Finishing up Read Harder 2018 (the lazy way)

Published December 27, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Right, so, mass post to cover everything that didn’t get its own review.  Several of these are last minute replacements to make up for much longer books I didn’t have time to read because that stupid YA book held me up so long that my class started and things picked up at work, and all that rubbish.  Also some of these I read before class started, but I didn’t get around to their reviews because the review of the lousy book also held me up.  (Because I suck.)

Anyway, for laziness’s sake, I’m going to go by their order on the challenge list, starting with Challenge #2, “A book of true crime,” which I am skipping over as I’m embarrassed that I own the darn thing.  It’s something I bought in the school bookstore (with my parents’ money) back in the ’90s, relating dumb things criminals had done.  It seemed harmless at the time, but looking at it for the first time in more than a decade, I see a lot about it that’s unsettling.

Moving on to Challenge #3, “A classic of genre fiction,” I went with this:

The short version is “good books, horrible edition.”  Seriously, this paperback “classics” edition from Barnes & Noble is so bad.  I mean, I guess it’s okay if you’re the type to ignore endnotes entirely, but I’m in the habit of reading them.  Which I had to get out of pretty quickly for this thing.  It was bad enough when it gave endnotes explaining things that no reader would likely need explained (what a brontosaurus or a griffin was, for example), but when it gave a note that was a freaking spoiler, that’s when I said “no, screw you, endnotes!”  Ugh.

Uh, yeah, that was not relevant.  Also — still in the irrelevant category — wtf is up with that cover image?  It’s a neat image, yes, but it has sod-all to do with the books.  The future visited by the time traveler has no high tech anything, let alone this 1950s fantasy of the high rise city of tomorrow.

Back to what’s relevant, I was amazed at how little there was in common between these two books and my expectations.  The Time Machine has more in common with the opening sequence of Time After Time than it does with either of the films adapting it that I’ve seen.  The book’s future is very different from what any movie has ever delivered, and honestly it’s not even something a movie can deliver unless it’s going to be a very uncomfortable and relatively short picture.  In the movies, the Eloi have not evolved much from humans, while the Morlocks have become hideous mole-monster-people.  In the book, both species have become physically entirely distinct from human beings.  Which is much more likely, really, but not so easy to film.

As to The Invisible Man, it’s very different from other books of its sort.  Not that I’ve read a huge number of them (are there even a huge number of them?) but I’ve read both Frankenstein and Dracula, two of the works that pioneered the rather disparate genre that would create the Universal Monsters. 😛  It’s much less intimate with the title character…or anyone else, for that matter, if I recall correctly.  (Ugh, trying to review a book I read in August or whenever is not so easy in December.  Especially considering I’m sick.)  It was a really interesting read, though.  As long as you’re not reading this edition.

Okay, moving on to the next unreviewed book on the list, Challenge #5, “A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries.”

This is the sort of thing I wouldn’t have counted for Read Harder if I hadn’t run out of time.  “Rakonto” is the name of a project I backed on Kickstarter.  The idea of the project is that a group of teachers go to various countries and meet with groups of children who for one reason or another don’t get…okay, wait, rather than me trying to sum it up, I’m going to quote their campaign page instead:

Children love to tell stories.

However, in many places in the world, their creative voices are rarely heard or cultivated. Rakonto helps amplify the voices of these children by traveling to developing communities and implementing storytelling workshops that build on children’s natural potential to become storytellers.

In these workshops, we teach students the power of storytelling, challenging them to write their own original stories. In doing so…

  • We encourage students to take pride in their local heritage and to find their own voices
  • We empower students by sharing methods and tools for powerful expression, helping them grasp their potential as creative individuals
  • We help students imagine themselves as agents of positive social change

And it goes on from there about how there’s a global shortage of teachers, and how many children live in areas where they’re not getting the basic education that everyone should have the right to, etc.  They take the stories the children have told, illustrate one or more, and send them out to their supporters as books, with the proceeds from the books going to pay for more workshops in other countries, to keep the project going and encourage more children.

So, anyway, this one, The Power of an Idea, is by a tenth grader in India.  (Which is a bit older than I was expecting from their description, but…)  It’s about elderly homeless people and how to help them so they won’t be homeless anymore.  A bit naive around the edges, but very sweet, and definitely a different perspective than you get in America.

Moving on, Challenge #7, “A western.”  I had planned on borrowing a book from my father for this one, a steampunk western with all sorts of real people reinvented in steampunky ways, which I’m told is quite good.  But I didn’t have time anymore, so I went with

a single issue of a comic book I backed on Kickstarter.  (I am totally not a comic book person.  So why do I end up backing so many of them on Kickstarter?)  It’s about a bounty hunter named Veronica in 1885, who travels with La Meurte, who may or may not be real, but is most definitely her lover even if she isn’t real.  It’s short, being only an issue of a comic book rather than a full graphic novel, but it’s very interesting.  I’ll definitely be backing the later issues, too.  (Though only at the digital level.  I don’t want to try to keep track of flimsy little comic books.  I’ll go physical edition if they get collected into a book later on.)

Next, Challenge #9, “A book of colonial or postcolonial literature.”  I wanted to read Kim for this, because what could be more colonial than Kipling?  (Also, I bought an RPG based on it off itch.io a while back, and I wanted to read the book before I played the game.)  But I totally ran out of time.  So, in a measure of extreme cheapness and possible cheating, I’m counting one of the books I read for class.

I figure it counts as colonial/postcolonial because it starts out in Korea while it was under Japan’s colonial control, and then it’s postcolonial as we follow the family of displaced Koreans trying to live in Japan.  This is not a book I would ever have read on my own, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it.  It’s just totally not my thing.  The stuff in Korea was very interesting, and the early part of their time in Japan was also pretty good.  Near the end of WWII it totally lost me, though.  I can pinpoint the moment it happened, too:  when a long-gone character returned to the story suddenly to play the role of “perpetual plot device.”  It’s a generations long book which only really started to make sense to me after one of the children grew up and fell in love with the English novels he was studying, particularly Dickens.  Then I got it:  this is a love letter to and imitation of Dickens, with a Korean/Japanese veneer (and thankfully much less dense text).  As someone who gets annoyed with Dickens’ propensity for continual and over-the-top coincidences, this did not endear the book to me.

Additionally, the author’s research was inconsistent.  She did do a lot of research, but only into the major things like political movements, historical events, etc.  A lot of the details slid by.  I only noticed one particularly glaring one, late in the book, when we’re in 1968, and a three year old boy is soooo excited to go to the store and buy the latest “issue” of Tetsuwon Atom and then hurries home to watch the anime on TV.  Yeah, so that felt really, really wrong to me chronologically, so I looked that up.  Tetsuwon Atom (aka Astro Boy in the west) ended in 1968 with the death of the title character.  I don’t know when in the year that final chapter was published (and it would have been in a magazine, not in “issues” like an American comic; the collected volume likely wouldn’t have hit the shelves until the following year) but I seem to recall that scene being set in the fall, meaning it was probably already over, and given the way it ended, the father would probably have tried to discourage his little son’s attachment to the property.  But the son wouldn’t have said attachment anyway, because the anime went off the air in 1966, when the boy was about a year old.  It took me about a minute to look that up.  The author could have done the same.  And no, I don’t think she was using it for its recognizability factor, considering she was not only using its original Japanese title, but even going so far as to transliterate “Atom” as “Atomu,” as it’s actually spelled in Japanese.

So, long story short, when we discussed the book in class, the professor explained to us that there were a lot of minor errors all throughout the book, particularly in terms of when particular foods were available in Japan and what they were called at the time.  (I didn’t mention the anime thing, because I didn’t want to sound like the biggest otaku ever, but I’m sure she was aware of it.  She’s just more interested in food culture than pop culture.)

Now, do little things like that ruin a book?  Well, no, not to most people.  But as I said, I didn’t like it anyway, because of the whole melodramatic, recurring coincidence thing.  It’s just not my cup of tea.

And moving on to Challenge #24 (skipping over #20 to end with it) we have another class book, and this one feels even more like cheating.  That last challenge is “An assigned book you hated (or never finished).”  I didn’t hate it, but this is the last book we were assigned in that class, and I didn’t manage to finish it on time because I was too caught up in work and in research for my final paper.

This book is a sociological/anthropological study of Bethel, a service community on the island of Hokkaido which helps mental patients discharged from the hospital to live their lives outside the mental institution.  Most of the patients were, at first, schizophrenics, though that’s started to change in favor of emotional disturbances.  Anyway, it’s a very interesting book and written with very simple language, not a lot of technical terms from pyschology or anthropology.  It did need a better editing job, though; a lot of grammatical errors made it to the printed page.

Okay, so last one, Challenge #20, “A book with a cover you hate.”  And again this is kind of cheating, because this is something I would have read anyway.  But it does qualify, though in a different way than they likely meant.  My choice for this challenge is this:

I’m sure you’re looking at that gorgeous cover and wondering why in the world I hate it.  Well, let me tell you this:  if you have ever read any Black Butler and just haven’t gotten this far, or if you think you might want to read it in the future, then just stop right now.  Because I can’t explain why I hate this cover without completely spoiling the contents of this volume of the manga.

Okay, so if you don’t want to read further, hit the back button now!

Just gonna add a few more lines of buffer…

..

..

.

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Okay, hopefully that’s buffer enough.

So, the reason I hate this book’s cover is because Agni there is my second favorite character in the manga…

…and he is horribly, brutally killed in the first chapter of this volume.

And in a later chapter we see a shinigami completing the paperwork on collecting his soul, so it’s highly unlikely (if not outright impossible) that he’s going to be magically revived.

Worse still, I had already paid to read that horrible, horrible chapter.  Because the last volume ended with my favorite character, Prince Soma (Agni’s employer/dearest friend), with a gun to his head, and then a page with nothing but a sound effect of a gun being fired.  I knew there were ways to buy an officially translated version of new chapters within days of their release in Japan, and I couldn’t possibly wait to find out if Soma was okay, so I had looked around and found that comixology sold the chapters for $2.99 apiece.  I bought the relevant chapter and found that Soma only got shot in the hand, but the assailant proved himself unnaturally powerful and…

…I ended up crying so hard that I had to call my brother, hastily assure him that nothing was wrong, and then continue crying as I explained I needed to get out of the house for a while.  (The worst part is, I have a fair chunk of Black Butler merch in my house.  If things go as badly as I fear they might in the next volume, and Soma gets himself killed trying to avenge Agni by going after the wrong person, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it all, because I don’t think I’ll want to keep it.  Or even keep reading.)

Needless to say, when this volume was released and I saw what the cover image was, I was really pissed off that they had the gall to do this.  I mean, there have been characters on the cover of the volume in which they die before, but those were new characters who were only introduced in that arc.  Soma and Agni were introduced very early on, before the story arcs got so long, and they’ve been around for probably about seven or eight years now.  (I believe the manga recently celebrated its tenth year.)  As long as they’ve been around, they should have become effectively immortal.  I accept that in a supernatural manga where the title character is a literal demon, there are plenty of human casualties, even ones that you would want to have survive and join the permanent cast, but if the permanent cast are suddenly no longer so permanent…

Not to mention that the “evil twin” became a tired cliche decades ago.  I mean, I think in this case there’s still something supernatural going on (at the very least, he’s been raised from the dead) but that doesn’t change the stupidity of it; there better be something more complex and deeper going on than that.

And I could go on about this for ages, but I’ll stop because I doubt anyone cares.

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