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September 2010

Human or Angel? Boyfriend Advice from Fallen's Lauren Kate

Are angels the new vampires? One reason readers (and publishers!) have been asking that question is the success of Lauren Kate's Fallen series, beginning last fall with the opening volume--called, yes, Fallen--and followed this week by Torment, the next tale in the story of Luce and her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel. We asked Kate a few questions about her series (concocted by one of our in-house Fallen fans), which we have posted on our page for Torment, but we saved one more for Omni, perhaps the most crucial question of all. Here's her answer (and you can find the rest of her replies after the jump):

Amazon: What's better, a human boyfriend or an angel boyfriend?

Lauren Kate: When I was teenager, my mom wanted me to grow up to be a therapist. She thought I was a good listener, that I had a gift for giving advice, that I could get anyone to spill all their secrets. I realize now she was probably just eavesdropping on the looong conversations I had every night with my friends about this boy or that break up—and that she probably wanted to find a way to legitimize the insanely high phone bills I would run up.

By then, I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but what I didn’t know was that being a writer—especially a writer of romances geared toward teens—has more to do with therapy than I could have guessed.

The day Fallen was published last December, I did my first reading at a bookstore. Afterwards, a girl came up to me and asked one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. First, I should preface this story by saying that the passage I read that night at the bookstore featured a heated argument between Luce and Daniel, in which Daniel comes off like a bit of a jerk and Luce comes of as somewhat unhinged. (There are many of these moments, I know). But I was surprised when this girl came up to me afterwards and asked—very earnestly—whether I believed in a love as wonderful and true as the love Daniel and Luce shared. I told her, of course, that I did. I pointed to my husband who was standing across the store and I waxed on about how we first met. I asked her whether she was thinking of someone in particular when she asked the question. She was about thirteen and she shook her head very briskly, but said that she wanted to believe in this kind of love for the future. I was amazed and impressed and humbled that what this girl took away from the tumultuous scene I’d read was that these two characters were very deeply in love.

Kate_Lauren Since then, I’ve gotten lots of questions from readers like: What’s the deal with love at first sight? Aren’t people supposed to be friends first? How am I supposed to know it when I’ve met my soul mate? What do you do if you’re stuck in a love triangle and you don’t like either of the boys? Are bad boys ever a good idea? And now this one:

What’s better, a human boyfriend or an angel boyfriend?

(If any of you are actually struggling with this last question, please let me know. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you back…)

I like to think that one of the reasons readers come to me with these kind of questions (as opposed to the what’s-your-favorite-book questions, which I also love to answer) is because it comes through in my writing that I really do believe in crazy, complicated, passionate, seemingly impossible love. I had just fallen (pun intended) in that kind of love when I started writing Fallen, and this week I celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary. While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m definitely committed to the cause of true love.

So what can I tell you about dating an angel? Obvious pros: They can fly. Which means you can fly. (It’s kinda like dating a boy with a car when you have no chance at your own wheels.) Also, the wings. Daniel’s wings exceed anything a costume store or a CGI engineer can come up with. For most of us, they exist only in our wildest imaginations. And maybe that’s a good thing because most of us would burst into flames if we were to glimpse an angel, wings exposed, in all his—or her—glory. That’s just the way it is. Maybe we should mark that part in the ‘cons’ category of dating the celestial?

Aside from possible death-by-glory, the biggest con that I can think of when it comes to relationships with angels (using Luce and Daniel as an example) is that there are secrets that an angel needs to keep. Granted they are temporary secrets. As we’ll see in Passion, everything will be illuminated to Luce at some point. But still, keeping secrets from the person you love most doesn’t sound very ideal, does it?

Which brings me to love and romance with mere mortals. No, they can’t fly (unless they’re a pilot—hot). And no they don’t have wings. (Unless it’s Halloween. Or Comic Con.) But two people who are in love can and should always strive to be honest with each other. That might be where mortal boyfriends trump the angel ones. It may not sound as glamorous, but to me, honesty is the biggest gift you can give to someone you love.

Temporary secrets—like what you’re getting him for his birthday—are okay. But honesty about bigger things—like what you want from your boyfriend, what he means to you, and how it makes you feel when he (or she) does x or y or z—are the building blocks of any true love. My husband is the greatest possessor of honesty and openness I’ve ever met. He inspires me, and my characters, every day. Yes, even Daniel, who will someday tell all. Just like my mom predicted all those years ago, I can get even him to spill his secrets.

[See the rest of our Q&A below]

Continue reading "Human or Angel? Boyfriend Advice from Fallen's Lauren Kate" »

Traveling "The Jedi Path" with Author Daniel Wallace

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.”

In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi fed an eager Luke Skywalker just enough cryptic details of the Jedi to pique the young moisture farmer's interest, and the fans followed suit. Who were these hooded beings who stood for peace yet were trained in advanced combat and wielded lightsabers? Questions like this, along with state-of-art special effects, memorable heroes and villains, and all of the spaceships a seven-year-old could want have kept the Star Wars films alive and sporadically in theaters for decades. (Rumor has it that George Lucas is prepping them all for a 3D release in 2012.) But now the time has come to shed light on the enigmatic Jedi in The Jedi Path.

In ancient times…students of the Force possessed a most valuable book, passed from Master to Padawan. After the destruction of the Jedi temple, only one copy survived. It is now passed on to you.

With the push of a button, the Jedi vault literally opens for fans, and within these pages lie plenty of answers and in-continuity details. For this week’s release of The Jedi Path, author Daniel Wallace offered fans insight into the making of the book with these exclusive behind-the-scenes details.


p. 52: Padawan braids are an iconic part of Jedi lore, and there's even one in this book as a removable souvenir (it's Qui-Gon's). But what if you're a member of a species that doesn't grow hair? Several alternatives are laid out here including the silka beads worn by Togrutas such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Ahsoka Tano. Other examples? Metal circlets placed on the horns of Iktotchi, facial tattoos borne by Sluissi, and medallions implanted into the flesh of Swokes Swokes (which ties into the background I created for the Swokes Swokes species in the book Star Wars: Geonosis and the Outer Rim Worlds).

Training to be a Jedi is a strict practice, and not all who study can pass the test--sometimes to disastrous results:

p. 50: This is the "Working With Your Master" section, and if it can be boiled down to one word, it's this: obey. In my view the Jedi operate under the principle of listening to one's elders. This makes sense from the point of view of a military/religious hierarchy. But Anakin doesn't think it makes sense, and bad things happened when Anakin's rebelliousness met the Jedi Order's inflexibility.

But it’s not all about academics and servitude. Fan-favorite Jedi Masters are given room for personal (and quirky) details:

p. 137: Yoda's comment about mounted combat reveals that he's on his thirty-third kybuck -- the goatlike creature he rides in the Clone Wars animated shorts. Yoda is centuries old, and perhaps kybucks don't live that long, but 33 seems like a lot! I was thinking that perhaps Yoda could be like that family everybody seems to know, the one that buys a new Irish Setter every ten years.

You want lightsabers? The Jedi Path has lightsabers!

Continue reading "Traveling "The Jedi Path" with Author Daniel Wallace" »

Omni Daily News

This year's genii: It's book award season, but the biggest prize for authors might be a Macarthur Fellowship, the fabled "genius grant," which carries with it a five-year stipend totalling $500,000. The most obviously literary fellows on this year's list are Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the groundbreaking and award-sweeping history, The Hemingses of Monticello; Yiyun Li, whose debut novel, The Vagrants, was a Best of the Month pick for us last February and whose second story collection, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, just came out; and David Simon, creator of course of The Wire and Treme but also author of Homicide and The Corner (and husband of Ms. Lippman). But you can find the work of some of this year's other recipients in books as well, like type designer Matthew Carter (Typographically Speaking: The Art of Matthew Carter), anthropologist Shannon Lee Dawdy (her book on French colonial New Orleans, Building the Devil's Empire), sign language linguist Carol Padden (her coauthored Inside Deaf Culture), artist Jorge Pardo (Jorge Pardo), and even entomologist Marla Spivak (though her beekeeper's guide (at least that's what I think it's about), Successful Queen Rearing, is out of print).

Where's Shirley Hazzard?: The oddsmakers are starting to weigh in on that even bigger prize, the Nobel for Literature, which, in the usually murky way, will be awarded either October 7 or a week later. Ladbrokes tips Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer as the favorite at 5-1, and three more poets just behind him, Poland's Adam Zagajewski, South Korea's Ko Un, and Syria's Adonis, all longtime contenders. You can find Transtromer's poems collected in English in The Great Enigma, The Half-Finished Heaven, and Tomas Transtromer. I'll keep last year's mythical bets down on the table, on Ko Un at 8-1 and Alice Munro at 18-1, and take a flyer on Javier Marias at 40-1.

Thong!: Peanuts turns 60 this week, and among the media coverage you can watch Charles Schulz's widow Jean with Al Roker on Today this morning. Or you can enjoy this strip, from the excellent Molly Volley sequence, that my son read to me the other day, from the recent Complete Peanuts: 1977-1978 collection:


Moving and shaking: Jenny McCarthy visits Oprah (just two days before the big J.K. Rowling event!) and her new book, Love, Lust, and Faking It, zooms into our top 100 and onto today's Movers & Shakers list.


"'The Chosen One' hahaha": Hogwarts Gets the Internet

First there was Austenbook, then Hamlet joined Facebook, we took a stab at Meyerbook, and now (long overdue), the Hogwarts crew has joined the world of social media thanks to New York Magazine's Daily Vulture imagining how Harry, Draco, and the Weasleys would act on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It's pretty spot on, too--Dobby the house elf stalks Harry's wall, Bellatrix Lestrange has an Etsy account (selling "Original Apparel-Jewelry-Collectibles-Muggle Ears"), and (who would've thought?) Cho Chang tweets "TEAM EDWARD FOREVER <3 <3 <3 <3."


Omni Daily News

Traveling with Charley: 50 years ago John Steinbeck set off from the Sag Harbor summer home he called "my little fishing place" on a journey that became Travels with Charley.  Dont miss the rare opportunity to take a peek inside, as the home--currently the subject of a battle between Steinbeck heirs--is opened up for a tour in honor of the centennial.

Anthony Bourdain gets graphic: Bestselling author, celebrated chef, and overall bad boy of the kitchen, Anthony Bourdain, is entering the world of graphic novels.  Bourdain has signed with DC Comics for a new graphic novel titled "Get Gyro" that he promises will be "a cross between Eat Drink Man Woman and A Fistful of Dollars".

Mothers who work--and write:  Working mothers who aspire to write have a friend in Los Angeles Times television critic, Mary McNamara.  McNamara, a published author and working mother of three children, offers her Top Ten list of what you'll need, along with some sage advice.  As McNamara notes:

It's very difficult. But so is losing 30 pounds or learning French or growing your own vegetables or training for a marathon or any of the many other things working parents often manage to pull off.

Moving and Shaking:  Author Gary Noesner spoke with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday, sending his book Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator up the Movers & Shakers list this morning.


Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times

  • Colm Toibin on To the End of the Land by David Grossman: "He weaves the essences of private life into the tapestry of history with deliberate and delicate skill; he has created a panorama of breathtaking emotional force, a masterpiece of pacing, of dedicated storytelling, with characters whose lives are etched with extraordinary, vivid detail. While his novel has the vast sweep of pure tragedy, it is also at times playful, and utterly engrossing; it is filled with original and unexpected detail about domestic life, about the shapes and shadows that surround love and memory, and about the sharp and desperate edges of loss and fear.... This is one of those few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world."
  • Maslin on Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow: "At 900-odd densely packed pages, 'Washington' can be arid at times. But it’s also deeply rewarding as a whole, and it does genuinely amplify and recast our perceptions of Washington’s importance.... This new portrait offers a fresh sense of what a groundbreaking role Washington played, not only in physically embodying his new nation’s leadership but also in interpreting how its newly articulated constitutional principles would be applied. A more ostentatiously regal leader could never have accomplished as much as this seemingly reluctant hero achieved."
  • Steven R. Weisman on White House Diary by Jimmy Carter: "Patient readers will find 'White House Diary' fascinating on two levels: the pace gives a sense of what it is like to be president, and the entries contain blunt appraisals of the people with whom he dealt.... 'White House Diary" would have benefited from even more candor. But the writings here reflect the Mr. Carter we know: boastful and painfully confessional, sanctimonious and callous, insightful and un-self-aware. These are the thoughts of a secular preacher and calculating politician, surrounded by friends and yet often alone."
  • Maslin (who may have set a record by reviewing two 900-page books in the space of five days) on Fall of Giants by Ken Follett: "Mr. Follett, who was once a Welsh boy himself but grew up to become his generation’s most vaunted writer of colorless historical epics, kicks off a whopping new trilogy. His apparent ambition: to span the whole 20th century in blandly adequate novels so fat that they’re hard to hoist.... However two-dimensional these characters first seem, and however much they spout talking points rather than human conversation, they have begun to develop interesting baggage after 1,000 pages roll by. If only they had gotten off to a less plodding start."
  • Garner on My Nuclear Family by Christopher Brownfield: "Christopher Brownfield’s memoir, 'My Nuclear Family,' is not the best book written by an insider about America’s post-9/11 military, but it’s certainly the most entertaining. It’s got a cocky, star-spangled, wide-angle feel, as if a subversive young novelist had decided to rewrite a Tom Clancy thriller after first piloting some nuclear submarines as a gonzo practice drill."

Washington Post:

Los Angeles Times:

  • Jonathan Shapiro on The Reversal by Michael Connelly: "Thank God for Michael Connelly. Without him, Los Angeles would just be Houston without humidity, Phoenix with the sea. 'The Reversal,' Connelly's new novel, might be his best: a crackling-good read, smart and emotionally satisfying. It manages to condense decades of time and reams of information into a compelling narrative that adeptly explores various elements of L.A.'s own version of what passes as a criminal justice system."
  • Charles Solomon on the Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: "Pundits have long predicted the imminent death of the comic strip, even before the Internet threatened to put the daily newspaper on the endangered species list. But Richard Thompson's delightfully quirky 'Cul de Sac' proves the comic strip remains a viable art form while bucking current trends. It's not an exercise in merchandising, niche marketing or political ax-grinding. It features no boob fathers or saccharine life lessons. In an era of threadbare strips cranked out by second- and third-generation artists, its characters are as original as its artwork."
  • Zachary Karabell on A World Without Islam by Graham Fuller: "Just after the attacks of 9/11, Americans passionately sought answers about what had generated such anger and hatred. In the years since, that questioning has given way to hardened lines and ideology that focuses on conflict and apportions blame. Fuller's book is unlikely to alter that dynamic. But it is a needed corrective, a sober call not to settle for historical pabulum and instead recall a past and recognize a present that is far more complicated and layered than any polemic would have us believe."

Wall Street Journal (can't really tell online what's part of the new weekend Books section, but we welcome it anyway):

  • John J. Miller on Bloody Crimes by James Swanson: "If this semi-sequel isn't quite as gripping as its predecessor—'Manhunt' is one of the most riveting Civil War books of our time—the fault doesn't lie entirely with Mr. Swanson. The Davis manhunt simply isn't as compelling as the stuff of chasing a presidential killer. Yet 'Bloody Crimes' enriches our understanding of Lincoln's assassination and its aftermath."
  • James Grant on The Affluent Society and Other Writings by John Kenneth Galbraith: "Re-reading Galbraith is like watching black-and-white footage of the 1955 World Series. The Brooklyn Dodgers are gone—and so is much of the economy over which Galbraith lavished so much of his eviscerating wit.... Now comes the test of whether his popular writings will endure longer than the memory of his celebrity and the pleasure of his prose. 'The Great Crash' has a fighting chance, because of its very lack of analytical pretense. 'History that reads like a poem,' raved Mark Van Doren in his review of the 1929 book. Or, he might have judged, that eats like whipped cream."

Globe and Mail:

  • Steve Hayward on The Matter with Morris by David Bergen: "The death of his son sends Morris into a tailspin; this, along with the question of whether he can pull out of it – indeed, whether the concept of recovery has any meaning at all when one is faced with such a devastating loss – is the subject of this immaculately written, trenchantly honest, hugely compelling novel.... For all its darkness, this novel about mourning and melancholy remains an optimistic book; in it, we are presented with some of the irresolvable ambiguities of human existence by a character who is twisted up inside, who at the same time successfully asks to be recognized as sombre and tender and wise."
  • Mark Kingwell on Arrival City by Doug Saunders: "Most humans on the planet now live in cities, and over the next few decades another quarter to a third of the world will join them. Saunders calls this shift the most decisive social and cultural change since the Enlightenment and its legacies, including the French and Industrial revolutions, and it is difficult to deny it. Urban migration has not just been massive; it is proving to be one-way, fast and final."

The Guardian:

  • Jeremy Dyson on The Small Hand by Susan Hill: "Ultimately, this is a wonderful piece of storytelling that does what a good story ought to do: it keeps you guessing, pulls you in. And when the climax comes, the explanation and the source of the haunting are not what you think at all. You really don't see it coming.... The ghost story is an intensely moral form, and one of its most interesting aspects is the alchemy it allows, enabling a writer to render the horrors of life with a strange, icy beauty. Such horrors are easier looked at askance, particularly when, as Susan Hill rightly reminds us, the monstrous is closer to home than we dare admit."
  • Misha Glenny on The New Nobility by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: "'I know the shortcomings of our system better, perhaps, than anyone,' Medvedev told an international forum.... 'But I categorically disagree with those who say that there is no democracy in Russia; that authoritarian traditions still rule.' Stirring stuff, but before the president throws his cap in the air and an emptied vodka glass into the fireplace, he may like to flick through the pages of The New Nobility, which charts the brief decline followed by the resolute resurrection of the KGB as a primary political force in the country. Or rather, he may not like it. Because every page in this book gainsays his claim in the most forceful fashion imaginable that democracy is now decisive in defining Russia's political direction."

There's no long review in the NYer this week, so let's go instead to the Atlantic:

  • Benjamin Schwarz on True Prep by Lisa Birnbach: "Three decades later, the sequel, True Prep, by Birnbach and Chip Kidd, lacks the observational precision of the original. Whereas OPH was crammed with fine-grained analysis— defining, say, the subtle distinctions between Brooks Brothers (mainstream), J. Press (old guard), and Paul Stuart (urbane)—True Prep’s analysis seems vague and flabby. Whereas OPH’s preppies belonged to a distinct and inward-looking subculture, the preppies of True Prep, defined largely by what they buy and wear, are in many ways indistinguishable from fancily educated professionals.... Rather than demonstrating a failure of the authors’ powers, True Prep’s imprecision actually reflects the erosion of the distinctiveness of the subculture it attempts to reveal."
  • And the reliably resistant B.R. Myers on Franzen's Freedom: "The apparent logic is that the novel can lure Americans away from their media and entertainment buffet only by becoming more 'social,' broader in scope, more up-to-date in focus. This may be the reason we get such boring characters. Instead of portraying an interesting individual or two, and trusting in realism to embed their story naturally in contemporary life, the Social Writer thinks of all the relevant issues he has to stuff in, then conceives a family 'typical' enough to hold everything together. The more aspects of our society he can fit between the book’s covers, the more ambitious he is considered to be."


Going on Tour with the Sketchbook Project 2011

I haven't done what I would call a "drawing" in years (not counting a giant iris I labored over for about 8 hours in a watercolor class last year, then hid in a closet). So it might have been, yes, a little crazy for me to sign up for the Sketchbook Project: 2011, the self-described "concert tour but with sketchbooks."

Or was it? Sketchbooks are the perfect places to develop dormant or unrealized skill. And when I realized that I could sign up to create one of eighteen thousand sketchbooks that will be exhibited at galleries and museums across the country, and be entered "into the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Art Library… barcoded and available for the public to view"--that, in fact "anyone, from anywhere in the world, can be a part of the project," that all I had to do to get them to send me a sketchbook and sign me up was to choose one of their wonderfully strange themes ("Adhere to me"? "Dirigibles and submersibles?" No--"... you'd be home by now") and pay a very reasonable fee--how can I explain the thrill that came over me?

I can only say that I lost all fear that my drawings would be too amateurish, that I might wait until the last weekend to fill half its pages and get too jacked on caffeine to draw a straight line, that I might be tempted to hide it in a closet. No, the audacity of the project made me brave. So I'm in, and I will try to be worthy of it.

It's frankly amazing that we live in an era when a unique, hand-drawn book can be digitized and viewed by anyone, anywhere, grouped into themes with other unique, hand-drawn books--the ultimate in self-publishing (aided by the Art House Co-op). So those of you who used to love drawing or making your own weird little books, I think you should really consider joining up. If you get your book digitized, send me a link. I'll feature my favorites on Omnivoracious.

And if you need a spark, I recommend:

Viva la sketch! --Mari

End-o'-the-Week Kid-Lit Roundup

Quick links from around the kid-lit blogosphere:

The "BATSmobile"! Bats at the Library was a big hit at our house, so we were excited to see the new follow-up, Bats at the Ballgame. Author and illustrator Brian Lies has been touring around and promoting the book in this brand-new "BATSmobile":

Dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls "Brown Bear and Polar Bear Go Back to Basics." School Library Journal has the lowdown on taking a couple of legendary picture books--Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?--and rereleasing them as beginning readers. SLJ interviewed Laura Godwin, the publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, on the history behind these classics: "Brown Bear quickly become a word-of-mouth success with educators, who began requesting that the title be made more widely available. Godwin states that in the resulting picture book edition, the placement of the text was changed 'to make it more of a lap book "guessing game." The assumption was that in this new format, the story would be read to a child by an adult rather than read independently by the child himself.' ... According to Godwin, the 'My First Reader' versions reflect a decision to re-create the titles in their original form and for their original purpose: to encourage reading success."

6a00d83451af1569e201348786d054970c-120wi The Kneebone Boy review. Jen Robinson is liking The Kneebone Boy, "a darkly humorous middle grade mystery/adventure sure to appeal to fans of the Lemony Snicket books and Lois Lowry's The Willoughbys." ("I think that The Kneebone Boy will keep kids guessing until the last page--and that's a very good thing. I enjoyed The Kneebone Boy, and I recommend it for middle grade readers and up, boys and girls.")

"Speak Under Attack, Again." It's a perfect story just in time for Banned Books Week: Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak was recently attacked by a Missouri State University professor as "immoral, filthy, and soft pornography." School Library Journal has an interview with Anderson, in which she talks about the response to her subsequent op-ed in Missouri's News-Leader.

"Goosebumps" gets a screenwriter. According to Risky Business, the screenwriter behind Red Dawn and Disturbia is "carving a niche for himself writing movies about kids in jeopardy": Carl Ellsworth is going to write the upcoming movie based on R.L. Stine's hugely popular "Goosebumps" series.

Dt-1.common.streams.StreamServer.cls "What Are They Reading for Fun?" Speaking of SLJ: It's time for another installment of their great boots-on-the-ground reports from librarians in the reading trenches. Some of the current "reading for fun" choices aren't too surprising--like Mockingjay, the final installment in the "Hunger Games" series--but these librarians also spotted Louise Rennison's Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?, Kenneth Oppel's Airborn (including on audio), and Lindsey Sanna's nonfiction The Game (Hip-Hop).

Green Eggs and Ham video contest. Want to win a year's supply of ham? Or how about just $2,000? Check out the Green Eggs and Ham 50th Anniversary Video Contest, which has begun with this cute entry:


Omni Daily News

Against the tide: After watching dedicated book review sections (Washington Post, LA Times, Globe & Mail) disappear from newspapers during the years I've been helming our Old Media Mondays, it's great to hear that the Wall Street Journal is introducing a new standalone Books section in their revamped WSJ Weekend edition tomorrow, which will certainly be enough to bring the WSJ back into my regular reviewing rounds (which I had been thinking of doing anyway, since it has seemed like they were already putting more reviews online). Section editor Robert Messenger tells PW to expect an emphasis on nonfiction (but some fiction), and a wider variety of review lengths than the NYT Book Review.

The pause that refreshes: In celebration of National Punctuation Day, allow me to point you to the Oatmeal's entertaining guide to the proper use of my favorite punctuation mark, the much-abused and -misused semicolon.

Breaking Obama's Wars: After the NYT, as usual, gave the first glimpse (and a second one) into Bob Woodward's upcoming book, Obama's Wars, Woodward's own Washington Post followed soon after. Bryan Curtis's "juicy bits" summary in the Daily Beast adds another sharp early read, but you may prefer to watch Letterman's top 10 list from last night instead: "Top Ten Secrets Revealed In The New Bob Woodward Book":

Moving & shaking: Jerry Seinfeld's revelation on the Today show this morning that he is not "Ted L. Nancy," the pseudonymous author of the Letters from a Nut books--it's really his friend Barry Marder--has pushed Letters from a Nut, More Letters from a Nut, and the new All New Letters from a Nut all into today's Movers & Shakers list.

Graphic Novel Friday: Charles Burns Returns with "X'ed Out"

Before approaching Charles Burns’ latest book, X’ed Out, be prepared for an entirely different comics experience than his celebrated Black Hole, which won the Harvey, Eisner, and Ignatz awards in 2005. The creepy teens are still there, exploring bondage and pig fetuses in photography projects this time, but Burns has returned to the uncompromisingly hallucinogenic storytelling of earlier works like Big Baby, El Borbah, and Skin Deep. Yet if it were possible for Charles Burns to up the paranoid ante from his award-winning work, then he has achieved it with X’ed Out, which is due in October from Pantheon.

Main character Doug (never “Dougy”) seems to be embroiled in a particularly bad bit of luck. The right side of his head is shaved to make room for a bandage over an as-yet-unrevealed wound; he has an addiction to medication prescribed for said injury and lives a stoned existence in his mother’s basement; his William Burroughs-inspired poetry is mocked by his peers; and then there are his dreams. Doug has unbelievably vivid dreams rendered in the style of Tintin creator Hergé--by way of Charles Burns, of course--but there isn’t much whimsy or pleasant adventure when Doug drifts off to sleep.

Instead, Doug is transported to a wasteland of walking, cursing lizards, one-eyed side-order cooks who serve up the most unappealing plate of eggs I have seen (probably something to do with embryonic reptiles nestled within the spongy mess), and teary-eyed larvae that silently shriek as they are plucked from the hive and chewed as a street food delicacy. His only guide on this journey is a squinting, bare-chested creature with an appetite for cigarettes and, again, eggs.

The first of several proposed installments (with no mention of when the next will arrive), X’ed Out is a haunting book from Burns. Disturbing images abound: at a party in the supposedly real-world portion of the story, characters simultaneously laugh while grimacing, experiencing joy with revulsion; as Doug’s love interest puts a razor to her forearm, she flatly utters, “It’s okay…go ahead and take the picture” as the blood streams and the panels zoom into her exposed vein. Burns also makes unsettling use of repetition over the course of the 56 pages: characters seem all too happy to serve eggs to Doug, both in the real and dream worlds, and the dream world is filled with giant, shelled eggs with no mention of who or what could be laying them until the very end. Then there’s the ubiquitous Tintin haircut that is atop Doug’s “Nitnit” mask and on his t-shirt, which is also the dream-world hairstyle of choice for Doug and the cyclopean cooks. Doug bursts into tears at the buzzing of an intercom, while later panels fixate on images of intercoms until one morphs into, yes, a black hole in the earth, a suggestion of terror at the communicative wires unraveling between dreams and reality for Burns’ troubled protagonist.

The ending of this episode arrives quickly and without answers (although there is a heck of a cliffhanger). Instead, it’s a book filled with suspicion, giving the reader cause to consider panels, panel placements, dialogue, imagery, and periphery with a wary eye. The questions do not linger so much as flicker and contort once the book is closed.