Review: Don’t Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned

Don't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never LearnedDon’t Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a great primer on mythology. Although it spends a lot of time with the myths we are very familiar with (middle east, Greek, and Roman), it does also cover lesser known myths like Indian and Chinese. The best part of each section is the list of gods. I would recommend the book as a jumping off point for anything that interests you about mythology.

View all my reviews

Review: Fight Club

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

It’s been nearly 15 years since I first saw Fight Club, the movie. Since then I’ve seen it front-to-back maybe twice. But it really stuck with me. As I listened to this audiobook I found myself wonder when this or that scene would come up since the movie turned out to be an incredibly faithful adaptation. There are a few key differences, most notably the ending. But also a more sympathetic Marla in the book. But, for the most part, all the best lines in the movie came from the book. It’s rare for such a perfect adaptation to work, especially with a narrated book. But somehow it did. I also loved the narrator of this version and how he did different voices.

I think the best part of the book and then most powerful part of the book over the movie (although I think the movie does it once or twice) is the repetition. Sentences and sentence fragments are repeated and it has a powerful effect – both reinforcing and ironic – depending on the context.

I had a different takeaway in my 20s compared to my 30s, but I still enjoyed the story, even if it was from a different point of view. I like the fact that it can be enjoyed whether your sympathize with the main characters or the author (at least that’s the way I read it – both meant to make you think and to satirize the solution the characters come up with).

If you’ve only ever watched it, I encourage you to read it – it was a short audiobook – 5 hrs unabridged.

View all my reviews

Review: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present

Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the PresentComics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present by Dan Mazur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the Goodreads.com First Reads program in which the winner recieves a copy of the book in exchange for a review. (It’s slightly more complicated than that, see the Goodreads First Reads terms for all the details)

I love reading these types of histories about culture. I have read similar books about photography and animation published by Taschen. This isn’t my first time reading about the history of comics, I also read 10 Cent Scare and Grant Morrison’s Supergods. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while knows that I love comics and actually run a comics analysis site, www.comicpow.com.

The best thing about this book is that it starts from the 1960s. So far everything I’d read about comics can be compared to the way I learned US history growing up. Every year we’d start with Christopher Columbus. We’d learn about the Pilgrims and Jamestown and so on. Every year, when February rolled around we’d learn about the Civil War. We rarely made it past World War I. As a result I barely know anything but the pop history version of events from the 60s to now. I know more about America’s founding than I do about the decade in which I was born. The same often happens with comics. We start off learning about newspaper comics and The Yellow Kid. We learn about the 1930s and how revolutionary Superman and Batman were. Then there’s the creation of Marvel. Then some Brits came over and things got edgy in the 80s.

What this book does, by starting at the 1960s, is to give a lot more weight to the silver and bronze age as well as giving some nice, important perspective into the 80s and 90s. Perhaps more importantly, the book explores each decade by looking at America, Europe, and Asia. Every history I’ve read until now has operated as if only America and England mattered when it comes to comics. Until reading this book I had no idea that Europe had such a rich comics history. (Other than hearing about Tin Tin and The Smurfs) This also allows the authors to explore how each region influenced the other. It is true that Europe hasn’t had as much of an influence in this direction as England and Japan, but it has had some influences and that was nice to see.

Overall, I think the biggest weakness of this book is that it’s a physical book. As such it was limited in many ways and, as even as someone who didn’t have regular internet access until about age 14, I just kept thinking the book had so much more potential. This book is amazing, but it really brings into relief the power of the Internet over a book when it comes to a huge tome just like this one. The text is amazing, but the images leave me wishing for more examples. Also, I’d like the images to be closer to where the artist and/or writer is being discussed. But this is much more easily done online than in a book. Also, I think links between related topics would be awesome in this book. Finally, links to buy the awesome works I’m reading about. This book crossed with wikia would be a dream come true for any true fan of the medium who wants to know about the creators, not just the characters. It’s the ultimate irony that the breadth could easily be surpassed by a wiki, but what makes this book worth buying is that the authors use their research to draw a through-line of trends that would be lacking from the anyone-can-edit environment of a wiki. Perhaps the growth of the Internet and technology will eventually lead to a situation where people can provide a wiki-like experience but gain the money needed to pay for the research.

And while my main complaint was with the images, there were some glaring omissions in the text for space reasons. In the 60s the Kirby and Adams text was pretty sparse for such important titans in the industry. The chapter on manga through the 80s clearly proves my point about how, while the research is phenomenal, it suffers from being a book (rather than a website) as many landmark manga are left unillustrated in the book. Another limitation of the book format, the following only get one sentence: 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, and Fables. One last complaint – it focused a LOT on art trends and less on storyline trends. The line had to be drawn somewhere (no pun intended), but I’d love a companion book that looks more closely into that aspect of comics history.

For examples of what I found neat within each chapter, check the status updates which (at the time of this writing) are included at the bottom of the review page on Goodreads.com. I would recommend doing as I did and reading it sequentially at least once because that gives the reader the best chance of understanding how the trends evolved through the decades. After that, I’d use it as a reference to look up certain periods and I would definitely recommend using it as a recommendation engine equivalent to those lists of movies or books that you MUST read. Despite the limitations of its form factor, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of comics and how we got here.

View all my reviews

Review: Escalator

EscalatorEscalator by Brandon S. Graham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Escalator is a series of short comics, all by Brandon Graham. Although I routinely read short science fiction stories and anthologies, it’s much rarer for me to come across comics anthologies. This collection contains some of Brandon’s oldest non-porn comics. I think it’s an interesting insight into his mind as well as look into how his work differed in the 1990s. A lot of is it autobiographical or semi-autobiographical and that adds a little something special to the stories as well.

One of my favorite aspects of this anthology is that after every few stories he has a page where he explains the story behind the comics. It’s the same insight I love when looking at works of art and since some of these stories are a little esoteric (at least in their endings or lack-thereof), it’s nice to have the explanations.

View all my reviews

Review: Complete Multiple Warheads Trade Paperback

Complete Multiple Warheads TPComplete Multiple Warheads TP by Brandon S. Graham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can read what I thought about the story here: http://www.comicpow.com/2013/06/26/mu…

What this trade adds to the Image Comics series is the first issue from Oni Press which sets up some of the characters as well as why they leave the city. It also includes the porn comic that originated the characters. The porn comic wasn’t my cup of tea, but as a completist, I did want to see where the characters started off. Interestingly, with each edition of the comic, Graham draws Nik with less hair. He has a full beard in the porn comic, a goatee in the Oni Press comic, and a clean-shaven face in the Image Comics issues.

I’d previously only read the Image Comics issues on my tablet and the colors are so much better on this trade than they were on the tablet. Makes me happy to own the trade instead of being sad that it’s just two extra stories (one of which I don’t care too much about). Unlike some trades, there aren’t a lot of extras (thinking of the Marvel trades), but that’s OK. The price makes sense for the amount of content that’s in there, plus the high quality paper it’s printed on.

If you’re OK with sexual content in your comics (and there isn’t THAT much outside of the porn comic that started it), I’d recommend giving this a read. It’ll really change your idea of what comics can be. (Hint: they don’t all have to feature super heroes that make for great summer blockbusters)

View all my reviews

Review: To Be or Not To Be

To Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path AdventureTo Be or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book was a fun read. I first did Hamlet Sr, then Ophelia, and then Hamlet. I decided to go with the Shakespeare option each time, essentially turning the book into a modern English version of Hamlet (with commentary). The main thing I learned is that Shakesspeare relies on a lot of silly tropes that only worked because they were new back then.

As I said, it was a fun read, but I have the feeling that 14 year old me probably would have loved this book and found it hilarious.

View all my reviews

Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High AdventureThe Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first saw the movie adaptation in middle school. The youth ministry pastor decided to share it with us. I fell in love immediately. When I came across it again in college, I bought it and my wife and I have seen it so many times we can more or less recite the movie. Outside of Disney movies the only others we know so well are Snatch and The Birdcage. While I was in college I came to realize it was based on a book. At the time I was a huge Audible fan and I got it as an audible book. The weird narrative structure didn’t make sense to me as a audio book. So I put it off for about a decade. Then, I suddenly decided to check it out from the library.

This is one of the few times I saw the movie before I read the book it was based on. Usually it’s the other way around. However, The Princess Bride is one of those rare times where there weren’t too many changes made between the book and the movie. Nearly every change made perfect sense to me as something that had to be adapted for the differences between visual and non-visual media. Most of my favorite quotes exist, intact, in the book.

I think as a book, the meta-setup of Goldman’s book within a book took way too long and had too many diversions. I appreciated the ones that corresponded to the boy/grandfather scenes in the movie, but most of the introduction took way too long. Additionally, given that we have an unreliable narrator I was left unsure of whether to trust his scenes with Andre the Giant or whether those, too, were fictional.

I also think that Buttercup comes across a bit worse in the book than in the movie. No none can really say the movie is a feminist work of art, but by comparison, book-Buttercup is almost painful to read. The book has the “she cleans up well” trope which is annoying. But, rather than the beautiful (if a bit sappy) way they realize their love for each other in the movie – she doesn’t find him attractive until the Countess can’t keep her eyes off him. And then the way she tells Wesley as well as the way she works on her appearance while he’s gone… let’s just say that while they’re not overly negative, I feel a bit weird giving the book to my daughter.

I appreciated the extra background that Inigo and Fezik get. The Zoo is also pretty great.

The epilogue, Buttercup’s Baby, was added with the 25th anniversary edition. (This was the 30th anniversary edition) It’s OK, but mostly unnecessary. The only thing that made it worth reading to me was the section on Inigo.

Overall, the book was great! For this huge movie fan, it did not disappoint – it just had these little things that kept it from having 5 stars, in my eyes.

View all my reviews

Review: Zombies vs Unicorns

Zombies vs. UnicornsZombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this inspired a discussion in the Goodreads sword and laser group about what makes fiction YA. This book has a lot of adult stuff. Depending on your views you may wish to restrict it to older teens. (contains, among other things: mentions of erections, the word fuck, and bestiality)

I don’t care for zombies or unicorns. I can understand their metaphorical place in storytelling but other than the walking dead comic I don’t consume any zombies media. Yet I found this book supremely entertaining. It’s a great anthology that hits pretty much every emotional note; a well-balanced collection.

See my reading statuses for a semi play by play of the stories.

View all my reviews

Review: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the third mission to Mars things go horribly wrong and Mark is left for dead. It seems like a pretty grim premise, but this book was a very fun read. I love Mark’s logs, which are – essentially – Mark’s inner monologue. This was not “watch one man go mad in isolation”; it was a test of one man’s ingenuity.

Even though the plot relies on a lucky hero (Game of Thrones this is not), I was able to suspend my disbelief nearly every time. I won’t spoil whether Mark makes it off Mars, but suffice to say he does not have everything go horribly wrong. I think the fun and the suspense of this book lies on which challenges Andy Weir has his protagonist anticipate or solve and which ones catch him by surprise and, in some cases, leave him worse off.

I will spoil that the narrative eventually go away from him and to others because it serves as the basis of praise and the reason I didn’t give The Martian 4 or 5 stars. On the plus side, I think Weir does a good job of depicting Earth’s reaction to the death of an astronaut as well as the news that he’s alive. Where I think Weir drops the ball is in the crew’s emotional rollercoaster. On the one hand, the book has the concise narrative of a TV show (Like Game of Thrones) or a movie and to spend more time than necessary with the crew or Earth would mire the book with unnecessary details. I think the story benefits from a brisk read.

Also, this isn’t that kind of book. It’s not exploring the emotional side, it’s exploring the engineering side. This book is like a space nerd’s fantasy of the Rational Man and how he deals with adversity. Likewise with the crew. And while there can often times be a perception of robotic emotions among the super smart (and I do know some people like that), the book does somewhat stretch credibility.

I read this for the Sword and Laser book club – you can see some more in depth (and spoilery) comments I made. As I mentioned there, I did appreciate the lack of hookup/sex content in this book. I’m certainly no prude as you may be able to tell from the books I read (not sure how visible that is given I’ve only been on Goodreads since 2011 or something like that), but it can get tedious how every sci fi book seems to have pointless sex scenes. Weir does seem to setup some dominoes given the crew’s composition, but he never knocks them over.

In the end, it’s a fun book (and a prett quick read) that I’d recommend to any sci fi fan. I also think it should be required reading for the Mars team at NASA for a compendium of things that might go wrong so they can try and build in the required redundancy.

View all my reviews

Review: Zealot

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of NazarethZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has answered so many questions I had growing up reading the Bible. Assuming the acceptance of what the gospels said Jesus did- a lot of it is now put in perspective by understanding the world he lived in. I also have a better understanding of the seeming contradictions in the epistles. It is mostly due to a theological struggle between Paul and James.

This book also explains why The Church historically wanted to interpret things and not leave it up to the masses. Things are a lot more complicated than they teach in church. The doctrine is a result of a lot of compromise.

Whether you are religious or just want to understand the history of the most important religion to define European history, I think this is a great read

View all my reviews

Review: A Once Crowded Sky

A Once Crowded SkyA Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you love or have ever loved reading comics, you need to read this book. It is essentially a love letter to comic book fans. This is a world in which the characters are slightly self-aware. They don’t really know they’re in a story, but it does still have some of the same vibes of Redshirts. The characters know that they always come back after death (view spoiler) and they know they monologue and then save the world. But they don’t necessarily know they’re in a book or comic.

I love that this book is essentially the written version of a trade paperback. Each chapter is broken into sections with titles like Ultimate Man #454. And you can see how if this were drawn it would be a trade of something like a Marvel summer event.

While many of the characters seem to have analogues to our world – like a Captain America, Superman, Batman, and Superboy – they don’t feel like derivatives or parodies. They seem like fully fleshed characters. It just makes sense that there would always be a Captain America-like hero. Even Watchmen has a demented version in The Comedian.

The main premise of the book is to explore what it means to be a hero and why we want such unrealistic heroism (to an almost black and white level) in our comics. (view spoiler)

The book also reminds me of Bill Murray’s line in Groundhog’s Day when he claims that maybe God only knows everything because he’s seen it before. (view spoiler)

I’ve literally read hundreds of books in my lifetime and so I consider it a mark of a very good writer when he keeps me surprised and on my toes. Tom King did that many times over and it didn’t seem cheap like M Night Shamalyn. There was only one plot twist I saw a mile away – (view spoiler) The only parts that felt a bit contrived were when characters ignored other characters who clearly wanted to give them info and then that person dies or something happens. I know it’s a key part of story-telling so that stories aren’t just a few pages long – but I’ve never liked it even when my original author heroes like Michael Crichton used it.

The front cover makes a comparison to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The biggest one I see is in the ending. In Watchmen both Ozymandius and Dr Manhattan were willing to kill to allow the greater purpose to win. But it’s all undone by Rorshach’s journal. (view spoiler)

I can’t reiterate enough how much you should read this book if you love comics. And, just like the comics, it invites rereading once you know the plot twists because there were little details that you could have picked up along the way.

View all my reviews

Review: Walrus: Brandon Graham’s All Bum Album

Walrus: Brandon Graham's All Bum AlbumWalrus: Brandon Graham’s All Bum Album by Brandon S. Graham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re purchased comic artists’ sketch books before, you probably have a good idea of what you’re going to get. However, unlike other sketch books I’ve seen, this one contains little mini-comics scattered among the more traditional sketches. It’s also neat that he includes some sketches his wife has drawn since they often draw together. Also fun – his reinterpretations of some Marvel and DC characters.

It’s enlightening to see what he does to get himself geared up for projects where he’s drawing.

Of note, Brandon Graham used to be a porn artist before he started doing more mainstream (if still adult-oriented) comics. Unless I missed a page somewhere, there isn’t any pornographic content in this sketchbook, but there is nudity (mostly female, but there are a few penises to be seen here and there). I would be OK showing it to my kids if they were around middle school or older because it’s just nudity rather than pornography – but that may vary and I just wanted to warn potential buyers ahead of time. It may be a pointless warning (who would buy a sketchbook of an artist they didn’t know about?), but I think a fair warning nonetheless.

View all my reviews

Humanity Has Truly Changed Very Little

Yesterday I read through the intro of Don’t Know Much About Mythology. It posited that one possible reason for myths was for the rich to control the poor. I thought, “Yeah. Makes sense back then with their god-kings, but we’re smarter now.” Then I thought about American politics and realized nothing has changed over the past 10000 years.

By the way, so much of the Christian discourse in America is so far away from the actual content of the Bible that regardless of whether you believe in Yahweh/God and Jesus’ divinity, you should regard most of what you think you know about Christianity as mythology.

Crowd Funding Update 5

I Fight Dragons – Project Atma (music): Things are on track with IFD. They are posting awesome videos of the recording process. It’s already March so as long as there aren’t any more delays, the album will be here in a few short months! Also, they’ll be on the Van’s Warped Tour, so I’ll be attending Warped Tour for the first time to go see them (and quite a few other bands I really like)

Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and others – Code Monkey Save World (music and comics): Got the book and all the digital copies of the book. Overall it was a fun read and well worth the money. The acoustic versions of the songs have been released. I’m wondering what’s holding up the rest of the music. My only guess is that JoCo is re-recording them with his new backing band. Also, I can’t wait for the book of The Princess Who Saved Herself. Ever since delivering the book they’ve gone silent. I like my crowd-funding chatty. It’s fun to know what’s going on and helps alleviate the impatience.

Branwyn – Cyborg Like Me (book): Recently got an email that he’s nearly done with the writing. Book should be sent out by the end of this month or the next, at least that’s my impression. Works fine for me – I don’t really have time to read for fun right now with my Master’s classes.

Random Encounter – Let Me Tell You A Story (music): I THINK I either got or will get some stickers. I can’t remember.
Pre-Order Beebs and Her Money Makers New Album and Documentary (video/music): I first saw Beebs  and Her Money Makers last fall when they were on Five Iron Frenzy and Reel Big Fish’s tour. I really liked her set and the EP she was selling. So, by chance, I was home on Monday and saw on Twitter that she was using crowd funding to fund her new album, make a documentary, and ALSO be at the Vans Warped Tour. AWESOME! So I threw a few bucks her way to get the album. I was surprised to find out the Indiegogo has been around longer than Kickstarter since Kickstarter’s getting all the headlines. Perhaps it’s because Indiegogo is a little more annoying because they do their own credit card processing rather than let me use Amazon (had to go dig out the credit card). Or maybe it’s because the backed gets the money whether or not they get all of it – which could mean even less of a chance of getting your object than on Kickstarter? Dunno. Either way, it was interesting. So with Beebs I’m going with the same rationale as I Fight Dragons – they’re an indie band and they’ve put out their own albums before. On this album they’re even working with a Reel Big Fish producer. So I’m pretty confident we’ll get the album. Documentary is bonus and somehow I think they’ll probably be on Warped Tour no matter what. It’s hard to tell for sure based on the wording of the campaign, but if they’re looking to finish the album before the Warped Tour, that means I could end up getting the album at the same time or even earlier than IFD. Win!