Reading round-up November 2018

Photo of a woman with a book and umbrella
CC0 Evelyn from Pexels

How are we this far through the year already? Time has flown and I have done very little of anything. But after October’s abysmal attempts, I did do better on the reading front. I decided to kickstart my reading brain by starting with some comics. Not that all comics are easy reading – Sandman definitely isn’t – but some of them are, and they were just what I needed. Tim started me off with some old Avengers comics in the Marvel app, and then I picked some trade paperbacks off my TBR. It was a good strategy.

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Testing out some new comics

Our pull list at our local comic shop seems to get longer every month. Every time a series ends or starts to flag enough for us to cancel it, another two or three come along. I’ve mostly been leaving those new series to Tim but today I decided to try out a handful and see what grabbed me.

Gamora issue #1
by Nicole Perlman (writer), Marco Checchetto (penciller) and Andres Mossa (colourist)

This new series centres around a character from Guardians of the Galaxy, which I personally only know from the excellent film. Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, raised by him as an assassin and heir, despite him having created his own daughter Nebula. Consequently, Nebula hates Gamora. In the meantime, Thanos has given Gamora the gift of destroying a whole race. It’s an interesting, if violent, set-up. The artwork is an interesting, watercolour style. But I must admit this didn’t grab me.

Published December 2016 by Marvel.


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Recent reads in brief

While I am slowly making my way through more than 600 pages of Sophie’s Choice, I am actually a little behind on book reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.

Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

This small volume was written 1903–1908 but its advice still feels relevant and wise, which is presumably why it quickly became a classic.

Franz Xaver Kappus was put in touch with Rilke by the chaplain at his military academy, who had known Rilke when he too was a student at the school 15 years earlier. Kappus aspired to write and Rilke was a revered (rightly so) poet. These 10 letters constitute Rilke’s advice on how to look at life as well as how to write and some non-advice observations from Rilke such as his thoughts on Rome (he was not a fan) and other places he travelled to (all the letters seem to be written from a different location, and often include reference to months spent somewhere else in-between).

What most caught my attention was Rilke’s thoughts on gender equality. He was a feminist if ever I read one. He truly believed that the two sexes were created equal and that society still unfairly favoured men as a relic from a bygone age when man’s superiority of strength and size was relevant to everyday life. Rilke not only believes that the time will come when women will be considered equal in all respects to man, he also thinks that in time women will take their turn as the gender running the show.

Rilke is sweet, earnest, but also troubled. He’s also extremely eloquent. Because he’s Rilke.

“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would have us believe, most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”

Briefe an einen jungen Dichter published 1929 by Insel Verlag.

This translation first published 1984 by Random House.

Source: Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin.

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Luke Cage reading list

marvel-luke-cage-posterIn case you haven’t noticed, Netflix released its latest Marvel TV series, Luke Cage, on 30 September. Like its predecessors Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it is excellent. But what caught my eye in the early episodes is that Luke Cage is not just a big-hearted bulletproof superhero, he’s also an avid reader.

The first clue was early in episode one, when between finishing a shift at one job as a hair sweeper at a barbershop and starting a shift at his other job as a washer-up, he stops by a news stand to buy a copy of the New Yorker. Scenes of Luke’s apartment show stacks of books on every surface and when he’s not fighting baddies he likes to discuss detective novels.

What really made me pay attention was that first clear shot of a book cover. The book in question? Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. This seemed like exceptional timing. While on holiday, Tim and I went to the art gallery C/O Berlin where the main exhibition was the work of photographer (and film director) Gordon Parks, including his partnerships with Ralph Ellison, such as Invisible Man. I’ve been meaning to read the book for years, but now I’ve seen the powerful accompanying photographs, I want to more than ever.

So I did what I do. I made a reading list of all the books and authors mentioned or shown in the whole series. Enjoy.

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Sunday Salon: A time to fight, a time to chill

The Sunday SalonConsidering the timing of this post, there are some definite political interpretations of today’s headline, and I am a political person. However, what I want to write about is a more personal health-related meaning of the words “A time to fight, a time to chill”.

Having lupus means it’s extra important for me to stay fit, because the less fit I am, the more often I fall into the fatigue vicious circle (too tired to exercise → less fit, therefore more tired) – and for me, when the fatigue hits, it’s serious business. So early this year I made the decision to really push myself to get fit. I started running at least twice a week, going a little further each week, no matter what the weather, no matter how little I wanted to go out sometimes.

And it was working well. My first run in the first week of February was about 2.5 k in 17 minutes. In mid-April I beat my previous PB of 5 k and started plotted out some 6 and 7 k routes to aim for. I was finding it hard to get past 5.5 k but I was so proud of myself for how far I’d come. I was feeling healthier, happier and had energy.

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Recent reads in brief

I seem to have been reading so quickly for a few weeks there that I am way behind on reviews again, so here are a few quickies.

lifeboatThe Lifeboat
by Charlotte Rogan

This is the story of Grace, survivor of a 1914 ocean liner disaster. We learn at the start that she survived for three weeks in a lifeboat and is now facing trial for her life. She narrates the story of the shipwreck and Lifeboat 14, gradually revealing the crime she now stands accused of.

Most of the boat’s occupants are upper class women, and as such practical matters quickly fall to a small number of characters. Grace is young, recently married to a rich man, but her background is murky, as are her actions. Throughout a fairly suspenseful, exciting story she muses on matters of guilt and innocence, on character traits and social status. She watches alliances being formed, gossip spreading, moments of human strength and weakness. But ultimately Grace is a frustrating narrator. She rarely places herself in the story, and when she does her position is often unclear. Is she as weak and on the fence as she seems or is it an act? The whole narrative is being written as a piece of evidence for her lawyers, so she has a clear motive to paint her actions whiter than they perhaps were. I like ambiguity and unreliable narrators, but I found the hints at Grace’s unreliability were a little too hidden. And for a lot of the start of the novel I found the uselessness of the majority of the women incredibly annoying.

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Comics in brief

To celebrate the sunny long weekend I decided to sort out our comic book collection, which had become several scarily tall piles around the house. We already had the boxes, the plastic covers, the back boards – I just had to combine them and give them some kind of order. The latent librarian in me thoroughly enjoyed it. And it reminded me of how many said comics I wanted to read, so I read a handful.

I-Kill-Giants-coverI Kill Giants
by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura

This is a gorgeous graphic novel about a teenage girl going through a difficult time. Barbara and her younger brother Dave are being cared for by their older sister Karen, but their situation feels precarious. Barbara won’t stop telling everyone that she kills giants, that the handmade bag she carries is her secret giant-killing weapon, and everyone is getting fed up of humouring her. What is this fantasy life all about? How much does she really believe in it herself? Can her new friend Sophia and the school counsellor get through to Barbara before something awful happens?

The art is manga-inflected, which feels right with the dark fantasies and darker themes that are gradually revealed. It’s heartfelt and sad, so much so that I pretty much wept through the last 20 or so pages. If anyone ever doubts that comics and graphic novels can deal with deep, nuanced themes, this is the story to show them. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Thanks to Purple_Steve for the reading suggestion!)

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Lovely new books

I am yet again a bit behind on writing reviews, sorry if that’s what you come here for. What I do have is photos of the many new books I have acquired lately. I never had an official book-buying ban but I have been genuinely trying to limit my book acquisition this year. Clearly it’s not going that well. Or it is, if I allow in the secretly-happy-about-all-the-new-books voice!


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Sunday Salon: How I learned to love comics

The Sunday SalonGrowing up, my Dad bought us the Beano every week and I loved to read about the Bash Street Kids and all those other characters. But then I got too old for the Beano and I never replaced it with other comics, turning instead to novels.

When I met Tim he wasn’t a big reader of comics either, but he owned a few and had read a few more, and over the years he’s increasingly become a big fan, to the point where the staff at our local comic shop know him by name and we’ve started to invest in comic book storage boxes. I’ve always liked Tim’s taste in books, so I figured I should see what this comic thing was all about, in case I was missing out on something.

I didn’t feel interest in classic superhero stuff at first, because they all have these huge decades-old universes that call back to all that background, and even outside of superheroes I was tentative of where to dip my toe, so I opted mostly for one-off graphic novels.

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Recent reads: more comics

I have been tearing through comics lately, so here are some brief thoughts on a few that I most definitely recommend.

ms marvel vol3Ms Marvel vol 3: Crushed
by G Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc and Takeshi Miyazawa

The fun continues for the teenage superhero in Jersey City. Kamala uses her Ms Marvel costume to attend the school Valentine’s Day dance and bumps into Loki there, being his charming self. And after that mostly light-hearted interlude, Kamala has her first crush, which of course isn’t going to run smoothly. Her brother Aamir becomes a more rounded character than simply following the rules of society and railing at Kamala with their parents. As with the previous volumes, the comic explores real human issues around growing up and society at large through the distorting lens of superheroes and supervillains. I am thoroughly in love with this series and looking forward to what’s next for Kamala.

Published 2015 by Marvel.

Source: Foyles Bristol.

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