Thursday, January 29, 2015

(Audio)book review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Written by: Mary Roach

Published: 2003

Synopsis: Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers some willingly, some unwittingly have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them (Via Goodreads)


“Death. It doesn't have to be boring.”

When I decided I wanted to try and read more non-fiction in 2015* I knew that Mary Roach would be among the first few authors I read. Her popular science books Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canal, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void have made the blogger rounds over the years and I've always made note to read her eventually. I ended up decided to start my Roach voyage with Stiff for a specific reason, death fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure.

As a non-religious lady I have no illusions that I will be reincarnated after death or find myself in a fluffy or fiery post-life environment but I find it absolutely inconceivable to imagine not being conscious. That's what scares me about death, the idea of not being me anymore. This was something that weighed heavily on me as a kid, I used to get worked up about the idea of dying so i tried to get past it by learning about death. This is a big reason why I'm a horror fan and more likely than not why I chose zombies as my area of research. They are, after all, a physical example of life without consciousness.

I might be more comfortable with the idea of death now but when faced with the reality of it I revert back to that childhood panic. In biology class I always loved dissecting hearts and eyeballs but put a full frog in me and I couldn't do it any more, the abstract suddenly became all too real. When I was 14 my mum sat me and my sisters down to have a discussion about organ donation and whether we wanted to "opt in or out". On the one hand of course I wanted to donate my organs to help someone else live, but to donate my organs means I'm dead and that wasn't a concept I was in any way ready to handle. I also have this irrational fear of being cremated and my ashes being separated between two locations. It's ridiculous because I don't believe that I'll be conscious (whether spiritually or physically) to be aware of this separation but I also have this weird need to be kept together after death. It's this whole big thing basically.

That's where this book comes in, this wonderfully, terrifying book that wraps up all of my fears and concerns in a handy 303 pages. The book not only looks at the various uses for cadavers but the common fears and concerns about death and our physical existence after it. One of the earliest chapters I found most interesting was to do with cadavers in medical schools. I knew cadavers were used for anatomy lessons but I didn't know that students often used the same cadaver for an entire year. The idea of the students bonding with their cadaver and eventually holding memorial services for them was actually really beautiful. Roach quotes one student at one of these memorials:
“One young woman's tribute describes unwrapping her cadaver's hands and being brought up short by the realization that the nails were painted pink. "The pictures in the anatomy atlas did not show nail polish", she wrote. "Did you choose the color? Did you think that I would see it? I wanted to tell you about the inside of your hands. I want you to know you are always there when I see patients. When I palpate an abdomen, yours are the organs I imagine. When I listen to a heart, I recall holding your heart.”
Death is a deeply personal thing and it's nice to know that even though a certain amount of distance is often needed for people who work frequently with cadavers, people who donate their bodies are still respected and their gift is appreciated. Because as the book demonstrates, if science hadn't had access to cadavers we probably wouldn't have half of the medical and societal advances that we do today. And at the end of the day I kind of think that was what this book was about. Yes it was about giving a historical account of the role of cadavers in science and related fields, but it's also about normalising death and giving people the information they need to consider donating themselves to science. We've all benefited so much from the cadavers that came before us that it's almost selfish to keep our bodies complete and whole only to be buried and left to rot.
It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more then half of the people in the position H's family was in will say no, will choose to burn those organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon's scalpel to save our own lives, out loved ones' lives, but not to save a stranger's life. H has no heart, but heartless is the last thing you'd call her.”
There are of course religious and health reasons why someone wouldn't want to donate organs or their body to science and the book doesn't throw any judgement on people who make that decision. It's more aimed at the families who choose to opt out because the idea of splitting their husband or father or brother into pieces is too painful, even though the deceased person checked yes. It's about showing all the different ways that donations of limbs or organs help make life safer and better for future generations. It's about taking that frog and turning it back into the separate pieces so that you can once again see the big picture.  As Roach says:
"It's the reason we say "pork" and "beef" instead of "pig" and "cow."
But it's not all a PSA about donating bodies, I promise. There are gory and insane chapters about head transplants and cannibalism. Listening to the awful human concoctions people across the world (so much urine and feces) used to treat illnesses makes me so happy I live in the 21st century. I am glad that if I go to the doctor with a sore throat or painful back I don't have to worry about the phrase essence of gallbladder** popping up. And while more bodies could always be donated to science, at least we don't have med students paying their entry into school with dead bodies anymore.

Being a pop science book written by a journalist, this book is very accessible for non-science buffs. Having a body and knowing that they are things that exist is about as much prior knowledge as you need to have. It's funny and engaging and while I guess for people who are against donating or experimenting on cadavers the lighter tone might appear disrespectful and cavalier, I felt like she gave the appropriate gravitas when the situation called for it. A warning though, there are so pretty graphic descriptions of both human and animal dissection and experimentation so if things of this ilk are likely to turn your stomach I would maybe consider giving it a miss, or at least be prepared to skip ahead.

*Non-PhD related non-fiction because I already read a metric tonne of that stuff. 

**for example. I didn't take notes while I listened to this chapter so i can't remember exact titles but ugh, so much gross.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Graphic Novel Mini-Review #29

Fatale: The Devil's Business (2)

Written by: Ed Brubaker; illustrated by: Sean Phillips

Published: 2013

My Thoughts: Ah Brubaker, you've done it again. Volume 2 of Fatale takes place in the late 1970s so it isn't quite as noir-ish as the first volume, nor is it quite as mysterious. This volume gives us a much closer look at Jo, our ageless captivating fatale, although she's still as much of a closed book as she was in volume 1. She finds herself caught in a seedy situation when an actor and his ex (now dealer) sneak into her backyard after running away from a crime scene. It turns out that Jo has a past connection to the Mason-esque cult church that the two are running from and as the volume continues it gets messier and murkier and hints at Jo's mysterious past. I loved having a bit more of her perspective this volume even if there is still so much to learn before the series ends. Just as she entrances every man she comes into contact with, I found myself captivated in the sadness that surrounds her. Where has she been? What has she seen? The art beautifully compliments the mood of the comic, although there are times where secondary characters are hard to distinguish from one another.

My Friend Dahmer

Written and Illustrated by: Derf Backderf

Published: 2012

My Thoughts: I think this might be the first non-comic series comic I've read in awhile. Tom's brother bought it for us for Christmas and I eagerly read through a couple of days later. The subject of the comic is fascinating for a couple of reasons. First and most obviously, it's a look at Jeffrey Dahmer before he was the Jeffrey Dahmer who murdered and raped and ate people. Second, it's fascinating in its complete dullness. Dahmer is a strange guy, for sure, but what high school didn't have the guy who put on weird voices or seemed to be dealing with his own hidden demons? As much as Backderf exclaims over his disbelief that no teachers ever took Dahmer aside or spoke to his parents, I'm not sure there was ever enough, judging off this comic, to really write home about. While Backderf paints a sad tale of a boy who grew up without much love or attention in a tiny town of few distractions and old-fashioned morals which made it difficult to come out as gay, what really hit me was that Dahmer could have been so many people I knew growing up. I knew people who smoked too much pot and drank themselves into comas every weekend. I saw people walk around our high school campus without ever really seeming to fit in or even wanting to. I knew people who struggled with coming out as gay, who battled with their parents or who were hurt by their parents disapproval or oblivion. This comic really hit home that anyone could be a serial killer. Most people won't be, but it's not like they're walking around with a giant sign reading "danger danger, future murderer" while slaughtering kittens in front of you. The book does get a little armchair psychologist-y at times and I think Backderf could have benefited from a little more inward examination but he's done a great deal of work to combine his personal anecdotes from high school with evidence that has since come out about Dahmer's first dalliances with animal mutilation, sexual identity and his first murder. It's sensational without being sensationalist.

Hawkeye: L.A Woman (3)

Written by: Matt Fraction; Illustrated by: Annie Wu, Javier Pulido

Published: 2014

My Thoughts: L.A. Woman is the collection of Hawkeye issues that focus on the lady Hawkeye, Kate Bishop. After being well and truly fed up with Clint/Hawkeye's self-destructive bullshit she decides to make her way to L.A to start fresh and a P.I. Kate felt a little less together in this collection than the previous two and I can't work out if it's just because she doesn't have the human wreck known as Clint Barton to be compared to or if she's actually more of a disaster in these pages. There definitely does seem to be a great deal more of the "she's grown up rich and hasn't ever really had to consider paying for accommodation or food or life" stuff than I think I remember from volumes 1 or 2. These were problems I battled with while reading the volume, but I also fell pretty hard for her almost instantly. Maybe her messy life is a condescending way to make a female superhero appeal more to general readers, but she also felt a bit like a grown up Veronica Mars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (what with the ass-kicking) which is always okay in my books. David Aja is off art duty this volume, and while I missed his stunning art I quite enjoyed Wu's take on the character. There was a lot more experimentation in terms of the different art styles, and I found the switches into the almost-chibi anime style a nice representation of Kate's arrested development. I am also totally on board for an Elliot Gould look-alike and stories that poke fun at the Hollywood persuit for eternal youth any day of the week.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Written by: David Levithan and John Green

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Will Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their world will collide and Iives intertwine.

It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chiacago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old - including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire - Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical. (via Goodreads)

That's what the voices in your head are for, to get you through the silent parts.

I debated with myself about whether or not I should write this review. Like the last two John Green novels I've reviewed there was stuff in here I liked and stuff I really didn't care for and I didn't want to push you guys to the point of insanity with yet another wishy-washy complaining review about John Green. I'm not entirely sure why I decided to read another John Green novel. Ultimately I blame Netgalley and the offer of free books, but I was also curious. Curious about (1) how another author's additions fit with John Green and (2) what am I missing here?

In my review of Looking for Alaska I mentioned that I didn't think John Green wrote characters particularly well. To me it feels like he has a story he wants to tell (dealing with cancer, dealing with the death of a loved one) and he moulds the characters to tell that story. And like I said before, this is fine. Different authors have different strengths, but I think I tend to gravitate towards characters rather than stories. Or rather, I prefer my stories to unfold organically through the character. Writing Will Grayson, Will Grayson threw a wrench in this formula because it's kind of like playing a game of mad libs. Green would write one chapter and then Levithan would write the next and so on and so on. So while Green could begin with a general idea of the story he wanted to tell (kid who is terrified of life essentially has to learn to live) Levithan's involvement surely threw him a few curve balls. Ultimately I think this led to me enjoying the book far, far more. The characters felt more organic, like they were sweeping the events of the novel in particular directions rather than the other way around. Green's Will Grayson was probably the only character that stuck out as a typical Green character and even he wasn't quite as "blank face + quirky characteristics" as I'd found previous characters to be.

It took me awhile to get into this novel but I honestly think this was mostly a case of a poorly edited review copy. The chapter headings weren't clearly marked so on occasion I'd move into the next chapter without realising it and become catastrophically confused about the switch in character names and so forth. There are clearly downfalls to having your two main characters share the same name. I'm certain this isn't the case in the physical edition and the proper release of the ebook, but if you're thinking of getting this digitally I'd recommend sampling a chapter just to check. That being said, David Levithan's Will Grayson storyline also took me awhile to find footing for. He made the stylistic choice to remove capitals from his writing, because his Will sees himself as "a lowercase person". It took some time to adapt to this shift in style every alternating chapter, although it actually took me awhile to realise why it felt so fractured. He's also such a depressed and angry character that it took awhile to fit into his rhythm and begin to see things from his perspective. I'd guess that this jarring sensation is what Levithan was aiming for, replicating the characters discord in the reader, but nonetheless it made for a struggle at the start of the book.

I still detest the way John Green writes romance. I couldn't find a single instance of a spark between Green's Will and his crush Jane. Part of this could be explained through Grayson's decision to avoid caring for things because that "always leads to being hurt*" but ultimately it came down to the same weird idealisation  that all of Green's male characters feel for their female crushes. Even if the female character is fleshed out (which I'd argue very few of them are) all of that progress is instantly slashed away when the guy falls for her because... why? Because the author wanted them to be in love? Because the story was lacking a relationship? Because the best way to show that the guy has healed and become a complete person is to reward him with a girlfriend? Amazingly, Green's Will has a gay best friend who is far more realistic when it comes to relationships. He falls quickly and he falls hard, but he recovers and moves on to the next love just as quickly. If this novel wasn't by Green himself, I'd think it was making a statement on the kind of shallow relationships depicted in Green and Co's YA novels. Tiny (that's Will's gay best friend) might have shallow relationships but the book actually explores why he has such superficial relationships and the character himself looks inwards in a way that I've never seen present in a John Green novel before.

The book hits the usual comedic highs and emotional lows that you'd expect from a YA coming of age novel. There's music and musicals (god do I hate reading music lyrics within novels) and drinking and fake I.Ds. There's a lot to really like in this book and, at least from my perspective, the flaws are less intrusive as the ones I found in Looking for Alaska and TFioS. Maybe it was the duel narration, but I didn't find myself really latching on to anything into this novel until I hit the halfway mark. So points earned for fixing some of my issues with the Green template but points lost for not quite having the spark to catch me from the first few pages.

*I never really understood the basis for this, maybe I missed it but there didn't seem to be any specific cause for such an extreme point of view. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book review: Outlander: Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander: Cross Stitch (1)

Written by: Diana Gabaldon

Published: 1991

Synopsis: The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. (Via Goodreads)

A hedgehog? And just how does a hedgehog make love?" he demanded.

I'd like to say there was a valid reason I decided to finally give in and read Outlander. Maybe because I'd heard such great reviews from people like Sarah, or I wanted to read it before I gave the TV show a watch. But honestly, I 100% only read it for the promise of sexy Scottish fellas in kilts. And sexy Scottish fellas in kilts were delivered in droves. Actually, the title of sexy Scot is really reserved for the sexy Scot of the novel - Jamie Fraser. Tall, strong and with hair the colour of fire.

Pictured: TV depiction of sexiest Scot* does not live up to my imagination
I imagine your interest in this book hinges on whether or not you warm to Jamie as a character because if he isn't on the page doing something, the characters present are talking about him or lusting after him. Honestly, in the context of the book he's the greatest thing since sliced bread and it gets pretty funny to see how far people are willing to go to get close to him. I'm looking directly at you here Laoghaire. He's perhaps the most romanticised person I've encountered in a book since Edward Cullen. And while I enjoy Jamie a whole lot more than Sparkle-butt, everyone's obsession with the outlaw is also kind of baffling. He's treated with a reverence and a fear that I don't think he ever really lives up to - but I guess when your life is filled with murderous outlaws and sadistic Redcoats it's easy for a nice guy to be built up to mythic standards. Also, romance.

Claire is another character that I think you either love or hate. I really love that Galbadon chose the end of WWII as the launching place for the novel because it was a time when women were finding themselves reverted once again to second class citizens in the wake of the returning male population. After helping build bombs and aircraft and serving as nurses on the battlefront, women weren't content with just being secretaries or housewives. Claire herself is struggling to find a hobby now that her career as a nurse is effectively over and this causes even more problems when she finds herself 200 years in the past where women are seen as being fit for even less. If this novel had taken place 20 years earlier or later I don't think Claire would have been nearly as combative as she was when she tried to adjust to 18th century Scottish life. That being said, she does a remarkable job blending in with the Gaelic speaking masses. If I were to find myself in her position, I'm pretty sure I would have been burnt at the stake the second I called Jamie bae or whipped out my smart phone. And if I wasn't I would have died of hunger almost immediately since I know nothing about plants or nursing or life in the Scottish highlands.

The novel is a little long. I think it could have benefited from a heavy edit to get rid of a couple of the  barely described sex scenes or slimmed down some of Claire's trips to the garden to pick herbs. I get it, they used a lot of herbs in their medicine back then and Claire knew all their Latin names. I don't care how big her basket is, please take me back to a scene with Geillis (who is totally Stevie Nicks) or Dougal, who I had way too big a crush on. Apparently Dougal in the TV show looks like this:

Which squashes any hope of me bothering with the TV show at all**. I was imagining him more like a Scottish Javier Bardem, which makes sense because this is a ROMANCE.

Length be damned though, this book was fun. I revelled in the castle drama and Claire's temper tantrums. The scenes at Wentworth Prison shifted from horrific to hilarious and even though something like that should be completely jarring, in this book it works.  The book is campy and inconsistent with its fantasy, but Gabaldon is also a fantastic writer - which if I'm being honest I wasn't really expecting. I'm not entirely convinced I want to keep going with the series straight away (they're so freaking huge and I'm still recovering from finishing GOT three years ago) but they're now well and truly on my radar.

*I haven't watched the TV show but seriously, this is Jamie? Ugh, I was imagining Scottish Charlie Weasley and this guy is no Charlie Weasley. (maybe it's just this picture but he looks very Theon Greyjoy-y and ewwww). 

**I'm sorry Graham McTavish. You were great in Red Dwarf but you are not *my* Dougal.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 Reading Survey

I decided to cave and fill in an end of the year survey. Not that I really needed to have my arm twisted (I do love a good survey). This ones comes from Perpetual Page-turner and I'm just going to focus on the Best in Books part that she created.

1. Best Book You Read In 2014?

I think this would be a tie between Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers and Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home. They're both books I'd put off reading even though everyone gave them brilliant reviews. I'm so glad I've finally read them both. They're such knock outs.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Okay I didn't finish it (yet) but I'm probably going to have to nominate The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R Carey. It wasn't a book I had been eagerly awaiting the release of but I was definitely surprised that it didn't hook me in at all.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I didn't really know much about this book but most people who I'd spoken to about it really emphasised the romance elements so I was expected a lengthy Mills and Boon novel to be honest.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

Oooooh I think this would be Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I may have only read it last month but I've been telling everyone I know about it.

5. Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

Rat Queens! Kurtis J. Wiebe's kickass comic series is everything a D&D loving feminist could want in life.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

Christopher Moore! I knew about him and had his books sitting on my shelf but it was only this year that I finally gave one a go and fell hopelessly in love. SO GOOD.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Wicked isn't necessarily outside of my comfort zone generically, but rebooted stories (or films) isn't usually my cup of tea so I wasn't sure whether or not I'd like this or not.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Going to go with The Sisters Brothers again here. There's definitely thrills and action in the book, but I'm mostly picking it because I basically read it non-stop from start to finish.

9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I'm terrible at re-reading books lately so honestly probably none. But if we're going theoretically which book is the most re-readable I'd choose either Lamb or Fool by Christopher Moore.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

The Martian by Andy Weir. Having bought the audiobook I don't have ready access to it, but it's probably one of the more iconic covers of the last year or two.

11. Most memorable character of 2014?

Maybe Frank from In the Miso Soup by Ryu (the other) Murakami. But not in a complimentary way - he still haunts me.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent was gorgeous.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Damn, I'm not really sure. I'm going to choose Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi because even with the problems it's probably the one that had me mulling over it the longest.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?

The Sisters Brothers and Tell the Wolves I'm Homes for sure.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

I don't note down favourite quotes and I'm too lazy to go through all my copies of books to see if I highlighted anything so I'm just going to pick a line for The Sisters Brothers I know I loved.
“Your laughter is like cool water to me," I said. I felt my heart sob at these strange words, and it would not have been hard to summon tears: Strange. "You are so serious all of a sudden," she told me. "I am not any one thing," I said."
 16.Shortest  and Longest Book You Read In 2014?

Shortest is one of the many comic issues I read in 2014. Longest was The Goldfinch which was a whopping 771 pages.

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

In the Miso Soup was amazing and I am still shocked by one scene in particular. If you've read the book you know the one I mean. *shudders*

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

I'm going to go with Georgie McCool and Neal from Rainbow Rowell's Landline. 

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Johanna and John Kite in How to Build a Woman. Do they count as non-romantic? There's definitely a romantic element but throughout a novel of her being abused and trodden on by countless men I loved that he was there when she needed him.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

I read almost entirely new-to-me authors in 2014 which makes this question hard. I'm going to select Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. Previously I've read her book Zoo City. 

21. Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

Lamb and Fool. Alley has been telling me for YEARS to read Moore and I foolishly filed away her recommendations.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?


23. Best 2014 debut you read?

Burial Rites and Tell the Wolves I'm Home. 

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Guards! Guard! by Terry Pratchett.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Lamb. Or Fool. Or Lamb. Or Fool. DON'T MAKE ME PICK.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

Tell the Wolves I'm Home. God that book had me bawling.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?


28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Tell the Wolves I'm Home. (It's ridiculous how many of these questions can be answered by the same half a dozen books)

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

Amy Poehler's memoir purely because the audiobook is full of guest stars and different formats and craziness.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

I DNF Portraits of a Killer by Patricia Cornwell because it was the most miserable attempt at research I've ever seen. Almost offensive in how lazy and poorly written it was.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pages to Panels - Linkage (4)

I'm working on a new book to comic comparison post, but in the meantime I decided to share some of the links I've acquired over the last few months while working on this feature. They're all over the shop really, some are helpful recommendations for how to navigate the comic world and others are about comics and mental health or science. Definitely worth a read if you're wanting to immerse yourself into this world a little more.

 *From The Mary Sue a helpful guide to reading crossover events (Via The Mary Sue)

*Another handy guide from Jordan at TMS about the importance and unimportance of continuity in comics (Via The Mary Sue)

*Need some more help working out what comics to read? Here's a handy list of some of the web's best comic sites (Via Make Use Of)

*An interesting article on the portrayal of mental illness in comics (Via Slate)

*Varying slightly, this article looks at the use of comics and superheroes in children's therapy  (Via The Daily Beast)

*Moving into the science world, can comics ever replace scientific journal articles? (Via Science Nordic)

*Comic demographics are shifting and the increase in female audiences is having a huge impact on the comic world (Via Business Week)

*Wired wraps up the best comics of 2014 (Via Wired)

*shifting away from comics proper, Empire runs through 40 surprising films that have comic book origins (Via Empire Online)

*Marvel films had a bumper year in 2014 with the release of GotG and Cap America and their announcements for the future of the MCU. According to Devin Faraci, 2014 was the year Marvel redefined themselves (Via Badass Digest)


Read my previous Pages to Panels posts: 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 Reading Resolutions - Diversifying my TBR

Okay, remember when I said I didn't have any reading resolutions and that making fixed plans probably wouldn't work out how I wanted them to? Well I decided to throw caution to the wind and write up a post of books that I want to read that will help me diversify my regular reading status quo. I'm trying to make up this list with books I already have in my possession since I really, really need to stop spending so much money on books I don't read for several years after purchase and the rest I'm going to endeavour to get from my library.

My aim isn't necessarily to read all of these books, although I'm hoping that by writing out such a long list I will be "in the mood" for at least one of these books per month. That way if I'm having an especially white/middle class/American/male month, at least I'm getting a little variety in my diet. The idea isn't that these are the only POC/female/non-fiction reads I'm interested in nor are they the only ones I'll read all year. I might end up reading very few of these particular books but still bring up my end of year stats with other books that I discover throughout the year. Basically, I'm hoping that by listing out some diverse reading options here I'll be able to switch something on in my brain that will subconsciously lead to me picking up more of these types of books.

As for the types of books on this list, I'm aiming for more non-fiction, more female writers and more non-American and POC US writers. Ideally those non-American writers won't simply be Australian/English/Canadian authors, but let's not shoot for Pluto when we haven't yet walked on the Moon. And as you'll see from the list, technically some of these books fulfil two or three of the criteria which is just an awesome bonus.

The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films by Kier-La Janisse

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the history of comic book heroines by Mike Madrid

Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Ewles

Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture by Laurence Maslon, Michael Kantor

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson

Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin

Dear Life by Alice Munroe

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Panopticon by Jenni Fagen

The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Odaatje

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

The Returned by Jason Mott

We by Yevgeny Zamytin

Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryu Murakami

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Friday, January 2, 2015

(Audio)book review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian

Written by: Andy Weir

Read by: R.C Bray

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him? (Via Goodreads)


Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped

It hasn't been an easy road, reading this book. I had seen it around the internet for awhile but it wasn't until glowing reviews popped up on AlleyMeg and Sarah's blogs that I made a conscious decision to see what all the fuss was about. This coincided with me having a credit on Audible and deciding that yes, a book about a guy being stranded on Mars was exactly the kind of book I wanted to listen to on my bus rides and runs. But then the worst happened, I hated the audio reader. HATED him. I got a couple of minutes in and I found his voice so bland and boring that I couldn't believe that he'd be able to convincingly make the audio read as funny as everyone has said the book is. 

So I put it aside. I moved onto other physical books and audiobooks and hoped that someone would send me a copy for the ninja bookswap or for my birthday. Or if I could get my act together I'd remember to pick it up from the library after putting my name down on the wait list. None of those things happened, so I didn't get to read it. And then I found myself getting ready for a run without a podcast or audiobook to accompany me. Emily had just mentioned The Martian on her blog and I decided "screw it" I'd give it another try. At the very least the crappiness might be enough to encourage me to run faster so I can get home and turn it off. But this time I didn't hate the reader. I still don't think he was necessarily the best pick for the part, but I pushed through and the awesomeness of the book overwhelmed the mediocrity of the reader*.

The book isn't quite an epistolary novel but I think that was actually the best call Andy Weir could have made. Rather than try and frame everything within log entries, Weir combines this epistolary technique with regular narrated chapters. I think it could have been an interesting experiment to read an entire book as Mark writes the entries into his computer, especially when NASA begins to contact him and struggles to find a method of rescue. But by combining his logs with regular chapters from the perspective of several characters on Earth as well as his ex-crew who are in transit, it becomes less on a "will he/won't he" survival story and more of a scientific investigation. As much as I loved listening to Mark recount his day on Mars, I found it equally fascinating to see his daily achievements (bacteria in the soil is alive! Potatoes are beginning to grow! Still have air!) side by side with NASA's attempts to first communicate with him and then to come up with a viable rescue plan. Because this book is heavy on the science and light on the science fiction, Mark's role was pretty limited - It's not like he could rebuild a space ship from junk on the planet and high tail it back home in time for Christmas. But because the book is so heavily focused on scientific possibility it's even more amazing to see what he does manage to do. I'm pretty sure I would have just given up and curled up into a ball. Maybe that's why I'm not an astronaut (it's definitely why I'm not an astronaut).

I think a great helper in this department was the fact that I had so recently finished Chris Hadfield's book. While I am definitely no expert on the science in this novel, the way it and the astronauts were portrayed seemed to be in the same spirit as Hadfield's very realistic autobiography. This novel is, at times, brutal in depiction of life as an astronaut. If the events that instigated the novel, i.e. the dust storm which led the team to think Mark was dead, had happened on Earth there's very little chance that they would have left him behind even if he was dead. But when you're dealing with a foreign environment and space crafts which are built to carry precise weights and loads, you have to make the hard decisions. Do you bring back the body of your team member or do you have a lighter load which means less chance of mechanical issues on departure? And that's probably my favourite aspect of the novel. Saving Mark isn't as simple as turning around the space craft and heading back. There are so many tiny considerations that need to be discussed and possibilities that need to be explored. While Hollywood makes it seem like there's a rocket and a team of astronauts ready to go at any available moment, this book shows the reality of the situation. It's almost impossible to send a probe with food out immediately, let alone actual people who need to survive for the year or so it'd take to travel to Mars and back. But in direct contrast to this, people outside of this world won't see it this way. They see a man stranded on Mars and they want to know why you haven't saved him yet. Why aren't you turning the ship around or launching a new one? How could you even leave him behind in the first place? While this quandary doesn't really feature too heavily in the novel (and it's mostly framed through a NASA PR employee) it's one of the reasons I'm happy the novel wasn't a standard epistolary told through Mark's logs.

But the book isn't all potato crops and PR drama. Well, it is all potato crops and PR drama, but it's also hilarious. Who would have thought a book about a man stranded on Mars with about a 2% chance of survival would be funny? Mark might be facing death. but he's not about to be a morose bastard. He's hilariously dry about absolutely everything. Toilets, farming, music, survival - you name it and he's made a self-deprecating or droll comment about it. It's the humour at the heart of this novel that makes it stand out from the hundreds of other high concept science fiction novels and makes it approachable for people who wouldn't normally dream of reading a book like this. So if this book doesn't instantly speak to you on a personal level I recommend that you come for the humour and stay to watch fictionalised versions of the brightest people on Earth puzzle over how to save a man a gazillion miles from home.

*R.C Bray if you ever google yourself and come across this, I'm sorry. I'm sure you're a great guy and a fantastic reader but you reading this book + me = NOPE.


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