Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud

So Shan said that she found it difficult to read Understanding Comics because it was lots of information coming at her all it once – and I thought that was ratcheted up a few notches in Reinventing Comics.  It was still full of interesting things to consider.  Scott McCloud talks about the directions comics are taking, the revolutions that have to take place for comics to Take Their Rightful Place, including limited representation by anyone who isn’t white and male.  He handles these delicate subjects quite well, without being a jerk at all or failing to recognize his position of privilege.

However, when I got past to the bits about computers and things, that was too much information coming at me all at once.  I mean, I was reading it in a blackout (I love Louisiana and I love Louisiana storms, but power outages are no fun at all in the middle of summer), and feeling guilty for not cuddling the dog I’m baby-sitting for, and I was having certain problems about which I am too much of a lady to talk.  I do admit the possibility that there were other problems apart from my brain shutting down when too many computer words fly at my head.

On to Making Comics!  I am very excited about Making Comics!  I think it will be extremely fascinating!

Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

Fifteen-year-old Miranda has a pretty normal life, until a meteor hits the moon.  It shoves the moon closer to the earth (eek!), which as you might expect does not do good things for the earth.  Tsunamis take out New York and Florida and California; volcanoes begin erupting all over the place, filling the air with ash for miles around.  And Miranda’s family copes.

I first heard about this book shortly after I read Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and I didn’t want to do another girl-copes-with-end-of-world-scenario book straight away, because of how grim How I Live Now was.  But I needed a book to read last night when I was picking my father up from the airport, so here we are.  I read most of it in bed last night – I stopped at a stopping point and switched off the light, and then realized if I didn’t get at least two-thirds of the way through, I wouldn’t be done by this morning in time to return it to the library before going to England, so I switched the light back on and kept reading.

As soon as I reached the scene at the beginning where Miranda and her family go on a shopping craze at the grocery store, I knew I should stop reading.  It was already upsetting, and nobody important had even died yet.  When we have hurricanes on the way, the grocery stores are like this – nothing left, crowds of cars, people filling up enormous jugs of gas for their cars.  I did not like to read about it in Life As We Knew It.

In 2007, I was interviewing a guy at a halfway house in town, and this is the story he told me.  When the hurricane hit (this was Katrina), the water began rising in their house, too high for them to stay there, and they didn’t have an attic.  They had two girls, a four-year-old and a one-year-old.  He kicked down the door to their house, because it was wood and it would float, and they piled a few things on the door, that they weren’t willing to leave behind, jewelry and photo albums.  He put the four-year-old on his shoulders, and the one-year-old on the door, and he and his wife and kids went walking down the highway to get out of New Orleans, floating the door along, with their two girls.  “My little girl’s six now, and she still won’t take a bath,” he said.  “She too scared of water.  My sister been giving her sponge baths.  She live with my sister now.”

And I said, “Not with your wife?”

And he said, “My wife died last year.”

And that is my worst Katrina story.  Not because it’s the worst story out there (not even close), but I just wasn’t expecting him to say that his wife died.  They went through all that and she died anyway.  I felt exactly like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I couldn’t say anything to him for almost a whole minute, and I cried on the way home.

Life As We Knew It is good, but it was way upsetting, and it was the kind of upsetting that I couldn’t stop reading it.  This happened to me once before, with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.  I read it on a car trip, ages ago, and I hated it and I couldn’t stop reading it, and finally I abandoned it on a park bench at the rest stop on the Louisiana border.  If I could have abandoned Life As We Knew It on a park bench at a rest stop, I’d have done that; but it’s a library book so I finished it.  God, it was so unrelentingly bleak and frightening

Well, this is officially the most melodramatic book review I have ever written.  Here are some other, less dramatic reviews, and I am glad that I am not the only person this book scared the crap out of (yeah, I ended that sentence with two prepositions):

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot
an adventure in reading
Tara at Books and Cooks
Bart’s Bookshelf
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
1 More Chapter
Book Addiction
Books on the Brain
Presenting Lenore
bookshelves of doom
Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?
Book Nut
thebookbind
Retro Review
Book Dweeb
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Bookaholic
The Reading Zone
Becky’s Book Reviews
Karin’s Book Nook
The Written World
Mixtures Books
Bonnie’s Books
The Ya Ya Yas
Frenetic Reader
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Book Muncher
J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Tiny Little Reading Room
Reading Rants
The Story Siren
Life and Times of a New New Yorker
Suey’s Books
The Sleepy Reader
It’s All About Me
Laurel’s YA Book Reviews
Unmainstream Mom Reads
Sadie Jean
Experiments in Reading
Liv’s Book Reviews
Charlotte’s Library
ReadingAdventures
Thoughts of Joy
Just One More Page

Phew.  Let me know if I missed yours!

The Dancers of Sycamore Street, Julie L’Enfant

Look, I’m as fond of my home state as the next person – probably more than many – and this book is set in Louisiana.  And although part of me was mad because I read a review that called Thursday’s Children “goopy treacle” and compared it unfavorably with The Dancers of Sycamore Street, and that part of me wanted The Dancers of Sycamore Street to be rubbish, I was mostly hoping that I was about to read an undiscovered gem, and not only would I enjoy it hugely, but I would also feel pleased and proud that it was set in my home state.  This is the way I felt about The Mercy of Thin Air, which was fantastic and featured Louie’s, where I have spent many a happy morning eating cheesy hashbrowns.  But not about The Dancers of Sycamore Street.

This book is about a girl called Meredith, who attends a ballet school in the fictional town of Middleton, Louisiana, in 1955.  One day a famous choreographer comes to town and decides he’s going to choreograph a ballet using the Middleton dancers.  Hijinks ensue.

Except that?  They really don’t.  For a book that necessitated the use of the phrase Hijinks ensue, it had the least hijinksy hijinks I’ve ever seen.  Several things happen: (spoilers) the choreographer has a past relationship with Meredith’s teacher but seems to be engaged in romancing the rich lady who is financing the whole thing; Meredith’s teacher’s daughter gets preggo at the end; the one male dancer desperately yearns to be taken to New York to succeed as a dancer there.  But none of it is interesting.  The whole book is just bland, bland, bland, with a side of bland.  Meredith just watches what other people do, and never does anything herself – a literary device that I can imagine working, but it doesn’t work in this case, at all.  The book didn’t have any character, itself, and I didn’t care about any of the characters.  They could all have died in a hurricane at the end and I wouldn’t have cared.

On the other hand, I made my first balloon monkey today.  Monkey.  It’s pretty easy, I don’t know why I never learned how when I used to do them for parties.  Plus, I learned a totally excellent pirate sword.  Arrrrr.

The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers

Sheesh, what is wrong with me?  This is the second book in the past week I haven’t been able to finish.  And honestly, not finishing books is pretty rare with me.  I swear!  If I make it past the first few pages, I tend to plow through to the end, because I want to know what happens, and because I am a completist.  To give you a comparison, I read like four of Anne Rice’s vampire books, which I never liked in the first place, before realizing I’d rather gouge my eyes out than read any more of them.  I don’t care if she is from Louisiana!  And I don’t care if Faulkner is either!  I like Tony Kushner and THAT IS ENOUGH FOR ME.

Anyway, I just really want to tell The Stress of Her Regard that it’s probably not you; it’s probably me.  I really think it might just be me.  I may not have given you a fair chance.  I was comparing you with Lonely Werewolf Girl, which I was reading at the same time I was reading you, and no new book could stand up against Lonely Werewolf Girl.  I was reading you and thinking of another book.  It was unfair to you.  You deserved better.

I read about The Stress of Her Regard on Nymeth’s blog, and I thought there could be no problem with it whatsoever at all.  It had Romantic poets, aaaaaaand vampires!  All the Romantic poets are being pestered by pestery vampires!  I don’t care enough about the Romantic poets to get cranky about their being portrayed “wrong”, which is something that would bother me if the characters were, like, Oscar Wilde and his lot.  And vampires!   And Nymeth said the mythology was a trifle complex, but I was all, Whatever, I will be able to follow it.  But damn, seriously, it was mighty complex.  And I was reading it like ten pages at a time, while brushing my teeth, and then a chapter or two before I went to sleep.  And sometimes I would skip a few nights and read Lonely Werewolf Girl instead.  So I think that screwed me up in terms of keeping track of who was doing what, and why.

All this to say that by the time I got to the bit where Shelley disguised his dead infant as a marionette, I was kinda ready to quit reading it anyway.  The bit where he disguised his dead infant as a marionette was mighty disturbing and creepy, and it gave me a nightmare.  So even though I think I was unfair to this book, I will probably not try reading it again because it will remind me of my terrifying puppet nightmare.

(I really did like the part where Crawford put his ring on the statue’s finger and then when he came back for it the statue’s hand had closed over the ring.  That was cool.)

I will just leave you with this thought, which is the only thing I can ever think of when I read about Byron or Shelley or Keats and consequently prevents me from taking them one bit seriously, ever:

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of lyrical treats
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Dear darling Dorothy Parker.  (Though Black Adder‘s portrayal of the Romantic poets has just put the nail in the coffin.  I can never, ever, ever, ever take those men seriously.  Ever.  Never ever never.  But I often like Coleridge.)

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken

My God, this book was sad. It was so, so, so sad. It was just so unrelentingly sad. Even when she wasn’t particularly talking about anything sad, still it was incredibly sad. I cried a lot, especially at the end. And I’ve never even had a baby! Imagine if I had had a baby and I read this book, which is Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir about how her baby was stillborn. That would have been way much even sadder.

However, it was well-written and interesting. And it had lots of good bits, and Elizabeth McCracken endeared herself to me forever and ever and ever by saying this about New Orleans from her visit there in 2007 (I believe it was 2007):

Spring had arrived just ahead of us, in the form of actual blossoms – magnolias – and the weird kudzu of flung-from-floats Mardi Gras beads in the trees. The city was all blue skies and light breezes and raw nerves and melancholy. Most everyone we met was on edge, some so heartsick we worried, even if we hadn’t met them before. They seemed frozen. Something had happened. It had been a year and a half, and if you weren’t in the middle of it you might lose patience: New Orleans, why can’t you get over it? We were very sorry for you for a while. Now there are other things to be sad about. It’s not your time anymore. Pull yourself together.

Of course it felt familiar, as wretchedly presumptuous as that sounds. … The people we saw, old friends and strangers, had left and come back, and now they were waiting for the next disaster, the next murder, the next hurricane, the next levee failure, the loss of their home, the revocation of their homeowner’s insurance, and still of course at the same time they had to hope. Hadn’t they come back for that reason, because they hoped?

Me, too: same place, remembering the disaster, trying to believe it would not come for me again.

Ouch. It made me sad to read that. Poor New Orleans. That whole “City That Care Forgot” thing now depresses me hugely. But as a Louisiana girl I was glad she said that, and as a girl from a high-anxiety family I was glad she said this:

Our religion is worry; we performed decades of it.

And this was good:

Now what I think that woman in Florida meant is: lighter things will happen to you, birds will steal your husband’s sandwich on the beach, and your child will still be dead, and your husband’s shock will still be funny, and you will spend your life trying to resolve this.

As for me, I believe that if there’s a God – and I am as neutral on this subject as is possible – then the most basic proof of His existence is black humor. What else explains it, that odd, reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city.

Elizabeth McCracken is a good writer, so I enjoyed reading the book, but it was very, very, very sad, and I will probably never find it necessary to read it again. Still, I really liked the things she said about grief – so maybe I will read it again. I can’t decide. This is the second (or third?) book this month that I’ve read about on Caribousmom‘s website and then really liked a lot, so thanks for that!

Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult

The addiction continues.  This one’s about a school shooting.  Only one silly thing happens, and it’s not all that silly.  Definitely not as silly as poisoning the Louisiana priest with antifreeze in his cocoa.

…I can’t do this.  I don’t have the heart to continue reviewing this.  I’m too depressed.  I’m about to go directly into a decline.  I’m taking to my bed and I may never rise from it again.  I have several seasons of Gilmore Girls out from the library, my computer is plugged in, I have my cross-stitching, and I can stay lying in this flip chair for the rest of my life.

Florida kicked our ass.  51 to 21.  I shall never recover from this blow.

(I think my life was easier before I cared about football.)

Perfect Match and Vanishing Acts, Jodi Picoult

Sigh.

I know she’s better than this.  Ms. Picoult is an excellent writer.  She does good dialogue, her characters are generally consistent, the little kids are really good little kids.  In each case where I have begun reading a book of hers, I have stayed up way past my bedtime finishing it.  (In the case of Vanishing Acts, I was already up thoroughly late because I was introducing my friend Teacher to Firefly and I didn’t want to let her leave until she totally liked it and had stopped saying snide things about Kaylee.  Victory!)  So I will not suggest that she is a bad writer, at all.

Here’s the thing.  Sister loves her some dramatic irony.  And, um, also just some irony.  Also just some drama.  She is much with the drama and the irony and the dramatic irony.  It detracts from her books.  I mean, I didn’t even think it was possible to use the adjective “silly” to describe a book all about child sex abuse, but I can’t use any other adjective to describe Perfect Match.  I don’t even know where to begin spoiling it.  I mean, there’s the part where Nina shoots the priest in court and then acts crazy; there’s the part where it turns out that not he but a similarly-named priest from Loosiana (of course) who happens to be the dead priest’s half-brother who donated bone marrow to him to cure him of leukemia.  I mean, because why not?  And then there’s the part where the husband, who’s spent the whole book being all judgey-judge, secretly flies down to Loosiana and poisons the real perpetrator with antifreeze.  Oh, and the requisite guy in love with the female protagonist, hovering sadly in the wings.

It’s a shame, you know?  I feel like Jodi Picoult could write much better books than she is actually writing – though I suppose she’s feeling if it’s not broke don’t fix it.  (That expression never fails to make me think of that moment in the Disney Beauty and the Beast where Cogsworth and Lumiere are showing Belle around the castle and he’s talking about the baroque tapestries and he says “And as I always saaaay, if it’s not baroque – don’t fix it!”  Anyone else?  Anyone?)  It’s not the writing, it’s the plots.  She can’t resist high drama, and she can’t resist crazy plot twists, and it detracts from her books.  Making them into guilty pleasure type books, when I really think they could be a lot more.

Which of course isn’t stopping me from being on my massive Jodi Picoult kick, so I’m just off to read Nineteen Minutes now.  I am sure I will feel much the same about that one.

The Mercy of Thin Air, Ronlyn Domingue

Recommended by my mother.  Of course.

This is a book about a girl in 1920s New Orleans who dies prematurely, before anything about her life gets properly decided, particularly before she makes a decision about her boyfriend Andrew, a fact that proves troublesome to her after she dies.  She is called Razi, and she haunts a Baton Rouge couple, Amy and Scott, who are dealing with the fallout from a loss of their own.  The story flips back and forth between their story and Razi’s life as a – for lack of a better word – ghost, over the years, and Razi’s life when she was properly alive.  She is a really excellent character.  When she is alive she says to her Andrew, “One lifetime isn’t enough to make all the trouble of which I am capable.”

I really love the main character’s name – it’s Raziela, the meaning of which I’ve seen alternately given as God’s secret and My secret is God, both of which are wonderful.  I like My secret is God particularly, to be honest.  My secret is God.  That is a good sentence.  I will have to find a use for that sentence.

The Mercy of Thin Air was good.  I like books about people successfully coming to terms with things that have been problematic to them.  This was melancholy in bits and joyful in bits and with good characters and good dialogue and I just liked it a lot.  Plus, you know, sister’s from the home state and her characters are always going to places that I have been, in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans.  Hooray for Louisiana!  We have good food!  We have streetcars!  If anywhere in this country was going to have ghosts, it would be us!  Up with Louisiana!

Busy freaking out

I have been reading books but not posting reviews of them.  This is mainly due to three factors: school having started, me having a ‘sode, and the damn damn damn hurricane.

I’m going to go ahead and blame it mostly on the hurricane, though that really isn’t fair.  But who cares?  HURRICANES ARE VILE.  Today a really loud whooshing noise woke me up which may have been a great big enormous jet plane going over my head, and I suspect that this is ALL THE FAULT OF THE HURRICANE.  I say no to hurricanes.  No more hurricanes.  Not one bit of a nasty unpleasant hurricane.  Definitely we will have to wait on having more hurricanes until someone has developed a workable group therapy for PTSD that is focused on things like hurricanes (rather than things like car accidents).  When such a therapy has been developed, then we can talk about it.  It will be another few years.  BACK OFF, GUSTAV.