Previous Posts: Book Reviews: March 2006

Book Reviews: Buja's Diary (Se-yeong Oh)

Bookstore shelves across the country are experiencing a boom in translated Korean comics, or manhwa, just as they’ve been enjoying a similar influx from their Japanese cousins for a long time now. And like Japanese manga, Korean manhwa has both...



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Bookstore shelves across the country are experiencing a boom in translated Korean comics, or manhwa, just as they’ve been enjoying a similar influx from their Japanese cousins for a long time now. And like Japanese manga, Korean manhwa has both a popular mainstream incarnation and a more adult variety. Buja’s Diary is unquestionably in the second category. It has the same restless, uneasy spirit that Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man did: this is about life in a raw, troubling and unvarnished vein. Unlike Push Man, though, Diary is more protestant and angry than grim and matter-of-fact. Even when the storytelling or results aren’t as consistent it’s still absorbing, and the title story is worth the price of the whole book.

Diary is broken into thirteen unrelated short pieces, all set in troubled post-WWII South Korea and depicting in different measures the difficulties of living well, or even sometimes living at all. The art is strongly reminiscent of Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, not in the sense of its details of the environment but how the look on a face is precisely observed and recorded — and in stories that are as much about inner lives as outer ones, that’s crucial. Read more


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Book Reviews: The Ticket That Exploded (William S. Burroughs)

"Language is a virus from outer space,” William Burroughs was noted for having said, and The Ticket That Exploded is like a book from outer space—or maybe, what someone would write if infected by a virus from outer space. Naked...



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"Language is a virus from outer space,” William Burroughs was noted for having said, and The Ticket That Exploded is like a book from outer space — or maybe, what someone would write if infected by a virus from outer space. Naked Lunch had been written while Burroughs was in the fever grip of heroin addiction for years on end, and Ticket is even more maddening and abstruse. When I came across a copy in my hometown’s used bookstore, I had only just finished with Lunch and was in fact surprised to find that Burroughs had written a good many other books that were even further out on a limb. Where else was there to go? But he had somehow gone further — not always successfully, certainly not always coherently, but he stuck his neck out and made it his own turf.

Of the books that followed Lunch more or less immediately, Ticket is the one I find myself coming back to most but more for reasons of nostalgia and taste than anything else. In each of Lunch’s successors Burroughs explored many of the implications set up in that first book: the arbitrariness of language, the power of systems of control, the way texts and images work on the mind. Ticket is like one of those records where you have one CD that’s the songs and another CD that’s the remixes or the “in dub” versions — except that the song will sometimes switch to and back from the remix in mid-measure. The sheer variety of material in it is what draws me in, even if the methodology is middlebrow and the politics laughable.

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Book Reviews: Five Novels (Daniel M. Pinkwater)

When I was ten years old, I didn’t want to grow up to be an astronaut or a rock star; I wanted to grow up to be Daniel M. Pinkwater. I can’t think of any other writer I read during...



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When I was ten years old, I didn’t want to grow up to be an astronaut or a rock star; I wanted to grow up to be Daniel M. Pinkwater. I can’t think of any other writer I read during that time of my life who not only influenced me profoundly but gave me something to shoot for. I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to write things that had the same crazy magic to them. On Amazon's product page for the book there is a list of "statistically improbable phrases": omega waves, blue garlic, gong crashing, perfect spiritual master, avocado pie, performing chicken, biology notebook, chili parlor, existential plane, lunch court, magic gem, fifty monks, space pirates, greatest detective, giant television screens, raisin toast. Try and make all of that stuff fit in any five books, let alone any one.

The most startling thing about Pinkwater’s novels — especially Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars — is how they are not “kid’s books” but were written to be read by anyone, really — not just preteens stuck in urban or suburban wastelands with no real connections to anything. That was who he was ostensibly writing for, though — kids like me who were growing up in a pre-Internet, pre-Nintendo, pre-cellphone world, but who were still smart and yearning to do something big with our lives. Pinkwater’s books were all about that kind of yearning, and they spoke directly to me and my friends in a kind of magical surrealism that has not only aged well but become timeless.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries in the Book Reviews category from March 2006.

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