Items recently read

As it says in the title.

I finally finished Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce biography, which is one of the best and most thorough I’ve read. To be honest, Joyce is not a particularly likable man, but as someone who tried to style himself into a level of greatness on par with the likes of Dante, there is something both fascinating and cautionary about his life. After his rejection of Christianity, his commitment to his art and to his family became the primary sources of meaning and structure in his life (and also played a part in somewhat mitigating his more self-destructive tendencies), and his life indicates how far you can go with that if you’re really talented, but also how these things have their upper limits.

On a completely different note, John Dies At The End by David Wong (pen name of one of the Cracked.com editors) is a fusion of Lovecraftian horror and frat-boy humour. It’s crass, juvenile and unremittingly weird (and very much a cultural product of the early 2000s). The guy has quite the imagination, but the story, characters and comedy grew a bit tiresome by the end. I probably would have liked it more as a teenager.

The Summer Tree was the first published novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, co-editor of the Silmarillion, and is also the first volume in his Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. Five UofT students are magically whisked away to the fantasy realm of Fionavar under the pretense of being earthling guests of honour at a festival. But, of course it’s going to turn out that they have to save the world. On the macro level there’s nothing new here: an ancient evil is reawakening, there are dwarves, elves, magic doodads. But it’s mostly well-written. Kay keeps the story an intimate one focused on the personal transformations his protagonist undergoes, and understands that worldbuilding should always be in the service of advancing the story and not vice-versa. It fumbles a bit towards the end, but I’ll probably check out the second volume sooner or later.

Finally, Spider-Verse was a good enough movie to get me to get a Marvel Unlimited subscription and start reading the Amazing Spider-Man comics (I’m not fond of e-books, but this way is just far more economical than actually tracking down all the issues I want to read in the flesh). Much about getting into superhero comics has just been about me giving up on my completionism and desire to read everything in order; so I started reading Spider-Man at the 1999 #1 issue, which was recommended as a good launching point. I lack the experience here to have a solid critical opinion, but I’m enjoying my time so far. And, I find the endless serialization and tie-ins are far less exhausting in the form of 30 page comics than in 2.5 hour feature films.

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About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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