A good mix of fiction, nonfiction, manga, and comics this week.
What I Just Finished Reading
Loki: Agent of Asgard vol. 1 – Al Ewing & Lee Garbett
I'm always leery of Marvel series by authors I don't recognize—Marvel's business plan (bare bones characterization, speed of light plot developments, and tie-ins to every other current issue to force readers to buy them all) can really tank a series in the wrong hands. But one volume in, I'm very much enjoying this ride. Agent of Asgard follows a reincarnated Loki trying to get the red off his ledger. The plot is rushed, but Ewing does a good job of making it coherent to readers who aren't following the entire line, and he's written an excellent mashup of MCU Loki with the cheesy wordplay and sci-fi kitsch of the vintage runs. I'm on board for the next volume.
Sandman: Overture – Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III
Confession: I bought half of the individual issues back in the day, but never read them because I feared they'd been published because Gaiman needed the money. I needn't have worried. This is Sandman at its best. It's all here—the internal cosmology, the references to world cosmologies, the pop culture quotes Gaiman trusts his readers are smart enough to get (MCU! Firefly! Farscape!), and a Dream who is correcting many of the cultural assumptions I found most troubling in the original series. Add to this Williams' jaw-dropping art—god, he is hands down the best—and you have a book worth savoring.
A Mother's Reckoning – Sue Klebold
I can count on one hand the number of books that have been this affecting. It is brutal to read an account of love, grief, and incomprehension as honest as this. Klebold's insight that murder-suicides spring from suicide radically changed my worldview in a way few things have done in recent memory. There are a few stumbles, as when she says that suicidal people are “hiding” their intentions from those around them, or that video games (vice other elements she understands such as alcohol or guns) contribute to mass shootings. But they are so obvious precisely because they are such outliers. At its heart, A Mother's Reckoning is a 295-page koan: What are the limits of love? How should one weigh a lifetime of human goodness and flaws against a day of unspeakable violence? When and why do feelings of hopelessness tip irrevocably to death?
Bugs Us All – Scot Slaby & Walter Gurbo
This is a charmingly presented book suffering from a massive identity crisis. Gurbo's illustrations are attractive, but Slaby's poems veer wildly between bedtime story-cute and kinkily sexual and bloodthirsty. The latter preclude the volume from being something most people would want to read to a child, but the darkness lacks the Gorey-esque wit that would make it appeal to adults.
Little Owl's Night – Divya Srinivasan
This book is pure comfort, which I needed after A Mother's Reckoning. The final pages, with the ghosts of dawn, and the sunflowers and moonflowers, are undiluted joy.
The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch – Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli
Neil Gaiman needed money.
Juzu no Hanashi – Gendai Bukkyo Kenkyukai (数珠の話 – 現代仏教研究会)
This treatise on juzu (or nenzu, or mala, or “Buddhist rosaries”) is informative and perplexing in the way only Japanese nonfiction can be. The author is a Tokyo-based Rinzai Zen monk in the Myoshinji-lineage from a Soto Zen family whose mother and sister subsequently converted to Nichiren Buddhism who never manages to give his name. There is a lot of good information here that anyone getting ready to dive into the Hanazono University or Myoshinji stuff might want to check out as a toe-in-the-water exercise. It's clearly and efficiently presented. There is also a digression on ecumenism that is my favorite thing since Koike Ryunosuke's “why Soto Zen is like vintage British punk” and an interesting but why-on-earth-is-this-here discussion of Nichiren seance rites. That said, Japanese readers with an interest in the subject will find much of worth in this volume.
What I Am Currently Reading
Korea: An Illustrated History from Ancient Times to 1945 – David Rees
The back copy says that David Rees is “renowned as an expert on the history and affairs of the Far East for several decades.” And yet, this is a book that was published in 2001 that talks about countries sharing borders with the Soviet Union and contains no statistics post-dating mid-1987, which rather calls Rees' expertise into question.
Inda – Sherwood Smith
There's the inkling of a riveting novel in here, but Smith lacked the editors to shepherd it into publication. It's never a good sign when readers greet a major character death with a shrug. I really wish someone had wrangled Smith's gratuitous POV changes and clunky phrasing into an airtight novel.
The Light and Shadow Tarot – Brian Williams & Michael Goepferd
On to the six's and five's.
プラネテス 2 – 幸村 誠 (Planetes vol. 2 – Yukimura Makoto )
In chapters 2 and 3, Yukimura explores the big questions like how to balance innovation and dreams with human connections and family, and how to evaluate the worth of progress if it has to come at the expense of emotional connection. Good stuff.
What I'm Reading Next
Aside from making further inroads on the in progress stuff, I'll probably pick up Pleasure Bound, Jerusalem, and the second volume of Loki: Agents of Asgard.