Posts Tagged ‘Rob C.’s Picks’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

September 16, 2014

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

I first experienced The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in high school, and I think I have not gone more than a week without thinking about that one particular line since then. I chose the word “experienced” rather than read because H2G2, as Neil Gaiman dubbed it, comes in many forms. It was initially a radio play for the BBC, then became a five volume trilogy of books (don’t try to make sense of this), a legendarily difficult computer game, a BBC miniseries and a feature film, among other incarnations. I first encountered the story as an audiobook read by the author, and among the many lines and ideas that have been swimming around in my brain like a Babel Fish ever since, this notion of the illusory nature of time is at the forefront.

It’s illustrative of the real genius of Douglas Adams, which is often found in the footnotes and at the margins, in his gift for amazing throwaway lines and casual asides that are simultaneously make the reader laugh and reconsider everything that they know about the nature of the universe. The story of H2G2 begins with ordinary Englishman Arthur Dent attempting to prevent his house from being demolished, continues with the destruction of the Earth, joining up with the two-headed galactic president as he absconds with a new spaceship and then arriving at an ancient planet where they discover the answer to life, the universe and everything. This is only the first book, mind you.

It’s an engaging and entertaining story, and the characters are instantly memorable and iconic. Besides the lovable everyman Arthur the reader gets to know and adore Ford Prefect, an alien who had been working undercover on Earth to compile the entry about earth for the titular intergalactic guidebook and encyclopedia, the aforementioned two headed president Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin, the depressed, paranoid android and the Vogons, a vile race of aliens known for their love of truly abysmal poetry, and that only scratches the surface of this staggering, multimedia comedic achievement. If you’ve never experienced H2G2, hang on to your towel and don’t panic. It’s mostly harmless.

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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

August 19, 2014

Marvel Comics: The Untold StoryFace front true believers! How did Marvel Comics go from being a small, struggling company in the early 1960s to a Hollywood mainstay and multibillion dollar business? How did Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a handful of other writers and artists, almost single-handedly create so many iconic characters, such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers? How did the company go from the dizzying highs of the comic book boom in the late 80s and early 90s to declaring bankruptcy a few years later, only to emerge as the biggest name in film making a few years after that, dominating the box office with hits like Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Sean Howe’s engaging, exhaustive and exhilarating Marvel Comics: The Untold Story traces the history of one of the most important and dominant pop culture institutions of the last 60 years.

Starting with the company’s humble beginnings, Howe traces both the creative history of Marvel, from their emergence in the “Silver Age” of superhero comics in the early 1960s and then follows a group of misfits, burnouts and geniuses as they engaged the drug counter culture with the “cosmic” comics of the late 60s and early 70s, and then responded to a more jaded society with the rise of vigilantes and anti-heroes like the Punisher and Wolverine in the mid-70s and the 1980s. At the same time, the book also chronicles the business side of the comics industry, a history of boom and bust, and a seemingly never ending battle between the artists and the executives over who owns the artists’ work, intellectual property, and even the physical drawings created for the comic books. This divide is most memorably portrayed in the heart-breaking split between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a creative partnership on par with Lennon and McCartney or Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese that deteriorated into bitterness, threats of violence and years of lawsuits.

Filled with amazing characters (both real and fictional) and unforgettable personalities, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is great, regardless of if you’re an experienced comic reader, a fan of the movies, or simply interested in a fascinating story told well. Excelsior!

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Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

August 12, 2014

Don QuixoteDon Quixote, much like Moby Dick or Gulliver’s Travels, is such a familiar part of the canon, that it often seems unnecessary to actually read it. Most educated or culturally aware adults know about tilting at windmills, and the image of the ragged knight with his trusted Sancho Panza by his side, dreaming that impossible dream, so much so that it seems almost superfluous to tackle this large, old book. When they do, they might discover that this book is far stranger, more surprising and ultimately more transformative than all but a handful of works of art ever created.

Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in two volumes. Most of the famous moments come in volume one, published in 1605, the story of an old man, intoxicated by the popular picaresque books about knights and chivalry, renames himself Don Quixote, and sets off on his mount, Rocinante and alongside his squire, Sancho Panza, to prove himself worthy of his love, Dulcinea (actually a neighboring peasant girl). The second volume came 10 years later, and was Cervantes’ response to the popularity of an unauthorized sequel written by a different author. Where the first part is more light hearted and satirical, part two becomes more serious and philosophical, as a deceived Don Quixote grapples with his sanity and the nature of reality.

Don Quixote was among the first European novels, and it remains one of the most central works of the Western Canon. Shakespeare supposedly adapted a section of the novel into his lost play, Cardenio. Authors such as Kafka and Borges reimagined and reinterpreted the adventures of the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance and his squire. Artists such as Gustave Dore and Pablo Picasso have created visual representations of the book, and both Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam famously struggled for years to create a filmed adaptation (appropriately enough, both attempts could be seen as the very definition of quixotic).

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