Archive for the ‘Graphic novels’ Category

I’ve just finished reading Maira Kalman‘s newest book, And the Pursuit of Happiness. I love her brevity. I aspire to it with a kind of cheerful hopelessness, knowing that no matter how hard I try, there’s always something more I want to add.

Still, in hopes that her wisdom will wear off on me, I have been following Kalman’s columns in the New York Times since 2006. Her paintings and commentary are the results of a daily search for beauty and wonder in both the quotidian and the marvelous.

A new exhibit of her work at the Jewish Museum on 5th Ave in New York opened March 13 and runs through July 31. It’s called “Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World).” In an interview at the Jewish Daily Forward, she talks about some wonderful new projects—including an upcoming children’s book on Abraham Lincoln and an illustrated version of Michael Pollan‘s Food Rules—and says that she likes her text to be “tart and spritely.”

Perhaps best known in some circles for her illustrated The Elements of Style, the classic how-not-to-write book by Strunk & White, Kalman was born in Tel Aviv and came to the U.S. at the age of four.


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While reading and reviewing  Swamplandia! last week, I  looked into two writers Karen Russell mentioned in her acknowledgments. One was Kelly Link (like Russell, a Miami native), who writes fantasy and what is called “slipstream” fiction and has won a Hugo and three Nebula’s and has three books out: Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners and Pretty Monsters. Her story, “The Faery Handbag,” reeled me in as magically as the handbag acquired its contents.

If you called the faery handbag by its right name, it would be something like “orzipanikanikcz,” which means the “bag of skin where the world lives,” only Zofia never spelled that word the same way twice. She said you had to spell it a little differently each time. You never wanted to spell it exactly the right way, because that would be dangerous.

Read the full story here.

Another was George Saunders, of  CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. The critics love him, but always accuse him of being “dark.”

Here, in a December 2010 interview with Saunders about a recently published story in the New Yorker, the interviewer says it again: That story was dark. This one is even darker. I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but where do these ideas come from?

Saunders responds:

… One of the most truthful answers I’ve come up with is just to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, who said that a writer can choose what he writes about, but can’t choose what he makes live. Somehow—maybe due to simple paucity of means—I tend to foster drama via bleakness. If I want the reader to feel sympathy for a character, I cleave the character in half, on his birthday. And then it starts raining. And he’s made of sugar.

Saunders makes some important points, particularly about the way fiction is often mistaken for reality. I was debating this very issue last night with someone whose arm I twisted into reading Barry Hannah’s Airships. “But I don’t get it,” he told me. Hannah’s wild scenarios made no sense to him. “What’s he trying to say?”

Still, the story about the sugar-guy being cut in half on his birthday in the rain is not saying: this happens. It is saying, If this happened, what would that be like? Its subject becomes, say, undeserved misery—which does happen.

Read the rest of the interview.

I searched everywhere to find out who designed the fetching cover of Swamplandia!, as I only had a galley with no art credit. If anyone has a copy of the book, clue me in. [Update: Luther Daniels Bradley, a political cartoonist for the Chicago Daily News, did the illustration in 1899.] Lately I’ve kind of had it with book covers, especially the ones of women from the waist down—just a skirt, legs and shoes.

All the more reason to love these witty, graphic-novel covers created for the Deluxe Penguin editions of the classics—

—illustrated by contemporary graphic artists like Chester Brown (Lady Chatterley’s Lover) and by two of my favorites, Canadian artist Julie Doucet (Little Women) and Dame Darcy (Jane Eyre). Best of all, the jackets fold out with added panels and designs, like de Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir, above, by Tomer Hanuka.

The genius behind it all is Paul Buckley, who heads up Penguin’s design department and has gone on to commission artists for Penguin Ink, which commissioned tattoo artists to do cover designs (see below, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber), and lots more.

See the full array here with links to the artists’ websites.

Buckley talks about the series and Penguin covers in general here.

Here’s another way to refresh an old standby. One of my favorite literary quotes appeared in an unexpected location recently:

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When I began this blog, I wrote in the space called “About Me” that part of my purpose in starting it was to be able to write about books that fell outside my reviewing niche at the paper I work for. Now I realize it’s more than that. I want to be able to write a different kind of review of some of those books too. I’m currently making notes for a review of a memoir by Heather Sellers, whose writing books (Page After Page, Chapter After Chapter) are some of the best ways I know of to get inspired.

Just as I learned how to spell synesthesesia, the name of the perceptual disorder that causes Linda Hammerick to taste words in Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth, along comes prosopagnosia, another rare neurological condition. It’s the inability to recognize faces, and in You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, Sellers describes one of her most embarrassing episodes with it:

Earlier that week, I’d come back to Michigan from upstate New York, where I was working as a visiting writer during my sabbatical year, so we could all go to Florida together. Dave [her husband] had picked me up at the airport. I saw him before he saw me, walking down the corridor, past the narrow sports bar. Dave always wore running shoes and his walk was a distinctive leaning-forward walk, springy and gentle…I ran up to him and threw my arms around him and stretched up to kiss him; he drew back, pressing me away.

It wasn’t Dave. I had the wrong guy.

Dave—my real Dave—came up a moment later; we laughed about my mistake. I was embarrassed he had seen me hugging another man. “So many people here look like you!” I said. “We need to move. To a place with fewer Dutch people.” This had happened numerous times before, my mistaking someone else for Dave.

Sellers’ acknowledgment and descriptions of her awkward mix-ups—she doesn’t recognize her own mother in a convenience store, noting a “tiny, elderly woman at the counter, nervous,” who stares hard at her and seems angry—are essentially lighthearted and funny, despite how grueling it’s been for her to cope with her condition all her life. When I read about her childhood, with an alcoholic father and a mother whose psychosis defies description (except, of course, in Sellers’ book), I wondered if a lifetime of trying to pretend things were okay when they weren’t might lead to an inability to recognize the familiar.


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