Monday, December 15, 2008

Stuck Rubber Baby

by Howard Kruse

A powerful, sad, inspiring story that takes good advantage of the graphic novel format. It's not, the author says, autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, and it's not really "inspired by"... you could say, however, that it's informed by the author's experience as a young, white, closeted gay man in the rural South during the early-ish Civil Rights Movement. The chronicle includes his attempts to stay in the closet and his eventual coming out, and it shows the political and social climate and activism of the time.

I have to register one complaint, though, about the artist's drawing style: everybody has huge chins, of the sort traditionally reserved for rugged, masculine types. Everyone having that same chin is a bit weird, and it makes the women in particular seem more butch than I think they're meant to be. (Not that I think all women should have dainty little chins, but some of them should.) Also, a little variety would be nice, just on general principle.

Oh, and I don't totally get the title — but whatevs. I still almost cried.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crooked Little Vein

by Warren Ellis

"Reading Crooked Little Vein ... is like being hit by a truck — a dark, perverted truck, that, if it's anything like the one described in the book, is full of blind men humping their seeing-eye dogs before being rear-ended by a Miata full of Latino trannies in clown suits."

This line from the review I received in my e-mail one day was seared indelibly into my brain. (You can read the entire review, which was originally published in Esquire, here.) When my friend and colleague who was working on an "If you like Chuck Palahniuk" reading list asked me for suggestions, it was the very first thing that came to mind.

So it was my friend who read it first, and I read it based on his recommendation. It's bizarre, twisted, surreal, gross... and a darn good book that lampoons American politics and our millennial culture (or what passes for culture). Nice and short too. A lot of teens would probably like it, but I'd only recommend to one that I know fairly well, since it contains some pretty effed-up shit that could upset the parental units.

You can see the recently updated Chuck-alike list here.

In the Company of Crows and Ravens

by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell

This book should be so much better than it is. But it's not. The writing is pretty terrible, bad enough that I didn't actually finish the book. Which is a shame, because I'd recommended it to people. It's dangerous to recommend books one hasn't read yet, but one can't possibly read every book, so sometimes one must. C'est la vie.

I'd heard about how smart corvids are, what with their puzzle-solving and tool use, so I was excited when I saw a copy of this book when it was new. Others already had reserved it, so I had to put my name down on the list and wait my turn. When I eventually got around to reading it, I found the book to contain a wealth of fascinating information that, sadly, is not well-presented. Chapters discuss corvids in human culture and their interrelationships with humans both culturally and ecologically, as well as corvids' own "culture" and social lives. Some of this is rather too esoteric; I think what I had been expecting was a book about how smart and cool and amazing and kinda creepy crows are, with information about experiments that have tested the limits of their intelligence — which is in there, but not straightforwardly.

Another book that seems to be in the same vein came out the same year: Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World, by Candace Sherk Savage. Maybe it's a little better? But it also seems to stress the angle of "Human-animal relationships" (in LCSH parlance), with personal stories and recollections.

Yet a third book, Crows, by Boria Sax, was published in 2003. It has the subject heading "Animals in civilization" and also seems not as science-y as I'd like. Points for the author's name, though. Boria, according to the Italian Wiktionary at least, means conceit or arrogance, and the OED defines sax as, among other things, a small dagger.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Emo Boy, vol. 1: nobody cares about anything, so why don't we all just die?

by Steve Emond

I first read a wee review of this graphic novel in a Library Journal blog, and thought it sounded cool, so I submitted it as a suggestion for purchase, and now my library owns it. I was super-excited to read it.

The great paradox of emo is that you act as if you don't care, but in fact you feel everything with an overwhelming intensity. Emo Boy is shunned by his classmates, who think he's weird, but it doesn't matter because he can't stand them anyway. His repressed emotions periodically explode, with frightening results. (Not truly scary, funny scary.) The character is, appropriately, alternately endearing and irritating. The artwork has some pleasingly unique flairs, and the writing does a good job capturing that nearly universal teen angst — or at least the way that angst seems in retrospect to those who have outgrown it.

I liked it, but I kind of forgot about it. But I just made a hold request for volume 2, which is about the best kind of endorsement there is.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson

A great gothic novella originally published in 1962, three years before the author's death. I'd never heard of it, though I gather it's fairly famous, but I was instantly intrigued when I saw the cover of the 2006 Penguin Books edition:

Having survived the tragic deaths of the rest of their family, two sisters eke out a bleak existence alone in an isolated mansion, mistrusted and despised by residents of the adjacent village. And it just keeps getting creepier. Very well-written, excellent pacing, and a devastating, claustrophobic conclusion.

I give this a strong recommendation, including the teen-friendly endorsement for it's modest length.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Loveholic, vol. 1

by Toko Kawai

Another one — or couple, actually — that I read more than a year ago. This time, a Publisher's Weekly review was just what I needed to refresh my memory for Loveholic. (Bonus: in the process of finding the review, I realized the library has the second volume on order, so I put in a hold request.) I didn't need any help remembering the second one, for reasons that will be clear shortly.

Loveholic is in many ways typical yaoi. As the PW review points out, however, it is of unusually high quality, particularly the depth of character development. A maverick (is it too soon to use the word in earnest?) fashion photographer and a suave ad exec are always butting heads, but their collaborations are all great successes. But of course they're in love with each other! Now I'm re-excited and can't wait to read the next one.

I don't know what's up with the accent and the parentheses, but once I started reading Bónd(z) I really didn't care. And I mean really. The book contains a number of stories, but the main one concerns two male best friends who, after a night of heavy drinking, tumble into bed and get into some heavy petting — with sexy results! Both have girlfriends and some conflicted feelings, but their attraction to one another is undeniable and irresistible. Whereas the sex scenes in Loveholic are R-rated, this one shows it all, including the "money shot" if you know what I mean.

Fatal Faux-Pas
by Samuel C. Gaskin

"A collection of gags, jokes, stories, drawings, and other such nonsense," according to the back cover.

Why you should read this graphic "novel"/comic book:
  1. It's cute, only 5x7 inches.
  2. The longest narrative is just six pages, so there's no time commitment.
  3. Makes fun of King-Cat.
  4. A couple of pictures of weenises.
  5. "Fonzie's Funnies" — speaks for itself, no?
  6. You like Saved by the Bell more than you realize.
  7. The inside pages are all printed in purple ink.