Continuing

I have been quiet for a while–starting a new job, moving house, working on my research all has taken its toll, but I am back now.

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I’m OK with I’m Not OK with This

IAmNotOkay_Cover_forsman.pngI heard about the new Netflix series The End of the F***ing World based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman.  Thought I’d read the book first.  You know. When I went to look for it, found this instead.  Okay is almost about high schoolers, focusing on Sydney, who has lsot her father, has trouble getting along with her family, despite the fact that she would like to, and  has few friends at school.  On top of that, when she is angry, she has a power that destroys.  You’ll have to read it to find out more. The drawings are cartoonish–just enough lines to tell the story and generate a feeling. The story is emotional and engaging. The ending is earned, but unwanted, as Forsman has made the connection between Sydney and the reader.

The Death of Stalin

Death of Stalin coverA true Soviet Story by Fabien Nury et Thierry Robin (Titan Comics, 2017) (Original pub. France: Dargand, 2012) Now a film directed by Armando Iannucci.

Fiction?  Non-fiction? The difficulty of telling the stories of the Soviet Union.

“Although inspired by real events, this book is nonetheless as work of fiction..having said this, the authors would like to make it clear that their imaginations were scarcely stretched in the creation…since it would have been impossible for them to come up with anything half as insane as the real events.”

In this novel as in the authors’ statement and as in the Soviet Union, it is difficult to separate truth from fiction.  By writing “fiction” Nury and Robin avoid the need to decide what is true. There is almost no other way to go, as they pull this “true” story from “historical evidence that was at best patchy, at times partial, and often contradictory.”  As always, it is tough for an outsider to know how convoluted and dangerous life was in both the government of the U.S.S.R. and in the opposition. I have written about The Yidanother fictional and satiric take on the Stalin’s death.

Strong (a derogatory word) leaders always leave a huge hole when they depart, and this version of the story focuses on the jockeying for position as a hole is opening. The shadowy world is drawn in shades of brown and grey, just occasionally punctuated by a red highlights: a dress, a pillow, the fabric around Stalin’s coffin.

The story is framed by a classical radio broadcast of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, featuring the soloist, Maria Yudina. Stalin calls the radio station asking for a recording of the performance, which had gone out live and was not taped.  Quickly, the orchestra is detained in the studio, and when they are asked to record the piece, Yudina refuses to play for Stalin.  She is bribed with 20,000 rubles, and then the conductor collapses too scared to carry on.  A second conductor is forcibly brought in by the police, in the middle of the night, and when the recording is done, Yudina, forces a note into the package with the record that the NKVD have come to collect. Stalin gets the note, reads it, and it tells him that Yudina will “pray for him” and that she will “donate” the money she was paid “to her parish for restoration work.” Immediately after he reads the note, Stalin has a massive heart attack.

The rest of the story is the negotiations and underhand manipulations that the Central Committee go through to figure out who succeeds the Georgian as Party Secretary.

It’s well written and dramatic and revealing of how decisions are made when there is no centre of power. But the idea of what is true, is central. The final image is a two-page spread of two parallel scenes. Beria is being executed,. He wonders if anyone will believe that he is guilty of the murders he is accused of, while at the same time, Yudina tells a joke about him, where a NKVD officer is crying in front of the mausoleum, and his colleague asks him if he is OK. The crying man asks, “Is it true that they arrested Beria?” The other man replies that it’s true, and the crying man says, “He raped, my daughter.” The other man replies, “Your’s too.” Beria is on the left-hand page, Yudina on the right, and at the bottom, across both pages a brick wall and a cloud of dust, and speech bubbles, presumably from Beria, say, “They’ve washed their hands in my blood…and now…they want to start afresh, to look ahead.”  The final bubble alone in the cloud of dust from the bullets that kill him, “towards a glorious future!”

Read it.  See the film.

It may seem distant in geography and in time, but these are the ways of our species.

In Russia, nobody’s laughing at Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin

Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads

Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl Ballads Graphic

A Graphic Novel by Nick Hayes  (Abrams Comic Arts, 2016)

Woody Guthrie is to some the Walt Whitman of the depression making his way through the America that is perpetually left behind by politicians and business, and if that is the case, his Dust Bowl Ballads  are his Leaves of Grass. Guthrie wrote so fast that his songs are a record of his life and the people he met along the way.  A voice of ordinary people, life and sdturgugle in a way his obvious successors Dylan and Ochs could  never be as they came to their songs, and in Ochs case activism, in full awareness of what Guthrie had already sung and said.

Nick Hayes’ biography of Guthrie and the songs is drawn in the style of woodcuts washed in sepia with the lettering that feels of that time.  Hayes is a succinct and talented storyteller who draws the reader through the life and takes one to the places and brings to life the people that inspired the lyrics.  The sadness and persistence of subsistance seep into your bones–and Woody Guthrie is speaking to our time–so many people struggle to make ends meet, others feel left out and ready to blame others, and those us who are better off feels helpless in the face of the hateful despising espoused by too many in authority.  Government is either trying to make people’s lives worse or seems helpless to make anything better.  Business is using labour to make untold profits while paying as little as possible with no sense of the role of business is part of society. Steve Earle caught this feeling back in 1997 (Here him at Woody’s 100th birthday party in 2012.

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now.
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow.
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help us out.
Come back Woody Guthrie
To us now.

Review from The Guardian

9 Graphic Novels You Should Be Reading

Giant Days ImageTy Burr, The Boston Globe, August 4, 2017

When the term “graphic novel” first came into vogue in the 1980s, it was seen by many as just a fancy-pants name for comic books — a self-conscious way of bootstrapping a lowly medium into social acceptability. If you told someone at a party that you were reading a graphic novel, it betokened not necessarily that you were serious but that you wanted to be perceived as serious. It was a pose, a dodge, a pretention — no matter that works like Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus,” Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” and Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” were and are terrifically rich reads that wouldn’t work as well as they do in any other format (and, yes, I’m a fan of “Fun Home” the Broadway smash).

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke
Flammable by Gabrielle Bell
Japanese Notebooks by Igort
Songy in Paradise by Guy Panter
Giant Days by John Allison
Solid State by Jonathan Coulton
Threads From the Refugee Club by Kate Evans
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

Full article

My Year in Books

A list worth checking out.

Literary Mama

Here it is: the complete list of books I finished in 2017. A few caveats: I have a toddler, so both reading time and energy are in short supply; there are lots more books that I started, or read pieces of, or read excerpts of in magazines; current events were much more distracting this year than others. That being said, I’m proud of this list. I read some truly great books, and thanks to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (more on that next week), I read a much wider range of genres than I typically would.

The best of the best: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward were the best novels I read this year, and One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin was the most unexpected. For nonfiction, I loved Code Girls by Liza Mundy and I savored How to Sit by…

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Desert Remains — Steven Cooper

Desert RemainsI started reading Desert Remains, because I had to run a reading for Steven Cooper–I was given the book a few days before and got through the first 150 pages, and–always a recommendation once you reach page 100–I wanted to finish it.

Main characters:
Alex Mills–a Phoenix PD detective, who, married with a son, is not as macho as many of his colleagues. As the book progresses, he opens up to his intuition about people and events.
Gus Parker–this is where much to Cooper’s credit, I stayed with the book.  Gus is a psychic. I usually hate the way that someone with “powers” can magically jump the story forward. Gus though is an engaging character with his own limitations, and his powers can lead him and Alex astray as much as they help. If anything, he is the character one most wants to follow.
Beatice Vossenheimer–is the more traditional psychic and larger than life mentor, and would be yenta to Gus, and early in the book she is on a mission to root out fake psychics.  These scenes bring energy and humour to the early stages of the book.

However, the true central character is geography: the mountains in and around Phoenix.  They are the site of the murders, but also they connect to earlier settlers in the area, and provide a backdrop to put the stories in context.  Many of the desert remains of the title are the many petroglyphs that are on rocks and in caves all over the valley. Each death, would be romance, relationship stress, no matter how big they seem, are puny moments on the immense time-lines of human and geological history.  I finished the book when I would usually  be in Phoenix working at Changing Hands Bookstore–it was a way to be there, but also made me miss that time and those friends intensely. Changing Hands appears in the book renamed Turning Pages–and probably still on Mill.

The mystery is engaging–I caught on at just the right time–the characters are people you want to spend time with, and there is energy and humour in the writing.  I’m looking forward to the next Mills and Parker book.