June 20, 2016

Recent Reads

76. Asterios Polyp
The thing about art, is that it is often impossible to convey what you feel about it to anyone else, and that is exactly how I feel about this graphic novel. Please bear with me while I try.

On the surface this is a simple story of a man who is middle aged, and his life has not turned out as he hoped. He is a successful theoretical architect. Stop for a second and think about what that actually means. In this case, it means that he has award winning designs that never get built. The story moves back and forth between the present and the past, and one of the things that comes through very clearly is how unlikable a character he really is. What events have conspired to bring him to his present situation, and is there any hope of redemption?

This graphic novel takes some very philosophical questions and explores them in art form. What is art? Who are we? What makes us who we are? How do our childhood wounds affect the adults we become? Can we really ever connect and communicate with another person? The art is really important in this one. The colors and the types of marks used all convey meaning, so you need to pay really close attention. How the author uses them to explore these themes is wonderful, and that spotlight sequence with Hana stopped me in my tracks.

The only reason I docked a star is that the ending was a bit Hollywoody for me. I'm not a fan of putting a bow on it, and it felt a tad contrived. I highly recommend this one, and expect to read it again. Rating: 4 stars.

77. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Reading this novel really brought to mind the notion of confirmation bias.

From Wiki: Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

This novella (it's about 150 pages, never mind what the hardcover page count claims), is written for a bibliophile audience, and panders to everything that will cause said reader to nod head in vigorous agreement.

For example: Books great. Readers make the best friends/lovers/insert your fantasy here. Cannot possibly have any friends or intimates who do not read. Vampires bad. Indie bookstore awesome. Online stores bad. Ereaders bad.

Did you feel your head nodding? Then you might enjoy this book. It is a light, breezy, fast read about a grumpy indie bookseller who finds a baby left abandoned in his bookstore, and life is henceforth fun and easy, even death, lack of money, and divorce is not a problem. Turn that frown upside down! This book skims so much that it barely touches the surface of issues of race (on a New England island at that!), adoption, grief, financial worries, or really any more complex emotions at all other than what a dog might experience, albeit if said dog could read.

This one gives chick lit a bad name, and could be read by YA audiences, though not sure why they would bother. "A love letter to the world of books" it is not in my opinion. Yet so many readers (including my friends) have loved this one, maybe because it reads like a fairy tale. I simply do not understand all the love. It is not well written, the characters are caricatures, and the plot is all tell and no show. No show at all - and that is something even the main character himself criticizes.

Still, I can understand how one might be delighted by references to books or stories one has already read, and there are some cute moments, and if not for that I would have docked an additional star. Remember how you felt after you ate cotton candy at the fair? How there was this fluffy sweet taste in your mouth for a brief moment, and then it melted away to nothing? No aftertaste, simply nothing? That is how I feel about this one. Rating: 2 stars.

78. Moose
Bullying is a thing, and probably has been a thing since humans first formed cliques of any kind. This graphic novel is the story of Joe, a high school student, whose life is a kind of hell when we check in with him. He is bullied mercilessly and has no-one he can turn to for help.

The simple, stark, no frills black and white art painfully evokes the world of terror occupied by Joe. The author captures the isolation, despair, and loneliness felt by Joe, and accurately depicts how clueless many adults, including loving parents, can be, to the hell that is childhood for some kids.

This graphic novel is labeled YA, and would make an excellent short story for discussion on the topic with older teens, as some of the things that happen are quite explicit, and might not be appropriate for a middle grade reader. What happens in this story will haunt me for a long time. Rating: 4 stars.

79. Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
Whether living in New York, London, or Lahore, the author considers Pakistan home, and as many people who are displaced either by necessity or choice know, this can lead to severe emotional turbulence.

This slim book is a collection of previously published essays on the author's musings on books he has read and loved, or not, on marriage and extended family, on being a father, on being a Muslim man in the post 9-11 world, on being an author, on the politics of Pakistan, the Pakistan-India relationship, on US Drone attacks, on Islam.

It is a good collection, but not a great one. Some of the essays are really short, while others are feature length. There are wonderful tidbits and insight to be gathered and marinated over, but as with any collection, I liked some of these essays better than others. Rating: 3 stars.

80. Thirteen Hours (Benny Griessel #2)
This was exactly the right book at the right time for me. I was in the mood for a fast paced thriller, and this, the second book in the Benny Griessel series, did not disappoint.

When an American backpacker disappears in Cape Town, the clock starts counting down, and the story moves along at a breathless pace for the next thirteen hours (hence the title). I really like that this South African detective series incorporates complex post-apartheid issues into the plot. The writing is really good, the characters well fleshed out, and the seemingly unrelated strands of the story converge in a satisfying manner.

That the audiobook is wonderfully narrated by Simon Vance was the icing on this already delicious cake. Rating: 4 stars.

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