Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Highly Recommended: LARB Long-Reads

Summer seems to bring out the best in the Los Angeles Review of Books. They've put out a bunch of long-reads that are composting in my consciousness, on topics of lifelong appeal.

Neal Stephenson is someone I've read and ... kinda ... enjoyed. Although, to be honest, he's someone I've returned to again and again out of hopes he'd grab me and scramble my view of things the way he did so thoroughly when I read Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, back in the day. Cryptonomicon retained some of that power, but in the tomes that followed I resorted to a whole lot of speed-reading. He seems like a writer in pursuit of something, though what that something is, I couldn't say. I read, but I clearly do not attend.

Not exactly "Captain Obvious"

"We hear a lot about how big [Stephenson's] ideas are," says Peter Berard, "but get little substantive engagement with these ideas, especially outside of science fiction circles." Berard takes a significant step to address this deficit, in Neal Stephenson's Ideal Forms, over here. In the process, he uncovers some peculiarly Stephensonian tropes, including "The armed WASP."

Madeleine L'Engle, with grand-daughters.

"Madeleine L'Engle uses intergenerational encounters to complicate our sense of time," says Jonathan Alexander, who goes on to add,

"Recent work by queer theorists, such as Elizabeth Freeman and Jack Halberstam, traces how contemporary neoliberal understandings of time orient us toward productivity, watching the clock and our bodies (think biological clocks) to make the most of the time we have and contribute to the maintenance of society. L’Engle’s approach to time is not 'queer' in its questioning of normative orientations — after all, these are books concerned with the maturation of young people into pretty standard (and heterosexual) notions of functional adulthood. But time for L’Engle is queer in the sense that it hardly ever moves in a straight line in her novels. Everyone, no matter how old or seemingly 'mature,' is caught in time, dealing with the complexities of living and loving." 

Alexander's Late L'Engle: Wrinkles of Time, Redeemed is over here.

Grant Morrison's belief in magic is, I would say. a great deal less metaphorical than L'Engle's was. If you read his impassioned autobiography/history of comics, you'll see how it has prompted him to write some of the most remarkable and subversive comic book storylines of the past 30 years. The Multiversity, his latest for DC, has met with more than a few critical shrugs of dismissal -- e.g., Gregory L. Reece wishes he'd listened to the advert banner. William Bradley argues this is an egregious mis-read of what Morrison is up to, and hails The Multiversity as "the smartest book DC Comics has published in years" -- over here.

One of the tensions Bradley explores is whether a comic book can be both subversive, and a smashing commercial success. My inclination is to say, "Um, yeah," and move on. For some artists in the trenches, however, this is a soul-rending conundrum -- Bill Watterson, of Calvin & Hobbes fame, would be the poster-boy of this existential condition; Charles M. Schultz its antithesis. Not surprisingly, the two had a history of taking subtle digs at each other in interviews. Luke Epplin uncovers it all in a terrific piece, Selling Out The Newspaper Comic Strip, over here.

Enclosed: One (1) ACME Doof-Warrior Apparatus

And, finally, I am greatly chuffed to see Isabel Ortiz highlight the resemblance of Mad Max: Fury Road to Chuck Jones' Road Runner shorts, in her piece The Cartoon Bodies of "Mad Max: Fury Road" over here.

While composing this post I had to fight the urge to end every paragraph with, "Highly recommended." Yup -- they're all highly recommended. So put down that timeless classic you vowed to finish this summer, and read these timely distractions instead!

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