Author: Jeremy Solomons

Don’t Judge Karel Capek’s Book by Its Cover

From the New York Times August 17, 2018

Two things keep Karel Capek’s “War With the Newts” from getting the recognition it deserves: its cover and its title. The best translation’s cover design, black text on teal, has all the panache of a dishwasher manual. And the title evokes spacesuit-clad heroes racing around cheap sets, firing laser guns at unscary animatronic lizards.

Forget all that.

 

Here’s a brief guide to the newt-free portions of Capek’s oeuvre.

‘The Gardener’s Year’

When he wasn’t dreaming up sci-fi dystopias, Capek was in the garden. This cheerful, exasperated journal is fun even for readers who don’t know a daisy from a dahlia.

‘R.U.R.’

Capek’s most popular work while he was alive (it’s where the word “robot” first appears), today it reads mostly like a rough draft of “War With the Newts.”

A trilogy of philosophical novels in which Capek dabbles in detective fiction and unreliable narration. Warning: It makes “War With the Newts” read like a conventional potboiler.

‘The Absolute at Large’

Capek, in 1922, foresees a device that can produce unlimited cheap energy, with the small catch that it might just lead to a world-destroying global war.

‘The Cheat’

When he died in 1938, Capek was working on this bleak polyphonic novel about a half-crazed, compulsively plagiaristic composer.

Sleepwalk by Adrian Tomine

SleepwalkOriginally published in 1998, Sleepwalk and Other Stories collects the sixteen earliest stories from the Optic Nerve comic series. Tomine won a Harvey Award for Best New Talent for this book.

These are stories of people trying to move on in their lives, trying to connect with each other, and more often than not missing, and when they miss they end up somewhere they hadn’t intended, and the focus of their attention often is misplaced.

Sleepwalk  is just one of several volumes that collect these short stories, first of all self-published and then continued by the always impressive Drawn and Quarterly.

Rivers of London (Graphic)

RiversOfLondon-CollectedEditions-Blog-2Rivers of London began as a series of novels by Ben Aaronovitch.

Each volume is a separate story featuring Peter Grant, who is both a junior detective and trainee wizard.  He is joined in the stories by his boss Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a police colleague of Nightingale’s, and Peter’s girlfriend, Beverly Brook, who is the goddess of her namesake waterway.

The setting is the dark side of London, where criminality and evil collide. You can read the graphic series, or the novels or both, and on his own website Aaronovich has a chronology, which, of course, is not the publishing chronology, where you can read both in the sequence that the events unfold (mostly).

London is a background, and clearly the inspiration, but these could take place in any big city, on cusp of night and darkness, where reality meets the fears and real dangers that haunt us all.

Tenements, Towers & Trash by Julia Wertz

Tenements Towers and TrashWertz‘s book is subtitled “An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York.”

That it is.  When I first found this book in Shakespeare and Co, I was looking for a present for a new New Yorker friends that would give them a new perspective on their new home town. Wertz brings to life not the whole city, but many parts as they have changed through time.

The epigraph of the book is from E. B. White: “There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second,, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and coame to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination.”

Wertz brings to life all three New Yorks.  Even if you didn’t grow up there, and haven’t moved there, for several hours poring over Wertz’s evocative drawing, and harsh witty writing you can live there through so many periods of the twentieth century.

Don’t miss the 12 pages of the “Biased Guide to New York’s Independent Bookstores.”

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Threads: From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

Threads - Kate EvansMy current obsession with graphic literature continues and I am continually surprised by new works.  Kate Evans’ extraordinary book is dark and fascinating and draws you in to the world of  The Jungle outside Calais.  The Jungle was a sprawling camp full of desperate people escaping their horrors of their home countries.  Evans’ visual style and fragmentary storytelling shows the dark and desperation, but more importantly she explores the humanity and even the joy of so many of the people who were not welcomed, had nowhere to go.  Their story is here, and it is one of the best antidotes to the xenophobia that drives Brexit and similar forces in France. Read it now.