Reading list for Jan-Apr, 2007

I should do this monthly or at least bi-monthly but I kind of got carried away doing other stuff, so here goes nothing:

Title: Lunar Park
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Year: 2005
Publisher: Vintage (softcover)
What: This is part-memoir and part-fiction, in which the character Bret Easton Ellis (the author himself) leads a dysfunctional and fictional life in the suburbs with a wife and kids (all fictional), up until the moment his creation Patrick Bateman (from his other book, American Psych*) bleeds into life and the author-character is haunted by his (real-life) past, and ultimately has to face long-buried feelings towards his dead father.
Comments: This guy is good! This guy is very good... Picture Less Than Zero (another book by Ellis) as if written by Stephen King.
I find it really amazing that this writer- who is my favorite writer, bar none- is actually able not only to cross genres but actually come across them. The book is fiction, of course, but fiction strictly based on reality, then becomes this really spooky ghost story, with a very poignant and emotional ending regarding father-son relationships.
This book is just screaming to become a movie, by the way!

Title: Short Stories
Author: Edith Wharton
Year: (several, see below)
Publisher: Didn’t pay attention
What: It’s a collection of short stories by American author Edith Wharton, ranging from the late 19th-century to the dawn of the 20th. They are mostly comical, a satire on marriage, divorce, high-society life, etc.
Comments: It was indeed better than I expected. I’d only read Wharton’s The Age of Innocence until that point, and I was sort of expecting the tales to be good but to drag a little too slow, but no! The lady actually delivers fast tales with rather caustic lines and wow, makes you say, “Whoa this lady knows how to strut her stuff!”.

Title: Notes From Underground
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Year: 1864
Publisher: I guess it was one of those Penguin things…
What: This is sort of a short novel divided in two parts. In the first one the author rants and raves about… stuff, I don’t know. About not fitting in, I guess.
The second part is mostly this story which sort of illustrates the points made in the first part, in which the author comes to terms with his life on the outskirts of society and how this parallel-existence of his eventually blends over the real world itself.
I don’t know. I think Dostoevsky is kinda beyond my grasp and I should stick to Batman & Robin instead. Hehh.
Comments: Actually it’s sort of like a blog, you know? It kind of predates all those anti-hero characters of literature that came afterwards: the outsider not in-synch with the rest of the world due to the philosophical beliefs he holds sacred and yet hurt him so much. It feels like you’re reading from the fossils for guys like Salinger and Kerouac and even Bret Easton Ellis himself.
But I don’t know, really.

Title: Pride & Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Year: 1813
Publisher: Chalk one more to those Penguin things, I assume.
What: This love story about this girl who has a certain number of sisters, to whom the family is sort of facing difficulties finding suitors, etc, and one of this girl falls fall this really rich guy whom she sorts of snobs at first because he’s somewhat of a dick himself.
Comments: Jesus, this book is a little morose, isn’t it? I sort of grew a love-hate relation with it while reading it because I’m more of a character-oriented guy and I generally don’t really care too much for the plots. But as the book progresses the characters start to grow on you, so...
Anyway, I think Jane Austen is kinda beyond my grasp as well.
Else this is just a chick book, hah!

Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Year: 1886
Publisher: Penguin again? I’m not sure.
What: Well, unless you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon for the last century or so this bit is totally pointless…
Comments: It’s shorter than I expected, for one thing. Which I think it's not bad at all because it’s a little like wading through molasses, a little too slow. I mean, it once took me forever to get to page two of Treasure Island (also by Stevenson) and I pretty much ditched it.
But anyway, it’s interesting. I think my rather-negative feelings to the book come in fact from being eclipsed by the so many adaptations, either in print or screen, that ensued. But it’s a classic, anyway.
I was particularly fascinated by the fact Mr. Hyde is actually a lot smaller than Jekyll, especially at first… not the big, strong guy you picture him to be due to everything that came afterwards. He’s in fact all shriveled and twisted because he represents the dark side of the mostly-good Dr. Jekyll, and starts to get larger as Jekyll’s good influence fades away and he, who was the person at first, becomes the persona and gives way to sin, and to Hyde.

Title: Last Chance to See
Author: Douglas Adams, with Mark Cawardine
Year: 1990
Publisher: No idea.
What: Neither fiction nor comedy (per se), which coming from Adams is what you’d expect. It’s actually a collection of reports about the experiences Adams and ecologist Mark Cawardine had in visiting over many efforts to save endangered species such as the Komodo dragon, the Yangtze river blind dolphin, white rhinos in Zaire, etc. But of course it’s written in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, which makes the book absolutely fascinating!
Comments: Now Douglas Adams was probably… wow. I think it was Neil Gaiman that called him a true genius, and I completely agree. This is a guy who’s a writer of sci-fi comedy and he’s actually writing about real-world, serious problems, and he accomplishes it… the best thing is that he makes you laugh before and after he makes you cry: It’s all written as a series of extremely hilarious mis-adventures by Adams himself and he clumsily follows the field-experienced Cawardine, while he instructs the reader about the animals per se, their environment, dangers to their survival and etc.
I absolutely recommend this book to anybody! In fact, I’m probably posting a few of his quotes in a few weeks.

Title: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker
Year: 1897
Publisher: Penguin again? Who cares.
What: Well…
Comments: A helluva lot better than I expected, and surprisingly a fast-paced, action-packed story at that, especially considering we’re talking 19th-century material here.
Despite being rather lengthy the chapters are short and narrated by a plethora of characters, often ending in cliffhangers.
Dracula, the creature himself, is more of an animal or a force of nature than we’re used to from seeing in the movies (either with Bela Lugosi or Gary Oldman). He actually has fewer lines than you expect and doesn’t appear much, but instead the effects of his doings affect the other characters like ripples in a pond.
I keep wondering of how this book was received back in the day. Clive Barker once joked that it was probably the “trashy novel” of the period and makes me think of stuff like, the Da Vinci Code or something.
But it’s solid, good stuff: It’s just that’s incredibly accessible, that’s all.

Title: Krypton Companion
Author: Michael Eury (editor)
Year: 2007
Publisher: Two Morrows Publishing
What: A collection of (all-new) interviews, articles and indexes regarding Superman during the Silver and Bronze ages of comics, ranging from the second part of the years the character was edited by Mort Weisinger (from 1958 on) up to the last days under Julius Schwartz in ‘86 (before the John Byrne reboot).
Comments: This is gold for any comics reader. Wow. Extensive interviews and articles about Marv Wolfman, Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, Jerry Siegel (obviously), Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Gerry Conway, Wayne Boring, George Perez, Alan Moore, etc etc etc etc. This is an amazing back-stage pass at the moment in time when Superman’s mythology was still cooling down and forming from raw dreamstuff… It’s all in this book: The introduction of Supergirl, Krypto, the Fortress of Solitude, and so on, up to the aftershocks of the Christopher Reeve movies, and well beyond that. It is just packed with never seen before artwork, it’s very richly-illustrated (even though it’s b&w).
But the best part? The book is incredibly light on indexes and technical stuff, and 90% focused on the creators themselves. There’s a long “roundtable discussion” among many Superman professionals talking simultaneously about the same Superman-related subjects. So you got Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek and John Byrne and Roy Thomas and Jon Bogdanove, and many others, just going at it and letting it all out at each other. Fantastic!
I recommend this book to anyone who’s ever wondered where Superman’s popularity stems from, and why and how the character got to become part of worldwide popular culture and he’s today.

Title: All-Star Companion, vol.II
Author: Roy Thomas (editor)
Year: 2006
Publisher: Two Morrows Publishing
What: A follow up to the previous volume in the series. This one has index for all issues pertaining to the Thomas’ penned All-Star Squadron series from the mid-1980s and other satellite series, and also has more incredibly obscure material regarding artwork analysis from 1940s artwork.
Comments: Unlike the Superman book above, this is more heavy on the technical stuff and therefore reaches a narrower audience. But it’s still very good. I loved it anyway!
Even though I’m not really into Roy Thomas as a comics writer, but once he starts writing about his life-long love (the Justice Society of America in the 1940s All-Star Comics), he really hits the mark.
Of course vol.I was better, because they covered most of the 1940s stuff there… with this one he goes deep in some details, speculations and trivia, while remaining very respectful for the legacy that ensued.

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Due to time and space restrictions I’m letting go of the comics I’ve read in the period, but I’d like to make two very strong recommendations: The first one goes for the SUPERMAN: UP, UP AND AWAY tradepaperback, collecting the first “One Year Later” storyline with the Man of Steel as written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns: Very powerful stuff there- a bold, dashing, heroic, sexy Superman written more in touch with the movies than as the boring boy scout he’s most normally depicted in today’s comics. The story follows a powerless Clark Kent as he comes upon a dangerous plot by power-hungry Lex Luthor and can’t really do much about it up until he (slowly) regains his powers and… it’s just amazing, actually. Trust me on this one. Beautiful artwork as well.
The second recommendation goes, as always, for EX MACHINA vol.IV: MARCH TO WAR but of course I don’t have to tell you that.You got me hooked on EM in the first place. But just for posterity, you know. (Other people out there: Go read Ex Machina because it’s a terrific post-9/11 political thriller thinly-veiled as a post-9/11 superhero book. Or is it the other way around? Either way, it works. It’s in fact the only comic book out there that really captures the bona fide zeitgeist of the problems of today’s world.)