Friday, September 1, 2017

Best of August 2017: Reading Wrap-Up

Above, my Goodreads page of books I've read in August. Let me tell you about some of them:

Most Outstanding Graphic Novel: 
My Favourite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
I have been telling everyone about this gorgeous, hefty, moving graphic novel whenever the subject of books comes up. (It comes up a lot around me.) Ten-year-old gumshoe Karen Reyes doesn't want to be a vulnerable girl; she wants to be a scary monster. She stole my heart so fast. What a great character, and a budding lesbian too - reminding me of Harriet the Spy. This book is for adults, though. It's set in Chicago in the 60s, where Karen tries to make sense of the tragedies around her, starting with the death of her upstairs neighbour. It's the first of two parts and I am very excited about the yet-to-be-released sequel.

Best Audiobook: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 
by Arundhati Roy [16.5 hr: narrated by the author]
Fiction may be the best way to grasp some understanding of the situation in Kashmir, the most militarized area in the world. I had so much to say about this brilliant novel that it has its own page here on my blog.

"How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything."

Best Multiple Perspectives: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
A disturbing, suspenseful, heartbreaking novel about ethics, the individual and the state. Contemporary global issues dramatized in five perspectives from two British Pakistani families. Relevant and absorbing. 

I had heard before reading this that it was a retelling of the myth of Antigone, but forgot that entirely as I got caught up in the narrative. Then, in the final segment, all of the pieces that relate to the Greek myth suddenly popped into my awareness, adding a rich overlay. A more idiosyncratic connection came when I encountered reference to the Laila-Majnu Sufi folktale, which also came up in Arundhati Roy's novel that I had finished just before this one.  

Dr Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall by Suzette Mayr
A lesbian Alice in Wonderland-ish spoof on the politics of academia, set in an invented university that could very well be Calgary... if the U of C had malevolent buildings infested with carnivorous jackrabbits. Nightmarish and funny.

"Edith claws through the chlorinated water in the university's Olympic-sized swimming pool. She squints through her goggles. 7:35 a.m. Soon it will be 8 a.m. and her day basically gone. Wasted!"

"She extracts her red pen from her purse and slowly begins scribbling and ticking her way through the wildly ungrammatical pages, miles of faulty logic, the written-the-midnight-before wool gatherings. Soon she is a marking powerhouse, she has graded 17 essays in 15 minutes, she is a marking automaton. She should grade papers at 3 in the morning every single day! Her mind vinegar-sharp, a slayer of dangling, squinting and misplaced modifiers."

Best Thriller: 
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Character-based, funny, violent, rich and suspenseful. Timeline flips back and forth between early scenes leading up to each bullet wound in Hawley's body, and his current life doing his best to avoid trouble. 

Michael Kindness from the now-defunct Books on the Nightstand podcast gave this high praise long before it was released, so I've been looking forward to it ever since. I was not disappointed. As I read, I kept seeing Samuel Hawley as Parker in Darwin Cooke's graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark's hardboiled noir series. The difference is that Hawley's earlier life of crime might be redeemed through raising his daughter on his own. 

Best Short Story Collection: 
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
At first I thought I was pushing too quickly through this 400-page collection, and that maybe I should space the stories out with other things, but by the middle of the book I was just too hooked to stop. Autobiographical, warm and colourful: the cumulative effect is like one fat post-modern novel. Berlin has a fabulous conversational style: "matter of fact you can lie and still tell the truth. This story is good and it rings true, wherever it came from." Oh, yes!

"'You get DTs?' Pepe asked.
'Yes,' she lied. God, just listen to me... please accept me you guys, please like me you runny-eyed bums. I don't know what DTs are. The doctor asked me that too, and I said yes and he wrote it down. I think I've had them all my life, if, in fact, they are visions of demons." -from Her First Detox

"It had a fur collar. Oh the poor matted fur, once silver, yellowed now like the peed-on backsides of polar bears in zoos."

"Often they wore their hair in pin curls and a turban, getting their hair ready for - what? This still is an American custom. You see women everywhere in pink hair rollers. It's some sort of philosophical or fashion statement. Maybe there will be something better, later."

"Angie Dickinson liked my eye shadow. I told her it was just chalk, the kind you rub on pool cues."

"I couldn't go to heaven because I was Protestant. I'd have to go to limbo. I would rather have gone to hell than limbo, what an ugly word, like dumbo, or mumbo jumbo, a place without any dignity at all."

Best Picture Book: The Fog by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak
Friendship between misfits with a nerdy hobby + a love of the natural world + global activism on the part of the environment = an adorable picture book with the quiet heft of a velvet hammer. 

Kenard Pak's digitally-manipulated pencil and watercolour art reminds me of Jon Klassen's work. (See I Want My Hat Back, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, and House Held Up by Trees.) 

Tiny yellow bird Warbler, the people-watcher, is pictured with a telescope inside a nest piled high with reference books about humans. The endpapers portray a whimsical array of human types, such as the "Dapper Bespectacled Booklover" and the "Hairy Orange-Crowned Male (Juvenile)." So much to love in this Canadian picture book for all ages.

Best Children's Graphic Novel: Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
Jensen gets through each day at middle school by treating it like a video game, fraught with dangers. This charming graphic novel is chock full of diverse characters and deals well with the issue of bullying. It even made me cry. Creator Svetlana Chmakova immigrated to Canada when she was a teen and she obviously knows what being an outsider feels like.

Best Nonfiction Reportage in Comics Format: 
Hostage by Guy Delisle [translated from French by Helge Dascher]
Another brilliant work of nonfiction comics by Guy Delisle, who can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. This time, instead of documenting his own travel adventures, working in other countries, he tells the true story of a French NGO worker, held hostage in Chechnya for 111 days. I felt like I was right there, experiencing the boredom and despair while chained by the wrist for months. Amazing visual storytelling, few words.

Best Nonfiction Memoir in Comics Format: 
Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke
An eloquent, marvellous and melancholy study of senescence, presented in meticulous art with minimal text. People, relationships, and the things created by humans-- all will crumble to nothing in the end. I've learned from this book that "ruin porn" is a thing. What Radtke manages to do, with clear-eyed compassion, is to allow us to see the beauty in the inevitable. The controlled lifework and attention to photographic detail reminds me of Alison Bechdel's art.

Best Science Fiction Graphic Novel: Bitch Planet, Book 2 
President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick et al.
Volume 2 collects issues #6-10 of this outrageously funny feminist sic fi spoof. It's just as strong as the first volume and I want more! The fake adverts at the end of each issue help to lighten some heavy content in the storyline: "Makeup is also a LIE! You ugly cow, he actually thought you really did have cheekbones that were cut with a laser."

Best Science Fiction Novella: Nuala by Kimmy Beach

"'Why are these irons called sad? What makes an iron sad?'
She laughed at me and explained that neither the irons nor the future Iron-Servants were sad. Did I not notice the joy with which they performed their duties, even though there was then no Giant to wear the dress they tended? It was simply the name given to the heavy slabs of metal."

Teacher-Servant is the human man graced with a giant mechanical puppet's first awakening gaze. He rides on her shoulder as they communicate via thought. "Shh, my Nuala. I am with you. Today I shall teach you the newness of you."

My book club spent a long time discussing this intriguing exploration of jealousy and autonomy, written by an author from nearby (Red Deer, Alberta) and set in an atypical dystopia. The tale is short and haunting. It had me watching hours of videos of giant marionettes on YouTube.

1 comment:

Jenny Colvin said...

I'm glad you ended up liking the Tinti!