Monday, March 28, 2011

Atlas of Remote Islands: fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will

by Judith Schalansky

Holy-moly this book is awesome! I love to geek out over maps, but I'm often frustrated by the clutteredness of a lot of modern atlases, with so many roads especially but also too many small towns and other unimportant things. I probably shouldn't post this on the internet and let someone steal the idea, but I'd love to make an atlas that only shows the interesting stuff, just what's relevant to history or politics, exceptional geographical features, etc. — which is really just a way to introduce the description of this Atlas of Remote Islands as just nearly the exact oppposite of that idea, in some ways, and precisely the same in others, but correspondingly and contrastingly equally awesome in its own way(s). Each map provides a wealth of detail, but not every detail, and the details it does provide are somewhat estoric or anecdotal, and always delightfully interesting. You can tell the author really treasures maps and put a lot of that love into this book. If you dig maps, you need to read this book, and maybe even own it. The book itself as an object is beautifully designed, a true pleasure to hold and to read. It's on a very short list of books I'm actually interested in buying and keeping forever.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Zine Post Six

Dixon Ticonderoga, by Stevan Allred
Sort of a paean to pencils, with texts by several authors and some illustrations. The analog realness and old-school-ness of zine and of pencils complement one another in this digital, virtual age.

Moira: a sneak preview, by Chelsea Baker
Very thorough science comic about Down Syndrome, inspired by the author's sister. The illustrations and text work together very well, and I particularly was struck by the sperm "factory" drawing.

Dangerous Aromas, Chapter 1, Beans and Ambition, by the Soft Sciences
Globe-trotting intrigue from the dank jungle to the highest echelons of competitive coffee roasting. Kind of odd, sometimes awkward dialogue, but also some funny bits.

McGriddle Defense, edited by Ryan Gratzer
"Selected short works about the breakfast sandwich" and a must-read for anyone who's succumbed to the temptation of droplets of syrup embedded in fat little pancakes that embrace egg and sausage like delectable parentheses. Includes a choose-your-own-adventure story.

Somnambulist #15, Martha Grover
Grover's long-running series has covered a lot of ground and includes many genres. This edition is a collection of "minutes" from family meetings she attended after moving back home for a while as an adult. Laugh out loud hilarious, but lots of pathos too.

Ride the Lightning, by John Isaacson
Comics interpretation of Metallica lyrics. I'm not a fan of heavy metal (though I do like the long-haired dudes), so it didn't do much for me, and I'm not totally comfortable judging.

Alien Boy: a zine about the life of James Chasse, by Erin Yanke & Icky A.
In one of my other postings of zine reviews I said I was trying to learn when to shut up, so I'm going to say only that this tribute to Chasse comes with a CD.

Beard Month 2010, by Greg Hinkle
Nominated for an award at Stumptown Comics Fest, but it seemed kind of unfocused to me. I had a beard when I read this one, but I'm kind of over beards now.

Colophons, or a note on the type, by Vanessa Gelvin
I can totally dork-out over typefaces (and explain the difference between a typeface and a font), and I've always thought that if I ever get published I'll insist my book include "a note on the type," so I loved this zine a lot.

Trigger No. 1, by Mike Bertino, edited by Dave Nuss
Pleasantly bizarre and trashy comics about bars, teachers that accidently pick up hookers, unicorns, and buttheads. And then a dreamlike one about chronic pain and confronting an abusive past.

A History of Humans Breathing Underwater: an educational zine, by Owen Curtsinger
Very informative, but I wish it were longer. It's small, with drawings and text. The title is quite clear, and you'll get what it promises.

You Are Here, [anthology]
If I'm remembering the right zine, this is a collection of maps and map-related musings by a variety of contributors in a variety of formats: a map of smells and garbage in San Francisco, parallels between Oakland and Paris, different moons in NoLa and Minnesota.

Biophile #2, The scientific method
Biophile #3, Eels, the magic and the mystery
A Pocket Guide to Evolution: a Biophile special
, [author unknown]
Teeny but lovely, all three are great examples of science zines. Possible best quote ever in the history of the world: "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't force eels to make babies."

The Malaise Trap, by Jack Bracken and Reid Psaltis
An amazing and beautiful comic about collecting and compulsion, purging and emptiness, and bugs. If it's not a true story, it should be.

She's So Unusual #1, Cyndi Lauper, [author unknown]
A tribute to our favorite she-bopper, this zine includes hair dyeing tips, a recipe for "True Colors" cupcakes, and other Lauper-esque projects. Volume 2 is about Joan Crawford and has instructions for crocheted wire hanger covers.

The Life and Death of the X-Ray Cafe (Oregon History Comics vol. 2), by Sarah Mirk I moved to Portland long enough ago to have seen the X-Ray Cafe, but I never went there. Mirk's series of comics about lesser-known aspects of Oregon history is a great idea and a big win.

Astronomiae Instauratae Grylli, by J. Horn
Sound science and effective story-telling in a mini-comic about a photon traversing the universe and very, very creative integration of words in and around the drawings, although occasionally hard to read as a result.

The Lou Reeder, by Corina Fastwolf
You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory, by Matt Monochrome
Musical memories, drawings, lists, even a crossword puzzle by a dynamic duo of extreme zine fame. (For the record, I did not do the puzzle and do not condone writing in library material; if you want to do the puzzle, make a photocopy or buy your own.)

Brains vol. 1, by Jesse Harrington
Three short stories about punks, skaters, skater-punks and the zombies they battle, and sometimes become. Zombies are the new pirates (as of a couple years ago), so dive in before something else becomes the new zombies.

Hyena in Petticoats: a Mary Wollstonecraft zine, by Alexis Wolf
An engaging biography of author, early feminista and liberated woman Mary Wollstonecraft, and her family, combined with a personal memoir of the zine author's immersion in all things related, including a pilgrimage to London.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Married to the Sea

 by Drew

Just stumbled across this little thing, a collection of old-timey illustrations with captions added to make them funny to a modern-day reader. As you'd expect, some are super-duper funny and others are duds, with most in between. Definitely worth flipping through if you're looking for some chuckles.


Yakuza in Love, vol. 1

 by Shiuko Kano

My favorite yaoi author hits it out of the park again! (Okay, well, maybe not the best this author has to offer, but still better than almost any other yaoi author I've read.) You can guess the general drift of the story from the title. Some characters are gay-gay, others are ambiguous, and the relationships haven't quite coalesced by the end of volume 1, but I sure am ready for the next book. (Sex scenes are medium-explicit, btw.)


Far Arden

by Kevin Cannon

Checked this out based on a review. It's a small, square, fat graphic novel that almost looks like a board book for babies, but in fact it's a relatively lengthy and sophisticated comics adventure that would probably be PG-13 if it were a movie. The title refers to a mythical (or is it real?) lost island in the Arctic; due to a quirk in the ocean and wind currents, it has a tropical micro-climate, so everyone's hunting for it. Abandoned children, evil geniuses, spies, broken hearts and long-held resentments are just part of the dramatic tension — some people are willing to kill to solve this mystery, and some people will die trying to uncover this secret.


Makeshift Metropolis: ideas about cities

 by Witold Rybczynski

I've always thought the best part of Sim City is laying out the streets and water lines, deciding where to put the airport and the city hall. Did you know you can sort of cheat and make the game let you do all the building and landscaping you want without having to pay and without turning on the clock? I could do that for days and days.... I also have a thing for architecture and design in general, so I very much enjoyed this book about city planning. It's amazing how much historical overview and analysis, theory and practice, speculation and suggesting the author crams into a rather short book. Engaging and easy to understand, informative but not pedantic, this book is a real pleasure to read.

The author lives and teaches in Philadelphia, so it was additionally gratifying for me to read the many references to my home city's history, architecture and design (even the bad examples).


Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You

by Peter Cameron

Once upon a time I wrote a short story. It started from an idea that didn't include an ending, and I stalled out after a few weeks of working on it. Seven years later, I had a sudden insight about how to end the story, and I finally wrote the ending. Several people to whom I showed it said I should keep going, that they wanted to know what happens to the character next. I didn't think I could, and I never have — in part because it took me so long to find the ending, but also because the story is about emotional paralysis, so the tension and impetus is lost (and the story ends) when the character finally breaks his paralysis (or so I intended).

Point is, I never understood until now how frustrating it can be to read a book whose protagonist is emotionally paralyzed. I can't recall reading any other gay teen novels in which the character isn't either traumatized by being gay and coming out or so totally okay and confident that other people can't help but accept him. This book's anti(?)-hero is disengaged and distant from everyone, alienated even from himself. Sort of reminds me of me at that age.

Although it was frustrating in many ways, I ultimately liked this book. It's easy to see, however, the reasons it won't appeal to many readers. Being a young adult book, it's pretty short, so there's that at least.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Free for All: oddballs, geeks, and gangstas in the public library

by Don Borchert

Having worked in a public library for 10 years, I entertained but not surprised by the shenanigans related by the author, himself a longtime library employee. I was more amazed by how different to mine were his library's circulation policies. Either way, it's a pleasant romp and a quick read, and you don't need to be a public employee to enjoy it.

Imperial Bedrooms

by Bret Easton Ellis

This author is not for everyone, but he's one of my favorites. I was already a bit obsessed with the movie of Less than Zero when I read the book — which I loved so much I read it twice in one weekend. I've also read American Psycho (NOW alleged misogyny, but, hello, he's a psycho and kills dudes and dogs too), The Rules of Attraction (also a great movie, that totally changed my mind about James Van der Beek), and Lunar Park: all amazing. He's a writer who would be a role model for me if I ever got serious about writing.

This book tells the further misadventures of characters from Less than Zero, and it similarly catalogs the debauchery and neuroses of individuals (a reflection of their morally bankrupt society) and, by refraining from explicit commentary, mounts a sly indictment of our wealth- and image-obsessed culture. I find this author's work much deeper and more litererary than most casual readers would, and I have a bachelor's in English lit (just sayin'). I like how he's built a universe of reusable characters, but the characters aren't really exactly the same when he reuses them, and he also plays with the imaginary barrier between writer and character, writer and reader.

Having said all that, I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who isn't familiar with this author's work. For those who are, it's a must-read.

Mirroring people: the new science of how we connect with others

by Marco Iacoboni

This book is very science-y but not too technical. Also, don't read this if non-lethal neurological animal experimentation will upset you.

It's about the discovery and study of "mirror neurons," which discovery has implications for the study of communication via facial expression; autism spectrum disorders; learning and cognition; physical coordination and proprioception; to name a few. Basically, in addition to the neurons that fire when you actually do something (move your hand, for example) you also have a set of mirror neurons that go off when you think about moving your hand or see someone else moving their hand. In a sense, these neurons allow you to practice mentally various movements. In terms of empathy, they are a step beyond simply imagining another person's feelings because your brain is actually physically pretending to have the same emotions by mentally mimicking the other person's facial expressions and body language.

More to it, of course, but that's kind of the nutshell version. Very interesting and not too long, so no need to be intimidated by the science-ness.