Book Break: Two Very Different Books

As part of my ongoing research into the novel I hope to write this year, I’m looking at a wide range of books and movies — including two very different books I recently finished.

The first is a graphic novel by Frank Miller (of Sin City and 300 fame) called Ronin, about a masterless samurai reincarnated and finding his purpose in a grim, post-apocalyptic future. Because I have a fascination with ancient codes colliding with the modern world, and because I am specifically interested in samurai-themed comics and artwork with regard to my fiction writing, I checked it out from the local library on a hunch.

I’m never been a comics reader, and found it to be a very engaging story, once you get the feel for “reading it” — especially learning to pick up visual cues that convey the order of panels and images, which isn’t always left to right. These visual cues enable Miller to occasionally use visually arresting images that are full-page, full-spread, or shaped or cropped in unusual ways to convey more clearly (or more chaotically) what is happening.

It is not a book for younger readers; though not as bad as I expected from the cinema adaptations of Sin City and 300, it contains some nudity, sexuality (though not explicit), strong and racist language, and lots of violence.

On the contrary…

Yesterday I started and finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret — a wonderful, award-winning novel for young readers that was unlike any book I’ve ever seen. I’d asked a high-school friend who now teaches English and is particularly interested in graphic novels if he knew of any really well-done novels written in a combination of styles, with drawings conveying scenes or sections, interspersed with pages of prose, and he recommended this one as the only such book he knows. It is intimidatingly thick, but reads very quickly, and the story–about a secretive orphan who lives in the walls and crawlspaces of the Paris train station in the 1930s and keeps the clocks repaired, was utterly unique to me and completely unexpected. Even a second-grader with a decent vocabulary could probably handle it, but I suspect it would be a wonderful to read aloud as a family in the evenings, provided everyone could see the pictures. It was a delight, and I’m excited to learn that the author, Brian Selznick, has another novel out as well!

Also on my novel research stack: non-fiction books The Gangs of New York (from which the movie takes its title), Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster (which has the best title ever), and Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal (which tells the true story upon which the movie The Departed was based, nevermind that was also a remake (in some instances, shot-for-shot) of a Hong Kong crime drama with the cheezy English title Infernal Affairs. I’ve seen both, and liked both for different reasons.). Finally, we just watched Angels With Dirty Faces starring James Cagney the other night. Check it out if you can.

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