Thursday, February 04, 2010

January: Reading & Reviewing Part 2

I had such a good reading month, but I've got so much (too much?) to say about these books and so many to review. Even after I natter on and on about a book, I'm still not sure if I've conveyed the essence and struck the spark that will make everyone want to go out and read it immediately.
Oh well, here we go again:

7. and 8. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (graphic novels) - Art Spiegelman. This complex and subtle Pulitzer prizewinning graphic novel is a must-read. More than once, to tease out all the levels of meaning. I didn't know what to make of it at first. It seemed strange to see the characters drawn as animals. Then, later on when Art's old comic from the 1970s is found, it seems even stranger to see Art and his family represented as human. It was almost like they were too vulnerable, so it was a relief and felt normal when they reverted to mice again.

I also had reservations about the juxtaposition of the WWII storyline and the subplot chronicling Art's frustration, anger and worry over his father's increasing frailty, his realincomprehensible behaviors (like destroying Art's mother's diary) and his stubborn habits. It works though -- Young Vladek Spiegelman is brave, cool and resourceful. He's a survivor. When Art was irritated with Vladek, I understood that, but I felt much more compassion for Vladek, seeing him as a shadow of his former self. I was irritated with Art because it felt as if he couldn't understand what Vladek went through, even though Art is getting the story from his father and Art is the one who is presenting the fear and horror of the Holocaust to the readers. Quite an interesting feat with this arrangement of layers. Almost sleight-of-hand. Art Spiegelman really digs in and is unafraid to show himself as uncomprehending and angry, and all of that makes Maus that much more powerful.

9. A Boy Of Good Breeding (novel) - Miriam Toews. No one can accuse Miriam Toews' novels of being plot-driven. Her method is to create lovable, quirky characters, give them odd names (like Knute or Summer Feelin') then mine those quirks and oddnesses for all they're worth.

On one hand, I actually felt as if life in Algren, Manitoba (population, 1,500 -- give or take a few) might be what life is really like in a small town (the smallest?) in Canada and I was awash in all that folksy charm. On the other hand, Hosea Funk, the mayor of Algren was really quirky and really sweet and I began to get that jangly feeling that occurs when I sit on the couch eating Kellogg's Frosted Flakes right out of the box and watch too many sitcom marathons in a row on TV Land.

Shockingly, I found myself wanting Anne-Marie MacDonald to darkly descend and overpower Miriam Toews and order her out of the office to the nearest Tim Horton's just for a couple of chapters so she could shake her bleak, depressing thang and mitigate some of that sweetness and quirk.

Even though this wasn't my favorite read of the month, I'm grateful to Shanna for passing it along to me, happy that I'm now a Grain Elevator or something like that (4 books) in The Canadian Book Challenge and believe it or not, still game to read another Toews book, preferably the memoir about her father, but The Flying Troutmans would suit me fine, too.

10. Haiku (poetry) - Basho. How can verse so compressed be so fully sensual, playful and at times, belly-laugh humorous? These haiku were composed in the 1680s and 1690s, but they feel so fresh. Since I did a triple play of old, global and poetry with this selection, my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm is completely docile right now and has vowed only the kindest words in next year's evaluation post. That's what I'm talking about, Bookbitch. Here are several of our favorite haiku from Basho: (who was only 50 when he died. eeeek.)

In my new robe
this morning --
someone else.

Winter downpour --
even the monkey
needs a raincoat.

Bright moon: I
stroll around the pond --
hey, dawn has come.

Moon-daubed bush-clover --
ssh, in the next room
snoring prostitutes.

Noon doze,
wall cool
against my feet.
Rainy days --
silkworms droop
on mulberries.

Girl cat, so
thin on love
and barley.

Old pond,
leap-splash --
a frog.

Year's end, all
corners of this
floating world, swept.

Samurai talk --
of horse-radish.

Now then, let's go out
to enjoy the snow...until
I slip and fall.


ambearo said...

I just wanted to say one thing- I grew up in a Canadian town with a population of about 600 people. ^^

Bybee said...

Yeah, I thought 1,500 seemed a little big to be the smallest town.

Autodidact101 said...

Prostitutes! oh my

Kathleen said...

I have Maus I and II on my list. I just read my first graphic novel I Kill Giants and now am hooked on the genre!

Framed said...

One of these days I'm going to have to read a graphic novel. So far, they just haven't appealed to me.

Christie said...

If you haven't already, I'd recommend Toews' novel A Complicated Kindness. Less quirk and more story than The Flying Troutmans

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

maus was popular when i was in high school(1992)--a bunch of the goth kids got hold of a copy and it swept through parts of the school. i'm going to have to visit it again! the only graphic novel i've read to date is 'fun home' but i have persepolis on hold at the library--the bloggers convinced me!