An Un-Calibrated Centrifuge

Local Girls

Local Girls: A Novel - Caroline Zancan

Local Girls reminded me of The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu, but at least that story sort of earned its right to overwritten prose. This is a book of nothingness. The one event of substance is glossed over in a few horrifying paragraphs. I'm not mad I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

The Odyssey

The Odyssey - Homer, Emily Wilson

I read The Iliad a few years ago after reading The Song of Achilles. I meant to read The Odyssey at some point and now I have. I was originally planning on reading Fagles' translation, but ended up with a copy of Emily Wilson's new translation instead. It is incredibly clear and readable. I found this much easier to get through than the Iliad which I think is due to the translation and a greater familiarity with the story. I've toyed around with the idea of also reading The Aeneid. Maybe in a couple of years I'll get around to that one. Of course that means deciding on another translation... we'll see. 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 - Christopher Paul Curtis

Another from NPR's Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf. 


When I saw the In Memory note at the beginning of the book, I knew whatever I had expected of this book was wrong. Parts were very difficult to read, mainly the end, but some of the family parts at the beginning. This was balanced out by the school scenes and most of the family dynamics in the book. There are a few mentions of an Uncle Bud which made me wonder if this book is related to Bud, Not Buddy, but if it is, nothing comes of the connection. 


Awkward - Svetlana Chmakova

The eleven-year-old recommended this to me ages ago and I just got around to reading it. She's a big fan of Raina Telgemeier, so I can see why she liked Awkward. It's a solid story about school and friendship. I'm not sure I'll check out the author's other books. I'm waiting to see if the eleven-year-old has read any of them. 

Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

I wonder if I would have had a different reaction to this book if I'd read it as a kid.


While I didn't enjoy the book as a whole (especially the weird hand-wavy references to "Indians" and the 10,000 uses of the word coon), the depiction of grief at the end was very good and did make me cry.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken, Pat Marriott

I kept expecting the actual wolves to be a bigger part, like at some point all the grown-ups would be eaten by wolves and the children would be left alone. It felt like reading a Sherlock Holmes story a lot of the time (in a good way). I just wanted it to be a lot darker than it ended up being.


The Sculptor

The Sculptor - Scott McCloud

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


David Smith gives his life for his art. Literally. In exchange for the ability to sculpt anything with his hands, he is given only 200 days to live.


The artwork in The Sculptor is very cinematic. The most interesting portions are montages with different timelines woven together juxtaposing scenes from David’s present with his past. There are also some interesting uses of speech bubbles. A faded speech bubble represents words barely heard. Speech bubbles are cut off by panel edges to show half heard conversations. A scene is overrun with speech bubbles, simulating the noise of a crowd of people carrying on multiple conversations at once.


While the book looks impressive, the story is not. The characters other than David fall flat. Meg perfectly embodies the trope of a manic pixie dream girl. Other characters are given one or two defining characteristics (rich wannabe artist, underappreciated worker bee, ex-boyfriend with a murdered family), but they are never examined more closely than that. David himself is the most compelling character, but his story about a man searching for purpose and recognition in his art is one that has been told before. Rather than making the idea feel fresh and new, the story simply feels like a retread of old material. 


Certain aspects of the artwork are interesting but the story is not strong enough to deserve an automatic spot in the canon.  

Monstress: Awakening Vol 1

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening - Marjorie M. Liu

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


Maika Halfwolf is on a quest to discover information about her shadowy past. Along the way she must battle an ancient entity who shares her mind and body and makes her the target of every faction in her war-torn world.


Monstress: Awakening is the most beautifully illustrated comic book I have ever seen. Every panel is like a painting and so full of detail I could spend minutes taking in each one, yet the art never overwhelms the page or the story. Even the body horror and gore manage to look beautiful. In addition to beautiful art, Monstress contains creative character design and diverse characters. It is refreshing to see a fantasy world populated with resilient, chromatic, female characters whose existence is normalized. These women are the rule not the exception. 


Monstress also includes incredible world building. Immediately in the book there is the sense that this is a fully realized world, and there is little awkward exposition to explain it. It is left to readers to put the story together for themselves. Some of the more complex aspects of the world are explained at the ends of chapters in short lectures. The conceit works at conveying information that clarifies the story, but if this information is really that important, it deserves space in the actual comic rather than being relegated to a clever info dump.


Monstress is a fresh take on fantasy worlds. It deserves a spot in the graphic novel canon for its artwork alone.

Ghost World

Ghost World - Daniel Clowes

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


Enid and Rebecca graduate from high school without solid plans for the future. They spend their summer wandering their town, observing and commenting on their fellow citizens and their lives.


Ghost World feels very voyeuristic. The only color used in the book is a blue-greenish hue that gives the impression of light from a television set, as if the reader is viewing each panel from a screen. The reader is allowed to observe the girls in the same way they observe those around them. In most of the chapters nothing of particular note happens; the girls simply live their lives and hang out. The dialogue between them is frank, uncensored, and cynical, but they do not discuss anything of consequence.


Further in the book, the story occasionally touches on something deeper. The story is most compelling when Enid and Rebecca’s friendship starts to fall apart. The girls start the story in that liminal time between high school and college, between childhood and adulthood, but they cannot stay there forever. As summer passes, tensions develop between them as they grow up and apart. This more than anything feels realistic. There is no dramatic falling out; nothing drives them apart other than the passing of time.


Though it feels less relevant now than it likely did when released, Ghost World is an important title in the graphic novel canon. It would be difficult to justify leaving it out of any graphic novel collection. 

Fables: Legends in Exile Vol 1

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile - James Jean, Craig Hamilton, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Bill Willingham

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


Fables: Legends in Exile: In which classic characters, exiled from their homeland and forced to survive amongst the mundanes in New York, find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery right before Remembrance Day.


Knowing Fables is an ongoing series, this first volume reads like the pilot episode of a television show. It is self-contained and easy to understand. The real story will come once readers are acquainted with everything here.


The artwork is beautiful. The book is full of visual Easter eggs. Layers are added if readers know the backstories of characters, but familiarity is not necessary to understand the story. Everything readers need to know about the characters is present in the actual text. The occasional bit of expositional dialogue does slip through. Willingham lampshades this in-text when Snow White reminds Bigsby that she knows her own sister’s name, so it is somewhat easier to forgive.  


Willingham does some interesting reimagining of the characters in the book. Prince Charming is everyone’s Prince Charming, including Cinderella and Snow White. Snow White is the jaded de facto head of Fabletown’s government. The Big Bad Wolf has redeemed himself into a human form and the sheriff’s office. A little more diversity amongst the characters would have been nice though. There’s no reason for them all to be white and straight.


Fables does not set itself apart from other fractured fairy tales in any hugely noteworthy way. It is entertaining but not necessarily a must-read.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol 1

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol.1 - Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


Miles Morales is just a normal, New York kid worried about getting into a charter school and trying to navigate his family drama. That is until he gets bitten by a genetically modified spider and suddenly gains superpowers. Though he is reluctant at first, Miles eventually embraces his superpowers and becomes the new Spider-Man.


Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man strikes a great balance. It contains many nods, references, and parallels to Spider-Man lore that are likely to satisfy long time readers, and its self-contained arc of Miles gaining and embracing his powers also makes it an ideal starting place for readers new to Marvel comics. This is a book that can be both fantastic—here’s a kid who gains superpowers from a spider bite—and realistic—that same kid has no idea what to do with his powers and knocks himself out on his third outing. 


Throughout the story, groundwork is being laid for future issues. The most obvious threads are Miles’s family’s criminal history, balancing school and superhero duties, and Miles’s invitation to work with SHIELD and the Ultimates. Hopefully future issues also delve into Miles’s race and ethnicity. Nothing much is made of them in this first volume, but there is plenty to be explored there.


Spider-Man is a classic hero. There should be room in any good graphic novel collection for all iterations of the character, but if there were room for only one, Miles Morales would be a great choice.   

My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer - Derf Backderf

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


Before he was one of America’s most notorious serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer was just a kid growing up in Ohio. In My Friend Dahmer, Backderf frankly examines his childhood friendship with Dahmer and events that led up to Dahmer’s first murder.


In the text, Backderf bolds certain words throughout the book. There seems to be no logic to the words he bolds. At the beginning, this style choice is distracting, and the purpose behind the emphasis on certain words never becomes clear. The artwork in the book is highly stylized, very cartoon-y and caricature-like. In the more explicit scenes, this works in the book’s favor. The style lets Backderf illustrate some of the more gruesome aspects of the story, such as the dead animals, while keeping the images from becoming too grotesque. There is also an interesting road motif throughout the book. It seems to emphasize the point that this story is not about Dahmer’s murders, but rather the path that leads to them. It shows that he was on this path for a long time.


My Friend Dahmer is an interesting read. With the current interest in true crime, there is no doubt that it will be a popular choice for a while. It does not seem like an essential title for all graphic novel collections, but it is a relatively new title and time will tell if it earns a place in the canon or not.

Out on the Wire

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio - Jessica Abel

I read this for one of my summer classes. We had to read and annotate 10 comics/graphic novels. Here's the annotation I wrote for that class:


Out on the Wire is about the making of narrative nonfiction radio shows. It outlines the work that goes into creating and producing a radio show from story to sound to edits.


The interplay of text and images within the book is interesting in several ways. Two such ways include characters breaking the fourth wall and addressing readers directly and visual metaphors that add to the understanding of the creation process: finding a story is like being on an archaeological dig, editing is like sculpting marble or wandering a forest.


Initially a graphic novel might seem like a strange choice for a book about radio. One is purely visual and the other is purely aural. But as is repeated several times throughout the book, "Radio is a visual medium." Using the tools available to them—sound effects, music, editing—the creators of these shows craft pictures for listeners. Abel does something similar with her images. Through images and text effects, she is able to visually represent sound. There is a striking sequence of an edit—the process of getting feedback from the team on a story. The story is illustrated down the center of the page while the team’s remarks are printed on either side of the story panels. This visually mimics the experience of hearing the story and people’s remarks simultaneously.


Out on the Wire would make a great addition to any collection, especially one that is trying to break beyond the bounds of traditional graphic novels. 

2018 Reading Challenge

Whatever booklikes says, I read 200+ books this year. There are several that I cannot find on booklikes to review and I'm too lazy to add them all, so I'll list them here:


The World Shines for You by Jeffrey Burton and Don Clark: colorful, shiny illustrations.


Narwhal A Day in the Life: Polar Animals by Katie Marisco and

Narwhal Animals Illustrated by Solomon Awa and Hwei Lim: informative jnf books about Narwhals, turns out no one knows that much about them.


Peanut Butter and Jelly by Ben Clanton: Narwhal and Jelly book 3, more of the same from that series.


Stanley's School by William Bee: more Stanley. Cute as always.


Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal: A great imagining of what the world would look like if men went extinct. Very diverse. Very funny. Check it out if you haven't already.


Yotsubato! Vol 14 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A little disappointing after such a long wait. Not bad, just not my favorite Yotsuba. Hopefully Vol 15 is published a little faster.

New American Best Friend

New American Best Friend - Olivia Gatwood

The poems are better when performed, but the book is good too.

The Birchback House

The Birchbark House - Louise Erdrich

Great historical fiction. Good for fans who liked Little House on the Prairie but hated the racism in those books. The food descriptions are a little lackluster, but the rest more than makes up for that.