Five Comfort Books

Help me. help me. help me. I’m right in the midst of my finals season, and I haven’t felt like a person in a great number of days. I need some good books. Sure, I’ve been doing plenty of reading, but that reading usually falls into the soul-crushing and pulping variety known as academic research.

Some of you might be asking, “Madeline, darling, how do you expect to fix this problem with more reading?” To them, I hiss and burrow deeper under my blankets. I’m absolutely tired of writing to explain myself in circles with theses, topic sentences and the like. Books don’t ask such silly questions. Books understand. My comfort books do, anyway.

I can’t exactly go off and read something too high highfalutin in this current state of mind. My brain would turn to mush at trying to exert itself that much more in what’s supposed to be my personal leisure time. With that in mind, I usually return to my favorites that I’ve read and re-read again, books I know well that will offer me the comfort I need at a time when I’m about to crushed by looming piles of my ridiculously overpriced textbooks. I’ve selected a couple here that are good comfort books to me, each with a couple different reasons why they feel so gosh-darn cozy. You might’ve seen some of these guys before. You don’t have to pick these books for yourself if you’re looking for a good comfort read, but you can certainly use my motives for picking them to guide your own comfort book selection

1. The Dragons are Singing Tonight, By Jack Prelutsky. When in doubt, regress back to your childhood. This book of poems by well known children’s poet Jackie P. was one my parents frequently read to me as a kid. I held onto it long after I traded my picture books in for more “grown up” reading material. The poems were all about dragons, though not necessarily just the singing type. Looking at the beautiful illustrations and reading over the old, rhythmic words reminds me of my mom doing the silly squeaky voice of the Nasty Nasty Dragon (who was just a half inch tall,) or chanting the words to the title poem, “The Dragons are Singing Tonight”. I get some of the childhood lightness back, the ability to find happiness in such small things, when reading old comfort books from my childhood. Plus, they give perspective. I mean, I was terrified of Boom the Thunder Dragon, but now I can read through that poem no problem. I shall overcome thee, finals!

2. Discworld. Yes, dear old Discworld again.  The great thing about this series is that I don’t have to pick a book I’ve already read to feel comforted when reading it. I know the voice so well: I’m so comfortable with it that any book in the series will be an easy breezy ride for me. Finding a series whose voice truly speaks to you is an absolute treasure, one that gives you a sense of home just by looking at the pages. Sometimes, finding a series like this can seem like kismet. Having a great understanding of how to pick out new books doesn’t hurt either.

3. Bossypants. Yup, another favorite of mine. It’s a funny book, and here’s the funny thing about funny comfort books, a thing especially true in great times  of stress.All those jokes that you’ve read thousands of times already become much, much funnier. I could almost certainly quote the punchlines to all my favorite jokes in this book, but during finals season, or any other high-stress season, that doesn’t stop my from coming back to an old friend that knew, that still knows, how to make me laugh.

4. The Harry Potter Series. This is another series that feels like home to me, but it’s a bit different than Discworld as far as why I find it so comforting. Unlike many lengthier series, the Harry Potter books  have all been written: the story they meant to tell has come to a close. I’ve read through many series I’ve loved that ended, satisfyingly or otherwise, and felt saddened at not being able to see more. That doesn’t make what is there any less a treat. I don’t simply pick a book and re-read the whole thing here, I pick a couple parts out of this or that book that I know I love to read, or that I feel would resonate particularly well with me at the time, and I read those passages. Look at poor old Harry, struggling to get through his OWLS. If he can, then so can I.

5. The Walking Dead. Yup, another favorite of mine. This time, the world the stories take place in is the key here. I could easily say similar things about Harry Potter here, but imagining yourself in the midst of a zombie apocalypse is just the trendy thing to do right now, so I thought I’d follow suit. One of the big sellers of The Walking Dead series is that it makes such a rich, complex world, one that people do want to live in. When life in this reality starts to give you the stink-eye, some time, (just some time I’m not trying to make you dysfunctionally stuck in make-believe land here,) thinking about living in and exploring a different world can be very refreshing. Who needs to study? I just need to worry about scavenging water and medical supplies without getting mauled alive. This is a much easier life.

So yeah, if you’re in a very un-comfy place right now, I definitely feel for you. Why not go find some books to make it comfier? Look for old friends, friends whose voice you’ll never tire of, friends that will make you laugh, friends you just need to re-live classic moments with, and friends that’ll help you escape, for a time. They’ll help pull you through, and soon you’ll be wondering why you were ever so upset in the first place.

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5 Ways to Pick a New Book to Read

Well, I find myself in that most uncomfortable of situations. I don’t have a book to read. Yes, I’ve got loads of backed up books on my to-read list, and I live right down the street from a library and two bookstores.  I’ve got so many possible books looming over me, glaring at me, threatening to collapse and crush my head if I don’t make a choice soon. How do I know which one to choose without the whole thing collapsing on my head? Well, that’s actually a rhetorical question. I know how to pick a book because I’m a magical book wizard with internet access. It may well be a long and arduous process, but I’m taking you along with me to learn a bunch of tricks for  finding the perfect next book to pick up.

1. Goodreads. You’ve heard me praise it before. It’s like Facebook, but instead of sharing irrelevant Buzzfeed articles, you get to share books you read, want to read, and review just about any book you like. That’s my sort of social experience. It’s also a great at recommending texts for you to try. They do that old “If you like this genre, try these,” sort of predicting business but for, the most useful thing about Goodreads is the reviews of each book. If your friend has read and reviewed a book, you can look at their review or just look at the general, overall review by strangers.

Hearing a stranger’s honest and very often most earnest impressions of a book you might want to read or even have read is, for me, one of the most heartening, life affirming ways to spend time on the internet, like a reverse Youtube comment section. People have opinions, really thoroughly thought out and fascinating opinions about different books. Even the negative reviews tend to have a form of argument against the book more intricate than “dis gaaaaaaaaaay,” like the writer actually listened to their middle school writing and composition teachers about how to write essays and share ideas.

2. Search Engines. Yes, getting more general here. That fact is, there’s actually a number of random websites that can recommend another book for you to read. I’m not just talking about “new sci-fi books here” types of virtual libraries or lists though. There’s sites like What Should I Read Next, where you just type in the title of a book you liked and get a list of recommendations. As far as I could tell from testing it out, the lists are pretty sound stuff too. Saying I like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods brought up, among other things, a number of books by Terry Pratchett, and both those men are my spirit animals, spirit animals with highly complementary writing styles, so they check out.

3. The Cutting Edge. There’s also even more experimental online services like whichbook, a site that gives you sliders so you can indicate how happy vs sad, how funny versus serious, or how predictable versus unpredictable a boom you want to read. You give them the data, and they list a number of books that fit the mood and style you describe. The rush of power I got from moving the little sliders to adjust my needs then having a whole platter of books presented to me gave me a bit of a head rush. I felt like I should be wearing a fancy robe or something and have a little bell made to summon my servant, the internet. They even have links so you can buy or borrow the books you see. I’m not sure the world is ready for this kind of power, but oh does it feel marvelous. Muahahahahahahaha!

4. Library. Back to the more human, less world-domination-y side of things,  you could go to your local library. Librarians are, of course, perfectly capable of giving you lists of recommended books upon request. It’s their job, and often enough a passion of theirs, to recommend cool new books to people. If your not the type to engage in difficult tasks like social interaction in a public place, with strangers even, then never fear. Any library is likely to have pre-made lists of recommendations or services similar to the online one’s I’ve discussed, where you can answer questions about your reading tastes and have a list of recommendations given to you. They were just as helpful as the more excitingly experimental online options, but the extra human touch kept me more grounded and less hungry for power.

5. The Book Chooses the Wizard, Mr. Potter. No, I don’t just mean go re-read Harry Potter, though that’s never a bad idea, I mean look inside yourself here. You can use all the fancy internets you like, talk to all the well meaning friends and librarians you choose, put to pick the perfect book, you got to listen to the inside of yer tummy, where everyone knows you digest books and words and stuff. Do you, perhaps, have a book that’s been calling out from your to-read pile louder than all the books you’ve had piled up for upwards of a year, just waiting for you? At the end of the day, if your not feeling a connection to the books all the advice and recommendation point you at, you’re the master of your own destiny. I looked at my to-read stack, trying to erase the feeling of guilt and resentment and just look at those books and finally read one of them. I then went to the library and checked out some random mystery book instead, because my gut gets confused under pressure, but the book’s pretty good so far!

There you have it. Next time you feel caught up in a flurry of book options, with no where to go, just remember there’s always a way, a specially tailored way even, for you to pick out that special book, and of course add even more titles to you giant to-read list.

The Saga of My Love for Saga

So I found yet another passionate love in the graphic novel section of the hottest place I go every evening, (the library. duh.) I’m talking about the series Saga by Brian Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples. It’s a beautiful story, spectacularly mixing elements of classic scifi and something more akin to fantasy , and of course a couple of star crossed lovers.

I should perhaps mention that Saga and I met in ways slightly less traditional than my other intros to great graphic novel series. It all started when I went to C2E2 a couple weeks ago, (you recall me spazzing out about that, right?) and found this picture on my pass for the day.Saga Pretty sweet, right? The image caught my eyes right away, but I just assumed it was a promotional of artwork first, a slight little joke breaking the image of the serious scifi future soldier/stormtrooper trope, with the book being a clever nod to all the comics and books at C2E2. How could such a cool picture actually be part of a real story?

Well, it turns out that image is a part of Volume 2 of Saga, and shows main character Alana reading her favorite book while on duty. I got unreasonably excited when I found out this stunning art was in fact part of a story, and that’s how I’m up to Volume 3 of Saga right now. Really, I should be done with that book by now, but I found out that there are only four books out currently, and I had one of those terrifying moments where I wasn’t ready to lose a series I wasn’t even done with. Now, instead of reading it before bed, I just quietly caress the book as it lays by my side in bed and I try not to cry myself to sleep.

So yeah, that’s my own personal gut reaction to the series there. Whats that? You want to hear more about the actual plot and the general merits of the work itself, not my tragically unstable emotions for good literature and fictional characters? Fine then, you big baby. Here we go.

So these two species, these winged humans that have a high grasp on technology and these horned satyr looking people that can use magic, are at war. two low level foot soldiers from the opposing sides, Alana and Marko, fall in love over their shared disillusionment with the war and the cycle of violence spurred on by the long standing rivalry between their people. They have a kid, a half breed of their two species, and go AWOL, making them targets for several dangerous bounty hunters. It’s an action packed, wildly imaginative story that ascends to that next level only great scfi can reach by pairing utterly human, recognizable emotional themes like difficult love, and disenchantment with patriotic political spin with utterly fantastic settings, characters and concepts.

I probably have a lady crush on Fiona Staples thanks to her  beautiful work on these books. She perfectly captures not just the subtle humor of the story, but also the cross between the utterly fantastic and utterly average human feelings these stories toss together, like Alana chilling in her uniform on top of some sort of photon death cannon with a good book in that picture above. I feel like we’ll one day find out that Staples is a name that marks those who exchanged the curse of being named after office supplies. Really, it’s Fiona Staples, Clive Staples Lewis, (better known as just good ole C.S., of Narnia fame,) and that’s all I’ve seen so far, but I’m keeping an eye out for more. I’ve searched my feelings and know it to be true.

On the whole, I can’t recommend Saga enough. If scifi is even remotely your thing, drop everything and read it now. If not, this book might just enchant you anyhow. If your just looking for a good time, Saga definitely delivers on that front too, with exciting action sequences and plenty of wry humor and witty banter with a real story behind it. I found that excellent, precarious balance between utterly fantastic and fantastically real with this work, and I hope you will too.

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Yay or Nay?

Jim Butcher. He’s one of the many I heard was at C2E2 that I never got around to seeing. Like him, his book series is also one I’d heard good things about but never got around to reading, until recently. Technically, I’m just talking about the Dresden Files here, because I haven’t read his other, more high fantasy genre series. I do still have a life people, give me some time. Anyhow, I can’t say I’ve read the Dresden files in its entirety, but I’ve certainly read enough to know whether or not to recommend the series, and who I should throw my recommendations at.

The Dresden Files fall into that relatively new Urban Fantasy genre, wherein traditional fantasy, fairy tale elements find their way into modern life and an urban environment. In the Dresden Files that urban environment is Chicago. That in itself is sort of a draw for me, living no more than an hour away from the windy city. Now, when I talk to my sister, who’s going to DePaul, and she tells me about her plans and where she’s going, I can say “Okay but be careful girl because that’s where the werewolves hang out,” or, “Harry Dresden just dueled with an evil necromancer over that way. It’s too dangerous!” And she’ll look at me like I’m crazy. So yeah, first point of recommendation for the series; make any relatives or friends you have in Chicago look at you like you are crazy. It’s one of my favorite past times.

I could go on discussing what this series brings to the table, and how to know whether you yourself could enjoy those elements, but actually one of the other things I love about the Dresden Files is that there’s a very easy way to test whether someone might enjoy reading them. You just describe the climax of any book in the series and depending on whether the potential reader goes “Wow! Awesome!” or “Wait, what?” you’ll know if that potential reader would like the series. Yes, I know this method could be controversial because that would require kind of spoiling at least one of the books, but it’s just too effective a method to ignore, in my opinion. For example, “Okay, so Harry has to face off this evil necromancer with powerful magic, and what does he do in the big climactic fight? Why, he magics the bones of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Field Museum, to bring her back to life then rides around on her giant, angry T-Rex back to save the day.” If all the elements of that sentence jive with your sensibility and taste as a reader, congratulations. Go to your nearest book store or library and get cracking on a new series. The bit I just mentioned is from the book Dead Beat, if you wanted to skip straight to the one in the series with the most undead dinosaurs.

I personally enjoy the series. Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard for hire in the yellow pages, (that’s in a phone book, kids,) is a fun take on your traditional hard-boiled private eye. He’s got a good sense of humor, and the exciting adventures made me actually listen to three audio books in a consecutive row from that series. It’s the sort of easy-going fantastical fun that helped distract me on my long walks and work outs.

Like many fantasy series, Dresden Files has a pretty interesting fan base, one especially vocal online, in a way that only the nerdiest of fandoms can be. I feel their fun attitude and love for the stories is really what makes the Dresden Files an attractive fandom and series. As a poignant closer, observe these pictoral musings I found on the tumblr, because I tumbl now. My sister persuaded me too, and I agreed to assuage her fears for my mental health. Maybe she wouldn’t have if she knew how much Dresden File fan art was on tumblr. Haha!

 

Poetry on the Edge

Well, If I had planned this better, I could’ve reviewed a nice little poetry collection in national poetry month, but then I of course had to geek out about C2E2 in my last entry. No regrets there. I had a great time. Now, though, I want to finally present this little masterful collection of poetry that I’ve had waiting to make its debut on my little blog. I’m talking about Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, by Patricia Lockwood.

MFHPL

Perhaps I being misleading by calling this book nice and little. I mean, it’s as slim as any poetry collection, but Lockwood puts too much into her work for it to simply be called nice. Judging by the questions Lockwood asks on the back, she’s going for a decidedly more edgy feel to her book. The book’s back cover asks prospective readers:

“What if a deer did porn?”

“Is America going down on Canada?”

“What Happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding?”

“Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit?”

And finally, my personal favorite…

“What would Walt Whitman’s tit-pics look like?”

See what I mean? This sort of book both immediately intrigued me and also immediately made me regret shopping for poetry books with my father. He saw the thing, and probably assumes I’m mentally diseased now. Really though, after reading Lockwood’s work, I found myself mentally enriched in a way that only reading the right poetry can manage.

Can I say there is no poem regarding deer porn or marrying stuffed owl exhibits? No, I actually cannot. Those poems are in there. but of course they are about so much more than the simple salacious teases offered on this collection’s back cover. Lockwood speaks with an empowering poetic honesty. That honesty means that yes, she can speak dark words, “dirty” words , like in her poem “Rape Joke,” but out of that dark place bring something lighter, better, to the reader thanks to how earnestly she addresses the reader and those images dancing around in her head.

I picked up this odd, prickly book because, just at a quick glance, I saw several lines of poetry that I could deeply connect to. I didn’t know until later, when I properly perused the book at home, that there was even a piece called “Rape Joke” in the book, or that that poem created its own controversy when it came out, being seen by some as offensive and wrong and by others as the definitive word on the rape joke debate. I probably could’ve guessed as much, though.

Poetry as a medium in general seems like an excellent lightening rod for shock and controversy, if given the right sort of incendiary topics. It’s a highly interpretive medium, and people who pick edgy topics to address it almost seem like they can be asking for a fight, on the surface.

Truly reading poetry though, delectable lines and verse that just draw you in, like dear ole Lockwood, reveals the true aim of poems about gang-banging Bambi and sexually exploiting Walt Whitman. Poetry, with a much lower word count than novels or prose, relies on using the right phrases to pluck emotional chords that speak truthfully to the reader. Lockwood picks some pretty shocking chords to pluck at, if you look at simply the titles of her work, but each poem itself goes less for the shock value such titles and teaser lines suggest and more for an earnest emotional appeal for connection. In this specific collection for example, Lockwood’s work often finds itself addressing the idea of places and location, and what happens to people who find themselves connected to that place or when places find themselves connected to those people. On the whole, I found this collection rich imagery and exploration. It made me eager to pick up more work by Lockwood.