There are some writers you wish you could befriend, they seem so warm and endlessly fascinating. You want them at the table during dinner parties. You want to meet up with them for long walks or coffee. Oliver Sacks is one of those writers.
The neurologist and author passed away this weekend of cancer at the age of 82. Sacks was curious – always investigating – and a wonderful storyteller. Even after learning his time on this earth was nearing its end, he continued to write. He became introspective, focusing “on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life – achieving a sense of peace within oneself,” as he states in his final piece for the New York Times.
Sacks’ books about the workings of the brain are full of vivid writing and detailed portraits of his subjects. His delight in scientific discovery runs through all of his books. His enthusiasm is palpable.
If you are new to Sacks, try “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales,” one of his earlier books (and the one with my favorite title). Sacks presents a series of stories about men and women who, representing both medical and literary oddities, raise fundamental questions about the nature of reality.
Other Sacks’ works center on a single theme, like “Musicophilia,” which explores the complex human response to music and how music can affect those suffering from a variety of ailments. Sacks investigated sight in “The Mind’s Eye,” telling the stories of six people whose lives have been profoundly altered by changes to essential senses and abilities, including a pianist who lost the ability to read scores and a novelist whose ability to read was destroyed by a stroke. “Hallucinations” investigates the types, causes and cultural significance of hallucinations generated by everything from intoxication to injury and illness.
Sacks’ most recently published book is an autobiography titled “On the Move,” and he certainly was. Always studying and researching, his mental energy and curiosity defined him until the end. In the February 15, 2015 New York Times piece in which Sacks announced his terminal diagnosis, he ended with the following words. I cannot think of better words to remember him by.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
The death throes of summer will soon be marked by Labor Day weekend. Many of us will spend that time barbecuing or taking advantage of Great Labor Day Savings! This was not the original purpose of Labor Day. The intended meaning of the day was to honor “the social and economic achievements of American workers.” This purpose has mostly been lost, except most American workers do get a free day off. Unless they are one of the over 4,500,000 employed in retail. Then they are probably helping people take advantage of those Labor Day sales.
We spend so much time working that it’s surprising there aren’t more more books on the subject. There’s a constant stream books about job interviews, changing careers or finding fulfilling work, but books that evocatively capture this experience that composes so much of our lives are rare. There are some good ones, and even some classics, but the number days we spend laboring isn’t really matched by the books out there.
“The Jungle” is a classic many of us probably had to read in high school. The book tells the story of a poor immigrant family that tries to make a living working in the Chicago stockyards. The descriptions of the unsafe and unsanitary conditions became a catalyst for the passing of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food Act.
I’m not sure if Studs Terkel’s “Working” is technically considered a classic (who makes these decisions?), but it should be. Terkel conducted interviews with people from all walks of life about their jobs. You don’t just get insight into what the routine tasks of their jobs are, but you also learn how their time spent at work makes them feel.
Harvey Pekar adapted “Working” into a graphic novel. Pekar was a perfect fit for the job. In his long-running series “American Splendor,” Pekar wrote about the mundane details of his life in Cleveland in an unexpectedly compelling way. Many of those stories involve his job as a file clerk at the Cleveland’s Veterans Administration Hospital.
When Philip Levine died earlier this year, exhausted workers looking for breakfast after the late shift lost representation in American poetry. Many of his poems described the prosaic details of the lives of working people. Levine grew up in Detroit, and while working in the auto plants there he decided to give voice to the people with whom he worked.
“Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar” is a collection of short stories about work. It’s edited by Richard Ford, who also contributes a story. It’s fitting that a writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book about a real estate agent should edit such a collection.
“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” details a man’s struggle with his inane PR job as he tries to provide for his family. It is often cited as an inspiration for the television show “Mad Men” because of their shared themes of a restless veteran trying to adapt to his working world and find his identity.
“Then We Came To The End” tells the story of a Chicago advertising firm as a dysfunctional family that is gradually shrinking to nothing due to layoffs. It is a funny, insightful and empathetic examination of workplace culture.
In “Looking for A Ship,” John McPhee accompanies a merchant marine on a 42-day trip to South America. The book describes the difficulties of making a living as a merchant marine and is filled with seafaring stories that illustrate the dangers of this job. Might make a nice accompaniment to “Deadliest Catch.”
If you’ve ever been asked to do something at your job and wanted to respond, “I prefer not to,” then I suggest you take a look at Herman Melville’s enigmatic short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street.” A man who is essentially employed as a human copy machine gets a sort of paper jam in his brain and keeps repeating that phrase.
Finally, whether you’re barbecuing, shopping or (sadly) working this Labor Day weekend, the Smithsonian has some sweet Labor Day jams for you.
When I was in school, history was not my favorite subject, but Sarah Vowell has convinced me I didn’t give it a fair chance. Vowell’s chatty books about American history relate the stories of our country in a way that brings alive the figures involved and paints a vivid picture of the times in which they lived, with the bonus of showing how past events still affect our lives today.
“Unfamiliar Fishes,” a volume about Hawaii, opens with these words: “Why is there a glop of macaroni salad next to the Japanese chicken in my plate lunch? Because the ship Thaddeus left Boston Harbor with the first boatload of New England missionaries bound for Hawaii in 1819.” Vowell makes a pretty good case for giving Hawaii the ‘Most Multicultural State’ award. As she explains how this came to be, she examines the effects of 19th century missionaries plus vacationing sailors on the island culture. It wasn’t all roses and butter, we discover. The story of Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, makes for compelling – if heartbreaking – reading.
In “The Wordy Shipmates” Vowell shows us the Puritans as interesting, complex human beings with more layers than the earth’s core. Much of the narrative centers on John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, along with his best frenemy, Roger Williams. The ins and outs of their friendship proves junior high drama predates the existence of junior high and can present itself in the cloak of religious disputes. After Winthrop banished him from Massachusetts, Williams founded Rhode Island. He was soon joined there by the remarkable and also exiled upstart, Anne Hutchinson, who had convinced her husband to pack up their 15 children and follow the clergyman John Cotton across the ocean to the colonies.
Speaking of travel, what’s a dedicated historian’s dream vacation? Visiting landmarks associated with assassinations, of course. “Assassination Vacation” is a road trip book like no other, focusing on sites important in the lives and mostly the deaths of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Vowell speaks not only of the facts of the events, but explores how legends surrounding these political murders have been used to shape and sometimes exploit culture and politics. Also, a fascinating bit of trivia about Robert Todd Lincoln.
The future of history includes Vowell’s forthcoming book, “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” due out in October. I can’t wait to find out everything I don’t know about the French general who played such a large role in the American Revolution.
The kids are back in school, and the September LibraryReads list is here! Time to brew a cup of tea and enjoy a freshly published book. Here are the books hitting shelves next month that librarians across the country recommend, including the latest from the hilarious, refreshingly honest, irreverent, library-loving Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” has gone immediately on to my personal holds list. Add a few of these forthcoming titles to your list, and enjoy!
“The Art of Crash Landing” by Melissa DeCarlo
“At once tragic and hilarious, this book is a roller coaster of a read. You’ll find yourself rooting for the snarky and impulsive but ultimately lovable Mattie. At the heart of this tale is a beautifully unraveled mystery that has led Mattie to her current circumstances, ultimately bringing her to her first real home.” – Patricia Kline-Millard, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, NH
“Make Me” by Lee Child
“Jack Reacher is back. Jack gets off a train at an isolated town. Soon, he is learning much more about the town, and its residents are learning not to mess around with Jack Reacher. Readers new to this series will find this book a good starting point, and fans will be pleased to see Jack again.” – Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA
“House of Thieves” by Charles Belfoure
“Belfoure’s intriguing novel is set in Gilded Age New York City. John Cross, head of the family, finds an unexpected talent for planning robberies, while his wife and children also discover their inner criminals. The historical details and setting evoke old New York. I enjoyed every minute of their escapades.” – Barbara Clark-Greene, Groton Public Library, Groton, CT
And here is the rest of this list with links to the catalog for your holds-placing pleasure.
- “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff
- “Did You Ever Have A Family” by Bill Clegg
- “The Gates of Evangeline” by Hester Young
- “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson
- “This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” by Jonathan Evison
- “Girl Waits With Gun” by Amy Stewart
- “The Scribe” by Matthew Guinn
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The September 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
While making for the nearest suitable reading cubby, I hold my chosen novel aloft as a means of recommending it without the need for electricity or wires (though, to be fair, I often employ a complicated series of large wires and pulleys to ease the burden of its weight upon my musculature and indeed have been researching the possibility of adding an electric motor to my contraption). This month’s recommendation did cause me some consternation, though. Fine book though it is, “A Cure for Suicide” is a title apt to raise eyebrows among those that don’t wish to see you dead. I bypassed this conundrum by merely regularly exclaiming, “Fear not for my well-being – this is a novel. I do not intend to curtail my glorious traversal through this magnificent existence!” My calls, in addition to allaying concerns and dispelling confusion as to why such a distinguished gentleman might consider cutting short his glorious traversals, earned me wide, respectful berths, providing me expedited arrival to the nearest cozy chair or nest of pillows and wigs (wigs are soft) that I’ve secreted around town so that I might recline comfortably with my reading material.
Onlookers’ dismay aside, reading Jesse Ball’s newest novel was a pleasure. Not only was it a fancy book, indicated clearly by the significant amount of blank space between most of the paragraphs, but it was also good. And that blank space wasn’t just indicative of fanciness and the author’s and publisher’s contempt for trees but was actually a useful style choice that emphasized the elegiac tone of the work and its fable-like qualities. And, as time passes, this novel continues to provide fodder for my mind monkeys to vigorously pull their various levers and add coal to their various furnaces. (Editor’s note: this book made the gentleman think.)
The premise is: a man, known initially only as the “claimant,” awakens with no memories. His “examiner” is at his side. Her task: to teach him the names of objects, how to interact with people and generally how to exist. We watch the claimant improve and regress and some twisty psychological drama enters the stage: there are injections, creepily idyllic villages and villagers, the claimant goes to sleep in one house and village and wakes up in a different house and village, etc. There is a great deal of discussion about the “whys” of things, sure to please the philosophy buffs that, as I understand it, make up much of our modern civilization. Then we come to perhaps the novel’s best section, the one that explains why our claimant is here, why he was driven to spoiler alert seek a cure for suicide. This relatively lengthy chapter foregoes the lovely blank space that dominates the rest of the novel, the better with which to gently bludgeon you with heartbreak. Later we return to the previous format and tone and are left with a doozy of a closing section and a complex query that might have the reader lingering in their nest of pillows and wigs, contemplating several facets of existence while they conceal the title from onlookers (as the reader is too deep in thought to be capable of calling out an explanation for the title of the work they hold, and so must hide it to ensure no one is concerned for their well-being).
How does it work?
- Sixteen young adult book clubs from libraries nationwide are responsible for narrowing down a list of nominees for teens to consider. (Does your book club want to get involved? Learn how.)
- Based on the recommendations of these teen book clubs, the list of this year’s 24 nominees was announced in April during National Library Week.
- Throughout the summer months, teens are encouraged to read as many of these titles as humanly possible.
- Readers ages 12-18 are invited to vote online through October 17.
- After Teen Read Week, October 18-24, the 10 most popular titles will be announced as the official 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten” list. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog updates to have this and other teen book news delivered to your email inbox!
Originally published at Voting Begins for 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten”.
“Traitor’s Blade” by Sebastien De Castell
Why I Checked It Out: Three best friends, roaming the kingdom, looking for justice and purpose? With swords? I’m in.
What It’s About: In the European-esque, medieval setting, the Greatcoats greatly resemble Jedi Knights. These men and women are skilled warriors, but they are more concerned with upholding the King’s Law and keeping peace among all the ambitious dukes and duchesses of the land. Or at least they were, until the death of the King and the end of his enlightened law.
Now Falcio, Kest, Brasti and the rest of the Greatcoats are disgraced and scattered, taking what work they can and struggling to finish the enigmatic final tasks left to them by the King.
Why I Recommend It: I read this book in a day. And then I could not start another book because I was convinced nothing would be as good.
The story begins by launching the reader directly into the action and never really lets up. The reader learns of the rise of the King, the formation of the Greatcoats and their subsequent fall, all through flashbacks that span the entirely of the book. These flashbacks are well-timed and an excellent device. By the time you learn how the King died, you care for him as much as Falcio did, and his loss is all the more heartbreaking.
While there is plenty of death and loss in “Traitor’s Blade,” and Falcio and the others have definitely been shaped by tragedy, the book is not dark. De Castell has crafted a fun read, filled with smart humor and likeable characters. There are intricate political intrigues and swashbuckling adventures. The action scenes are incredibly descriptive, owing to the author’s training as a fight choreographer.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure with well-rounded characters and hint of magic, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Warning: This is the first book in a quartet, but luckily for us all, the second book is already out.
What To Read Next:
“Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan
“The Three Musketeers” by Alexander Dumas
“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher
In 2014, Reese Witherspoon starred in the movie adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” her memoir of self-discovery and survival as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. This September, another movie about a long walk – this time along the Appalachian Trail – hits the big screen. “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson is a laugh-out-loud misadventure but also manages to share the trail’s history and argue eloquently for the preservation of our undeveloped forests, trails and parks. Read this funny travelogue before seeing the film this fall.
Want more books about long walks? Read on.
“Happiness for Beginners” by Katherine Center
This fast-paced charmer follows newly divorced 32-year-old Helen who signs up for a wilderness survival course, thinking it will propel her out of her rut. Never mind that she isn’t really athletic or outdoorsy. Then she learns that her younger brother’s best friend Jake will also be a part of this group spending three weeks in the mountains of Wyoming, and her hopes of finding herself by herself evaporate. Snappy dialogue, an entertaining cast of characters and sparks of romance make the hike through this book a quick and enjoyable one.
“Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail” by Ben Montgomery
Think all grandmas spend their time baking cookies, golfing or playing bridge? Think again. Emma Gatewood, at the age of 67, hiked the Appalachian Trail. And then she did it twice more. Journalist Montgomery creates a detailed portrait of of Gatewood, her difficult and abusive marriage, and the attention her hikes brought to a system of trails in great need of care and maintenance.
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry receives a letter from a former coworker and friend named Queenie, informing him that she is dying of cancer. Harold writes Queenie a response and begins walking to the mailbox to send his letter. But then he passes up the first mailbox and walks toward the next. He keeps walking. He reflects on his troubled past and the shaky state of his marriage, and falls into a bit of magical thinking – perhaps if he delivers this letter to Queenie in person he can save her. Thus begins his journey of nearly 600 miles and this quirky, moving novel.
As the summer heats up, many of us find that a great way to cool off is to head to the water. The swimming beach at Stephens Lake Park is a favorite place for my family to spend the afternoon, and we also enjoy canoeing at Finger Lakes State Park. In a figurative sense, one can cool off by reading great books about traveling on water, and the library has many that fit the bill. Let’s take a look at a few new and classic titles.
In the spring of 1834, Richard Henry Dana Jr. was a young man recently dropped out of Harvard University because of poor health and looking for something to do while recuperating from his illness. He signed on with the Pilgrim, a ship that launched from Boston. Dana recounted his experience in arguably the greatest work of maritime nonfiction, “Two Years Before the Mast.” The Pilgrim spent a great deal of time on the coast of colonial California, and Dana’s writing about these explorations is one of our best documents of the very early settlement period there. Dana also examines at length the injustices imparted upon common sailors. “The captain, in the first place, is lord paramount. He stands no watch, comes and goes as he pleases, and is accountable to no one,” writes Dana.
Dana was also obsessed, as were most sailors on these multi-year voyages, with the offerings of food and drink. “Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine From Ancient to Modern Times” by Simon Spalding is a detailed look at the history of food found on ocean-going vessels. On a ship like the Pilgrim, the fare was described in the following way by a common sailor: “the mush is never cooked, the beans are awful, and the Cape Cod turkey, or in plain English, the codfish, is the meanest mess of all.”
Dozens of books have been written about Ernest Shackleton and his expeditions to the Antarctic, but two stand out in the crowd for their uniqueness. The first is the graphic novel “Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey” by Nick Bertozzi. Historically accurate and concise, grabbing from Shackleton’s and other expedition members’ diaries, this thin volume will delight readers young and old. “Shackleton’s Boat Journey” authored by Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance, is also of note. In order to save his crew, Shackleton made a harrowing journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island. Shackleton’s eight men almost miraculously made it across this stretch of the Southern Ocean in a 12-foot boat, mainly due to Worsley’s uncanny skill at navigating by dead reckoning. This ocean journey is an accomplishment with few modern corollaries and was indeed performed near the apex of Antarctic winter. As Edmund Hillary wrote in the introduction: “It only confirmed the view of his friends that Shackleton was ‘the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.’”
On a more local level, for a look at the historic navigation of the Missouri River, I suggest “Wild River, Wooden Boats” by Michael Gillespie. Gillespie says: “The untamed Missouri was as close to a living thing as a river could get.” In the chapter “Sudden Death” Gillespie catalogs a whole range of terrible ways that human beings could perish on steamships: “The steamer Big Hatchie blew her boilers at Hermann, Missouri on July 25, 1845. Thirty-five unidentified victims are buried in the cemetery there.”
Modern day Missouri has an incredible network of smaller rivers and creeks perfect for boating. “A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri” offers lots of information about these waterways. This handy guidebook was created by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and it includes a full listing of navigable rivers and streams in the state. It even has mile markers, maps and difficulty ratings for each section of the river run. Happy paddling this summer!
Sports are big business. The athletes are treated as commodities, and they are salesmen. They aren’t just coached on how to play their sport, but also on how to speak to the press. (It’s in cliches and non-answer answers. Really riveting stuff.) Sometimes it seems the true measure of an athlete’s accomplishments isn’t how many rings they win but the number of sponsorships they get.
Beneath this veneer of brand-spokesman blandness, corporate PR and the talking hairdos on 24-hour sports networks, something weird is still going on. The rules are arbitrary, the feats of physical accomplishments are freakish, and this slick business culture is built on a simple obsession over games. Yes, the fans can get obsessive, but the athletes themselves? They need an intervention. Ridiculous salaries for a few can make us forget how many people there are still playing their sport for very little. How many players in the Minor Leagues are sharing small apartments with teammates compared to Major League players with shoe contracts? Or Olympic athletes training early in the morning before work? It gets under their skin, and they have to play the game. Weird.
“The League of Outsider Baseball” captures some of that obsessive weirdness. Author and Illustrator Gary Cieradkowski has put together a collection of beautifully illustrated profiles of baseball players. Some are household names, like Babe Ruth, but most are lesser known or forgotten players, like the ones you meet in the chapter, “The Could-Have-Beens.” Some of these players could have been household names too, but dumb luck or bad life choices derailed their promising careers. Take Pistol Pete Reiser, whose combination of physical skill and unbridled enthusiasm for the game gave him a penchant for playing through serious injuries and running into outfield walls. Once he was knocked unconscious so long a priest performed last rights. The chapter, “The Oddballs” is populated with unlikely contributions to baseball history from a one-armed pitcher, a hunchbacked orphan, one team composed entirely of brothers and another from an apocalyptic sect. This is the scruffy underbelly of baseball, and it’s fascinating reading.
This project started for Cieradkowski as a way of coping with the loss of his father. Swapping stories of obscure baseball players several times a week was one way they stayed connected. When his father died unexpectedly, Cieradkowski realized he didn’t have anyone to share this obsession with. He started a blog, The Infinite Baseball Card Set, to honor that relationship with his father and share his passion for these forgotten players with the rest of the world. Reading “The League of Outsider Baseball” is akin to a friend sharing their prized collection of baseball cards with you.
A few more books that give you a tour of baseball’s scruffy underbelly (The titles say it all):
“Outsider Baseball. The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876-1950,” by, Scott Simkus.
The August LibraryReads list – the top 10 titles publishing next month that librarians across the country recommend – includes plenty of novels for summer’s last hurrah. (And for you true bibliophiles out there, columnist Michael Dirda delivers “Browsings,” a charming collection of essays about reading, genre fiction, book stores, famous pets in fiction and even library book sales!)
“Best Boy” by Eli Gottlieb
“What happens when someone on the autism spectrum grows up, and they aren’t a cute little boy anymore? Gottlieb’s novel follows the story of Todd Aaron, a man in his fifties who has spent most of his life a resident of the Payton Living Center. Todd begins to wonder what lies beyond the gates of his institution. A funny and deeply affecting work.” – Elizabeth Olesh, Baldwin Public Library, Baldwin, NY
“The Nature of the Beast: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel” by Louise Penny
“Louise Penny set the bar high with her last two books, but she had no trouble clearing it with this one. All our old friends are back in Three Pines where a young boy with a compulsion to tell tall tales tells one true story with disastrous results. But which story is the truth and why is it so threatening? Exquisitely suspenseful, emotionally wrenching and thoroughly satisfying.” – Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY
“A Window Opens” by Elisabeth Egan
“Alice Pearce has a pretty great life. She has a loving family and works part-time as an editor for a magazine. When her family’s financial situation takes a drastic turn, Alice finds that she needs to step up to the plate and contribute more, and she finds this comes at a cost. I think many women will see themselves in Alice’s character. I recommend this book to moms who need a little time to themselves; they might realize that maybe things aren’t so bad for them after all.” – Rosanna Johnson, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ
And here is the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure! Be one of the first people in line for these anticipated titles.
- “The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman
- “Everybody Rise” by Stephanie Clifford
- “The Fall of Princes” by Robert Goolrick
- “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware
- “Black Eyed Susans” by Julia Heaberlin
- “Lord of the Wings: A Meg Langslow Mystery” by Donna Andrews
- “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books” by Michael Dirda
The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The August 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.
Do you like to read weird things? I suspect anyone who has read more than one of this gentleman’s posts probably does. Granted, I write in the conventional, easily parsed and comforting voice of a modern nobleman, but I often recommend novels wherein there is at least a modicum of the weird: perhaps there is a murderous tortilla chip or a ghost delivering a message to the wrong twin or a carnival full of haphazardly genetically modified human attractions. But this time I’m going to get real weird with it: I hereby recommend Southern Reach, the gripping trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.
Is it weirder than murderous snacks? Yes. After all, I sometimes feel, particularly after a sixth sack of candied bacon, that my snacks have it in for me. But I’ve never been on a classified expedition into a mysterious wilderness surrounded by a force-field that obliterates anything that touches it unless it enters through one particular (and invisible) entrance. Once there I’ve never encountered a “tower” that extends underground rather than above it, its walls harboring a massively creepy, moderately comprehensible never-ending sentence etched in otherworldly fungus. Nor have I taken a closer look at that fungus only to inhale a spore which imparts a “glowing” feeling and increasingly takes hold of my mind and body. Likewise, I did not later discover the harrowing extent of the hypnotic cues imparted on me before I began my journey. Never have I discovered that a previous expedition had ended in a bloodbath caused by its highly trained members turning on each other. Not once have I ventured to a lighthouse to find evidence of carnage and a tremendous cache journals whose content is more disturbing even than the fact that there are significantly more of them than the official count of expeditions into “Area X” would account for. And I have not experienced any of the other strange shenanigans that populate the remaining two books in the trilogy and which, as is my custom, I will not spoil.
However, if you prefer to have your reading material more thoroughly examined, I will provide a link to this glowing review. Here, have another. Want someone to more thoroughly elucidate what’s weird about this trilogy? Fine.
The book jackets and reviews compare this trilogy to “LOST.” One of the above reviews says it’s like “LOST” if H.P. Lovecraft had been brought in as a script doctor. And while there is an unfortunate lack of a jump-kicking Matthew Fox, I daresay anyone that enjoyed the show for any length of time will delight in these books. But, again, there is no jump-kicking Matthew Fox; maybe I am wrong.
There is more to recommend this trilogy than its strange and startlingly fun content. For one, there is an abundance of pretty nature writing: nature lovers might be inspired to lace up their nature boots for a more tangible look at nature. It could be argued (and is argued in one of the linked reviews) that there are some fancy metaphors embedded in this series. Also, while other authors harangue their readers for being too eager for the next volume in their massive book series, VanderMeer published this trilogy in two month intervals, which gave readers respites to digest the content and crave more. And, delightfully, at this point all three are published and you need not exercise the same restraint as some doctors recommend be paired with candied bacon.
Usually, when people throw around the term fanfiction (fanfic for short), they mean the stories you find on websites such as fanfiction.net or quotev, pieces written by fans of an original comic/novel/movie/TV show, using characters from that universe, and shared with other fans. The quality of the writing can vary wildly, but the level of enthusiasm remains consistently high. In the past couple of years Kindle Worlds has allowed fanfic authors to garner pay for their work through a licensing structure that keeps everyone on the legal side of the copyright line, something that can be a nebulous issue. Legalminimum supplies some good guidelines for using established fictional characters. Since most fanfic is created out of a desire to celebrate and promote the original, rather than to make money or compete with it, many writers are happy to allow their characters to lead alternate lives.
Though the Internet has helped to popularize fanfiction, storytellers have been borrowing from their forebears for century upon century. Mark Twain wrote fanfiction. Yes, it’s true. In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” he used recognized characters from Camelot in a new tale of his own. William Shakespeare often repurposed figures from Greek, Roman and Celtic legends to populate his tales. Think of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest.”
In the past fifty years or so, many established authors have found publishing success by continuing this tradition of literary borrowing. “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire takes an adult look at L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz, providing a sympathetic portrayal of the Witch of the West. Totally fanfiction. Similarly, Jean Rhys took up the cause of Jane Eyre’s antagonist, the purportedly insane Mrs. Rochester, in her 1966 novel, “Wide Sargasso Sea.” The continually growing spate of Jane Austen spin-offs contains too many titles too list. Meanwhile, James Deaver and others are keeping Ian Fleming’s James Bond alive.
My point is, if you enjoy reading and/or writing fanfiction, don’t be shy about it. Don’t feel it’s something less worthy than “real” literature. You’re in the company of Mark Twain and Shakespeare, after all.
Note: Why yes, there is a list in our online catalog.
When you hear Judy Blume’s name you probably think of children’s novels.
One of the first Judy Blume books I read to my kids was “Freckle Juice.” From there we progressed to “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” and others. My kids loved the silliness of theses stories, which most always give way to what can be considered a learning moment of the character as well as the reader!
Blume’s newest novel, “In the Unlikely Event,” is her first novel for adults in 16 years. The story is set in Elizabeth, New Jersey during the winter between 1951 and 1952 when three planes crash within 58 days of each other. The story deals with how her 15-year-old protagonist Miri, her family, friends and the community deal with technology failure, tragedy, social change and fear and learn to find the good in all that has gone wrong. If you find yourself looking for something else to read while you wait for your hold, try one of these titles that are also family sagas set during the 1950s.
“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson
It’s 1956, and Reverend John Ames is 77 years old and in failing health, which compels him to write a letter (that he has been putting off) chronicling three generations to his young son. Ames tells his son about his heritage. He describes his prophet-like grandfather who had a vision that sent him to Kansas to be useful to the cause of abolition, the conflict between his fiery grandfather and pacifist father, the birth and death of Ames’ first wife and child and the legacy of slavery that dates back to the Civil War.
“Cutting for Stone” by A. Verghese
In Ethiopia in 1954, twin brothers slightly joined at the head are born to a British surgeon and an Indian nun who dies shortly after their birth. Their horrified father runs off, leaving them to be raised by the surgeons who separated them. The boys, Marion and Shiva Stone, are raised on the grounds of the mission hospital where both are drawn towards the medical field. As they come of age, they are driven apart by a country in upheaval and the love they have for the same woman.
“The Garden of Evening Mists” by Twan Eng Tan
Seeking solace in her remaining years, retired, ill Chinese-Malaysian judge Teoh Yun Ling leaves Kuala Lampur for the highlands of Malaysia to discover Yugiri, which means the garden of evening mists. While there she reflects on the life she and her sister lived while interred in a Japanese slave labor camp during World War II and decides to build a commemorative garden for her sister with the help of Aritomo, the former gardener for the Emperor of Japan who reluctantly takes her on as an apprentice.
The post What to Read While You Wait for Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event appeared first on DBRL Next.
In keeping with this summer’s superhero reading theme, DBRL will be hosting a book talk on Thursday, July 9 featuring an anthology of poetry about superheroes, “Drawn to Marvel.” Editor and contributor Marta Ferguson and a good-natured band of fellow comics fans will be appearing in costume to give a readers’ theater presentation of many of the poems from Drawn to Marvel, with a brief Q&A to follow. Books will be available for sale and autographing. In anticipation of the event, Dr. Ferguson answered some questions about the anthology.
DBRL: In the editor’s note you mention that when you were the poetry editor at The Missouri Review you accepted superhero themed poetry from two different writers (Bryan D. Dietrich and Nicholas Allen Harp), and that the discussion among the three of you sparked the idea for this anthology. It’s such a niche subject, so was it difficult to find poetry in the superhero genre? Is there a community of poets creating work about superheroes?
MF: Back in 2003, when we began talking about superhero poetry, all three of us knew somebody else who’d written and published at least one poem having to do with superheroes. Bryan’s book of Superman sonnets (“Krypton Nights,” Zoo Press, 2002) had come out the year before, and it was arguably the first really visible collection of all-superhero poems in the academic-literary poetry arena. It won the Paris Review Prize and came out with a hip little press that had a terrifically well connected publication team, so lots of people saw it. However, over in the speculative poetry arena (presided over by the Science Fiction Poetry Association and capped by the annual Rhysling award), there was already lots of superhero energy stirring among poets like Bruce Boston and Marge Simon. And there were already classic superhero poems, like Albert Goldbarth’s “Powers,” which we were lucky enough to get, and Simon Armitage’s “Kid” (Robin), which we weren’t, because of the permissions pricing.
Over the decade that we gathered work, there was always MORE work to gather. In 2013 when we put out a call for superhero poems, we were almost buried under the submissions pile: 800? 1,000 pieces? And we already had about 100 pages? Whoo hoo! At this point, it’s a sub-genre. And we got to be the first anthology to honor it, which feels great.
DBRL: I was excited to see how many of these poems were about female/feminine superheroes, and how several of the pieces analyzed how gender is portrayed in superhero myths. Gender in comic books and in ‘geek culture’ in general has been a hot news topic this year. Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this issue?
MF: Comic books themselves have welcomed female authors and characters for a long time. There’s still more cover cleavage than most of us non-illustrated women feel is necessary, but there’s no doubt that women have an established place in comics culture.
I think the controversy you’re referring to is over women in video games and female video game reviewers. There’s a lot I could say on that as well, not much of it suitable for a public forum. So I’ll leave it at this: Boys, it’s time share the clubhouse. If you keep pulling up the rope ladder, we’ll just jetpack in through the windows.
DBRL: The intro, an excerpt from Bryan D. Dietrich’s “A Defense of Superhero Poetry”, discusses superheroes’ place in mythology and superhero poetry’s juxtaposition of the mundane and the super. Would you be able to quickly summarize that for someone who hasn’t yet had a chance to read the book?
MF: Sure, Bryan’s argument, which has been echoed by other critics as well, is that superheroes are the new mythology. Just as the Greeks used their gods to speculate about why the sun came up and how we learned to use fire, superheroes help us explore our relationship to technology, our evolving understandings of race and gender, our increasingly globalized world and our place in the larger universe.
DBRL: DC or Marvel? And do you have a favorite superhero?
MF: I have to be honest, I grew up in the DC universe. My dad collected old fishing tackle, and my brother and I would tag along with him to garage sales. Any box of comics we could negotiate down to a dollar, he’d pay for—and my favorites were always the Batman books. I spent a lot of time just before I fell asleep at night deciding who I’d rather be: Robin? Batgirl? Poison Ivy? The Joker? Funny that I never wanted to be Bruce himself. Since I now write as Barbara Gordon (Oracle/Batgirl), I’d have to say she’s my favorite, though I have an affinity for the entire Cape-and-Cowl set.
DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would like to recommend to our readers?
MF: Always! In keeping with the theme, I highly recommend two new superhero poetry collections, both on the shelves at DBRL:
DBRL: Other than Daniel Boone Regional Library, where can readers get a copy of “Drawn To Marvel”?
Don’t miss the “Drawn to Marvel” book talk at the Columbia Public Library this Thursday, July 9 at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room. Due to adult themes and violent content, the event is recommended for mature readers. A free copy of the book will be given to the best-costumed attendee.
Just in time for all of your summer road trips, on May 28 the Audio Publishers Association (APA) announced the winners of its 2015 Audie Awards competition, honoring spoken word entertainment. The top prize – audiobook of the year – went to “Mandela: An Audio History” by Nelson Mandela and narrated by Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Joe Richman. Here are some of the other award winners available for check-out from your library.
Distinguished Achievement in Production
Neil Gaiman’s full-cast production of “The Graveyard Book“
While this book for young readers was originally published in 2008, this new recording by a group of British all-stars brings Gaiman’s dark tale delightfully to life. Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.
“Not My Father’s Son” by Alan Cumming (narrated by the author)
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.
“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (narrated by Zach Appelman)
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris and is blind by age 6. Her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, so she can memorize it and navigate the real streets. When the Germans occupy Paris, they flee to Saint-Malo on the coast. In Germany, Werner grows up enchanted by a crude radio he finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, which wins him a place with the Hitler Youth. Werner travels throughout Europe during the war, and finally to Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie Laure’s inevitably converge.
“The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Doris Kearns Goodwin (narrated by Edward Herrmann)
Goodwin describes the broken friendship between Teddy Roosevelt and his chosen successor, William Howard Taft. With the help of the ‘muckraking’ press Roosevelt had wielded the Bully Pulpit to challenge and triumph over abusive monopolies, political bosses, and corrupting money brokers. Roosevelt led a revolution that he bequeathed to Taft only to see it compromised as Taft surrendered to money men and big business.
“Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Read by Robert Glenister)
This is J.K. Rowling’s second mystery novel written under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. The fast-paced narrative focuses on a missing novelist, Owen Quine, and private detective Cormoran Strike. Quine has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives. That means that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.
“Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him” by David Henry and Joe Henry (narrated by Dion Graham)
David and Joe Henry bring Richard Pryor to life both as a man and as an artist, providing an in-depth appreciation of his talent and his lasting influence, as well as an insightful examination of the world he lived in and the influences that shaped both his persona and his art.
The label “Great American Novel” is often applied to a book that captures something essential about American culture and its people, a story grounded in and informed by the American experience. Others use the term to identify a work as the best representative of the kind of literature being written in America during a particular time period. And of course, a great many other readers and critics dismiss the idea of any book being able to capture the diverse experiences and realities of all Americans. Whatever your opinion, this July 4th you can celebrate our nation’s independence with these books that – if the honorific were actually to be awarded – could be contenders for the title of Great American Novel.
“Freedom” by Johnathan Franzen
The Berglunds, the suburban family at the center of this book, appear perfect on the outside, but looks are deceiving. The story follows them through the last decades of the twentieth century and concludes near the beginning of the Obama administration. Their lives begin to unravel when their son moves in with aggressive Republican neighbors, green lawyer Walter takes a job in the coal industry and go-getter Patty becomes increasingly unstable and enraged. Desire, entitlement, marriage, family – Franzen plumbs these and many other weighty topics in this study of middle class American life.
“Gilead” by Marilyn Robinson
This lyrical and thoughtful novel takes the form of a letter from the dying Reverend John Ames to his son, revealing Ames’ deep reverence for his life, his work and this country. He chronicles three previous generations of his family, including a fiery abolitionist grandfather and pacifist father, both also men of faith. The story stretches back to the Civil War, reveals uncomfortable family secrets and examines the bond between fathers and sons.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
First published in 1960, the racial injustice described in this novel unfortunately has strong echoes in today’s America. Scout Finch, daughter of the town lawyer, likes to spend her summers building tree houses, swimming and catching lightning bugs with her big brother Jem. But one summer, when a black man is accused of raping a white woman and her father defends the man in the courtroom, Scout’s carefree days come to an end. She joins her father in a desperate battle against ignorance and prejudice in their small Alabama town.
The post Three Great American Novels for Your Fourth of July appeared first on DBRL Next.
This summer we’re exploring heroes, from crime-fighting superheroes to everyday folks just making a difference in their communities. Heroes can also be found within the pages of great literature. Historical fiction, which often chronicles the imagined experiences of real-life events, is a genre that is especially filled with heroes. I will admit I’m partial to stories of women in these historical settings. I know my own life is very different than those of the women who came before me. In fact, the life I lead has been very much shaped by those brave women from earlier centuries. The heroic women of historical fiction provide a glimpse into the challenges women of the past faced and how their bravery shaped today’s world. Here are a few of my favorite historical novels featuring strong women.
The years before the Civil War were tumultuous, especially in the Kansas Territory where abolitionists struggled to gain a stronghold and help the state enter the Union as a free state. Jane Smiley’s “The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton,” features a Midwestern young woman who finds herself thrust into the upheaval of “Bleeding Kansas.” Lidie heads out to the territory with her abolitionist husband and (to be frank) completely unrealistic expectations of what the Kansas prairie will be like. The story, filled with Lidie’s dry wit, is at times laugh-out-loud funny, and at others is quite sobering in its portrayal of the horror of slavery and violence of those years. I think Missouri residents will find this read especially interesting given all the Missouri locales that Lidie visits during her travels.
The experience of Chinese immigrants in WWII-era Los Angeles features in Lisa See’s “Shanghai Girls.” Pearl and May are sisters living exciting lives as models in glamorous Shanghai. When WWII breaks out, they find themselves in arranged marriages to sons of a Chinese-American merchant. Pearl and May are forced to leave China for the United States, landing first in the Angel Island Chinese immigration station and then in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. The sisters, bearing the weight of their own painful secrets, struggle to adjust to life under a domineering father-in-law and a society that is highly prejudicial against Asian-Americans. See’s novel, based in part on her own family’s experiences, provides a captivating look at the immigrant experience in this country.
A small town’s struggle to survive during the Plague is chronicled in Geraldine Brooks’ “Year of Wonders.” The story is based on actual events — a small Derbyshire town called the village of Eyam quarantined itself in 1666 in order to prevent the plague from spreading further. Anna, a young maid, finds herself tasked with learning herbal remedies and midwifery when her village is overcome by the devastating disease. She becomes an important healer but faces many challenges, including the superstitions of the very people she is working to save. The novel is a beautifully written journey of self-discovery as Anna realizes strength and determination she did not know she possessed.
The Gateway Readers Award honors a young adult novel that is selected by Missouri high school students. Even though this award is administered by the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL), it is the responsibility of Missouri teens to vote on the actual winner. These titles will be voted upon by students in March 2016; the recipient of the award will be announced in late April 2016 at the annual MASL Spring Conference. There is a great assortment of genres represented in this year’s list of nominees, so have fun choosing among historical fiction, realistic fiction, and, of course, dystopian literature.
“In the Shadow of Blackbirds” by Cat Winters
As influenza and World War I take their toll, Mary Shelley Black watches mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort. Despite her scientific leanings, she is forced to consider if ghosts are real when her first love returns after being killed in battle.
“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson
At age eight, David watched as his father was killed by an Epic, a human with superhuman powers. Ten years later, he joins the Reckoners, a group of rebels trying to kill the Epics and end their tyranny.
“The Naturals” by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Seventeen-year-old Cassie, who has a natural ability to read people, joins an elite group of criminal profilers at the FBI in order to help solve cold cases.
“The Rules for Disappearing” by Ashley Elston
High school student “Meg” has changed identities so often she hardly knows who she is anymore. Despite her ever-changing persona, she always remembers the two rules of witness protection: be forgettable and do not make friends. However, in her new home, a boy named Ethan is making that rather difficult.
“All Our Yesterdays” by Cristin Terrill
Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain. Meanwhile, Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future.
“Thousand Words” by Jennifer Brown
Talked into sending a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend while she was drunk, Ashleigh became the center of a sexting scandal. Now in court-ordered community service, she finds an unlikely ally, Mack.
“I am the Weapon (Boy Nobody)” by Allen Zadoff
Boy Nobody, an assassin controlled by a shadowy government organization, considers sabotaging his latest mission because his target reminds him of the normal life he craves.
“Escape from Eden” by Ellisa Nadler
Mia has long lived under the iron fist of the preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical followers. In Edenton, a supposed ‘Garden of Eden,’ everyone follows the Reverend’s strict rules – even the mandate of whom to marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out.
“Proxy” by Alex London
Syd’s life is not his own. As a proxy he must pay for someone else’s crimes. When his patron Knox crashes a car and kills someone, Syd is branded and sentenced to death. The boys realize the only way to beat the system is to save each other.
“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys
Josie, the 17-year-old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute, is striving to escape 1950 New Orleans and enroll at prestigious Smith College when she becomes entangled in a murder investigation.
“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey
Cassie Sullivan, the survivor of an alien invasion, must rescue her younger brother from the enemy with help from a boy who may be one of them.
“Winger” by Andrew Smith
Two years younger than his classmates at a prestigious boarding school, Ryan Dean West grapples with living in the dorm for troublemakers, falling for his female best friend who thinks of him as just a kid, and playing wing on the varsity rugby team.
“Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits. They are both smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
“All the Truth That’s in Me” by Julie Berry
Judith can’t speak. But when her close-knit community of Roswell Station is attacked by enemies, Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice.
“The Program” by Suzanne Young
Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in “The Program,” the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; she knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through “The Program” returns as a blank slate. While their depression is gone, so are their memories.
Originally published at 2016 Gateway Award Nominees.
The superhero. The origin story, the nemesis, the team up, the world-saving, etc. Oh, and the reboot. Never forget the reboot. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again. The superhero is an enduring trope that has permeated pop-culture. Inevitably, writers and artists started creating comics that critique, satirize and subvert the idea of the superhero. What might have started as efforts to tell a new story in a well-worn genre morphed into creative examinations of the concept of the superhero. Despite any high-minded genre dissections, the basic thrill of superhero stories is in these titles. These creators work in the genre because they ultimately love it, warts and all.
In 1986 two series premiered which are now touchstones for the re-imagining of the superhero story: Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller tells the story of a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne who must return from retirement (spoiler alert!) as Batman. Gotham has turned into a bit of a dystopian nightmare in the 10 years since Batman retired. Batman is not so nice and not very stable. His reemergence brings some of his arch rivals out of retirement as well, which adds to the chaos in Gotham. In addition to being a different take on an iconic character, “The Dark Knight Returns” satirizes the media and political atmosphere of the 1980s.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons also offers a critique of the 1980s, specifically the Cold War hysteria of the time. It examines political themes buried in comics, such as the line between vigilantism and fascism, and what a government might really do with superpowered beings. Moore’s original idea started as a murder mystery involving characters from Charlton Comics, which DC Comics had just purchased. Although Moore was persuaded to create original characters for the story, it maintained it’s very meta take on comics, what Gibbons referred to as “a comic about comics.”
An unfortunate trend followed the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Many comics appeared that tried to replicate their success with darker, more violent superhero stories, but they lacked the substance that made those comics lasting works. However, some darker comics followed whose quality is comparable.
The series Marshal Law by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill first appeared in October 1987, when the final issue of Watchmen was published. It’s a darkly satirical story where the superheros are misguided government experiments and shell-shocked war vets wreaking havoc in a crumbling San Francisco, now called “San Futuro.” Marshal Law is a legally sanctioned superhero hunter (“I’m a hero hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven’t found any yet,” is his tag line). He’s trying to round up all the rogue heroes to make the city safer. From superheros.
The Boys by Garth Ennis also deals with out-of-control superheros with a dark, satirical tone. In this case the superheros are an amoral and entitled variety that play a public role as “heroes” while in reality show a complete disregard for others. The Boys are a CIA-backed group who have lost loved ones, or otherwise had their lives ruined, by the negligence and misbehavior of superheroes. They are given injections of the same compound that creates superheroes and tasked with holding the “‘supes” accountable. They do so with a vengeance.
The series Irredeemable and Incorruptible by Mark Waid tell two sides to the same story. Irredeemable is the story of Plutonian, a god-like superhero from another world (like Superman) who loses it. He lays waste to much of the world, and the survivors live in terror of him. The story traces the cause of his meltdown, while also following the uphill battle surviving superheros have in their attempt to stop the most powerful being on Earth.
Incorruptible follows super villain Max Damage after Plutonian’s meltdown. The horror inflicted by Plutonian and the state the world is in give Max a crisis of conscience. The series follows him as he tries to change his ways and do right in this broken world.
Daniel Clowes‘ The Death Ray examines the “with great power comes great responsibility” line from Spider-Man, asking “what might a misfit teenager really do if he had superpowers?” Andy is growing up in 1970s Chicago and suffering at the hands of bullies. He discovers that smoking cigarettes gives him super strength. Naturally, he arms himself with a ray gun and looks for revenge. Andy is neither good nor evil but a realistic portrait of a mixed-up kid given some unrealistic abilities. The story is told with the mix of melancholy, humor and cynicism that has made Clowes one of the most critically acclaimed cartoonists of our time.