book review: fifteen dogs

The idea behind André Alexis’ novel Fifteen Dogs is that Apollo and Hermes lay a bet on whether it would be possible for a dog to die happy if given human consciousness. To settle the bet they grant fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary office consciousness and see what happens, and that’s what the novel is about.

For some reason going in I’d assumed there would be one chapter for each of the dogs, but that’s not how it worked out. Some of the dogs came to a bad end right away, and then a pack was formed and eventually dissolved.

It was a story about language and about the purpose of consciousness and about finding a place in a world that wants beings to fit a certain mould. It was a good book.

I really liked it but it shouldn’t have won Canada Reads this year. The question the program asked was “what book do Canadians need to read right now?” or along those lines. As soon as you’re introducing Canada you’re making this a political question and the political inhabitants of the nation state of Canada with its history *need* to read something like The Break.

book review: norse mythology

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology translation is a fine little basic sampler book of tales about Thor and Loki and Freya and all that lot. I realized reading it how much the Marvel Comics versions of Asgard have warped my brain around this mythos, but yeah. They’re fine stories. There are bits where the Gaimanish language pokes through more than others, which I liked even if it felt a little anachronistic. This felt more like Fortunately the Milk… Neil Gaiman rather than American Gods Neil Gaiman, if that makes a difference to you.

If I had a lot of Norse myth stuff I might have stronger opinions on which stories were included and which weren’t but like I said, most of my knowledge comes via Kirby so I’m no expert. I didn’t have a book of Norse myths on my shelf before and now I do. eems like a win.

book review: green grass, running water

Casting about for something to read while my eink device was charging (remember that most of my physical books are still in boxes) I grabbed my iPad and discovered I’d begun Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water months ago but never gotten very far. So I remedied that.

It’s really good. It’s very fragmented and I needed to get into the proper headspace to bounce around between all the different characters (and mythological versions of the story no one will let Coyote tell), but once I found that rhythm I really really liked it.

There’s a dam on an Alberta reserve that is being kept nonfunctional by a dude living in his mother’s cabin (and a court injunction). There’s a not-quite-love triangle between a woman named Alberta and a pair of cousins, neither of whom she wants to marry. The Lone Ranger, Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe and Hawkeye (not the Matt Fraction-written version) are on the run from an asylum trying to fix the world.

Yeah. I really really liked it, and my buddy Patrick with whom I used to bookfight on the radio should read it as a better version of the Tom Robbins books he likes to dislike.

book review: supergods

I want to recommend Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human as if it was just a straight up recounting of superhero comics and how they developed. It’s a prose book, not comics itself. Very readable history. Yep. That’s it. Go read it.

Okay, I can’t do it. Even though I want to completely obscure the idiosyncratic bizarre excellence that the book contains, I won’t paper over the fact that an unsuspecting reader of comic-book history blithely following along with the tales of Bob Kane and Stan Lee and Kirby and Miller could be blindsided by this turn into Grant Morrison’s time in Kathmandhu when he met higher dimensional beings who explained to him how the universe works and how that affected his superhero comics (like the amazing All-Star Superman).

It’s a crazy great book about one writer’s relationship with superheroes and because he’s a bit of a mad egotist (in a very charming way) it feels like it’s more than just a story about a drug trip, at least more than one man’s psychedelic voyage but about a chunk of society’s weird shamanic voyaging.

If that sounds like a totally wankery waste of time to you, I won’t feel bad if you skip this one. I loved it though.

book review: trickster makes this world

Trickster Makes This World is a book about how trickster myths work in different cultures and the impact they have on the cultures they’re found in. It was a very interesting examination of creativity and art and the importance of transgression to humans.

Before picking up the book I was expecting to be reading about Coyote, Raven and Anansi, but Lewis Hyde was interested in a wider interpretation of Trickster that included Hermes (never having read much Greek mythology I wouldn’t have assumed the messenger was a trickster, but now I do) and Loki and applied how trickster-like transgression is used within history by political agents like Frederick Douglass.

It’s written in a pop-science kind of style so it’s not a difficult time. Because of that the insights feel a little easy, maybe a little glib. There’s definitely room to argue with Hyde because of the simplification he does in looking at all these myths with his specific focus. I enjoyed the book but it’s about analyzing stories in a certain way, which might not be the kind of thing everyone would be interested in.

book review: metal (northlanders vol. 5)

Metal is the fifth volume of Brian Wood’s excellent Northlanders series. As per usual, it’s got multiple stories in the book, each one with a different illustrator. I wasn’t such a huge fan of the story about the merchant captain who took his boat on a voyage of exploration instead of trade. I mean, it wasn’t bad or anything; it just didn’t grab me the way the big story, Metal, did.

Metal was about a crappy blacksmith who’s chosen by one of the old gods (while he’s tripping out on hallucinogens) to stop his village from bowing down and letting the Christians have their way with them just because they’ve got sacks of money. He rescues a woman the Christians are holding and then burns everything down. The two of them head off like an ancient day Bonnie and Clyde. They’re pursued by a hired sword who takes his job very seriously, and it’s violently excellent.

One thing I love about this series is how it is not tied to any sort of chronology. There are hundreds of years separating different stories, but they’re all Viking tales. It also means they’re easy books to recommend since you don’t need to read them in any really specific order.

book review: the book of genesis

In 2009 Robert Crumb illustrated the Book of Genesis. His introduction to the book dispels any thoughts that he’s trying to do some sort of parody or anything. It’s a pretty straight-up version of the entire text of Genesis (he does mention that he uses a couple of translations, but mostly the King James), illustrated in comic book form.

It’s kind of weird reading it this way because of the pacing (and also weird to be reading bible-stories in any form, but whatever). The panels of a comic train you to think of time in different ways, so you focus a bit more on who each of these people are in the “Echlehem begat Afinepek begat Khelipetev begat…” chunks. There are a lot of lists of descendents and while he didn’t give headshots of everyone there were a lot of them. And the choice of what he illustrated draws your attention to different things that you’d gloss over just reading the text.

There’s also a fair amount of nudity and nobody is very attractive, because they’re all drawn in a very R. Crumb kind of style.

It was an interesting experience, and did highlight how strangely the bronze-age people behaved (the story of Joseph and his brothers after he becomes the Minister of Finance for Egypt still makes very little sense) in one of the more influential and old myth-cycles the world has seen.