Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for December, 2015…
Fables, Volume 3: Storybook Love, by Bill Willingham – I am getting more and more interested in the Fables series as I continue to read through the comics – especially the budding romance between Snow White and Bigby Wolf. In this volume, an assassination plot throws Snow and Bigby together in the wilderness with surprising results. I love new twists on familiar stories, so I’m enjoying this.
Gotham Academy, Volume 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy, by Becky Cloonan – My first foray into DC Comics! The Gotham Academy comic follows Olive Silverlock, student at a prestigious boarding school in Gotham, through roommate and boyfriend troubles – but there’s more. Something happened over the summer – something involving Olive’s mother – that left Olive shaken and with a new fear of bats. And now Gotham Academy might be haunted! I found the story a bit difficult to follow, but the art was fun and the characters – especially adorable Maps! – were engaging.
Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell – I tried to describe Carry On to my husband, and what I came up with was “Fanfiction about fanfiction about a fictional book about gay wizards.” Is it any wonder he was confused? Let me try to explain: in Rowell’s popular YA novel Fangirl, main character Cath writes “fic” about a Harry Potter-esque series of novels called the “Simon Snow” series. Carry On is Rowell’s take on Simon’s story. It’s not meant to represent Cath’s “fic,” nor is it meant to be an actual Simon Snow novel by “Gemma T. Leslie” on which Cath’s fanfiction was based. It’s basically Rowell’s fanfiction about fictional characters she herself created. Still confused? It’s okay. Me too. So, I moderately enjoyed Carry On, but I didn’t think it really lived up to its potential. There was a lot of back story that was not presented (and I’ve read Fangirl – not all of the back story was in there, either) and I had the sense that the characters had a very vivid history that would have informed and deepened the story had I known what it was. (Constant references to “that time Simon…” or “that time Baz…”) It made for a frustrating reading experience. All told, it was too bad, because (meta as it was) Carry On could have been really terrific, but instead left me a little flat.
Batgirl, Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside, by Cameron Stewart – My next trip into Gotham was easier to understand. Barbara – moonlighting as Batgirl – has moved to Burnside (basically, Brooklyn to Gotham’s Manhattan) to get away from a turbulent past. (Not all of the back story was presented, but I gather that Batgirl ended the last series of her comic recuperating after being shot by the Joker?) She’s picked up some troublemaking new friends, her college project is in dire straits, and she’s got one heck of a social media addiction – can Batgirl keep it all together? I really liked this! I thought the art and the characters were a lot of fun, and the story was modern and exciting.
Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living With Books, by Michael Dirda – Big disappointment here. Normally, Browsings is a book that would ring ALL of my bells. A book of personal essays ABOUT BOOKS! Written by a Washington Post columnist! With frequent references to DC and liberal politics! But… gahhhhh. Dirda came across as pedantic, pretentious, and deadly dull. He seems to be a borderline hoarder who has never grown out of a childish predilection for classifying books as “girl books” and “boy books” (he actually refers to “boy books” with approval, more than once) and refusing to read books for the “wrong” sex. And he kept ramming ponderous, self-consciously witty sentences with far too many clauses down the reader’s throat, while at the same time assuring the reader that his writing style is pared-down to the point of being austere. (Sorry, Mr. Dirda. Hemingway, you are not.) I plugged doggedly away at this book far past the point when I should have given up. And I was occasionally rewarded – “Aurora,” Dirda’s moving call to action on gun control, was a really breathtaking piece of writing. But the gems were buried in way too much rock.
Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, by Linda Hirshmann – As a female lawyer, I owe a lot to O’Connor and Ginsburg, and I really enjoyed reading this fascinating history of their careers. Their rises to the top of the legal profession were similar in many ways, and yet in many other ways, could not have been more different. The book focused a great deal on Ginsburg’s employment discrimination cases from her time as an ACLU litigator, which were of particular interest to me, as I am a labor lawyer. Sisters provided great information and lots of food for thought about feminism (and helped me crystallize my thinking about how we got to the point where we find ourselves today – with a very long way to go).
Black Widow Volume 1: The Finely Woven Thread, by Nathan Edmondson – I’d been itching to find out more about Black Widow before her movie comes out (not for awhile, but I had a suspicion that I might like the character, and I was right). Natasha Romanoff is trying to make amends for her past as a KGB assassin, taking on dangerous – and often seemingly hopeless – assignments for little pay in order to support her “web” (which I took to be made up of individuals and families she harmed during her time as an assassin). I liked getting a glimpse at Natasha’s world and Black Widow’s adventures, and I will definitely be following her. I found Black Widow much easier to understand than Captain Marvel. And enjoyed it that much more.
The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1), by Rick Riordan – New Rick Riordan! New Rick Riordan! Let’s all just take a second and do a happy dance for NEW! RICK! RIORDAN! (I just love Rick Riordan.) So, The Sword of Summer isn’t brand new, but it’s the most recent Riordan and it’s also the start of a new trilogy focusing on the Norse gods, with a new leading character – Magnus Chase, homeless Bostonian cousin of bad@$$ daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase (HAPPY DANCE FOR ANNABETH!). Magnus has been living on the streets for two years after his mother was killed by terrifying monster wolves (wut) when one day, his Uncle Randolph – whom Magnus’s mother warned him never to trust – tracks him down and starts mumbling about ancient weapons, birthrights, all kids of weird mumbo jumbo. Then a fire giant attacks Boston and Magnus dies. The end. Okay, not the end! There’s lots more to come from Magnus’s adventures – he finds himself in Valhalla and then out of it again, searching for a legendary sword alongside a dwarf, an elf, and a Valkyrie – and racing against time to stop Ragnarok. As Percy Jackson does with the Greek gods, Magnus encounters Norse deities including Thor and Odin, and it’s clear that while Rick Riordan has a very modern sensibility and a ripping sense of humor, he also totally knows his stuff. Riordan’s books are surprisingly smart for being such entertaining reads, and now I can’t wait for the next Magnus adventure. (I loved the character of Magnus – even more than I loved Percy Jackson; a warning, though – this book was more violent than any of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians novels.) Only complaint: not enough Annabeth! Always need more Annabeth!
The Givenness of Things: Essays, by Marilynne Robinson – Robinson’s newest collection of essays combines theology, political science, history, comparative literature study, and more disciplines – all mixed together and spun into breathtaking arguments by her remarkable mind. I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand more than about five percent of what Robinson was talking about, but WOW, was this a wonderful book. It’s hard for me to know what to say, because there was just so much to this slim volume and I’m still processing it – but I think it’s well worth reading for anyone who has to live in this crazy messed up America, which is many of us.
A good December, and a good 2015 in books! Next week I will wrap up my year in reading, somewhat belatedly, but I’m happy with where I’m ending up. December was a great mix of fun (Magnus Chase! comics!) and thought-provoking (Supreme Court! Marilynne Robinson!) and I ended the year on a high note with Givennness. It was a bit of a challenge to fit much reading into December, what with the holidays, work stuff, and some sick days for the kids (pinkeye for Nugget, croup for Peanut) but I squeezed it in wherever I could and, as always, turning pages made me feel more grounded and comforted. January is looking to be another busy month as we prepare to move, but I’m sure I will keep reading through it all.