The End Is Now

Hyperart: Thomasson by Akasegawa Genpei. Translated by Matthew Fargo. Kaya Press, 2010. 9781885030467. 416 pages.

Gene: The moment I heard this four years ago, I knew I had to tell you about it. I’m finally done with the book. And it’s yours, to celebrate the end of our time doing Book Threat.

(We listen to this episode of 99% Invisible, and you should, too — it’s one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite podcasts. It’s about vestigial parts of cities, architectural leftovers that are both maintained and useless. Think staircases to nowhere. Akasegawa thought these were a kind of art. He called them Thomassons, after Gary Thomasson, a great pro baseball player who was hired to play in Japan at the end of his career, where he didn’t live up to expectations (but collected a paycheck anyway). Akasegawa didn’t mean anything bad by naming these useless bits of architecture after him, apparently, but Gary Thomasson and his family aren’t happy with this eponym.))

Sarah: Roman Mars [the host of 99% Invisible] is obsessed with eponyms. He appears every year on the eponym episode of another podcast, The Allusionist, which the host does just for him.
Gene: Look at this book! I have tried to read it, but I have to confess I’m not able to read something like this cover to cover, I just kind of flip though it once in a while. These are the articles on Thomassons that Akasegawa published. Look at The Pointless Gate — it doesn’t go anywhere!
S: Think about the people who maintain it. They don’t want it to get ugly!
G: There’s a spigot in my basement that doesn’t do anything.
S: You can’t let that look like shit! I think about the houses in Levittown, post-war, the big symbol of suburban conformity. I saw a photo of one that had a big space under the stairs for a cabinet television and I thought about how quickly TVs changed shape and size. But that cabinet space is still there.
G: This is an awning above some hydrangea leaves. It looks like a shelf.
And here’s a triangle of space, with a handrail that separates part of the stairs from the rest of them and creates a space that there’s no good way into (unless you jump the railing). How did the building change to create that?
Every time I look through this book I find something I feel like I haven’t seen before.
S: A wooden telephone pole cut off at waist height.
G: It’s still got the metal band around it, and it’s next to the new concrete telephone pole.
S: There used to be an offramp to nowhere in Seattle.
G: I think the state finished it and it goes to where the stadiums are now, at the end of I-90. Stadiums? Stadia?
S: I had a water heater that had two emergency overflow valves because at some point someone must have said oh, this doesn’t have one. And they installed one but they just didn’t see the other, and now there are two.
G: Look, here’s my receipt for this book. I bought it in 2014 right after hearing the episode of the podcast.
S: That’s not too bad. I have older unread books than that.
G: But I read as much of it as I’ve read in about two weeks. I’ve been peeking at it now and then, and once in a while I even throw it in my bag and carry it around for a few days. But I can’t finish it. I don’t read nonfiction very much. And now it’s yours. It could be worth big bucks. It’s got a blurb from Yoko Ono on it. That is a book for you, a very 80s looking book, if you accept it.
S: I accept this book into my heart.
G: You don’t have to die with this book in your hands, though. I release you from having to hold onto it forever.

G: I’ve enjoyed our time reviewing books together.
S: I have, too.
G: I’m sure we’ll still talk about books, but privately now. And we’ll stop recording ourselves doing that…now. (click)

 

PS: Sarah is getting serious about a writing project, which is going to be awesome! Gene is going to keep reviewing books (mostly graphic novels), but he’ll be posting them on librarycomic.com and to it’s social media feeds starting in November 2018. (If you want to make sure you see them, please sign up for Library Comic’s newsletter or you can follow just the reviews via this link.)
Thanks again for sticking with us!

-Gene and Sarah

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Book Fight Club

Sarah: I recently saw the new HBO movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.
Gene: Starring Michael B. Jordan from Fruitvale Station and Black Panther.
S: It was not great. The ending was updated in a way that I didn’t like.
G: His boss is the bad guy from The Shape of Water, Michael Shannon.
S: He was good. All the performances were good. The changes in the plot were aggravating.
G: Michael B. Jordan plays Guy Montag, right? I recently read someone’s opinion that the book really needed to be updated, that the story needs to be updated. The previous movie was not great.
S: People respond to the story as though it were just about censorship, but Bradbury wrote it about how people have stopped reading because they just want to watch TV. I think that’s absolutely something you can update to the internet era. People don’t want to read long sentences, they want emoji. And that’s how the movie starts. Then there’s book burning, because books bummed people out and caused wars.
G: What bummed people out?
S: Books with sad stories. And religious books cause wars because people disagree about them.
My actual question is this: if you’re in the dystopian future and you have to memorize one book, you’re assigned to memorize one book, how do you go about picking that book? I felt like when Montag met the people who were memorizing books, it looked like they didn’t necessarily get to pick their book. Maybe someone assigned it to them.
G: Oh my god, no!
S: So you’ve got to go in with a strategy or you’re going to end up with a book you don’t like and it’ll be etched into your soul forever. How do you make sure you get a book you can live with for the rest of your life? I liked that the HBO movie updated the books that were being preserved to include more contemporary authors and authors of color…
G: That’s nice.
S: …but it annoyed me that the people who became a book always matched the color of the author. The one Asian-American person had memorized Mao’s Little Red Book. Really?
G: That’s your book? Not an Amy Tan novel or something you’d want to remember?
S: No! Not something that she probably connected with personally. I don’t know. I think 90% of Chinese Americans really don’t like Mao. (laughs) Or at least their parents don’t.
G: I think that’s high, Sarah, I think it’s more like 89%
S: So you, Gene, don’t want to be assigned a guy book just because you’re clearly a guy. You don’t want something based on your demographic background. You want something based on who you are and what book you can live with.
G: That’s the question? How do you do it?
S: How do you go into the room and be like, “I only want prose.” Or “I only want American authors.” Or “I only want books that focus on language rather than character development.”
G: Maybe in that dystopian future, there are few books to choose from.
S: That’s the problem, knowing how non-librarians collect books in those Little Free Libraries, you’re going to end up with a car manual. You’re going to end up with Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
G: (laughs) Oh my god! The Prophet by Gibran. How to Win Friends and Influence People.
S: Exactly! I want to go in there and not get whatever bullshit Little Free Library books were saved. Librarians know about collection development, about core collections.
G: But it couldn’t be a graphic novel.
S: Yeah, or you’d have to act it out.
G: Could it be a picture book? It’d easier to memorize prose. That’s maybe the wrong idea, maybe there’s a way to transmit pictures in a graphic novel. I immediately go to prose, I go to short. I think plays would be easier to memorize.
S: Do you think that’s why that lady chose Mao’s book? “What’s the shortest one you have?”
G: And it’s historic, right? But I think most people would preserve a bestseller…
S: Yes.
G: Every Dean Koontz book would come down through the ages..
S: By sheer numbers…and Stephen King.
G: Stephen King, The Bible, Harry Potter.
S: Harry Potter shows up on the screen in Fahrenheit 451.
G: Could you do it if you didn’t have a choice? I think yes. Because you’re going to get stuck with one book, and you’re desperate to read something anyway.
S: Assume you get to go through the process of memorizing, it’s not just accidental. What do you want to stare at, for as many years of your life as you need to memorize that book?
G: What would I want? I would pick a story that I really like and I would pick a kids’ book. I would pick some Lloyd Alexander book, probably The Book of Three or The Black Cauldron or The High King. (I recognize that Taran Wanderer isn’t the best standalone book in the Prydain series though it’s still my personal favorite.) I’d pick one of those, or my favorite book, LeGuin’s The Wizard of Earthsea. I could memorize the first three books in that series, I think.
S: Yeah. They might be happy if you volunteered to do three. “I’ll do three if I can do these three.”
G: But how do you resolve the fights? “No no no, I’M The Wizard of Earthsea!”
S: Trial by combat!
G: Have a throwdown? Maybe a bunch of people are sitting around reading a copy of John Grisham’s The Client to each other.
S: That’s what I’m afraid of. I don’t want to walk into the room and get The Client.
G: You have to have some redundancy, though, right?
S: Yeah, what if somebody gets set on fire, as happens in the film?
G: Are they setting people on fire?
S: One person immolates herself as a political protest, I think simultaneously eliminating The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.
G: I remember in high school skipping every other chapter of that book because they were the allegorical chapters. The chapters about the Joads were interesting and readable, though. All I remember is the end, where the woman is breastfeeding an old man who’s dying. And everyone in class was like, “Whaaaaaat?”
S: If you are that book, say, “Calm down. Don’t flip out over this next chapter.”
G: Maybe I’d want to be Between A Rock and A Hard Place by Aron Ralston, the book about the guy who got his hand trapped while hiking and climbing in Utah alone.
S: Ooh, yeah, a gripping true adventure story.
G: Of course there’s be some guy who’d want a Highlander movie novelization. What would you do?
S: See, I should have an awesome answer, since I had a while to think about it…
G: You have two seconds!
S: (blurts quickly) The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman!
G: See, that wasn’t so bad. It’s a funny book.
S: It’s a funny book, it’s in little bits and pieces, you can read it in any order, you can jump around and memorize little bits at a time. Maybe I’d even do the whole trilogy.
G: Can you imagine a library where everyone its the service area got to choose just one book for the collection? And there was nothing else there?

Stuffed Animals

Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy by Dr. Pat Morris with Joanna Ebenstein. Blue Rider Press, 2014. 9780399169441.

Sarah: This is one of several books that Joanna Ebenstein has done through a couple of art imprints on strange historical things, often related to the odd and morbid. She runs the Morbid Anatomy Museum that I think lost its space recently, so now it’s a pop-up. Her co-author Dr. Pat Morris has written a lot of books on the history of taxidermy. Walter Potter was a guy working in the late 1800s in Britain, a taxidermist in a small country town.
Gene: This reminds of something I saw online.
S: Potter did normal taxidermy stuff for hire.
G: “Normal stuff?”
S: Then he started a hobby…
G: (looking at the book) What the hell is that?
S: This is someone else’s work that inspired him. It was Hermann Ploucquet’s work shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Potter may have seen it as a kid. It’s a retelling of the Reynard the Fox stories using actual stuffed foxes put in storybook poses.
G: He saw that and thought, “I could do that!”
S: The thing is, if you live in a farm town, there are animals…
G: I don’t like sentences that start like that.
S: …and life is cheap…
G: How many dead kittens are in this photo?
S: This is The Kittens’ Wedding. There were generally cats on the farm and they weren’t fixed. So when they had kittens, the farm would keep one of them and the rest would… not be kept. So Potter had access to a large number of dead kittens, and he made them into a wedding party.
G: (curses)
S: Similarly, he had a lot of dead rabbits.
G: Where did he get the eyes for the kittens, Sarah?
S: They’re taxidermy eyes.
G: There’s a thriving market in fake animal eyes?
S: You just buy those as a part of your taxidermy supplies.
G: This is in the late 1800s?
S: Yes. He created a series of tableaux. His most famous was the Death & Burial of Cock Robin.
G: A large and creepy scene.
S: And The Kittens’ Tea and Croquet Party. He started exhibiting them in a museum that had some other stuff, but in which his work was the main focus.
G: This is so wrong. But that’s the fun of the book, I guess.
S: Yeah. The thing is, when he made these, they were just a curiosity, that he told a story in this way, a tourist attraction. (Rabbits’ Village School really upsets Gene.) Over the course of generations, these exhibits got more and more disturbing to the general viewer.
G: It’s not just me?
S: No, it’s not just you. This is interesting to me, how we feel about animals has changed so much. Maybe because our lives are further from the farm? Maybe because we’ve changed culturally?
G: How did he get access to these squirrels?
S: They were a pest, the farm dogs would kill them. They’re also a different type than are now common in the UK, because they got out-competed by grey squirrels.
G: There’s a squirrel smoking a cigar. Did he make those squirrel-sized playing cards?
S: Some of the stuff he made, some stuff he found or re-purposed. Eventually these little roadside curiosity museums couldn’t make enough money to support the people who ran them. The pieces ended up being crammed into smaller and smaller spaces, they got bought by different people. Eventually, in an auction in the early 2000s, this collection was broken up and sold off piece by piece. They are now all over the world.
G: I don’t want to look at these pictures anymore.
S: The reasons people pick this book up today are completely different than why people would have visited the museum. I kind of like that aspect of it, it’s this weird function of history that we can feel differently about he same object over time.
G: I’ll be honest with you, if you described this book to me I would think, “I would love to one one of those creepy little scenes.” After looking at this, I don’t want one at all. Would you want one?
S: No! If you ended up with it in your house, you’d walk by it every day and shudder.

Just leave it.

Abandoned Wrecks by Chris McNab. Amber Books Ltd, 2017. 9781782745204. 224pp.

Gene: This is a book that [our friend] Dawn had at the last WASHYARG meeting, and I asked her not to tell you about it. I had to get it from the library system where you work because Seattle didn’t have a copy.
Sarah: Abandoned Wrecks!
G: Already, it’s the book for you.
S: Yeah!
G: Ships first. I don’t care much about the boats that are underwater, that are becoming reefs. It’s the boats that are at least 1/3 gone —
S: Half in, half out of the water.
G: This is one of my favorites. It’s in Montenegro, it’s a small fishing boat that’s lost it’s entire back end. What’s that called? The stern?
S: Stern!
G: It’s a fishing boat wreck that’s been abandoned there on the shore. There are a few details about each one. Look at this.
S: That’s great! Like a tall ship.
G: It’s moving to look at — a tall sailboat with three masts on ice. It’s on Lake Ontario in Canada.
S: From 1914. That’s later than I thought they would be building that kind of boat.
G: This is a replica of a ship used by Jacques Cartier in the 16th century. This was repurposed — there was a restaurant on it at one point — but now it’s abandoned. It was even a Halloween party ship at one point. I’d have gone to one of those parties in a heartbeat.
S: Yes.
G: I bet there are still unsanctioned parties there.
S: Get your tetanus shot and come to my party.
G: These wrecks are reminders about how temporary we are — there are some bits about that in the book. What do you call them? Words.
(flipping the page) But nothing is more of a reminder of how temporary we are than a ship in a desert. This is a rusted hulk in Uzbekistan where there used to be a sea. But thanks to the USSR rerouting some rivers, there’s no sea there now. How great is that?

Like the worst 1/16th of an amazing photo from the book.

S: And some guy named Kevin went there and wrote his name on the hull.
G: I don’t think that’s an Uzbek name. I hope that guy never sees this photo.
And then it goes to trains. And I have to tell you, I don’t care about abandoned trains. I like old timey trains that move, but not these.
S: They’re interesting, but they’re not a destination.
G: I’ve seen so many trains just sitting next to highways my entire life, when we’ve driven east of the Cascade Mountains.
S: We’re familiar with it.
G: But this super old steam engine in Zimbabwe —
S: Looks like a tractor.
G: It’s from the late 19th or early 20th century. That thing rode the rails! And it’s not really decaying.
Then on to military vehicles — this is Kuwait in 1991, burned-out Iraqi military vehicles. And the next page are civilian vehicles on a different highway in Kuwait, same time frame, which I think is more striking because you saw the image on the previous page.
Here’s a Russian tank buried in some rubble, in front of a building, in Syria.
Then abandoned cars. Road vehicles. I’ve seen a lot of these in my life, whole neighborhoods near where I grew up could have had their front yards photographed for this book, so meh. Even cars rotting in the desert —
S: — RVs, busses —
G: Not my thing.

In case you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest and have never seen moss on a car.

But this, four moss covered cars in a forest in Sweden, wow. Even in the Pacific Northwest I haven’t seen a lot of cars covered with moss.
S: If you park too long, you’ll get some, but not covered.
G: I see this and think, oh, yeah, we’re all doomed.
And then my favorite section because of my fear of flying, Aircraft. A B-25 that looks very whole, that crashed in New Guinea. Military graveyards where they scrap old planes. An amazing crashed P-38 Lightning in Wales, half out of the water — the sand that’s burying the back end kind of looks like smoke coming out of the back.
Then here’s the freakiest and closest to us, the engine of a B-26 bomber that crashed in British Columbia in 1950, a bit buried in the landscape. They had to jettison their nuclear bomb after three of the engines caught fire. February 13, 1950.
S: Woah. There’s got to be a book about that. (There is: Lost Nuke: The Last Flight of Bomber 075. There’s also a movie.)

You probably need to stretch, too.

Draw Stronger: Self Care for Cartoonists and Visual Artists by Kriota Willberg. Uncivilized Books, 2018. 9781941250235. 144p.

Most cartoonists I’ve worked with have experienced some kind of cartooning-related injury. Turns out drawing for hours on end, whether on a computer or desk or whatever, isn’t great for the body. This nonfiction graphic novel isn’t trying to replace a qualified healthcare provider for illustrators, but it does give a lot of useful advice for those who draw a lot (or, like me, spend all day hunched over a computer) and want to avoid pain and injury. After a discussion about not ignoring pain (a devious looking lightning bolt with evil eyebrows) and indications that it’s time to see a doctor (if your neck is tied in an actual knot, just call 9-1-1) there’s an explanation of repetitive stress injuries with an anatomy lesson. (Great, except that even thinking about my spine and how it moves always makes me queasy.) I desperately need to reread10 the section on posture, and I think we’d all be better off thinking and training like we’re athletes — changing how we work, getting enough rest, stretching, etc.

This is one of the more useful and approachable nonfiction comics I’ve read, and it’s right up there with Ellen Forney’s Rock Steady (which offers advice on living with bipolar, based on experience) in terms of its approach.

 

Go North

Nunavik by Michel Hellman. Pow Pow Press, 2017. 9782924049358. 149pp.

I couldn’t make it to TCAF again this year, so I’m making it up to myself by ordering a few French and French Canadian graphic novels. I loved Hellman’s Mile End, a graphic novel about the neighborhood of the same name in Montreal, so ordering this was a no brainer. And it turns out to be a sequel, kinda — it starts with a conversation about it between Hellman and Pow Pow’s publisher on a bench in front of Wilensky’s, and then with Hellman trying to draw another book about his neighborhood before finally setting out on a trip to Canada’s north. (His wife thinks it’s an odd sort of mid-life crisis.)

Hellman flies via prop plane (with lots of stops) to Kuujjaq. The guy next to him on the plane wants to know if he’s going to hunt, find a girlfriend, or to escape child support payments, and can hardly believe he’s a tourist. But after they land he shows Hellman around, and it gave me a great sense of the place, a thriving metropolis of the North with about 2,200 people, a giant junk yard, and a rather sad bar scene. Hellman goes outside after a night of drinking to witness both the northern lights and an idiotic four-wheeler crash. And that night sets the tone: the people are friendly, the place is gorgeous and scary, and it’s beautiful and frustrating and somewhat exhausting to people from the south. He heads north to hike over tundra to Pingualuit Crater, traveling a bit with a film crew trying to capture a caribou migration, and generally has a trip I’d love to make (except for those low-flying, exceedingly long rides in prop planes). Hellman Includes bits about the local history and culture. Most unexpected fact: the Inuit love to golf, and villages have courses in the tundra. And I learned about the Dorset culture for the first time, a race of “giants” who inhabited the area before the Inuit.

Pretty Busy

Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha. Abrams, 2017. 9781419726156. 80pp.

Gene: This book was originally published in Polish —
Sarah: Endpapers!
G: I bought this for my daughter, whose name is shortened to B.B. And yeah, those endpapers, looks like the inside of a perfectly laid out beehive, which is nifty, and the illustrations are just expletively great.
Apparently Poland produces great picture books, because there’s that imprint, Big Picture Press, that publishes so many in English. (Welcome to Mamoko is one of my favorites. They also published Under Water, Under Earth.) But I was wowed by this book so had to buy it for her.
S: It’s cartoony and cute!
G: Kinda. But there’s no black lines around the images, it’s more the style of pieces of color being used to create the pictures.
S: It looks like Mary Blair‘s work.
G: (It does.) Honeybees have been around for millions of years — they coexisted with the dinosaurs. This two-page spread describes what they were like, apparently they were more like wasps, before they started getting food from plants, and at that point they got hairier so it was easier to transport pollen.
(turning page) This is a huge and beautiful picture of a honeybee.
S: That is so great.
G: Queen, drone, and worker, in scale. Honeybees have four wings, which I hadn’t realized. And very gruesome looking horror mouth parts.
The basic layout of this book is there are two-page spreads with, across the bottom 1/10th, some bit of text about the images above. On the anatomy page there’s some content about that, including that their wings beat 230 times per second and that they can reach a speed of about 20 mph.
S: That’s pretty fast.
G: And why you can’t run away from a determined bee.
Here are pictures of the hive, doing different things in there, and how the workers raise a queen. And then a honeybee mating picture — they do it in the air, as the queen is trying to fly off to establish a new hive!
S: Wow.
G: Most of the eggs are fertilized during this mating flight, and those become workers, or new queens if they’re fed royal jelly. Unfertilized eggs hatch in to drones.
S: Weird.
G: There’s a little bit about the waggle dance, swarms — the image is so complicated and layered I can’t imagine anyone creating it without a computer, but I’m probably wrong — there’s a complexity to some of these images that reminds me of medical illustrations.

St. Ambrose

There’s some info on biomimicry, pollination (including other pals that pollinate, like the death’s head moth), small bees, cave people, ancient Egypt (where they kept bees in nifty, stackable clay vessels), the diet of the Greek gods, and then here’s dead Alexander the Great, who was transported home in a huge pot of honey after he died (to preserve him). There’s a lot on Slavic cultures, and more on the Polish culture than I’d normally expect to see in a book on bees, because of the book’s origin. St. Ambrose is the patron saint of bees! And Napoleon and Josephine changed the fleur de lis to a golden bee design, to wipe away all traces of the kings who’d ruled France before him. Here is a fake newspaper broadside with miscellaneous bee facts.
S: Way more text on that page.
G: Some bits on domestication, and then beekeeping through the ages. Weird Polish history note: beekeepers were held in high regard, and in medieval Poland they had a lot of power, including being able to sentence people to death, which was the punishment for anyone who stole bees.

Beekeepers may be your next cosplay.

S: The medieval beekeeper uniforms are fantastic!
G: Bee hives people make (including old styles from other cultures), beekeeping equipment which is fascinating if you’ve never seen it, and then the crazy thing — people make beehive sculptures (in Poland!).
S: I see Jesus.
G: … and St. Francis, Adam and Eve, demons, soldiers…the list goes on. This is my favorite page in the book. I need to see if my friend Dave, who keeps bees, can build something like this.