Month: October 2015

Vanessa Davis: Make Me a Woman

makemeawoman-coverVanessa Davis‘ book is mixture of strips, sketchbook pages and diary entries that take place in FL, where she grew up , NY where she lived for a time before she move to LA in CA. Some have appeared in Tablet Magazine and other print zines and anthologies.  Crassly these stories occupy the woman-centric world that Lena Dunham explores in Girls. These are brave works.  They storm into memoir and identity formation in a way that challenges, sometimes screams and other times tickles.  Sometimes taunts, sometimes slaps.The book ranges, and jumps around just because of the nature of the fact that they were not written to all appear in one place, but any one who wants to laugh and be challenged to explore the world of growing up Jewish in America will find it time well spent. I am looking for more as soon as I finish this post.

Rutu Modan: Jamilti and Other Stories

51iHGIH37kL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Short stories from Rutu Modan author of, The Property, Exit Wounds and  two on-line projects in the New York Times: a visual blog called Mixed Emotions and a serial that ran in the Times magazine called The Murder of the Terminal Patient.

There is a consistency of style in Modan’s storytelling and in her drawings, but at the same time you are taken into worlds so completely and so movingly that the emotions she elicits are strong.  these are early works, and so they don’t have the complexity or depth of the two novels.  In some ways these stories more than the full-length works have the psychological approach that Ruth Rendell brings to many of her stories.  People whose lives are not turning out the way they thought they would have to face the truth, but do so in a way that could be homicidal.  Not all Modan’s character follow through, some just move to uncertainty or depression. These are worth reading to see more of the range of Modan’s work, but I would start with the novels. Thank you, Drawn and Quarterly for giving us this insight into a major author’s early work.

Rutu Modan: The Property

51pxfRvYO3LRutu Modan’s latest novel is about a grandmother and her granddaughter traveling from Israel to Poland–the reverse journey. The journey is to find out about a building that belongs to the grandmother, but was abandoned during World War II.  After a crowded plane ride surrounded by a party teens visiting holocaust sites, the two women settle in their hotel, and the grandmother becomes evasive. It turns out that she has another motive for visiting.  It is about her former life in Poland and less about the property.In trying to find out from local lawyers and acquaintances what the situation is, Regina falls for a young Polish tour guide who leads visits to Jewish Warsaw. Modan’s romantic stories are generally awkward full of tension, argument and uncertainty–in other words real.  Both these woman are seen trying to find love between themselves as Jewesses and Polish men.  The tensions are multiplied because of this. Modan’s story telling is gripping and her drawings are cartoonish but windows into strong feelings, emotions and real engagement with what it means to be Jewish in the world from the perspective of someone who lives the tensions of life in Israel.

Rutu Modan is the author of Exit Wounds, a book of shorter pieces called Jamilti and Other Stories. as well as two on-line projects in the New York Times: a visual blog called Mixed Emotions and a serial that ran in the Times magazine called The Murder of the Terminal Patient.

Rutu Modan: Exit Wounds

exit  I was looking for Jewish graphic novels, and came across the work of Israeli graphic novelist Rutu Modan, who is certainly one of the best graphic storytellers of basically realistic stories. Modan, born in Tel Aviv, in 1966, has three major books for adults published by the amazing Drawn and Quarterly.

This one, The Property and a book of shorter pieces called Jamilti and Other Stories. as well as two on-line projects in the New York Times: a visual blog called Mixed Emotions and a serial that ran in the Times magazine called The Murder of the Terminal Patient.

Exit Woulds is the story of a cab driver, Koby and the young soldier Numi who tells him some news about a bus bombing in Hadera.  The news prompts Koby into action and the two of them investigate the bombing and the identity of one particular victim.  Their awkward friendship takes them into the world of the witnesses of the bombing who all have different motives for telling them or not telling what they need to know. And beyond into both of their lives, where both of them are on the outside of their families.  They become closer than friends, but only edge into the realm of a more romantic relationship which neither of them can quite allow themselves to fully enter.  It is good to read stories from war torn places that take the context, and make me feel (in my ignorance of what it is really like) that life goes on.  That people live and die, have family and relationship troubles, that human scale stories stream through the life of the place. As Numi and Koby come to terms iwth what they discover and what how they see each other, Modan is brave enough leaving the end unresolved with Koby stuck up a tree, and Numi encouraging him to jump.

Koby: “I need a lader”
Numi: “I don’t have a ladder. Just jump.”

Numi: “I’ll catch you.”
Koby: “You can’t.”
Numi: “Do you have a better idea?”
In the penultimate frame she holds out her arms.  In the final frame, we see he has jumped.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

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This is book is a  horror story written with a lightness of touch about  how packs of humans can make snap moral judgements and run campaigns that tear others’ lives apart with no thought for the consequences aside from a snap judgement to a perceived wrong-doing glimpsed mostlikely in others’ social media posts. Jonah Lehrer brought some of this on himself, but some others of Ronson’s subjects were innocent young people who stepped a little over some boundary of “taste” and lost their livelihoods as a consequence of one tweet or post.

Part of Ronson’s appeal is that he is aware that he is in trying to understand this. he is also adding to the pile of publicity.  The book begins with the story of Ronson dealing with a spambot created with his name.  Some academics created an algorithm that tweets in his name (at jon_ronson). And their seemingly confused justification for this (I only have Ronson’s side of the story–I have made no attempt to out find more about these people.) that they are investigating the bots that bring down Wall Street by setting up a bot-Ronson is the launcso-youve-been-publicly-shamed-9780330492287hing point of the narrative.  Ronson really tries to dig into the motive for shaming, the ideas about how crowds behave differently from individuals.  He is funny, and has empathy for these real people brought to their knees first on Social Media and then in the real world.  The final line of the book is perhaps the scariest: “We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside it.”  Many of us are very careful about what we post on social media, and it is, as it was described to me once by a workshop leader, who was the first person I ever followed on Twitter, “like speaking in a very large crowded party.” Just as at a party. It is possible that only your friends will hear, but someone walking by, or someone who talks to one of those friends later, will hear what you said.  Things can spread in human interactions, but the party is much larger, and the words you type are there for others to find for a very long time. What I hope is that people will realise that there are people amongst the relatively few (I hope ) bots out there, and think before they tweet something negative, but I would like to see that more in real life too.  In cars.  In stores. Everywhere.  Twitter and Facebook are where real people meet and interact.  They are public spaces, and out tendency to relish the downfall of others in books and newspapers and television where it is mediated by journalists (like Ronson) is now in our own hands.  And a little mercy goes a long way.

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Yoga in the Bookshop Aisles. Downward-Facing Dog in the New Age Section

Quotes from a Washington Post article on Upshur Street Books (827 Upshur St. NW)

“A bookstore, for me, is a place where there can be a cultural conversation,” says Ruppert, who saw a need for “a neighborhood-focused bookstore that would attract people from beyond the neighborhood.”

“We’re able to support a lot of emerging authors, especially local authors, so it’s definitely the right audience,” Thorn says of the community. She lives about three blocks from the store.

Ruppert says he wanted “a place where people can come and they don’t have to buy anything.”

“I can remember being a young college graduate and not having very much money and going to Olsson’s or Kramer’s [bookstores] and hanging out for a couple of hours on a Friday night and reading, so that was definitely part of it.”

Read the full article.  Chick here.

A Tribute to Brian Friel (1929-2015) by David Brauner

A tribute to the Nobel winning playwright:

Did you know that one of the greatest writers of the last fifty years has just died? No, I don’t mean Henning Mankell. I’m referring to the Irish playwright Brian Friel. Friel is best known in this country for Translations (1980), which has become a perennial favourite on ‘A’-level courses, and for Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), his most frequently performed play, which was made into a film starring Meryl Streep. These plays fully deserve their reputation but Friel’s oeuvre includes a number of other masterpieces, includingPhiladelphia, Here I Come! (1964), The Freedom of the City (1973), Faith Healer (1979),Aristocrats (1979), Making History (1988) and Molly Sweeney (1994).

Click on the image for the rest of the article.

Readers (A Wander)

It’s always a shock to find that anything I write on a blog is read by anyone.

I have a part-time job as the registrar of a Brookline Soccer Club, and a very sweet father from one of the under-9 girls teams came to pick up his coaching card last night and had seen the link on my e-mail signature and had read some of these posts. He is an interesting man a computer programmer, who has hand-made books and used photography to create one-off items too.  One of which is in the Boston Public Library.  I plan to talk to him more, but in some ways what he was talking about what is happening with graphic literature at the moment changing the way we read.  On-line writing, something I really don’t have much of grip on is also changing the way we read both in terms of the composition of the work–how it is written and what it contains–and how it is taken in by the reader.  I almost used the word consumed there, and that is another issue in terms of how we purchase, collect and share (I can’t use the term) “books” any more, or maybe the meaning of “book” will change.  (The old academic term text uglifies the whole process).  Enough for now.  More soon.

Laurie Sandell: Imposter’s Daughter

Laurie Sandell grew up with a seemingly very accomplished but secretive and volatile father, who as she found out more about  him later in life turned out not to be th51De-cM88qL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_e man she thought he was; nor was he the man who he claimed to be.  I am not spoiling anything here, the title gives that away. Laurie Sandell is a feature writer for glossy magazines, but there is nothing slick about this book. As a “true” memoir it brings the agony of growing up and being uncertain who your parents are–a common feeling, as we get to know them, our parents shirnk in our eyes–but extreme in Sandell’s case.  This reads like a novel and avoids self-pity as the central character tries to take on the betrayal. She has multiple affairs with men, and one woman–on a trip to Israel–interviews celebrity after celebrity and travels a great deal trying different people and countries and people to see if she can get close to any of them. Eventually, she makes her way to Argentina  the country of her father’s birth. and ther finds that his deception began all the way back at the beginning.  There she meets Her career takes off and she meet a kind man, although nothing is simple or straight-forward for her, she is making her way in the world.  The line drawings coloured in an ink wash are simple, but somehow light-hearted and suitably emotional.  This is a comic take on a serious story with deep levels of betrayal handed from parents to daughter, who by the end.  By the end Laurie has made her way through, but the story is true enough not to be too easily resolved.