Townhouse Books

Monday, August 29, 2005

Black Hole : Charles Burns & Spider-Man: Blue : Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

The 12 issues of Black Hole are chock-full of sadness, creepiness, and horror but are super, in a gruesome sort of way. The story is about Seattle teenagers afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease that gives them strange mutations -- a second mouth at the base of one kid's neck that can whisper (warning - there's a french kissing scene that made me yelp) or a tail. The mutated kids are harassed by the normals and become outcasts living in the woods. These teens still with love and loss and a few go crazy. Disturbing and fantastic art.

The team who did this Spider-Man: Blue also did a Daredevil: Yellow (and a Hulk: Gray, I think). From what I can tell, these series always focus on relationships and loss. In Blue, a present-day Peter Parker reminisces endlessly about Gwen Stacy, who died on his watch years earlier. Although the Gwen/M.J. parts are interesting, I've had about enough of Spider-Man's whines and lame one-liners, and overall this retelling of a superhero's most tragic moment was unnecessarily dull.

On the horizon: The Three Incestuous Sisters : An Illustrated Novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the author of Time Traveler's Wife.


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Monday, August 22, 2005

Box Man: Kobo Abe

I read this over the course of a month. I don't know.

I enjoyed it, but I think I liked kangaroo notebook more.

A box man is someone who constructs a carboard box in such a manner that it can fit over their entire body. The box allows the person to move around the city as a vagrant of sorts.

Kobo Abe went to lengths to distinguish the box man from the bum/homeless person. I think the main difference is that the box man is always at home (?).

The story is convoluted and involves 4 characters, and several case stories (?) a good percentage of the narrative is spent talking about the writing of the book. Is the author the sentient person? Which character is the author, or did the author just happen to find the diary of a box man?

At times, I just wanted to say who cares, tell me more about the box man.



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The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana:Umberto Eco

Well I did it. I finally read the thing.

An older man becomes an amnesiac when he has a stroke caused by high blood pressure. He remembers most everything he has ever read, unless some emotional significance has been attached to it.

The first 100 pages were most intriguing for me. He has to come to grips with where the real world meets the printed word. Drinking coffee results in burning his mouth etc... He is able to recite ad nauseum from passages relating to subjects inspired by words he hears. However, he can't remember how to have sex with his wife.

He appears to be on a relentless quest to reclaim his memories, but I don't actually feel the passion he has to get his life back. Iinstead I get the idea that he wants to passionately read the books he read as a child. Which is strange because I would think that he would remember most of these from memory. I don't know quite where Umberto draws the line on that one.

The ending comes in throes, so watch out for the waves.

I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure who should devote what little time they have to it.



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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Historian: Elizabeth Kostova

It's mere minutes before they make this book into a movie. It will have to be told in a lot of flashbacks, but I already know I'll see it.

Because this is a good book and because it's about vampires, there's a very strong chance that people on this blog will read it. As a result, I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll keep my review brief and vague and we can discuss in more detail later.

This book is told as a story within a story within a story. A good 200 pages of it is an entire mini-novel consisting of one character's letters to another.

Things I liked: it is suspenseful, it is a good mystery and you struggle to make note of tons of information that will come in handy as you read further; learning about the history of the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Europe -- the book is, I think, superbly researched; she doesn't shy away from the gruesome.

Things I didn't like: the multi-story technique, all moving toward the same ending, is a bit contrived; having to remember a ton of false history that is only going to get in the way of real information in my head; she is not a great writer -- there are no sentences you stop and revel in or read aloud just to feel the words in your mouth.

But, that said, she is one heck of a storyteller. Enjoy.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Perfect Madness: Mothering in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner

I am so blown away by this book. A former colleague of mine, now a stay-at-home mom with a home-based portrait business, recommended it at over lunch last week. Before I was even finished with the book I had to call her to move forward our next lunch date, because I so desperately want to discuss the book. The author has recently moved back to the States after living in France for her first few years as a mother. In comparison with the system of government-run and subsidized child and health care, and with the child-rearing philosophy she was exposed to in France, she is taken aback but finds herself swept up in the horrible rat-race experience of mothering in the US. Working moms are pulling all-nighters so their children won't be stigmatized for not bringing homemade cupcakes on their birthdays. Stay-at-home moms are turning to methamphetamines to keep up with their childrens' breakneck extracurricular schedules. And both camps feel that they have made the wrong life choices, that they are failing their families, and that if they could just get it together, they could raise better children. Here's the omigod moment of the book: women are becoming more and more isolated -- working moms from stay-at-home moms, moms from non-moms, blue state women from red state women -- and the women's issues that matter to us (quality of life, equality in the workplace) are falling off the radar screen. Very cool book.


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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mind Children by Hans Moravec

Hans Moravec's book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence purports to give the reader a glimpse into the future of robotics, explaining how robots work and how they will change in form, function, and ability. Unfortunately the book was written in 1988, and things didn't really pan out the way Moravec thought they would.

Moravec seems to fall into that classic AI fallacy of form equalling equivalence. Just because a automaton looks like a roach doesn't mean that it's the same thing as a roach and it especially doesn't mean that it's as smart as a roach. Just because bug and machine both know how to walk and tend not to bump into each other doesn't mean that the robot is as "smart" as a bug and it definitely doesn't mean that we'll eventually be able to next build a robot thats as smart as a frog, then a snake, then a bird, eventually resulting in a human-equivalent AI.

The thing that is missed is that computer computation is not the same thing as the intelligence that a roach has. We can build a program that can emulate some of the basic abilities of a roach, but we're not able to build something that is as capable as a roach. Will we ever? Moravec definitely thinks so, but I have some serious doubts.

If you get a chance to either pick up this book at the library, give it a read. It's very short and it's interesting as a historical artifact even if we still seem to be 50 years away from anything resembling a real AI.


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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Supremes: Essays on the Current Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States: Barbara Perry

Really, I was on a little Supreme Court side-trip before O'Connor stepped down! That said, I'm even more interested in the Court's workings now. I mean, if you're gonna take away my right to an abortion, I'd like to know a little more about you. Scalia.

This collection serves well as a brief and engaging introduction. The essays are short (the entire book is under 200 pages) and give a good mix between basic bio, scattered personality traits, and behavior on the bench. Some of the legal passages can be a bit dry, but again...the essays are short. The book isn't really intended to function as a scholarly exploration or history of the court, but it absolutely whetted my appetite for just that sort of thing (I'm going to start A People's History of the Supreme Court soon, I think.)

So if you want to dip a toe in, I'd recommend it. If you already know some basics but want a little more bio on the Justices, I'd recommend it. If you want a hard-core look at the legal ramifications of landmark might need more.


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