Tag Archives: retrospective

The Pages that pagelady Read in 2012

This is an overview of the books I read in 2012, minus all the comic books because I already posted about those.

Favorite:

When asked to name a favorite book, I always think of a line from the movie Ever After, when Prince Henry takes Danielle (a.k.a. Nicole, at that point,) to a monastic library and tells her to pick a book, and she says, “I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens!”

So, I don’t think I can narrow down everything I read this year to just one favorite, but my top four would be:

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  Time magazine named it as the top book of 2012, so having it as a favorite is pretty mainstream, but I would have chosen it anyway.  Like Hazel Grace, I, too, now have an Augustus Waters fetish.  I cried my eyes out reading this book.  It was a great way to spend a weekend, and I am not being sarcastic.

Matched by Ally Condie.  From my review:

The first blurb on the inside cover that described it as “Think The Giver, but sexier,” (Lincoln Journal Star), was spot-on and I couldn’t describe it better myself.  What I loved most was how important words were, how the main characters realized that a poem could be subversive, that learning to write could be so powerful, that they could be inspired by the memorized words smuggled to them from over a century ago. And the writing of the story itself was just amazing; every other page I found a new quote that I loved and had to mark with a post-it note.

Also, Ky Markham is my literary boyfriend.  Well, one of them anyway, I mean I can’t forget about Four or Gilbert Blythe or Jim (from Moccasin Trail.)  But Ky is a permanent member of that club now, too.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.  I picked it up because I kept hearing it in comparison to The Hunger Games, sometimes in an accusatory “Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale” argument.  Having now read both, I don’t think anybody is being copied, (and besides, Suzanne Collins has said she hadn’t heard of Battle Royale until after writing The Hunger Games).  They share the basic plot of “kids forced to kill each other”, but they’re very different in tone and agenda, and many of the other similarities (corrupt government, tracking devices, morally beating the system by refusing to go along with its rules) are also shared by hundreds of other stories.  I don’t think it’s fair to describe either story as “basically the same” as the other.  Take them separately, and then have a discussion about the similarities and differences.  From my review:

The way Battle Royale‘s third-person-omniscient narrator keeps switching to different individuals’ perspectives each chapter, and more often than not those individuals end up dying just as we’re really starting to empathize with their unique background, is devastatingly effective.  Some of the graphic descriptions of bloody violence pop up so suddenly and in such unexpected detail I was nearly sick.  Just now, having finished the book for the most part in one weekend, I feel like my heart has been battered by Yuichiro’s bat and stabbed by Mitsuko’s knife, and I will probably have a nightmare about Kazuo and his machine gun.  To me this is all evidence of the excellent writing that crafted this story, (so strong it comes through even in translation). I feel like the memory of each death will be hard to shake, too, since I was such an intimate witness to them all.  Excellent, excellent book, but not for the faint of heart or stomach.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.  Also, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords.  I’ve already babbled extensively about my reactions to and love for the first, second, and third books in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, so I’ll just include a visual representation here of what it’s like to go on the emotional roller-coaster within these books:

pagelady reacts to various plot twists in A Game of Thrones.

pagelady reacts to various plot twists in A Game of Thrones.

Least Favorite:

Probably Wither by Lauren DeStefano.  I think I’ve already posted everything I didn’t like about it.

Favorite New Author:

Definitely George R. R. Martin.  I had never read John Green before this year either, but his books didn’t take over my life and transport me so completely to a fantasy universe that I will be forever longing to visit now (right along with Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts) the way Martin’s did.

“Can’t Believe I’d Never Read This Before”:

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.  Why had I never even heard of it until this year?!

Top Recommendation:

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown.

Even though it may not have been favorite book this year, it was really good.  I haven’t heard as many people talking about this one, so I don’t think it’s as well known, but that’s a shame and I think more people should read it.   To quote from my own goodreads review:

This was a really good idea for a story.  It’s “about” a school shooting, but it’s really about dealing with the truth of the way people treat each other, which is unfortunately often negative, and how to realistically try to change the world or yourself for the better.  The story focuses on Valerie, girlfriend of the shooter, who targeted people from the “hate list” they had compiled, that Valerie thought was just venting.  It follows her surviving and having to deal with the fallout, and her healing process.  The complex emotions are really, really well portrayed.  The pain of so many characters feels so real, my heart was literally aching while I read much of this book. And I really liked that nothing was simple; Nick (the shooter) wasn’t a completely evil villain, and at times you could really sympathize with his pain.  The student body wasn’t united in its reaction to the event.  Valerie’s parents even had their own flaws and serious issues.  I would recommend this to be required reading for all high school students, because I think it would be a great discussion-starter and it really helps you empathize with multiple points of view.  I mean, shootings don’t happen in every school, but bullying does, and they COULD always happen, unless we try to change the culture.  I also really loved the therapist, (and in the Author’s Notes you find out her husband is a clinical psychologist and helped her authenticate Dr. Hieler’s dialogue and Valerie’s healing process). Plus, I really liked that it was set in Kansas, so a lot of the little place-mentions were familiar to me. I’ll probably check out the other books by this author.

Re-Reads:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I re-read it to refresh my memory because Baz Luhrman’s new movie adaptation was originally scheduled to be released this Christmas.  It has since been pushed back to summer 2013, but I’m glad I read Gatsby again because I had forgotten some of it, and probably didn’t appreciate everything when it was required for high school English, anyway.  It wasn’t a pleasant read though, since there isn’t a single likeable character (to me) in the whole story.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Because, obviously.  Bilbo is such a wonderful, faithful and unflashy hero.

Anne of Green Gables by  L. M. Montgomery.   I didn’t really read the whole book, but I downloaded the full Anne collection on my kindle and would sometimes read a chapter or two on lunch breaks when I was in-between other books or projects.  It just reminded me how much I love Anne Shirley, how many great quotes there are in those books, and how excellent the movie adaptation of the first book is.  (We shall not speak of the monstrosity that is the third movie.  We shall pretend it does not exist.)

Disappointments:

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.  It’s the sequel to Delirium, but I don’t think it’s as good.  I was annoyed with Julian and didn’t like the relationship that developed between him and Lena.  In a lot of ways it was the opposite of what I liked about Delirium, but maybe that was intentional, and maybe the conclusion to the trilogy will be better.

Thumped by Megan McCafferty.  It’s also the second in a planned triology–middle books in series are often weakest, it seems.  As I said in my review, what I liked about Bumped was the complexity of the issues it was questioning, but in Thumped the philosophical, theological and social questions were hardly included, and the plot twists became a bit ridiculous.  For once I would like to read a dystopian story where the teenaged main character doesn’t spark a national or global revolution, but rather a small one.  Even if it’s just within themselves.  When it invariably blows up into this huge, unplanned thing it just feels less likely.

And a little bit The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling, but that was a different kind of disappointment.  It was just a depressing story, but still very well-written.

Book Club:

I joined The Sword and Laser Bookclub, (one of the elements of Felicia Day’s brainchild Geek and Sundry), in September.  It’s nice to be participating in a book club again, after my local in-person group meetings lapsed into inactivity because too many of the other ladies were having babies.  The online format is convenient in that I can go read the discussion forums whenever I’ve finished reading that month’s book rather than having to scramble to finish by a set date and time.  But I do miss having in-person discussions, and I’m always less likely to participate in group conversations when they’re online, especially in such a big group.   Also, the convenience of “I’ll look at the discussions whenever I finish” can also be a too-easy cop-out for not finishing the book on time.  And you don’t get fun little themed snacks!  Oh well, I didn’t even try to read their November pick, The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Wiliams, because I was busy making dwarf beards, so I guess I’m not really taking it too seriously.

The two new books that I read this year through Sword and Laser were Foundation by Isaac Asimov and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  I rated them both 3 stars, but I think I might have liked Foundation better.  I wish goodreads would allow rating by half-star increments.

Looking Ahead:

The books I am most looking forward to reading in 2013 are all series that I need to finish.  Reached by Ally Condie is waiting impatiently for me (oops, finished reading it before I finished writing this post!  I loved it.), as are the fourth and fifth books in A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy finale, as yet untitled, is supposedly maybe being published this fall and if so I will seriously consider staying up to begin reading it at the midnight moment of its release.

What was your favorite 2012 read?  And what are you most looking forward to reading in 2013?

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2012: the year pagelady got into Comics

Prior to 2012, I had only read a handful of comics.  I mean besides the ones in the newspaper on Sundays, which my siblings and I used to fight over, (and I have a video recording of one of my sisters bidding me farewell when I left for college saying she was glad I wouldn’t be around to “hog the comics” anymore.)  No, I’m talking about actual comic books.  And trade paperbacks, (a term that I learned to distinguish from “graphic novel” this year, in my evolution of becoming a comic book nerd.  A graphic novel is a book-like comic that was published as one whole.  A trade paperback is a book-like collection of weekly or monthly issues of comics from a particular storyline.  The term “graphic novel” is a little more general and is sometimes used to refer to trades, but my new-found comic-world sources say there’s a distinction and this is it.)

Before I got into comics for myself, I had really only read Watchmen and V for Vendetta, reluctantly and at the insistence of my husband.  I enjoyed both stories, but I found it difficult to read the comic format.  My brain was so accustomed to becoming fully engrossed in worlds built exclusively from text that it couldn’t quite make sense of this hybrid word-and-image realm.  My eyes jumped from word bubble to word bubble automatically without taking time to process the pictures that went with them, and then I’d have to go back and see what I’d missed.  Instead of processing the images and words together as a storytelling whole, I was tackling them separately, a distracting and disjointed method that left me frustrated and unenthusiastic about the comic format.

I felt less dumb admitting the format was challenging after realizing that it does demand substantial mental energy:

“Comic books make the brain work in a very interesting way,” says [Seattle Public Library librarian Blythe] Summers. “You are reading, but you are also filling in the ‘gaps’ in the story that occur between pictures.” -(source)

“Comics…stimulate both sides of the brain simultaneously: the right side processes pictures and the left side processes words. These operations reinforce each other, and readers get a double whammy of images and phrases that convey important information.”  -Glenn Herdling, (source)

That last quote is an overly simplification of how the brain works, because virtually any processing task lights up multiple locations of the brain and very little is handled exclusively by either the left or right hemisphere, but it’s still true that reading comics requires an ability to decode meaning from written words AND from non-linguistic images at the same time.  Recent  research by Neil Cohn actually indicates that images in comics are processed very similarly to sentences, and “we depend on a visual grammar in comics in order to make sense of them.”  (You can download Cohn’s paper, “Linguistics, Comics, and Visual Language: the past and future of a field” here, or any of his other papers here.  It’s all very interesting, especially to me with my background in linguistics, and I’m glad I chose to blog about this topic because I might not have found his work otherwise!)

Anyway, I eventually got over my inability to read comics smoothly.  And I can’t really point to one epiphany moment when I suddenly “got it,” I just adjusted as I read more comics.  My brain became more skillful at the simultaneous processing of linguistic and non-linguistic visual input, and I discovered that comic books are just like the traditional books that I’ve always loved; worlds of rich imagination and complex characters, relate-able villains, idealistic heroes, metaphors to process reality, alternate realities to escape to, adventures to experience, lessons to learn, lives to live; magic enchanted on a page.  The main difference between comic books and text books is in the format used to transmit the story from the mind of the creator to the mind of the reader.  (You could also argue that there is greater homogeneity in the fictional worlds derived from the story that live in readers’ imaginations, since comics provide visual representations instead of just occasional physical descriptions.  Do comic book readers argue about which actors could best resemble beloved characters as much as fans of something like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter do?)

One of the first comics that I read and enjoyed fully the first time through, (I don’t want you to think I didn’t fully enjoy Watchmen or V for Vendetta when I eventually re-read them!), was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales.  I burned through all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD a few summers ago, and it was a lot of fun to revisit that universe and add depth to the story even though there were no new episodes.  Of course, you can really revisit Buffy and the whole gang by reading the continuation of her storyline in seasons 8 and now 9, released exclusively in comic format.  And I did read all the season 8 comics for Buffy the Vampire Slayer this year–I didn’t totally love them, but that’s not the important thing.  The important thing is that I was able to read them because I discovered that my local library has a collection of comic books!!

This was truly a thrilling revelation.  Like, not quite as good as discovering that libraries exist and that you can borrow virtually anything from them to read, but pretty close.  I don’t have to be able to afford to buy everything in order to read it!  (Which is fantastic, because comics are expensive, and also, as someone new to the genre I’m still getting caught up and sampling storylines, authors, and artists to find what I like).

Thanks in part to the library’s collection, (but also in part my wallet,

pic of civil war, the shepherd's tale, and the guild: the knights of good

I added these treasures to my personal collection in 2012.

my birthday giftcards, recommendations from comic-savy friends, and the Alan Moore/Batman obsessions of my husband), these are the comics I read in 2012:

Volumes 1-6 of Mind MGMT.

Volumes 1-6 of Mind MGMT.

Mind MGMT is a brand new comic, by Matt Kindt.  The first issue was published in May 2012, but I didn’t read it until July.  (Still, I feel like that is pretty dang close to getting in at the beginning!)  There are six issues so far, but then there’s also a #0 and some digital comics that tell little side-stories, too.  I picked up the first issue because by that time I had started following @DarkHorseComics on twitter, (step 2 in my evolution towards comic book nerd), and I was browsing in the comics section at Hastings, (step 3), and I saw Mind MGMT and remembered all the tweets praising its creativity and depth that I had flicked through in my twitter feed and decided to check it out.  (Good job with your social media marketing, guys!)  It’s about mind control and a secret organization and a novelist hunting down leads on a mysterious case of mass amnesia, and it is worth reading in the monthly format rather than waiting for the trade collection because 1.) it’s an experience that is another step in my evolution towards comic book nerd, and 2.) the story is so dense you get more out of it each time you read it.  The more that is revealed in later episodes, the more significant little things in the first pages are.  And each page has Mind MGMT “field guide” notes in the margin, that add another dimension to the story like tantalizing breadcrumb clues (!).

Becoming hooked on a monthly comic (and resigning myself to happily parting with a few dollars every time a new issue comes out) was a pretty significant step in my comic book reader evolution.  Additional steps I experienced this year included: one time I went to pick up the latest Mind MGMT and they were sold out of the issue I needed!  I had a minor panic attack and rushed home to order it online.  Afterwards I felt like I could legitimately say I had leveled up in the comic-reading world.

Somewhere along the way this year I created accounts to be able to read Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse comics online, and get e-mail updates about new releases.  Another step occurred on a recent trip to Chicago, when I visited not one but two comic book stores, and added some more treasures to my collection.  (I most excited about picking up a trade of  Captain America: The Death of Captain America.)   And finally, now I have an entire shelf devoted to my collection, complete with plastic protective covers and everything!   (Just one shelf, though, for now.  I’m still evolving.)

I solve the DC vs. Marvel quandary by maintaining Dark Horse Comics as my favorite publisher.  They do a lot of television and movie tie-ins, which is how I really started getting into comics in the first place, (Felicia Day’s The Guild comics were some of the first I purchased,) and besides that they publish Mind MGMT.  So, yeah, I’m a Dark Horse girl.

And now it’s time for the next step in my comic-book nerd evolution: what recommendations do you have for me?  What are the classics that you would assign if you were teaching a college literature class devoted to comics?  Or, what is something you’ve read that has an excellent story arc or beautiful illustrations or both?  I know I can get recommendations from goodreads.com or wikipedia or something like that, but I like hearing suggestions from real people on stuff they’ve actually read.

Also, can someone explain to me how canon works with these long-running comic characters?  Like, I know there have been other people besides Bruce Wayne who acted as Batman at different times.  So are they all Batman, like is there a continuous lineage that you can trace and say at different times who Batman’s alter ego is, or do they overlap?  And if there are multiple origin stories, then which one is definitive?  Or are they all canon and you just have to specify whether you’re talking about, for example, Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe or the Marvel Ultimate Universe, etc.?

*update* Okay, so this totally has to count as leveling up again, right?  Legit twitter recognition from my favorite comic publisher?  SQUEE!

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