Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: My Year of Few Words

In short: for the first time in my life, I deliberately stopped writing.

I mean, I didn't stop writing. I write constantly. But I deliberately did not write any novels. I started a few short stories but didn't finish anything. I wrote 3/5 of a script for a graphic novel. I wrote 55 4-panel comic strips and a lot of blog posts. I drew constantly, mostly on my Wacom tablet, sometimes 8 or 10 hours a day. Fiction sort of went by the wayside, and my reading did too. I feel like I read a LOT of comics and graphic novels, but very little serious or adult fiction or nonfiction. Of course, books that I've previously reviewed don't get counted, even though there are books that I read every year. 

Serious books I attempted to read this year but did not complete include Thomas Pikkety's Capital in the 21st Century, which is probably brilliant but there was a waiting list and the library only lets you keep it 3 weeks and it was SO DENSE, J. Craig Venter's Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of the Digital Age, which I was more or less interested in it even though some of the science was beyond me but somehow I couldn't follow through, and Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer, which, frankly, I forgot to read. 

This year's list is disappointing to me. But here it is: 

Dragon's 2014 Year in Review

Picture Books: 18
YA/Middle Grade Novels: 25
Adult novels: 16
Fairy Tale Collections: 1
Graphic Novels: 9
Nonfiction: 7
Memoir/Biography: 3
Poetry: 1

Short Fiction Collection: 1
Not Easily Categorized: 1

Total: 82

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 9: The Long Haul

Written by: Jeff Kinney

First line: If there's one thing I've learned from my years of being a kid, it's that you have ZERO control over your own life.

Why you should read this book: Admittedly, I haven't liked any of the previous books in this series because Greg Heffley really comes off, at best, as an entitled brat, and at worst, as a complete sociopath, but in this book he really seems like a helpless victim of his mother's completely psychotic sneak attack family road trip, which is badly planned and executed from beginning to end. It's not entirely clear where the family is meant to be going, but that's all right, since you know they're never going to get there anyway. I read this book because my stepson got it for Christmas, and he never reads anything for pleasure except gaming manuals, so it seemed like someone ought to read it.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Possible flashbacks to your own horrible family road trips.

Dork Diaries 4: Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess

Written by: Rachel Renee Russell

First line: OMG! I have never been so EMBARRASSED in my entire life!!

Why you should read this book: Nikki, the stereotypically insecure adolescent, worries that cute boy Brandon doesn't like her, and that mean girl MacKenzie will humiliate her, and somehow this translates into her decision to perform in a charity ice skating event despite her complete lack of talent or ability. I guess these novels help girls feel better about themselves, or more normal, or simply like they're at least doing better than Nikki; I have no idea, really. My stepdaughter received this one for Christmas but it's far above her reading level and I hate to see books go to waste.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You like to cultivate your obvious talents and you don't worry about what other people think.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Jack Kent's Hokus Pokus Bedtime Book

Written by: Jack Kent

First line: In a land far away there once lived a poor boy named Aladdin.

Why you should read this book: Sweet enough for the smallest children but with a little tongue in cheek humor tucked in neatly among the familiar lines, this collection of five favorite fairy tales is accompanied by the round and smiling faces of Kent's beloved illustrations. The real humor shines through in the delightful pictures: in "Jack and the Beanstalk," we see the beloved cow sitting in a chair at the table with Jack and his mother, grinning while munching on a bowl of hay; in "The Frog Prince," the Princess's disgust is writ large in her features over a series of images. Although this volume is a bit hard to find, it's a great addition to a child's library of bedtime stories.

Why you shouldn't read this book: People falling in love too fast for the wrong reasons.

It's Just a Plant

Written by: Ricardo Cortes

First line: Jackie loved to go to sleep at night.

Why you should read this book: When Jackie walks in on her parents smoking a joint, her mom decides to take her on a educational bike ride to talk to Farmer Bob and Doctor Eden about marijuana. Jackie receives honest and factual information about some of the plant's most interesting properties, how and why people have been using it for a very long time time, and the reasons that children shouldn't try drugs, even if it OK for adults. Later, watching an encounter between the police and some pot smokers, she learns even more truths about the political reasons for marijuana prohibition and the fact that the government sometimes makes legislative mistakes, which can be rectified through the democratic process.

Why you shouldn't read this book: One time your cousin's roommate's neighbor's daughter took marijuana and her eyes exploded out the back of her head and she died and you know that the only way to protect people from danger is to prohibit the spread of any information on the subject.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Written by: Marjane Satrapi

First line: This is me when I was 10 years old.

Why you should read this book: With simple lines and strong words, this powerful graphic novel describes life under the Islamic regime that took over Iran in 1979, as seen through the eyes of the author, an intelligent, thoughtful, and increasingly angry child. Marjane believes in freedom, and while she is sometimes confused by what she hears on the radio, she knows what she believes in her heart: that she should have the right of self-expression. Surrounded by beating and bombings, disappearances and death, Marjane enters adolescence with an increasing understanding of politics and extremism coupled with a fierce love for her family, her friends, and her own independence.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You strongly believe that a man's sex drive is akin to a shark's drive to eat things, and that if a man sees a woman's hair he is literally incapable of not raping her.

Do Anything: Thoughts on Comics and Things

Written by: Warren Ellis

First line: I have the head of Jack Kirby in my office.

Why you should read this book: Two parts history, one part science fiction, one part name dropping, and one part stream of consciousness, this 48-page volume contains as many disembodied heads as an Alan Moore novel, and makes you work just as hard. Ellis's musings on the history of comics and culture somehow come together to form a perfect gestalt, despite the fact that the individual pieces, scrutinized on their own, bear some resemblance to random object pulled from that one junk drawer in your kitchen. With more parenthetical asides than paragraphs, this book is a window into the mind of a popular and future-thinking writer of exceptional comics.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know nothing about the history of comics: this is definitely not an introductory volume, and even though I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the subject compared to the general populace, I only recognized about half the references.

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola

Written by: Ricardo Cortes

First line: One story about the origin of coffee is that of a goatherd, tending goats on a mountainside in Ethiopia.

Why you should read this book: Brought to you by the guy who wrote a level-headed and informative picture book for children about marijuana, this story discusses the world's love affair with stimulants, beginning with the controversial coffee bean but eventually evolving into a discussion of how the Coca-Cola company is basically the world's largest importer of coca leaves, despite the fact that importing coca leaves into America is illegal for everybody else except the people who sell flavoring extracted from the leaf to the Coca-Cola Company. Meticulously researched from declassified Federal Bureau of Narcotic files, this book is unique in both the way it constructs a social history of prohibited substances, and also in that it's still, essentially, a children's book. A perfect present for the ten-year-old skeptic/history buff in your life, the grown-up conspiracy theorist, and anyone who loves caffeine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You refuse to believe that the government would make any decision that wasn't in the best interest of its people, or that it would ever cater to big business at the expense of the disenfranchised.

Krazy and Ignatz 1941-1942

Written by: George Herriman

First line: Double "kats"--a pretty sight, but it isn't right.

Why you should read this book: Krazy Kat adores Ignatz Mouse, whose daily practice is to attempt to brain his admirer with a brick, while Offisa Pup, outraged by the boldly sadomasochistic relationship, does his best to incarcerate the reprobate mouse. On the surface, Herriman spent almost twenty years telling this same story over and over, and yet the level of invention, the playfulness with language and imagery and the comic format, the roundabout plots and trickery, the levelheaded observations about human nature, and the general weirdness keep Krazy Kat fresh to this day, a continuing source of inspiration for no-holds-barred cartoon violence. Also, I'm now fairly certain that Krazy Kat is a metaphor for the closeted homosexuality grimly suffered by many men of the era, but feel free to argue if you disagree.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Herriman's reliance on dialect can make his scripts a little difficult to puzzle out, but native English speakers can generally parse his meaning with a small degree of effort.


Written by: Kevin C. Pyle

First line: When I heard we were moving again I don’t remember being particularly upset.

Why you should read this book: Dean is only interested in drawing and in playing World War Two soldier games in the woods near his house, and is actively opposed to learning math or being respectful in school. Over the course of the year, he begins to separate his fantasies of omnipotent American soldiers who always triumph against evil from the reality of war he sees in a book of Holocaust photos, and hears from a homeless veteran he meets in the woods. A relatable coming-of-age story that presents the big changes of adolescence as small changes in perception and maturity.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You think war is just swell, and your side is always fighting against evil. 

Marble Season

Marble Season

Written by: Gilbert Hernandez

First line: Missed.

Why you should read this book: Huey, the middle of three brothers in a Latino family in the ‘60s, loves marbles and comic books and finds himself drawn to popular music and the Mars Attacks trading cards. This gentle, realistic story lacks a formal plot or structure, but instead paints a picture of the real world of neighborhood kids: their games, their fantasies, their friendships’ changing configurations. A faithful reconstruction of the universe inhabited solely by children, a place where adults, who cannot understand the value of neatly-stored trading cards, can never inhabit.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You throw out your kids’ stuff whenever you feel like it, because it’s clearly not important.

In Real Life

Written by: Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

First line: Anda, wake up!

Why you should read this book: Anda is a shy and nerdy teenager who begins to develop her own self-confidence when she’s invited to play as a team member in an online game, and offered missions that pay real life money. When she comes to understand that her online “enemies” are actually impoverished Chinese teenagers, working at the most boring part of the game to create in-game value that they can then sell to rich American gamers, she begins to develop a social conscious and an interest in helping others. Anda’s attempts to unionize the Chinese gamers backfires at first, but eventually things work out for the best.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: The feel-good ending seems a bit forced and unbelievable; it works out a little too easily considering things that could potentially happen to a poor Chinese teenager.