A brilliant, beautifully rendered meditation on the precious insignificance of human life. Told in a series of intercut images of the same place stretA brilliant, beautifully rendered meditation on the precious insignificance of human life. Told in a series of intercut images of the same place stretching from the beginning of the Earth, to the fleeting moments of everyday life that have occurred there, and into the distant future, Here is an exploration of storytelling as a byproduct of time and space. There really is nothing else like it....more
It feels strange to only give four stars to a compendium that includes Ghost World, Like a Weed, Joe, and Blue Italian Shit, but some of the essays weIt feels strange to only give four stars to a compendium that includes Ghost World, Like a Weed, Joe, and Blue Italian Shit, but some of the essays were needlessly exhaustive (don't know if I need a line-by-line analysis of the dialogue in Ghost World) and I found myself skipping Clowes' obscure commercial artwork, when it felt like filler. Still, Clowes is a genius, and ultimately this book works as a sort of Criterion Collection DVD of many of his best pieces. ...more
A good primer on the cracks in the foundation that inform our dysfunctional relationship to the Middle East today.
Aside from a cute overture which teA good primer on the cracks in the foundation that inform our dysfunctional relationship to the Middle East today.
Aside from a cute overture which tells the Epic of Gilgamesh using quotes from George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, Best of Enemies focuses on three events: the war against the Barbary Pirates (the first war the US ever fought as an honest-to-God nation), the defense-for-oil deal between the US and Saudi Arabia (the only nation where the ruling family is actually in the country's name), and the 1953 coup engineered by the CIA to overthrow a democratically elected government and install the Shah as absolute ruler.
While countries like Britain and France paid the Barbary Pirates not to molest their shipping, President Jefferson chose war over tribute, which may be the last time the US did anything in the Middle East on principle. The war was far more expensive than the protection money, but it did ultimately result in a treaty that gave US all kinds of special privileges when sailing through their waters. But this was the beginning of the end for the Barbary Pirates, as soon everybody else at the table wanted what the US was having, and nobody saw the point in paying tribute to the Emir of Tripoli any more. This was a victory for the maritime powers of Europe and North America, but it would lead to the unraveling of the Ottoman Empire, and opened not only the doors to commerce, but to the eventual colonization of the Middle East.
After World War I and the defeat of the Ottomans, much of their empire was carved up into "Protectorates" which are basically colonies, but with an as-of-yet-unnamed expiration date. During World War II (the original war for oil, at least as a strategic necessity), the US realized that if it was going to win the war, and secure its future afterward, this would require a cheap and dependable supply of oil. Luckily, Saudi Arabia was equally nervous about all these British and German armies chasing each other around the other former territories of the Ottoman Empire like kids on a playground. The Saudis felt like a nice plump chicken made of oil and assumed (not without reason), that whoever won would help themselves to the chicken dinner. In exchange for guaranteeing their independence, the Saudis would give the US as much oil as they could drink for pennies on the barrel.
World War II had a happy ending for the US, though it was a short-lived one, for no sooner had that war ended than the US found itself facing off against the Soviet Union in a popularity contest, the prize of which was world domination. The US and Britain were both determined to keep other nations from getting too flirty with the Soviet Union, especially those countries which had oil. So when Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossaddegh began nationalizing Iran's oil industry, which they saw as taking back their flowers to give them to the other girl, the CIA and MI6 conspired to stage a coup to impose the rule of the Shah, who would be so grateful that he would make his country a playground for western oil companies and discreetly get rid of anyone who thought socialism might be a good idea.
The book ends abruptly in 1953 without really examining the lessons to be learned from these American adventures in the Occident, but if I might take a stab at what awaits us in the next volume, I might suggest this: The Iranian Revolution of 1979, Two wars in Iraq, the rise of Al Qaeda, and the painful lesson that whether standing up to shakedown artists in Tripoli, horse-trading with Saudis, or flexing imperial might over Iran, interference comes with consequences, most of which are nasty and unpredictable....more
Mister Wonderful is about two middle-aged people slowly laying their cards on the table over the course of a blind date. The story is told through theMister Wonderful is about two middle-aged people slowly laying their cards on the table over the course of a blind date. The story is told through the eyes of Marshal, and in addition to their conversation, we are treated to a highly neurotic play-by-play breakdown of the date via Marshal’s internal monologue, which often obscures their speech bubbles as a visual metaphor for how self-consciousness impairs our ability to listen and genuinely react to other people. Aside from a few ill-advised attempts by Marshal to convince himself to have a little “game,” he excoriates himself for how terrible he thinks he’s doing on this date, and how little worth he holds as a man. Marshal’s secret thoughts provide the book with many of its most brutal, heart-breaking, and darkly funny moments. At one point, he even breaks down and asks himself, “Jesus, must I be self-deprecating even in my interior monologue?”
These moments are leavened by his fantasies of how he wished the date were going (these scenes are readily identifiable by the fact that his fantasies all seem to entail the presence of bagels), and his really quite sweet daydreams of him and Natalie meeting as children, or being together someday on his deathbed.
Though we aren’t privy to Natalie’s thoughts the way we are Marshal’s, we come to learn that they are both the products of disastrous past loves and like Marshal, Natalie seems to know exactly where her shortcomings are kept. But while self-honesty is endearing, vulnerability is what is requires for love, and it is only when they drop the facade of being on a date and simply become two people talking about their lives that we get the feeling that they may belong together. To people who have lived long enough to have been scarred by life and shattered by love, finding “Mister Wonderful” is something of a trite fantasy. Our need is for people whose damage is compatible with our own....more
Okay, this book fucking blew me away and here's why:
It is unapologetically transgressive, honest, and unafraid to confront the bullshit of received wiOkay, this book fucking blew me away and here's why:
It is unapologetically transgressive, honest, and unafraid to confront the bullshit of received wisdom with the raw truth. Every single page sparkles not only with wit, but power, and forces us to hear the story of someone hitherto conveniently ignored. This is precisely the sort of punk agitation that keeps literature relevant. ...more
For readers interested in the British punk movement of the late 70's and early 80's, and in particular the London scene, this oral history is definitiFor readers interested in the British punk movement of the late 70's and early 80's, and in particular the London scene, this oral history is definitive. The entries compiled by John Robb (himself formerly the lead singer of The Membranes) represents a masterfully assembled range of stars, forgotten sidemen, journalists and fans. The result is an exhaustive yet intimate look at what is arguably the most influential period of rock and roll history. The fact that he got to interview Ari Up and Poly Styrene before they died makes this collection that much more invaluable.
What I really like about the oral history approach is that you not only get first hand accounts of the movement's major and minor players, but also a very real sense of their personalities. Ari Up, like her step-father John Lydon, comes across as curmudgeonly, but also hilariously blunt and unswervingly honest. I can't even begin to imagine what those family dinners must have been like. Captain Sensible plays the aging madman who never quite outlived his party-boy past. And Mick Jones is the affable guy who has fond memories of everyone. You kind of imagine him in his spare time sitting in a park and feeding ducks.
If I have one criticism of this book, it's that its momentum fades as the first wave groups flame out and punk factionalizes into Oi, Ska, New Wave, etc.
Little known fun facts:
Chrissie Hynde was alternately engaged to both Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. reportedly they had agreed to marry her so she could stay in the UK, but Rotten got spooked by the media attention following the Bill Grundy interview and Vicious, with the better excuse, moved to America and died of a heroin overdose.
Sid Vicious was the original drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees.
The punk anthem "Alternative Ulster" was written as an advert for the short-lived fanzine Alternative Ulster.
Okay, yeah, I read Game of Thrones because I liked the TV show. So what? When I started reading, I was half-worried that it was going to be purple proOkay, yeah, I read Game of Thrones because I liked the TV show. So what? When I started reading, I was half-worried that it was going to be purple prose and unicorn magic and that perhaps it was only HBO's unquenchable thirst for sex, blood, and fucked-up haircuts that made the show as good as it was.
Turns out that I needn't have worried. The book is every bit the equal of the TV series and what the book offers in addition to the tale is a rich world steeped in a knowledge of feudal life and intrigue that feels every bit as real as the fantasy elements are imaginative....more
Badge is about the seedy road to rock and roll success, the addictions it fosters, and the relationships it ruins, as written by someone who has livedBadge is about the seedy road to rock and roll success, the addictions it fosters, and the relationships it ruins, as written by someone who has lived in that world.
The former bass player of The Refreshments, Edwards has experienced first hand the chaotic bus tours, industry swindles, intraband jealousies, and self-sabotage that is endemic to bands on the verge of greatness, and he paints these scenes with authority. There are a lot of aging rockstars out there who've written kiss-and-tell books about the lifestyle and conflicts of a band on the road, but what sets Badge apart is that not only was it written by someone who's been there, but by someone with the writing chops to tell those stories in a compelling fictional narrative.
Badge is not some dusty Keith Richards or greasy Brett Michaels caricature. He's a human being with a family, a history, and the haunting awareness that every time he takes the stage could be the last. As a reader, you join him on the road, and follow each bend it takes with equal parts dread and anticipation....more
Really enjoyed this dip into the life of young Lincoln, which focuses on Lincoln's courtship of Mary Todd, his friendship with the girl-crazy Joshua SReally enjoyed this dip into the life of young Lincoln, which focuses on Lincoln's courtship of Mary Todd, his friendship with the girl-crazy Joshua Speed, and the titular "hypo," the name he gave to his periodic bouts of debilitating depression. Van Sciver has a great sympathy for Lincoln, and indeed, all his characters, and this is critical to his ability to flesh them out as characters and to our ability to understand them as human beings. He also has a great ear for the poetry in Lincoln's speech and writing, though if I do have one criticism, it is that on rare occasions the characters do slip out of mid 19th century vernacular, temporarily taking us out of time and place. ...more
A great demarcation of where Jesus the man meets Christ the god. To understand the words and mission of Jesus, it's wholly necessary to understand thaA great demarcation of where Jesus the man meets Christ the god. To understand the words and mission of Jesus, it's wholly necessary to understand that he was a first century Jew living under Roman occupation talking to other first century Jews living under Roman occupation, and this is the historic foundation Zealot provides the readers. Strangely, despite the title, the book spends very little time making the case that Jesus was a political revolutionary. Sure, he was crucified, the punishment Romans reserved for insurrectionists, but then, as the book also points out, pretty much anyone who scowled at the Romans got crucified. If Pontius Pilate wasn't sure if you were a threat, he's nail you to something just to be safe. So that, in and of itself, is not really enough to gauge the political intentions of Jesus.
Still, the narrative Aslan provides, from Jesus' humble beginnings as a day laborer in a small, largely illiterate village called Nazareth, to the messy and often bloody politics of the Temple in Jerusalem, shed much needed light on the life and ministry of the man we came to know as Christ....more
This isn't a novel so much as a 200 page running joke. It's a truly singular accomplishment by one of the greatest comedy writers in history. You'll lThis isn't a novel so much as a 200 page running joke. It's a truly singular accomplishment by one of the greatest comedy writers in history. You'll laugh. Then shake your head in awe. Then laugh. Then shake your head in awe. And then you'll probably watch some TV. ...more
Funny, inventive, and engrossing, Monster on the Hill tells the story of an under-achieving monster named Rayburn, who can hardly be bothered from hisFunny, inventive, and engrossing, Monster on the Hill tells the story of an under-achieving monster named Rayburn, who can hardly be bothered from his moping long enough to attack his town, much to the disappointment of its residents. The book takes place in an alternate Victorian world where monsters are expected to periodically attack nearby towns in order to give everyone a much-needed scare, not to mention caché with tourists. The best monsters are immortalized on trading cards and with souvenirs.
Harrell turns familiar tropes like the mad scientist and plucky street urchin on their head and weaves them together into a wonderfully creative and infectious fantasy about a monster looking to recapture his mojo. I can only hope this is the beginning of a series and that we get more of the people and monsters that populate this world....more