Regrets, I Ate a Few

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks. Crown Publishers, 2001. 0609607820.

Sarah: Part of the significance of this book, because there are plenty of people out there who make fun of the horrible illustrations in old cookbooks, is that James Lileks was one of the first. He was really early on the Internet scene, he has this wonderful website that he’s been working on since the nineties — it’s a great collection of weird old stuff. He’s also funny; he’ll comment on the pictures and not just say “oh, how disgusting!” He’s really amusing, and he’ll start bizarre mini-fictions that continue within and across his captions.
G: (looks at photo and laughs)
S: He talks about how his mom in, I think, 1962 was given a terrible promo cookbook from the North Dakota durum wheat growers… that was the start of his collection, when he found it in his mom’s closet, untouched, in the 90s.
He has a fictional recipe in there based on all the recipes in these books, where you carefully put one atom of chili powder in a dish with a pound of hamburger meat, 36 pounds of flavorless cheese… “if substituting spackle, crumble one yellow crayon for color,” one cup dusty crumbs from the toaster, three grains pepper, one pound salt, then that one atom of chili powder.
Continue reading “Regrets, I Ate a Few”

Charlie and the Brain

Sparks! by Ian Boothby (author) and Nina Matsumoto (illustrator). Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9781338029468. 190pp.

“I am a litter box and this is my story!”

That first line is one of the best of all time, though the AI litter box doesn’t just tell it’s own story, it also tells that of two cats, August (a genius inventor and its creator) and Charlie, the brave cat who helped August escape the lab where they were experimented on. Together they wear a robotic dog suit to perform heroic deeds around town and hide their identities. A local newscaster is suspicious of the dog — is it causing the trouble it’s solving? A very mean and smart “baby” out to conquer the world is trying to capture the cats. And there’s a chatty squirrel who may not be as friendly as he seems. It’s got the beauty and insanity of a great Saturday morning cartoon, and the heart of a wonderful story about friendship. Plus it’s fun. I’m shoving this into the faces of both my teenage daughter and my “stop trying to make me laugh” wife because I know they’ll love it, too.

Matsumoto and Boothby co-created a 2009 Eisner Award winning short, “Murder He Wrote,” which appeared in the comic book The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror #14. Boothby writes quite a bit for Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics line, as well as for TV. Matsumoto has done work for Bongo, wrote and illustrated Yōkaiden for Del Rey, and created the popular webcomic Saturnalia (which sadly no longer seems to be available online).

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?

Four More Years!

Liartown: The First Four Years by Sean Tejaratchi. Feral House, 2017. 9781627310543.

Sarah: It’s weird, I recognized the image of the possum on the cover because it was the author’s twitter icon. He’s one of those guys, I don’t know if I ever followed him, but everyone thought he was hilarious and retweeted him a lot, so I saw his tweets. Then once I got into this book, I realized I know him from like five other things. He’s super creative and you will recognize some of these pieces from his Liartown blog.
Gene: It’s a sort of Photoshopped looking cover.
S: Almost photo collage. Tejaratchi’s background is in design and among other things he makes props for films. He also makes the things in this book. One of the reasons I like it and thought you’d really like it is

we’re both really into book and magazine and album cover design. We can recognize things from different eras. We’re trash collectors of cultural items.
G: We’re trash collectors! That’s a good way to put it.
S: He absolutely is the same kind of person. Here’s the first pieces, grocery ads that are… weirdly confused? Like if you had a grocery ad written by someone with a severe head injury or…
G: Like an English as a second language thing? I see peanut loaf, river nubs… I like this because it looks real and you wonder “Why am I even looking at this?” and then, oh!
S: Everything in the book is like that. They absolutely look like real things, real books and magazines and ads, then the jokes sneak up on you.
Continue reading “Four More Years!”

Best Use of Poorly-Remembered Lessons Since Let’s Parler Franglais

What I Think Happened: An Underresearched History of the Western World by Evany Rosen. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017. 9781551526955.

I was already pretty excited for this book before I even started: it’s the first volume in a new humor imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press edited by the comedian/author Charles Demers AND it’s written by the delightful Evany Rosen. Then I laughed out loud at least twice reading the first page of the introduction. Rosen recounts English and American history based on:

  1. her sketchy recollections of the history degree she barely finished in an honors program that was much too ambitious for her college-aged self,
  2. her avid enthusiasm for history as a series of fascinating anecdotes, and
  3. her strong and judgmental (and funny) opinions on history.

This is EXACTLY my speed. She has a hilarious and extremely useful chapter on how to evaluate what kind of military history your boyfriend’s dad is into (“If you don’t share my own unabashedly dad-like fondness for mentally storing partially correct factoids about tactical military history so you can spout them off at random while you drag your flabbergasted partner through an out-of-the-way tank museum that you seem to have Yelped into existence through sheer force of will, this chapter is for you.”), plus others on “America’s Dumpiest Presidents” and “My Personal Obsession with Napoleon.” There’s even a chapter on the history of cheese, which she admits is the best-researched in the book. I gave this book to my mom who, like me, enjoys a good tank museum, and I am eagerly awaiting the second book in the imprint (by the also delightful Alicia Tobin) later this year.

Automatically the Best Gift for Your Bookish Pals

Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462960.

This second collection of Gauld’s cartoons for The Guardian’s Review section, a sequel of sorts to You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, is crammed full of the sort of literature-based gag strips that you would immediately text or email to book-loving friends. Gauld covers genre conventions, stock characters, authors renowned and not yet discovered, and the unique life challenges of heavy readers  with some strips on art, history, and even crossword puzzles thrown in for good measure. It’s the perfect book to keep next to your stack of unread New Yorkers.

John “Two Sheds” Hodgman

Vacationland: True Stories From Painful Beaches by John Hodgman, narrated by the author. Penguin Audio, 2017. 9780525497691.

Hodgman’s previous books, a trilogy of compendiums of fake facts, had elements of his life woven in, from love to family to mortality. Vacationland has more of a narrative arc: he tells stories of the vacation home he grew up visiting and then owning after the death of his mother, then shifts to his new family’s vacations in Maine, where his wife grew up vacationing. He weaves funny anecdotes into the way he comes to terms with his place in the world: making stacks of river stones with a friend while high, how he ended up with his own apartment in high school, the oddness of the Maine dialect humor industry, and the by turns funny and horrifying story of getting an iron hook through his hand and going to the hospital. As he points out himself, a story of having two vacation homes is not likely to be relatable to most readers, but his voice (both literal and literary) made this audiobook tremendously enjoyable.