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review 2019-01-20 10:15
Black Tom and Racism in Lovecraft's Mythos
The Ballad of Black Tom - Victor LaValle

I think Victor Lavalle sums up perfectly the intent of this novella in its dedication - “For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.”

 

This story is set in New York in the 1920s. Charles Thomas Tester is a man from Harlem who earns money to support himself and his prematurely aging father by grifting. He has the reputation of being a go-to guy to fetch esoteric objects, and it is when he is hired to fetch a book for a white woman in Queens that the story begins.

 

It’s a tale of magic and power and the appropriation by whites of power paid for in black flesh. The streets of New York are toxic with hate, and a final tragedy, relating to the book, leads to Tester having nothing left to lose. A freedom that allows him to dare where others falter in fear.

 

It’s a beautiful narrative, taking the best and the worst from Lovecraft and showing it from the perspective of a person of colour. It’s full of gorgeous prose and leaves the reader feeling richer for the experience. Tester/Black Tom is constantly overlooked and underappreciated, but it is he who will triumph, albeit in a pyrrhic victory.

 

The opening of the book sets the stage perfectly -

 

“People who move to New York always make the same mistake. They can’t see the place… They come looking for magic; whether good or evil, and nothing will convince them it isn’t here.”

 

Other quotes I love -

 

“Nobosy ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he? Even monsters hold high opinions of themselves.”

 

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch. Because to watch would be to understand the play isn’t being staged for us.”

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review 2019-01-20 06:33
Between A Scylla and A Charybdis

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I listened to this on audiobook, and it was a lot of fun. The narrator really got into the story and was quite good at the voices. While this is geared to the tween audience, it's plenty enjoyable to older readers, especially those who are really into Greek mythology.

Riordan has found a novel way to reinterpret the Greek myths, adding something and some new ideas that make these ancient legends feel fresh. This was made into a movie, and some aspects follow the book, but there are whole plotlines that didn't make it into the movie.

I especially liked how Percy's brother, Tyson, is introduced, and the evolution of the relationship between Percy and Tyson. Initially, Percy viewed Tyson as a nuisance, but he comes to love and value his half-cyclops brother.

There's plenty of action and magic and stuff that makes these books tons of fun. I recommend getting the audiobook for this if you can.



View all my reviews

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review 2019-01-20 02:17
Book-lovers will delight in and relish this little book about their reading obsession; the perfect bookworm gift
I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life - Anne Bogel

This little book is a love letter to the joys of reading, and EVERY bookworm should have this one on their shelves.

I picked this book to fulfill my ‘reminds you of your happy place’ book choice for my #LitsyBooked2019 Challenge, and I absolutely couldn’t come up with a more apt choice for something that conjures up ‘happy place’ right now than books.

If you’re an avid reader and you are aghast at the idea of whittling down your collection of books to 30 books, or as Anne Bogel puts it, have spent time as a kid under the covers reading a book with a flashlight when you should’ve been asleep, then this is the book for you.

The book is short and sweet but packs in a lot, and you will see yourself in these pages even if you don’t know all the book titles she mentions. You will find yourself nodding and laughing and agreeing about all the things that only ‘book people’ will understand and recognize in their reading lives:

How 'normal' it is to have 1,593 books in your Goodreads Want-to-Read list, but will read a book by your favorite author as soon as it comes out. How normal it is that you've read every single book by Sarah J. Maas and have every edition of all her books, even the foreign read all the Outlander Series but have never read Jane Eyre.

How you've been that reader of all The Babysitter's Club Books when you were a tween, then you went through a phase of nothing but vampire books, then you struggled to find yourself with self-help books in your twenties, and now you read nothing but the latest bestsellers from a celebrity bookclub; you've just changed as a reader as you've got older.

Bogel mentions all these 'delights and dilemmas of the reading life' in her book and it felt like I'd found a new bookish friend, and I suspect that just about everyone picking this book up and seeing themselves in it, will feel like their circle of bookish friends just grew infinitely bigger.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/38502471-i-d-rather-be-reading
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review 2019-01-20 01:37
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
Watchmen - Alan Moore,Dave Gibbons

I gave this four stars, but my feelings about this book are difficult to coalesce down to a simple numeric rating. I read this with my Readings in the Graphic Novel course, and I agree that it is seminal graphic novel/comic reading. However, there are some things about this book that I didn't care for. Ultimately, I would say that like and dislike are not the best terms to apply to it.

"Watchmen" started a whole ripple through comic book/superhero fiction that is still profoundly influential in the many years since it was published. The dark and aheroic/antiheroic superhero/crimefighter motif that subsumed what we know about comic books in the 21st Century can largely be attributed to this book, although Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is also essential. I like darker superhero stories, but some aspects of this one made it hard to sympathize or care for many of the characters. I had to write essays for my class on our readings, and I have some longer opinions on this book that I intend to post on my Goodreads profile under my writings. 

This book is very thought-provoking and my class had some very interesting discussions on it. I have to also say that I thought about it for a long time after I finished it. My viewpoint evolved on a few of the characters as well. However, some, I hated to the very end. I could actually write about 20 pages about this book, but I won't. I'll try to coalesce it into a reasonably short review.

"Watchmen" is essentially a murder mystery with masked crimefighters/superheroes. The narrator is extremely atypical, the very questionable person of Rorschach, who is a violent vigilante that wears a hood that changes its expression, much like the Rorschach Test his mask resembles. He is determined to find out who killed Eddie Blake aka The Comedian, an original member of the Minutemen, who later became part of the Crimebusters. He goes to visit other former members: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Jonathan Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) and Laurie Juspescyk (Silk Spectre II), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) to warn them that they might be next. Along the way, the reader gets to experience how conflicted the life of a masked crimefighter and/or superhero/villain is. The story is set in an alternate history where Nixon was never caught in the Watergate scandal, the US won the Vietnam War, and in the 1980s, America and the Soviet Union are on the brink of war (the Doomsday Clock frighteningly close to midnight).

Each character has a slightly different perspective of how the passage of the Keene Act made their crimefighting work illegal. Dan and Laurie bond over missing the excitement of it all. Veidt has gone on to build an huge business empire and is a celebrity for his incredible level of fitness. Dr. Manhattan is mostly interested in his research and has become disconnected from human concerns, an issue in his relationship with Laurie, who has been his girlfriend for about twenty years (since she was sixteen).

Intertwined with the overarching story is a subplot about a kid reading a pirate comic. The adventures of the comic protagonist mirror the overall story themes. A huge part of this story is how heroism is not what its cracked up to be. Also, becoming strong enough to achieve a goal can be a path paved with destruction, and in some instances leading to the 'hero' becoming a 'villain'. And really, what is heroism? That's a question posed for every lead character. Since this is a dark, and in some ways, nihilistic-toned work, the answers aren't encouraging. The Comedian is one of the most wretched examples of someone having abilities and using them for bad purposes. The Comedian is an incredibly adept fighter and soldier, but is also very corrupt, acting as a bully, knowing right and wrong but not doing it. He makes excuses for the evil things he does because the world is bad and it's going to burn anyway, essentially. Dr. Manhattan, Jon Osterman is a physicist whose body was obliterated in an accident at the science testing facility where he worked in 1959. When he comes back, it is as a being with seemingly godlike powers that separates him from the rest of the humans he once interacted with, eventually leading to his breakup with his girlfriend. The US government exploits his powers to exercise dominance over other nations (in fact, he's part of the reason that Vietnam surrendered). He's seen and done some of the worst things to other humans, which doesn't help his cynicism about the better parts of humanity. At the point that this story begins, his only tendril of contact is through Laurie. Eventually, that's gone as well when Laurie breaks up with him. 
But when it's clear that the world is on the brink of obliteration, Laurie has to convince him to care again. 

The more I ruminated about this story, Osterman/Manhattan became more of a sympathetic character to me. He seems the less empathetic, but in some way, he strikes me as feeling more deeply than anyone else. I can completely understand his decision to retreat to a self-built crystal castle on Mars. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having me own, but probably in the mountains in some undiscovered cold part of the world with plenty of snow and ice. People are exhausting. It hurts to care, especially when others aren't all in with you. The circumstances of the accident that gave him his powers were heartbreaking, and he was abandoned to his fate. That's soul-destroying right there. Having said that, he's not off the hook for the questionable things he did and how he treats Laurie. 

Ugh, Rorschach. Where do I start? That dude is a bucket of crazy. I feel for what he went through as a child, but it twisted him until he was so broken. All of us are f*&%$! up, but there's no fixing him. He represents the worst of self-righteousness. He's so rigid in his sense of right and wrong that he won't compromise, but then he is bigoted, racist, has poor hygiene and litters in Antarctica. His contempt and mean treatment of his landlady because she has six kids by different men. And he's extremely violent. It's a huge Glass Houses kind of scenario. To me, he is not a hero. He is an antihero, and he's the narrator, but other than the horrors of his childhood, it's really hard to feel sympathetic. While there are parallels between him and other vigilante crimefighters I admire like Batman and Daredevil, his core feels rotten to me. I can't get past that.

Laurie is just plain underwritten. She is interpreted through her relations with the male characters. I am grateful that graphic novels have matured and evolved past this kind of writing, frankly. Laurie could have been a lot more interesting a character if deeper layers to her persona were made available. Just delving into how her stint as Silk Spectre differs from her mother's tenure. How interacting with and in a world of violence has changed from the 30s to the 60s and 70s. Maybe just not stopping at her relationships with men and why her mother and her don't get along.

Dan is honestly a bit on the underwritten side as well. He's written a good-natured guy with a facility with gadgets and a desire for action. His mid-life crisis has to do with missing that sense of purpose and it translates to feelings of inadequacy about not being Nite Owl anymore. Maybe because Moore didn't really know what to do with a guy who is more or less 'normal'.

Veidt is such a sneeringly superior person in his own mind. I can't say too much because I'd reveal some things better left to be read. Suffice it to say that he reminds me of the so-called polite white supremacy that is increasingly in vogue (especially since the 2016 presidential election).

Another issue is the treatment of the GLBTQ characters. Many meet unfortunate ends and their peccadillos are looked at as being unforgivable in a way that being a violent sociopath, bully or rapist are not. 

I think a psychology doctoral student could write a hell of a thesis on this book. 

There is so much cynicism in this book. It's hard to take in. Some ugliness not easily forgotten. I feel like the psychiatrist who interviews Rorschach in that sense. While I'm not necessarily into the sugary sweet kind of fiction writing, I think it can definitely go the wrong way with the dark and dreary. I'd be a hypocrite to disavow this book. I think it had some insights to give me, and something to offer as far as story and artwork. I gave it four stars because to give less didn't seem fair to me. I couldn't say it was life-changing or a graphic novel that would make the top of my list. I can understand why it would for some though.

So much for a concise review.

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review 2019-01-19 19:40
When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11
When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal - Philip Moriarty

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Why, oh, why did I take so much time to read this book? Well, alright, perhaps because I was busy reading other books to teach myself some physics principles, which, I admit, is never a bad thing when your physics classes go back to some, uhhhm, twenty years ago. At the very least.

I found this “metal + physics” approach to be a very intriguing and interesting one—all the more since the author injects a regular dose of humour into it, but never without a purpose (a.k.a. “how to discuss spatial periods using Stryper’s (in)famous striped pants as an example”). I suppose this approach may not work for everyone, but it definitely worked for me, probably because I never took myself too seriously even when dealing with serious things, because, after all, what does it matter, as long as we keep learning, right? Besides, it doesn’t harm when you can feel the passion shining through, and this was clearly the case here.

Overall, the topics broached here made a lot of sense. My own level in maths isn’t terrific, yet the author’s explanations were enough even for me to understand the principles and the equations he related to metal, harmonics, waves and strings, and so on. They don’t remain at such a basic level that they don’t bring much to one’s knowledge of physics (unless you’re already a post-graduate or someone working in that field already, in which case I suspect Fourier’s analysis of waves/patterns won’t seem such a wonder anymore—or will it?), and at the same time, they don’t stray into such abstractions that a beginner will completely lose their footing either. At any rate, I found it quite easy to picture phases when compared to a metalhead moving in a mosh pit…

Seriously, where was Professor Moriarty when I was studying physics at school? (Alright, alright, probably still doing his Ph. D., I guess.)

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