Read ALL the Things: What I read when I’m not reading what I’m reading

I want to post about both Torchwood and A Dance with Dragons, but I find myself not having a lot to say about either — yet. I’m still stewing. I probably just need to clean the house, and that’ll shake the thoughts free.

In the meantime, I’ve read a few things while not carrying around Dance (which I took with me into the city last night, only to sorely regret doing so while holding my bag for three hours at the Tim Kasher show. Oops). In brief, and in order:

This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record, Susannah Felts
Felts’ novel straddles the YA/coming-of-age-book-for-grownups divide nicely, never quite specifying its time setting but giving plenty of identifying detail, like mix tapes and a distinct lack of cell phones. It’s a story about the kind of kids I think of as “us,” the outsiders who looked for ways to express ourselves while struggling with playing the game of high school, where you’re only supposed to express previously approved feelings and thoughts lest you be a weirdo. A sense of place is central to the book, which takes place in Nashville in the summer, and Felts’ gentle exploration of the clash of art and affection, and the way friendship can feel indestructible and tenuous at once, feels lived-in and tactile. I picked up and put down this book, which was a gift from Toby, several times, and I’m not sure why it stuck this time, but it did, and it felt like it was taking place inside my head, a collage of memories from a teenhood that wasn’t mine.

You Must Go and Win, Alina Simone
Oh, this book. I heard about it here and there, and then I went to Simone’s book-release event at Word in large part because word was out that her “secret” special guest was Amanda Palmer. I went for AFP, sure, but I’m glad I did, because Simone was charming and funny and all the things I want but don’t always get in authors-as-readers of any kind. And her book! This goddamn book! I’ve been struggling to understand how Simone pulls off this deceptively breezy style wherein she’s completely self-deprecating and honest, but her stories never turn into pity parties, and her voice never veers into Eeyore territory. All the honesty and self-awareness dances on a broad stripe of pragmatism, even when Simone is going to be baptized by a punk monk or driving across country with a younger Palmer, who knows and says that she wants to be a certain kind of famous (goal: met). Peculiar living situations, the foibles of the recording industry, the struggle between what and who we are and what and who we think we ought to be — Simone’s stories made me want to copy down sentences and flag pages and send her postcards full of effusive admiration. I did write down one quote, posting it on Tumblr, where I store such things: “Failure only means that you haven’t thrown yourself, face-first, against the brick wall of probability enough times.”

I haven’t done it justice, really, because I finished it a month ago. But the whole thing is really about not giving up, and about finding the things that matter and experiencing and moving on from the things that don’t — and dealing with the soul-crushing doubt that comes with being uncertain about what you’re doing, what you’re supposed to be doing, and whether it matters at all. Stories like these come from a life — and forgive me, because I’m going to get a little corny — that’s well-lived. You have to pay attention, and sometimes you have to go to Siberia. But the point is, you have to go. And maybe win.

Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud
OK, so, I might’ve been putting off posting because of this book. Which is an excellent, fascinating book — a fact underlined by the random kid on the subway who liked the page I was reading so much that he asked if he could photograph the cover — but also a difficult book for me. My super-verbal brain struggles, sometimes, with visual art concepts, and so when McCloud’s little bespectacled avatar is explaining, from panel to panel, the place where comics sits in the art continuum, and the way the iconized characters work, and how simplifying an idea might get it into my head faster and make it more relatable … on the one hand, I get it. I totally get it. But I get it in this place in my head that refuses translation into words (which probably proves about half of McCloud’s theories, which are really more like descriptions of the way things are than “theories”). I spent the book in a state of disconcerting recognition: Yes, that! But how does it work? Abstractions, icons, subtraction and elimination, visual language and what happens in between panels — it all makes sense to me in an intuitive way, but my mind wants to translate it into words I can speak or write down.

Clearly, this isn’t working so well. McCloud takes apart the intuitive process of reading comics’ specific combination of words and pictures by using that exact combination of elements. Understanding Comics makes you understand it in order to understand the medium in which it’s working. Beautiful, really. I think this is the kind of book that’s going to turn itself into words, for me, when I next read comics. All the things I take for granted in the act of reading/experiencing comics are explained in these little squares (mostly) of black ink and white paper (mostly). You can just do it, or you can try to understand it. I always like to try both.

Read ALL the Things: What I read when I’m not reading what I’m reading