Tag: book

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

Sing Unburied Sing

A year and a half ago I read Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and found within it one of my favorite passages of all time:

Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts still recovering, even forty-three years afterward, from the fever which had cured the disease, waking from the fever without even knowing that it had been the fever itself which they had fought against and not the sickness, looking with stubborn recalcitrance backward beyond the fever and into the disease with actual regret, weak from the fever yet free of the disease and not even aware that the freedom was that of impotence.

The passage is about a young man growing up in the Reconstruction South where everybody was still obsessed with their “lost cause” and the lengths they went to in an effort to retain their right to own other people. The “back-looking ghosts” are an amazing image for that desire to return over and over again to a battle that was already fought and rightfully lost, and that Quentin is literally constructed as a place to hold these ghosts in the logic of the sentence is something that has stuck with me and will continue to do so. It changed the way I think about ghost stories, the Civil War, the American South, the passage of time, and race. I guess I have been looking for a story that would strike me as much as this one part of a paragraph did.

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

“What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint.”

Oh, what a lovely little book this is. For the first 100 or so pages (almost half of the novel’s thickness), it reads like a dry accounting of the happenings at an old English house in the years between the two World Wars as told in memory by an aging butler as he drives around the pleasant English countryside. If the rest of the book had kept the same stakes and low-key nature of the first part I’d be happy to have read it, given how much I enjoyed the setting and the character of Stevens. But it doesn’t, of course. Mixed in with those memories are musings about the proper way to be a butler and what kind of a man the best butlers serve. Stevens defines himself almost entirely in relation to Mr. Darlington, the man whose house he keeps. Initially, Stevens is proud to be Mr. Darlington’s butler, as Darlington works tirelessly towards keeping relations between Britain and Germany intact. It’s an admirable cause, but things don’t go quite as planned.

Stevens isn’t just riding around the country for no good reason. One of the best things about this book is that, through the conversation he has with us, the readers, we learn almost everything there is to learn about him. He rarely comments on emotional or interpersonal happenings, just as any well-trained butler would avoid doing. What he doesn’t say, however, says a lot. Outside of the actions of Mr. Darlington, there’s a co-worker that provides some push-back to Stevens’ strictly business nature, Miss Kenton. She’s a bit younger than he and is the only real mirror by which we can see how one event or another makes him feel. There may also be a romance there, though Stevens would never admit to such a sordid possibility. In fact, it’s hard to tell if he would even recognize the potential romance that may blossom between them. He is consistently dignified, to the point that the end of his journey is a call on the former Miss Kenton to see if her marriage issues would maybe result in her wanting to rejoin him at Darlington Hall.

The book adapts his quiet, thoughtful nature. It meanders as he travels down the country lanes whose hedges mask the surrounding landscape much like how Stevens masked his own feelings in the service of another. The second half of the book builds doubts and makes us question if Stevens is really being as forthcoming as he seems to be. The book pulls all of its strands together in a lovely closing 20 pages which at once conclude it definitively and lets us in on the delicate and precise motions going on behind the scenes to get everything on display working like a well-served meal at an old British house.

Infinitely Jesting: Weird fictions, tangentially

I had planned on writing about the ease of reading Infinite Jest in this entry of the (probably infinite) series, but then something strange and wonderful happened. I started listening to a podcast and watching a tv show that both had these odd connections to one of the genres Infinite Jest dabbles in: Weird Fiction. One of the major weird fiction writers was H.P. Lovecraft, and he described weird fiction in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature“, “The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain–a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” At the (still) 63rd page into Infinite Jest, this uncanny idea has certainly creeped into the edges of the story so far. See my previous post for some examples. Those 63 pages have continued to ring in my mind as I watched HBO’s True Detective and listened to the fantastically funny and weird Welcome to Night Vale. Both are drenched in that weird fiction vibe that really gets my goat. So much fun, let’s investigate!

True Detective is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It instantly became a favorite when Matthew McConaughey began his quiet drawling musings on the unnatural quality of humanity. Here’s a guy who is very clearly out there, maybe crazy, maybe just drug addled, and yet he holds a pretty important job. We’re introduced to him as he takes his first major murder case with his partner, played wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, and already it is quite obvious that they are two different kinds of men. McConaughey plays Rust Cohle (best name ever?) as close to an alien as you can get while still being technically human. He has a past in deep undercover situations with drug runners so maybe he’s just done one too many lines to function like a normal person anymore. Or maybe he’s tapped into the deep dark secret that we’re hiding from ourselves. Maybe we have, as he opines on in the car as they drive away from the ritualistic murder scene at the beginning of the pilot episode, become too self aware. We have separated ourselves from nature and we do horrible and strange things because of that. I don’t really agree with much of what Rust Cohle says, but his ideas can’t help but be mesmerizing. The show acts as a genre piece, a serial killer murder mystery steeped in the weird and exotic Louisiana bayou atmosphere tinged with the supernatural.

There have been about a billion blog posts about True Detective‘s connection to The King in Yellow, a weird fiction book by Robert W. Chambers which influenced people like H.P. Lovecraft and, pretty obviously, Nic Pizzolatto, the writer of True Detective. The first and biggest clue is that the big bad in True Detective is called The Yellow King, and a diary left by the murder victim in the first episode has several other references to the The King in Yellow. The majority of the stories in The King in Yellow take place in Carcosa, a fictitious town where a bunch of strange things happen throughout the history of weird fiction. It has popped up in Lovecraft’s stories and originated in an Ambrose Bierce short story. And it is the supposed location of The Yellow King in True Detective. These references cannot be coincidences and they point the show in a more uncanny direction than a story about police normally goes. It’s fascinating to watch a show become a huge cultural phenomenon and also immerse itself and its viewers in the deep end of this little known genre.

Speaking of fictional towns where a bunch of crazy things happen, Welcome to Night Vale! This parody of A Prairie Home Companion gets its fun from turning Garrison Keillor into a local radio host in a town where the dog park is not fit for dog or human occupancy thanks to the supernatural forces and wormholes to other dimensions that pop up in it from time to time. It’s a comedy show first and foremost, but I only listen at night to bring out the more insidious elements in the show’s production. Mixed in with reports of a Glow Cloud that slowly moves over the town raining animal carcasses (starting small and building up to a lion, for maximum absurdity) are the usual things like traffic reports, though those often have the narrator/host relaying information about traffic in their small south western town and asking why we’re even driving when cars have been specifically outlawed by the town’s not-so Secret Police. The deadpan delivery of these jokes/genre tropes works superbly well, echoing the voice of Rust Cohle’s philosophical ramblings and letting the weird fiction elements feel as real as possible.

There’s more going on here than just three things that work in the weird fiction genre. The King in Yellow is, in the book, the name of a play which, when read, will cause the reader to go insane. I haven’t gotten to that part of Infinite Jest yet, but I’m pretty sure there’s an obvious parallel there to the film cartridge that lends its own name to the book’s title and is “so entertaining to its viewers that they lose all interest in anything other than viewing it and thus eventually die”(Wikipedia). Maybe Rust Cohle has read The King in Yellow and has tapped into the sub- or un-conscious of the universe itself. He has these visions that might just be drug flashbacks or might be nature telling him that he’s on the right path, or, alternately, on very much the wrong one. This is the excitement of a show that hasn’t ended yet. Maybe Night Vale is the sister city to Carcosa, too, and perhaps they share cultural exports like the shrouded figures that inhabit Night Vale’s seedier locations. The King in Yellow is, perhaps, the prequel to Infinite Jest, both exposing the sub-human nature of humanity to their readers or viewers. It’s something to think about, at least.

Best Books I Read in 2013 Part 2

Part 1 is here. These were not necessarily released in 2013, though some of them were. Comics have pictures, regular books have quotes. Any other questions?

17. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

“Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”

I’ve dabbled in and out of Pratchett’s Discword books and this is probably the best of the ones I’ve read. It’s another girl going into another world for adventuring and things but it’s done really well and with Pratchett’s typical humorous touch and twisted sensibility. It’s quite funny and an easy read.

16. East of West Vol 1 by Jonathan Hickman

A space opera with heavy western influences. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. But despite the somewhat old general milieu the details and art are what makes this story stand out. Firstly, the main character is Death of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The rest of his comrades have regenerated into child’s bodies but he’s stuck around to take care of unfinished business in a wild world of politics and giant buildings and weird animals. Totally strange and fascinating.

15. Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

“The world would be a better place if people stopped voting for folksy candidates they could have a beer with and started voting for people smarter than they are.”

A pretty fun book about superheroes and stuff. These aren’t guys in tights, though, they’re mental superheroes, with the ability to see intentions based on micro-muscle-movements, or slip into the open spaces in a crowd thanks to some high-powered pattern recognition. It’s a great time to be alive, except if you happen to not possess these abilities. Only a few do have them, in fact, and they scare the normal people. Why wouldn’t they, with their powers they could play the stock markets like a fiddle (and do), and where does that leave the rest of us? These are the questions the book asks in between some really fun action scenes. The rights have already been optioned for a movie and the right director could make it into a really fun series. There’s conspiracy theories and romance and everything. The only problem is that it’s just book one in a series. Where’s the next one?

14. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

“You don’t know how to talk to people you don’t like. Don’t love, really. You can’t live in the world with such strong likes and dislikes.”

This is basically just a series of discussions between a brother and his sister. Both are full of malaise and ill-will, which would get really annoying if Salinger weren’t such a great and clever writer. As is the characters become more an object of pity than annoyance. The ending is marvelous.

13. The Swamp Thing Vols 1 & 2 by Alan Moore

The Swamp Thing is a strange mixture of horror and metaphysical crises with some really great art and even better writing. This is the first Alan Moore book I’ve really loved (take that, Watchmen!) because it allows him to indulge every little idea he has. Trips to the netherworld and orgasmic fruits and monster-monkeys from dreams abound. I need to get back to this.

12. The Temple of Gold by William Goldman

“What’s the handle, Zock?”

My list wouldn’t be complete without at least one story about a young, literate boy coming of age. I wonder if I’ll ever grow out of that. Anyways, this is a fantastic example of the genre. Goldman takes great care to show off the bad side of his hero alongside the good qualities with a mixture of sadness and humor. It’s kind of everything you want in one of these.

11. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb

One of the great Batman stories has all kinds of whodunnit stuff and a wide swath of his villains drop in for visits. It’s got a strong driving idea, murders occur on each holiday. This takes place early in Wayne’s tenure as Batman and it’s interesting to see him continuing to grow into his character. It’d be a fun movie to make.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.

And lo, another coming of age story! This one has even more things I like in it, namely thoughts on storytelling and evil monsters and maybe The Fates? Gaiman rarely lets me down and this is another outstanding book from him. I just wish he’d write some more things. Be more prolific!

9. The Astonishing X-Men Vols 1-4 by Joss Whedon

Had I read these books before seeing The Avengers I’d have been even more excited. They prove that Joss knows his stuff, especially his stuff when it comes to combining a pretty large cast of characters opposed to a giant evil. The Kitty Pryde/Colossus love story is super sweet, too. Damn, just make these into movies already.

8. Horns by Joe Hill

“I want you to remember what was good in me, not what was most awful. The people you love should be allowed to keep their worst to themselves.”

Ig is a man full of anger and rightfully so. His long time girlfriend was murdered during a night he can’t remember and everybody thinks he did it. One year later he wakes up to find horns growing out of his forehead which come with the power to make other people tell him their worst secrets and desires and sins. This is not a great superpower as it mostly reveals that everybody hates him, including his family. Things get worse and worse, though the book never loses its sense of humor. This is very very good.

7. The Sandman Vols 9-12 by Neil Gaiman

I finished them! For real! Again, the only reason why these aren’t higher on the list is because it’s only the ending. Gaiman pulls off the ending of a lifetime as he wraps up his epic story about stories and the realm from which they come. The book which takes place during a reality storm is one of the best of the series as a group of strange characters tell stories about people dying which culminates in the passing of one of the Endless. It’s kind of amazing.

6. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

“What is it we value? Innovation. Originality. Novelty. But most importantly…timeliness. I fear you may be too late, my confused, unfortunate, friend.”

Holy word count, Batman! Sanderson kicked off a new ten book series with this giant tome and it’s pretty great. There’s so much happening that I’m not sure I can remember it all, but the world is again brilliant. He’s got a few better characters here, too, though they’re often variations on a theme with him. Scholarly person vs. man of action. Guy trying to be a good leader in a rats nest of politicking and backstabbing. All indications point towards greatness, though.

5. The Manhattan Projects Vols 1-3 by Jonathan Hickman

Like a superhero team up comic but with scientists. Also, insanity. Robert Oppenheimer is there, but fighting with a twin version within himself. So’s Albert Einstein, though he’s obsessed with a door to another dimension. And Enrico Fermi is an alien. So, you know, it’s like your science history class but crazy. And awesome.

4. The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

“But it isn’t easy,” said Pooh. “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

The Hundred Acre Wood is a marvelous place to visit. Pooh and his friends are just delightful to spend time with. And though this is the end of the Pooh stories (and what lovely stories they are, Pooh Sticks and all), it feels less like an ending and more like a pause. I’ll come back again and again.

3. Tenth of December by George Saunders

“I guess you just have to trust your kids, trust that their innate interest in life will win out in the end, don’t you think?”

Short stories are great. Almost all of the examples in this collection are great, and the few that aren’t are at least interesting. There are some sci-fi things, but even those are more about the deeply human emotions and ideas than the world-building things. And they’re mostly heartbreaking, too. Super fantastic.

2. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Frost had built on the dead grass, and it skirled beneath his feet. If not for this sound he’d have thought himself struck deaf, owing to the magnitude of the surrounding silence. All the night’s noises had stopped. The whole valley seemed to reflect his shock. He heard only his footsteps and the wolf-girl’s panting complaint.

This book quite literally changed my life. It’s short, I again read it in an afternoon, and it packs a giant punch. In around a hundred pages Johnson captures the fullness of an early 20th century man’s life. It’s tragic and peaceful, beautiful and fulfilling. And it inspired me to create plans to become the man I want to be. So, pretty good.

1. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

You have with you the book you were reading in the cafe, which you are eager to continue, so that you can then hand it on to her, to communicate again with her through the channel dug by others’ words, which, as they are uttered by an alien voice, by the voice of that silent nobody made of ink and typographical spacing, can become yours and hers, a language, a code between the two of you, a means to exchange signals and recognize each other.

Too much fun. Crazy and inventive with a wacky structure (half the book is different opening chapters of books of wildly varying genre) that is as much about the pleasure of reading as it is about finding true love. It’s a wild ride that instantly rocketed up to the top of my top 50 list.

Those are the books that were in 2013. I’ve already started on a good foot for 2014 with The Dog Stars. Let me know what you thought of this list in the comments! Tune in again next week for my TV list.

Best Books I Read in 2013 Part 1

I read 53 books in 2013, but a bunch of those were cheats. I count comic books in that number, though they often don’t take more than an hour or two to get through. So for this list I’ll combine the comics into series and we’ll see what the actual number is by the end of it all (37, it turns out). In all other ways, this will be much like any other list. Pictures, a quote, and a little review. And I didn’t hate a single one of these books, though those last five weren’t really very good. Here’s part one! Part two to follow later this week!

37. The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney

“Tomorrow will be like today, and the day after tomorrow will be like day before yesterday,” said Apollonius. “I see your remaining days each as quiet, tedious collections of hours. You will not travel anywhere. You will think no new thoughts. You will experience no new passions. Older you will become but not wiser.”

I read this right after I read Something Wicked This Way Comes because I was told it’s a spiritual father of that story. I get that, a lot. The majority of this novella focuses on the weird stuff at a weird circus. It just doesn’t have much of a plot or really a reason for existing. Nice, but nothing I’ll ever think about again.

36. Dial H Vols 1 & 2 by China Mieville

China Mieville is one of my favorite writers working today and his take on a forgotten superhero should have been really interesting. Instead we get kind of boring things with moments of brilliance (see the chalk version of Batman, for example). Mostly disappointing, though.

35. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

All you can do is hope for a pattern to emerge, and sometimes it never does. Still, with a plan, you only get the best you can imagine. I’d always hoped for something better than that.

Besides all the dead baby talk and the necrophilia, the story of this is a little less than what I was expecting. I love the idea of a haunted house real estate business and the idea of the song that will kill anybody who hears it is fantastic. I don’t even remember how it ends, though.

34. Railsea by China Mieville

People have wanted to narrate since first we banged rocks together & wondered about fire. There’ll be tellings as long as there are any of us here, until the stars disappear one by one like turned-out lights.

Another semi-disappointing story from Mieville. I get that it’s for kids but UnLunDun proved that he could do that kind of thing while still maintaining a high degree of awesome. There’s room for improvement here, if he ever decides to return to the rails.

33. The Walking Dead Vols 1-8 by Robert Kirkman

Now I get why the TV show is so uneven. After years of hearing that the comic is better I thought I’d put that to the test. Turns out it is better, slightly. There’s still a lot of bad dialogue and the situations are sometimes quite silly. Still, as half a soap opera and half a kickass zombie story, it’s mostly interesting.

32. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

God, how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of each other.

The prose is uniformly beautiful. The pace, on the other hand, is super slow. Maybe five things happen over the course of the whole book. It’s robbed of its immediacy and therefore less scary than it could have been. Fortunately, Bradbury wrote another Halloween story…

31. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.

You know how it goes, young woman travels to a fairy land in search of adventure, finds it. It’s well done and references those giants that came before it nicely. It’s good.

30. Prophet Vol 1 by Brandon S. Graham

Really pretty and mostly interesting story of the last humans flung across space. Here’s hoping it comes together at some point, because as of the end of Vol 1, there’s not a whole lot actually happening.

29. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The 1143-year-long war hand begun on false pretenses and only because the two races were unable to communicate.
Once they could talk, the first question was “Why did you start this thing?” and the answer was “Me?”

The most interesting aspect of this story is it’s take on space travel and the time stretching and compacting that happens as the first intergalactic soldiers go out to the front line. It’s a Vietnam parallel and an obvious one at that, but it’s no less powerful for it. The sense of alienation in the middle segment is fantastic.

28. Lexicon by Max Barry

Good words were the difference between Emily eating well and not. And what she had found worked best were not facts or arguments but words that tickled people’s brains for some reason, that just amused them. Puns, and exaggerations, and things that were true and not at the same time.

Another book about the power of words but a lot more successful than Lullaby. Barry continues his trend of fast moving and funny books that feel like a really well done blockbuster movie. That’s a high compliment coming from me.

27. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

I had schooled myself since the war-days never to speak of my enthusiasms; when other people did not share them, which was usual, I was hurt and my pleasure diminished; why was I always excited about things other people did not care about? But I could not hold in.

There isn’t a whole lot of conflict in this story, the first in a trilogy about a small town in Canada, but it thrives thanks to the really great character work. The main character would have been a side character in any other story, and the choice to focus on him gives us wonderful segments like his war experience and his friendship with a Jesuit. It’s not exactly fun, but it is a really great read.

26. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?

Often recommended as a “what to read next” suggestion after catching up with the Song of Ice and Fire series, it shares that saga’s grime and plotting machinations. The characters are often interesting, even those that seem one-dimensional at first glance. I’m eager to catch up with the rest of the series.

25. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Too many of us take great pains with what we ingest through our mouths, and far less with what we partake of through our ears and eyes.

My 2013 audiobook consumption was dominated by Brandon Sanderson, first with his book that appears later on this list and then with this one, the second in the Mistborn series. There’s maybe too much build up to the big siege scene, but boy does that scene deliver. Sanderson is a master at making a world and magic system feel entirely realistic and thoroughly considered.

24. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

The silence wasn’t uncomfortable or hostile but exhausted–the quiet of people who have a great deal to think about but not a hell of a lot to say.

Anybody with sense in their head might tell you that King writing a sequel to his beloved haunted hotel book, The Shining, which takes place 20 years later and concerns itself with psychic vampires and a death-sensitive cat would tell you it’s a bad idea. But he pulls it off, mostly. The bad guys are at once sinister and kinda silly. King justifies them remarkably well, though, and uses this opportunity to talk about alcoholism in a really great way. Danny Torrence was often overshadowed by his father in The Shining but here he, uh, shines.

23. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

A troupe learns to play like we all learn to screw, stumbling and jostling until everything’s finally in the right place.

I don’t know much about Scott Lynch’s personal life but the skinny on the ‘net seems to be that he was suffering until recently from depression and the end of his marriage. That makes a little bit of sense, as this is the least fun of the Gentlemen Bastards series so far. He again switches back and forth between a previous point in the characters’ lives and their current situation and again the “modern” story is a lot more interesting. Stop showing us the past, Scott! Despite all that, it’s still really good.

22. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.

The only reason why this is so low is because it was a re-read. It’s still one of the best books for young readers with a fantastic father-son relationship and superb writing throughout. It’s on my top 50 books of all time list for a reason.

21. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that’s something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later: between twenty and thirty, say. And after that, we’re just stuck with what we’ve got. We’re on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn’t it? And also – if this isn’t too grand a word – our tragedy.

There’s a movie parallel to be made here with Stories We Tell. Both offer us the idea that we are who we say we are, and that the act of constructing ourselves is one in which we actively engage rather than just having it happen to us as we live our lives. There’s existential crises and a suicide and a really fantastic scene involving a river that runs backwards. And it’s so short I read it in an afternoon.

20. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

The difference between childhood and adulthood, Vic had come to believe, was the difference between imagination and resignation. You traded one for the other and lost your way.

Much like his father’s Doctor Sleep, Joe Hill’s 2013 output is about a psychic vampire. Charlie Manx is a fantastic villain, both obviously evil and certainly demented. He steals kids and sucks their lifeforce to power his own in a pseudo-winter-wonderland from hell. Only one girl has escaped and now he’s out for her son. It’s big and long but it moves like a bullet and is quite well written.

19. Fables Vol 1 & 2 by Bill Willingham

I already love fables and fairy tales as a genre, so this comic series which imagines those characters we all know (The Big Bad Wolf and The Three Little Pigs, for example) as modern day refugees from the old world which was taken over by a malevolent darkness. Now they are private eyes (Bigby, the wolf) and communists (those pigs, also borrowing from Animal Farm). I’ll keep reading this series as long as Willingham comes up with clever situations to put these characters in.

18. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Miraculously, smoke curled out of his own mouth, his nose, his ears, his eyes, as if his soul had been extinguished within his lungs at the very moment the sweet pumpkin gave up its incensed ghost.

Half adventure, half lesson, The Halloween Tree is a much more vital and exciting Halloween themed story than his more popular Something Wicked This Way Comes. Though I have no need to ever learn about Dia de los Muertos again, the rest of the historical instances of the celebration of death are fascinating. Bradbury knows what he’s doing.

Halfway there! Come back later this week for the rest of the list!