Persepolis – Gripping Until the End

I am not one for the war genre. I often shy from this genre, as the true stories of the worst humanity has to offer is usually too much for me to stomach. So it came as a surprise to me that when a friend suggested I read Persepolis  I devoured it in a day. Persepolis  is a quick satisfying read, and one of the most unique books I have read as it takes its form in a graphic novel. Reading about Marjane Satrapi’s youth in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in comic form makes the heady subject easier to digest, and rather, quite entertaining. The format is brilliant, as it relates the reader quickly to the main character – Satrapi herself – and immerses the reader into her world. It makes a very difficult subject and history easily approachable. The comic format also mirrors the juxtaposition of the modern with the ancient: the outdated mores of a religion taking over a very modern society. As the people Satrapi knows – and especially herself – lose more of their freedoms with each passing year, the stark black and white inking of the art reflects this severity of contrasts. Old versus new. Age versus youth. Freedom versus imprisonment. Although the book is entirely from Satrapi’s point of view as a child, I identified with the parents, growing more and more afraid of the forces that were closing in and threatening their way of life. I wanted them to be safe, but also to fight and be revolutionaries, defending freedom and liberty. I was truly wrapped up in the characters, and the war closing in around them. Although the artwork is beautiful in its simplicity – the emotion of the characters is clear and heart wrenching. What makes the story of  Persepolis so unique however, is the levity Sartrapi injects into the dire circumstances she faced as a child. There are jokes sprinkled throughout the book, and this reminded me of the amazing resilience of the human spirit. Even through a life of  fear, control and death, the characters can find some humor, a bit of light. This element gives the story buoyancy without mitigating the graveness of the events. Until the humor becomes a crutch for the characters – proof of their denial in an ever darkening world. The story is quick, the characters fleshed out and so very real in their complexity and in the end, you will find yourself punched in the gut. I closed the book and just sat there, silent, with tears running down my face. I was left feeling sad, touched and hopeful. I heartily recommend.


S.: A Most Unique Novel

When I picked this book up from the library, I thought it was a mistake. It is a worn, old looking (circa 1950’s) library book titled Ship of Theseus, authored by “V.M. Straka”. I was confounded. It wasn’t until I opened the book and peered at the yellowed, occasionally coffee stained pages, and saw the different colors of ink and pencil adorning the margins of the book that I saw that yes, indeed it was S. which I had put on hold a few weeks prior. The graphic design of this book is just that good. The attention to detail is mesmerizing. I love the dates stamped on the back page and the “BOOK FOR LOAN” words stamped in red ink on the very front page. Even my husband asked me at one point what I was reading. “It makes you look cultured,” he said. “I thought you were reading a classic.” Beyond the beautiful presentation S. is quite the tome. Written by J.J. Adams (yes, that one) and Doug Dorst (literature teacher at a University and writer by profession), S. contains three stories. The main one Ship of Thesus (fictionally by V.M. Straka) is really good and I found honestly to be the most compelling. This story centers around an amnesiac who finds himself imprisoned on a ship – yet ends up going back to the ship again and again – docking here and there to “take out” people then ending up back on the ship again. Each time the ship is constructed differently – yet the crew remains the same (although dwindles as the years go on). Yes, this story is basically the Theseus Paradox – if a ship is deconstructed then reintegrated using the same parts is it the same ship? The second story is of Jen and Eric. Eric is a recently expunged grad student studying V.M. Straka and trying to figure out his identity – which still remains a mystery in the world of literature. Jen is an undergrad who is working in the stacks and comes across this well loved, and annotated book when she starts writing in her own comments. Eric writes back and what ensues is the story of Jen and Eric – as they get more engulfed in the mystery of V.M. Straka and the difficulties Eric is having with a professor trying to steal his work. (And Jen’s challenges with school). Their research gets more dangerous, and leads them to places they are not prepared to go. The third story is the story of Straka and the translator who wrote his book – Filomena X. Caldeira. There are many clues and codes in her footnotes sprinkled throughout the book. To say this book is multilayered would be a vast understatement. I had to work pretty hard to unravel it and there are many things I feel I missed and would only gain upon a second or third reading. It truly is up to the reader how she wants to tackle it. I read the main story first then went on to only read the black and blue writing by Jen and Eric. Then went through again and read the rest of the colored inks. I recommend reading all of Jen and Eric’s writing at once after reading the main story. I am glad I read the main story first as it gives the backdrop to the common thread for all the characters, and sets up the mood and metaphors that are influencing the stories. I enjoyed the main story the most – breezing through it. I was fascinated by the character of S. I wanted to find out who he was and why he was doing what he was doing. I enjoyed coming up with my own theories and was in tears in the end when all was revealed. It was a little more difficult for me to get into Jen and Eric’s stories. Not for lack of interest but I think because it is tricky following several threads simultaneously. Their story is more mysterious and less straight forward , and its not always linear. The reader has to do a lot of connecting the dots and thinking for themselves. However, it is absolutely worth it. I stumbled across this book looking for one that is similar to House of Leaves and was not disappointed at all. I only wish I had more time to re read it and try to crack the codes myself. I heartily recommend.

UPDATE: One very important element of this book that I failed to mention is the inserts. Since I originally borrowed the book from the library I didn’t have the additional material to accompany the experience. Today I bought a practically new copy with all the inserts at a used book store. Wow. Let me tell you this impacts the stories and truly makes this an experience. Handling each postcard, handwritten notes scrawled on bits of paper, napkins, even a completely realistic looking university daily newspaper brings a whole new level of realism to these stories. Again, the eye for design and replication is impeccable. The letters truly looked handwritten by ballpoint blue pen, even complete with a little smear here and there. There are even a couple of photographs, one yellowed and the edges scalloped. Holding – tangibly feeling each clue as if they were real – touching the different textures of papers – this book is truly something to behold and the characters feel alive. And I feel like I did find a book in the stacks in a barely used corner of the university and am embarking on a once in a lifetime mystery… Whoops there goes two hours. I have to say this book might reach a “top ten” spot in my list of favorite novels.

Kin – Picking Up Where Most Horror Stories End

The premise is intriguing: Kealan Patrick Burke’s novel Kin begins with a tortured, beaten traumatized survivor, fleeing her tormentors. She is left piecing together her life, and trying to move forward – a luxury her three dead friends do not get. The first chapter is harrowing and nauseating, describing the horrors she fled – reminiscent of the family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Deliverance. I actually though a couple times I didn’t want to keep reading. My friend who loaned me the book encouraged me to finish it, and finish it I did in a few days. After the initial start, the story takes a quick left turn giving you a glimpse of the terrible family who lives in the backwoods and loves to torture and kill anyone unfortunate enough to find their way on their property. The best part of this family is one character in particular  – to avoid giving anything away I will just refer to her as the Matriarch of the clan. Then the story jumps again to a war vet and brother of one of the dead victims and suddenly the story becomes a tale of revenge. And let me tell you what – you want revenge. The villains are vile and disgusting and terrifying. And that is where the strength of this book lies – Burke is able to write about the antagonists in a way that he gives them a little humanity. It causes the reader to try to see things from their side – to try to understand how a character can do such horrendous things. And you can’t. Despite the little bit of intimacy you gain from seeing the inter workings of the clan – there is still no excuse, no good reason for what they do. So you root and cheer for their demise. The last part of the book is what I would call action – but let me warn you things don’t go as well as you might want them to. This book is a quick read and a fun one at that. I heartily recommend if you are in the mood for a fun horror story with larger then life characters that will keep you up at night.

The Walking Dead – Beauty is in the (Grisly) Details

I was, let’s say a little pissed off disappointed by the season 6 finale. So, I turned to the graphic novel that was the basis of the tv show. The pictures are breathtaking they really add a whole new dimension to the story of Rick Grimes and his “people” – others who have banded together to attempt survival in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. At many times throughout the book, the pictures would show a panning out – so the reader sees the entire gruesome scene – or is forced to pause and reflect on what just occurred. This moves the dialogue and story  long quite nicely. Even when the story was revolving around character development , it marched along at a quick clip. The action was quick and I found myself often excitedly turning page after page, unable to put down the heavy volume (comics 1-48 printed on thick paper. I propped up the book and read it on a table as it was so heavy). I just put Compendium 2 on my library hold list, I can’t wait to see what happens next, and to continue to compare the story arc between the book and show. I especially can’t wait to see what this whole Neegan mess is all about… I heartily recommend.

Ghost World – Truth and Decision

Let’s go back in time, shall we? Lets go way back – to when Thora Birch was still getting decent roles, ScarJo was just starting out and seemed well, less glamorous and more teenager-ish, and Steve Buscemi had not risen to the heights he would in Hollywood. To the release of Ghost World. I saw this gem on Netflix and immediately pushed play. Didn’t have to think twice. It is one of my favorite coming of age films, and it has stood the test of time. I know it is a good film when a 15 year difference between viewings does nothing but solidify my feelings about it. Ghost World is based on a short graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes (which I also recommend). It is a quiet film, that meanders along, revealing Enid, the main character and her best friend Rebecca as they finally graduate from High School and have to start thinking about whats next. The event they had been waiting for their whole life ends up being, well, a big bummer. Enid, however, doesn’t take this very well at all. The film is a accurate reflection on the passage of time, friendship, art and growing up. Yes, it is dark. And yes, it is a tad depressing. But this is reality. It is how one deals with these truths that determines how life will ultimately turn out. I heartily recommend.

Still Life With Woodpecker – Romance, Humor and Philosophy Coexist

Still Life With Woodpecker is a risky endeavor: a book that tries to pack so much in, well, it shouldn’t work. But it does work. This is probably why Tom Robbins is hailed as one of the greatest contemporary fiction writers. A good friend was shocked I hadn’t read his work yet, so I hurriedly got myself a copy from the library. I will admit – at first I wasn’t too keen on the story. Robbins story was hard for me to follow, he bounces between the love affair between the protagonist and antagonist while interrupting intermittently to discuss his new Remington typewriter in a type of  stream of consciousness like soliloquy. I felt it came off as a bit pretentious, and the main story bored me a little – mostly because it seemed to be a superficial, formulaic romance story. However, my cynicism eventually gave way to an interest – an interest in how through a seemingly simple story Robbins had managed to get me to reflect on consumerism, individualism, and if romantic love truly exists or is a fleeting farce. I recommend – but only if one is in an open mindset.

The Stand: M-O-O-N Spells King’s Opus

Humorously, I read The Stand to take a break from King’s The Dark Tower series. I was about to start Wolves of the Calla but decided I should expand my reading horizons a bit. I was hankering for a long novel detailing the destruction and rebirth of society (i.e., post apocalyptic fiction) and came across this title. I was impressed that a book that was released almost 40 years ago was still gaining new fans and glowing reviews. I was shocked when I picked up the phone book like novel – weighing in at almost 1500 pages. How on earth would I make time for such a behemoth, I wondered. Well, make time I did. I did have to renew the book once, but I finished it in about five weeks. It was excellent. Ever since I read Swan Song by Robert McCammon I have a little yearning hole in my heart – thinking that would be the best book of the genre I have read. I enjoyed the realistic sci fi, fantasy elements and well written characters, it is a book I often remember and reflect upon in my daily life. (The Road by Cormac McCarthy is up there too – but I would argue it is a completely different genre due to its unflinchingly and brutal realism and lack of  the supernatural). The Stand now resides next to these two novels, enriching my worldview through fiction. It has been about a month since I read it and I often think back to the characters, the settings and smile – or grimace. The horror in the novel is very real, but is balanced just enough with hope and magic. This keeps the story from going into nihilistic territory, and instead encouraged me to root for the characters, and keep turning pages, hoping for the best – even when it all seemed so impossible. I heartily recommend.