Sunday, February 14, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: February 7th to 13th

The premise: I love my dog. I love books. I bring the two together by posing my dog beside every book I read, barring the comics I get in single issue form.

The photos: go live on Instagram as I edit them and appear here in digest form every Sunday, with descriptive alt tags and additional commentary.

Not pictured: I read a bunch more Marvel comics from 1967--but not as many as were assigned, because I just didn't have it in me. Going forward, I suspect I'll mostly be reading UNCANNY X-MEN and, much to my surprise, FANTASTIC FOUR. The latter's drawn me in with its soap operatic storytelling, and with the Inhumans' frequent appearances. Y'all may recall my longstanding interest in the Inhumans.

You may also recall my love for letters pages, and I've been thrilled to discover them in the back of many (alas, not all) of the older FF comics on Marvel Unlimited. It's fascinating to read through them and see that 1960s readers wanted many of the same things as contemporary readers. People wrote in to say how glad they were to see POC characters like Black Panther and Wyatt Wingfoot take centre stage, and how much it meant to them that non-white faces appear in the crowd scenes. Women are concerned that the female characters be allowed to do more, and that they themselves get opportunities to connect with other women who love Marvel. Interesting as this is, though, it's also frustrating that comics still have such a diversity problem after fifty years of fans calling for more not just in fan spaces but directly to the creators. The content's come a long way and many creators fight to include more diversity in their books, but the industry higher-ups still tend to treat hetero white masculinity as the default. Sigh.

Another point of interest: 1960s readers thought Galactus was super boring and unoriginal. And yet, Galactus endures and has proven his worth by becoming actual friends with Squirrel Girl.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lays alongside a white Kobo with Chasing Crazy's cover on its screen. The cover features a redheaded white girl and a brunette white boy sitting spooned on a beach.

The moment I realized Kelly Siskind's CHASING CRAZY1 was about a girl who backpacks around New Zealand, I knew I had to read it. My excitement grew even more pronounced when I realized Nina, the girl in question, was Canadian (and one who doesn't Americanize her habits, at that). And y'all, I came away mostly happy. Nina and Sam, a boy who's trying to find himself again after a devastating car accident, have great chemistry. It's always obvious why they're interested in one another, and they make a conscious and deliberate effort to help each other grow into their true selves.

Siskind also nails that thing where you're young and uncertain and you want to come clean about certain things but you can't because you haven't found the emotional tools to deal with those issues. She gives her characters the space to figure it out in organic ways that bolster their relationship.

There's a prominent lesbian character, too, and y'all know how much I want to see more queer women in my media.

Several things kept jolting me out of the story, though. For one, there's little in the way of local colour. Nina and Sam experience Rotorua's distinctive smell, go to a Maori cultural event, and giggle over how hikes are called "tramps," but for the most part this could've taken place in pretty well any country with beaches and hostels. The characters never interact with actual kiwis beyond one Maori dancer who's also the only non-white person in the whole book. I wanted more from the setting, and I longed for greater diversity.

Nina and Sam start their journey up north in Pahia, too--except Pahia is right at the bottom of the South Island, near Invercargill. Siskind no doubt meant Paihia; an easy mistake to make, but one that's gonna throw anyone who follows along on their maps app for a loop. And y'know, half the fun of reading travel narratives is following the characters' journey on your maps app.

Sam also does that thing where he communicates his interest by encroaching on Nina's personal space and making excuses to touch her. This creeps me out because I need people to not fucking touch me. Especially by "accident."

And, perhaps most importantly, the text is riddled with the sort of casual language that screams "girls are overly emotional creatures and dudes should be nothing like them," with a couple of instances of transphobia thrown in as well. I needed some time to recover my reading rhythm after each hit.

Basically, CHASING CRAZY is one of those books where the good parts are very good and the emotions ring true, but the not-so-good bits stick with you longer (and take longer to describe). I'll certainly keep an eye out for Siskind's future releases, but I'll hope to see fewer of these sorts of issues.

Murchie curls up alongside a white Kobo with The Wicked + The Divine Volume Three's cover on its screen. The cover features a mouthless red and white mask with glowing smoke drifting up out of its eye holes. The background is flat grey, with the series title superimposed over the image.

I gulped down the third volume of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE as quick as ever I could, and I reviewed it right away. Miracles do happen, friends.

Murchie curls atop a sheep-shaped pillow, his ears perked and his beard askew. He wears a blue and white striped t-shirt. In front of him is a white iPod with Cryoburn's cover on its screen. The image is too small to be distinct, but the primary colours are glowing pale blue and yellow.

I tore through Bujold's CRYOBURN so quickly that Murchie's beard got discombobulated.

This one surprised me by ending up in the loved-it column on my mental Vorkosigan tally. I always enjoy this series no matter what, but I don't usually love an installment unless one of the established characters has a life-changing stake in the action. CRYOBURN is one of the "Miles solves a mystery" books rather than the "Miles's life changes forever" books (except for something that happens right at the very end, and which ties in with the themes addressed earlier), but it still gripped me good with its fascinating world. Cryorevival is big business on Kibou-daini, and I had an awesome time poking through the various ways the citizens have both commercialized and ritualized it.

And even though Miles doesn't have a personal stake in the outcome, his adventures mean a great deal to Jin, a kid who gives Miles a clearer window onto Kibou-daini society and who shares the POV duties with Miles and Roic. That gave me my emotional in.

On a photographic note, I've finally realized Murchie always looks painterly when I capture him with my phone because its default settings are calibrated for selfies; ie, to take photos in soft focus. I've gotta find the mental energy to figure out how to reset it. It's got the same megapixels as my iPod's camera, which I use for most of my pictures, so surely it's doable.

Murchie's chin hovers above a trade paperback copy of Cross Game Volume One. Its orange cover features two Japanese kids standing back to back. One of them holds a baseball.

Sports manga is huge in Japan, but relatively little of it has been translated into English. I jumped at the chance to try it when the first omnibus of Mitsuru Adachi's CROSS GAME showed up in my library sale. (I had to buy a bag in order to get the best deal on the three SKIP BEAT omnibi I wanted, so I figured I might as well stuff it full.) It's not at all what I expected sports manga to be; slow to start, but with an emotional promise that pays off in a big way when things get really serious really quickly at the end of the first volume.

It looks like each volume employs a time jump as it follows two young baseball players throughout the course of their high school sports careers, and I'm excited to see how it all comes together. Alas, my library only has up to Volume 11 of 17, so I'll have to keep an eye out for the rest at thrift shops.

Murchie lays on a brownish-grey pillow, his paws stretched in front of him. He wears his blue and white t-shirt. Touching his paws his a white iPod with Interpreter of Maladies's orange-tinged cover on its screen. The cover features two lit candles, one of them more shadowed than the other.

A confession: it took me years and years to realize Jhumpa Lahiri's INTERPRETER OF MALADIES and Siddhartha Mukherjee's EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES are not the same book.

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES is Jhumpa Lahiri's 1999 short story collection. It won tons of awards and got lots of press, and one so seldom sees "maladies" in a title that I assumed Mukherjee's nonfictional biography of cancer was INTERPRETER OF MALADIES with a new cover. It wasn't until a house guest read EMPEROR at the same time as some Twitter friends read INTERPRETER that I finally put it together. Or tore the two books apart in my perception, as the case may be.

INTERPRETER is my first general short fiction collection in a long, long time, and I'm pleased to report I loved it. The stories are all well-observed and concerned with people who fail to witness one another's truths, despite what are often sincere intentions in that direction. There are a couple of offerings with weirdly abrupt endings--something that always bothers me way more with general fiction than it does with SFF--but for the most part I had wonderful time with them.

Murchie lays on his sheep pillow, his face directly towards the viewer and his nose raised. He wears his blue and white t-shirt. In font and slightly to one side of him is a trade paperback copy of Anna Dressed In Blood. Its cover features a very pale girl standing with her back to the viewer. She has long black hair that swirls in a wind that doesn't touch her white dress. Red leaves swirl around her, and red barely colours the hem of her dress. Otherwise, the image is entirely grey, white, and black.

Ooh, friends, Kendare Blake's ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD was fabulous! I have every intention of writing a proper review once I've finished the second book in the duology, so we'll leave it at that for now. I'm liable to tl;dr on you if I say a word more.

Next week: I'm off on a ten-day vacation starting Wednesday, so Murchie Plus Books may on hiatus until I get back. I'll still photograph my reading material with a variety of special guest stars and post the lot to Instagram, but the rest of the package (alt tags and commentary) will likely have to wait until I'm less busy wandering the streets and eating tacos. We'll see whether or not I feel like hunkering down with my computer in a bloggish capacity.

  1. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll want to know this is the book where the heroine maligns canned cheese. Oh, Nina. How did you get that one so wrong?


  1. Good to know about Kendare Blake! I read and quite liked her book Antigoddess a little bit ago, and am looking forward to the sequels, but I somehow had it in my head that Anna Dressed in Blood was a younger and less good example of her work. Yay that it is not! That means more fun books for me to look forward to!

    1. I feel like someone once told me ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD wasn't worth bothering about, but I also feel like someone else (maybe Charles de Lint in F&SF's review column?) said it was great. So I decided to pick it up and see which side I landed on.