Understanding Israel

How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less by Sarah Glidden. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 9781770462533.

how-to-understand-isreal-in-60Emailing my new Israeli librarian pen pal (Hi Karen!) seems to be bringing a lot of books on her country into my orbit, or at least has me moving them to the top of my reading pile.

Glidden’s graphic novel memoir about her birthright tour to Israel is one of the best. At the beginning, she’s on the lookout for pro-Israel propaganda and evidence of the mistreatment of Palestinians. But as she learns more about Israel’s history and it’s people, she sees how complicated the situation is. It’s an awkward, upsetting, emotional journey, and luckily Sarah has her friend Missy along.

This is much more of a personal journey than Joe Sacco’s journalistic Palestine  and Footnotes in Gaza, and it lacks the funny moments of Delisle’s Jerusalem. In some ways I think Glidden took on the tougher job in making her uncertainty both inform and entertain. And I really enjoyed the way she characterized the people she met: other visitors, their guides, and the people they met and listened to along the way.

Between the above books, Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future, and Brigitte Findakly’s Coquelicots d’Irak (a graphic novel about growing up in Iraq that’s still only available in French), I’m becoming more and more interested in visiting the Middle East.

It’s Slinky!

The Marvelous Thing That Came From A Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation by Gilbert Ford. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 9781481450652.

marvelousthingThis is the story of the invention and ingenious marketing of the Slinky, from it’s accidental invention (while Richard James was working on an engineering project for the Navy) to the hard work he and his wife Betty James put in to name, market, and create a machine to make the Slinky from steel wire, then build a factory to make enough Slinkies for the nation. I liked that this story included Betty’s planning and managing their toy company. (As the note at the end mentions, Richard left for Bolivia in 1960 and Betty turned their nearly bankrupt factory into a national phenomenon.)

marvelousthing2The illustrations are SO COOL. The jacket flap calls them “dioramic illustrations” — photos show painted and cut-out pictures of people and their surroundings combined with objects like washcloths standing in for suburban lawns and a tiny toy tricycle in Gimbels department store.  The Slinkies are real coils of wire! Stuff like dominoes and multicolored toothpicks form picture frames around smaller images. The whole effect is stylish and satisfyingly tactile.

This book is going at the top of my picture-books-based-on-cool-inventions list along with The Day-Glo Brothers and Earmuffs for Everyone.

Fierce Bicyclists

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton
Drawn and Quarterly, 2015
9781770462083

stepasidepopsKate Beaton, of course, is super awesome and funny. Her gag-strip humor range? Black Canary making friends with a heavy metal singer. Alexander Pushkin enters a cat show. The emotional fallout for a nasty boy called out in Janet Jackson’s Nasty Boys music video. Wuthering Heights jokes. Ida B. Wells. Hard as nails lady Victorian bicyclists. Extra bonus for book nerds: her strips riffing on Nancy Drew and Edward Gorey book covers.

Wax Nudies

The Anatomical Venus: Wax, God, Death & the Ecstatic by Joanna Ebenstein
D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2016. 9781938922916

I pick up books with awesome photos of creepy beautiful stuff and then feel guilty when I have no interest in or lack the attention span to read their terribly serious academic prose. This time I said, “No More Guilt!” and skipped most of the text.

anatomicalvenusHere’s what you need to know: When it was hard to get corpses to dissect, in order to learn medical anatomy in 1700s Italy, some extremely talented artists created life-size and near-life-size wax sculptures of women with visible internal organs. The interesting part is that unlike the models of men who were shown without skin at all, standing up and doing things, the women were laid out like Sleeping Beauty, nude, eyes closed, with the skin of their abdomens spread open like a garment. They were extremely realistic, with human hair and eyelashes, and were usually both pregnant and sexy. Just in case you thought, “Well, 1700s Italy — everything was like that,” it didn’t take long until these ladies were made to be displayed in the European equivalent of sideshow tents. You know, “educational” nudity, nudge nudge, wink wink.

Get this book for the pictures, it’s totally worth it. It’s put out in cooperation with Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have any of them on display. In the back of the book there’s a list of museums and universities with anatomy exhibits of this sort.

Other books for your creepy art shelf: Paul Koudounaris’ amazing books on the artistic use of skeletons all over the world: Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints From the Catacombs, and The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses.