I had not intended to read The Magicians by Lev Grossman when I started my 2016 reading challenge. I had picked out a different book for the science fiction/fantasy category. But then I watched the first season of “The Magicians” on television, and decided that I needed to see the source material. The Magicians is the first in a trilogy of books. Think of it as an American version of Harry Potter attending a college version of Hogwarts, graduating, and entering adult magicianhood. The book is certainly denser than the TV show, and the characters have more emotional depth. But it is still a comfortable read. I’ll be reading the other two books in the trilogy.
All in Color for a Dime was the first book about comic books that I ever read. I bought my first copy in 1971 when I was in the army, stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. It is a book of essays that fascinated me then and still does. I have read the book from cover to cover at least three times, and perhaps four. I have also gone into it occasionally to re-read a specific essay that I enjoy. I’m particularly fond of “The First (arf, arf) Superhero of Them All (Popeye)” by Bill Blackbeard and “The Four-Panelled, Sock-Bang-Powie Saturday Afternoon Screen” by Chris Steinbrenner. You probably picked up on the fact that neither of those essays are truly about comic books. The first is about E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theater comic strip, and the second about serialized movie shorts mainly from the 1930’s and 40’s. Both have ties to comic books and fit well into the book. I finally had to buy a new copy of the book because the glue had completely dried up in my first copy and the acid yellowed pages were coming loose.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway was published in 1964, three years after his death. I bought my copy in the late 1970’s when I was living and working in Auburn, Indiana. The book of consists of a series of short sketches of Hemingway’s life as a writer while living in 1920’s Paris. He was, at that time, living with his first wife and child. But they pale in comparison to the other people surrounding him. Among those people are Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I went through a phase in the late 1970’s and early 80’s when I read eight or nine of Hemingway’s books. His writing style is often described as lean and muscular. To me it seems as if he tries to describe the complexities of life and people in simple, declarative sentences. But I’m wordy and not a literary critic.
Choosing a book from the 2010’s was not easy. In the end I just pulled a book at random from my “to be read” bookcase. In my hand was Creole Belle by James Lee Burke. This book is one of Burke’s Dave Robicheaux mysteries. Truth be told, I read one of the novels in this series years ago and didn’t like it, so I didn’t buy any more. Then, around 2009 or 10 I saw the movie “In The Electric Mist” starring Tommy Lee Jones as Robicheaux and decided that I should try another of the books. I’m glad that I did. Burke’s writing reminds me of John le Carré in that I feel he writes literature disguised as popular fiction. These books are not your typical “James Patterson chapter every two pages” type of writing. With Burke you get flawed heroes, soul-searching, and state of human-kind expositions. And yet there is plenty of action. I came across a quote that I love in Creole Belle. It seems to sum up a lot of this year’s political campaign and noise. Robicheaux says this to the daughter of a man, about her father.
“He’s an ignorant, stupid man, a racist, and a bully…His sin lies not in his ignorance and stupidity but in his choice to stay ignorant and stupid.”
I try to fit in a Burke novel at least every year.