BookBin2012: Blacksad: A Silent Hell

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I know, I know: It’s no longer officially 2012. However, I did finish this book last year (ooh, that feels so weird to write), so it still qualifies…even if I was too lazy to get here to post the review before the calendar switched.

You might recall that a couple of years ago, I read and completely fell in love with the first Blacksad collection. Of course, the moment I learned there was a new book, I didn’t even hesitate. I hit that one-click order button on Amazon.com faster than you can say anthropomorphic animals.

This time, rather than being a collection of stories, Blacksad: A Silent Hell is only one story, plus a couple of somewhat lackluster shorts at the end. However, the main story is full of that film noir fury that made the first collection so enjoyable and memorable for me. Also, it’s another chance to enjoy the luscious artwork of Juanjo Guarnido. Honestly, denizens, he’s one of the most amazing artists working in the field today. Each panel is amazing, and honestly I believe he even bested his previous Blacksad work with some incredible artistry for A Silent Hell. Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.

There’s not much else to say. It’s a gritty detective tale, this time set in New Orleans. I have to admit, I did enjoy the fact that it was set in the Big Easy. I enjoyed even more my own personal “Where’s Waldo” moment when I spotted a character in the foreground of one of the crowded street scenes who was obviously based on the physical characteristics of a very famous New Orleans literary figure. I’ll leave it at that. But I’ll be sure to make a note of his appearance in one of my Big Chief writing tablets. (A nice cold Dr. Nut to the first person to crack this code.)

Guarnido gave an enormous level of effort in getting details of the city and its outlying areas as close to recognizable as possible. So close that at times I could almost hear the rattle of the street cars as they lumbered through the Magazine district or the raging jazz and blues as they tumbled out of open doors and into the deepest corners of the French Quarter. If I haven’t made this point yet to you, please note: Guarnido’s artwork makes every page worth studying, absorbing, enjoying, and finally returning to over and over again.

Final Verdict: Definitely a keeper, already nestled onto my shelf, right next to its “big brother” Blacksad. And thus ends my reading efforts for 2012. I made it to 40 books in 2012, which was 11 shy of my record since I started writing reviews here at the lair and 6 shy of my reads from last year. I’m okay with this. I’m less okay with the fact that I only read 6 books from my own collection while I read 30 from the library. If I’d read 30 from my own collection, I could have almost completely obliterated at least two of the stacks of books piled up around my nightstand! So I’m going to make a concerted effort this year to again focus on my own collection. Is that my resolution? I suppose it is.

Read on, denizens. Read on…

BookBin2012: Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin

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A few years ago, I discovered journalist and author Norah Vincent through her book Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man The title of the book kind of gives away the plot: Vincent spent a year (18 months, actually), living as a man, doing manly things, hanging out with manly men. And monks. Manly monks. It was a level of undercover or “immersive” journalism reminiscent of White journalist John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, which documented his 6-week experiment disguising himself as a Black man in the still racially segregated Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Griffin actually went through a procedure, under medical supervision, to artificially darken his skin for his experiment. Vincent’s dedication was a bit less risky, but she truly did immerse herself in her mission. The resultant book was…well, I have mixed feelings about this particular work. I’ve yet to read a review of Self-Made Man that doesn’t at some point reference Black Like Me, and rightfully so. Both books are unique in their earnest attempts to “walk a mile,” one in the skin of another and one in the gender of another.

However, I feel as though Griffin’s decision to go undercover in an attempt to better understand through experience the pervasive racism of his home turf (he hailed from Dallas, Texas) carried with it more weight and justification than Vincent’s ultimate betrayal of trust placed in “him” by people who weren’t doing anything beyond living their lives. I applaud Vincent’s attempts to try to understand the male psyche, but it simply did not carry with it the gravitas of Griffin’s experiment, and in the end, it fell far short of any groundbreaking revelations.

Why mention it at all? Both because I do think it merits reading (I will rarely discourage the reading of any book), and also because, by the end of her time of total immersion as a man, Vincent went through a bit of a mental breakdown. The end result was that she ended up checking herself into a psychiatric ward.

And, thus, another idea for immersion journalism was born.

Voluntary Madness is Vincent’s latest undercover exploits. This time, she voluntarily commits herself to three different facilities most common to U.S. mental health treatment: a psychiatric ward at a big-city public hospital, a rural private psychiatric hospital, and a more exclusive “alternative treatment” program.

I felt supremely conflicted about this book the moment I saw it. Whereas Self-Made Man was a book that I felt I could describe as “objectively objectionable” at points, I knew that Voluntary Madness would be a far more subjective reading experience. I grew up with a front-row seat to a severe mental illness and all that such a disease entails. I’ve seen the public hospital mental wards…I’ve even seen the private psychiatric hospitals. I know ultimately what a horribly unfunny joke the mental health industry is in this country.

To learn that Vincent went into these places, cloaked only in partial truth regarding her need for mental health help, caused me to bristle. It’s one thing to play mentally stable people as she did in her first immersive project. To do the same with the mentally ill, even if it was in an attempt to bring to greater scrutiny the questionable treatment they are receiving, felt like a betrayal of something sacrosanct to me.

It was only during her stay at the public hospital that she encountered the most distressingly mentally ill: the schizophrenics, the dissociative disorders, the borderline personalities. And it was only during her time at the “alternative treatment” center that she seemed to find true balance and true mental clarity. It was also in this more exclusive program that she encountered people whose only “mental illness” seemed to be a terminal case of being overindulged brats with daddy complexes who were only there because they were trying to dodge jail time.

Yes, that was a totally subjective judgment. It angered me, however, to read about the incredible treatment afforded to people who barely bothered to stay awake through group sessions while in public hospitals all across this country, such attentive holistic care might actually prove to be the balm so desperately needed by the truly ill. Instead, they’re simply shot up, doped up, weighed down with medications dumped into the mental healthcare arena by pill pushing pimps from the pharmaceutical companies who basically own the public (and some of the private) facilities. And, as Vincent discovered, most of the psychiatrists prescribing these pills say nothing to their patients of the horrifying spiel of side effects that come along with most of these drugs: weight gain, uncontrollable food cravings, diabetes, uncontrollable muscle spasms, kidney damage, liver damage, lethargy…a whole litany of liabilities that more often than not place you on a one-way path to inevitable system failure. But who cares, as long as it gets you out of the hospital. At least until your next committal.

Besides, isn’t it much easier to just load up patients with drugs that suppress all their problems rather than actually spend time and effort working with them? Again, non-objective observation. And, for the record, I do understand that a textbook case of depression such as what Vincent suffers from is nothing like working with someone with schizophrenia. One comes and goes and is relatively manageable. One is permanent, persistent, ultimately drug-resistant, and only guaranteed to worsen with time. I was told once by an acquaintance who worked in the mental health profession that “terminal mental illnesses” were the ones that no doctor wanted to get, because there was no hope for improvement…just maintaining the status quo for as long as possible, until the next inevitable decline.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that many mental healthcare providers lose their humanity when they find themselves surrounded by the more distressing mentally ill. For example, the workers Vincent encountered in the public hospital had built up emotional barricades that made them come across as cold and callous. Honestly, I can’t imagine working in a place like a public psychiatric ward without developing a thick emotional armor.

I think that Vincent’s goals with this project were noble in intent. I also think that they brought to light the problems and the positives of the U.S. mental health system. Sadly, there seem to be far more problems, and not many solutions about how to fix them. In light of all the heartbreaking tragedies we’ve seen, even just in this past year, with obviously mentally unstable individuals gunning down innocent people, I think this project should be given extra scrutiny. Vincent has shown us only a sliver of the issues. There needs to be a broader national discourse…something that delves far deeper than branding the mentally ill with derogatory names (you’ll notice that even Vincent’s original book subtitle uses the term “loony bin”; it was changed for the paperback to “Lost and Found in the Mental Healthcare System”) or, even less helpful, branding them “evil.” As if attaching the yolk of this stigma around them dismisses us all from culpability. It’s the same as women jurors branding a rape victim a “whore” as a means of excusing themselves from the truth that such an act of violence could happen to anyone.

Mental illness can happen to anyone. For this reason alone, we should be more understanding and more eager to see more done to understand. But the violence that we have seen all across this country, committed by people who, in the aftermath interviews, were almost always described as “off” or “unstable” or “ill”…we have the ability to help these people or to at least perhaps cut them off at the pass before they reach the point of picking up a weapon and causing such grief and heartbreak.

Final Verdict: One more library book for the “Buy Me Later” pile, if only to have a copy on hand to share with others. I do believe that Vincent’s latest immersive journalistic effort is worth reading on a large scale.

BookBin2012: The Silence of Our Friends

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I actually finished Mark Long’s graphic novel The Silence of Our Friends a while ago. However, I wanted to say so much about this novel…and I could never really find the time to write down all the thoughts that I had and all the social commentary I wanted to examine. Things have been so tumultuous lately…but with every day that passed that I didn’t get the chance to write about this, the more heavily it preyed upon me. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized that it had become something so much more than just another BookBin review, and that the proportions to which it had grown mentally were now making it nearly insurmountable.

That’s not what should have happened. That’s not what I ever intended. So, let’s reel it back and start with something simple. Here is the book’s description:

As the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas, two families—one white, one black—find common ground.

This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967 Texas, against the backdrop of the fight for civil rights. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston’s color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.

The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature.

I don’t really want to talk about the artwork this time, although I do think that choosing to tell this story via a visual outlet rather than just straight text was a well-considered decision. I also agree with this review: Nate Powell’s stark black and white renderings increased the ultimate impact of this story in poignant and, I believe, significant ways.

I also don’t really want to talk about the writing. I will say this: Long does a remarkable job of telling a story that could have become mired down or distracted from delivering a focused, even if semi-fictionalized, account of a moment from the era of Southern desegregation. He remains on point throughout, which I think made this all the more powerful. Sometimes truth in its simplest, most straight-forward form can be more impactful than anything sentimentally glorified.

And that was what resonated most with me from this novel: The fact that I was reading something that was, for the most part, not fictionalized. It was a small sampling of truth from a point in American history that I still oftentimes have difficulty understanding. Locking people out of mainstream society and the benefits it carries simply because they are different.

It’s not something unique to American history, although it is sadly inseparable from any honest telling of our founding and continued existence. Truthfully, though, it’s woven into the fabric of any country’s history, in different forms, different prejudices, different abuses, different retributions. Oppression of any kind, based solely on the fact that we are born different.

We are all born different. This is not a crime. This is something to be celebrated, to be appreciated. If it cannot be completely understood, the attempt should at least be made. Repression, oppression, punishment, enslavement, or worse? These are not the answers, and if you think they are? You’re asking the wrong questions.

This book stirred so many thoughts and reactions…things that I wanted to discuss, debate, argue. Things that I ultimately feared would end up devolving into misunderstanding or emotional bias. Logic dictates; emotion escalates. Spock seems smarter and smarter all the time, Bones.

So I will leave it at this: I think Mark Long does an exemplary job of shining light into a moment from a time that continues to affect society in ways we need to better understand. His novel has the ability to open up discourse that, if we choose to make it so, could lead to all variety of possibilities.

Final Verdict: I have added this graphic novel to my wish list, and I do believe I shall be perusing my local library for more literature on the subject of desegregation and civil rights.

BookBin2012: 1 Dead in Attic

In 2005, New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the related breach of the Lake Pontchartrain levees. We all saw the reports. We all saw the wreckage—of property, of humanity. Even with all we saw, all we witnessed, most of us will never truly understand what it was like to survive such devastation and try to move forward.

Reading Chris Rose’s book 1 Dead in Attic, however, might help you better understand what it was like from the inside, looking out. Rose was an entertainment columnist for the Times-Picayune at the time of Katrina’s assault on the Big Easy. He watched his city ravaged and he chose to stay and help rebuild it. And he documented the effort in his columns. This is the retelling of the city’s resurrection through those missives.

In my very first post here about New Orleans, I started with a quote from this book. Even before I’d read it, I knew that Rose understood the inestimable uniqueness of this amazing city. To see New Orleans through his eyes, as the waters and shock receded and the physical and emotional scars surfaced…it’s ache and horror, tears and trauma, laughter and fury…all the spectrum of human emotion, vacillating at supersonic speed between the peaks and valleys of utter despair and ever-resilient hope.

This is not an easy read. Honestly, at times, reading these columns is like bearing witness to the collapse of human spirit. Rose, in fact, did end up going through a complete emotional breakdown because of what he witnessed. His columns bleed that honesty. However, he’s also riotously funny at times, dangerously dark-witted, full of snark and fire at others.

It’s not an easy read, but I believe it’s ultimately a rewarding read.

We can never truly understand what it was like to survive Hurricane Katrina, blessed as we were to be outsiders. However, this is about as honest an “inside look” as you could ever hope to find. It is also one of the most profoundly moving love letters to a city anyone could have ever written.

Final Verdict: I borrowed this from the library, but it will definitely be a future addition to my own collection.

BookBin2012: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Omnibus 1-4

Some of you may already know that I have spent slightly more than a year in the idyllic little slice of hell life known as The Buffyverse. In fact, I just recently finished my sojourn with the viewing of the last episode of Angel.

Being the overachieving geek that I am, of course, I couldn’t leave it at tormenting myself with the shows only. Oh no! There are comics as well, my friends! In fact, both Buffy and Angel continue on in comics-based “seasons.” Prior to this, however, the shows had regular release comics, running concurrently with the shows…just like Star Trek or The X-Files.

Just like Star Trek or The X-Files, these early non-canonical comics are spotty in their storytelling attempts, but more often than not simply awful to behold. On all levels. The artwork is questionable in its best form. In most forms, it’s the equivalent of a hydrochloric eye wash. Seriously, if you cannot find someone able to tell your story in a visually pleasing style, you need to reconsider telling your story in graphic form. Many of the comics are illustrated in poorly chosen styles, some looking so amateurish and off-putting that the artwork distracted me completely from the story itself.

Thankfully, Cliff Richards did a lot of the artwork throughout these first four Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus volumes. His style is far more aesthetically pleasing than some of the more obtuse styles throughout these volumes, albeit more traditional as well. What can I say? I’m just an old-fashioned wolf at heart, I guess. Not even Richards, however, could meet the challenge of making the characters look like their actor counterparts. This is something that I notice in every show- or movie-based graphic novel tie-in: The comic characters very rarely look like the actors.

I’m somewhat all right with this, but it’s because I have decided that the artists do this as a means of signaling that, hey, this isn’t Sarah Michelle Gellar. This is Buffy. And she only looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar when Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing her. Elsewhere? She looks like this. Or this. Or this. The artist is ultimately true to the character, not the player. Does that make sense?

Of course, that being said, sometimes we then end up with comic characters that look like this little slice of WTF:

And believe me when I state that there were worse visual offenses than this throughout these volumes. For the most part, however, I think my biggest quibble with a lot of the artwork was the fact that more often than not, Willow was a brunette. Um…wha? That’s as irritating as a certain TNG novelist writing that Dr. Crusher has green eyes. Again, if you want to be taken seriously, you kind of have to get basics right. I know I just wrote that the artist must remain true to the character rather than the actor with comics…but when you’re not drawing your characters to look like the actors, you need some kind of universal visual to signal that this is Willow and not Cordelia, which honestly became an issue for me with some of the more non-traditional artwork.

That being said, I would like to hug the artist responsible for the cover art for the third volume of this set. Why?

Well played. So very well played.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I chose to read the first four volumes of the Buffy Omnibus because they were readily available through our local library. Only these volumes, however. Honestly? I’m okay with that. Only getting to read the first four volumes is more than okay with me.

As for the stories, they were mostly…unmemorable. Some were short little one-shots that made absolutely no sense and held no point beyond the one being wielded by the Slayer against whatever demonic ick she was facing at the moment.

There were standouts, however. Actually, I’m going to say that the first volume in its entirety was the most enjoyable of the four, and very much worth reading. It begins with a graphic rendering of the original Joss Whedon script for the movie that started all this insanity.

Remember that movie? Yeah.

Well, apparently, it was supposed to be much darker…still possessing pop culture awareness, humor, and kitsch, but also infused with deep shades of melancholy and despair.

Kind of like what the show often tried to be.

The original movie story actually wasn’t bad. Neither was the follow-up arc “Slayer, Interrupted,” which chronicled Buffy’s brief institutionalization that was referenced a few times on the show. It also shows the tangential travails of one Rupert Giles, who wishes to earn the Council’s approval as the next assigned Watcher. The Giles storyline is fairly decent as well and plays quite nicely in conjunction with Buffy’s arc, bringing them together slowly and convincingly until they finally cross in good old Sunnydale.

Before we get the recognizable arrangement of Buffy and Giles and the Scooby Gang, however, we get Volume 2’s “A Stake to the Heart.” This was probably my favorite story arc of all four volumes. It details the end of Buffy’s parents’ marriage and Joyce’s subsequent decision to move her daughters to Sunnydale. It’s quite a dark, grim tale in which Angel accidentally releases a band of “malignancy demons” upon Buffy in an attempt to cast a spell to protect her from the miseries and pressures of life that surround her.

Oops.

Admittedly, it’s a silly sounding premise for a story. However, the artwork is the finest of the lot—bleak, surrealist, disturbing imagery that works well to illustrate the desolation of the tale. I’m sure you all know me well enough by this point to know that this is precisely my type of combination.

Of course, these good stories must share space with some rather lackluster Spike and Drusilla stories as well as stories about vanity-obsessed vampires, mischievous gnomes or elves or something cutesy and forgettable, as well as a story about Dawn and a killer magic teddy bear (although, for some reason, I think I might have liked the teddy bear one, if only for the kitsch).

Again, I’m okay with only having access to the first four volumes of this series.

Final Verdict: Worth checking out but definitely not worth buying…although I honestly would consider buying the first two if I found them for a significantly reduced price.

BookBin2012: The Murder at the Vicarage

It’s finally happened, denizens. I am no longer an Agatha Christie virgin.

It was bound to take place sooner or later. One simply cannot claim a love of literature without giving a go to all those “prime suspect” authors whose works continue to be highly revered by fans and critics of their respective genres.

I suppose I was late to the Christie party because her novels reign within a literary realm I rarely visit: the detective genre. I’m still not really sure why this genre is so hit-or-miss with me, but I do keep giving it a go. One day, something from its hallowed halls will simply knock my socks off.

The Murder at the Vicarage wasn’t necessarily the sock-knocking “something” in question. Not that I was expecting it to be. Honestly, I wasn’t quite certain what to expect. I have seen several of the BBC Miss Marple and Poirot offerings, but I don’t think I ever paid attention to them while watching them. They were sort of background noise while I did something else. And even though I claim to be quite the Anglophile and to have a deeply genetic connection to all things England, I’ve never even considered going to see The Mousetrap while in London.

So what to think of this novel? I was delighted to realize that it was the very first appearance of Miss Marple, that ingenious “spinster sleuth” who starred in one of Christie’s detective serials. I didn’t know at first where this novel fit into Christie’s oeuvre. All I knew was that it was the only one of her novels offered through Amazon’s free Kindle collection. Free is a great incentive to finally give something a go, eh?

As for the story itself, it’s quite…comforting, actually (an odd description, to be sure, for a murder mystery!). Small village tale told in a compelling, lucid voice. Quietly ingenious characters and simple deductive reasoning from a quaint “heroine” of subdued charm and sharp reasoning. An exemplary example of storytelling from another time, another place. I imagine it would be considered dull or pointless to many today. A shame, though. I quite enjoyed it.

I’m also still enjoying my Kindle experience (segue, ho!), and I particularly enjoyed the fact that I was able to go straight to Amazon’s Kindle section to learn more about Christie’s works immediately after finishing The Murder at the Vicarage (even though it was almost midnight and I’d been in bed for almost an hour by that point). Very nice.

What I don’t like is the fact that it seems that Amazon is slowly whittling away its free library. Whereas I was able to download this novel for free, Amazon has now once more listed it as a purchase-only offering. I can’t help but wonder how many other books they’ve shifted from their free section as the popularity of the Kindle continues to grow. Glad I went on that free spree right after I received this for my birfday!

Final Verdict: Christie shall be staying on my Kindle. Perhaps soon enough I shall track down the next entry in Miss Marple’s adventures. Or maybe even…Poirot!

BookBin2012: Death’s Daughter

Here’s another book I finished back in September. Huzzah!

Death’s Daughter is the first in the Calliope Reaper-Jones series penned by Amber Benson.

Full disclosure: I only chose to read this novel because it was written by Amber Benson. Yes, she played Tara on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yes, I just watched this show for the first time. No, I’m not getting into the details of what I thought.

At least not here.

Tara was one of my favorite characters, and I attribute a great deal of that to Benson’s portrayal, which was sensitive, strong, funny, and ultimately heart-breaking in so many ways. Of course, when I learned that she was now carving a path for herself in the literary world, I was intrigued.

So, here’s the thing: Just like Buffy was a soap opera disguised as a fantasy show, Death’s Daughter is chick lit disguised as a fantasy novel. Unfortunately, fantasy is an iffy enough genre for me on its own, but when you combine it with the even less appealing “chick lit” genre…well, you’re inching dangerously close to the edge of my ability to stay focused on what you’re trying to tell me.

Still, Amber Benson.

Here’s a quick plot summary: Calliope Reaper-Jones is, indeed Death’s Daughter. His middle daughter, to be precise. She doesn’t want anything to do with her family or the decidedly depressing family business, so she wipes her memory and takes off for New York City, to make her own way. However, her plan of blissful normalcy is obliterated when her father is kidnapped and she is tasked with finding him.

Indeed, hilarity does thus ensue.

Truth be told, this book feeds a bit too heavily upon the tropes of traditional chick lit for it to really appeal to me. Calliope is a bit too…Carrie Bradshaw at times. I probably wouldn’t have minded if she’d been more Samantha Jones, but that might have been too feisty for what I’m assuming is a book marketed to Young Adults as well as the Terminally Geeky.

And I have now pretty much exhausted my knowledge of Sex and the City. Thank the prophets.

“Callie,” as she is called, fits the fantasy trope bill of “unwilling hero/ine” quite well. She does not want this duty. She is unprepared and even a bit whiny about the entire ordeal. I can’t say I wouldn’t be the same since I’ve never found myself tasked with temporarily being “Death” and dealing with all variety of strange and sometimes scary underworld characters. Still…this novel confirmed for me that chick lit AND fantasy make for a very difficult journey at times.

Then again, Amber Benson.

I wanted to like this book. On certain levels, I did. It was a light and oftentimes funny read. The plot, while dependent upon many very familiar tropes of the genres, was well-considered and intriguingly executed. The fact that it falls within the boundaries of genres that I typically do not enjoy is not a reflection of its merit but rather a reflection of my own personal limits.

Final Verdict: I’m hanging onto this one for now, simply because I’m still debating whether or not I wish to read more about Death’s Daughter. As of now, there are three other Calliope Reaper-Jones novels, with a new one scheduled for a February 2013 release. I’m honestly curious as to whether the journey that Callie endured in this first novel changes her in ways that I might find a bit more enjoyable.

Also? Amber Benson.

BookBin2012: I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections

I know, I know. You’re all wondering, “What gives, Loba?” I hang out with you for almost the entirety of October, regaling you with redundant dark beer reviews…and then November comes along and POOF! Loba gone.

I’m a bit backlogged, denizens. How backlogged, you might wonder? Well, this is the first BookBin entry I’m writing since September 6. More surprising? It’s a review of a book I finished the weekend after Labor Day, whilst sitting under an umbrella on the beach.

I apparently put the back in backlogged at the moment.

It’s also befitting that the first BookBin post I’m making to end this prolonged literary absence is a book called I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections. Not surprisingly, the amount of time that has passed between the finishing of this book and now has left me remembering very little about this particular collection of essays by screenwriter Nora Ephron.

That’s not to say that it’s not a good read. I Remember Nothing comprises reflective vignettes, some poignant and some amusing, sifted from Ephron’s own admittedly incomplete memories. It makes for a wonderfully quick read, whether nestled into a beach chair with your feet burrowed into the warm sand or snuggled on your side of the couch under your favorite zebra-print blanket.

Not that I have experience with either of these scenarios.

I think what made this collection more moving for me was the fact that I read it not long after Ephron’s death. Reading through Ephron’s essays after her passing was bittersweet, and at times I sensed in her writing a subtle self-awareness of her increasingly tangible mortality. Maybe that was just me reading more into her statements than was truly there…maybe not.

To be completely truthful, I have a bit of a “hit or miss” affinity for Ephron’s writing in general. Most of her movies do not necessarily speak to my personal tastes, and her script for Bewitched simply made me want to weep from the horror of it all (My childhood! What are you doing to my childhood!!).

That being said, When Harry Met Sally is one of the greatest comedies ever written (imho) and remains in heavy rotation in my “favorite movies to quote the hell out of.” Sleepless in Seattle is one of my few “chick flick” girly pleasures. And, as I’ve discussed here at the lair previously, it’s simply not the holidays without at least one viewing of Mixed Nuts, which I argue is one of her greatest and most underrated scripts ever.

Whether or not I loved all her movies, I cannot deny that Ephron was incredibly talented. She possessed a self-deprecating sense of humor and a sharp wit, which she never wielded maliciously. For that, I respect her even more.

Final Verdict: This was a library loaner and not one that I foresee adding to my own collection, but it was definitely one that I’m happy I read.

BookBin2012: Horns

This must be Joe Hill’s lucky year at the lair. He caught me under Locke & Key, then I let him stuff me into his Heart-Shaped Box. Now I’ve been willingly eviscerated by his Horns.

The follow-up to Heart-Shaped Box, Horns is in many ways another of Hill’s takes on supernatural revenge. This time, however, you’re placed in vengeance’s corner rather than opposing it. We meet up with Ignatius “Ig” Perrish on the morning that he wakes up to discover that he has grown a pair of horns. Sadly, this is just another layer on the pile of not-that-great things that have begun to slowly crush him. It’s been almost a year since the love of his life, Merrin Williams, was violently murdered, leading to him being tried, and ultimately cleared due to suspicious circumstances. Still, everyone believes he did it, so he’s pretty much a prisoner anyway, just without the bars.

And now he has horns. Horns that have the disconcerting effect of encouraging anyone who sees them to reveal the darkest parts of themselves to Ig. He learns a lot more about his friends and family than he may have ever wanted to know…but he also learns what exactly happened to Merrin. And thus kicks in the vengeance.

Well, not exactly. Hill doesn’t tell a traditionally linear story, choosing instead to shift readers backward and forward through the layers of the tale, giving you just enough to keep you slightly in the know, but never quite ahead of the story. Ironically, for a story about a man slowly turning into a demon, written by the son of Stephen King, I’d actually peg this as less of a horror story and more of a…supernatural coming-of-age/suspense thriller. With horns. And one of the almighty worst puns pertaining to an indigo-colored article of women’s clothing that I think I have ever read. I promise you, denizens, it is groan-worthy.

Horrifying punnage aside, Hill once again proves that he is a skilled storyteller of his own making, obviously inspired and encouraged by his lineage but quite capable of standing on his own literary merits. He’s also able to create some incredibly bleak and demented characters. And they’re purely human, which makes them that much more upsetting, I think.

Final Verdict: I might actually want to add this one to my collection. I loved the layering of the story, the way it shifted so effortlessly along the plot’s timeline, never missing a beat, never relenting. I also loved the characters (or loved to loathe the characters); Hill’s ability to craft humanity in its myriad forms through nothing more than words is remarkable. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, even at its darkest moments, and simply makes me that much more of a fan of Joe Hill.

BookBin2012: The Complete Strangers in Paradise, Volume 1

I’m not quite certain what to make of the first volume of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise.

By no means do I believe that comics need to always be about superheroes or mutants or anything more than everyday life. I point to recent reads like Deogratias, Epileptic, or Blankets…or even further back to Fun Home or This Will All End in Tears as fine examples of how the graphic novel can be a satisfying medium through which to tell tales of normal people experiencing normal things, with beauty, compassion, depth, and sophistication.

Moore seems to be telling a similar tale of normal life in this collection…but not with the level of depth I had hoped for. In truth, his two primary characters seem more like shadows of complexity, shackled to stereotypes that perhaps Moore had originally intended to break through his telling of their tale. Katchoo often comes across as a riotous, man-hating lesbian and Francine is a codependent, overly emotional woman. And of course, Katchoo is in love with Francine, because lesbians can’t be just friends with women.

Look, it’s When Sally Met Sally!

This volume is just the beginning of their story, which apparently lasted quite a while: There are three volumes of Strangers in Paradise, and the third volume is divided into eight parts. The local library has all of those parts…but doesn’t have the second volume at all! I guess it’s a good thing that I didn’t really feel all that invested after reading the first section; I’d be a bit livid right now. Either that or I’d be on Amazon Marketplace, trying to find a cheap used copy. Now look, I can save my money.

Final Verdict: I admit, I am slightly curious about how their story plays out, and if the library did have the second volume, I would probably give it a go. Obviously, there’s something to this story if it lasted long enough to fill out 10 books. Then again, there have been five seasons of Jersey Shore…so, there you go. However, I don’t feel any great sense of loss that I won’t be continuing along with Katchoo and Francine. Back to the library they go.