By which I mean, crass commercialism and holiday insanity (pagan cup of Christmas-hating Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee anyone?) are in full bloom, making life, shopping, and social media things to be, if not feared, at least avoided.
And, seeing as I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been trying to divest myself of the endless cartons of stuff I’ve accumulated and have been schlepping around with me for almost fifty years, the thought that this time of year could bring new stuff to replace it is sort of disturbing. (My need to shed that useless tonnage of paper et al found voice, albeit in the extreme, in a short story “Unburdened,” found here.)
But never let it be said I was a holiday…I’m sorry, Christmas (‘cause I don’t want to be accused of waging a war against Christmas in this, a nation that’s about 85% Christian) buzzkill, and, c’mon, seriously, who doesn’t like getting presents? Especially books.
So, in that spirit, and ‘cause that’s the theme of these holiday season posts, here are some books I think readers who have enjoyed my work (which you can check out here…y’know, just to refresh your memory…but, hey, come to think of it, any of ’em would make fine holiday gifts in their own right!) might be pleased to find under their trees, menorahs, or kwanzaa candles:
I love a mystery, especially the classics of the genre. I can’t recommend highly enough any or all of the works of James M. Cain, author of such classics as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce (although the last, a fine novel in its own right, was turned into a murder mystery by the studio when it was filmed in 1945 starring Joan Crawford). A great introduction to this masterful writer can be had for about $20.00, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and Selected Stories (Everyman’s Library Classic, 2003).
Another favorite is Rex Stout, author of thirty-three novels and forty novellas starring that rotund epicurean detective, Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin. Beautifully written, meticulously plotted, and often hilariously charactered, the Wolfe novels hold up even eighty years after they first began to appear. Get a great big serving of Wolfe and Goodwin in Seven Complete Nero Wolfe Novels (The Silent Speaker / Might as Well Be Dead / If Death Ever Slept / Three at Wolfe’s Door / Gambit / Please Pass the Guilt / A Family Affair), or try them out one at a time, beginning with 1934’s Fer-de-Lance.
When it comes to the comic book side of me, there’s a veritable stack of tomes that I’d like to unwrap on any one of the eight days of Chanukah. Most recently published as I write this is my old friend Paul Levitz’s Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel, a biography that focuses on The Spirit creator’s contributions to the birth and popularity of the graphic novel form and his impact on creators like Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman, Scott McCloud, Denis Kitchen, Neil Gaiman, and others. And while you’re looking, you might also want to check out Paul’s, 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking (Taschen America, 2010), a massive 720-page coffee table book (actually, buy some table legs at the hardware and you can make into a coffee table!). Or, if you can’t handle wrestling this 16.9 pound behemoth (let’s talk “weighty tomes,” wot?), Taschen has also broken 75 Years up into several smaller books, including The Golden Age of DC Comics, The Silver Age of DC Comics, and The Bronze Age of DC Comics.
TwoMorrows has been publishing the American Comic Book Chronicles for a couple of years now, breaking down the history of the art form decade by decade. The first I read was John Wells’ two-volume American Comic Book Chronicles: 1960-1964 and American Comic Book Chronicles: 1965-1969, an exhaustive look at my comic book decade. John’s also a pal (he supplied the introduction to my The Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg…a book worth having for John’s fine intro alone!), but he’s also one of the most knowledgeable and readable comic historians working today.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point you towards the American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s, written by Jason Sacks. Jason knows the comics of the 1970s like the back of his hand and takes us all on an enjoyable look at one of the industry’s most explosive decades.
But if its comics history you want, the absolute greatest book on the subject ever published is, in my not so humble opinion, Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes: The Origins and Early Adventures of the Classic Super-Heroes of the Comic Book (The Dial Press, 1965). It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of this one 189-page hardcover, which consisted mostly of reprints of 1940s comic book stories surrounded by Feiffer’s brilliant essays on growing up with and entering the nascent field during the 40s, considered among the very first critical analysis of the form. Those reprints (at a time when such stories were never reprinted and the internet was still about thirty years in the future) and Feiffer’s personal creative journey through the four color fields awakened the creative instincts and inspired an entire generation of wannabe creators to pursue comics as a career. Between me and a couple of friends, we had it on almost continuous loan from the Utica Avenue branch of the New York Public Library for about two years until we could afford copies of our own. The Great Comic Book Heroes is long out of print, but I still have my original mid-1960s copy as well as a paperback reprint of just the Feiffer essays published by Fantagraphic Books in 2003.
Read on, people! And Happy Whatever!