Taking the Pepsi Challenge (but substituting books for the Pepsi)

The 50 Book Challenge continues...

#4. Superman: The Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S! Maggin – For my money, Elliot S! Maggin is the best Superman writer of all time, and certainly the most imaginative. Even if one of his comic book stories wasn’t particularly good, it usually contained some endearingly mad genius idea or two to at least make it memorable; in short, he was the Grant Morrison of his day (or more appropriately, Morrison is the Maggin of today). So naturally, I was pretty excited at the prospect of reading a Superman prose novel by the man. Well, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but there were enough of those mad genius ideas to keep things interesting. The basic plot is pretty pedestrian – Superman is forced to team-up with Lex Luthor in order to fight a common foe – but said foe is an interstellar real-estate mogul who has stolen the lost documents of Albert Einstein in order to fulfill an eons-old prophecy of universal conquest. So it has that going for it, which is nice. Maggin also takes the opportunity to really crawl into all of these characters’ heads and see what really makes them tick, especially Luthor. In Maggin’s hands, Lex transforms from a one-note mad scientist into a really complex character, someone who views himself as the Man of Steel’s karmic opposite, the equal and opposite reaction to Superman’s every action. Superman may be named in the title, but Lex may ultimately be the main character.

You know what, forget what I said about this not living up to expectations. It was really good, and I look forward to eventually reading the sequel, Miracle Monday. Best of all, you can read both books (and another short story) for free here.

#5. Radio On: A Listener’s Diary by Sarah Vowell – For her first book, Vowell decided to listen to the radio for the whole of 1995 and keep a journal detailing what she heard and how it impacted her life. Guess what? Most radio really sucked in 1995 (if you were there, I’m sure you remember), it made Vowell kind of miserable, and she passed the misery onto us. I can only assume she knew her later books would actually be good, and there’d be people like me who’d read them in reverse order, so that by the time we got to this one, we’d already be fans and therefore wouldn’t give up on this slow crawl into ennui halfway through. She details – oh, does she ever detail – program after program, soundbite after soundbite, pausing often to complain about the mid-decade conservative talk radio boom (which, yeah, was pretty bad) and the majority of NPR programming (which is funny, considering how much of her later career is centered on NPR). And, since this is 1995 she’s talking about, she devotes much page space to the canonization of Kurt Cobain. Ugh. Sorry Sarah, I don’t care how talented he may have been, anyone who does so many drugs that he can no longer eat, kills himself and leaves behind a wife and child – even if that wife is Courtney Love – is a fucking loser. Hey man, nice shot.

Sorry, train of thought derailed. I have no patience for Cobain worship (The guy from Sublime who OD’ed? Also loathsome. Shannon Hoon from Blind Mellon, too.). Anyway, there is one affecting section dealing with her reactions to the Oklahoma City bombing (she was born in that neck of the woods, so it literally hit her close to home), but for the most part, there’s not much here worth your time. Read Take the Cannoli, The Partly Cloudy Patriot or Assassination Vacation instead. They’re excellent books by a true literary talent. This is just an art school student’s dull-as-dishwater side project.

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