Got milk?

Confessions: a novel by Kanae Minato. Translated by Stephen Snyder. Mullholland Books (Little, Brown), 2014. 9780316200929. 234pp.

I’m going to try (and fail) to pitch this Japanese novel as well as Wes at Third Place Books pitched it to me.

It opens with a middle school teacher, Yuko Moriguchi, talking to her students. Her daughter, Manami, drowned in the school’s pool during a staff meeting, devastating her and the girl’s father. But it was not an accident. Her daughter was killed by two students, and the teacher knows exactly who they are. She talks about them in detail, and though she doesn’t use their names everyone listening can easily identify them. And then Moriguchi explains her revenge — she’s poisoning their milk with HIV+ blood.

That’s dark enough already, but it gets darker. The next four chapters, each narrated by a different character connected to Manami’s murder, explore the murderers’ lives before and after the killing, and show what happens because of their actions and Moriguchi’s revenge. It’s all wonderfully horrific. (I hear there’s a movie. I can’t wait to see it.)

You won’t like him when he’s angry

The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner. Oneworld Publications, 2017. 9781786072160.

Sarah: I went to Seattle’s cookbook bookstore, Book Larder, and ended up buying a bunch. I highly recommend this bookstore because they don’t have everything, they just have good things. I grabbed several cookbooks plus this one, because the summary of it said it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to read. It’s by this guy with a background in cooking and in chemistry who is angry about fad diets and the bad science and the bad dietary advice they propagate. He covers some of the more recent fad diets and what’s wrong with them, and then has chapters in between where he talks about how to think more critically, more scientifically, how to ask the questions that you need to ask, why you might seem to have good results from a diet even if it doesn’t really work, and how people will recommend a diet if they think it has an effect but if it doesn’t they won’t discourage you.
Gene: If it doesn’t have an effect?
S: So if you try the amazing new whatever diet and it doesn’t do anything for you, are you going to put a testimonial to that effect on the website promoting the diet?
G: Probably not.
S: So I picked it up, expecting to love it because it’s exactly my speed. But I ended up not loving it.
G: Not loving this book?
S: Because it turns out I’ve already read this information. I’m already aware of all of the things he’s talking about, and he covers more of the how to think critically part and less about the crazy diets and where they came from. I ended up skimming to the parts about the new crazy diets and how they originated. I think it’s a good book, but it’s the wrong time for me to read it. This book would have been great for me twenty years ago.
G: Where did you get that information, did you find it in diet books and on websites?
S: I have read other, similar works by medical people and people writing general debunking and critical thinking books. It’s a genre that I read.
G: So you’re wowed by this book because it’s all there.
S: It’s all there! It’s all in one book.
G: And you’ve read enough on the subject that you know it’s good.
S: It’s really good!
G: But this is not the book for you right now because you have read enough books on critical thinking, especially about diets, that what you would get from this book you already have.
S: Exactly!
G: This is a new kind of Book Wow! So it did wow you, you just didn’t need to read it.
S: Right! He has this really great chapter explaining regression to the mean where he explains the concept in a really clear way with an example from his life.
G: What was it?
S: He had this sous chef, mostly he did fine, but every once in a while he would do terribly, he would really mess up in the kitchen. Then he’d get yelled at and the next day he would be better. And every once in a while he would have an awesome day and his bosses would think he finally was getting the hang of this and then the day after, he would drop back to his normal level again. But the author and another chef were talking about this, trying to figure out how help him. The author tried to be encouraging when he did really well, but the other guy only ever yelled at him when he sucked. Now he’s realizing that the whole thing was regression to the mean. The highs and the lows… if you have a really high day, do the best you’ve ever done, you’re not going to stay at the highest point, you’re going to drift back to your average. The worst day you’ve ever had, same thing. So if your health is terrible, and you don’t have a degenerative condition, you’re going to feel better eventually no matter what you do. No matter what diet you try, if you feel cruddy, eventually you’re going to feel better. And the reverse is the same, if you do really awesome, you’re going to get back to normal at some point. It’s this thing that makes an effect appear to happen with all sorts of interventions. If you’re doing a scientific study, you need to have various controls to spot this. He talks about how it’s very difficult to spot, and the whole idea of regression to the mean is recent, it’s only been around since the late 1800s, even though people have been evaluating information like this for a long time. But this was really hard to see.
G: This kind of non-effect effect.
S: You see something happen, but it didn’t happen for the reason you think it did.
G: So things seem to work for you because you are generally OK. Whatever you’re doing is OK. If you feel super-shitty after you ate X, then you feel better when you eat Y, you think you feel better because you ate Y, but not really. You just feel better because you generally feel better.
S: Yeah, and they have to control for this in medicine, when they test a new drug, because that’s exactly what happens with everything. The author says people will ask him, “If this guy feels better after he stops eating gluten, what’s the harm?” and he says that it’s because it’s really limiting your diet, it’s hard to get all the nutrients you need. People who legit have celiac disease have to be super careful. And people will tend to keep eliminating more and more things from their diet.
G: Yeah, that’s interesting.
S: And he has a very carefully-written chapter about eating disorders. He says that he had previously made this statement, that now he realizes is incorrect and apologizes for saying it and for being insensitive about it, and he’d had a lot of people talk to him and correct him: he had said that these fad diets cause people to get eating disorders. Now he says that it isn’t that they cause eating disorders, but people may have an underlying susceptibility to eating disorders and sometimes the thing that triggers them or maybe is the first sign of eating disorders manifesting is that they start doing Clean Eating, which is a particular type of fad diet. You’ll talk to someone who works at an eating disorder clinic and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, like 90 percent of people in this clinic started out with Clean Eating.”
G: What is Clean Eating?
S: It designates certain foods as “dirty” and certain foods as “clean.” Theoretically it’s emphasizing eating more vegetables, eating less processed food, but it ends up giving people a huge array of foods to avoid, that they must remember which are good and which are bad. You end up eliminating the bad foods, and feeling happy that you were able to eliminate the bad foods, that you are good and not bad. It’s really appealing to the part of your brain that can get disordered. The idea of cleanliness, the idea of goodness, the idea of purity associated with your eating really sinks its claws into the part of you that wants to have an eating disorder.
G: Is this like when people talk about a cleanse? Like a blueberry cleanse?
S: I think there’s some overlap, but I think it’s slightly different. (There’s a good overview of it in The Guardian by food writer Bee Wilson.)
You’re going to see it everywhere now, it’s been a fad for maybe five years. I had been seeing books on Clean Eating at the library and wondered, “Clean? How so?”
A lot of this originated on his blog and he talks about how it has changed based on input from his readers, people who wrote in and gave him more context and more information.

life is good

It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken: A Picture Novella by Seth. Drawn & Quarterly, 1996. 1896597068. (Yeah, that’s right, it’s an old book with an actual 10-digit ISBN.) Originally serialized in Palooka-ville #4 – #9.

In this “autobiographical” graphic novella, Seth’s fascination with old New Yorker cartoonists leads him to start tracking down work by a fictional cartoonist (Kalo) who he really admires, who cartoonist Chester Brown (a friend of Seth’s who appears throughout the book) notes draws a lot like Seth. Through the course of the book Seth finds more cartoons and finally tracks down some info about Kalo, finding out he was also from just outside Toronto, and more. (I don’t want to spoil it.) Throughout there’s a great sense of the way Seth feels about the world, how people annoy him, what he loves about his family (who also annoy him), and just generally how he moves through his days. And it’s all got Seth’s great sense of style and design, which he’s brought to numerous books, notably The Complete Peanuts collections from Fantagraphics and The Collected Doug Wright from D&Q.

Seth’s drawings throughout are amazing, and he gives a great sense of Toronto decades before I had a chance to visit. (In fact I’m sure Michael Cho must have drawn some inspiration from this for his Torontoscapes in the very pink Shoplifter.) Next time I’m in Tornoto I’m going to see if the weather tower is still there — and I’m not looking it up online ahead of time, so don’t tell me.

Just a note: if your eyes are aging like mine, be sure to have your reading glasses on hand. Some of the white on black lettering was hard on my eyes, but easy to read at 2.5x magnification.

Runaways

We Can Never Go Home Volume One: What We Do Is Secret by Josh Hood, Brian Level, Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Dylan Todd. Black Mask, 2015. 9781628750843. Originally published as We Can Never Go Home #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

1989. Duncan is outside of the small town where he goes to high school, shooting his father’s pistol, when he comes across a truck in which Ben is groping Madison. Ben catches Duncan peering in the window, and in the course of trying to start a fight he throws Madison to the ground. Big mistake. Madison’s eyes glow and shoot lightning, and she uses super strength to toss him through the window of his truck. He calls her a freak and drives off. She threatens Duncan, making it clear he shouldn’t tell anyone about what happened. But on their long walk home she comes clean about her powers. (She’s adopted, has no idea where she got them, and does not want to be a superhero. She just wants to leave town. And then Duncan tells her his secret: he can kill people with his mind. (Really?))

It’s not too far to a scene of old fashioned high school bullying, Duncan giving Madison a mix tape, a somewhat accidental murder, and them going on the run together. The problem is they need some cash, so they start robbing drug dealers. The authorities are soon after them, and so are others interested in using their powers.

There’s a lot to love in the book, particularly the bit where Duncan tries to get Madison to buy superhero clothes at a costume shop. The pacing is great, the violence is realistic, and when others with powers finally show up, it’s weird. It’s a really enjoyable YA adventure that’s a readalike for They’re Not Like Us and the classic Teenagers from Mars.

Why does that guy’s name always come first?

Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi. First Second, 2011. 9781596434509. 144pp.

Gene: This is the Lewis & Clark graphic novel by Nick Bertozzi, who is amazing. His Shackleton graphic novel is also famous among librarians. I really like his books. I have some of the original art from the Shackelton graphic novel on my wall. I’m a huge fan of his work. And I’m happy to report he seems super cool — I met him at SPX a few years ago.
I love this one even though I don’t enjoy nonfiction graphic novels much. I read it again recently because I wanted to have a sense of Lewis and Clark’s journey after seeing so many places they stopped on my drive from Seattle to North Dakota and back last summer.
Bertozzi’s art gives a great sense of being on the plains. And I’m sending it to my library school advisor Carol Doll (who I visited in North Dakota) because I’ve been looking for graphic novels she’d like. (I also sent her Marzi, about a girl growing up in Poland behind the Iron Curtain, and 3 volumes of Northlanders, and Brian Wood’s comic series about Vikings, which she said was a little too violent.) So I’m sending this, Sharon Shinn’s graphic novel from First Second (she’s a fan), and, because she’s interested in the history of the west, the Audubon graphic novel as well, which is my go-to gift of the year along with F*ck That’s Delicious.

Continue reading “Why does that guy’s name always come first?”

Hideo with a Thousand Faces

I Am A Hero Omnibus 1 by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse, 2016. 9781616559205.
I Am A Hero Omnibus 2 by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse, 2016. 9781506700199.
I Am A Hero Omnibus 3 by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781506701455.

Hideo, in his mid-30s, still wants to be a successful manga artist. Despite having published a few of his own stories, he mostly works as an assistant for others. His girlfriend is pretty nice, and he’s one of the few folks in Japan who legally owns a gun, but he’s kind of drifting through his life. As news reports about violent people biting each other begin, nothing really changes. In fact, most Japanese citizens hardly seem to notice what’s going on around them. (Or are they just too polite to say anything?) And by the time they do notice it’s too late. By then Hideo’s life has fallen apart, he’s gotten out of the city (on a train ride that reminded me of the Korean film Train to Busan), and he’s living the American zombie apocalypse dream: he’s the only man with a gun.

Questions answered by the end of Omnibus 3:
Do headshots kill these zombies? Not always. Do bites cause zombification? Yes. Are zombie babies scary? Oh yeah.

Unanswered questions:
Can half-zombie schoolgirls be trusted? Why are some of the zombies all twisted up and spidery, like their bones have been rearranged? How do some zombies open their mouths wide enough to swallow the top of another person’s head?

“O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!”

Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm by Dana Simpson. Amp Comics for Kids, 2017. 9781449483593. 157pp.

The backstory: Phoebe helped a unicorn, Marigold, stop looking at her reflection in a pond. Marigold granted her a wish. Phoebe wished that they’d be best friends, and they have been ever since.

Now disturbing magical forces are at work, and there’s extreme weather on the way. Her less than friendly rival (bully?) Dakota, Queen of the Goblins (or something), is a bit nasty to her at school. (They carry her to school on a litter while Phoebe rides Dakota.) But that’s balanced out by Phoebe’s friendship with Max, who loves science. Phoebe and Marigold will need both of them to deal with whatever is taking both heat and magic from the town.

The marketing blurb I received with my review copy says that it’s about discovering the importance of teamwork (and it is). But it’s also some of the most skillful, fun cartooning I’ve seen in a long time. Plus there’s some nice metallic foil on the cover that gives the title and the lightning bolt glow a shiny glow in the right light.

This is the first full-length Phoebe and Her Unicorn graphic novel.  If these look familiar, it’s probably because there have been five books so far that collect the comic strips.