Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Never enough time for all this reading

Who ever just reads one thing at once? Don't we all have a few decent-sized books on the go? Aren't we all also filling out the day with a selection of magazines and articles and comics and whatever? It's not just me, right?

There is just so much great stuff to read, enjoy and absorb, and I've only got a short lifetime to get through it all. Better crack on.

A lot of the most rewarding reading experiences lately have come from the one-person book club, which is working out quite well.

A bit too well,  to be honest, because now when I go into the local bookshop at the start of every month, looking for something new, I'm worried I won't be able to find anything that matches the high standard of the things I've already read. They've been so bloody good, I'm start to dread the inevitable disappointment.

Still, it's paying off now. In fiction, the recent great stuff has included Emily Ruskovich's slow, mournful Idaho, the brutal and beautiful theatricality of The Yid by Paul Goldberg, and the unexpected turns in the road through John Darnielle's Universal Harvester, a journey that ended in strange new territory.

They've all been fantastically rewarding reads, and a further impetus to keep this book club thing going. At the moment, I'm hurtling through David Grossman's short, sharp A Horse Walks Into A Bar, and that's another one that's living up to the deal. So far.

The other half of my book club is all about the non-fiction, so I've been piling on that, although most of the factual books I've been reading - things like Brenna Hassett's Built on Bones, and The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt - have been in the safe topic regions of history and science. I've got to try a bit harder, although at least I haven't gone for the easy options of books about movies and music.

The most recent one was a cracker of a book about the criminal Kiwi underground in the 1950s, at a time when the pubs closed at 6pm, which was hugely interesting, and surprisingly useful for another writing project I've been working on. It all comes around.

It took me more than a year, here or there, but I just finished up a recent project to re-read all my Empire movie magazines - hundreds of issues, dating back to the early nineties.

It got a bit laborious there for a while, especially when there was some real fallow periods for great movies, but it was a fascinating experience going back through the years, tracking unspoken trends in cinema, and seeing the surprisingly slow dissolution of 90s lad culture, and checking out the initial reaction to films that have calcified over the years into 'total classic' or 'utter stinker', and realizing how many movies have been made over the years that have just been totally forgotten by everyone, everywhere.

The best thing about it was, of course, the painfully personal connection I have to these silly magazines - that issue with Kenneth bloody Branagh pretending to be Frankenstein is the first one I bought after moving out of my parents' place; there are the ones with Brandon Routh's Superman I got just after we got married; that Star Wars cover went all over Europe with us a decade ago.

There are almost half a dozen banana boxes full of Empires under the bed now, but I'm not getting rid of any of 'em, no matter how outdated they get.

Once the Empire project was done, I went straight onto another big British re-read, by going through another massive 2000ad prog slog, focused on the past 1000 issues of the galaxy's greatest comic.
Again, there are a bunch of weird trends that run through 20 years of a weekly publication, that become more obvious in one big binge-read. Sinister Dexter goes on and on too long, and even Nikolai Dante gets flabby when he goes through his pirate phase, but it doesn't last long, and picks up again with the return of Simon Fraser. Dredd just gets deeper and deeper, and there are entire series that were passable entertainment in weekly chunks, that become great reads in one go - Gordon Rennie's stories benefit particularly from this.

There are also huge chunks of dullness, and the anthology comics always has at least one story every issue that never really connects, and they become easy to ignore and skip past, especially when there are stories with far more thrill-power waiting at the end of the prog.

In other comics - because there are always, always other comics - I finally got around to reading Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple's Omega The Unknown comic, which was gloriously all over the place, and doesn't feel like anything else the publisher has done in the past few years. (Especially since it came out - fuck me - 10 years ago!)

I also went back through some of Joe Sacco's Sarajevo stuff, just because it's still bloody good, and always worth going back to again. I balanced out the worthiness with some Dicks comics by Ennis and McCrea, because they're still my favourite 'couldn't give a fuck' comics, (although Jimmy's Bastards is my Ennis of choice at the moment).

I tried out a bunch of new superhero comics from the library, just to see what was going on, but it wasn't that encouraging. There is some beautiful art, especially from Marvel, but it's all the same old shit, and the portions are too big. The DC stuff in particular feels particularly uninspiring, and nothing under the ugly and bland Rebirth design is really hitting it for me. Someone keeps buying these bloody things though, so what the hell do I know? At least I keep trying, but I never really seem to get anywhere.

I usually have some sort of Doctor Who book on the go, and have done since 1981. But I haven't read anything in a while, so I keep thinking I need to re-read all the New Adventures from the nineties.

I want to do it partly because I only recently completed the set (that only took 20 fuckin' years), and largely because I have a thing for smart women with short, dark hair. So I could go back and read them all in one go, but there are just so bloody many. I don't know if I have that kind of enthusiasm anymore, no matter how much the books are full of time-traveling potential.

The New Adventures are going on the list, because of course there is always a fucking list. All the books I need to get to, or catch up on, or try out for the first time. All the recommendations from friends, all the ones with the ace reviews I read. Onward and upward.

We're off traveling again at the end of the month,so the things at the very top of the list are the reading material I'll take on the trip, something I put a huge amount of thought into, and actually finalized a few months ago. I've got a new Kim Newman book that I've been saving for the planes and hotels, a couple of chunky magazines, and a plan to pick up at least one of Pat Mills' two recent books about the British comics industry on the way. 

I'm off to see the world again, but that's no reason not to have my nose stuck in another book. Life really is too short for all this.

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