Going Around: Recent Reads

Okay, so, we’re really preaching to the choir on this one; if you’re a regular here, you’re probably something of a bookworm, or have been one in the past.  That said, books are more underrated than ever nowadays as a substantial form of entertainment.  Herein are the literary weights we at BLP have been using to flex our imagination muscles.

Miki: Most Recently, I finished vol. 7 of Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish. I really can’t recommend this series enough. In the same vein as Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss or Nana, Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish delivers on fronts of high fashion, and heart breaking drama, as well as finding love, and discovering of what it means to be a creative young femme in our modern world.

I also had the pleasure of falling in love with Becky Abertalli’s Simon vs the Homo Sapien’s Agenda this spring. I sat down with the book one Sunday evening, and simply devoured it over the course of 6 hours. I laughed, I cried, and I immediately went to see the film. This is the kind of book I wish I had available to me as a teenager: a young, queer romance that doesn’t damn it’s titular character from the start, yet still deals with the real anxiety and emotional turbulence that comes with being a queer young adult in a hetero-normative space.

Honorable mention: Tyson Hesse’s Diesel: Ignition. I picked this up after spotting it in my favorite local comic shop during Free Comic Book Day earlier this month. As a fan of Hesse’s stylish visuals and Diesel‘s steampunk aesthetic, I cannot wait to pick up where I left off with this series in 2016.

Scriv: I’ve been reading stuff on the short side lately.  I finished Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation this morning after buying it on impulse earlier this week and reading it in the twin hazes of early mornings and late nights.  I’m not sure reading while groggy was a smart choice, or led to me appreciating the book more than I would have, but I’m eager to reread it–it’s short, so it should be easy.  My only exposure to VanderMeer’s prior work was Wonderbook, a fabulous little treasure trove of ideas for any aspiring creator, and something I really ought to pick up a copy of soon.  Annihilation is just as anxious and haunted as Wonderbook is jubilant and free.  In a reversal of the relationship between observer and observed in the plot, Annihilation‘s lush, intricate landscapes are a lens through which the reader examines the psyche and voice of its protagonist, a biologist whose social alienation colors her every interaction and even renders her own testimony unreliable.  VanderMeer’s writing, at times, reminded me of the things I don’t like about my own writing, but I have a feeling that those difficulties are exactly the sort of thing he’s going for.  I’ll have to read it again to form a concrete opinion before I consider seeing the recent film adaptation, which, from the previews, looks to have added a lot in the way of uneccesary Hollywood glitz and done away with a key plot element.

Just prior to that, I finished a collection called Troll’s Eye View, wherein Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Holly Black, Jane Yolen, and others come together to tell some fairy tale stories from the perspectives of their villains.  If you read like I do, you could probably finish it in an afternoon.  It’s a delight.

Other than those, I’ve recently picked up, but not read, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which I’ve heard is defiantly queer, and Le Guin is a grandmaster of the form, so that’s exciting.  I also replaced my copy of the first trade of The Black Monday Murders.  Every time I introduce this newest Jonathan Hickman enterprise, I’m tempted to boil it down to its bare essentials, because they’re not particularly exciting: it’s a graphic novel about economics, largely told by people in suits, who are usually sitting down.  (Sounds like the kind of TV show my parents like.)  But get this: it also makes the concept of demon-worshippers scary again.  Not just scary–genuinely chilling, the kind of crawling chills you get from the best prose horror, the kind that holds the restraint of tremolo-violin dread in one hand and the excess of sopping gore in the other.

Snacko: A few weeks ago I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, a sort of memoir that takes the form of a letter to Coates’ son on the night Michael Brown’s killer is acquitted. Coates’ tells the story of his childhood in Baltimore and of his attempts to unlearn the fear he learned growing up as an impoverished black youth even as the society around him enables senseless, random violence from both the institutions that surround him and from the lessons he and his community has learned to survive. Later chapters focus on Coates’ college education and his first time leaving the country, all under the specter of the threat of violence and with the hope of a better future for himself and for his family. It’s a short book (under 200 pages) but an extremely emotional one and I frequently found myself pausing after each paragraph to properly process it. A must read.

As for lighter fare, I’ve begun reading Eiichiro Oda’s enormous and wildly popular manga One Piece. Though I’m still in the early chapters (I’m on volume 10 of the current 88) I’m already liking its strange sense of humor and its conversational tone, with a majority of chapters beginning with a reader question and answer section. These often talk about the manga’s production and go into more detail about the absurd amount of detail Oda has put into this world, with major characters regularly making cameos dozens of chapters early. It does feel a tad formulaic, with each arc introducing its central conflict early and gradually building to a large scale fight sequence but its frequent use of flashbacks is a good way to develop the enormous cast and the art is expressive enough that all of these intense emotions feel vital and urgent. I’m not sure I’m up for 900 chapters of this, but I plan to stick with it for a while longer.

I’ve also been rereading Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable by Hirohiko Araki, this time in color. As much as I love Jojo’s endless creativity and its offbeat sense of humor, I find Araki’s extremely detailed art a bit hard to follow in black and white and am having a much easier time following the action this time around. A sharp counterpoint to the globe-spanning Battle Tendency and Stardust Crusaders, Diamond is Unbreakable takes place entirely in one peaceful Japanese suburb and its characters feel a lot more three dimensional as a result. There is no world-ending threat this time, and most “battles” begin with the characters going about their daily lives and often end peacefully, adding to the manga’s ever-growing cache of background characters. The focus on community and the nostalgic, irreverent tone make the final threat, a serial killer so adept at blending in to his surroundings that he isn’t even properly introduced until the halfway point, a terrifying one, especially in a time when peaceful, everyday life is so often punctuated by news of more senseless killing.