Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Year I Didn’t Go To School

Written by: Giselle Potter

First line: When I was seven, I didn’t go to school for a whole year.

Why you should read this book: This delightful memoir for children recounts a year in the life of a girl who performs in her parents’ theater company, The Mystic Paper Beasts, and spends a whole year traveling and working in Italy. She recounts the cultural differences of Europe, the experience of going onstage in front of many people, and all the funny anecdotes that appeal to kids in terms of small adventures, setbacks, and triumphs. The art evokes a playful sense of action and emotion and includes details the adult Giselle has found in the journal she kept when she was seven years old.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t want your kids getting any funny ideas about taking a year off of school to rack up some real world experience.

Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics

Written by: Stan Lee

First line: This books is for every boy and girl, every man and woman, who ever wanted to illustrate his or her very own comic strip.

Why you should read this book: It seems to be an update of the popular How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (in case you’re wondering, the “Marvel way” is with improbably muscled men, impossibly curvy women, foreshortened forearms, and insane punching action), and, if you want to draw comics for Marvel, or in a style that makes it look like you draw comics for Marvel, you probably want to read this book. It’s extremely detailed, taking the reader through a history of Marvel before dissecting every aspect of drawing comics, along with some elements of writing, lettering, publishing, and so on. It also includes Stan Lee’s inimitable but slightly silly voice and numerous anecdotes about his favorite artists.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t want to draw comics the Marvel way.

Lost Girls

Written by: Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbe

First line: Tell me a story.

Why you should read this book: This is probably what you’d refer to as a “problem” book, its problems being at least twofold: first, although it's billed as erotica, I’m having trouble expressing what differentiates it from intelligent, thoughtful pornography; and second, its premise, as near as I can tease it out, is that childhood sexuality is a wonderful, magical, innocent, and exciting thing that should be fully expressed in childhood, but which is inevitably corrupted, exploited, or destroyed by adult interference. In a gracious but unusual hotel in Austria prior to the start of World War One, three women chance to meet, and, as they’re heroines in an Alan Moore story, it should surprise no one that they are the grownup incarnations of three beloved children’s book characters: Alice of Alice in Wonderland, Wendy Darling of Peter Pan, and Dorothy Gale of the Wizard or Oz. However, Moore reimagines their backstories as metaphors for the taboo details of some very different kinds of fantasies, and, in telling their tales, the three women learn to release the shame, fear, and tension their experiences have evoked in them and recover the shameless, fearless sexual freedom of unspoiled childhood.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t want to look at cartoon pornography.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Calamity Jack

Written by: Shannon and Dean Hale

First line: I think of myself as a criminal mastermind...with an unfortunate amount of bad luck.

Why you should read this book: It's basically a sequel to the delightful Rapunzel's Revenge, with Jack (he of beanstalk climbing fame) at the story's center. This book begins long before he meets Rapunzel, setting him up as a bit of a rapscallion whose mischievous tendencies develop out of necessity of living life impoverished in the big city, skipping over the bit covered in the first book, and then jumping back into the story as Jack and Rapunzel return to the city, with Jack wondering how to confess his love to the dynamic, hair-wielding woman. Together, they take on a legion of evil, man-eating giants and restore order to their civilization.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Not quite as clever or fun as the first one, but still a good read.

The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics

Written by: Dennis O'Neil

First line: Here's what I'd like you to do for me: Make me laugh.

Why you should read this book: While this book won't teach you how to write, it will provide all the basic data you'll need to know if you wish to write a comic book script. Although it does begin with a chapter called "What Are Comics?" it's written at a fairly high level and assumes that the reader has probably read quite a few comics in his or her life, and is actually looking for professional information and definitions, not wondering what a comic is. I particularly liked the many different scripts, all taken from actual, published books and showing different styles of writing, that the author chose; in addition, his illustrations come from popular DC titles through time, so even if the reader is unfamiliar with the particular issue, there's an excellent chance to still understand the single pages presented here and there, because the characters and themes are likely familiar.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to write comics.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Native American Classics

Edited by: Tom Pomplun

First line: Beside the open fire I sat within our tepee.

Why you should read these books: Normally, I'm not a fan of the illustrated classics series, but this one did a great job of bringing together a lot of overlooked work. These stories and poems originate in the late nineteenth century, with a few pieces from the very early twentieth century, and bring to life a particular sense of time and place, a world of a culture struggling to survive against a force hellbent on eradicating it. A little inspiring, a little heartbreaking, this volume brings history and mythology to life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I'd read two of these pieces previously, and while they seem unchanged in this volume, I might want to read the originals to see if I'm missing anything.


Written by: Cornelia Funke

First line: Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.

Why you should read this book: Meggie never knew the truth about where her mother has been for the last nine years, or why her father refuses to read anything aloud, or even how these two mysteries are linked, but the night Dustfinger stands outside her window in the rain, she starts to uncover the truth. There are dark, dangerous, somewhat supernatural things afoot, and Meggie, along with her misanthropic, bibliophile great-aunt, must confront terror both very fictional and very, very real. A story that assumes magic exists beneath the surface of everything, and courage lives in the hearts of children.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Book burning. Deliberate incineration of precious, precious books.

The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels

Written by: Mark Ellis and Melissa Martin Ellis

First line: Comic historian, artist, and visionary Jim Steranko described the genesis of modern comic books as a "dream that instantly developed into a full-scale industry."

Why you should read this book: It's a generalist's guide, touching on, as the title suggests, everything. There's a little about the history of comics, a little about writing in general, a little about illustration, a little about publishing. It's a fast read, with plenty of illustrations.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's hard to imagine that anyone who is interested enough in writing graphic novels to pick up this book would need a detailed description of genre and what superheroes are; this book seems to be geared to young teenagers or someone who has never read an actual comic, and the authors' gratuitous use of their own work, offering up the same inexplicable pages over and over again, is not terribly impressive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka

Written by: Roger Kamenetz

First line: Once a tale was told by Rabbi Nachman about a wise man who journeyed to find a portrait of a humble king.

Why you should read this book: In 2003, I was supposed to take what sounded like an amazing class about Kafka and Kabbalah in Prague with Kamenetz, but apparently I was the only person who thought it sounded amazing, because no one else signed up, the class was cancelled, and I had to read the books on my own, meaning that I didn't learn anything about Kabbalah. This book seems like it might contain some kernel of what would have been in that course, as Kamenetz creates a magical history, comparing the lives of two renowned storytellers and bringing the ghosts of both men on his own mystical journey to enlightenment. It's sort of hard to sum up what this book is actually about, but its an amazing voyage through literature, psychology, religion, belief, faith, magic, fear, hope, and mysticism, which kept my interest to the last page.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would have signed up for the seminar about the Czech revolution.

The Beasts of Tarzan

Written by: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: "The entire affair is shrouded in mystery," said D'Arnot.

Why you should read this book: They wouldn't let Tarzan kill his enemy at the end of book two, and now the guy is back and seeking vengeance with a trap so transparent that only a pair of innocents like Tarzan and Jane could be reasonably expected to fall into it. Now they're back in the jungle, separated, without any knowledge of what's become of the other, or their kidnapped infant son, but Tarzan has a new secret weapon: an army of apes and a faithful panther who are all more than happy to kill for him. Tarzan gets to fight his way through impossible odds for his family while flexing his manly physique and escaping certain death.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The ending is almost as stupid as the ending of the first book.

The Return of Tarzan

Written by: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: "Magnifique!" ejaculated the Countess de Coude, beneath her breath.

Why you should read this book: Picking up shortly after book one leaves off, this sequel finds Tarzan masquerading as a refined French gentleman, attempting to cope with heartbreak and yearning, and bristling under the laws of man. Depending on his own jungle morality, he makes a terrible enemy of a unscrupulous Russian spy and eventually descends down the evolutionary chain to return to his wild existence. Coincidence upon coincidence stack one atop the other until everything resolves more or less to his satisfaction.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're more into believable narratives than happy endings. 

Tarzan of the Apes

Written by: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.

Why you should read this book: Following a series of unfortunate events, young Lord Graystoke is adopted by a caring, maternal "anthropoid ape," and, while slow to mature by ape standards, is able to succeed in ape society by the age of ten, and to transcend his upbringing by age seventeen. Using his human intelligence to make up for his human weakness, Tarzan challenges and defeats his enemies, teaches himself to read despite a lack of any knowledge of human language, and eventually impresses some haplessly marooned Americans, including the lovely Jane Porter. Whether bellowing over the body of a dead attacker, wooing a woman with whom he cannot speak, or devouring raw flesh with blood dripping down his face, Tarzan presents a very specific view of masculinity that still holds a place in the popular imagination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Burroughs's racism flag flies high here, so high that you hardly even note the sexism. Also, the ending is very stupid and isn't resolved until two-thirds of the way through the second book.