Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Brain is Hanging Upside Down by David Heatley (2008)

I was at the library the other week without much of a plan and started browsing through the graphic novels section for something to take home with me when My Brain is Hanging Upside Down by David Heatley (2008) caught my eye and I decided to take a pretty low-risk chance on an author I'd never heard of before.

Heatley's book is a memoir in comic form. He covers some big topics: sex, race, mother, father, family tree, and fatherhood, and although he is oftentimes brutally revealing about his own life, the mixture of humor and honestly keeps the book from drifting too far into either "big themes" or navel gazing territory.

Helping things along is Heatley's informal drawing style which is a perfect match for the often emotional content of the narrative. Delivered in a combination of small, memory-driven panels and lush full-color spreads illustrating Heatley's dreams, the full package gives us a sympathetic (and somewhat voyeuristic) view of Heatley and his family. This is worth checking out for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the adorable pink bars over the many many many penises in the Sex section.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Beach at Galle Road: Stories from Sri Lanka by Joanna Luloff (2012)

The Beach at Galle Road: Stories from Sri Lanka, the debut book by Joanna Luloff (2012), was one of my recent finds through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I've found that debut short story collections can be pretty hit or miss, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this one fell on the hit side of the equation.

Luloff gives us a collection of loosely interconnected stories that can either stand alone or be read as a single piece. The wide variety of protagonists (including old women, young mothers, teenage girls, little boys, adult men, and young American men and women serving in the Peace Corp in Sri Lanka) adds variety and depth to the book, but a theme of isolation, longing, and regret ties the wildly different lives of our different narrators together.

Luloff's book takes place in pre-tsunami Sri Lanka, much of it right in the middle of the breathtakingly violent civil war between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil insurgency. While there are elements of humor, love, and peace throughout the book, the circumstances of the country crawl deep into the lives of the characters. The arc of the book moves us masterfully into the final perfectly tragic story -- one of the most upsetting in the book -- where the lead character ultimately earns her twisted triumph, but it doesn't make the reader quite as happy as it makes her.

Definitely recommended, and I'll be very interested to see what Luloff does next.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Lost Austin by John H. Slate (2012)

I may be a little biased since acclaimed author and archivist for the City of Dallas, John Slate, is a close personal friend, but I'm pretty sure his book, Lost Austin (2012) is one of the best collections of historic photographs ever compiled.

The aim of this book is to document the buildings, businesses, and institutions that have been replaced, destroyed, faded away, or superseded in Austin's move from a small settlement on the Colorado river to the 11th biggest metropolitan area in the country.

John was helped out by the fabulous historic photograph collections at the Austin History Center and other local repositories, along with his own memories as a native Austinite. The real strength of this collection is in its sense of balance -- we see old old 19th century Austin buildings along with local hot spots from the 1970s and 1980s that lost the fight to development. We get a good mix of the important Hispanic and African American Austin heritage that has influenced our city in countless (sometimes ignored) ways. And we see both architectural and design marvels and the people who used to live with those buildings every day.

If you've lived in Austin for any amount of time, a common refrain is how great things used to be if you had been here X years ago (five, ten, twenty, fifty -- it was always better before than it is now). If you've ever gotten trapped by the blanket of Austin nostalgia, this book can help you catch up on what you've been missing, even if it hasn't been around since the 1920s!

[If you'd like to check out some cool archival pictures, take a look at the Austin History Centers online photographic collections here. You can keep track of John's book signings here. And if you are in Austin, run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore to pick up your own copy of Lost Austin. Or order it here!]

Friday, July 05, 2013

Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Mrs. E. V. Lucas and Mrs. H. B. Paull (circa 1953?)

Being half Danish, I've always had a soft spot for fairy tale-er Hans Christian Andersen. About  a year ago I won a big box of old books through the Forgotten Bookmarks blog (such a fun blog -- definitely worth adding to your reader), and in it was a copy of Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Mrs. E. V. Lucas and Mrs. H. B. Paull (circa 1953*).

This was an interesting collection because while it featured some familiar stories ("The Ugly Duckling," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Shepherdess and the Sweep," and one of my all-time favorites "The Snow Queen"), most of the 22 stores in the book were new to me. Many of these feature important (and harsh) lessons on the importance of being humble and kind. We get a lot of inanimate objects (like the tin soldier or the porcelain shepherdess) acting like humans and learning those lessons for us. My favorite new-to-me story in the collection is the rather odd tale "The Old Street Lamp." Do yourself a favor and click on that link -- it will only take a few minutes to read it, and how could you possibly resist a story that begins "Have you ever heard the story of the old Street Lamp? It's really not very amusing, but you might listen to it for once."

Oh, and if you really want to have some fun, click here for some amazing illustrations of Andersen's stories from 1920s Japan. 

* It is hard to pinpoint a publication year on this undated volume, since this translation has been reproduced about a million times. It was originally published in 1945 (although this isn't the first edition since it isn't illustrated), and there is a dedication ("1953 - Carole from Mother"), so this volume must have come out sometime between 1945 and 1953. I think this was originally published as a set with a volume of Grimm's fairy tales. And that's all I had patience to find -- I'm an archivist, not a cataloguer!