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January 2007

Books Acquired

Fables 8: Wolves, by Bill Willingham • The Walking Dead 5: The Best Defense, by Robert Kirkman • Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt, by Nick Hornby • The Moon is Down, by John Steinbeck • Brainiac, by Ken Jennings • Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult • The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales, by Edgar Allan Poe • Ghosting: A Double Life, by Jennie Erdal • I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics, edited by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff • Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?, By Gavin Edwards • Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

Books Read

The Walking Dead 5: The Best Defense, by Robert Kirkman • Bruce Springsteen On Tour: 1968-2005, by Dave Marsh • The Pact, by Jodi Picoult • Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt, by Nick Hornby • Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?, by Gavin Edwards • The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales, by Edgar Allan Poe

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I have a feeling my graphic novel consumption will be less this year, which has me worried. In 2006, I was able to plow through giant runs of series like Y: The Last Man and Fables and add each smallish volume to my yearly tally. The problem with that is that I’ve read most of what I’m interested in, and now that I’ve caught up, the graphic novel surge has slowed to a trickle.

Boy howdy, did I like Walking Dead 5: The Last Defense, though. I’m not entirely sure why we’re suddenly a zombie-obsessed culture. Maybe we can blame that on the Internet, too. Though I’m pretty sure it has more to do with the sheer and wide-reaching awesomeness of Shaun of the Dead. I’m rarely wrong about these things.

You know how you’re reading zombie comic books and you’re all like, well, this is awful and terrifying but at least zombies are the worst possible things that can happen, right? Well, as it turns out, that’s not the case. In The Last Defense, we’re introduced to this guy called The Governer, and he’s got the zombies pretty much beat on the terror front. This dude brings brutality to a level I’d never anticipated in comics. To anyone who says that black and white comics can’t be as good as ones in color, you’re missing something really amazing here. So that’s my plug for Robert Kirkman.

I got a bunch of stuff at Recalcitrant Shopping Day this year, the one day of year Tracey and my boyfriend Shawn and I set aside to revel in our greed and not feel guilty about it. We return all the stuff we got for Christmas but didn’t really want, and spend gift cards, and eventually someone (Tracey) starts complaining that it’s probably warmer at home and can we hurry it the fuck up, please?

I’ve been on the Steinbeck tip for awhile now, and after East of Eden blew my mind last year (in a similar fashion to the way that The Grapes of Wrath blew my mind a little under a decade ago, and the way Travels With Charley blew my mind about five years ago), I’m searching for the Next Great Steinbeck. My big fear is that I may have run out. He doesn’t really have any other epics to dig into, and I’m wary about the smaller books. I mean, Cannery Row’s all right, but it’s not as super rad as my Big Steinbeck Three. I picked up The Moon Is Down this year in the hopes that it will compare, but I’m wary. The problem with writers that are either dead or J.D. Salinger is they only have a finite amount of work to read. Maybe I reached my Steinbeck peak too early.

To alleviate a bit of the Steinbeck nervousness, I decided to tackle some Poe I’d never read before. It’s fun to talk about Poe at parties and get-togethers, because you don’t have to know a lot to seem like an expert on the subject. I’ve memorized “The Raven” a few times (and forgotten crucial portions just as often), and I’ve read “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” and some of the other very classic ones. I consider myself a Poe fan, but the truth is I haven’t read very widely. (This is true with a lot of the “classics,” sadly. Often, I just don’t have the patience to wade through the words to get at the story, even if I know the story’s a good one. Jesus, it took me forever to read Heart of Darkness, and I liked it.)

Wanna hear something weird about the Poe stuff? Okay, you’d think it’d be easier to read something a little bit more challenging in the quiet of a library or in the comfort of bed. This turned out not to be the case. In the middle of “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” I fell asleep twice in the library (and was incidentally late back from lunch. My boss was less than pleased.) Apparently, when I’m all about getting through nineteenth-century literature, the noisy, jostling subway is the place for me to go. Man, I burned through pages there. Again, I ask: what is wrong with me?

Oh, and another thing about The Dupin Tales: why, if “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter” are so fun and interesting and actually exciting, is “The Mystery of Marie Roget” so damn awful? It’s like, with the other stories, Poe’s all about having fun and being weird and creating a genre and doing it right. And in “Marie Roget,” he goes batshit over the sound of his own voice (the whole thing’s this long, rambling narrative by Poe – very thinly using Dupin’s voice – in which he’s basically telling the New York newspaper establishment that they’re stupid and he’s awesome.) And it’s drudgery! The other two, especially “The Purloined Letter,” are fun. “Marie Roget” is like being forced to read a textbook about the nature of analysis. I expected essay questions.

And lastly: so, I finally finished The Pact, and I loved every second of it. This year, I’m going to try to further rebel against my father’s weirdly misogynistic influence and read more woman writers. (Although, anecdote: So, for years, my Dad had gone on and on about how he couldn’t read woman writers, because he couldn’t get into that mindset, and he couldn’t force himself to think how women think, and blah blah blah. And I, being of a more liberal mind, rolled my eyes … then started thinking the exact same way. This is because I’m highly influential, and also stupid. Of the books by women I’ve read in the past five years, about 90% of them are about writing or reading, and the other ten percent are about Harry Potter. Still with the something about me being wrong. But then last year my Dad calls me and he’s all, “So, have you read the Clan of the Cave Bear series? It’s awesome!” Stop it with the mixed messages, Dad! I already have white liberal guilt, I don’t need male liberal guilt, too!)

What I’m saying here is that The Pact was a fantastic read, despite all the derision I got from my co-workers at Borders for reading a “chick lit” book. That always bugged me, because while it does have a feminine “feel” a lot of the time, this is about as far from Bridget Jones’s Diary as you can get. It’s not a horror novel, quite, but it’s haunting just the same. Because the novel involves a suicide, and we get a lot of the backstory leading up to the night of the suicide in flashbacks, we as readers always know just a little bit more than the other characters. This gets frustrating at times, but never unfairly. It’s interesting to know the motivation(s) behind this character wanting to kill herself without anyone else in the book really knowing, and having to go on faith. I’m ready to read more Picoult now.

And that’s it for month one of my grand experiment. Currently, I’m in the midst of Ken Jennings’ surprisingly entertaining book Brainiac. What’s next? Who knows. But know this: you’ll be reading all about it, same time next month. See you then.