Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three Books

I've read a few books recently that I'd like to say some things about, but not enough for full reviews. So here are some brief thoughts on them.

Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf

This is the novel that the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was based on. It's very different from the movie. The movie was a family-friendly film that had a hard-boiled detective as the main character, this is a hard-boiled novel with comic characters. More specifically, it's a send-up of the hard-boiled detective genre. There are several references to The Maltese Falcon and Mickey Spillane's work. Instead of cartoons, the "toons" are comic strip characters. There are appearances by Dick Tracey, Hagar the Horrible, The Dagwoods and several others.

I had a lot of fun reading this. I enjoy a good hard-boiled story and this does well at poking fun at the genre in a loving way. There are some very funny moments, my favorite of which is when someone tries to kill Roger by smothering him with a pie to the face. I thought it made some very clever use of comic tropes. For example, toons speak with word balloons that fall to the ground once they've been spoken. These left behind word balloons are used as clues by Eddie Valiant.

I can't guarantee you'll like this novel if you liked the movie, but I still recommend it.

Buy it here.

Eat When You Feel Sad by Zachary German

I absolutely loved this book, but I really couldn't explain why. It's 115 pages of an average young man describing his life in simple declarative sentences. This should be the most boring book ever written. What the hell do I find so compelling about it?

Maybe it's because I feel like I know where Robert (the protagonist) is coming from. He has trouble relating to others, he's often bored and he tries to fill the void in his life with food, literature and music. But the fact I "relate" to the main character alone shouldn't make this any good, should it?

I really wanted to do a full review of this book. But it seems I'll have to mull it over and probably re-read it before I do that.

Buy it here.

Flatland by Edwin Abbott

I first heard of this book by finding out that The Dot and the Line, one of my absolute favorite cartoons, was an adaptation of a book that was inspired by this one. I finally got around to reading it. Strangely, my local library places this book in the non-fiction section among all the basic texts on math. It revolves around math, yes. But it's still basically a fairytale.

The story takes place in a two dimensional world where everyone is a geometric shape. The shape of the person determines their place in the social ladder. Women are straight lines, squares and pentagons are the professional class, circles are priests and so forth.

The first half of the fairytale sets down the mechanics of Flatland, explaining the classes, how they function, how buildings work and so forth.

The narrator is a square who has a vision of a one dimensional world one night in a dream as the second half begins. Afterwards, he meets a sphere who reveals to him the existence of a three dimensional world.

While I probably would have enjoyed this more if I were a math geek, it's a very good social satire. The satire is somewhat dated, as this was based on Victorian mores. That said, it's message about the fallibility of societal dictates and the importance of questioning them is pretty much timeless. Give this a read if you get the chance.

Buy it here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Person by Sam Pink

Sam Pink's Person is probably best summed up by one of the best sentences in the book.

I live in Chicago and I don't get along with a lot of people and the reasons are always new and wonderful.

There is not much going on in the way of plot here. In fact, a good chunk of this is book is the main character doing nothing and his thoughts on doing nothing. I think the mind of the protagonist reflects the screaming, vaguely vaginal face on the cover art (done by Sam Pink himself) very well. His mind is strange, disturbed and somewhat perverted.

The main character is unemployed, aimless and is constantly thinking of death and suicide. The man is in deep despair, and this is one of the funniest downward spirals I've ever seen. Sam Pink has a wonderfully dark sense of humor that makes this such an enjoyable read. One of the first things we see the main character doing is contemplating accosting a homeless man dressed like him. It's a funny moment that sets the tone for the rest of the book very well.

One "trick" that Sam Pink does in this novella is have certain chapters as "alternative versions" to the previous chapter. However, few of chapters feel like true alternatives. Many of them feel like they could simply be a similar events happening at different times. I like this, it makes it feel like the novella is ambiguous about whether the main character is progressing in any way or is simply stuck in routines.

A fault with a couple of the alternative version chapters is that they feel unnecessary. One of them, for example, simply reads like it is filling in details excluded from the previous chapter.

A small nitpick I have with this book is the lack of question marks. I'm honestly not sure whether this is a stylistic choice or just something overlooked in editing. Given that there are uses of exclamation points, I'm somewhat inclined to think the latter.

In spite of these minor flaws, this was a very fun read. I highly recommend it and I am looking forward to reading more of Sam Pink's work.

Buy Person by Sam Pink here.