Books 2017 marks the third year tracking my reading habits. The original goal to spur on more reading has been achieved, though Books 2017 resulted in a heavy diet of comic books – graphic novels.  Mostly high concept ones, admittedly. Peruse the stacks and let me know what you think with a comment.

Books 2017Books 2017 Stack

Fiction

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One sucked me in more deeply than any book I have read in many years. I read a few chapters before it happened, but when I finally gave into the narrative I could not stop reading.

The book is accessible for non-geeks, rich for geeks, and deft enough to give only enough spoilers to make you want to seek out the referenced source material rather than feel the magic is ruined. At its core, however, Ready Player One is just a good adventure story, albeit one with mechanized monsters.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure “Abridged” by William Goldman

The source material for the movie certainly cuts its own path. The basic plot of book and movie are the same, and while I went in hopeful I would enjoy the book as much as the movie I kept my hopes realistic. I did not enjoy Goldman’s book.

Academically, comparing book to movie (screenplay was also written by Goldman) is interesting to see how the plot was condensed, dialogue developed and refined, and how actors’ delivery choices changed the emotions of lines. (The Inigo duel with Count Rugen is virtually identical.)

Yet the entire novel is wrapped in continuous asides from the abridger (author) Goldman discussing his family, career, and insecurities amidst narrating what was cut from the “original.” This was jarring. Abridgment is a fun idea whose execution does not appeal to me.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

I am finally caught up (on the books). No need to worry about spoilers anymore.

ASOIAF still rings true with fantasy realpolitik, but with some minor exceptions, A Dance With Dragons felt like a race toward nothing.

The Major and Cared About Characters

Jon – Appears to have grown some wisdom, but when will the Stark children learn to trust their direwolves? Jon’s plan to settle the Wall was brilliant. The most satisfying character in Dance.

Tyrion – The river adventure was fun, but the slave aftermath left me wondering how far adrift Tyrion will get before returning to Westeros.

Daenerys – The lesson that Daenerys is a girl and must learn to be hard, the Mother of the Dragons, is over learned. Too long.

Ayra – How can Ayra continue to lie to the House of Black and White?

Bran – Bran’s time with the children of the forest is intriguing, but Martin is not as proficient in fantasy as realpolitik. What can Bran do? What will Bran do?

Selmy – Old Grandfather’s development into a major character is welcome, even if his self-felt imposter syndrome is more distracting than interesting.

Jamie – I worry for Jamie.

Cersei – Cersei must die. I hate her and her hateful incompetence. That said, her penance was akin to rape.

The Minor and Uncared for Characters

Quentyn – Finally, Martin returning to his Ned Stark roots when Quentyn attempts to accomplish his task.

Davos – Underutilized.

Melisandre – I wonder how many will suffer because Melisandre thinks she can read the fires.

Theon – I do not care what this character has become; I do not like fake out deaths. Either kill Theon or don’t. There is no fake die.

Asha – More interesting than her brother.

Victarion – I would be fine if all the Greyjoys drowned.

I hope The Winds of Winter is released in 2018. Then I can keep my streak of one ASOIAF book a year for six years.

Non-fiction

I Am Spock by Leonard Nemoy

I Am Spock by Leonard Nemoy

Lived long and prospered.

Light, enjoyable second autobiography from Mr. Nemoy, written in 1995. I had fun walking down memory lane regarding Star Trek and I learned a lot I was unaware of about Nemoy’s career (like he was on Mission: Impossible). A noticeable portion of the book is mere recitation of the passage of time and everyone mentioned was a great person. Even if Nemoy is so honest and good natured with everyone (as opposed to trying to not anger friends in Hollywood) the praise does not read well; the phrasing is too simple.

The book is most touching when recounting the end of Wrath of Kahn; the narrative really connects with the loss of Spock.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

This manifesto had me agreeing wholeheartedly and yelling at the book and author Pollan in equal amounts. Despite cotton candy wisdom of passion heralding a good book, I cannot recommend In Defense of Food.

The problems boil down to Mr. Pollan manifesting the hypocrisy he criticizes and relying on “common sense” as proof. Mr. Pollan is correct that there is a lot wrong with conceptualizing food as merely nutrients. Nutrient science is always developing, but we humans do not understand as much about food as we think we do, so absolutist statements about fat (BAD!) or fish (omega-3 = GOOD!) and similar reductionist arguments health claims simply do not hold up. However, Mr. Pollan then turns around and makes health claims on reductionist arguments, sometimes even stating, “I know I shouldn’t but…”

Mr. Pollan similarly fails to convince when appealing to “common sense.” Appealing to common sense is akin to appealing to “we’ve always done it this way” and falls into the same problems. “Common sense” is culturally based and therefore not universal, nor universally actionable. There may be wisdom in a culture(s)’ “common sense” regarding eating, but if you do not know what and why than you have failed to prove its wisdom.

Do follow one suggestion from the book. Pay attention to what you eat and know why you are eating it. Do not, however, blindly follow any diet, cleanse, program, rule of thumb, or manifesto. There is no magic food.

If you read or have read An Eater’s Manifesto, be sure to cleanse yourself with this long read from The Guardian:

Why We Fell for Clean Eating by Bee Wilson

The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni

A business management “fable” telling the story of one company’s embrace of teamwork and how they decided to build a culture around ideal team players. I did not find this book as insightful as Lencioni’s other fable The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, as the three tenets of the ideal team player – Humble, Hunger, and Smart – are not developed enough for me. The smart tenet especially, which is a stand-in for emotionally intelligent.

I should read Five Dysfunctions again to reinforce the good ideas on managing to create high performing teams.

Plays/Drama

Nesting Dolls by Stephen F. Murray

For Cooperative Performance Milwaukee’s 2017 One Act Festival.

Vows by Lillian Schley

For Cooperative Performance Milwaukee’s 2017 One Act Festival.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Rereading a classic

Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

I played Balthazar/Merchant for Original Practices Milwaukee’s production.

All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

I played King/Duke for Original Practices Milwaukee’s production.

The Beauty Queen of Leanne and Other Plays by Martin McDonagh

Vicious

The Beauty Queen of Leeane by Martin McDonagh

Wow. What a dark vicious tragedy. My final read for Books 2017.

Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Batman: The City of Owls by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art by Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion
Additional Art by Rafael Albuquerque, Jason Fabok, and Becky Cloonan

The writing of City of Owls focused more heavily on action and resolution than mystery, so I did not enjoy the back half of the first year of Synder’s Batman run as the front half, The Court of Owls. The mystery of City of Owls lacked tension as I predicted the villain since their first appearance.

As for the art, Capullo and Glapion are an enjoyable pairing and what I want out of a comic book. They, however, lacked any jaw dropping moments like in Court.

Cloonan works in a hip, slightly cartoonish modern comic style with some anime influences that worked for her subject, Harper Row. Given the right title I would enjoy her work.

Fabok works in a classic serious comic book style I prefer and enjoy. I would read more of his work. He is the reason I enjoyed the issue on Mr. Freeze (not the simplistic, Freeze origin story).

Albuquerque works is a more painted, blurred colors, and angular faces style I really dislike. The style heightens focus on dialogue, which is distracting. Also, I really hate it when an issue of a comic will switch artists in the middle of the issue. Consistency please.

Y: The Last Man
Writing by Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils by Pia Guerra
Inks by José Marzán, Jr.

Book 1 – Unmanned

Sets up some intriguing ideas, and the montage of all male mammal death is great. Faces are a bit bland and dialogue sometimes reductionist.

Book 2 – Cycles

I liked the utopia of Morrisville and its origins. As a means of dumping statistics, the conflict works as a commentary on current society, but the resolution of the conflict between Yorick and Hero is stereotypically comic book clunky. The Death of the Amazon Queen was good because she was a one note villain; all men inherently rapists.

Book 3 – One Small Step
Pencils by Paul Chadwick

The action was much more believable in this round with the Israeli military against 355 and KGB astronaut. The story is starting to feel episodic, “What new town will they visit next? How will the townsfolk respond on Y: The Last Man? Find out…” but this is the best sequence of editions. The art is getting better. Two-part drama comic was a nice diversion but not a great story.

Book 4 – Safeword
Pencils by Goran Parlov

Safeword is the best story so far, a genuine mystery, with all of Vaughan’s kink and oddity used for narrative effect. I also enjoy retcon-ing stupid actions from previous stories into a larger narrative. Widow’s Pass is serviceable, though by now no one in the group should know to strike out on their own.

Book 5 – Ring of Truth

Good plot development, keeping the pages turning. Art seems more purposeful and crisper now.

Book 6 – Girl on Girl
Pencils by Goran Sudžuka

I was not a huge fan of the covers in this book. I should have predicted we would see Australian submarines at some point given the reference in book one. The loss of the pirate captain is disappointing as she was turning into an interesting character. The last couple of books have created interesting “girl of the week” characters I would like to see continue in the story.

Book 7 – Paper Dolls
Pencils by Goran Sudžuka

Newspaper plot line ok. Church/Beth 2/Hero fun. I like learning 355’s backstory, however it felt rushed and formulaic. I swear if they kill ‘&’ I will go apeshit.

Book 8 – Paper Dolls
Pencils by Goran Sudžuka

The art seems sharper in single panel headshots.

Book 9 – Motherland
Pencils by Goran Sudžuka

The reveal and conclusion. Action was strong (because it was sparse).

Book 10 – Whys and Wherefores

There is a tragic calmness that permeates these final issues. The characters go where they need to but with dignity and understanding. Y is a story of characters and by the end their ends have emotional resonance.

I dislike the narrative hook of the epilogue (Yorrick as an old man); the vignettes are nice, but the superstructure does not fit Yorrick.

Batman: Arkham Origins
Writing by Adam Beechen et. al.
Art by Christian Duce et. al.

Gift from Dave.

Batman: Arkham Origins is a comic book choose your own adventure based off, and a lead in to the video game of the same name. Merging a comic book with a choose your own adventure narrative is an interesting experiment. Arkham Origins benefits and fails on the strengths and weaknesses of both.

Choose your own adventure stories push multiple readings as you follow each narrative thread through the many choices and permutations. Choose your own adventure novels can be word spare with only one paragraph to a page before the next choice. Comic books are already sparse, and the paucity of vocabulary pairs well with the art panels to show you the scene.

And yet, there will not be multiple re-readings. Choose your own adventures are exciting because of the ever-present looming finality: you die, the narrative ends, the bad guy gets away. The reader walks a knife-edge trying to avoid endings until finding one they like. I vividly remember an ancient Greece themed choose your own adventure where one ending turned you into a statute by a God. It was NOT the ending I wanted and yet it was so thematically stunning it became my ending.

Arkham Origins has many endings, but really only two non “Batman dies” endings. As the various narrative threads converge on a master ending, crucial details are left out or replaced with pronouns because in some threads you know them (i.e. Alexandra Dent’s name) and in others you don’t (“That girl”). Overall, there is no compelling story to read stand-alone. The choose your own adventure motif is merely a page turning gimmick. Fun to play with, the details quickly forgotten.

Saga (Book 1)
Writing by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Comic books take their narrative structure from pulp fiction and are designed to create a cliffhanger to setup the next edition. What’s beautiful about Saga is even within that framework high art is achieved.

Saga‘s universe is weird, dense, and not fully explained; the way life is not fully explained. Lying Cat is my favorite. And kudos to Mr. Vaughn for “killing everything in [his] writing … until only the darlings remain.”

Hawkeye, Vol 1: My Life As A Weapon by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja and Javier Pulido

Fraction’s take on Hawkeye is a little rough, a little cocksure, and a little blue collar compared to the other Avengers, and it works well. This comic book has character seeping out of its dialogue. A fun ride.

The Mighty Thor: Vol. 1, Thunder in Her Veins by Jason Aaron
Art by Russell Dauterman

A little lighter on Jane Foster’s struggles than I would have liked, The Mighty (Female) Thor definitely delivers on the action. The story arc is mercifully quick; no filler here, though maybe lacking a bit in complex character motivations. A complete story in Vol. 1.

The art is gorgeous. Maybe coincidental, but Lady Thor fighting on the Light Elf homeworld gives ample panels of a strong woman bursting from a Georgia O’Keeffe-esque floral background.

Black Panther #9Black Panther (#9-18, 166, & 167) by Ta-nehisi Coates
#12 Art by Brian Stelfreeze
#9-11, 16-18 Art by Chris Sprouse
#13-15, 18, 166 Art by Wilfredo Torres
#166 & 167 Art by Leonard Kirk

Issues 9-12 marked the end of “A Nation Under Our Feet.” Overall an enjoyable end, if the big showdown was a bit quick.

Issues 13-18, 166, and 167 (effectively 19 and 20, but with Marvel Legacy’s confusing numbering) began the “Avengers of the New World” story arc. Centered around the disappearance of Wankanda’s gods and the return of more ancient gods is fascinating, until the reveal of what they actually are. Not a letdown, just not quite living up to the anticipation.

Overall, the art is good. Stelfreeze is the best of the set, thought the trio is serviceable.

The Unworthy Thor by Jason Aaron
Art by Olivier Coipel

The idea of Thor being unworthy is handled well here as the Odinson (who refuses the name Thor because he is unworthy to lift Moijner) is not unworthy because of his actions but because of awareness. Odinson still righteously rages, but not as Thor. The art is solid especially on the more dramatic pages where panels are replaced with epic mosaics.

Goals for Books 2018

Courtesy of the extensive and entertaining Book Riot post by Laura Sackton.

Reading Goals for 2018 📖

  • Read one book a month.
  • For gosh darn sakes finish Hamilton.
  • Read a book of the Bible.

Writing Goal for 2018 ✍️

  • If you had been in charge of your high school english class, or a freshman survey course in a subject you care about, what books would you have assigned? Make your dream reading list.
  • Ask ten friends/colleagues/strangers sitting next to you on the subway/baristas you see every day what the last amazing book they read was. Read those books (or at least give them all a chance!)

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