Friday, February 1st, 2013
Exactly What You Think
So for any of you not following me on tumblr (where I live now, it feels like), I participated in this year’s Hourly Comics Day. The gist is, you draw a snippet of whatever it is you’re up to for each hour you’re awake. Honestly, I don’t know how people do this AND get work done. I skipped a few redundant hours where I was working (or drawing the hourlies), which is pretty normal. And really, nothing super interesting happened today. I got stuff done? 30 Rock parted from my life?
I’m going to go now and try to get a little reading in, but you’ll notice from no book update this week that getting that time in has been a challenge with comicking regularly. (I gots other projects too, man!) I might do a comic book roundup or something, because there’s some GOOD JUNK I’ve started reading! Yes, that’s a fine idea.
Here you go:
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
More Than Fifty, Thankfully
So, the goal is to read about a book every week, which is a tidbit I think I left out of the last few posts. It’s something I tried before, but didn’t make it more than two months into before Major Life Issues threw me out of whack. (Excuses, yeah yeah.) I thought it would be nice to try again this new year, but in a low-pressure kind of way.
I have a couple heaver books I want to push myself to get through – that is, they’re more technical or academic, and not really light reading – and to imagine I’d finish them in the span of a week and still have time left over is setting myself up for failure. To balance out those books and still keep to the 52 in 52 challenge, I’m counting graphic novels as books where some people wouldn’t. They’re no less “real” books in my mind, but they certainly are quicker reads. As long as I’ve hit 52 books by the end of the year, it’s a win!
Now, the blogging. I’m not always going to be reading the most recent releases, and while my selections are predominantly YA and fiction I’m not confining myself to a genre or theme. The blog posts themselves, therefore, aren’t really meant to be piercing timely reviews, but more like a friendly (if a bit one sided) chat about what I just read. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, and I’ll warn you when it’s unavoidable. But this here is mostly a chronicle of the challenge for my entertainment and yours.
Alright, that’s the housekeeping out of the way. On to the books!
Shades of Grey (2010) Jasper Fforde
Yesterday I finished Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, which came highly recommended from my aunt. Actually, the book itself came right from her last September, and I hadn’t read very far at the time. We send books back and forth with some regularity, and it’s nice having someone with good taste in “grown up” books to shake up the monotony I get myself into at times.
Although you could say Shades of Grey follows the pattern I’ve been in lately, in that it’s a post-modern dystopia. And there’s a little romance. Thankfully it’s much less on the angsty teen inner dialogue end of things and firmly camped in snarky British absurdism. Which I don’t think is its own dystopian genre yet, but I’m on board if it happens.
Eddie Russet, our protagonist, lives in a world some thousands of years after our own where people can’t see the full spectrum we’re used to seeing. Folks are classified into a hierarchical society based on their color perception, from Purple down to Grey, and follow a large number of unquestionable rules for the betterment of the Collective. There are some relics of the past that clue them in to how the Previous existed, but it’s generally assumed that the Collective operates much better than we ever did. Besides, if we hadn’t screwed everything up so bad then the Something that Happened never would have happened and it would all be a non-issue.
Anyway, Eddie and his father get relocated to East Carmine, which is a relative backwater compared to the larger cities and their piped-in color. And I just have to say that the thought of piping in color in CYM lines and adjusting ratios and all that to a garden of wherever is crazy fascinating. The most revered job you can get is a position with National Colour, since they’ve got the power to distribute Univisual Colour that everyone can see, regardless of social class. As an art person, I am totally hooked.
So, all the cool color stuff aside (like chromatology! Swatchmen show people specific colors to help heal them! What!), Eddie meets a Grey girl named Jane who is unusually aggressive and nearly gets him killed a few times, but she’s clearly got some cool secrets he just can’t help but try to find out about. So as with any good dystopia, Eddie uncovers little by little that his society isn’t all he thought it was, and there may in face be something terribly sinister going on. What with possible murders and unexpected wheelbarrows and all.
Plus! A spoon shortage, giant predatory swans, a naked wandering man everyone pretends isn’t there, drugs in the shade of lime green, political intrigue, Ovaltine, ball lighting, and merit-pins that basically amount to pet-shaming, but for people.
It seems there are at least two more in the works, and I’m greatly looking forward to the continuation of the story. It’s tough to mix absurd and thought-provoking, but Fforde definitely did that, and maybe you should go read that book instead of this blog. It’s cool. I’ll wait.
Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
Rating: 5 out of 5
Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
To Put It Simply
Hey guys, want to read a story where everything is terrible and nothing gets better ever?
I was planning on posting about Shades of Grey this week (the Jasper Fforde delight you dweebs), but apparently I’m not used to reading books that aren’t printed at sixty words per page and comprised of at least 80% dialogue. That is to say, this book has a thing they call paragraphs in it and I didn’t finish it in my allotted week, so it gets two.
Not Simple (2010) Natsume Oto
Not Simple is a manga (is it a manga?) that crossed my path on accident yesterday. I wouldn’t have picked it up for myself, since the story is the most depressing thing ever and the art style is a little grating at first. At least the art grew on me. I came away really enjoying Natsume Ono’s style – it very much fits the tone of the story. Which is, I guess, weird and sad.
So, Not Simple is the story of a guy named Ian, except it’s told backwards and through the frame of a novel based on his life. So our narrator is the novelist, so much as there is a narrator, and I guess it’s his fault the timeline got all Memento. I like backwards stories, and I think in this case it’s especially neat because it makes the story end on a relatively high note.
Ian is searching for his sister. Their family is spread across Australia, England and the United States after their parents split up and mishap after mishap ensue. They reunite briefly but she sends him away again so she can care for their batshit alcoholic mother. When she does, se tells Ian they can meet again only after he’s achieved his dream. I found this an interesting bleed over of what I’ve noticed to be a very Japanese theme into this mainly western-set piece. It’s kinda Whisper of the Heart-y, that being made worthy of something through achievement. It’s not something I think Westerners put much emphasis on, so it added to the uniqueness of the whole story.
Otherwise, it really is mostly “Oh hey, that was a shitty thing to happen. Here, let’s make it worse.” With a few bits of identity mystery thrown in.
It’s not a bad book, but don’t read it expecting something light or fun. It is sad. It is sad for everyone. It is sad in a way that might even be a little close to home for a lot of people, and I’m not sure if there’s any hope to find in it. It will keep you reading and it unfolds really nicely, but it is sad. So. Now you know.
Hopefully next week will yield more fun. It’ll be more colorful, at least!
Title: Not Simple
Author: Natsume Ono
Rating: guys I don’t even have a clue
Monday, January 7th, 2013
Two Down, One To Go
Happy 2013! It’s a week in, and I’ve finished reading my first book of the year. Siddown, I’ma tell you about it.
Mached (2010) Ally Condie)
So last summer I read Ally Condie’s Matched, and I never said a word about it, because I’m a lazy blogger. (I did gift it to a few people though, so that’s something.) It was sold to me as a dystopian romance, and the cover was a very pretty green, so I was all “Okay, sure!” Some well-deserved light post-masters summer reading.
And it was very good! The gist is, most people live in the Society. It’s your typical futuristic post-disaster supposed utopia wherein your every needs are monitored and catered to by the Society – who of course has your best interests in mind. Of course. Your education, your food, your job – everything is tailored to your abilities and potential, as calculated by the Society.
But the culture is deeply limited, due to The Hundred. At a point in our (future) history, all cultural output was pruned to The Hundred. One hundred approved paintings, poems, songs, and so on. That’s what you get, and no one in the Society really knows how to create anything more. They can’t even write. But technology is quite advanced and they still possess many skills.
Things get fishy when our protagonist, Cassia, turns seventeen and is going to be Matched. Like many a dystopia, this Society chooses your mate for you (if you’ve opted to receive one), and does their best to match you with the person who, according to their meticulous records, would be most compatible with you. And they’re not really wrong. Anyway, they make a big fancy occasion of Matching every month, and dole out microcards of your Match’s information. Cassia, in a rare move, gets matched to her best friend (Matches are usually from different towns), but when she views her microcard, another peer’s face shows up.
So, there we’ve got a love triangle. Groan groan groan, yes? Well, yeah, a little. I’m not enthused by a girl’s motivation being ninety percent oh no which boy, but luckily there are other mysteries unfolding that keep you hooked. We find out that this other fellow, Ky, isn’t just your normal Society member, and he may have skills and knowledge that are new and exciting.
Also, we learn a little more about those outside the Society, and the scraps of history they’ve managed to preserve and trade. (There’s a poetry black market, kind of!) There’s a war of some kind going on outside the Society’s borders, and Cassia’s grandfather imparts some distressing information to her as well. It’s definitely a very exciting read, love triangle aside.
Crossed (2011) Ally Condie
And then Crossed! I have expressed my frustration with trilogies before now, and I’ll do it again. I can’t help but feel like Crossed was stretched. It’s very much the slow middle, or as I griped to others while reading it, it’s the Two Towers‘ long walk to Mordor. It’s literally the walking book. Here’s the walking part of the story, you guys. All in one book for you.
By the end I felt I’d gotten some choice bits of information – though maybe not worth the dragging internal angsty teenage monologues about love. But I guess most of us put up with some amount of pretentious emo bullshit from our first SO, and probably doled it out too. I still wanted to punch several of them at points, or call them a wahmbulance.
And the excitement of unraveling the Society wears off quickly when you’re too far from it to do much of that. The action all took place in the Outer Provinces and beyond this time, so there’s only so much intrigue in the wastes. I guess they figured they’d better make their own drama. Teenagers.
I’m excited for the third book, despite my gripes. There was one pretty big reveal that has me interested, at least. And if you’re into dystopias, this is a good series for it. I feel like there are some intriguing idiosyncracies to this Society, and I personally don’t know who I’d call the bad guy yet. A lot of the Society’s evolution and reactions feel plausible, and like they were born of good intentions. I expect the third novel, Reached, to take us back to there, and really show how far it goes.
Title: Matched; Crossed
Author: Ally Condie
Pages: 366; 367
Rating: 4.5/5; 3.5/5
Monday, November 19th, 2012
“There is no greater power on this earth than story.”
A few weeks ago, right before the hurricane, Dan and I investigated our local library and I picked up Libba Bray’s new book. I’ve only read the first Gemma Doyle and Going Bovine (which I’ve been meaning to rave about since I read it two+ years ago but could never quite explain myself), so I knew it would be well-done even if the particulars weren’t really my taste.
The Diviners (2012) Libba Bray
And that right there is the thing about Libba Bray. As far as The Diviners is concerned, I really couldn’t give two flips about the 1920s. I’m also not really into what YA is classifying as “paranormal lit” either, which I guess this falls into. And Going Bovine? I’ve never read Don Quixote (and it’s not on my short list either), and I’m not into New Orleans or Miami or half the places they wind up. But that’s something against labels too – you can put these tags on these books, but that doesn’t mean that what’s inside doesn’t spread so far beyond the implied scope of those little words that you can’t help but enjoy these things you were pretty sure you didn’t. She’s got that gift, and I love it.
The Diviners takes a handful of disjointed threads at the start – the main ones being stories about different young people who are at odds for some reason with their current life situation – and adds in seemingly smaller threads and characters until all of them are woven together in ways that how could you not see this coming but you never would have seen this coming. Some characters have a strange power or two, and others might have one and others maybe had one once but maybe don’t now. And there’s a level of prophecy making itself known to some (but whether they even realize that is another thing entirely). And oh – there’s a horrific serial murderer roaming Manhattan under the pretext of some convoluted ‘religious’ authority.
All of this takes place in those roaring twenties, with flapper girls and numbers runners and chorus revues and speakeasies. And the sadder stuff is there, like racial inequality and domestic abuse, so while it’s a work of fiction it truly doesn’t feel like a fictitious, nostalgic view of the past. And perhaps the decade feels more appealing to me post-Diviners because Bray doesn’t leave that stuff out but still manages to write a New York full of possibility and potential and hope. And holy crap can she write some dialogue! I can’t remember the last book that was this fun to read.
And it’s a series! I had no idea until I was done, which might have attributed to my enjoyment, oddly enough. I’m not against series – and I very much want more of this one – but there’s such a boner for trilogies in the book industry lately, especially in YA lit, that they can’t stop themselves from marketing the stuffing out of them. Like they’re so sure you’re going to love the first one that they’ve already decided they’re entitled to your attention for the next two, and there’s a big shiny 1 on the side and seeing that makes me so exhausted before I’ve even opened the thing.
In short, read this freaking book. Or anything else she’s written, basically, because I haven’t been let down yet. (Seriously. Going Bovine. Do it. Who doesn’t want to read about slowly going insane or maybe it’s a quantum roadtrip adventure? Or something.)