Book Review: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

I am certain that there are people who have read Toni Morrison who do not like her. Song of Solomon is the fourth Morrison book I’ve read, and just having finished it, I am just as certain that I cannot even fathom what such a person would be like. A moody high school student who is completely uninterested in good story telling? Maybe an overly insecure college student who doesn’t like being required to suspend and question their individual outlook? I really have no idea.

If you have not read Song of Solomon, do yourself and immense favor and pick it up. Morrison is a grand master of literature. Her plot. Her character development. Her descriptions of places, times, and events. The sheer imaginative force behind Song of Solomon is truly awe-inspiring. There were so many passages I needed space to process because they were so clever, so intelligent, so easy, and so compact. How many other people can write like this? And that’s not even touching the radical political implications of creating a work that values, captures, and humanizes whole sections of society that the mainstream has denigrated and written off.

Song of Solomon tells the coming-of-age story of Macon “Milkman” Dead and the larger story of the Dead family. I personally found this book to start a little slow, but by the end I realized it was the deliberate pacing of the literary equivalent to the outside end of a golden spiral. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is compelling—there’s the suspicion of incest, social climbing, threats of murder, and a search for treasure. I actually found myself having to reread paragraphs because I was so eager to find out what happened next, I was barely processing what I read. But by the time I finished this book, the plot seemed incidental. I was left thinking about love, family, hurt, interconnectedness, history, and possibility. That I ended up with abstract concepts is one of the signatures of a great artist, because concepts last. They shape us more subtly, but also more concretely than plot alone.

Hats off to Toni Morrison, a master of her craft.

 

Bottom line: Pick up any book by Toni Morrison and you’re already holding a winner.

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Book Review: The Amazing Joy Buzzards Volume 1

I admit that Mark Andrew Smith and Dan Hipp’s The Amazing Joy Buzzards Volume 1: Here Come the Spiders was not instantly appealing to me. It’s goofy, the art is cartoon-y and unusual, and the largely male-as-actor female-as-groupie formula was not especially interesting to me for a period of several years. However, I acquired it through a friend with similar tastes, so I finally read it.

The Amazing Joy Buzzards follows the exploits of a famous, crime-fighting band. There’s covert government agencies, an evil group set on death, ancient ruins, a rival band, monsters, vampire robot zombies, and some really cool art. It is Scooby-Do meets The Blue Hearts, and it really works.

Bottom line: If you want a fun read and have a soft spot for absurdity and/or punk rock art pick up The Amazing Joy Buzzards. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: Lazarus: Book 1

Let me preface this review by declaring loudly and proudly that I love Greg Rucka . He was one of my favorite authors when I began reading superhero comics, and his run on Wonder Woman is still not to be missed. His work is intelligent, his characters and worlds display a depth that is often lacking outside of literature, and he makes big ideas accessible.

So, now you know exactly where I stand on Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus: Book 1.

For those not already in the know, Lazarus takes place in a future in which the wealthiest families have divvied up the world. They keep a stranglehold on all resources—and therefore the rest of the population. Where Lazarus diverges form your run-of-the-mill dystopian tale (or the news, or The Communist Manifesto) is in its main character, Forever Carlyle. See, each of these families needs a personal protector—someone they heavily invest in, someone who is utterly loyal and highly deadly, someone who cannot die.

Forever Carlyle may have been engineered to be the Carlyle Family’s military personified, but she’s still a person. That’s what makes her so compelling. You get glimpses of how she has been taught to be a machine, and you get glimpses of her pushing back.

This is a smart, action-packed book. So far I’ve been enjoying the racial/ethnic representation, and the implicit discussions of class, politics, and zealotry. However, it is violent, sexual, and some of the characters are cruel.

 

Bottom line: Read this book. It will expand your horizons, especially in terms of what you think a comic book can do. Please be warned that it is not a “fun” read, and so not something I’d recommend for anyone not prepared for scenes of explicit violence. Added bonus of Lazarus: Book 1 includes some back-story on the various families of Forever’s world, which is really a neat mini-peek into how a story of this depth is crafted.

Book Review: Boxers

I admit that I am a biased Gene Luen Yang fan. Having said that, Yang’s 2013 book Boxers did not disappoint. Was it slightly problematic, and did it end on an unresolved note? That would be an astounding, “Yes!” But would it really be a Gene Yang book if it wasn’t?

Yang is incredibly adept at storytelling. Boxers begins in 1894 in China and tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of Little Bao, a village boy who desperately wants to be of use. As per usual, Yang blends history, folk tales, and the search for identity with clear and expressive art. Also as per usual are the normative heterosexism and gender roles. However, unlike American Born Chinese, Boxers takes some time probing the perceived and actual roles of women and includes a more central, strong, and resourceful female character.

Part of what I find so compelling about Yang’s work is the way that he introduces ideas but doesn’t offer clear commentary about them. Instead, Yang uses the flow of the narrative to create moments of tension that had me injecting my own thoughts on the characters’ actions. This, to me, is the most special thing Yang does. He questions Socratically, steps back, and lets the reader draw their own conclusions.

 

Bottom line: Pick up Boxers, and while you’re at it, pick up its companion volume, Saints to read both sides of the story.