This week, a rather tired meme.
Shepard: I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite site on the Citadel.
Bill: This week I read Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things and Violet Kupersmith’s story collection—The Frangipani Hotel. Faber’s was a bit overly long, and the speculative fiction aspects were the weakest part of the novel, but it was overall a serious and thoughtful exploration of relationships, religion, and humanity. Kupersmith’s collection, meanwhile, was filled with solid stories—many of them involving supernatural creatures/events—but I can’t say any single story blew me away. Currently, I’m in the middle of Extinction Game, by Gary Gibson, and not quite sure yet how I’m feeling about it—middle of the road so far.
John: Just trying to finish Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone. I think that this will be the last book that I try to read by him….losing interest in the characters while I marvel at the world building. I notice more and more that the most interesting world and compelling story is hard for me to tune into if I don’t like any of the characters.
Kat: I spent my week catching up with Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer, probably my favorite character in all of fantasy literature. I finished a re-read of the TAWNY MAN trilogy with Golden Fool and Fool’s Fate (both in audio format) and then I read the latest (and unexpected) installment in Fitz’s adventures (if you can call them adventures) in Fool’s Assassin. I’m tempted to re-read LIVESHIP TRADERS and I may do that soon.
Kate: This week I finally finished Crown of Vengeance by Lackey and Mallory; I liked it a lot and will review it this coming week. I am over halfway done with The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which is fantastic. But most thrillingly, I got the chance to read a manuscript of The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. It was strange, and great, and left a deep impression on me. I can’t wait to review it when it comes out. Next up: Where Wicked Starts, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Patricia Henley.
Marion: I finished “Unlocked,” the novella prequel to John Scalzi’s innovative novel of ideas, Lock In. I found “Unlocked” interested but a little disappointing. Cherie Priest’s novella “Jacaranda” was a shivery good story set in her Clockwork Universe.
I’m reading two interesting non-fiction books. The first is 1215; the Year of the Magna Carta, by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. The second is a strange, interesting meditation on the process of reading, called What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund. Mendelsund is a graphic artist best known for book cover designs (he is the associate art direct of Alfred A. Knopf Publishing) and a musician. I’m not convinced by all of his statements, but his thoughts on what we see and what we think we see when we read are fascinating. He’s making me pay more attention to what I do when I read.
Terry: It’s been a week for horror. I’m just about finished with The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard, which is wonderfully mysterious. I’m also reading Sarah Langan’s first novel, The Keeper. I’ve not read any of her books before, despite having been urged to do so by horror writers I admire (especially John Langan (no relation) and Laird Barron), and you know, they were right: she’s very good. Other than that, I continue to read Beneath Ceaseless Skies. With a new issue every two weeks, it’s easy to fall behind on that one, but that’s also kind of fun — then I get to read story after story after story with great enjoyment.
Tim: This week I briefly left Fantasy to read Robert “That Guy Who’s Actually J.K. Rowling” Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. It was fun, though I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of private eye fiction. I’ve also begun listening to R.A. Salvatore‘s Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories, because it was free on audible and if I’m going to review Drizzt, I’m going to do it thoroughly. Finally, I’ve just begun reading Patricia McKillip‘s Alphabet of Thorn. I’ve admired the cover at my local library for years, but for some reason never got around to actually reading it until now.
Here, let me bore you (even though these books excite me!): I’m reading several academic books on Slow Reading/Close Reading (are you truly present when you read? Many of these books are associating slow reading with other slow movement, Eastern-philosophy inspired and related ideas), Research Strategies for the Undergraduate Student, Visual/Multimodal Literacy, and Comic Book History. These are all related to overlapping teaching duties touching on freshman critical reading and writing (and research), my upcoming course on Comics and Visual Literacy (in which I will cover both formal properties of the art as well as its history and major genres), and my work on an annotated bibliography for undergraduate students and teachers in the areas of reading, writing, research, rhetoric, and visual/multimodal literacy.
HOWEVER, I’m also reading Romance Comics (and about Romance Comics) from the 1950s. It turns out that Simon and Kirby, who created Captain America and changed the face of comics, particularly Jack Kirby who worked with this guy Stan Lee and eventually DC, are responsible for creating the Romance Comic book! Who knew? Well, I suppose many people did and do and now a few more people know. And they aren’t bad. Actually, they were created in the 1940s. They were some of the best selling comics of all time, and girls and young women bought tons of them. The sales numbers and numbers of published titles would blow your mind, but I don’t feel like pulling out the numbers right now (I will if anybody wants to know and asks). Anyway, the Romance Comics by Simon and Kirby are beautiful works of art and, though a little goofy, are far better written than most.
One company in particular put out the highest quality Romance comics of the time. They were written by an obscure man and illustrated by one of the few African-Americans in the business at the time (Matt Baker). The comics were high quality because Baker is still considered as one of the best artists ever in his depiction of women, and the stories completely challenge attitudes about women and girls at the time! The women are independent, head-strong, and show little regret about what they think or do, even though they DO think about it. Often times they are left without a man at the end, but instead of crying as in the other Romance Comics, they are usually relieved to be free and to have learned something, knowing that they’ll be better off down the road. it’s really amazing. Everybody was so busy censoring the horror comics and freaking out about the crime comics that nobody paid attention to these few stories that were quite feminist in their outlook (in some ways. obviously not in other ways). Some scholars have come along to call attention to these works, but they’ve already gone out of print again. If you can, order a used copy of Romance without Tears: ’50s Love Comics — With a Twist! The two collections by Simon and Kirby are also good though they aren’t thematically brilliant from a cultural perspective.
Matt Baker, the artist I mentioned above, is also the artist on the graphic novel before graphic novels It Rhymes With Lust, which I also just read. Beautiful Art and historically important since Eisner’s Contract with God came much later, even though it’s usually considered the first graphic novel. This one clearly is also a graphic novel and came first. I wonder why it took me so long to find out about it? It’s another one to get before you can’t find copies.
Finally, I think the two best books to read for those who want to know about comics are Understanding Comics (to learn about the form) and The Ten-Cent Plague, in which the author argues that comics, not rock and roll, are what created youth/pop culture in the U.S. His evidence is very compelling, and I think he’s correct. Comics were the first cultural art form with challenging content drawn, written, marketed, and priced for kids. And parents hated it! And Kids loved that their parents hated it and thought it was trash. Hello generation gap with a multi-million dollar industry to fuel the cultural war over the ethical value of the “art/trash.” Rock and Roll was so slow in catching up to comics . . .
Can anybody tell that I should be grading papers right now? Off I go . . .
Brad, this all sounds fascinating. I’d love to take a look at that annotated bib you’re creating when you’re done!
Thanks, Kate! I should have the first draft done by the end of the semester, so I’ll try to remember to send it to you then. But if you remember, send me an email after exams are over. I have many other documents related to teaching undergraduates how to write if you ever want to to talk about this subject via email. Just drop me a line . . .