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Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence. Flatiron Books, 2017. 9781250106490.

Sarah: Each chapter of this is about a book or a genre. Each is only two or three pages long, and starts with a fake catalog entry — the subject headings are sometimes serious and sometimes hilarious. Each chapter is written like a letter. The first one starts “Dear The Goldfinch,” the book by Donna Tartt.
Gene: Have you read The Goldfinch?
S: No, but I feel like I needed post-it flags or a highlighter to mark all the books in here I want to read now. She writes love letters to the books that changed her life and why she loved them, how they came into her life at the right time…
G: So it’s as much about her as about the books?
S: Is is SO much about her, it’s this great autobiography through books. And she works in a library, so she also writes breakup letters to books she has to weed from the collection!
G: It’s not just love letters?
S: Not just love letters! Breakup letters, hate letters…
G: Hate letters!
S: Here’s one to a book, the subject headings she puts at the top are “Calculators” and “Old as Shit.” It’s to the book The Calculating Book: Fun and Games with Your Pocket Calculator. (laughs)
G: That one’s a breakup letter.
S: “We never go out anymore. To be more specific: you. You are REALLY not getting out much these days. It’s not that recreational mathematics isn’t a thing anymore. I guess it’s just that — how do I say this? Remember how on your book cover you ask if we have ever wanted to greet a friend electronically? People have kind of figured out how to do that without turning their calculators upside down to spell ‘Hello.'”
G: (laughs) Nice!
S: It covers all the relationships you can have with books. She’s got the one she reads every year, that she fell in love with in college…
G: Which one is that?
S: The Virgin Suicides. She’s got another one she fell in love with unexpectedly, and other books that came along at exactly the right time. She writes an angry letter to The Giving Tree for being a piece of shit.
G: (laughs) People love to hate on that book now.
S: Well, it’s a real weird story. I cracked this book open in Browser’s Bookshop in Olympia, to this page… well, I looked at the table of contents and had to flip to it…
G: Did you buy this? Do you own this?
S: Yeah.
G: (admiring) Well, look at you!
S: I opened it to Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. She starts he letter with “Whhhhyyyyy do people keep asking me if I’ve read you? Aren’t you the same book as the last one of you I said I didn’t want to read?” Towards the end of the letter she says, “You made me say ‘erotica’ to an old lady, Grey! I’m going to hate you forever for that.”
G: (laughs)
S: And this line, here, “It makes me want to shake readers and scream: YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY GREAT LITERATURE AND THIS SHIT ISN’T EVEN THAT DIRTY!” (laughs)
I was laughing out loud at these letters, I was touched, and she really has a handle on the kind of relationship I have with books. I mean, her life is different from mine, she has a kid and talks about the books she reads with her kid…
G: Does she write letters to them, too?
S: Uh-huh. Here’s one to My Truck Book, which her kid wants her to read out loud one million times! She has this great chapter, it’s not to any book in particular, but it’s her at a party, too shy to talk to anyone, getting progressively drunker, talking to the host’s bookshelf. (laughs)
She writes this one, “Dear Books I Imagine My Upstairs Neighbor Reads,” as a way of complaining about his horrible behavior.
She has a great section at the end that lists her recommendations by topic. One of the categories is Recovery Reads, “the books to turn to when you’re on the mend from a book that gave you nightmares or left you in a dark headspace and you need some lighter fare (but don’t want to give up quality).”
G: AKA The Zero by Jess Walter. (both laugh) What does she recommend?
S: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton… she really likes celebrity tell-alls, she’s got a couple letters to them… Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter…
G: Nobody’s Fool, I’ve meant to read that a couple times, and maybe this will push me towards it again.
S: She’s got other quick lists, “All Time Top Bios and Memoirs,” “Books About Girls and Romance that Don’t Make Me Wince Like Twilight.”
G: What’s on that one?
S: Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, Like No Other by Una LaMarche, Dumplin by Julie Murphy. Plus some nonfiction ones.
G: That’s great! How fun! And not previously published on the web?
S: No, it’s an actual book! And worthy of being a book, worthy of being purchased, worthy of being a gift to your friends. Though I did have a coworker I recommended it to and she said it was hard for her to take because there were so many things about bad library interactions. (She read it all in one sitting and I read it over the course of several months, which I think made it more pleasant for me.)

Bald Outliers

Tsu & the Outliers by Eric Johnson. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250242. 112pp.

Tsu is a kid that never speaks, and he’s bullied by kids who call him a freak. And he’s got powers of some kind — he can either speak with or control a Sasquatch (who visually reminds me a bit of Swamp Thing). After an episode involving a crashed bus, two cryptid hunters (one is a monkey, the other is something stranger) are on his trail. It all gets weird and dangerous and action packed, and Tsu ends up the bait in a trap for his buddy.

The action sequences have a berserk energy that I really enjoyed, and I’m a fan of books like this that use only one color of ink on a page (though there are two on the cover). It’s weird and fun and a little bit groovy — everything I hope for in a small press graphic novel.

Bald Knobber: a graphic novella by Robert Sergel. Secret Acres, 2018. 9780999193518. 84pp.

Unless you’re a student of American history, you’re probably looking the cover and worrying about what sorts of sex sites you’ll pull up if you Google “bald knobber.” That’s what I thought, anyway, though the truth is weirder. The bald knobbers were a vigilante group in 1880s Mississippi who wore horned black hoods. And despite the weird headgear they were guys who mostly sided with the North during the Civil War, at least according to Wikipedia and a few other articles I read online.

If you want to know a little more about them, read this book. When Cole tells his classmates about a book he read over the summer, Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes of the Ozarks, he pulls on his own horned hood before reading his report. The report appears in title boxes as we see what happened to Cole over the summer, which starts him being shuttled between his separated parents, who are both seriously pissed off at each other. There’s also his mom’s live-in boyfriend Brad, who Cole doesn’t like, and an asshat of a neighborhood bully who talks crap about Cole’s mom while burning insects with a magnifying glass. You know: typical children of divorce stuff. (Or at least it’s all very close to what I remember from my childhood, except for the hood.) I won’t ruin Cole’s vigilante justice against Brad, but it’s hilarious. Things between Cole’s parents keep getting worse as the parallels between Cole’s story and the history of the Bald Knobbers becomes clear. The end of both stories kind of beautifully peters out, though things aren’t quite finished between Cole and the bully.

The book is full of black ink, like the fabulous Teenagers from Mars. It’s deadpan and sad and realistic, and Cole’s dad is something of an alcoholic, so I really appreciated the laughs it provides. Some teens will, I’m sure, love this book, but I unreservedly recommend it to adults whose parents were divorced when they were kids. In fact I think I’ll get my middle sister a copy for her birthday.

Ab

Normal (a novel) by Graeme Cameron, MIRA Books, 2015, 9780778318507, 294 pp.

If someone or something is described as “normal” they are anything but…

Graeme Cameron’s unnamed main character does not disappoint in this cold psychological thriller. Told in the first person, readers never know his name. This tactic is pretty brilliant because you’re left to wonder who he is. The guy in your neighborhood with the nice house and beautiful flower garden? Do you see him at the grocery store and around town?

Because he looks so normal, you’d never guess he is a serial killer with a dungeon beneath his garden.Those groceries he bought when you accidentally bumped his cart are for a girl he’s held captive for a long time. And she is just one of his many, many victims.

When HE meets the perfect girl cashiering at a 24 hour grocery store, he realizes the other girls he was obsessed with (and later kidnapped and killed) don’t matter anymore. In fact, this girl may be the one who makes him turn his life around and become her boyfriend. He is so fascinated with her that he will stop the madness of his life. He wants to live right, especially since he knows the police are closing in. One problem though: how will he convince the cashier he’s a normal guy when the police discover the girl he’s imprisoning?

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Shyguys

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung. Andrews McMeel, 2017. 180pp. 9781449486068.

Tung is a web cartoonist and illustrator who publishes comics about books and being an introvert and more on her Tumblr. Her illustrations are somewhat loosely drawn but realistic, and the grays she uses really helps emphasize the quiet moments she loves. I’ve never had much of a problem asking questions in class or hanging out with groups of people, but I connected with Tung on page 12, when she looks at another young woman’s bookshelf and determines that they’re gong to be friends. Books also helped me understand how she could fall in love with a guy who isn’t an introvert — when she’s trying to decide between two books in a store, he buys them both for her. (That’s love.) Overall this is a great story, told in page-length comic strips, about a young woman figuring out how to deal with a world that’s not quite set up to welcome her (her job has an open office where everyone chats!), who moves toward doing what she loves with someone she loves.

I bought this for my daughter, who says she’s something of an introvert, for Christmas last year. I’ve never seen the book again, which is a good sign, though she seemed vaguely annoyed that I’d gotten the same book from the library and told her how much I enjoyed it. (But then she always seems annoyed with me these days (vaguely and otherwise). She’s just about to turn 16.)

Oof!

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. 9780393245448.

Sarah: Mary Roach is awesome at writing books on a topic and giving you all of the cool things you want to know about and not any of the dumb stuff you don’t want to know about.
Gene: Science-ey topics.
S: Yes, she’s a science writer. She wrote one about what happens to your body after you die, called Stiff.
G: I listened to that while driving to North Dakota last year.
S: They’re great on audio. That one had everything you might want to know about donating your body to science. There’s one about the digestive system, the alimentary canal.
G: That’s called Gulp.
S: And Packing for Mars, which is the only one with a long title. I still talk about things I learned from that book, it’s great in conversation.
G: That one’s about the science needed to go to Mars, and how it’s being developed?
S: Yeah. One of my favorite things from that to bring up in conversation, which is why you should invite me to parties, is that there’s a science behind pet food, dog food especially, to minimize the amount of shit that it creates.
G: Really?
S: They want to make really efficiently digested foods so there’s less poo. You need that if you’re on a spaceship because you don’t want to generate a huge amount of waste.
G: But this book is not about shit?
S: The subtitle to this is The Curious Science of Humans at War. Picking it up, I wasn’t sure this was a good topic for Roach, but she always picks the absolute best topics. She’s not talking about missiles, or about being a spy, or any of the stuff that’s been covered elsewhere. She’s got a chapter on the U.S. military’s fabric and fashion designers, she talks about the kind of fabrics you need if people are going to shoot at you. How they’ve changed some of things about the fabric because of IEDs, how they’ve changed some things because of the way fires start in tanks.

Continue reading “Oof!”

The Goonies Gone Bad

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank: A Torrid Tale of Child Crime by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, and Thomas Mauer. Black Mask, 2017. 9781628751888. Contains # 1 – #5 of the series.

This is flat out the funniest book I’ve read this year. It evokes 80s nostalgia for me the way Paper Girls does. Everything from the color to the pacing to the lettering combines with the art and design to make for a pitch perfect graphic novel. And it’s a crime story starring four pre-teens. Most chapters of the book open with some kind of role-play: literal D&D-type stuff, video games, toys. I wish I could go back in time and buy this as it came out in individual issues, because the covers (which I saw in the gallery in the back) are brilliant.

Paige (a foul mouthed, tough tomboy), Pat (a tall, awkward nerd), Berger (once you know he named his role-playing character Crotch the Sticky you know everything about him), and Walter (a shy scientist type) are heading out for ice cream with Paige’s dad after a role-playing catastrophe when four bad guys arrive at the door. Paige insults them and gets punched. Berger shoots an orc warlord into a dude’s eye. And then Paige’s dad pulls out the shotgun to make them to leave. That’s not the end of it, though. The kids find out Paige’s dad does know the guys, despite his denials, and that he owes them, so he’s going to help them rob a bank. To save her dad, Paige convinces her friends that they need to rob it first.

Most of the humor is in the conversations the kids have, and my favorite parts are when they’re talking at night via CB radio. (They even manage to pull a local pervert, who goes by the handle Doctor Gloryhole, into their heist.) There are Tarantino-esque moments, like when Paige sets a guy on fire, and everyone supplies their share of laughs, including a nearly silent foreign exchange student. Does the heist go as planned? No. Do people get shot? Yep. Will angry parents protest outside your library if their kids bring this book home? Only if they read it closely. And I hope they do — I’d love to see this book get all of the publicity it deserves.

No Camera Required

Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph by Geoffrey Batchen. Prestel, 2016. 9783791355047. 200pp.

Large gallery show and museum catalogs are reliable repositories of reproduced art. In Emanations Geoffrey Batchen does more! And he made me sad I couldn’t take a trip to the Govett-Brewster gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, back in 2016, to see his work.

He disingenuously bemoans the lack of a general history of cameraless photography in an introductory 47 page essay with 33 “figures.” In addition to these smaller illustrations, there are an additional 144 “plates” where the large format and heavy, glossy paper make for breathtaking reproductions. Anyone wanting to author a general history of cameraless photography now has a fastidiously referenced place to begin.

The breadth of the selected works in the book might upset a reader’s established view of photography. As early as 1839, astronomer and botanist John Herschel painted his pioneering mix of photochemicals on writing paper so he could, in mid-letter, make a print of the plant he was writing about! Many of the artists in the 1920’s and 1930’s used photo paper post cards, conveniently available back then, and an easy size to work with. Others went big: Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil draped human models over large sheets of blueprint paper; Zhang Dai’s “Man and Woman on Bikes” was exposed on a 91 inch by 118 inch canvas coated with cyanotype media; and Robert Huarcaya’s “Amazonagramas” works were made using 30 meter (98 feet, 5 inches) rolls of photo paper!

Not all exposures are with visible light. Wilhelm Roentgen made sure to include the feminizing touch of his wife’s wedding ring when he made an X-ray picture of her hand. More recently, and more ominously, Shimpei Takeda used soil samples taken near the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex to expose his media.

The two most-represented of artists are Man Ray and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. Six of Man Ray’s “rayographs” and six of Moholy-Nagy’s works are reproduced.

In Emanations passion, vision, and inspiration are on display. There are also incidental traces of the history of photography as art, craft, and technology. It is both an ambitious and rewarding book.

Guest review by Robert (no longer in San Diego).