Saturday, December 13, 2008

what i've been reading w/ reviews pt 1

as promised:

1. Life With My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone (biography)

Christopher Ciccone (Madonna's real life brother) is a total asswipe for writing this book. I don't care how big of a money-grubbing, power-hungry bitch Madonna 'really is', you don't talk trash about your famous sister because she fires you and you want to stay in the rich and famous people world. Plus, it won't work! Writing an "exposé" doesn't make you an entertainer or an artist, it just makes you an exploitative parasite. Anyone reading this book who's not an idiot will realize that straight away. Rich, famous people might often be arrogant, selfish jerks, but their one vulnerability is they never know who they can trust because everyone is always relating to them through their image and wealth. To bear witness to someone's trusted family member committing a betrayal on this scale is to feel sick to your stomach. Don't read this book. Don't ask me why I did. (I'm a fan, I like to follow 'the myths') Just stay away. Its ugliness will infect you.

2. The Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw (graphic novel)

This book is like 1000 pages long. It's so long, yet I read it in two days I think. Graphic novels are like that, they reel you in. It's more like watching TV than reading a book, or maybe the point in the middle. Anyhow, don't let the size scare you, if you wanna finish it, you'll finish it. It's like Harry Potter in that way. Shaw's drawings are kinda cool, not really my style, but I like how simple they are. The story is from a male perspective (the author's own gender is what I'm referring to, not any of the characters) and is therefore kinda typical and limited in certain ways women are used to, but it is still pretty interesting storytelling.

The situation is three grown siblings coming back together to visit their parents one last time before they divorce. As most people know and experience at the holidays, when adults are reunited with their siblings and back in their parents home, they start to act like children. All the old psychological roles come back and, while painful and tedious, this experience can also be cathartic and revelatory and even change the way you live in your day to day life. If that sounds interesting to you, you might like this. I can see this getting on the nerves of some people I know though. It's 'universal' theme is from the brain of an unenlightened dude. Not that he's a dick necessarily, but we don't share the same understanding of reality. I'm used to it and would read more of his work. I think he'll get better at storytelling but will always be a (presumably straight) guy writing about being a guy from a guy's perspective uninterested in interrogating what any of that brings to his art. Don't say I didn't warn you.

3. The Democratic Forest -William Eggleston, Introduction by Eudroa Welty (photographs)

I saw this picture (of a tricycle shot from the p.o.v. of a child looking up at it) in the New York Times and went looking for more. It turns out this guy is hugely famous. I don't know anything about photography or visual art history, but it was cool looking at his work. He seems to be privileged and absorbed in aesthetics. I can look at this stuff for hours and hours. If someone has something more informed or can shed some perspective my way I'd be interested in hearing from you.

4. The Education of Hopey Glass by Jaime Hernandez (graphic novel)

Ok, so while I just made all these generalizations about male graphic novelists I have to say there are exceptions to what I'm trying to talk about, the Hernandez brothers being my favorite example.

Some women/feminists I know feel that the Hernandez brothers are not deserving of their reputation because they are (straight?) guys creating this world of (in my opinion, totally amazing) female/lesbian characters. I think this is absurd. Fiction writers and artists should be able to represent all of reality. The fact they are SOOOO good at representing women gives me faith in the power of the imagination. Plus their drawings are absolutely perfect. I could go on and on and will when I am more clear on what I'm trying to say.

In this story Hopey, who I love so much I almost consider her an (imaginary) friend, is on her own (no Maggie really) working with little kids. There is a cool flash back back to her own school days, which is really similar to those Archie and Jughead books where they are little kids. The story is really psychological and vivid and makes you understand her character better. It's told in flashback form and is definitely my favorite part of this book. I wanna xerox it so I guess I'll just probably end up buying the book. I know I'll wanna keep looking at it over and over again.

There is a little bit of creepy guy-world in this story that I can see getting bummed on, but whatever, it's Love and Rockets and it rules. It's like, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones or maybe The Stooges and Sex Pistols of comics. Male but so imaginative and expressive that you NEED IT in your life. If that makes you not like comics like those (awesome) bands make you not like rock-n-roll, we don't share the same worldview, so...don't listen to me but do go make your own band and graphic novel please! we need your work!

5. Twilight and New Moon by Stephanie Meyer (young adult fiction)

As noted here before, and as you must know by now, these are vampire books set in Forks, WA...the 'new harry potter' or whatevs. Well I was super into Twilight while I was reading it, but while it's interesting on a number of levels, it's not actually a good book and New Moon totally sucks. Don't go see the movie unless you are seeing it solely because it's set in the great northwest. It's really, really terrible.

Twilight is interesting because Bella (the heroine) is a normal (human) girl (as far as we know) who falls in love with Edward, a vampire, which causes all kinds of unsolvable problems and adventures. The story is tragic because in order for them to be together, she has to die and he doesn't want to kill her. If she dies she will become a vampire and they can be together eternally. If she lives her life as a human they will become farther apart in age and it will never work out. The other big tragedy is that she is really hot for him and he is afraid to make out with her because he might lose control and actually kill her, ie suck her blood and turn her into a vampire.

Basically the whole appeal of the story is explained on this basis: this is a story about female sexual desire that needs to be repressed. This can be read in a number of ways: abstinence only sex-ed, i.e. no sex before marriage, the promise keepers (the author is Mormon and reportedly conservative); 'the normalization of abuse" is another reading I've heard, which sounds pretty extreme to me--although Bella becomes suicidal because she wants Edward and has to die for her desire to be realized--so I guess it kind of makes sense--though in this case, 'death' is actually 'eternal life' without a soul, so if you are not religious it's not really 'suicide'. Regardless of your take on this, where in our culture is female sexual desire explored from the perspective of a teenager for other teenage girls to read? If this needs to happen in vampire-form, so be it.

There is some possible racism at work--the werewolf kids are native- Quileute-who are said to be descended from wolves--yet (as Joaquin pointed out) the vampires are of a European lineage. So you have the whole 'native-as-closer-to-nature' thing going on, as well as 'magic' and 'indians'. Supposedly there are actual Quiluete legends about wolves, including a creation myth, but it's still a little weird... I guess I'd have to do a little more research to get into deconstructing that aspect. The overt racialization (i might be using this word wrong) though is in all the talk about 'beautiful, pale skin'. Its like, get over it. It reminds me of my 'goth' friends putting sunscreen on claiming that there is nothing racist about wanting to stay 'as white as possible' in a world where people are devalued for having dark skin.

Did I say New Moon sucked? It really does. For some reason Bella has this problem where she always needs to be saved by a guy. This is the most blatantly sexist thing in the book and is inconsistent with her character--she is a pretty self-sufficient kid, an adult stuck in high school who has always taken care of herself and her parents. She makes her own decisions and doesn't need to rely on anyone. Yet, she always finds herself in mortal danger, needing a guy to save her. Give me a break. Unless they explain this somehow, the books will remain patriarchal and flawed in my view.

Still, hurray for all those young women lusting over these books. They are romances and adventurous and Bella is really cool. She reads Jane Austen! Enough said.

7.Olivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer (children's picture book)

I gave this to Sophie for her birthday, who is 3 and reportedly a big Olivia fan. It's a story about a girl-pig who starts a band and dreams of becoming president. Neat drawings, cool story for little girls to read out loud with their moms.

I'll finish the rest of the list later.....


saralibrarian said...

More on the portrayal of Native Americans in the Twilight series can be found on the "American Indians in Children's Literature Blog"...

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malacaligrafia said...

About The Education of Hopey Glass by Jaime Hernandez (graphic novel), I can't wait to read it. I think the Hernadez brothers are great and there is no one else doing the kind of comics they do.

If i remember correctly -from different interviews I have read with them- they have always recognized the influence of their mother on their passion for comics, which is pretty cool (a mom fan of comics, how convenient).

From the Bros. Hernandez bio at Fantagraphics:
"Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez enjoyed a pleasant childhood in Oxnard, California with three other brothers and one sister. In Gilbert's words, they were "born into a world with comic books in the house." Their mother had been an avid comic book fan as a girl, and entertained her children with drawings of her favorite characters (the original comics had been disposed of by her own mother), beginning with her eldest, Mario. Mario went on to discover comic books and, in turn, passed them on to his younger siblings. Comic books proliferated in the Hernandez household, with each child developing an interest in drawing. (...)For Mario, Gilbert, and Jaime, one of those interests would be music. Once again, Mrs. Hernandez would be a primary influence, passing on a fondness she developed for rock music while pregnant with Jaime. Rock and roll "became background music" in the Hernandez house, as natural as comics had been."