From the Shelf
Revisiting Mildred D. Taylor's Logan Family Saga
My antiracist reading this summer includes the usual suspects (White Fragility; How to Be an Antiracist), but just as crucially, I've been spending time with Mildred D. Taylor's Logan family.
Outspoken, whip-smart Cassie Logan entered my life in the fourth grade, when I discovered her story in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Puffin, $8.99). Unusually for Depression-era Mississippi, Cassie's tightly knit Black family owned their land, and the book tells of a year when they fought to keep it. I also loved Taylor's powerful sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken (Puffin, $8.99); they're both as rich and compelling now as they were 25 years ago. But there's more to their story, and I've been relishing and learning from the new-to-me chapters of the Logan Family Saga.
Taylor's 2001 prequel, The Land (Puffin, $7.99), chronicles the childhood of Cassie's biracial grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan, and his quest to acquire his own land. The Road to Memphis (Puffin, $9.99) follows the teenage Cassie, her brother Stacey and several friends as they spirit a friend out of town after a racially charged altercation with three white men. (Bonus: the reissued paperbacks feature covers by 2020 Caldecott Medalist and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Kadir Nelson.)
Taylor's concluding Logan novel, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come (Viking, $19.99), picks up Cassie's story in adulthood. She travels the country, finds both love and grief, and goes home to Mississippi to participate in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Taylor, who won the 2020 CSK-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, returns to her perennial themes of justice, equality, fierce pride and the Logans' deep love for their land and one another. Their strength and dignity in the face of discrimination are a potent reminder that Black people have suffered long enough: it's time for white Americans to do better.
In this Issue...
A French diplomat and award-winning Moroccan writer uses oral histories and analysis to demand change in the Arab Muslim view of female sexuality.
by Gordon Korman
A rewarding middle-grade novel that reflects on the fortunes of war with honesty.
by Lindsay Ellis
This alternate history set in 2007 provides a peculiar, entertaining take on first contact.
Review by Subjects:
The Backwards Index: Sdrawkcab, Sey!
Merriam-Webster showcased the Backward Index and questioned why anyone would type out 315,000 words spelled in reverse.
The New York Public Library shared the books author Geraldine Brooks is reading.
"This 'Bookworm' tiny cabin's purpose is to give you a peaceful place to read," Apartment Therapy noted.
From BOOM! Studios: Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five by Ryan North, illustrated by Albert Monteys, with color assistance by Ricard Zaplana (Archaia/BOOM! Studios, September 2020)
This is the first faithful adaptation in graphic novel form of Kurt Vonnegut's classic anti-war novel, which was published in 1969. Part science fiction and part based on Vonnegut's experience as a POW in Dresden during the 1945 firebombing, the book stars Billy Pilgrim, who runs a successful optometry business, has a loving family, and witnessed the firebombing of Dresden. Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time and travels to the planet Tralfamadore, reads fictional SF novelist Kilgore Trout and meets Kurt Vonnegut. His journey is at once a farcical look at the horror and tragedy of war, where children are placed on the frontlines and die ("so it goes" is one of the book's refrains), and a moving examination of what it means to be fallibly human. The tale found special resonance because it was published at the height of the Vietnam War.
Vonnegut's black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America's attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959, and then with Cat's Cradle in 1963. Graham Greene called him "one of the best living American writers." He died in 2007.
"Like most people, Kurt Vonnegut has been one of my favourite writers since I first read his books decades ago, and it was honestly a terrifying challenge and then a true joy to adapt his most famous work for a new medium," said writer Ryan North. "Terrifying at the start because this is Kurt Vonnegut, and I've loved him forever, and I didn't want to screw this up. And then joy as Albert's pages came in and my script was transformed into something wonderful and clever and heartfelt and real. I'm so proud of the work we've done together, and I believe that can be seen when you read it.
"My goal was to make a book that felt like it was indigenous to comics, that if someone could read it without somehow having heard of Slaughterhouse-Five, they would think 'Oh what a great comic!' and not 'Oh, that was a solid adaptation of a prose novel.' I wanted a book that lived and breathed its medium from the first page. Throughout it we tried to do things that were essential to comics, that you could only do IN comics, so that the book itself would argue for its own existence. I hope we've succeeded!"
North said, too, that he wanted "to convey how much heart the book has, how much of the original soul of the book and of Kurt himself is in it, and how much comics can help readers who are maybe scared off by Big Books of 20th Century Western Canon. Comics are intrinsically fun, fun to read, fun to look at: hold up a page of prose next to a page of comics and your eye will always go to the comics first. It's my hope that this new medium will bring new attention to Vonnegut's work, and also reach people that a novel perhaps couldn't. It's a book that honours the original Vonnegut text while also transforming it into something more modern for current audiences. And it's a terrifically moving comic."
North emphasized that the message of Slaughterhouse-Five is "as unchanged in the graphic novel as it was in the original prose novel: that war is a tragedy, a horror, and it is made by humans, and inflicted on humans, and it may be as inevitable as glaciers--but also, that humans are not all bad, and some are good, and we humans can still have hope."
North is the Eisner Award-winning writer of How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler and the writer responsible for Dinosaur Comics, the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Adventure Time comic book series for BOOM! Studios, the bestselling anthology series Machine of Death and the New York Times bestselling and Eisner-Award winning Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel Comics. North has also written a New York Times bestselling series of choose-your-own-adventure books based on Shakespeare's classic plays Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. His latest book, How to Invent Everything, is a complete cheat sheet for civilization. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
For artist Albert Monteys, too, at first the idea of adapting Slaughterhouse-Five into a graphic novel was overwhelming. He said, "My first reaction when BOOM! proposed the project was 'this can't be adapted, it is what it is, it's structure is purely literary.' Then I got to read Ryan's wonderful script and I understood that not only was it possible, but a graphic novel was the best format to adapt Slaughterhouse-Five. A book about a man unstuck in time told in a medium that can be defined as a series of images unstuck in time, where the reader reconstructs the narrative. After I understood that, the rest was easy. All we needed was a lot of hard work!"
Monteys called the collaboration "very enriching." He explained: "I usually write my own comics, and usually when I draw someone else's script, I feel like I'm wearing someone else's suit. I felt Ryan's script as mine from the first moment, the same way that Vonnegut is part of my writing influences so this suit did fit very naturally. Ryan's script had so many good ideas I felt compelled to do justice to them."
A longtime fan of Slaughterhouse-Five, Monteys added that while he thought he had the book "all figured out," in working on the graphic novel, "I've discovered a whole new book! I've made connections and found new meanings in places I didn't notice before. To sum it all up, I've discovered what they mean when they talk about classic works that never stop talking to us. Slaughterhouse-Five is definitely one of those. Vonnegut managed to put so much life in such deceptively simple language.
"There is definitely a message about war and what it does to people, but that, as valuable as it is, is just the surface of Vonnegut's book. Slaughterhouse-Five is a book about trying to find meaning and failing to do so. That's why the book resonates with us to this day. It's about fleeting moments of joy, of sadness, of confusion and definitely, it is a book about those moments when we realize we're, after all, lost at sea."
He added that he and Ryan have "been very faithful to Vonnegut's book, but we also acknowledge the condition of the book as a graphic novel adaptation in the book itself. That means we've taken a few liberties which, what a paradox, actually bring us closer to Vonnegut than an absolutely literal adaptation."
Monteys is a Spanish graphic novelist and illustrator, best known for his work in El Jueves, a weekly satirical magazine that he directed from 2006 until 2011. Monteys also created the series Carlitos Fax for the children's magazine Mister K. In 2014, he founded a satirical monthly publication Orgullo y Satisfacción (Pride and Satisfaction) with several other cartoonists, and began to publish a science fiction comic, ¡Universo! (Universe!) in Panel Syndicate, winning a 2017 Eisner Award nomination for Best Digital Comic.
From BOOM! Studios: The Sacrifice of Darkness
The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, art by Rebecca Kirby, coloring by James Fenner (Archaia/BOOM! Studios, October 2020)
The Sacrifice of Darkness is the full-length graphic novel adaptation of Roxane Gay's 2013 short story "We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness." Set in a world that has lost the light of its sun, the story follows the journey of a woman and a man through this new, frightening landscape. As the narrative explores notions of identity, guilt and survival, the characters find that sources of light and hope remain, even in perpetual night.
Gay is the bestselling author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body and Difficult Women, in which "We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness" was originally published. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and her writing has appeared in a plethora of publications and collections, including Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018, Best American Short Stories 2012, McSweeney's, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review and many more. The Sacrifice of Darkness is also not her first foray into the graphic medium: in 2017 she wrote six issues of Marvel's Black Panther: World of Wakanda.
"Some stories don't leave you and such was the case with my short story 'We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness,' " said Gay. "When BOOM! Studios approached me about writing a graphic novel, I immediately knew what kind of story I wanted to tell--one about family and sorrow, faith that survives in a world of darkness, true love and an indelible bond between two people with the world against them."
Writing with Gay is Tracy Lynne Oliver. Based in Los Angeles, Oliver has published pieces in Medium, Fanzine and Occulum, and her story "This Weekend" appeared in the anthology Best Microfiction 2019. The Sacrifice of Darkness is her first graphic novel.
" 'We Are the Sacrifice of Darkness' was one of my favorite Roxane Gay stories, so I was more than thrilled with the opportunity to transform it into a graphic novel format," said Oliver. "I once again fell in love with the characters and their struggles and yearning for love, warmth and light in this dark, cold world they were thrust into. I am so excited for readers to see this story brought to life in such a visually stunning way."
Gay called it a "thrill" to work with Oliver to bring breadth and depth to the world she created in her short story. "She is an amazing collaborator who always pushes me creatively."
Comic artist and illustrator Rebecca Kirby drew The Sacrifice of Darkness. Based in Philadelphia, Pa., she is the creator of Biopsy and Cramps, original comics that were featured on Vice and Waves as well as in Fantagraphics Now: The New Comics Anthology #4.
Kirby said she had a great time illustrating the story Gay and Oliver crafted. "It's been an incredible experience working with everyone as we create a graphic novel full of striking contrasts and tender moments splashed across the page. I hope fans will have just as great an experience reading it."
Mystery & Thriller
by Josh Malerman
Subtle horror intersects with generational conflict when Josh Malerman revisits the characters from Bird Box in the worthy sequel Malorie.
Forced to leave the community they found in the first book, Malorie has raised the two children, now called Tom and Olympia, in safety and isolation until the age of 17. A chance discovery gives her reason to set out with them again on a longer journey than they have ever taken, in search of the only thing that would make her leave: family. But Tom and Olympia, just as they now have names of their own, have grown into people with their own ideas about life that no longer fit within the discipline Malorie developed to avoid the creatures, the sight of whom drives people to deadly violence. Tom dreams of creating inventions that will allow people to go outside without the defense of a blindfold.
Although the creatures still loom, eerie in their lack of definition or explanation, this is a story about change. A generation is nearing adulthood with no memory of the old world, and as Malorie and her family connect with more people on their journey, they hear stories of communities where people have found ways to live in this new world. Alternating perspectives from Malorie and Tom, with the occasional interjection from Olympia, let readers feel their compelling faith in vigilance and innovation, respectively. The familiar unknown menace and the larger view of the world will please Malerman's fans. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: The subtle horror of Bird Box remains although society has evolved in this engrossing sequel.
More Better Deals
by Joe R. Lansdale
Joe R. Lansdale's steamy noir thriller More Better Deals ignites when a slick used-car salesman meets a blonde who can't handle her car payments or her abusive husband.
Ed Edwards earns every cent of his commission at Smiling Dave's Car Lot. Dave pays Ed well, but Ed's job description includes the dirty work of repossessing cars when customers like Frank Craig get behind on payments. Frank's out on a drinking binge when Ed shows up to take the car, which is perfectly fine with Ed because Frank's wife, Nancy, is a beautiful leggy blonde. Nancy tearfully confides to Ed that she's had enough of her hardnosed husband, who feels the need to smack her around before and after sex. When Ed takes back the Craigs' car, replacing it with one she can afford, Nancy lets him fill some of her other needs. Between the bedsheets, Nancy and Ed come up with a plan to get rid of Frank. What could possibly go wrong?
Lansdale's novel doesn't come with a smooth saxophone-laden soundtrack tucked into the dust jacket, but readers may imagine hearing it anyway from the moment Nancy answers Ed's knock on her screen door. From the moment the author describes her as "arched eyebrows and lips that could talk a man into anything, maybe some women," it's obvious poor Ed will be doing whatever this femme fatale wants. Chapters are short and packed with a tightly twisted plot reeking of smoke, alcohol, steamy sheets and blood. An enormously satisfying experience that'll tempt readers to dust off their trench coat, fedora and best Bogart impersonation. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: A hot blonde strikes a killer deal with a car salesman seeking a better position in this noir thriller. Warning: Readers may need a cigarette afterward.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Lindsay Ellis
Video essayist and Hugo finalist Lindsay Ellis's debut science fiction novel is an intriguing entry in the lengthy tradition of first-contact stories, where humans meet alien lifeforms for the first time. Axiom's End features hallmarks of the genre--struggling to communicate, fear giving way to understanding, etc.--with at least one major difference: Ellis's close encounter is set in 2007.
Cora Sabino is a young woman reeling from the unwanted attention her father's celebrity as an anti-secrecy activist in hiding has earned her. Her father is painted as ideologically rigid and obsessed with his own fame--it's difficult not to draw comparisons with Julian Assange. She's not concerned about her father's leaks suggesting the U.S. government engaged in first contact until the truth lands on her doorstep, and Cora is forced into an awkward alliance with an alien being she calls Ampersand. From here, the novel goes in surprising directions. Suffice it to say, Cora's bond with Ampersand grows as she serves as their interpreter, despite learning frightening truths about Ampersand's past and the threats facing Earth. Ellis weaves all of this into an alternate vision of 2007, where even the coming financial crisis is alien-related.
Perhaps because Cora is young and somewhat cheeky, the novel sometimes takes on a lightly comic tone, filled with sarcasm and nerdy Easter eggs. At its core, Axiom's End is warm-hearted, even--very cautiously--optimistic, more Carl Sagan's Contact than War of the Worlds. For all of its drama and philosophical conundrums, Ellis's book is ultimately about the power of empathy and kindness in a universe that never has enough of either. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine
Discover: This alternate history set in 2007 provides a peculiar, entertaining take on first contact.
The Year of the Witching
by Alexis Henderson
The Year of the Witching is a dark, feminist fantasy debut that imagines a different kind of ending for those persecuted for their differences.
Bethel is, in many ways, reminiscent of 1600s New England: rife with a puritanical religious fervor, dominated by power-hungry men and full of myths of witches and dark magic. Except the witches in Bethel's history are very real, and their blood runs deep in the veins of Immanuelle, the orphaned daughter of a madwoman and her heathen lover, burned in a pyre to purge his soul--and the community of Bethel--of evil. That magic is called up by Immanuelle's accidental foray into the forbidden Darkwood that borders Bethel. The young woman is at first terrified, then repentant and, then, as she comes to understand more and more of Bethel's history, furious. Her anger erupts over what her parents were put through, the corruption simmering just below the surface of all of Bethel's neat and orderly rules, the burden placed on the shoulders of women and girls for centuries in the name of purity and divinity.
This transition, from penance to fury, drives the heart of The Year of the Witching, as Alexis Henderson deftly turns the tropes of historical witch hunts on their heads. Though the worldbuilding here is a bit uneven at first, once established, The Year of the Witching proves a compelling and haunting story of magic and power, and what it looks like when one girl finds both within herself. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: In this dark, feminist novel, a young woman discovers her own power and uses it to bring down the patriarchal society that has treated her--and others like her--poorly for so long.
Paris Is Always a Good Idea
by Jenn McKinlay
Prolific author Jenn McKinlay (Buried to the Brim) departs from her long-running series and delivers a fun, feel-good, stand-alone novel that will delight readers. Paris Is Always a Good Idea, a bittersweet story, focuses on a disillusioned woman in her 30s who sets off on an exciting worldwide adventure.
After college, Chelsea Martin goes through seven years of struggle. Her beloved mother dies, and grief-stricken Chelsea buries herself in work, becoming a corporate fund-raising star for a prominent cancer coalition in Boston. When her "buttoned-down" mathematician father, a widower, proposes to a woman he's known for only two weeks, Chelsea suddenly takes stock of her own life, wondering why she isn't happy or in a fulfilling romantic relationship of her own.
Chelsea decides, on a lark, to return to a time in her life when she believed she was happy and carefree--full of love and joy, hope and promise. Taking a much-needed sabbatical from her successful career, she winds her way through Europe to try to recapture the spirit of the woman she once was--retracing a route she traveled after college. She seeks out and revisits old flames, starting in a quaint, small town in Ireland; returning to the glittering lights of romantic Paris; then on to a vineyard tucked into the rolling hills of Tuscany. By reuniting with lovable old beaus in the hope of rekindling romance in each picturesque locale, Chelsea learns much about herself and what she truly wants from life.
Readers will savor the feisty, adventurous journey of McKinlay's self-deprecating protagonist as she re-examines her past in order to chart her future. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A fun, adventurous story about a 30-something workaholic who takes a sabbatical to rekindle a happier, romance-filled time in her life.
Stuck Rubber Baby
by Howard Cruse
Queer comix pioneer Howard Cruse died in November 2019, at the age of 75, but his monumental graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby lives on in this splendid 25th-anniversary edition. With a foreword by his partner, Ed Sedarbaum, as well as a new introduction by Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), this is a volume for the ages.
Toland Polk is a closeted white boy in the Jim Crow South. Milquetoast and directionless, he begins hanging around the local civil rights crowd as a means to impress Ginger Raines--a deeply involved member and the kind of white girl he thinks could be an answer to his prayers. They protest together, haunt the town gay bar together and awaken to the clear and present danger of white supremacists threatening the lives of the Black people around them. Toland and Ginger make quite a pair, even though her passion for the cause and the emerging fact of his homosexuality often throw them out of sync.
Stuck Rubber Baby is fiction, but it draws heavily on Cruse's experience growing up in Alabama. And to read it again in 2020, as protests against police brutality and racial discrimination arise again nationwide, is to be uncomfortably reminded of how much and how little has changed since. It is a profoundly ambitious work, in form as well as content. "Many of the pages are so finely cross-hatched that they appear to have a nap," Bechdel marvels, "as if they'd feel like velvet if you ran your hand over them." With a soft, self-deprecating touch, Stuck Rubber Baby continues to deliver hard, urgent truths. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This 25th-anniversary reissue of a classic, about a milquetoast white boy awakening to the anti-Black violence around him, more than stands the test of time.
The Sky Is Blue with a Single Cloud
by Kuniko Tsurita , trans. by Ryan Holmberg
An English-language debut, The Sky Is Blue with a Single Cloud is a label-defying collection of Kuniko Tsurita's gekiga--literally, "dramatic pictures," referring to more serious graphic work for adult audiences. Organized chronologically from 1966 to 1980, the historical compilation includes Tsurita's early magazine submissions as a teenager, as well as pieces written five years prior to her premature death at 37 in 1985.
Tsurita explores the role of women through numerous shorts in unexpected formats: the near-wordless "Woman" chronicles the tragic life of a rejected prehistoric woman; "The Tragedy of Princess Rokunomiya" explores stifling feminine standards of behavior and beauty; "My Wife Is an Acrobat" is a literal performance of womanhood. In other emerging themes, a careless regard for humanity dominates: in "Nonsense," a murderer kills only evil-doers; in "Anti," a fatal accident morphs into a riveting film; and in "Calamity," execution befalls the innocent. Surreal solitude looms as the world seems to disappear in the titular "The Sky Is Blue with a Single Cloud"; invisibility just happens in "Sounds"; isolation prevails in "The Sea Snake and the Big Dipper."
In their illuminating ending essay, translator Ryan Holmberg and manga editor Mitsuhiro Asakawa place Tsurita firmly in the graphic canon: "Tsurita may well be the earliest female cartoonist anywhere in the world who succeeded in producing comics... without being hemmed in by the commercial demands or the gender-based genre conventions and stylistic strictures of mainstream publishing." Drawn & Quarterly's meticulously curated presentation ensures Tsurita's legacy will continue to gain deserved recognition internationally, decades after her untimely death. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Recognized as one of the first women pioneers in Japan's gekiga--serious manga--industry, the revered Kuniko Tsurita finally makes her English-language debut, 35 years after her premature death.
Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women's Intimate Lives in the Arab World
by Leila Slimani , trans. by Sophie Lewis
Leila Slimani (The Perfect Nanny) analyzes sexual oppression in her native Morocco in Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women's Intimate Lives in the Arab World, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis. "Moroccans' motto is simple: Do what you wish, but never talk about it," she says. Yet, during a book tour for her novel Adèle, which depicts unapologetic female sexuality, Slimani is besieged by Moroccan women who defy convention and "talk about it." Here, she amplifies "stories that shook me, upset me, that angered me and sometimes disgusted me."
Nour, single, exemplifies Morocco's patriarchal view of women. Even men with whom she's sexually active believe that women should be virgins. Many women themselves describe non-virgins as ruined. Hymen reconstruction surgery is big business because "sexual deprivation... amounts to a capitalist system like any other." Behavior such as homosexuality, prostitution, adultery, sex outside of marriage and abortion are illegal (rape, while a crime, is rarely reported) and yet, obviously, "the reality is different and many people bend the rules."
Slimani largely embraces the view, as a Muslim herself, that in the Arab Muslim world "sexual deprivation as a social fact" is a "vast problem and one whose effects clearly impact the political realm." This book is part oral history and part manifesto, claiming that "sexual rights are a part of human rights; these are not minor rights, small boons that we can do without... these are fundamental needs and rights that ought to be inalienable and guaranteed for all." --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: A French diplomat and award-winning Moroccan writer uses oral histories and analysis to demand change in the Arab Muslim view of female sexuality.
Psychology & Self-Help
How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do--And What It Says About You
by Katherine D. Kinzler
"Language can divide us, but it can also bring us together," writes Katherine D. Kinzler, a University of Chicago professor who endeavors to deconstruct how language and accent have a much deeper effect on daily life than one might realize. How You Say It, Kinzler's first book, examines why it is not only what people say that matters, but how they say it, and how and why language use is an even more intrinsic part of identity than other more visible signifiers.
Kinzler looks at how babies learn language, and through it, learn to recognize "in" and "out" groups. From there, language can shape discrimination and biases in children that they can then enact or be affected by as adults later on. Kinzler uses research--her own and that of others--and case studies to show how a part of language and communication taken most for granted can actually be filled with prejudices and strongly influence the construction of social identity in various settings. She also deconstructs some popular advice about language learning, and demonstrates how exposure to multiple languages can be valuable, and not just from a young age, when it is more likely that someone will gain mastery of a second language or multiple languages.
"By changing our relationship to language... we can harness the power of speech for the good. The time for this revolution is now," she writes, further connecting the data uncovered in various experiments on language and social interaction to a poignant point about how such research has real implications for improving societies. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: A compelling look at linguistic identity and the biases people might not even realize they have about language, who says what and how they say it.
Nature & Environment
John Cage: A Mycological Foray: Variations on Mushrooms
by John Cage , Kingston Trinder
Regarded as one of the 20th century's most radical and influential composers, John Cage's (1912-1992) passion for music was matched by his lifelong captivation with the humble mushroom. In the gorgeous two-volume John Cage: A Mycological Foray: Variations on Mushrooms, Cage's fascination with fungi comes into focus.
Cage's introduction to mushrooms was out of necessity, as he foraged for sustenance during the Great Depression. By the 1950s, Cage was the poster child for the postwar avant-garde, teaching music composition at Manhattan's New School and whisking students to upstate New York for mycological forays on weekends. By the end of the decade he was supplying mushrooms to restaurants and won five million lire on an Italian game show after identifying all 24 names of the white-spored Agaricus.
The first volume of A Mycological Foray presents dozens of photographs and musings about mushrooms from Cage's diaries; Indeterminacy, a collection of stories, each of which is meant to be performed in 60 seconds; and Mushrooms et Variationes, consisting of 60 mesostics (a poem with horizontal text that also forms text vertically) arranged in a renga (a form of Japanese poetry where stanzas are linked but written by different authors). The second volume, a reprint of 1972's The Mushroom Book, contains 20 loose lithographs of illustrations by Lois Long, overlaid with translucent paper that contains descriptions by mycologist Alexander H. Smith along with the text of Mushrooms et Variationes, so "word and image cluster and disperse across the page, mimicking the reproductive structure of spores." The result is an unorthodox and whimsical monograph that is essential to understanding the foundations of John Cage's oeuvre. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: Enchanting and idiosyncratic, A Mycological Foray is a tribute to the enigmatic composer John Cage and the magical nature of fungi.
Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina
by Chris Frantz
Chris Frantz has written an evocative, resonant and provocative coming-of-age memoir about his life as drummer/songwriter and founding member of both Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. Fans of Patti Smith's Just Friends will find much to admire in Frantz's Remain in Love, especially the sensory way he describes life as a struggling musician in the early 1970s on New York City's Lower East Side. He remembers stepping over corpses on the sidewalks; avoiding five-dollar hookers and their pimp armed with a baseball bat; and never making eye contact with anyone on the streets. But Frantz also recalls neighbors including Debbie Harry, Lauren Hutton, William S. Burroughs and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Frantz shared an apartment (with toilets in the hall) with future wife Tina Weymouth, as well as David Byrne. In 1975, their musical group Talking Heads made its debut opening for the Ramones at CBGB bar. Jerry Harrison joined the group in 1977. Frantz offers fascinating stories of world travels, working with idols and how the group's style repeatedly changed. There are also tales of conflict within the band, which Frantz tells with remarkable clarity, fairness and insight. In 1991, "David sneaked out of Talking Heads," with Byrne announcing the end of the band without consulting the other members. A decade later, there was finally a happy ending when the band reunited to play at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Fans of the new wave music scene will appreciate Frantz's generously detailed and compelling memoir of those volatile and exciting times. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Talking Heads founding member Chris Frantz's memoir is a richly detailed and provocative tale of the pioneering new wave band.
Children's & Young Adult
by Gordon Korman
In this riveting middle-grade novel, the story of 17-year-old Private Firestone's fight in World War II is told alongside his present-day gradual acceptance of a decision made on the battlefield, as he retraces his steps with his war-obsessed great-grandson.
Twelve-year-old Trevor Firestone is fanatical about all things war and idolizes his great-grandfather, Jacob Firestone (whom he calls G.G.), a World War II veteran. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of American soldiers liberating a French village from the Nazis, the village is honoring G.G., the sole living survivor. Not all people agree, though, that G.G. was a hero that day. In fact, one group called La Vérité floods the celebration's Facebook group with threats that G.G. isn't welcome, and Trevor swears someone is following them on their journey through France. As the day of the event nears, Trevor learns more about the truth of what happened that day and starts questioning whether this great war was as "glamorous" as he's been led to believe.
In War Stories, Gordon Korman (Restart; The Hypnotists #1; Ungifted) flawlessly switches between dual timelines to present two sides of war. The glorified event that was "vivid, exciting, even funny sometimes" is laid out in the present-day timeline that follows Trevor, his dad and G.G. as they retrace G.G.'s steps in 1944; the narrative of the past shows 17-year-old Private Firestone's real-time experience of those events. Korman's detailed account helps explain that, rather than being a "gigantic chess match," as it's often portrayed in video games and movies, war was more like a "wheel of fortune, where the difference between life and death was pure luck." The two stories parallel each other in tone, character growth and suspense, while blending together to form a cohesive narrative. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: A rewarding middle-grade novel that reflects on the fortunes of war with honesty.
by Julie Lee
For debut author Julie Lee, the Korean War is deeply personal: her mother was 15 and living in North Korea when the war commenced on June 25, 1950. Drawing on her mother's memories of her north-to-south escape and relocation, Lee's Brother's Keeper is a compelling #OwnVoices middle-grade novel that is both edifying and inspiring.
Even before the war, under North Korea's Kim Il-sung, freedoms have all but disappeared. Whole families are vanishing--either taken by the regime or escaping to the south. By late November, 12-year-old Sora's father decides they must leave their village and join her uncle in Busan, at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. A few days into their journey, an aerial bombing separates Sora and her eight-year-old brother, Youngsoo, from their parents and baby brother. For the rest of the odyssey--crossing frozen rivers, avoiding bullets, escaping kidnappings, fighting hunger and illness--Sora becomes her brother's keeper, determined to deliver them both to safety.
"The stories of refugee survivors remain largely untold--narratives full of courage, love, and hope," Lee writes in her ending author's note. Beyond the harrowing passage, the resonating power of Lee's narrative lies in the familial relationships she presents raw and unfiltered. Forced to leave school at 12 to care for her two younger brothers, Sora is understandably resentful. Aware of culturally stringent gender limitations, Sora's mother is excessively demanding of her only daughter, preparing her to survive in a society that values sons, not daughters. Overlapping historical accuracy with personal testimony, Lee presents a nuanced story of strength, tenacity and everlasting family bonds. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Inspired by her mother's memories of the Korean War, #OwnVoices author Julie Lee introduces 12-year-old Sora, who acts as her brother's keeper during their epic journey from North to South Korea.