Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History (Second Edition) by William B. Jones, Jr. (2011)

It took me a while to get through my latest draw from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, not because Classics Illustrated: A Cultural History (Second Edition) by William B. Jones, Jr. (2011) wasn't an interesting book, but because I tried to read it while I was reading two other things and moving into a new house! Not really recommended practice if you are digging into a reference-y book on an unfamiliar topic.

In Classics Illustrated, Jones gives us a comprehensive history of a long-running series of stand-alone comics that illustrated great works of literature from around the world. The series began in the mid-1940s and had its ups and downs before fading away in the early 1970s, but not before expanding to dozens of countries and encompassing a huge number of adapted titles.

Jones leads us on a roughly chronological path through the history of the series, including detailed biographical sketches of the founders, artists, writers, owners, and even support staff that molded the comics over the decades. What could be a dull topic to any but the biggest fans of the comics kept my interest through Jones' enthusiasm for the topic and the extensive illustrations -- mostly black and white shots of comics panels, along with two sections of color plates of covers.

From the beginning the series had to defend itself against comics fans who thought it was too dull and educational and educators and defenders of public morals who thought it was too much like a regular comic book, but it always kept a solid fan base of the young boys and girls who grew up with the comics. And some of them, like Jones, grew up into the collectors that will find a book like this so valuable. For readers like me who hadn't ever read a Classics Illustrated adaptation, the illustrations and peek into comics history can definitely stand alone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952)

We are officially moved into our new house, and although I now have 10,000 new things to occupy my time, I'm finally getting back into my regular reading schedule. And just in time too, since my book club (go DAFFODILS!) is meeting next weekend to discuss Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952).

My copy of Wise Blood is bound together with A Good Man is Hard to Find and The Violent Bear it Away in the conveniently titled 3 by Flannery O'Connor, but since the books were originally published separately, I've decided to give each one its own blog post.

Wise Blood is the story of Hazel Motes, a dissatisfied and theologically conflicted young veteran who returns from the war to Tennessee to find his whole family gone. He defects to the melodiously named Taulkinham where he runs into the 18-year-old and gregariously frantic Enoch Emery who basically is so excited to find someone else who will talk to him (or at least let him talk) that he can't leave Hazel alone.

While Enoch is following Hazel around, Hazel starts following a blind preacher named Asa Hawks and his daughter Sabbath. Asa's religious message makes Hazel itch to spread his message of atheism, and he begins to hold forth on street corners about the Church Without Christ. And while Enoch's obsession with Hazel increases, so does Hazel's obsession with Asa. Things come to a head after the involvement of a man in an ape suit, a con man named Hoover Shoats ("He looked like an ex-preacher turned cowboy, or an ex-cowboy turned mortician."), and a car which should get its own novel enter the picture.

I'd read many Flannery O'Connor short stories before, but I'd never read either of her two novels. Wise Blood was her first, partially developed out of her Master's thesis and augmented by altered versions of some of her other stories. Knowing that it grew from a series of shorter pieces helps make the structure of Wise Blood fit together a little better. I really enjoyed this, but I think I tend to like O'Connor's short stories more. Much like when I read her short stories, I felt like I enjoyed this at a level of liking fun names, grotesque people, and Southern themes, but I feel like I only caught about a quarter of her theological intentions. Still, I'd recommend this novel to anyone who likes O'Connor or the other big names of Southern literature.