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 January, 2016…
The Hundred Year House, by Rebecca Makkai – A story told in reverse, The Hundred Year House begins around present day, where Doug and Zee Grant are living in the guest house just a few hundred feet from Laurelfield, Zee’s ancestral residence, which used to be an arts colony. The house has all sorts of secrets, which are gradually revealed to the characters in subsequent acts that move progressively back through time. I enjoyed many things about The Hundred Year House – the structure was novel (pun intended) and the writing atmospheric – but felt that it was a bit sluggish in parts. Still a good read, and a good start to 2016.
When I Was a Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson – More Robinson essays to start the year off on a cerebral note! Robinson’s mind is a truly awe-inspiring wonder. These essays – like those in The Givenness of Things, which I read in December – blend theology, culture, and American history and politics into a fascinating meditation on the United States and all its complexities. I found When I Was a Child to be a bit easier to follow than The Givenness of Things, but it was still a wonderfully challenging read.
Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers, by Bill Willingham – In this fourth volume, Fabletown is under attacks both internal and external. A refugee turns up from the Homelands – for the first time in more than a century – claiming to be Red Riding Hood. But is she? Meanwhile, the Adversary has sent an army of soldiers into the Mundy world to attack Fabletown, and they’re… different. And Prince Charming, devious and scheming as usual, is running for Mayor. Will he oust King Cole, and with him Snow White and Bigby Wolf? Lots of drama and excitement in the fourth installment – I loved it.
The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1), by Terry Pratchett – I wanted to pick up the Discworld novels after Andy Weir raved about them on the “Reading Lives” podcast. The Color of Magic was wildly inventive and absolutely hilarious, and I enjoyed it. My one complaint was that I found the world-building to be quite convoluted and really difficult to follow. At times, I would be almost convinced that I understood who was who and what was what, and then the scene would shift, months would have gone by (in the story, that is) and I’d be back at square one. I think if I continue with the series, it will probably become clearer to me.
Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan – For as long as anyone can remember, the planet Landfall has been at war with its moon, Wreath. Because destroying one celestial body will destroy the other, the factions have taken their conflict to other planets and moons around the galaxy, and the war has been long and violent. Marko, a conscientious objector from Wreath, and Alana, a Landfallian prison guard, have fallen in love and deserted their respective forces. Now they’re married, and the comic opens as Alana is about to give birth to their daughter, Hazel. Their joy is short-lived, however, as the authorities on both Landfall and Wreath discover their marriage. Both sides are determined to seize Hazel and kill her parents. So, I put off reading this comic for a long time, even though I kept hearing that it was incredible, for a simple reason: the Landfallians have wings. All kinds of wings – bird wings, bat wings, angel wings… and butterfly and moth wings. And if you have known me for awhile, you probably know that I hate butterflies and moths. Like, really loathe them. Just thinking about them makes me shudder. So I wasn’t sure I could get past that. But I hate it when everyone is talking about something and I’m out of the loop, so I tried Saga, with great trepidation. So far, I can say, the wings haven’t freaked me out too much – Alana’s wings are more akin to dragonfly wings, which don’t bother me – and the one or two pictures involving lepidopter wings have been small enough and unrealistic enough that I’ve been able to ignore them. And as for the story – it’s incredible. Some of the art (and I’m not just talking about the wings here) is really disturbing and not for the faint of heart. But I’m hooked now and I’ve got the second, third and fourth volumes out from the library. I just hope there aren’t many butterfly wings in those…
Fables, Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons, by Bill Willingham – Well, the votes are in and Prince Charming has ousted King Cole in a landslide. I’m sure he won’t last, but in the meantime, he’s taken over Fabletown’s government and replaced Snow and Bigby with Beauty and the Beast. Snow has given birth to her cubs, only one of whom can pass as human, and none of whom can stay in Fabletown – so she and the babies have left the city and moved to the Farm, Fabletown’s upstate annex where all of the Fables who can’t appear human live in varying degrees of peace. The Farm is the one place where Bigby is not allowed, which means he can’t see his cubs – and he’s not happy about that. Meanwhile, a mysterious force is attacking Fables, and a new visitor arrives from the Homelands. There was a lot of transition in this volume, and it’s really fun to see where Willingham is taking these characters. I do hope that Snow gets those babies under control…
Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1), by Gene Luen Yang – Yang’s two-part graphic novel tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion from two different perspectives. Boxers, the first volume, shares the story of Little Bao, who learns kung fu and leads a group of boxers after witnessing the cruelty of the “foreign devils” toward his village and his father. Little Bao is consumed by hatred for the “foreign devils” and “secondary devils” – Chinese Christians – and although his rebellion starts with a desire to protect the culture of China, it quickly gets out of hand. Beautifully written and illustrated, but disturbing in parts.
Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2), by Gene Luen Yang – I started this second installment immediately after finishing the first volume, and I read it in one sitting. Saints focuses on the other side of the Boxer Rebellion – the Chinese Christians who were caught between the foreign missionaries and their fellow countrymen. This is primarily the story of Vibiana, one of the Chinese Christians, who made a brief cameo in Boxers. Saints traces Vibiana’s journey from unloved child to Christian convert – her early lessons in the faith, where she sits in the living room of a local acupuncturist who terrifies her, listening to Bible stories merely to get the cookies his wife bakes (and I snorted out loud when Vibiana refers to Jesus as “an acupuncture victim”) to taking refuge with a foreign missionary, holding long conversations with a vision of Joan of Arc, and finally finding herself caught in a Boxer battle. The ending made me cry – twice.
Saga, Vols. 2, 3 & 4, by Brian K. Vaughan – Lumping these all together for efficiency’s sake. Toward the end of the month I went on a Saga bender and read three volumes in about 24 hours. A lot happens as the series continues to unfold – Marko, Alana and their family take refuge on the planet Quietus for a brief time, but they are still being hunted by Prince Robot IV (on behalf of the Landfallians) and Gwendolyn and The Will, along with the slave girl The Will has rescued and named Sophie (on behalf of the Wreaths). This is a really interesting, strange, disturbing, and often funny space opera. IV and The Will are clearly the antagonists, but you sympathize with them – IV wants to finish this mission so he can get home to his pregnant wife, and The Will is surprisingly tender – for a feared bounty hunter – at least when it comes to Sophie and his pet, Lying Cat. (Lying Cat is SO awesome.) Of course you’re still rooting against IV and The Will, and rooting for Marko and Alana, but it’s complicated. At the end of Volume 4, Marko and Alana have split up – temporarily, I’m sure – and Marko has made an alliance with an enemy to try to get his family back. I can’t wait to see what happens in Volume 5 (looks like Sophie gets glasses! can she be any cuter?) and I won’t have to wait long, because I’ve got it out from the library now.
January was a really busy month on the work and home fronts. We spent most of our spare time packing up for our move at the end of the month, and we’re just now coming up for air. We close on the house in a few days and I am crossing my fingers that it goes off without a hitch (or without any more hitches than we’ve already had, at least). Steve and I have been like ships in the night – mostly me holding down the fort with the kids while he pulls double shifts between his regular job and getting the house completely cleaned out and ready for closing. We are living in a sea of boxes in our little townhouse and I’m trying to unpack little by little, while hoping, at the same time, that we won’t be here long, and that something more permanent will come our way soon. But that might explain why this was such a graphic novel-heavy month of reading. Four volumes of Saga, two volumes of Fables, and the complete Boxers & Saints – yep, the comics definitely dominated this month. And only two books – Boxers & Saints – by a person of color. So not the best percentage to start the year off, but I’m keeping track and focusing on that goal and I’m sure I will get caught up.
What did you read in January?