September 5, 2016

Brief Reviews for Labor Day.

In the past few weeks, I read some more graphic novels, and some nonfiction and some essays.

First I read “It Gets Worse: A Collection of Essays”.

The blurb on the back compared the author, Shane Dawson, to Sedaris. Liking Sedaris, I picked it up. Overall it wasn’t bad. A lot of it was about being a Youtube star and coming out as bisexual, and he’s a bit younger than me, so there was a some things I couldn’t personally relate to. I remember thinking that his voice needs to mature a bit for me to really like it - I think he’s about ten years younger than I am. But what I realized was that I’m just not his target audience. I haven’t seen any of his work, but from the book it seems his target audience is younger than he is. That said, there were some places I did laugh out loud, so it was worth the read.

I read “Petrograd,” the graphic novel by Gelatt and Crook. This tells the story of the plot to kill Rasputin in St. Petersburg around the time of the Bolshevik revolution. It was really well done, but the angle of the storyteller focused on the British spy service in the city. I don’t know if that is historically true, but I don’t like it in that it takes away agency from the Russian Proletariat in their own revolution. It made me want to finally get to my copy of 10 Days that Shook the World that I bought but left sitting on my shelf for years.

I read “Black Paths” by David B. This is also a graphic novel with a historical bent. But this novel presented something I had never heard about - the siege of the free city of Fiume. It is less straight history but is instead more like reading a dream of someone who has done a lot of reading on the subject recently and someone who has an artistic mind.

I read “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud. I really, really liked this one. It might be the best graphic novel I’ve read since Jeff Smith’s “Bone.” Aside from genre, it is one of the most fully realized pieces of narrative that I’ve experienced in years. I can’t praise it any higher.

It’s a story about what you’ll do to live your dreams as well as what you’ll do for love. I stayed up too late reading it and I woke up my wife blowing my nose from the time it didn’t make me cry - I wasn’t crying I swear you didn’t see anything and can’t prove anything. That was catharsis, the Aristotelian “Purging of Pity and Fear,” that's what that was.

 The only thing that might be a knock against it is that the story is told through male eyes. So the female love interest has a bit of that Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing going on, but as a reader it satisfied both the intellectual and emotional sides of my being, so it worked very well for me.

I read “The Geek Feminist Revolution” by Kameron Hurley. This book contains essays on being a geek, being a woman, being a feminist, and being a writer. Sometimes they’re together, sometimes they’re not. What we also learn is that it is not about ethics in gaming journalism as she touches on the Gamergate phenomena and the attempt by reactionary forces in the scifi community to yoke the passage of time and exclude voices. At this point I haven’t read any of her fiction. I need to fix that. These essays show a strong, confident authorial voice of someone who has thought deeply about writing and everything that affects that in her orbit.

I read “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu. Overall, I liked it, but for me it was one of those books where the cool ideas took over the plot. I’m not sure if this is a translation thing or convention in the native language or being the first novel in the series, but there were some places that it felt like there were just some data-dumps. The plot gets to the idea of any sufficiently advanced technology seems like magic, and we humans are as bugs. But it doesn’t just hand-wave the alien tech and motivation, so it works narratively.

I’m not sure if I’ll read the next two books though, since thought I liked the fiction about the science, ultimately I didn’t really care about the characters. I think part of it is on shoulders. I compare reading this to reading a russian novel. There are a lot of characters and the naming conventions are irregular to someone who reads mostly stuff written in English originally. So I had trouble keeping track of who was doing what because most of the characters had similar names. At least I hope that is it instead of cultural chauvinism.

I read “The Man Who Never Missed” by Steve Perry. Now this is one of those books I normally wouldn’t read, but a friend lent it to me. Then it sat on my shelf for like three years. I might get this back to him now. I read it because I was looking for some short fiction and there it was, guilting me.

Basically, it is the epitome of an 80s action movie. In space. In a book form. The main character is a loner with a conscious. He is an ex-soldier who hates war, so he becomes a rebel. He takes out soldiers that are on a base in a city occupied by the government. But he has a heart, so he doesn’t kill them. Then there’s a climax and you’re lead to believe he’s dead. But there are other books in the series so there’s nothing really at stake there.

It is super 80s in that the action is really good. It’s missing that scene where he really comes to hate the government. The book tells about his desertion, but it lacks something. It’s missing character development. There are only a couple real relationships in the text, and they’re all told straight through this first person construct. There’s a training partner and a mentor and a love interest but none exist independent of the main character. The main character falls in love with the real hot woman he works with and even that doesn’t feel organic. If this were a more ambitious book, i’d say that the flatness of the other characters was some sort of stylistic choice to show something or other about the main character, but I think it’s just authorial laziness or incompetence. But the funny thing is that doesn't make the book bad, because you know that that’s not what the ambition is. It’s a spaghetti western, with space stuff thrown in. Heck, I just might read the other books in the series, just to see what happens.

I read “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

If I said I knew what he was talking about, I’d be lying. I just know that Godel proved him wrong, so we can pass over this in silence.

I did want to make a twitter bot that just  tweeted the propositions, and wait for Godel bot to shout “Nein!”.

There is a prefatory essay by Russell that takes up almost a third of the page count in the Dover edition, and he writes more clearly to someone who is not trained in any form of symbolic logic. Maybe I needed more foundation work before I climbed this mountain.

I read “The Reactionary Mind” by Corey Robin.

I have developed a sort of intellectual crush on Robin in the last several months as I became more aware of his work. I know I have read it before in different platforms, but I started following him on the blogs and the tweeter and the facebooks. I liked his work so much that I wanted to grab something long-form to see the depth of his  though. Though this is ultimately an interesting book, it is not as deep as I was hoping. It’s like that because of how the book is structurally more existing essays that were yoked together to serve a common thesis than a book that evolved from the original thesis.

I also read “Art and Fear” by Bayles and Orland. A friend of mine who is a visual artist struggling to create while balancing a family and a “real job” recommended this to me when I told her I was looking to get back into poetry. She recommended this to me about conceptualizing ways to overcome both internal and external barriers to creating art. It both made me glad I didn’t pursue my MFA in poetry and made me want to go get an MFA, since for me there’s no greater motivation to create art than to be part of a community where it is valued and examined. That’s not many places for the poet in today’s society. You have to get your mind in the place where every situation is the thought of through a poetic or artistic lens, and that’s hard for me to maintain. I think this book helped a bit at that. But I’m still not writing for my art enough. Maybe it will be when I’m less busy, right?