Friday, September 28, 2012
Started in 2003 by editor David Barker, 33 1/3 is a collection where each volume examines the allure of a particular album as well as the artist who recorded it. Named after the number of revolutions per minute on an LP record, the series spans rock, hip-hop, folk, metal, pop, country, dance, punk, electronica, and world. There is something here for everyone.
The titles are relatively short--often less than 200 pages, and every title is penned by a different writer. This does lead to a vast range in quality and approach for each book. Some read like meticulous postgraduate theses while others spout a haphazard spray of unconditional love. But I'm not here to recommend you those titles. This review is to suggest a few in the series that you might want to start with. These books will be broken up by the author's approach to his subject so as to offer some context.
Nirvana's In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar:
In 1991, Kurt Cobain had a number one record. That was a problem for him. Nirvana was not meant to make slick polished albums to be consumed by the masses, so Cobain tried to make the dirtiest, punkiest sounding album that he could. Calling in Steve Albini, a producer known for his intentionally anti-pop sound, the trio attempted to show the world that they had more than just rock radio chops, without imploding in the process. Gaar uses tons of quotes from Cobain and manages to show how hands-on he was, from the album cover to the video for Heart-Shaped Box. This is as breezy as the album is heavy. If you end up enjoying this book, you may want to check out Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur, where the culture critic somehow manages to point out the similarities between Cobain and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Timothy Decker's illustrated novel The Punk Ethic explores the power of music in the lives of seemingly disaffected youth. Guitar-playing protagonist Martin is struggling to find a reason to succeed in a world that appears all too happy to let him disappear. Financially, life is a constant struggle in his single-parent household, and his friends are a collection of likable if somewhat annoying idiots who have no clue what their futures will hold. He is in love with an impossible Dreamgirl (shades of Some Kind of Wonderful) and, inspired by a class assignment, has a wild desire to change the world, but little ability to do so. What he needs is a plan, a plan so big that it will make his life the sort of wild and dramatic life he has been afraid to imagine. In one month it all comes together, in the sort of ridiculous fashion one would expect for teenagers, but the story remains hopeful and stays true to its cool music roots at the same time. There is nothing saccharine or sparkly about The Punk Ethic (perish the thought) and the text is in fact peppered with the sort of wry observations that any high schooler would appreciate: "If the federal government really wants to change public schools and ensure that no kid gets left behind, they should close the cafeteria and call it a threat to public health." Or consider this look at the opposite sex:
"Goth girls live in a dream world, all operatic nonsense and crappy literary allusions... It's complete bullshit. That's why they go to college, wash off the makeup, and become GOP lobbyists. At least punk girls are honest."
Decker takes Martin along on a journey that sees him realizing the punk ethic of "do what you can with what you have," and tosses in more than a few significant moments about book learning versus the real world (both of which are to be valued) and why high school matters (for many reasons other than what you think). The illustrations and surprisingly intense ending all lift The Punk Ethic to a level of appreciation that makes it a memorable read. Don't let this quiet beauty pass you by; Decker has a story to tell worth reading and Martin, quietly depicted in so many black and white drawings, is a character to hold dear.
Cross posted from my August Bookslut YA column
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
You know what we need more books of? American fairy tales. I didn't even know we needed more until I read Sailor Twain, but we totally need more. Sailor Twain is the story of a young steam boat captain who, one dark night on the Hudson River, rescues an injured mermaid. He thinks he's just doing a good deed, but like all fairy tales, hero gets much more than he bargains for.
There is much to love about this book. The artwork, rendered in charcoals rather than clean ink, adds to the hazy fantasy. Is Captain Twain crazy, is he imagining things, or has he really met a mermaid? What happened to missing owner of the riverboat, a Frenchman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances? I hesitate to get more into the plot because much of the pleasure in reading this book is from watching the mystery of the mermaid unfold. But I loved that this fairy tale isn't some rehashing of Andersen or Grimm (this mermaid is closer to the Sirens of The Odyssey than to Ariel and her ilk) bu an original tale in the way that Neil Gaiman's American Gods speculates what happens when Old gods, spirits and creatures move to the New World.
Don't be fooled by the brief review. This is a great book for older teens and young adults, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
This review is cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading. Check out my other reviews in all their rambly glory.
*Copy courtesy of NetGalley
Monday, September 24, 2012
- 2,208 people were on board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage
- of these, 891 were crew members and 1,317 were passengers
- yet she carried just 20 lifeboats that could have held a total of 1,178 people
- she sank, after hitting an iceberg, on April 15, 1912
- only 712 people survived
Friday, September 21, 2012
Thursday, September 20, 2012
After School Special is Dave Kiersh's first full-length graphic novel, and it delves deep into the territory Kiersh has mapped out in all his stories before: adolescents trying their damnedest to make sense of the world around them. The book's main characters are a boy, Jed, who's just transferred to a new school for his senior year, and the girl, Lisa, whose reputation has left her isolated and bitter. Their meeting kicks off the book, and through each other they find a tether holding them back from whatever bleak trajectory they fear when they see all the people around them.
|The back cover to |
After School Special
The book takes its title from the television movies from thirty some odd years ago with the same categorical name, often based on the YA literature of the time. Those books were very different from what the genre has become these days, instead they were rigorously grounded in realism with an uneasy rejection of resolution. Kiersh
does an amazing job recreating that feeling in all his comics, and it is powerfully evoked here.
In his biography at the end of the book, Kiersh writes, "Like Jed, I was a kid with angst who always believed believed I had something unique to say. Searching, wandering, and heartbreak followed." After School Special is filled with the ache and beauty of that same searching and heartbreak.
After I read the book, I had an opportunity to chat over email with Dave, and he answered our 5 question interview, along with some comics-specific questions:
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
I did not, however, have time to read them. I've been pursuing a new career as a sword swallower and have had a heavy practice schedule. So instead I just read the second book, More Information than You Require.
Friday, September 14, 2012
A tightly constructed mystery is a pleasure. For all the imagination that builds sprawling, globe-trotting adventures, creating the same excitement with a small cast in a single location is a particular show of skill. Agatha Christie was a master of this technique and proved it at her best in And Then There Were None.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
OK, I figure this one is a natural for Guyslitwire. Author Florence Williams is very entertaining. She writes, in Breasts, ... some anthropologists have called breasts a "signal." Breasts, they say, must be telling us something about how fit and mature and healthy and maternal their owner is. Why else have them?
I was hoping the answers might lie with the creative experiments of Alan and Barnaby Dixson, a father-son team of institutionally supported breast watchers. Both based in Wellington, New Zealand, together they've published papers on male preferences for size, shape, and areola color and on female physique and sexual attractiveness in places such as Samoa, Papua New Guineau, Cameroon, and China...
I first met Barnaby on a blustery fall day in Wellington... he was very earnest. He walked around with a distracted air and wrinkled brow, and often misplaced things, such as parking receipts. It's not easy being a sex-signaling expert. "Sometimes people think I'm using the government's money to look at breasts. They misunderstand what we do," said Barnaby, who's tall and gangly and speaks with a crisp British accent.
Monday, September 10, 2012
“A” has, for every day of his/her life (A has no gender, which is part of what makes the book interesting, but also what makes pronoun choices in a review a hassle), woken up in the body of someone else. Every day, from A’s earliest memory, morning has brought a different human body to contain A’s consciousness. The process is not completely random—the body has always been roughly the same age as A (would consciousness age without a body?), and the body is always in roughly the same geographic area as the previous body. So A might be a boy, a girl, gay, straight, unsure, a transsexual, a drug addict, a model, morbidly obese, suicidal, a jock, a nerd, any of the labels we use to define someone’s identity. But only for that day.
“You see how cherries taste different to different people. Blue looks different. You see all the strange rituals boys have to show affection without admitting it…You learn how much a day is truly worth, because they’re all so different” (107).
Wednesday, September 5, 2012