The fine folks at Biff Bam Pop have put together a March Break reading list, so whether you’re on the beach with your kids, or are babysitting your parents who are still into family time when you just want to chill, here are some books and graphic novels to help you pass your week. You know, when you’re not sleeping, or doing “other”.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
There are a number of graphic novels that have changed comic books and sequential art: broadened it, pushed its boundaries and turned it into something that it wasn’t before. For me, in that lineage of great works, the most recent is David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp.
For comic book fans, Mazzucchelli is perhaps best known as the artist on Frank Miller’s acclaimed gritty and noir Daredevil and Batman: Year One stories. Those works are great indeed. But with Asterios Polyp, the story of a lonely and immensely flawed professor of architecture, Mazzucchelli plays his character against design in both the telling of the story and its visual representation. The graphic novel is pushed into becoming an entirely different type of storytelling mechanism here.
No worries. Even though Mazzucchelli’s art is indistinguishable from his mainstream comic book work, he’s a masterful artisan of image and story and Asterios Polyp quickly becomes a tale that warms the heart as much as it broadens the art form.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Best known as the writer and artist of Zot! as well as the brilliant and well-regarded non-fiction books Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics, The Sculptor is McCloud’s first work of graphic fiction in quite some time, just released earlier this year.
The Sculptor tells the story of a man who, with less than a year to live, has been given the opportunity to absorb himself in his childhood dream and sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. Who hasn’t been motivated by a deadline?
This is the graphic novel I’ll be reading over my March break.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
I read The Book of Three, the first book of five novels in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series in Grade 5, courtesy of my childhood school’s book club. A new brochure would come each month, listing books that students could order via the club, and the cover of The Book of Three stood out from all the rest that September: a horned skeleton of a man riding a black stallion, sword raised threateningly; and the foreground, with his back to us, a boy with a knife drawn in plaintive defense. I had to read that book.
So began a Grade 5 love affair that still lasts today in adulthood: the story of a young Assistant Pig-Keeper, a princess of magical arts (his one true love), and his search for identity, as he grows to become a man. It’s a common story, to be sure, but this one, a fantasy series steeped in folklore and Welsh mythology, fired my imagination like no other. Everyone of every age should read it.
Joyland by Stephen King
This is King’s second novel for the Hard Case Crime line (his first was “The Colorado Kid”), a series of books designed to look and feel like the pulp crime paperbacks of the 1950s and 60s. King, who has had the best selling book s in the line, gets that original flavor right while keeping with his own style. This book was a delight to read, as were most of his older works. This is a step backward to his golden years, pun unintended.
Also, to maintain the charm of its nostalgia, this line took some time to go digital, so it was the one hardcopy book I read after moving on to Nook and Kindle. The story set in an amusement park in the 1970s fittingly is both a murder mystery and a coming of age story. Some things we’ve seen King do before and some we find out he’s also pretty good at. I dug it, and it’s a quick read, worth the time.
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Released last year under a storm of controversy, I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I bought it, and then didn’t read it. Like most of America, I was a fan of Lena Dunham when “Girls” first premiered on HBO but it didn’t take long before it became tiresome and a parody of itself. Why would I read her book when I couldn’t stand her show any more, right? Luckily one night in a fit of boredom, I started reading. Wow.
Dunham is still the same person she is on her show, still a incomprehensible millennial, but she’s funny, really really funny. Fully titled “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned,'” it’s truth in advertising. We have a litany in the form of short personal essays about her misadventures and multiple mistakes, and she’s funny. It’s almost as if someone took your psycho ex-girlfriend from college and dropped her into a blender with early Woody Allen. It’s fun, twisted, and I liked it.
Murder on Edisto by C. Hope Clark
In the spirit of fairness I have to admit friendship with the author who has been a mentor and advisor in all writing matters for over a decade, but that said and out of the way, Hope Clark is one hell of a writer. I had compared her to a modern day Raymond Chandler when talking about her previous series, the Carolina Slade Mysteries, and while that’s true, she doesn’t really bring the noir full force until her second series, begun with “Murder in Edisto.”
With the Edisto Island Mystery Series and protagonist Callie Jean Morgan, Hope is mining film noir and hardboiled detective style like a champ. She fools you with beautiful idyllic places, but pulls the noose tight with the characters and the situations. Hope takes the big city crime and thriller and brings it down home, with style, finesse, and hardcore suspense. This is Hope’s best book yet, read it!
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Leo Demidov is a feared and respected MGB officer in Stalin’s Soviet Union, until he starts noticing cracks in the philosophies of his beloved State. Several young children have been found murdered and mutilated, and the crimes are being covered up or passed off as tragic accidents because there is “no crime” in Stalin’s perfect society. Leo must decide whether to risk his life and find the killer or keep his mouth shut, but how do you find a killer everyone is too terrified to even admit exists? Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel was unbearably suspenseful and kept me up way too late every night until I was done. Child 44 is the first in a trilogy and I will be reading the next two books as soon as possible, as well as seeing the film version of Child 44 which is set to be released on April 17.
Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks by Andy Burns
Andy Burns explains all the reasons to still love Twin Peaks 25 years later. Delving into the show’s origins and almost overnight success, discussing its lasting and undeniable effects on pop culture even today, and sharing his own personal connections to the show, it’s a pleasure to read. Whether you’re a longtime Twin Peaks fan or have never seen a single episode, pick this one up – Andy will even send you a signed copy if you send him a message on Facebook!
Stiff by Mary Roach
Mary Roach uses her dry sense of humour to make light of a topic we can all only avoid for so long – death. More specifically, dead bodies. What happens to your body after you die? How many ways can you die? What part of a plane or car crash actually kills you? In this scientific yet very un-textbook work, you’ll get all these answers and more. Stiff is fascinating, chilling and heartwarming all at once, if you have a soft spot for the macabre and an interest in the grim. Just don’t read it while you’re eating.
Avengers/X-Men: AXIS by Rick Remender and various artists
What happens when the world of superheroes gets literally turned inside out? When our greatest heroes suddenly become villainous and maniacal, and the only hope is monsters who appear to have seen the light? That’s the basis for the recent Marvel miniseries AXIS, which finds heroes like Tony Stark’s Iron Man and the new Captain American, Sam Wilson, suddenly overcome by evil because of the machinations of the Red Onslaught, best described as the Red Skull on steroids and in possession of the psychic abilities of the late Charles Xavier. Meanwhile, Deadpool puts his guns down in favour of pacifism while Sabretooth is riddled with guilt for his past actions and looks to atone.
AXIS flew a little under the radar this past year, what with Jonathan Hickman stealing all the glory as he rips the Marvel Universe apart. However, writer Rick Remender and a stellar line-up of artists manage to have a lot of fun with this miniseries that’s repercussions are still being felt today. Though not nearly as heady as Watchman, it does leave one wondering what would happen if the good guys in any world decide that they’re done saving us. Avengers/X-Men: AXIS is available now in hardcover, and comes complete with a digital download code so you can read the title on your tablet or desktop computer.