I just read: Dissolving Classroom

I’m a big fan of two of the Junji Ito’s other two horror comics, Uzumaki and Gyo. So I was excited to try his latest manga.

Ito has a very distinctive style. His ideas feel like they were written by a demented 7th-grader, but that helps him maintain a sort of allegorical mood—and his stories always feel claustrophobic in their dream-time logic. His pen-work can be alternately beautifully dainty and creepily off-kilter, and that also fits the day-dream-to-fever-dream his tone.

Dissolving Classroom is a collection of stories that follow a strangely polite young man, Yuuma, and his gonzo little sister, Chizumi. Both are unique characters, and their both up to some sinister stuff. But I have to say that I found Yuuma much more interesting. He’s a sort of diabolical version of toxic friend. He’s very well-mannered—almost subservient at times—but beneath that bland exterior lurks an ardent devil-worshipper. Literally. Yuuma kills small animals to lure the devil to him. He keeps in constant mental contact with the devil, and those bad vibes he shares can rot away at his new friends, dissolving their brains and their bodies. He’s like a walking Fukushima, and he’s in a continuous state of demonic meltdown.

It’s not entirely clear whether or not Yuuma enjoys the effect that he has on people. He is constantly apologizing for the harm he has done—and will do—but it soon becomes clear that Yuuma’s apologies are his most common M.O. for melting people down. If Yuuma falls to his knees and starts repeating, “I’m sorry… I’m sooo sorry…” you need to run away from him immediately. Early on, it’s revealed that he’s not actually apologizing to the people around him, he’s apologizing to the devil. And those direct transmissions to Hell interact with the human body in the same way a microwave oven reacts with a popsicle.

The concept doesn’t 100% make sense to me. Why is Yuuma apologizing to the devil? Yuuma’s helping to sow death and destruction, and it becomes clear that the devil likes this. But as I mentioned, this is where dream-logic kicks in, and on some gut-level I really synced with this idea of there being something sinister about apologies.

I definitely fall in the camp of people who might say, “Don’t say you’re sorry, do something to prove it.” And of course, no one likes groveling. But Ito shows effusive apologizing to be a passive-aggressive act of self-gratification. Like I said, this idea really struck me as ‘true’ on a gut level. Maybe I needed a Japanese writer to help me grasp this idea—like how the German language helped us define a concept like Schadenfreude, which most Americans had never really thought about before, but innately realized was a real thing.

Anyhoo… The ‘Dissolving’ concept is definitely not a one-trick-pony. With each story, Ito finds new ways to draw out drama—and creeps—from stiff Yuuma and wild Chizumi. The final story is not as disturbing, but it wraps up the saga in a perfect way that left me feeling surprised but also thinking, ‘I should have seen that coming!’

If you’re a manga fan or a horror fan, I’d say check this out!

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My top ten beach reads

The sign of a true nerd: He or she doesn’t remember a beach trip based on bitchin’ waves or a hot summer fling. Nerds get nostalgic over beach reads.

Here are the top ten favorite books I’ve read at the beach (in no particular order).

The Scar by China MievilleThe Scar by China Mieville
This was my first—and still my favorite—Mieville novel. The Scar is an autonomous novel set in the ‘New Crobuzon’ universe. Actually, it takes place on a floating city of ships connected together into Venetian-style neighborhoods. The book is teeming with Mieville’s typically brain-bending fantasy, and his eye-crossingly dense (and fascinating) prose. But don’t let bulk of the craft discourage you. At its heart, The Scar, is a rollicking-good adventure yarn. Kick off your flip-flops and prepare to have your buckles swashed!

The Perfect StormThe Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Some people might say that this book isn’t conducive to beach reading, what with its painstaking and painful recreations of what it’s like to drown. I say it’s never a bad time to dust off this classic narrative nonfiction account of a fishing vessel that, in 1991, disappeared in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime convergence of lethal storms.

Gyo_volume_1Gyo by Junji Ito
Or, as it’s subtitled: ‘The Death-Stench Creeps.’ Okay, at this point you’re probably questioning my taste in beach books. This Japanese comic is told from the POV of a boy who finds out his girlfriend is haunted by a horrible fishy odor. (Umm. Whuh?) That’s pretty creepy in and of itself, but then her island home is overrun by chimeric sea-creature zombies.

Ito writes weird, truly disturbing, stuff, and illustrates it beautiful. If you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and Google one of his other classic series, the Uzumaki Manga.

Gyo Shark

91icZ9KND7L._SL1500_We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
A young-adult book that I read recently on a trip to Jekyll Island. It follows the teen progeny of a wealth New England family who own a private island estate. A very clean, lyrical writing style that builds to a surprising and haunting end.

Killer EliteKiller Elite by Ranulph Fiennes
Here’s me when I read this book: “Whoa! I can’t believe this stuff really happened!” Well, it seems that this novel, ‘based on true events,’ is too good to be true. The story is sparked by a modern Arab royal who is pressured into fulfilling an ancient tradition of vengeance on the specific British soldiers who may or may not have killed his sons during a military engagement. He reluctantly hires an all-star team of hitmen, who carry out the vendetta to vary degrees of success. Their final target was is the author himself. (Umm. Double Whuh?) Their appears to be a mire of controversy surrounding this book, and I had a difficult time parsing through all of it. It seems that most of the assassins’ targets are real British veterans who died of seemingly accidental ways, and the many Britons are upset that Fiennes would conjecture that foul play was involved.

hornsHorns by Joe Hill
Maybe my favorite straight-up horror read (of the last few years anyway). Ig is wholeheartedly devoted to his girlfriend. He’s devastated when she’s killed, and more devastated when most people in his hometown (including his own parents) believe he is the murderer. Ig’s despair turns blasphemous, and he finds himself cursed with horns growing out of his forehead—and strangely blessed with inhibition-negating superpowers which might help him find the true killer. Joe Hill covers a lot of ground, flipping between time-frames and POVs including a switch from the bedeviled protagonist to a whole section of the book that follows a creepily realistic (and narcissistic) villain.

817OxAm5WrL._SL1500_Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden
Like The Perfect Storm, this is another famously riveting example of narrative nonfiction. Bowden ‘un-splinters’ the stories of dozens of U.S. Army Rangers caught in a chaotic firefight that covers a full day and a few city blocks in the Somalian port city of Mogadishu. You’ll often have to refer to the index of names at the end of this book, but cross-referencing has never been so exhilarating.

 

512pvHV6z9LA Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
What nerdy book-list would be complete without a little George R.R. Martin? This was the second book in the epic series, featuring the Battle of the Blackwater, which was a scene I read while in watching container ships pass by in Hilton Head.

 

 

51bD1E1t-DLSpin by Robert Charles Wilson
A sci-fi story that is uniquely character-driven and earthbound. Our planet is trapped in a gigantic bubble, glued in time, while the rest of the universe whizzes by, millions of years per day. This book, written in 2010, finds some fascinating ways to play with the passage of time. One of the most serious dilemmas facing the young main characters: At this rate, the sun will die of old age before they do.

 

81hdZB3eJ9L._SL1500_Beach edited by Gideon Bosker and Lena Lencek
A collection of stories about (you guessed it) beaches. There are some great classics in here: Salinger, John Cheever, J.G. Ballard, Rachel Carson, John Updike, and John Steinbeck. If you’re a fan of short stories, or the Golden Age of ‘Modern’ literature (1930-1970), you can’t go wrong with this one.