Sunday, July 29, 2007

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 - "The Long Way Home"

I've also been reviewing the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 comic series, which is being "executive produced" by Joss Whedon.

The first story arc, called "The Long Way Home" was contained in Issues 1-4, and I reviewed them for

You can read it here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Y: The Last Man, Issues 1 & 2

Recently, I became a contributing writer for, a blog for geeky women (and the men who love them). As I have read every single issue of the Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra comic, Y: The Last Man, and Y is ending at Issue #60 in a few months, I began a summary/review column called "Y: Because It's Awesome." Here are the first two reviews:

Issue 1

Issue 2

Y: The Last Man - Good Times!

Note: I'm grading Y as a series, since I've read through the current issue. I will not be giving each issue its own grade. However, as you'll see in the reviews themselves, I like some issues better than others...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Explaining the Hiatus...

It's been a while. And I haven't written, not because I haven't been reading, but because I went to France and since then have been reading up a storm without having the discipline to write about it. :) I'm hoping to remedy that. The next several reviews will not have the "Currently reading/Next up" format. That will return when I'm caught up....whenever that is.

Coming soon (certainly not in the order that I read them, as I barely remember anymore), my reviews for:

Link to my review to "Buffy Season 8" story arc, The Long Way Home
Tropic of Cancer
Cat's Cradle
Swann's Way
Persepolis 2
Chicken & Plums
Ultimate Spider Man Vol. 1
The Plain Janes
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Girls Vol. 1
"The Story of the Middle Princess"
"Master Misery"
"Children on Their Birthdays"
"Buffy Season 8" #5 - The Chain (standalone)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Ethical Slut

Currently reading: "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut, "Ulysses" by James Joyce, "The Odyssey" by Homer (YES, STILL!)

Next up: more "Ulysses", plus one other book - probably "Swann's Way" by Marcel Proust - which I will take with me on my upcoming month-long trip as my only reading. Yowsa. :)

I read "The Ethical Slut" by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt back in November, based on the recommendation of a friend who is currently living a polyamorous lifestyle. I'm glad I read it, as it helped me better understand a way of living and loving with which I was completely unfamiliar, and yet I thought it could have been much better...Below, I am posting the review I gave to my friend, adapted from an e-mail:

What I liked about the book:

This book should've been called "How To Be a Human Being." :) Everything it talks about has to do with how to have effective and enriching relationships in all their forms. Own your feelings, be honest, be open about what you want, be willing to compromise, talk to each other, listen to each other...these are all things I've been trying to improve in my own life recently, and this book had some great insights into how to go about improving one's skills in these areas. I was particularly interested in what it had to say about owning one's feelings - that no one can make you feel anything. It's something that I feel like I've always known deep down (that I think everyone knows deep down), but was never able to articulate and apply. But now I'm consciously thinking about it in those terms, and it goes a long way in making strong emotions more manageable. Also, I really appreciate that it acknowledges those emotions. It doesn't say you shouldn't feel a strong, negative emotion, it says that what's important is how you act on the negative emotion, and how you let it affect the people you say you love. That's something I've always believed, but have had trouble with. This book definitely put certain things in perspective for me.

Also, reading this definitely corrected certain assumptions about polyamory that I had. Well, not corrected assumptions as much as it clarified things I just really didn't know. It's funny...but a lot of what's considered "polyamorous" is stuff that I wouldn't consider outside the bounds of what I would consider a monogamous relationship! :) For instance, if two people decide to get married, but then agree to allow each other to sleep with other people while staying emotionally true to each other...or if a couple decides they want to go to sex parties together, etc. That's all stuff that I would've thought was OK without thinking of it as an "alternative lifestyle." I always just thought that was called "two people sharing an interest." :) The stuff about having a secondary long-term person (or people) in addition to a primary relationship is a new idea, but surprisingly, not one that I have as much trouble with as I thought I would. I've always been able to wrap my head around sex outside of a primary relationship, but emotions? The key is, though, any relationship can work as long as everyone involved is clear about what they want, and honest about their intentions. Duh! ;) But I can now safely say that I fully accept and acknowledge polyamory as a valid choice, whereas I might not have been so comfortable saying that before. In the most basic sense, I would call myself an ideological ethical slut (if not one in practice). However, when I say "monogomous" I mean "emotionally monogamous" as opposed to "sexually monogamous", and I (try) to explain my feelings about that below...

What I thought could have been improved/what I didn't like so much:

I tend to bristle whenever anyone perports to have "the answer." Now, I know this book was primarily designed for people who are already considering a polyamorous lifestyle, or are at least interested in the topic, and several times it said something like "monogamy is fine if you actually choose it"....but then it would go on to talk as if monogamy=depression and polyamory=freedom. That doesn't really allow the possibility of monogamy as a valid choice, and the idea that there's only one way to "be free" is really annoying to me. Because taking one kind of dogma and replacing it with another does not equal freedom to me. It's still a cage - gilded and fun though it might be. The only thing I believe means actual freedom is the ability to make a choice and allowing an environment where people don't feel ostracized for making one choice over another. And let's say someone chooses "vanilla sex" with one person for the rest of their life, they shouldn't be made to feel as though they are somehow less than for being "less adventurous" or "repressed" any more than someone who chooses an open relationship should be called "promiscuous." Now, I did get that sense from this book, too, and I appreciate the fact that they'd probably actually be cool with any choice anyone makes for themselves, but I think they could've done a better job of being more tolerant in the actual text, as opposed to the "wink, wink nudge, nudge" tone they adopt in their approval of monogamy.

Also....people always cite the 50-50% success/failure rate of marriage as proof that monogamy doesn't work, instead of (perhaps) looking at the 50% of marriages that do work and figuring out why that is. Another thing that made me stop and go "hmmmm...." - all the examples of people who were "turned off" of monogamy were from people who had REALLY horrible or extreme experiences with it, like "My husband tried to kill me, and that's when I realized monogamy was not for me." Um....YEAH, if my husband tried to kill me LIFE might not be for me, you know? That doesn't mean monogamy doesn't work, it means you married a psycho! It surprised me that authors who claimed to want to "take ownership" of their emotions and choices might not take responsibility for them, choosing instead to blame an entire way of life. However, the very things that they are suggesting (the openness, the honesty, the communication, the owning of one's emotions) for a successful polyamorous relationship are the things that can make a successful monogamous one. The faults that they kept finding in monogamy are things that could be fixed if everyone did what is in this book! :) Lastly, I had trouble with some of the logic used in this book. For example, when they say that "do parents of nine children love their children any less than the parent of one child loves him/her?" And the thing is, YES. Parents always have a favorite. Parents always love one child (or several children) more than the others. I've seen it happen all the time, and there's nothing wrong with that, and I don't find it particularly shocking. This doesn't mean that they don't love the other children, but it does mean that they are loved differently. They say "I love you all the same" to uphold their self esteem and to be encouraging, good, supportive parents, but to assume that they love all their children exactly the same is a bit ridiculous. They shouldn't love all their children the same. They should love all their children, but certainly not alike. If what separates human beings from animals is the ability to make conscious choices, then we can't balk at the idea that there is one thing or one person we would choose over something or someone else. I thought it interesting that these authors were acting as though that doesn't always happen between people, but it does, and not just in romantic relationships.

I believe that it is possible to love lots of people, and I believe that there are different forms of love, and varying degrees of love. However, I don't believe that it is possible for anyone to love anyone the same . Kind of like in physics, where two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Given a choice between two people, or two anything, a person will always choose one over the other, will always prefer one or the other. The choice might be difficult and painful, and the degree of difference might be small, but the choice can always be made. I mean, even the distinction between "primary" and "secondary" relationship illustrates that.

I think the biggest problem for me with this book is that there was no real distinction made between emotional and sexual monogamy. Monogamy is simply used as the all-encompassing opposite of polyamory. But as was illustrated in so many of the relationships used as examples in this book, very often people in a group love relationship have one person they are the most emotionally committed to - and not even that they are interested in being "life partners" with, owning a house or having kids with - but two people who are committed to each other, and committed to a certain lifestyle together. There's always a person we enjoy being with the most. It doesn't mean we don't love and enjoy being with our other friends, lovers, family, whatever....but people have favorites, and ultimately, a most favorite. Pretending that's not the case seems silly to me.

The Ethical Slut - Eh

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pride of Baghdad

Currently reading: "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller, "The Ethical Slut" by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt, and "The Odyssey" by Homer (yes. still.)
Next up: "Lost Girls" by Alan Moore and "Ulysses" by James Joyce

I'm a sucker for three things, it seems: Brian K. Vaughan, political graphic novels, and animals. I recently picked up a beautiful looking graphic novel I happened upon in a comic book store called "Pride of Baghdad" written by Brian K. Vaughan (writer of Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, and The Escapists). Its cover has a beautiful, close-up drawing of a lion's face, and Vaughan's name graces the top. When I read the synopsis on the back - a "based on true events" telling of what the streets of Baghdad were like during the beginning of our war with Iraq from the point of view of a pride of lions that escaped the Baghdad Zoo - I thought, "Brian Vaughan? ANIMALS?! POLITICS?! This book has EVERYTHING!"

Overall, I was not disappointed. This pride of lions escaping a zoo proved an effective literary parallel to an Iraqi citizenry thrust into a new world without a dictator. Vaughn uses this conceit to great effect as we watch this lion family hunt for food and fight for survival in the midst of shelling, rubble, and ruin. Important questions of what freedom means and what price one should be willing to pay for it are addressed as the lions fight amongst themselves and interact with other species. Human beings are relegated to the background, as dead bodies the lions must decide to eat or not, or as American soldiers.

And here, I will say that Vaughan's storytelling would be nothing without Niko Henrichon's stunning artwork. I've said this before: being a writer myself, I tend to notice the writing in comics more than the art. However, sometimes I'll come across an artist who is so obviously an active part of the storytelling that I can't ignore it. From the multi-faceted emotions on the animals' faces throughout the story, to the gut-wrenching, bullet-riddled conclusion, Henrichon's art ends up telling most of the tale, and tells it beautifully.

The one problem I had with Pride of Baghdad is something that is difficult for anyone who has chosen to tell a story through animals. There were certain plot points in the story, or bits of dialogue, that sounded and felt too human for me. While I understand that they are being used to represent the Iraqis, a point is also made in the story (by an old turtle who has seen it all) about how human beings destroy everything. I wonder how the story would've been different had the animals been allowed to be animals. What would an American invasion had looked like from the point of view of total innocence - not only innocence, but creatures who are free of human emotions like anger, jealousy....and pride?
Still, Pride of Baghdad was a satisfying, emotional read, cemented Brian K. Vaughan as one of my favorite writers, and introduced me to a wonderful artistic talent in Niko Henrichson.
Pride of Baghdad - Good Times!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Henry and June - from A Journal of Love (1931-32)

Currently reading: "The Odyssey" by Homer, and "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller
Next up: ??? :)

How does one review published diaries? According to literary merit? Though Anais Nin is a beautiful, insightful writer, I feel strange talking about her "writing style" when discussing a section of her journal. What I will talk about instead is the way that books often come into your life at a time when you need them. It happened to me once with 1984 (when I needed to crystalize exactly why writing was so important to me), then again with Everything is Illuminated (when I needed to be encouraged back into writing after I'd stopped for a long time).
I was inspired to walk into a bookstore and purchase Henry and June a week or two ago, because I've been doing a lot of self-examination recently, and having heard a lot about Anais Nin I thought her journals would be the best thing to accompany me on the beginning of my journey. Originally, I'd wanted a full volume of her journals, but everything was sold out, so I ended up buying Henry and June...and since I'd never read her before, I thought it would be a good introduction.
I am so grateful that this book came into my life when it did. All I knew about Nin before reading it had to do with the sex she had. People love to sensationalize, and so when one hears the name, Anais Nin, one automatically thinks "sexual awakening", "deviance", "erotica." What amazed me was how much we had in common outside of that - the insecurities, the way in which we see men and the world, the positive and negative aspects of a Catholic upbringing, and most importantly: the ongoing battle between loving submission and intellectual assertiveness; how difficult it is to be a strong woman while still holding on to one's emotional vulnerability. I learned so much from her insights...and while I won't be having three or four lovers any time soon (heh), I appreciate the spirit of adventure with which she tried to live her life. It's something I hope to emulate in my own way.
I cried (wept) as I read the last paragraph of Henry and June, because it magically captured exactly where I am at this moment in my life:
Last night, I wept. I wept because the process by which I have become woman was painful. I wept because I was no longer a child with a child's blind faith. I wept because my eyes were opened to reality - to Henry's selfishness, June's love of power, my insatiable creativity which must concern itself with others and cannot be sufficient to itself. I wept because I could not believe anymore and I love to believe. I can still love passionately without believing. That means I love humanly. I wept because from now on I will weep less. I wept because I have lost my pain and I am not yet accustomed to its absence.
How did she know?
Henry and June - Awesome

Interlude: Short Story Night

At the last Short Story Night to be held at my house for a while (sniff!), I was introduced to the following two stories:

Pig, by Roald Dahl - I love how, while the stories in this particular short story collection are intended "for grown ups", he still has that energetic, child-like storytelling ability that pulls you in from the hilarious first section of the story, in which the main character's parents are killed by police breaking into their own house. (and yes, it is funny) It is the story of Lexington, a life-long vegetarian who is raised by his aunt and develops a talent for cooking delicious vegetarian meals. However, everything goes topsy-turvy when he goes back to New York City, the city of his birth, and discovers the glorious taste of....MEAT! Trust me, it's not funny for the reasons you probably think it's funny....

Barn Burning, by William Faulkner - this tells the story of Sarty Snopes and his father, Abner, who has the bad habit of burning people's barns when he feels he's been wronged. Really, it's the story of how Sarty becomes an adult as he's forced to choose between defending his father's honor, and standing up for what's right. It was a powerful story, but Faulkner's prose is so dense that I couldn't really enjoy it as it was read aloud to me. Chunks of story eluded me. It's a story I'd love to read again and sink my teeth into on my own...

Pig - Good Times!
Barn Burning - Eh

Friday, October 06, 2006

Comics: The Next Generation

Currently reading: "Henry and June, from A Journal of Love (1931-32)" by Anais Nin
Next up: "The Odyssey" by Homer (I swear, I'll finish it before I move on to anything else!) then "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller

How does the comic book industry grow its readership? It does what television does....creates a new generation of an already exsisting property to entice new consumers to it while pleasing the current fans. TV's done it with shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Tiny Toon Adventures" (the next generation of Looney Tunes), and Marvel Comics is doing it with their "Ultimates" series.
As a relative newbie to comic books, I can't be expected to go wading through decades of comic history to catch up. Thanks to things like the "Ultimates" titles, I don't have to! A friend of mine recommended the Ultimate Spider-Man series, and as I've seen the movies and already love the character, I've recently plowed through the first collection in the series, containing Issues 1-13.
The familiar story of how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man is all there...but it has a modern teenage sensibility and humor that makes it a pleasure to read! Normally, I am quick to praise the writer and don't really give enough credit to the artists...but in this case Brian Michael Bendis' funny, poignant scripts have wonderful help in Mark Bagley's artwork. For every brilliant exchange between Spider-Man and a villain, (Spider-Man to Kingpin: "...and I really wanted to remember to tell you these things, because they're really important to me! *takes out notes* goes. You are so fat...that when you cut yourself shaving...marshmallow fluff comes out. No? OK, how about this one...? You are so fat...) there is a wordless panel that conveys everything you need to know (Peter Parker excitedly dancing around his room in his underwear comes to mind!). Of particular note is the handling of the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane...very sweet, but also infused with a modern sensibility. Aunt May lecturing Peter on safe sex as he writhes with embarrassment, for instance... Though I'm giving comic collections a rest for a while, I'm very much looking forward to Volume 2.
There is an interesting comic phenomenon going on right now that all started with a little book by Michael Chabon called "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" (a book I loved!). In that book, the main characters were comic book artists in the 40s who created a character called The Escapist, a comic-book answer to the horrors of WWII. That character has since taken on a life of its own, as Dark Horse Comics purported to "re-release" the "original" Escapist comics in three volumes of collections.
Now, in the most meta of all moves, Dark Horse has released an exciting new miniseries called The Escapists. The Escapists tells the story of young writer, Maxwell Roth, a recent orphan whose father was a huge Escapist fan. Max uses his inheritance to buy the rights to the Escapist, and employs the help of his friends Denny Jones (his letterer) and Case Weaver (the artist with whom he hopes to become more than friends!) in creating a new "Escapist" comic to bring the character to a new generation of readers. The three main characters are charged with a quirky earnestness that makes me care about following them and their story. What makes this miniseries special, though, is that in addition to the interplay between the well-developed "real world" characters, we also get a glimpse of each of the Escapist issues on which they are working.
The most poignant combination of the main characters and the comic they are creating comes in Issue #3, where we see panels of The Escapist chasing Luna Moth in the rain beautifully juxtaposed with speech bubbles from Max and Case, in which their dialogue parallels the visuals, and we see their nascent attraction to each other...
The Escapists is intended to be a 6-part series. Issues #1-3 are already on sale, and Issue #4 comes out next week, Wednesday. What are you waiting for??? Go get it!
Ultimate Spider-Man, Volume 1 - Good Times!
The Escapists - Awesome!