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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: The Handsell, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. July comics roundup

There is a disturbingly large and teetering pile of books on a chair in my kitchen. They are books that I have read in the last couple of months, that I hope to one day get around to writing up for this blog. Many of them deserve lots of thought, ideally before I forget the reading experience. Also, maybe 50% of the pile is comics -- because I read them faster than straight prose, or because my reading is getting decadently image-dependent, or because it's summer and comics are my beach reading, I don't know. Anyway, despite the fact that several of these are serious books that could totally justify their own post, I'm throwing them together in a roundup, in the interest of getting them off the stack and saving the legs of my kitchen chair.

Superman: For Tomorrow
Volume 1 and Volume 2
By Brian Azzarello (writer), Jim Lee, and Scott Williams (artists)



The ALP, a much more serious comics reader than I, is of the opinion that this one-shot Superman story is about how scary Superman could get if Lois Lane wasn't around for him to care about -- which would explain why some villain hasn't actually offed her, since no one could deal with the destructive power of a Superman unhinged by grief. I'll take his word for it. While this one had some good moments (especially one mind-bending moment of moral complication when Superman admits he could cure someone's cancer, but won't) I found it whizzed by pleasantly and at the end I wasn't sure how the problem (lots of people have disappeared with no physical trace) actually got solved -- it just always does get solved when it's Superman, dunnit? It's fun to read a superhero comic with a beginning and an end, but this one was a bit forgettable for my snobby literary tastes.


A God Somewhere
by John Arcudi (writer), Peter Snejbjerg, and Bjarne Hansen (artists)


While this book is about the closest thing to a true masterpiece I have read in comics in ages, I will hesitate carefully before recommending it to readers. That's because it's also the most disturbing comic I have read in a long time -- the violence is bloody and has consequences, and the sheer existential chaos is unsettling, like reading about Columbine or Rwandan child soldiers. I actually thought about Columbine a couple of times while reading it, because the "why" of the horrors that happen is so unanswerable, in such a terribly familiar way. The premise: a happy-go-lucky, kind of slackerish dude finds that a catastrophic accident has left him with Superman-like (or God-like) powers; at first he performs some dramatic rescues, but the religious language he uses to describe his mission of good starts to sound a little crazy and he's acting kinda weird... and then he really snaps, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The narrator is the super-person's lifelong friend, an African-American

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2. The Handsell: The Good Thief


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The Good Thief
by Hannah Tinti (Random House, $25.00)
This novel contains an orphan, a con man, a giant zombie, a mad doctor, a dwarf, and a sinister factory. If that laundry list excites you with prospects of strange and uncanny adventure, or reminds you of childhood afternoons curled up with Robert Louis Stevenson, this is the book for you. For me, it's a reminder of when I was very young and my mom used to read "chapter books" to me before bedtime, chapter by excruciatingly suspenseful chapter. Now, my husband and I have been reading The Good Thief aloud to each other. It's the first time as an adult I can recall saying "please, just one more chapter."

It takes a pretty incredible writer to write a 19th century boy's adventure story with a wry 21st century sensibility. Hannah Tinti gets everything right, sketching scenes with the smallest of telling details, letting the character's moral evolution reveal itself in their actions. The orphan Ren is a conflicted hero for all time, and Benjamin Nab is a confidence man whose stories are as satisfying as they are implausible. Highly recommended for smart, suspenseful summer reading for all ages, and especially for sharing with like-minded adventurers.

1 Comments on The Handsell: The Good Thief, last added: 7/23/2009
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3. The Handsell: Agatha Christie Twofer

The A.B.C. Murders
by Agatha Christie
(Penguin paperback, 1991 reissue)
Agatha Christie is my guilty pleasure, though I secretly think she's got a lot more serious stuff going on than is commonly acknowledged; if I ever go back to grad school I'll write about her sly sophistication about class conflict, ageism, xenophobia, etc. This Hercule Poirot case, involving a series of murders in alphabetical order, takes on class assumptions, the fine line between homicidal mania and just being a bit nutty, and some unexpected romance as well. Read in an afternoon, then ponder or discuss.



A Murder Is Announced
by Agatha Christie
(Signet paperback, 2001 reissue)
Another sign of my weakness for Christie, this mystery celebrates small town life while skewering it mercilessly. It's also yet another instance of the impossibility of guessing the culprit -- I once read Christie would write the novel almost to the end, decide who was the most unlikely suspect, then go back and "frame" that person in her edits. However she did it, it's always a treat for the lover of old-fashioned puzzles.

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4. The Handsell: Comics Roundup!

As promised, I'm catching up on reviewing some of the many comics I seem to have been reading lately. This will be Handsell style: just a quick description/pitch.

A note on linking: I'm trying something new. I'm using my own images and linking them directly to the IndieBound book info page, rather than using the affiliate links, which require an extra several clicks before you get to the book. It takes a bit longer for me, but seems more likely to be click-through-friendly for you. Let me know what you think.

Miss Don't Touch Me
by Hubert & Kerascoet

(NBM/ComicsLit)

This graphic novel is a study in contradictions: it combines a somewhat lighthearted tone - "prudish girl finds herself working in a high-end whorehouse, bring on the sex comedy!" - with some rather grisly plot points, including some pretty dark perversions and more than one bloody murder. The very French drawing style -- quick and flowing, almost sketchy, a la Joann Sfar of The Rabbi's Cat -- contributes to this strangeness. It's a grippingly suspenseful plot and the characters and images are very well-done and sometimes even sexy, but I'd suggest it only to readers with strong stomachs and a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance.


Luke on the Loose
by Harry Bliss

(Toon Books)

This is my favorite of the latest season's offerings from Toon Books, the comics-as-early-readers line created by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. The plot and dialogue are intended for early primary kids: Luke, while on a walk with his dad, gets interested in chasing some pigeons and rampages across New York City like a hurricane -- but grownups will enjoy reading along for the fun of recognizing both many NYC landmarks and scenes and the unstoppable energy of a small boy. Harry Bliss, a Brooklyn native, brings this episodic tale to life with kinetic drawings perfect for the target age group, who will likely see themselves in Luke's exuberant flight.


08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail
by Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman

(Three Rivers Press)
Admit it: you kind of miss the never-ending drama of campaign season. This unique work manages to recapture the suspense and comedy and nobility and absurdity of it all, even though we know how it all comes out. Goldman, co-author of the Iraq/media/blogging satire Shooting War, is no stranger to capturing political realities and metaphors. Through the personae of two reporters who have seen it all, he and Crowley let you relive the political year moment by moment, and use the graphic novel format to get across the non-verbal subtleties as well as the rhetoric (every line of dialogue spoken by a candidate or other figure in the book is from their actual recorded words). Highly recommended for political junkies and those interested in what this medium can do with recent history.


Frankenstein: Prodigal Son 1
by Dean Koontz, Chuck Dixon, and Brett Booth

(Del Rey)
This book for me is that rare challenge: a negative handsell. I found the dialogue unintentionally laughable and the art cliched -- in fact, what amused me most about the book is that while the plot involves a still-alive Frankenstein creating an army of creepily perfect artificial people, it was impossible to tell his creations from anyone else in the story, as EVERYONE is creepily perfect, in a boring superhero comic kind of way. However, the plot kept me reading (against my better judgement) through the end of this installment, and the newly imagined Frankenstein's monster is kinda sexy. I suspect I'm just not the target audience for this sort of thing -- at ComicCon the folks behind this book touted it as a way to bring Koontz's work to teen readers, and it might work for teens. I'd sell it to those who were interested in Buffy or Twilight-style melodrama, with the caveat that there's much better work out there.


Scott Pilgrim #5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe!
by Bryan Lee O'Malley

(Oni Press)

This is it! The big book of ComicCon 2009! So popular that you can't find it in stores! The penultimate book in O'Malley's manga/kung fu/video game/slacker culture/coming-of-age masterpiece! Could it possibly live up to the hype? Well, yes actually. Scott Pilgrim, still working through his quest to defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends of the mysterious Ramona Flowers, is becoming a character of more depth and maturity, and the story is beginning to focus more on the limitations of a battle fighting, rock and roll playing, partygoing approach to solving the real problems of love, friendship, identity, and one's place in the world. Because it's the second to last, this one ends on an Empire Strikes Back-level cliffhanger, which means I will be in agony for the next two years or whatever it takes O'Malley to bring out number 6. But I can always go back and read 1 to 5 in the meantime, reveling in the layers of humor and visual motifs and hints about the outcome that the work provides in spades. I'd recommend you do the same, if you are the kind of person who likes fun, especially when it gets serious. Seriously, please just buy (or reserve) #1 at your local indie bookstore or comic shop as soon as possible and begin the Scott Pilgrim adventure.


Nocturnal Conspiracies
by David B.

(NBM/ComicsLit)
David B. is one of the stars of the very sophisticated French comics scene; his memoir Epileptic was a bestseller and highly acclaimed here in the States. I'm still reading my way slowly through this rich, eerie, atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable book, a compendium of some of the author's own dreams over a period of decades. It's a kind of counterpoint to another recent favorite, The Night Of Your Life by Jesse Reklaw; while Reklaw compresses other people's dreams into four surreally humorous panels, David B traces his own dreams at length through their irresistible desires, pressing demands, and French Resistance-influenced atmospherics and drama. I found each meandering episode both deja vu familiar and utterly other, as other people's dreams often are. The combination of words and pictures seems like the perfect -- maybe only -- way to convey both the visual nature of dreams and the fact that our understanding of a dream situation goes beyond what we can see (the "it was you, but it didn't look like you" phenomenon). Another example of the best of what's going on in the genre -- some nudity and dream violence make it unsuitable for the youngest readers, but for all others it's definitely recommended.

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5. The Handsell: The Manual of Detection and The Secret Currency of Love

Some of the good stuff I've been reading lately...



The Manual of Detection
by Jedediah Berry
(Penguin Press)

If you like your mysteries with a bit of meta, but still insist on being richly entertained, you are so in luck -- this is the book for you. Rain-slicked streets and wood-paneled halls, sinister carnivals and decaying mansions, trench coats and fedoras and femmes fatales -- the iconography of the genre makes up the dreamlike landscape of this tightly structured and chaotically effulgent novel. Yet it's also a moving story of a humble Everyman trying to make his way in an incomprehensible system of institutions and obligations, and filled with both pathos and humor. My tagline: Chandler meets Kafka for whiskey-laced tea at G.K. Chesterton's house.

I'm one of two booksellers at my store who LOVE this book to the point of obsession. And now I'm starting to see fedoras and pin-curls, mysterious briefcases and memorable umbrellas on my rainy commute to work. It's one of those books whose dreamlife seems to seep into real life, rendering the whole world more wonderfully mysterious.

(Author Jedediah Berry reads with fellow genre transcendentalist Benjamin Rosenbaum at McNally Jackson on May 28. If you're not partying with Emerging Leaders at BEA, I highly recommend attending.)





The Secret Currency of Love
The Unabashed Truth about Women, Money, and Relationships
By Hilary Black
(William Morrow & Company)

I thought this anthology might be a little fluffy for my tastes -- but after hearing some of the contributors read, I was open-mouthed in admiration and recognition, and totally hooked. (Some of my smartest girlfriends were equally intrigued --we're now reading it in anticipation of a drink-fueled book club discussion at some point.) As "traditionally" the non-wage earning gender, bearing the weight of all those Jane Austen marry-for-money-AND-love expectations even as we now have the power to make our own living, women have an especially fraught relationship with money. And that relationship affects our other relationships: with our parents, our friends, our romantic partners (especially those), and eventually our kids.

The women writing here are married and single, come from wealth or poverty, have found financial success or still struggle to make ends meet -- and the questions they have to answer sound very familiar to me and my generation of women. What's necessity and what's luxury, and who decides? What's worth doing for money? What's the cost -- monetary and emotional -- of giving and receiving generosity? Who is rich and how do you know? What is financial equality -- both partners paying half, or both paying according to what they earn? The questions and experiences are intense, and I recognized myself, my friends, my enemies, and every relationship in my life in these stories. It's not often that a non-fiction book absorbs me like good fiction, but this one kept me rapt through every single essay, and gave me both new insights and new questions. Can't wait to discuss it with my girlfriends (and maybe even with my mom, my business partner, and my husband.) Compelling reading and definitely worth recommending, especially for women struggling anew with these questions in an uncertain economy.

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6. The Handsell: Lake Overturn


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Lake Overturn
by Vestal McIntyre (HarperCollins, $24.99)

This book was put into my hands by one of my mentors and favorite booksellers, Toby Cox at Three Lives & Co. It took me a couple of weeks to get to it, but when I did it proved the rule that you should always trust your local indie bookseller when they tell you you're going to love something. This is the best straight-up novel I've read in a long time. No fantasy, nothing meta, no structural trickery or experimentation -- just character, story, place, metaphor, incredibly well-observed and perfectly described, so that you sink deeper and deeper into the author's world, and your heart aches for the story's people long after you've left them.

Vestal McIntyre is a contemporary George Eliot (this book reminded me more than once of Middlemarch), capable of capturing the truths about a community and an entire society in individual moments and interactions. McIntyre understands each of the characters that populate Eula, Idaho so intimately it's sometimes startling to get so close. Adultery, race and class relations, infertility, drug addiction, child abuse, autism, homosexuality, fundamentalist religion -- there's hardly a contemporary issue that isn't seething underneath the surface of this small place. But somehow, it all feels universal and brand-new and quietly powerful. This is the kind of book that makes you look at your fellow human beings with new interest, and new compassion.

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