A small bit of personal trivia to kick this mini-review off: I've actually had this book sitting on my shelf for a few years. Early in our relationshiA small bit of personal trivia to kick this mini-review off: I've actually had this book sitting on my shelf for a few years. Early in our relationship, my now-husband & I were both totally obsessed with the TV show Deadwood. Within a few months, we both ended up giving the other books by Ricky Jay, who was in the first season. (I gave him Jay's Journal of Anomalies; he gave me this book. We're darling, aren't we?) It wasn't until we recently watched the documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay that I finally decided to read the book instead of just skimming through its varied histories & lingering over the color plates.
Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is a cultural survey of performers that earned a living on vaudevillian or quasi-spiritual circuits. But, far from being a dry collection of bios, Jay outlines these histories as "sketchily explained secrets" (to borrow his own description of a similar compendium) with wit & a distinct, charming style. Each section focuses on a certain kind of talent (sword-swallowing, fire-walking, reading minds) and reveals just enough to cast any doubt on supernatural prowess while still allowing a reader to appreciate how an effect could be constructed. After recounting these wonders, Jay also ends up stating the fates of these performers. Doing so is practical & correct since our author is diligently preserving these histories. But closing each story with the performers' deaths grounds the fantastical stories in a moving way. A trick ends & a life finishes with a satisfying sense of closure.
There is something old-world about this book as well. I don't use that adjective simply because of the European backgrounds of some of these personalities. The thorough histories stand in contrast to our constant American interest in the new, the novel, & the youthful. Learned Pigs is not too unlike Montaigne's equally comprehensive essays. The Acknowledgements in the back of the book lists many citations & collections for curious readers to use in their own research. As for me, Learned Pigs has at least convinced me to pick up Augustine's City of God, because I need to read that quote from the last chapter myself in order to believe it. And to maybe not let books like Mr. Jay's sit on my shelf unread for so long....more
The Escapists was lent to me as part of a mutual BKV exchange with my neighbor. (He borrowed my copy of Pride of Baghdad.) I haven't yet read The AmazThe Escapists was lent to me as part of a mutual BKV exchange with my neighbor. (He borrowed my copy of Pride of Baghdad.) I haven't yet read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay but know a little bit about it. The Escapists is tied into Chabon's story as an extra bit of ephemera: the hero The Escapist is a Kavalier & Clay creation brought back to life by three aspiring comic writers/artists. There's Max Roth, who found his father's collection of Escapist memorabilia after he died when Max was a boy. Denny Jones is Roth's unlikely friend: a former jock with a fascination for hand-lettering. Rounding out the trio is Case Weaver, an ambitious artist with a punk's DIY attitude. Roth uses his inheritance to buy the character rights to the Escapist, to write his own stories for the classic character he loves. But when their book takes off, the three find themselves squaring off against a powerful corporation who wants their now-popular property back.
At one point, Roth says to his partners that he want their character to change the real world & this sentiment sums up much of the book's artistic style. Parts where the Escapist's comic art merges with the art of the main story effectively evokes and strengthens the parallels between the two. Whether the example is a point-by-point illustration of how a panel takes on depth and how it reveals a character's inner realizations or how to use one's cosplay powers for good, the pages will keep readers lingering. And while I know some people call it the Mistake By The Lake, this story kinda makes me want to visit Cleveland now.
I can't say whether this is a must-read for fans of the Chabon novel, but if you're someone who wants to get into graphic novels and likes the structure of a short story, Escapists may be a good starting book for you. The ending is a little facile, but Vaughn's coming-of-age story strikes the right balance of idealism & maturity....more
3.5 instead of 4. I was a little conflicted on how to rate this new entry in the Sandman series. I'm happy that Gaiman will be re-exploring the lives3.5 instead of 4. I was a little conflicted on how to rate this new entry in the Sandman series. I'm happy that Gaiman will be re-exploring the lives of the Endless and the worlds they touch. This first entry is a very promising beginning, especially seeing all of Dream's incarnations gathering. (Gaiman himself mentions he was a little bit in love with the artist's illustration of Dream as a plant. I loved the fold-out center.) The drawback is that this is just a beginning, a very spare beginning. Having just finished the original series run this year, I was disoriented by small, crucial details. Example: when Death warns Destiny that she has "just taken" Dream to her kingdom despite being in the timeline before his initial capture or the presence of the original incarnation of the Corinthian. This beginning bends and echoes the ending of The Sandman, Vol. 10: The Wake in interesting ways, but I felt unsure as to exactly where we were beginning. Then again, that may very well be Gaiman's intention. I look forward to reading this run of stories in the original comic form as opposed to being gathered in a graphic novel. This will be a different type of reading experience for me, so any uncertainty on my part is, for now, outweighed with the anticipation of the next issue....more
When I was a bookseller at Borders, I had a customer who was looking for Nine Inch Nails-related books as a birthday gift for a friend who loved the bWhen I was a bookseller at Borders, I had a customer who was looking for Nine Inch Nails-related books as a birthday gift for a friend who loved the band. Unfortunately, all I could recommend to her was Martin Huxley's Nine Inch Nails. Which wasn't in stock at the time because I had just bought it for myself.
I mention this because if you are a Nine Inch Nails fan, you are going to have to look hard to earn any insight or info into the life, attitudes, or inspirations of its lead singer Trent Reznor. While he doesn't actively shun the spotlight, he also doesn't seek it. Listen to his Fresh Air interview. Read the latest reddit AMA for How To Destroy Angels. Reznor is an elusive subject. So there should be little surprise that there are few books about NIN. Those that exist, like Huxley's and now Daphne Carr's Pretty Hate Machine, are constructed from previous interviews with other music writers and pop culture criticism.
Because of these very difficulties, I enjoy what Daphne Carr has attempted, and in some ways succeeded, with her entry in the 33 1/3 series. She has chosen to place the album Pretty Hate Machine in the context of the NIN discography, in the tradition of industrial music, in the socioeconomic changes of contemporary America and in the mainstreaming of "deviant" or provocative alternative pop culture. All of these are ambitious approaches and Carr brings up many topics I hope to pursue and research on my own. Her writing is never technical; she writes critically with ease and skill.
Many readers may be disappointed with the ethnographic part of Carr's book. Using personal fan stories makes sense to explore the impact of PHM as well as illustrate how a commercial product like music can evoke deeply personal connections. But the way the stories are assigned to the tracks doesn't seem to connect well. Also, these are testimonies of average, everyday guys whose spontaneous thoughts don't translate well onto the page.
I gave this book 5 stars because I was inspired and moved to see an author write something of substance about pop culture and to do it well. Carr's work on PHM is not a typical biography or a making-of about this specific album. The book is a product of 4 years of research into how music can be born of, influence, and connect disparate layers of culture. Carr has added to the discussion about NIN and, like her, I look forward to what other music writers have to say about Reznor and his music's influence....more
It is one thing to create a notebook of assorted ideas & media to use as inspiration or as a research tool for yourself. It is another to publishIt is one thing to create a notebook of assorted ideas & media to use as inspiration or as a research tool for yourself. It is another to publish it as a book & try to get people to get as excited about it as you. Radioactive is an interesting project, linking biographical material about Marie Curie's life to other stories or ideas about what the atomic bomb & radioactivity has done to our world. But there is very little substance to the material presented as Marie Curie's biography & the structure to the related stories is haphazard. For example, a mention of Marie Curie going to live with a friend after a social scandal segues into a section on fallout shelters. The book is pretty but ultimately a jumping off point for the reader's own research into the Curies or the atomic bomb. ...more
Let me start off by saying that I'm not really sure how to rate this book. First, I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but I know that they are a difLet me start off by saying that I'm not really sure how to rate this book. First, I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but I know that they are a different enough medium that I won't compare one to a written narrative. Second, my rating won't really reflect how conflicted my opinion is.
Taken as just a story, The Crow is ok. This revenge tale is an interesting clash between the metaphysical & urban life. Some of the lines are too ornate or stilted. Take for example the words: "Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of all children." Reading the words by themselves is awkward: the structure of the sentence is a little wonky; the sentiment is so poetic that some readers might but offput. Add the sentence to the panel it's actually written over, where the Crow's harsh profile is balanced beside the rumpled addicted woman's he's addressing. O'Barr's stark illustration of the two ragged faces gives the words another resonance.
When I consider what O'Barr's graphics do to his words, though, I'd have to say that The Crow is a finely balanced text. Just as one can miss Salvador Dali's technical skill hidden beneath his surrealistic subjects, the same mistake can be made with O'Barr's work. Beneath the violence & despair depicted in The Crow is a remarkable talent for rendering the human form or nuances of light. I was prepared for the graphic wounds & death detailed on the pages. What unnerved me was the vulnerability & longing that was present in the forms of the characters. I found myself choking up at how forlornly a dead thug & his victim leaned against one another on a basement wall; outright crying as the Crow looks into Sherrie's filthy hungry face & apologizes to her for the inevitable shittiness of life.
Having watched an interview with O'Barr on the DVD of the movie adaptation, I knew that this graphic novel was about more than expressing the grief of violently losing a loved one. The Crow is life as seen by a guy who didn't have a lot to begin with, clearly valued the few good things life did give him, & found he still had to live after he lost those things. There is emotional substance in every panel that will get under your skin & make you consider the flimsy protections you've built around yourself. The introduction invites readers to consider what they have to lose in their life. I would agree; The Crow is a lesson in loss to take to heart....more
2.5 instead of 3. These pieces aren't really short stories, more like character sketches or variations on thematic obsessions. They can be provocative2.5 instead of 3. These pieces aren't really short stories, more like character sketches or variations on thematic obsessions. They can be provocative, startling & lyric. They also verge on repetitive & derivative. Imagine staying up for days just to read all of Jim Thompson's works in a row & you get an idea of how equally interesting & tiresome this collection can be....more