Saturday, October 09, 2010

Oct 9 - Value Village

I figured that if I'm teaching Twilight next term, I'd better pick up the second and third volumes. Good news was that Value Village, predictably, had both New Moon and Eclipse ($3.99 each). More interestingly, it also had Arthur Kruckeberg's excellent Natural History of Puget Sound Country ($7.99, from the notorious - in some very small circles, admittedly - Weyerhauser Environmental Books series for the University of Washington Press), as well as John McPhee's celebrated The Pine Barrens ($3.99).

From 1967, The Pine Barrens is about a thousand-square-mile region in New Jersey that at the time was almost uninhabited, in the most densely populated American state. In 1988 the area became a UN Biosphere Reserve, too, so it's not like McPhee was talking out of turn about this place. My interest, really, is in the idea that the idea of wilderness (and a largish actual "wilderness," with all the definitional problems of the term) can survive in such an industrial, urban state. I'm looking forward to reading it, and more so because I find the usual voice of 60s nature writing so comfortable!

Friday, October 08, 2010

David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp

Well, that was interesting. Fellow book club member David Leach loaned me his copy of David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, thus causing my spellchecker to break down and weep the very first time I typed out all four names in sequence.

As graphic novels go, it's no comic book. I mean, it's about a 50-ish "paper architect" (who teaches but has never had anything built) who loved, married and was divorced by a lovely young woman, an artist, and who subsequently loses it and dumps his entire urban, urbane existence for a hand-to-mouth small-town shambles of a life. Things never stay static for our man Asterios, mind you, and I'm not going to tell you anything about the plot beyond that starting point, but I will say that it ain't predictable.

Your kids will so not dig this book, but I liked it a whole bunch. I mean, I'm getting old as well, and who doesn't have complications in their past, but it wasn't just a matter of partial identification. Mazzucchelli does a great job of exploiting the art form, making his characters alternate between two-dimensional figures (so to speak) and self-aware individuals. The characters wise-crack, and not every joke is comprehended by everyone there to hear it, so there's a complex register of irony at play -- in the service of a story about how reflex ironizing left this guy unable to have anything like the life he's almost able to throw off his irony and ask for. (That's a clear sentence, right? No? Crap.) Not everyone likes it, clearly, and it's true that there's a lot of familiarity to elements of the story, but I'm okay with that. Hell, I'm old enough not to need new stories anyway. I'm already forgetting the old ones. Tell me the story beautifully, and I won't mind if I've heard it before.

Plus Scott McCloud's going to have to update his brilliant Understanding Comics to accommodate some of the shifts in perspective here, too. (Good man, McCloud -- he's already been thinking about this, I now see!) I loved the shift out of the pop-art two-D stuff into contrasting styles for Asterios and Hana/Daisy, where he's a geometric assemblage (form without content) and she's over-heavily shaded without lines (content without form).

A graphic novel that your kids will ignore, but that you might really, really appreciate.

Oct 8 - subTEXT

Three pickups before lunch:
Carl Smith, The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City ($4)
Vision, Space, Desire: Global Perspectives and Cultural Hybridity ($19 - NMAI Editions, from the National Museum of the American Indian, based at the Smithsonian - a collection of essays about Native art and artists early in the 21st century)
Dale Zieroth, Clearing: Poems from a Journey ($5)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Oct 2 - GVPL

Most branches of the Greater Victoria Public Library leave little carts near the lineups for patrons checking out books. There's rarely much of interest to me there, but once in a while... well, honestly, how can I be expected to leave behind Jon Tuska's seminal 600-page tome The Filming of the West: The Definitive Behind-the-Scenes History of the Great Western Movies -- Illustrated?

Even with the over-amped title, and with the super-fan's devotion rather than the analyst's perspective (as reviewer John Cawelti put it), this is a great chunk of useful background to add to the shelves. (Worth to me rather more than the $2.50 I paid, and AbeBooks agrees with me.)