Friday, May 01, 2009

Read in April

I got to settle back down this month, after the storm of Eisner reading that ended March, and just read things because I wanted to. But Eisner reading had sent me off into some interesting tangents, and I was still thrilled with the potentials of inter-library loan (I ask for a book online, and they find it and send it to my library! and then I can read it for free!), so a lot of this stuff has already left my house.

Though, given the many full bookshelves I already have, that's no bad thing.

This month I'm also getting rid of the trackless waste of Amazon boxes at the bottom -- they took too long to load, and I don't think anyone ever actually clicked on them. I've instead put little, less-intrusive links right next to the books -- anything that says "(buy it?)" goes to Amazon, for purchase or other reviews or just to get the hell away from this blog.
  • Bruce Eric Kaplan, Every Person on the Planet (4/5)
    When I read Edmund and Rosemary Go To Hell last year, I had no idea that, as Crow would say, "Hey! this is a sequel to something!" But it was, and Every Person on the Planet is the book to which Edmund and Rosemary is a sequel. It's another slight cartooned story, in a gift-book format, like its sequel, about two New Yorkers and their holiday plans. Edmund and Rosemary want to throw a holiday party, but then the guest list keeps growing and growing until, finally, they give in and decide to just invite everyone on the planet. Because it's that kind of book, everyone both accepts and attends -- but, luckily, because it is that kind of book, they all fit in the apartment with only the usual party problems. (And, somewhat less luckily, also because this is the kind of book it is -- or maybe just because its by Kaplan -- the couple is vaguely unhappy both before and after the party.) Kaplan is a great, cutting cartoonist when it comes to single panels, but these two books -- both fables, I suppose -- are less involving and vital.
  • Koji Kumeta, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Vol. 1 (buy it?) (4/6)
  • Jun Yuzuki, Gakuen Prince, Vol. 1 (buy it?) (4/7)
  • Jim Butcher, Turn Coat (4/7)
  • Akira Ishida, Oninagi, Vol. 1 (buy it?) (4/8)
  • Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia (4/8)
    Tan is the author of the fabulous wordless graphic novel The Arrival (which I reviewed for ComicMix some time ago); this is a collection of illustrated stories, some of which nudge over the border into being comics rather than stories with both words and art. There are fifteen stories here, most of them quite short, and all are somewhat surreal takes on Tan's Australian suburban milieu for younger readers. His words aren't quite up to the level of craft of his pictures here; the stories are sometimes a bit leaden or obvious, while his art is marvelous, in different, deeply individual styles for each story. And don't get me wrong: Tan is a perfectly acceptable writer, with only a few infelicities -- it's just that he's a much better artist, and is coming off something like a masterpiece. So I may be judging this quirky little collection more harshly than I should.
  • Kyle Baker, Plastic Man, Vol. 2: Rubber Bandits (4/8)
  • Ken Akamatsu & Takuya Fujima, Negima!? Neo, Vol. 1 (buy it?) (4/9)
  • Drew Friedman, Old Jewish Comedians (4/9)
    Some books just are what they say on the tin; this is a perfect example. The back cover says "An Illustrated Gallery of Jewish American Comedians, Comics, Comic Actors, Clowns, and Tummlers Depicted in the Sunset of Their Years," and that's precisely what this is -- twenty-eight full-page monochromatic Drew Friedman paintings of old joke-tellers of the Hebrew faith. (Plus a few extras in the front matter and a center two-page spread with the three important Marx Brothers.) There's also an foreword by Leonard Maltin on the subject of The Old Days of Show Business. But the point is the Freidman paintings, and, if you know Friedman (and you should by now), you can guess at how unflinching those portraits are. It's a severely quixotic enterprise to begin with, but that's what Friedman does, and I'm glad to see that he's still around. However, I was really surprised to find that one of the libraries in my county had bought this; budgets must have been pretty flush in 2006.
  • Shaun Tan, The Red Tree (4/9)
    This is a picture book from the author of The Arrival (and of Tales from Outer Suburbia, just above); I'd had it in the back of my head to track down more of Tan's work for a while, and I finally did it in my current reserve-a-lot-of-things-at-the-library frenzy. This is gorgeous and touching, but more obviously a book for children than The Arrival. I think I'll see what my own boys think of it now; I hope they like it, too.
  • Mark Alan Stamaty, Who Needs Donuts? (4/13)
    A picture book -- you know, the kind that kids like -- from the early '70s by an illustrator whose work I enjoy. I'd been looking for it, at least vaguely, for a while, and I finally just checked to see if I could request it from the library. I could; I did; I got it. It's fun, but it's clearly an object from the '70s. Luckily, that's when I was a kid, so kids' books from that era look particularly correct to my eye. My boys -- who surpass even me in their love of donuts -- have already found and read it, and they agree heartily with the pro-donut agenda of this book. (Ignore any insinuations that Who Needs Donuts? actually comes down on the side of the repressive forces of anti-donutism. Who needs donuts when you've got love? I do, because I'm hungry.)
  • Stephen Leacock, Nonsense Novels (4/16)
    I have the vague sense that I've been hearing good things about this book of parodies for a very long time -- I know I've had it on my list for quite a few years. (Though not as long as I could have, since it was originally published in 1911, well before I was born.) Leacock was a Canadian writer and political science professor at McGill University, and this is, I believe, his most famous book. There are ten parodies here, and -- despite the word "novels" in the title -- they're all of short-story length. They're all -- with one exception, which I'll mention in a minute -- still sparklingly funny even a hundred years later. (A moderately famous quote comes from the story "Gertrude the Governess" here -- "Lord Ronald said nothing: he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode off madly in all directions.") A cliche was a cliche even then, and Leacock had a good eye for noticing them and a good pen for poking them. The one story that doesn't work as well -- the last one, "The Man in Asbestos," in which he attempts Bellamy-esque science fiction -- is lumpy and unfunny precisely because Leacock is dragging his personal politics into it, and they, sadly, were a bit reactionary even for his time. But the other nine stories, parodying Sherlock Holmes, psychic fiction, sea stories, the tales of Highland Scotland, and several others, are all still very funny, and even a modern reader can see and enjoy the targets of Leacock's barbs. Nonsense Novels might be just humor, but it's funny, and a book that's still funny a hundred years later is to be treasured.
  • David Rose, editor, They Call Me Naughty Lola (4/17)
    About ten years ago, the London Review of Books decided to start running personal ads. The New York Review of Books -- seemingly a very similar publication -- had a very successful lonelyhearts section, so the editors in London thought they'd be able to help make some love connections between various tweed-suited lecturers and bluestockings. However, they'd failed to take into account the essential character of the educated Briton: depressive, self-deprecating, overly judgmental, and all too often obsessed with their mothers. ("You should know that by placing this advert I've lowered my expectations considerably. Now even you're in with a chance. Don't blow it by mentioning your mother and your predilection for bluestocking NAAFI-types. Woman, 46, accustomed to disappointment, but not that much.") And so the LRB personals became very entertaining to read, as a catalog of the neuroses and idees fixes of the chattering classes, but perhaps not as useful a pathway to true love as might have been hoped. ("Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53, seeks short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite.") The resulting adverts are tremendously entertaining, though I do have to wonder why any of these people seriously thought that saying these things would be at all helpful at finding anyone. ("I am not afraid to say what I feel. At this moment in time I feel anger, giddiness, and the urge to dress like a bear and forage for berries at motorway hedgerows.") If you're not reading the personals with the usual purpose, these are hilarious.
What do you think, sirs?

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