Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

books of the year: non-fiction

John Clute - Canary Fever

Paul Cronin - Herzog on Herzog

Gary K Wolfe - Bearings

books of the year: poetry

Richard Wilbur - Anterooms

I'm cheating now: it's the only poetry book I've read this year but it's a great book.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Koko Be Good

Jen Wang
Koko Be Good

First Second Books, 2010

In the center of this graphic novel are the three heroes. Jon Wilgur graduated from university, learns Spanish and plans to leave to Peru to his much older girlfriend to help orphans there. Koko is a reckless girl, with a head full of confusion and vacillation. She lives here and there and could not find a place in her life. The third character, Faron, is a loser who works in the cafe. At a party Koko makes scandal, robs her rivals, and then runs away, taking Jon’s recorder: it has message his girlfriend dictated to him. Jon and Koko unexpectedly meet in a cafe and he asks to give him what belongs to him. They start friendship, and Koko decides to start a new life and be good.

The book is much more interesting in watching images rather than follow for the plot. All three characters are so doubtful people think that you may choose any of them, but you hardly succeed to empathize with him. Koko’s path from roguish and brutal girl to good girl, helping the needy, is too tortuous to believe that Koko really wants to be good. In general the whole story, with all three storylines, is rather undistinguished to make the paper in that condition.

What a truly «good» in this novel, is that's how Jen Wang draws. She knows how to perfectly play the scene, where to show the hero in close-up, and the pages where the characters do not say anything even seem to be fragments of almost perfect comic book. Selected by the author, brown and green colors are successfully combined with the general mood of the novel: the sadness and doubt.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Stars in the Bright Sky

Alan Warner
The Stars in the Bright Sky

Jonathan Cape, 2010

In the summer of 2001 six young women are going to travel. Five of them are from Scotland, and the daughter of wealthy parents Ava is English. Where do they fly, the girls do not yet know themselves: to save money, they want to book last-minute trip anywhere, just to relax. They stay overnight at the hotel at the airport, have plenty of drink and tell each other what has changed in their lives for a year, gossiping. Tickets are booked in the morning, but before the registration it becomes clear that most reckless of them, Manda, can not find her passport. The other girls at first don’t believe her, thinking that Manda just wants to be in the spotlight (and she always wants it), then decide to fly without her, or they would lose money, on which tickets had been bought, then suspect that one of them took Manda’s passport, while she slept – in one day she annoyed her friends so what they think vacation it will be unbearable with Manda - but in the end they all together refuse to flight, deciding to spend a couple of days in England, and when the passport is found, to buy tickets anywhere else.

Warner from the first page introduces the reader to confusion: he puts a reader that it will be a novel about how the six frivolous girls flew to distant lands, where they found adventure on their heads and other body parts, but no: the girls in the book fly nowhere, and all the action takes place exclusively at the airport, in hotels and in the park. The plot of the book plays a minor role (some reviewers were outraged that the action of the novel is almost absent, and the book is almost 400 pages): the main thing here is the dialogue. It's hard to believe, but the man managed to so significantly, so richly convey girlish talk that creeps into question: is the author a man for sure? Manda, stupid, ambitious, tough girl, has her mouth not shut throughout the novel (except for those moments when she is so drunk that she cuts down on the spot). She tells Ava, to which most of the girls from the company was not familiar with before (Ava and Finn, also a student, live together in one room), and along with everyone else, about her adventures, about which the whole town heard, about someone else's stupidity and her own resourcefulness.

«She says, It’s called Guinness. I go, Eh? She says that it’s called Guinness, and the street number is one thousand seven hundred and fifty nine. I says, Shelly McCrindle, you stupid fucking hoor. That’s just a sign outside the pub advertising that it sells Guinness, and one seven five nine is no the number of the street, it’s the year in all olden times and that, when Guinness was first ever invented or something like that, cos if you look over there on the beer pumps now, yous’ll see that number written. Anyone knows that. Seventeen fifty-nine. Dumb hoor.»

- this passage is a remarkable example of Manda’s speech. Dialogues are made so beautifully, so I think that I came into the room with these girls in. You do not notice book’s volume at all.

Dialogues are not the only hilarious component of the book, of course, and when Warner takes up the description, he writes caustic and amazingly accurate comparisons. «The Stars in the Bright Sky» is satire, but rather soft: on the modern manners of youth, the difference between the rich and the middle class, on the "world as an airport". Warner is not as simple as it may seem, he thumbs his nose behind back: the epigraph from Kafka, talks about philosophy, a quotation from Samuel Beckett as a tattoo on one of the girls.

In the words of Manda, this is brilliant book. It's gonna be a classic.

Long Time Dead

Tony Black
Long Time Dead

Preface Publishing, 2010

Alcoholic Gus Dury is back in business, though not in the best shape. At the beginning of the novel Dury is on a hospital bed: because of the endless consumption of alcohol his hands are trembling, and, worst of all, Dury begins hallucinating. The doctor strongly recommends the patient to refuse alcohol; otherwise a quick death waits Dury. Dury’s life is completely falling apart:, he finally broke up with his wife, he hasn’t any job, he really has nowhere to live, so if Durie will stop drink, it would be quite unbearable for him. His friend Hod is no better condition: his business has come to an end, and he still owes money to the local thug: the prospects of become dead are the same as that of Durie. Hod finds escape out of the situation: the movie star Gillian Laird’s son Ben found hanged, maybe it's not suicide, and Hod offers Gus take the case, ripped off the rich ladies hefty sum. Decently dressed, the two friends pay Laird a visit, and Dury’s ability to carry on a conversation in the most difficult circumstances brings them what they wanted: the actress hired them to investigate the death of her son. Ben Laird is far from an angel, how he is imagined by his mother: drug trafficking, the supply of interested students in prostitutes, excessive ambition. Dury has no time to even really take up the investigation, as he finds another hanged, Joe Calder, head of the form, where Ben Laird studied. And between these two deaths there is clearly a connection.

If the previous book Tony Black’s book about the Scottish detective-alcoholic Dury was quite unsuccessful, then this is the two heads above. Black removed from the «Long Time Black» everything that hindered the previous novel. Dury is the same sympathetic to the working class hater of the rich, with the same conservative lifestyle "before had been better," sharp-tongued (sentences in the book can be compared with sips of whiskey, as the same short and scorching) pushing forward, but with remnants of conscience. The most exact words about Dury says his mother, when comparing him with his father: «I know you have the same dark place inside of you, son ... but you have a better heart than him. Please, son ... try and listen to that heart of yours, and not the other place».

Dury in this novel is hardly a detective in the classic sense, he doesn’t solve the case, thinking only his head: how there is something would be solved if he is either drunk or with a hangover that could barely stand on his feet and spit blood.

Black in this book presented not only a detective intrigue, but, more importantly, the story of a man who is on the edge and have not given much thought, would he remain alive or not: all that he had he already lost.

This is a book that is worth a drink in one gulp.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stripburger 53

Stripburger 53

Sometimes there are cases that one or other graphics work is well watching if it’s divided into separate images, which individually would be of some interest. But in the aggregate, as a single story, often such work does not make absolutely no impression. Lack of plot has a bad effect on the general message of the graphic stories. This will not name comics and the picture, too.

In "Stripburger", comics magazine, published in Slovenia, part of the works described above suffers from the disease. Each piece of the story of Alexandar Zograf is a good picture in an interesting black and white technique, but as a comic it does not work. The same can be said about Paul Ashley Brown, Coco (he has two stories on the Harms), Domen Finzgar. Maya Veselinovic’s «The Bridge Has to be Beautiful» seems to be a good story, with interesting style, but it is too much sentiment, dissolving all impression of the comic strip on an emotional level. In this issue two graphic stories truly stand out and are remembered. Alessandro Tota’s is about two friends who go to the store for beer and cigarettes, but when they pass one of the houses, they have noticed in one window a rope tied to the ceiling: someone is going to hang himself. It’s touching, simple-painted story about lightness of being. If Tota is realist, Spanish cartoonist Alberto Vasquez is a fantasist. The protagonist here is a shadow demon with a beak-nose. He robs the poor, eats the chicks from the nest, and hangs on tree the mice babies. Fairness, of course, will prevail in this wonderful story with an optimistic ending.

And yes, this magazine has an incredibly funny cover.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Richard Yates

Tao Lin
Richard Yates

Melville House, 2010

Two talk on Gmail chat. Her name is Dakota Fanning, his - Haley Joel Osment. Almost the entire novel is just written of their instant messaging. It would be very boring (what’s interesting in reading the log of someone's chat?) if it were not so strange.
At first, you think only the author calls two characters Dakota and Haley, their names are only in his narrative they are named after the actress and actor. But after the middle of the book appear episodes when Haley speaks to Dakota, respectively, calling her Dakota, and she calls him by name, Haley. Such method for the author, to make heroes of the novel two young people, but to give them names of actual celebrities, is a way to simultaneously show the syndrome of social networking (people hiding behind masks, in result then become themselves these masks), and a way to reset the structure of the novel, the attempt to find a new approach to an already bored forms.

Tao Lin generally spins the structure of the novel to the ground, and then collects it with only the necessary details. If this is not a dialogue in a chat, the author in describing actions of protagonists keeps to the most realistic and minimalist style.

«They walked a few minutes holding hands without talking then stopped. Haley Joel Osment gave Dakota Fanning the things he drew on the train. “Thank you,” said Dakota Fanning and gave Haley Joel Osment a bookmark she made that had octopi and squid on it. They walked across the steel bridge. They stopped at an intersection. They stood apart looking at the ground. Haley Joel Osment kicked things on the ground. There were pebbles and pieces of concrete.
“Where should we go?” said Dakota Fanning.
Haley Joel Osment was quiet a few seconds.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I thought we were going to the ledge.”
“Mosquitoes will bite me,” said Dakota Fanning.
“Let’s go to the ledge. I’ll cover your arms and legs.»
“Mosquitoes will bite me,” said Dakota Fanning.
“Mosquitoes go where there’s light. It’s dark there.”

However, what is this all about? Dakota Fanning, 16, lives with her mother, goes to school, in the beginning of the novel works at McDonalds. Haley Joel Osment is a writer who lives in New York, sometimes goes to book readings. Together with Dakota they go to shops, steal stuff out there, go to each other homes, have sex, ask Dakota’s mother to allow them to date, because Dakota is only 16, record songs for each other, in general, do everything that would do any other boy and girl of their age. This novel could easily be written (or couldn’t) by Richard Yates, if he lived in the era of Web 2.0 it and was able to use the Internet.

This book is best read in one sitting (it has only about 200 pages), otherwise it is difficult to adjust to each time to a peculiar style of Tao Lin. «Richard Yates» essentially has no beginning and no end, this is a fragment of life, a fragment of instant messaging, fragment is unremarkable, but how many in our lives there is remarkable at all?

Tao Lin wrote a very touching and very strange novel. For all its simplicity, it is also the book pretty difficult to read and even more difficult to interpret. Lin definitely said a new word in the literature.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Little Prince (graphic novel)

Joann Sfar
The Little Prince
Adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010

Full disclosure: I have not read «The Little Prince» by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

By and large it makes little sense to retell the plot of this book: those who wanted have read the book by Saint-Exupery long ago, and perfectly familiar with the plot, those who have not read, apparently, has never been interested in this book, and no longer interested. In short, the beginning of the story is about that: a military pilot whose plane breaks down makes the landing in the desert. The pilot smokes a cigarette, talking with the smoke from it in the form of a serpent, draws a hat, but insists that this is a snake swallowed an elephant. Then he repairs the plane, escapes from the sun in the shadow of an airplane wing, and at night sleeps there. In the middle of the night a boy with golden hair, huge blue eyes and long green scarf wakes up the pilot and asks the pilot who understands nothing to draw him a sheep.

Sfar in his adaptation uses the banned method: he often shows the little prince in close-up, so that in the page you see only huge blue eyes of the prince and stop paying attention to everything else. In them there are already gone childhood and childhood, which is always with you; thirst to know everything; understanding that there will be no better, but not worse, too; reflections of the non-existent worlds.
The Little Prince almost always looks at the sky, even if he looks at a drawing. When they with the pilot examine star map, the prince could not tell whence he came, he knows only that his planet is so small that it can not allow baobabs grow on it.
In space, there are flying ducks here, on planets there is enough space for only one person (of all episodic characters in this graphic novel the most memorable is the king with a long and strange-snag nose, he is very funny), the fox offers to be friends.

But we need to repair the plane and fly back to where there is not little prince, only soldiers, airplanes, adult life, but if today you are alone, it does not mean that tomorrow you will not meet the boy with the golden hair, who laughs and does not answer to questions. He just has not reached the Earth.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Richard Wilbur
Anterooms: New Poems and Translations

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010

To write poetry in rhymes in English, when it seems all possible prosody have been experienced in a few centuries, one must possess great courage: to save it only can a special feeling of words, even breathing, and your own voice. In his new book, Richard Wilbur, who will soon turn 90, has proved that he didn’t lose his flair for writing good poetry, because he has not lost his own voice in so many decades.

Despite his age, in Wilbur’s poems there hardly the theme of death sounds, only theme of the fragility of life. The poet, who had been at war, whose life had been filled with a lot of big events, is now turning his attention to small things, but not insignificant for him: a worm crawling on the window, the tops of trees, orchard. Small things and small distances which Wilbur measures the long life.

Whatever my kind may be,
It is not absurd
To confuse myself with a bird
For the space of a reverie:

My species never flew,
But I somehow know
It is something that long ago
I almost adapted to.

Wilbur has shortness of breath; all his poems are often stretched for more than one page. Lines end at expiration, so that each poem ends with a whisper. In «Psalm» and «Trismegistus» the poet turns to God, trying to understand what his life was.

Shingles rhyme prevails in Wilbur’s verses, like a way to show: there is a beginning, birth, and the end, death, and life, then, indeed, is in the middle.
Among the translations «Thirty-seven Riddles from Symphosius» stands out, sly look at ordinary things.

Do not stop in the anteroom, come further.

n+1 magazine (number nine)

n+1 #9 Spring 2010

n+1 is an intellectual magazine of more than 200 pages, published twice a year. Much of it has given over to non-fiction, but fiction can outdo all the non-fiction at once: this is a snippet of the novel «The Ask» by Sam Lipsyte. It is a pity that this is only a fragment, not a separate story, but it is still phenomenally funny: makes sense that Lipsyte is one of the best living writers.

Coverage of topics in non-fiction section ranges from the zombie renaissance to the avant-garde food. What impresses in all articles, is the fact that, whatever painful topic for the society (not just the U.S.) are not covered, the authors dispense with the tantrums, blaming everyone and everything, but approach to writing, on the contrary, with irony.

We will know what webism is and how it became a social movement. Will know is whether in fact full employment in terms of practice and theory. From the report «Miami Party Boom» by Emily Witt we soon learn about Witt, than about the boom of partying. This, however, does not hurt the report. Terrible things are described in the section «Magazines of the Americas». Those who live in Russia, already accustomed to incessant terror in parts of the country. In Mexico, such terror covers the whole country completely. Two articles in this section are more calls for help than the weighted notes, but it's worth reading: terrible things happen in Mexico. The article by Mark Greif «Octomom, One Year Later» is a detailed account of how contemporary American society reacted to Nadya Suleman, who in January of 2009, gave birth to eight babies, and what Nadya experienced within the year since the birth of children. The reviews section has not only books reviews (explanatory analysis of recent books about zombies and attempt to comprehend their success with the readers from Mark McGurl), but also food review. Molly Young tried three so-called "miracle fruit". The highlight of this issue in my opinion is the second part (easy to read in isolation from the first) of travel writing by Elif Batuman «Summer in Samarkand» about author’s travel to Uzbekistan. It seems so easy to write a funny piece about how people of a civilized nation has visited Uzbekistan, but Batuman easily coped with this problem, incidentally also raised a number of important themes: the differences and similarities of people, understanding, how selective our memories are.

In general, as they say on the internet, plus one to this journal. Great read.


Tony Black

Arrow Books, 2010

Given up on the liquor and only adjusted to life with his ex-wife ex-newspaper reporter Gus Dury in middle of the night has been waked up by the phone call: his brother Michael has been shot. Police assume that this is simply mugging gone wrong, but Dury does not believe that. In the house of his brother unexpectedly a lodger shows up who behaves in a businesslike way, Michael's partner in the factory business Prentiss is hiding something, though, and said that he would never have caused harm to Michael, and a few days after the murder Gus with his friend Mac finds a mutilated body of a former factory worker. All this suggests Dury to the idea that the murder of his brother has something to do with his business.

Tony Black perfectly captures and passes on to the paper Scottish city life, the life in it really boils. Protagonist emotionally describes traffic jams, street vendors, drinkers at the bar, snow and cold weather. In the mouth of the narrator's are put thoughts of the author on more social issues: refugees from Eastern Europe, surging into the country, unemployment, the collapse of banks, fake goods. The intrigue here is worse: an investigation now and then interrupted by reflections of the narrator on his brother, then on their worthless lives, then by visits to a psychologist that very much a nod in the direction of pop literature. These reflections and insertions have no organicity with whole text of the novel. Dury in the book is not a man who thinks his head and solves puzzles, and not even the one who asks questions to the right people. He is rather the one who knocks his fist in the answers from people who somehow are correct. (This is not Chandler rather Welsh plus Spillane.)

To not fall asleep in the middle and read up a predictable but catchy finale makes author’s style, rock, like a hammer, flavored with a solid layer of slang and Scottish words.

You can read this book, or you can’t. There won’t be any loss.