The Photographer / Emmanuel Guibert

   You may recall my effusive post about The Initiates and how much I loved it, and now it has led me to this book and I love it even more as a result. The Photographer follows Didier Lefevre on a mission with MSF/DWB in Afghanistan in 1986. How much did I know about Afghanistan in 1986 before reading this book? NOTHING. And now I know a little and really, that's a step forward in my life.

   SO: Didier Lefevre was given an assignment by Medicins Sans Frontieres to photograph the work of some of their doctors, and very few of the photos were ever published. This book has reams of the photos accompanied by comics to carry the narrative. The combination is visceral and the story is by turns harsh and uplifting. I cried a bit. It took me quite awhile to read, just because there's so much going on and so much to look at and the subject matter is heavy. A large portion of the book deals with just getting to and from Afghanistan, and the amount of time and work it took to arrive at the assignment location. It's astounding. I'm at a bit of a loss to properly review this book. Just read it.

   I'm not sure how it happened, but the majority of my reading about the Middle East in the last couple of years has been in comic book form. This one is one of the better ones, and has made me move Joe Sacco's Palestine closer to the top of my to-be-read list. Also: I'm becoming more and more convinced that I need to pay more attention to French comics-writers/artists. Dem francophones, am I right. 

   I need more nonfiction comics in my life! Tell me what to read!



   SO, I have not been reading very much so far this month, mostly due to a habit of starting a zillion books at once, taken in conjunction with what I will call "life distractions". So my "currently-reading" list on Goodreads is six books deep but I have added a mere two books to my "read" list since June, and one of them was a comic and one was an audiobook. Ach.

   And so, a list of the books I am currently in the middle of:
  • Bad Feminist / Roxane Gay. I know, I know, how is it possible that I haven't read this yet, how is it possible that I didn't finish it in a maximum of three sittings. I myself am unsure, and have laid the blame directly on the copy I had being an ebook, my kobo dying, and the ebook expiring because it had to go back to the library. BUT I can confidently say that when it's my turn with this book again I will DEVOUR it and will probably read the essay on being friends with women at least eight times. 
  • Bleak House / Charles Dickens. So good, so damn long. I read this on my phone as my "wth why don't I have a book with me" book, so it's taking forever but that don't mean it ain't delightful. I've watched the BBC adaption of Bleak House a couple times and it has been helpful in keeping characters and events straight in my mind. Also: hands up if you love Gillian Anderson. 
  • Resurrection / Leo Tolstoy. I don't know what made Tolstoy want to write this book with such short chapters, but am I ever glad he did. I can read two or three chapters and feel very accomplished, even though they are rarely more than four pages long. My complaint about the Russians remains: why so many names for one person.
  • Cold Mountain / Charles Frazier. I have been slowly plodding through this book since December. IT'S JULY. 
  • The Photographer / Emmanuel Guibert. This is one of the books mentioned in The Initiates, and it is really, really, really good. Taking a strangely long time to read, for a comic book. It's about Didier Lefevre and the work he did as a photographer with MSF/DWB in Afghanistan in 1986. How much do I know about 1986 Afghanistan? Basically nothing. This has been eye-opening. 
  • South / Ernest Shackleton. I love Antarctic exploration. I was so thoroughly invested in this book (which I had from the library as an audiobook) that I had to take an anxiety-induced break when the Endurance started to be crushed by the ice and as a result didn't finish the book before the file expired but DON'T WORRY, I'll be back to it soon. If you haven't read this, read it. Even if you've read about the Endurance expedition before; it is a whole different ballgame hearing it in Shackleton and his men's own words. 
   Here's hoping that the rest of July will be a bit more productive, reading-wise. Play us out, Arnold.


The Lottery / Shirley Jackson

   I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and short spooky stories are just the ticket to help me kick it. Thank goodness that Jenny at Reading the End, is co-hosting a Shirley Jackson reading week to remind me of my love for Jackson's particular brand of the spooky scary. Somehow, I had not read The Lottery before, and set out to rectify that hole in my reading career.

   Have we all read The Lottery by now? I feel like I was the last person who hadn't read it and now I have so I reckon we're good for spoilers. If you haven't read The Lottery and don't know what happens, then I suggest you go read it. It'll take you barely any time at all.

   The Lottery, fortunately, is not my first rodeo. I've read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, both of which I LOVED and highly recommend, so I had a layer of preparation when it comes to Shirley Jackson's mastery of tension and foreboding. However, that doesn't keep her brand of writing from being any less subtly terrifying. Cue: my reaction when the boys started gathering rocks:

   Basically, reading this story was an exercise in me saying "oh no, that's going to be bad," and, "oh no, that definitely not good," and, "oh no, oh no, oh no," and, "oh NO that is NOT promising," and, "I KNEW THE ROCKS WERE A BAD SIGN." Shirley Jackson is the queen of making everything and anything sinister. A black box? SINISTER. Someone arriving to a town meeting late? SINISTER. There are families standing together? DIAL THE TENSION TO 11. Children laughing? HEAVEN HELP US.

   And now I could write about how The Lottery is a comment on how mundane evil can be, or on the psychology of crowds, or on the questionable ethics of doing something just because that's how it's always been done but really? I read this story because it's Shirley Jackson and it's perfectly spooky and I've never met a Shirley Jackson story that I didn't like.

how Shirley Jackson makes me feel (once the terror wears off)

   Now I have got to get my hands on a copy of The Sundial.


A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy / Sarah Lazarovic

   Sarah Lazarovic wants to remind you that it is okay to like your clothes, and to that I say, "thanks for the reminder, Sarah Lazarovic," because sometimes I feel guilty for liking my stuff. 'Cause it's just stuff, you know? Isn't liking it materialistic and shallow to like things? Shouldn't I be trying to attain a more ascetic lifestyle? Why is there so much stuff on the walls in my room? Why are there so many clothes in my closet? Why do I have so much stuff on my nightstand? Let's not even get started on the sheer number of blankets, pillows, and yes, stuffed animals on my bed. And I like all of these things! I'M A MONSTER.


   But no, Sarah Lazarovic is here to tell us that it is okay to like your stuff. She acknowledges that getting dressed is a viable outlet for creativity, a statement she accompanies with illustrations following her evolving fashion-sense from preteen to teen years, which reminded me of my own weird fashion sense when I was a pre/teen (there were a couple years where I refused to wear jeans and only wore black but was decidedly not goth, it was an odd time). She ALSO wants us to be mindful consumers, and to prioritize a kind of consumerism that builds community. Everybody loves building community. Something else I love: hierarchy of needs-esque graphs and Sarah Lazarovic includes one of those, how excellent:

    For a very short book full of illustrations, this little tome packs in a lot of insight. I handed it off to both of my sisters as well as my ma, and they all appreciated it. It makes me think I should probably read some Gretchen Rubin because a) I have never read any of her books, and b) my mom who is a smart and voracious reader really likes Gretchen Rubin. A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, summed up: it is okay to like your stuff, clothing is/can be creative, share stuff with your pals, remember that buying quality is almost always better than buying quantity, and maybe we should all avoid impulse internet shopping.


Mother's Day Buttress

   The trouble with rock climbers is that they understand up and they understand down but switchbacks are a foreign concept to them. So when the bottom of a climb is uphill from the parking spot, the path to it just goes straight up the hill. Just straight up, no switching back, just plodding up a hill in a nearly straight line, which is miserable. And the descent is not much better, because why would you make a path more walkable if it means deviating from walking straight down the steep hill? Talus and rubble on slab! Best for walking. (It is not).

   REGARDLESS, while parts of getting to and from the actual climb were sub-par the climb itself was quite enjoyable, the view was lovely, and it was an all around splendid day.  Plus part of the descent path meandered through some lovely forest at at the top of a cliff and it was all very nice despite all my complaining about climbers making paths.

   SO: a couple weeks ago my bro and I both had Friday off, and decided to climb Mother's Day Buttress in Banff National Park. It's an 8-pitch 5.6, with a couple alternate pitches to bump it up to a 5.7 or a 5.8. We opted for a 5.7 pitch, but shied away from a chossy, crumbly 5.8 corner. Here's a picture of it, which my bro took (we were still on the approach at this point):

thanks, bro

   We left the city at a little after 7:00, drove out to Banff, parked, got out of the car, started getting our gear in order, and said "oh hey, there's a bear," because there was a bear across the highway from us. BUT it was going the opposite way from our destination and was a black bear, so whatever. We make loud noise in the forest so that bears will stay away from us anyways. If it were a grizzly we would not have been so blase, but it was not. 
some topo for alla y'all

    At some point (I think in pitch 2? Maybe 3), I was a couple of moves up when I pulled a hold. It wasn't a big one, but I lost my balance a bit and almost fell, and although I was perfectly safe due to ropes, etc: I still had a "SIRI CALL MOM" moment. Limestone is notorious for loose rocks, and sometimes they come off of the mountain when you are in the process of putting your weight onto them. Yay? There's also sometimes parts of the limestone that sound hollow when smacked, which is disconcerting. BUT that ain't gonna keep us from climbing, yo.

hi, I love to climb

   On pitch 5 (I think? Hahaaaa, I was not keeping track) we went off-route which resulted in us making the climb seven pitches instead of eight, and needing to rely on a built anchor instead of one with bolts and chains, etc. Climbing on trad gear is sometimes a bit funny, because I'll be following my brother up the route, pulling his gear placements out, and sometimes they are thumbnail sized nuts or tiny cams (those links are so you can see what nuts and cams look like) and I'm all "hahahhaaa what in the world" because how is that going to keep me safe? But they are rated at between 2 and 14 kNs, so really there's nothing to worry about. And if you're worried, just don't fall. That's the key: don't fall and you'll be fine.

    The climb had all sorts of different climbing, which was great! One pitch would be all slab and the next one would be juggy and then there's be some good cracks in corners and it was all good. When we arrived at the top we exclaimed about the view, since it was indeed very lovely. Some panorama action for you:

I didn't even get Lake Minnewanka in this picture, it was SO PRETTY

hi, I'm at the top of a cliff, I love it

   Basically, the climb was fun and enjoyable and the lame parts of the approach/descent were an equitable exchange for the pleasant parts. One such part was when we arrived at the top of Cascade Falls, where the wind was blowing the water back up the falls, which was excellent because a) it was awesome to see, b) we got sprayed with cold water on a hella hot day, and c) I had a drink from the stream because I was out of water and we were up high and there weren't signs of goats and I live on the edge. All in all, a banner day.

smile real wide if you love climbing


Reading in June

   It's Canada Day! A day to celebrate the Our Home and Native Land, the True North Strong and Free! Even though I sometimes say, "what is your deal, Canada?" I do truly love this place where I live. I mean, come on, it's beautiful. Have you SEEN the Rockies? Here's to mountains and beavers and Canada geese and healthcare and saying "eh" and making fun of Americans without them realizing it. It is our way.

   800 miles of paved road! Truly, a monumental day. Rick Mercer is king of keeping a straight face. 

   Enough overt patriotism, let's get to the books. Here is what I read in June:
  •  Smoke Gets in your Eyes / Caitlin Doughty: when I finished reading this book I told my mom how I want to be buried, and thought about writing a will. Basically, a good, interesting, sometimes morbid read that inspired action. A+.
  • Saga, v. 3 / Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples: OMGOSH READ SAGA NOW, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
  • Y: The Last Man, v. 3 / Brian K. Vaughan, et al.: this story is more nuanced than I remember and I'm so glad. I'm waiting on volume 4 at the library.
  • The Secret Adversary / Agatha Christie: sometimes you just gotta re-read some Tommy and Tuppence to clear your heart and mind.
  • Ms. Marvel, v. 2 / G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona: still good, still totally on board with this.
  • Chew, v. 1-3 / John Layman, Rob Guillory: chicken as a controlled substance?! Yes.
  • Revival, v. 1 / Tim Seeley, Mike Norton: a zombie-ish story that's nothing like The Walking Dead! Yes please. 
  • Sandman, v. 1 / Neil Gaiman, et al.: the art is...distinctly of its time. But the story is engaging so far so I think I shall continue with it.
  • The Initiates / Etienne Davodeau: SO GOOD, READ THIS NOW.
  • Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool Killustrated / Cullen Bunn, Dalibor Talajic/Matteo Lolli: thoroughly underwhelming. A distinct lack of the kind of Deadpool hijinks I know and love which is weird considering these books feature Deadpool traveling through various universes to kill everyone from Captain Nemo to Tom Sawyer to all the Marvel heroes while being chased through space and time by Sherlock Holmes and a crack team that includes Mulan. THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DELIGHTFUL, but was boring instead.
  • Mind the Gap, v. 1 / Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo, Sonia Oback: yes, very good, volume two come to me soon.
  • Starship Troopers / Robert A. Heinlein: did you know that it is possible for science fiction to be more political than Dune? I didn't either! But it can! Robert A. Heinlein has OPINIONS and he means to SHARE THEM.
  • Perfume / Partick Suskind: bonkers, but in a good way. I tried to tell a friend of mine what this book was about and she said "you read weird books." Highly recommend.
  • Graceling / Kristin Cashore: firmly in the "meh" category with a side of "what the hell." Don't bother with this one. 
   SO MANY COMICS. I've been on a serious comics kick. If I had to recommend one book out of these, I'd have to say Saga all the way with a caveat for adult content.

   I've been pretty lax on the book-review front lately, who knows if that'll change much over the summer. I have rocks to climb and camping trips to go on and a river to float down. July is here and boy do I love summer. I am already sunburnt.

   ALSO, bonus recommendation: if you like podcasts and you like spooky things and you like storytelling then get Lore into your ear-hearts at your soonest opportunity. It is GREAT.