Quickies: Shortcomings & Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Book cover: Shortcomings by Adrian TomineShortcomings by Adrian Tomine

Publisher/Year: Drawn and Quarterly, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 104
Source: Library

What it is: A graphic novel that explores the sticky issues of cultural identity. Ben Tanaka is a 30-year-old Japanese American who runs a movie house in Berkeley. His longtime girlfriend is Miko, who is also a Japanese American but embraces her culture way more than Ben does. Ben is a sarcastic pessimist who generally tends to “think white,” and all of this has driven a wedge in his relationship with Miko. Their relationship is left on shaky ground when Miko leaves for an extended period to New York, and Ben’s world is further thrown into a tailspin when his only friend, Alice, moves to New York as well.

Why I read to it: The book has been recommended in tons of places.

What I thought: It was my first Tomine encounter, and I immediately went and requested another of his books from the library. The black and white drawings are understated but powerful; there are moments in the book where the panels don’t have any dialogue, but the pictures speak volumes. (To get an idea: you know that recent Hurricane Sandy New Yorker cover? Tomine drew it). The book is split into three “chapters” that explore various — often uncomfortable — aspects of the role race plays in Ben’s romantic interests. As a whole the book is realistic and brutally honest, but it’s not without its humor. I loved it.


Book cover: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben FountainBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Publisher/Year: Harper Audio, 2012
Format: Audiobook
Length: 11 hours, 39 minutes
Narrated by: Oliver Wyman
Source: Library, though I also received a printed ARC from the publisher

What it is: When Fox News films the Bravo Squad in action, bravely fighting Iraqi insurgents, the eight survivors become overnight heroes. Suddenly they’re a hot commodity: a film might be made about them, people stop them wherever they go, and they’re the guests of honor at the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game, where they’re scheduled to make a special appearance with Destiny’s Child. Flashbacks aside, the events of the book all take place on that one day, told through the conflicted point of view of 19-year-old Specialist William Lynn.

Why I read it: The book had steadily built momentum through word of mouth. Then it was nominated for a National Book Award.

What I thought: This book has sat on my shelf pretty much all year, and I went back and forth on it — even with all the buzz — because contemporary war novels don’t really call out to me. Fountain ups the irony and dark humor to portray the circus-like theatrics of it all: the heroes (anti-heroes?) of the story get consumed by the military propaganda, media frenzy, and football madness of it all. It’s a story about a group of soldiers, yes, but the more important thing is the story it reflects about society. It’s not a bad book and I can see why people love it, but it’s not really my thing. I definitely recommend going the print route rather than the audiobook route, though.

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3 comments

  1. Nadia

    The Tomine book sounds amazing! I’ve seen mentioned before, but never really thought about it. I’m glad you posted about it – reminds me that I really do need to look it up. Thanks!

  2. txpatriot

    You should post your review to Amazon. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive, but some of the negative reviews, while much fewer in number, are lengthy and well thought-out.

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