NORTON JUSTER

05 the phantom tollbooth“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.”

Thoroughly saddened to read the news of Norton Juster’s passing. The Chuck Jones-helmed film adaptation of 𝑻𝒉𝒆 π‘·π’‰π’‚π’π’•π’π’Ž 𝑻𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒃𝒐𝒐𝒕𝒉 was a staple of my childhood, but I actually came to the novel in my early twenties, where it proceeded to blow my mind with it’s manic, unadulterated imagination and, of course, all the mischievous, marvelous wordplay. It quickly became a favorite and forever changed the way I thought of children’s literature. If you haven’t read this understated masterpiece, I highly recommend you do so.β €

Rest easy, Milo.

RAINA TELGEMEIER: AN APPRECIATION

04 raina booksSo it’s been a minute! I’ve been mostly MIA lately, dealing with tedious adulthood type stuff. The sort that requires entirely too much of my energy and attention. And although thankfully none of that has really stopped me from reading, it’s been definitely draining any desire to sit down and write anything of note. Tragic, I know.β €
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It’s also caused me quite a fair bit of stress! Which is probably why I’ve resorted to picking up a bunch of middle grade books these past few weeks. They’ve long been a comfort read for me, so of course they’ve helped with winding down and staving off concerns.β €
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It’s sort of funny, then, that the first few books I went to were Raina Telgemeier’s graphic memoirs, which are all about the peculiar anxieties of childhood. β €
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I started reading Telgemeier’s work only a couple of years ago, but she quickly turned into one of my favorite authors. She writes the types of books I wish my younger self would have been able to read, which is something I say about every excellent modern middle grade book I read these days but it happens to be particularly true in the case of these graphic novels: they may me about incredibly specific events that happened to a white girl growing up in the West Coast during the late eighties and early nineties, but I still manage to see my life reflected in these pages. Still see the same childhood concerns and the adolescent angst that I went through as an anxious brown kid growing up in the Caribbean in the nineties. They make me feel seen in a way, and that brings me comfort. β €
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Stories, you guys β€” the way they work never fails to amaze and astound me.β €
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Anyway.β €
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I got my copy of 𝘎𝘢𝘡𝘴 right when it was released so of course there’s no Eisner Award sticker on the cover. Telgemier is an unstoppable talent, though, so if you purchase the book today it will be there.

MMXX

So 2020 was a year that certainly happened.

I don’t want to write much about the year on a personal level. I used to do that with these reflections, but the last couple of years have been rough, to say the least, both on a personal scale and, you know, a global one, and I find myself with little energy to expound much on the hardships of life at the close of it all. I doubt there’s much I can say that hasn’t already been said by thousands of others, anyway. We’re all passengers on Spaceship Earth after all; we’re all going through the same kind of bedlam.

So I talk about books and stories. It’s the best I can do.

Books are β€” and they always have been β€” the beams of light that break through the darkness of any given time period, after all. I can’t think of a better, more appropriate way of saying good riddance to this plague year than by putting forth a small selection of these bright, shining beacons. These talismans against despair.

Continue reading “MMXX”

READALIKES: MAD MEN

I rewatched the entirety of Mad Men a couple months ago. Because what better thing to do during lockdown than spend seven seasons with characters full of angst and ennui?

As is my wont, whenever I immerse myself into a show or film , I always get the urge to seek out some readalikes β€” books that, to my mind at least, share similarities with whatever it is I’m watching. My criteria for this is a little loose and ambiguous, admittedly: sometimes I look for similar moods and themes; oftentimes it’s just a matter of aesthetics. The last time I did this with Mad Men I ended up reading Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man and Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything β€” books that read the part. This time around I thought it’d be fun to explore books that looked the part.

So I went with comics, of course. The ones I went with were perhaps not as deep and brooding as Mad Men, but they were certainly as stylish.

They were also mostly about murder, which is surprisingly common with stories set during this time, which makes me wonder what is about this certain period of American culture that fits so well with crime dramas and murder mysteries and thrillers? Is it the Hitchcock influence or is it that everyone was seemingly so repressed in those days that the thought of someone snapping only made one go, “well that was inevitable”?

In any case, I definitely consider it a genre (let’s call it Mid-Century Murder), and comics seem to do it better than almost anything else. And hardly any comic does it better than Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels (written under the Richard Stark pseudonym), which follow the eponymous lead across heists, murderous plots, and other criminal activities. I had read β€” and deeply enjoyed β€” the first two books in the series, but this was my first time reading through all four volumes (Cooke sadly passed away before working on any more). Westlake’s Parker novels were famously cold, bare-boned affairs, featuring stark prose (hence the pen name) and simple, straightforward plots.

There’s a famous scene from the 1967 film Point Blank, one of the first adaptations of the the Parker stories. It features lead Lee Marvin walking down a hallway with deadly purpose. There’s no music playing, just the metronome-like sound of his steady footsteps, meant to evoke the relentless nature of the character. He sounds unstoppable β€” a bullet out of a gun.

It’s a rhythm that Cooke translated beautifully into comic book form. Throughout the books he uses wide panels, with little to no dialogue. And this, combined Cooke’s sleek and sharp artwork, evokes a sense of speed. Like Westlake’s original novels, these books are meant to be read quickly. There’s no real story development and certainly no character growth. As with any decent heist: you get in, you get out. The end. Like a bullet out of a gun.

Visually this is the most Mad Men-looking of the bunch, mostly due to Cooke’s general retro aesthetic, but also because Parker comes from the same squared-jawed, handsomely generic mold as Don Draper.

I read all four volumes in the series and had a blast with each one. The third volume, The Score, might just be my favorite, though.


Lady Killer, written by JoΓ«lle Jones and Jamie S. Rich and illustrated by Jones herself, follows Josie Schuller, a seemingly perfect homemaker in a seemingly picture-perfect sixties household, who also happens to moonlight as a professional assassin. Hijinks ensue. (The series was pitched as “Betty Draper meets Hannibal,” but I think it’s more accurate to think of it as “Midge Maisel meets John Wick.”) This is essentially a dark comedy β€” emphasis on dark (morbid humor abound). JoΓ«lle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s writing is perfectly sly and tongue-in-cheek and pairs well with Jones’ art, which manages to evoke the commercial art of the era while still retaining that modern edge.

There are only two volumes so far. I enjoyed the second one a lot more, mostly because it ramps up its lounge aesthetic.


On the more serious end of the spectrum we have The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who pretty much have the crime corner of comics covered. This series owes a lot more to Old Hollywood lore and the visual flair of film noir than it does the sleek aesthetics of the mid-fifties. True to conventions, it tells the story of the tragic murder of a rising starlet. Unlike Parker and Lady Killer, this is played as straight as it could be, which is probably why I didn’t vibe with is as much. Brubaker’s writing is great, and Phillips’ art is fantastic, but it just didn’t speak to me as much as the rest of these readalikes so I don’t think I’ll be continuing it.

BOOKMAIL

Another πŸ“šπŸ“¦ courtesy of 𝐍𝐒𝐠𝐑𝐭 𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐦𝐬! This month’s theme was another I couldn’t pass up. Latinx representation! In horror! Yes, please.β €
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Silvia Moreno-Garcia’sΒ Mexican Gothic is a book that’s been on my radar for a while, and in fact I was considering getting it for this year’s Hallowe’en reads literally the day before getting the package. I had no idea which books were coming in this package, so it was a lovely bit of cosmic coincidence. Would you just look at that cover?β €
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I had never heard of Adrian Ernesto Cepeda’sΒ  La Belle Ajar, but it gets instant points for the title being just an excellent pun. It’s a collection of horror-tinged poems inspired by Silvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which definitely sounds interesting and deliciously 𝔫𝔬𝔫𝔒 π”ͺ𝔬𝔯𝔒 𝔀𝔬𝔱π”₯, 𝔒𝔱𝔠.β €
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Lots of goodies accompanied these two books. Bookmarks! Author notes! Book plates! Stickers! Coffee! I was particularly glad to find the stickers since I just recently got the urge to cover my laptop with them and these make excellent additions. The coffee I brewed it a couple days ago and it was pretty dang good! You can find all the makers tagged in the photo. β €
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Thanks once again for the neat things and the TBR fodder, Night Worms!β €

As always, you can check them out on their website or over on Instagram .

BOOKMAIL

Most recent πŸ“šπŸ“¦ comes courtesy of 𝐍𝐒𝐠𝐑𝐭 𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐦𝐬! Was quite excited to finally get this.β €
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For those who don’t know: Night Worms is a monthly subscription package with a heavily-curated focus on horror books and other genre-related goodies.β €
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Horror is not my main thing, although I do have a deep appreciation for it, especially around the Hallowe’en season, as my Instagram feed can attest. But Night Worms has been on my radar for a while now, mostly due to other bookish people being subscribed to it. I would see all the unboxings, and the stuff looked not only top notch, but fun, which I always value in horror. β €
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Fun was what led me to finally make a purchase. Like most other subscription services, they do themes, and the one for this package (June’s) was “The Boys of Summer,” a phrase that instantly invoked the kind of horror that I generally gravitate towards β€” stories like Stephen King’s “The Body” / Stand by Me, The Goonies, and, of course, Stranger Things. Dark coming-of-age tales tinged with nostalgia and whimsy.β €
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Which is totally the vibe the contents of this package seem to capture. Would you just look at that tea packaging?β €

You can check them out on their website or over on Instagram (their account is a lot of fun).

BOOKMAIL

Getting a lot of graphic novels lately. I’ve been a little stressed out these past couple of weeks, and comics always help me deal with that.β €
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I’ve been following Noelle Stevenson’s work since the days of Tumblr (I still think of her as gingerhaze), when I came across her Broship of the Ring comics, which to this day still stands as my all-time favorite AU (π’‰π’Šπ’‘π’”π’•π’†π’“ π’‰π’π’ƒπ’ƒπ’Šπ’•π’”) and I’ve really loved seeing her career grow over the years. The Fire Never Goes Out collects Noelle’s personal comics, which in sharp contrast to the more goofy Broship strips, are often wistful and melancholy. They break your heart. They are lovely. Stevenson is going to take over the world someday.β €
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Lucy Knisley we all love. She’s known mostly for memoirs, but Stepping Stones is, I believe, her first foray into fiction. Middle grade, too, which is exciting! Lucy Knisley isn’t going to take over the world only because she wants to let her son do it first.β €

BOOKMAIL

Today’s book mail was an impulse buy, because that’s the sort of thing you end up doing after not leaving your house for three weeks because how else are you going to stave off the anxiety ha ha am I right no I’m seriously asking how are you lot coping like this all a lot and I hope you’re all holding up okayβ €

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I love Edward Gorey, although I confess I’ve only read just a handful of his books. A curious thing about me, when it comes to artists in particular, is that often the way I get into their work is by first being interested in them as people. Sometimes I end up reading biographies or books analyzing their stuff before I ever get to their actual work. It’s sort of a ridiculous way to get into stuff, admittedly, but I do find that knowing about a person helps me appreciate their stuff a bit more.β €

But that’s only occasionally. And I don’t do it with every creative person I come across. Mostly it tends to be with figures that are somewhat flamboyant and bigger-than-life, magnetic personalities that attract all manner of interesting and curious anecdotes.

People who are made up of stories.β €

All of which certainly applies to Gorey. So a biography β€” aΒ picture book no less β€” about the man, written and drawn in his style, is totally up my alley. It’s a beautiful object andΒ  I can’t wait to get into it.

BOOKMAIL

It’s a little wild to think of how even the simple act of receiving mail has changed in just the span of two weeks. And now you have to do this awkward dance with the UPS guy as you both try to avoid touching one another because neither of you thought to suggest putting the package on the floor.β €
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It’s a little funny, too, in a bittersweet sort of way.β €
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Anyway.β €
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Have really been looking forward to this graphic novel! I have absolutely zero interest in basketball, but I am definitely interested whenever a new book by Gene Luen Yang comes out. His graphic novel American Born Chinese made a huge impact on me when I was young, and it helped shape the way I view the comics medium as a whole. (“You mean you can tellΒ this kind of story?”)β €
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So expectations are a little high! But I have no doubt Yang can deliver.β €
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(The last sentence originally read “I have no doubt that Yang can deliver a slam dunk,” but I thought it was a bit much and took out the pun. So, you know, you’re welcome.)β €

BOOKMAIL

Today’s book mail comes courtesy of Nic Stone, who read a less-than-glowing review I did of one of her books and still offered to send me an advanced reader copy of her latest. Because some authors are class acts. β €
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She also totally and utterly sassed me out about said review, because some authors are also as mischievous as they are tactful. Which I love, obviously.

Thank you, Nic, for the books and the banter. And for making my week. Looking forward to reading this!