Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Books Worth a Look III
These are the books I read in March 2002.

1,440 Reasons to Quit Smoking by Bill Dodds (2000)
A relatively useless self-help book for people wanting to kick nicotine. While the book's reasons are rather soft and smarmily presented, it's interesting how the reasons fall into implicit categories -- the ingredients in cigs, their health effects, the politics and economy of the tobacco industry, the social stigma, romantic needs, personal relationships and peer pressure, and will power. Pretty light on hardcore stats, but Bill accomplished what he set out to do -- offer a reason for every minute of the day.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Poor.

Available Light by Warren Ellis (2002)
Perhaps the best thing Astronauts in Trouble/Planet Lar has published, this is still a highly flawed project. One, Warren's digital photographs, taken with an Eyemodule connected to a Handspring Visor Platinum, do not make for a quality photography book. Two, his largely unedited writing, while better than that in Bad World, begs for some editorial input. Several pieces work well -- "Bush," "Gate," and "Phone" -- but otherwise, they're half-assed and half-written comic scripts or paltry prose pieces deserving more attention. Kudos for writing on your Visor, but gimmick doesn't always stick. This book would've been better without the glossy stock, the photos, or all the white space.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison (1989)
Predating DC's Vertigo imprint, this comic book featuring art by Dave McKean indicates what can happen when a mainstream publisher offers serious comics. The story hinges on what happens when the Joker and other inmates take over Arkham Asylum. But the graphic novel is a deeper look at the history of the institution and its role in the Batman mythos, power plays in psychiatry, and redemption. Hit me harder when I was 16, but it's still good.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The Complete Copybook Tales by J. Torres and Tim Levins (2002)
Collecting six issues of the Slave Labor Graphics series as well as the creators' original minicomics, this trade paperback tells the tale of two young me trying to break into the comics industry. While a comic about making comics risks irrelevance, this book works because it's really about childhood and the recollection and documentation of childhood, similar to Bill Schelly's "Sense of Wonder." The Slave Labor artwork's not really my bag -- the minis are more pure -- but I can see myself in this comic, and that says a lot.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Dig USA: A Book About the Many Faces of This Generation ed. by Arthur Daigon and Ronald LaConte (1970)
An interesting artifact of mainstream analysis of the countercultures and youth movements of the '60s, this book is flawed in two ways. One, it's overly influenced by Marshall McLuhan, and its hodgepodge of original writing, newspaper reprints, graphic appropriation, and other literary assemblage falls flat. Two, the book aims to be interactive but isn't cohesive enough to encourage an in-depth analysis or exploration of the text itself. Quaint, but not critical.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

ESPers by James Hudnall and David Lloyd (1995)
ESPers #1-4 was published in the mid-'80s by Eclipse, again showing why that little publishing company was so important. Hudnall's script is rather straight-forward. The goverment is monitoring psychics, who band together to free some hostages in Beirut. Much of the book is spent establishing the characters and recruiting the team, and the resulting roundup is rather diverse ethnically and personality wise. Not the most amazing comic, but not totally generic either.
Days to read:1. Rating: Good.

The Executioner #276: Leviathan by Gerald Montgomery as Don Pendleton (2001)
While many of the Mack Bolan popcult pastiches -- such as the relatively recent nod to a Bane-like killing machine -- often fail miserably, Montgomery's homage to H.P. Lovecraft works well. A doomsday cult taps into an underground race of Cthulhu-like supersquid -- including a gatekeeper called the avatar -- that plays havoc around an offshore oil rig used for drug manufacture. Mack is on the case and helps disband the cult, as well as avert a supernatural disaster. Inspired, tasteful, and a Lovecraftian anomaly.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997)
Like The Greatest Salesman in the World, this near-mythic book outlines a handful of suggestions and rules to improve your life. This book is rooted in Toltec wisdom, supposedly, but its lineage doesn't matter in that the book's not overly rooted in history and myth -- and the guidelines are sound. Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best. Things I've heard before; and couched in a verbose yet chatty, over-explanatory manner; but well worth recommitting to.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

I Hate the Man Who Runs This Bar!: The Survival Guide for Real Musicians by Eugene Chadbourne (1997)
Chadbourne's written this one for passionate working musicians resigned to struggling for success their entire lives. His advice about shows, recording, tours, and working with labels is spot on -- clever and constructively critical. The book drags at times as Chadbourne strives to share his wide range of experiences and types of people he's encountered. Still, extremely useful and inspirational if you have anything to do with independent music.
Days to read:46. Rating: Good.

Kinky Business: The Perversion of Funky Business by Waldo Palmer (2001)
Only in Europe! This English-language edition of a Swedish graphic album is a parody of self-consciously cartoony management gurus Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale's business book "Funky Business." Oh, sure, National Lampoon parodied Tom Peters' "In Search of Excellence" in comic format in the early '80s, but the US doesn't have a tendency to or tradition of taking its new economic evangelists to task. The book's a shallow, sexual poke at the two shaven saviours, but the fact that this was even published rocks.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

The Knights Templar and Their Myth by Peter Partner (1987)
The author, who doesn't come across as overly academic, looks at the lower-class knights who played an important role in the Christian Crusades, were eventually ostracized and imprisoned by political leaders who felt threatened by their power during the Middle Ages, and were later romanticized and mythologized by the Masons and other fraternal organizations looking for connections to an older, oftern pre-Christian tradition and truth. Partner debunks the myth well, deflating the many misinterpretations and appropriations of the Templar tale.
Days to read: 6. Rating: Excellent.

The Open Classroom: A Practical Guide to a New Way of Teaching by Herbert R. Kohl (1969)
Working to combat the authoritarian and hierarchical character of most schools, Kohl maps a plan to educate children through participation and the pursuit of mutual interests. The book touches on setting or suspending expectations, working through disputes, instituting positive and productive rules and routines, redesigning the classroom, creating lesson plans, discipline, and working with other educators. I don't know if the ideas presented are dated, but Kohl seems to set a sensible direction for change.
Days to read: NA. Rating: Good.

Pindeldyboz Vol. 2 ed. by Jeff Boison (2002)
One of several journals of new writing slightly inspired by and modeled after McSweeney's. The 18 pieces in this edition include some clunkers -- like Justin Bzdek's "Wide Mouth Bass People" and Slaney Chadwick Ross' story -- but the balance is quite impressive. John Verbos' "Lost Boys" is a delightful combination of "Lord of the Flies" and "A Separate Peace." Peter Bebergal's "Searching for Pancake Jackson" merges celebrity and self-discovery. And Jud Laghi's "Lattimer Round Trip" couples with Michael Russell's "Hermit's Diary" for a solid look at the "new economy" and the meaning of work. Consistently interesting.
Days to read: 2. Rating: Excellent.

Preacher Book 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (1995)
A faith-challenged priest is imbued with Genesis, the spirit of God, and sets out to find God -- and to learn why he abandoned humanity. I read this at the behest of Charlie, and I'm glad I did. Equal parts religion studies, mythology a la Neil Gaiman, and detective story, Ennis' writing indicates why it's worth confusing him with Warren Ellis. There's adventure, horror, love, mystery, and religion. I'll read more. This only collects the first seven issues.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Preacher Book 2: Until the End of the World by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (1997)
Not as rife with religious references as the first volume, this collection of issues 8-17 reveals more of Jesse's past and family history, as well as why he left Tulip. The collection also deepens his friendship with Cassidy and introduces the Grail, which deepens the religious conspiracy. The sexual subplot featuring Jesus de Sade is an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction, shocking solely for shock's sake.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Preacher Book 3: Proud Americans by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (1997)
Compiling issues 18-26, this volume reintroduces the religious conspiracy in fine form, as Allfather D'Aronique arrives on the scene, the Saint of Killers makes a deal with Jesse, the conception of Genesis is described, and we learn how Cassidy became a vampire. There's a nice ode to NYC and the twin towers at the end of this, but I feel like the series is losing steam. I'll give it one more volume.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Preacher Book 4: Ancient History by Garth Ennis (1998)
Collecting several Preacher one-shots and a miniseries focusing on the Saint of Killers, Ennis saves his reading-pile bacon with this collection of context-setting back stories. Out of the periodical pamphlet's monthly continuity, we learn how the Saint of Killers came to be, how Sheriff Root's son (shades of American Beauty) became disfigured, and how Jody and TC went up against a hilarious pairing of a cop on the edge and a supermodel-turned-lawyer with a dangerous secret. I despise Jody and TC, but that issue was a giggle reminiscent of American Century.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Preacher Book 5: Dixie Fried by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (1998)
Volume four won Preacher a respite and guaranteed Ennis' work a place on my reading pile for awhile longer. This volume, which collects #27-33, falls back into the series' continuity and details Cassidy's encounter with a seemingly naive fellow vamire, Jesse's return to Tulip, Areseface's hunt for Jesse, and the latter's search for the truth inside him using voodoo. Ennis' use of recurring characters is improving, but the series has lost its religious, mythic overtone.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Good.

Preacher Book 6: War in the Sun by Garth Ennis (1999)
Seven more issues that reveal Starr's introduction to and embrace of the Grail, as well as his scarification as a boy; Cassidy's struggles with alcoholicism and his love for Tulip; Jesse's confrontation of the Saint of Killers and his ongoing search for enlightenment and direction; his death; and Cassidy's betrayal. The final story about Arseface features some interesting Peter Milligan-like writing, but -- as I've said before -- the series is becoming tiresome. I'll give it one more volume, but it's wrapping up soon, so I'll probably finish the run. Sigh.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Fair.

Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess (2002)
Jeff Smith's comic Bone is one of the best comics to come out of the indie-comics world in recent decades. This prelude to the cartoony adventure series might even be better in terms of its literary and artistic style. In this collection of the limited series, we are exposed to Rose's complicity in the empowerment of the Locus Master, Rose's sister Briar's jealous betrayal of all things good, and Lucius' history of protection. Vess' artwork is beautifully lavish, and despite the irritating near-transparent computer-generated word balloons, the book is welcome full-color eye candy.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

The Spirit of Masonry by Foster Bailey (1957)
Alice Bailey's husband (?) contributes this study of Masonry, suggesting that instead of a mere men's club, it is in fact a model and process for the spiritual development of humanity. After retelling Masonry's origin and looking at its symbols and landmarks, Bailey outlines its ritual parallels to spiritual development and challenges members to eschew solely social clubs for more concerted self-improvement. Then he goes off the deep end and suggests that there are Masons on the star Sirius. A good introduction to Masonry's potential, albeit esoteric.
Days to read: 4. Rating: Fair.

Video Girl Ai Vol. 1: Preproduction by Masakazu Katsura (1999)
Past versions of this manga have helped me through other relationship breakups -- the original Japanese manga, the OAV with English subtitles -- and now this one. It does what it's designed to do. Yota's crushing on a girl. He thinks it's unrequited. At Gokuraku he rents a video girl who leaps out of the TV screen to console him. She begins to fall for him while his crush does the same, both realizing his positive qualities.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Video Girl Ai Vol. 2: Mix Down by Masakazu Katsura (2000)
Yota is torn between Moemi and Ai, who's been recalled as a defective video girl. Gokuraku's manager conspires to keep her in circulation. Yota meets Sorayama, his rival for Ai's affections, who tries to go all the way with her, with little discouragement. Yota socks him one (an act that'll cost him later), and starts to feel for Ai -- for real.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Video Girl Ai Vol. 3: Recall by Masakazu Katsura (2001)
Entering the video world, Yota strives to save Ai, his one, true love. The glass staircase and convoluted network system act as apt metaphors for the complexity of their still-young love. Moemi and Takashi distract, but Yota is resolute. Amnesiac Ai falls under the wing of Gokuraku's manager, and Yota falls under the spell of nubile newcomer Nobuku, who loves Yota like he loves Moemi and Ai. She is resolute while Ai regains her composure. And a book that could've taken many shots at media generalizations takes its first.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

Video Girl Ai Vol. 4: Off-Line by Masakazu Katsura (2002)
This the meatiest edition to date. Oh, how I wish the manga were now completed in English. Ai begins to rediscover her past as Yota continues to woo Nobuko -- or vice versa. Nobuko confronts Yota. Ai confronts Yota. Naoto confronts Ai. And men are left wondering how women can handle all of this confrontation -- written by a man as Video Girl Ai is -- so well. Meanwhile, Yota encounters Moemi again, and Naoto is introduced to the wonders of Gokuraku himself.
Days to read: 1. Rating: Excellent.

William Sylvis: Pioneer of American Labor by Jonathan Grossman (1945)
This excellent biography of Sylvis mostly follows his involvement in and leadership of the Iron Molders Union and the Iron Molders' International Union. Concentrating on Sylvis' circuit-riding approach to recruitment and union organization, the book also details his union administration strategies and organizing platform, as well as his later, uninformed embrace of the cooperative movement. A good look at Sylvis' too-short life, as well as a useful organizing manual.
Days to read: 20. Rating: Excellent.

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