Non-Fiction

Football Books from Rory Smith

There was a lot of well-earned love, in particular, for

David Winner’s “Brilliant Orange,”

Sid Lowe’s “Fear and Loathing in La Liga” and

Joe McGinniss’s “Miracle of Castel di Sangro.”

“The Far Corner,” Harry Pearson’s wonderfully funny assessment of soccer in the North East of England, as much as I do. That would make fine lockdown reading, I think.

Bill Buford’s “Among the Thugs,”

“Fathers of Football,” by Keith Baker, and

Paul Watson’s “Up Pohnpei!”

“1312,” a book by the reporter James Montague

“This Love Is Not For Cowards,” by Robert Andrew Powell,

“Football Against the Enemy,” by Simon Kuper,

Jonathan Wilson’s “Inverting the Pyramid”

Ian Hawkey’s “Feet of the Chameleon,”

“Futebol,” by Alex Bellos;

Michael Calvin’s “Family”

“The Numbers Game,” by Chris Anderson and David Sally,

“Mister” is very good. Even the ones who haven’t read it.

Jeré Longman’s “The Girls of Summer,”

Paul Brown’s “Ruhleben Football Association,”

“The Barcelona Legacy,” another of Wilson’s.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob


Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir Good Talk is based around conversations Mira has with those around her in New York, between 2014 and 2016 with flashes back to her family in New Mexico and India. She  has an extraordinary talent for dialogue that is at the centre here. Much of the story’s present is autobiography alongside her developing romance with Jed,a family story and most affectingly a story of how race in America impacts individuals and families. 

The first scene is 2014. Mira and her 6-year-old son, Z, are discussing his obsession with Michael Jackson.  Z and Mira are drawn, and then cut out leaving a white border around each figure and super-imposed on photos of Jackson album covers and cityscapes of New York. Z is asking questions: “Who taught him to dance?” and “What is a LaToya?” before he moves on to “Was Michael Jackson brown or white?” Later on, in reference to the murder of Michael Brown, Z asks, “Is it bad to be brown?” Mira replies, “No, it’s great being brown. We look good in colors! We have history! We don’t get skin cancer as easily!” These exchanges establish the narrative and the subject matter of the whole work, but Z wonders why his mother is “yelling at me.” The graphic style of the drawn figures on top of the photographs, sometimes augmented by photographic portraits of some of the characters, allows the story to happen in the actual settings. The photos often open the narrative up beyond the rooms where the conversations are taking place.

“ Now every question Z asked made me realize the growing gap between the America I’d been raised to believe in and the one rising fast all around us. I kept thinking if I could go back in time and make sense of the things I’d been told growing up, I would be able to give Z better answers. Maybe even find a way toward that better country. Soon though with news of the Black Lives Matter Movement flooding our televisions, and the rise of Donald Trump, I would have just as many questions as he did.”

The book progresses through her parents’ story of an arranged marriage and her family’s worries about her love marriage (defined by Mira’s mother as “a marriage that is not arranged.” to Jed, a Jewish man; an hyper-awareness of shades of skin color that comes from her family thinking that she is “not fair” and therefore “no beauty.” There are attempts to arrange a marriage for Mira that fail–all the time she is moving through relationships at school, college after college in Seattle and New York.

Around the middle of the book, 9/11 happens.  The book turns here. Indians are taken for terrorists. Mira is mistaken for a young Indian woman who was lost in the twin towers who appears on a poster.  The hope of America disintegrates from here on out as Trump’s rise after the hope of Obama, strains the relationships between Jed’s parents and their daughter-in-law and grandson.

This is a subtle examination of how race works for people of color set in a narrative where most of the time the stakes are emotional rather than life or death, and this allows those of us, who because we are white, don’t feel the slights and digs and mispeakings, another place to feel them as they happen.  I read the memoir while at the same time reading Jacob’s impressive novel The Sleepwaker’s Guide to Dancing they echo each other. Give them both a try.

Excerpt published in The Guardian

Interview with Jacob in The Atlantic

Review of Good Talk from the New York Times

Kirkus Review of Good Talk
Kirkus Review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Boston Globe review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

See Colours Again

There is so much talk at the moment about taking time away from our phones and paying attention to the real world unfiltered.

In 2000, John Berger and John Christie published their correspondance that began with an exchange of letters about Cadmium Red. After reading this book, you will see colours anew. Two men committed to art and to expressing their ideas about it.

The book is made up of facsimiles of some hand written letters, some one-off books made by Christie and samples of the art they are discussing.

Take time. Look at the book. Reflect on the text. When your eyes leave the page. The world has changed.

Weegee: Serial Photographer

Another review of a book by Max de Radiguès. This time with art by Wauter Mannaert and originally published in Paris, but with a full on Jewish–New -York-American subject: Arthur (Ascher) Fellig (also known as Weegee.)

Weegee obsessively photographs murders in the seamier streets of the city. He’s often there before the police and notoriously rearranges bodies to get a better shot. He knew the police. He knew the underworld and the prostitutes. Much of Weegee’s time is spent on the Lower East Side, where he has a marriage-like friendship with Rita a cafe owner, and has sex with Irma a local prostitute. But despite his notoriety, and the fact that the newspapers are buying his photos, he wants to be accepted in the art world and Hollywood, and he gets to try both. Just as in Bastard, the main character is unsympathetic , but Radiguès surprises and make him endearing. Check this book out. Check out the original photos. Weegee is also the inspiration for characters in films such as A Public Eye, Nightcrawler and Watchmen. And it’s Fellig photo which is the cover and inspiration for the name of Naked City’s (the John Zorn group) first album.

Is the term “Graphic Novel” Pretentious?

Daniel Raeburn: “I snicker at the neologism first for its insecure pretension—the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’—and second because a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphic_novel

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I have discovered so many extraordinary novels, memoirs and non-fiction books that use cartooning to tell the story. My problem with the term “graphic novel” is not that it is pretentious–I suppose it is, but it describes what I am looking for–nor is it that it is a marketing term–all names for products that are sold are marketing terms: comics just as much as graphic novels. IT’s that not all graphic novels are novels. There is not a good term for the non-fiction, full length comics. Maybe it’s just “graphic non-fiction,” and in the end, graphic novels will be shelved with novels and non-ficiton shelved with its subjects. Graphic novels are another way of communicating, where a great deal of innovation is happening in how stories are told.

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.