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: the utility of boredom

The Utility of Boredom is a collection of essays about baseball by Andrew Forbes (not the one I knew from Winnipeg 20 years ago). He is from Ottawa though, and his MLB team is the Blue Jays so I felt more of a connection with his (Ontario-based) thoughts than if they were all about southern California. It’s good and thoughtful and does some of that romanticizing of the sport that I enjoy so much. If you’re interested in why I like baseball this’d be a good book to read.

book review: a description of the blazing world

I was disappointed with Michael Murphy’s A Description of the Blazing World. The back blurb suggested a surreal story drawing ties between mysterious postcards, choose your own adventure books, the first science fiction novel and the big 2003 blackout in Ontario. The book had all those elements but it didn’t combine them in the way that I hoped.

There’s a man who gets obsessed with two people who have the same name as him, but his part of the story is creepy and he’s unsympathetic. The story of the teenage boy sent to live with his brother for a couple of weeks where he finds a mysterious copy of a book that has clues to his disappeared father is just annoying. I think the big problem is that neither of the main characters have any insight into anything. They just do things you as a reader can tell are bad ideas. It’s all a bit pointless and in the end it all gets laid out very clearly what happened.

Finally, on the craft side of things, I must be spoiled by Ryan North, but if you’re making Choose Your Own Adventure stories part of your novel and you present choices (with page numbers) in the context of the story, it is disappointing to the extreme that there’s nothing at the pages you choose to turn to.

book review: paying for it

Paying For It is Chester Brown’s comic-strip memoir about being a john. It is a fascinating look at prostitution and the arguments for and against it. Brown documents his decision to start paying for sex and each of the prostitutes he visited (with obscuring details) and the discussions he had with his friends about it.

Basically, Brown decided that romantic love was bullshit and why shouldn’t people have sex with people for whom it is a job? His companions tend to be more romantic (or as the cartoonist Seth says in the afterword, they “experience human emotions”). I should clarify; it’s possessive monogamy that Brown feels is the problem. We can have lots of friends, but why only one sexual partner? The afterword is filled with more information and notes about the book, and even if it doesn’t convince you to go pay for sex, it will make you think about the standard shortcut ways of thinking about prostitution.

Reading this book right after Debt: The First 5,000 Years was interesting, since that one was talking so much about how slaves are people who are removed from their social context, and Brown spends a good amount of time in the afterword debating whether any of his prostitutes were sex slaves (he doesn’t think they were).

book review: the complete essex county

The Complete Essex County, by Jeff Lemire, is a story about loneliness and abandonment in southern Ontario. And hockey. Old-time hockey. It’s so sad and good.

There are three books and some minicomics in this collection. The first story is about a boy being raised by his uncle, and who befriends Jimmy the gas-station guy who scored a goal in the NHL. The second story is about Jimmy’s father and uncle and how they were hockey players in Toronto and never spoke for twenty five years and then came to be old lonely men after everyone else around them dies. The third story is about the county nurse who meddles in people’s lives and tells Jimmy his uncle has died. There’s also parallel story set way back in time with the nurse’s ancestor who was a nun in charge of an orphanage.

All three stories work together and the book’s exactly the kind of thing I’d recommend for someone who wanted to see what kind of serious literary stuff comics can handle.

movie & book review: scott pilgrim

I finally saw the Scott Pilgrim movie. Fuck yes. That was great. There are lots of things different from the comic, but all around awesome adaptation, doing things in the movie that would be better than on the page and streamlining things to fit into a couple of hours. Excellent work.

So plotwise, Scott Pilgrim is 22 and starts the story dating a 17 year old named Knives Chau. Then he meets Ramona Flowers, and in order to date her has to defeat her League of 7 Evil Exes in awesome huge videogamey kung fu battles.

There are differences in the fights (Honest Ed’s doesn’t get destroyed in the movie), but I felt like the biggest difference was the playing up of Scott’s sort-of cheating on Knives with Ramona. Because the book is a lot more spread out timeline wise (taking place over months) the Knives thing gets kind of resolved a lot earlier in the story, whereas in the movie it’s still part of the ending. But really, fair enough.

There was less subspace in the movie, which I didn’t mind because there was already a lot of disbelief-stretching going on, so for the uninitiated it makes sense to leave that whole other world as something alluded to but not a huge plot-point. I did think that the use of the extra life was handled better in the movie as he actually went back to the last save-point and did things differently, the way you do in games. I liked that a lot.

I also liked the battle with the twins better in the movie because it took advantage of the whole movie thing, it being a battle of actual music. That was always harder to carry across in the comic, what Sex Bob-omb actually sounded like. The movie did it really well. And the fight between the gorilla and the dragons was pretty awesome.

So yeah. If you want more Kim Pine, and more subspace weirdness, and a very different ending you should really really really read the comic. And if you like the comic you should really see the movie. There we are.