Sunday, 22 April 2012

Revisiting the Classics

I've done it again.  I've fallen behind with this blog.

It always happens the same way.  I'll read a book that I like so much that I avoid reviewing it, for fear of not getting down in words how I felt about it.  And then I read more books, and I tell myself that I can't write any more reviews until I've reviewed The Book I Really Liked, and so on.

And now it's nearly May.

I've read 16 books since my last post - and some of them didn't have any pretty pictures in either!  And for the past month, I've been revisiting some of my favourite graphic novels.  It wasn't by choice, but it just turned out that way that I'd checked 2 or 3 stone-cold classics out of the library at the same time.

Firstly I've been rereading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, 1969, the 2nd part of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's tour de force of fictional worlds and characters.  I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the first volume, and from then on the books have got more and more convoluted with a range of increasingly obscure references.  It's a bit over my head to be honest; I'm not well-versed in 60s culture and literature - but that doesn't affect the plot too much and it's still a great read.  The final part of the trilogy is set in 2009 and will be published this Summer.

After that I read Maus, one of the first graphic novels I ever read.  I've always been grimly fascinated by Holocaust narratives, although they tend to leave you upset and guilty and a little bit ashamed to be part of the human race.  Maus is the record of Vladek Spiegelman's experience of the War and time spent in Auschwitz, as well as the story of his strained relationship with his son and wife in present-day New York.  It's based on one simple idea: each nationality is depicted as a different animal.  The Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans dogs - the French are frogs.  It all sounds very cutesey and even a little disrespectful, but Spiegelman's work doesn't make light of the horrific things his father lived through.  Disney it ain't.  An accessible, moving read, Maus is one of those books that give the lie to the idea that comics are for kids and 40-something Batman nostalgics.

I just finished reading Blankets (Craig Thompson) a few days ago.  It's been nearly a decade since I last read this novel (and Maus), so I was interested to see if my reaction to it had changed at all.  Clocking in at just under 600 pages, Blankets is an absolute brick of a book - "it was Professor Plum, in the library, with the paperback edition of Blankets!"  More than anything else it's a coming-of-age story, as much about brotherly love and the joys of growing up in a small town as it is concerned with the central story of young love, and its inevitable death.  It's a very teenage book and I wasn't quite as bowled over by it as I remember reading it when I was 17 or thereabouts.  The story is still incredibly touching, tender and funny.  Among other things, Thompson writes convincingly about the loss of faith in organised religion without ever coming across as preaching or dogmatic.

So that's what I've read in the last week or so.  I'll try and fill in the gaps in my reading record sometime soon...

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