Would yee look at that: I’ve been tagged. Yes, thanks to Inexplicable Device, I’m temporarily putting aside my inane chatter about kittens, joeys, spackers, and Shatner to take on an altogether more highbrow topic: my reading habits. Kick off your slippers people – this is serious.
1. One book you have read more than once:
I very rarely re-read books, purely because there’s so many books I want to read. But one that I have returned to time and time again is Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Now, a lot of people might turn round and complain that this is a kids book ‘cos it’s got pictures, but I know you lot are a more learned and educated bunch than that. How do I know that? Well, you read my blog for one thing.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, The Dark Knight Returns. I first read this back in 1989, the year that Tim Burton’s first Batman flick hit cinemas. I’d hated the character up until then, thanks to the campy sixties TV show, but I got caught up in the Hollywood hype machine, and by August of that year I was the tubby little kid with the Batman t-shirt, the Batman baseball cap, the Batman undercrackers… I think you get the picture. So after the movie hit, I began to lap up everything to do with Batman. My grandparents bought me DKR for my birthday that year, and it knocked me for six. GODDAMN! This was some serious S-H-one-T! Batman was hardcore, and he knew the score.
For those who don’t know, it’s basically about a really old Batman coming out of retirement to strike out against a corrupt government in a world that’s gone massively tits-up.
As I’ve grown older, every time I've re-read this book I've gotten something new out of it. I’ve come to appreciate greater depths to the story beyond just the super-cool Batmobile; the fine artwork; the political statement; how risky and daring the story is with such well-established characters; Catwoman’s kick-ass rack.
Not bad for a funny book that it, to this day, one of THE defining moments in comic book history.
And then Miller went and screwed it up by writing Dark Knight Strikes Again, which looked like it was drawn by five year-old holding a marker pen in his mouth, and had a plot so simple that the proverbial monkey with a typewriter could’ve bashed it out.
2. One book you would want on a desert island:
Locas: The Complete Maggie and Hopey Stories by Jaime Hernandez. Another comic book – whoop-de-doo! But again, one that changed my life and opened my eyes to a world beyond the familiar world of superheroes. Locas (translates to ‘crazy women’) is a 500-page collection of the Maggie and Hopey stories from the indie comic book Love and Rockets, which originally ran from early 1980-something up until 1996-ish. It centres on two girls – I’m guessing you already know their names – as they grow up in the punk scene of the early eighties. They fall in love, both with people they meet and each other, (yes, there’s some saucy lesbotics), and do general everyday things – as well as some that are more fantastical. It’s all so … real and gritty; they argue, they have sex, they age – which is unheard of in comics! – and their lives change, for better and for worse. I remember when I finished reading Locas I actually felt a genuine sense of loss that I wouldn’t see any more of Maggie and Hopey. Fortunately, Jaime and his brother Gilbert (whose major work Palomar has also been compiled into one amazing volume) started a new run of Love and Rockets which continues the characters’ lives as they near their forties. And unlike Frank Miller, the Hernandez brothers can still tell a damn good story.
3. One book that made you laugh:
A Confederacy of Dunces. I remember picking this up when I worked in Putney. I’d been reading a load of Penguin classic reprints, and this was the only one left in the series that sort of appealed to me. So I bought it, and I read it, and it’s now my very favourite book of all time. It’s just so damned funny. I remember the very moment that it made me laugh – the first time any book had made me laugh to the point of tears; I was sitting reading in bed, and there was a line where the main character, an obese layabout called Ignatius J. Reilly, made some reference to a group of kids on television all being prostitutes. It was so unexpected. I kept re-reading that one line, laughing harder and harder each time.
Only the other day I was telling Yaz about how good it is, and promising to buy her a copy for Christmas. In fact, just writing about it makes me want to read it again.
And do you know the only sad thing about it? The author – John Kennedy Toole – killed himself because he couldn’t get it published; his mother made it her life’s work to get it into print posthumously. Shame.
4. One book that made you cry:
OK, really this vote should go to the aforementioned A Confederacy of Dunce because it did make me cry – with laughter, that is. But runner-up is Book by Whoopi Goldberg. It didn’t actually make me cry (because I’m well ‘ard), but it did resonate emotionally with me. Blimey, did I just write ‘resonate emotionally’? Yes I did. I’ve been a fan of Whoopi since that scene in the movie Jumpin’ Jack Flash when she screamed “I’m a little black woman in a big metal box” while being dragged through New York in a phone booth. Book is not a comedy, however; you could say it’s her manifesto on the human condition. Each chapter is headed by a single word: Help, Self, Home, Eggs, Space, etc. My favourite is the chapter Love; you turn the page and it simply says: Ain’t it grand?
That’s stayed with me for the best part of 10 years.
5. One book you wish you had written:
Modern Ranch Living by Mark Poirier. I picked this up a couple of years back simply because I liked the cover. The plot’s actually quite simplistic, focusing on two people over the course of a long hot summer. Kendra is a teenage body builder; Merv a twentysomething who still lives with his mother and works a dead end job. And it’s these characters, so well realised and REAL, that make the book. It’s got a nice vibe to it too.
Oh, and it gave me the line “plussing as which,” which Kendra says all the time, and I still love; I’d really like to claim it as my own. OK, I can’t, but I do try to use it in everyday conversation when I can. If it ever crops up in my blog, please remember that I’m channelling Mark Poirier’s dialogue.
6. One book you wish had never been written:
Erm, generally I don’t because everything means something to someone, right? But on the other hand I thought Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a waste of my time, money, and 500 pages of paper.
7. One book you are currently reading:
Tragically, it’s the novelization of Superman Returns. I’d vowed not to read any more movie adaptations, but the cover was cool and I loved the movie THAT MUCH that I couldn’t quite resist. On the plus side, it’s actually quite well written, is a piss-easy read, and was cheap.
8. One book you have been meaning to read:
Ooo… I’m not sure there is one? I’m intrigued by Strangers in Paradise, but haven’t actually gotten round to picking up a copy of the first volume. Oh, and maybe Jimmy Corrigan…
9. One Book That Changed Your Life: Pretty much all the aforementioned books I’ve mentioned in a positive way have changed my life; DKR made me the comics fan I am today; Locas showed me a new type of comics story; A Confederacy of Dunces made me laugh and inspired me to want to write; Book gave me an insight into a woman who, if she ruled the world, would make it a better place; and Modern Ranch Living opened the door to a writer whose work I love, and have subsequently read through his entire back catalogue.
That said, there’s a couple of other books I’d like to mention.
Bone by Jeff Smith is an epic collection of a comic series that ran for YEARS. The collected edition is over 1000-pages long, and if you love fantasy you’ll dig this big time. It’s about three cousins who find themselves in a mysterious valley as a great war is brewing. It’s amazing stuff with a nice line in humour.
Peanuts by Charles Schulz. Fantagraphics Books are reprinting every single Peanuts strip from 1950-2000 in a series of stunning volumes, and it’s incredible to see literally how heart-breaking it can be behind the obvious gags; the way some of the other kids treat Charlie Brown is actually quite painful to read, and Schulz’s simple, beautiful art portrays a young boy’s feelings with amazing strength and emotion. If you’ve only ever read Peanuts in the back of your newspaper, I implore you to give one of these books a go.
And finally, a quick mention of a book I read aged about seven. It was called Beaver Towers (stop sniggering at the back), and was about a little kid who gets whisked off to a far away land where an evil witch is conspiring to depose the ruling family of beavers. It was this book that pretty much introduced me to reading for my own pleasure, so for that fact alone I owe the author a debt of gratitude.
Phew, that’s it! (don’t I go on?)
Right – back to the frivolous stuff!