see part 1
22. Burr, Gore Vidal
After enjoying Lincoln a ton, I thought I’d check out Vidal’s other best-known historical novel. And I liked Burr as much as I did Lincoln, maybe even more. It’s funny and interesting, and Vidal’s version of Aaron Burr is a great, vibrant, complicated character. The book does a great job of transmuting dry historical facts into stories. It also contains, in its treatment of Thomas Jefferson, one of the all-time great literary hatchet jobs.
23. Battle Cry of Freedom, James MacPherson
So, yeah, at this point of the year, the history bender was in full swing. I’d been meaning to read Battle Cry for a long time, but had never gotten around to it. I was glad to finally sit down and tear into it; the book lives up to its lofty reputation. Long as hell, though, so don’t start unless you’re ready for a lengthy war.
24. The Pale King, David Foster Wallace
I know there was never really any doubt that this would be published, and that Wallace made it fairly clear that he wanted it to be published, and all that, but I’m not 100% sure it was a great idea. The structural incompleteness and lack of polish were pretty jarring. There were moments of brilliance, and you get the feeling this would have gelled into something great if he’d lived to work on it; but as published, honestly, it’s kind of a mess. Enough of a mess for me to worry that, ultimately, it existed mainly to allow the publish one last chance to harvest money from the Wallace diehards (and I say this as a Wallace diehard).
I guess the strip for The Pale King is a relic of me putting a lot of mental resources into evaluating it.
25. The Short Stories, Ernest Hemingway
Great, of course, but over the past year it became increasingly clear to me that, if Hemingway had never existed, people who wanted to write cartoons about literature would have had to invent him.
Which reminds me: I ended up abandoning it because some other parts that weren’t working, but a recent unfinished strip did posit that Hemingway’s Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises is one of the fanciest Mary Sues in literature. And I’ll stand by that.
26. The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell
Read partly because I like Vowell and like the subject matter, and partly because by this point of the year, I was getting increasingly conscious of what a sausage party English Majeure is, and wanted to make an effort to get more women writers represented.And honestly, I don’t think I’ve been super successful at that. I’m working on it. Hey, give a man a break,
27. Patriot Games, Tom Clancy
It’s turned into a running joke that, if I’m flying somewhere, I read a Clancy book on the plane. As jokes go, it’s actually a pretty helpful one. because, honestly, Clancy’s trash, but it’s trash you can get enveloped in pretty deeply for a few hours, enough to help you forget that you’re sitting in a metal tube 6 miles up in the sky. That’s all I’m looking for.
One thing that I’ve noticed, though, during my flights of the past few years: Jack Ryan is a real dick.
28. The Good War, Studs Terkel
History bender resumes. Another well-regarded book lives up to its reputation.
29. Bossypants, Tina Fey
Really funny, although Jesus, that cover picture still haunts my dreams (Rebecca actually likes to connive for me to see it “accidentally” so that she can hear me freak out). I was disappointed that I couldn’t come up with a strip about Bossypants, to help with the aforementioned English Majeure sausage party. But I couldn’t; I’ve actually noticed that it’s really, really hard to come up with jokes about things that are already funny (this was the harsh lesson of Vonnegut Month). The ideal book for an English Majeure inspiration is one that (and I say this with love) is ridiculous but takes itself very seriously. This is part of the reason there are so many Dune, Atlas Shrugged, and Lord of the Rings strips.
30. In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
Like a lot of people, I thought Larson’s The Devil in the White City was phenomenal, but Garden of Beasts only so-so. I think it’s not so much Larson’s fault as that of the people he’s writing about. A more accurate title would be something like Fatuous Americans Stumble Around with Nazis.
31. The Return of Pogo, Walt Kelly
Rebecca found an old Pogo collection at a library sale, and, awesomely, nabbed it for me. And I was stoked! The Fantagraphics Pogo collections are just starting to trickle out; until just now, the only way to read Pogo was in archaeological finds like this. If you have any interest in comics at all, Pogo‘s a must-read. Beautiful and hilarious! Pogo‘s up there on the top level with Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes for comic-strip radness.
32. Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
It’s not his best-known work, but I think Mother Night is Vonnegut’s most profound book.
33. Drinking at the Movies, Julia Wertz
I’m very iffy on autobio comics; as they proliferate, I basically see the comics world embarking on the same journey up its own ass that the world of literary fiction has been on for the past few decades. But when done well, they’re great, and Wertz does them really well. If nothing else, her sense of humor seems really similar to mine, so I’m really primed to laugh at her jokes. And her art has an awesome simplicity that makes me really jealous.
34. Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut
Read it hoping to get a strip for Vonnegut Month (pro cartooning tip: don’t commit to 4 themed comics unless you have 4 concrete ideas); I guess the one that came out was a little forced. The central conceit of Galapagos– that humans’ large brains are an evolutionary dead end– is something that takes up a lot of space in my head if I’m having a depression jag.
Which is rare, these days, and usually I’m pretty ok with large brains.
35. Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut
Didn’t get a strip out of it, but Hocus Pocus remains one of my favorite Vonnegut books.
36. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
Really, the Vonnegut month thing was a bad idea. Tough to get jokes out of books that are really jokey on their own. It’s not a bad thing to reread a bunch of Vonnegut, but it’s a very bad thing to spend a month thinking “oh, shit, what’s the next strip?”
37. The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller
It’s great, of course, but let’s just say that I think that a lot of Miller’s recent weird statements are kind of lurking between the lines in all of his work, eve the good stuff.
38. Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days, Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris
It’s good, but I literally had forgotten that I read this this year until just now.
39. Sweet Tooth: Out of the Forest, Jeff Lemire
One of those books where I recognized the quality, but had trouble really sticking with it because of the bleakness. I’ve noticed that postapocalyptic, society-has-collapsed stuff really bothers me lately. I think it’s because I actually half expect society to collapse, and don’t really like having my face rubbed in it.
I think it all comes down to my having seen The Road Warrior at too young an age.
40. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
It’s a landmark book, it lives up to its reputation, and Nabokov pulls off the amazing feat of creating such great prose that you wind up rooting for a monster to do something terrible. But nobody really talks about what a bummer Lolita is. Can we just stop and acknowledge that for a second? Lolita’s a classic, but it’s a real fucking bummer.
I’m pretty proud of my Lolita strip, though.
41. Supergods, Grant Morrison
Man, I love Grant Morrison’s work. I wish I had that kind of optimism and fevered imagination. Morrison seems to be channeling transmissions from the same freaky universe that the Flaming Lips are tapping, and that Jack Kirby used to see into. If I get squicky about dystopian futures, Morrison’s optimistic vision is a good antidote.
I’m not going to argue that Supergods is the tightest, most focused book in history, or that it’s an authoritative history of comics, but it’s a comforting thing to plug into your head.
Part 3 coming soon!