We’ve further expanded the definition of AVQ&A—our Monday and Friday discussion prompts—by asking you (and three of our regular contributors) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for AVQ&A questions, big or small, you can email them to us here.
September and October has seen a boon of book releases thus far, and as we close in on the end of the year the release of “big deal” books will only increase. The new Salinger biography was released in September to coincide with Shane Salerno’s documentary. Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, arrived 36 years after its predecessor. Margaret Atwood closed out her apocalyptic trilogy with MaddAddam. Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens and Dave Eggers’ The Circle are just the newest works to place those well-established writers back in the pages of literary criticism. Even the ever-elusive Thomas Pynchon has a new release with Bleeding Edge. Literary phenom Donna Tartt seems to be sticking to her one-book-per-decade schedule and is set to release The Goldfinch next week.
Either incredibly late or just in time for the new paperback release, I just finished Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, and it has supplanted Wonder Boys as my favorite Chabon book. (That’s right; it wasn’t The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay. There, I said it.) I’m pretty late to this party, so I’ll just say I found the novel heartbreaking, incredibly deft, devoted equally to each of its main characters, and with hardly a stumble—though that Obama section was just silly. I definitely would have watched the television series that was the genesis of the idea. Thanks to the persistent suggestions of Oliver Sava, I’ve been gradually working my way through the New 52 Wonder Woman, and he was right. Brian Azzarello’s writing on this title has been particularly strong, and this iteration of the character imbues her with remarkable depth and a sharp eye on backstory. I’m officially hooked now, and looking forward to whatever Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang decide is next for Diana Of Themyscira. For funsies, I’ve also been dipping into the latest collection of comics from The Oatmeal, Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants. Though I’m a regular visitor to the website, it is pretty sweet to have these outings collected in one tidy volume, and this one doesn’t disappoint. A few topics seem to be easy if deserving targets (“7 Things You Really Don’t Need To Take A Photo Of,” “The Worst Thing About Valentine’s Day”). But I find at least one entry per sitting that either forces me to emit an embarrassingly loud cackle (“Five plus seven equals outer space!”) or provides very useful information in such a delightful package I want to be one of those people and email it out. I don’t, of course. Those emails are the worst.
Though I’ve been spending much of my time catching up on things from the past year, (finishing This Is How You Lose Her puts me a year behind everyone else), the newer items filling my time have been short-form zines. On one end of spectrum is Cometbus #55 Pen Pals, and like the vast majority of Aaron Cometbus’ work, it’s a freewheeling adventure about idealism, love, traveling, and how those things have bred him. Since Cometbus’ works are semi-autobiographical (he rarely acknowledges himself as a protagonist, though it’s often obvious), it remains relatable throughout while remaining as substantial as his meatier work. On the comics side, Jason Heller recommended As You Were in July’s Comics Panel, and this collection of stories and illustrations about house shows is an inviting, honest look at the culture of dingy basement venues. Instead of focusing on a specific scene, it functions as a scene-wide love letter that glows with ramshackle warmth. Also, after being given a copy of Keith J. Buzzard’s Big Smiles Everyone by the author-illustrator himself, it’s been hard to not revisit the short collection. Handpicked as some of the best comics to appear on his Tumblr, Buzzard makes four- to eight-panel stories that are fully formed, and his penchant for the absurd is what makes them shine. The comics’ focuses vary greatly (stick-figure portrayals make up the bulk of it, with a human-hating sun and Buzzard’s brain leading certain stories), and he creates a world of his own that works in this bite-sized format.
Laura M. Browning
I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for about a month now, which is an unusually long time for me, but if Wolf Hall is slow, it’s deliciously so. The story is well known—Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in Henry VIII’s court in the midst of the Protestant reformation in Europe, and Henry’s role in splintering England from the Roman Catholic Church. But Mantel isn’t just interested in reconstructing historical events; she re-creates the intimate toll those events take on the body: Cromwell’s body, beaten senseless by his father; his wife and children, some of whose sweaty, feverish bodies succumb to one of the plagues that sweeps London; Katherine Of Aragon, whose 24-year marriage was dissolved against her will; Anne Boleyn’s body, pregnant with new life and with the hope for a male heir. This extreme close-up of events makes for a compelling story that breathes life into well-worn historical figures, even if that story is measured in moments rather than the larger events that 16th-century England is usually known for (Divorce! Beheadings! Getting locked up in the Tower Of London!). Those moments accumulate into a familiar history, and, story aside, Mantel’s beautifully clotted prose stands as an achievement in its own right.