Friday, August 01, 2003

Books Worth a Look XVI

These are the books I read in June 2003.

All Gothic 1: The Boats of the Glen Garrig and the House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (Xlibris, 2000)
If the PBS special "Lucky Jim" inspired me to read Kingsley Amis' novel this month, I need to credit reading this pairing of classic gothic horror novels to Richard Corben's recent "House on the Borderlands" graphic novel. The first two books of Hodgson's trilogy helped inspire H.P. Lovecraft's weird fiction, which means that these books' original publication predates the '30s at least. Yet they hold up. The first novel outlines the nautical misadventures of a crew lost in the Land of Lonesomeness. Encountering a placeless state of terror, humanoid fungi, a weed-choked sea, a ghost ship protecting a stranded band, and a slew of hulking horrors, the story is a largely linear tale. The second story, which Corben adapted almost accurately, is much more Lovecraftian in nature. An abandoned house rests not so comfortably above an ancient horror that evokes Ramsey Campbell-like time travel-triggered disease. While Corben's adaptation casts the hero's sister as his demon lover, Hodgson's original text portrays her as an alien adulteress. The description of the heat death of the universe and its aftermath is well worth the price of acquisition alone.
Pages: 317. Days to read: NA. Rating: Good.

Beemer by Glenn Gaslin (Soho, 2003)
I went to college with Glenn. He married the journalistic girl most wanted. He co-authored a Might-like book that sank like a stone. And his first novel is absolutely amazing. Like Maxx Barry's Syrup on uppers, Beemer is an awesome parallel read to D.B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy. A wandering wastrel seeks to secure success by establishing himself as a brand. Combining the occasional cliche with the life-changing lesson, Gaslin attacks pop culture proponents -- comic books, magazines, TV -- as his hero gains work in the advertising world, rekindles a lost advert icon, and gets into the virtual vortex of video games, values, and Variety. The book comes complete with a Brandon Tartikoff fetish and a Fast Company name drop. Required reading for Media Dieticians.
Pages: 261. Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

Buddy the Dreamer by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics, 1994)
I was inspired to revisit Bagge's earlier comics work after a recent email exchange with him about his page-long pieces in Reason magazine and his new comic Sweatshop. The second volume of the Buddy Bradley reprint series collects seven stories taken from Hate #6-10. "Valerie's Parents" shows that there's some gentleness and good in Buddy when it comes to relationships. In "Paranoia Reigns Supreme," Lisa tries to seduce George, reaffirming that "it's a very sick world out there." In the two-part "Follow That Dream," Buddy and Stinky get involved with a touring band, adding some expected Pacific Northwest grunge-rock color. And "The Nut" continues the stereotypical themes of early Fantagraphics books, particularly because of its setting in a used bookstore. Despite the introduction of these pop culture concepts, Bagge continues his character study, establishing Buddy as a mostly helpless -- and hapless -- bystander and expanding Stinky's self-centeredness and Lisa's self-loathing. Not as impressive as the first volume, but still worth revisiting.
Pages: 120. Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Col-Dee by Jordan Crane (Red Ink, 2001)
This slim graphic novelette by Jordan Crane is a well-designed item comprising a tenderly mature two-color story about a young boy and his relationship with his mother. The 7 year old copes with securing status among his circle of friends, his family's poverty, guilt about a small theft, his sick cat, and wanting to do well. The children do the things kids do -- flip off truckers, run errands, tell white lies, believe in magic, enjoy burping, try to one up each other, feel cheated when they lose faith, and try to hide their shortcomings -- but overall, the boy acts quite adult, expressing compassion, love, and remorse. Jordan's artwork is clean and gentle, but it is his writing and sense of design and presentation that really wows me. This book and his other recent work secures Jordan as one of the best comics makers -- and designers -- active in DIY media today.
Pages: 96. Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Cosmic Trigger Vol. 1 by Robert Anton Wilson (New Falcon, 1977)
One of Wilson's most controversial books, this first of three volumes helps expand on the agnosticism and intersubjectivity established by his co-authored magnum opus Illuminatus! And while I've yet to read the volume he wrote with collaborator and co-conspirator Robert Shea, I'd almost rather read Wilson's nonfiction than his fiction. Name dropping luminaries such as Aleister Crowley, Tim Leary, Aldous Huxley, and Uri Geller, Wilson riffs on UFO's, Sirius, the Kennedy assassination, psychedelic drugs, his time working at Playboy (about which I'd like to know more, back-issue hunt begun!), Discordianism, the channeling of ascended masters, space travel, the Masons, synchronicity, and multiple intelligences. It's a wide-ranging and rollicking ride that's a clear precursor to Everything in This Book is False but It's Exactly How Things Are, but it's certainly better written and more legitimate regardless of whether you decide to step across the threshold to enter Wilson's chapel perilous. I wouldn't say the book is mind blowing, but it does make one think.
Pages: 269. Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton (Monolith, 2003)
These five stories were cut from Wheaton's autobiography Just a Geek because "they didn't fit." Offering a nice companion read to that volume, the golden boy child actor-turned-active blogger who just turned 31 isn't a bad writer. But I hope his fans can keep him afloat because it's his Star Trek experience that helps him stand out the most. Adam Curry:MTV::Wil Wheaton:STTNG. Including "short but true stories about life in the so-called space age," the book might be one of the first published under the Creative Commons. All of the pieces originally appeared in Wil's blog, which makes it a nice Web-to-print project. Sharing short stories about losing an aunt, playing hide and seek, getting a girl's phone number, and walking in the rain, the book is largely a container for the standout selection "The Saga of SpongeBob Vegas Pants." That story, which accounts for about two-thirds of the book, considers the science-fiction convention experience, the cultural progeny of William Fucking Shatner, and the creative risks of sketch comedy. The recollection of Wil's talk at the con is priceless, blending narrative with commentary on his personal experience of the speech. Students of fandom will be fascinated. Throughout the book, several aspects of Wil's life become clear: his helpless geekiness, which is charming; his intense love for his wife, which is enviable; and his adoration of the pop-punk band the Ataris, which I hope was slightly lessened by their most recent record. I believe he even name drops Oingo Boingo. That's rad. Not a brilliant read, but not bad at all. Get it for the convention story.
Pages: 116. Days to read: 4. Rating: Good.

Flying Leap by Judy Budnitz (Picador, 1998)
I bought this collection of short stories because Budnitz blurbed the jacket of another book I read recently -- perhaps Matthew Derby's Super Flat Times -- and I figured like likes like. I quite liked the 23 stories collected in this volume. From the Ben Marcus-like tale about a man in a dog suit to the closing first-person piece about a professional baby maker, Budnitz's simple, surreal stories shine with a concrete sense of impressionistic wonder. Themes include affection and loneliness, difficult choices, the heroism of fashion, the roles place and presence can play, popularity, entrapment, lies, the lowest common denominator and how quickly it can change, accelerated relationships, secrets, the love of leprosy, the stories people carry, and noisy neighbors. Like glimpses into an alternate reality, Budnitz's fiction feels like home yet horrible. I need to read more.
Pages: 244. Days to read: 31. Rating: Excellent.

Hey, Buddy! by Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics, 1993)
Collecting material from the first five issues of the comic book Hate, which was published in the early '90s, the first volume of the "complete Buddy Bradley stories" comprises nine selections. Readers are introduced to Buddy, his living space, his friends, his love life, his lifestyle, his cultural tastes, and his roommates. Those, as well as other people in his life, may be more interesting than Buddy himself, but he serves as an excellent centerpiece for the other characters. Stinky, Buddy's cheap, complaining, and duplicitious roommate, stands out, making Buddy look more mature and responsible by comparison. Conversely, George Cecil Hamilton III is a conspiracy theorist and obsessive martyr who wallows in popular TV programs as "research." Their interactions, in addition to Buddy's relationships with Lisa and Valerie -- much less Buddy's brother -- provide rich material for storytelling and character study. The bonus piece, "Prisoners of Hate Island," is a self-deprecating poke in the ribs of Bagge, Gary Groth, and Kim Thompson, offering some jokey context for the other stories. Reading this book now doesn't feel as epiphanal as reading Hate did when it was first published, but it's still more solid and important than the quaint example of early '90s indy comics that it could be. That speaks well of Bagge's body of work.
Pages: 116. Days to read: 2. Rating: Good.

Keeping Two Part 2 by Jordan Crane (Red Ink)
As the printed version of part two of Jordan's comics story originally published on Highwater Books' Web site, this is more comic book than book, but I read it as a book rather than as part of a batch of comics and zines. So here we go. Perhaps Jordan's most serious work to date, the story includes two intertwining storylines, one in which a young couple experiences a miscarriage, and another in which a second young couple deals with the ups and downs in their relationship, as well as the loss of the man's mother's dog. The ending is foreboding, as the man imagines the passing of his partner, and the overall impression is one of remorse and loneliness, even in the company of others. I can't wait until the entire storyline is collected into a book of its own.
Pages: 48. Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (Penguin, 1961)
After watching the PBS adaptation of this witty British novel originally published in 1954, I had to read the book. And it is such a good read. Amis' comedy of manners involving the denizens of a second-rate post-war preparatory school is wickedly funny and includes several intriguing characters. Teacher Jim's entanglement with the daft but dedicated Margaret, love of pints, scheduled cigarette smoking, and befuddlement about buffoons adds up to create a forlorn hero out of his element. His love for Christine, who is likewise entangled with the asinine artist Bertrand, is worth cheering for, and while the conclusion of the novel doesn't quite match the TV program's righteous -- though thoroughly ripped -- call for quality education, Jim gets lucky and the ill-suffered fools get their comeuppance in the end. Wonderful.
Pages: 251. Days to read: 8. Rating: Excellent.

Purple Cow by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2002)
Seth Godin's the greatest guy. He's bald. He's brilliant. He's hyperactively innovative. One Fast Company editor recently described him as a Unit of 20. So it's no surprise that the post-Yahoo marketing maven's most recent manifesto is a quick hit. Focusing on "how to transform your business by being remarkable," Seth ups the ante on his thought virus marketing theories by calling for an increase in quality and character during a downturn economy's days of grey. In about 75 easily digestible chunks, Seth describes the value of vigor, the death of the TV-industrial complex, what's wrong with the Wall Street Journal, the deficits of the attention economy, the mishaps of measurement, the parody paradox, and what it means to be a marketer. Like Chinese food, Seth's writing isn't always filling, but it's still nutritious food for thought. The man's a brand. He's a master of the sound bite. And he walks the talk, supporting the book with a viral marketing campaign and book-mentioned Web that works additional wonders. The airplane ride it takes to read this book, which I nibbled at over time, is well worth yours.
Pages: 145. Days to read: 13. Rating: Good.

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