mini-reviews: feminists, citizen, beard

I had a wonderful week celebrating the holidays in Wisconsin last week! I was able to squeeze in three short books before the end of the year, plus a couple of audiobooks (reviews coming soon for those). Here are my brief thoughts on each:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the text of her 2013 TED talk, a short essay I read in one 30–40 minute sitting. Since it it so short, Adichie doesn’t go into extensive details or analysis, just lays out the topic in clear, concise language mostly based on her own personal experiences. This could easily be expanded into several essays, and was a great complement to a couple of the essays in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (my review). I appreciated that Adichie doesn’t get angry here, nor does she place blame on any group for the way things are, only urges everyone, women and men alike, to recognize there is a problem and to do all we can as a collective society to fix it. She recognizes there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, but why the social differences? She gives a great example of cooking historically being a “female” thing, while men are generally off the hook (though feeding oneself is a necessary life skill, no matter your gender). I really enjoyed this, and just got Adichie’s Americanah in the mail and I’m looking forward to reading it in 2015! [Read on December 24, 2014.]

Next, I read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. What a powerful, timely collection of prose poetry. Everyone—regardless of race, color, creed, socioeconomic status, etc.—should take a few hours to read this book soon. Formed in brief vignettes ranging from seemingly innocuous encounters in everyday situations (errands, appointments, job interviews, etc.) to more egregious aggressions on an national or international stage (Serena Williams’s televised tennis matches, for example), Citizen reveals expectations, assumptions, and behaviors that millions of Americans deal with on a daily basis in their lives, things that have very real after-effects on people, body and soul. This books is an accessible expression of the complexity and reality of race issues historically right up to today. [Read from December 27 to 28, 2014.]

My gift to my husband this year for Christmas (in addition to The Lego Movie… best wife ever!) was a copy of Stephen Collins’s The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Nick has a beautiful, glorious long red beard which looks fantastic on him, so beards have become quite a topic of conversation in our lives the past year. I thought this would be a fun gift and it was! I read it in one sitting after Nick finished. This strikingly illustrated black-and-white graphic novel is about Dave, a dude who lives on an impossibly tidy island called Here, surrounded by the ominous There (dystopia or utopia?). Several themes exist in Gigantic Beard—existential crises, general ennui, fear of the unknown and “otherness,” society being evermore connected but evermore alone, fitting in vs. individualism, and so on. This is just begging to be a Pixar feature-length film. Also, I thought it was hilarious that Dave’s iTunes suggested R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix after playing the Bangles’ Eternal Flame. [Read on December 29, 2014.]

the walking dead compendium one

My husband received a copy of The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman last year for Christmas and I thought it would be a good choice for the “graphic novel” genre of my Eclectic Reader Challenge. From Goodreads:

Introducing the first eight volumes of the fan-favorite, New York Times Best Seller series collected into one massive paperback collection.

In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living. With The Walking Dead #1-48, this compendium features more than one thousand pages chronicling the start of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning story of zombie horror, from Rick Grimes waking up alone in a hospital, his band of survivors seeking refuge on an isolated farm and the controversial introduction of Woodbury despot, the Governor.

I don’t have much experience reading graphic novels, and the ones I have read didn’t make much of an impression on me (WatchmenBlack Hole). Something is just missing for me in graphic novels, and I don’t become very emotionally invested. After those two books, I felt just fine never reading another graphic novel again (and yes, I certainly do count them as “real” books and see the appeal). While I enjoyed The Walking Dead Compendium One more than any graphic novels I’ve read before, I still kind of think they’re not quite for me.

Of course, with the popularity of the TV show (of which I’m a fan), it’s impossible not to compare, but fortunately the books are different enough from the show that you can enjoy both without frustration that the show isn’t more like the book and/or vice versa. Characters in each may have the same name, but nothing else in common as far as personality or story line. I did wish the women were stronger in general—Lori and Andrea are better in the books than the show, and Michonne is equally kick-ass in both, but the rest of the women in the book are pretty weak. Several characters were downright annoying (Maggie and Glenn… whom I love on the show!). This may be just me and my lack of experience with graphic novels, but some characters (especially the men) I couldn’t tell apart and would forget who they were… however in general they were more three dimensional (ironically!) in the books than the show.

The artwork seemed pretty par for the course in my limited experience, with a handful of really impressive full-page spreads. I thought the detailing on the zombies, making each one unique, was particularly well done. There were a lot of dynamic, action-packed sequences throughout, and the main point of other people being the real threat—not zombies—was driven home well. One thing that came through shining clear in the book that didn’t in the show for me was that our motley crew fighting for survival in this new, terrifying, desperate world are the walking dead—not the zombies.

While again, I’m not sure I’m hooked on graphic novels after this, I was definitely hooked reading this collection. I can’t say I’ll make a point to read the subsequent compendiums (so many other books on my TBR to get through!) but I do recommend this first one for horror and post-apocalypse fiction lovers! It was a great warm-up to the next season of The Walking Dead TV show premiering in October.

The Walking Dead Compendium One is my graphic novel for the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge, and marks 5 of 12 completed on the list.

Read from August 26 to September 6, 2014.

day twenty-six | 30 day book challenge

30 Day Book Challenge | Day 26 — A guilty pleasure book

“A guilty pleasure book” was actually originally day 22, but I switched it up because for one thing I couldn’t think of any guilty pleasure book in the technical sense (something generally panned that I loved), but the one book that falls into “guilty” and “pleasure” categories for me recently involved Christmas…

The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn. This was a Christmas gift to my husband from my brother, but since we didn’t go up to Wisconsin for Christmas this year I have been in possession of this book for a few weeks, hiding it in my office at work. Before Nick opened it up yesterday morning, I have been sneaking reading it during lunch at work. So while this isn’t a technical “guilty pleasure” book, I have been (semi-)guiltily taking pleasure in reading someone else’s Christmas gift before they had the chance, mwauahah!

What is one of your guilty pleasure books?

how to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you

Online artist and writer Matthew Inman (a.k.a The Oatmeal) released his second book in October, and a few friends and I went to his reading/signing stop in Kansas City. With our purchase of a ticket to the event, we each got a copy of the book, and stayed after for his autograph. At the event, Inman related a few humorous stories about his life and interests, including myriad animals, his befriending a neo-Nazi kid on the bus just to play his Gameboy, times with his girlfriend’s weird cat, and his parents’ one cat surviving a house fire. Ironically, Inman has never owned a cat himself… but you wouldn’t guess based on his astute collection of comics in How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

Mostly older comics found on his website with some new material, the book recognizes and celebrates the curious and often humorous behavior of house cats. It is sort of divided into thirds, with the middle third being devoted to his Bobcats characters. Personally, I liked the first and last parts of the book better than the Bobcats chapter, which kind of became stale and mean-spirited. There are a few more cat comics on The Oatmeal website I would have liked to see included in this collection, if even just to make it longer (you can easily read it in one short sitting).

Inman is obviously hyper-creative and his brand of over-the-top, ridiculous humor shines best when highlighting the irreverent in the mundane. My favorite pieces were the informational guides: “How to tell if your cat is a raging homosexual,” “6 ways to tell if your cat thinks its a mountain lion,” and “How kittens are plotting to take over the world.” It would make a great gift for cat lovers with a quirky sense of humor.

Read from November 28 to 29, 2012.