Books

[Book] Into the wild / Jon Krakauer (1996)

In this world of expectation, structure, busy-ness, and bills, it has always interested me to come across people who abhor these tangles of everyday life and live like nomads. I recently came across some YouTubers who travel the United States, living out of their RVs or vans full-time and loving it. When I thought of this kind of lifestyle in the past I thought of the sad Matt Foley character from SNL “living in a van down by the river”. I am not convinced their life isn’t without its hardships… nor bills… nor eliminating “THE MAN” from their lives completely, but these people do their best to make their cramped quarters and vagabond lifestyle look very attractive. I know myself very well, and can adapt to living without the finer things like a flushing toilet for a few months in the summer. But, living this way as a lifestyle forever? Nope. I likes my heated home with running water.

For many, though, this way of life is a philosophy, a mantra, a necessity. It’s quite curious and intriguing to see the world through their lens. So when I recently reactivated my library membership after a long drought, a virtual trip to the eBook portal landed Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild onto my tablet, and next thing you know, I found myself immersed in one of the more recent stories of an infamous American vagabond, Chris McCandless, a young man who took the concept of nomadic living to extremes.

Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild tells the true story of McCandless, a headstrong, fiercely independent guy who felt more at peace alone in nature than anywhere. Raised by strict parents, he always went against the grain, never thinking a career was important, and that schooling was a waste of time. Following parental expectations was difficult for Chris, but he managed to tow the line, eventually making it through college with honours, with plans for law school. However, he had enough of the litanies of life the day after he graduated, packing up his things and leaving his life behind forever. He gave his life savings to OxFam, burned his Social Security card and embarked on a journey that saw him tramping his way around the U.S., with the eventual goal to live in the Alaskan wilderness in complete solitude. He even assumed a new name: Alexander Supertramp. His family never heard from him again…until his body was found in a remote forest in Alaska by a Moose hunter.

McCandless in Alaska

Jon Krakauer gives some context and understanding to Chris’s thought process by recounting his life, childhood and relationship with his family. To round out the book, he interviews other folks Chris met on the road, living a similar nomadic life. In telling these stories, it shows the many layers to Chris McCandless. He wasn’t simply a naive guy with big dreams; he was a guy determined to live out his philosophy at any price. And what one could gather from the book, he touched many lives in profound ways.

I found Into the Wild to be incredibly immersive, balanced and very thoughtfully written.  Might I add, there is a reason why the book is on many “top books to read before you die” lists. It’s good – very good. Get your hands on it and start reading. I highly recommend it!

4.5/5

Into the wild / Jon Krakauer (1996)

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And while we are here…

[Movie] Into the Wild (2007)

Starring: Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart

So, I thought, what the hey…let’s watch the movie for comparison.

The film follows the book very closely. I’d hazard it was a visual representation of the book, but not a thorough one.

The one thing I noticed: Sean Penn, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, stole A LOT of direct dialogue from Krakauer’s book – seriously. If I hadn’t just finished the book, I would not have noticed…but he does. If I were Krakauer, I’d be taking him to court. And yet, Krakauer only got a “based on the novel by…” credit, which I thought was also a little strange for the amount of the book Penn used.

I didn’t overly enjoy Into the Wild: the movie. It wasn’t terrible, but didn’t do McCandless any favours. It missed the heart and soul of McCandless, showing him as a sort of untouchable, someone you could never get close to and who was completely ignorant and wonton. In fact, I remember when the movie was released, there was a lot of criticism from people saying McCandless’ ways were glorified in the movie, and that no one should take his lead if they think they can survive in Alaska without being properly equiped. The book does well to give more context to McCandless, and to the people who knew him. Besides the fact, I found the book much more enjoyable (isn’t that typical?). Do yourself a favor:  Get your hands on the book!

2.5/5

Into the Wild (the movie)
2007

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[Book] Paying For It: a comic strip memoir about being a john/ Chester Brown

It was my experience reading Seth’s graphic novel It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken back in 2015 that introduced me to his best friend and fellow graphic novelist, Chester Brown. I had never read anything of his work before, but am aware he drew a novel based on the real-life story of Louis Riel, which I have always wanted to read. I didn’t realize until a couple of weeks ago that I had access to Chester Brown the whole time by way of the academic library at the college where I work. I walked into the library one day a few weeks ago to meet up with a colleague when I came across a display of graphic novels – front and centre, was Chester Brown’s Paying For It. I immediately checked the book out of the library.

And I checked it out without actually knowing the subject matter, or what I was about to embark on. I read the rest of the title:

A comic strip memoir about being a john“…

Wait, what?

Paying For It is a frank look into one aspect of Brown’s life over the course of 18 years, namely the subject of romantic relationships, or rather the lack thereof. It begins with a conversation he had with his live-in girlfriend, Sook-Yin (yes, that’s Sook-Yin Lee, former Much Music VJ…), who has fallen in love with someone else and asks Brown if she can “see where it goes”. Brown agrees. While she gets on with this other guy, Brown continues to live under the same roof. As time goes on, and as his feelings for Sook-Yin evolve into more of a friendship, he begins to think about the emotional impact of relationships and decides he no longer wants to pursue getting another girlfriend – ever.

He wonders about what not having a girlfriend could mean – no companionship…no sex…he was pretty sure he could do without the former, but the latter? He knew he couldn’t live without sex, and sooner or later, he figures out he can diffuse that argument by using his wallet. Unfamiliar with the law surrounding prostitution in Canada, he stealthily takes to certain neighbourhoods around Toronto that at one time years ago were known to have street-walkers, only to find deserted sidewalks and Toronto’s finest patrolling the streets. Brown, after some research, finds what he is looking for by way of escorts advertised in the paper and online.

Paying For It plays out like a visual diary, bearing witness to every sexual encounter he had with an escort…and there were many. His panels reveal in graphic detail his thoughts, his conversations with each escort, and what occurred. He checks in with his best friends periodically (one of them being Seth) to talk about his experiences, while they take this as an opportunity to grill him and debate the morals and ethics around prostitution laws. Brown, who believes there should be no regulation, makes this clear in conversation with his friends, and later shares a 50-page written thesis at the end of the book stating his position on the matter, in case we had any question.

Chester Brown’s execution in his panels was clean, simplistic and I really liked his penmanship. He did not shy away from nudity, even depicting his skinny self bare-assed. The escorts were drawn with their faces covered by their conversation balloons and their identifying features changed; Brown’s answer for respecting their privacy.

I couldn’t help but feel sad reading Paying for it. I understand that Brown has happily made his choice where relationships are concerned. But, to be perfectly honest, Brown’s story felt a bit too intimate to me, like I should not have been reading it…yet, like a bad car crash, or a tell-all rag I could not look away or put it down. I read the entire novel (minus the essay) in 2 hours. I felt a bit conflicted reading it, and I had my own internal dialogue around the ethics of prostitution versus the treatment of women in the sex industry the whole time. Thanks to Brown, I also wondered what could possibly be the worst thing that could happen if prostitution were legalized (and I’m still pondering)…

Paying For It is not everyone’s cup of tea, and honestly, the jury’s still out whether it was mine, too.

3/5

Paying for it: a comic strip memoir about being a john / Chester Brown
2011
Drawn and Quarterly

Down the Memory Highway of Innocence and Debauchery With Archie

Lately, I have been feeling nostalgic, thinking about my love for reading comic books and graphic novels. It was a trip back home at Christmas that found my close bud, Amanda, give me some Archie Pals ‘N Gals ankle socks. To me, they’re all kinds of awesome. I was a big reader of Archies during my formative tween years. Now, every time I look at my feet, I think about my history with Archie comics, how much of a role they played in my upbringing, and how it really kick-started my love for comic books in general.

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If you are not familiar with Archie Andrews, he is a fictitious character who has been starring in his own comic series since the 1940s. A red-headed teen from Riverdale, U.S.A., he rides around town in a beater (a jalopy, to be precise) with his friend, the perpetually hungry Jughead, and his rival of sorts, the arrogant Reggie. Archie and Reggie vie for the attentions of the two main girls, Betty and Veronica, who are best friends, and seemingly polar opposites, as Veronica is wealthy, selfish and vain, and Betty is wholesome, honest and kind. Both girls want nothing more than to go steady with Archie. The stories told in the comic weren’t terribly sophisticated, but they tried to be simple and humorous.

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I wasn’t exposed to Archie until I was 9 years old. It was our housekeeper who gave me my first Archie comic as a birthday gift –  Archie Jokebook Digest #12. It was funny, graphic and easy to read – three things in my reading material that I was gravitating toward at the time. That comic digest launched an insatiable appetite for reading and collecting every Archie digest magazine that would be released from 1984 to 1987. It became particularly dangerous when I discovered Lefebvre’s, the used bookstore located down the street from my dance class had used Archies; my sis and I would speed down the street on our break and pick up 5 double digests for a $1.

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My mom wasn’t terribly happy with this new-found hobby. As a kid, I struggled with reading comprehension in a big way (I was diagnosed with dyslexia). Archies are not the sort of reading material that one would think would foster good reading habits. For me, I had hit a wall with reading, and unlike my sister who enjoyed reading everything she could get her hands on and could read a 200-page book in one day, reading for me was hard work. Archies piqued my interest; they had short stories and were funny. My mom eventually relented. Archies weren’t Treasure Island, but at least I was reading something.

I wound up with a sizeable collection of Archie digest magazines that I would often use to trade with neighbourhood friends. Somehow, my sis and I would also end up with Archies that came from friends of my Mom whose children had grown out of reading them, and this was always a trip. The Archies were usually in traditional comic book format (not digest), older publications from the 70s and early 80s, and were the same Archie, but with an older twist. Archies in the comic book format weren’t sold in any store I would frequent. An Archie digest was always available in the supermarket aisles (as it still is today) but the comic book proper was not accessible to me, so it was always fun to get something like that.

Among these Archie comic books I seem to recall some Archies that were, shall we say…not your typical Archie Comics. Allow me to preface this by saying, from the age of 3 to 19, I went to church every Sunday, and was raised in a Christian home. Even though we were raised in this environment, we didn’t have Christian literature crammed down our throat at every turn. My Mom was a firm believer of having a strong moral compass; having that, a Christian could live in a secular world. Even so, it wouldn’t be so far fetched to have Christian Archie Comics passed down to us, would it?

Christian Archies. You read that right.

I thought I dreamt it up somehow, but a Google search confirmed my memory – Christian Archies did exist. We somehow got a pile of old musty comic books that seemed a little mature in a Rex Morgan kind of way; certainly not something I would be attracted to at all at my young age. I remember a comic book in the pile, based around the story of the Prodigal Son, called Live It Up.

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I’ll never forget this cover…

In this pile of what seemed like “boring” comic books, were Archie comics. I mean, they looked like Archies, but, they weren’t your average Archie Comic.

The execution of the characters looked similar for the time, but the stories were…different. Archie and his pals were going about their lives, when all of the sudden, someone whips out a Bible, or you find Betty praying in the school cafeteria.

Christian Archie SOME ELSE BETTY PRAYING

The comics were drawn by Al Hartley, a born-again Christian who was one of Archie Comics’ artists. He convinced the president of Archie Comics to introduce a line of Christian comics that included Archie Pals ‘N Gals. There were 19 Archie titles in total. I’m not hating on these comics, in fact, I am a little fascinated by them as an oddity. However, as a kid, I secretly found them a little hoaky and definitely didactic. Consider, in a normal day Archie chasing after Betty and Veronica. Then in a parallel Christian comic book, have Archie abstain and in fact be disgusted by sex and imagery of sex. Even as an 11-year-old, you could not breeze past me that something was a little different about these Archies.

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While we are recalling Christian comics, let’s go to the dark side of Archie comics. I also seem to remember a story where Archie and Betty almost do it. You read that right – Archie and Betty almost get it on. <cue the Marvin Gaye>

I know, that must sound really weird. I mean, it’s not surprising that Betty would want to get it on with Archie considering the history they have. At any rate, I thought *for sure* my memory was playing tricks. I googled a lot, and thought I was having a Mandela effect moment, where over the years, my memory warped into thinking that it was true, when it was actually an active imagination turned into a false truth. But, if it wasn’t true, what was?

Thank goodness my reference librarian skills worked. I eventually found what I was looking for. Yep, I did.

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The story, called “Saved By the Bell” comes from Betty and Veronica Comics Digest Magazine #25 from July 1, 1987, and I totally remember owning that Digest. So it goes, Betty calls Archie sexy in a conversation with Veronica…

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Sexy? What!

Later on, Betty spends a quiet evening at home, and Archie invites himself over. And, well…

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The context of the story was burned in my memory bank. It’s so out of place with the wholesomeness of what an Archie is, and I have never read any Archie like it since.

We have the Archie comics of my youth – funny, innocent enough. We have the Christian Archies which take the moral tone. Now, we have dirty Archies where Archie and Betty almost bang. Bizarre. The end of innocence?

It was after the summer of 1987 when my interest in Archie began to wane. My tastes changed and I moved on to other things. I also craved more mature reading materials, and as I was getting a handle on my reading disability, chaptered books became more of an interest. Archie was slowly fading from memory.

About 10 years ago, my Archie Comic collection from childhood returned to me by way of a Boomerang gift from my parents. In usual fashion, my Step-Dad handed me a box on my way out the door: “Here, you’ll want to take these with you…” My comics were in terrible shape, having wintered in the garage for years, on top of the abuse they got when I was a kid. What do I do with these?? I had no time or patience to leaf through any of them to keep them as I was packing up our house to move to Stouffville. All of them wound up at a Barrie, ON recycling plant.

Today, I think about Archie comics as a novelty, and have considered buying particular ones if I come across them in my travels. If anything, it’s always fun to look back at this part of my life. I appreciate my experience and memory of reading and collecting Archies, and the memory of Archie and the gang is obviously still very strong.

[Book] A Game of Thrones: The Comic Book Series, Issues 1-24 #TBR20

A Game of Thrones: The Comic Book Series is my 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th book read for the #TBR20 challenge…at least that is what I am counting them as…I actually read the comic books, but they were released in four graphic novel volumes, so I’m counting them for the purposes of the #TBR20 challenge!

I have had a long sordid history with a Game of Thrones.

First there was the TV show. Back in the Winter of 2013, the hubs and I watched the first season of Game of Thrones. When it ended, he was jonesing for more… Me? Not so much. I concluded it was too violent…I didn’t care much for the characters…I found the character names confusing…pile on, I hated Game of Thrones. After watching the first episode of the second season, with my husband looking on to my scowling face (I didn’t realize I was scowling…) he said, that’s it, I looked miserable. He released me from watching any more GoT.

Then there was the book.

Just because I wasn’t watching the show didn’t mean I wasn’t constantly reminded of “how good” a show GoT was, even though I felt differently. It seems EVERYbody is into Game of Thrones. “The show is awesome! The books are awesome! Go on! Read! Watch!” Read? Seriously? I reasoned with myself that if I read the book, at least I could take my time with it…ponder it, and take notes as I went. I got my hands on an ePub of George R.R. Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire, the first book in the Game of Thrones series.

Last month, I started reading it. I got about 200 pages in, taking notes along the way so as not to get too confused with the plotlines…and then my friend Bill from Start to Continue Podcast lent me nine of his copies of the Game of Thrones comic book series, and I managed to locate the rest. That was all it took…I was hooked, and no margin notes needed!

The Game of Thrones comic book series came in eBook format (technically .cbr), so I was able to read it on my tablet, which, I have to say, was a very comfortable way of reading, and one that I haven’t really explored until now (ironic, since in my professional life I run a transcription service where I provide eTextbooks to students with disabilities). I won’t discount reading comics on paper – the feel, the smell, and the portability are things that I like about the printed page. However, being able to read on my tablet allowed me to brighten and enlarge the page if I needed to. It was a different experience, and one that I will explore further going forward.

The Game of Thrones comic books were adapted by Daniel Abraham from the George R.R. Martin book, and drawn by Tommy Patterson. I loved its execution, and how beautiful some of the slates were. You could tell great care was taken with each frame, and I really loved the watercolour quality of the colouring. I also appreciated how the comic book managed to move the story along.

Obviously, reading the Game of Thrones comic series went better than expected. I am not one to enjoy the Medieval Fantasy genre at all (I’m a Contemporary Fic gal myself), so I thought I would be getting very sleepy fast. But, Game of Thrones was different. It was more like a Medieval soap opera set in this fantastical world where people live in stone castles, feast on “meat and mead”, and pack swords. I particularly enjoyed how GoT was written like happy hour at a Medieval Times supper club, complete with addressing guys as “M’Lord,” ladies as “wenches” and in that environment having the characters speak crassly like we do today, such as “taking a shit in the woods.” I won’t go too much into the plot, except to say the story of the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons and Targaryans and how they play with each other is both immersive and shocking.

Speaking of shocking, there are things in this story that will make your jaw drop, particularly the themes around incest, and underaged brides. Now, I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed how women were portrayed in this book – I didn’t at all. Women in Game of Thrones are generally mistreated by men in some of the worst ways possible, which bothered me to watch it on the small screen, let alone see it dipicted in a comic book. I would even hazard that scowl I had on my face at the end of watching the first season had a lot to do with that exact subject matter. That said, if you are sensitive to images, or stories of domestic abuse and r—, I would give caution that this story can trigger a reaction…or just avoid Game of Thrones altogether.

Now, for the Game of Thrones name game.

Overall, I enjoyed Game of Thrones, my only real critique is how the characters are named. I don’t know if George R.R. Martin gave up on coming up with unique names for his characters or, lives to confuse his readers, but Game of Thrones is notorious for having multiple characters named the same name:

We have Robb Stark and Rob(ert) Baratheon.
Bran(don) Stark (Eddard Stark’s son) and Brandon Stark (Rickard Stark’s son).
Jon Arryn and Jon Snow.

Characters whose names sound the same: Tyrion, Theon, Tywin

And then having a main character named two names within the same sentence, as is the case with Eddard Stark, a.k.a. Ned.

See what I’m saying? It can get confusing without a notepad nearby.

At any rate, this Game of Thrones franchise has been an interesting journey. I think I am ready to rewatch the show now. And I better get on that because WINTER IS COMING…

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8/10

A Game of Thrones: Comic Book Series #1-24
Dynamite Entertainment
2011-2014

#TBR20 Project Participant!! (but it’s taking me a lifetime!)

The “To Be Read 20” Project, is created and hosted by Eva Stalker at evastalker.com. The goal of the project is to read through 20 books I own before buying any more books.

[Book] Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture / Douglas Coupland #TBR20

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture is my sixth book read for #TBR20 Challenge!

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In the Fall of 1994, Douglas Coupland came to my Alma Mater, Western University, to speak and read excerpts from his book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. It was a PACKED house. I went with a couple of friends who were very into him. I knew nothing about him, except he wrote a book where its stories were supposed to describe the angst of my generation; Generation X. I’d be lying if I said I was a willing listener. Mostly I was lost, while everyone around me sat engaged, almost like they were sitting at Jesus’ feet. People went on about Coupland for weeks afterward.

Following that lecture, a friend lent me their copy of the book. I tried reading it, but couldn’t get past the first hundred pages. The stories told by main characters, Dag, Claire and Andy about working McJobs, and telling their corporate bosses to get lost never spoke to me, nor held my interest. I was looking for some deep meaning, and I just didn’t get it. I wanted to like it like my friends liked it…but, alas, I wound up dropping the book.

I don’t “get” Douglas Coupland. I have tried and tried to pretend to be into him, I swear! But his tales of disenfranchised angst never spoke to me. It’s over my head or…something.

Twenty years later, and I thought I would give Generation X another shot. Again, I didn’t get very far in the book. It just didn’t sink its teeth in. What is the deal with this book? Why don’t I like it?

Is this book supposed to be funny? Am I being too literal? Sometimes I miss the joke…

Maybe it’s because I have always had a propensity to be rule-bound and respectful of authority? Perhaps I have a strong sense of responsibility and more ambition than was expressed in Generation X? Maybe I just couldn’t relate to the characters? Maybe I am happier than the weight of the tales told within its pages? I don’t know, but lets just end it here by saying this book really missed the mark.

On to my next book…

#TBR20 Project Participant!! (but it’s taking me a lifetime!)

The “To Be Read 20” Project, is created and hosted by Eva Stalker at evastalker.com. The goal of the project is to read through 20 books I own before buying any more books.

A Box of Goodies and Some ‘Fee

It’s a blog link-up today! After reading this post, please join my friend, Aaron at Keeps Me Alive, where he shares what he got from me this week! Read about it here!

This past Monday I went to the post box and was happy to find a parcel addressed to me! It was sent by Aaron from the Keeps Me Alive HQ!

As much as I would like to say I wasn’t expecting this package, I’d be lying. But I am surprised with its contents, which were unexpected and AWESOME!

First, some context.

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This past Christmas 2014, some of you may recall me gifting myself the Tragically Hip Fully Completely Limited Edition Super Deluxe Boxed Set, which contained a book about this awesome album, the full remastered album, a live CD of them performing Fully Completely live at the Horseshoe Tavern in the Fall of 1993, a DVD of Heksenketel, which was a glimpse into the Hip on the road during their 1993 Another Roadside Attraction tour and 5 lithographs. I recall Aaron commenting on that post about how awesome this set looked, and as a collector, how cool it would be to have it. I wish I shared his enthusiasm for it…although I love this particular album, top to bottom, the Super Deluxe set was great to peruse, but it wasn’t something I wanted keep in my collection for a lifetime.

At the same time, Aaron had received the smaller Fully Completely Deluxe Edition for Christmas. This one only contains the remastered album and live CD in one package. One day, I had a thought…why not ask Aaron to swap deluxe sets? He’d wind up with what he wants (the book and CDs), and I’d still have my album, which is really what I should have bought in the first place. I broached the subject with the hubs in January, and he supported me, but I decided I would sit on the idea for a spell.

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed Aaron to ask if he wanted to do the swap, which he excitedly said YES. And thus, the parcel swap was born.

Aaron’s parcel to me arrived on Monday. I don’t get home mail delivery – I pick up my mail from a community super mailbox up the street. Thus, Canada Post crammed Aaron’s package into the smaller thinner locked parcel mail box that is meant for much smaller parcels. As a result, I had to bend the box to get it out. Thankfully, nothing got damaged!

So, I opened the package to discover…the Fully Completely Deluxe Edition inside!! Yes!…along with some other surprises!

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…How about some COFFEE!! The minute I managed to unwedge the box, I could smell the amazing aroma of roasted beans! Aaron’s recent trip to Taranna provided him access to his favourite beans and brew retailer, Moonbean. He was generous enough to send along a one-pound bag of Devil’s Brew coffee beans for me to review on a future ‘Fee post! Yay!

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…Next up, Andrew Cash’s Boomtown on cassette! Currently, the CD version of this album is one of my grail list items on the KMA! Aaron said he had this cassette in his collection, and decided to send it to me! Finally, the universe is how it should be!

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…A Sony Sports Walkman! Aaron wanted to send me what he thought was the same model Walkman I had but broke years ago (read here for context). Alas, it is not the same model. However, I am still the proud owner of a half-decent Walkman! Now, let’s listen to some Andrew Cash!

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…An odd action figure of …Helen of Troy?! Looking a little manish, this action figure is part of a diorama, and comes complete with concrete pillar. Helen stands with a shocked look on her face. I guess the fake pillar is so she has something to hang on to so she doesn’t pass out. Aaron says he had this stored away, and it recently surfaced. He thought that I should have it for some reason. 🙂  Helen will live on my desk at work, next to my Super Grover figurine.

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Last, but certainly not least…the reason for the sending of the package: the Fully Completely Deluxe Edition! It is a simple set that folds out to reveal two CDs. The liner notes are reminiscent of the original album’s liner notes – songs with lyrics on one side, and the album cover on the other! Fantastic! I am very happy with this set!

As mentioned, I have sent along a package to Aaron. Be sure to check out his version!

Thanks again, Aaron, for the package full of awesomeness! Now go and read his post!!

[Book] It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken / Seth #TBR20

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken is my fifth book read for the #TBR20 Project!

Before I go on any further, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inspiration behind reading this book…thanks to my blogger friend, Aaron from KeepsMeAlive, and a recent blogpost he did on the Tragically Hip song that shares the very title of this graphic novel, I wouldn’t have thought to pull this one off the shelf so quickly. So, thanks for the inspiration, Aaron!

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I didn’t expect to get through another #TBR20 book so quickly after finishing my last novel, but when I curl up to read a good book with a spot of peach tea and soon find that the evening has faded as I turn to the last page, that to me is a great sign of a good book.

I have no recollection of where I picked up my copy of It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, but likely it was on a Boxing Day sale a few years ago, which is about the only time of year – once a year – when my book-buying moratorium lifts. Initially, it was the cover art that attracted me. Then, it was the book title that mirrors a Tragically Hip song’s title that drew me in! Hold the phone…this wouldn’t happen to be a graphic novel about the Hip, would it??

Alas, it is not about Gordie and the boys… but now that I finished reading It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, I am not the least bit disappointed that it isn’t.

The story is actually about Seth, a cartoonist and collector from Toronto, who goes on a search to find drawings by an obscure cartoonist, Kalo, whom he feels was his canon cartoonist. Kalo, or Jack Kalloway, had a few of his works published in the New Yorker and Esquire magazines in the 1950s. Seth, an obsessive collector, saught to find more on Kalo – any more published works, as well as any information on whatever became of him.

Seth, for one, is mired in nostalgia, preferring the past to the future, and feeling uneasy in the present. He frequently talks to his best friend, Chet (cartoonist, Chester Brown, of Louis Riel fame) about his neuroses, and gives hints to the reader that he may be experiencing some depression. Throughout the book, we follow him as he travels solo to his childhood town of Strathroy, Ontario – coincidentally the same town Kalo moved to after a brief spell in New York, to pursue a different career path, get married and raise a family. Seth managed to track down Kalo’s daughter, Susan, through whom Seth finds out what became of Kalo. Seth also discovers some lessons on maturity in Kalo’s history: the dignity in making choices, experiencing failures, and building strength in self to accept it all.

Seth’s self-proclaimed Picture-Novella, plays out like a graphic screenplay. Every cell is meticulously drawn as if the reader is watching a movie of Seth’s experiences. He’ll hone in on one thing that is seemingly random, but yet, brings you right there on the streets of Strathroy. His masterpiece also extends to London, Ontario and Toronto; and there are certain locations from these cities some readers would recognize, such as the London train station and the Royal Ontario Museum.

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken will suck you in from the first page. Be prepared for a great story…and some self-reflection.

9/10

The “To Be Read 20” Project, is created and hosted by Eva Stalker at evastalker.com. The goal of the project is to read through 20 books I own before buying any more books.