Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

With the new Wonder Woman movie coming out soon, I wanted to brush up on my knowledge of Diana. I happened upon this graphic novel in my library and thought I would pick it up. I’ll be honest, besides the 1970’s show, which I think is the only time Wonder Woman has had her own screen time, I didn’t know anything about her.Wonder Woman

The graphic novel roots Diana’s story in ancient Greece and the war between Herakles and the Amazon’s queen. They end up moving to this awesome island and, no spoilers, Diana comes to be. She’s a demigod and no one seems to check her ego and curb some of her uber-competitiveness. Time passes and in one moment of tenacity, Diana makes a bad choice and has to pay the consequences by being exiled from the Amazons and doing good in the world.

I find this story intriguing because, one, I didn’t know any of this, and two, I didn’t realize that the early Diana was a jerk. Ok, maybe not quite a jerk, but she’s arrogant and it comes across as selfish and callous. I’m curious to see what Diana is like in the film and whether they are going to tell this story as well. There’s a lot of room left at the end of this book to explain some of the tools Wonder Woman has at the ready. This edition didn’t go into any detail about the tiara, the lasso of truth and the golden girdle. I’m hoping they will in the next volume.

Spoiler: I’ve just seen the movie and I’m happy to report that some of this origin story makes it into the film!  I’m grateful to have read this first because it gave me some context to what was happening.  In my opinion Gal Gadot’s Diana is waaaaaay better than the one in this graphic novel.

Saga, Vol. 7

Every time a new volume of Saga comes out, it turns into a race between my wife and I to see who can check it out first from the library.  She beat me this time.  Luckily, she’s good enough not to react too vocally to what’s happening so that by the time I have a chance to read it, there’s not a lot I feel I can predict.Saga

Vol. 7 is getting the plot back on track. I had a complaint about this regarding Vol. 6. After several volumes of meandering through several plot lines, they are all starting to converge again. In this case, we meet The Will, Gwendolyn, Marcos, et al. The seeds have been sown for an interesting turn of events in respect to the Landfallians and Wreath. We learn that the war is becoming more complex and people are starting to be seen as either resources or liabilities. Hazel is starting to assert herself in the story and I’m enjoying getting to know her. I hope she’s as prominent in future volumes.

The underlying message of this volume seemed to be the collateral damage between warring parties. In this case it’s the people of Phang, who are also Sophie’s people too. On this comet, innocent people are ignored by Landfall and Wreath in their quest to maintain control of the fuel resources. In a twist dramatic irony, we learn that Landfall and Wreath do agree on something and this becomes the climax of the volume. I’m curious to see how these threads will play out. I feel like the plot can either begin to wrap up, or we’re about to embark on a new plot line. Either way, I’m in for the journey.

The Best American Travel Writing 2015

I’ve never read a concentrated collection of travel writing prior to picking up this anthology. I’d only read the odd essay in magazines like “Times” or “Esquire”. I like to travel and I’ve done some informal writing based on some of the big trips that I’ve taken. I find that reflecting on what I’ve done either on a daily basis during a trip, or looking back at the trip as a whole gives meaning to where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.  It makes me feel more engaged with where I am because I’m thinking about what I’m going to write about.  This anthology has a lot of pieces that share some of those same goals and I felt that I could connect with the writers as well as learn from their own experiences.travel 2015

Lisa Abend’s “The Sound of Silence” shares her experience getting lost, alone, in the Scottish highlands.

Scott Anderson’s “Lawrence of Arabia” explores the sites and history of the man who put the Modern Middle East into motion. I learned a lot of geopolitics I hadn’t known before.

Kevin Baker’s “21st Century Limited” shares the current state of train travel in the US and while it doesn’t woo him, sadly, it also doesn’t make him believe it should be done away with.

Patricia Marx’s “Tale of a Tub” hilariously recounts her experience traveling from Philly to Hamburg via freight ship.

Nick Paumgarten explores Berlin’s history as the center for techno music and culture in “Berlin Nights”.

“Baked Alaska” takes readers to a remote Aleutian island where Christopher Solomon and two friends hike into a remote volcano and then kayak around the island. Oh, and encounter lots of bears.

Even if you don’t get to travel, reading these experiences will give that vicarious experience while avoiding some of the pitfalls the authors survived in order to give we readers this tome.

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2015

“The Best American Non-required Reading” is an anthology of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic novels that is selected by a committee of high school students. As a high school teacher, I was curious to see what high schoolers would select as the best literature. I found their picks interesting and surprising. Non 2015

Wells Tower’s “Who Wants to Shoot an Elephant?” was eye-opening as it was shocking to read about the account of big-game hunting. Tower is open about his bias (anti-elephant hunting) but is objective in his portrayal of the wealthy Americans who do participate in the hunt. He doesn’t villanize them, but he does ask important questions.

Victor Lodato’s “Jack, July” takes us into the mind of an addict much like “Requiem for a Dream.”

“780 Days of Solitude” is the account of the three Americans who were held in Iran on charges of espionage. It’s written by the three young people and was a take on the story I hadn’t read before. I’m interested to read their entire book this was excerpted from.

Paul Salopek’s “Out of Eden Walk” shares his journey walking from Ethiopia through Russia tracing the route of human migration. The selection in the anthology covers his time in Palestine, Jordan, and Turkey.

There’s so many more I want to highlight, but I’d basically be recommending 80% of the book. While many of the pieces were well written, I had trouble appreciating the collection as a whole.  Having so many different genres mashed into one collection, I felt that I wasn’t able to settle in a enjoy reading the book cover to cover.  I found that I had to keep shifting my thinking switching from fiction to non-fiction to poetry and it gave me a bit of a headache.  Reader beware.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015

I’ve been working reading more contemporary Sci Fi/Fantasy and “The Best American” series is a great resource. The 2015 edition was the first year they’ve compiled an anthology for these genres and it was good premiere. At the outset, they explain the complexities of having an anthology that encompasses both Science Fiction and Fantasy; each one has elements of the other. The editors provide a cursory explanation of each genre, however, without being too technical. It was entertaining to try and guess into which some of the pieces would’ve been categorized.Scifi 2015

Throughout the collection there were several standouts which reminded me how powerful the Sci Fi/Fantasy genres are and why I enjoy them so much. Seanan McGuire’s “Each to Each” was an interesting look at the compromise members of the military go in becoming part of the larger group, Navy in this case, and the cost of losing their own individuality. Let’s just say there’s mermaids involved. But crazy awesome mermaids at that. Theodora Goss’s “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology” looks at what happens when we culturally appropriate and romanticize ancient cultures resulting in a pretty powerful clapback. Neil Gaiman’s “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” takes into the world that is part of his “Neverwhere” universe. The characters are whimsical without being campy and makes the reader want to spend more time seeing the character and world develop. Sam J. Miller’s “We Are The Cloud” looks at a future where internet companies pay people to use unused brain power to create “clouds” i.e. internet hubs in people in major urban centers. We see the effects this has on a society that has lost what it means to love in the face of moving from one hustle to the next. Daniel H. Wilson’s ” The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever” was a heartrending look at a single father who faces losing his daughter and the world, in a brush with a Black Hole. Jess Row’s “The Empties” was very similar to the world of “Station Eleven” and reminds us what happens when the power grid fails and we are left to our own devices (pun intended).

Wonder

August “Auggie” Pullman has a facial deformity that attracts a lot of unwanted attention. He’s been home schooled through fourth grade and is going to start school at Beecher Prep for fifth grade. Throughout the year, he and his fellow fifth graders learn a lot about growing up, being kind, and standing up for what’s being right. On a personal level, Auggie and his family learn how to adjust their lives as their youngest member comes into his own. Wonder

The story is engrossing, and frankly makes me jealous I didn’t go to this school. Being a quick and enjoyable read, it was hard to put the book down. I didn’t care for the amount of points of view, each section of the book being told by a different character; it became distracting. There were several points of view that were missing, making the story feel somewhat lopsided. What it does accomplish is giving us a well rounded look at what it means to be kind. This is a great book for anyone to learn empathy. Especially because Auggie is not treated as a saint nor do we feel forced to like him.

As an educator, I did have real reservations about the ways in teachers, and parents, infantilized him. The fifth graders didn’t seem age appropriate; they seemed more like eighth or ninth graders. And the graduation ceremony for fifth and sixth graders seemed way too over the top. There’s no need to have a ceremony for moving from fifth to sixth or seventh to eighth. That seemed to cater to millennial parents who need to have every opportunity to have their child recognized.

The Black Canary

Time travel intrigues me. It’s one of those devices that can either be done well or doesn’t work at all. In this book, it doesn’t work. There’s no explanation for why there’s a time waro that exists in the basement of James’s house nor how he’s supposed to know that once he crosses into the past that he’ll return to the same moment in the future.  It also leads me to question how random animals like cats, rats, etc. don’t wander into the time warp either.Canary

James is spending the summer in London with his workaholic parents when he discovers a time warp to Tudor London. He tries several times to go through the warp for increasingly longer periods of time. He discovers that the longer he spends in the past, the more time has changed when he returns to the present. He soon realizes that there are two of him that are existing the “present” and he doesn’t know how to fix the anomaly. Finally, after several weeks in the past, he’s able to rectify the duplication.

While it was intriguing to wonder how someone from today’s world could handle surviving in the Tudor-era, there wasn’t a point to the time travel. By the end of the book I couldn’t tell what the point of the novel was. There wasn’t a critique on how we live our current lives nor how people lived in the past. James doesn’t work things out with his parents. Instead, we are left with a final scene in which James is mourning the London of the past and his friends he made there.

It’s a quick read, but not one I’d recommend to anyone.

Wishful Drinking

I’m discovering that hearing an author read his/her memoir, it brings the writing to life and makes it seem very conversational. Carrie Fisher does an amazing job and narrating the story of her life. The inflections, laughs, shouts, and interruptions incorporate a level of sincerity and humor that wouldn’t be available by just reading her memoir. I’m sad to say that I’m coming late to Ms. Fisher’s works. They’ve been on my to-read list for awhile but it was her untimely death that pushed me to read (listen) to them.

There’s something about the way that Ms. Fisher recounts her story that takes the reader from the book and into a conversation with her.  I’ve never heard another audiobook in which the narrator was able to break the “fourth wall” and can make you feel like he or she is speaking with the reader face to face rather than reading a manuscript.Wishful

What I appreciate about “Wishful Drinking” is Ms. Fisher’s honesty and humbleness about her life. She admits that she lives a life of privilege. At the same time that she acknowledges her privilege, underlying this privilege is a life lacking in a stable family as well as her struggle with mental illness.

What is relatable is the nuances of her life. The oddities she notices about her parents, her struggles as an adolescent to fit into her world and her struggle with drug addiction and mental illness. She conveys the idea that while Hollywood portrays its denizens and American royalty, they are just as human and messed up as the rest of us peons.

Shockaholic

In recent years, I’ve found that I like listening to audiobooks while on road trips.  When I was younger, I’d prefer to read the books myself rather than be read too, but now that I do some of the driving (and trying to make cannonball), I don’t mind using the time to see if I can’t complete a book or two on a trip.

ShockaholicThis past February, I was on a trip with my wife and we both decided to listen to Carrie Fisher’s works.  I had her works on my TBR, but with her death I felt that I wanted to put Ms. Fisher’s works at the top of the list.

Wow. They were a gut punch. Carrie Fisher tackles two of the paternal figures in her life especially her father, Eddie Fisher. Following up “Wishful Drinking,” Ms. Fisher once again deflates the fantasy of the Hollywood elites. We get the picture of a young woman (herself) who has so much but is looking for some semblance of a normal family life. Instead she’s confronted with an absent biological father and several step-fathers. While she’s not cynnical or bitter, she uses her humor to convey her sincerity. There’s a lot of underlying pain about the lack of a stable family.

The conclusion of the novel details her relationship, as an adult, with Eddie. She’s very frank about his flaws but there’s a lot of self-awareness about their coming to terms with the missed opportunities in her childhood. Again, there’s this idea that the people we hold up as the standard are really just like us. This is poignant in her anecdotes regarding Michael Jackson. We’re shown the warped since of reality celebrities are faced with and the lengths they’ll go to establish something of normalcy for themselves or their children.

While not as humorous as Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic is engrossing in its recounting of an iconic American family.

The City of Ember

A city called Ember has survived, as the citizens believe, as the only human civilization left after a catastrophe no one can remember. Things aren’t going well though because the lights won’t stay on, supplies are running low, and growing political unrest. The city doesn’t produce anything other than vegetables in green houses, so any building materials have to be recycled.  Even things such as paper and coloring items (e.g. paints, crayons, colored pencils, etc.) have become luxury items.

EmberLina and Doon are 12 and about to choose their careers. Similar to Divergent, teens are sorted into what will be their future careers.  There’s a certain prestige to some of the careers so all are vying for the more exciting ones.  Lina has her heart set on being a messanger, but draws working in the Pipeworks.  Doon draws messenger which doesn’t interest him. He swaps Lina because he knows that she wants badly to be a messenger.For all of the importance that’s given to these careers, it seems anti-climactic that the kids just draw from a bag.

Doon decides that he will use his career to help solve Ember’s problems. Lina is just trying to keep her family together. Until she stumbles on some instructions that lay out how Ember can solve its problems. Early on readers will realize that Ember is a city in a cave but the people living in Ember don’t know that since they only know Ember as their reality. I don’t know whether it was meant to, but this read like an allegory of Plato’s “The Cave”. Picking up on this early on made the plot more interesting. Lina and Doon are pretty flat characters and the plot isn’t too complex. This is definitely a middle school read rather than high school but adults may be interested in the allegorical elements.