Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Connect the books - from Mary Robinette Kowal to Viet Thanh Nguyen to Dav Pilkey to Darryl DMC McDaniels

One of the interesting games I play in my head is something that can be called "Connect the books." You look at any two books you read in a row and try to figure out how the two books are connected. Now of course this can sometimes be done on purpose, of course, but it's more interesting when you have no idea what the connections are beforehand.

For example, recently I read the new book from Mary Robinette Kowal. Ghost Talkers, the first in a new series. Kowal continues to smash genre. Her previous novel blended fantasy and Jane Austen style regency, while her newest is set in World War one, and is part fantasy, part historical mystery. The setup is that the attempt to discredit spiritualism by Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle was a ruse, to throw off the continent from investigating spiritualism further. In fact, the British have been secretly using mediums to contact dead soldiers in battle, using them as spies. Ginger Stuyversant, one of the mediums who contacts the dead in barracks, has a disturbing visit when a soldier who reports in after having been murdered in Allied Powers territory. It turns out there's a traitor in the Spirit Corps.

After reading the book, I decided that while fantasy tends to trump mystery in genre shelving, the book would be appealing to readers of authors like Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs, so I offered a copy to Anne, to see what she thought. She's already started it and while she noted it was kind of offbeat, she's still reading it.

So one of the things I should note about Ghost Talkers is that Ginger talks to her fiance Ben, a intelligence soldier, using a book cipher. And since the next book I picked up was Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, and that's also a book about spies, I should have not been surprised that those characters also used a book cypher. And it's also a book that was hardly positioned as genre, that nevertheless won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I'll be writing more about Nguyen's first novel when I do my book club writeup post.

From there, I should have started Perfume River (pub date 9/6, preorder here), by Robert Olen Butler. After all, we're hosting Mr. Butler at Boswell on October 4, 7 pm, with Mr. Butler now in conversation with Cardinal Stritch University's David Riordan. Mr. Butler has stood out as one of the few prominent writers to try to see the Vietnam war through Vietnamese eyes in A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. In addition, Perfume River and The Sympathizer have the same editor, Peter Blackstock.

But alas, it was not to be and instead, I read Dog Man (on sale 8/30, preorder here), the new comic book (I feel funny calling it a graphic novel) from Dav Pilkey (who is also coming to Milwaukee, a Boswell cosponsored event with Greenfield Public Library and the Greenfield schools at the Greenfield Performing Arts Center on Monday, October 24, 6:30 pm), and I would say the two books have very little except that they are both crime novels. Dog Man is one of the comics created by George and Harold, the two boys who also created Captain Underpants. He's half man, half dog, and he's fighting with Petey the criminal cat, as well as Evil Mayor. I am sure there are more villains afoot too. It's hard to say who the villains are in The Sympathizer, so that's something they don't have in common.

From there, I read Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide, by Darryl DMC McDaniels, one of the three original members of the legendary rap group, Run-D.M.C. He talks about his bouts with depression, and how he's dealt with the blows. There's an earlier memoir called King of Rock, that's now out of print, focuses more on the music. But the new book doesn't really focus on the highs so much as the lows, such as how DMC and Run quickly became estranged after finding success, and how Jam Master Jay, who had DMC's back, died in 2002, murdered in his own Queens studio.

Now what the heck does this have to do with Dav Pilkey? It turns out that like George and Harold, Darryl was a complete comic book nerd growing up. He was obsessed with the Marvel Heroes, but was also okay with Batman. And he sold his comic book collection to raise money for turntables, only his older brother Alfred got possession of them and wouldn't let him use them. You might not know Alfred's hip hop successes, as he went to work for Con Edison. But then McDaniels started his own comic book, Yes, DMC also stands for "Darryl Makes Comics." Here's a link to their website.

Darryl DMC McDaniels will be speaking at Boswell on Saturday, August 27, 7 pm for Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide. The event is free - signing restrictions may apply.

Now I'm starting Nicholas Petrie's next novel, Burning Bright, coming next January. I'm wondering how it might connect to McDaniels' memoir. I already know it doesn't take place in Queens.

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