Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 8

Ah, here we are again for yet another round of books.  Well, I say books, but it looks like this round is actually 50% comics. But that's fine with me, because I love comics.

[GN] = Graphic Novel/Comics Anthology

84. & 85. [GN]

Cul De Sac:
Cul De Sac & Shapes & Colors
by. Richard Thompson

Collections of the comic strip Cul De Sac.

Do I need to describe the set-up to comic strips? I don't really feel that I need to. If you've never heard of it before I'd strongly urge you to go check it out.

Anyways, Cul de Sac is my one of my all-time favorite comic strips and my #1 favorite currently running one. It has a really great cast of characters and a really endearing sense of humor. I think this quote pretty much encapsulates the Cul de Sac sense of humor that I love so much.

“My name is Alice Otterloop, and I'm 4 years old. I live in Cul de Sac, a suburban community ringed by a mighty wall and girded by a moat of stagnant traffic. It's placid exterior hides mysteries to chill the blood!

Yonder stands the Haunted Gazebo, where no one ever dares set foot. Yet, on Midsummer's Eve, it's suffused with a spectral light, and the murmured prayers of ghostly Druid priests can be heard!

Or the Uncanny Old Lady, a throwback to a time before Cul de Sac! From her kitch-filled yard she beckons, seeking to turn the unwary into small yappy dogs with her dire magic!”

“What'd she say?”

“ALICE! Stop being silly and come talk to your Grandma!”
from Cul de Sac's 09/16/2007 strip


Sister Citizen:
Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
by. Melissa V. Harris-Perry

A look into the stereotypes of black women in America and the effects those stereotypes have.

The premise of this book intrigued me. After all, as a white male I really don't have a clue what it's like to be a black woman. Thus I figured I'd enlighten myself a little bit. It's always nice to read something once in a while that'll rattle loose some stereotypes that might have gotten lodged in your thinking without your realizing it.

It's a well done book. It does a great job showing what the major stereotypes are, where they came from, and what effects they have. It's one of the most clear discussions about stereotypes that I've seen and I found it to be a really interesting read.

The most intriguing part for me was when she spoke of the stereotype of "the strong black woman" being one that black women created themselves in response to the other negative stereotypes. While it was intended to be a positive and supporting idea, Harris-Perry effectively shows that even positive stereotypes can have detrimental effects.

Here's a link to an interview with the author from when she was a guest on The Colbert Report. It's what got me interested in reading the book in the first place.

The strong black woman serves as a constructive role model because black women draw encouragement and self-assurance from an icon able to overcome great obstacles. She offers hope to people who often face difficult circumstances. Independence and self-reliance can be crucial to building and maintaining a positive image of blackness in a society that often seeks to negate and vilify it. African American women do not define themselves as Jezebels, Mammies, or Sapphires; instead they call themselves strong and proudly drape the mantle of self-denying independence across their shoulders. This itself is a triumph of emotional and political resistance because black women have consistently demanded a right to name themselves. But there are dangers to allowing this symbol to remain unchallenged at the center of African American understandings of womanhood. When black women are expected to be super-strong, they cannot be simply human.

What begins as empowering self-definition can quickly become a prison. By adopting and reproducing the icon of the strong black woman, African American women help craft an expectation that they should be autonomously responsible and self-denying caregivers in their homes and communities. This means that they are validated, admired, and praised based on how they behave, not on who they are. Loss of social standing is an ever-present threat for individuals whose social acceptance is based on behavioral traits rather than unconditional human value. Any mistake, bad act, or bad outcome can be translated into a global sense of failure. While all individuals are publically judged by their actions, the strong black woman imperative is unusual in that it requires tremendous personal fortitude from a group with few structural resources. It thus exposes black women to more opportunities for shaming. African American women hold up the strong black woman as a shield against shame-inducing negative stereotypes of the crooked room. To protect against always being being seen as inferior, they declare themselves uniquely capable, but this strength is a shield full of holes; it sets up new possibilities for being misrecognized.
pg 184-185


The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time
edited by. David H. Lowenherz

A collection of famous love letters.

It's hard to read letters without thinking to yourself about how sad it is that no one writes them anymore. I highly doubt we can expect to see any collections in the future titled "The 50 Greatest Love Texts of All Time” (or at least, I hope not).

There's a mythos that gets created around celebrities. Not just around today's movie stars, but around all forms of celebrity; whether it's an author, a historical figure, or any other person of note. They become a character instead of a person. And that's what I really liked about this book: it shows off people's humanity.

An example? Well, take President George H.W. Bush, for instance. I'm sure we've all built up these ideas of what kind of a person he is, based solely on the things we've heard in the news and learned about in school. And I think it would be safe to say that most people wouldn't attribute words such as Loving and Tender to him. But you can think of nothing else when you read this in a letter to his wife,

“Goodnite, my beautiful. Every time I say beautiful you about kill me but you'll have to accept it—”
pg 36

Or how about Mozart? Perhaps your idea of him is that of a rather stern-looking musical genius. But would you ever think of Mozart in love being rather similar to a gigglish schoolgirl?

“Dearest little wife, if only I had a letter from you! If I were to tell you all the things I do with your dear portrait, I think that you would often laugh. For instance, when I take it out of its case, I say, 'Good-day, Stanzerl!—Good-day, little rascal, pussy-pussy, little turned-up nose, little bagatelle, Schluck and Druck,' and when I put it away again, I let it slip in very slowly...and then just at the last, quickly, 'Good night, little mouse, sleep well.'”
pg 16-17

There's all sort of little gems in here. One of my favorites being an extremely drunken letter from Jack Kerouac to his 3rd wife's brother Sebastian Sampas:

“Sebastian you son of a beetch!
Do you hear me? Do not die, live! We must go to Paris...”
pg 68-69

If I had one complaint with the collection it is that it doesn't include infamous physicist Richard Feynman's beautiful letter to his dead wife. But alas, you can't have everything I suppose. So I'll have to instead leave you with another of my favorites from the book.

“...I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn't even feel it. And yet I believe you'll be sensible of a little gap. But you'd clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature: I shan't make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can't be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don't love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don't really resent it.”
pg 60, Vita Sackville-West to Virgina Woolf

“Look Here Vita—throw over your man, and we'll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I'll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads—They won't stir you by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over you man, I say, and come.”
pg 62, Virigina Woolf to Vita Sackville-West

89. [GN]

Essex County, Volume 1:
Tales from the Farm
by. Jeff Lemire

A 10 year old boy named Lester has to live with his uncle on a farm in Southwestern Ontario after his mother passes away. He feels separated from the world until he befriends local gas station owner, Jimmy LeBeuf, and begins to come to terms with his new life.

Another quality Joey Comeau recommendation. Well, technically he never recommended it, he just mentioned he was planning on reading it and I beat him to the punch.

Tales from the Farm is a rather short, yet thoroughly heart-warming comic. The fact that is is able to tell such a beautiful story in so few pages (only 112 of them) is really a testament to its quality.

I really don't know what else to say. It most definitely gets my seal of approval and I would highly recommend you check it out. It's got a little bit of everything: humor, reality, fiction, sadness, beauty, and more.

“...You live here then, with Ken?”


“My mom died last year. She had cancer.”

“That's fucked up man. Where's yer dad?”

“I never had one.”

“You gonna tell yer uncle I said the 'F' Word?”


“You're a good man chief.”

“My name's Lester.”


“My name's Jimmy.”

“I know. My uncle told me.”

“Oh yeah? What else'd he say about me?”

“He said you played for the Leafs, but you got hurt and you're different now.”


“...Kinda slow.”

“Slow!?! That fucker! You think I'm slow Lester?”


“well, there you go then!”

“I bet he never told you I scored a goal too, did he? Everybody only remembers that hit I took. Nobody ever remembers that I scored in the first period. Your fuckin' uncle ever score a goal in the NHL!?!”

“No. He just farms.”



The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by. Aimee Bender

A young girl discovers she has the ability to taste people's emotions through the food they prepare. However, it turns out to be something of a curse when she finds herself unable to escape from learning things about her parents that she never wanted to know.

I stumbled onto this one when I was working at the library. Aimee Bender is the author of a collection of short stories that I loved (Willful Creatures) and also of a collection of short stories that I found incredibly disappointing (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt). So when I saw that she had written a novel I was intrigued. After all, her short stories tend to hinge on highly imaginative and fanciful ideas, which tend to work better as short stories, because then you can just provide a glimpse without having to thread a continuous storyline.

Admittedly, when I first started reading this book I wasn't impressed at all. It seemed like it stole the premise of the comic Chew* and then took out all the action. But as the story developed I began to get really invested in it. Bender was able to create some really intriguing dramatic elements to the story.

My only big complaint is the main character's brother. I really enjoyed all the bits about the main girl, but for a while the story focuses way too much on the brother. I won't spoil anything, but her brother has a power too...and it is impossibly weird and frankly kind of stupid. So yeah. As I look back on it, I don't mind it so much, but as I was reading it it was bugging me something fierce.

Despite the bizarre element of the brother, the story really does have a lot going for it. While I can't say that book as a whole is amazing, I will say that a large amount of it is. In fact there are a number of scenes that were really touching. I mean, just really beautiful moments. And the main character is really likable and well developed. It's a short read, so if you're in the mood for something light and little unusual this could definitely be something you might want to look into.

The pie, sitting on the counter, with two big brown slices cut out of it.

What is it? Rose? It's the pie?

You feel so bad, I said, to the floor tile.

What do you mean? she said, touching my shoulder. Are you talking to the floor? You mean me again, Rose?

You're so sad in there, I said, and alone, and hungry, and sad—

In where? she said.

In the pie, I said.

In the pie? she said, flinching. What do you mean, baby?

Not baby, I said. No more baby.

Rose? she said, eyebrows caving in. The sheet of tears came down over me again. Blurring. I clawed at my mouth. What are you doing? she said, grabbing my hands. Honey?

I pulled away from her. I taste it, I said, pitching.

But, Rose, she said, tasted what—

I TASTED YOU!, I said.
pg 75-76

*[Chew is a dark-comedy comic book series about a man who can psychically tell the past of anything he eats and uses that ability to solve murders by eating dead bodies.]

91. [GN]

Sweet Tooth, Vol.1:
Out of the Deep Woods
by. Jeff Lemire

A young boy with deer-like features lives in the woods with his father. A virus has been scourging the planet for years slowly killing more and more people. Even stranger is the fact that all the children born after the virus struck have been born with the features of different animals. When the boy's father dies he's forced to journey out into this frightening world for the first time and it seems that not everyone is as nice to the animal children as his father was.

What can you say about a post-apocalyptic story starring a deer boy who loves candy bars? One that USA Today describes as being "like Mad Max with antlers."

Since I liked Tales From the Farm so much, I decided to check out Jeff Lemire's other work. While Sweet Tooth isn't as poignant a story as Tales From the Farm, it's still an oddly enjoyable tale.

It's really hard to describe what I liked about this one. I think it comes down to the fact that its bizarre nature is in perfect equilibrium. It's just weird enough to be intriguing, but not so weird as to be confusing or off-putting. So you've got a story about plagues, and roving bands of survivors, where food and guns are the big items to trade. We've all seen that story before, right? But then you add in little animal hybrid kids running around and suddenly you've made the story so much more unique and interesting.

There was five golden rules. My dad made me write them over and over until I knew them like I knew my own name...

Number Five: Never have a fire in the daytime, 'cause people could see the smoke and come and get us.

Number Four: If I ever see anyone other than my dad, I run, and keep running.

Number Three: Always say my prayers, so as God don't get mad at me and decide to come make me sick too.

Number Two: Never forget to pray for my momma, 'cause she was the best and prettiest lady God ever made.

And Number One: Never, ever leave the woods. 
pg 71


Salmonella Men on Planet Porno
by. Yasutaka Tsutsui

A collection of bizarre short stories.

I read this one because Yakutaka Tsutsui is the author of the novel Paprika. Since I loved the animated movie that was based on the book, I figured I should give the book a try. Unfortunatly the library didn't have it. They did, however, have this book of his.

I'm really at a loss for words when it comes to this collection of stories. I'm quite certain that I would not be able to properly describe this book to you even if I tried my very hardest. I will say that being memorable is one of the things I look for most in a good short story, and these stories are definitely that. To give you a sense of the oddness I'm talking about I'll give you some descriptions of a few of the stories in the book.

“The Dabba Dabba Tree”: A couple buys a magical tree that's said to give the owner's erotic dreams. But because the dreams are so real everyone loses grasp on what's reality and what's a dream world and give in to their hedonistic urges.

“Rumors About Me”: Inexplicably the media starts giving in-depth reports about a local man. And their constant intrusion into his privacy begins to drive him a little crazy

“Commuter Army”: The story of a country who decides to create a commuter army, where being a soldier is just a job you commute to at the beginning of the day and go home from afterwards.

“Hello! Hello! Hello!”: A strange moustached man bursts into a married couple's house and gives them advice on living frugally. Then continues to show up any time they do anything that could hurt their savings. As you can imagine it starts to freak these people out.

“Salmonella Men on Planet Porno”: A group of astronauts on the Planet Porno must journey across the dangerously perverse landscape to find the cure for a plant that has made one of their team members pregnant.

From that day on, the moustache man visited us with increasing frequency. Sometimes, I might feel like eating something special, and I'd come home with some sea-bream sashimi, for example. Then he'd invariably appear at our kitchen table, and glare at me through narrowed eyes. Sometimes he'd even take the food away with him, or beat me hard on the back with a length of washing-machine hose. What's more, he would always, always appear, however carefully we locked the front door or the French windows on our veranda.

“Hello, hello, hello! Here I am, here I am, here I am! Tanaka, Tanaka, Tanaka's the name!”

Sometimes he'd enter the kitchen from the next room, which has no other means of access. If we were in our bedroom, he'd emerge from the built-in wardrobe. I thought he must be getting in through the ceiling. All the apartments in our block share a communal loft space — he must have been using that. So I nailed up the ceiling panels above the wardrobe. Then he appeared in the toilet.
pg 122

93. [GN]

The Complete Peanuts, Vol 1:
by. Charles M. Schulz

The complete collection of Peanuts' strips from 1950 to 1952.

What can I say? The original Peanuts strips are hilarious. I mean, holy crap are they ever funny. The strip has a totally different vibe than the Peanuts we're all used to: Snoopy doesn't talk or fly planes, there's no Peppermint Patty or Pig-Pen or Woodstock or pretty much any of the usual lineup, and Charlie Brown isn't as much of a sad sack.

Some of these strips are so good I might even go as far as to say that they surpass Calvin & Hobbes. And Calvin & Hobbes is my favorite comic strip of all time! But these old Peanuts' strips are cartooning at it's very best. There are no excess lines or excess dialogue. Schulz just goes at it with this very simple art style and these incredibly concise jokes, which is extremely hard to do, and once he finds his stride he just consistently knocks them out of the park.

If you're a fan of comic strips you have to give these a try. They are some of the best ones I've ever seen. I personally prefer reading things in print, but if you don't mind digital you can find them all online. Although, the downside of reading them online is that they don't have the Sunday strips in their archives. Another downside to looking at them digitally is that the print collection features a foreward by Garrison Keillor in addition to a great interview with Schulz at the end of the book.

“Well! Here comes ol' Charlie Brown!

Good ol' Charlie Brown...yes, sir!

Good ol' Charlie Brown...

How I hate him!”
from Peanuts' 10/02/1950 strip

94. [GN]

Skullkickers, Volume 1:
1000 Opas and a Dead Body
writer/creator: Jim Zub
artists: Edwin Huang & Chris Stevens

Two mercenaries, a dwarf and a human, love to fight and drink. They also have a particular knack for getting into trouble.

I kept hearing mentions of this one popping up here and there so I figured I'd see what it was all about. Unfortunately though I didn't really find it all that interesting.

It has some comedic moments which were pretty fun, but overall it sacrifices comedy in favor of action. And, unfortunately, when it's an action comic it's just incredibly unoriginal.


“Thank you, I think.”

“Yer welcome.”

“We are but humble merchants traveling these dirt roads. We have little in the way of coinage, but you have my eternal--”

“A horse, food and money.”

“Well, my guards here would beg to differ.”

$^&# YOU. Just give 'em what they want or they'll kill us too.”



Typography Sketchbooks
edited by. Steven Heller & Lita Talarico

A look at the sketchbooks of type designers.

I have rather mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I did enjoy getting to see the sketches of famous type designers, but on the other hand I didn't like everything else. For some reason or another the book felt that just showing all these cool sketches of all sorts of different styles wasn't enough. So for each designer they insist on going through the same style of paragraphs: A description of who the designer is and what they're known for, followed by a paragraph about what that designer thinks about sketchbooks.

I love sketches and sketchbooks, but let us be honest here, there isn't much you can say about them. Everything you can say is painfully obvious to anyone who sketches. Oh, I sketch to work out idea. Ah, I sketch to get a feel for an image before I commit to doing a final piece. What do you know, I sketch as a way of keeping records of my thoughts. Really? Never before has the word Duh seemed so appropriate.

And yet they insist on doing it for every single person, and it's a fat book, there's a lot of people featured in it. So inevitably you get to read the exact same things about sketches again and again and again.

If you like type design I would thoroughly recommend you take a look at this book. However, take my advice and don't bother to actually read it. Just look at all the cool pictures. You'll be much better off for it.

Kevin Cornell

Kevin Cornell, an illustrator and designer based in Philadelphia and founder of the website Bearskinrug, uses a sketchbook to figure out “how I want to handle a specific word or phrase — usually the title of a coming, or a logo or something. But pretty often I just get a hankering to play around, and I'll write out gibberish just so I can explore the letterforms.”

He notes that “what I think is attractive about sketchbooks (and sketches in general) is that most of the time they communicate almost everything you'd look to communicate in the final piece.” He further offers the theory that “most illustrators use sketchbooks to help figure out visual problems, and so, on the same spread, or across spreads, you might find the same thing drawn from different perspectives, or perhaps a couple of options for how to treat a piece of text. They're just filled with lovely little vignettes. I rarely use sketchbooks that way. In a sense, these are more akin to a diary than a sketchbook. Just a guy unloading the crap from his head.” The book shown here is from spring 2005.

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