The world of books evens the playing field-- delivering truth, connectedness, and beauty across miles and generations. These are a few of my favorite reads that have inspired, shaped, and motivated me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best American Comics 2009 (edited by Charles Burns)

"The Best American Comics" series has been producing annual
volumes since 2006 for the "Best of" in the comics field for each
year. It's an excellent series that highlights predominantly Indy
and alternative/small press comics, as selected by the rotating
editor and series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, and gives
readers the opportunity to sample a wide array of lesser-known
(or less-widely-distributed) talents.

Included in this stellar volume are hundreds of pages of various
styles, insights, and viewpoints, including;

*Tim Hensley's oddly disjointed cross-generational Sixties-send ups,
(featuring 'Gropius',) placing sharply-colored cartoonish Archies/Bingo/
Scooter style kids comics with politically incorrect/incoherent asides.

*Daniel Clowes brilliant as always with a scathing review of a
fictional film critic (Justin M. Damiano.)

*A riveting tale of tape dispensers by R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky-
Crumb. (below)
*Michael Kupperman contributes a hilarious and retro copper buddy
story with beautifully muted colors and crazy 'ads' running alongside the
feature, Twain and Einstein!

*Dan Zettwoch gives flashbacks to some intricate and bizarre old
church bulletins he drew!

*Matt Broersma's "The Company" is a mysterious tale with a noir
quality and a great eye for simplified layouts (think Rizzo from "100
Bullets" or Sale.)

*Adrian Tomine provides one of my favorite (and linear) lengthy
stories about obsession, real life, friends, and reminiscence. (below)
*Mimi Pond details an artist's search for a place to draw from in
 'Over Easy.' (below)
*Art Spiegelman does a brilliant job showcasing the abilities of the
comic as a morphing, living creation, in short order.

*Gabrielle Bell gives a fantastic autobiographical aside with a nice piece
called "When I was Eleven" (Think 'Alison Bechdel.')

*Gary Panter's "Daltokyo" gave my mind a workout!

*Jerry Moriarty's grotesques laid over 1950s imagery (no words) were
extremely powerful and evocative

*Dash Shaw's "The Galactic Funnels" tells a weird story of Dan Dak and
Stan Smart with romance, competition, intellectual property theft,
and science fiction as a few of the cool themes employed.

*Jason Lutes' Berlin is excerpted with its devastatingly realistic slice
of domestic violence in the midst of war-torn Germany. Survival isn't pretty.

*Tony Millionare's quirky monkeys and birds never fail to satisfy.

*Chapter Two of Sammy Harkham's "Black Death" is a two-tone treat
of whimsical art that belies a darker story nature. Some gorgeous work
(think Herve', Peyo, and other masters.)

*Chris Ware's "Jordan W. Lint" is a massive (seemingly) autobio-
graphical journey through some key points of the man's life, with
extraordinary layouts and structure as we have come to expect from Ware.

*A warm and nicely developed story of some latchkey kids, "Freaks" by
Laura Park is a great piece. (below)
*An excerpt from the awesome graphic novel "Skim" (previewed by me
here:"Skim" ) by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki is also included.

*Appropriately titled (har har!) 'Antoinette' by Koren Shadmi is a hoot.

*Al Columbia gives a shocking and subtle insight into a dark side of the
American dream, with a scant few panels and no words, merely intricate,
spookily-detailed art that paints a picture that draws you in.

*A disturbing journey from Gilbert Hernandez called 'Papa' details a
man's difficult trip filled with hardships and maladies surreal and scary.

*Anders Nilsen does a beautiful job of creating a macabre and mysterious
scene with a style reminiscent of Moebius.

*"Glenn Ganges in 'Pulverize'" by Kevin Huizenga is a wonderful tale of
the appeal of video games to grown men, a sliver of the dot com bubble's
impact, an indictment of bosses who want to be your friends, and other
joys of auto-biographical comics. (below)
Best to read one at a time, so the taste savors. Reading through causes the
bleed and every tale has such a distinctly different feel it's not as satisfying.

I do love crazy and discombobulated flotsam and jetsam, and art for
art's sake, but I'm still predominantly a fan of actual stories, points of
views, tales. This has plenty...but it also has anthropomorphic hi jinks
and acid-tripping wing nuts depicting chaos-filled minds, too!

A splendid collection showcasing the diversity of sequential art story-tellers
and a great introduction for someone who still doesn't realize the depth that
'mere comics' can have.

Order "Best American Comics 2009" online


Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Mississippi Mud: Southern Justice and the Dixie Mafia" by Edward Humes

Mississippi Mud is a true story revolving around the mysterious murders
of two  prominent Biloxi, Mississippi residents in the late 1980s. The book
painstakingly and dramatically reenacts the goings on in the underbelly
of this Southern Strip of corruption and crime (run by the 'Dixie Mafia')
and the murky interactions of a handful of southern undesirables that led
up to the deaths of husband and wife, Vincent and Margaret Sherry.

Through the eyes of police detectives, con artists, lifers, hired killers, and, most poignantly--the tireless avenger of the Sherrys, their eldest
daughter, Lynne--a storyline is set up that will keep readers rapt. (At
one point, the information presented seemed to indicate rather an
extensive selection of potential suspects.)

Humes beautifully orchestrates the manipulation of timeline and massive
amounts of information. Taken from interviews, transcripts, testimony,
public records, newspaper articles, police reports, news reports, and a good
bit of detective work, the voluminous information is presented in a pot-boiler
manner so that you are unable to predict what will happen next.

And yet there is a comprehensible, easily-absorbed sense as he makes
the torrent of information seem effortless. There is such a rich, vast story
here, painting the humanity of the Sherrys and connecting the readers to
them as if they were our own though we are the ones gnawing
and climbing the walls over the frustrating lack of justice and the far reaches
of the city's corruption.

This is the exhaustive study of how two lives of essentially regular
people can become trivialized by a system filled with corruption,
incompetence, and intimidation. The Southern mafia, perhaps seemingly
a joke at first, becomes a very real and frightening wall of power that,
as anyone who has lived in the south for five minutes can attest, is a
very real and frightening thing.

Kirksey Nix with all his swagger and charm and homilies and smarts
doesn't have anything on Stalin or Mussolini in the sociopath depart-
ment, and he's an all-too common face of the new criminal. The 
devastation of all the harm done by his schemes--from the comfort
of a prison cell--is staggering.

The heroine of the book, Lynne Sposito (daughter of the murder victims) pushes on well past the point most would have dissolved into
tears or fallen to pieces; facing death threats, the concerns for family
safety, stress and grief, and a burden that seemed as though it might
never end...her parents possibly never receiving closure on their lives.

(Note of warning: DON'T look at the photos included in the book
until you've read it! Even though placed in the middle, the captions
accompanying the photos for the central characters gave away
results not found until the end of the book, destroying much of
the suspense!)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Banned Books Week

Do yourself, your mind, your family,
and your community a favor and help
support "Banned Books Week."

Order yourself a banned or challenged
book you've never read, or pass on
a copy of a banned book to a new reader.

Get informed about the extensive history
of censorship and the fight against
intellectual freedom that has gone on
for so long.

Recommend a banned or controversial
book for a book club, or start up
a book club!

Here are a few of my favorite books which have
been censored, banned, or challenged
at one time or another:

Order from your library, local bookseller, or online resource
today and support these great works;
Celebrate your right and ability to read!

Be intellectually free and uninhibited--
don't let anyone tell you what to think,
how to feel, or what your interests 'should' be!


Friday, September 21, 2012

"The City and the Pillar" by Gore Vidal

I read the 1965, revised edition, including an afterword and
an essay by Vidal, "Sex and the Law," taken from the 1964
Partisan Review. (The essay is, in itself, worth picking up
the book for; like the novel, it is fascinating, and still highly
relevant as it discloses how religion and 'morality' colors
the law of sex--and why that is inappropriate!)

The novel is of historical significance as it is lauded as the first
fiction book to deal directly and even explicitly with homosexuality
as a matter-of-fact condition, gay relations, and gay sex.

One consistent thought while reading this prose was how aptly
the humanity was portrayed, and how timeless the human experience
is; the book was written by Vidal in 1946 and published in 1948,
yet remains relatable today..

I should point out that the depiction of gay life is not only
'no picnic,' but there is an unsettling and vile edge to much
of the book. The ending in particular is quite unpleasant--
to say the least--and this was the revised edition. The original's
'resolution' was far more damning.

(I don't say this to prevent anyone from reading it; I actually
feel it's a poignant and truthful view of what growing up
as an outsider in one's own body--and own country--does
to us. But it is stark, and not for the feint of heart.)

The story centers on a young man from Virginia who
becomes obsessed about a relationship with a childhood friend
in the 1930s/1940s. As the primary youngster (Jim Willard)
leaves home and begins to live his life and explore his
feelings, his path alters from expectation...but the idealistic
notion of reuniting with his first love is never far from mind.

Throughout the course of several years and several
dissatisfying relationships, Jim grows up and becomes
fairly hardened by the nature of 'the gay life.' (However,
as in real life, he is hyper-critical of others while always failing
to see his culpability in these matters! I imagine there's quite
a bit of Vidal's hubris inherent there.)

I don't want to give away the plot turns, so I'll say no
more as to the details. But this is a rich, provocative,
simply--yet elegantly--written work that captures
your attention and keeps you attuned to the developments
in this troubled young man's life, and the lives of those
whose path he crosses.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

"The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain" by Tali Sharot

"The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain"

Tali Sharot is a neuroscientist grad from New York University
who for years has studied the effect on neural biology and
emotional landscapes and how other factors influence
and determine people's sense of optimism and hopefulness
(or lack thereof.)

This book deals with the scientific through studies, surveys,
animal research, and other methods including analogy and case
studies, but never becomes tedious. The way she develops
her theories and layers her insights is interesting, and the facts
and findings are of use to anyone who has dealt with
negativity, hopelessness, depression, or passiveness.

Some of the findings might seem banal (as well as obvious) on the
surface, but then the way the information is applied and connected to other
findings is what stands out. For example, one section tells how those with
privilege have hope and optimism, more so than those without, and how
those without comforts have a realistic view of the world. But despite
the insightfulness of a realistic view, is it preferable?

This is more than sociology and psychology; this is delving into the
workings of the brain, and how it is designed to safeguard us from being
whelmed by our human ability to anticipate and expect and plan.
What happens when the understood threat of death, disease, frailty, loss, and
more become too loud in our heads, no longer distracted by the brain's
fail safe of hope and optimism?


Sharot delineates one of the most masterful explanations of how
depression develops and how it can be combated that I have
read in the last 25 years.

One area of particular note; Expectations. A person's
expectations weigh heavily on outcomes--their own and other
people's. Expectation of a positive result breeds more positive
mood, despite the actual eventual result. Thus who are falsely positive
benefit from reduced anxieties, depressive moods, worry, and other
problems that assault someone who tends to picture the worst
case scenarios--no matter that it may be more likely!

If you've ever wondered why your mindset of worry can't
seem to be changed, or just how and why  'Ignorance is bliss,'
check out this fascinating read.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Going Solo" by Eric Klinenberg

"Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal
of Living Alone" is a tremendously interesting and
(perhaps more importantly) helpful read.
Eric Klinenberg uses statistics and the history of
Singletons (people living on their own, as he coins it)
in such an insightful and fascinating way that you never
feel as though you're reading a non-fiction book.

Because it's not a matter of dry textual analysis, but
rather an exploration of the sociology behind living solo,
and it's populated by tales of people in all manner of situations
throughout the past 100 years, delving into minds and
emotions and social trends.

It showed me a whole new aspect of our modern lifestyle
as well as the development of this country over time.
What it also did, though, was make me feel better
about my choice to live single, and solo.

Klinenberg is very adept at walking a middle-ground
with his presentation;
very fair-minded and even-handed with his findings,
even though he does obviously hold his own perspective.

The reasons for the trend in people deciding to live alone is
respectfully handled, and the advocacy for more
understanding of the lifestyle is promoted. By penetrating
the veil of society's (somewhat weakening) antagonism
against people who don't marry/start families/have
roommates (it's still alive and well in many areas,
including the Bible-swamped South where I live,)
there is a new sense of acceptance and tolerance
that has been lacking.

This is definitely a reality of our world that has
not seen adequate coverage in media.
(From a non-biased POV, at least!)

Pretty much all aspects of the phenomenon are covered--
from the elderly to post-divorce singles to
the new trend for all kids in a family having their own rooms.

The way this book helped me was to show me that invisible pocket
of humanity that lives and believes and works the same
way as I do. Sometimes the idea of being the only person
on the planet that feels or lives a certain way can be stifling.

There is a definite sense of camaraderie in feeling
'together in our aloneness!'


Friday, May 25, 2012

"The Sense of an Ending" - Julian Barnes

"The Sense of an Ending" is a gripping reflection
of a life half-lived, as the title character notes the
changes in his life and the impending nature
of the grave.

In his sixties now, Tony has begun excavating his
past in hopes of finding some answers, spurred on
by a mystery surrounding a former
lover and events of a lifetime ago.

What bearing does the suicide of a college
friend have on the present? Will history repeat itself?
Is Tony's life salvageable?
What are the motivations behind his
ex and her angry, aloof, ominous presence?

Though intriguing, the mystery and the unveiling
of secrets actually took a backseat to what was the preeminent
feature of the book; Barnes' retrospective of a life
half-lived. Or, at least, lived in a fugue state.

The commentary on memory, perspective, aging,
and obsolescence is remarkable...absolutely
spot-on and mesmerizing. Better than any self-help
book or psychological treatise on the matter.
The honesty and depth of the shares are

The circuitousness of the story, flashing back on events--or is
it merely remembrances--of time as a college man, of his
marriage, of trying to all makes for a beautiful
flow, each non-event later underscoring something significant.
A beautiful and haunting search for meaning and truth...
identity and understanding.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Lost Saints of Tennessee" by Amy Franklin Willis

"Lost Saints of Tennessee" is a story about a man-- who's
fallen from grace-- attempting to pick up the pieces of his life.
In  the wake of his divorce, a high school reunion, an
inability to overcome his brother's death, and all the
regular hard bits of life, he is running from life and his
own feelings.

That journey takes him to an old safe house where he attempts
to reconcile what he wants and how--or whether--he can continue.

Through flashbacks and letters, and later through another
character's recounting, we discover how a life can become
so fractured and lost.

In the present, he attempts to grow and overcome the
burden of his past...with his mother, his ex-wife, his daughters,
and his own failures and inescapable grief.
It's the ultimate mid-life crisis survival guide!

This is a great character piece, delving into true Southern
living as family drama, small town worries, and earlier
days are the inspiration for a captivating tale.

(Willis is an eighth-generation Southerner, and
many of the stories are based on her father's stories
of his life.)

Taking place in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia,
there is plenty of adventure and drama throughout,
and in one of my favorite writing 'tricks,' we
get to see events from the different perspectives
that make up the whole.
We get to see how our subjective views so often distort

A beautiful story of redemption, soul-searching,
fear, forgiveness, and love.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Books; The only positive binding

Free access to all works, always.



A Novel Concept

The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins

I'm not usually one for following fanfare to discover a new
book, but I heard so many adults proclaiming what an
addictive treat this series was, I finally gave it a try....
and I'm thrilled I did.

The Hunger Games is a wonderful allegory for class
warfare, and the timing of it's advanced popularity (and movie
release) is appropriate, with the '99' and anti-Wall Street/Big
Business sentiment sweeping this country.

Like its predecessor, 1984, it's a dystopian future where
the problems of the present socio-political landscape have
worsened in a science-fiction landscape several years removed
from our present. (But really, the modern-day similarities
are chilling!) It's an apt indictment of our lop-sided economic
system through a creative and blunt allegorical bent.

Given the proclamation of the individual's strength and the
outsider status of the lead character, Katniss, being celebrated,
you can easily imagine why conservatives and religious sorts--
the very ones whose totalitarian rule is questioned and challenged
in the series--are against kids reading the series.

There's a reason books like The Hunger Games, 1984, Lord
of the Flies, and others are attacked; it's the same reason they
are selected as required and recommended reading by
educators. They speak to the very nature of the human
experience. That's enough to make some folks very uncomfortable.

The problems inherent in the series are not those singularly
experienced by tweens and teens, whom the book features/and
targeted; it addresses family obligation, unfairness of life, brutality,
oppression, finding one's voice, facing what comes, determining
one's worth, and,

Although a little over 300 pages, this was an especially quick read
since I was so captivated I could not stop reading.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Food and Loathing" by Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner presents a deceptively simple tale
of her life over many years as it relates to
addiction, recovery, and self-discovery.

It is not a pretty story.
It's brutally honest, giving a front row seat
to her self-loathing and generalized discomfort, detailing
in excruciating accuracy how one can feel so totally
displaced while often not understanding why.

Her saga covers food addiction, substance abuse,
and other self-harming issues, and tells the story
of how people tend to be cross-addicted in a
matter-of-fact way that doesn't preach, judge,
nor pull punches. She gets to what's behind
the problems that manifest; self worth.

Mental illness and the struggle to find a correct
label so she could receive appropriate treatment
is also a big part of the picture. Just as much
abuse happened during her institutionalization
as it did at her own hands.

Learn what it took for one women to find her
voice, her truth, and her life.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott

("Some Instructions on Writing and Life")

Anne Lamott has an incredibly engaging style
and a simple descriptive narrative that truly
feels conversational, like you're right there in
the room witnessing her insights yourself.

"Bird by Bird" is about stories from her life,
from teaching, from others, as she explores
what makes a good story (and what the process
of writing entails to actually produce a good story.)

It isn't all sunshine and roses, but it's always refreshing
and honest and necessary. It's an intervention when
seeing things as they are may not be what you're after.
She's clever and incisive without being preachy or smug,
and plenty self-deprecating (not, as some imagine, a
trait all writers share...and certainly not one they
reveal to others!)

This is a great read whether you're a writer, a lover of books,
curious about the creative process, or simply enjoy life stories.


Monday, March 19, 2012

"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell

Many of us have notions about what makes a success
that are long held and possibly outdated (or just plain wrong.)
Others give no conscious thought to what pushes some
people to succeed while others languish.

The studies incorporated in this book reinforce some old
adages, shatter others, and present some new spins on
things that have been revolutionary.

Have you considered the importance of the time of year you
were born in determining your potential success?
What about your family of origin?
Your geographic location?
The number of hours you work at something?
(Well, okay, that last one is sort of a given...although
perhaps not so much in today's instant-success media

The entire book is fascinating and compelling in its exploration of 
the reasons behind success, but one bit stood out for me in particular.
As a child of the South, Chapter Six in the book (dealing with Legacy,)
and in particular the whole "culture of honor" that is outlined,
was remarkably revealing.

The intensity behind generational imprints, decades-long feuds,
anger at the drop of a hat, and much of the south's insanity
is explained in a gripping way. I was unfamiliar with this
particular aspect of our history, though I have been
unfortunately well-apprised of the end results.

The point of this book is not to deduce that you
don't have a shot based on statistics or studies,
but rather to understand the prevailing factors and
learn how to achieve and accomplish in spite of
the odds. Persistence is, after all, at the heart of
most every success story, no matter the history or
resources available.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff

("A Father's Journey Through His Son's Meth Addiction")

"Beautiful Boy" is a riveting and unapologetic true story
about David Sheff and his son, Nic, and their years of struggle
and heartache dealing with Nic's methamphetamine addiction.
It is also the story of Daisy and Jasper and Karen and Vicki,
and all the other loved ones affected and abused by Nic's
choices in active addiction.

It is a story of lives, before, during, and after addiction,
and how quickly things change. During the course of his own
personal path of worry and fear and chaos, David seeks
balance to keep his own life going, and deals with an
avalanche of questions and guilt.

This story grabbed me on several levels; from the exquisite portrait
of a loving and affluent family (a life unknown to me,) to the
intimately detailed particulars of a young man's downward
spiral in his progressive illness (all too often witnessed by me
and millions more,) to the honest sharing of a father's journey
through guilt, resentment, and
soul-wrenching love.

Whereas Sheff has a very different view of some matters (like 12
Step programs) than I do, his convictions are well spoken,
and--again with that exception--well researched and well documented.
(He does explore the disease model of
addiction, but unfortunately comes out with a
perspective I don't share.)
Equal time seems given to all sides and all persons,
and he does a good job of showcasing just how cruel
drug use and addiction are, as well as how unique every
manifestation of it can be.

A gripping exploration of addiction, meth, a man,
his family, and the tenuous nature of life.
And thankfully, a lot of hope and learning.