As usual, this post was originally written for my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman

If you are an artist or a creative type, Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman will
likely appeal to you right off the bat. Originally given as an address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the speech was adapted to this playful little tome. I say “playful” because it was designed by Chip Kidd (if you don’t know who he is, I think there is a good chance you’ll recognize his design work. Ignore what I said before.) and it is certainly not mere words on a page. The text is often layered, angled, colored, sized or otherwise altered to convey or emphasize part of the message. Some pages are stark white with a bit of text, where others are boldly colored and filled to the brim with information. Part of the beauty of this reading experience is that it’s so short; meaning that nothing has time to feel superfluous, extraneous, or annoying. I can’t imagine reading a novel like this, but this speech is ideally suited to a comical, light-hearted format.

Notice how my nails go with the color scheme of the book. Very classy.

Notice how my nails go with the color scheme of the book. Very classy.

In addition to the visual appeal (which is great), the book is very engaging. Neil Gaiman gives some really dynamite advice; which might be advice you’ve heard before, but it’s also likely advice you still need to hear. He talks about his life as a creative person, and the perils of doing a job just for the money. Even if you’re not creative for a living, “what do I want to do with my life?” is not a question you answer once. It’s a question you ask, answer, or are confronted with constantly. Frankly, good advice is good advice.

As a bonus, you can also watch the original speech online:

Super bonus: an interview about the book with Neil Gaiman on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Note:
Cover photo via Goodreads.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Have you ever lost a pet? Did that pet ever waltz right back into your house like nothing ever happened? That has happened to me, and it is also the premise of Caroline Paul’s book Lost Cat: a True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology.

Tibby & his view of the world

The book begins when Caroline Paul gets in a terrible accident where she breaks the tibia and fibula bones in her leg. That part is awful but also funny because her two cats at the heart of this book are also named Tibia and Fibula (or Tibby and Fibby for short). She’s home on the couch, feeling depressed, and attempting to heal when Tibby, the fraidy cat of the two, runs away. She feels this is literally adding insult to injury. She searches her neighborhood wailing for Tibby, hanging up posters, and feeling utterly worried about her beloved cat’s safety. She even enlists the help of a psychic, to no avail. Then after five weeks gone, Tibby walks back into the house. Not only that, but Tibby looks great! He isn’t underfed or dirty, he is just Tibby.

This is where Caroline Paul goes off the deep end. She becomes engrossed in a quest to find out where Tibby went. She wants to know who took care of him. Who heard her yelling for her lost cat and neglected to bring Tibby home? Clearly this person is some king of cat-napping monster. She uses cat-tracking GPS, a tiny cat’s-eye-view camera, and a cat communication class to deal with all her feelings of jealousy and betrayal. In addition to Paul’s sincere prose, the entire book is illustrated by her partner, Wendy McNaughton, whose work is truly excellent. She’s maybe best known (at least on the internet) for her series Meanwhile on the Rumpus.  Her drawings beautifully compliment Caroline’s ongoing neuroses (and prose). They are on this weird, purposeful journey together; and over the course of the book Tibby becomes their cat, not just Caroline’s cat.

Tibby, equipped with GPS.

Things happen in the second half of the book that I didn’t expect, and, be warned, not all happy things. But this story was so heartfelt and earnest, and so unlike what I expected from a book about cats. I definitely recommend this if you have cats or have had cats in the past, but I think it’s mostly a heartfelt story about a woman becoming obsessed with why something got lost.

+++++
N.B. The pictures came from an interview with Wendy MacNaughton & Caroline Paul on the Rumpus.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 187 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t exactly have a super cool reputation.  It’s a fantasy role-playing game popular among nerds with no social skills living in their moms’ basements, or so the stereotype would have you believe. In reality, D&D is an incredibly rich communal storytelling experience where you control and guide a single character, week after week, through a fantasy world adventure.

Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt explores the rich history of the game and the incredible variety of people who play. It started in Lake Geneva, WI and St. Paul, MN where two guys, Gary Gygax and David Arneson (respectively), ran fantasy role-playing games of their own creation for their friends. People were so excited by the prospect of having a character (persona, really) you create and play week-to-week, instead of a stagnant predetermined character. Your character has adventures where you could make any decision and do anything your imagination wanted, and molding your character and gaining experience.  The game started gaining a foothold among wargamers, but it grew pretty quickly when people started realizing the potential of a game you had a stake in shaping. It grew through the 70’s, and became quite a cultural force by the 80’s. The book delves into the company’s unconventional and tumultuous history, from self-publishing in a basement to a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Aside from hearing about it second-hand from people nerdier than me, D&D came to my attention as the focus of an episode of the TV show Community. The game is used to frame a conflict between the characters. Someone can easily become the villain because they can do whatever they want! You can turn against your friends! You can loot a corpse! You can do a musical number! You can breakdance until you puke! Anything you can imagine, you can do. In the game, as in life, your success or failure isn’t totally in your control. You have a character sheet with your features on it, your level determines what kind of stuff you can do, and furthermore the Dungeon Master rolls dice to factor in chance. You are only limited by your imagination. I know that sounds cheesy, but just imagine how much fun Monopoly would be if you could decide to trek the opposite direction around the board, attack a rival’s hotels, or cast spells to escape from jail.

The book alternates between chapters about the history of the game/the company that made the game, an exploration of the D&D community, and Ewalt’s own experience. The running narrative of Ewalt’s game provides a glimpse at actual game-play, so you can see the exciting fiction that draws players in. Dungeons & Dragons is a game, but also an entire world, an escape, a way of life, a creative outlet, and a fantasy. You might not be that impressive in real life, but within a game you can be a total freakin’ hero.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 182 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL and cross-posted at Happy Bodies.

Allie Brosh, author of the new book Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened, and I are soulmates. I am absolutely sure of this. Not just because both of our names are Allie (spelled correctly), but because she gets it. She gets pets, she gets depression, she gets cake, she gets procrastination, adulthood, and spider fear, and she gets me. This book gives me all of the feelings.

This book is a collection of her writings and drawings from her website Hyperbole and a Half that cover just about whatever she wants. Her drawings are some of the best things to come out of MS Paint since the programs invention. She represents herself as a stick-ish figure with a pink dress a tuft of yellow hair that kind of looks like a party hat. It’s not high art, but it is hilarious. There is a bunch of stuff in there about her dogs, who are quite dumb but very very sweet. She also tells a hysterical story about a childhood run-in with some cake. Her stories can be incredibly funny, but also tender and meaningful.

One of the best things she does is talk honestly about her depression. On her site she addresses how she used to post a lot more but slowed down because she was depressed. It’s not something she dealt with and now it’s gone, it’s something she deals with all the time. She told the Guardian, “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.” YES. She doesn’t gloss over it; she dives in and brings you with. But it’s not all sad, and there is some truly priceless comedy in those stories.

You can read an excerpt on NPR. Let it be known, I like this book alot.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 182 books toward her goal of 200 books.
hide

This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Good Poems for Hard Times

There is so much poetry in the world; breaking into the world of reading it can be really difficult! Old, new, conceptual, rhyming, short, epic – poetry basically covers all the adjectives. Sometimes it can be a real slog trying to get through a poetry book, no matter how much you like the poet or the poetry, because reading a bunch of someone’s work right in a row can be a little exhausting. Enter: the poetry compilation.Garrison Keillor hosts an entirely enjoyable week-daily radio piece/podcast called The Writer’s Almanac. Each episode clocks in around a mere 5 minutes long, making it an unobtrusive addition to your daily listening. The first half is literary and historical information about that day in history and the second half is a poem. From the archives of these shows he has put together several poetry compilations that are absolutely perfect for the novice poetry-reader. They are Good Poems, Good Poems for Hard Times, and Good Poems American Places. They are a very eclectic mix of poems organized along themes, and the poems vary greatly in style, length, and tone. There are some terrifically funny poems and some absolutely devastating ones too. If there’s one you don’t like, you can just move on to the next. That’s the beauty of a compilation!

My personal favorite of these three is Good Poems for Hard Times. The poets range from old favorites Walt Whitman and Edna St. Vincent Millay to new favorites Barbara Hamby and Maxine Kumin. They’re organized in earnest and poignant chapters such as “This Lust of Tenderness,” “Let It Spill,” and “Such as It Is More or Less.” My personal copy has little flags throughout for all the poems I love reading when I’m not feeling so great. I can always flip through and find the right one that hits the spot.

This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

The Dark is the story of Laszlo, who is quite afraid of the dark. The dark lives in his house, in the basement, where it belongs. Laszlo greets the dark every morning in the basement hoping that by visiting the dark, it would never visit him in his room. Of course all it takes is a burnt out bulb for the dark to visit, invited or not.

The illustrations by Jon Klassen are astonishing. His stock has risen considerably in 2013, and with good reason: he was the author of the Caldecott Medal-winning This Is Not My Hat and the illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning Extra Yarn. The images in this book really stand out – clean lines, textural colors, and beautifully designed spaces – but the most important and most extraordinary part of the illustrations is the negative space. Klassen uses the changing light as the sun sets, ambient light spilling from other rooms, and the beam of Laszlo’s flashlight to illuminate what is seen, but also to contrast against ever-present lurking dark. The dark isn’t a scary villain; it is a necessary foil to the light.

In an interview with NPR, Lemony Snicket likened writing the book to being on a lifeboat: he had to keep jettisoning words in order to keep the text from being redundant. Words are very important in Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books, and I tend to think of him as quite verbose (which here means using quite a lot of words when only one might do, although more words can be nice as well).  This text uses simple motifs that echo the clarity of the images and gently nudge forward like a hesitant little kid. The final book is stark and minimal: it is a tender little story about a boy and his fear. He doesn’t conquer the dark in the heroic, majestic, storybook sense; he just talks to it, follows it, and then isn’t bothered by it.

Extra bonus: if you have read and enjoyed Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, I definitely recommend a little slideshow he did for the Guardian called “How to draw… a bear thinking about something.”

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 130 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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Your world is just beginning to descend into turmoil, you see the signs and you want out. Visa for Avalon starts with two retirees, Lillian and her lodger Robinson, in a small country town, and but quickly changes when the government declares they are going to tear down Lillian’s house to build an expressway. They spend a day or so trying to figure out if there’s anything they can do, but when they realize they can’t they decide to emigrate to Avalon. There are only a few visas given each year, and the rest of the book takes place in the following week of political and civic turmoil as they travel to the City desperately hoping for those visas.

This novel fell out of print until 2004 when it was rescued from used-bookstore obscurity by Paris Press; and I first heard about this novel in Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. I also recently read The Handmaid’s Tale and it was fascinating to read that dystopia and then immediately read a different dystopia-in-progress. When the novel takes place, in an unnamed future in an unnamed country, you can see fanaticism taking root but it’s definitely not there yet. There are mobs and protests and crackdowns, but, for most citizens living in places outside The City, the status quo is relatively uninterrupted.

The interplay between rushing and waiting is a particularly effective aspect tension-builder.  Bryher plays on everyday life and everyday stresses and fears (like being stuck in traffic) to generate that feeling of restlessness. Perhaps this worked so well on me because of my anxious nature, but I found myself reading faster and faster as the characters are kept on tenterhooks waiting for a visa, for traffic, for their departure time. “Waiting is a form of death, waiting is a form of death, Robinson repeated the sentence as if, like a child running downhill too fast, he could not stop himself.”

The prose is very interesting too. Some of the imagery might be a little much for some, but there are many small details of everyday life that I find very alluring. You get these snippets of how people interact with their environs. Not just their house or nature, but their offices, cars, traffic, technology, etc. Since you don’t get many big details of where the unnamed country is located, you get a lot of small atmospheric details. While you don’t know a lot about the specifics of The Movement, you know they are rebelling against technology. In these glimpses of everyday life, you don’t see any threatening machines, but you do see the prevalence of plastics and other trappings of modern production. Those kinds of details are really what draw me in.

A lot of the novel deals with the characters examining their life in the aftermath of making a very quick decision to emigrate to Avalon. They think of their attachments – to place, to people, to things – and reflect on their situation. They don’t know what their new lives are going to be like, they just decided to pick up and go. In their rush to get out of the country, there are periods of waiting wherein the characters are left with only their thoughts. Reading their internal reflections forces you to look to your own internal life. How quickly could you leave? Would you? What would you take? Who would you tell? I doubt I would do very well, and I doubt I would be able to handle the stress.

I have been reading a lot lately, and not really blogging about anything. Ugh. I know I should be writing more.  Baby steps. Here is a little bit about some of the fiction I’ve read lately.


The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
I was mostly familiar with David Levithan for writing 1/2 of the book Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Green, which I have read and liked) and as 1/2 of the team who wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (the book, with Rachel Cohn, which I have not read but I was pleasantly surprised by the movie). This didn’t blow me away, but it was certainly lovely and interesting. It’s organized as a dictionary so the stories occur alphabetically instead of chronologically. I like that you can read it differently any time you pick it up, and that it will feel different/read differently based on who is reading it. It was a quick enough read that I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a quick charming novel.


Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
Recommended. This is the second in the Dirk Gently series. Dirk, for those who are unfamiliar, is a private holistic detective. The first book involved a couple of ghosts and a lot of other wacky stuff. It was ok, but very very very slow to develop. This one was great right off the bat. It also draws heavily on mythology acting up in the modern world, which is something I LOVE (my very favorite book is American Gods). The story engaged me to the very end, and involved just the right mix of clarity and complexity. I think the first book had to many characters and plotlines and weird things going on you didn’t know were going on. This one took all the good stuff from the first book and jettisoned most of the nonsense.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I hated every minute of this book. Well there was one single minute when I liked it, but every other minute was spent hating this book. I am still so angry that spent so much time reading because it was vastly unsatisfying. I went into it pretty excited because it has gotten so much great press. My idol Linda Holmes on Pop Culture Happy Hour said she read it in one sitting while on a plane. She couldn’t say enough good things about it (mentioned about 41:15 in that linked episode)! Barrie Hardymon too! I cannot imagine that. I found it was pure drudgery and I felt like I was turning pages not because it was an un-put-down-able page-turner but because of muscle memory. I wish it were 75-100 pages shorter. I wish at least one of the characters was likable. I wish the twist was satisfying. I wish the format were satisfying. And I wish the writing were enjoyable. I hated it so much.


The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
Recommended! I was really taken aback by this one. Ostensibly it’s a story about a man who breaks his shoelaces then buys new shoe laces over his lunch hour. The book is so little about that story though. He goes on all kinds of tangents about design and modern life that were fascinating and elegant. So much of the book takes place in the footnotes, and some of those footnotes stretch across several pages. It is not fast-paced or dramatic or exciting. It is cerebral and nuanced and careful. I found Baker’s (character’s) rich internal life a lot like my own and I was very impressed with this tremendous little book.


2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 150 books in 2012!
hide

I have been reading a lot lately, and not really blogging about anything. Ugh. I know I should be writing more.  Baby steps. Here is a little bit about some of the graphic novels I’ve read lately.


Goliath by Tom Gauld
Aw, man. Real good, but also real sad. This is the story of Goliath, yes the Goliath of “The Bible” fame. I mean, I know how this story ends, I just definitely wish this one didn’t end like this. Tom Gauld’s style is so pared down and simple, it makes this very well known story very wrenching and sympathetic.  I always like stories that have a thoughtful and likable weirdo at the center, and this fits the bill very well. Basically I’ll read (and probably love) anything published by Drawn & Quarterly.


Daisy Kutter: The Last Train by Kazu Kibuishi
Recommended! I started reading The Amulet series (highly recommended, too) a while back and fell totally in love with it. After that I looked up all the comics by Kibuishi in the library catalog and read all of them. Daisy Kutter is earlier than the Amulet series, but you can see so much of Kibuishi’s sensibility building. There are robots and old-timey things alongside one another. It sounds sort of steampunk, and it is, but not in a lame way. It’s more like Firefly, which is a very apt comparison particularly because it’s also a western.

I really like how Kibuishi writes female characters. They are strong and awesome, but not flawless sexy martyrs. The book might be short (or shorter than a regular novel) but there are so many character-developing glances, movements, and affectations.

Also there’s a really bad ass robot gun.


Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor.
Very disappointing. I’ve been going through a bit of a Batman kick lately (the new movie, and episode of The Indoor Kids dedicated to all things Batman, and an episode of How Did This Get Made about Batman & Robin). I give it 2 stars instead of 1 solely because of the architectural details.

At first glance, the art looks really beautiful — moody, responsive, and atmospheric — But it really didn’t make sense when reading the comic. It took me a while to figure out why it looked so weird and then it hit me: most of the characters’ mouths were closed when they were talking. It looks so ridiculous. And the color palette is awful. It’s almost all a soft charcoal color, with some not-very-dark darks and some very strange pastel color accents. Gross.

There’s also just waaaay too much writing. It was so boring to plod through because there was too much to read with so little visual pay-off. I had no investment in the plot or the characters, and one of the characters is Batman!


Unterzakhn by Leela Corman
It had been a while since I read a true graphic novel, as most of the graphic stuff I read (at least in 2012) is non-fiction. This book is about two Jewish twin sisters living in New York in the early 20th century, and the different paths they take. Life was pretty rough and tumble in those days, and there aren’t very many sentimental frames in this book. It was a time of great possibility, but also of some very sharp and harsh differences in class and culture along those ethnic lines.

Corman really brings life to the pages through the Yiddish dialect and the bustle of the streets. She captures the excitement, difficulties, and clutter of the time period. Her drawing isn’t pristine (something I really like in my comics) but it is stylish. There’s room for outrageous expressions and comic portrayals as well as beautiful and careful renderings, and the story isn’t hampered or diverted by that.

The sisters end up in vastly different places than I expected, and the story was always shifting and growing with these fallible and very flawed women. All in all, a very successful book.


2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 150 books in 2012!
hide

I have been reading a lot lately, and not really blogging about anything. Ugh. I know I should be writing more. Baby steps. Here is a little bit about some of the young adult novels I’ve read lately.


Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
READ THIS. Here’s the gist: a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash land on an island and have to fend for themselves.  It sounds pretty silly, but trust me it was amazing.

It was insanely awesome to read a book that is about all the things I love (disability, bodies, gender, sexuality, beauty pageants, television, etc.). Most novels (YA especially) I’ve read that deal with any one of those issues has done it in a way that is so tacky and dumb. This book was so goofy and fun while also being A+ on the stuff I care about. I was so energized by reading it!


The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Do not read this. Here’s the gist: A boy, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator that opens into a glade with enormous stone walls where a bunch of different boys are living. This glade is in the middle of the maze, and the doors to the maze open every morning and close every night.

This book was so unsatisfying. About 100 pages in there was a really exciting moment that hooked me for about 20 pages and then fizzled out! I hated (HATED) the main kid. Obviously in these distopian novels, the main character is special in some way. But what makes those characters tolerable is that they don’t really know or believe that they are special. This kid knows it and he is insufferable.


Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Recommended! Here’s the gist: a girl living in a weird old house discovers a door that opens into a house a lot like hers but creepy. There’s her other-mother and other-father in the other-house with her other-neighbors, same but very different.

Neil Gaiman is definitely my favorite author, but satisfying endings are not necessarily his forte. This one definitely has a great ending though. I can’t believe this is for children, because it was very scary! All of the situations were very evocative and so strange. It was a fun, quick read and I can see how and why it was adapted into a graphic novel and a movie!


2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 150 books in 2012!
hide

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