Posts Tagged ‘pajiba’

#CBR4 Cannonball 20: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics: The Invisible ArtUnderstanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was never into comics as a kid. Part of that was because I didn’t have any money to spend on them, so I never had access to them. And, as I got older, I dismissed them as the trappings of pre-adolescent boys bound for lives of solitude and obesity.

I’m still not really into traditional comics, but I’ve grown a certain appreciation for graphic novels. When this post was published on Pajiba, it was right after I started using Goodreads, and I promptly added all of Seth Freilich’s recommendations to my reading list. It was a great introduction to the medium, and I’ve been steadily working through the list. I like to alternate between graphic novels and traditional novels, since it does feel a little like cheating, sometimes. It’s never taken me longer than a day to read through any one graphic novel (although I do take volumes a volume at a time).

Now that I have a few graphic novels under my belt, I’m glad that I had a chance to read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. The book is clearly a labor of love, and McCloud uses many clever illustrations (both literally and figuratively) to demonstrate the power of combining images and words into a single art form.

understanding comics

McCloud touches on the history of comics, and then proceeds to explain and demonstrate how the mind interprets images, which makes the comic book an especially powerful medium. Some of his examples really blew me away, and it’s clear that he gave a lot of thought to how to present his material. It’s really inventive throughout, and makes me think that kids would learn a lot more about all kinds of different topics if textbooks were presented as graphic novels. Some people (like me) are just visual learners, and we remember what we see a lot better than what we hear.

This book is a must-read for comic book lovers, and for anyone who thinks comic books are derivative and childish. There are some comics that are derivative and childish, but others are quite creative and moving. Understanding Comics is one of the best ones.

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Cannonball 28: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High FidelityHigh Fidelity by Nick Hornby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has a real gift for sympathy. He discerns situations and reactions that are common to the human experience and is able to articulate them in such a way that every reader can identify with what he’s written. And, in High Fidelity, he delves into one of the most common human experiences: falling in and out of love.

High Fidelity is the ultimate book about relationships. It covers the initial euphoria of attraction, the crushing blow of heartbreak, and the sobriety and caution with which heartbreak can cause us to proceed the next time around.

Rob Fleming is the hapless main character that gets to experience all of the highs and lows of relationships in Hornby’s book. He starts the book by listing his top five break-ups of all time. We also learn that he has really screwed up his last relationship with a woman named Laura. That relationship is the central focus of the book. Although we see other relationships of Rob’s, both before and after this one, they’re all discussed in light of their bearing on his relationship with Laura.

high fidelity

John Cusack and Iben Hjejle as Rob and Laura in the film based on the book. It's a good movie, too; made back when John Cusack and Jack Black were likeable.

I never do this, but there were certain passages of the book that were so good that I just had to read them aloud to my sister. Hornby really just hits the nail on the head as far as how people behave and think when they’re in relationships, especially when it comes to the mistakes we make.

Now, I wouldn’t look to this book as an example of how to conduct oneself in a relationship. But it certainly gives insight as to how many people react to emotions and situations in their own lives when it comes to the opposite sex. That insight can be helpful in not only understanding your own behavior in these types of circumstances, but also in understanding what it might be like for the other person involved as well.

This review doesn’t even begin to do justice to the book, but suffice it to say that I absolutely loved it. Hornby writes with simplicity and nuance, a quality largely lacking in popular literature today. It’s a fast read, but a good one.

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Cannonball #21: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first went to check this book out of the library, I was surprised to find it in the Teen section. I’d seen the movie, and I though that some of the subject matter was a little mature for teens.

But after reading it, I can kind of understand why it was in the Teen section of my library. Some of the scenes are, in my opinion, not appropriate for teens, but the writing had an oddly YA vibe to it.

If you don’t know the premise of the book itself, then maybe you ought to put the book down and watch TV for an hour a day to get caught up on the world of pop culture. A nameless insomniac meets a mysterious guy named Tyler Durden, and they start a secret club in which men beat each other within an inch of their lives in order to vent their daily frustrations. Through his friendship with Tyler, his life gets a lot more exciting: he participates in fights, and starts getting the respect he’s always wanted from his association with Tyler. But hanging with Tyler has a price, and, after a while, the protagonist begins to wonder if Tyler isn’t taking things too far.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton as The Narrator in the film version of the book. If you didn't recognize the image immediately, go get yourself an infusion of pop culture, STAT.

The premise of the book is certainly intriguing. The writing, to me anyway, had a definite YA flavor to it, but it was an engaging read, and the characters were all fascinating. The major plot twist was certainly groundbreaking in its time, and the book is well-paced and well-conceived.

But I do feel the need to close by saying that Chuck Palahniuk is a total arrogant tool. In the edition of the book I got from the library, there was an afterword from the author. The entire afterword could basically be summarized as follows:

“People claim that I stole this idea, but I totally didn’t because I am an original genius and anyone who disagrees is in denial. My ideas are so fresh and original, and I can’t believe how influential I am! I am so relevant, and my ideas are shaping our culture. I am important, people, so don’t you dare imply that I am anything but a literary genius that deserves your awe. Bow before me, peasants.”

So, I liked the book, but I totally hate the author after that ridiculous, self-important afterword.

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Cannonball 2: Groundswell by Charlene Li

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social TechnologiesGroundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a writer. I’m not a techie. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m just a girl who hates grammatical mistakes and improprer use of punctuation and enjoys snappy prose.

Well, Groundswell isn’t written for people like me, but it was still an interesting read. Charlene Li does an excellent job of examining the ways in which companies and brands are able to build a groundswell of support for themselves on the internet.

What it really boils down to is listening to your online community and showing them that they matter to you. Your customers are your greatest resource for improving your product, and a disgruntled customer can quickly turn into your biggest fan (and a huge source of free advertising) if you quickly rectify the situation and show them that you actually care.

Come to think of it, Pajiba has done an excellent job of cultivating groundswell. When I first visited Pajiba, it was about a year old, and there were maybe fifty regular commenters and two regular features. Now, they have thousands of fans on Facebooks, hundreds of Eloquents who spend more time commenting than working at their jobs, and has a giant pool of willing writers who are willing to give of their free time to comb the internet for fun links, highlight the funniest comments of the week, and even run a ginormo book club .

I myself shoot out of my chair and do a happy dance on the rare occasions when I happen to make it to EE or get a CBR review featured on the site. It makes me feel like I’m being heard; that people care about my opinion and are willing to have civil conversations about it. It makes me feel like I’m part of a fun, witty, and urbane online community of nerds who, despite their affinity for the scathing, are fiercely loyal to one another and care deeply about each other (see Pink, Alabama).

alabama pink

We miss you, Alabama Pink.

Pajiba has always been good at fostering community. Way back when I was still relatively new to the site, I posted a comment on a thread about music that is inextricably linked to specific scenes in movies, and I mentioned the soundtrack to Billy Elliot. That day, I got a personal e-mail from The Rowles himself, telling me that he, too, loved that movie and was planning to do it justice at a later date (I’m still waiting on that, Rowles, and I doubt that Pajiba will come to an end on that day).

billy elliot

Gets me every time.

I knew right then that Pajiba was all about listening to its community. And the community has really taken on a life of its own. And it’s because Pajiba has listened to its community that it’s able to foster such a positive community. Also, much of the community members love the TV show “Community.” That has nothing to do with this paragraph, but I’d used the word so much in this paragraph that I thought I’d throw it in there one more time.

community

The moral of the story? Watch “Parks and Recreation,” y’all.

parks and recreation

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P.S. Oh, yeah, and Groundswell was a good book, but I love Pajiba more.

Cannonball 52: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grew up Asian in a Caucasian neighborhood. It wasn’t just “predominantly Caucasian.” Until a Hispanic family moved in down the street ten years into our residence here on Senasac Avenue (where I still reside today), we were the only people in the neighborhood who weren’t… well, white.

Perhaps that was why the story of Calliope Stephanides resonated with me so much. I had suspected that Jeffrey Eugenides’ tale of a third-generation Greek hermaphrodite would be rife with shocking scenes and burgeoning sexuality and sanctimonious, soapboxy judgments of people who would get freaked out by someone who happened to have XY genes in an XX exterior.

Instead, I found a sympathetic immigration story about a Greek family with a shameful family secret. We follow the Stephanides’ through three generations, through good times and bad.

I was particularly surprised at how kind Eugenides was in his portrayal of the older generations. He showed the difficulty of immigrant life, of marriage, and of growing up. I expected Callie’s parents to kick her out once she decided that she was really a he (don’t worry, you find that out in the first line of the book, so it’s not a spoiler), but was surprised that, in Eugenides’ story, he chose instead to let familial love trump confusion and fear.

I thought this book would be about the journey from Callie to Cal, but it was so much more about the Stephanides navigating their way through life in a foreign land. Callie provides narration and is ultimately the main character, but the book says as much about her grandparents and parents as it does about her — it says it in the way that she talks about them and in the way that they react to her.

I thought the book was well-written overall, but I should have known that a book about a hermaphrodite would have a few unsavory scenes. It actually wasn’t as bad as I originally feared, but I had to do my share of hasty flipping through certain chapters. But I couldn’t help but to appreciate the way that the author effortlessly weaved history, mythology, and narrative together to form a seamless story. That takes madd skillz.

I so want to be the Koreans’ Eugenides.

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And that, my friends, means that I finished the Cannonball Read!!! YAY, ME!!! 😀

Cannonball 50: The Rescue (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #3) by Kathryn Lasky

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Guardians of Ga'Hoole Books One, Two, and ThreeLegend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: Guardians of Ga’Hoole Books One, Two, and Three by Kathryn Lasky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Three: The Rescue

In some ways, the third installment of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series provided many of the same annoying tropes that plagued the first two books.

But, then, the ending of this volume, I must admit, threw me for a loop. I should have seen it coming, but, still, I must give credit where credit is due.

I wish Ms. Lasky has condensed Book Two into the beginning of Book Three. It would have made for one fun volume instead of two mediocre ones.

The Rescue picks up where The Journey left off. (SPOILER!!) Orensay’s istersay, Eglantineyay, ashay eenbay escuedray, utbay ishay entormay, Ezylrybyay, ashay onegay issingmay.

I can’t say much about this volume without spoiling the book, but we do get some vital background information about Soren’s mentor, Ezylryb, and more information about an evil plaguing the land that is even worse than the owls of St. Aegolius. And the book ends with a pretty exciting battle. It looks like the author is finally starting to warm up.

However, it still rankles me that she insists upon summarizing all of the major plot points in each of the books. This was especially irritating because I read all three books in the same volume, so there were certain parts of the book that I had to relive three times in a week.

I also don’t appreciate the obvious Hogwartsian quality of life in the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, complete with punishments for misbehavior, mean teachers, and even a prissy, know-it-all Hermione character whom the gang initially hates, but later comes to appreciate.

hermione granger

Nobody likes a know-it-all. Not even me, and I am one.

Finally, the only thing more annoying than all of the summarizing is all of the explanations of the owl jargon that Lasky has created for the owls. Okay, I get that giving the owls their own vocabulary and slang makes it seem like more of its own culture. But I think that Lasky overdoes it, as is evidenced by the fact that she has to explain all of those words every time she uses them in a new installment of her series. Used correctly, creating a unique and complete culture for your characters can ground the reader in your fantasy world (see: Tolkien, J.R.R.). But it needs to serve a purpose, and if you don’t know how to wield that weapon, you’ll end up hurting yourself.

That’s exactly what happens with Lasky’s owlspeak. It ends up becoming more tedious than it’s worth because it doesn’t add all that much to the story.

I do have to admire the author, though, for her thorough research of owls. She understands their physiology and habits. I know more about owls now than I ever did, and I think that’s valuable (what? You won’t be rolling your eyes when I win “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with an owl question).

I still plan to read the rest of the books, as long as JN keeps lending them to me. But I hope that the plot starts developing a little faster.

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Cannonball 47: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t have too high a view of modern literature, mostly because I don’t have too high a view of the modern reader. When we’ve got fully-grown adults running around declaring that the Harry Potter series are the best books they’ve ever read, I think it’s only a matter of time before the premise of the movie Idiocracy actually happens.

But it’s authors like Michael Chabon that restore my hope in the future of literature. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is epic, and it left me reeling, in a good way.

The book is set in the 1930s and 40s, just before the U.S. involvement in World War II. We follow the stories of two cousins: Samuel Klayman, a young New York Jew, and his Czech cousin, Josef Kavalier. Chabon seamlessly works the nascent world of comic books into his tale, and the cousins’ rise and fall is mirrored in the success of their flagship character, The Escapist.

Chabon clearly researched the history of comics thoroughly, and his writing shows that it was a labor of love. Every step of The Escapist’s story, from his origin story to his eventually being sold out by the comic’s publisher, is fleshed out in minute detail. Only a true lover of comics could describe that process and make it interesting to a wider audience (in this case, readers of novels). And the origin story of the character, both the character’s conception and his motivation and origin as a superhero, is cleverly crafted by Chabon. I’d read The Escapist as a stand-alone story. It’s that compelling.

But The Escapist’s story is more than just a loving homage to comics by the author. It also reflects a lot of the character of its creators. Like Joe Kavalier, the character hates evil and oppression. Through The Escapist, Joe is able to land the right hook on Hitler’s jaw that he longs to throw, even as he waits in New York, virtually helpless to assist his own family.

And, like Sammy Clay, Tom Mayflower (The Escapist’s true identity) had a childhood history of physical weakness. But Sammy is able to give The Escapist a power and courage that he thinks he lacks.

The friendship and love between the cousins is just beautiful; one of the most moving friendships in literary history. Sammy doesn’t literally die to save Joe’s life, but he sacrifices his life for his friend all the same.

What makes The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay so amazing is not that their actual exploits are so incredible, although some of them do border on the fantastic. But it’s the fact that Chabon is able to weave the common threads of the human experience — life, love, loss — into his story that makes it truly remarkable.

And he does it all with a beautifully nuanced prose that puts hacks like Nicholas Sparks to shame. Michael Chabon is not just an author. He’s a writer.

I loved this book for all of its beauty and despair and ugliness and loneliness, but I have to warn my more conservative friends that it’s definitely rated R. There’s profanity and sex up in the hizzy. I didn’t find it to be crass or thrown in just for shock value, but it’s definitely there, so be forewarned.

This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and I absolutely loved it.

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Cannonball 46: Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I consider the Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole, the best illustration that comes to mind is the Matrix trilogy. The first one was amazing; mind-blowing, even.

the matrix

Mind. Blown.

The second one was rather disappointing, but you argued to yourself that it was difficult to love up to the first one, and that the second installments of trilogies often falter because they have the undesirable job of continuing the story of the first installment while drumming up interest in the final chapter.

the matrix reloaded

The Matrix Redundant.

Then, you watch the third one, and you’re completely disgusted by the way such a promising trilogy was inexplicably taken to the most ridiculous places, and you wish that they’d stopped with the first film.

the matrix revolutions

The Matrix Retarded.

This is exactly how I feel about the Hunger Games Trilogy. I sincerely and heartily wish that Suzanne Collins had written The Hunger Games as a stand-alone novel. I would think much more highly of it now if the thought of it didn’t immediately call to mind the putrid stench of the second and third books in the series.

Note to all aspiring authors: if you’re planning to write a series, you’d better make darned sure that the story you’re cooking up in that noodle of yours merits installments, and that you’re not just trying to drag one good idea out into three books. That’s just lazy.

Well, I suppose I’d better get into the meat of the book. I’m so disgusted with this volume that I’m not even going to bother flagging spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk.

Mockingjay begins with Katniss recovering from the injuries sustained at the end of Catching Fire. She has just sparked a massive rebellion in Panem, encompassing all of the Districts, and, in retaliation, the Capitol has razed her home, District Twelve, to the ground. Her family has survived, but Peeta Mellark, her fellow Champion/Tribute, is a prisoner of the Capitol. This volume deals with her new life in District Thirteen as the Mockingjay, a symbol of the rebellion.

She has to deal with the fame that comes with this position, as well as the burden of the rebellion’s morale. And, in all this, she’s still struggling with the personal problems of her love triangle with Peeta (who has been brainwashed to hate her) and Gale, her best friend.

Blah-de-blah-blah-blah.

My biggest issues with this book are as follows:

1. The book kinda just hums along until it’s time for the final siege on the Capitol, which is unnecessarily prolonged.

2. There are several main characters killed off for no reason other than to show you that people die in war. But what doesn’t really make sense to me is, if the rebellion’s best soldiers are unprepared enough to get caught in the lame situations that claim many of their lives, then how the heck is the reader to believe that the Rebels legitimately won the war? And there’s one character that gets the ax in such a blatant attempt to wring tears from the reader’s eyes that the only tears it got from me were because I rolled my eyes too far back into my head when I read it.

3. Least. Satisfying. Resolution. To a love triangle. EVER. Ms. Collins, don’t get your readers all ramped up about a love triangle and then end it with such a ridiculous whimper. It’s insulting. It was as though Collins had completely forgotten about that thread of the story and had to hastily wrap it up in whatever lame way she could concoct twelve hours before her deadline. It would almost have been better if Katniss had declared, “I choose ME.” And I hate “I choose ME.”

I’d say that the first book in the series was worth the read. But, unfortunately, if you’re OCD about completing series like I am, you’ll end up reading all of them, which is a shame, because the taint of the other two books will likely ruin your memories of the first.

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Cannonball 45: About a Boy by Nick Hornby

About a BoyAbout a Boy by Nick Hornby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never read Nick Hornby before picking up this book. I had seen and enjoyed the movie with Hugh Grant (and Nicholas Hoult, who, by the way, is aaaaaaall growns up now).

about a boy

Before.

nicholas hoult

After.

But I’d heard great things about this book, so I picked it up on a recommendation from Pajiba.

As usual, the book was better than the movie. One of the reasons that books are generally better than movies is that books can take a moment and make it last without making it feel like it’s taking the two or three minutes that it’s actually taking you to read the words describing that moment. Books can take you into the psyche of the character and let you feel what they’re feeling, whereas the best that movies are able to do is to either hint at it or give you some cheesy voiceover.

(P.S. I still love movies.)

About a Boy tells the tale of a womanizing man-child who meets an unpopular kid. Will lives off the royalties of his father’s hit Christmas song, and Marcus is the child of a suicidal hippie tree-hugger.

Marcus is unpopular at school, and the usual parental advice of “ignore them” isn’t helping. And the fact that his mother might still be suicidal makes it even more difficult for Marcus to deal with everything going on at school. The only time when he’s able to just relax and be himself is when he’s slumped over on Will’s couch, watching “Countdown.”

I liked that Hornby went back and forth between Will’s and Marcus’ points of view. And I like that Will and Marcus help each other without it being an obvious Ebenezer Scrooge-like transformation. Will cares about Marcus despite his selfish nature, not because Marcus is such a lovable kid, but simply because he senses that he can offer help, and it won’t be too difficult to proffer that help. Will’s afraid of getting involved with people because he likes that his way of life leaves him untouched and invulnerable to emotional hurt by others. But because of Marcus’ persistence, he can’t avoid seeing that Marcus is hurting and that it’s in his power to help.

I loved Will’s epiphany in the book that, while he was the last person qualified to teach Marcus how to be a man, he was the best qualified to teach him just how to be a kid. He thought he was worthless to Marcus because he lived this man-child lifestyle, but that information actually came in handy to a kid trying to fit in at a new school.

About a Boy was touching and funny without being cloying or overly sentimental. And that’s what I appreciate most about Hornby’s writing. It’s a quality that we seem to be losing as a society: subtlety.

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Cannonball 44: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy was a touch disappointing, but still a relatively fun read. It deals with Katniss Everdeen’s return home to District 12 after (SPOILER FROM THE HUNGER GAMES) eythay inway ethe Ungerhay Amesgay ogethertay.

She knows that the Capitol is angry with her for undermining the purpose of the games, which is simultaneously to act as an opiate of the masses by keeping them too entertained to think about rebelling, and to remind the citizens of Panem that the Capitol will react with swift vengeance if they dare to rebel.

The first book hinted (heavily) that there would be some sort of love triangle between Katniss, her best friend Gale (who’s a boy, by the way), and her fellow competitor (andyay ellowfay Ungerhay Amesgay Ampionchay) Peeta Mellark. Collins fleshes this out a bit, but not in any kind of satisfactory way. Her handling of the love triangle is a bit ham-fisted, but there’s still enough fun in the rest of the book to make it a worthwhile read.

Because the upcoming Hunger Games is the 75th, it means that they will be special. It’s called the Quarter Quell, and it happens every twenty-five years. This year, what makes the Quarter Quell so special is that the competitors, instead of being reaped from the usual pool of eligible candidates, will be reaped from the existing champions.

After just having survived a brutal Games, the last thing Katniss and Peeta want to do is re-enter the ring, especially since they know that the same tricks won’t work this time around. But they’ve got to compete if they want to protect their families and the people they love.

As with the first book in the series, the actual Hunger Games are the most interesting part of the book. Collins’ imagination really shines when it comes to making up brutal, gladiatorial games.

The relationships are decent, but nothing to scream about. I wasn’t nearly as invested in the new characters she introduced this time around as I was by the characters in the first book.

Ultimately, this book was a decent read, but I can’t help but to wish that Collins had stuck to a single volume instead of making it a trilogy.

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