Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nick's Picks, 100 Notable Books of 2012 - 64, 63, 62...

#64:  Building Stories, by Chris Ware.  Pantheon.  $50. 

Ok, I get it.  They're just comic books.  They shouldn't be Notable because this list is reserved for Literature or unrivaled Non-Fiction.  Except, of course, I already mentioned Drama, by Raina Telgemeier.  It clocked in at #85.  So, since I've already broken the ice, gotten you acquainted with the fact that, yes, comic books can be Notable, get ready for Chris Ware.  What he does in Building Stories is ingenious and glorious and comes as a welcome reminder that some experiences can't be downloaded.  And Building Stories is one of those.  To talk about Mr. Ware's latest effort, you have to start with the physical object.  The book.

Books, books.  The Book is dead!  Long live Books!

Building Stories is a box, and when you open it, you're confronted with the pieces of Mr. Ware's story - fourteen physically discrete tales concerning the people who live in the same apartment building.  So what he's done is given you the building blocks for the building he's constructed - but you're the architect.

You decide which of the books, or strips, or pamphlets you are going to read first.  What catches your eye first when you open his wonderful box?  Start with that and explore from there.

Are the stories linked?  Yes, yes - but each informs the other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and the order in which you greet them for the first time affects how you'll perceive them.

One of the many beauties of Mr. Ware's work is the fact that it's so tactile - you have to hold it to discover it.  You don't plug it in, don't wait for it to sync - you, ya know, read it like a book.

And when you do, you'll be reminded that there's a reason books have lasted for centuries while our newfangled gadgets - records, 8-tracks, Walkmans - often disappear in a few dozen years, or less.

Think you're Kindle will be anything but a paperweight in ten years?  Please think again.  Will anyone who stumbles across this marvelous box experience the same level of excitement that you will if they find it in 10, 50, or 100 years from now?

Yes, they will.  And all they'll need to enjoy it is some light to see by.

#63:  Sailor Twain:  Or, the Mermaid in the Hudson, by Mark Siegel.  First Second.  $24.99.


I'd like to leave it at that.  At Wow.  But you'll want some details, some indication of why you should go buy this book right now.

Do you like beautiful, atmospheric art?  Mark Siegel's Sailor Twain is told through his unforgettable charcoal drawings.  Do you like a little Hemingway?  A little Poe?  A little mythology?  Maybe Melville?

How about sex?  You like sex, don't you?  Sailor Twain has all that and more.  It's got a steamship in the 19th Century on the Hudson River, carrying two men - both haunted by a mermaid.  It's got obsession, and love - did I mention sex?  I forget.  But it's got that, too.

Look, let's just leave it at Wow, ok?  Should be enough.


#62:  A Once Crowded Sky, by Tom King.  Touchstone.  $26.

Sure, you thought the best story about Superheroes this year was going to be seen inside a movie theater.  Did you think it was going to be Spiderman - the remake of the movie that came out 10 years ago?  Or maybe you're an Avengers kind of person?  You were looking forward to a hunky Thor, a sexy Black Widow?

Or did you think Batman was going to be the best?  With Christian Bale doing that weird thing with his voice?  Please tell me you weren't the one person who thought Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance was going to be good?  That wasn't you, right? Right?

Because the best Superhero story this year wasn't a movie, it was a book - A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King.

Do you have to like comic books - especially the Golden Age of superheroes - to love this book?  Probably, yeah, to love it.  But if you're interested in a heroically spun yarn that just happens to have some caped-crusaders as the main characters, don't hesitate.

The world as we find it - the World according to Tom King - takes place after all the world's heroes (all but one!) have voluntarily given up their powers.  A World according to Tom King where the villain's all committed suicide.  The society of powerless superheroes (Soldier of Freedom, Devil Girl, Doctor Speed) created by King are so fully realized they could have existed alongside Superman and Captain America and Wonder Woman.

The twists and turns, the back-stories, the loves and the hates, they all propel Mr. King's story at a furious pace.  Fun?  Oh, yeah, this one's fun.  But if you can imagine a literary Superhero novel, you'll know that the fun actually runs deep.

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