Decent and miss (not hit and miss) collection of very short graphic stories for younger readers. Nicely colored art is generally better than the chara...moreDecent and miss (not hit and miss) collection of very short graphic stories for younger readers. Nicely colored art is generally better than the characters and plots.(less)
I'm going to do something very unusual for me and write a review before giving a book its proper consideration. I've only read half the book at this p...moreI'm going to do something very unusual for me and write a review before giving a book its proper consideration. I've only read half the book at this point, the first four of the nine stories, and am debating whether I want to go on, so I thought processing my thoughts might help me come to a decision. This way I'll have them captured as either half a review (with more to follow upon completion) or a review of a half.
Here's my sticking point: Each story is meant to be by a different person telling his or her own tale--a very diverse group of globe-travelers from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and vastly different experiences--yet they monotonously share the same voice, perspective, values, and conclusions; Lopez doesn't even seem to attempt to differentiate the characters through his writing choices, so it's as though he's writing as himself just from different imagined circumstances that don't seem to have changed or impacted who he is. It's false, empty play-acting based on superficial cliches and stereotypes instead of real, multi-dimensional characters. So if I don't buy the people who are speaking to me as people, then what's the point in listening to them?
What makes it particularly frustrating is that I do appreciate what they have to say. The common theme behind the stories is that they are meant to be about "resistance." Resistance to what? From the opening story:
The human imagination, the letter speculated, was a problematic force, its use best left to experts. An imagination in the wrong hands, missing the guidance of democratic reasoning and fed the wrong ideas, an imagination with no measure of economic awareness, was a loose cannon.
Their responses are their stories of how they have come to resist. The ones I have read so far have all shared a similar pattern: each narrator was in some way scarred or traumatized and had to overcome his or her own resulting resistance to love, and only through learning to actually and fully love again were they able to move on to something creative and meaningful. It is through their personal journeys that they discovered stories that became political.
And therein lies my other quibble with Lopez's writing choices: these stories don't feel personal. Despite the countless blurbs and reviews praising the quality and beauty of his writing, it never feels confessional or intimate to me, but instead literary, remote, and analytical. I can't find a way to connect with these people, even when I can get past the sameness of their voices. And no matter how skillful, I can't consider writing beautiful or exemplary if it gets stuck being an intellectual exercise instead of communicating something that feels genuine and that draws me in.
So maybe I'll try one more story and go from there. We'll see.
UPDATE, upon completion of the book: What I really wish Lopez had done, instead of writing a collection of short stories himself, was edit a collection by different writers who could authentically be what he has attempted to create. I think that could have been much more powerful.
But, at the risk of repeating what I wrote earlier, I’ll expand a bit on my thoughts now that I’ve read the whole work. This is a fictional collection of epiphanal stories by an international diaspora of like-minded highly educated and sociologically and anthropologically literate Americans living abroad, critical of the hegemony of their country’s cultural imperialism and destructive economic values. From the initial story, which also serves as an introduction to the rest:
For the ordinary person, love is increasingly elusive, imagined as a strategy.
We believe [humans] are creatures in search of proportion in life, a pattern of grace. It is balance and beauty we believe people want, not triumph. The stories the earth’s peoples adhere to with greatest faith . . . are all well patterned. And these templates for the maintenance of vision, repeated continuously in wildly different idioms . . . these patterns from the artesian wells of artistic impulse, do not require updating. They require only repetition. Repetition, because just as murder and infidelity are within us, so, too, is forgetfulness. We forget what we want to mean.
And so we have a repetitive collection of stories from wildly different idioms, each making the same point in different ways. By coming at it from so many different cultures and perspectives, Lopez shows how vast the interconnected web of impact is that he would have us resist, economic, cultural, and environmental impoverishment on many levels. By reading more of the stories, I was able to gain a greater appreciation for the depth of what he is saying. And, I found, the stories I was able to better connect with myself came later in the book.
At the same time, my earlier criticisms hold, that there is an undermining tediousness in the repetitive singular voice of the supposedly diverse characters, characterized by a particular intellectual pretentiousness (e.g. Lebensraum was what I wanted, please forgive me, freedom from the suffocating interlock of venal desire, dire warning, Teutonic competition, extreme overreach, and sophisticated oblivion that had become, in the dim tunnels back home, everyday life).
The theme that is repeated throughout is that political resistance comes through personal wisdom; you have to figure yourself out, how to heal your wounds and make yourself healthy, before you can figure out how to do so for the world. One example, that I think might speak to some I know:
I was conscious of the emotions of love, so the necessary partings sometimes made me feel like a cracked vase, something from which the water had drained and in which the flowers had withered. It was a long while, of course, before I understood that my arduous efforts to be kind to each person, my expressions of compassion and acts of generosity, my will to accommodate were all a sort of mask. I could express love strongly, but I could not accept it, could not allow myself to be loved.
I could not, then, really claim to know love.
And another, that most spoke to me of all the stories:
In those cities I got to know some of the hospice workers and through them witnessed, once again, they physical damage caused by the humiliations of industrial manufacturing, the Western plan to create wealth.
I wished in my reveries to be like Minty, free of any need to judge, acting as a vessel of forgiveness and joy . . .
All I needed to do now was to reduce somewhat the level of suffering where I encountered it, to moderate the levels of cruelty to which so many remained inured. I still wanted such people--the indifferent--to be held accountable. I wanted someone to entreat with them and subject them to the spirit of the law. But mine was no longer the voice to do it. I had no more plans for reorganization and reconstruction. I had nothing, anymore, to sell.
And, finally, a bit of a conclusion:
Whether I understand the stories in every particular or not, I regard them as a kind of protection against what menaces every person--despair, conceit, failure of imagination. It is this feeling I want to give back: not thank you or every blessing on you but I wish for my life to protect your life.(less)
This book is printed on paper made from 100% Dolphin Skin (recycled).
Fairly random, not really a chapter book so much as a story collection of isolate...moreThis book is printed on paper made from 100% Dolphin Skin (recycled).
Fairly random, not really a chapter book so much as a story collection of isolated episodes, many with unpleasant endings for the protagonist ("Andy Griffiths"). A series of extended jokes, if you will. I enjoyed the multitude of little cartoons and gags in the margins as much as the actual text.(less)
A twisted collection of classic fairy tales that have been twisted and reimagined as dark parables that celebrate the gruesome cruelty within us all....moreA twisted collection of classic fairy tales that have been twisted and reimagined as dark parables that celebrate the gruesome cruelty within us all. Each tale is very brief--only a page or two--and many are poems. While I enjoyed the overall enterprise, it felt repetitive after the first few since each tale seemed to be reinterpreted with the same themes and character motivations. Still, it was fun.(less)
Nothing that blew me away, but I enjoyed all three of the stories. Each is a very different look at the ways we attempt to fill the voids in our lives...moreNothing that blew me away, but I enjoyed all three of the stories. Each is a very different look at the ways we attempt to fill the voids in our lives.(less)
A fun collection of stories about a six-year-old brat who rules a small country and has the power to do anything and everything he wants in response t...moreA fun collection of stories about a six-year-old brat who rules a small country and has the power to do anything and everything he wants in response to his every whim.(less)
Guest writers and artists create a collection of short stories based on the Mouse Guard world created by David Peterson. As will all such compilations...moreGuest writers and artists create a collection of short stories based on the Mouse Guard world created by David Peterson. As will all such compilations, I preferred some of the stories to others, but the overall package is a nice one. And, as with Peterson's own work, quite beautifully done.(less)
I love Vande Velde's introduction, in which she describes how stories passed down through the oral tradition can become so mutated and modified throug...moreI love Vande Velde's introduction, in which she describes how stories passed down through the oral tradition can become so mutated and modified through constant retellings that much of the sense of the original story is lost. That's how I feel about the story of Rumpelstiltskin--it makes no sense, she writes. Then she deconstructs it humorously, pointing out all the little things about the current form of the story that bother her.
After that, Vande Velde offers 6 reinterpretations of the story. She reworks it in various ways, changing perspectives and character motivations in attempts to fix the many holes and contradictions. While none are destined to become classics or replace the original, they were all fun to read, each in its own way. Most importantly, I love the entire enterprise, modeling creative thinking about stories and ways we can play with them and make them our own.(less)
Snapshots of the cruelties and insecurities of the middle school years. 17 different short stories by 16 different graphic artists. Many feel incomple...moreSnapshots of the cruelties and insecurities of the middle school years. 17 different short stories by 16 different graphic artists. Many feel incomplete, just capturing a mood or moment more than a story, from the perspective of survivors remembering their experiences. I thought it was decent, but am not sure I'd be able to recommend it to many actual middle schoolers.(less)
I recently heard someone describe this book as gorgeous, and that’s a perfect word for it. Physically, of course, with the art design and wordless gra...moreI recently heard someone describe this book as gorgeous, and that’s a perfect word for it. Physically, of course, with the art design and wordless graphic stories that briefly introduce each of the three novellas, but also the language. Taylor’s writing is not pretentious or showy, but neither is it simple, understated, or minimalistic. You notice it, but in a magical, ever-so-slightly stylized way that suits her enchanting subject matter. Her launching points are goblin lore, the Hindu concept of Hell, and the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, but they are merely inspirations for her own original ideas. Each one involves romance and pivots on a single kiss, and in that they find their unity. I was not charmed by the characters or plot as much as the language, but they were far from weaknesses. A very deftly written book, and I imagine it must be an excellent recommendation for fans of Twilight and the like who are longing for more longing and anticipation.
There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.
The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.
One- to two-page horror stories, some told with graphics, most without, by many of the top writers in the business today. Many hits, a few not-hits (n...moreOne- to two-page horror stories, some told with graphics, most without, by many of the top writers in the business today. Many hits, a few not-hits (no real misses). Quite an excellent choice for anyone looking to be scared (or find new tales to tell around the campfire). One favorite:
Very fun, but not just that. Even though fantasy is my preferred genre, I'm generally indifferent at best to both zombies and unicorns--so I didn't ha...moreVery fun, but not just that. Even though fantasy is my preferred genre, I'm generally indifferent at best to both zombies and unicorns--so I didn't have a rooting interest in reading this book--but I was drawn into it nonetheless. As with all collections, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, but I don't think any really missed the mark and a number of them I really appreciated. And each was introduced with mock combative introductions by the two editors, debating the relative merits of the two titular creatures as literary subjects. A fun, diverting, and at times thoughtful, original, and moving compilation by a number of today's popular YA authors. Recommended.(less)
In the following pages, you'll catch a glimpse of something most people have never seen in the wild. We've let essays out of their cages, and we've se...moreIn the following pages, you'll catch a glimpse of something most people have never seen in the wild. We've let essays out of their cages, and we've set them loose.
This book is a great idea, a collection of essays by professional writers responding to the prompts that are commonly assigned in schools to serve as examples for students frustrated by the confines of the requirements. Whether prompted with "Write about a time you helped make the world a better place" or "Compare and contrast two characters from the same story" or "Pick a belief that is widely accepted and then debunk it" or one of the other forty topics (indexed by type; e.g. persuasive, etc.), the authors demonstrate a variety of ways to make the essays personal, creative, interesting, and meaningful. I was hooked from the Forward by Margaret Cho to the end, and, though not every selection was stellar or spoke to me, the collection as a package is excellent. Highly recommended for all classrooms where essays are assigned, students looking for a bit of inspiration, and readers who enjoy encountering a variety of interesting, engaging essays.
I could have just as easily picked any number of other favorite bits, but I think I'll share this metaphor for friendship that I loved from Ransom Riggs in "Camp Dread or How to Survive a Shockingly Awful Summer":
The popular kids I knew seemed to make friends effortlessly. Their cliques grew and blossomed and rotated members on a daily basis. My friend group, on the other hand, was like a rare mold that only grew beneath a certain kind of rock at a specific elevation: There wasn't much of it, it formed very slowly, and it was exceedingly stable. But if a wild mongoose came and ate a bunch of it, the mold wasn't going to grow back in any big hurry.(less)
Shaun Tan creates such beautiful, evocative art, pulled together with minimal words into powerfully poignant stories. I'm tempted to attempt saying mo...moreShaun Tan creates such beautiful, evocative art, pulled together with minimal words into powerfully poignant stories. I'm tempted to attempt saying more, but feel I'd need thousands of words to be worth a few of his pictures. It's best to just take a look for yourself. I'll simply add that the middle of these stories, the one good enough that it was made into the film that won the 2010 Oscar for best animated short, is my least favorite of the three. (Which is saying something.)(less)