The Mysteries – Bill Watterson and John Kascht

So, like many people within a pretty large range of my age, I was, and am, a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes. I am sure Peanuts and Garfield would try to make the claim, and there is a good argument to be made for The Far Side, but Calvin and Hobbes may be the best newspaper comic there ever was. And that’s not really hyperbole. It perfectly road that line between, “appealing to younger folks” through Calvin’s adventures with his imaginary friend Hobbes (a stuffed cat who comes to life for Calvin), and still appealing to adults, by using clever metaphors to make statements on the real world.

It’s the kind of magic the Muppets have done for ages.

The strip only ran for ten years too, from 1985 to 1995. Bill Watterson, the creator, has also done something super interesting in that there is basically no Calvin and Hobbes merchandise. There was like, one school book and a couple of calendars, everything else is bootleg, including all those stupid “Calvin pissing on things” stickers. I assume he is doing okay for himself on the book sales, and I admire his refusal to cheapen his creation.

He also hasn’t done anything else since until now. He’s put out a new book, alongside another creator, John Kascht. The book has nothing to do with Calvin and Hobbes, but it’s worth mentioning the strip, because I am sure, like myself, a LOT of the interest in this book comes from people who loved Calvin and Hobbes. There are some videos and articles about the process, and the two apparently went back and forth a bit on how to present the visuals. It seems that Watterson did a lot of the painted backdrops, and Kascht did more of the physical foreground material. The images themselves are a combination, done using photos, that look a lot like elaborate illustrations. The story is quite simple in design and presentation but seems to mostly be the work of Watterson.

The book itself is essentially a “children’s book” in presentation, with a simple singular sentence on one page, and artwork on the opposite page. The artwork is very, very, bleak. I don’t mean it’s bad, I actually really like it, but good god it’s bleak. If you came into this expecting an upbeat comic book story, you’re not going to get it. The story is pretty bleak as well. It’s short, a rough count says, 35 pages long, maybe on average 10-15 words per page. This post is probably longer in total than the entire story. It follows something called The Mysteries, and their exit and subsequent return to the world. In Calvin and Hobbes fashion, the whole thing kind of feels like a metaphor for a few things. One being, how the society in the book basically exists in fear of the unknown, with no desire to really understand it or change. The later half takes quite a turn and seems to be a metaphor for the climate crisis.

Maybe I’m just projecting what I think it is, that’s kind of the beauty of writing sometimes, when done properly, the meaning is up to interpretation. This is also why I like a lot of the music I enjoy as well.

Also, I suppose I am kind of spoiling the story a bit but the story is pretty basic, and honestly, It’s not a book you buy for the story.

The book itself is quite nice. The size is a bit smaller than I expected, but it’s not too small or anything. The cover has this wonderfully textured cloth feel to it, and feels very sturdy, the pages themselves are nice heavy glossy paper. For the little content there is, the book definitely has been designed with a lot of care and consideration and desire to make a real quality product. It’s a “children’s book” story, with a very “adult presentation.” I suppose that’s the kind of work Watterson has always done, with the way Calvin and Hobbes was in its ability to be appreciated by younger and older folks.

Linear Quotes: Aurora

Linear Quotes: Aurora by Ketil Mosnes

Just for establishment up front here, I am a big fan of the musician Aurora. If we’re measuring by scrobbles, which I like to do, she has very rapidly become my top scrobbled artist, of all time. But a pretty large margin. I saw this book posted by someone in a fan group on Facebook and it seemed like a pretty interesting, and probably less known bit of Aurora memorabilia, almost no one in the group was aware of it as far as I could tell. It’s also tricky to find, I had to order it from a bookseller in Norway. The book itself was pretty inexpensive, the shipping pretty much tripled the price.

Which is kind of the main negative, unless you happen to be somewhere that you can just buy this little book, it’s very very light on content. I don’t regret the purchase, but I was surprised that the book is much small is size than expected and roughly half of it’s few pages are photographs. The book itself is about the size of a manga book or a DVD case.

The book itself was written by a person who was able to travel around with Aurora’s crew briefly, though they aren’t really officially part of the grew. It contains a half dozen or so short interview excerpts and a bunch of photos. I will say, most of the photos are ones that I had never seen before, which was nice. Probably a side effect of the book being a bit of a lesser known artifact. There is a nice mix of behind the scenes photos and a few actual concert photos. They are a bit small though, given the size of the book, but it’s not like they are going to be torn out and displayed or something either. The photos themselves are clumped together in section, as opposed to mixed in with the text that relates to them, which feels like a side effect of using slightly nicer paper for the photo pages.

The real meat is the short interview parts. These are excepts from Aurora’s touring during 2016-2017. The writer also at least seems to be on pretty good terms with Aurora and it helps to give some fresh direction to the questions asked. It’s also worth noting for anyone not familiar with Aurora, she is, truly, absolutely, a unique and interesting person. There are plenty of in person interviews around on Youtube for examples of her all around oddness. She genuinely works to see the good in everything and to be good to everyone. The interview is dotted with lots of interesting takes on various things, I won’t go into detail on it all because well, that’s kind of the point of reading the book, but it’s definitely amusing at times, while sad at others.

I guess a good way to summarize it is to say she wears her emotions and herself not just on her sleeve, but on her entire self. If you’re a fan of Aurora, it’s certainly worth a read, and it’s a neat little book. I certainly enjoyed it, despite how short it is.

On another side note, the descriptions on this book suggest that “Linear Quotes” is a series, but as near as I can tell, this is the only one. Which is a bit disappointing because I would actually like to read more books like this.

Reading for April 2020

So, yeah, I missed a few months. I also didn’t actually finish any books in those two months, so it’s kind of a non issues. I didn’t really finish a ton fo books this month wither, but hey, progress is progress.

Transformers The Manga Volume 1

So, technically this one was a March read. This is the first of (I believe 2) collections of the old Transformers G1 Manga from Japan. It’s honestly, really weird, and kind of awful, but it’s also charming for both of these reasons. The stories are all more or less self contained. They all have this weird Japanese feel to them (because Manga duh), but more the whole, “we can’t decide if this is made for 3 year olds or 12 year olds” thing that seems like it pops up a lot in some Manga, especially older manga. Also, spoilers, but man, the Autobots seemed to get the most motivated when they they were dealing with a poor dog that the Decepticons had abused.

Also, most of the characters on the cover don’t appear int he stories at all.

Kill la Kill Vol 1

Speaking of Manga. I also read the first volume of Kill la Kill. I’ve seen this series come up in a few discussions online and it sounded kind of interesting. It also is part of Comixology Unlimited, which I keep forgetting I have a trial for.

Anyway, it’s a sort of “slice of life” high school manga, where everyone also has battles, based on themes of school, things. At least so far. Like the main chick has this school uniform that gives her extra power, and she fights this dude on the Boxing Team who has special Boxing gloves. It’s alright, for the most part.

Stumptown Vol 1

After enjoying the show Stumptown, I wanted to see how the original comic it was based off of compared. The comic, at least volume 1, had a lot less emphasis on the supporting cast than the show, but it was still decent. It was a bit predictable in it’s plot, but the writing and dialogue is alright. The art style was interesting for what I could see, though it’s all so dark it doesn’t show up super well on my Kindle. The whole thing kind of vaguely reminded me of Gunsmith Cats, which is one of my favorite series. I mean, Dex kind of is a more realistic, western version of Rally I suppose, they both are kind of PI/Bounty Hunters, they both are kind of snarky, they both drive old Mustangs.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I have been meaning to re-reread the Harry Potter Series for a bit now, and so I started with the first book. Which is as far as I got LAST time I meant to re-read the series. I really enjoy all the extra detail and bits not in the movies (which I’ve seen a dozen or two times), but I have not read the books in a while, so things are getting a bit hazy, and I could use a refresh. The first book is probably the most boring in this endeavor, since, for the most part, the book and movie are identical. There is an extra Potions based test to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone, Neville gets detention and goes to the Forbidden Forrest instead of Ron, Draco challenges Harry to a duel trying to get Harry and crew in trouble, and there is an extra Quidditch Match that is super short. Not much of importance that’s different.

What’s New

I’ve bought too much new to list. I think there was a video game themed StoryBundle, I bought several James Bond books, I’ve picked up quite a few free comics that I have not read yet. Too much to list honestly.

I also started The second Expanse Book. Which I hope to finish by next month.

Reading for January 2020

I’ve had an up and down relationship with being motivated to read. I pushed myself back into reading round 2016 and had a lot of success at 35 books for the year, but then it fizzled out again with like, 1 book in 2018. It doesn’t help that I have a huge backlog of books to read. I feel more guilty about my unread books than my unread video games.

Possibly part of my problem is the refusal to accept that I’m not enjoying a book and move on. I’m not really over that one quite yet. As part of my motivation, I’ve decided to to book posts as a sort of parallel to my music posts. This is all also part of a larger effort to motivate myself to write more, about more singular topics. I am thinking, if I keep these up, that started books will mostly just be a list, and maybe a bit more detail once I finish, or abandon, a book.

Anyway, for January, I only finished one book, and started a few others. Started this month:

  • NBA Jam, by Reyan Ali, from Boss Fight Books, a look at the history of arcades and the NBA Jam video game franchaise.
  • Teenage Mutant ninja Turtles, the Ultimate Black and White collection Vol 1, by Kevin Eastman. A rerelease of the classic original Ninja Turtles Comics.
  • The Wendy by Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown. A sort of re-imagining of Peter Pan.

The one book I did finish was Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey. Also known as Book One of The Expanse.

I really really enjoyed the show and wanted to pick up the books after watching through it. Conveniently, like a week later, I found most of the books in hard copy at a garage sale for like a quarter each. Then maybe a month later, they were all on sale for Kindle in ebook format, so I decided that I could round out the holes and make them more convenient to read by getting the ebooks.

The story of the first book and the show are surprisingly close. The show adds a bunch of stuff going on with Earth that isn’t in the book at all, but it seems like it was kind of a necessary step for narrative purposes. The author of this is actually two people I believe, and both are assistants to George R.R. Martin of A Song of Ice and Fire fame. Leviathan Wakes follows a very similar style as the books from A Song of Ice and Fire with the alternating POV chapters.

I would definitely recommend the book, but if you have watched the show already, you pretty much know the story. There isn’t anything particularly new going on here, unlike with A Game of Thrones, which adds a lot of extra detail and history that’s not in the show.

As a wrap up, I am going to add a brief list of what I bought this month. As a sort of remind of how far behind I am, and how much more behind I am getting.

  • Interface by Neal Stephenson
  • The Last Wish: Introduction to the Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski
  • Star Wars Trilogy Boxed Book Volume 2 by George Lucas, Donald Glut, and James Kahn
  • The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  • Body Double: A Rizzoli and Isles Novel by Tess Gerritsen
  • Illidan: World of Warcraft by William King
  • God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What’s the Question by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi
  • Mimic (Shapeshifter Chronicles Omnibus 1, 2, and 3) by James David Victor

Too Many eBooks and Keeping them Organized

The nice thing about digital books is that they are easily stored and accessible in very little space. The bad thing about digital books is that it can be hard to find things in a virtual shelf where you can’t easily see covers and authors and topics. There is something to be said for covers, when you can easily glance at a row of books and see the color combination that sticks out as “This is the book that I like”.

Tech books present a different problem, since it’s less easy to make notes or stick papers in important bits of code that you want to reference later. I usually resort to screen shots, but they become hard to sift through later the more screen shots there are. Especially since you usually can’t name files with useful names on a tablet or phone where you may be reading a tech book.

Despite a few tools out there to organize your files for you, probably most notable and easy to use is Calibre, I still prefer to sort things by a basic directory structure.

This is useful for a few reasons, one, if an organizing program ever breaks or I want to upgrade, things are still sorted at a base level. For the most part everything is sorted by base type, though in a few cases they are sorted by source. For example, the Packt eBooks are almost all tech books and almost all of them include zip files of code, so I’ve given them their own directory. Also a lot of them aren’t super great, so, while I like to have them around, I don’t need the clutter in my actual Tech books folders. Most were freebies from when Packt used to give away books daily.

Most of these folders have their own internal structure, For example, the image above is for Tech books. The comics folder has folders for series and publishers, the Foreign Language folder has folders for languages, the Fiction folder is sorted by series and genre. Etc. Etc. Etc.

This whole ball is the core archive. Most of the time I keep working folders with copies of these various books on my laptop or on a portable drive. The comics I am currently reading or the tech books that are actually useful, that sort of thing. All of the books in the archive are DRM free, so I can copy and read them as I want. I prefer to buy DRM Free books, Humble Bundle, O’Reilly, Packt, StoryBundle, Leanpub, Project Gutenberg, probably some others I’m forgetting are all pretty good for DRM free ebooks.

What complicates things are Nook and Kindle, which are both more proprietary. I had an early generation of the Nook for a while, but Amazon tends to have better deals on books, so I ultimately dropped buying from Nook. I hate having my library fractured across platforms. If I am going to buy DRM locked down books, it’s going to be one storefront, and Amazon has better sales. There are way to strip out the DRM but it’s a hassle to do regularly. Occasionally I update a backup archive of Nook and Kindle books to DRM free versions, in bulk, but it’s not worth bothering with on a single book by book case every time I buy a book.