Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Publishing No More

According to the most recent catalog mailing -- the Best Book Catalog in the World -- from Loompanics Unlimited, the publisher and distributor of way independent books is going out of business. As outlined in a three-page comic strip illustrated by Bob Crabb, Mike Hoy is hanging up his hat after 30 years of promoting left-of-center and forward-thinking books and ideas.

Despite the 50% Going out of Business Sale, this news makes me sad. Outside of ye olde Blacklist Mailorder and the still-important Maximum Rock'n'Roll, the ever-in-limbo Factsheet 5, V. Vale's RE/Search Publications, and the absolutely mind-blowing Amok Dispatch series, few independent media enterprises have held my heart as closely as Loompanics.

By way of mourning, do take advantage of the half-off sale, but please... PLEASE... someone consider picking up where Mike and his partners in crime -- formerly including the wonderful Steve O'Keefe -- left off.

Loompanics was Big Stuff. I'm sad it's going to be gone. Don't be gone long, please.

Update: I just ordered 20 copies of the Principia Discordia. Buy bulk of you see fit! Let's keep these books alive.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Green Day of Reckoning

I'm also rather proud of my Green Day lens. This might very well rekindle my lost Sweet Baby Electric project -- in a better way. Gods bless the Web!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Yes, We Have New Banana

Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite authors, so much so that I tend to buy her new books the very day they hit the bookstore shelves. So it was somewhat to my chagrin that I happened to spy her "new" Hardboiled & Hard Luck while browsing the Union Square Barnes & Noble this morning. Given that it came out last June, I'm rather surprised that I didn't even know it existed. So I bought it. And read it in two sittings. Today.

Given that these two stories were originally published in 1999 and the 149-page book was not translated into English until last year -- 2005! -- I'm a little curious whether Yoshimoto is as prolific as she might be... and whether her relevance in the United States is such that she doesn't warrant more timely translation and publication. How often does she deliver new work in Japan? Why such a long delay to reach American shores? Even though I missed out on this book's release date, I wonder whether the book's publication is anticlimactic. Because there's not a lot here.

Two stories, one accounting for three fifths of this edition, in fact. While the second story, "Hard Luck," is your basic Yoshimoto -- sadly reminiscent familial- and relationship-oriented fiction dealing with loss and yearning -- the first piece, "Hard Boiled" continues in the softly occult direction represented by Asleep -- as well as a possible parallel read, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart. I'm not sure I'm overly keen on the increasingly fantastic aspects of Yoshimoto's work, but it's still a worthwhile read.

In fact, Yoshimoto makes for a perfect wintry Sunday afternoon indulgence. Read her with tea. Take a nap in the sunlight and breeze between pieces. Her writing, like a watercolor painting, is subtle, slight, sleepy, scant, simple, and somewhat naive -- all things I love about her (and to some extent, Murakami's) brand of modern Japanese fiction. Yoshimoto blends regret and redemption, loneliness and loving relationships, pop culture and the personally intimate.

Publishing gossip hounds: When is the next Yoshimoto work expected? I need more sooner than later, and these slim, short volumes -- while cute and cozy -- aren't overly satisfying. Let's get a Yoshimoto-style book like Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes -- or more frequent shorter translated packages like this piece of work. The slim volumes speak volumes, but a slip case of three books like this would be way welcome.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Board Book for Bored Parents

If you've picked up Michelle Sinclair Colman and Nathalie Dion's board book Urban Babies Wear Black, try to tell me you bought it for your child -- and not for yourself. The 10-page "tome" is better suited to explaining your New York City -- or other large urban area -- lifestyle than anything else, and while that's useful, tell me you didn't enjoy the book more than your toddler does.

One parent sure did. The book, stylistically illustrated, touches on why urban babies wear black, do yoga, visit galleries, jog, drink latte, enjoy architecture, appreciate fine dining, attend the opera, and take taxis.

Yet the question remains: Why do urban babies do all these things? Because their urban parents do. Children go where their parents take them, and they do what they do. So this book works on multiple levels. One child enjoyed the opera segment -- perhaps because of his parent's impression of an opera singer -- but didn't respond as well to the yoga segment, which was more up his parent's alley.

What books do you read to your children because your children love them? What books do you read because you love them?

Best Designed Book I've "Red"

I shouldn't have been surprised that Joshua Mowll, author of Operation: Red Jericho, works as a graphic artist for the Mail on Sunday. This is the best designed and packaged book for tweens and teens that I've ever seen. Inspired by Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and Mike Mignola's BPRC, not to mention Dan Brown and the less contemporary H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne, the book is high adventure in high style.

Mowll supposedly inherited the archives of his great-aunt, who was involved in an organization called the Honourable Guild of Specialists. From those archives, he compiled the story of an adventure undertaken by two young adults in 1920. After several family members and friends declined to take the pair under their wings, the siblings fall under the spell Captain MacKenzie, who's apparently on an adventure all his own.

The book takes the two to China, where they help thwart an attempt to take over the world. The story is solid but is given second shift by the book's design and packaging. The most notable aspect of the book is its design: its cover and packaging, the illustrations and sidebars, and the fold-out maps and diagrams. While these instances help tell the tale -- they make for a nice addition -- they're also used as a sort of short hand.

Why fully describe in narration and exposition what a ship or stronghold looks like if you can draw it in a map? Why fully detail or develop a character if you can offer a sketch or biographical sketch? This device can help a book, but it can also hurt it if it's used instead of other storytelling devices, not in addition to. Another notable aspect of the tome is its intertextual references. Within the story, the author name drops Hans Holbein's painting The Ambassadors -- now my desktop wallpaper (and the root of the Dan Brown comparison) -- the French poet Jacques Delille, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, David Copperfield, and Wuthering Heights.

I'm not sure whether Mowlls falls prey to the shorthand mentioned above, but I need another book under my belt to fully decide. Until then, the book is interesting in a Raiders of the Lost Ark sense, indicative of where youth fiction might be going, and -- while not a clarion call that more books should be written by designers -- a sure sign that more books need to be better designed in the interactive sense.

Super Bowl Squidoo

I recently added most of my Squidoo lenses to the left sidebar, and today I made a lens that I'm quite proud of: Host an XL'nt Super Bowl Party. Check it out!

What do you know how to do?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thought for Food IV

While searching for restaurants that deliver in my part of Brooklyn this afternoon, I came across Zipmenu. Serving Brooklyn and Staten Island, the service allows you to find delivery menus based on a ZIP code search -- and then either order online or by phone.

Searching for my part of Greenpoint, I come across almost 40 restaurants. They're organized by whether you can order online -- only a total of three this afternoon -- by phone... or not at all. I assume the "Sleeping" category means that I can't order from them right now -- but that they get back into the mix depending on their hours of operation.

I placed an online order with East 88 on Bedford Avenue: Scallion Pancake, House Salad & Ginger Dressing, and Ma-Po Tofu With Pork. Within minutes, the restaurant had called to confirm my address -- and when the food arrived, the delivery man was very nice. While it's disappointing that so few restaurants let you order online -- I really appreciated the easy online ordering and tip calculation, and the system keeps track of your order history and favorites so you can place repeat orders.

Regardless, the service is valuable even for those restaurants you need to call. Rather than keep a bulging menu folder at home, I now know where I can go online to see what restaurants like Anytime, Bean, Erb, and Union have for delivery -- even if I might be more apt to order online.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Game of Tomes

When George R.R. Martin's A Feast of Crows showed up on the New York Times's best-seller list for hardcover fiction, the event inspired a mini-tempest in a co-worker's teacup. Never -- ever -- does fantasy fiction approach the top of the best-seller list. While authors such as Dan Brown and Anne Rice have paved the way, it's rare indeed that a book by the likes of David Eddings, Robert Jordan, and their ilk do so with such rapid aplomb.

As mentioned in a previous entry, Martin's 835-page paperback novel, which I just read at the behest of said co-worker, might very well win me back as a fan of fantasy as a genre. This is no soft-boiled story of dragons and leprechauns in which all of the McCaffrey- and Dragonlance-like topics and tropes are trotted out and icons indicated. No, Martin writes with a deeper diction.

Perhaps it was his time working as a writer-producer for the TV series Beauty and the Beast or his stint as story editor for The Twilight Zone -- anyone paddling in the pond of the master of the fantastic Rod Serling must learn many things -- that helped him hone his craft. Regardless, Martin is no Johnny C. Lately aping J.R.R. Tolkien or his more recent lessers J.K. Rowling or Christopher Paolini. This is a good book, regardless of its literary lineage or stereotypical semblance.

What impressed me? Several things. One, the world and its history are hella richly detailed and presented. That can almost be assumed as a given, given the genre, but much of Martin's magic is assumed and yet to be revealed. (Still to say, put a map in a book, and I'm crushing.) Martin also focuses on character development and presentation in an uncharacteristic way -- titling each chapter after the key character and developing them in such a way that you know them, care about them, and look forward to their return. Similarly, Martin implements the idea of call back to good effect, mentioning something in passing -- mere passing, not expository exponentialism -- earlier on and then expanding on its importance and impact later in the book -- oft to surprising sustenance. And lastly, while sex is often worked into fantasy fiction in a cartoony, occasionally gratuitous way, Martin is shockingly explicit -- and mature -- in his use of erotic elements.

While I'm not so hot to trot on the four-book series that this kicks off -- this first volume was first published in 1996, and it's been a six-year wait between volumes three and four -- that I need to read its sequel A Clash of Kings immediately, I will borrow and consume its predecessors in due time. If you've given up on fantasy as the imaginings of emotionally immature romanticists -- if you've avoided the genre because it's usually written by rote repetition -- be sure to explore Martin's output.

This is fantastic fantasy. Even if there be dragons.

Practically Personal Parody

Not long ago, I received a care package from Brett and Chris at Top Shelf Productions. Among its innards, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?, a comic by Somervillain Liz Prince. The pocket-sized paperback is a clear descendent of Jeffrey Brown -- especially given his four-panel introduction -- and contained diarist comics of the sort I appreciate: Brown, James Kochalka, and Ben Snakepit.

For the most part, the volume details the workaday ins and outs of Liz's relationship with her beau Kevin. By turns romantic and affectionate, as well as self-deprecating and somewhat demeaning (Liz is by no means shy in detailing her and Kevin's affectionate foibles), the 71 pages of comics tell a love story that's as notable for its mundanity as it is its meaninfulness.

If you've ever been enamored with a partner's micro-details -- how their armpits give you onion breath, the little spazzy skip step they develop when delighted -- you'll resonate with the details in this comic. Liz's armpits smell like celery, Kevin plays the armonica, they like brushing their teeth together, Kevin saves his belly button lint, they have a special corn on the cob kiss, their cat shares their love, and there's -- surprised? -- a little pee fetish going on.

While I appreciated the openly honest nature of the trivia of Liz's relationship with Kevin, I'm also a big fan of her artwork. Using a somewhat more manga-styled approach to Megan Kelso's style, Liz often includes the initial sketch lines in her final panels. In the end, you get a fully fledged portrayal, along with the preliminary shaping that fills out the form. In some respects, the manner represents the work in progress that all relationships are -- even the longest running -- but it also represents the evolving nature of Liz's storytelling and comics work.

This is the kind of comic that could make or break a couple. And whether Liz and Kevin are still together indicates in some ways what kind of man Kevin is. I wish them only the best as a partnership. And I wish Liz only the best in her comics making. This is a wonderful little item, not to be dismissed for its trivia, but to be elevated for its realistic approach to love and coupledom. Love is greater than the sum of its partners, and we are greater than the sum of our characteristics and quirks.

Ask your current partner if they'll still love you if you wet the bed. See what they say.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Event-O-Dex XXIII

Flier, I Hardly...
Originally uploaded by h3athrow.
Went to Jigsaw tonight for the launch party for the 20th issue of Go Metric, celebrating the 10th-and-a-half anniversary of the long-running smart popcult zine.

Readings were given by Mike Faloon, Steve Reynolds, Ken Wohlrob, Tim Hall, Chris Gethard, and Brian Cogan.

It was awesome.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Alternative Historicomics

Over the weekend, I finally got around to reading Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert's Marvel 1602. After finishing most of Sandman, watching the BBC miniseries Neverwhere, and reading his prose book Good Omens, I felt the need to move on to other literary-clothed comics writers.

But after an email exchange with an acquaintance about our comics-reading habits, an exchange during which he asked me whether I'd read 1602, I realized that not only had I not, but I wanted to -- almost immediately. So I placed an order for the trade paperback collection of the eight-issue series, which began publication in 2003. And while I had avoided it at the time because of Gaiman fatigue, I'm glad to have finally read it.

The TPB includes some bonus material, including a two-page introduction by Marvel's first archivist, a two-page afterword by Gaiman about how the series came to be, and script and sketchbook excerpts. The gambit of the book is clear: Marvel wanted to capitalize on some of the Gaiman mythos and mystique -- and Gaiman wanted a chance to revisit some of the Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko-era Marvel characters that first attracted him to comics. And readers who are worth their salt will seek out the series to take in Gaiman's reinterpretation of what might be America's best comic icons. At the same time, the 17th-century setting brings Neal Stephenson's fiction to mind, particularly the Baroque Cycle.

While the series isn't quite on par with Gaiman's David Foster Wallace-dense Sandman (early readers' biggest concern), there's plenty of near-real history worked into the work. And the repositioning of the characters is intriguing. Nick Fury and Dr. Strange loom large, and several other characters play important roles -- including the Angel, Daredevil, Thor, and, surprisingly, Captain America. Of the teams featured -- the X-Men and the Fantastic Four -- the latter resonates most strongly with the setting in time and place. And other characters are included in the book almost as afterthoughts. Nevertheless, the borderline cameos of Peter Parker and Bruce Banner still impress.

Of all of the icons included, however, Captain America plays the biggest role -- and best ties the piece into the rest of the Marvel Universe. Rather than go back to the future, Marvel 1602 steps forward into the past. Think Alan Moore's 1963, Frank Miller's return to the Dark Knight, and perhaps even Moore's ABC books. If you haven't read it yet, it's worth checking out -- and made a nice precursor to my current read: George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, which is making me a renewed fan of fantasy fiction.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Promising Periodicals

One of my favorite parts of Us magazine is the "Stars -- They're Just Like Us!" feature. They run across the street! They give gifts to friends! They cart groceries to the car!

Elsewhere in the Jan. 16 edition, the editors missed another that would have been perfect for that item. In the "Angelina's Dilemma" feature, we get the following caption: "At the... bookstore... [Brad] Pitt browsed the architecture section for 20 minutes but didn't buy."

Stars -- they're just like us!

Bonus: Us's "Cover Stars" feature holds up five other magazines -- Glamour, Elle, Jane, Harper's Bazaar, and Marie Claire -- offering tidbits on why you should read them, too. More magazines should cover magazines. Meta!

Why I Read the New York Times

Edward Rothstein's Connections column. Case in point: A Philosopher's Vision of Fundamentalism. We need more writing like this in American newspapers.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Quotes of Note II

Gilmore Girls: "Denying you're a Trekkie is a violation of the Prime Directive."

Simpsons: "Paul Bunyan never fought Rodan."

Event-O-Dex XXII

Repeat After Me
(artists explore the idea of self-replication)

Opening: Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006
6-10 p.m.

At Flux Factory, Queens

The exhibition continues until Jan. 28
Open Friday-Saturday 12-6 p.m.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

TV You Need to See

In the last week, I've become quite a fan of a new -- as in, new to me -- TV show. It airs on BBC America, and it's called At Home with the Braithwaites.

The matron of a suburban family wins a $60 million lottery and doesn't tell anyone -- not even her husband. Meanwhile, while the family hovers above a safety net it's not even aware of, life goes on.

The father has an affair of sorts and leaves his job to escape his love interest. One daughter -- who has learned about her mom's newfound wealth -- gets a job and does little with the opportunity. The middle daughter, a nose-ringed teen, leaves school and home to move in with her working-class boyfriend. And a beefy newspaper reporter tracks down the fictional Jane Crowther, the head of a new charitable trust. This in just the two installments I've seen in recent days.

The program is a fascinating mix of family drama, comedy of errors, and society-driven mystery. (BBC actually categorizes the show under drama and mysteries.) And the characterizations and plot twists -- in just two episodes -- are what have captured my attention and interest. While the show could have easily followed the tropes of its precedents -- the fish out of water goofiness of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the happy-go-lucky cluelessness of Silver Spoons, the wealthier-than-thou entitlement of shows like Dallas, or the unrealistic life-changing stories of our financial fantasies -- it does not.

Instead, the series shows that money can only complicate already complicated lives. And that money can't buy you happiness. Or love. Or peace and quiet. Regardless, life goes on. That might be why organizations such as More Than Money exist.


Today on Google:

I smudged my laptop display testing whether the logo was actually bumpy. Because Google might be that good.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Strokes Under Par?

When the first Strokes LP, "Is This It?", came out in 2001, I picked up a copy because the buzz about the band was so solid. When their sophomore followup, "Room on Fire," came out two years later, I didn't bother. Early reviews of the record cited the proverbial second-record slump, and the first album wasn't so amazing that I needed to see what the band did next. I still haven't listened to that record at all. At all.

Yet I continued to be aware of -- and even interested in -- the band. They were based in New York City, they were about a decade younger than I was, and Fabrizio Moretti dated Drew Barrymore. So when the Strokes' third record was announced -- three years after the second -- and early reviews indicated that it might be a return to their earlier relevance and importance, I knew I had to check it out sooner than later.

Well, the record, "First Impressions of Earth," came out today -- the first new record day I've participated in in awhile! -- and I'd pre-ordered a copy via iTunes for the sake of expedience. Having downloaded it and listening to it this evening, I'm pleased with the purchase -- it's not a bad record -- but I'm not surprised or delighted with it. Julian Casablancas's voice remains as plaintive and dully tortured, almost bored, and the intersecting guitars provide what might be the most interesting musical details over a mostly monotonous bed of bass and drums.

So, more of the same. Not overly divergent from their debut, five years ago. And while not boring, not dangerous. The music lacks edge, while it possesses elements of edge -- Casablancas's vocals as an example -- and there's never much feeling of risk or raucous disregard for control or restraint. Some songs tend in that direction -- "Juicebox" and the opening of "Vision of Division" are examples -- but there's little gambled, and little gained.

"Razorblade" reminds me of Barry Manilow's "Mandy," and the sleepy "Ask Me Anything" might be one of my favorite songs so far, even if it's one of the least edgy or raucous. "Electricityscape" made me smile, and I even appreciate the repetitive drum and bass propulsion. 11 songs in, and there's finally some gleeful cacophany! The ending of "15 Minutes" is awesome. More like that, please! The next song, "Ize of the World," also indicates what the band could be and proves a wonderful step after "15 Minutes." In fact, those two songs and "Evening Sun" really surprise. Either I'm warming to the band right at the end of the record, or they opted for a strong closer rather than a strong opener. The latter half of the album, I'll return to, for sure. A nice bump, set, and spike. The online album closes with two non-album songs, including the peppy "Hawaii," which I could do with more of.

Blogs on the record: via Technorati
Mainstream media weigh in: via Google News

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hero Warship

Have you seen The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny yet? It's awesome, and you'll be surprised who wins... or does he?

[Thanks, Megan!]

Unbelievable SF Artistry

The first book I've read in the 2K6 is a science-fiction paperback, a used copy of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's 2002 novel The Disappeared. I first learned of Rusch's work in Famous Wisconsin Authors -- Rusch was born in Wisconsin. Now living in Oregon, Rusch once edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and ran Pulphouse Publishing. Previously, I'd read one of her fantasy novels, The White Mists of Power -- she works in multiple genres -- as well as the newest edition in her Retrieval Artist series, Buried Deep. And the latter was so good that I passed it onto a friend and began to track down its predecessors.

At 374 pages, the book is still an easy read -- I read it in three days. For the most part, it's a breeze because the writing pulls you through the text on its own accord. Equal parts mystery novel and science fiction story, reminding me somewhat of Isaac Asimov's The Robots of Dawn and his character Elijah Bailey, it's a fascinating book. Less fascinating, perhaps, than Buried Deep, which introduced me to the concept of the Retrieval Artist -- a gumshoe-like professional who tracks down the Disappeared (people who purposely drop out of society) -- as well as Rusch's approach to portraying alien races, but fascinating nonetheless.

That might be my favorite part of these books. Rusch's approach to incorporating non-humans in her work resonates with that of the inclusion of the Phneri in the Future Boston project. In Buried Deep, Rusch provides one of the most interesting and in-depth portrayal of an alien society -- without giving you much to go on in terms of describing what the aliens look like. That's most writers' first approach -- to differentiate aliens based on their physicality -- and she avoids it entirely.

The Disappeared isn't as mysterious in portraying its aliens -- the Rev and the Wygnin are much more detailed -- perhaps because the Disty have been adequately described in earlier works... yet their physical, cultural, and societal descriptions are rich and worth considering. Rusch's aliens are more alien than most, and that's welcome. In addition to combining two alien races, she weaves two related plotlines, which connect well in the end and propel the protagonists forward into future narratives.

The characters are excellently portrayed. Their personal stories are worth following. The situations and intrigues they find themselves involved in -- and are trying to get out of -- are awesome. And the Earth-Moon-Mars world that surrounds them is very, very cool. One of my favorite new discoveries in terms of authors -- and what might be one of the best science-fiction series I've encountered.

Make a new year's resolution: Read these books.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Man of the Year

Did you know that Joseph Stalin was Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1942? 63 years later, it's Bono and the Gates. An interesting exercise in comparison and contrast!

Cyber-Stoop Sale

For the first time ever, I'm selling some items via Ebay. Most of what I offer will be media-related, so if you follow Media Diet, be sure to check out my occasional listings. Here's what I have up for bidding right now: