Wow. I am very impressed with myself this month (especially given my disappointing December tally). Here’s what I read:
Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
Fables v3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham
Fables v4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham
Making The Corps by Thomas E. Ricks
Generation Kill by Evan Wright
The War For All The Oceans by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins
1984 by George Orwell
TinTin & Alph Art by Herge and Rozier
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman
The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell
Fables v5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham
Fables v6: Homelands by Bill Willingham
Fables v7: Arabian Nights (and Days) by Bill Willingham
Fables v8: Wolves by Bill Willingham
Fables v9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham
Fables v10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Downtown Owl, set in a remote Dakota community, tracks a series of folks — high school students, teachers, farmers, bar hounds — through 1983 and into ’84. It’s a strange book — there’s not really a plot, it’s basically just a bunch of character sketches where characters from one sketch sometimes interact in another person’s sketch. And then a whole bunch of them die in the end and it’s kind of sad, but not really, because there’s foreshadowing. It was really good, and I might just have to go read some more of Klosterman’s stuff.
My sister originally hooked me on the Fables graphic novels, and I eagerly read these two volumes early in the month, which go into back history only alluded to in the previous two collections, namely, the domination of the Fablelands by the unnamed Adversary: particularly as to how it involves Little Red Riding Hood and poor Boy Blue, but there are other issues, too: namely, Snow White & The Big Bad Wolf (he’s really not all that bad). As you can see, the Fables bug bit me late in the month as well, and while I’m trying to keep this spoiler free, the identity of the Adversary was a “holy WTF” moment.
Folkways of distinct cultural groups have been fascinating to me since my time at Towson University, and the U.S. Marine Corps has its own particular and distinct culture. Making The Corps follows a training platoon through 11 weeks at Parris Island. The book also discusses the modern military and its role in a democratic society. Originally published in 1996, the edition I have (found in the remainder bin for $3.99, pre-33% discount) was published in 2007, and includes an update on where many of the people featured in the book are now.
My followup to this book was another non-fiction about Marines: Generation Kill, written by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright who was embedded with the Marine First Recon Battalion during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. You might be more familiar with the HBO miniseries (produced by The Wire vets David Simon and Ed Burns). Also of interest to me is A Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, the war memoir of Nate Fick, who commanded a platoon within that battalion during the invasion. I’m not quite sure when (if ever) I’ll get to it, however. Interesting post-script: in HBO’s Generation Kill, Rudy Reyes is portrayed by … Rudy Reyes*.
Book #6**, which I began reading on January 7th (which, at the very least, should give you an idea of how much a kick-ass I am at reading when I put my mind to it), was a history of the Napoleonic Wars from the perspective of the Naval war waged by Britain: The War For All The Oceans by husband and wife Roy and Lesley Adkins. I read C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series back in late 1999, and I’ve been very slowly working my way through Patrick O’Brien’s epic Aubrey/Maturin series for literally years. This book puts the whole war into perspective: for example, I’ve never actually done any research on the Battle of the Nile, and always wondered how you could have big Ship-of-the-Lines duking it out on the river — now I know, it was actually fought in the Aboukir Bay. From the Nile, to the bombardment of Baltimore, and to Napoleon’s escape from Elba and defeat at Waterloo, a truly incredible history.
TinTin and Alph Art would have been the 24th in the series The Adventures of TinTin, but series creator Herge died after only producing a rough draft (which has been published in rough-draft form). Based on the drafts, a number of pirated editions exist, including one by a Canadian artist named Yves Rodier. Although I couldn’t find a copy to purchase, I did find it online: here, and here’s my take on it: I don’t like it. Maybe it’s that I never read it over and over and over again as a child, maybe it’s that the artwork looks a little bit off, or maybe it’s that, from what I can tell, Rozier had to go the final third of the book without Herge’s notes to guide him. While on occasions it feels like TinTin, I’m not certain if that’s because it’s really feels authentic, or if Rozier’s just using familiar catchphrases and secondary characters.
The Lost City of Z tracks the efforts of journalist David Grann to discover what exactly did happen to Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon while looking for the mythical city El Dorado. No conclusive evidence is found to point directly to Fawcett’s fate, other than, y’know: he died. Probably killed by hostile Amazonian Indians. But that’s not what is amazing about this book — the ending, the true ending, the — (well, I can’t spoil it for you), but that’s the fantastic part. Read this book. Even if you’re not usually into reading non-fiction.
I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect from The Wal-Mart Effect, but overall, I probably thought it would be more anti-Wal-Mart than it actually is. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s hardly dripping with praise for the company, and points out the good and bad effects price-slashing has on the manufacturing industry. At some point in the book, and I’m just paraphrasing here, someone remarks, “Every time that Wal-Mart smiley face slashes prices, a factory worker is getting kicked in the nuts.” Apparently, Wal-Mart’s obsession with low prices goes so far as to preclude spending money to decorate their offices: office furniture includes lawn chairs brought by prospective vendors as samples.
Lost Fleet: Dauntless was a pretty quick, solid sci-fi military adventure: lost in an escape capsule for a century, John “Black Jack” Geary is revived by an Alliance Fleet to discover that he’s become a legendary Nelson-like figure. Which is good, because the Fleet’s been ambushed and now he’s in command. This is a six-book cycle chronicling Geary’s attempts to get the fleet back home before it is annihilated, while facing all kinds of internal strife and external, y’know, warships. There were some aspects of the Alliance military that just seemed absolutely bizarre to me, especially after a century of war — voting on decisions in that circumstances seems absolutely implausible, if not downright impossible. Still, I’m going to give the second book in the series a chance.
I should clarify: I have not actually finished Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, but I am about 200 pages (or not quite 1/4th) of the way through it. So I will say is this: it’s really, really, really good. And I hear it only gets better and better. Dude has some really long run-on sentences (like, of the 5-page variety).
Here’s Lusty’s January reading list.
Finally, January was ruthless to the bookworld:
Robert Parker, January 18th
Howard Zinn, January 27th
J.D. Salinger, January 27th.
Rest in Peace, guys.
*Quoting Cpl. Person: “You know, it doesn’t make you gay if you think Rudy’s hot. We all think he’s hot.”
**Even if you don’t think the Fables Volumes should count in this number, that’s still three books read in twice as many days, while still working a full-time desk job, and a part-time retail job. Impressive? Why, thank you.