Books: little to say about these

Alternate title: it’s mini-review time!

The book: Lisbon – What the Tourist Should See by Fernando Pessoa

The edition: Italian translation by Luca Merlini, 65 pages, as published by Einaudi with an essay on modern-day Lisbon by Maria Teresa Bonafede and pictures by Gianmario Marras, total page count 115

My thoughts:  while it opened my eyes to a couple of things in Lisbon that I had never noticed before, this is nothing more than a dated guidebook. From such an author as Pessoa was, I expected something more, some poetic commentary or some inside knowledge or some social satire. Nothing of the kind.

*****

The book: Stabat Mater by Tiziano Scarpa

The edition: Italian (original) edition as published by Einaudi, paperback, 144 pages, with a note by the author

My thoughts: you may have heard me praise Scarpa’s love song to Venice in Venice is a Fish, but that was the one and only book I had ever read by him up to now; this one, also a winner of a prestigious Italian award, was supposed to be at least as good. But I’m afraid I cannot say so. It is supposed to be a homage to the musical tradition of Venice, and especially to Vivaldi, but all I could see was the pointless and sometimes horrific meanderings of a man’s mind trying to come to terms with the female body. I mean, this is supposed to be the story of a girl on the brink of womanhood, but all the details of her dealing with this change and her body either made me laugh for how improbable they were (think: a girl having a nightmare about water and waking up to find her legs covered in blood from her first period — I have lost count of the male authors believing this is how it happens!) or made me sick with disgust (think: comparing the belly of a woman giving birth and the bubbles exploding in boiling water — and this is just the least example).

*****

The book: The Sacred Night, by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The edition: French (original) edition, as published by Seuil, Points paperback, 189 pages

My thoughts: I read this for the Africa challenge, and because I hope to visit Morocco, and Ben Jelloun is said to be the author to start from. I’m afraid I have to say this one went right over my head, and I understood nothing of it. I guess it is intended to raise the subject of gender, and of identity, but it does so in a way that is completely different from anything I had read before. It’s a kind of magical realism, but full of symbols, and dreamlike details and events that may or may not be symbols, and I can’t say I know what most of them stand for. If you have read this and can help me understand, I’d really like to hear from you!

*****

The book: Fables 11 – War and Pieces, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Niko Henrichon and Andrew Pepoy

The edition: Vertigo edition, 191 pages

My thoughts: this is the closing book for a cycle of the series, with most threads coming to an end. I already mentioned that I did not like the way this particular story (i.e. the Adversary) was being developed, and this may be the one book I liked the least. It read like some war movie, and that’s not a compliment. The series is still great, and I love it to pieces, but I’d have chosen another angle and another story altogether. Now that that is closed, I’m curious to read where the authors will bring us next!

5 good things for May

Alternate title: no, the Read-a-thon did not swallow me whole!

Sorry for being MIA after the Read-a-thon (which was great, if a bit tiring), I’ve been traveling and got sidetracked. Now everything should be back to normal. And to get back on track, I’m starting with good things:

  1. Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a Neverwhere readalong! I am still struggling to keep up with the Bleak House one, but I am appreciating the experience and look forward to more of it: on top of that, it’s Gaiman, and it’s Neverwhere, so I do hope I will be able to participate!
  2. The Book Depository is offering a 10% discount on everything, both on the .co.uk and on the .com sites. Time for shopping!
  3. Science fiction eBook publisher Tor UK decided to drop DRM, starting from July. I’m not expert enough to comment on it (just started on eBooks and not really enjoying the experience), but I mostly agree with the article posted.
  4. May 5th is Free Comic Book Day! Just head to the nearest participating comic book shop and get a free book!
  5. This may only be good for me, but… I’m currently working on the first joint review for this blog, and so far I’m enjoying the process! YAY!

What are you looking forward to in May?

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Bill Willingham

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from Fables 11 – War and Pieces, a graphic novel with text by Bill Willingham.

(ASIDE: Oh my, oh my, I can’t believe I’ve let a whole week go by with no posting! I’ve had too much on my hands lately. but I’m still here, promise!)

*****

Does she give you any hard labor? No, she gives you every cushy job.

Cushy: adj. undemanding, easy, or secure.

I guess this is one most of you will already know, and it was also quite clear, but I had never heard it.

*****

This might be a bit of a pickle.

Pickle: n. informal a difficult situation.

I also found the following explanation, which makes sense to me:

This expression travelled from Holland to England in the 16th century. The Dutch version was in de pekel zitten, ‘to sit in the pickle’, pekel being the liquid, brine or vinegar, in which food was preserved.

*****

The real name for the invasion is “operation Jack Ketch.” But I kept that mum because the name actually contains a clue within it of our long-range strategic plans.

Jack Ketch: an infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II. Because of his botched executions, the name “Jack Ketch” is used as a proverbial name for death, Satan, and executioner.
*This definition comes from Wikipedia

I missed this reference throughout the book, I’m glad to understand it now.

*****

That’s my own little secret, Child — tucked away where no fell power can discern it.

Fell: adj. literary of terrible evil or ferocity.

Or at least, this is the only definition of fell that seems to fit here.

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Myths and fables (and a call for suggestions)

I thought I’d share here my thoughts on three graphic novels I’ve read recently. Why together, you ask? Well, because there is a common theme to them: myths.

So first off was Fables 9 – Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham and his team of artists. After the niceties and happy endings of vol. 8, this one is bleak and apocalyptic. In the last few volumes the story has moved from society-focused small episodes to a wider and bigger scheme of things, and the Fables are heading towards war. I think I already mentioned that I don’t really enjoy this shift too much, and never did it make me as sad as in this volume. But there’s good: vol. 9 also includes 15 short stories (which were a great concept, but I didn’t like the style of many of the guest artists who drew them), Santa Claus (and Willingham’s own take on how it is possible for him to visit all the children in the world during one night), and Mr. North again (whom I like, despite every bad thing other characters think of him).

Bill Willingham with his crew is also the author of Fables 10 – The Good Prince, about which I’ll say almost the opposite of what I said about vol. 9. This one is extremely sweet (even while talking about war) and really goes against the general concept of the series, by taking (for most of the time, at least), fables and myths at their face value, without meddling too much with the way people perceive them. A march of the ghosts (Aragorn-style), an appearance by Excalibur, and the most beautiful frame art of the series possibly make this the best volume so far. For me, at least.

The third graphic novel I read was Matt Dembicki’s (ed.) Trickster, which I bought based exclusively on Shanra’s raving review. It’s a collection of 21 Native American trickster stories, as told by 21 Native American storytellers with the help of as many different artists (some of them Native American, too). And for me it’s the first time I truly appreciate an anthology of short stories through and through. (OK, if you don’t count the 15 stories in Fables 9, that is.) As you can expect from such a wide range of authors, the collection is very diverse, both in terms of art (with techniques ranging from cartoon-like to extremely realistic to surrealist) and in terms of content: you have sweet stories, sad stories, funny stories, touching stories, and some don’t-get-down-too-well-with-our-way-of-thinking stories. Because of the latter, I was glad I read the after word before the stories, and in the after word Dembicki states:

The point wasn’t to westernize the stories for general consumption, but rather to provide an opportunity to experience authentic Native American stories, even if it sometimes meant clashing with Western vernacular.

Somebody stated the art turned a bit too childish at times, but for me, I liked all of the different styles, if some more than others (and I am not easy to please in terms of art in graphic novels, I need it to be all spelled out for me, so maybe that’s why I liked the more childish art as well).  The story I liked best was the first one, sweet and touching “Coyote and the Pebbles”, which I noticed is a general favorite. One last thing: check out an interview with Dembicki and one of the storytellers here.

*****

… and a call for suggestions

So do you like fairy-tale retellings? I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and among my reading plans for next year I want to take a closer look at myths and fables. For example, after reading The Drawing of the Dark (as after American Gods) I realized I need to know more about Norse mythology and Arthuriana. And I want to put fairy-tale retellings in the same lot too.

I’ve been looking around, and here’s a potential list I’ve come up with (feel free to comment, whether you think these titles good or bad):

  1. Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson
  2. Bulfinch’s Mythology, by Thomas Bulfinch
  3. Beauty, by Robin McKinley
  4. Sun & Moon, Ice & Snow, by Jessica Day George
  5. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire
  6. Mirror, Mirror, by Gregory Maguire
  7. Beastly, by Alex Flinn

In my view, what’s missing here are mainly two things: a non-fiction fairy-tale-related read (I’m looking for an anthropological take, but every title I came up with seemed to be psychologically oriented), and something about Arthuriana (both fiction and non-fiction. Oh, by the way, what’s the best from the original, Middle Age sources?). If you have any good titles to suggest, please chime in.

(Also, I think I know my classic mythology — Greek and Roman — but if you have any good suggestion in that sense, or regarding myths from any other culture, I’d like to hear that too!)

Drawings and fables

I’m always quite at loss as to what to say about graphic novels and the like. So here’s just a few thoughts about Fables issues #7, Arabian Nights (and Days), and #8, Wolves.

  • It’s still as imaginative and as irreverent as always. Just imagine, using the Giant Beanstalk as a jumping point for parachuting:
  • At the same time, it seems… I don’t know, more grown-up? Less bawdy? As in: earlier issues were full of characters bedding each other in almost a Sex-and-the-City kind of way. Here they seemed more intent on building something for their future. I liked this development (and I especially liked the big event in #8!)
  • Although I didn’t like at all what happened in the previous issue, things are developed nicely from there (sorry to be so… mysterious… but I don’t want to risk any spoiler…)
  • It is quite clear that the story drove the authors away from their original idea (in #1, “Fabletown” was the name of their community in the Mundy’s world, and that was why such different characters ended up together; here, they say “Fabletown” was already a place in their original world) but it’s still very nice.
  • I love the details! Such as the Arabian-like typeface:
    and the motives on the frames reflecting the main panels’ story and characters:

    See? An Arabian frame for Arabian characters...

    ... and toad for Flycatcher

I’d like to show you the best panel ever, but that would be one hell of a spoiler! So I’ll just add my apologies for the quality of these pictures and suggest you go and read all of Fables for yourself!