Quick nonfiction reads

Reinventing Comics, by Scott McCloud

I liked Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud a lot, because it had a really thoughtful take on why comics worked, and what the conventions were (representing the dimension of time in space, etc.). When I saw this sequel in the library, I picked it up. I didn’t like it nearly as much. Half of the book is a retrospective on the history of comics, which mostly seems like an excuse for McCloud to drop references to obscure comics to demonstrate his comic guru-hood. The book also explores the comics business and his disgust with it, as well as how the business perpetuates a lack of diversity within comics (few women, few minorities, very little work outside of the superhero genre). The last half of the book is an exploration of how the digital age may change comics. I think some of his ideas have some promise (check out I Can’t Stop Thinking!), but overall, nothing really grabbed my attention. I’d call the book a good effort, but not one worth reading unless one is truly obsessed with comics.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell

My local library branch has a bargain bin outside where they sell books for 50 cents, and this book of essays by Vowell was there, so I pounced on it because I knew and liked Sarah Vowell’s work on NPR’s This American Life. She’s got a wonderfully distinctive voice. And her voice is just as distinctive on the page. Her work is full of bon mots that make you want to turn to somebody and quote them aloud, e.g. “Along with voting, jury duty, and paying taxes, goofing off is one of the central obligations of American citizenship. So when my friends Joel and Stephen and I play hooky from our jobs in the middle of the afternoon to play Pop-A-Shot in a room full of children, I like to think we are not procrastinators; we are patriots pursuing happiness.” I read that line when I picked up the book to decide whether to buy it, and that sold me right there. She takes on a wide variety of subjects in these essays, from examining the political landscape, understanding the true quality of Al Gore’s nerdhood, patriotism, plus the aforementioned Pop-A-Shot. I don’t think Vowell is my new spiritual guru or anything, but she has interesting thoughts and she expresses them well, and that’s about all you can ask of an essayist. Highly recommended.

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