Filmish: A Graphic Journey through Film (CBR8 #70)

Image result for filmish

I’m a relatively omnivorous reader. I read a little bit of almost everything (high fantasy, horror,  and poetry seem to be my blind spots). A quick survey of my non-fiction shows that I have an interest in movies, film history, and Classic Hollywood. My podcast listening backs that up as well, being as I follow You Must Remember This and Fighting in the War Room. Through one of my  favorite podcast listens, A Storm of Spoilers, I was introduced to Filmish and immediately put it on my to read, even though I have a spotty history with graphic nonfiction, graphic novels, and comics.

I am pleased to report that this book was awesome. Neil was right.

In Filmish, Ross’s cartoon alter ego serves as tour guide for us through cinematic history (a little like The Great Movie ride at Disney), and he introduces us to some of the stranger and more intriguing concepts at work in the movies. In short, we get the history of film through seven topics: The Eye; The Body; Sets & Architecture; Time; Voice & Language; Power & Ideology; and Technology & Technophobia. Each chapter attacks its concept chronologically, using different movies to fully explore an introduction to film theory. Ross uses many movies which are familiar to the non-connoisseur, and peppers in plenty of lesser known, but influential works to add to your to watch list. This is definitely Film Theory 101, but with the great artwork, the full, but not overstuffed pages, and the detailed end notes which suggest further reading and watching, this is truly a great resource for those looking to be entertained, and a learn a little something along the way.

Image result for filmish

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Gulp! Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (CBR8 #69)

Image result for gulp adventures on the alimentary canal

I love Mary Roach. I will read whatever she writes, regardless of whether or not the subject area really sounds interesting to me. I was admittedly indifferent to this one, generally speaking, before I picked it up. The Read Harder challenge said to read a non-fiction book about science, and I knew Mary Roach was my gal for this.

I enjoy Mary Roach’s smorgasbord approach to non-fiction writing. Each idea is linked to the next, but if you look at them from the macro you wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict how. Roach’s tone is respectful while simultaneously playful, and brightens up some perhaps less than pleasant topics.

In her fifth book Roach tackles something we all share: the alimentary canal. Gulp takes us inside the body, a tour from mouth to rectum with Roach answering the random questions this passageway provides. The questions inspired by our insides may be taboo, (as were the cadavers in Stiff) and a bit surreal (zero gravity pooping anyone? See Packing for Mars), but Roach has found her niche as the purveyor of answers for the taboo and surreal. Thank goodness.

Read this book if you want to know why is crunchy food so appealing, or why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells. What about the stomach digesting itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis?  (You know you want the answers to all of these questions.)

Why the three-star rating if I obviously enjoy Roach so much? This book, believe it or not, suffers from a lack of images. We can’t see our alimentary canal, and a lot of the procedures that come up in Roach’s research were a bit difficult for me to follow along. I was also suffering through a bout of the stomach bug and some small food poisoning, so this may not have been a timely book for me. But it actually made me feel better to burp along with Roach’s narrative.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Fun with Kirk and Spock (CBR8 #68)

Image result for fun with kirk and spock

This book would probably make a nice gift for the Trekkie in your life, so if you are the kind of person who starts their holiday shopping already and are in need of fun gift to add to the pile, then go on ahead and get some of these for yourself.  I am not a huge Star Trek fan – a feel like that is a needed reminder of why I’m ranking this three stars – but I did genuinely enjoy my reading experience but it wasn’t at a proselytizing level. For that, please see crystalclear’s awesome review.  I had a couple of out-loud belly-laugh moments, but it was mostly just smiles of thoughts of oh, that’s clever, and general appreciation of the familiarity.

This is a book with a joke in its heart and a loving knowledge of all the camp of the original Star Trek. A parody of the Fun with Dick and Jane children’s books of the 1950s, Robb Pearlman pairs it with a pop culture classic of the 1960s and away we go on an adventure where we learn important things, such as not getting attached to the red shirts since they won’t be beamed back up (but we should remember them fondly) and that Khan is not a morning person (it explains so much!).

The humor here is simultaneously on the nose and subtle, but I feel that the art deserves a shout-out as Pearlman really captures the actors who originated these characters and it adds a lovely warm layer of nostalgia to the experience.

Recommended for the children’s book/Star Trek lover in your life.

Read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Born Standing Up (CBR8 #67)

Image result for steve martin born standing up

I wasn’t planning on listening to this book right now, but then a sale happened and here we are. This book was on my to read list starting years ago, when I put together my Goodreads page at the same time as signing up for my first Cannonball Read (that would be number 4). I love listening to people tell me about their lives, whether it’s a friend or acquaintance on the sofa across from me, or if its someone’s memoir or autobiography.

Steve Martin didn’t disappoint. I can’t say that I’m in any way a huge Martin fan. I remember being aware of him always, by the time my active memory kicks in he was already working in movies. I’ve seen/heard at least portions of his most famous standup routines, but I don’t know that it ever occurred to me to realize that he up and stopped performing that way and embarked on other creative pursuits, let alone why he would have done such.

In this work Martin chronicles his life from birth until he walks away from standup comedy in 1981. This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but there are funny bits in it, but they are almost all about the comedy inherent in the journey he was taking from working at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, through being opening acts, to headlining on his own. Martin chronicles the creative life, and his outlet for his immense intellect and creativity changed in the course of the book, and eventually out of standup comedy and into movies, writing, and other pursuits.

In this crisp book (only four hours on audio including banjo interludes written and performed by Martin) and while as usual I feel like I missed something not having the pictures the hard copy includes, there was something gained, a large something gained, by listening to Martin tell me in his own words about his life, and the work he did in researching himself and his experiences in order to bring it to life for us.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Beyond Magenta (CBR8 #66)

Image result for beyond magenta

Over the past few years I have begun to pay attention to reading books by or about members of the LGBTQ community. In general, I’ve tried to be more aware of my reading habits and expand them generally. It was a boon to me then that one of the tasks for Read Harder challenge was read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender. I shortlisted three, but decided to go with Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin as it is also on the ALA’s top ten most challenged books of 2015 list.

When scanning the list of frequently challenged books several themes present themselves, and boil down to several ideas for me. One of them is that people are afraid of exposing children to values that they deem to be sinful or wrong, so of course many of the books that are challenged are focused around offensive language, sexuality, homosexuality, and the like. The list of reasons submitted for Beyond Magenta’s challenges include: being anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”). I wish I could say I was surprised.

If I may pull out my soap box for just a minute, by refusing to consider conversations about any of the items above you are only going to Other the group, and that never ends well. I digress.

On its merits Beyond Magenta is a three-star book for me. Kuklin made the choice when working with the teens featured in this book to record conversations and then working with each teen to craft them into essays told from their point of view, with some insights from Kuklin presented in a different text within each essay. While I applaud the decision to place the story into the hands of its owners, and not try to translate it through her own cisgender and heterosexual view of the world it unfortunately left the book a little unpolished. It also hurt the book to pretend that these responses weren’t crafted from interview questions when the author tells us as much in the afterword.

But the biggest problem I had with the book was simply this: it was a book written for other cisgendered readers which focuses heavily on the bodies, hormones, and battles for acceptance (which is a teenage obstacle no matter the gender identity). It does not however focus on the emotional growth of coming to terms with their trans identity, or any of the many other facets of the lives of the interviewees. Perhaps Kuklin’s scope, focusing on teens (although at least a few of her interviewees were by the end in their early 20s) hampered her in this regard, but unfortunately there were many times when I felt that the soap opera people assume transgender teens are having was spotlighted a bit too much.

Still, there are also positives: perhaps most importantly this book shows a diversity of transgender teens. Of the six There is an equal representation of two transgender women, two transgender men, and two gender non-conforming teens. Likewise, at least half of the interviewees are people of color, and all six come from a variety of socioeconomic and familial backgrounds.

I would suggest this book perhaps as a very introductory book, but I think Transparent which I read and reviewed last year is a better place to start.

It Ended Badly (CBR8 #65)

Image result for it ended badly

This book has reviewed several times for the Cannonball Read and is how it ended up on my radar at all (which is how oh so many books end up in front of me). I am a history nerd so a rundown of thirteen historical relationships that did not end well sounded great to me. I have to tell you, I slammed through this book in two sittings.

Quick review: a witty, friendly, informally written but well informed gathering of information that you should absolutely read as a palate cleanser or any other quick read format.

Longer review: All of the above is true, but that doesn’t mean that this book isn’t without its flaws. There are flaws. The tone of this book worked for me perfectly. This is not intended to be a serious historical monograph, this is a longform listicle. AND THAT’S OKAY. Any author who uses parenthetical asides to share personal information about themselves or point out the only time we are likely to feel sympathy for a historical figure is my kind of author. But I understand that this is not for everyone.

The thing that has me rounding this book down to a three star rating instead of the four stars many others have given is that while I was entertained, there were definitely chapters which went on much too long. Looking at you Henry VIII. That’s a well-known tidbit, those two beheadings, we could have moved along. The Nero, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Timothy Dexter, and Edith Wharton chapters were the most interesting to me personally. Eleanor rocks, Nero and Dexter were crazypants, and Wharton just made me sad for her and reminded me I still need to read and/or watch Age of Innocence. You can bet that’s going on our vote for the next Cannonball Read Book Club (voting for Classics with movie/TV adaptations should happen sometime around October 15…)

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Brutal Telling (CBR8 #64)

Image result for the brutal telling audio

My chief complaint when I read A Rule Against Murder this summer was that while it was an Inspector Armand Gamache novel with all that entails, and it featured some of the characters who populate Three Pines, the book was not set there and I felt the lack of the world that Louise Penny had spent three books crafting. Well, in book five I got my wish to return to Three Pines, and Penny makes the reader pay mightily for the return.

Mild spoilers for the book and series, I suppose, from this point forward.

Louise Penny crafts incredible prose. I have chosen to listen to the Ralph Cosham read audiobooks for as long as they last (through book 10, I believe) and sometimes while listening I actually lose track of the plot threads because my brain is busy savoring the way the words are put together. The way Penny uses language to describe art, music, and food is simply sumptuous. It is by far the best part of the books, followed closely by the character of Armand Gamache himself.

At the end of book three, The Cruelest Month, the Arnot case has been put to rest and we are left with Gamache in what is perhaps his first time truly being post-Arnot. The books move away from the inner workings and conspiracies of the Sûreté du Québec, and instead focus on the solving of the crimes at hand. I find myself missing that side of the narrative as books four and five have narrowed their focus to the cases at hand. There is some expansion of the story of the residents of Three Pines, specifically the Morrows, but it takes a back seat to the mystery.

In The Brutal Telling Gamache is called in when a body is found at Olivier’s bistro. From the beginning the reader knows that Olivier knew the dead man, whose name we do not know, while Gamache does not. Over the course of the book we watch Gamache, with his team of Beauvoir and Lacoste, and the new man Moran, piece together the seeming impossible mystery of the hermit, his cabin filled with unspeakable treasures, and who moved his body after his death, not to mention who actually murdered him.

At the end of the book I’m not sure the man who was found guilty of the crime of manslaughter actually did it, and there are plenty of characters in the book who agree with me, perhaps even Gamache. It’s interesting to watch a character we trust implicitly, Gamache, have no choice but to follow the evidence where it leads, even if it means arresting someone he considers a friend.

This book wasn’t perfect, there was a decidedly ridiculous portion of time where highly esteemed cryptographer doesn’t just do a very simple check to solve a code, and when the thing is solved it matters not to the overall case, it felt like a needless eddy in a book full of interesting eddies. There is also the problem of the case left seemingly dangling. My personal plan for these books is to read them in the time of year they are set, which means I won’t be reading Bury Your Dead until January and that is a long time to wait to find out what happens to Three Pines with one of its own in jail, and Inspector Gamache left with an unsatisfying conclusion to this case.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.