"The book I'm looking for,' says the blurred figure, who holds out a volume similar to yours, 'is the one that gives the sense of the world after the end of the world, the sense that the world is the end of everything that there is in the world, that the only thing there is in the world is the end of the world."
- Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mini Reviews Janurary 2011

What up, 2011?

Northwest Passage: The Annotated Collection by Scott Chandler [link]

Man, I have such a complicated relationship with comics and graphic novels. I think they have great potential. There are some webcomics that I really love. (Check out Evan Dahm's Rice Boy.) And Watchmen was pretty incredible. But all the acclaimed graphic novels out there are drawn in that 40s-90s superhero style, which gives me a headache. That style is just so busy, and there are so many lines! Even Watchmen took me forever to read. Northwest Passage is drawn in a different kind of style, one for which I'm sure there's a name. It's clear and simple and bold and friendly to the human eyeball. It's the same kind of style as Tintin is drawn in. It's about some men at a fictional Hudson Bay fort, and there are also some French pirate types. It's very adventure-y, like an old Rafael Sabatini novel. I can say that it's the best Canadian Western Graphic Novel for Children I've ever read. "This comic book a very niiiice!" - Borat (timely cultural reference, 2011).

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim [link]

My girlfriend bought me this book as a Christmas present, which means that I am obligated to say it's the best book I've ever fucking seen. Here's the thing about Stephen Sondheim: he is THE BEST. I like books. You know this. But I would gladly get rid of, let's say, a random half of the books ever written in order to keep Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd around. If I were told I had to choose between never reading a work by my 10 favorite authors ever again, and never listening to a score by Sondheim again... it wouldn't even be hard! Finishing the Hat is a collection of half of his lyrics, up to the end of the 70s, which means in does not include Sunday in the Park, for which he and James Lapine won a Pulitzer (and from which the title comes, actually). Along with the lyrics, the book includes Sondheim's extensive comments and some very nice full-page images. Sondheim himself, in the introduction, notes that while musical theater lyric writing is a pretty esoteric art, he just finds pleasure in reading how masters do their work. He hopes others will feel the same. This is true. His three principle rules (1. Content dictates form, 2. Less is more, 3. God is in the details) and his elaboration of their execution are edifying and informative. But it's also true that that man could shit in a tin can and I would buy it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Okay. I've owned Stranger for something like seven years. Heinlein is, along with Asimov, probably the most highly lauded writer of science fiction. I've been looking forward to reading Stranger, which says on its cover "The Best Sci-Fi Novel of All Time," for many years now. Moon probably comes in at a close second for consensus on his "best" work. Well, both of these books are terrible. I mean, really really terrible. The man can't put a sentence together to save his life. His characters are flat and idealized and (worst of all) inconsistent, and the plot is bloated and nonsensical. They are basically "idea" novels, which is fine, except that the ideas are silly and he can't write novels. And (cherry on top!) the books are horribly sexist. His female characters don't talk about anything but men, and are happy to let the male characters (whom they all worship) correct their astounding ignorance on every subject and protect them from danger (boring danger) at every turn. Ugh. Go to your room Robert Heinlein. You're grounded.


  1. I've tried to read stranger multiple times but just can't get into it. I think the main reason is it's very simply boring. While the idea of a man from mars who thinks differently and has a some perspective worth exploring is a fun premise but it just seems so poorly executed. I really think that's why I've never gotten farther than 100 pages. Good post Spencer!

  2. P.s dune lives up to all expectations. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it yet.

  3. I'm so disappointed with Stranger! Why do people love it so much?

    One day I'll read Dune. Maybe not for a long time. But one day I'll wake up and it'll be the day when I think "I'll read Dune today."

    I just started Lonesome Dove. And I'm making my way through all of Flannery O'Connor's short stories. So, I'll be busy for a while now.

  4. Dune is OK. Try this series:


    It'll knock your socks off.

  5. No thanks, Kurt. I already read all the Harry Potters. That's pretty much the same, right?

  6. I read the Rogue Squadron series when I was the age most kids now are starting to read Harry Potter. I remember very well a scene where Mirax Terrick is telling Corran Horn that she's cold in bed and Corran tosses her one of his blankets. It seemed like a very reasonable choice to me. I could not, for the life of me, understand why Mirax made such a big deal of it.

    Anyway, I prefer the Wraith Squadron series. That was more fun, except for The Bacta War.