This Week in Reading 11/21

This was a comics heavy week for me, which means it was a good week. I haven’t talked about them much on here so far, but I love the comic book as a medium, and particularly I love superheroes. The idea that someone who comes by a superpower would use it defend other people is beautiful. Neither of the comics I read this week was a superhero comic though, so enough about that.

Undertow, Volume One: Boatman’s Call by Steven Orlando and Artyom Trakhanov is going to be the last volume that I read. The protagonist is a John Q. Marine type character who you can find in just about every first-person shooter ever made and the art style makes the characters hard to differentiate and the battles hard to decipher. I really like to know who is getting shot, rather than just seeing the bloody remains of the head. I don’t want to only say negative things though, because this is a pretty small book, and even if I don’t like the creator’s deserve some credit. There was a very funny and interesting side character, and they do a cool swap by making the sea the safe place for characters and the land where the characters cannot breathe.

The other comic I read, Prophet, Volume One: Remission by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy was much better. During the first issue, I was very worried that it was going to be another John Q. Marine book, but thankfully it turned out to be much cooler. The story is based around a group of clones, which explains the generic personality in a way that makes it acceptable, who are being awakened after years, maybe centuries of hibernation. All of the chapters in this volume are a different stand alone story of one of these John Prophets going on different mission. The reader slowly learns that the John Prohpets may not be the good guy they initially seem like, even if they’re the only traditional humanoid figure we’re seeing. It’s a cool book, and I recommend any comic or scifi fans pick it up.

As I mentioned last week, I also read a large chunk of stories of The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende for my Latin American Short Fiction class. The class itself has been a wash. The books aren’t the problem, it’s the way we’re studying them. An MFA in Fiction should be looking at everything through the lens of how can we learn from this writer and apply his or her craft to our work, but the class is about literary analysis, which is a fine pursuit and can be found in PhD programs in Fiction. What separates the MFA from the PhD as a degree is that the MFA doesn’t go into literary analysis, which is why I’m so frustrated with this class. Enough complaining. On to the stories!

I’ve read enough fairy tales for a lifetime. From my freshman year of college to maybe a year and a half ago, I loved reinterpretations of fairy tales and I read a lot of them, the originals too. I am, at this point, thoroughly sick of them and unimpressed. To be fair, Allende wrote her book in 1989, so she got in before the boom, so that’s on me for not reading her sooner. The book is older than me. The concept of a fairy tale with extremely real depictions of prostitution, rape, or other dark themes should be shocking, but it’s been done so many times. The last story in the collection, “And of Clay We Are Created” is an amazing straight realism story, and I might read more Allende because that story blew everything else in the collection out of the water.

Next week, I’ll be reading The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector and working on The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. I’m slowly reading The Space Traveler by Benjamin Grossberg, which is a great poetry collection.

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This Week in Reading 11/14

To quote the great wise man, Eric Matthews, “Well, hidey ho!” I had Tuesday off because of Veterans Day, and one of my classes randomly decided that this was a good week for no homework. I couldn’t agree more. It’s such a good idea that it should extend for the rest of the semester. Thanks to all this extra time, I ended up finishing five books this week. Time for a lightening round of This Week in Reading.

Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist is the second of two amazing books she’s published this year, and it’s hard to say which one is better. Her novel An Untamed State is astounding and intelligent, but probably not as smart as Bad Feminist. They’re both rough books, but they’re taxing for a reason. Gay is fighting for the rights for the downtrodden. The books are hard at times not because she lacks skill, but because she’s so expertly turning the mirror on American society and culture and it’s not easy to stomach. Everyone should have to read Bad Feminist.

I also finished The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This was another very good book. Jackson’s descriptions bring the house and it’s lopsided terror alive, making me feel as if I were there in this experiment in stupidity (“Let’s get a bunch of people who have been exposed to ghosts in the past and put them in the most haunted house that we can find. For science!”). It’s a fun, scary book. I’ll be reading more of Jackson soon.

Book number three was Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s hard to stress how good my week in reading was. The book is brilliant. If you haven’t read any García Márquez, this would be a good place to start. At 120 pages, it’s an easier hopping on point than One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is also a great book, but is crazy long. If you don’t believe me about Chronicle of a Death Foretold, ask the folks over at Nobel who gave it their prize. His attention to detail, and the way he textures even the smallest characters is what makes him so great.

My roommate Chris, who is doing an awesome short story a day project on twitter that you should check out (@CMPoolehall), lent me a copy of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, which I read in two sittings. I’d been familiar with Bender as being the weird writer, and I’m really glad I finally read her first book. What’s really worth talking about is the way she evokes entire worlds with a single detail. Her stories work because of the economy she gets out every word.

The last one was Doctor Strange: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin. The opening was spectacular. Iron Fist and Araña make small talk in the waiting room of a doctor who specializes in superhero treatment, and I’d honestly have rather spent the entire graphic novel there. The story isn’t bad, but the frame is just more interesting. Imagine a whole comic book series where a doctor treats superheroes and they tell him or her their story. I would read that. Anyone would be crazy not to.

Next week, I will definitely not be reading this many books. I’m working on The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende for class, but I’m already disliking it. It’s translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, who also translated Sweet Diamond Dust so it may just be that I don’t like the way she translates work. (Correction: Margaret Sayers Peden actually translated The Old Gringo, not Sweet Diamond Dust. I was incorrect, and apologize). I’m still working on The Space Traveler by Benjamin Grossberg and will be starting The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson.

This Week in Reading 11/7

This week I finished Who Killed Palomino Molero by Mario Vargas Llosa and I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro. (I also got 50 or so more pages in Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, and for those of you who have been holding your breath but still not suffocated, I’m going to finish it and talk about it next week).

Who Killed Palomino Molero came under a lot of fire when it was published. Vargas Llosa is a respected literary author, and went on to win the Nobel Prize a couple of decades after writing Who Killed Palomino Molero. Critics were angry that a talented author would write something that might appeal to the masses. It was a part of this stupid genre versus literary fiction dichotomy that drives me up the wall. The idea, in the debate, is that literary fiction is Literature with a capital L and genre fiction (which spans everything else) is pulp and not really worth anyone’s time to read, write, or talk about. Every once in a while a “literary” writer will write a “genre” book and critics lose their mind because someone they claimed as one of theirs is writing for the other side. It is a nonsensical dichotomy. For my money, Vargas Llosa should write a detective novel if he wants to write a detective novel.

My problem with Who Killed Palomino Molero wasn’t that it wasn’t Literature with a capital L, but that it wasn’t very good. The prose work, and the characters are memorable, but the ending is copped from Chinatown, and not in a Carlos Fuentes intertextual redefining the source material way, but more in a Shia LaBeouf “this is good and I’m going to steal it” way. If you haven’t seen Chinatown or read Who Killed Palomino Molero, you’re better off seeing the movie. It’s a classic and the book is a midlevel detective novel that happened to be written by a great writer.

I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro is a good collection of stories that’s distributed poorly. The first five or six stories focus in on the Corley family, who are boring people, dealing with beaten path literary issues. Infidelity. Cancer. Raising children in the aftermath of a spouse’s death. They’re all serious issues, but Quatro doesn’t bring enough newness to them for me to really get invested after all the other stories I’ve read about those topics. She doesn’t do enough to make them her own.

Once you get through those few stories though, wow does that book get better. The second half, starting with “1.7 to Tennessee” is incredible. The descriptions are both visceral and beautiful, and at times very funny. “Sinkhole” is one of the best stories I’ve read. Period.

What leaves me scratching my head is the way the stories are ordered. If I were her, I’d be worried about losing readers in those first few. If I hadn’t pushed through and gotten to the great stories at the end, which I only did because of the book’s stellar reputation, I would’ve written her off. I’m glad I didn’t though. I would feel good about reading the whole collection just to have read “Sinkhole.”

Next week, I’ll be finishing Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez. Both books have been amazing so far, so I’m excited to talk about them. I’m also still working on The Space Traveler by Benjamin Grossberg, and I started The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has been absolutely amazing. I’m in love with her style. Hopefully I’ll finish those two in the coming weeks.