Book-A-Week: Catch-Up

I’m a long way behind, so here’s quick thoughts on the books in the last month and a half. At the start of this I said I wouldn’t include comics and graphic novels, but I’ve changed my mind on that, as they make up most of the stuff I’ve read lately.

13-17: The Sandman vols 1-5 – Neil Gaiman et al

Gaiman’s classic series tells the story of Dream, aka Morpheus, one of the Eternals, ruler of the dreamworld. This is a series that moves easily between lighter fantasy and horror, such a wide variety of tales, and full of originality.

I really shouldn’t try to condense half the series into a few short sentences. I’ll say this: It starts strong and gets stronger, moves easily from longer graphic novel length tales to self-contained short stories, contains a rich mythology of dream and other related worlds. Top moments: “24 Hours”, a strange chapter showing how a madman plays increasingly depraved games with the patrons of a small diner; the serial killer convention in volume 2, The Doll’s House; short story “Calliope” from the third volume (Dream Country), wherein a writer imprisons a muse.

18: The Third Bear – Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer’s collection The Third Bear covers all sorts of territory – the fairytale-like titular story, quasi-Steampunk in “Fixing Hanover”, surreal office politics in “The Situation”, and wild metafictional weirdness in “Errata”, among other things. VanderMeer shows a great range of style and voice between the various stories. Images recur of animals that are not quite animals, people who search for places that may or may not exist, and people who are haunted by their pasts. It is often dark, and occasionally (“The Third Bear” being a particular case) seems to delight in denying the reader the comfort of a fairy tale happy ending.

Favourites in the collection would be “The Third Bear”, “The Surgeon’s Tale” (co-written by Cat Rambo), and “The Goat Variations”, wherein an alternate reality incarnation of the President of the United States experiences all the possible events that occur on September 11th, 2001.

19: Batman: Year One – Frank Miller & David Mazzuchelli

A rare superhero comic read for me, Batman: Year One is one of the caped crusader’s better known and highly praised stories. As the title suggests, it covers the first year of Batman’s career fighting crime. But presumably because the origins of Batman had been done many times before, Year One doesn’t actually show all that much of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, instead showing him learning his methods and establishing his relationship with the Gotham Police. The result, to my mind, is that Batman’s scenes are the least interesting in this graphic novel. And to be honest, for some reason I found Bruce Wayne and Batman’s dialogue and narration difficult to read, coming across very stilted and unnatural.

Where Year One shines, though, is in the story of James Gordon, newly arrived in a Gotham City steeped in corruption, and his struggle to work within an environment where everyone – including his superiors – expects him to be crooked. This feels like much more Gordon’s story than it does Batman’s, and Miller does an excellent job with it.

Next up: Because it was Banned Books Week recently, I read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I will write up my thoughts on that during the week.

Words WordPress “proofread” doesn’t know: Metafictional (it knows metafiction), career.


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