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« October, 2004 »
David Chelsea in Love

David Chelsea is a man who is looking for a woman, and he finds her, or thinks he does, but she turns out to be crazy. This graphic novel outlines the back and forth that he and the crazy lady have before he finally settles down with someone he likes. Actually, the woman David is in love with initially isn’t crazy but just has such differing ideas of what she wants from a relationship that she might as well be from David’s perspective. They get together and break up, they sleep with other people, they fight, they make up,etc etc. The story seem to exist a bit more to be some sort of post-relationship catharsis than as an actual good story, but the illustrations are great, the narrative moves forward and since David Chelsea doesn’t find Jesus at the end of it, it beats all the other graphic novels I’ve read recently

The Cat’s Pajamas

I have enjoyed Ray Bradbury’s books since I pulled an old copy of October Country out of one of the boxes of books my parents kept in the attic. I have always enjoyed his ability to be sentimental without [usually] being schmaltzy and his way with words. He also is one of the few writers who consistently employs nature themes in his story writing. The wind, leaves, trees and seasons are all often characters in his books along with the human and non-human people. This book is a collection of mostly shorter pieces that span a real range of Bradbury’s career. All but two are unpublished and I hadn’t read any of them before. Bradbury writes in the introduction that after the death of his wife he wasn’t sure that he’d ever be able or inspired to write again. Some of these stories are new and many of them are older ones that a friend of his helped find in boxes of his papers in the garage. The collection also has an introduction that gives some insight into the inspirations behind some of the stories which is a welcome addition and tool for accessing Bradbury.

My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable

I’m more familiar with Rees through his more political Get Your War On comics which have delighted me since he started making them. The technique is the same: take some ugly office clip art, mix in a liberal dose of swearing and indignation at insane BS and lies you are supposed to swallow and you have a very funny comic. It’s like Dilbert, only not safe for work. This book is a pretty low-tech collection of these comics basically printed and bound with a construction paper cover and not much else. Not really archival quality, and I wonder how long our copy is going to last at our library. It’s funny as hell and Rees is worth supporting but many of the comics [all?] are also available online so at the very least read them and get indignant and then maybe, I don’t know, go out and try to change things?

The Fact Checker’s Bible

This book makes me sort of nostalgic, as a librarian, for a time when checking facts was considered an essential part of journalism. Smith has had several fact checking jobs at illustrious publications and wrote this slim volume between two of those jobs. She outlines what a fact checker does, why it is important and goes over some of the central conflicts that come up in her job. For example: you have a quotation that someone has cheated on his wife. You can verify that he said it, but can you verify the quote? To call the wife would be considered hurtful, to call the mistress quite likely impossible. What do you do? Smith covers those and other dilemmas in a chatty and engaging discussion of journalism and the ethics surrounding veracity.

Silly Daddy

I have now decided there is some sort of graphic novel genre that I have loosely titled “guy finds Christ on last page.” I read one of these books recently and this is the second. Chiapetta [is that his real name?] is a capable artist, but his work, which is a compilation of his comics, starts out really amateurish. By the time he has gotten to be a good drawer and storyboarder, he has started getting a bit surreal. This is probably easier to understand if you read the stories in comic form, noting where one ends and one begins. It’s confusing as hell in the novelized version. And, at the end, the vegan longhair with the neat little daughter and penchant for sticking it to authority finds Jesus, gets married, gets baptized, and has a son, all on the last page. It’s sort of a happy ending, unless you got familiar with the character all the way through who seems to have died to give this little tale its happy ending.


“Hi, I’m a hermaphrodite, but wait, I want to tell you about the story of my family....” If Eugenides were any less of a capable writer, this tactic would have driven me to distraction as it has in lesser books. Instead, his stories about grandparents growing up in Greece, fleeing the invaders, moving to Detroit and raising a family, becomes such a delightful diversion [and, in fact, the bulk of the story] that you can almost forget that you’ve been tantalized by a really juicy bit of information. It’s tough to not write a tawdry tale when you’re talking about sex and gender issues. The questions in the reader’s minds such as “What does his/her THING look like?” or “How does he/she have sex?” must be addressed in some fashion but they need not be the focal point of an otherwise engrossing story.

In fact, the bomb drops for most people before they even pick up this book. It’s popular enough that most people know it’s got a hermaphrodite character even before they pick it up. For some, this keeps them from picking up the book at all, as in the case of my landlady’s elderly friend who said flat out “I don’t like reading books about sex” and would not be persuaded to pick it up. It’s really a story about family, and a story about identity and how you know who you are. This is repeated over and over, when people move from one country to another, from one family alignment to another, from one social class to another or from one gender to another. While the narrator is, at the present time, a man in his 40’s, most of the story revolves around that tricky time when he went from being a girl, to being a teenaged.... teenager. Gender issues are only part of the problem with growing older, the story seems to say to us, and with lovely language Eugenides spells out many of the other problems.

The Chamber

There’s nothing like a good Grisham book when you are flat on your back with a cold and able to do pretty much nothing but read. Grisham used to write these stories of ultrarich lawyers trapped in impossible scenarios with well-funded teams of attack lawyers after them. Age seems to have softened him and the last two books of his that I have read were this one and one where the high-paid lawyer gave it all up to do poverty law.

This book is mainly about the death penalty. The main character has been sentenced to death for a crime he was at least an accomplice in committing. His grandson who has never met him decided to take on his case pro bono to try to get him off. There’s not even much more plot thatn that. No big suprises, no suspenseful cliffhangers. The absolute routinized process of state-sponsored killings are given a lot of pages. Grisham is clearly against the dealth penalty and many of the characters in this book trot out somehwat timeworn cliches about why the death penalty is a bad idea. If you love the death penalty, you might not enjoy this book, but if you liked movies like The Green Mile and other “day in the life of death row” type narratives, this one is as good as they come.

How to Survive Without a Salary

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. Long isn’t suggesting that you never work again, he is just suggesting that you don’t have to have a 9-5 salaryman type of job in order to be able to survive and live somewhat comfortably. And he backs up this assertion with evidence from his own life. Long is one of those people living by what he calls “Conserver” values where you don’t take anything for granted where you try to pay as little as possible on things that are neccesary and you find ways to live without thing you might formerly have thought of as luxuries. It works for him. It clearly wouldn’t work for everyone but that’s why his laundry list approach to conserving can be useful. Even if you have a 9-5 job -- and if you like it, more power to you -- you can still take advantage of his advice on investing, or growing your own vegetables, or shopping cheaply for furniture, or how to buy items at auctions. While this book isn’t the most attractive treatise on frugal living [Amy Dacyczyn’s books take the cake in that regard] it’s helpful and Long’s earnest “I can do it so can you!” approach is easy to read and inspiring if you’re already inclined towards that sort of lifestyle. He may not win any converts from the moneyed classes, but it won’t be for lack of trying.