CHRONIC CITY [2009], by Jonathan Lethem

Chronic City

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 9/10

Though I’m totally aware that this is not a “perfect” book, or even a must-read that can be easily recommended, this is certainly one of my favorite novels. I’ve read it twice now in the last year and a half and I’ll admit that I enjoyed it more the second time, since I knew what to expect.

It’s hard to imagine a book so wordy and so much about pot-heads and socialites (mostly pot-heads!) sitting around discussing conspiracy theories and pop culture to be so darned interesting but Chronic City is just that. A dense read, well-crafted with enough mystery for those who like it and enough ambiguity for those who don’t. Throw in ideas such as a giant tiger prowling the streets of Manhattan, mysterious chaldrons and astronauts trapped in orbit by Chinese space mines and you’ve got me hooked.

Jonathan Lethem dazzles me with his vocabulary and inspires me to keep honing my own craft. In my mind, a masterpiece! Chronic City has its flaws – I could have done away with the dog-heavy chapters in the last 1/4 – but not enough to keep me from a third reading in the future.

Advertisements

AVENGERS FOREVER [1999], by Kurt Busiek & Carlos Pacheco

Avengers Forever

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

I just read this for probably the fourth time and it still stands up as one of my favorite Avengers stories. Definitely NOT for the casual reader, AVENGERS FOREVER requires readers to have a good amount of Avengers history under their belts to be really enjoyed. Kurt Busiek is at his wordiest here, with many pages taking extra time to read. Sure, some of the peripheral dialogue can be skimmed, but there’s such a large chunk of story exposition that demands attention.

When I first read this in 1998-99, I was blown away. The love has dwindled a little (only just a little!), but it still stands up to be a solid tale. My favorite issue was always #8 (“The Secret History of The Avengers“) but I now find the long-winded retconning delivered by the Space Phantom a little forced; loose ends from the past are conveniently tied together a little too neatly for my liking. I think my favorite issue now would be #9 (“Reflections of the Conqueror“), which delves deep into the history of Kang the Conqueror. An interesting character study that doesn’t seem at all forced.

The team here is comprised of seven time-displaced Avengers and I think they are all smart choices, with the exception of maybe Songbird, who doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose and is mostly just posing in the background throughout the story. I really appreciate Busiek’s attention to detail in the dialogue, intentionally making Yellowjacket and Hawkeye seem like they are really pulled from Marvel’s Bronze Age: lots of campy, over-the-top repartee. It makes it that much more fun to read.

Carlos Pacheco’s artwork is at its absolute best here, and he does a masterful job whether drawing a single character in the frame or throwing in dozens (which happens often).

The final two issues are full (and I mean FULL) of Avengers battling one another all over the page, and although this is visually stunning, the book loses a point or two here for the fact that it’s primarily just eye-porn filler. Overall, Avengers Forever is maybe not quite a perfect 10/10 but it’s certainly worthy of at least an 8.

A must-have for any Avengers fan.

Favorite Books I Read in 2013

My Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge saw me complete 46 books this year! Granted, many of these were graphic novels but there were also 16 novels, which is probably the most I’ve ever read in a single year. I’m a slow reader, give me a break.

Not counting books that I re-read this year (I’m always re-reading favorites), I’ve narrowed down my Top-5 Books that I discovered in 2013. Here goes:

Chronic CityCHRONIC CITY, by Jonathan Lethem

I’d been putting off reading Jonathan Lethem long enough so I decided to read three of his books this summer. First was Motherless Brooklyn. Next came Fortress of Solitude. And finally I read Chronic City. I was most excited to read ‘Fortress’ since this was the author’s seminal work. And I liked it. But I LOVED Chronic City. Maybe it was because it came unexpectedly. Maybe because it had the most polarizing reviews of the three. But probably because it’s just so very New Yorky, and more similar to my own writing. This is a very odd book with not too many likable characters, and it did lag a bit around the 3/4 mark, but in the end it struck me as the most special of Lethem’s “trilogy.” I even grabbed my own copy of Chronic City afterwards and I’m looking forward to reading this one again in the not too distant future. A very underrated novel.

Norwegian WoodNORWEGIAN WOOD, by Haruki Murakami

You can read my review HERE.

 

 

 

Worst. Person. Ever.

WORST. PERSON. EVER. by Douglas Coupland

You can read my review HERE.

 

 

 

Bright Lights Big CityBRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY, by Jay McInerney

Billed as an American classic, this was a book I was always wanting to read but could never find a copy. Finally, after receiving a copy last Christmas, I immediately tore into it and I was certainly not disappointed. It is a little stuck in the Eighties, which is possibly the worst time period to be stuck in, but enjoyable nonetheless. McInerney’s writing is poignant and funny at the same time. I recommend this to anyone who loves contemporary fiction.

 

Uncanny Avengers 2UNCANNY AVENGERS VOL.2: THE APOCALYPSE TWINS, by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna

I almost put Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon here in my top-5 (which is brilliant, by the way), but opted for this book instead. I think the reason this volume really struck me was because the storyline is HUGE. It’s massive and far-reaching with so many implications on the Marvel Universe, and yet it was not marketed as such. Comics have the obscene ability to market the hell out their huge story lines, to the point where the end product never lives up to the expectations of the hype. Here, Remender is doing something big but he’s doing it quietly, and neither he nor Marvel are afraid of making a mess of things. A good mess, that is. Be aware that this storyline continues right into Volume 3 (“Ragnarok”), so the two are not really complete without each other. Check this one out; I have a feeling this will soon be headed into the must-read category of Marvel Comics history.

DAREDEVIL: Volume 1 (2011), By Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera

DD Vol.1

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 9/10

FUN title! Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera give this book such a throwback feel, and Daredevil’s radar sense is almost reinvented in the innovative artwork. Mark Waid’s scripts are enough to take the Daredevil character out of the dark and gritty world he’d been stuck in for the last fifteen years. I can’t say enough good things about this book.

EARTH X (1999), by Jim Krueger and John Paul Leon

Earth X

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 10/10

** spoiler alert **

My favorite Marvel Graphic Novel of all time! Ideally, readers should feel comfortable with a LOT of Marvel history before venturing into this alternate reality tale and what they’ll find is a bold new take on much of what we thought we knew. Reed Richards hiding in the guise of Doctor Doom? The Watcher on the brink of death because Black Bolt didn’t want him to see what was coming? Planets as eggs for space-faring Celestials? There’s so much fresh material here, all gorgeously drawn by John Paul Leon, it’s the Marvel Universe told like never before. A pleasure to read over and over again. The Alex Ross covers and character designs are a bonus too.

Some of my Favorite Underrated Books

There are many mainstream novels I have enjoyed since becoming an avid reader. The Great Gatsby. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Fight Club. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as picking up a book you know NOTHING about, usually by an author you’ve never heard of and adding it to your ‘favorites’ shelf. Here are some of mine:

The Frog King
The Frog King [2002], by Adam Davies
When I was perusing the stacks at my local Chapters and feeling like the perfect book for me would be just around the corner I came across The Frog King. It had a bright, cutesy frog on the cover but the part that caught my eye was its “A Love Story” sub-title. Aw, shucks. Plus, it was about a struggling writer living in New York, so it just felt right. And I was in love right away. I’ve probably read this book five times and although it may have lost a bit of its luster over time, it still sticks out as one of my favorites. The protagonist is far from perfect and some of the situations & characters seem a little forced, but the dialogue is witty and there are plenty of memorable scenes within.

My Russian Love
My Russian Love [1997], by Dan Franck
I found this book in a discount bin at a local independent bookstore. What a find! Not even 200-pages, My Russian Love manages to capture the blossoming relationship between Luca, a French film student, and a Russian girl. The novel weaves the story of the young lovers, from the beginning of their relationship to the end, with a present-day Luca recounting every detail. The ending is a little gimmicky, but you cannot discount the beauty with which Franck writes his characters and the innocence of first love.

The Hottest State
The Hottest State [1996], by Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke had always been one of my favorite actors (mostly due to his performances in Before Sunrise, Gattaca and Snow Falling on Cedars) so imagine my surprise when I discovered the novel Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke. It was actually his second novel, but after devouring it I had to find more works by the author. It was then that I found The Hottest State, his first novel. Though the dialogue in Ash Wednesday was superb, there really wasn’t much else holding it together. But The Hottest State was, quite literally, a different story. Much like in The Frog King (above), this was a tale of a selfish young man, trying to figure out what it means to truly love someone. The story is raw and much like real life, things do not always turn out to have a happy ending. But that’s part of its charm. Ethan Hawke really is a gifted writer and if you enjoy this novel I recommend watching the movie adaptation (also directed by Hawke). Both the book and the film are very underrated.

The Hollow House
The Hollow House [2001], by Carlo Dellonte
Another book that I discovered in the discount bin, this time in Australia. There was very little in the way of description, but for some reason the cover really captured me. I’m glad I did grab it though, as it is a very moody, very strange book. This gothic tale is about a man who stops for the night in a remote fishing village. He meets and grows quite fond of the girl running the desk at the bed and breakfast. But in the morning she’s gone, and this man decides that if he wants to see her again the best thing to do is stay in the house and pretend he’s the girl’s boyfriend (whom no one in the town has ever met before). All of the fishermen are extremely suspicious of the man and he never really gives them any reason not to be. The frustrating thing is that he just keeps burying himself deeper and deeper into his lies and fantasies, but you keep reading on to try and make sense of it all. It’s creepy in a sort of stalker-ish way, and there are many times where the reader should be yelling, “What are you doing, you idiot? Just leave that stupid village already!” As far as I know, this is Dellonte’s only work of fiction but I would love to find more writing by this virtually unknown author.

The Horned Man
The Horned Man [2003], by James Lasdun
Much like The Hollow House (above), this is a book that keeps its readers in the dark, carefully handing out only the oddest and vaguest of clues. Maybe I like books that confuse the hell out of me. Sure, this one has such severe literary moments that you might think you’re reading a tale of magical realism, but at its heart it is a psychological thriller. Readers are unsure whether to root for or despise the protagonist, which can certainly be a turn off for some. It’s another short novel (just over 200 pages) which makes it easy to keep pushing through hoping at least some of the answers will be on the next page. As a bonus, Lasdun’s writing is incredibly unnerving and beautiful at the same time.