BANNER IMAGE BY: Ricardo Vasquez SOURCE: FreeImages.com
Month: January, 2017
Number of Books Required: 31
Number of Books Read: 42
Number of Books Left to Read: 323
Favorite Book: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
While I read a lot of great books this month, I feel like Slaughterhouse-Five was the one that really resonated with me the most deeply and which has stuck with me since. I loved the story, loved the style, loved the characters and the deep themes and the unusual structure. It was a book that should have been a confusing mess, but it was so well-executed that I found it breathtaking.
A few other favorites included Cat’s Cradle, The Great Gatsby, Monkey and Good Omens, but I could easily list about a dozen more. I felt like most of what I read this month ranged from good to great, and that’s a nice feeling that should sustain me into February, when my busy travel schedule and workload will make reading more than a book a day a bit harder to accomplish.
Least-Favorite Book: How To Pass as Human – A Guide to Assimilation For Future Androids by Nic Kelman (writer) and Pericles Junior (illustrator)
I was fairly hard on this faux-instruction manual in my diary entry, and my distaste for this story has not softened since I read it. I found it patronizing, shallow, predictable, and, worst of all, a complete waste of an interesting concept. I couldn’t wait to be done with it, and I only continued on because I made a rule that I had to finish any book I started.
There weren’t too many other books I disliked. I was meh on The Sons of Liberty and The Greatest Stories Never Told, and I was sour on Marathon. Oddly, all of these books had the same problem: they purported some connection to exciting moments in history and then failed to follow through with great content or execution of their ideas.
Biggest Surprise: The Complete Elfquest Volume 1 by Wendy and Richard Pini
I was getting pretty weary of Elfquest about 200 pages in; the style and storytelling were a little too stilted and rooted in 1970s fantasy for me to that point. But suddenly, the story started to grow on me and commanded my attention. I became interested in the characters and genuinely engaged by the unique and interesting ideas that the Pinis wrote into their epic. What I’d found cheesy, I began to find endearing; by the end, I was scrambling to begin Volume 2 and find out what happened next. I’d even go so far as to call myself a casual fan of the series now, though I still have a lot more reading to do before I can claim to be anything more.
I was also surprised by Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, all of which were fantastic. I really enjoyed Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street too for its oddball concept and great characters and world. Free Country: A Tale of the Children’s Crusade was a fun surprise as well, in spite of its flaws.
Biggest Letdown: The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore (illustrators)
I was hoping The Walking Dead‘s original black and white comics would give me some insight into why this series is so popular, and I’d always assumed they must really be spectacular with such a large fanbase. I just don’t get the appeal. The story’s contrived and features some of the dumbest characters I’ve ever seen portrayed in fiction. The rules of the universe seem arbitrary, and the opportunities for action become predictable after awhile, to the point that character deaths weren’t so surprising because the storytelling would telegraph their impending doom by suddenly giving the characters things to do and say.
I read so many great graphic novels this month that I can’t excuse The Walking Dead‘s failings, and while I may continue to read the series, it’s mostly just so I can understand the popular culture references to the TV show I’ve long since given up on. Just because something is hugely popular doesn’t mean it’s great; in fact, it often means it’s just good enough to build a broad audience.
I was also let down by The Dark Tower prequel comics (which were boring and pointless far too much of the time) and Saga‘s first compendium (which had beautiful art, but a meandering story I felt wasn’t worthy of the rave reviews it’s received). And while I enjoyed The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I was so annoyed by Mockingjay I wrote an alternate treatment for how I felt the plot could have been better structured.
Other thoughts: It was really interesting to see how many connections emerged between the books I read this month, sometimes in ways I never anticipated. I read several graphic novels authored by fantastic female creators that explored similar themes and plots, but which were all distinctly different. The Monkey King, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” and the Children’s Crusade each showed up in several books, and I was surprised how much I accidentally learned about China this month just by selecting books that touched on its history and mythology.
I also read two books, The Great Gatsby and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which explored the themes of charismatic people living phony, hollow lives from the perspective of an almost invisible observer, almost as if Jay Gatsby and Holly Golightly were two sides of the same coin. Several books were written from the perspective of a villain presented as the protagonist, several more were about dystopian societies, and a handful provided me with alternate interpretations on well-known stories from other mediums.
It’s fun to see all these connections because I didn’t intend for any of them to happen that way. I tried to vary my reading diet so I got a good selection, and while I was a bit heavy on graphic novels and YA material this month, I didn’t feel like anything I read was selected solely because it was going to provide an easy read. I often had no idea going in. (In fact, many of the books I chose I’d never heard of before I started reading them!)
All in all, January proved to be an interesting start to my challenge. I enjoyed it! Here’s to hoping February is as rewarding.