Blogs at Amazon

« September 2008 | Main | November 2008 »

October 2008

Graphic Novels Friday: I Luv Halloween Ultimate Twisted Edition

One thing I love about reading comics is that you can get something in the mail that seems normal enough--maybe even kind of friendly...and then you start reading it and you realize, "this is really creepy, twisted, and strange." Thus it was that I opened the latest package from Tokyopop to be greeted by I Luv Halloween: Ultimate Twisted Edition, story by Keith Giffen and art by Benjamin Roman.

It starts out innocently enough: with an apple offered as a treat. But as you read, you realize this is something pretty insane. Murders. Zombies. Aliens. All rendered in crisp, grotesque full color throughout the 400-plus pages. Our hero is named, innocently enough, Finch, but he's surrounded by such eccentrics as Mr. Kitty, Pig Pig, Devil Lad, and Moochie. Moochie, you have to understand, collects teeth...

I Luv Halloween is oddly...pretty...even in the grossest scenes, because the art is so good. Fans of shows like Invader Zim will love this, and it comes complete with extra stories. But a word of warning: it's not for kids. Not even close.


Red-Blue Roundtable: Bill Bishop (from afar)

Bishop_bill_150 It looks like our Red-Blue Roundtable discussion is continuing outside of the walls of Omnivoracious. After I posted Valdis Krebs's updating of his network map of red and blue book purchases on Amazon, I noticed that Bill Bishop had already commented on Krebs's new data on his Slate blog, called, like his book, The Big Sort. And, not surprisingly, he finds that this pre-election behavior matches quite well with his own rather grim argument about how we are sorting ourselves into political and cultural enclaves:

Given a choice, people will go to places where their beliefs are reinforced. In a recent study of Yahoo Finance discussion boards, three University of Texas business professors found that stock-pickers cluster. Those who think Apple is going up talk to each other on one thread. Those who think GE will fall even more find their way to the same little spot on the Web. Technology doesn't help people find new ways of thinking or seeing the world -- even when it might be in their financial interest. We still hunker down with those who hold our opinions....

We read apart, live apart, watch apart, blog apart, and drive apart; we are one country that lacks any shared experiences or, it seems, common purpose.


The Last-Minute Halloween

Dp2 Prepping for holidays isn't really my thing. I've always been one of those people who throws together a Halloween costume from stuff in my closet (e.g., I realized recently that I used my brown bob and meager hat collection as an excuse to go as Dorothy Parker three years in a row). My worst costume ever was a few years later when I wore a blond wig and gown and called myself "30s starlet." The funny thing: that year everyone at the party kept asking me if I was Dorothy Parker. Oh yes, I'm the blond bombshell Dorothy Parker. Look out tomorrow for the goth Dorothy Parker...

Anyway, this was all fine until I had Silas. Now I'm a mom: I'm supposed to be festive and hang up black-cat cut-outs and ghosts made of cheesecloth. It really sunk in for me when we went to story time and the librarian held up a cut-out of a jack-o-lantern, which all the kids seemed to know except Silas, who was totally bewildered. This week we rushed to get him a costume--he'll be a little knight for his first trick or treat, very cute--but we still have to find him a candy bucket.

I have been reading these Halloween-y books with him over the past week in an effort to catch up, which (I think) we've both enjoyed:

Library_jacket_angled237 Bats in the Library by Brian Lies
This is a fun idea: the librarian leaves the window open, so the bats finally get to do their favorite thing--go to the library (also my favorite thing)--where they read books and play games with the drinking fountain and overhead projector (it's an old-timey library). Boogieknights

Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler (words) and Mark Siegel (pictures)
Wheeler brings bebop to the old monster mash theme in this clever, musical story about a haunted castle and its celebrating inhabitants. I love the puns on "sir"; Silas loves the pictures of dancing knights.

Babymouse: Monster Mash by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Okay, it's not really fair to say that I "read" this with Silas. We look at the pictures, then mommy reads the part (again) where Babymouse enters her (fantasy) Studio 54-type Halloween party with smoke effects as a mummy Cleopatra. Babymouse_2

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara Ghosts_4
Paul posted about this last weekend. It's the perfect picture book for Silas: high contrast, cute story, not too many words.

Midnightfolk_2 The Midnight Folk by John Masefield
This one is more for me, admittedly, but I love reading Masefield's songs aloud and fantasizing about how Silas will grow up hearing it every October. That's my plan, if I can just remember to start it before Halloween morning. --Heidi

Red-Blue Roundtable: Valdis Krebs

Krebs_valdis_150 [As a postscript to our Red-Blue Roundtable earlier this month, Valdis Krebs just wrote in to note that he has updated his network map of Amazon political book purchases for the month of October, and to me, it's his most interesting map yet, showing some pretty striking behavior among our customers that his methods reveal better than our own Election 2008 map (snazzy though it is). Among his findings: Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is being purchased by red customers (doing some amateur oppo research, I assume), while purchasers of Obama's books, at least at this point late in the election season, constitute their own network, with little connection to other political books. Also worth noting: Patriotic Grace, the new book by Republican columnist Peggy Noonan arguing that the country should come together behind whichever candidate is elected, is being bought mostly by blue customers. (By the way, you can listen to my recent interview with Noonan.) Here's his new map (click on it to see a larger version) and his recent post from his blog at The Network Thinker. --Tom]


As both presidential campaigns sprint toward the finish line I took one more look at the political books being bought in October 2008 and the patterns they created.

The arrows in the network map above show which books were "also bought" together.  A-->B shows that customers who bought A, also bought B.  Click on the map above for a larger view.

A few surprising patterns...

  • unlike in previous maps, there are no bridging books between the red and blue clusters -- the two parties are totally separated! This reflects the immense polarization and animosity we currently see in campaign rallies on both sides.
  • the "key book" of community organizers -- Rules for Radicals -- was being bought by the Right! It was being purchased along with several anti-Obama books. Is the Right trying to figure out why Obama's campaign, based on community organizing principals, is so successful?
  • those buying positive books about Obama, are not buying other political books. Are they interested in the candidate, but not politics in general?
  • there are no books about McCain or Biden that made the Amazon cut-off for "most popular political books." The book about Palin -- Sarah -- is the only popular book about the Republican team. 
  • the Right focus on fewer books to get their message across.  The map does not reflect volume of books sold.  It is possible that the Right buy more volume of fewer books.

See previous views of political book patterns in 2004, and 2008.

Watching the Watchmen with Dave Gibbons

Over the years, Watchmen has received an amazing amount of praise, culminating with making Time Magazine’s list of 100 Best English-Language Novels. It’s also won a Hugo Award, and been honored in countless other ways (with a movie coming out soon). On a personal note, Watchmen convinced me comics as an art form could be as complex as any other. It started my adult delight and obsession with graphic novels. It also blew the top of my head off.

Watchingthewatchmen Dave_gibbons_3
       (Watching the Watchmen and Dave Gibbons)

Now, Titan Books has released artist Dave Gibbons’ Watching the Watchmen, a brilliant behind-the-scenes look at this iconic work. Gibbons’ distinctive, detailed approach to the art in Watchmen brought Alan Moore’s vision to life. Watching the Watchmen was designed by Chip Kidd with the assistance of Mike Essl, and includes commentary from Gibbons. But the real joy of the book is seeing all of the rough sketches, preliminary storyboards, reproductions of pages of the comics script.

As Gibbons says, “We didn't ever visualize that it would be a graphic novel. I mean that was kind of a format that was pretty much unknown. We thought the series would run its course, and that would very much be it. So the fact that has also been in print for 20 years or more is an amazing thing. Then to find it on [Time’s list], yeah, I think beyond any dreams that anybody working in comics back in the '80s would have had.”

Gibbons has had a long and award-winning career. In addition to Watchmen, he’s worked on Doctor Who, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Predator, Aliens, and the Martha Washington series. His recent graphic novel The Originals won an Eisner Award.

Recently, I interviewed Gibbons about his work on both Watchmen and Watching the Watchmen. (A longer version of this interview will appear as an audio file in December.)

Continue reading "Watching the Watchmen with Dave Gibbons" »

YA Wednesday: Nerdfighters!

In this edition of YA Wednesday, we are loving John and Hank Green, and YouTube.

Paper Towns in Seattle
A reading with the Greens is like hanging out in your parents' basement with a bunch of smart, sweet, goofy friends.

John Green read at the Seattle Public Library last night from his new book (and, as he announced, soon to be New York Times bestseller), Paper Towns. Hank played a couple of songs--"Book 8" (Harry Potter-wise) and "The List." The brothers chatted back and forth, answered questions, and generally entertained an auditorium packed with many enthusiastic Margo Roth Spiegelman and Nerdfighters fans. (Nerdfighters = ning network, check it out.)

I was sitting in the back, taking notes old-style for this post, when I noticed that every fifth person in the audience was recording it on their phones. So, thanks to ardent YouTubers like momentofzen, you can enjoy it for yourself. Here's Green reading from Paper Towns, p. 23:

A definite highlight of the evening was special guest, sweetafton23 from YouTube, who performed her original song "My Hope" (MySpace hilarity):

Green (John) posted a video yesterday about his (somewhat embarrassing) visit to an unnamed Seattle school, and nanowrimo (i.e., why he's not doing it):

The tour goes through November, so you may still be able to catch them live. And a last note, JG also announced this week that Paper Towns has been optioned for a movie.

Sherman Alexie on The Colbert Report
I was planning to make this edition all about John Green, but then I saw Colbert and Alexie talking about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or not (en garde!):

(thanks, Educating Alice)

Quick links...

Guess who is doing nanowrimo: Neil Gaiman.

Deadwoodjones Little Willow interviews Helen Hemphill, author of The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (which we're currently reading at our house) on GuysLitWire.

Teen books, not just for teens: Christian Science Monitor and Library Journal. (found on Ypulse)

More GuysLitWire: books for screenwriting teens.

The New York Times on urban fiction. (literary license)

Newish blog, Bookends, on Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.


Kit Reed on The Night Children and Enclave

More and more authors are multi-tasking these days, weaving in and out of different genres and reading constituencies. Kit Reed, who is now writing for children and adults, is a good example of this phenomenon. Her latest novel, The Night Children (Starscape), is about strange gangs of children living after hours in a megamall. Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) has said of her, “Kit Reed’s work freaks me out.” Next year, she'll have an adult novel out, Enclave. Here's her exclusive take on the similarities between the two approaches...


Continue reading "Kit Reed on The Night Children and Enclave" »

Debating the First Draft of W.: The Authors vs. Oliver Stone


If you haven't run across it yet, for the past week Slate has been hosting a high-powered panel discussion bringing Oliver Stone together with three (and, finally, a fourth) of the best-known chroniclers of the Bush administration, to discuss his use of their work and others in his new movie W. Along with Jacob Weisberg, the former Slate editor whose book, The Bush Tragedy, provides much source material for the 41/43 father-son drama Stone portrays, they brought in Bob Woodward and Ron Suskind, who between them have written seven bestsellers on the administration, and today, on what appears to be the final day of the discussion, Hubris coauthor Michael Isikoff joined in with a specific anecdote from his book that Stone used for the movie.

There's a lot of discussion of Stone's dramatic license with the reported facts, with some pointed criticism (and Stone's defenses) of a few of the movie's more Stonian interpretive flights (which just about everyone who's seen W. has noted he has reined in considerably this time), and there's a lot of debate between the journalists about the exact timeline of when the war was decided upon. But what I like best is the shoptalk among these guys who have all been trying to write the first draft of history, without much help from the primary participants. Here's Suskind giving Woodward a backhanded compliment about his unique access:

Bob, clearly, has sat in what journalists generally consider "access heaven" in his unmatched colloquies with Bush. You have witnessed Bush jumping out of his chair to make a point, and many other moments from your interviews provide some signature scenes of this period. But, I wonder, Bob, if you think, looking back, that access to Bush has not been as valuable—hour for hour—as it has been with other presidents whom you've interviewed. I think it's fair to say that Bush and his team don't believe that truthful public disclosure and dialogue are among their central obligations. Other presidents have railed against the troublemakers in the press, but they felt, often reluctantly, that letting the American people know their mind—the good-enough reasons that drive action—was part of their job description. Frankly, I think the best book of your quartet is State of Denial—the one for which, I gather, you were not given access to Bush. But that's a rare occurrence. (The last president you wrote about who wouldn't grant an audience was Nixon, and, of course, you and Carl notched a few historic bell-ringers back then.)

And here's Isikoff arguing that all their discussion of various memos and anecdotes are somewhat beside the point in trying to figure out when the Decider decided (which he backs up with an anecdote from his own book):

We can debate endlessly what really motivated Bush in making the audacious decision to invade Iraq—the threat of WMD, the cooked-up evidence about connections between Saddam and al-Qaida, the need to be pre-emptive in the post-9/11 era, the desire to secure Mideast oil supplies. But I think the "tear it all down" line captures the essence of Bush's worldview. Why monkey around with diplomacy, U.N. inspections, and halfway measures? And the search for one key moment to pinpoint the "decision" time is probably illusory. Bush the Decider didn't actually decide in Cabinet or war-council meetings. His White House didn't thrash out option memos and debate them endlessly. He decided on what his gut told him, and his gut instincts were that he had had enough of trying to "box in" Saddam Hussein and that it was time to kick his ass and remove him through military force.

This all gives me an opportunity to point to a couple interviews I did for our Election 2008 store this fall with two of the participants above: Woodward and Suskind. They are both, like their recent books, The War Within and The Way of the World, focused mostly on events after those in Stone's movie. Woodward is concerned mostly with discussing a much later (and more successful) decision: Bush's choice to go forward with the "surge" in Iraq:

And with Suskind, we talked less about his administration reporting and more about what is the real focus of The Way of the World, the threat of nuclear proliferation and the importance of America's moral identity in controlling them:

I know not everybody (me included) prefers listening to reading, so I'll post transcripts of these separately in the next day or so as well. --Tom

Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers


New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Sam Tanenhaus on The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike: "At 76, he still wrings more from a sentence than almost anyone else. His sorcery is startlingly fresh, page upon page.... The genius inheres in the precise observation, in the equally precise language, but above all in the illusion that the image has been received and processed in real time, when in truth Updike has slowed events to a dreamlike pace and given them a dream’s hyperreality, so that the distinction between the actual and the imagined feels erased."
  • Maslin on George, Being George, edited by Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr.: "If Mr. Plimpton had nothing but the Zeus-like powers this book ascribes to him (and don’t think Zeus isn’t mentioned), he might become on the page what he seems never to have been in life: a bore. The peril of the oral-history format is that old friends’ flattery will overwhelm objectivity and interest.... Fortunately, 'George, Being George' also taps enough sharp-eyed observers ... to outweigh its occasional fatuousness and repetition."
  • Kakutani on Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson: "In her ridiculous new novel, 'Lulu in Marrakech,' Ms. Johnson attempts to use the post-9/11 hunt for terrorists and the tensions between America and the Islamic world as a backdrop for a social comedy about a clueless young American woman named Lulu.... That this unobservant, naïve and unresourceful ditz is supposed to be a covert C.I.A.  operative, assigned to trace the flow of money from Islamic charities in Marrakech to terrorist groups, is patently absurd, as is the trajectory of the plot, which abruptly moves from the subjects of house parties and romantic triangles to those of rendition and torture. It’s as though a romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson or Drew Barrymore as a kind of Marrakech Barbie had suddenly morphed into a brutal thriller about C.I.A. black sites and enhanced interrogations." On Sunday, Erica Wagner agreed: "The reader feels simply glum, locked in a window­less world of preconceptions never shattered and lessons never learned."
  • David Hajdu on Hallelujah Junction by John Adams: "Although the sojourner scheme is a cliché among books by creative artists, politicians and pretty much everyone else, Adams plays it lightly. There is no more self-aggrandizement in this wry, smart and forthright memoir than there is in the venturesome but elegiac music of Adams’s maturity. Indeed, 'Hallelujah Junction' stands with books by Hector Berlioz and Louis Armstrong among the most readably incisive autobiographies of major musical figures."

Washington Post:

  • Elaine Showalter on Updike's Widows of Eastwick: "In lieu of understanding American malaise in terms of women's lives, Widows is padded with digressions and irrelevant details, lengthy travelogues and tedious lectures.... Mercifully, before he schleps them to Antarctica and Peru, Updike sends the widows back to Eastwick on an unlikely holiday rental of the old mansion that Van Horne left behind. But without Van Horne, the life force and comic center of Witches, the women's adventures seem pallid and pointless. At the novel's end, Sukie and Alexandra are hopefully contemplating another tour, but for readers the spell is broken."
  • Ron Charles on Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago: "Here Saramago catches us off guard once again, turning from the straight-faced absurdity of the novel's first section to a poignant romance. How can the most tender relationship that Saramago has ever written involve death as a nervous lover? This is a story that can't possibly work or affect us, but it does, deeply, sweetly. It's a novel to die for."

Los Angeles Times:

  • James Sallis on The Complete Ripley Novels by Patricia Highsmith: "The genius of the five novels Highsmith eventually wrote about this character lies in the manner in which she lodges us so firmly in Ripley's head that his perception of the world begins to seem almost right to us. We become so immured in his world that, like him, we are unable to see beyond it.... Ripley is truly a self-made man, bringing us to silent recognition of the selfsame treacherous longings coiled and waiting in our hearts."

Continue reading "Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers" »

The Books of the States: Maine (4 electoral votes; Guest: Heidi Julavits)

Quarter_maine_mccloskey First of all, as you regular readers may have noticed, that weeklong States break hasn't prevented me from falling behind the state-a-day plan again. That's likely to be true for the next bit: I'm fairly deep underwater with everything else right now in my finite days (and find myself spending more and more time on each state, for good reasons), so for the next couple of weeks, while things are frantic, I'm going to be spacing out the posts a bit. But we have some excellent guests coming up, including today, so stay tuned.

Today we have Heidi Julavits, who in her short career has published almost as many novels (3) as her native state, Maine, has electoral votes (4): The Mineral Palace, The Effect of Living Backwards, and The Uses of Enchantment, none of which, however, are set in the Pine Tree State (again, a completely unknown and inadequate state nickname...). She's also one of the founders and editors of the lovely magazine, The Believer, which I still buy at the store rather than subscribe to because I don't want to lose the fun of buying it in person.

140007811301_mzzzzzzz_ Despite being born & bred in Maine, her State by State essay and her book list below are both full of the From Aways, the non-natives whose acceptance in their adopted state is apparently predicated on their capacity to amuse, and with whom she has come, despite her birth certificate, to identify. Here's a favorite section from her Maine piece:

I was born in Portland, Maine. I left the state when I was eighteen and returned at the age of thirty-three. My husband and I bought a house in a town three hours northeast of Portland. Thus I am a From Away in my home state.

The easy thing about being a From Away, however, is that your community has extremely low expectations for you. You're meant to screw up regularly at great cost to your homeowner's insurance, because such screwups are entertaining and an excellent way to warm the hearts of even the most indifferent natives. We proved highly entertaining. We showed up and promptly burst our pipes, ruining a room that had, based on the plaster and lathe we had to chunk into garbage bags, not been touched in nearly 200 years. In other words, we were the stupidest people in almost 200 hundred years to live in this house. We were welcomed throughout the land.

Here are her choices for the four books to represent Maine, along with a short introduction (I should mention that I was all set to put Stephen King on the Maine quarter until she went completely anticanonical and left him--along with Carolyn Chute, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Edna St. Vincent Millay--off the list. I'm more than happy to have a chance to engrave Robert McCloskey instead):

Few authors have succeeded in writing about Maine in a way that satisfies the native Mainer. I've been privy to many discussions where an out-of-Stater has attempted to capture the state on the page, and their efforts are mocked, derided, and ultimately dismissed by the natives. This is a harsh crowd. Immortalize them at your peril.

That said, Geoffrey Wolff wrote a fantastic nonfiction book about Maine called Edge of Maine; in it he cops to the folly of his undertaking (as a non-native who now lives full-time in Maine, he knows the dangerous territory upon which he treads), and does a pretty great job of claiming to know nothing while actually knowing quite a lot. It's some of the best writing about sailing on the coast I've encountered as well.

Another From Away who captured the loneliness, and the idiocy, of moving to Maine, is Elizabeth Etnier. Her book, On Gilbert Head, written in 1937 and sadly out of print, documents the travails she and her husband endure after moving to a remote point of land, and how they survive their first winter, and how their marriage starts to unravel. This is a genre unto itself--the out-of-print book written by the wife of the couple that's come to Maine to live a more pure existence, only to see their marriage go to hell.

The best books about Maine, however, tend to be children's books. Really there's no beating Robert McCloskey's One Morning In Maine. The rag-a-muffin children who are left to run along the grungy seashore unsupervised by their parents. The admonishment to swallow emotions. The irritating failure of outboard motors to catch. The prevailing bleak religion of Murphy's Law and the salvation found in ice cream and clam chowder. I used to identify with the kids and their desperation for food but now I identify with the parents--particularly the father when he has to row INTO the wind. Some day I hope to identify with the harbor seal.

Finally--Lost on a Mountain in Maine, as told to Joseph Egan by Donn Fendler, is a real-life adventure story (appropriate for ages 9-12, but adults like it too) about a boy who wanders away from his family and gets lost on Mount Katahdin for twelve days. He's bitten to hell by mosquitos and suffers terribly, but ultimately finds his way back to civilization by following telephone wires. For people who have vacationed in Maine during a bad weather spell, the book functions as a pretty cathartic metaphor for their own experience of miserable lostness.