February 2016 – Reading Wrap Up

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So February was African-American History Month, and as usual, it was a month of learning loads of new things for me as I engaged in reading focused on the lives of African-Americans and POC. As usual, I enjoyed the heck out of it so I’ll definitely be doing this again next year.

Here’s the list of the titles that I have read lately that were linked with that theme:

I also attended some cultural events held at university over the month:

And February was a fun month! I’ve learned a lot about the world in which we all live and opened my mind with some (helpfully) challenging reads. Definitely going to continue reading more diversely this year as I’m really enjoying the whole thing.

Read on, my friends.

Aya: Love in Yop City – Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (2013)

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This was another good read from Abouet and Oubrerie. (See my review of the first volume here.) Still set on the Ivory Coast in Western Africa, the story continues to follow Aya (now a young woman at university) and her small circle of friends. This Aya is a more mature character, although still young in situations, and she works her way through various issues: boyfriend problems, love and friendship issues, loyalty and other weighty subjects, all of which are handled in a realistic fashion. (Another reason that I enjoy the Aya series: she’s a female role model with problems that a lot of people worldwide can recognize regardless of where they live.)

Aya now has more grown-up challenges to deal with: sexual harassment from an authority figure, rumor and speculation, LBQT issues – and so the story is gradually woven together with several threads. Along side these, the narrative also jumps from city to village in Cote D’Ivoire but also to Paris at times. So not only does the reader have to contend with a large number of fairly random characters, the story also jumps very suddenly from an African village to the arrôndisements of Paris without much explanation.

It’s a lot to keep up with, dear reader, and I must confess that when I had finished my initial reading, I was mightily confused as to who was who and why they were doing what they were doing with whom they were doing it and where they were doing it.

(To prevent this experience, I would recommend that (a) you read Aya Volume I fairly close to reading this volume, and (b) you study the friends/family diagrams at the front of the book.)

So although I was so confused about everything and everyone in the story when I had finished, I still went back and read it through again. Why? Because my initial experience of enjoying the read of Volume I had me convinced that I was missing a lot and should read it again, hoping that the narrative would make more sense this time around. It did. In fact, it was a completely different reading experience this second time around, and I was glad I had taken the time to do that. Learning who the characters were and how they related to one another was like unlocking a code to the narrative so I highly suggest that you take the time. LFMF.

As with Aya Volume I, this was an enjoyable read about a smaller country in Africa during a time when it was fairly stable both economically and politically speaking, and where its residents enjoyed fairly normal lives with fairly average concerns and not the huge staggering problems (a la LiveAid) that one usually associates with the continent such as HIV/AIDS, hunger and drought.

I am so glad that I stayed the course and read it through that second time. Hopefully, you won’t have to do a second read, but if you do, just know that it’s worth it. Great art work as well.

 

Catch Up Time

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Just wanted to do a catch-up post so that I could mention some things that I’ve been reading. These are still good reads, but just didn’t merit a huge detailed review of the experience. As I mentioned, they’re still good (for the most part).

The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide (2014)book366

Slightly strange slight novel about a young couple who live in a house where a neighborhood cat drops by with some regularity. As the (glacial) pace of the narrative continues, the couple become fond of their guest cat, but the whole thing is written with such surgical distance that it was rather difficult for me to become glued to the story. I’m not sure if it was me or the book, but this was a toughie to enjoy.

Leaf – Daishu Ma (2015)

book367A wordless graphic novel that has a narrative that’s very open to interpretation. The arc follows a young person who lives in a rather stark black and white world (illustrations are great, btw) where the only color comes from a few blue lights that stand out in the darkness. And then one day, he finds a large yellow glowing leaf and the remainder of the narrative is focused on trying to find out more about the leaf.

It’s a fairly simple message and yet so open to interpretation that the meaning could be different from one reader to the next. I’m on the edge about books with a message this diluted: does that narrative have enough meaning in the end or is the author/artist expecting the reader to do much (too much?) of the heavy lifting? It’s an interesting thought to pursue.

I’m probably making much more of it than it’s intended, but it would be interesting to read this and then hear how others from very different backgrounds (socio-economic, cultural, heritage, age) may interpret it. Is it a message similar to The Lorax (Seuss) or is it something else?

book363And I really enjoyed Oliver Twist, but didn’t have enough time in the end to get a proper post about it. However, don’t let that deter you. It’s a brick of a book (go me!) and is worth every page. I just adore Dickens’ writing and sense of humor.

And now I’m back at work which is a mixed bag of blessings: I enjoy it and yet it’s hard to beat three weeks of total messing around. But you know – at least I have a job I enjoy so if I do need to spend a lot of my time doing something, this ain’t too bad. 🙂

French Milk – Lucy Knisley (2007)

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Another good graphic novel title from Lucy Knisley written with the same trademark sense of humor and feel as her other autobiographical books. This particular title covered Lucy’s trip to France with her mom when they both rented an apartment close to the center of Paris. (Who are these people who do such things? Do they not have to work? Are they independently wealthy?)

Anyway, it was a pretty fun light-weight read one evening (although there were times when I wanted to bonk Lucy on the head for complaining about things every now and then. Appreciate what you have, my friend.) I do adore her artwork and am looking forward to whatever she publishes next. (That’s the sign of a good author!)

If you like Knisley, try her other reads here:

Displacement: A Travelogue – Lucy Knisley (2015)

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This was a good graphic novel read of the fairly typical mode of bildungsroman (coming of age) structure, but this was notably different from most GNs with that structure in that it was a positive take on learning some lessons. (I find that more than a few GNs which are autobiographical in some way tend to be slightly morose and a touch whiny, but Knisley is very different in that manner: one of the many reasons why I enjoy her GNs so much is her optimism.)

So to the narrative: the author goes on a week-long cruise to accompany her elderly grandparents, both of whom are more than 90 years old, as a grand-daughter and as a caretaker. Clearly the trip wasn’t going to be that easy – both the Grands (as Knisley calls her grandparents) have difficulty with mobility, the grandma has pretty bad dementia, and the grandpa accidentally wets his pants quite frequently (and is unwilling to change his clothing). Aaah. Fun Times.

Knisley is a graphic artist who is really skillful at using her art to give a really strong sense of place to her readers. When I read the story in one go the first time, I could almost see the grandparents’ water-front room and balcony on the ship, and rather unfortunately, smell grandpa.

Being responsible for every aspect of the eldercare can be a large load to lift, especially when you’re by yourself. I imagine it was tough for Knisley, and hats off to her for being willing to support her grandparents in this way. She doesn’t flinch from the rough side of love, and shows both the flip sides of her annoyance with Grandma’s lack of memory and Grandpa’s damp pants with the guilt and love that she feels for them.

And interestingly at the same time, the structure is also built around Knisley reading her grandfather’s actual journal entries from when he was a fighter pilot in WWII, and the contrast between the very able and physically capable young man that her grandfather was in his younger days, and the rather frail very old man that Knisley sees in front of her is incredibly well handled.  As the narrative moves back and forth between the past and the present, I could really empathize with her dueling set of feelings, and yet at the same time, I was also sympathetic with her grandparents as it’s clear that they weren’t doing things just to be difficult. The two perspectives were well done.

I really enjoy Knisley’s work (see my review of Relish and The Age of License), and I’m sad that there is only one more title in her current oeuvre for me to read. Hopefully, more on the way!

May 2015 Reading Review

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For May 2015, I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Stage Kiss – Sarah Ruhl (2014) – play

American Notes for General Circulation – Charles Dickens (1842) – NF – travel

Ghost World – Daniel Clowes (1992) – GN-fiction

The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby (2004) – NF – essays

Saddlebags for Suitcases – Mary Bosanquet (1942) – NF (Post to come – maybe)

  • Total number of books read in April: 5
  • Total number of pages read: 925 pages (av. 185 pages)
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction: 3 NF, 1 graphic novel and 1 play.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 2 library books and 1 owned books. 2 e-books this month (although one in progress). (Total of 16 books off TBR this year.)

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March 2015 Reading Review

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For March 2015, I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

  • Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude – Amy Bloom (essays on gender) (NF 2003) (no blog post but fascinating nevertheless)
  • So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ (F 1980)
  • The Girl with the Green Eyes – Edna O’Brien (F 1962)
  • Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography – Andrew Heifer/Randy DuBurker (GN/NF 2006) (no blog post)
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley – Alex Haley (NF 1965) – DNF (50%) (no blog post due to time, but fascinating nevertheless)
  • Little Bee – Chris Cleave (F 2008)
  • Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid (F 1983)
  • Ethel & Ernest – Raymond Briggs (GN-NF 1998)
  • Fungus the Bogeyman – Raymond Briggs (GN 1977)
  • Midnight Sun – Ben Towle (GN 2007)
  • The Tale of One Bad Rat – Bryan Talbot (GN 1995)

Total number of books read in March: 11

Total number of pages read: 1,354 pages (av. 135 pages)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 4 NF (including 2 graphic non-fiction books) and 7 F (including 3 graphic novels). 1 DNF NF.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 6 library books and 5 owned books. 0 e-books this month (although one in progress). (Total of 11 books off TBR this year.)

Raymond Briggs – Still Great…

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Continuing with my graphic novel binge from our Snow Day the other day….

book343I dug in my shelves and found “Ethel and Ernest: A True Story” (1998), a GN by English author Raymond Briggs. (You might know Briggs from his work, “The Snowman”, which sometimes comes on TV at Christmas.) This was a wonderful read, poignant with crayon drawings (as opposed to the harsher pen/ink) and closely follows the biographies of two ordinary people who get married and live their lives through the twentieth century. Based on the story of his parents’ lives, this is structured so that the reader sees UK history through the lens of these two people as it happens: WWII, rationing, austerity, stereo, TV, buying their own car, Labor government. They move on as best they can with the husband having stronger political views and the wife pretending to not know and just agree when she really does understand events. Her gentle teasing of her long-time husband, familiar to anyone in a long-term comfortable relationship of any gender combination, will ring true along with a realistic portrayal of aging which, in this case, eventually shows one of the pair having Alzheimer’s. The couple lived in the same house for 41 years which provides an unchanging backdrop to the ever-changing world about them. A lovely and poignant story written with love.

book344Then, I found another Raymond Briggs’ work, “Fungus the Bogeyman” (1977). I had read this when it first came out and when I was 14 and I enjoyed it then, but this reread was a much deeper appreciation as I saw Briggs’ many literary and word-related sly jokes which had gone right over my head when I was younger. The actual story is presented as a “Day in the Life…” of Fungus the Bogeyman who, with his family, lives in dread of clean and dry places up above his home in the open air. He’s not the only Bogeyman, but lives in a community of others, most of whom go up to do their daily jobs of scaring unassuming quiet vicars on an evening walk and waking up babies from their sleep. However, along with this fairly humdrum life, Fungus is also dealing with an existential crisis of his own, pondering the meaning of his life and asking himself: What was the point of being a Bogeyman? He analyzes his life: a lovely dirty wife, a lovely dirty boy called Mould (respecting the UK spelling there), and pets called Mucus. But what more was there for him in his life? Readers are given a detailed field guide (of sorts) to how the Bogeys live and it really was very sly witted on so many levels. Bogeys love literary quotations, but always misquote them so it was fun (and tricky!) to try and work out which ones he was quoting on his bicycle journey to the outer world. I enjoyed this when I first read it in 1977, but I really appreciated the clever wordplay when I read it on Friday.

Scab and matter custard,/

Snot and bogey pie,/

Dead dog’s giblets,/

Green cat’s eye./

Spread it on bread,/

Spread it on thick./

Wash it all down with a cup of cold sick.*

(Children’s rhyme from England, oral tradition.)

(And related to not much — look what I found in my bookshelves the other day looking for graphic novels…a 1974 Star Trek Annual with scary illustrations of Spock and Kirk and co.)

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* The word “sick” (in my English childhood) referred to the actual product of vomiting (i.e. the vomitus). It wasn’t the verb (meaning “generally feeling unwell”) that it is in the U.S., and so when I first arrived in Texas and people referenced that they were (or had been) “sick”, I just thought that there was a lot of throwing up going on which I found to be confusing as ‘Mericans tend to be quite healthy. (I know this small nugget of memory is fascinating and amazing for you all.)

February 2015 Reading Book Numbers…

black-history-month_2 For February 2015, I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker (F)

Packing for Mars – Mary Roach (NF)

Brown Girl, Brownstones – Paule Marshall (F)

March Book Two – John Lewis/Nat Powell (GN-NF)

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby (F) – post to come

Victorian Hospitals – Lavinia Mitton (NF)

  • Total number of books read in February: 5
  • Total number of pages read: 1,446 pages (av. 289 pages)
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction: 1 F and 4 NF
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 3 library books and 2 owned books. 0 e-books this month. (Total of 8 books off TBR pile this year.)

One special note was that I read some African-American literature (and non-fiction) which was eye-opening and fascinating for me. In case you’re interested and so they are all in one place, here’s the list:

(And more titles from POC authors on the way… I am really enjoying finding new titles.)

Goodness gracious me. I seem to not have read as many books as usual… Work has been very all encompassing which helps to explain the low numbers. Several big reports mean two tired eyes at the end of the day!

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Snowflakes and Sequential Art…

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It’s been unusually snowy for the last few days here in West Texas, and since it is rather infrequent for our area, that means that workplaces tend to veer on the side of caution which, for me, meant a SNOW DAY for the entire university. I don’t know about you, but for us here, an entire snow day is almost unheard of and thus there was much rejoicing across the city when this news was announced very early that morning.

(And here I must beg understanding from those of you who have been piled under huge snow drifts for most of 2015. We probably only got about 4”-6” and some drifting but when you don’t get much, it’s Snow-pocalypse.)

And so these unexpected free hours have been spent wallowing in books (naturellement) and in graphic novels in particular. The library had had a graphic novel display last time that I had visited and there were quite a few titles that I hadn’t seen before and which looked interesting. And thus, the link between snowflakes and sequential art (another name for graphic novels, which, to be honest, seems like another name for grown-up comics – “grown-up” not in a naughty way but in a not-kid-like way.)

book340First up on the pile was a small book called “Midnight Sun” by Ben Towle (2007), a GN story that was based on a true historical event in 1928 when an Italian airship crashed in the Arctic on the way back from a trip to the North Pole (an event that I’d never heard of). The group of survivors was composed of men from European countries and theirs was a rather harrowing journey of survival (as were others around that time and before). I am not sure how much of the story was true (apart from the actual crash), but the story seemed pretty non-fiction without any magical realism elements in it and seeing as it featured snow in a starring role seemed an a propos title to start the read. Overall, this was ok but nothing too amazing.

book341Next was an English GN called “The Tale of One Bad Rat” by Bryan Talbot (1995), an author/artist who has done work with Neil Gaiman, another author out there. This title was more reality-based (but still fiction) that dealt with a young English woman who runs away from her home to escape ongoing childhood sexual abuse. So – not an easy read, but handled well. The protagonist has a pet rat that she rescued from her school lab and so they’re both on the run from horrible lives. Although this story ends in the way you’d expect it to, it was still a great read (despite the horrible issue) and was very well done. I thought Talbot nailed the slightly gritty side of England really well, and that was refreshing to see. So – this was a good one.

book342Third up was a GN titled “Country of Wolves” by Neil Christopher/Ramon Perez (2013) and this may have been good, but I didn’t get that far as it was far too scary for me. :-} It did come with a CD of the short animation film of the book, but again – too scary for this feeble creature.

And then I pulled out my old Raymond Briggs (UK author) but I’ll save those for another day.

book345And, to finish up, I really did read some comics as I happen to have a 1988 Dandy Annual (featuring old chestnuts like Desperate Dan and Korky the Cat) and which was actually groaningly humorous in places. We all three kids would get Saturday morning printed comic books of Beano, Dandy, and Beezer and there would be much sharing to make them last longer. (More of the explosions and accident humor of 1950s Tom and Jerry cartoons than the gentle comics of nowadays, and yet we survived to live the day…) 🙂

This was a fun way to spend the day, and thanks to the Weather Gods for providing us with a nice snowy day.