Thursday, December 30, 2010

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (2009)

I've loved all the graphic novels that my friend St. Murse has lent me, but Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (2009) may be my favorite of them all.

This book starts with a lightning bolt -- Asterios Polyp is in a sad state in his apartment in New York City when it is struck by lightning and burns to the ground. He grabs a few objects and his wallet, and buys a ticket on a bus as far away as his money will take him which happens to be the aptly named Apogee, NY. Asterios wasn't always so sad and random. In fact, he used to have a successful career teaching architecture and he used to share his life with his wife, Hana, an artist. The story of how everything went wrong and how everything got to be sort of right again is told through flashes back and forward through the journey of Asterios Polyp.

That isn't even the start of it, though: Mazzucchelli's drawings are both straight-forward and complex, his use of color and the way his drawings reflect the philosophies of the book are genius, and the structure of the story is just perfect. This is a hefty and satisfying book to hold, and one that you will read way faster than you intend, so just plan on reading it twice. At least.

[p.s. Holiday travels and a long-reading book have disrupted my posting for the past few weeks, but I should be back to normal pretty soon.]

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson (2004)

The always awesome St. Murse has been my go-to graphic novel guy lately, and he didn't disappoint when he loaned me Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage (2004).

Thompson, as you may remember, was the author of Blankets and Good-bye, Chunky Rice, both of which are awesome. Carnet de Voyage (which means travel journal in French) is Thompson's artistic diary documenting his 2004 European book tour and a personal side-trip to Morocco. It gives us a look at life on a book tour; a window onto Thompson's personal feelings, doubts and insecurities; and some gorgeous drawings of France, the Alps, Morocco, and Barcelona.

Since Thompson opened his life to his readers in Blankets, this loosely chronological collection of drawings and writings almost feels like a sequel (what is "Craig" up to now?!). His drawings of street scenes, old friends, and friendly strangers are more real than any photograph, and his documentation of his insecurities, disappointments, and triumphs make me interested to read whatever he wants to put out -- tightly structured graphic novel, loose and quick travel journal, or anything in between.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (2010)

My latest book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program is The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (2010). This is Indian author Shanghvi's second book, and it has received some positive reviews, but for the most part, I just couldn't get that into it.

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is the story of Karan Seth, a young photographer who comes to Bombay as a schoolteacher, falls in love with the city, and vows to document all its contradictions through his art. While working as a photojournalist, he is assigned the job of photographing Samar Arora, a former piano prodigy who gave up music and now lives the rich playboy life, accompanied by his boyfriend, an American writer named Leo, and his best friend Zaira, a famous Bollywood actress. Karan gets caught up in Samar's orbit, eventually becoming very close friends with Zaira as well. Things are further complicated with Karan meets Rhea, a beautiful (and married) potter with whom he has an affair of both the mind and the body. A shocking and violent event derails all our characters in the second half of the book, and the book closes as the characters come to terms with their changed world and their past decisions.

There is nothing wrong with the plot or, for the most part, the characters. My problems with this book have to do with the writing. Shanghvi never met an adjective he didn't decide to throw into his book, and he uses metaphors the way other authors use pronouns. Sometimes these metaphors are cringingly sexual:

Glee dripped out of Natasha like precum.


It occurred to Mantra that Priya had a crusty librarian's voice, one that could only be relieved with a dildo.

Sometimes they are just meandering and overly poetic:

Her voice wrapped itself around him; it was easy to imagine that at the end of the corridor of her voice there was a little room in which a blues singer was hiding from the world, serenading emptiness.

A little bit of this florid description goes a long way, and Shanghvi goes way beyond my level of patience for this kind of thing. His dialogue is also often at odds with his characters, moving the action along in sloppy skips instead of remaining true to the people and relationships that he has created for us.

All that being said, sometimes Shanghvi's technique of throwing all the adjectives into a bag, shaking it around, and pouring it onto the page ends up with some really nice and evocative descriptions of Bombay and his characters. And the plot really is engaging -- if it hadn't been, there is no way I could have forged my way through the text.

Only recommended if you have a lot of patience or a great interest in Bombay. Or if you haven't gotten your annual dose of adjectives.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Hate Annual #8 by Peter Bagge (2010)

It is probably cheating to write up a slim little comics collection when I usually write about big old books, but I recently read Hate Annual #8 (2010) by Peter Bagge and I'm sort of a completist, so I'm going to post about it here.

I happen to love Peter Bagge and his grotesque realism, and I found a lot to enjoy in this comic. The centerpiece is another installment in the world of Buddy and Lisa in which Lisa, bored with staying at home and watching their kid, joins a two-woman band with another "cool mom" that she meets at a PTA meeting. Their first gig does not go quite as Lisa had planned, but both she and Buddy take it in stride.

Also collected here are a series of wonderful one-page "scientist" comics that were originally printed in Discover Magazine, confessions of a book festival attendee, and a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Reefer Madness. And more!

I shall always give a million thumbs up to the great Peter Bagge.