My 2nd venture into the world of graphic literature for 2017 was, regrettably, not as successful as my first (which you can conveniently read about here). Never having read Neil Gaiman’s work, I was determined and enthusiastically ready to explore what he had to offer. Although it is arguable that Mr. Gaiman deserves a lot of the credit he is given by my generation, I wish I had started with something other than The Sandman.
The entirety of The Sandman series in contained within 10 books, I only tackled the first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes. For transparency, I have never been a prodigious comic book reader (The Sandman is a comic book series not a graphic novel). While I am in fact a fan of many characters created via the comic book world, I never gained much pleasure from actually reading comic books – something about the form, and the way my brain interprets things has never made for a fluid experience. Since I know this about myself, I have not deducted marks because of my pre-existing issue.
My issue (ha, non-intentional pun) with The Sandman is the set-up.
The first 20 pages or so spark a constant inner-monologue of, “Wait, what, am I supposed to understand this? Did I miss something? Am I dumb? Let me go back a few pages…nope, I don’t seem to have missed anything…” –then The Sandman picks up and keeps up an engaging pace with a very compelling main character. But, one can’t simply ignore the beginning, the section that should be the hook, is an unnecessary mess. One could easily, and understandably, give up 5 pages in and then miss out on what becomes a very solid comic book. So. Points taken off, and Neil is put in the time out chair for the time being.
I may dip into Gaiman’s work in the future. In the meantime, I recommend The Sandman to comic book fans with stamina. But, I am disappointed with my introduction to his work.
Rating: 3.5 Unending Dreams
I became aware of Chris McCandless’ heartbreaking journey and tragic end about ten years after it occurred; a deeply disturbing transpiration. Consequently, I avoided reading Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, even forgoing the Sean Penn movie, because the circumstances of McCandless’ life and death are so upsetting. However, McCandless’ story intrigued me, so Into the Wild was slated to be on my 2016 list. And my 2017 list. And I vowed it would be on my 2018 list. Maybe. Then, this past October, while in a bit of a bookish funk, a dear friend encouraged me to read Into the Wild. Something about how he spoke to the work sparked me to stop putting it off. I devoured it.
Jon Krakauer’s personal investment in Chris McCandless’ tragic story and dedication to relating it in a way that provokes empathy rather than judgment makes for a vividly haunting read. Much of what people know about McCandless’ life is really just a sound bite summary of his death: Recent college grad goes on ridiculous adventure alone in the wilderness and meets his fate. Much of what people think of McCandless’ death is that he was asking for it. But, there is so much more to Chris McCandless; and Krakauer paints a multidimensional picture of the last few years of his life through the eyes of someone who feels connected to his story; who understands, on some level, his motivations.
Into the Wild is indeed disturbing, and heartbreaking. It is hard to read at points since Krakauer‘s compassion for McCandless makes you pray for a different ending than the one you know you are going to receive. Into the Wild is a book that will haunt me for a long time.
I applaud Mr. Krakauer for telling McCandless’ story in a way that encourages delving into what we don’t understand, gaining sympathy towards those who are figuring out their lives in ways that are foreign to us, and inspiring one to, say, read a book you’re afraid would be upsetting, because the perspective you gain will make it worthwhile.
I thank my dear friend for doing the same.
Rating: 4.5 Lost Postcards
Every so often, a novel quietly hits you in a way you weren’t suspecting. Keeping you on the edge of your seat riveted to its pages. Though seemingly so simple, it breaks your heart, as you finish it, to know you will never experience its magic for the first time again, that though you may read it 100 more times, that first-time experience will be lost. You savor it. You miss it when it’s gone. It is novels like these that keep us hungry for more.
John Williams’ Stoner delivers that magic.
Stoner, originally published in 1965, rose to popularity and became a delayed American classic in the past 5-10 years. Williams creates a classic Americana vibe reminiscent of Steinbeck, mixed with the air of Hemingway’s simplicity (literally the greatest compliment I could give an author, so you know I am not exaggerating my love for this novel), without being referential. This could be a reason for the delay in Stoner’s widespread popularity – Williams belonged in the generation before his own.
The author’s technique and style as he navigates through the life of our titular character, Professor William Stoner, is so smooth, the realization of how enamored and invested you’ve become in this middle-aged academic’s world doesn’t land until you’re a wreck when it’s over. There are no crazy plot twists, no mysteries to unfold – it is simply the story of a man and his Midwestern life. A story that has earned top placement in this heart.
Rating: 5 Seminars