Rock Candy Mountain Volume 1 by Kyle Starks, colored by Chris Schweizer. Image, 2017. 9781534303171. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.
Starks’ hilariously violent graphic novel homage to 80s action films, Sexcastle, was one of my favorite books of 2014, and his follow-up was in the same vein and just as fun. His third creator-owned project is just as great.
It opens in 1948, with the Devil tearing up a hobo camp and all the men living there. (Starks has a real talent for making gruesome moments somehow fun, and Schweizer’s colors really add to that tone.) The Devil is looking for Jackson, who is elsewhere, jumping a train and helping out a young man returning to Kentucky after a run of bad luck in California. The pair soon run afoul of the hobo mafia’s boss, and Jackson has to show how good he is in a fight: “He’s got punch diarrhea and their faces are the toilet bowl.” Foul-mouthed government types are after him, too. Jackson’s motivation: he’s trying to get to Rock Candy Mountain. His secret: he traded his soul to the Devil. Complications abound, and so do hilarious and unexpected bits of dialogue.
Volume 2, which was just published, concludes the series.
The Fashion Committee: A Novel of Art, Crime and Applied Design by Susan Juby. Viking, 2017. 9780451468789.
The exclusive private arts high school in town has a competition for admission and one year’s tuition, and this year’s theme is fashion. Charlie Dean is utterly obsessed, knows all the legendary designers, and creates all her own clothes. John Thomas-Smith thinks fashion is moronic, but there’s no other way he can afford to attend the school to study metalwork. So the race is on to create an original look for a juried fashion show.
This book could have just been a silly competition story and I would have loved it, but it was a lot more. The chapters alternate between Charlie’s and John’s voices. Charlie’s difficult background slowly emerges from her pontificating about style and her design heroes. You can see what a lifeline this scholarship would be for her. John’s decision to join the competition shocks his girlfriend and best friend, which makes John even more determined. It also gradually opens his eyes to how much they want him to be stuck in the same town in the same way they are. John begins to see that fashion can have a positive effect and decides to design clothes for a bullied foster kid. Charlie starts to understand that maybe her life shouldn’t be on hold because of her father’s addiction.
I have no idea how I will booktalk this, but I know I have to share this book.
Slider by Pete Hautman. Candlewick Press, 2017. 9780763690700.
After accidentally bidding $2000 for a half-eaten hot-dog (the decimal point is important!), David needs to come up with some quick cash before his mom sees her credit card bill. He’s a fan of competitive eaters (the hot dog was supposedly the only remains of a missed championship bid by one of his favorite superstars), so he turns to his natural ability to eat a whole lot very quickly. He starts entering eating contests for the prize money, first with sliders, but then he graduates to entire pizzas. His friends are enthusiastic. His parents are baffled.
It’s a nice family story. David’s prodigious eating is a big contrast to his autistic brother, Mal, who will only eat chips, fish sticks, and Cheerios. David’s sick of having to care for Mal all the time, but at the same time loves him very much and wants him to be happy. A lot of things change the balance of the family dynamic over that summer, and David’s competitions are only one.
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence. Flatiron Books, 2017. 9781250106490.
Sarah: Each chapter of this is about a book or a genre. Each is only two or three pages long, and starts with a fake catalog entry — the subject headings are sometimes serious and sometimes hilarious. Each chapter is written like a letter. The first one starts “Dear The Goldfinch,” the book by Donna Tartt.
Gene: Have you read The Goldfinch?
S: No, but I feel like I needed post-it flags or a highlighter to mark all the books in here I want to read now. She writes love letters to the books that changed her life and why she loved them, how they came into her life at the right time…
G: So it’s as much about her as about the books?
S: Is is SO much about her, it’s this great autobiography through books. And she works in a library, so she also writes breakup letters to books she has to weed from the collection!
G: It’s not just love letters?
S: Not just love letters! Breakup letters, hate letters…
G: Hate letters!
S: Here’s one to a book, the subject headings she puts at the top are “Calculators” and “Old as Shit.” It’s to the book The Calculating Book: Fun and Games with Your Pocket Calculator. (laughs)
G: That one’s a breakup letter.
S: “We never go out anymore. To be more specific: you. You are REALLY not getting out much these days. It’s not that recreational mathematics isn’t a thing anymore. I guess it’s just that — how do I say this? Remember how on your book cover you ask if we have ever wanted to greet a friend electronically? People have kind of figured out how to do that without turning their calculators upside down to spell ‘Hello.'”
G: (laughs) Nice!
S: It covers all the relationships you can have with books. She’s got the one she reads every year, that she fell in love with in college…
G: Which one is that?
S: The Virgin Suicides. She’s got another one she fell in love with unexpectedly, and other books that came along at exactly the right time. She writes an angry letter to The Giving Tree for being a piece of shit.
G: (laughs) People love to hate on that book now.
S: Well, it’s a real weird story. I cracked this book open in Browser’s Bookshop in Olympia, to this page… well, I looked at the table of contents and had to flip to it…
G: Did you buy this? Do you own this?
G: (admiring) Well, look at you!
S: I opened it to Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. She starts he letter with “Whhhhyyyyy do people keep asking me if I’ve read you? Aren’t you the same book as the last one of you I said I didn’t want to read?” Towards the end of the letter she says, “You made me say ‘erotica’ to an old lady, Grey! I’m going to hate you forever for that.”
S: And this line, here, “It makes me want to shake readers and scream: YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY GREAT LITERATURE AND THIS SHIT ISN’T EVEN THAT DIRTY!” (laughs)
I was laughing out loud at these letters, I was touched, and she really has a handle on the kind of relationship I have with books. I mean, her life is different from mine, she has a kid and talks about the books she reads with her kid…
G: Does she write letters to them, too?
S: Uh-huh. Here’s one to My Truck Book, which her kid wants her to read out loud one million times! She has this great chapter, it’s not to any book in particular, but it’s her at a party, too shy to talk to anyone, getting progressively drunker, talking to the host’s bookshelf. (laughs)
She writes this one, “Dear Books I Imagine My Upstairs Neighbor Reads,” as a way of complaining about his horrible behavior.
She has a great section at the end that lists her recommendations by topic. One of the categories is Recovery Reads, “the books to turn to when you’re on the mend from a book that gave you nightmares or left you in a dark headspace and you need some lighter fare (but don’t want to give up quality).”
G: AKA The Zero by Jess Walter. (both laugh) What does she recommend?
S: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton… she really likes celebrity tell-alls, she’s got a couple letters to them… Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter…
G: Nobody’s Fool, I’ve meant to read that a couple times, and maybe this will push me towards it again.
S: She’s got other quick lists, “All Time Top Bios and Memoirs,” “Books About Girls and Romance that Don’t Make Me Wince Like Twilight.”
G: What’s on that one?
S: Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, Like No Other by Una LaMarche, Dumplin‘ by Julie Murphy. Plus some nonfiction ones.
G: That’s great! How fun! And not previously published on the web?
S: No, it’s an actual book! And worthy of being a book, worthy of being purchased, worthy of being a gift to your friends. Though I did have a coworker I recommended it to and she said it was hard for her to take because there were so many things about bad library interactions. (She read it all in one sitting and I read it over the course of several months, which I think made it more pleasant for me.)
Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung. Andrews McMeel, 2017. 180pp. 9781449486068.
Tung is a web cartoonist and illustrator who publishes comics about books and being an introvert and more on her Tumblr. Her illustrations are somewhat loosely drawn but realistic, and the grays she uses really helps emphasize the quiet moments she loves. I’ve never had much of a problem asking questions in class or hanging out with groups of people, but I connected with Tung on page 12, when she looks at another young woman’s bookshelf and determines that they’re gong to be friends. Books also helped me understand how she could fall in love with a guy who isn’t an introvert — when she’s trying to decide between two books in a store, he buys them both for her. (That’s love.) Overall this is a great story, told in page-length comic strips, about a young woman figuring out how to deal with a world that’s not quite set up to welcome her (her job has an open office where everyone chats!), who moves toward doing what she loves with someone she loves.
I bought this for my daughter, who says she’s something of an introvert, for Christmas last year. I’ve never seen the book again, which is a good sign, though she seemed vaguely annoyed that I’d gotten the same book from the library and told her how much I enjoyed it. (But then she always seems annoyed with me these days (vaguely and otherwise). She’s just about to turn 16.)
The Collected Doug Wright: Volume One: Canada’s Master Cartoonist by Doug Wright. Introduction by Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse). Drawn & Quarterly, 2009. 9781897299524. Beautifully designed by Seth. 240 wonderfully oversized 240pp.
Gene: Do you know who Doug Wright was?
G: He was kind of…
S: Is he that Canadian guy?
G: He’s that Canadian who the Doug Wright Awards are named after.
S: Oh yeah.
G: I was going to say he’s kind of like the Charles Schulz of Canada? His comics don’t look much like Peanuts, but they were beloved. They ran for a long time in Canadian newspapers. His most famous was Little Nipper or Nipper, which became Doug Wright’s family.
What I really like is that this is an oversized book that has blown up some of his drawings, especially from the beginning of his career, and it shows you how amazing his comics were. They were mostly, I think, black and white and red, so black and red ink plus white space on the page. They’re all about a little boy, Nipper, and his family.
There’s a huge biographical essay in the book about Wright’s life, which I didn’t read much of. But there are some pieces of his art that are very cool. It’s supposed to cover 1949 – 1962, so it’s before this smaller format Nipper collection which I also have, which covers 1963 – 1964.
Look, his early comics were so old school.
S: Lots of detail!
Continue reading “Doug, right?”
Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9781338047691. 160pp.
I think I first bought one of Steinke’s self-published minicomics 7 or 8 years ago, back when the Stumptown Comics Fest was still its own thing in Portland. His comics then and since have a genuine good-natured quality, and I really admire how upbeat they are. This is no exception.
Mr. Wolf is a new teacher at his elementary school, and none of his 17 students (each a different species of anthropomorphized animal) is more excited than Margot (a rabbit), who just moved to the neighborhood. On the bus she meets a little slug guy. Sampson (a frog) gets a slightly nasty note and then in trouble for running (to go to the bathroom). There’s some discussions of palindromes brought on by Aziza’s name (she’s a duck who wears a headscarf). And they take a trip to the library where the librarian, Mrs. Bird, checks out books while wearing her fancy red cowboy boots. After a student decides to take a nap in a box, there’s a bit of excitement when everyone searches for her. There’s a brain in a jar, and sharing. By the end of the book it’s clear they’re all pretty good kids, and that they’re in good hands.
Leonardo Was Right by Roland Topor. Translated by Barbara Wright. John Calder, 1978. Playscript 83. 0714536717.
Sarah: Leonardo Was Right by Roland Topor…This is a play.
G: Oh my god, this is the smallest book we’ve talked about so far… just a 25 page tome.
S: Right, it’s a fast read.
G: Translated from what?
S: From French, oui oui. One of the reasons I’m hesitant to talk about this on Bookthreat is that it’s out of print and wildly overpriced online in both French and English.
G: Our friends in the library world have this thing called interlibrary loan, so don’t worry about it.
S: This was a book that Tom loaned me that he thought I’d find funny because it’s a play that’s entirely about shit. (laughs)
G: I’m picking the book back up!
S: He said I might want to recommend it to you! It’s about this couple who visits another couple in the country and, as the play opens, we discover that their toilet’s backed up and they’re having problems unplugging it. So every time someone has to go to the bathroom they have to go to the neighbor’s house! Then, at dinner that evening, there’s a turd in the center of the table. They need to find out who the phantom shitter is.
G: Oh my god.
S: And both of the men in the couples are policemen, high up, and they start to gather all the clues to find out who did it. One of them ends up interrogating his son, dunking his head in water… it’s ridiculous. But it’s really quite funny, even aside from the poop aspect.
G: And it’s French?
S: It’s French, and the whole time I read it, I was trying to imagine someone putting on this production, imagining it on the stage. What kind of prop poo do you use? Do you use one of those rubber dog-doo things from the joke shop?
G: That’s your whole pitch?
S: Yes. I didn’t like the ending, but other than that it was quite entertaining.
G: Obviously, poop is very funny, Sarah, because you’re laughing, and I’m laughing. My favorite episode of TV ever is from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Who Pooped the Bed? (Editor: Season 4, Episode 7)
S: I think you showed that episode at your birthday party.
G: It sounds like they took the idea right from this. Is the author well-known?
S: Yes, he was a political cartoonist, a playwright, a novelist, and he wrote a bunch of pop songs, including some performed by a Japanese-French chanteuse famous for her unusual hats…
G: (laughs) I don’t know why, but that’s perfect.
S: You should listen to his song about an ambulance… or the disco version.
The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks. Crown Publishers, 2001. 0609607820.
Sarah: Part of the significance of this book, because there are plenty of people out there who make fun of the horrible illustrations in old cookbooks, is that James Lileks was one of the first. He was really early on the Internet scene, he has this wonderful website that he’s been working on since the nineties — it’s a great collection of weird old stuff. He’s also funny; he’ll comment on the pictures and not just say “oh, how disgusting!” He’s really amusing, and he’ll start bizarre mini-fictions that continue within and across his captions.
G: (looks at photo and laughs)
S: He talks about how his mom in, I think, 1962 was given a terrible promo cookbook from the North Dakota durum wheat growers… that was the start of his collection, when he found it in his mom’s closet, untouched, in the 90s.
He has a fictional recipe in there based on all the recipes in these books, where you carefully put one atom of chili powder in a dish with a pound of hamburger meat, 36 pounds of flavorless cheese… “if substituting spackle, crumble one yellow crayon for color,” one cup dusty crumbs from the toaster, three grains pepper, one pound salt, then that one atom of chili powder.
Continue reading “Regrets, I Ate a Few”