As a way of easing back into the swing of things, here are some thoughts on the things I’ve been reading and watching in the past couple of weeks:
- The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett, 1934.
- Hammett is one of the grand-daddies of American detective fiction, and he was known for an economy of style that sort of breaks my brain when I read it, but in a good way. The Thin Man is fun, light reading but it works more as a comedy of manners than a detective story, and the setting, voice, and gender relations date it far more readily than most work in the genre. I enjoy the novel, but this is a rare case where I like the movie better.
- The White Rose, Glen Cook, 1985.
- The White Rose marks the end of the Black Company over-story referred to as The Books of The North and it does so with the sort of merciless competency that I’ve come to expect from Cook’s prose. The story jumps around in time quite a bit through epistolary machinations but it does so well. The book brings this chapter of the Company’s history to a close quite nicely and takes a couple of twists and turns that are satisfying if not always unexpected. Also a great “Weird Geography” book what with most of it taking place on the otherworldly Plain of Fear—an environment only mentioned in passing in the preceding Shadows Linger.
- Shadow Games, Glen Cook, 1989.
- And that brings us to the first of the two Books of The South, as Croaker leads the Black Company out of The Lady’s empire and back to the land that spawned their outfit four-hundred years prior. This one is a bit more melancholy than the previous entries, dealing primarily with Croaker coming to terms with his own advancing age and the personal inadequacies that are coming to bear now that he has assumed control of the Company. Cook handles that side of things very well though, and takes the opportunity to get us more in on the side of seeing how things come together in the Company. In previous books, Croaker has served primarily as Annalist and Physician, and now that he’s in a position of power and having to support the Company as he leads it to its disbanding in Khatovar, we get much more of an inside look at how the organization is run and a much wider view of how the battles play out. It doesn’t always work though; as Croaker is now writing and fighting from a position of command, the larger battles in the third act become a bit too large to really grasp due to Cook’s spare prose and sharp, isolated imagery. It’s something that works better when we’re seeing it from the perspective of the man on the ground, not the one watching the proceedings. That said, the book is still immensely enjoyable and Cook continues to be remorseless when it comes to tormenting and killing his characters. I could probably stand to sit down and read all of the other books in the series right now if I didn’t have things to look at for my thesis.
- The House of Breath, William Goyen, 1950.
- Lovely imagery and layering and some technically excellent writing. Otherwise I couldn’t stand it. There’s a bit where a river starts narrating the book mid-chapter that sort of broke my brain (in a bad way this time) for a little while. Even a big room full of writers couldn’t find much nice to say about it. I’d say dodge it unless you’re into that sort of thing.
- DMZ, Volume 05: The Hidden War, Brian Wood, Others, 2008. (Issues #23-28)
- Brian Wood’s DMZ is one of the best comics that I’m reading right now, and no joking. A very near future story where the Second American Civil War has been fought to a standstill and the burned out ruins of Manhattan have become a thinly populated demilitarized zone. The book has an thick air of probability to it, and I never cease to be amazed by the art and Wood’s ability to tell small, personal stories set in this world that are at once as sad as they are as proud and hopeful. This particular volume is made up of those little stories; one-shot tales about the figures who live in the DMZ and how they came to be where they are, from an aging graffiti artist, to a failed suicide bomber, to the gangster who runs Chinatown and aims to own the whole city by the time the war is over. It’s pretty great and, right now, it’s the comic book that I’m most likely to recommend to people who don’t read comic books.
- The Losers, Weed Road, Warner Bros, 2010.
- This was one that I really enjoyed in theaters, but looking at it now my impressions have begun to cool. I still like it, but it doesn’t really much work as a cohesive whole. The villain is too goofy and blatantly villainous for the film that he’s been put in, and the weapons that he’s buying are like something out of the later Pierce Brosnan Bond films. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously to begin with, but it isn’t weird enough to accommodate a guy who shoots his assistant because she stumbles while walking next to him. I also still don’t object to all of the changes that they made in translating it from the comic. I wish that it had been more like the comic, sure. The comic is pretty damn brilliant. But I think that it comes into it’s own well enough for all but the most hard-core purists to find some merit there.
That’s all for now, folks. Look for a new COOKING COLUMN tomorrow afternoon some time, and another thing later in the week. I also sort of want to talk about television at some point, but we’ll see where that goes.