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I Want Some Candy!

American Vampire (volume 1)American Vampire volume one cover

Words: Snyder, Scott and King, Stephen

Pictures: Alberquerque, Raphael

Vertigo Comics, 2010

ISBN:978 1401229740

Look, I’m not coming late to this vampire craze, I promise.  As we’ve already established, I like my vamps covered in blood and ripping out throats, rather than dry-humping their teenage girlfriends to the dulcet strains of some emo band – or as Mr. King so evocatively tells us in his introduction:

“What should they be? Killers, honey.  Stone killers who never get enough of that tasty Type-A.  Bad boys and girls.  Hunters.  In other words; Midnight America.  Red, white and blue, accent on the red.”

And boy, if the throat-ripping vampire is your scene, you could do worse than Skinner Sweet, the dark star of the American Vampire comic book series.

I know I’m gushing here, but honestly, this comic is just luminous.  The writing is brilliant, the artwork glorious.  Because the story traces Skinner Sweet across several decades of his existence – from his creation as a vampire in the 1920’s, in point of fact – careful attention has obviously been paid to the costuming of the characters and even their manner of speaking.  It’s just very freakin’ cool.

I know that you shouldn’t judge a story when you’re only part of the way through it, but for this I’ll break my own rule.  As a stand-alone story, Bad Blood, the Skinner Sweet origin story, works particularly well, but like many comic books which are built specifically for the drip-fed format, as you move through the volumes, it becomes more daunting to simply ‘pick up and play’.  Which is not to say you can’t do it, but I’d be loath to suggest such a thing when the beginning is so good and adds so much to your understanding of the comic. Read the rest of this entry

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Is The Vampire So Bad?

I am LegendI am Legend book cover - TOR edition

Matheson, Richard

Tom Doherty Associates/Tor/RXR, 1995

ISBN 978 0765357151

I think I’ve already written about books with characters that make you wish they were real so that you could punch them in the face.  The nice thing about that feeling is that it comes from all walks of literature – my own personal list includes Cathy from Wuthering Heights, Harold Lauder from The Stand, and both Bella and Edward from the Twilight books (but I have a feeling that last one is pretty common).  Mostly, it’s because that character is either an ass of a human being (or not-so-human being in Mr. Cullen’s case), or is going about getting what they want in a really stupid way.  In Harold and Cathy’s cases, I can deal with it, because the overall story is pretty good.  But there are some idiot characters of literature that just will not be dealt with.

Like Robert Neville.

Alright, so he’s not as much of a douche as you might expect, having witnessed his wife and daughter succumb to the dread disease which carries off most of the rest of the planet.  And to be fair on him, the guy has been living on his own for quite some time when the novel begins, so he’s developed certain routines and ways of thinking.  I think that the scariest part of the characterisation of Robert Neville is how far away his intellectual faculties have slunk.  Because obviously, the guy ain’t dumb.  But my query is how come it takes him so long to start figuring out a cure for the virus?  I mean, surely a major catalyst would be the nearest and dearest getting sick, right?  But Neville is painted quite a few times within the narrative as being a passive creature, almost resigned to bobbing along in the flow of events.  Which is totally fine, you need people like that… but just don’t make them the last people on earth.  Or, maybe do, but don’t have them whining and moaning every five seconds about how annoying it is to lathe stakes, how you really should find a better method of disposal… and then not do anything about it.  Hrumph!   Read the rest of this entry

What Would Maxim Gorky Do?

Ham on RyeHam on Rye cover

Bukowski, Charles

Canongate, 2001

ISBN: 1 841951 633

I really love Charles Bukowski.  Obviously, I never met him in person, but his writing speaks to me in a way that not many others do.  His poetry especially is very beautiful; fragile and brash, it’s kind of an enigma.  I actually didn’t even know he wrote novels for ages (I know, right?  Good researching there…), but I’m sure glad that I found that little treasure out.  It’s hard to say exactly what I love so much about his writing – I mean, it’s certainly not the kind of thing you could recommend to just anyone, not the kind of thing you’d rock up to your Nana’s book club with (unless your Nana is down with a liberal literary splashing about of the really bad c-word).   I’d kind of see him as being a kind of spiritual antecedent to a writer like Irvine Welsh – someone who just can’t seem to let their past be, who has to keep worrying at it like an old dog.

This particular Cannongate edition has an introduction by Roddy Doyle.  And, okay, full disclosure, I’ve never read one of his books.  Yes, I know, cultural ignoramus, but I’ll rectify that – it’s easily rectifiable.  I hardly ever read introductions, but I read this one, for some strange reason, maybe because it begins with Bukowski’s own words, the dedication from his first novel Post Office, which incidentally is also a Hank Chinaski novel.  In the dedication, Doyle talks about Bukowski’s writing style, and he puts it much better than I do, so I’m just going to quote verbatim:

“What writing, I thought.  It wasn’t just the words that made this a tough, real world.  It was the awkwardness of the writing, its closeness to speech. ‘…and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back.’  So you went where?  And what happened then? And then? … It reminded me of kids telling me about a video, charging through the plot of a ninety-minute film in less than thirty seconds; arms, head and shoulders supplying the action and special effects.  It had the same rush, the same fight for attention.” p. viii

It’s that ‘fight for attention’ that makes Ham on Rye such a compelling read.  The whole thing reads like a fight, but a beautiful fight, not choreographed or tamed in any way, brutal sometimes, funny others.

Read the rest of this entry

Always Pay your Debts

A Song of Ice and Fire series

Martin, George R. R.

Published: HarperVoyager

Eddard Stark from Game of Thrones series

Series comprises: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords (part 1: Steel and Snow, part 2: Blood and Gold), A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons

It’s been a long time since I read any fantasy.  Like, proper fantasy.  And I gotta say, A Song of Ice and Fire definitely comes under the category of ‘proper fantasy’ – anyone who’s been watching the Game of Thrones series on HBO knows what I’m talking about, however vaguely.  Because when it comes to screen adaption, the movies are okay (that’s being generous a lot of the time – usually there’s either too much padding out or too little detail), the television series is better (again, not always, but recently it’s been the case), but the book is best.

Speaking about detail, my word, these books go to town with it.  Usually I steer clear of this kind of fantasy book, all the castles and horses and dragons and shit like that gives me hives.  It’s mostly because to a lot of authors (and probably, readers, which is why they do it) don’t bother to call a big, f***-off horse you’d ride into battle on a destrier.  That’s what it is though, a destrier.  Also, all the bits and pieces of the armour – the greaves and gorgets and pauldrons that you just don’t read about in other books.  I think that was what sold me on A Song of Ice and Fire, it was a moment of “Aww, George, you had me at hauberk”.

So, okay, we’ve established that there has been some kick ass researching done for this book.  Being a library type person, I respect a healthy dose of research.  Not only does it lend a tone of realism to a work like this (however lost that realism might be on a general audience), I also feel that it makes the author seem more respectful of the intelligence of their audience.  If that seems a little odd, allow me an explanation.  Because Martin has decided that he’s going to tell us which particular bits of the armour that they’re wearing are rusting on the knights, and he’s going to use the proper names for bits of castles and also words like prate and corsair without any hint of explanation, that to me speaks of a respect for readers that they either know what those things are already or they will damn well go and look them up if they have a mind to.  What’s not to love about that?  Hang on, in the next bit, I’m gonna talk a little about what the story is actually about, so don’t read anymore if you’re reading them and aren’t up to Dance yet, or if you’re watching the TV show and just don’t want to know any more.  Fair warning – here be spoilers.

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You’re scaring yourself, child.

Needful ThingsNeedful Things cover image

King, Stephen

Hodder and Stoughton, 1991

ISBN: 0 450 57458 X

Hey cublings – after quite the hiatus, I’m back to the blogging, and badderer than ever.  Suffice to say, I thought I’d start gentle and then work my way up (or down, as the case may be) to the other stuff that I’ve been reading over the past… oooh.  That long, huh?

Needful Things is a weird one.  It’s part of Steven King’s Castle Rock oevre, that famously infamous township in Maine which is an amalgam of Rockwellian imagery, Orwellian politicing, and Lovecraftian beasties lurking just below the surface.  In true King style, most of the beasties are lurking in human form, but Needful Things has a few notable exceptions to  this rule.

Being part of the Castle Rock group there are certain recurrances that pop up – actually that’s not even just true of the Castle Rock novels, but of King’s work in general.  I’d like to think that I’ve read enough of his stuff by now (a fact that this blog will attest to) to see the seams on the monster suit.  Alan Pangbourne is referenced in other places, and also references in his turn, events in Cujo and in The Dark Half as well.  Alan Pangborne is such a godamn likeable character, its always one of those moments which makes the teeny writer inside of me shrivel up and die a little bit inside, just marvelling at the creation.  But I digress – it’s not just Alan who is showing up like a bad penny; Leland Gaunt has more than a passing resemblance to that bad-guy-to-beat-all-bad-guys Randall Flagg from The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon, and ol’ Buster Keaton also resembles “Big” Jim Rennie from Under the Dome.  Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, as well – there have got to be more out there.

Brian Rusk is the first character who sets foot in the new store in town, Needful Things (“Funny name for a store” one of the characters remarks – suspicious name for a store, says I); he’s a young lad with a slight speech impediment, a little-kid crush on his speech therapy teacher, and an avid collector of baseball cards.  Baseball is one of those things that keeps cropping up in King’s work, much like the little towns in Maine.  He’s written a whole book on baseball – I haven’t read it, given that I have little understanding and less interest in the sport, but I hear it’s pretty good.

Read the rest of this entry

Where’s My Cheesecake?

Carlito’s Way

Torres, Edwin  (directed by Brian de Palma)

1975, Futura  (1993, Universal Pictures)

ISBN 0708817068

Oh man, I love this movie.  I’ve seen it loads of times now, but I could never get sick of it.  There is almost nothing bad about it.  It’s got violence, boobs, disco, drugs… and a story line.  A tragic storyline, no less.  Like I said, nothing bad about it.  It’s one of those movies that I watch any chance I get, but it wasn’t until I rewatched it recently that I felt compelled to read the book that originated the whole thing.  It was actually a happy coincidence (the kind of coincidence which is sadly lacking from Carlito Brigante’s life) that I managed to pick it up at a local book fair for only a few dollars.

Carlito’s Way is not a taxing read.  I have the Futura edition which stands at 147 pages, which is not a big read at all.  The language is… almost quaint, which sounds mental for a true-crime style book, but it’s full of seventies gangsterisms and street talk like “You right, man, you right!” and “Right on!”  Heh.  Right on, man.  That’s not so prevalent in the movie, which is a good thing, but it may have been because the movie was made almost twenty years after the book came out – so, like I say, there’s disco, but not the ‘jive turkey’ back chat to go with it.  It’s almost stream of consiousness style, which can make it quite interesting to follow sometimes, but I love the intermingling of Spanish (the fact that there’s a glossary at the back which doesn’t skimp on the swear words also helps).

Seriously, I find it hard to believe that there are people in this world who haven’t yet seen Carlito’s Way, but if any of those people are reading this and think that they might like to, please go watch it before you read this, ’cause after the jump, there are spoilers.

Read the rest of this entry

A Regular Robert Deadford

Christine

King, Stephen

Hodder and Staughton, 1983

ISBN: 0450 056740

Welcome to 2012, cublings!  Hopefully you are all recovered from any time spent with relations over Christmas and New Year (or any other holiday you might have had forced upon you), and your new years resolutions are listed on your fridge getting frantically ignored.  I thought that I’d kick off the book club this year by writing about one of my old favourites, Christine, by Stephen King.

I know that my taste runs to the schlocky end of the spectrum.  I’ve embraced that.  So, it stands to reason that I should like this book.  I mean, you can tell from the first lines on the blurby bit on the back of this book that it’s going to be a treat for the low brow, it goes something like ‘Christine was burrowing into his brain, his subconcience…’  Brilliant, right? I mean, it sounds like the by-line to a Hammer horror or something about brain-parasites or body snatchers.  Maybe it’s somehow significant that it is dedicated to George Romero, the director of many brilliant (and Godawful) horror films, not the least the movie Creepshow.  Before you ask, no, I’ve never seen the film version of Christine, I’m a bit loathe to, but as usual, willing to take a well placed hint if anyone out there thinks it’s a bit special (or a bit septic, I’m open to either option – having watched The Pillow Book recently, I need something that will blot some of the amount of times I have now seen Ewan McGregor’s…er…zones… out of my head.)

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Booksluts Challenge #2: War Trash

War Trash

Jin, Ha

0 375 42276 5

Pantheon, 2004

 

So here we are again with one of these Booksluts ‘Full Frontal’ Challenge books.  My word, when I signed up for this challenge and was blithely going through the lists of award winners for the different prizes, I had really forgotten how freakin’ harrowing literary fiction can be.  This is a prime example of that – War Trash is super-intense.  This book won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction in 2005, but was also a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.  Pretty hot shit.

And it’s no surprise really.  This book kind of epitomises, to me, everything that fiction is capable of being – characters that really make you care about what happens to them, a broadening of your senses, creation of an empathy with characters who might be outside your realm of experience.  The trick seems to be in Ha Jin’s writing – amazingly clear, emotive but not over the top, human as all get out.  To be honest, I thought that I had picked up a memoir rather than a fictional book when I first started reading it, the details were so intricate and realistic (at least to my eyes – I’ve never been to that region of the world, and apart from one university paper and some reading, don’t know much about China at all, really.  And I’ve certainly never been a prisoner of war, thank goodness).  Read the rest of this entry

Kennedytime

Stuck Rubber Baby

Cruse, Howard

Paradox Press/DC Comics, 1995

ISBN: 1 56389 216 2

This graphic novel was one that I’d seen around for a long time, in libraries and comic book stores, on the internet even.  But until it got forced into my hands, I never thought to read it.  When I say ‘forced into my hands’, I mean ‘kindly lent to me’; it’s the joy of hanging out with book people, you always leave with a couple of treasures to read, and a list of recommendations as long as your arm.  I can’t give you a good explaination for why I didn’t pick up this book before now, but I can give you a couple of weak ones.

Firstly, I never never choose to read anything based in a historical period if I can possibly help it.  It’s a dumb reason, that one, because I sometimes enjoy the stuff that I do read (The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric was one that I enjoyed a lot, and I really liked Maus by Art Spiegelman, too).  Historical movies I hate on a ridiculous level, ugh, God, Kingdom of Heaven is possibly the highest on that list, Orlando Bloom with his perfect teeth and his wrong horse and … hmpff, I’m going to move on from that before I get completely sidetracked.  But yeah, I’d never line up to read about a historical period.  There are just too many examples of people making the literary equivalent of Kingdom of Heaven out there, which is obviously way too taxing on my blood pressure.And, there was something about the illustration style that really bothered me; again, a dumb reason, because it was given to me to read because I was talking with a friend about how much I like Robert Crumb’s style of drawing.  That was the first thing that the Lad said about the illustrations too – like Crumb… but… not.  Too uniform somehow, too steady, at least to me.  But who reads graphic novels for the illustrations?  (For more explanation of that, frankly, bizzare statement, take a look at this earlier post).

After all of that shabby explanation, however, I’ve found out that there are several damn fine reasons that this comic is in Comic Journal’s list of 100 best English-language graphic novels. Not the least of which is that I sat down to read, and I was pretty much hooked at page 2.  Not just regular hooked, you-can’t-stop-reading-hooked.  My eyes started falling down when it got to one in the morning, so I went to sleep, but first thing I was up and reading again; I mean it, I got up at six-thirty in the morning on a Saturday to continue reading this book. The story is beautiful, wickedly personal (though in the acknowledgments, Cruse states firmly that this book is “…a work of fiction, not autobiography. It’s characters are inventions of mine, and Clayfield is a make-believe city.”), deeply unsettling in parts.  Read the rest of this entry

The Target of the Well-read Man

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 cover

Bradbury, Ray

Del Ray, 1992

ISBN: 978 0345342 966

Ray Bradbury’s brain scares me.  I mean that in a nice way of course, but it took me a really long time to get back into his writing after I read Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was about thirteen or so.  I totally thought that I’d outgrown the whole nightmare thing – “Ha!” Thirteen-Year-Old Me said, “nightmares are for babies!” – but it would seem that I am not immune to the powerful power of the Dust Witch.  Even typing those words gives me the goosebumps.

However, about a year or maybe a little longer than that ago, I read that Ray Bradbury was “riding out”, as the Guardian put it, in defence of libraries (you can also read a piece that the New York Times came out with around the same period).  “Well,” Present-day Me said to herself, “that’s very nice of him, but it’s no more than I would expect of any author… I mean, der, libraries buy books.”  Whoa, was that presumptuous.  I had not just underestimated the sheer volume of love that Ray Bradbury has for libraries, but attributed a kind of cruel and mercenary reason for that love.  Why all this blithering about libraries, you ask?  Hey, it turns out that I’m a librarian.  Who would have thunk it?  This post is so not about libraries though – I’m currently studying towards my masters, so I’m thinking, breathing, eating and sleeping libraries, and I really don’t want it to infect this blog as well.  It’s the last library-free bastion of one-sided conversation for me. Read the rest of this entry