I’ve had a really fun weekend—among other things: I am a total sap for this Valentine’s business, which I don’t think comes as a surprise to anybody. (Elsewhere on the Internet: February 14th shenanigans; and (for those following me on Instagram) I spammed you with photos from a jaunt to a thrift shop, so that obviously happened. I also bought bookshelves! No more books on the floor, as of this writing.) Anyway. This early morning’s bout of insomnia (which, in effect, extends the weekend, I guess) is more welcome than usual. I’m taking bloggerly advantage of the relative chillness and the good vibes. So, hello, godforsaken blog—here’s a rundown of some of the books I’ve read lately, aka housekeeping:
I’ve finally, finally, finally given up on Herman Koch‘s The Dinner—which I’d been whinging about last week. Yay. It was already rather telling that I read it at a glacial pace, but also it was really just boring. I understand that it’s about facades, and I understand that it’s an exercise in restraint—how to tell a story within social niceties and familial grudges glossed over and high stakes dinner? But it abso-fucking-lutely bored me out of my head. I chucked it after I reached, with much struggle, its midpoint. And I’m very glad I did. The Dinner, I don’t think, is one of those books that I should just set aside for when I’m more ready for it—the boredom it evokes is bone-deep.
Another book I finished this weekend: Dava Sobel‘s Longitude, which tells the story of John Harrison and the quest to solve the solution for the earth’s longitude. I’ve read Sobel before, her book on the planets; and I wanted to see what her more known book had in store for me. It started out fun for me—I enjoyed all the hijinks and um the tragedies that befell seafarers because of the absence of a definitive way of tracking longitude; I enjoyed knowing how vital longitude was, especially in its absence. But it kind of wound down for me. I dutifully sat through the maths and the politics, but only really dutifully. (Cue David Shields eschewing reading-for-duty.) Also: Sobel did a rather clever thing with this book—the first chapter is a jaunty summary of the entire book—but while I was at the thick of it I just grew impatient; I had that nagging feeling, after the first blush of wonderment, that I already knew what she was talking about. It backfired for me, personally, but we’re good, methinks.
Right. So. Comics! Ahem. First up are DC New 52 titles I’m on the fence about, never mind that I’ve already read two of its volumes, and another one’s waiting for me from my shelves: Justice League Dark, by a revolving door of writers and artists. I bought the first volume, In the Dark by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janín, during last year’s Comic Book Day at Fully Booked—because the art was mesmerizing, because of John Motherfucking Constantine reasons, because the entire premise is right up my alley: The more occult-leaning of the DC comic book universe have been gathered together, for kicks, to combat the more occult-leaning threats to humanity. They’re Special Forces, so to speak, to the Justice League. I think one of the best sequences that proves this was when Superman and Wonder Woman go to take down a witch gone insane, only to be ripped to pieces by a tornado of teeth. (Ch-ch-check it, it’s beautiful.) (The Batman was safely ensconced at HQ, trading barbs with Zatanna. The Batman’s got no time for flying teeth that threaten to rip you to shreds.)
I enjoyed the first volume, with reservations—and the same reservations hounded the second book, which took on a different writer. Sure, yes, these comics scream deus ex machina—everything is convenient and magical and defies explanation and even vary rarely offers you an explanation. But even if in the hands of a better writer this’d still seem perfectly reasonable, you still take that in stride; you’re better prepared for the conveniently magical shenanigans going in, after all. The greater weakness of the Justice League Dark books is how unnecessarily convoluted it is. You see the writer having trouble tracking all those characters, reintroducing them to the reader, and then tying them all together. And I could hardly judge whether whatever it was tying them all together was good enough. In the end, the plot for each volume seemed flimsy—I was just there because shit was badass, and also John Motherfucking Constantine.
A note, though, on the art for the second volume, The Books of Magic. There’s a larger rotation of writers in this volume, which dismayed me if only because Janín’s art is my cup of tea. There was the inclusion of some crossover material, also a little interlude? Blargh. (The more I think about these books, the more I realize that everyone who was in on them insisted on making the already difficult and complicated material more difficult and complicated. Yay for you.) But. Glitches aside—both books, though, have some of the best set pieces I’ve ever seen. Whenever the Justice League Dark strike a pose—sarcastically, Constantine’s commented—I squeal and flail like crazy. And its cast of ghoulies and monsters are just so wonderfully designed, so detailed and scary and worth the price of admission. (Okay, fine, if only one lowers their expectations re the writing and the plotting.)
And Batman. I picked up The Batman Vault by Robert Greenberger as [one of many] reasoned-as-a-Christmas-gift-to-myself—mostly on the basis of this video. It’s the history of the Batman universe, its creation, its evolution—as well as a survey of its elements: Bruce, of course, but also its supporting cast of characters. The writing was pretty dry—for some really good writing on the history of Batman, and of comics, I found that in Grant Morrison’s Supergods—and almost too chummy for me. Like a Wikipedia entry that lacked not only character but even depth? Still, it’s a nice, handy resource to have for an entry-level dorkus. And, most importantly: It was such a visual, and tactile treat. (Seriously, watch that video.) Which is why it’s gotten comfortable in my bookshelves.
Well. Look at me being all productive. I’m off to dwell on the otherwordly neatness of the Room of Requirement—not to mention re-bury myself into Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween. (Believe all the awesome you’ve heard about that book, by the way.) Right. I hope everyone’s had a good weekend, or at the very least a restful one. Come, let’s gird our loins for the coming wicked work week. See y’all later, kids. And behave.