Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Walking Dead, Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn (2009)

Holy shit, guys. This one was the best one yet.

In The Walking Dead, Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn (2009), our team finds an abandoned prison complex (well abandoned except for a whole ton of zombies), and decide to clean it up and make it their home. The place has everything: the security of multiple fences, a huge store of canned food, beds aplenty, and the unexpected bonus of a few surviving hardened criminals holing up in the cafeteria. Everyone becomes one big group, including some survivors from the farm in the last volume, and then things get freaking crazy.

This volume is certainly filled with human on zombie, zombie on human, and human on human violence, but beyond that our characters begin really exploring their boundaries and their relationships with one another. This is the most morally complex entry in the series so far, and if this combination of complex morality and unexpected violence keep up, then sign me up for 13 more volumes!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (2011)

A while ago (like before we bought our house), my lovely friend Corie lent me a copy of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (2011), and I lamely have just gotten around to reading it. I really like history books, and I've been interested in reading Larson for quite some time. In fact, I might be one of the only people in the world who hasn't read The Devil in the White City yet (but I will someday soon, I swear!).

In the Garden of Beasts covers the Dodd family's time in Berlin in the mid-1930s, right at the start of Hitler's chancellorship and the increasing power of the Nazi party. William Dodd was a history professor at the University of Chicago who thought an ambassadorship would be a good way to get a break from the hectic academic lifestyle so that he could focus on his multi-volume history of the South. Through an odd series of events, including the fact that no one else wanted it, he was assigned by Roosevelt to be the Ambassador to Germany and he and his wife and two adult children, Martha and Bill, packed up house and moved to Berlin.

As you might expect, he got very little time to work on his book.

The Nazi's already had quite a bit of power in Germany at the time and reports of attacks on Jews and other groups of people, including American citizens, were rampant. The US was feeling very isolationist after WW1, and didn't want to get involved, plus they were pretty sure that Germany would eventually pay all the debt they owed the US as long as we didn't poke them too hard about the Nazi issue. Dodd, a man with no diplomatic experience, and who didn't fit the wealthy, well-traveled, high society ambassadorial model, was an interesting choice for the job.

Dodd vows to live within his salary in solidarity with his fellow Depression-era Americans, and quickly rubbed his ambassadorial staff the wrong way with his penny pinching ways. He hated state dinners, mandatory cocktail parties, and the complicated rituals of calling on members of the Nazi party and foreign dignitaries.

Dodd's daughter, Martha, on the other hand, loved the social life in Berlin and quickly became the talk of the town. Martha was in her 20s, had had several passionate affairs, and had recently been secretly married. When the break-up of her marriage and her father's appointment to Berlin coincided, she easily made the decision to go with him. Once there she embraced every part of the Berlin social scene, including all those blond, handsome Nazis.

Both William and Martha were initially charmed by Berlin and believed that the reports of violence and oppression were exaggerated. Naziism to them seemed like a mix of good health, love of country, and comradery. As the family became more involved in day-to-day life in Germany, however, the attractive facade quickly faded.

This book is well written and nicely researched, and it draws extensively on archival collections of correspondence as well as Martha's published and unpublished memoirs. The first chunk of the book moves more quickly than the last third or so, where things start to run out of steam, but overall the pacing is good. Having learned so much about WWII and the Holocaust, it was interesting to read a close study of the early years of Hitler's rule. Definitely worth a read. And don't skip the footnotes!


I just discovered that a film version of the book is in pre-production starring Tom Hanks and (possibly) Natalie Portman. With the French guy who directed The Artist directing! Very interesting....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Walking Dead, Volume 2: Miles Behind Us by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (2009)

The fun continues!

In the second volume of the series, The Walking Dead, Volume 2: Miles Behind Us by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (2009), the struggle for survival of Rick Grimes, his wife and son, and their random group of road companions continues. Kirkman doesn't let anyone get too comfortable: pregnancy, gun shot wounds, sex (and lack of sex), and human nature all influence our characters, and unexpected zombie attacks lurk around every corner. Of particular note in this volume is the affect of the inflexible moral code of a farmer who helps the group but ends up hurting his own family.

Lots to love here -- can't wait for Volume 3!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Words in Stone / Pierre écrite by Yves Bonnefoy (1965)

A Stone

A fire goes before us.
For a moment I glimpsed your nape, your face,
And then only the torch,
Only the massive fire, the surge of the dead.

Ember, you who fall away from the flame
In the evening light,
O presence:
Gather us under your furtive arch
For a dark celebration.

(Yves Bonnefoy, Words in Stone / Pierre écrite, p. 97)

My next taste of Harold Bloom's Western Canon list is Yves Bonnefoy's book of poetry, Words in Stone / Pierre écrite (1965, Translated by Susanna Lang, 1976).

Bonnefoy's poems use deceptively simple, repetitive words to explore a world that is natural and mysterious, open and hidden. While I don't speak French, Lang's translation has a smooth rhythm and having the French original on facing pages gives even a non-speaker a sense of Bonnefoy's original metre and rhyme.

I've said this before, but I really do need to become a better poetry reader. I took this one in in small chunks in the mornings, and re-read most of the poems at least three times, and I still feel like large chunks of Bonnefoy's meaning slipped through my fingers. I guess I just need more canonical practice...

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (2007)

My amazing friend Dan recently lent me the first half of The Walking Dead comics series by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, and I just finished The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (2007). I'm having to pace myself and not just drop everything else I'm reading to dive in to zombieland.

In this first volume (which contains issues #1-6 of the original comics), our hero, Officer Rick Grimes, is shot in the line of duty and taken to the hospital. Some time later he wakes up in his hospital bed, and there isn't anyone else there -- anyone else still alive, that is. Grimes is a survivor who quickly assesses the situation, finds a couple of other survivors, and heads for home. When he learns that his wife and son aren't at his house, he suspects the worst, but hopes that they might have gone to Atlanta where the government promised safety from the zombie epidemic. What follows is a horse-riding, zombie killing, creeptastic ride through the early part of the zombie apocalypse.

The Walking Dead doesn't take the easy route of gory zombie action (although there is some of that) and instead provides a meaty, character-driven plot line. People here do things for a reason, even when that reason is an unexpected one. The plot is crisp, the drawings amazing, and I'm excited to read more!