What I Read September 2016

Another month that was slightly disappointing. I just can’t get on track this summer. Still, I read three books. One of which I had been working on for at least a month or two before the start of September. This month I don’t have any proclamations about getting back on track. I don’t know that I will. I have at least one book I know I’ll finish, but I don’t really know what I’m reading after that.


Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

Sean Howe

This is a great read for a comics fan. It details Marvel Comics growth from a small Golden Age outfit to the dominant comic book line in the USA to what caused the company to crater in the middle 90’s. It tells the stories, or at least parts thereof, of comics luminaries like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Gerber. Howe does a great job of capturing the personalities that made Marvel what it was while keeping the bigger picture clear. It paints Stan Lee as a self-mythologizing opportunist. It strips him of some of his geek myth, but it doesn’t villainize him; it merely makes him more human. There is no discounting the big hand he played in making Marvel comics, but it also shows how early he checked out of the day to day comics business for generally unsuccessful attempts to get the properties on TV and into film. It shows how great artists, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, were given almost nothing for their great contributions to the comics medium. These are not thing unknown outside of the book, but Marvel Comics The Untold Story gives the story a very human face.

If there is a flaw, it is that the book deals much more thoroughly with the early days of Marvel than the later days. It is filled with tons of details from the 60’s and 70’s, but by the time it gets to the 90’s it becomes more scattershot. Some of that is likely due to recency, some of it due to greater interest in Stan and Jack. There is still good stuff as the book nears its end, but it doesn’t quite match the early stuff. If you like superhero comics, this is nearly a must read. It is the best behind the scenes look at comics that I have ever encountered.


Before the Fall

Noah Hawley

Another Kindle book I picked up, this one because I knew Noah Hawley from writing on the really great Fargo TV show. A lot of that sensibility travels over to this book, though it really doesn’t have much in common with that show. Before the Fall is about a plane crash just off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving only two survivors. One is an aging painter who was a friend of one of the families on the plane and the young boy he managed to swim back to shore with. It then explores the lives of the people who perished on the plane and attempts to determine what caused the plane to crash.

A large thread in the story is a Fox News like TV station that was run by one of the victims. One of their talking heads tries to place suspicion on the survivor, for no reason other than spite. The book does create some compelling characters, both before and after the fateful flight, but it keeps them at such a remove that it can be hard to feel like you know anything about them. That is necessary, though, to keep up the mystery until the books somewhat disappointing conclusion.

I liked Before the Fall a lot, except for a couple of things. The first is that ending. It spends most of its pages setting up such a compelling mystery that it would have been a tall task to live up to it, but what is there is really disappointing. The other thing is that the book was largely written in the present tense, which I almost always find off putting. This book was no exception.


Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

Charlie N Holmberg

Speaking of books written in the present tense, Charlie N Holmberg’s Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet does it as well. I don’t like it anymore here. This is a short book that I liked less the further I got into it. It starts with an amnesiac woman who can add magic to her baked goods. It is a novel and interesting premise for a story, but it is rather quickly abandoned and everything it is replaced with is less interesting. Her town is attacked and she is sold into slavery to a strange, otherworldly man. He has her bake goods for faerie tale analogs, with the protagonist, Maire, growing more desperate. At the same time she is meeting with a different otherworldly man who is trying to get her to remember who she is. It is fine, but my interest waned with each new development or revelation.

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