing this book for so long that the moment I saw it was available I snatched it up. Now I usually don't like series that are "magic-heavy." That sounds contradictory because I read stuff about superheroes and I think magicians are cool. However I really disliked The Invisibles because I had no idea what was going on. Morrison seemed to like to thrown in weird stuff with no explanation. This is not true of Phonogram which has enough of a grounding in reality that I never felt lost.

I think this is helped by Jamie McKelvie's art, which is cartoony but realistic at the same time. McKelvie's style isn't flashy or muscley. It oddly reminded me of the same art-style as Brian Michael Bendis when he chooses to draw. This is particularly evident in sequences where one character tells a story directly to the reader. Note the example on the left. His panel design ranges from traditional grid to splash page to pop art. McKelvie likes the Warhol-style homage which considering the subject matter, Britpop music, it leads to some pretty pages. Unfortunately there isn't any sense of movement inside the panels. The static-ness of the image is frustrating in action sequences as well as confusing in the more fantastical sequences. I will say that enjoyed the look of the characters. They are all people that I recognize from real life which fits this story.

This volume of Phonogram follows a mage named David Kohl who uses Britpop music to interpret magic. Kohl's mind is slipping as he deals with the death (and possible resurrection) of his patron Mod goddess Britannia. If that sounded a little too strange for you, then I'd stay away. I was captured by the first few issues which had great dialogue and very specific references to the Britpop scene of the early 90s. Dave Kohl is the kind of jerk that you hate and love at the same time. He's a douchebag that I found myself rooting for.

I will admit that I got lost in the middle issues as the story took more of a fantastical turn. Kohl gets lost in his own mindscape and so did I. This would be okay, except it didn't match the realism of the first few issues. I was already invested in the more real characters, that I don't care about psychological pseudo-exploration. Thank god that the book moves back to characters that have more realistic consequences. Otherwise I probably would have dropped the book.

The music references are very specific and I was grateful for the glossary in the back of my trade. However I still understood the theme of the book without being a major Britpop fan. It's a commentary on music fandom, and how it can have magical properties. I love the idea of goddesses and mythological beings out dancing at the club. It's a cool notion.

Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


Reading List 3/2/2010-3/9/2010

Reading List 3/2/2010-3/9/2010
Here we go. Bring it on.

The Savage Detectives-Up to pg. 139 w/Bibliolatrist
Powers: Who killed Retro Girl?

Walking Dead #60-69
Some other single issue comics goodness.

Four Four Two

Have a great week! Book Slave.


It's Already Over: February Wrap-up

Hey all,
Here's a wrap up for February. Last month was immensely busy, and it looks like March will be as well. Any one want be a patron to a blogger who just wants to sit, read, and writer? Any takers?

February Wrap Up
*I got sick, after 2 weeks of vacation. Arghhh!
*Read and Loved both The Way He Lived & Once Was Lost. Met in person and Interconnected with the authors of those books Emily Wing Smith and Sara Zarr.
*Celebrated Keats on a fake holiday.
*Read and Enjoyed: Chew, Sleeper Season 2, FC: Rogues Revenge, Superman: Red Son.
*Caught Up on Walking Dead
*Learned from Reading Comics.
*Won a dvd at book club.

Stats Wise
Total Read=9
Total for the Year=14
Avg. per month=7

From Library=9
Books I Own=0

Not good for the TBR pile, but at least my library patrons will get a chance.

Graphic Novels=6

Not bad. 1/3 of the books I read this month were Fiction. Oftentimes I can allow Graphic Novels to dominate what I read because they are quick and fun. However I do have to do reader's advisory on fiction as well.

Previews, Things to Come
*Readalong of The Savage Detectives w/Bibliolatrist.
*Read Murakami for the first time!
*2 Year anniversary of Hard Boiled Book Club. Alcohol will be served.
*Starman Vol. 4, Alias Omnibus, Rocketeer!
*Julia Child. I want to be her.
*I'm going to Portland. Yeah baby yeah.

Have a great week! Book Slave.