re:View – The 2017 Bookshelf: May
After a not very bookish start to the year, May almost put me back on track – although I cheated a bit and read lots of graphic novels. So here we have a very strange collection of apes, lowlifes, cat-owl creatures and a good old-fashioned demon hunter.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
This is one of those books the universe just kept telling me to read – I don’t usually go for history books but recommendations kept coming in from all sides until I gave up and picked it up. It’s a fascinating and informative account of (as it says on the tin) the history of homo sapiens, charting our rise through the cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolution. The book takes a pretty general approach, and in terms of the hard facts I’d say you’ll probably know most of it if you’ve paid attention in biology and history class back in school. But Harari takes an interesting approach to interpreting the consequences of our evolution in light of the question: How did we benefit from it? As in, are we really better off in our civilised, industrial society than our ancestors were in their hunter-gatherer lives? In that regard the book really made me think and gave me a perspective on history that school didn’t really offer. Well written and engaging, Sapiens was certainly more enjoyable than I expected a history book to be.
Pens: 4 out of 5
Sin City, Volume 6: Booze, Broads, and Bullets by Frank Miller
It’s Sin City, I thought, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, this one’s more like a scrapbook of fragments and odd pieces, many of them recycled from other stories, that make for a bit of a lame “short story” collection. It was probably a money-making exercise: The franchise is selling, so lets stick whatever bits and pieces we’ve got left over into a collection and market that as a new book. It shows… This volume is distinctly lacking coherence, thrills and pretty much everything else that made Sin City what it is. I’m keeping it merely for the sake of having the full collection, but I doubt I’ll ever so much as glance over it again.
Pens: 2 out of 5
Sin City, Volume 7: Hell and Back
The final instalment offers us a proper story again, and a pretty good one at that. A troubled artist / hit man / war hero saves a girl from suicide only to see her kidnapped, and when he goes after her he accidentally blows up a massive conspiracy involving people trafficking, organ harvesting and other unsavoury activities. It’s dark, it’s brutal and it’s beautifully illustrated, featuring by far the biggest colour palette I’ve seen in any Sin City book. The style really has evolved over the seven volumes, and after a few low points in the middle Miller finishes strong with one hell of a graphic novel here.
Pens: 3 out of 5
Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood
So I was really excited about this. A graphic novel. About cats. By Margaret Atwood. It’s bound to be AWESOME. Right? Wrong. I still don’t know what this is, but it reads like the deluded ramblings of your granny who’s trying to be down with the kids. Some scientist has an accident with a Secret Formula that mixes his genes up with his dead cat (and an owl, for good measure), turning him into some weird flying half cat. He promptly stumbles into a war between other half cats and some crazy professor who’s trying to take over the world with his army of rats. So far, so good – the whole thing is aimed at young readers, after all. What makes it really weird is the amount of incredibly cringe-worthy innuendo (boy half cat and girl half cat are so sex crazed for each other they can barely manage to keep their pants on), and the random informative foot notes about responsible cat-keeping that are sprinkled in among the action. Basically, the whole thing is so weird, cringe and embarrassing that I can only hope Atwood intended it as some elaborate practical joke. That, or she has decided she’s so famous she can write whatever the hell she fancies these days and get away with it. But seriously. WTF!
Pens: 1 out of 5
Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano
Here’s a confession. I got sucked into watching the super cheesy US adaptation of the John Constantine graphic novels. When I commented on how gloriously bad it was in the office, a colleague brought the book in for me, attempting, I assume to further my education. This is certainly very different from the all-American TV show – darker, grittier, and (thankfully!) a whole lot more British. In loosely connected episodes we follow the demon hunter from Liverpool around the world as he tries to keep the unsavoury elements of the underworld from causing havoc with people’s lives above ground. Granted, he fails mostly, being the troubled and flawed character he is. But some of the demon-hunting is pretty epic. I’m not in love with the illustration style and colouring; it comes across very chaotic and the changing reading order of the panels adds confusion, to the point where some pages actively put me off wanting to read them. But the stories are great and John Constantine is a really well-made character, so overall a pretty decent graphic novel.
Pens: 3 out of 5