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

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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.

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

It Ended Badly (CBR8 #65)

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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 Underground Girls of Kabul (CBR8 #58)

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I don’t remember exactly what caught my eye about this book, if it was the cover, the blurb, the title itself, janniethestrange’s review on Cannonball Read, or any other of the many things which could have done it. But I know that I probably plopped it on to my to read list simply because I know what I don’t know, and I don’t know much about Afghanistan, even though the American war there started as I was coming into my adulthood and had definite opinions about why we were there (don’t we all when we’re young?).

But this interesting non-fiction work is not about the war. It’s not even about any of the previous wars which have landed in this country. It is instead about the ways in which the residents of that country have worked around the very patriarchal system and the cultural expectations of having sons. In a deeply researched work, which quite clearly took years, Nordberg endeavors to tell the story of several bacha posh who have all been raised as boys, and some who continue to live that reality past puberty.

While I am overwhelmed with the weight of the work that Nordberg has done, I feel the first half of the book treads the same territory again and again, and was at times a slog of a read. The second half, and where she truly starts to bring in the big picture ideas of how societies create the need for the bacha posh, and how well-meaning foreign aid is often counterproductive, is where Nordberg’s ability shows.

I’m glad to have read this book, and have this look into a culture I am unfamiliar with otherwise.

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

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (CBR8 #29)

Listen, this is a very good book. It just wasn’t the droid I was looking for. Well, more accurately it was the droid I was looking for, but he brought along his annoying protocol droid buddy who bothered me with information about himself (wow, I think I just made a reference that equates a book about George Lucas to C-3PO… I am such a nerd).

After reading the great reviews of this book by emmalita and narfna, I quickly added it to my library waitlist. After my viewing of The Force Awakens, a book that explored the cultural aspects of a fandom which spread from a galaxy far, far away sounded truly interesting.  This book absolutely delivers on that promise, but I also got an incredibly comprehensive accounting of the life of George Lucas and his creative process. You know what I discovered while reading this book? I don’t give a damn about George Lucas. It’s not something he did (Special Editions not withstanding), but more that I don’t find the man very interesting. His creative mind has brought me some of my favorite things, and some of my most despised (THX 1183 anyone? I just don’t get it). It’s more that I find him dull and his apparent inability to create without suffering, or refusal to create for others, to be a less than satisfactory read.

What I ended up doing was skimming the Lucas-focused chapters, because I actually knew a lot about his personal history and famous friendships which impacted his career (Coppola and Spielberg, notably). But, there were always nuggets of interest in each chapter that I didn’t yet know.

However, this book won me back to singing its praises in its second half. What I discovered, and what author Chris Taylor lays out on the page, is that the time period I was really interested in didn’t truly start until the mid to late 1990s. Ah-ha! Problem solved. Here’s the explosion of fan interest which I grew up with. I wasn’t alive for the first two Star Wars movies, and I never read anything in the Expanded Universe (I know! Novelizations have not been something which was ever really on my radar), but the 501st? Now we’re talking.

But I am only rating this book three stars, compared to higher ratings you’ll see nearly everywhere else. Why? Because while Taylor obviously spent a great deal of time crafting *the* work on the subject, it was just too dense for me and moved too slowly (I probably would have been served waiting to listen to this on audio instead of lunging into it in hardback). You will most likely enjoy this book much more than me, but I suggest thinking through the following criteria: 1. Do you LOVE Star Wars? 2. How much George Lucas is too much George Lucas? And finally, 3. How in the mood are you for a very detailed 400-page book of non-fiction? If you answer those three questions with: 1. SO MUCH, 2. I can stand a lot of Mr. Lucas, and 3. That sounds like the best thing ever, you’ll enjoy this book. I suggest reading it soon, as the secretive nature of the lead up to Episode VII led to a lot of forecasting and “who knows?” from Taylor, and now we do know – so his book is going to start to become dated as the Anthology movies start rolling out this winter.

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

All About Love: New Visions (CBR8 #26 – Half Cannonball!)

I came to All About Love: New Visions via The Shared Shelf group over on Goodreads (its Emma Watson’s Feminist book club). I didn’t read the February selection, but I thought this one, the March selection, sounded like a good idea. Written in 1999, All About Love is a series of interconnected non-fiction essays by bell hooks where she endeavors to explain how our everyday understandings of giving and receiving love often fail us.

I’ll admit, I was left cold in the first few chapters. I feel that’s probably because I’ve already done a lot of work (not that there isn’t always more to do) about not accepting that which is not love, and choosing to live my life in the act of providing love to others, which hooks covers in her first three chapters. Hooks also writes about how the ideals surrounding what love is, and what we accept as love, are established in early childhood. For many, this might be the single most important take away from the book:  that abuse and love cannot coexist. It’s simultaneously a beautiful and heartbreaking statement, and the crux of much that comes after.

The chapters which most affected me most personally were in the middle of the book Chapters 8-10 provided the most moments for me to chew on. Whether it be how research is indicating that small, nuclear, patriarchal family units are unhealthy (I would love to find some follow up research to that idea 15 years out), or how so-called self-help texts of the era really just normalized a certain amount of sexism, I couldn’t help but feel that hooks was continuing to unpack big ideas, but sometimes her authorial voice wavered. When she was on, her voice felt like a revelation. But when her authorial voice is off, when she’s perhaps leaning too heavily on the works of others that have influenced her path of self-actualization, that’s when the book can feel sermon-like, and occasionally hard to swallow.

What I found really profound, and perhaps reaffirming of my own life, is that hooks challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t cover romantic love, there are a couple chapters which deal with it head on, but this work is about more than partnered love. However, her insights on that topic are also worth having a look at.

 “Few of us enter romantic relationships able to receive love.” (169)

“Love is an act of will – namely, both an intention and action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” (172)

“Wounded hearts turn away from love because they do not want to do the work of healing necessary to sustain and nurture love.” (187)

Being that hooks set up her work to follow love through the process of life, it is natural that her book ends with chapters about loss and destiny. I have suffered the loss of many people in my life, including my father, so the chapters at the end of the book dealing with loss and healing were areas that didn’t resonate as strongly for me, since I was past or had gone through much of what hooks was discussing.

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

Five Days at Memorial (CBR8 #24)

I have an interest in what happens in worst case scenarios. I find disaster documentaries fascinating. I don’t know what that says about me, but it does mean that books like Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital are up my alley. Following a glowing review from Lollygagger way back in Cannonball Read 6, I added Sheri Fink’s book to my to read list, and then kept pushing it farther down. Because even though this is an area of non-fiction that interests me, you have to be in a certain mood to read about this much death and destruction.

I took my time, spending about six weeks with the book total, and approximately 4 and a half of those in the first section, in which Fink provides a day by day, minute by minute look at what was happening both inside the walls of Memorial, and in the offices of companies and agencies attempting to help evacuate the hospital following the flooding. It is simply harrowing. There are really no other words. However, I had a tough time sinking in to the narrative. Too many names, too many places, and not enough visual aids. I finished part one pretty sure this book was getting no more than three stars.

Then I got started on section two. I blew through those pages over the course of a few nights. Yes, I will admit to some skimming, but I was mostly skimming to get to the next piece of the puzzle that angered, fascinated, or alarmed me. I had seen a review of the book that complained that Fink was too overt in her opinions on the actions of some of the doctors on the fifth and final day at Memorial. I found that the evidence that Fink provided, as compiled by the persons responsible, made it nearly impossible for her narrative to stay entirely neutral. Fink doesn’t editorialize, she isn’t inserting herself into the narrative in any way. She is reporting the facts, and they unfortunately don’t put certain people in a good light.

I found much of the discussion of topics about medical ethics, end of life care, rationing medical care in an emergency, of deciding who should receive treatment first, and who should wait, and the success and failure of various triage systems simply fascinating. And, infuriating. This book jumped up to a four-star book for me because it made me think about the bigger things. I started reading portions out loud to my roommate Ale, who had a similar experience with her latest review, and making her promise that she would support my choices for end of life directive should we ever come to that. We were talking about our reactions to Mary Roach’s book Stiff and donating our bodies to science (we have very intense chats in our house, I’ll miss those when we aren’t roommates anymore).

But perhaps most importantly, Fink puts names to numbers. Numbers are difficult to relate to, and your brain can pass them over. Yes, 54 people died at Memorial in those five days. But many of them didn’t have to, and I’m left with the impression that at least one, was murdered. And his story will stay with me and hopefully keep me paying attention to this larger conversation.

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

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse (CBR8 #10)

This book was like catnip to me.

I have been having trouble the past few weeks sinking into books, which is why there has been an uptick in novella reviews from me. I have no less than three books currently sitting open at home, plus an audio book underway, but this Saturday I wanted to read none of them. It was time for a trip to the non-fiction aisle, and thankfully I had ordered The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse from the library based on yesknopemaybe’s review.

I was always going to like this book. I love cases of mistaken identity. I am intrigued by the very real epidemic of people living double and sometimes triple lives in the Victorian era, and I love a bit of Edwardian gossip (yes, I also watch and enjoy the soap opera that is Downton Abbey). This book contains it all. I’ll let Goodreads do the heavy lifting for the synopsis:

The extraordinary story of the Druce-Portland affair, one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. In 1897 an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, made a strange request of the London Ecclesiastical Court: it was for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce. Behind her application lay a sensational claim: that Druce had been none other than the eccentric and massively wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that the – now dead – Duke had faked the death of his alter ego. When opened, Anna Maria contended, Druce’s coffin would be found to be empty. And her children, therefore, were heirs to the Portland millions. The extraordinary legal case that followed would last for ten years. Its eventual outcome revealed a dark underbelly of lies lurking beneath the genteel facade of late Victorian England”

And that’s really only the first third of the book.

Eatwell is a documentarian for the BBC by trade, and the pacing and depth of research shows it. This is definitely a work where the author is intentionally leaving you on the precipice of knowledge, nearly every chapter ending in a cliffhanger that had me continuing to push on even when other things should have been accomplished that day. I think part of my five-star rating is that I was able to read this in a day and that suited the pace of the three hundred pages. Spreading this book out over several days or weeks might have lessened my enjoyment.

This book was originally published in the UK in 2014, but in its 2015 re-release has an additional chapter from Eatwell as she describes what more came to light following her initial research and publication. I found her authorial voice engaging and the story captivating.

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