#FridayReads for 7/17

July 17, 2015 • Top Books

All That Is Solid Melts into Air

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Justin: About 50 pages into Everything That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Darragh McKeon’s bold and expansive debut novel, a young boy growing up in Belarus wakes up one morning to find the world subtly changed: “He opens his eyes and the sky floods his retinas, a sky of the deepest crimson. It looks as if the earth’s crust has been turned inside out, as if molten lava hangs weightless over his head.” Ten miles away, Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Power Plant has just experienced a catastrophic meltdown. Meltdowns, whether familial, national, or nuclear, form the hotly glowing heart of this ambitious novel. We witness the governmental response – alternatingly callous and incompetent – as well as singular acts of resistance or humanity from the doctors, dissidents, and displaced persons who populate the novel, suffusing a national tragedy with a strange kind of grace. In any novel with so ambitious a scope, the struggle is always in creating a panoramic view of history without completely sweeping aside the characters that are our entry into that history. On this score, McKeon acquits himself like a seasoned hand, finding those precious details and moments where the intimate and the historical intertwine.

Steven Universe

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Ashley: Steven Universe is a franchise I want everyone to enjoy so badly that my rantings and ravings about it probably achieve exactly the opposite effect. But listen! Do you enjoy emotionally complex, gender-queer and racially diverse characters? Do you want to have your faith in humanity restored by a young boy and his strange family who all have hearts of gold? Have you always wished you had a pink lion with a fabulous mane and magical powers to be your disobedient-yet-loyal pet? (You probably haven’t thought about this last one, but trust me, you want this.) Assuming you answered yes to at least two of these, look no further.

Created by Rebecca Sugar (of Adventure Time fame), Steven Universe is a Cartoon Network show-turned-comic that follows the adventures of the Crystal Gems (nice aliens with strange superpowers) as they protect Beach City from magical creatures and other Gems bent on colonizing the Earth. Steven Universe, our silly and boundlessly kind main protagonist, is half-human, half-Gem, after his full-Gem mother gave up her physical form to give birth to him. This is more than examination of the strengths and weaknesses of humans and Gems, though. It’s an exploration of love, romantic and otherwise, that pushes so many conventional boundaries. The comic is full of funny, touching stories that will give people new to the franchise a taste of what the show’s like. If you’re already addicted to the show and can’t get enough, read these comics to decompress after the latest StevenBomb.

Wolverine Origins Vol 5 – Deadpool

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Joey: In light of Fox’s big Marvel movie reveals at Comic Con, I’ve been reading a fan-favorite matchup: Deadpool vs Wolverine. The collection starts out just as ridiculous as you’d expect – a showdown between the Merc with a Mouth and the Canuck with adamantium that claws makes for a bloody good time. Deadpool takes a few breaks from spewing witty banter and vividly hallucinating to subject Wolverine to a series of explosions, falling pianos, and Bond-villain style death-traps. But the story takes a decidedly darker turn when Wolverine’s estranged son Daken shows up. Writer Daniel Way gives us glimpses of a hard childhood that bred contempt for his true father in Daken’s heart, and dredges up memories of Wolverine’s past lives in Japan and as a soldier in World War II.

I found the interplay between the art and story structure especially impressive throughout this collection. Way’s dialogue is snappy and clever, and he knows just how deep to dig into the psyches of his characters without the flashbacks becoming distracting. Steve Dillon illustrated the Deadpool section of the story – his work manages to be controlled and cartoony at the same time, perfectly matching the chaotic conflict between these two heroes. Exit Deadpool, and Stephen Segovia takes over artistic duties. His deep shadows and attention to detail are a much better fit for the horrors lurking in Wolverine’s past.

Field Notes From a Catastrophe

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Alex: As Elizabeth Kolbert notes in her preface, “This is a book about watching the world change.” Based off a series of pieces published in the New Yorker, this expansion is, indeed, composed of field notes: From Alaska to the Netherlands, and many places inbetween (“such is the impact of global warming,” she notes, “that I could have gone to hundreds if not thousands of other places … to document its effects”), her reporting examines the range of ways – both intuitive and surprising – that global warming has already made its imprint. It’s even more disconcerting to recognize that the situation was already this dire when the book was published in 2006; almost a decade later, I recognize one of Kolbert’s researcher’s warnings about the vicious cycle of permafrost melt from recent headlines, where the tone has graduated from ominous to urgent.

Kolbert’s hopes for this book included a wide readership, which is reflected not just in its cover – which looks as though it’d be well at home on the contemporary fiction shelf at a bookstore – but in its tone. Scientific nonfiction often struggles to find a balance between readability and oversimplification, but on this front Kolbert strikes an ideal balance, neither glossing over complicated methods of measuring global change nor losing the scientific dilettante along the way.