My 2008-09 Faves

September 16, 2009

Okay, so I keep a log of everything I read each year. For 2008-2009, I read exactly 113 books. Here are some of my favourites from the past year:

  • Howard Zinn – A People’s History of the American Empire – graphic non-fiction – He doesn’t “blow my mind” like Good Will Hunting suggested, but he does find new ways to present history in two ways: graphically, of course, and “from below.”
  • Jim Thompson – The Alcoholics, South of Heaven, The Killer Inside Me, etc – crime fiction – he’s gotten more popular over the years, especially after a series of movie adaptations starting with the Grifters. All in all, his first-person voice is note-perfect whether he writing the psychopath, the thief or the alcoholic.
  • Michael Lewis – Moneyball – sport journalism – I’m a tad jealous of this writer because he’s so darn successful, but you can’t deny his wonderful style. Even if you dislike baseball and all corporate cultures, you will find this story of a perpetual underdog competing cleverly with bigger opponents to be an engaging read.
  • Joan Didion – Miami – I don’t always follow her tangents, dut Didion’s clear writing is a joy and wonder to follow from page to page. Her sketches of the Cuban community provide more insight than you might find otherwise on television or in print.
  • Cory Doctorow – Content – internet journalism – this guy is on the cutting edge of the creative commons, etc. His dissection of the futility of digital rights management and “ownership” in the digital age is food for thought.
  • Howard Brenton/David Hare – Pravda – play – I love British drama and I love satire, especially when it turns its attention to the modern media. Great read for a gloomy afternoon!
  • The Bill McKibben Reader – environmental journalism – I was pleasantly surprised with McKibben’s mix of environmental activism and sincere spirituality. It’s a great introduction to his work and far more enjoyable than, say, clunky Paul Hawken.
  • John Steinbeck – The Long Valley and The Grapes of Wrath – fiction – I came back to Steinbeck after a long break and his work holds up over time. In the short story collection, “The Red Pony” will tug at your heart as strongly as “Old Yeller.” The novel will probably make you want to join the communist party.
  • Jock and Andy Diggle – The Losers – graphic novels – this re-vamp of the WWII team is updated for the post-9/11 age. I disliked the conclusion, but the story is a welcome break from the general stupidity of mainstream superhero comics. Note: a film version of this series should be completed next year, directed by Peter Berg and co-starring Idris Elba. It’s going to be great!

Whew! Now, I’m going to have to read through my backlog for 2009-2010. I’ll try to be more regular in my reviews. Smaller is easier than bigger to manage.

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Lone Wolf and Cub – Swashbucklin’ Samurai!

July 28, 2009

Most people associate “manga” with cutesy girls with big eyes fighting vampires or maybe cute little robots or…whatever.

I’m here today to advocate the work of Kazuo Koike. He’s the writer behind Lone Wolf and Cub. Rumoured to be the inspiration for the Road to Perdition, Lone Wolf and Cub is a 28-part series detailing the adventures of Ogami Itto and his son, Daigoro. No mere hobos, Ogami and Daigoro work as assassins-for-hire while wending their way toward an inevitable encounter with their arch-enemies, the politically shrewd Yagyu clan.

Lone Wolf and Cub is perhaps the best of the chanbara genre of swashbuckling Japanese literature, generally set in the Tokugawa era (1603-1868.) Once you’ve made it through the magnum opus, you might also be interested in Samurai Executioner and Path of the Assassin.

The art is beautiful, rendered in black-and-white with the intricacy of Japanese ink painting. The only caveat in this recommendation is the occasional perviness of the some of the content. You learn, for example, that any good samurai can make love to a woman in a room full of bandits because of his samurai fortitude. They show it, big time, in addition to many other interesting scenes throughout the epic. Not for kids!