Captive of my own Solipsism: Captive Audience

Hey folks,
I've said it before, and I'll most likely say it again, that Zach Sampinos can be full of surprises. I've known the guy for a few years now and he still can throw me every once and while. As I've mentioned before Zach is the moderator of the Hard Boiled Book Club that I attend once a month. This book club focuses on first-time authors and alternative fiction. Started attending in order to stretch my reading habit and has introduced me to great work from Willy Vlautin, Murakami and Nam Le.

Our book this month was Captive Audience by Dave Reidy and too be honest I wasn't too impressed by it. This short story collection revolves around the themes of performance and fandom. Personally I felt that a lot of these stories felt like parts of much longer stories. And I guess I have a predilection to dislike short stories that are over 30 pages. In short stories I want a set-up, story, and then a "turn" that brings me to the point of it all. Now admittedly not all short stories need to fit this pattern. Literature can be whatever form it wants as long as it's well-written. But I just wasn't captured by the majority of these stories.

The exceptions to that previous statement was the titular story Captive Audience, which centered around a mentally-ill guy who loves stand up comedy. At first he can listen to old comedy records all day, until a comedy club moves in underneath him. Horribly disturbed he is upset at first, but then he finds a way to help a young comedian. This story featured a keen understanding of the subject and methods of stand up. It was great to see the author break down common techniques of a Newhart monologue from the 60's. Just as the main character is held captive by his own limitations, he finds a positive way to break free. His transcendent moment at the end of the story was wonderfully poignant and life-affirming.

I was also drawn to the story Thingless, which features a highschool kid desperate to find something that other kids will identify him with. He decides to learn guitar, and then tries to share it with the troubled girl next door. Her teenage nihilism toward life in general felt very realistic to me since I see it all the time in the teens that I help. Reidy expertly makes it clear that finding an artistic way to create an identity for yourself is as necessary as food. It nourishes your self-worth, even if you're ability is dubious. It's the compulsion to express an emotion in some way that gives these characters a sense of self. Reidy doesn't always take the easy happy ending which I also appreciated.

So despite my feelings of "meh-ness" I went ready to discuss the book. Upon arrival though I discovered that we would be a very small group and that Zach had arranged for Mr. Reidy to call in and answer some questions. He had done the same thing with Willy Vlautin last fall. See these are the kind of things that Mr. Sampinos can pull off with a seeming effortlessness. Slowly Zach, as well as some others, managed to turn me around. By the time Mr. Reidy called I managed to see the merits of the book. You can read Zach's thoughts on Captive Audience here.

In the end it turns out that discussing a book with others can raise your opinion on a book. This is why I think it's important to escape my own solipsism at least once a month. It was very surprising.

Making Olympians Humans: Percy Jackson

Hey folks,
This is a bit of a delayed post due to tech problems. Apologies.

Making Olympians Humans: Percy Jackson & The Olympians The Lightning Thief
Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by all things Greek Mythology. On one side I think this originates with early watchings of the 80s classic Clash of the Titans. Titans features a version of the Olympian Gods which is wonderfully human. They bicker, act stubbornly, and have no problem messing with those poor human beings. This version of the greek gods is wonderfully counter to the traditional Judaeo-christian God who is unquestionably perfect. In order to bring understanding to the unexplainable twists of fate it makes more sense that a culture would create a more humanistic almighty that reflects them. I'm just sayin'

Which brings me to Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Howse about a moratorium on long fantasy titles?) where this depiction of the Olympians bears itself out. In Percy Jackson a young man discovers that he is a demigod who has been put in the middle of a feud between Zeus and Poseidon. In order to rectify the brothers he must find Zeus's lightning bolt which has been taken to the Underworld by Hades. Of course this includes a journey across the United States, monster attacks, and encounters with other Olympians.

Now these children are obstensibly rejected by human society due to their bi-racial identity. Particularly in the case of Annabeth, Percy's friend, who was abandoned and rejected by her father. Percy is treated like a misfit troublemaker and ADHD case. These children (Percy is a pre-teen) are expected to negotiate these adult issues of identity, as well as battle monsters. In Riordan's socio-mythological construct these Olympian gods are still utterly irresponsible and petty. They leave their own illegitimate children to figure everything else themselves. Thank god for the Satyrs or these demi-god children would be lying corpses all over the United States.

Riordan does an excellent job integrating the American landscape with this greek mythological tradition. (Although this is not a completely original idea. It is a component in Neil Gaiman's American Gods.) Being knowledgable of these myths led to many a chuckle of recognition. Los Angeles becomes the entrance to the underworld whilst Las Vegas is a version of Circe's Island.

Of course this is another version of the heroes journey and I saw the Campbell-esque parallels. It up to Percy to save the day, and put an end to these stupid Olympian squabbles. This fits perfectly with the now common young adult paradigm where it is a pre-teen/child who saves the day. Of course this is so that the reader (presumably young adult) can see themselves reflected in the main characters. This has been used by storytellers since the beginning of time. In mythology it is has been true that a young boy must complete a great deed in order to become a man. As Hercules had his 7 labours, then Percy Jackson must find Zeus's lightning bolt. It is a part of showing the gods that he is worthy of their attention.

Aren't we all seeking that attention and approval? These humanistic gods are a reflection of our own human desires. If that is so than which would we prefer? A god who reflects us or a god that judges us? In greek mythology we get both, leaving this culture to turn towards their own existential self-reliance. Oddly enough this fits right in with our own American archetype of self-created success rather than reliance on fate itself. It's pretty remarkable that Riordan manages to fit these two mythological structures into a Campbell-esque journey.


Reading List 4/27-5/4/2010

Hey folks,
It is a horribly busy reading week. Kinda insane. Will I survive?

Reading List 4/27/2010-5/4/2010
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Captive Audience
My Life in France
Nights in Rodanthe

A good stack. And it's Free Comic Book Day!

Entertainment Weekly

Can I do it? Who needs sleep? Either way there's no need to go anywhere because it's effin' snowing. That's right folks. Snow! Book Slave.


Hemingway, Seriously? : The Notebook

Hey folks,
As I've teased in a little Prelude a few weeks ago, I was compelled by a horrific interview in USA Today to read Nicholas Sparks. Now let me make this very clear: I do this of my own volition. No one has put a gun to my head. I kid. I feel that I have the ability to give everyone a chance. I try very hard not to be a snob.

So here we go. Starting with The Notebook I've decided to focus on the central love story between Noah and Allie, in regards to Spark's own idolization of Hemingway. In that USA Today interview he considers himself to be comparable to Hemingway's love stories such as Farewell to Arms.

(By the way I am consciously ignoring the other 1/3 of the book that deals with the older versions of Noah and Allie. While considerably overwrought I was actually touched by the Alzheimer's subplot. However Spark's inability to write anything realistic does the horrible toll of that disease a disservice. Alzheimer's is a scary disease and should not just be used as a plot device. But I digress...)

So here's my first installment.

Hemingway, Seriously? : The Notebook

Nicholas Sparks knows the geography of the South. It's his home region. He knows the wilderness in a Thoreau-like way. Everything about nature is good, and any urbanity is bad. In The Notebook he spends long passages making the connection between our main hero Noah and his link with all things natural. He goes out on a lake every morning so he can watch the dawn. When he wants to impress true love Allie, he takes her out on a lake to float amongst swans. Evidentally Noah is good because he exemplifies the natural environment that surrounds him. This is why he is better than Allie's other suitor who is an urbane money rich attorney.

In reality Hemingway would laugh this away for the trite characterization that it is. Hemingway wrote about nature, but only in juxtaposition to what it said about the nature of man. Hemingway was not an environmentalist. He was a Darwinist in a sense that he felt that it was a man's obligation to fight for what he cares about. A weak man spends the night crying over the fact that his true love is engaged to another man. Hemingway would beat any sensitive man with a club, and tell him he deserved it. If Sparks believes he is akin to Hemingway well then he deserves a similiar beating.

On the other hand the female lead Allie is even weaker. She is caught up in a typical triangle between two men: the true love of her youth or the man her family approves of. What will she do? Of course she'll pick the true love of her youth. Now Noah is in fact the boy that she lost her virginity to and chooses to consummate their reunification in a similiar fashion. However she has not done the same with Lon Hammond Jr-her fiance. In a bizarre way Allie's cheating with Noah is justified because well they were meant to be together all along. The passion between them is so strong that Allie just has no choice. She has no control over her rational mind or physical body. It's sad and insulting how powerless Sparks makes Allie's characterization. She is simply a woman who is ruled by emotion in the great Bronte melodrama fashion.

Which brings me to the conclusion that while Sparks refuses to link himself to "romance" that is exactly where his characterizations can be found. The central romance in The Notebook is a tame version of Bronte all over again. Forget about Hemingway. These folks aren't human or real. They are fantasies from a man who can't admit that he idealizes love and relationships.

Oddly enough I have thought about reading The Notebook before now. The book reached my consciousness because of the movie adaptation a few years ago. I checked it out on cable and thought it was good, because of what the actors brought to the story. Noah and Allie are three-dimensional in a sense that I can understand their motivations. And there are multiple levels at work in their actions. Even though the story is still trapped in Sparks overt romanticism, the actors are in small ways rebelling against the sappiness inherent in the original text.

So in the end I think Sparks could learn a lesson or two on realism from re-reading his Hemingway or watching the movie version of his own book.


Vikings. Blood. Cursing. Yes.

Hey folks,
Brian Wood has become a powerhouse of comics writing. He has written an amazing variety of books and has not sold out. No Marvel or DC, he will only work on original series. This guy has the talent and ability to do whatever he wants. His versatility is impressive. I am hooked on his series Northlanders which features vikings, blood, and cursing. Like Jason Aaron's Scalped, it's not for the weak of heart. I've already written about Northlanders here.

I recently finished Vol. 3 which is a series of 1 shots and 2-3 issue stories. As interesting as these shorter character studies were, I think I prefer this series in longer arcs. The previous volumes were more epic in scope as we focused on one saga thru 6-8 issues. It's like the subject matter requires it. However I did enjoy the return of Sven from vol. 1. It was fun to have a continuity of characters which was a first for this series.

This volume is definitely a good jump on point for new readers, which is a good commercial move for Vertigo. Vertigo has a robust business in trade paperbacks and I think that is the reason for the switch up in story format. There was also a change up in artists in these issues which must also be a catalyst for the change.

I can't wait for the next volume and I urge you guys to check out this series. Book Slave.


Reading List 4/20-4/27/2010

Hey folks,
I have battled thru some tech difficulties, and a staple gun injury, to bring this week's posts to you. I won't lie, this week is kinda insane. I have too much to read, and of course I set my expectations far too high. But hey miracles do happen, right?

Reading List 4/20-4/27
Fables Vol. 1 & 2
Nights in Rodanthe
Northlanders Vol. 3
Ode Less Travelled


A few new issues to catch up on.
52 #8

Some great stuff to listen to. A new favorite is a podcast titled Stuff You Missed in History Class from the HowStuffWorks website. It's fun stuff for the history nerd in all of us. Also you all should be watching The Pacific and Treme on HBO because they are fantastic. Have a great week! Book Slave.


Prelude to Hell: Nicholas Sparks

Hey folks,
Confession time: I have never read a Nicholas Sparks book. I try my best not to be a snob, but I've felt that his writing is just something that I don't have time for. Romance is not my favorite genre to begin with, and the fact that he's unmitigantly sappy, well I have decided to pass. Now just to be clear I do not have a heart of stone. But I'd rather have my love stories be realistic and witty. I have to believe in the characters in order to become invested in their emotional plight. Otherwise I just roll my eyes and move on.

However last month Sparks gave a wonderfully horrible interview in USA Today with teen darling Miley Cyrus. In this interview Sparks proceeded to do the following:
-Compare himself to Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare.
-State: "Nobody writes stories like mine."
-Also states: "I don't write romance novels." His preferred terminology: "Love stories — it's a very different genre."
-Also: "A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. Good stuff. That's what I write," he says.
-Cite his own book A Walk to Remember as a seminal coming of age story. Then state that "well everyone has to say To Kill A Mockingbird" as if it were an afterthought.
-Trashes Cormac McCarthy, specifically Blood Meridian.
Well to read more, just click here.

After reading the interview I was a bit stunned. I had no idea that Nick Sparks was that big an ass. In one interview he managed to anger a major part of his audience: female authors and their readers. Seriously, why would you do that? If he doesn't want to be equated with the romance genre, then why use tragic love stories as the center to all your plots. And what's wrong with the romance genre? It's only been a major literary industry since the dawn of time. Romance readers are relentlessly loyal and will follow their writers to other genres. This phenomenon spawned the female literary movement which became known as "chick-lit." Sparks is noticeably distancing himself from a major genre that feeds into his readership. In my opinion this is a disasterous mistake.

Again I don't like making judgments based on something or someone whose work I haven't read myself. Hence, consider this a introduction to a three-part series over the next few weeks where I subject myself to the works of the son of Hemingway, Nicholas Sparks.
Enjoy! Book Slave.


Never Forget: AD New Orleans After the Deluge

Hey All,
Howse it going? Summer has exploded all over the place. However I expect it to last all of 10 minutes the way things have been here lately. Very busy in my professional work serving the public, but I still got some reading done. Enjoy!

Review: A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge
Spurred on by the amazing new HBO series Treme (which is pronounced truh-may) I finally read this great OGN. Like the rest of the nation in 2005, I was horrified and dismayed by the events of the flooding aftermath when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. A few years prior, I'd visited New Orleans and thoroughly enjoyed my time there . To see the utter failure of the federal government at that time was deeply disturbing. It still angers me, although I know that the city is rebuilding and that the people there are formidable.

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge follows 7 characters as they go thru those 5 days. Neufeld is smart to pick characters from different walks of life and situations. In this way he is able to cover the event from several different angles and provide a mostly balanced commentary. The upper class doctor who serves cocktails at his own Hurricane Katrina party is contrasted with Denise who finds herself stranded at the Superdome.

However I was most moved by the story of Leo, a comic-book fan, and his girlfriend, Michelle, who will lose everything but each other. We watch as they make the wrenching decision between staying and evacuating. His agony over losing his 15000 issue comic collection is palpable. Through Leo's eyes we understand that not only did they lose a place to live but also possessions that really meant something to him.

By exploring Denise's story Neufeld has a platform to visually show the madness of the flooding. It is horrifying and unflinching in the depiction of the Superdome. Neufeld can be in-your-face in regards to the desperation and anger felt by the citizens who feel racially targeted. It is important that he doesn't shy away. In the last few years graphic novels have taken on a journalistic style which mixes a cartoony look with a strong verisimilitude. Neufeld can portray a horrific scene and it's easier to swallow than if it was a photograph of the same scene. He does stick to the usual panel like structure but is willing to experiment. He is willing to visually show the character's mental states and break the fourth wall.

This is a good read and an important record of these events in 2005. Well worth checking out.


Reading List 4/13/2010-4/20/2010

Reading List 4/13/2010-4/20/2010
AD: After the Deluge
Nights In Rodanthe (It will all become clear folks, just wait)

A Heaping stack of goodness.


Oh and just to pile it on I've got a lot of TV on DVD to watch which I'm psyched about. Thank God I can multitask. Have a great week! Book Slave.


Reading List 4/6/2010-4/13/2010

Hey All,
Here it is for the week. Very excited.

Reading List 4/6/2010-4/13/2010
Will Grayson, Will Grayson


52 #6
Wolverine #84, Wonder Woman #42, Amazing Spiderman #627, Fantastic Four #577, Batman #697, Detective Comics #863

We'll see folks. It's a busy week for me (well honestly that requires a bit of perspective). Book Slave.


For the Love of Bendis.

Enjoy the continuation of my love affair with the work of Bendis.

For the Love of Bendis: Alias
Jessica Jones is my version of a great comics character. She is tough, cynical, and humanly flawed. On the other hand she occasionally uses her super powers and knows a few costumed folks. She is the star of Brian Michael Bendis's series Alias which ran for 28 issues. Far too short a run in my opinion. Last June I fell in love with this series after reading the first 9 issues, and now I've finished the Omnibus which contains the rest of the series.

I am kicking myself that it took me this long. This series is post-modern, humanistic, and incredible. Bendis allows Jones to occasionally go off the deep end like anyone would in her circumstance. She drinks too much, sleeps around, and gets into fights. But at the core of her character Bendis can illustrate that she is a good person seeking redemption. The girl just has some issues is all.

This series showcases everything that I love about Bendis's work. He is a master of dialogue. Jones is a detective and has to listen to her client's stories, pick out the clues, and separate the truth from the lies. Bendis, aided by dynamic layout from artist Gaydos, illustrates this in scenes which cinematically juxtapose the speaker and Jessica. We see Jessica listening in panels placed above as the client/suspect/witness is speaking. It's a great effect that showcases Bendis's talent for character's voices. Like his other series Powers, Bendis loves to write vernacular dialogue. He's not afraid to have superhero characters speak like everyone else.

In comics there tends to be a need to portray characters as larger-than-life and squeeky clean. Marvel is known for portraying more humanistic characters, but even they have characters like Captain America and Matt Murdock. Cap, Matt Murdock, and even Cyclops are often really dull because they are so straight and narrow. Now don't get me wrong, there's a time and place for that, but I'm much more interested in Bendis's characterizations. Now while Cap and Murdock do make cameos in Alias they are much more real when in scenes with Jones. Bendis also excels in scenes between Jones and her off-again-on-again lover Luke Cage. You can feel the sparks fly between them on the comic page. Poor Scott Lang-the guy didn't have a chance really.

If you get the chance you need to read this book in hardcover omnibus because it showcases the beauty of Michael Gaydos's art. It is amazing and dynamic. I really love his use of panel design which is wildly cinematic. Oftentimes he'll cut conversations just like a film with a combination of close-ups and reaction shots. He's also willing to change it up, especially in the multi-media collage of Rebecca's journal. Now granted sometimes I did get lost and read the panels wrong. In this book that's just a give-in because Gaydos is intent on showcasing an independent spirit. Also I want to shout out Mark Bagley's art in the flashbacks. It was perfect to show Jones's origin in a traditional style considering she's being ret-conned into Marvel continuity.

(BTW I'm not really a continuity nerd, so I loved the idea that she went to school with Peter Parker. It's hilarious that Bendis links her to the very beginning of the Marvel Universe. Her crush on Peter Parker is cute.)

By finally giving the readers Jones's back story with The Purple Man, Bendis shows Johns-like mastery of revitalizing C-grade characters. In Bendis's hands a ridiculous character becomes a nightmare man. Considering how messed up Jessica is, it had to be something psychological. In the past the Purple Man has often been portrayed as foolish. Here he's a dangerous awful man. I understand that Purple Man is also used in Bendis's Daredevil run. If his characterization in this series is any indication, then I've got to read that. Like Now.

It's a crime that Alias ends so soon. Although I love how it ends, I would trade anything to bring it back.


March: Well That Happened.

Hey All,
It's that time again. March was a busy month, however there was not a lot reading books. Which worries me because I've got goals to reach. I did manage to get out of town for the first time in ever (actually 2005, yeah I never travel) and that was a good time. I walk into April revitalized. Let's see how long that lasts.

March Wrap-Up

Stats Wise
  • Total Read=5
  • Total for the Year=19
  • Avg. per month=6.1
  • From Library=3
  • Books I Own=2
  • Graphic Novels=3
  • Fiction=1
  • Poetry=1
Previews, Things to Come
  • Finish The Savage Detectives (No really. I will. This time.)
  • Julia Child!
  • Finish the Alias Omnibus, Unwritten,
  • Blackest Night finishes up. Will it blow me away? Wait and see.
  • Spring?
  • I'll learn some binding techniques, and then feel like a fraud teaching others.
And then there's this (Insert shameless self-promotion):
If you reside in the SLC area, please come. I'll be leading the discussion and it will be epic!
Have a great weekend! Book Slave.