Saturday, August 30, 2008

Three Minor Books I Just Read

On the one hand, none of these three books really warrant a full-length post. On the other, I've caught up on nearly everything (except the movie The Wife and I saw last night), so there's no other posts I'm working on for today. So here are three minor books I just read, all stuffed together because they were the easy little books from my last book-shopping trip and because they all have extensive art.

First was Scouts in Bondage and Other Violations of Literary Propriety, edited by Michael Bell. This started as a display in the front window of Bell's store, the Cadburn Bookshop of Lewes in the UK. It then turned into a book by the smallish British outfit Aurum Press, was something of a success there, and eventually made its way to this side of the pond for an October 2007 release from Simon & Schuster.

Scouts in Bondage collects photographs of the covers of old books that are now funny, for various reasons -- some deeply British (such as the Spanish travel book Tossa), many prurient (like The Day Amanda Came), some merely odd (Book of Blank Maps, With Instructions), and some where I can't discern where the humor is supposed to be (as with Cookery for the Middle Classes and How to Speak Japanese Correctly).

It's a short book -- ninety-six pages -- and it contains probably about fifty covers. It takes about half an hour to read, if one takes a lot of time examining each cover and laughing heartily. I expect it's mostly sold as a gag gift; it's hard to justify spending money on something this frivolous for oneself. (Although I did.)

I also note that the font used in this book has a truly massive number of obvious ligatures -- the usual ct and st and th, but also is and et and as and at. Especially in its italic form -- as used in displaying titles -- this is a very, very scripty font, and I'm surprised that a book with such an attention-ctching font doesn't have a colophon to explain what that font is.

Next was The Dangerous Alphabet, the third picture book written by Neil Gaiman and the first of his not to be illustrated by Dave McKean. (The previous, Gaiman/McKean, books were The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls.) This one is illustrated by someone billed as Gris Grimly, which smells an awful lot like a pseudonym to me.

Dangerous Alphabet is a shorter and simpler book than Gaiman's previous books for kids; it's appropriate for most ages, though really little kids -- the usual audience for an alphabet book, actually -- probably won't enjoy it. It is an alphabet book, organized into thirteen rhyming couplets that almost follow the usual alphabetical order.

A boy, a girl, and a gazelle set off for no obvious reason, run into trouble, and eventually escape -- that's the plot. Gaiman has some good wordplay in the middle, but it feels like a previously existing piece of poetry that was repurposed as the text for a children's book; the pictures play off the words, but not vice versa.

Grimly's art is grotesquely detailed, and fits precisely with his nom de plume. The book as a whole is just adequate, though, since the art and text don't actually have all that much to do with each other. For fans of Gaiman's previous picture books, this is a disappointment.

Last was the new Pearls Before Swine treasury collection by Stephan Pastis, The Crass Menagerie. It contains what seem to be all of the strips from 1/24/05 to 8/6/06, which also were collected (without color on the Sunday strips) in the smaller collections Da Brudderhood of Zeeba Zeeba Eata and The Sopratos.

All of the PBF treasury collections so far have commentary and notes from Pastis on at least some of the strips, which is a feature I really enjoy. (There's still the same number of strips per page -- three dailies or one Sunday -- which means it's purely added content. That appeals to all of us, doesn't it?)

And the strip itself is what it is -- it's still young and energetic enough to be changing a bit, having new characters and new situations coming in and out of it, and I'm still enjoying it. (There are older, more ossified strips that I still enjoy in the paper -- like Dilbert -- but that I've stopped buying the books.) This book sees the introduction of both the Guard Duck and the little Vikings, and the introduction and death (at least for now) of the killer whale. It's a pretty dark comic strip, yes, but life isn't all Family Circus, is it?

1 comment:

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