Recently in books Category

Casey Stepaniuk is ecstatic about the "plethora of 2018 bisexual YA books coming out in 2018," and suggests 10 must-read bisexual YA books. These three seemed most intriguing to me:

  • Ship It by Britta Lundin,
  • Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli ("This companion novel to the beloved Simon Vs. the Homosapiens Agenda follows Simon's best friend Leah as she finally gets to be front and center in her own story!"), and
  • The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde.

TCJ's interview with Craig Thompson about the new expanded edition of his travelogue Carnet de Voyage reminded me yet again that, despite how much I enjoyed Blankets, I still haven't read Habibi. I had better get to it before Thompson produces any more novels. In the interview, Alex Dueben asks Thompson, "what are you working on now?"

I am still secretive about it, but I'll probably be ready to announce it this fall. I haven't signed a contract yet, but the plan is to serialize it as a comic book. For the first time in my career. When I did Blankets I was really pushing against comic book store culture and collector mentality and serial comics. I was sick of the format of comic books. Now I'm sick of graphic novels and the pretension around them and the prohibitive cost and space they consume. We live in this era over-saturated with media and images and there's something really pure about the 24-32 page comic book to me now. As I was struggling with how to structure this new book, I realized that I want to do it as a comic book. It's still going to be a graphic novel but I want to use the constraint as the structure. I'm excited about comics as a medium again.

Given Thompson's propensity for longer works, Dueben asks, "Is this going to be a shorter or longer book?"

[laughs] Unfortunately it's going to be another Blankets-Habibi. I resisted that for so long. I did not want it to be that and I was trying to figure out how I could cut it down. It wasn't until I came upon the serialization idea that it started to feel more right for me. [...] I hope that this serialization makes it more pleasurable for me. It means I can start having stuff out next year rather than disappearing for years and years again.

Anders Nilsen seems to be really enjoying serializing Tongues.

That's a great example. I don't know if I'm as bold as him, though, self-publishing. But his book is a good example of what I like reading these days. The new Crickets or Ganges or Tongues are much more exciting to me right now than graphic novels.

I don't even know that Nilsen had another series out...another new series to read!

TCJ's interview with Craig Thompson about the new expanded edition of his travelogue Carnet de Voyage reminded me yet again that, despite how much I enjoyed Blankets, I still haven't read Habibi. I had better get to it before Thompson produces any more novels. In the interview, Alex Dueben asks Thompson, "what are you working on now?"

I am still secretive about it, but I'll probably be ready to announce it this fall. I haven't signed a contract yet, but the plan is to serialize it as a comic book. For the first time in my career. When I did Blankets I was really pushing against comic book store culture and collector mentality and serial comics. I was sick of the format of comic books. Now I'm sick of graphic novels and the pretension around them and the prohibitive cost and space they consume. We live in this era over-saturated with media and images and there's something really pure about the 24-32 page comic book to me now. As I was struggling with how to structure this new book, I realized that I want to do it as a comic book. It's still going to be a graphic novel but I want to use the constraint as the structure. I'm excited about comics as a medium again.

Given Thompson's propensity for longer works, Dueben asks, "Is this going to be a shorter or longer book?"

[laughs] Unfortunately it's going to be another Blankets-Habibi. I resisted that for so long. I did not want it to be that and I was trying to figure out how I could cut it down. It wasn't until I came upon the serialization idea that it started to feel more right for me. [...] I hope that this serialization makes it more pleasurable for me. It means I can start having stuff out next year rather than disappearing for years and years again.

Anders Nilsen seems to be really enjoying serializing Tongues.

That's a great example. I don't know if I'm as bold as him, though, self-publishing. But his book is a good example of what I like reading these days. The new Crickets or Ganges or Tongues are much more exciting to me right now than graphic novels.

I don't even know that Nilsen had another series out--it's always nice to have another new series to read!

I mentioned Stan Lee's situation a month ago, and io9's piece by Charles Pulliam-Moore summarizes a new Hollywood Reporter article that makes things seem even worse:

In a document dated February 13 that was notarized in front of Lee's former lawyer Tom Lallas, Lee specifically names Jerardo "Jerry" Olivarez, a one-time business associate of his daughter J.C., Lee's current guardian and caretaker Keya Morgan, and J.C.'s attorney, Kirk Schenck as people with "bad intentions."

The document goes into detail about Lee's fraught relationship with his 67-year-old daughter, detailing her impulsive fits of rage and alleging that she spends tens of thousands of dollars a month all on Lee's dime, despite his attempts to curtail her. The document details how, in 2014, J.C. allegedly shoved her mother and choked Lee after being told that a new Jaguar leased in Lee's name was not going to be hers. The document also claims that Olivarez, Morgan, and Schenck "insinuated themselves into relationships with J.C. for an ulterior motive and purpose: to take advantage of Lee and gain control over [Lee's] assets, property and money." [...]

Perhaps most disappointing of all is that, from the looks of it, Lee doesn't have anyone in his corner who's able to protect him from the people that are draining him. If there's one thing Lee needs right now, it's someone genuinely acting in his best interest.

The Hollywood Reporter piece by Gary Baum starts out with a survey of Lee's situation:

Lee's estate is estimated to be worth between $50 million and $70 million (it's been reported he receives $1 million a year for his Marvel ties). And while his primary role with the company is now mostly ceremonial -- including a cameo in nearly every film -- he remains a deity in fanboy culture. Despite the fact that his health requires nursing care at home and on the road, up until his most recent illness, Lee was a jovial regular at international comic conventions, where he can draw thousands of paying autograph seekers.

J.C. declined to speak with THR, Baum notes, but "nearly all of the other players in the messy drama over Lee's estate and well-being are speaking out:"

Their often conflicting stories reveal an increasingly toxic and combative situation involving broken alliances, abrupt expulsions and allegations of elder abuse against one of America's most influential and beloved cultural icons. On several occasions, the turmoil drew the attention of law enforcement.

"Joanie's death from a stroke on July 6 at age 95 marked the end of their evening martini ritual at home in the exclusive Bird Streets of the Hollywood Hills," Baum continues, "and the beginning of pandemonium.

According to household staff and business associates, there have been times when J.C.'s verbal outbursts have turned physical. One incident took place in winter 2014, explains Lee's former business and asset manager Bradley J. Herman, after J.C. discovered that the new Jaguar convertible parked outside, which she thought had been purchased for her, was in fact only leased -- and in her father's name.

J.C. called her parents "fucking stupid," and according to Herman,"J.C. then roughly grabbed her mother by one arm, shoving her against a window:"

Joanie fell to the carpeted floor. Lee, seated in a nearby chair and looking stunned, told J.C. he was cutting her off: "I'm going to stick you in a little apartment and take away all your credit cards!" Herman recalls Lee shouting. "I've had it, you ungrateful bitch!" In "a rage," J.C. took hold of Lee's neck, slamming his head against the chair's wooden backing. Joanie suffered a large bruise on her arm and burst blood vessels on her legs; Lee had a contusion on the rear of his skull. (J.C. has previously denied the incident.)

"This really did never, ever happen," claimed JC, calling it a "Total lie."

Lee appears to need some everyday heroics, and one wonders--who will suit up and protect him?

Are these really the last days of Stan Lee? "Months after losing his wife, the 95-year-old comic book legend is surrounded by charlatans and mountebanks," writes Mark Ebner, as "Stan and [his daughter] JC are literally being picked apart by vultures:"

In just over two months, there have been published reports of an unauthorized check for $300,000 written from Lee's business account without his knowledge to Hands of Respect, a "merchandising company" and ersatz charity formed by Lee and Jerry Olivarez, a former business associate of his daughter's.

One or more five-figure checks have been made out to Olivarez, money leaking out of larger financial transactions, mysterious bank transfers, and questionable real estate purchases. Under particular scrutiny is the period when Olivarez was briefly able to gain power of attorney over Lee's affairs in the chaos surrounding the death of Lee's wife. Forensic accountants (among them Tobey Maguire's brother Vince) are currently ferreting through over a thousand pages of financial records from the eight individual estates, corporate entities and trusts comprising Lee's holdings.

One possible counterweight is Keya Morgan, who "has been friends with Stan and his wife Joan for a decade."

Morgan seems to have Stan's ear during this time of trial, and (at Stan's behest) has hired security guards, secured a new lawyer and forensic accountants, and changed the locks on the house to restrict the escalating flow of unwelcome surprises.

"There are other red flags," continues, Ebner, "apart from the allegations against Olivarez:"

And there's another point of contention--rather, 1.4 million of them. "There is $1.4 million missing," said Morgan, referring to vanished cash first reported by TMZ and confirmed by JC's representative. "What happened was, it was $6 million. By the time it was transferred to Merrill Lynch and back to UBS, it was $4.6 million, so I want to know what happened to that $1.4 million.

Mark Evanier writes of the scandal that "a lot of it's speculation from afar and that's not helpful:"

I personally have some very mixed feelings about Stan Lee but I have enough affection for him to not add to the pile of rumors, some of which are obviously wrong or askew. I'm convinced there are enough lawyers and law enforcement officials and benevolent friends of Stan swarming around this matter that he's now as protected as he can be, and that the truth will eventually come out, though maybe not in his lifetime. What matters most now is his health and comfort...and I'm thinking he could also do with a little privacy.

Despite mostly taking Jack Kirby's side during the intermittent Lee/Kirby disagreements, I have no small affection for the writer whose overwrought and alliterative writing did so much to bring the beloved Marvel Universe into being. May he be treated well in his sunset years, as our culture's myth-makers deserve to be.

final Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens' final words have been published in Christopher Hitchens: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations, and The Federalist offers some remarks:

Hitchens was amazingly productive--he wrote a column two weeks before his death from esophageal cancer--and never relied on his purring accent alone to impress audiences (women were another matter).

Instead, like Oscar Wilde, Hitchens was a spellbinding talker, as witty and quotable in person as he was on paper. What is even more impressive about this was that Hitchens, in the interview format, often answered off the top of his head rather than regurgitating previous answers in interviews. [...]

Those beliefs are often revealed to be of a conservative, even of a socially conservative, nature. This is rather ironic considering that when he died he was perhaps the world's best known atheist intellectual.


Alex Shephard discusses Holt's hit book at TNR, noting that "numerous people in the publishing industry have unironically compared Michael Wolff's explosive Trump administration tell-all Fire and Fury to Harry Potter:"

It's a genuine cultural phenomenon. Booksellers across the country told me they sold out in hours, if not minutes. Barnes & Noble's website informs anxious customers that the mega-chain will have the book back in stock on January 19. The otherwise speedy Amazon is even less precise: It warns the prospective reader that the book "usually ships within two to four weeks." More than 1,000 people are on the New York Public Library's waiting list. This scarcity has driven samizdat electronic copies of Fire and Fury, which began circulating even before the book's publisher, Henry Holt, moved the on-sale date up to January 5 from January 8. It may be the most pirated book since, you guessed it, Harry Potter. [...]

For the last year, major publishers have increasingly bet on Trump-focused books like Fire and Fury to drive revenue, with readers being distracted by the daily avalanche of news coming from the White House. Publishers spent 2017 catching up to Trump, having largely written him off in 2016.

HuffPo notes Holt's response to Trump's demands, writing that "Lawyers for the author and publisher [...] issued a letter Monday to the president's attorney, refusing to cease publication:"

"My clients do not intend to cease publication, no such retraction will occur, and no apology is warranted," [Holt and Wolff's attorney, Elizabeth] McNamara wrote in a letter obtained by HuffPost.

"Though your letter provides a basic summary of New York libel law, tellingly, it stops short of identifying a single statement in the book that is factually false or defamatory," the letter continued. "Instead, the letter seems designed to silence legitimate criticism."

NYT's Dan Bilefsky tells us that Proust's letters to be made available online:

Marcel Proust's legions of fans have obsessed about the meaning of his sometimes impenetrable prose, fetishized his tatty fur coat and bed, parsed his manuscripts and, fairly or not, lauded "Remembrance of Things Past" as the greatest literary work of the 20th century.

Now, Proustians the world over are eagerly awaiting two events that may shed new light on the self-consciously eccentric writer and master excavator of memories...

"Some 6,000 letters written by Proust," the piece continues, "will be published online and made available free to scholars and general readers alike:"

The letters show that Proust wrote and collected breathless, adulatory reviews of his own work and then paid for them to be published in newspapers such as Le Figaro.

The letters reveal that the writer had an adeptness for self-promotion and public relations worthy of the future digital age. All the more impressive, perhaps, he orchestrated the P.R. operation from his sickbed. [...]

Proust wrote his fawning letters in longhand and had them typed by his publisher in an apparent attempt to conceal their origin.

To Kill a Mockingbird was pulled from Mississippi school district reading list, reports Rolling Stone:

A Mississippi school district recently decided to remove Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from its eighth-grade reading list after receiving complaints that the book's language made people "uncomfortable."

For those who need a refresher:

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction the next year. It follows a series of events loosely based on Lee's own experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s, and speaks to themes of racial inequality and discrimination in a small Southern town. The story includes instances of the "N-word" in reflection of the language used at the time, and is listed as the No. 21 most banned books in the last decade by the American Library Association.

As the article continues, "the book will still be available for students to check out in school libraries, but will no longer be used as the core text for eighth-grade ELA, the Common Core state standards for English Language Arts:"

The decision came as an administrative and department decision, a member of the school board told the Herald, and was not voted upon by the school board.

The universe of Star Wars is still disappointingly heterosexual, reports Alex Acks. "I just finished reading a book," he writes, "and I'm very disappointed. The book is Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka [see here], a mid-grade tie-in novel about the characters Baze and Chirrut from Rogue One:"

I want to be very clear here that I do not think Greg Rucka is at fault for my disappointment. He wrote a fun book about what sort of heroic shenanigans Baze and Chirrut were up to before the Rebellion ever set foot on Jedha. And in its own right, it's a delightful book about two fun characters who are best friends and banter a lot.

And this is where my disappointment comes from. Baze and Chirrut, the book is at pains to assure us, are friends. Very good friends. Friends who have known each other forever and live in the same room. But friends. Nothing more.

There was a lot of hope in fandom that finally, with Rogue One, we'd have gay characters in a Star Wars movie--and even better, gay characters who weren't white!

"But no," Acks laments, "they're just friends:"

We do know that gay and lesbian people exist in the current Star Wars universe, by the way, thanks to tie-in books. We have Sinjir (and a different character having two moms) in Chuck Wendig's trilogy, and the character of Kaedan in the Ahsoka novel. This does matter, in the sense that something is better than nothing. There was also a lesbian Imperial officer named Moff Delian Mors in Lords of the Sith [...] the complete absence of any canonically queer character in the movie and TV properties becomes more glaring with each passing day.

It's particularly egregious in the novel Ahsoka, because Kaeden confesses her feelings to Ahsoka and receives... a non-reaction. Not even a "thanks but no thanks." Just confusion, as if Ahsoka is as uncertain how to deal with the existence of gay people as, it seems, Disney is. Kaeden's presence in the novel and her crush on Ahsoka, leading up to that utter blankness, is queer-baiting at a level I haven't experienced since watching Supernatural. [...]

What this all seems to add up to is that while queer people are at long last allowed to exist in the Star Wars universe, they've been exiled to the margins of the property, effectively ghettoized.

"While I'm dying to see queer characters actually, you know, holding hands on screen," he explains, "at this point I'd settle for subtext on screen being made text in a book--because then it would still be text:"

There would still be an intellectual property-holder approved wad of paper I could hold up and say that yes, that character whose action figure I can buy, who is cool and quirky and loved and heroic is canonically not straight. Because I am very, very done with just taking the scraps of subtext that are thrown my way and pretending that is somehow enough in a world that is still largely hostile to those who are non-heterosexual--and non-cisgender. And you'll be able to knock me over with a feather the day we get a trans character in Star Wars, believe.

"I don't necessarily blame the writers of the books," Acks admits, "for this obsessive straightening of every character who's ever been molded into an action figure." Ahsoka, as mentioned above, has also garnered attention for being LGBTQ-friendly. Some backstory on the Ahsoka/Karden relationship is provided at GeeksOut:

Ahsoka Tano is easily the most popular Star Wars character who has not appeared in any live-action film. She was a principal character in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated television series, where she served as Anakin Skywalker's precocious Padawan. Her character developed in surprising and innovative ways throughout the series, culminating at the end of the fifth season of The Clone Wars when she renounced the Jedi Order and struck out to find her own path. To fans' great delight, Ahsoka was unexpectedly featured in the second season of the currently-running Star Wars: Rebels as the intelligence coordinator of the burgeoning Rebel Alliance.

"The young adult novel Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston," GeeksOut notes, "bridges these two television chronologies:"

Johnston applies an extremely light touch in her portrayal of Kaeden's queerness: Kaeden's attraction to Ahsoka is plain in the text but never overwrought, and is just one of many emotional dynamics at play between the two characters.

GeeksOut also notes that "AhsoKaeden has gained surprisingly little traction so far:"

Then again, Ahsoka is geared towards young adult readers. Perhaps the novel's treatment of Kaeden's sexuality as unremarkable reflects a generational level of tolerance that might be surprising for some older LGBT fans who are accustomed to gay-coding and more of a ruckus when a Star Wars character comes out.

From a canonical perspective, Ahsoka's ambiguous response to Kaeden's affection is equally intriguing. Johnston delivers Ahsoka with an omniscient point of view that reveals the principal characters' thoughts and motivations. Yet when Kaeden finally confesses (blurts out) her feelings for Ahsoka, the description of Ahsoka's reaction is curiously objective and limited to only a look of mild confusion. Nothing overtly romantic develops between Ahsoka and Kaeden, but Johnston does not clarify whether the feelings are reciprocated, and if they are not, why not. Is Ahsoka straight? Is she bisexual or pansexual but simply not interested in Kaeden? Are the circumstances just not right? Or is it a matter of her "Jedi hang-ups," as Kaeden teases?

"It was pretty clear from The Clone Wars," GeeksOut continues, "that Ahsoka had a star-crossed romantic interest in Lux Bonteri, a minor male character:"

While never openly expressed in the show's dialogue, the camera certainly lingered on Ahsoka's numerous longing and mournful glances after Bonteri... [...] So while Ahsoka certainly had feelings for Lux, readers of Johnston's novel are left with yet another enigma surrounding this character: maybe Ahsoka is bisexual or pansexual. Ahsoka's non-answer to Kaeden's interest certainly leaves open that possibility.

Fandomentals offers up "Mad props to E. K. Johnston for giving us a queer woman of color as a protagonist in a Star Wars novel:"

Kaeden Larte walks into Ahsoka's life in the cutest of meet cutes, and won me over immediately when she told her story about fighting with a thresher. The potential romantic nature of her relationship with Ahsoka underscores their interactions from the beginning in a way that is somehow both subtle and not. [...]

Moreover, everyone in the story knows about Kaeden's not-even-a-secret crush on Ahsoka. Kaeden's friends and sister tease her about it more than once and use it to question her objectivity about Ahsoka's behavior.

"I think of her as queer," concludes Fandomentals, "and I think there's good canon evidence for it. Tumblr's Queering Star Wars has http://queeringstarwars.tumblr.com/canon a list of canonically queer characters, and mentions that EK Johnston confirmed on her Tumblr that Kaeden is bi. As Johnston wrote:

She's bi? But, like 4.5 on the Kinsey Scale? Given that Star Wars is not limited to humans and/or earth concepts of gender, it might be more accurate to say she's pan (the Kinsey Scale is a good start, but there are lot of factors that it does not account for).

QSW continues with this tidbit:

Issue #19 of the Star Wars comic revealed that Sana Starros and Dr. Aphra were previously in a relationship. Hopefully we'll learn more about this soon in Aphra's new comic.

Hmmm...

Paine's heirs

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Let them call us rebels, writes Harvey Kaye--because we are the heirs of Thomas Paine. "As yet, we do not have our own pamphleteer for these soul-trying times," he writes, "But we still have Thomas Paine's ever-timely words:"

We do not yet have a writer who can as magnificently express our outrage that a man whose character Paine would deplore is about to become president after losing the popular ballot by nearly 3 million votes. We do not yet have a writer to encourage us to not only resist the ambitions of both the man who would be king and his Tory allies in Congress, but also to turn our outrage into a sustained struggle that will fulfill the promise of democracy. Nonetheless, we have the words that burned like fire in the breast of a man who believed that to be an American in his time meant being a radical.

Kaye suggests that we "Pick up Paine's writings and prepare for Inauguration Day by immersing yourself in them:"

Carry his works with you. Give copies to friends and family. Read them aloud just as yeomen and farmers and artisans and merchants did in the fields, workshops and taverns of 1776. Drink deeply from his Common Sense. Relish his attacks on kings and would-be monarchs. Delight in his belief that working people can govern themselves. Listen as he embraces America's ethnic and religious diversity. And note well his plans for establishing an inclusive, prosperous and expansive American democracy.

Until I find a better option--a doubtful proposition--I'm sticking with the Library of America edition of Paine's Collected Writings.

The idea of an aspirational home library and a conversation between Kris and Khloe Kardashian prompt Ruth Graham to ask a few questions:

Is it acceptable to treat books as decor, a representation of one's aesthetic aspirations rather than one's intellectual biography? What is the normal approach to displaying books in one's home?

"An informal survey of 50 friends and Slate colleagues suggests," she writes, "disappointingly for the cause of grand pronouncements, that everyone is different and moderation is key:"

I'm semi-organized, with separate bookcases for fiction and non-fiction; non-fiction is further grouped loosely by subject matter. On a few shelves, I've stacked coffee-table books horizontally with knick-knacks on top, a trick I picked up working at a home-decor magazine. I aim for a loose kind of honesty in what I keep around, too: I long ago banished my college copies of Kant and Hegel. But I do keep cooler, smarter books at eye-level, and I shunt the trashy and random up toward the ceiling.

Some survey-takers took this squeamishness so far that they were incredulous at the very concept of "displaying" books. "Do people really keep books to display them?" one colleague asked. "A private library is a promise to yourself, not a premise about your personhood." But I say that's purist nonsense. Books have always played both roles. They are not just stories and information, they are badges of identity and, yes, ornamentation. A book on a shelf faces inward and outward at the same time.

As such, they can be both reminders of the past and motivators of the future.

textual displays

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In examining whether book collectors are real readers or cultural snobs, Frank Furedi asks, "Is book ownership still a sign of public cultural distinction in the digital age?" His answer is informed by history, and he notes that "to this day, many readers regard books as a medium for gaining a spiritual experience:"

Since text possesses so much symbolic significance, how people read and what they read is widely perceived as an important feature of their identity. Reading has always been a marker of character, which is why people throughout history have invested considerable cultural and emotional resources in cultivating identities as lovers of books.

He mentions Seneca's remark that "many people without a school education use books not as tools for study but as decorations for the dining room:"

Seneca's hostility towards the ostentatious book collector was probably influenced by his aversion towards the public reading 'mania' that appeared to afflict the early Roman Empire. This period saw the emergence of the recitatio: public literary readings conducted by authors and poets that many wealthy citizens regarded as an opportunity for self-promotion. Seneca looked on these vulgar performances of literary conceit with contempt...

In the present day, Furedi worries that "21st-century toddlers might abandon the showy display of reading a book in public and adopt the habit of regularly checking their smartphones:"

If Seneca or Martial were around today, they would probably write sarcastic epigrams about the very public exhibition of reading text messages and in-your-face displays of texting. Digital reading, like the perusing of ancient scrolls, constitutes an important statement about who we are. [...] Young people sitting in a bar checking their phones for texts are not making a statement about their refined literary status. They are signalling that they are connected and - most importantly - that their attention is in constant demand.

With the rise of digital technology, the performance of reading has altered. The contrast between a woman absorbed in reading a book in an 18th-century portrait and a teenager self-consciously gazing at her smartphone illustrates the different ways that individuals construct their identity through reading.

Another Aeon essay, this one by Michael Schulson, discusses the addictive nature of the Internet, and I think it's worth discussing the two pieces in tandem. Schulson's "hypothetical example [is] Michael S, a journalist:"

Sending and receiving emails are important parts of his job. On average, he gets an email every 45 minutes. Sometimes, the interval between emails is only two minutes. Other times, it's three hours. Although many of these emails are unimportant or stress-inducing, some of them are fun. Before long, whenever Michael S has an internet connection, he starts refreshing his email inbox every 30 minutes, and then every five minutes and then, occasionally, every two minutes. Before long, it's a compulsive tic - the pecking pigeon of web usage.

Should we blame Michael S for wasting hours of his life hitting a small button? We could. He does have poor self-control, and he chose a profession in which email is an important form of communication.

Then again, would we blame Skinner's pigeons, stuck in a box, pecking away until they get their grains and hemp seeds, while a pioneering researcher plumbs the glitches in their brains?

"Psychologists have been discussing the possibility of internet addiction since 1996," Schulson writes, "just three years after the release of the first mainstream web browser... for millions of people, the internet is often understood in terms of compulsion:"

So should individuals be blamed for having poor self-control? To a point, yes. Personal responsibility matters. But it's important to realise that many websites and other digital tools have been engineered specifically to elicit compulsive behaviour. [...]

Tristan Harris, an ethical design proponent who works at Google. (He spoke outside his role at the search giant.) Major tech companies, Harris told me, 'have 100 of the smartest statisticians and computer scientists, who went to top schools, whose job it is to break your willpower.'

In short, it's not exactly a fair fight.

He breaks down the design process of trigger-action-reward [from Nir Eyal's book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (2014)] that leads to user investment, and suggests some partial remedies--which is a useful analysis. My preference, however, is for something far simpler: a pot of tea and a comfortable chair amidst my bookshelves.

super-power bottom

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Charles Pulliam-Moore discusses the latest events in the Midnighter and Apollo series:

At some point between rinsing plates and hanging them up to dry, the couple take advantage of the fact that they're finally alone and get down to having sex right there in the kitchen. The moment's spontaneous and intimate and reflective of the fact that Midnighter and Apollo have been on-again, off-again soulmates in various comics for nearly 20 years.

Though this isn't the first time that Midnighter and Apollo have been depicted being sexually intimate with one another, this particular scene of the two raised a number of fans' eyebrows because of the not-so-subtle implication that Midnighter, a hyper-violent, über-butch Batman analogue, is a bottom.

The event in question, as delineated by Fernando Blanco, looks like this:

20161012-powerbottom.jpg

Pulliam-Moore continues:

Last night, during a panel about representations of race and sexuality in comics at New York Comic Con, Midnighter & Apollo writer Steve Orlando described how a fan of the new book came up to him and said that he'd scored one for the bottoms.

Once the clapping and cheering died down a bit, Orlando insisted that sex scenes like this are an integral part of creating honest stories about queer people in pop culture. Considering the fact that we've seen characters like the Green Arrow performing cunnilingus on Black Canary, Orlando said, seeing Midnighter and Apollo getting down shouldn't really shock people.

Not in the civilized world perhaps--but the Bible Belt might be a different story.

Even in more complex, nuanced depictions of gay culture, bottom-shaming--the mockery of men who prefer to be the receptive partner during intercourse--is still fairly common. Like all forms of homophobia, bottom-shaming is tied to the idea that gayness and gay sex are feminine things and that feminine things are less-than.

In showing Midnighter as a bottom (though he could very well be versatile), Midnighter & Apollo is inviting its readers to broaden their understandings of gay men, gender, and homosexuality. Butch guys can be bottoms, feminine guys can be tops, none of that defines their masculinity.

...and comics can be sexy without featuring scantily-clad women.

RIP, Jack Davis

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I saw the sad news of Jack Davis' death yesterday, and today The Comics Journal has a nice obituary for him penned by Gary Groth:

He was one of the most effective artists who drew horror stories at EC [for Haunt of Fear, Tales from the Crypt, and Vault of Horror]--and one of the most prolific; turning out more than 500 pages in less than five years.

After the comic-book collapse that killed EC, Davis followed Harvey Kurtzman from Mad to Trump, Humbug, and Help! and then drew the poster for the 1964 comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which Groth describes as "a tour de force of caricature and advertising efficaciousness and propelled Davis into the forefront of American commercial artists." He continues by noting that "Davis's comics work was mostly behind him at this point with one exception: In 1965, he returned to Mad, and continued to work for the magazine into the 1980s:"

In rapid succession, Davis began contributing to the highest circulation mass magazines of the time: TV Guide, Esquire, Life, and his biggest coup -- Time, for whom he did at least 26 covers from 1972 to 1976. Davis would, between 1964 and 1980, draw over 35 movie posters. [...]

Davis continued to produce work at a prodigious pace. He never had a character with which a mass audience could identify him --a Charlie Brown, a Calvin or Hobbes-- but his drawing style itself may have been the most recognizable of any cartoonist or caricaturist in the world.

Groth quotes Davis as reminiscing, "You live your life and just to leave something behind is so great. And I feel that I've had a great, great life."

20160410-comicbookapocalypse.jpg

Hatfield, Charles & Ben Saunders. Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby (San Diego, CA: IDW, 2016)

From my reviews of The Comics Journal Library, Vol. 1, Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics, Charles Hatfield's Hand of Fire, and Maximum FF, my love for Jack Kirby should be obvious. The Charles Hatfield & Ben Saunders book Comic Book Apocalypse is essentially a second edition of the catalog from last year's exhibit at Cal State Northridge. Demand for the catalog was high, and apparently wasn't dampened (at least not on my behalf) by the delay from last August to the present.

I was initially disappointed to see the page count was only 168, but the book's 8"x12" size helps to add a bit more visual grandeur to Kirby's art--much of which is presented as full pages or double-page spreads. As is appropriate, the art is mostly shot from the original art instead of the printed pages--the better to appreciate Kirby's artistry. The essays (twenty of them) are on the short side, and touch on various facets of Kirby's creativity. They are both interesting and informative--and well-illustrated, of course. These two passages from the Introduction help to set the tone:

Then, in the '60s, deep into his career, and in the wake of a period of contraction and hardship within his industry, Kirby found himself at the company that would become known as Marvel Comics--where, in an extended burst of creative energy that must count as one of the towering achievements in American popular art, he returned to the idea of the superhero, forging a new visual template for the genre while simultaneously laying the foundations of Marvel's teeming story-world. Central to his method now was a yen for mythopoesis: the building of personal mythologies, replete with secret histories and menacing futures, global, all-encompassing conflicts, and the apocalyptic revelation and potential destruction of whole worlds. (p. 11, Introduction, Charles Hatfield & Ben Saunders)

No comic-book artist has come close to matching Kirby's imaginative reach during this peak period, which he would sustain well into the '70s, month after month, displaying an astonishing ability to invent and populate new visual worlds on the fly. (p. 14, Introduction, Charles Hatfield & Ben Saunders)

Kirby's collaborators are acknowledged as well. Mercifully, his frequent inker Vince Colletta doesn't get slagged here as he often does elsewhere. There is praise for others, such as longtime Kirby inker Mike Royer, mixed in with the adulation for Kirby. This passage is a gem:

Look at the energy, the black-and-white oomph packed into these two pages [Forever People #8, pp. 24-25], comprised of a mere eleven small panels. Kirby had one tool, a pencil, and one mode, flat out. Here, with chopping, slashing, confident lines (beautifully inked by Mike Royer) and a clearly worked-out visual rhetoric, Kirby conjures young faces, muscles, tendons, hair, clothing, rocks (and rocky faces), metals, energy, fission-blasts, "rays," invisibility, and a final big bang--not to mention anger, menace, surprise, fear, introspection, low comedy, and evil majesty. (p. 87, Tony Puryear, "Kirby's Megaton Touch")

Here's a nice discussion of Kamandi #8, pp. 2-3 (below):

Kirby and his inker, Mike Royer, were perfectly suited, since it was the team's natural tendency to lend everything, even rugged, crumbling concrete, a polished sheen. Royer captured Kirby's tendency to emphasize stark shapes and distinct areas of light. There are no gradients here--no crosshatching--just forms locked together in perfect order. In fact, without color, it's impossible to tell the difference between a loincloth, a floor, and marble statuary. This is actually an advantage, for Kirby and Royer's approach unifies the page and moves it away from illustration and into world-building. (p. 129, Dan Nadel, "Kirby's Monuments")

View image

The pair of two-page spreads that feature Kirby's "Dream Machine" painting (pp. 48-49 and pp. 50-51) were a nice surprise (see here), although one wishes that it had been done as a fold-out instead. (Even better, this image would make a great poster--hint, hint!) While I'm dreaming, along with a Jack Kirby: Conversations book as part of the UMiss series, I'd love to see traveling exhibitions of Kirby's work, perhaps focusing on different eras of his career. There is certainly enough artistic variety to support several options. Long live The King!

Here are some tidbits about the book, from an interview with Comics Reporter about last year's exhibit:

HATFIELD: The catalog is a monster: 20 essays on Kirby, most of them short and punchy, interleaved with more than a hundred images, most shot from original art. It's a joint publishing venture between the CSUN Art Galleries and IDW, under Scott Dunbier's eye and with design by Randall Dahlk, who designed IDW's incredible Kirby Artist's Editions. It's in production even now. [...]

I put the book together with my colleague and friend Ben Saunders. Of course one of our goals was to commemorate and deepen the exhibition experience, for those who get to see the show firsthand, but we also wanted to create something more: what we call a "catalog-plus" or companion book of lasting value. The idea is to do deep analysis of Kirby that allows lively voices and personal quirks to come through -- to model a kind of scholarship that preserves individuality and acknowledges how deeply Kirby hits us, as fans, readers, thinkers, makers. We wanted this book to be personal and at the same time solid, documented, smart stuff.

The following sentiment is one which I can agree completely:

SPURGEON: What do you think the average pop-culture consumer should take away in terms of knowing about Kirby and his legacy?

HATFIELD: That Kirby was one of 20th century America's gutsiest, strangest, and yet most influential graphic artists and visual storytellers. That the familiar things of pop culture today -- the Marvel movies, and all that -- came from a drawing board, and from a man working his damnedest to earn a living for himself and his family. That Marvel was just part of Kirby's amazing career story. That Kirby not only designed Marvel but took comic books a step further, toward a quirky and wonderful way of representing mythology through superhero conventions and SF. That he was a nonstop idea generator. That he dreamed of past and future, of new worlds and new gods, and did so in an ecstatic graphic style that distilled everything wild, unrepentant, and delightfully crazy about American comic books.


links:

Print did a piece on the show, with excerpts from the book

Charles Hatfield blogs at Hand of Fire

In a piece re-run from November 4, 2015, Rachel Cordasco asserts that kids should read whatever they want:

Time and again, I've come across scenes in novels where a young character is wandering around a library, whether personal or public, entranced by the endless possibilities offered by the books. These characters aren't sure where to start, so they choose a book at random, and go from there.

Scenes like this occur in such works as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Black Boy, Dirty River, and The Book Thief, suggesting that discovery through reading is a universal experience, one that enables readers to imagine other lives and other worlds. To me, it doesn't get much better than that.

This is, she explains, "why I will place no restrictions on my personal library when my kids learn how to read:"

With nearly a thousand physical books and scores of e-books, our house is almost groaning under the weight of all those words. Poetry, fiction, history, biography, drama, anthologies: they're all there on my bookshelves (and floors, and futons). They tell stories that are uplifting, disturbing, gruesome, inspiring, and hilarious. They reveal the kaleidoscopic diversity of human experience. They will show my kids that the world is an infinitely fascinating place.

But, some might say, you'd let your 8-year-old read Lolita? You'd let your 10-year-old read Lady Chatterley's Lover? And anything by Emile Zola???

Yes, yes I would. You know why? Because I believe that you connect with books that you're meant to connect with at a specific time.

"The key to having your kids' reading be free-wheelin' and unfettered but also informative," Cordasco continues, "is your availability to answer their questions and listen to them figure out what they've read:"

You won't need to schedule specific times to have "Big Talks" about various issues because those issues will naturally come up in their reading. They'll read Ralph Ellison and ask you about racism and injustice and identity; they'll read Charlotte Perkins Gilman and ask about feminism and equality; they'll read Dickens and Orwell and ask about poverty and surveillance and war. They'll read histories of World War II and plays about apartheid and poems about faith or sexuality or despair. They'll read graphic novels and comic books and libretti and screenplays. You'll realize that answering their questions is a full-time job and that your books are making them really smart and thoughtful and pretty soon they'll be outmaneuvering you in debates about when and for how long they can take the car and whether or not they can get a tattoo or dye their hair blue. But you'll be proud of them.

Taking a contrary position, Tara Isabella Burton warns readers against dark books:

While we might point to violent video games or sexually explicit films as potentially dangerous and corrupting influences on tender or vulnerable minds, the novel is treated as uplifting and salutary, regardless of its content: a kale smoothie for the soul. [...]

But it was not always thus. Throughout the 19th century, novels were regarded with the same suspicion with which we treat, say, Eli Roth's 'torture-porn' Saw movies today.

"Storytelling is inextricable from power," cautions Burton, pointing out that "the act of reading is, for better or worse, an act of submission to an external force granted the privilege of language, of narrative organizing:"

At its best, reading novels might be as salutary as recent studies allege. But at worst, novels - in all their dangerousness - can erode at our sense of self: a woman who reads Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (1748) could find herself accepting a world-narrative where rape is justifiable; a person of colour, growing up on Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901), might internalise as normative a world of white power, just as Dorian Gray, through reading Huysmans, normalises the debauchery that is to come.

Burton's worry is as strong as Cordasco's optimism:

At its most fundamental level, to read is to put our selves at risk, to make ourselves vulnerable by welcoming the presence of an other into our psychic space. This can be a radically transformative experience, challenging us to reformulate our own self-understanding.

Dissent's Timothy Shenk writes that "Americans revere the Declaration of Independence, but most of us don't read it:"

The iconic opening has been dulled by repetition, and it's followed by a lengthy recitation of forgotten crimes George III allegedly visited upon the colonists. Danielle Allen resurrects the document's power in her latest book [Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality], turning a historical relic into a philosophical inquiry with profound relevance for how we understand liberty and equality today--along with the country whose founding document commits it to ideals that still remain out of reach.

Here's a passage from the interview:

Shenk: As anyone who has paid cursory attention to American politics in the last year knows, inequality is back on the agenda. Just last month, a New York Times/CBS News Poll found that two thirds of Americans believed wealth "should be more evenly distributed among more people." But in these discussions, "inequality" is often conflated with "economic inequality." Both in this book and in some of your other writing, you're concerned with a broader interpretation of inequality. What do we miss when we view "economic inequality" as identical with inequality itself?

Allen: First, I take the existence of meaningful opportunities to participate in politics to be a fundamental human right. Protecting this right requires focusing on political equality as such. Thinkers who focus exclusively on economic inequality are sometimes willing to sacrifice that participatory right in favor of material distributions. Second, I take it that ensuring that meaningful political participation is as broad and egalitarian as possible will in itself be a force for ensuring that political institutions are more likely to direct economic policy in egalitarian directions.

I've been thinking more about introversion since reading Susan Cain's book Quiet, and appreciated Carolyn Gergoire's signs of introversion article. It's quite useful, drawing on both Sophia Dembling's The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World and Dr. Marti Olsen Laney's The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths. Here are some items from Gergoire's list, along with snippets of her text:

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome.

"Introverts are notoriously small talk-phobic, as they find idle chatter to be a source of anxiety, or at least annoyance. For many quiet types, chitchat can feel disingenuous."

"Introverts...crave authenticity in their interactions" [and have] "a penchant for philosophical conversations and a love of thought-provoking books and movies"

12. You'd rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything.

"The dominant brain pathways introverts use is one that allows you to focus and think about things for a while, so they're geared toward intense study and developing expertise, according to Olsen Laney."

22. You're a writer.

"Introverts are often better at communicating in writing than in person, and many are drawn to the solitary, creative profession of writing."

Introverts who might be "over-exerting themselves with too much socializing and busyness," writes Gergoire, might also find themselves "balancing it out with a period of inwardness and solitude." I find myself doing much the same--and often need to go for a run or read a book to recharge.

Thankfully, her article has added two more books to my TBR list.

Writer/artist Jack Katz discusses the four-volume reissue of The First Kingdom, and its two sequels:

Is Titan going to publish The Space Explorers Club too?

Yes, that's going to come right after they finish with The First Kingdom. They are publishing that in four parts, The Birth of Tundran is available now with The Galaxy Hunters coming in December, Vengeance in March of 2014, Migration in June of 2014, then The Space Explorers Club in September of 2014, and Destiny in December of 2014.

CBR has a preview of the new edition of Jack Katz's magnum opus The First Kingdom [no Wikipedia page], which is calls a "long-lost treasure:"

Remastered and packed with exclusive features, this sumptuous volume collects the first part of a tale for which the term 'epic' was invented! After nuclear armageddon devastates the Earth, the survivors become playthings of resurgent 'gods'. As civilisations rise and fall, as loves and lives are lost, the future of humanity will be won by uncovering the secrets of the past.

The First Kingdom is presented here in a complete collectors' library for the first time, replete with cleaned and restored art taken from high-resolution scans of the original art pages, and completely relettered throughout.

The six sample pages accompanying the article should serve to whet everyone's artistic appetite. September can't come soon enough!


update (11:09am):
Comics Spectrum is quite laudatory as well, which I hope will spur interest in Katz's epic tale.

Awesome!

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I stumbled across Titan Comics' plans to reprint Jack Katz's seminal graphic novel The First Kingdom. FK is long overdue for a critical reappraisal, especially since its 1986 conclusion was overlooked in the wake of Dark Knight, Maus, and Watchmen. (Although Katz has his own Wikipedia page, his novel does not.)

Originally published in 24 parts, The First Kingdom is one of the few early graphic novels that has not been reprinted in full. (Reprints have been attempted twice, but never to completion; one ended one-quarter of the way through the book, the other at the halfway mark.) The original magazine-format issues are, I think, the minimum acceptable size for Katz's detailed artwork; it would suffer from being reproduced at a smaller size--particularly for fans old enough to have bought the series at cover price, and whose eyes might not be as keen as they once were.

Amazon lists both Volume 1.1 and Volume 1.2 as 208 pages each, which would seem to indicate a 4-volume version of the original 768-page saga--albeit with less supplementary material than I had hoped for. Due on 24 September is Volume 2.1: Space Explorer's Club, which appears to be the start of a second novel from Katz.

Boing Boing enthuses over IDW's MAD Artist's Edition:

IDW's Artist's Edition series is a line of enormous (15" x 22") hardcover art-books that reproduce the full-page, camera-ready paste-ups used to create classic comics, from Groo to Spider-Man, offering a rare look at the white-outs, annotations, corrections, and pencil-marks that give tantalizing hints about the hidden workings of these amazing pages.

A recent and most welcome addition to the series is MAD: Artist's Edition, a spectacular tribute to the early years of the magazine and especially to the brilliant satire of Harvey Kurtzman, one of the great heroes of satire, which features an introduction by Terry Gilliam himself.

MAD: Artist's Edition isn't just an amazing book, it's an amazing object, a massive and weighty presence that drew me magnetically to it as soon as I got it back to my office.

It's a well-illustrated piece, and I particularly enjoyed the use of the adjective "Wolvertonian."

Melville House discusses the difficulties of reading Persepolis in Chicago:

It has been over a week since the Chicago Public School system made a move to restrict student access to Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's coming-of-age memoir which describes her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and 80s and the war with Iraq. [...]

Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the book was being removed because "It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use."

Although Persepolis is "no longer going to be required reading for grades 7-10," the article continues, "the book will still be taught in grades 11 and 12 and in Advance Placement classes."

Michael Dirda displays some charming bibliophilia at WaPo:

In his affectionate introduction to Jacques Bonnet's reflections on reading and collecting, novelist James Salter points out that "a private library of good size is an insolent form of riches." Bonnet owns 40,000 books, which he reads, marks up and uses for his art-history and literary research -- his is a working collection, not a museum of precious rarities. In this case, what's really "insolent" is that Bonnet's books are all shelved, all organized, all findable.

Anyone with a serious personal library -- that means, in Bonnet's view, 20,000 or more volumes -- recognizes that it's easy to acquire books, but it's hard to find a place to put them.

"Serious collectors, in other words," writes Dirda, "focus their energies and cash, while manic readers tend to go wandering through a garden of constantly forking paths:"

Like many intellectuals, Bonnet scribbles in his books, "in pencil, but also with felt pens or ballpoints. In fact I find it impossible to read without something in my hand." There are consequences for this intensive engagement with texts. "The tens of thousands of books with their underlinings and marginalia, which have absorbed a large proportion of the money I have earned in my working life, are therefore now of no commercial value." Not that it matters, since Bonnet never sells any of them. "To lose one's books," he proclaims, "is to lose one's past."

In a similarly bookish vein, Laura Miller's piece in favor of shushing librarians comments that "I've long believed that one of the most precious resources libraries offer their patrons is simple quiet." In considering a study about "services that patrons regard as most essential in a library," she notes that "Quiet study spaces for adults and children" comes in fourth:

According the Pew study ["Library Services in the Digital Age" by Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie and Kristen Purcell at the Pew Internet & American Life project], quiet matters more to library patrons than special programs for kids or job-search resources or access to fancy databases or classes and events or spaces for public meetings. It matters more to them than the ability to check out e-books or engage in "more interactive learning experiences" -- areas that many library experts seem to regard as top priorities for the libraries of the future.

It's a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy one's insolence in silence.

20121226-saga.jpg

Staples, Fiona & Brian Vaughan. Saga, Vol. 1 (Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2012)

Thanks to AV Club for mentioning Saga earlier this year, which had me hooked in short order. This volume collects the first six issues of the well-regarded series, with the seventh and eighth available in your local comics shop. In the just-over-nine-month span since the first issue hit comics stores, the series has already garnered an enthusiastic fanbase. Volume Two is due in July, and the series looks to a future befitting its title.

CBR's interview with Brian K Vaughan praises artist Fiona Staples, saying that "She makes everything I write better, so I hope we can collaborate on this insanity for years to come," and io9 quotes Vaughan's plans:

Well, the book is called Saga, which would be a lousy title for a miniseries. If readers stick around to support us, I'm hoping the book lasts longer than Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina combined. I've already written the last page of the last issue, but I hope we won't reach that endpoint for many years to come.

Y: The Last Man lasted 60 issues, and Ex Machina went for 54, but can we really hope for upwards of 114 issues? (After all, Hazel might have kids of her own by then...)

There is very little I can say about Saga that is critical. Staples' art is endearing, with the only negative being a tendency for her characters' emotional reactions to be a bit too extreme. (This may be deliberate, owing perhaps to the tempestuous relationships she delineates, but some of the facial reactions seem excessive.)


links:

Comics Alliance has a nice-sized preview with a dual Staples/Vaughan interview.

CBR discusses the New York Comic Con panel, moderated by Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, which was dubbed "Saga: Sex, Drugs & Rocketships"

remembering Hitch

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The Daily Mail has some words from the afterword to Christopher Hitchens' upcoming posthumous memoir Mortality:

His widow Carol Blue, writing in the Daily Telegraph, described her husband as 'dazzling' and how his charisma never left him 'in any realm.' [...] She said he was an 'impossible act to follow' and revealed that her husband 'insisted ferociously on living.'

Her piece is supposed to be here, but isn't. Google didn't cache it, either. I guess I'll have to wait until it hits bookstores.


update:
Her reminiscence has been posted here.

comics lit

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In comics as literature, part 1 GeekDad's Jonathan Liu is assembling a list of graphic-novel classics:

In the world of comics, just as with novels or kids' books, there are some stories that transcend the realm of "hey, it's just entertainment" and become Serious Literature. I'm not saying that they can't include a few laughs (though some are solemn), but that you can tell there's something under the surface, whether through the subject matter or the language or the artwork.

And here's the best part: there's a lot of them. I'll share some of my old favorites and recent discoveries with you over the course of a few posts, but I guarantee you that there are so many more that I haven't read (or even heard of) yet, and I'm counting on you readers to fill in the gaps on my own shelves.

He ventures a few of the classic graphic novels: Maus, Sandman, Watchmen, and Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics trilogy. It's tough to disagree with any of those choices, but I'm curious to see what books he adds in future installments.

Salon asks if literary classics are obsolete, and looks at Dartmouth professor Daniel Rockmore's study "Quantitative Patterns of Stylistic Influence in the Evolution of Literature" (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences):

The Dartmouth study analyzed multiple works by 537 authors who wrote English language texts published since 1550. Comparing them to each other, they found, not surprisingly, that authors from a given historical period have more in common with each other stylistically than they do with authors from the past (or future). They also found that the more recent a work is, the more "localized" its stylistic brethren are in time. [...]

Where the Dartmouth article makes a big leap, however, is in claiming that contemporary authors are less "influenced" by authors of the past than they are by those of their own time. Furthermore, they propose a reason: The explosion in the number of published books in the past century or so. Titles by contemporary authors are in the (vast) majority. By this logic, with "even more authors to choose from and selection dominated by contemporaneous authors," writers, like everyone else, are less likely to read the classics.

Then the author moves in for the kill:

There are so many wobbly assumptions built into these interpretations that they could be used as an illustration of the dangers of empirical hubris: Having a lot of numbers and equations is not the same as knowing what they mean, especially in such a complex and meaning-rich field as literature.

classic

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From the Twitter feed of Daniel Mendelsohn, I became aware of his 2009 Berkeley commencement address. After a pre-collegiate conversation with his mother about his desire to study the classics, he writes:

She took a deep breath and wearily ended with a sentence that--as she could not possibly guess, that May afternoon 30 years ago--would give me the title of a book I would write one day, a book about her vanished world, and how it vanished. "Plato, the Greeks," she muttered. "In a thousand years, it will all be lost."

Mendelsohn asks "what can it mean to devote oneself to a discipline that likes to think that it is timeless, that it has cheated the centuries, the millennia?" and uses Virgil's Aeneid to ruminate on the many losses along the way:

And even to think of the poem and everything it has produced over time is to be reminded, inevitably, of all the songs and stories and poems that didn't make it to the safe shore of "classic": the nine books of Sappho's lyrics, of which a single poem remains; the 75 lost plays of Aeschylus, the 116 vanished works of Sophocles, the 70 of Euripides; Aristotle's early dialogues, the banished Ovid's lost verse drama, Medea, the love elegies of Cornelius Gallus, the bosom friend of Vergil, which once comprised four whole books and of which 10 lines now survive; so much else.

Classicists, he writes, "bear the responsibility of being as aware of what we have lost as we are of what has survived to be studied by us." Mendelsohn later segues into discussing an "old Jewish woman [whom] I had been interviewing her for the book I wrote about the Holocaust:"

"So what happened when the war was over?" I asked softly. "What was the first thing that happened, once things started to be normal again?"

The old lady, whose real name had disappeared in the war along with her parents, her house, and nearly everything else she had known, was now called Mrs. Begley. When I asked her this question Mrs. Begley looked at me; her weary expression had kindled every so slightly.

"You know, it's a funny thing," she told me. "When the Germans first came, in '41, the first thing they did was close the theaters." [...] And I'll tell you something, because I remember it quite clearly: the first thing that happened, after the war was over and things got a little normal-the first thing was that the actors and theater people who were still alive got together and put on, in Polish, a production of Sophocles' Antigone."

He concludes "that was the story, and here is what I think it means:"

A lot of life gets lost--almost everything, in fact. [But] what remains means something--something very real, to real people, to people whose knowledge of suffering is derived from more than a book or a night at the movies. And so, I would ask you this: when you think of what it means to be a classicist, don't think only about your deconstructive readings of Homer, or post-structuralist approaches to Plautus, or Freudian readings of the Euripidean romances, or Marxist interpretations of the Peloponnesian War, the iconography of red-figure vases or the prosopography of the late Roman Republic. Think about Mrs. Begley; think about the people in Kraków, who, when they had very good reasons to believe that civilization had ended, felt that the first thing they needed to do was to put on a play by Sophocles.

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