Gene & Sarah

George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl. Touchstone, 2017. 9781501162893. 288 pp.

Gene: This is George and Lizzy by Nancy Pearl.
Sarah: Who we’ve both met and both like.
G: Who I would say is a buddy of mine.
S: I own her action figure and the T-shirt that you made of her.
G: She’s awesome. I ran into her husband at my local library in September — they live close to me — when Nancy was on her book launch tour. He teaches a meditation class I need to take.
S: I feel like the few things I know about her I noticed reflected in the book, and there are probably going to be more, and the meditation class is one of them.
G: Oh my god, I didn’t think about that. So, give me your pitch for this.
S: Lizzie, when she was in high school, well her friend came up with this idea that she thought was great…her friend dropped out because this idea was insane but Lizzie did it anyway.
G: What was the idea?
S: To sleep with every member of the high school football team. Well, not every member, but the starters. And they were going to divide the starters between them, which was 11 boys each, and then they’d flip for the last one…
G: The kicker.
S: …but because her friend dropped out Lizzie decided she would do all the starters. And it’s never totally clear why she does this except she’s super pissed off at her parents and maybe kind of hopes this will shock them into caring about her.
Continue reading “Gene & Sarah”

Put a Bird On It

Arne & Carlos Field Guide to Knitted Birds: Over 40 Handmade Projects to Liven Up Your Roost, Arne Nerjordet, Carlos Zachrison, photographs by Ragnar Hartvig, translated by Carol Huebscher Rhoades. Trafalgar Square, 2017. 9781570768231.

I attended the Nordic Knitting Conference this year and learned some pretty cool new things: how to work with more than one color of yarn at a time, how to use Sami patterns in a sock, and how to use a non-sewing machine style of steek. I didn’t end up going to any of the programs by celebrity knit designers Arne and Carlos, but I did see some examples of their projects — they looked really cool.

The knitted birds in their book are made with sock yarn on double-pointed sock needles, using the same techniques used in sock construction. If, like me, you knit a heck of a lot of socks, you’ve already got everything you need to get started, and this will give you a way to use up your leftover yarn. Plus the birds are pretty small and you don’t need to make two at a time if you don’t want to, so the projects go really fast. The book includes a lot of fancy variations: birds with sweater patterns, birds with tiny hats and scarves, birds with glasses, tropical birds with sequins — enough to fill this good-sized book. But after knitting my first awesome-looking bird with self-striping yarn and no other decoration, I think I may never need the variations!

Go East, Young Man

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978162040321.

This isn’t a guidebook or a history, warns cartoonist Roz Chast — it began as a booklet she made for her daughter when she left home to attend college in Manhattan. (Chast and her husband left Brooklyn, where she’d grown up and her parents lived (see Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?), in 1990.)

“I feel about Manhattan the way I feel about a book, a TV series, a movie, a play, an artist, a song, a food, a whatever that I love. I want to tell you about it so that maybe you will love it too…”

I just returned to Seattle from a trip to NYC with my wife, Silver, to meet my friend, Teo, and his wife, Krista, who were visiting from Finland. This book would have been great to read before the trip, but it’s perfect to read afterward, too, because it reminds me so much about the city. (In fact I just sent a copy to Teo and Krista.) Chast’s info on the layout of Manhatan will clarify my explanation of streets, avenues, and the east side vs west side. We walked everywhere (over 10 miles per day) and found lots of places like the shop that sells ribbon (Chast’s drawing is beautiful). I barely noticed the standpipes — Chast has photos of several, including one named Trixxxi — but I’m sure I will on my next trip. There are bits about the subway, stuff to do (including comics made from some of the paintings in the Met), parks, food, and more. Chast’s love for the city is both obvious and infectious. And even better, it makes me remember moments from our trip — Silver jumping at seeing a rat in Washington Square Park (I tried to convince her it was a leaf), our long wait at Russ & Daughters, and trekking to the Apple Store from Harlem.

Zeus Rules!

Jupiter’s Legacy Book One by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty. Image, 2015. 9781632153104. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Jupiter’s Legacy Book Two by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty, Suny Gho. Image, 2017 9781632158895. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

I read a lot more superhero comics than I’m comfortable admitting to most people. Most of them just aren’t worth talking about. Even if you like Marvel movies or made it all the way through Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy, you probably shouldn’t try most of them. They’re for fans who know about each publisher’s annual universal crossover events and can talk about the histories of characters and teams and whatnot. They are, I will admit, more than a little ridiculous. But some of them, like Jupiter’s Legacy, are so good they deserve a wider audience.

After the Depression, a group of young Americans were gifted with superpowers, and they used them to usher in a Golden Age. Sure, the most powerful among them, the Utopian, was a bit of a controlling do-gooder, but things were great. And then the heroes had kids, and those kids weren’t so great. The most powerful of the second generation were narcissistic drunks and drug addicts more worried about their PR and endorsement contracts than anything else. And the Utopian’s brother was tired of being told he couldn’t change the world. So one day he and most of the rest of the heroes, with the help of the Utopian’s damaged son, took out the Utopian and his super powerful wife (in a few very brutal scenes) and started to change the world. The Utopian’s daughter went into hiding with her drug dealing, son-of-a-super-villain boyfriend to have their child in secret. The world turned into a police state. Anyone with powers was hunted.

Raising a super-powered son in secret is tough, especially when he’s a genius. And it’s harder when he secretly starts helping people. He wants to take down his uncle, but he can’t quite talk his parents into it. Hhen his heroing attracts the attention of the authorities, and his parents have no choice but to try to save the world with him.

There’s so much to love here, from the pacing of the story to the dialogue to the art and the colors. It’s all flawless and moves at just the right pace. If you’ve read a lot of superhero books, you’ll recognize the tropes the story plays with. If you haven’t, you’ll be introduced to them in the best way and you’ll love it. There’s a prequel series and more to come in this story, but these two books are complete in and of themselves. They’re worth reading, if only to round out what you can call on when you’re doing reader’s advisory. (Millar recently sold his company to Netflix, so I’m hoping there’s a great adaptation of these books in the works. Millar wrote the graphic novels the movies Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Wanted, and Kick Ass are based on, so you’ll be ahead of the curve on any new movies.)

Bonus: Frank Quitely is one of the best artists working in comics today. You can see him create a single page from Book One in this episode of the BBC’s What Do Artists Do All Day.

Uprooted vs. Married to the Sea

I finally picked up Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin. This book was a National Book Award finalist and on several best-of lists for 2016. And on page 15, I saw this:

Page 15 of Uprooted

If you have spent any time looking at old newspapers or old medical ads, this looks nothing like an ad from the 1800s. If you pause for even a moment to read the text, you may wonder at a drug ad for something called “Placebo.” If you pause for two moments, you may be struck by how unlikely the phrase “drink it on the go” is for an ad of that time. Perhaps you suspect this this may instead be a joke.

Librarian powers activate! I flipped back to the picture credits to look for a source. The image was listed as PD-US: public domain in the United States, no original source listed. A quick Google search turned the image up on Pinterest, tagged as a Victorian advertisement. I put that image through the TinEye reverse image search engine and hey presto: a link to the original source. It’s a comic from the (awesome) webcomic by Drew Fairweather and Natalie Dee, Married to the Sea, which uses public domain clip art. The image in Uprooted and on Pinterest is trimmed to remove the URL of Married to the Sea, denying them credit as its source.

I really hope this was not the work of the author. I hope this was put into the book some underpaid intern charged with finding no-cost illustrations. But this really really really shouldn’t have made it into the final version of a serious work of history for young readers. This is absolutely going into my classroom presentation on finding reliable sources online. (Why not try the US National Library of Medicine Digital Collection? There you could find this actual public domain ad for a children’s medicine that contained morphine.)

Uncertain Certainty

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Machines of Death, 2010. 9780982167120.

This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 9781455529391.

Sarah: You may have already heard of this: Machine of Death!
Gene: Oh, I have heard of that.
S: I really liked it. It’s the first of two volumes, I realized I don’t have the second volume because I gave it to my brother for Christmas. But I have read both books. So! This is a premise that originated in a Dinosaur Comics strip, and it’s in the book. The idea is that there is a machine that is able to tell you, with a simple blood test, how you’re going to die. It will sometimes be obscure and sometimes it won’t be totally clear how that would cause your death, and no matter what you do you can’t change the fact that that is your destiny. Sometimes it’ll happen despite your efforts in a weird Twilight Zone twist. The book is an anthology by a bunch of different people all using that premise. It’s like the most wonderful anthology show, like if you got a Twilight Zone series where every episode was on one premise but interpreted radically differently by different artists. I would LOVE to see that.
G: It has a sci-fi feel?
Continue reading “Uncertain Certainty”

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity”

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick, 2017. 9780763681128.

I’m a huge fan of Hinds’ graphic novel adaptations of classics (his version of The Odyssey is my favorite), but not of Poe’s fiction, yet  Hinds’ amazing skill pulled me through. First there’s a legend at the beginning of the book, a list of recurring motifs in Poe’s work. Hinds then puts the appropriate symbols at the beginning of each story and poem to let readers know know which will contain thing like, for example, murder and rats, so that readers they can decide for themselves to keep reading a particular story or skip it.

My favorite adaptation, “The Mask of the Red Death” (contains Death, Disease, Scary Sounds), about a bunch of upper class folks who try to seal themselves away from a plague, features the creepiest masquerade costume I’ve ever seen — a disease personified. Don’t skip to the end of the story, it’s freaky. There’s a lot to love here: “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and of course “The Raven.” There’s also a lot to freak you out. The rats in “The Pit…” would send my wife screaming. And don’t miss the creepy details drawn into the feathers of Hinds’ raven, which include skulls and skeletal hands.