Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this. A short travelogue of life in North Korea for a foreigner in 2003. Well drawn, the graphic novel is the perfect medium for this story, I enjoyed all of it.

I like to travel and I doubt I will get to North Korea, or would want to. I appreciated the outsiders perspective, it felt like I was there experiencing these things. The author wrote well and welcomed people into the story. I am not very familiar with communist regimes in practice and this was a great introduction.

Lots of great tidbits like only one floor of the 47 story hotel has power, the ones with the foreigners on it. The only place in downtown you will see lights at night are the lights illuminating the statues of the Great Leader. Indoctrination messages are painted on the sides of mountains. And the work week in North Korea is six days per week, with "volunteer" time on the seventh day. "Volunteer" activities include things like sweeping a highway or painting a bridge.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am going to buck the trend of four and five star reviews here and give it a one. Another reviewer said of this book that it made her sorry she learned to read, and I take the point, but for me this book is like the anti-reading. It sucked the life out of me, it sucked me dry, and took a pleasurable escapist pastime like reading and made it dirty and violent and negative. This is the book that made me watch more TV.
I read this for a book club and the book is dripping with violence. The Road was a great book because it so vividly portrayed its post-apocalyptic world but this book doesn’t have that. It has dialogue and violence, and not really much else. The violence would turn your stomach if you processed every word of it. I read every word of the book, but I didn’t process every word. There was too much.
After the barrage of violence we meet the Sheriff, part of the old men, old school mentality who doesn’t understand how the South of yesterday has become people with green hair and bones through their noses walking down the street. He’s trying to solve the crime, but which crime? I suppose the missing money, or is it the murders, or is it the disappearing guns? This is intertwined with killers talking with their victims at length about philosophy before shooting them in the head. It’s just not anything I need in my life. I suppose if I were younger the violence would bother me less, but the writing is good and has a level of sophistication that I don’t think my younger self would have been able to appreciate, so I’m left wondering who it’s for. Who are all the five star reviewers?
I will agree the book is written well and the author presents it in a uniquely stylized way which is always a plus when reading. But if you can’t get past the bad people, does anyone in this book have a conscience?, and the violence, then what’s the point? The book takes you down, and mires you so deeply in the muck you can’t see your way out. In the end, as the book says:
“There wouldn’t be no point to it. There ain’t no point to it. Not to any of it.”

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Starr Lyte by Blaise Bulot

Starr LyteStarr Lyte by Blaise Bulot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Starr Lyte is a drag queen who can't read or write and lives in the ghetto of New Orleans. She frequently spouts profound wisdom, such as:

"Different strokes for different folks.
If all of us liked the same thing
Some of us would be awful lonely,
and the rest of us would be awfully sore"

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I'm wavering between three and four stars, I feel like four is what I wanted to give it, but three better reflects my experience.

Starr is charming, her cast of friends is wonderful to read about and you'll really enjoy spending a day in the life with her and her wild outlandish stories. It's subsequent days where the charm wanes a little. Several chapters are written in poor folk southern drawl, some of which just can't be understood, all written phonetically. It starts off being cute and a reminder of the down home south, but does begin to grate. All the chapters, most just a page or so, are in the same format, with a short vignette into Starr's life or one of her friend's lives, and while interesting, it does get repetitive.

I liked that this was a small press, I liked that it was by a gay author of colour, which is rare, I liked that it was set in the south, I liked that it was about drag queens. I just wanted to like it all a bit more.

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