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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: September 2008

This month I want to begin with one of the best books I have read in a long time Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Funhome. In this memoir that made many “best” lists in 2006, well known, cult comic artist, Bechdel, recounts her childhood in rural Pennsylvania, her struggle to come out as a lesbian, and her father’s refusal to acknowledge his own homosexuality. This is a moving portrait of a family in turmoil, yet Bechdel also conveys the complexities of her extremely close relationship with her father.

I don't want to give away too much of the "plot," but I was touched by Bechdel's honesty. She was able to look back critically at herself and her family, while also drawing parallels to larger historical events, such as Nixon's resignation. I only want to add that the last panel was so beautiful and moving that I actually teared up.

Other acclaimed graphic novel memoirs with a coming-of-age theme are Blankets by Craig Thompson, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Epileptic by David B. There are also many other coming out stories, both fiction and nonfiction. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Roundtable of the American Library Association has lists posted here for teens and here for adults (Stonewall Awards). Also I read Hero by Perry Moore this year and wrote about it at the end of this post; I think it would be a good suggestion since it combines superheroes and gay themes.

I also listened to Rebecca Stott's Ghostwalk this month. I have to admit that I had originally tried to read this book when it first came out, but I could not get into it. When I saw it was coming out in paperback, I gave it another try, in audio this time. The plot is very complicated. Ghostwalk is part literary fiction, part historical fiction, and part psychological suspense with a supernatural element. The story is told by Lydia Brooke, a writer who is hired by her former lover to finish his murdered mother's manuscript on Isaac Newton. Stott is a historian and it shows. The books takes much of its plot from the life and times of Isaac Newton and 17th Century Cambridge life. The pacing of this work, like most psychological suspense, is mixed; it has a slow build up, but unravels quickly at the end. The ending, although a twist, was not shocking.

I initially wanted to read this book now because I thought it would go well alongside my book discussion title for this month, The Thirteenth Tale. After finishing Ghostwalk, I think those who like the Gothic feel of Stott's work, but were not huge fans of the Newton and Alchemy stuff should try Setterfield's novel. Both novels also employ the book within a book within a book style which many readers enjoy. Those who enjoy literary psychological suspense in general, would also enjoy the work of Carol Goodman and Patricia Highsmith's older, but still a great read, Ripley series. Parts of this book felt like a Twilight Zone episode, especially as Lydia is being stalked by a ghost from the 17th Century, so maybe that's a place to send fans too. Edgar Allen Poe's stories also have a similar feel to Ghostwalk. Finally, many will want to read a biography of Newton after reading this novel and at this link you can see a range of books, by Newton and about Newton, fiction and nonfiction.

Finally, in preparation for October, I finally read Jonathan Maberry's award winning Ghost Road Blues. I had read parts of it, but never got to it cover to cover. The worst thing I can say about this awesome horror novel is that now I HAVE to read the next two in the series because it is really one story in three books. I am hooked as many of my patrons have been. Here is an annotation I wrote about the novel when it first won the Bram Stoker:

Thirty years ago, the citizens of Pine Deep, PA killed a serial killer known as the Reaper. Since then, the town has seen peace and fame as the most haunted town in America. While getting ready for their annual Halloween festival, a new supernatural evil lurks on the outskirts of town, waiting to finish what the Reaper began.

What makes Ghost Road Blues so interesting is its mix of a serial killer story with a supernatural, supremely evil monster. Add to the mix, some scary followers of this monster, and a motley crew of heroes (including another ghost) out to save themselves and their town. The characters are very well fleshed out in the 400 pages of this book, so I can only imagine the character development gets even deeper in the next two books of the trilogy. This first part ends with a calm in the storm of havoc that is about to descend upon Pine Deep. How can you not go out and read Dead Man's Song immediately?

This is horror, so there is violence, blood, gore, and a general uncomfortable feeling penetrating the entire book. Ghost Road Blues reminded me of Bentley Little in that it was mid-range blood and guts horror, where everyday people are forced to battle a terrible evil in the suburbs. The revenge seeking ghost aspect is reminiscent of Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box. I have other horror suggestions through this link. Jonathan Maberry also has many nonfiction books about the world of the macabre.

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