Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #07: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

I’ll admit that my knowledge of Ernest Hemingway before reading this book was excruciatingly limited. As in, I saw the portrayal of him in Midnight in Paris and was struck with a serious case of the giggles, and I wasn’t really sure why. So hey, why not actually read something by the guy? He is considered to be a classic American author, right?

The problem I often find when I read “classic” novels is that I typically end up either frustrated by everything and slamming the book shut for forever before I even come close to finishing, or painfully trudging through something totally disconnected from myself, just because of the beauty of the language… However, in this case I was surprisingly fortunate, as The Old Man and the Sea was absolutely stunning to read.

The novel focuses on an old, poor fisherman in Cuba, whose boat is pulled further and further out to sea for days on end by a massive fish that the man is too proud to let go of. From here, we follow the man’s decisive actions while fishing, and his thoughts regarding his life, baseball, and the strange bond of brotherhood he feels forming between himself and the fish. The straight-forward nature of the plot could be seen at face-value as slightly naïve, but it turns out to be quite beautiful in its simplicity: it’s the character of the old man which we are concerned about, and by letting the action unfold in such a minimal and effortless manner, we are able to understand more and more about who the old man really is and what drives him; after being somewhat put-off by his stubbornness at the beginning of the novel, I truly started to care for the him by the end, which is a mark of some truly great character development in my books.

What’s great about Hemingway is that he seems like he doesn’t want to make a big fuss with his writing. He is precise in his use of language and the pace of his prose, which almost parallels the meticulously strict fishing actions of the novel’s protagonist. Not a single word is wasted or unnecessary, yet the scene that unfolds remains rich and vivid, leading me to absolutely adore The Old Man and the Sea, despite some uncertainties when I first picked it up.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #06: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

After harshing quite a bit on the previous Shakespeare play I read, Twelfth Night, we now come to the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing. And this comedy, for some reason, I enjoyed much more than the previous one. I’m not really going to compare and contrast the two, however, as they are just so different in terms of where they draw their comedic factors from.

I remember seeing the 1993 film of this play back in the eighth grade, and in all honesty, I had no idea what was going on. All I know is that I found Robert Sean Leonard’s melodramatic acting to be hilarious, and by God, did Kenneth Branagh ever worm his way into my heart, the sly devil! Upon reading it now though, I appreciate the language and plot a lot more, even if the story itself follows a simple course to its predictable, rosy end (as is to be expected in Shakespearean comedies). In any case, here’s an extensive rundown, with the ending included… Spoilers? Can I really “spoil” a 500 year-old play?:

A young prince, Don Pedro, and some of his noblemen are visiting their friend Leonato, following their recent triumph in battle. Well that’s nice, a friendly bro-gathering! Ah, but as this is a comedy, we must have some romance… Fortunately, Leonato has a beautiful daughter named Hero, who Don Pedro’s friend, Claudio, is instantly taken with, and after some meddling around with showing their affections, they soon decide to get married.

Meanwhile, Leonato’s sassy niece, Beatrice, does nothing but banter with the equally saucy Benedict. Oh, you can cut the sexual tension with a knife! But alas, both of them are pretty much sworn off finding a spouse. Fortunately for the story, however, Don Pedro decides that they would be a perfect match, and formulates and plan to get the two to show their affections for one another. Through a ruse involving setting both Beatrice and Benedict up for eavesdropping and learning of the love of the other, they eventually see what a good match they actually are. Tricky tricky, and so simple too!

But of course, all is not well, and Don Pedro’s bastard brother, Don John, is none too pleased with all the happiness. He devises a plan to destroy Hero’s reputation and honor the night before her wedding to Claudio, by having a gentlewomen who looks just like Hero be seen in a compromising situation with another man. Of course, Claudio feels as though he has been betrayed, and slanders Hero most cruelly at the wedding the next day, refusing to marry her. Hero is in absolute agony because of this, and the Friar who was there to marry them tells Hero to go into hiding, while everyone else pretends that she is dead until Claudio shows enough remorse to make the situation right again. Wait, what? How is being dead going to solve anything? I guess we will see…

Because of the nasty things Claudio said about her cousin, Beatrice is most angry with him. Now that Beatrice and Benedict have professed their love to each other through the power of sly matchmaking, she feels at though she can ask Benedict to challenge Claudio to a duel, to show his true feelings for her and to avenge her cousin’s name. Of course, Benedict feels he has to accept because of the power of love. Good gracious, will the tom-foolery never cease!

All seems as though it is in absolute shambles at this point (omnishambles!), but fortunately, a foolish man of the local Watch, Dogberry, captured the man who had relations with Hero’s gentlewoman, as he heard him slandering the girl, and also the Prince. Upon interrogation, everything is cleared up (including the fact that the villainous Don John had been behind it all), but Claudio is now most despaired, as he fears he killed Hero with a broken heart, even though she was virtuous after all. To show his remorse, he agrees to marry a niece of Leonato in the place of Hero, but of course, Leonato has no other niece besides Beatrice, and huzzah! The bride is revealed at the wedding to be Hero after all! Marriages for everyone!

What’s great about Much Ado About Nothing is how cheeky it is. You think that people in the olden days were all uptight? Well they may have been, but they also may not have been. Whatever the case, they certainly liked to make naughty jokes all the time (though, yes, they still did uphold some very strict morals and ideals, I’ll give you that). In addition, a definite strength of the drama is found in the fact that the conflicts of the whole thing are very much based on simple human mistakes, which still cause serious problems for people today: I’m talking rumors, planting the seed of doubt, infidelity, lies, and all the likes.

But more than anything, the greatest thing about the play is the banter between Beatrice and Benedict. They are both such strong-willed characters, and the second they start speaking to one another, you know they should be together (might I say, this “Ship” sails itself?). It’s like when you know two people who are good friends and are totally perfect for each other and adorable together, yet for some reason they refuse to date and don’t seem to understand why everyone thinks they should, and all their friends get frustrated just waiting for it to happen, and as soon as they realize they are in love and inevitably get together it’s like the skies open up and angels descend from heaven playing their magical lyres and you just want to scream “Finally!” That’s how I feel about Beatrice and Benedict. They are infuriatingly wonderful in that way.

I did however find Dogberry to be a little irritating by the end of the play. And yes, this character is where the term “Dogberryism” (in the place of malapropism) comes from, as he is constantly making silly vocabulary mistakes. At first, all the malapropisms are amusing, but after a while it’s like a one-trick deal with the character. And there is nothing more irritating than a foolish person who thinks they are a genius (in my opinion, that is), despite being a trope used in a number of Shakespeare’s works.

At the end of the day it’s another day over, I have a weird place in my heart for Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe it’s because it was the one that started my bizarre (and somewhat inappropriate) crush on Kenneth Branagh? Or maybe it’s because I love how unapologetic the characters are-- in terms of what they believe and who they are-- throughout the entire play? Whatever it is, I certainly enjoyed it as a fun and quick read (despite being also required for an English course).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #05: Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

I couldn’t tell you how many people asked me if I was planning a vacation upon seeing that I was reading a book called Daytripper. And even though, yes, am, this is not in fact a book about day-trips or traveling adventures: it is something else entirely.

Co-written and drawn by twin brothers from Brazil, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, Daytripper is a graphic novel that examines the moments in life that define us. Or, more likely, it takes a look at the moments that make us truly start living, but in a very Benjamin Button “if-one-thing-had-been-different-or-taken-a-second-longer-would-this-have-happened?” kind of way. Ideas concerning death, and the subsequent lives of those left behind are also explored, through having the protagonist work as an obituary writer for a long time.

The story itself follows a man named Brás de Olivia Domingos at various ages, and not necessarily in chronological order. Each short tale includes some moment of Bras’ life that made him really start to appreciate the beauty of the world, or question the ultimate purpose of it all, such as his first kiss, the birth of his son, or the disappearance of his best friend. Each day, however, ends with a tragic twist, before stepping off to another point of his life, making you wonder if the conclusion of any story in fact occurred, or if it was all just a dream. Or maybe they are all part of a multi-dimensional universe, a-la that 1998 Goop-tastic masterpiece, Sliding Doors? It is in this way both confusing yet intriguing, and it’s ultimately up to the reader to determine how they want to interpret everything.

As far as the designs and artistry of Daytripper goes, Moon and Bá obviously have a knack for capturing Sorkin-length dialogue in the briefest of human glances, which definitely aids in the overall feeling of their story. Every frame is strongly detailed, and I couldn’t help but think highly of it, though it stands to reason that dependent on everyone’s individual tastes, some might find some of the character depictions as childish or unnecessarily exaggerated in feature. I however, adore the style of the brother’s drawings, but then again, I sort of fell in love Bá in the past, when I read the first two volumes of The Umbrella Academy, so I’m a little biased on that front…

If there is one fault in Daytripper, however, it comes from the final section of the novel, which in it’s resolution hinges on becoming somewhat preachy and laying an ultimate moral right out in front of you. The entire novel leading up to that point relied on the reader to form their own understandings, which in itself is extremely effective, so I’m not sure why it was crucial to pinpoint one exact “message” in the conclusion.

But overall, Daytripper is an incredibly quick read, and interesting in that it is quite different from that which I have typically read in the past. It is also very soft in that it never feels overpowering in dialogue or action, yet still sails along with a good pace, and I would definitely recommend it if you are looking to read something quick and calm, but not without a strong heart at its centre. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #04: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

And so my long and arduous stream of Shakespeare reviews begins (as spurred by required readings in my current English course). I’d apologize, but we all need a little Will in our lives every now and again, huh? And with that quick wit of his, I was quite excited to read Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night. But let me tell you, I have never before been more frustrated with a play in my entire life.

No no no, not in a, “oh, sweet young thing doesn’t understand Shakespeare,” kind of way. In a, “wow, these characters are really grinding my gears” kind of way. And more than anything else, I was frustrated by the fact that this comedy of errors is not funny. Don’t get me wrong, it does follow the typical “comic” path of the plot being driven by mistaken identities and people playing tricks on others for sport with unforeseeable consequence until the ultimate, tidy end, with many a loving union. But you don’t read Shakespeare for a unique story (in fact, they are often considered quite simple and generic): you read his works for the language, and I just found Twelfth Night to be far less clever and exploratory in regards to the possibilities of language than I was expecting. In fact, most of the puns are ridiculously self-explanatory and straightforward, which quickly becomes tiring.

As to what actually happens in the play, if your memory of the Amanda Bynes “at least one movie every year featuring a montage where she dresses in silly things and usually dances while doing so” era still serves you well, then you probably have at least a vague idea of the plotline. If not, then here’s a lengthy rundown:

Twelfth Night is a play starts out with a young Countess, Olivia, who has just lost her brother, refusing to take any suitors until she has grieved him for seven years. That would be all well and good, were it not for the fact that a young Duke, Orsino, is pining for her hand in marriage, all while selfishly wallowing in his dejected state of unrequited love. At the same time, Olivia also has two other suitors, in the form of an eager young man who wants nothing more than to be a Count, Malvolio, and her uncle’s foolish drinking-friend, Sir Andrew.

Meanwhile, on the island of Illyria in which this story is taking place, a young woman named Viola washes ashore after she and her brother, Sebastian, are shipwrecked. She believes her brother to be dead at sea, but rather than forcing herself to needlessly grieve like Olivia, she decides to disguise herself as a male eunuch named Cesario, and work for the Duke. Upon hearing of this Duke, she quickly asks if he is a bachelor, and as such, it seems like her intentions are likely in finding love for herself. But things don’t work so easily for poor Viola, as she is put to the task of wooing Olivia for her master, Orsino, and then the crazy ties of love get all crossed and mangled. Some serious spontaneous trait inference goes on here, as Olivia takes Cesario’s intent of love on behalf of Orsino as his own feelings, and as such, Olivia is quickly taken with Cesario, not knowing that Cesario is in fact a woman. Orisno, likewise, starts to form a close bond to Cesario, also developing feelings with the disguised woman of a loving sort. And of course, Viola herself is falling harder every day for Orsino, given that he is confiding in her his deepest self, just like he would to his closest male friend.

The layers of complication just get worse and worse when a worker for the house of the Countess, Maria, as well as Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, decide to play Malvolio for a fool, and make him believe that Olivia has feelings for him when he really does not. Malvolio is soon enraged when he sees that he has been duped, and also sees Olivia’s love for Cesario, and chooses to fight Viola to the death for Olivia. Poor girl couldn’t have seen that coming! Fortunately, the close friend of her brother, Antonio, saves her from fighting in this instance. As it turns out, Sebastian and his friend did not die on the ocean, yet for some reason, Viola just can’t believe this (even when they meet face to face later on). Upon Sebastian arriving in Illyria to the house of the Countess, she immediately believes him to be Cesario, and they quickly marry, which causes only more anger with the other suitors, including Orsino, who then wishes to kill Viola, as he believes Cesario betrayed him into stealing his intended bride for himself.

Boy oh boy, what a tangled web we have weaved! But of course, this is a Shakespearean comedy, and everything is well in the end, when the two siblings are reunited and Viola’s guise revealed. Orsino is then free to take Viola as his bride, as they have formed such a bond while she was in his service as Cesario. Likewise, Viola’s disguise and interaction with Olivia has taken her out of her grief for her brother, and opened Olivia up to the love of Sebastian.  Tada! And did I mention that there is a clever fool, Feste, running around, making snide and profound remarks all the time? In a sense, he really gets the last laugh.

Now, the plot itself is interesting and has many little ties of complication, but my biggest frustrations stemmed (as I mentioned earlier) from the simplistic humor and wordplay used throughout the play. There were so many opportunities that I just saw as being wasted, given all the tricks at play throughout the whole thing. Not to mention some bristling imagery that was unappealingly out of place (in my opinion), such as the idea of pickling and preserving the love of Olivia's brother like a mummy... Or something.

In addition, the characters really started to get on my nerves by the end of the play. For example, Olivia: Olivia is like the girl in high school that every guy has a crush on, and none of the other girls have any idea why. Sure, she is beautiful, but she has a bland personality and just wants to mope about her brother for years, swearing off men as she does so, yet still falling in love in an instant (oh hey, Taylor Swift!). You’d just like to think that maybe there was some other facet to her, like most of the women in Shakespeare’s other comedies (I’m thinking, the intelligence of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, you know?), and not just her beauty which draws men to her hand.

Furthermore, Maria (Olivia’s serving-woman) was just a little gnat in my head throughout the entire course of action. Like, what is your problem, Maria? All she does is cause trouble and want to rise to a higher-status position. Do you really think that messing with the suitors of your employer and making a fool of nobility is a good way to make a positive mark, Maria? I know, psychological realism wasn’t really a big deal back during the time that this play was written, so we are to take Maria as an intrinsically duplicitous troublemaker in character and have that be enough. But I want to know more about why she does these things, lest I feel a need to say, “Gettin’ real tired of your shit, Maria,” every time she opens her wily mouth.

Oh, and how everyone just seemed really cool with the fact that Orsino’s eunuch had been a female in a male’s position all along (just because things worked out so nicely) also kind of irked me. Mostly because it made me wonder how that could be when you always hear about how big of a deal and how taboo it was for women to pretend to be men “back in the day”. I mean, of course it was a big deal, but I’m just saying that that it makes tales like Shakespeare in Love ever-more exhausting.

I know, I’m being such a grumpy-Gus about Twelfth Night, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some redeeming qualities to it. As I mentioned before, despite the fact that Shakespearean comedies often follow predictable, simple plots, this one had some different levels of conflict to it which created interest and depth. Also, it’s always good to see examples of stories that show that homosexuality was present before the 20th century (like many uninformed young writers seem to believe nowadays, at least on the most sparkly parts of the Internet, that is). When I say that, I’m not talking about the fact that various people fell in love with Viola in her disguise, but Sebastian’s friend, Antonio, shows ridiculous devotion to Sebastian, which verges on a state of unrequited love; Antonio’s feelings for Sebastian basically jump right out of the realm of subtext and into your face, so no, I don’t think I’m reading too much into it.

In the end, I can appreciate what Shakespeare was doing with this story, especially for the time in which it was written. However, given that I am reading it now, I think that maybe my needs as an audience are a bit different, and I am looking for different things. Also, I’ve always been more of a Shakespearean tragedy kind of girl, even though the comedies are typically beyond clever. I don’t really know why, all I know is that I had high expectations for this play that didn’t get met, leading me to label Twelfth Night as a two star read.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #03, The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

I hear the voices of my friends ringing in my ears:
- “Another holocaust story? Don’t we have enough of those?”
- “Making it about cats and mice? That seems trivializing…”
- “Why are so many literary graphic novels somewhat autobiographical? It’s self-indulgent.”

But what hasty assumptions to make without reading something first! I needed to see what this proclaimed “masterpiece” from the early 1990s was myself. Maus itself is not without some flaws and uncomfortable feelings, but it really exceeded my expectations, given the doubts seeded into my mind by some of the people around me. And yes, I’ll concede that maybe there are many tales of the holocaust out there, but aren’t there just as many (if not more) in every other genre? This graphic novel is clearly made for people who are interested in the subject. Without that interest, however, I could see why someone might just brush it aside, or read it at the most superficial and hasty levels (which I’m sure to get to).

The story of Maus itself is about a young author and artist, Art, asking his aging father, Vladek, about his life as a Jewish man during World War II, so that he can write a book about his parents’ experiences. Aha! The classic, “graphic novel memoir about the artist gaining acceptance by their parents for their work” story…I’ve seen this a few times before, and yes indeed, this is in fact about Art Spiegelman’s father himself. How Spiegelman chooses to represent his characters, however, is in the form of animals: Most notably, Jewish characters (even converted ones, like Art’s wife) are shown as mice, while Germans are represented by cats, native citizens of Poland as Pigs, and Americans as Dogs.

In the easiest sense of understanding, using animals to depict human problems could be seen as childish and trivializing, yet Spiegelman’s handling of the artistry and story doesn’t let this become so. The characters are not, in fact, “animals”: they are expressly human, speak as humans, behave as humans, eat as humans, and all-around live as humans. Only their outward appearance differs, which could possibly be interpreted as a means of showing how people of different nationalities and religions were seen as distinct and different races/species during the holocaust.  

Wait wait wait, but now don’t you think that’s a little bit generalizing and racist on the part of the author? Showing that all the people of these different groups are “the same,” that is? Spiegelamn easily resolves this by including both good and bad characters of every animal-type. Some Polish “pigs” help the Jewish “mice”, while others only want to keep themselves safe. Even some of the mice themselves sell out their fellow Jewish neighbors, while others are nothing but kind. Also, while making all the characters of the same “animal” look similar can help with a sense of anonymity in the many persecuted mice in concentration camps, I found myself sometimes mixing up which character was which at certain times. And I thought my visual arts background made me pay attention to tiny details and distinctions! But let’s move on from all that nagging, “is it okay to make this about animals?” business.

Although published as two separate issues, I read both Maus I and Maus II as one complete collection, and I think this was a good decision on my part. I say this because after the first entry, I was uncomfortable with how blatant Art Spiegelman was in saying that his interest in his father’s past was simply for the means of making this book. Even his own character starts to express doubts about whether or not his father will come across as the stereotypical caricature of the cheap, racist Jew once put on paper. Is this really just another story of a dark history to add to the pile, without any real emotion to it? Spiegelman’s father died after the release of the first Maus, in 1982, and some of the emotions and realizations after this are deeply felt in Maus II. It is as though Spiegelman finally starts to realize that his father’s experiences during the Second World War had an effect on every facet of his life. That is to say, not only was Vladek Spiegelman altered by what happened to him, also his relationships with people in his life, including his new wife (after the death of Art’s mother, Anja), and more potently, his son. After being slightly concerned by the fact that Art Spiegelman was so unapologetic and direct in his quest to learn of his father’s life just for writing in Maus I, I felt myself becoming more drawn to Art himself as a character in Maus II, once he started to show that there was more to this whole thing all along.

In the end, however, there are still a lot of  “maybe it means this, but then again maybe nots” for me to truly know how I feel about this book. At the time when it was completed in 1991, the “graphic novel” as a medium was not all that seriously taken (as far as I know, that is), and in thinking about that that, I’m sure something of Maus’ magnitude was quite controversial-yet-successful in establishing itself at that time. Now, however, amidst all the new feelings and histories of the 21st century, it may have lost some of that spark. Am I too young, far-removed, and uncaring for this kind of thing? I wouldn’t say that, as I still thought this was a good book, and would give it 3 stars. It stands to reason, however, that without an interest in these kinds of personal histories, a reader might feel nothing more for Maus than thinking of it as “just another holocaust story”.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #02 The Sandman: Fables & Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Last night I dreamt that I needed to work my way through a zombie-ravaged high school in order to make it on time to my Irish dance recital with Idris Elba. After a gravity-free performance, I did not feel well, and promptly gave birth to a small, wooden sheep. Surprisingly, my baby sheep was somehow animated enough to defecate on my hands while I held it, all while my sour mother looked on and rolled her eyes at me. Maybe this nonsensical construction in my mind is a telling picture as to my internal self. Maybe it is a description of my past, or my fears for the future. Whatever the case, if we are to see it all through Neil Gaiman’s eyes, even the most fleeting fragments of our dreams have the ability to affect a person, tell a story, or even alter the course of the world. And so we come to The Sandman: Fables & Reflections, which I saw as an illustration of just that.

The sixth volume of Gaiman’s graphic novel series does not directly connect to the overall story-arc of the series, but rather touches on various themes presented throughout the volumes. It does this through a series of nine, individual short stories, spanning across different timeframes and cultures, all of which involve some aspect of dreaming, the Endless, and their various effects on human action.
These include the following tales:

“Fear of Falling” – An excruciatingly brief encounter with a playwright and director, terrified of either the inevitable success or failure of his new play.

 “Three Septembers and a January” – One of the more fun stories in the collection, based on the history of Joshua Abraham Norton. Norton proclaims himself to be the first and only Emperor of the United States, as the consequences of a wager between Dream and his sisters, Despair, Desire, and Delirium. The end of the story hints at further, future conflicts between Desire and Dream.

“Thermidor” – A much less playful tale, concerning post-revolution France, and a young woman named Lady Johanna Constantine, who is in possession of Morpheus’ son, Orpheus’, head. Definitely the most political of the stories in the collection, though in honesty I was more concerned with the fact that Dream had a son, and that he was nothing but a head at this point in his life.

“The Hunt” – A fairy tale told by a grandfather to his uninterested granddaughter, about a young hunter of “The People”, who travels to find a young princess after finding her portrait in an old locket.

“August” – A sad tale about the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, who disguises himself as a beggar, after being told in his dreams that he can hide from the eyes of certain Gods who may spy on his plans for the future of Rome. Although the main concern appears to be his plans for the expansion or destruction of Rome (and consequently, the world), it appears that Augustus’ past fears of this own uncle may have more to do with his quest to hide from the eyes of Gods than is initially understood.

“Soft Places” – A young boy named Marco Polo becomes lost in the desert, only to stumble upon a “Soft Place” of the world, where the boundaries between reality and dreams are much less defined. He encounters various characters from previous installments in The Sandman series, including Morpheus himself.

“The Song of Orpheus” – A retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, and his young wife Eurydice: in these tales, however, Orpheus is learned to be the son of Morpheus. After Eurydice’s premature death, Orpheus yearns to rescue her from the underworld, disobeying his father, and essentially alienating himself from his Endless family. We also learn how Orpheus came to be nothing but a head in “Thermidor”, after an encounter with some Maenads.

“The Parliament of Rooks” – A fun and mysterious story about stories, all told by various characters that gather together for a storytelling session. After a young child, Daniel (child of Hippolyta Hall from The Doll’s House), stumbles into the dream realm as he naps, the destructive brothers, Cain and Abel, the raven Matthew, and Eve, all tell a tale to one another, in honor of their human guest.

“Ramadan” – The last story in the collection, focused on the Caliph Harun al-Rashid who rules over Baghdad, at a time when it was considered to be the most brilliant city in the history of the world. Raschid, however, is fearful of the fleetingness of beauty, and does not want his city to eventually decay. He threatens to shatter a globe of demons in order to call Dream and make a deal with him, so that the city of Baghdad will remain in its brilliant state forever.

Some of the fables included are definitely stronger than others (“Three Septembers and a January”, and “The Parliament of Rooks”, especially, in my opinion), which fortunately make up for the weaker stories within the novel. It’s particularly interesting when Gaiman chooses to re-imagine established ancient myths, with the insinuation that the Dream King had a hand in each of them in some direct or subtle way (see: “The Song of Orpheus”). One definite fault of this volume, however, comes in the form of the text graphics used in the stories “Thermidor” and “Ramadan”: it may be aesthetically fitting to put ancient writings into stylistic cursive, but using one that is difficult to read is rarely a good choice.

The great thing about The Sandman series in general is that there is always some mystery present that you want to solve, which keeps you enthralled the whole way through. Therefore, it’s easy to breeze through each volume in no more than a few hours. That being said, I quite enjoyed this particular volume, and would give it 4 stars out of 5. Though, as always, if you are a fan of the series already, you are likely to love Fables & Reflections regardless.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #01 - The Sandman: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

While I’m usually knee-deep in reading psychology textbooks from cover-to-cover, my love of reading had led me to decide to join up with the fifth annual Cannonball read this year! But only a half-Cannonball goal of 26 books, due to school restrictions and so on. Thus, throughout the year I shall be posting reviews of all the books I read here. In any case:

For my first review of my first ever Cannonball read (be gentle with me and my terrible writing!), we have the fifth volume of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series, The Sandman. Usually I love the instalments in this series, but A Game of You, in my opinion has so far been the least interesting. But then again, I’ve heard that Gaiman sometimes describes this installment as his favorite in the series, due to the fact that it is most people’s least favorite. Cheeky thing, hey?

It all centers around a young woman, Barbie (who was previously seen as a minor character in the second Sandman volume, The Doll’s House), living in New York City, whose life and dreams become intertwined with all the eclectic neighbors in her run-down apartment. These include a lesbian couple with a secret, a pre-operative trans woman named Wanda, a mousy witch, and quiet-yet-creepy old man upstairs.

While in The Doll’s House, Barbie frequently dreamed vividly of being a princess, we now see that she no longer dreams. However, characters from her past dream realm are trying to reach her and bring her back, so that she can fight an evil entity known as The Cuckoo. Both the Cuckoo and Barbie’s dream friends are finding ways to cross the boundaries into the living realm to draw her in, and it’s only a matter of time before she finds herself back in the old world that she once met whenever she slept.

I’d hate to give away too much of the tale, as a lot of the enjoyment of this series comes in finding things out for yourself as they slowly unfold from darkness and mystery. All I will say is that as the lines between the real world and magical realms begin to cross, people’s secrets are revealed through their dreams and actions, and the stability of the worlds begin to shift and shake.

Although I stated that I have enjoyed this installment of The Sandman the least thus far, that is not to say that I didn’t still liked reading it. The artistry of the drawings and illustrations, as always, is riveting, in it’s peculiar way of appearing stylishly sleek, yet still maintaining a curious rawness to it. I think my hesitation towards this tale, however, comes from so many little glimpses of people that you wish you could know more about. Whereas this is often interesting and gives the reader opportunities to fill in the gaps, this time the sand grains of curiosity were just slightly too few, leading to irritation rather than the building of connections and bridges in the mind. Also, the lack of Morpheus (the Dream King) throughout the tale was noticeable. And while he is not necessarily needed on every page, he and his family of The Endless are generally what drive the tales of The Sandman, and all the complexities of the humans within them.

So what would I give this book? Probably 3 stars out of 5 on it’s own, though I would strongly recommend reading the series to anyone who loves the weird and wonderful.