This is a very brave book. In Tangles, Sarah Leavitt recounts how her family lived with, dealt with, and was changed by her mother Midge's early-onsetThis is a very brave book. In Tangles, Sarah Leavitt recounts how her family lived with, dealt with, and was changed by her mother Midge's early-onset Alzheimer's (she began showing symptoms at only 52 years of age). We see an entire family coming to terms with this terrible illness, all in different ways, yet always out of love. It's not a guidebook for how to deal with Alzheimer's (how could it be?), but it is a record of what can be done, what might be done, and (only a couple of times) what perhaps shouldn't be done.
Tangles is simply awash in tiny details, thanks to Leavitt's coping mechanism of recording, in words and pictures, hundreds (thousands?) of observations of--and quotations from--her rapidly changing mother. The book's first-person narration of these tiny details seems to beg the question, Was this person who talked to broccoli still the mother who raised my sisters and I, the woman so engaged in education, the wife so loving and loved? The answer seems to be "Yes and no," of course. There's still a core of the Midge that we're introduced to in the book's preliminary, historical sections, but there's also a new person, one who sings to herself (no longer with her sisters) while being bathed or who writes ungrammatical notes to her daughter.
As a cartoonist, Leavitt draws in an unadorned, highly simple--even simplistic--style. I at first thought the style too simple but eventually recognized it as direct and honest. The book is a chronicle of Leavitt's feelings and impressions as much as it is a record of specific events, and I think a more highly rendered style would only serve to fetishize the events and overpower her impressions.
The book's large, square pages are generally constructed of five tiers of gutterless panels, leading to a dense reading experience; a lot happens on each page, and Sarah, our narrator, is often at a loss in trying to make sense of it all. How can you make sense of that which so often, by definition, is nonsensical? Such as the note from Midge to Leavitt's partner Donimo, which Leavitt reproduces, isolated in the corner of an otherwise blank page: "Love to Donimo / Hope you like Bmdows. / See you soon / family is / The whole / eags to see you / from Midge" (page 69).
The book is peppered with such large, nearly empty pages, falling in between some of the short, dense chapters. They often highlight quotations from Midge, or simple, striking moments: Actions divorced from time and context, much like Midge's perception of the world around her. Because it is so honest, Tangles is sometimes not an easy book to read. But it is a powerful one.
We're so used to seeing Lincoln portrayed as a magisterial president, that we (or at least I) have trouble thinking about him as a person in developmeWe're so used to seeing Lincoln portrayed as a magisterial president, that we (or at least I) have trouble thinking about him as a person in development, as a youth struggling, as all youth must, to discover who he is. In The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln, Noah Van Sciver gives us a fine portrait of that Lincoln-in-process by focusing on his private, internal struggles. "The Hypo" (Lincoln's term for his sometimes crippling depression) debilitates him, causing doubt and fear to sometimes rule his life. It's a portrait that any sufferer of depression will recognize.
Van Sciver's drawing is assured and highly detailed (backgrounds and environments are often rendered quite specifically, really grounding the story in its time and place), while remaining a bit "cartoony" - his is an engaging, highly readable style. My one complaint, visually, is that early on, Lincoln and his randy roommate, Joshua Speed, look so much alike that sometimes in conversation I became confused as to who was who.
Narratively, you can't help but empathize with young Lincoln in his struggles - his love life is a shambles, for example, although the book's happy ending reveals that he eventually (if perhaps only temporarily) overcame some of "The Hypo."
I understand the desire to focus on the details of Lincoln's personal life over those of his his professional career, but unfortunately this strategy at times makes for some confusing moments. References that other characters make in passing to Lincoln's growing political influence seem to come out of nowhere. I mean, of course we all know that Abraham Lincoln had a political career, but the Lincoln of The Hypo doesn't quite seem capable of sustaining one. We get a few small glimpses, but they're nowhere nearly as finely developed as are the more intimate moments in the young man's life. I would have appreciated a bit of a broader focus on Lincoln's life and work over the course of The Hypo - I can only imagine that in Van Sciver's hands, Lincoln's professional struggles would become as fascinating as his personal ones surely are here.
It's an unfortunate if oft-repeated scenario: An artist goes unrecognized in his or her lifetime, only to have their work discovered and fêted too latIt's an unfortunate if oft-repeated scenario: An artist goes unrecognized in his or her lifetime, only to have their work discovered and fêted too late for acclaim or riches. Such is the story of Vivian Maier, who spent her formative years in France, then worked as a nanny for a series of families in the United States, mostly in the Chicago area (for a brief stint, she even worked for Phil Donahue). She always carried a camera, but she never allowed anyone to see her photographs, and by all accounts she lived an extremely private life. So, her genius was never known while she lived. Her work was only discovered when her belongings were auctioned off, and someone who won a container full of undeveloped film examined the contents and discovered Art.
I first learned of her work thanks to a Facebook friend posting a link to the trailer for an upcoming documentary about Maier's life and work. I'm so glad that I took the 2-1/2 minutes to watch that video:
Maier's life story is intriguing, yes, full of secrets and mysteries. But her photographs are magical in their honesty and beauty. Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams provides a wonderful introduction to the artist and her art. After a brief biographical introduction, the bulk of the book is given over to chapters highlighting different aspects of her photography, beginning with snapshots from France and then delving into her chronicles of America in the 1950s and 1960s. (She continued photographing her surroundings well into the 1990s, apparently, and in color, too; but this book focuses on her '50s and '60s black-and-white work.)
She was not afraid to visit, regularly, the toughest, most run-down areas of Chicago, her young charges in tow, to photograph anyone she felt worthy of capturing. The humanity and dignity of her subjects, even those skid-row denizens whom most people might cross the street to avoid, come across vividly in her portraits. Some of these photos seem somewhat posed or at least contemplated, while others were obviously taken on the sly.
Amazingly, Maier almost never took multiple shots of the same subject (apart from the children in her care, and a series of pensive self-portraits, sometimes just of her own shadow): One carefully considered image was enough for her. And the results are stunning. The year 1968 was particularly pivotal for America, and indeed for Maier; there's a whole chapter devoted to her chronicles of that tumultuous time, with special attention paid to the life and death of Robert F. Kennedy. While I loved all of the images in the book, my favorites are the portraits in the chapter "Downtown" (pp. 206-241). Here are young people and old people; the rich, the poor, and the once-rich; characters all. These are only single portraits, but I feel as if I can see into these people's souls; the good and the sad are revealed in equal measure.
For all of the hundreds of images in this book, I realize that this collection only scratches the surface; I look forward to finding more of them to marvel at.
Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend is one of my musical heroes, but a complicated person: spiritual but self-destructive, innovative but prone to nostalPeter Dennis Blandford Townshend is one of my musical heroes, but a complicated person: spiritual but self-destructive, innovative but prone to nostalgia. So I was predisposed to like this book, yet knowing full well that parts of it would annoy the hell out of me. And I wasn't far wrong. I came away both admiring him more than I had before, but feeling sad for him and being angry at him in equal measure, as well.
His childhood traumas, hinted at in earlier portraits of him I've read, are spelled out in a bit more detail here, though some things - especially what was most likely molestation at the hands of one of his grandmother's boyfriends - are discussed only nebulously. Which is absolutely within his right: no one needs to know specific details like that, perhaps most especially the young boy who experienced their horrors in the first place. The trauma has haunted him personally, artistically, and, sadly, publicly ever since.
We learn a lot of the thinking behind not just his songs, but behind his career moves: his struggles in developing the band The Who's looks and sounds, his solo albums, his editing career with Faber and Faber, his many charity works, his spiritual quests. What we don't learn as much of as I would have expected is about his Who bandmates Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon. It's not that we learn nothing about them, or of Pete's opinions of them; we do, but somehow I expected them to play larger roles here. This is probably my own failing, however, of still thinking of Pete as "a member of The Who" instead of as his own person. Of course we get some crazy Keith stories, and tales of fistfights with Roger, and concerns over John's financial difficulties; but mostly, what comes through is his obvious love for these men, his absolute admiration of them as friends and musicians. Roger in fact comes across as a rock for Pete more often than I would have guessed.
He's generally very forthright about his goals and choices, and he isn't afraid to admit mistakes (which are many). For a man who had it in his mind that he wanted to be a good husband and father, he had a remarkable ability to fall in love with other women at the drop of a hat. Was he confused and conflicted? Yes. Did he reign himself in? Occasionally. Did I want to slap him for his inconsiderate stupidity? Repeatedly.
The same could be said for his use of drink and drugs, which varied over time from abstinence to depravity. Yes, it's "the life of a rock star" - but why, damnit? He gives some reasons, but they're usually excuses. His multiple, non-ironic references to alcohol as "medicinal" in small doses seem myopic for someone who's had a much therapy and treatment as he's had. I'm far from a teetotaler myself, but if someone has an admitted, serious alcohol problem, comments like these seem disingenuous, at least. But again, what he's given us is a portrait not of a perfect or perfected person, but of one who is at least acutely aware of and at peace with himself.
Of course, a career like his is full of great stories, and even having been a fairly obsessive fan, there was a lot here that was new and unfamiliar to me. Phil Collins called to offer his services as drummer after Moon died? Pete was and is a fan of Bruce Springsteen? I knew of Pete's longstanding and fruitful obsession with recording technology, but not with boating. And he does sort of claim to have invented the idea of the Internet, though that one is less of a surprise.
Townshend is a good writer (this is not news), and I've seen enough interviews with him that I could easily hear his voice, his cadence in my head as I read the book; if there was any ghost-writing involved here, I'd be astonished. He does have a tendency to skip back and forth at times chronologically, but that might simply be a symptom of a life pulled in several directions at once. In the Acknowledgments, he admits that he had to cut the book down from 1,000 pages to 500 pages, and you definitely can feel the gaps at times at times; I would love to be able to read the longer version.
The Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is everything it should be. It reproduces every surviving image author J.R.R. Tolkien produced for his childreThe Art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is everything it should be. It reproduces every surviving image author J.R.R. Tolkien produced for his children's novel The Hobbit (1937) and provides copious contextualizing essays by editors Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. I'm no Tolkien expert (far from it!), but the text seemed extremely authoritative, based on solid research and textual understanding. Several gatefolds throughout allow easy comparison of Tolkien's various drafts of many illustrations, sometimes evolving from just a few scratched lines to eventual woodcut-like ink drawings or lush watercolor paintings
Some of Tolkien's early drawings seem positively amateurish, but I find many of the finished pieces simply breathtaking in their beauty. This book demonstrates that the painstaking care he put into his writing applied equally well to his artwork. Since maps play a large role in creating the scope of Tolkien's Middle Earth, it's gratifying to see their development here, as his skills improved and his story concepts changed or expanded.
Being a publication design nerd, I especially appreciated the attention paid by the text - and by Tolkien himself - to even the smallest things, like the decorative elements embossed on the hardcover.
This book may have been timed to coincide with the release of the upcoming motion picture, but this is no quickie tie-in product. It's a substantial volume in its own right.
This was mostly a lot of fun - Amy Sedaris can always make me laugh, even if / especially because her humor can be... inappropriate at times. I was su
This was mostly a lot of fun - Amy Sedaris can always make me laugh, even if / especially because her humor can be... inappropriate at times. I was surprised, though, that at times the book actually conveyed some genuine warmth along with the silliness.
Unfortunately, I read a Kindle version, borrowed from my library. Big mistake. The print book is highly illustrated and designed, and the beauty - and logic - of the printed book-object just get destroyed in the ebook version. So. Ugly....more