Friday, June 29, 2012

Dragon's Time, by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

Dragon's Time, by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

This book is sadly a bit of a mess. The plotline centers around time travel—a lot of time travel. While I usually love time travel stories, this one had so many characters jumping between so many time lines that keeping them all straight was confusing to put it mildly. So much effort is put into the convoluted plot that characterization is left by the wayside; the female characters are all strong, willful leaders which I usually admire, but there were so many and all cut from the same cloth that they were virtually interchangeable. The writing itself was generally pedestrian as well, but there was one metaphor that stood out, comparing spicy food to living: "Life: hot, spicy, painful, unpredictable, tasty, chewy, beautiful, searing. Life." That one analogy didn't make up for the other 400 pages though. Disappointing.

First Sentence:
Cold. Black. Silent.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes, by Nevin Martell

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Will Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip, by Nevin Martell

I have loved Calvin and Hobbes since I first found it in the funny pages in the Dallas Morning News when in high school. When the strip was abruptly stopped in 1995, along with the rest of the world I was saddened by the loss. Watterson has gone on to become a virtual hermit, joining J. D. Salinger and Harper Lee as literary recluses. I always wondered why Watterson made this choice, and when I saw this book I snapped it up looking for answers. While an entertaining read, I still didn't quite find what I was looking for.

The most jarring problem with the book is that while many are discussed, there isn't a single strip reprinted. “The father comes in after a brisk morning workout. "Ahh, what a day," he exclaims, with ruddy cheeks and covered with snow. "Up at 6:00, a 10-mile run in the sleet, and now a big bowl of plain oatmeal! How I love the crazy hedonism of the weekends!"” While this description puts a smile on my face, it pales in comparison to the grin that the actual comic elicits. Clearly this is an unauthorized biography (understandable due to the solitary nature of Watterson) but the lack of art was a huge blow to the credibility of the work.

Another failing is that Martell comes across as incredibly narcissistic here. Often the book seems to be more about the quest to interview Watterson than the man himself. Anecdotes of Martell's trials and tribulations during the writing are interspersed with his nightmares, wedding planning, baking, and long hours. “But disappointment doesn't meet deadlines, so I threw myself back into the wordy fray. ... I'm a big believer in karma and I'd thrown a supertanker full of the stuff at this project, so didn't the universe owe me?” If he'd actually scored the fabled interview this might not have been so obnoxious, but because he didn't it comes off more as whiny than anything else.

That said, there is a lot to love about this book. The story of Watterson is well-researched and well-written, and the genuine affection Martell has for his subject is palpable. The style is straightforward but entertaining, a biography of the comic itself as much as the artist. For instance, due to the thoughtful debates between the main characters, I'd always assumed the strip was named after John Calvin, the influential French theologian, and Thomas Hobbes, the famed English political philosopher. Turns out it was very nearly called Marvin and Hobbes, but Tom Armstrong's comic Marvin launched first and Watterson didn't want any confusion!

An enjoyable if uneven book, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes is well worth your time—but don't expect to have much of the enigma that is Watterson revealed.

First Sentence:
Luckily for me, the story of William Boyd Watterson II began only a few miles away from where I start typing this.

Search This Blog