Wednesday, September 4, 2019

An Open Book: Comics, Novels, & the Creative Life

Another month has rolled around, which means it's time for another literature roundup! I read tons of comic books, some books on creativity, and I dove into a couple of fiction novels as well. Head over to Carolyn Astfalk's blog for more great recommendations :) 

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I'm glad that the friend who recommended this book on creativity to me gave me the heads-up that parts are "woo-woo." Take this book with several grains of salt. However, even though I disagreed with the author's ideology that there is Harry Potter-type magic in this world, there are also some nice bits of wisdom and encouragement about living the creative life. I especially appreciated the author's discussion of how we don't all need to become Tormented Artists, because it is 100% possible to be creative without buying into the idea that we need to become slaves to our work, talents, addictions, and/or deep suffering.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art.
You know Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child? This book is basically its Japanese equivalent. It dives into different techniques for Japanese cooking, with a large variety of recipes that ranged from the super simple to complex. Granted, I did skim over parts that just didn't apply to me right now (did I need to read several pages on how to gut and fillet a fish? Not really-though I did read parts of these sections, and they were quite fascinating). This book is classic, informative, and definitely lit a fire in me to cook Japanese food more frequently. I followed the recipe for Noodle Broth and served it for dinner one night with some soba noodles and random additional ingredients and my family was ecstatic-and it was very simple to make. I highly recommend this one!

The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey.
Some parts droned on a little bit, but overall I loved this murder-and-legal-mystery novel set in 1920s Bombay. Starring Perveen Mistry, a female solicitor (inspired by the real-life females in India's history who worked as lawyers in a society that discriminated against them), follows her work with three women who live in purdah, and whose husband has just died. And then there's a murder. There's a great conglomeration of religions (mention of Christianity, but mostly focuses on Zoroastrians, Muslims, and Hindus) and cultures and political tensions (British rule versus Indian rule). Fascinating and enjoyable. I will mention, though, that in the very end of the book, there was a section of dialogue about "GIRL POWER" that I felt was a little over-the-top and it just didn't feel natural (the whole story was strongly feminist in a good way, so why the author felt the need to explicitly throw this in is beyond me). I also want to mention that this is definitely geared towards mature audiences-there is discussion of abuse, some sexual content, menstruation, and one of the characters is attracted to the same sex and this is brought into the plot a teensy bit (but there is nothing explicit and it's very tame).

The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey
The second book in the series about Perveen Mistry, the plot takes place in a princely Indian-ruled state of Satapur. Perveen has been summoned on behalf of the British government to resolve a dispute about where the future ruler (currently an 8 year old boy) will be educated-his widowed mother and his widowed grandmother are at odds on this. Since these ladies live in purdah, Perveen is naturally the likely candidate to tackle this case. Naturally, there's suspected murders, intrigue, and a little bit of romantic tension thrown in too. This book did not have flashbacks as the first book did, and I think it helped the story rollick along better. I thought the characters were all pretty interesting, and I liked that even though it was a similar theme to the first book (female lawyer comes to help women in purdah, murders take place, etc) it was still a distinctive story on its own.

Hawkeye: L.A. Woman (Volume 3) and Hawkeye: Rio Bravo (Volume 4) by Matt Fraction and David Aja. 
The continuation and conclusion of Fraction & Aja's Hawkeye series, Volume 3 follows Kate Bishop as she sets out for life in California (she wants/needs to take a break from dealing with Clint Barton). She winds up discovering that life is not so peaceful when Madam Masque hunts her down. Volume 4 follows Clint Barton while Kate is gone, as he deals with more of the Russian mob-ish members and tries to keep his neighbors safe. He also goes deaf at one point, which was a fascinating element to see them bring into a comic. Both of these were enjoyable, but I wasn't a fan of the occasional partial nudity and rather frequent coarse language.

I've Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You (Vol. 7) by North and Henderson.
Doreen (Squirrel Girl) and Nancy win a trip to the Savage Land, a dinosaur park (sort of like Jurassic Park). While there, they discover that the park is in danger, so they naturally look for ways to save the dinosaurs (and everyone else). There are also other college students there from Latveria, who are hilarious as they talk about their devotion to Doctor Doom. I think this is honestly one of my favorite volumes of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. It was so, so fun. If you read any Squirrel Girl books, Vol 1 and Vol 7 are my favorites and I highly recommend them (they're all pretty good, though).

My Best Friend's Squirrel (Vol. 8) by North and Henderson.
In this rollicking adventure, Nancy Whitehead and Tippy Toe find themselves transported to another planet. Squirrel Girl wants to save them, and enlists the help of the Sorcerer Supreme (normally Dr. Strange, but currently Loki has taken that position) to help them. Also, Nancy and Tippy Toe are trying to help these squirrels who are being blackmailed. The story was...okay? I wasn't blown away by it, and then when I checked other reviewers online, it looks like several other people weren't a huge fan of this one either. HOWEVER, the comic at the end of this volume is awesome: Nancy and Doreen get sent into hyper-time, so they go around saving people from potential disasters and they grow to be old women in a weekend. It's a fun story, and neat to see how they age. 

Squirrels Fall Like Dominoes (Vol. 9) and Life is Too Short, Squirrel (Vol. 10) by North and Charm.
I so enjoyed reading these Squirrel Girl books-and sharing them with my three-year-old, who is currently obsessed with the series! Volume 9 involves a lot of Kraven and Squirrel Girl interactions (she decides to help him become a better person and they do an Escape Room together), which I thoroughly enjoyed. I love seeing their friendship develop. Volume 10 begins with...the death of Squirrel Girl?!?! It also brings Tony Stark into the story more, which is fun. It was a little jarring to see the change in art (apparently Henderson stepped down as an artist for the series), but it's still well done, with lots of colors and details.

Art Matters, by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell.
This book was a couple of essays by Gaiman all about the creative life. He offers encouragement and some advice. The illustrations were a nice touch that brought the essays to life. I thought this was fun to pick up and read, but I think I would have enjoyed more of a substantive book. There are a handful of essays here, but they're all pretty short and the book probably took me about half an hour to read. If you need a quick pick-me-up that encourages you in the writing life, this would probably be worthwhile. But, it wasn't the greatest. 

The Wisdom of the Desert, by Thomas Merton.
This is a small book, less than a hundred pages. However, Merton packs a punch! He basically compiles some of his favorite short stories of Desert Fathers. He introduces the section of stories with an introduction that is awesome. It's pithy and beautiful. I love his reflections on love and on what we can learn from the desert Fathers. 

The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald. 
In this follow-up to The Princess and the Goblin, Curdie is sent to the palace where he discovers that the king is deathly ill and the whole area has fallen into moral decay. At first, it was hard to get into the story, but things really started to pick up once Curdie came to the king. I didn't like it as much as the first book, but it was still good to see the story of Curdie and Irene continue and reach a conclusion.

The Brave Learner, by Julie Bogart.
This book is amazing. Bogart walks through different aspects of the homeschooling life, and offers wisdom about nurturing our childrens' creativity and learning. There was so much great stuff in here, and I highly recommend this book to anyone considering homeschooling. She doesn't really focus on one method (like Montessori or Reggio-Emilia), but rather looks at the heart of homeschooling in general (though she does reflect a little bit on her foray into Unschooling, which I found quite interesting to read about). One of the things that I loved about this book was the way in which she talked about finding the learning and value in different interests that a child has. For example, it a child is really interested in one particular video game or TV show, she lays forth ways that you can notice the different elements-story, characters, music, costumes, etc-that your child can learn and grow from. 

Real Artists Don't Starve, by Jeff Goins.Okay, everyone: put down Big Magic and pick up this book. Goins explores the creative life and works from real-life examples to show that you don't have to be a Tormented and Penniless artist. He begins from the example of Michelangelo, who he keeps returning to throughout the book (basically: people have been taught for years that Michelangelo was a poor man, but he was actually crazy rich). Goins walks through several principles/features of the Thriving Artist, and there were some good tips for the creative life in there. I love how he made a huge emphasis on how we can change the narrative about creativity. However, I also think it's important to remember that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the artistic life doesn't financially sustain us for a period. So, I highly recommend reading this book, but also reading Jenna Fischer's memoir (or other related book) to obtain a fuller picture.  

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman.
In this short, masterful work of fiction, Gaiman presents a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home for a funeral. He then recounts the past, and how as a young boy, he met Lettie Hempstock-a girl down the lane, who in reality is (along with her mother and grandmother) some kind of mythical/magical/immortal being that only looks like a normal person. Next thing you know, this boy is caught up in the battle of good and evil, as his home is infiltrated by an evil being. This was a really interesting novel, a somewhat coming-of-age type story, and I enjoyed it. Also, I've heard that the audiobook is amazing (read by Gaiman, who apparently has a great narrator-voice). 

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman (author's preferred text).
Richard is an absentminded, utterly normal businessman. His domineering fiancé, Jessica, thinks he could be a "good matrimonial accessory" if he could only focus more (and continue doing whatever she tells him). However, his typical life in London is turned upside-down when he stumbles across a beaten-up and bloody girl on the sidewalk and decides to help her. This girl, he discovers, is from the world/dimension below London. Door, as she is called, is trying to uncover the secrets surrounding her family's murder. All Richard wants to do is return to his ordinary life, so he tries to help Door in her quest. This book was riveting. It felt very Alice in Wonderland-ish, and I loved the London setting. It was a bit creepy in parts (the two assassins who are hunting Door are delightfully quirky while being sadistic and creepy), but it wasn't outright scary. There are a couple of sex references and instances of rough language, but it's pretty minimal. I loved this book, and I recommend it-particularly if you like fantasy or Doctor Who.

Thanks for joining me in this literary discussion! Let me know if you have any recommendations-I love adding to my list :) 


  1. I love this eclectic mix of books! I wonder what my family would do if I started cooking Japanese food? Interesting. Thanks for linking up. I'm looking up all sorts of these books.

    1. Thank you for hosting the linkup! I always love joining in.
      Your family might really enjoy Japanese food! I used to ALWAYS think that Japanese food only involved raw fish, but when I discovered Japanese hot pots, my perspective was completely changed. There are so many lovely dishes which are fairly simple to make. It's been fun to savor the different flavors and textures :)

  2. Thanks for visiting ~ and for all the great book tips!

  3. Always so impressed with how many books you read in a month. A lot of these sound really great!

    1. I hope you enjoy some of these, Elisabeth! I've just been in such a mood for reading, lately-I've taken to curling up with books most evenings once the kids are in bed :)