A Night at the Theater

Hello all,
I hope you are all having a great weekend. I'm having a productive weekend. It's nice to get stuff done. For this week I'm bringing back an old feature so be sure to enjoy.

Life Changing Reads: Theater Edition

Okay, a little autobiography to start us off. Confession time: In high school I was a mega-theater nerd. Yep I couldn't sing or dance, but I could be funny. And do Shakespeare. In the area that I live in we have a pretty vibrant theater community. There's two professional Equity theaters, and a great University theater program, that I go to all the time. Also there's the annual Shakespeare Festival which is not that far away. As a teenager I had a great drama teacher Mr. Newman who encouraged us to see professional theater as much as we could. He set up a program where we could see plays after school or on Saturdays with discounted tickets. I saw so many amazing plays this way some of them listed below.

However I do still have to wait a few years before I get the chance to see new plays. So I often, especially as a teenager, would end up reading plays. I know that plays are meant to be performed not read, but that isn't always an option. As I read the play I would often imagine the action. I would check the cast lists up front and see what actors had played it on the stage. Then I would cast the show in my head as I read it. Sometimes this was all I could do. Reading Doubt: A Parable this week (review forthcoming) I thought back to some other great plays that are immensely readable. These plays are so complex that I think I have benefited from reading the people in addition to seeing them performed.

1. Angels in America: Millenium Approaches & Perestroika by Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner's epic two part saga blew my mind when I read it in 1995. I won't lie I had heard about the play become it had LDS characters. Living in a LDS community I naturally drift toward anything with Mormons in it. This is why I love HBO's Big Love. Anyway I was deeply influenced by Kushner's compassion for his characters. Even the flawed individuals like Joe Pitt and Louis Ironson. Prior Walter's journey through love and pain is amazing. Also I was captured by his version of the cellestial and religious faith.

2. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
I first heard of Tom Stoppard when I saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1991. Yes I was oddly precocious at age 12. I picked up Arcadia off the library shelf at the original Main Library on the second floor. I had no idea what this play Arcadia was about. I ended up devouring the play over the course of 3 days and then I read it again. On the first read thru I knew that I didn't understand it all. Yet I was compelled by the surprising/unexpected ending to instantly read it again. Stoppard, at his best, is a writer whose character's are in a battle between the emotional and rational. Septimus/Thomasina, and their counterparts Hannah/Bernard, engage in philosophical arguments that create the conflict of the play. There aren't any explosions, or silly romantic entanglements, just the age-old argument: What should we follow? Head or Heart? This is a common theme in his work and is also at the heart of Coast of Utopia. I think his plays need to be read, in addition to being seen, in order to get the whole picture.

3. Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill
I saw a production of this play when I was senior in high school. The production was 4 hours and I saw it as a chance to test my endurance. The play is four hours of intense family dysfunction played out by four characters over the course of a day. And it is amazing. Somewhat autobiographical, this play is raw and honest. It feels like the audience is the fly on the wall as this family falls apart. Now if you are not up to a long night at the theater then reading the play is a great alternative. You can take a break in between monologues. O'Neill takes the time to show us everything good and bad about this family. I saw a little bit of myself in every character. And I also realized how lucky I am not to be a Tyrone.

So if you get the chance check these plays out. Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


Joker, Manga, and Girls on Fridges

Howse it hanging cyberworld? I hope you've all had a great week. I was consumed all weekend by movies (I am a cinemaniac) but I did still manage to get some reading in. I enjoyed the Oscar ceremony, all though there sure was a lot of singing and dancing. But I loved Hugh, we're on a first name basis, and his enthusiasm.

Tonight I went to my Book Club. This month we moved upstairs and sat in our own high back chairs at a table. It was a nice change. We were somewhat secluded and literally surrounded by books. Unfortunately there is one guy who came tonight who likes to dominate the group. He kinda looks and talks like Seth Rogen, so I'll refer to him as Seth. Seth likes to talk, tell personal stories, and compare everything to David Foster Wallace. Seth gets a bit on my nerves, but then again maybe I get on other people's nerves. I don't know. Anyway this is the second time he's appeared in 6 months, so I guess we'll see him next in August. Otherwise it was a good time. I invite y'all to come down, all the info can be found here. There's a review of the Book Club book The Girl on the Fridge below.

The Joker
This original graphic novel came out last fall but I haven't picked it up until now. Cynical folk would say that DC is trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Joker post-Dark Knight. However I highly doubt that writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo care at all about making any commercial product. This book is as dirty, grimy, and sick as Gotham City itself. The art/writing style is wonderfully noir as we follow how small time crook Jonny Frost latches onto The Joker. See Joker just got out of Arkham and now he wants to reclaim his crime kingdom. I really enjoyed this book. Azzarello is the perfect choice to write this noir/psychological examination. This reminded me of a controversial issue of Batman that also focused on the crazy mindset of Joker. Joker is a man who sees himself as death, so he's not afraid of dying. His unpredictability makes him the craziest supervillian in comics. Check this out.

Other Reviews
Comics Bulletin | ICv2 | Comic Book Resources

Death Note Vol. 1
After last week's Monster I thought I'd try another manga. While Death Note does have some fantasy elements, I was struck again by the realistic story-telling. The fantastical elements include a notebook where if you write someone's name in it and picture there face they'll die. A teenage student named Light finds a Death Note, as the notebook is called, and decides to kill all the criminals. In his mind he'll create a Utopia of which he'll take over as ruler. Again there is strong questions of morality like I saw in Monster. I was impressed by the discussion of whether Light's intentions are really righteous or self-serving. Also there's a strong chase element as Light eludes the NPG, Japanese FBI, and master detective L. Det. L is a mysterious figure whom we never see their face, just literally the letter L from a computer. This was very enjoyable and smart, I think I'll read some more.

Other Reviews
Pop Culture Shock | IGN | about.com

Girl on the Fridge
I highly enjoyed this collection of short stories from Etgar Keret. He is an Israeli author who focuses on very short vignettes and character portraits. The book reads very quickly as the longest story is 6 pages, and most stories average 2 pages. Keret's stories contain a mix of humor, poignancy, and fantastical elements. In fact they are so short that I lost track of some of the stories in the middle. It is admirable how lean Keret's writing is, he doesn't spare a word. In 600 words he can say more than some author's do in 600 pages. So check this out, I'll definitely be trying some of his other collections.

Other Reviews
New York Times | Pop Matters | Book Forum

The Reading List
Poems of Robert Graves

Vanity Fair

Captain Britain and the M13

Check Out Count: Eh.

Comic Pull List: Dynamo 5 #20, Garth Ennis Battlefields Dear Billy #2, Green Lantern #38, Mouse Guard Winter 1152 #5, New Avengers #50, Runaways 3 #7, Superman #685, Trinity #39, Umbrella Academy Dallas #4, Wonder Woman #29

Have a great week! Book Slave.


The Determination of Greatness.

Today I was digging through my Reader. I came upon this essay by David Orr in the New York Times Book Review. Now I don't read every review, essay, etc. every month. I pretty much look for the ones that interest me. As a book seller/librarian/obsessive reader I feel compelled to do so, however I don't let it guide my choices like some.

Well I'll get to the point I think this essay is so ignorant. Writer Orr fears that American poetry is in decline. There are no "great" poets anymore such as Dickinson, Byron, or Williams. He pulls out a quote from Don Hall in 1983 where he fretted that poets no longer strived “to make words that live forever” and “to be as good as Dante.” Modern poets are ambivalent according to Mr. Orr.

I just want to remind Mr. Orr that "greatness" as he states is subjective. It's an opinion. Someone can be technically proficient but if their trochaic tetrameter has no soul then I ask what's the point. Art is not just "great" on it's own. Let's go back to our critical theory, more specifically Barthes. An artist does create, like God (or whatever creative deity you believe brings things into being), but then the artist willfully gives up his subjectivity to the reader/viewer. The viewer/reader then determines the ultimate meaning of the work to themselves. The author's intention is unknowable and inconsequential. The artist's intention is superseded by the interpretation of the viewer/reader.

Even then it is not the artist or viewer that determines "greatness." This is determined by the distance of time. Does a work hold up even a century after it's initial creation? Does a work stand out on its own or only as part of a group? I love the Beat poets, yet it's clear that Allen Ginsberg has work that sets him apart from that movement. On the other hand a poet such as Gregory Corso is firmly entrenched in Beat literature. "Greatness" is again completely subjective. What makes Ginsberg "great" and Corso not? Nothing, except my opinion.

And BTW Orr in his article completely ignores the up and coming American poets who are working today. These include:

Elizabeth Alexander
Rae Armantrout
Kay Ryan
Katharine Coles
Jesse Ball
Jimmy Santiago Baca
Billy Collins

I could go on but Orr needs to take a real look around away from his ivory tower. There is some "great" work being done and you Mr. Orr are missing it. But again that's just my opinion.

Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


How I develop a ghostly pale look.

I hope you are all having a great week. I have had a lot of great time off. And being the kind of person that I am I've spent it inside curled up. That has to be why I am so ghostly pale and have never won awards for being athletic. Well Onward!

Jenna Vaughn has spent the last 5 years reinventing herself after the loss of her only friend Cameron Quick. She is shaken to discover that Cameron Quick is back in town. This is the second book from Sara Zarr who wrote acclaimed book The Story of a Girl. (Just to disclose: I've met her a few times and she's very nice.) Her specialty, thus far, is portraying the inner trauma of being the outsider. The first half of the book details in painful detail how terrible it is to be the least popular girl. Having been one myself I could easily identify with Jenna's psychological state and feel that Zarr captured it very well. She also did a lot to make Cameron Quick a mysterious, enigmatic figure. I wish that she had paid a little time to develop his character so we can better understand his motivations. At first I thought he was meant to be more adjusted than Jenna, however he seems just as troubled. I would have liked more of a view into his head since he's the catalyst of the story. The character of Jenna is so well drawn, it is unfortunate that the other teens in the story are not more realistic. I didn't buy the character of Katy, no realism there. And Ethan, Jenna's boyfriend, is so unlikable that I don't understand why she stays with him for so long. Ultimately I was drawn into the relationship between the two main characters which made the book an enjoyable, fast read.

Other Reviews
WMPL Rocks! | Teen Book Review
| slayground

Monster Vol. 1
Yes I decided to try another manga. Monster was very different from Whistle which I read last year. I was very surprised to discover that about 90% of the story is a medical drama. It was like E.R. where the main character Dr. Tenma is morally conflicted when he has to choose between patients. He's literally told to let a little boy die to operate on the mayor. Manga is never subtle but I did find the writing here to be a massive improvement. Sure the one major female character is a one-note horrible woman. The villianous medical administrators have no shades of grey, they would rather get ahead above all. They sort out who is worth saving and who isn't like gods. Dr. Tenma resists this mentality. Urasawa does a great job of layering in the thriller elements with a clear discussion of medical ethics.

Other Reviews
Comics Worth Reading | IGN | Comic Book Bin

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5
I was heavily anticipating this next volume because I have become a huge fan of this series. As much as I am annoyed by Scott's immaturity, I understand what it's like to be 24 years old. O'Malley has done a great job of showing Scott pull himself together in order to deserve the love of Ramona Flowers. It's chivalrous how Scott has to continuously fight evil ex-boyfriends. Unfortunately for him it seems that Ramona Flowers is no longer impressed. In Vol. 5 their romance has soured. O'Malley does a great job of dropping hints throughout that makes the conclusion inevitable. Again he does a great job showing action visually and in original ways. He also does a great job portraying the mundane as well as the emotional. In the end I think that the conclusion is a set up for the final volume. I cannot wait.

Past Reviews
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2 | Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3 | Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4

The Reading List
Girl on the Fridge
Deathnote vol. 1

Captain Britain and the MI-13


Check Out Count: Working on it.

Comic Pull List: Dynamo 5 #0, Outsiders #15, Trinity #38

Have a great week folks! Book Slave.


Some personal musings at this late hour.

Hello folks,
I was thinking things over tonight. I consider myself a very lucky person at the moment. One of the dire headlines today related a story of more than a thousand people vying for one job. Right now folks are hurting and jobs are scarce. Now I work in books and public service which has never been a lucrative, promising career. As we joke all the time "there's no money in books." Right now the book store I work at has been forced to slim down. Although there hasn't been layoffs, there has definitely been an economic squeeze.

I started in book sales 8 years ago and I was damn happy to get the job. Before that I'd been working a series of glamorous positions in maintenance, custodial, and housekeeping. I had applied for a position in the books department before and had not even gotten an interview. The second time I applied I did get an interview and ended up getting the job. I was ecstatic to be selling books then and I still feel that enthusiasm today. It's wonderful when you can match up the right person with the right book. The customer/patron will thank you and in that moment some of the pain is worth it.

Last week I had a patron give me a dressing down verbally for being as he said "too helpful." While I really wanted to throw this guy's inferiority problems back into his face, I didn't. Today I was stunned (still am actually) when a co-worker of mine told me that she had taken 2 1/2 days off work because she just "didn't want to be here." Really. If I felt that way then it would probably be time for me to move on.

I love being a bookseller/pusher. All the negative that sometimes happens is far outweighed by the positives. (However, it would be nice if I made more money, but really I think I would just spend it on books.) So if you happen to stop by you local book store or library, look around at the employees. The one's that are still happy, even when nobody is looking, they are the one's to talk to. They are the reason that the book business will never die out.

Have a great weekend! Book Slave.


Unique Voices and Redeemable Superheroes

Hello world,
I hope you are all having an excellent week. I myself am beginning to finally fall into that regular groove now that January is over. Well Onward!

Booster Gold Vol. 2
I really enjoyed the first volume in this series and have been eagerly anticipating the next one. Booster Gold is a fun time-travelling romp through the DC Universe. An unconventional Booster is always on the lookout for any opportunity to gain fame and fortune. After the series 52 he hooks up with time master Rip Hunter and is recruited to fix holes in the time stream. This set up in the prior volume leads to Booster being able to save his friend the Blue Beetle. The consequences of that are played out in this volume. Writer Geoff Johns does his usual amazing job of balancing comic continuity and great characterizations. I loved the relationship between Booster and Blue Beetle. Their friendship has the effect of making Booster a much more likeable guy. His confrontation between him and his father is pretty heart-wrenching. I cannot wait for the next volume in this great series.

Past Review
Booster Gold: 52 Pickup

What It Is
Linda Barry's new book is part workbook, part treatise on the creative process. In her own original way Barry puts forth a theory that focuses on images. As an artist her work begins with an image and then grows from there. Her unique point of view makes this book more than a series of exercises, it is an experience. She includes philosophical questions such as "What is the Image?" and her struggles with self-doubt. Like her other works such as One Hundred Demons she also shares her autobiographical development as an artist. This is a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in or struggling with their own self-expression. Barry is a wholly original and fun artist. This book is amazing.

Other Reviews
Bay Moon | Salon | Whereof One Can Speak

All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem
After seeing the irreverent title I thought that was a book for me. Indeed I was right. This could be classified as an "anti-self help book" due to it's unflinchingly original message. Rosenwald states her message right up front when she says "They want you to think something’s wrong with you because you don’t have self-esteem like you ‘should." Through her writings and crazy art style Rosenwald is able to showcase her unique view of the world. Now you may not always agree with her sarcasm, and she is a bit smug, but I often found myself laughing at some of her viewpoints. In the end Rosenwald does not want to tell you what you need to change. Her assertion that it's okay to be strange and unlikeable is refreshing. The art style of the book is also very cool. The combination of typography and image is crazy and eye-catching.

Other Reviews
Blog Critics | The Dirty Shirt | Pink Me

The Reading List
The Collected Poems of Robert Graves
The Wordy Shipmates


Superman #684

Check Out Count: Improving slowly.

Comic Pull List: Action Comics #874, Batman #686, Batman And The Outsiders Special #1, Captain Britain And Mi 13 #10, Fables #81, Green Arrow Black Canary #17, Incognito #2, Trinity #37

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Teach Me Charles, I'm willing to learn...

Hello folks,
Hope that you are all having a great weekend. I thought today I would bring back an old feature in honor of the upcoming Dickens series coming up on PBS Masterpiece Theater. Well also because it's his birthday. Happy Birthday Mr. Dickens!

Lessons I've Learned from Classic Lit: Charles Dickens

1. Don't get in debt. Debt is bad, bad, bad. *sigh* If only I'd listened.

2. Hardship in childhood builds amazing character. Look at Nicholas Nickelby, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist etc. These gentlemen are raised and go through terrible circumstances and they become great men.

3. True love often means great sacrifice. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

4. Always leave your audience wanting more. The man is the king of the chapter cliff-hanger. He is a pioneer of serialization. Thank god we don't have to wait like those in the 19th century.

5. Don't get sued. Ever. Just ask the two parties in Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce.

6. Adults cannot be trusted. From Oliver Twist to Great Expectations the innocence of childhood is sullied by adults. Fagin creates a band of thieves who do all the work but he reaps the financial benefits. When Oliver Twist is threatened by Fagin you believe he is in serious peril. I always was quite taken aback by the weird psychological games adults play on children in Dickens. That Miss Haversham is a sick twist.

7. Schools/Orphanages/Apprenticeships in the Victorian Era were horrid and deadly. The abuse that is heaped on children in his novels is hard to believe. How can anyone ever admire this era? Of course Dickens wrote from experience so the veracity is undeniable.

8. Redemption is possible. Look at Ebenezar Scrooge. Also, as referenced above, there's Sydney Carton.

9. Sometimes it's the journey, not the destination. Dicken's characters suffer through some crazy twists and turns but they're often the better for it.

10. You're departed mom and/or dad may have been the heir to a vast fortune. And by crazy circumstance you may stumble into a life of love and happiness. Dicken's world is small and full of possibility.

Have a great week! Book Slave.


Those Extraordinary Gentleman

Hello All,
I hope you've had a great weekend. I myself had a low key time where I pretty much completely ignored sports. Superbowl? Was that this weekend? Well. I know that I said I'd have some ABA Midwinter stories but unfortunately I really don't. I was stuck minding the store while everything was going on. However here's a link to pics from the amazing reception party here. It was quite a time and I did meet some cool people.
Anyway Onward!

Understanding Comics
I've been meaning to read this for some time. Scott McCloud has written an excellent breakdown of not only comics but sequential art in general. I didn't really have any interest in art until I was in high school. Before that I just didn't get it. McCloud does a great job of explaining the creative process in a way that non-artists, like myself, can understand. He also succeeds in showing that comics is a more complex medium than it gets credit for. It also helps that he presents the book in the form of comic art. It's a genius decision by McCloud. This book should really be used as a textbook in art schools. Check it out.

Other Reviews
Mantex | mile222 | grovel.org.uk

League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Black Dossier
I love the previous volumes of this series, so I was very excited when this was released. It's taken me awhile to get to this, however it was worth the wait. I enjoyed the further adventures of a rejuvenated Mina Murray and Alan Quartermain in 1958 fascist England. At first I was thrown by the redesign of the look of the characters, (Mina with blond hair, Alan as young and sans beard) but I grew to like it. Of course they would change their looks if they were on the run. The action and banter was as fun as ever. Alan Moore also includes plenty of in-jokes and easter eggs that made me chuckle. On the other hand Dossier also includes some crazy supplemental text pieces that I am convinced are half balderdash. I also think Moore likes to throw in crazy sexual material just to mess with readers. He knows that fanboys like to overanalyze every page so he will just throw stuff in. And I'm okay with that. Also the 3-D pages were awesome.

Other Series Reviews
League of Extraordinary Gentleman Vol. 1
League of Extraordinary Gentleman Vol. 2

The Reading List
The Poems of Robert Graves
Booster Gold: Blue and the Gold

Four Four Two

Battlefields: Dear Billy #1

Comic Pull List: Buffy The Vampire Slayer #22, Deadpool #7, Scott Pilgrim Gn Vol 05 Sp Vs The Universe, Secret Six #6, Trinity #36

Check Out Count: Massive.

Have a great week! Book Slave.