Adventures in Comic Book Land

Once upon a time, I was a major book snob. When I was in junior high and high school, I had this ‘tude about reading any book that wasn’t over 100 years old or at the top of a list of the greatest books of all time or that didn’t come in an edition with “classics” in the title. I looked down my nose at people who picked up books with cutesy girly covers or anyone who looked like Fabio, or resided in any section of the bookstore not marked “Literature.” Yep. BOOK SNOB.

And then I read Harry Potter. I don’t even remember the circumstances of how I ended up picking up a Harry Potter book anymore (I think it was a gift from someone who did not understand my book snobbery and simply knew that it was a popular book), but suffice to say, it changed my reading life. Not the first time I read the book though. I read the first two or three and didn’t think about them again until a friend asked me to see the first movie with her. At dinner after the movie, she told me all about how magical these books were and I decided to give them another shot. And I fell in love. So in love that I took a course in college devoted to analyzing children’s fantasy literature and Harry Potter. And that made me fall even more in love. There was this whole other world of books out there that I’d suddenly discovered once I dialed back my inner book snob, and it was freaking awesome.

Jump forward a few years and my reading tastes had broadened to whatever interesting-sounding books I came across while wandering the local bookstore. (See, this is why physical bookstores matter!) But then I discovered Twitter and Goodreads, and that there were other people in the world that were as ridiculously obsessed with reading as I was. And that I could talk to those people about books! Needless to say, that was also a life-changer. The book-ternet has introduced me to corners of the book world that I might never have found on my own, and broadened my reading horizons to an extent that I never imagined. I read widely now, not with my nose in the air, and love it. I’ve discovered that science fiction is actually one of my favorite genres (never saw that one coming), that I love unreliable narrators of all stripes, and that I (still) don’t tend to like books with happy endings.

Something else I’ve discovered recently? A love of comic books.

Before recently, I’d only been to the comic book store a few times as a kid, tagging along with my brother. I was not into the whole superhero thing, unless the characters were dark and twisted and seriously messed up, a la Christian Bale’s Batman or Heath Ledger’s Joker. And even then, I’d see the movie but you’d never see me holding a comic book. The first graphic novel I picked up on my own was V for Vendetta, and only after I had seen and loved the movie. I’d occasionally branch out and grab a graphic novel or graphic memoir from the library, but only when I felt like law school had taken over my brain so much that I was hardly reading otherwise. I read Maus and Persepolis, because those were “serious” graphic novels about important historical events and that made them okay.

And then, the book-ternet changed my mind. I started seeing articles about Marvel and diversity in my Twitter feed, about how new comic books were crossing race and gender lines with characters in interesting ways and that piqued my interest. Book Riot, one of my favorite online book sites, runs a series of videos and other pieces about being a comic book newbie, and started doing other comics-related posts. (Book Riot now has a new sister site called Panels, which is all about comics and is seriously awesome.) People I follow online whose book recommendations I trust started posting about the comics they were reading too. So my curiosity got the better of me. I checked out the first volumes of Sandman and Locke & Key — both comic books written by people who wrote books too (Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill, respectively). I picked up Alan Moore’s Watchmen on recommendation from my boyfriend’s co-worker (who is a comic book collector and was very excited to share LOTS of recommendations and comic book history with me). I also picked up Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, which does a great job of explaining comic book history and exploring comic books as a medium and language.

And WOAH. I found out what I had been missing out on! There were superhero comics that were awesomely dark and twisty, but also superhero comics that were hysterically funny. There were also non-superhero comics that were telling amazing stories through beautiful art with deeply developed characters. (I defy you to read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and not fall in love with comic books. It only took me one volume.) I’ve binged through entire series in trade paperback form. I’ve started buying single issues of comic books regularly, keeping up with series that I love. I made my first (and several more) trips to the comic book store. I have a pull list. I’m addicted.

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I’m going to attempt to share some of that love here on the blog. In the same way that we have Staff Picks posts about books we love, I’m going to start posting Pull List posts about comic books I’m loving or planning to check out. And I’d love to hear if there are comic books that you love, and think I should try.

So come on into Comic Book Land with me, and stay awhile — the reading’s fine!

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Staff Picks: Recent Reads

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It’s been quiet on the blog, and much of the radio silence has been because Alex (AP) and I are both currently studying for the NY bar exam, which (oh no!) is at the end of this month. But if you think that finishing my last semester of law school and studying for the bar would keep me from reading anything, well friends, you would be dead wrong. So here are my thoughts on a few of the books that I’ve read (and enjoyed) in the last few months. Hope you find a good recommendation or two in here!

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

20565982I really enjoyed The Hundred-Year House. I must admit that I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at the halfway mark—the first half is a story told in the present time of a marriage, with family mysteries and secrets and ghosts. The house gets under people’s skins. This first section was interesting but I wasn’t satisfied with the way it wrapped up in the end. But once I started on the other sections, I got it. The second half of the book is divided into three sections—one set in the 1950s (when the Devohr family returns to the house), one set in 1929 (when the house was an artist colony), and a final prologue that is set in 1900 (when the house is first being built). In effect, the story is told backwards. When you reach the end of one section, part of the story wraps up but there’s a mystery or two left unresolved. The section that follows provides enough background to solve the mystery, or at least provide enough context to make the reader thinks it is solved, and then develops a new mystery, to be explained in the next section. I loved the way the story unfolded backwards through history, giving the reader a glimpse of the past and then developing each story. There isn’t a complete resolution, but by the end the reader has enough information to figure out what happened to (and in) the house over the last hundred years, and it’s a wonderful story.

The Hundred-Year House comes out on July 10.

 

Annihilation + Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

1793453018077769Annihilation is the first book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and Authority is the second. These two books are absolutely fantastic and creep-tastic.

In Annihilation, we follow the twelfth expedition into Area X, an area that has been cut off by mysterious natural (?) forces and been essentially reclaimed by nature. The twelfth expedition is made up of four women, including a biologist who is the narrator of the story. The book is deliciously creepy, not in a scary monsters kind of way, but in a drawn-out suspenseful, unsettling kind of way. I could not put this book down.

Authority, is the story of John Rodriguez (aka “Control”), the newly appointed head of the Southern Reach, the secret agency that monitors the expeditions into Area X, like the expedition in Annihilation. From interrogations, hidden records, disturbing videos, and all kinds of other investigation, Control is forced to confront some incredibly disturbing realities about himself, his history, and the Southern Reach. Authority wasn’t quite as compelling as Annihilation at first, but the story picked up and got more and more unsettling, until I couldn’t put it down either.

I can hardly wait for the last book in the trilogy, Acceptance, coming out in September.

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Mental Illness in Fiction

One of the things I love most about reading books is that reading allows you to step into the mind and life of somebody else and, in a way, experience the world from a point of view that you might never get a chance to understand otherwise.

In law school, I spent 3 semesters as a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at my school. The clinic works with military veterans to help them get VA benefits, get their discharges upgraded, file lawsuits, etc. etc. Basically anything that a veteran could need legal help with, we did. One of the most fascinating aspects of the work is that many of the veterans the clinics helps have some kind of mental illness—PTSD, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, depression, etc. Until I began working with these clients, I don’t think I ever really understood what mental illness does to a person, how it can impair their functioning, and what it really means to live with something like PTSD or bipolar disorder. Continue reading

Filling in Reading Gaps

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I read A LOT, across many genres and types of books. But while I’ve always been a big reader, I realized recently that I don’t feel like I’m actually very well-read. That is, there are so many books and authors that I feel like I “should” have read—books that serve as cultural signposts—that I’ve just missed out on somehow over the years. When I was younger, I didn’t really know much about more contemporary, modern fiction, or even that much about literary fiction period. I hardly knew any authors whose books weren’t “classics.”

 

And now I’m realizing that I’ve missed out. The more I read, the more I discover how little I’ve read. I’ve never picked up a book by David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Safran Foer; I know nothing about George Eliot and the only thing I really know about Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath is that they both committed suicide. Murakami? Pynchon? Sherlock? Douglas Adams? Donna Tartt? None of the above. I’ve hardly made a dent in the classics, let alone the modern classics.

 

So I decided to try to fill in the gaps. About two years ago, I posted on my Tumblr that I was going to start a fill in the gaps project, something that I had seen several book bloggers that I follow do—essentially, creating a list of about 100 books that they wanted to read over a 5 year time frame in order to fill in what they saw as gaps in their reading lives. So I decided to do one too—putting together a list of 120 books across a variety of genres, mostly randomly chosen from my shelves, and told myself I wanted to have read 75% of those (90 books) within 5 years.

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AP’s Review of Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead.

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AP’s Review of Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

 

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If you’re a fan of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’re going to have repeated moments of deja vu while reading this one. Yet, if you’re a fan of Perks, I can also tell you that you will enjoy Ava Dellaria’s Love Letters to the Dead. Walking in the footsteps of Stephen Chbosky, Dellaira’s take stands partially in the shadow of Perks, but emerges its own tale as you learn about the beautifully tragic lives of Laurel, a high school freshman, her friends, family, and her dead sister, May.

It starts out as an assignment in English Class– write a letter to a dead person. While you may think that this book would be about correspondences with Laurel’s dead sister, May, it’s far from it. Struggling to find her own identity and to cope with the tragic loss of May, Laurel begins to write to people, celebrities, that May loved– Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, etc. Through these letters, you witness Laurel’s struggle, her growth, her relationships, and slowly, you learn pieces of the story of her sister, May. May’s story is devastating to both Laurel and the reader and is a harrowing look inside the world of peer pressure and growing up. Continue reading

BoTM: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

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AP’s Thoughts On & A Letter to the Author of

The Art of Fielding 

by Chad Harbach

10996342 Dear Mr. Harbach,

It’s been a while since I have truly fallen in love with a book. I have enjoyed them, torn through their pages in a “eat all the potato chips” kind of fashion, just to get to the end (or the bottom of the bag). But the last time I craved a book, was so captivated by its story, its characters, it prose… goodness I can’t really tell you when that last happened.

I knew after the first couple of chapters that I was dangerously hooked to this book. The story of a young man as a baseball player in college and his mentor who loses out on a chance to be something to himself instead of something to everyone else. The story of the baseball player’s gay roommate, intellectual and beautiful, who lures the heart of the College Dean whose mind fixates on studies and the ever-puzzling topic of his daughter. How their stories weave in and out of each other, amazingly their own, together a beautiful tapestry of life, love, and being human.

When I started your book, I thought I had found this little gem that no one else in the world had stumbled upon. How come no one else was talking about this wonderful book? Was I the only one staying up until 3 am the week a research paper, Bar Application, and grant proposal were due just to read about Owen and Guert? I found myself savoring each page, just like the first time I read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (which I later took to calling your book, “John Irving Does baseball beyond the first chapter.”). Continue reading

Wingardium Leviosa.

On my eleventh birthday, I am pretty sure my parents gave me everything I wanted. I’m pretty sure my friends attended some awesome birthday party my mom slaved to put together. I am pretty sure my Dad took pictures and my grandparents smiled as I blew out eleven candles atop a birthday cake. When I turned eleven, I am pretty sure it was everything an 11-year-old could have ever wanted.

But I do remember this one thing lacking on that day. Like many kids of my twentysomthing generation, it was a desperate hope and a sharp pang to the heart when it never came to fruition. I do remember one thing lacking on that day: my letter from Hogwarts.

Even without the letter, I studied those books like a religion, methodically reading them and reviewing them with my best friend. In great anticipation of another release, she and I would review the latest book in the series in order to best prepare ourselves for the midnight campout at the local bookstore. We struggled to identify who we were in the stories (But Hermoine is the one who solves all the problems and riddles! Yeah, but Ginny gets to kiss Harry in Book Five! Obviously with these long blocks, I HAVE to be Fluer… or Phlegm…) We would have told you we were devoted little readers. But, by the rest of society’s standards, we were obsessed.

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