What I’m Reading: Vol. II
I’ve got a question for you: When’s the last time you read a book? One you weren’t explicitly assigned to read. Not for class. For fun. I’m willing to wager it’s been a while. Instead of binging The Office for the fourteenth time in a row, hit the library and open one of these page-turners. Don’t be scared—each pick is inspired by a streaming favorite, so you’ll be in familiar territory.
The Boy Detective Fails
Recommended if you like: The Umbrella Academy
Billy Argo, a boy detective in the vein of Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys, loses his childhood innocence when his sister (and fellow crime solver), Caroline, commits suicide. A decade later, a 30-year-old Billy leaves Shady Glens Facility for Mental Incompetence, but finds himself in a world of the surreal; one with vanishing buildings, headless animals, and down-on-their-luck villains. Billy’s got a wholly different set of mysteries to unravel as an adult: his shitty job, the prospect of romance, and the lingering specter of his sister’s death. Bizarre, funny, and charming, The Boy Detective Fails will rope you into its world of the unexpected and keep you on your toes.
Recommended if you like: Sharp Objects
Suzette Jensen, suffering from chronic illness, risks her life to give birth to her daughter, Hanna. At first, life seems rosy—she’s raising a girl with her husband, Alex, and nothing could be better. Suzette’s determined to give her daughter the life she never had, having been estranged from her own mother for years. However, motherhood is more daunting than she dreamed. Seven years later, young Hanna has never uttered a word. She acts out at school and rebels against her parents regularly, growing more and more aggressive day by day. Hanna loves her father, but loathes her mother. With her dad, she is this perfect child and a completely different person. Over time, Hanna’s hatred for her mother takes a darker turn, threatening not just Suzette’s marriage, but possibly even her life.
Recommended if you like: Santa Clarita Diet
Jody didn’t particularly want to be a vampire, but life never goes as planned. After a vampire attack, she wakes up under a dumpster and finds herself craving blood. (It’s bad enough that she’s still single, and now the fangs for sure won’t help.) She gets help navigating her new nocturnal lifestyle from Tommy Flood, an aspiring writer and Safeway manager (not to mention an expert turkey bowler). As Tommy handles Jody’s day-to-day errands while she conks out during the day, a romance begins to bloom. Things get complicated, however, when a series of deaths hits the city—the culprit may be the ghoul who turned Jody. To crack the case, the pair recruits a squadron of Safeway clerks and “The Emperor,” a mysterious vagrant and dog savant. If you get thirsty for more, it’s the first of a trilogy, which ought to satiate that bloodlust.
Not Quite White
Recommended if you like: Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
In 1982, Sharmila Sen came to America at the age of twelve, and faced a life-changing question during immigration: What’s her race? Back in her homeland of India, she never truly identified with any one ethnicity, but categorical bureaucracy and division thrust uncertainty upon her. She’s not quite White, not quite Black, and not quite Asian—she’s just Sharmila. Growing up, she does her best to adapt and assimilate to American “Whiteness,” digging into sitcoms and perfecting the no-bake Jell-O recipe. Yet, after a life of trying to fit a square peg into a white hole, her identity remains unclear. What does it mean to be White in America? What does it mean to be a person of color? Also, where does she place herself? Wrestling with race and self-identity, Not Quite White is a memoir that’s sharp, witty, and above all thoughtful.
Recommended if you like: Doom Patrol (duh.)
Though the eclectic heroes of the Doom Patrol have been around since 1963, it’s Grant Morrison’s run from the late ‘80s where things got really strange. Book One sees the series shift from by the book superheroes to mind-bending metafiction, leaving behind the typical in favor of the wild and weird. (The series would eventually shift to DC’s Vertigo imprint where the more mature, capeless comics live.) Doom Patrol‘s mainstay Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, wrestles with his humanity (or lack thereof); Larry Trainor merges with his doctor to become the alchemical, non-binary Rebis; and Crazy Jane, armed with 64 personalities and 64 superpowers, makes her debut. You’ll meet Danny the Street, a sentient city block/drag queen; Mister Nobody, a living Picasso painting who leads the Brotherhood of Dada; and Red Jack, who may or may not be God (and Jack the Ripper). A comic’s classic and a total mindfuck, Doom Patrol will change your perceptions of what goes on in the world of the cape and cowl set. If you’re curious where the DC Universe series got its wildest ideas, look no further.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Recommended if you like: Game of Thrones
Imaginative and engaging, Black Leopard, Red Wolf draws on African mythology to weave a fantasy tale of intrigue and warfare. A skilled hunter, the man known as Tracker, is hired to find a missing boy; it’s been a cold case for three years. Typically a loner, he begrudgingly joins a group dedicated to the same task: a shapeshifter, a mercenary, a witch, and many more. As days become years, Tracker’s manhunt weaves in and out of the politics and skirmishes of two warring kingdoms, the North and the South. As the mystery builds, Tracker’s left with more and more questions. Just who is this boy? Why is he so important? Who can truly be trusted?
I Killed Optimus Prime
Recommended if you like: The Toys That Made Us
Ron Friedman is the biggest writer you’ve never heard of. One of the hardest working writers in television (he wrote literally hundreds of pilots and created Bewitched‘s Uncle Arthur), Friedman has been active for decades and touched more series than any writer in Hollywood. He’s most infamous, however, for the 1986 Transformers animated movie where he straight up murdered Optimus Prime, shattering childhoods nationwide. Friedman writes more than a memoir, detailing not just his life story, but the history of Hollywood itself—not to mention, the fallout from killing off your favorite robot. He’s boisterous with a huge personality, and he’s a one-man quip machine with the balls to back it up. For anyone who wants to look at the behind-the-scenes of some of television’s most iconic comedies and cartoons, it’s a must read. (Full disclosure: Friedman was one of my teachers at Chapman University, and I can assure you that he’s just as large in real life.)
The Shining Girls
Recommended if you like: Castle Rock
Starting in Chicago during the Great Depression, The Shining Girls begins with drifter Harper Curtis who discovers a key that opens doorways throughout time. However, there’s a catch. He must kill “shining girls,” who are important young women brimming with immense potential. Hopping from decade to decade, Harper starts a killing spree, but when one of his victims escapes death, Harper finds himself being hunted instead. The Shining Girls presents a gripping, thrilling story that subverts the traditional serial killer narrative. Harper’s no charmer, but rather a sinister opportunist, and turns the predator/prey relationship on its head. It’s dark, smart, and intense.