Sunday Status Update: February 22, 2015

Character update on break this week, but we still read plenty of fun books.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Brad: I’ve been re-reading Superman Is Jewish?, an excellent work of literary criticism looking at the Jewish aspects of American comics. It’s got a nice, pleasant tone without jargon, and the author makes complex, qualified claims that are reasonable, intelligent, and insightful. Best yet, he makes me want to read or re-read every comic he mentions. The book has excellent chapters on Superman and Batman, Will Eisner, MAD Magazine, Marvel Comics, and so much more. I’ve listened to it twice on audible, and the narrator really picks up on the tone of the book: I feel like I’m sitting down listening to an older, wiser man tell me about all his favorite comics, pointing out things here and there that I’d never noticed or thought about. I’ve listened to it twice on audible and read a physical copy once. I like it that much! It’s been quite useful in teaching comics this semester, and it’s one of only a handful of secondary sources that I expect my students to know about. I’ve also been reading Crime Does Not Pay comics, early Romance comics (a hugely popular genre that was created by Simon and Kirby, the same team who created Captain America), early MAD comics (before it was a magazine — available on Comixology), EC Science Fiction and Horror comics from the 1950-54 period, and early Uncanny X-Men from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s fun to read all these comics in an historical progression with a group of twenty students.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: This week’s been a little quiet on the book front for me.  I finished Holly Black‘s The Darkest Part of the Forest, and should be bouncing thoughts back and forth with Kate shortly.  I also read an ARC of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris, which was wonderfully entertaining and educational.  Norris has been working in the copy department at The New Yorker for nearly thirty-five years, and has amassed a wealth of stories and helpful information about how to write and edit.  I also started Unbreakable, the debut novel by W. C. Bauers; my goal is to have it finished and reviewed by the end of the week.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews João: This week I have continued reading The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker, the second of his THE PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy, and I continue to be blown away by them. I do not only like these books, but I have also become a huge fanboy for them, so much so that I feel that I can’t go back to reading books that are the summer blockbuster equivalent of the sff genre. Not that there’s anything wrong about that, but my appetite now wants more than what those books can offer.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: Tantor Audio has been sending me review copies of L.E. Modesitt Jr’s COREAN CHRONICLES, so I read the fourth book in that series this week. Alector’s Choice was, as Bill said “shampoo-rinse-repeat.” If Tantor sends me the remaining books, I’ll probably read them just so I can get them reviewed for FanLit but, honestly, I don’t really care whether or not the next book show ups in my mailbox. After that disappointing experience I immersed myself in THE CULTURE by reading Iain M. BanksUse of Weapons and The Hydrogen Sonata. These were both fascinating reads and excellent in audio format. Currently I’m finishing up Lord Kelvin’s Machine, another of James P. Blaylock’s LANGDON ST. IVES / NARBONDO stories.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kate: This week I finished reading Poser, by Jacob Rubin. This picaresque novel is not quite magical-realism, but it flirts with it; the main character has a preternatural ability to imitate others flawlessly, almost on sight. This ability takes him to the stage, to the silver screen, and even into politics. But he spends so much time inhabiting the speech and mannerism of other people that he doesn’t know who he is anymore. There were a couple things about the book that bugged me, but overall, I was so blown away by Rubin’s writing and his fresh insight. He’s coming to Square Books, where I work, in a couple of weeks; can’t wait to meet him and ask the billion questions I have about the book. I have also been reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, which is about a young man who is sent a mysterious antique book that holds the secrets to his family history and possibly a family curse. I’m liking it so far. And I’ve just started A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshall.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kevin:    Next week is midterms week, so I’ve been doing more reading in anticipation of not being able to read at all next week. After finishing books 2 and 3 of Trudi Canavan’s BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy, I devoured VALDEMAR: THE LAST HERO MAGE within two days. While I agree with Kat that there’s not much of a story besides the romance, I did rather like the characters and the romance in the plot. I’ve also gone through Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains but didn’t really like it enough to want to read the rest of the series. I’ve also picked up Kushiel’s Justice after a few-month-long hiatus from the series, and I still haven’t finished Guy GavrielKay’s River of Stars. With luck, I’ll get through midterms in one piece and hopefully have time to finish what I’m reading now, in addition to Akerlof and Shiller’s Animal Spirits.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I finished an ARC of David Walton’s “quantum physics murder mystery” Superposition, and enjoyed it for the most part. I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and I just started Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen, nonfiction about empires and epidemics. I’m also looking for a good book about Slavic folklore. Can anybody recommend one? I have a good anthology of Russian folktales but it’s a bit limited.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Ryan: Inspired by madness, I decided to up my weights at the gym last weekend (esp. shrugs). I know now that I was overly ambitious since I woke up the next morning without the ability to turn my head left and limited ability to turn my head right. So I decided to listen to Terry Pratchett‘s I Shall Wear Midnight. Thankfully, it was good, as I had nothing else I could do. I also read Stephen King‘s Needful Things. It might seem counter-intuitive to share that I “discovered” this novel, but while I’d usually consider myself pretty familiar with King’s oeuvre, I honestly had no idea that King had written a Faust novel until I saw one of my students reading this book. King’s history of addiction makes Leland Gaunt’s shop of dreams/nightmares an especially interesting novel, and I’d certainly recommend intrigued prospective readers to read it after finishing King’s memoir on writing, On Writing. I’ve nearly finished Glen Cook’s Shadow Games. At my last visit to the library, I signed out Ian McDonald‘s River of Gods, Kylene Beers’s When Kids Can’t Read, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, and Willie Nelson‘sThe Tao of Willie.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I’ve only slept three out of the past five nights, and it’s not because I’ve been reading such wonderful books that I couldn’t get myself to close my eyes, alas. In fact, there’s been precious little time for reading at all.  Still, I’m making my way through the last few issues ofBeneath Ceaseless Skies and enjoying a horror writer who is new to me — Tim Waggoner — in his novel Like Death. I’m also still dipping into The Very Best of Kate Elliott and Kristen Painter‘s City of Eternal Night: Crescent City, Book 2.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Bill:This was a rough week in the YA sci-fi/fantasy world for me. I got about 80% through Karen Bao’s Dove Arising before being forced to give up reading what felt more like a book written by a teen than a book written for a teen, and barely finished Kristen Simmons’ The Glass Arrow, another YA novel that didn’t reach basic levels of adequate world-building, characterization, or plotting. Luckily, earlier the week I read Greg Van Eekhout’s Pacific Fire, his follow-up to California Bones. I enjoyed California Bones but liked Pacific Fire a little better. Outside the genre, I zipped through the first Veronica Mars novel, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, having read the second one first for a review. This one was an enjoyable read, but lacked the humor of the second. I’m enjoying my so far for the access to poetry (though still not sure if I’ll keep the subscription or not — we’ll see) and this week I read Chase Twichell’s Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been and Li-Young Lee’s The City in which I Love You. I’m continuing to slowly make my way through The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally on audio and Orb, Sceptre, Throne by Ian Cameron Esslemont for Finally, I’m eagerly looking forward to starting All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for this Wednesday’s book club.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Brad, you’ve probably read this already, but your status made me think about Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay. If you haven’t picked it up, do it immediately. It is so wonderful.

    And Joao, so glad you’re liking the Prince of Nothing series! I loved those books; there’s so much to chew on.

    • Brad Hawley /

      I love that book, Kate! And Brod writes about Chabon’s novel in Superman Is Jewish?, by the way.

      If you want a great work of nonfiction to listen to on audible (or to read), I suggest Superman Is Jewish? Brod gives enough background and context for each author/artist so that even if the reader isn’t familiar with the primary texts, she will not be lost. He speaks to both the comic book expert and those fairly new to them. I still feel like I fall somewhere between these two extremes. But I’m closer to becoming a comic book expert after having read Brod’s text!

      Teaching comics in a course devoted solely to them has been fun this semester and taught me much in a short period of time. I’ve taught comics in Freshman writing, Crime Fiction, and independent studies, but I’ve never had the opportunity to focus on this art form solely in an upper-level course. I’m very fortunate . . .

      I wish there were a way to make room for Chabon. But it’s such a long novel that I’d have to leave out far too many comics. Perhaps I’ll teach it in Freshman writing at some point. I always like to teach one long novel for extended close reading in the composition course, which we call “Critical Reading and Writing” at our college. I try to emphasize the READING as much as I do the writing.

  2. Marion, I’ve read Pantheon’s anthology of Russian Fairy Tales and Folklore (ISBN: 0394730909), which I really enjoyed. Is that what you have?

    • Ahh Pantheon! Back in the day when book buying was actually work, whenever I was up in Toronto, I always required a stop in Coles so I could add one more Pantheon book (all I could afford) to my collection. I used to so look forward to that stop . . .

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