The Classics Club: Completed!

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Five years ago, I decided to join an online challenge called The Classics Club, the goal of which was to read fifty classic novels in a five-year period. For the purposes of this list, I defined a classic as any book written mid-century or earlier. I always enjoyed reading classics in school, but I went almost my entire twenties without reading anything older than a decade or two, outside of university assignments.

I didn’t really expect to finish this, or even still be blogging by this time, but here we are. I actually read the fiftieth book about half a year ago, but I decided to carry on to the five-year mark, ending with 56 novels read and reviewed. I’m so glad I took part in this. I can’t say I was very active in the community, but having that little goal in the distance really did spur me on to pick up more classics, and after five years of doing that it’s permanently changed my reading. It’s no longer a conscious decision to pick up a classic novel; they’re just naturally a part of my to-read queue now.

Here’s the final list:

  1. The Trial and Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues by Plato (~399 B.C.)
  2. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)
  5. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (re-read) by Mary Shelley (1818)
  6. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (1833)
  7. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
  8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)
  10. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
  11. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
  12. King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard(1885)
  13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  14. She by H. Rider Haggard (1887)
  15. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
  16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  17. A House of Pomegranates by Oscar Wilde (1891)
  18. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
  19. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1895)
  20. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
  21. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  22. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
  23. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  24. In the Ravine and Other Short Stories by Anton Chekhov (1900)
  25. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
  26. The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle (1913)
  27. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
  28. The Great Gatsby (re-read) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  29. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  30. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov (1932)
  31. The Hobbit (re-read) by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  32. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  33. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  34. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  35. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
  36. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945)
  37. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)
  38. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
  39. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1952)
  40. The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)
  41. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (1955)
  42. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  43. Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (1958)
  44. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
  45. Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham (1960)
  46. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  47. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)
  48. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
  49. Solaris by Stanisław Lem (1961)
  50. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
  51. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
  52. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
  53. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (1966)
  54. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
  55. Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)
  56. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

I’m pretty happy with the list, despite completely dropping the ball on reading at least one Shakespeare a year. I’ve discovered so many new authors during this time and returned to a few old favourites that I’d forgotten. I loved The Chrysalids in high school, but I didn’t even realize John Wyndham had written anything else. I finally read some Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene, and John Steinbeck, and now I’m excited to read the rest of their work. I hadn’t even heard of Jerome K. Jerome, and Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was one of my favourite novels I read during this.

I started with quite a different list and swapped out novels as I went. Here are the novels I wanted to read originally but didn’t get to:

  1. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (1623)
  2. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. King John by William Shakespeare (1623)
  4. Othello by William Shakespeare (1623)
  5. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
  8. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1888)
  9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1920)
  10. Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H. P. Lovecraft by H. P. Lovecraft (1921 – 1936)
  11. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (1924)
  12. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933)
  13. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
  14. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)
  15. The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler (1949)
  16. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)
  17. Moonraker by Ian Flemming (1955)
  18. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959)
  19. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway (1964)
  20. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine by Kurt Vonnegut (1965)

So now there’s the question of whether I should start a new list and start again. I do like making lists…

Ex Libris

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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderEx Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Published: 2000
Length: 162 pages

I love books about books, but this is probably the first time I’ve read one so purely about the love of reading. Ex Libris is a collection of essays about the reading, storing, and sharing of books, something I imagine many people would find incredibly dull, but I love it. If you’re someone who spends their spare time reading book blogs, you probably will too.

It begins with one of my favourite essays, Marrying Libraries, which recounts the compromises and sacrifices that go into the merging of two personal libraries. The bookshelves in the Loose Logic household are still currently segregated, but our reading doesn’t tend to cross-over into each other’s books very often, so it still works for us.

#CurrentlyReading Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Loving this so far.

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That essay was also an interesting look at the personal connections people can develop with certain editions, and the pain of having to choose which copy to keep when both people own the same book. I don’t think I have many specific editions that I’d have a hard time giving up, although if forced to make the decision, I might feel differently. There are a few signed copies, but almost none of those were signed in person, so that probably doesn’t matter. The main books I wouldn’t be able to give up are my tattered Lord of the Rings novels that my father used to read to me and my siblings. In fact, I already have two separate copies of the trilogy on the shelf, because those books from my childhood are starting to fall to pieces.

I loved hearing the bookish stories of Fadiman’s childhood, as so much of it reminded me of my own. She describes her childhood house as having thousands of books covering the walls, and how naked other people’s houses felt to her when they lacked bookshelves, and I remember feeling that as well. She had a father who wasn’t precious with his books, who would let her build forts out of them, and I can remember huddling under a propped up blanket, peeking out from behind walls of science-fiction hardcovers. My love of reading largely developed from being surrounded by books as a kid and watching my father sit down with one every single night. He never once urged me to read; it was just something I picked up through osmosis.

There must be writers whose parents owned no books, and who were taken under the wing of a neighbor or teacher or librarian, but I have never met one. My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent’s rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says ‘PRIVATE–GROWNUPS KEEP OUT’: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.

This was such a joy to read, and I know I’ll be returning to it from time to time in the years to come.

Gourmet Rhapsody

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Gourmet RhapsodyGourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Published: 2000
Narrated by: Full cast
Translated By: Alison Anderson (from French in 2009)
Length: 04:03 (160 pages)

A renown Parisian food critic, the greatest alive, is on his deathbed. He’s lived a life of eating, where food mattered more than the people around him, and in his last hours he strives to find comfort in that passion by tracing his memories back to the truest taste of his life, in an attempt to experience it again before he’s gone.

This is presented as a series of vignettes, short scenes from his life. Half of the chapters are from his point of view as he scours his memories for that taste he can’t quite recall, a defining bite of food from his past. The other half, every other chapter, are each from a new character’s point of view as they describe their own memories and relationships with the man. These characters include, but are not limited to, his family, past loves, house staff, and the pet dog.

Through these memories, both his own and the others’, we quickly discover how awful a person he is, how neglectful he was as a father and a husband, and how much of a bully he was to nearly everyone around him. His life was about his work and the power that came with it, the power to crush or advance a restaurant with a single review. Most of the memories others have of him are quite negative, although not all, and it’s an interesting look at the complexity of life-long relationships and how one man will affect a variety of people throughout his life, in both insignificant and major ways, but it’s handled in a lighthearted and funny manner.

I personally really enjoy reading about nasty people. Maybe that reflects badly on me, but there’s something about the freedom of expression of being a complete douchenozzle that is just fun, heartbreaking, shocking, and often hilarious to read. I don’t like to be around assholes in real life, but they’re a blast on the page.

[…] for I only ever knew how to spoil my own children — spoil in the strictest sense of the term. I caused them to rot and decompose, those three children who emerged from my wife’s entrails, gifts I had negligently given to her in exchange for her decorative wifely abnegation – terrible gifts, when I think about it today, for what are children other than the monstrous excrescences of our own selves, pitiful substitutes for our unfulfilled desires? For the likes of me – people, in other words, who already have something which gives them pleasure in life – children are worthy of interest only when they finally leave home and become something other than one’s own daughters or sons. I do not love them. I have never loved them, and I feel no remorse on that account. If they expend all their energy hating me with all their strength, that is no concern of mine; the only paternity that I might lay claim to is that of my own oeuvre. And the buried flavor that I cannot find is beginning to make me doubt even that.

I picked this up mainly because I love reading about food, and I was not disappointed in that regard. Barbery writes vividly about the tastes, textures, and experiences of eating, and while it definitely borders on, and sometimes casually shuffles past, the line of self-indulgence with prose so purple it could have hung in Prince’s closet, it will almost certainly hit the spot if you’re in the right mood.

True sashimi is not so much bitten into as allowed to melt on the tongue. It calls for slow, supple chewing, not to bring about a change in the nature of the food but merely to allow one to savor its airy, satiny texture. Yes, it is like a fabric: sashimi is velvet dust, verging on silk, or a bit of both, and the extraordinary alchemy of its gossamer essence allows it to preserve a milky density unknown even by clouds.

As a whole, I found the narrative disjointed, and it took me nearly half the book to find the story’s rhythm. Once it clicked, I started to really enjoy myself, but it sounds like her later book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, is where her storytelling really comes together. I’m still deciding whether or not I’ll read that.

Sleeping Giants

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Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Published: 2016
Narrated by: full cast
Series: Themis Files #1
Length: 08:28 (304 pages)

A young girl falls through the earth and lands cradled in a giant metallic hand. Seventeen years later, that woman is now a brilliant physicist leading a research team to discover the mystery behind the discovery. When they find another body part buried in another area of the world, there’s a new goal: to reconstruct.

I really enjoyed this. It’s written as a series of interviews, similar to World War Z, except the interviews take place as the story progresses rather than looking back afterwards. Some chapters are solo journal entries or radio recordings, but most are interviews conducted by a mysterious, unnamed man who oversees the entire project. I’ve always been a fan of the epistolary format, so this was perfect for me, and I thought Sylvain Neuvel really brought the characters to life in those chapters.

The success of a novel like this is to keep the reader guessing while not keeping everything from them, and the balance here was just right for me. I wanted to know more, but it still felt as though I was learning with the research team, and the pace felt very natural. It was smart to mix interviews with the occasional journal and recorded radio call, as it let Neuvel interject some action into the story. Instead of everything being explained just after the event, the reader still gets to be present during some of the more exciting moments.

In a way, this felt more like classic science fiction, where the central plot device is more of a background to the human stories it affects. John Wyndham did this a lot. The Day of the Triffids isn’t really about the Triffids or the meteor shower, but rather the effects those had on society. In The Kraken Wakes, there’s only one scene that actually features the invading aliens, and the rest of the book is how the world, specifically the two protagonists, deal with the long-term threat.

This was structured similarly. When giant robots are mentioned, I think for most people that conjures up images of epic battles that leave cities in rubble, and there’s not much of that action in this. This is much more a personal story of the team working on this project than it is a story about giant robots, but it feels like the sequel (out in April) could be quite different, as the story hinted at big things to come. It can be a bit disappointing when none of those big things come to fruition in the book you’re actually reading, as it makes this all feel a bit like a first act, but I actually usually enjoy the personal side of science fiction more than the action anyway, so it works for me.

I listened to this on audiobook, and I thought the narrators were great. It’s read with a full cast, which works really well with the interview and journal format. It’s a fun novel, and I’m interested to see what happens in the next book.

February in Review

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Books Acquired:
Jesting Pilate by Aldous Huxley
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Books Read:
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

I hadn’t heard of Jesting Pilate before, but it’s a travelogue from Aldous Huxley that details his trip through multiple countries, from India to America (I believe). Classic travel writing can be a lot of fun (travel before planes or hotel reviews, shock and horror), so I’m looking forward to this. Acceptance I picked up to complete the trilogy, although I still haven’t read the second book yet, so it’s admittedly a bit premature.

And lastly, The Magic of Reality was left in our condo lobby (I’m assuming as a free offer to whomever wanted it), so I snatched it up. I’ve only read Dawkins’ The God Delusion, so this should be a nice introduction to his other work.

The most exciting thing that happened this month is that we bought a new vacuum cleaner. This may seem like no big thing to most people, but after living with terrible vacuums my entire adult life, this has been a revelation. Literally life-changing!

These are some chunky snowflakes.

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We had two separate snowfalls this month, which is really unusual for this area. The first one unfortunately prevented us from making a trip to see Run the Jewels in Vancouver, due to canceled flights, which was annoying, but I do enjoy it when it’s not ruining my plans. The image above is from yesterday. The snow was falling in giant chunks, but it was almost entirely gone by the evening. Very odd weather this year.

Paisley in the snow a few weeks ago.

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Movies watched:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) – Maggie Smith was fantastic in this, but a lot of the subtlety of the book was lost.

Rogue One (2016) – We finally made it out to see this, two months after release. We were the only two people in the theatre, so it was our own private showing. Very fun and a great cast of characters.

Finding Vivian Maier (2014) – Really loved this. A documentary about a retired nanny who passed away and left behind thousands upon thousands of film negatives. It digs into her hidden life, her photography, and also considers (briefly) the moral ambiguities of doing this after her death.

TV watched:
Avec Eric (2015) – A food travel series hosted by Eric Ripert. Not mind-blowing, but still enjoyable.

Games played:
The Elder Scrolls Online (2014) (PC) – I had that itch for an MMO game for some reason. I can’t explain it. This has been really fun, even playing it solo. Good writing and excellent voice acting.

Oxenfree (2016) (PC) – I loved this. A group of kids stay overnight in an abandoned island town for a graduation party and uncover some strange happenings. A short game with a lot of impact.

For Honor (2017) (PS4) – This is a bit of a bug-ridden mess at the moment, but when it works the gameplay is very exciting.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

The Vintage Caper

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The Vintage CaperThe Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
Published: 2009
Series: Sam Levitt #1
Length: 223 pages

I love Peter Mayle’s Provence books, where he details his life after moving there from England. He apparently also has a series of detective novels that focus on food and wine, a combination of two things I enjoy quite a bit, so I thought I’d give them a try.

Mayle’s a strong writer, and that does come through here, but the story itself was a bit silly. This follows Sam Settler, a once-thief now working as a private detective, as he tries to track down millions of dollars of stolen wine. I imagine his alliterative name is a throwback to Sam Spade and the golden era of detective fiction, but that’s really where the comparisons stop.

My main problem with this novel is that there’s just no reason at all to care. I think, in detective fiction, readers want to see the crime solved for the following reasons:

  • Sympathy for the victim – The victim here, the wine collector, is portrayed as a complete douchbag. He’s an entertainment lawyer who treats everyone around him with contempt, who values impressing others above all else. You are meant to hate him from the first page of this novel.
  • Seeking justice for the crime – The crime itself is serious, the theft of something worth millions, but it isn’t a murder. If the thief is never caught, the wine will just have a new owner, potentially even one that will appreciate it more. I supposed if you felt really strongly about wine collecting, the idea of this happening would sting, but I doubt most people would lose sleep over it.
  • The detective’s life is threatened – In many detective or crime novels, the detective’s life may be at stake. They may need to solve the crime to prove themselves innocent or to bring down the criminals who may now be targeting them after getting involved. At the very least, it’s a crime from the past that went unsolved and has haunted them ever since. Sam is under no pressure in this. If he’s not investigating, he’s just having nice dinners or sightseeing.
  • The detective’s livelihood is threatened – Most detective or crime fiction protagonists need to solve these cases in order to continue paying rent, whether that’s keeping their job in the police force or just making money as a private consultant. They need to get paid. Sam Settler is independently wealthy from his previous life of crime, so he really doesn’t need to solve this. He travels to France with a first class plane ticket and eats caviar multiple times.

*Spoiler*
Mayle did try to get creative with the ending of this novel, but it instead just felt ridiculous. The rich man who stole the wine is a nice guy, which they determine by his reputation and having met him for five minutes, so instead of turning him in they decided to commit a crime themselves and re-steal the bottles of wine, some of which may or may not have been stolen.

One of Sam’s partners in the theft is a journalist, so the plan was to leave the wine somewhere and have the journalist find it through an anonymous tip, thus finding the stolen goods, returning them to their owner, taking the blame off the nice rich man, and providing a great story to publish.

Not only do they put themselves at risk to protect someone they met for five minutes, but they hide the wine on land the journalist’s family owns, and no one brings this up as being a bad idea. I’m assuming the sequel will take place in prison, because I don’t understand how the police wouldn’t make that connection.
*/Spoiler*

It feels a bit weird reading someone’s fiction when you know them for their non-fiction. I imagine it feels a bit like watching a friend act on stage for the first time, making it harder to see the character rather than the actor, but it didn’t take too long to adjust. As I said, Mayle is a very good writer. I especially enjoyed any scene in which the characters were eating. This feels like food travel writing with a fictional plot thrown in, which I would absolutely love if it was done well.

If you’re the sort of person that complains about George R.R. Martin spending too much time describing food, I’d avoid this. Even though I was disappointed with the plot, I might give the next book a try. He might have just been finding his footing with this one, and I really want a detective series full of food and travel writing.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Published: 1961
Narrated by: Miriam Margolyes
Length: 04:45 (150 pages)

I’ve been trying to read a bit more Scottish fiction in the last year or two, and this is a novel you’ll find on every Scottish list around the Internet. I had heard of Muriel Spark, but to be honest I didn’t know anything about her, not even that she was Scottish, so I picked this up as blind as one could be.

Miss Jean Brodie is an unorthodox teacher for a group of ten-year-old girls in an Edinburgh school in the 30’s. We follow the group as they progress through Junior School, under miss Brodie’s tutelage, and carry on to Senior School. There they are taught by other teachers but are still under Miss Brodie’s wing, meeting with her every week or so for tea or golf.

Miss Brodie would often spend class lecturing on her own life, her trips to Italy and her past love affair, asking the students to hold up their class books to fool anyone who might wander in uninvited. She wants to teach them about life and about themselves, at least her idea of what they should be, and there is a worry that they will not learn the subjects in the official curriculum, but the whole set of them seem to come out of the class as top students in the school. They even seem better adjusted as individuals, in a way, so the early years seem innocent enough. It isn’t until the students are older that we really see how potentially destructive Miss Brodie can be.

I really enjoyed Muriel Spark’s writing. This novel is hilarious at times while also being quite dark in places, and I was genuinely surprised at what was happening in the second half of this. What I found most interesting, though, was how she jumped around in time. That is not, by any stretch, an uncommon device in fiction, but she uses it in a very satisfying way. For each girl in the Brodie Set, she would often hint at what they would be ‘famous’ for in the years to come – Rose being famous for sex, Jenny famous for her beauty, Monica for her mathematics – and at one point, in the middle of a fairly innocuous moment, the story flashes forward twelve years or so to show the death of one of the more unfortunate girls in a scene that was both hilarious and horrific, and which was also cruelly foreshadowed in an event during the next school year. It’s easy to lose the reader hopping about in time like that, but she handled it flawlessly.

Miss Brodie is a character I won’t soon forget. At the beginning of the novel, she seems so in control. She is clever and articulate and charming, with a biting wit and a strong passion for what she does, but as the years pass we begin to see her in a less positive light. She’s manipulative and dangerous, a bit sad really. She could have had a much different life if the war hadn’t taken the love of her youth, but instead she’s been left broken. She tries to regain control by dedicating herself to her girls, keeping them in line with her their dictator.

It’s a strange thing to grow up and suddenly see the flaws of your idols and authority figures, these people who always had the answers and worldly knowledge. This novel captures that feeling brilliantly, as well as the aftermath of trying to relate to those early feelings of childhood reverence as an adult.

We watched the 1969 film adaptation with Maggie Smith last night. She was amazing in it, and it was fun to watch, but everything felt so exaggerated. One thing I really loved about Muriel Spark’s writing is that she didn’t explain every theme and every character intention. The movie, however, did not take that route. Also, Teddy Lloyd wasn’t as rape-y in the book, whereas his portrayal in the movie was just ridiculous. We enjoyed it overall, though.

Miriam Margolyes’s narration of the audiobook was a bit over-the-top, but was otherwise incredible entertaining. Muriel Spark, without a doubt, an author I’ll be returning to in the future.

Kaijumax, Season 1

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Kaijumax, Season 1Kaijumax, Season 1 by Zander Cannon
Format: Trade Paperback
Illustrated by: Zander Cannon
Series: Kaijumax #1
Publisher: Oni Press
Published: 2016
Length: 168 pages

Last year, while attending PAX West, we dropped by the Oni Press booth. They had some discounted comics for sale, and since I’ve only read their Bryan Lee O’Malley books, most of it was new to me. I picked out the first volume of The Sixth Gun and a funny little book called I Was the Cat, both of which I still haven’t read, and then I asked which book he’d recommend. He chose Kaijumax, because it’s hilarious and different from anything he’d come across.

He was correct! This is a very odd book. It takes place on an island that holds a maximum security prison for Kaiju monsters. I’m still a little confused as to whether Kaiju is the term for the monsters themselves or the film genre, but it’s basically your Godzillas and Mothras mixed with Orange is the New Black. When he told me the book featured Kaiju, I stared back at him blankly for a while, which I think lost me some major geek points. After he explained it, I vaguely remember hearing the term before, but it’s definitely a part of geek culture that I don’t know a lot about.

Thankfully, being a Kaiju newbie doesn’t get in the way here. There are gangs and racial tension, drug smuggling, corrupt prison guards – everything you’d expect from a prison drama. Zander Cannon takes those known clichés and mixes them with monsters and the result is surprisingly fresh. He does very clever things in mixing the two styles. The included picture, of the monster’s gym equipment, is a good example of that.

This comic gets surprisingly dark at times as well. The illustrations are disarmingly cute, so when these things happen it really sneaks up on you. The main drama centres around a monster who was just admitted and the fact that his children are still out there, unable to feed or protect themselves. It’s a completely bizarre premise that happens to be grounded with somewhat relatable issues.

Cannon wrote and illustrated this himself, so you’re getting one person’s (extremely bizarre) vision, which I think gives it a nice personal touch. I will probably pick up the second volume at some point, to see where this story goes.

Fool’s Quest

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Fool's Quest  (The Fitz and The Fool, #2)Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Published: 2015
Series: The Fitz and The Fool, #2
Length: 768 pages

I’m so happy to have gotten back into reading Robin Hobb. I’m spreading the books out, partly because they’re quite chunky and partly because I don’t really want this story to come to an end. I’ll console myself with the fact that I have two other related trilogies to go back and read, as well as whatever she comes out with next.

Robin Hobb is a brilliant writer, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Her novels are beautifully written, and she expertly draws the reader into a complex, but understandable, world. Each character is real, flawed, motivated in their own way, and she makes you care about every single one of them. Even when they frustrate or anger with their actions, or inaction, the reader can still eventually understand their reasoning. In these last eight books, Fitzchivalry, the main character, has continuously made decisions that infuriated me, but you can always see why he’s the way he is. Hobb spent nearly the entire last book building these characters up in our imagination, making us understand their relationships to one another and really building the emotional foundation for this trilogy. It was a riveting read, even if not a lot of action took place.

With that groundwork in place, this is the novel where the action really picks up. It’s exciting, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. Something happens to Fitz that we’ve been waiting to happen for twenty years now (twelve for me, since I came in late), and it’s done it the most satisfying way I could hope for. One thing that prevented me from getting through her Soldier’s Son trilogy was that it was just so hopeless. She can be ruthless in how she treats her characters, and she was out for blood in that series. This latest trilogy is much more balanced – some chapters raise your spirits while others crush you a little, and it overall makes for a much more interesting and pleasurable reading experience.

One more book left with Fitz and the Fool. Loving the latest trilogy. Will be sorry to see them go.

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One thing that did bother me is that there’s a central mystery or surprise in this, which I won’t spoil but I think will be obvious if you’ve read it, and it takes the characters so bloody long to figure it out. It was incredibly obvious to the reader since midway through the first novel, on purpose I believe, but the characters took about a thousand pages to work it out, and that’s always been an annoyance of mine. Either make it less obvious to the reader, so we can experience the discovery with the characters, or speed it along a little. That disconnect does nothing but hurt the writing, in my opinion.

Even with that small gripe, this might be my favourite Robin Hobb trilogy yet. It’s been a long time since I read those first books, so it’s hard to tell, but either way I am loving this. This novel unfortunately comes to an end without really trying to find a natural break, as it’s clearly meant to just transition to next book, so I’m itching to read on. It comes out in May, but I might hold out for the paperback edition later in the year.

January in Review

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Books Acquired:
Irredeemable, Vol. 3 by Mark Waid
Irredeemable, Vol. 4 by Mark Waid
Ayoade on Ayoade by Richard Ayoade
The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman

Books Read:
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Kaijumax, Season 1 by Zander Cannon
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

It’s been a decent start to the year. A bit of a rough beginning, as I got ill immediately upon returning from holiday and spent a chunk of New Years Day in emergency, but it all turned out all right. The rest of the month was relaxed. Reading, hanging out, and taking some photos. Last month I bought a new camera, and I’m having fun learning and posting to Instagram. I picked up a copy of The Photographer’s Eye for some inspiration, as it comes highly recommended online as a good overview on composition.

The Photographer’s Eye and Ayoade on Ayoade, which I’ve been itching to buy for ages now, were both purchased with the winnings from the Back to the Classics 2016 challenge. I was lucky enough to win the draw of US$30, which is equivalent to winning the lottery jackpot with the current Canadian dollar. Thanks to Karen for hosting the challenge!

Sleepy Sunday

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Warm enough this weekend to go for a walk by the ocean.

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Freighter with the Olympic Mountains in the background.

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Lee-Ann and Paisley.

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The two Irredeemable comics I picked up used. I started the series years ago and only got a couple of volumes in, despite really liking it. I saw these and thought I should get back into it.

Movies watched:
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – I loved this. Sweet little movie out of New Zealand. Very funny with great actors. First movie I watched this year, and it’s already better than anything I watched last year.

Submarine (2010) – Another fantastic movie. Directed and written by Richard Ayoade. His style of comedy really shines through on this, and it’s filmed in a unique and fun way. The music is great too. Very reminiscent of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen.

TV watched:
Last Chance to See (2009) – Stephen Fry revisits the trip Douglas Adams took, with his original travelmate Mark Carwardine, to see what happened to those near-extinct animals they tracked. Great series. I’m always happy to watch Stephen Fry, of course, but Mark Carwardine really stole the show for me. He’s interesting and affable. I wish he’d continued on doing more nature programmes after this.

Games played:
Inside (2016) (PC) – Beautiful little game. Turned out to be much creepier and bizarre than I expected. Turns out the hype around this was well-warranted.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?