Saga, Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Each time I read a volume of Saga, I quickly look on Amazon to see when the next volume is going to be released. The minute the next volume is available for pre-order, I furiously check my library catalog to see if it’s logged into the system. And then I wait. Apparently, my library got an advanced copy or something, because I was able to read Volume 7 before its supposed release date with Amazon. Hooray! Of course, that means another painful wait. What are you going to do?
I am not going to give a plot summary review at all, because I don’t want to spoil anything. But I *will* add that Lying Cat is back in all her glory (THANK GOODNESS), and we get a LOT of poignant moments in here. Of course, Saga is painful, as well as lovely, and there are a few points that I am anxious to see how they turn out in Volume 8. Like I said, I’m not willing to spoil anything.
One thing I did notice from reading Saga as each volume was released, instead of binging on the complete series in a stretch, was that a few plot threads are fuzzy to me. The world has expanded so much that I wonder if it’s going to get too big. As it was, I had to return to Wikipedia a time or two to refresh my memory on a few plot points that had been introduced a few volumes back. Of course, this means I’m due for a re-read, and I can’t think of anything better than enjoying Saga all over again. But I am curious as to how Vaughan and Staples plan to wrap it all up when the time comes to finish (and frankly, I think that time might be coming sooner, rather than later).
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Years ago, I took a coming-of-age course in the summer as part of my MA degree. My professor and mentor, G, taught the memoir Fun Home and gave us a crash course in reading and understanding comics. Included in this lesson were excerpts from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. I purchased a copy and have taught excerpts when I taught art and comics to my own students, but I never fully delved into the text until now. It’s a wonderful and worthwhile journey. McCloud took an impossible subject and made it enjoyable, readable, and understandable.
Understanding Comics is not a mere “here’s how to read a comic strip” how-to guide. Rather, McCloud embarks upon the history of graphic media and then talks about icons, meaning, and the ways graphic novelists and comic writers play with text and images together to make a new genre of text. It’s a meta-text, if you will, in which we examine comics through the lens of an actual comic book. It’s witty and engaging while at the same time helping inform and defend a genre that has often been considered fluffy or juvenile. My favorite part is Chapter 3, “Blood in the Gutter,” in which McCloud discusses the gutter—the blank space in between panels. There is so much storytelling potential within these spaces that I never considered.
If you’ve tried to read a comic but have felt stuck, I would recommend giving this book a go. It might help you feel “un-stuck” and understand how and why you read a comic. It’s slightly different than a graphic novel (this book explains it more fully) and helps you understand what goes on in a text.
Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman
Anyone who knows me knows what an enormous fan I am of Parks and Recreation. While I am always and forever Team Leslie Knope, I still adore the other characters and want their real-life counterparts to succeed. Some of my favorite sub-plots involve the twisted relationship of Ron and Tammy (I have a nostalgic fondness for Will and Grace, so Megan Mullally makes me delighted instantly), so imagine my feverish joy when I found out that Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally were actually married…TO EACH OTHER. My mentee from my PhD institution my last year there gifted me this book, and it will hold a treasured spot on my shelf.
This is part-memoir, part-self-help. Offerman discusses his upbringing and the values that brought him to become the man he is today. He also discusses certain handy principles of meat preparing, woodworking, and facial hair that seem analogous to his Ron Swanson character, but are softened somewhat by his wicked and wry sense of humor. Offerman is also an Illinoisian, and I enjoyed his Chicagoland references *immensely.* The best chapters in the book deal with his life on Parks and Recreation (though it wasn’t enough, in my opinion) and his life with Mullally (truly tender).
This book was enjoyable for me, because I could hear Offerman’s voice reading it with a glass of Scotch in hand while enjoying a venison steak. I don’t know if this is the *best* celebrity memoir that I’ve ever read, particularly because some of his principles of living and ideology crowd into the memoir and history part of the book. He and I definitely disagree on religion, though we both have common ground in freedom for individual choices—even in those disagreements, I could understand and respect his perspective. It’s a solid and entertaining read!
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Years and years ago, my beloved theory professor and mentor at my MA institution recommended Jeanette Winterson, and most specifically, Written on the Body, if I wanted to better grasp queer theory and literature. I found a copy at Goodwill but have not opened it until now, and now I regret only the many years that I did not absorb this amazing and beautifully-written text.
This novel is written in a nonlinear fashion by an author whose gender is never specified. This author discusses past lovers and the current, elusive lover, a married woman named Louise. Louise and our narrator struggle to identify their relationship, the nature of love, and the nature of the human body when in a sexual or romantic relationship. It’s hard to delve much further into the story, because so much of it involves reflection within the self about how we absorb, process, and return love that is given to us.
This novel is intriguing and a great entry point for undergrads to talk about a queer body. If the narrator is a man, then we might code him as “straight,” based on the past relationships named with women, until we encounter his past relationship with at least one man. This still renders the narrator queer and sexually fluid. Further, if we code the narrator as a woman, and a queer woman at that, based on all the relationships she has exclusively named women in, then her relationship with a man muddies those queer waters and still renders her sexually fluid. I prefer to think of the narrator as a woman, but that’s honestly not important, and Winterson knows it. Rather, Winterson wants us to deconstruct our own bodies and help us think about how we theorize our selves and the way we respond to others in matters of the body. This may not be the easiest novel to read, but it is damn beautiful and engaging.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
As an avid reader of literary fiction, I make it a habit to read the Man Booker Prize winning novel each year. I’m always curious to see what the committee selects, as well as their rationale for the prize. For two years in a row, a black male author has won the prize—last year’s winner, Marlon James, wrote a hefty tome about Jamaica, A Brief History of Seven Killings. This year’s winner, American Paul Beatty, wrote a much shorter book that took me almost the same amount of time to read. [On a separate note: it really does feel like cheating to have the United States eligible for the Man Booker Prize, at least to me. We already have the National Book Award, plus a myriad of other prizes that non-American authors are *not* eligible for, so what gives? It’s not Beatty’s fault at all, but it bothers me]
The Sellout is about an unnamed narrator who lives in Dickens, California. His father is a psychologist who conducts a series of unorthodox experiments on our narrator and records the results. This continues until his father is killed by the police and our narrator discovers that Dickens has been wiped off the map. In order to put Dickens back on the map, he decides to resegregate it—he institutes separate schools and facilities, as well as painting boundaries for white, black, and Latinx citizens. At the same time, he tries to win back his ex-girlfriend and maintains the dignity of a former black child star by enslaving him (at the star’s request), which culminates in a case that threatens to reopen history.
This book is supposed to be satire, I think. There are some clever moments of alternate history that show some what-if scenarios, but there are many more points of confusing exposition or plot that left me scratching my head. I think this book is supposed to be appreciated more than enjoyed, but that never makes a book easier or more pleasurable to read, does it? I think I was supposed to find it brilliant and clever, but I felt lost a LOT. I don’t know what could be different about it, I just know that this took me a week to read, and it was hard to step into a reading groove when I did get a chance to pick it up.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
As you all know, I’ve been trying to expand my diverse books knowledge, and The Chancellor recommended a few that he thought would be great companion pieces to one of my new YA favorites, All American Boys. I’ve already read and reviewed Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, and today, I finished Angie Thomas’s extraordinary debut, The Hate U Give.
The novel begins when our protagonist Starr witnesses her childhood best friend Khalil being shot by a police officer while she sits in the passenger seat, stunned, too afraid to move. Khalil was unarmed and pulled over for a “tail light.” If you are a minority in the United States or keep up with the news, you know this story by now. Starr is already caught between two worlds: her urban neighborhood, where she has lived her whole life, but is plagued by gang wars and lack of opportunity; and the preppy world of her predominantly white school, where she has a scholarship. Starr struggles to make sense of the shooting, her information of the crime, and how and with whom she can share it. She realizes that she must do right by Khalil, her family, and herself, but she wonders how, when she knows the way the justice system often stacks the deck.
This is a fantastic novel. Thomas creates a sympathetic and complex protagonist, in that this story also serves as a sort of coming-of-age for Starr, or at least a moment of enlightenment within the bildungsroman genre. The writing also builds the world of the Gardens effectively—you can sense Starr’s neighborhood and colliding worlds, and you become immersed in them. Finally, the emotional stakes are high. Thomas does not sugarcoat anything that happens, and she doesn’t give a sense of false hope. It’s crushing and uplifting at once. I highly recommend this book, and I’ll be on the lookout for Thomas’s next work.
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
I’m always on the lookout for diverse books, especially if they are culturally relevant. The Chancellor recommended me two books: Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down and Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give. I’m currently reading the latter, so you’ll get to read my review later this weekend (I hope), but I just finished the former, and it was an interesting, engaging, thought-provoking book.
Tariq Johnson leaves a convenience store buying groceries, when the owner chases after him, shouting, “Come back!” A white man stops him to intervene, young black men rise up, and then, with the shout of “He’s got a gun!” another white man comes up and fatally shoots Tariq. This is all we know. The rest of the story is told in pieces from multiple perspectives: the owner, Tariq’s best friend Tyrell, Jennica, the young woman who gives him CPR, Brick, the unofficial gang leader who was trying to initiate Tariq and Tyrell, Tariq’s sister Tina who has special needs, and the Rev. Alistair Sloane who has a senatorial campaign at stake. The story is at turns frustrating and lyrical, evasive and honest. It shows the danger of a single story, as well as the way we frame a narrative to suit a particular need.
This was a solid 4-star book for me. It is well-written and engaging, a fast book to dive into, and one that critiques the media treatment of crimes committed against black teenagers. I think Magoon could have trimmed out a few voices in her narrative, and there just isn’t the same emotional connection you get from All American Boys, but it’s a worthy read, nonetheless.