Author Archive

Asterios Polyp

November 29, 2011

Author: David Mazzucchelli

Title: Asterios Polyp

Genre: Graphic Novel

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 344

Geographical Setting: New York / fictional small town of “Apogee”

Time Period: Contemporary

Plot Summary: Asterios Polyp is a middle-aged professor of architecture. When his New York apartment burns down after a lightning strike, he hops on a Greyhound bus and gets off in a middle-America town called Apogee, where he finds employment as an auto mechanic and rents a room in his boss’s house. The story of Asterios’ sudden change in lifestyle is intercut with flashbacks recalling previous episodes in his life including a past marriage, as well as dream sequences and various abstract visual/verbal ideas (including some of Asterios’ theories of architecture) narrated by his unborn twin brother. Although it has an epic sweep, the plot is less important than the intricate and beautiful visual design of the illustrations and the intellectual ideas they convey.

Subject Headings: Architecture; Duality; Romantic relationships; Graphic novels

Appeal:  abstract, character-centered, cerebral, detailed, epic, episodic, humorous, intricate, intellectual, literary, melancholy, quirky, sophisticated, stylistically complex, symbolic, thought-provoking

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: intricate, sophisticated, stylistically complex

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Blankets by Craig Thompson [Autobiographical graphic novel; epic-length, character-centered, literary]

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel [Autobiographical graphic novel; literary, emotionally rich, complex]

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud [Covers the history and theory of comics as an artistic medium]

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth by Chris Ware [Sophisticated graphic novel with an intricate visual design, emotionally rich sense of melancholy, literary complexity and symbolism]

Wilson by Daniel Clowes [Graphic novel; character study about a sad middle-aged man on a journey; complex, quirky, humorous]

The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire [Sweeping, character-centered graphic novel; also, both this and Asterios Polyp are by Canadian artists]

Name: Brian W.

Giovanni’s Room

November 15, 2011

Author: James Baldwin

Title: Giovanni’s Room

Genre: GLBTQ / Literary Fiction

Publication Date: 1956

Number of Pages: 169

Geographical Setting: Paris

Time Period: 1950s

Plot Summary: With his fiancée Hella away in Spain, David—a twenty-something American living abroad in Paris—moves in with an Italian man named Giovanni and begins a romantic affair with him. David is conflicted about his burgeoning homosexual identity and this conflict grows more intense when Hella returns to Paris. David loves Giovanni, but his conditioning as an American male of the mid-twentieth century precludes him from committing to the relationship and to the truth of his homosexuality. David narrates the story from some time in the future, in a house in the south of France, at which point Hella has returned to America and Giovanni has been sentenced to death for some crime which is revealed near the end of the book. The story thus recounts how David ends up alone, with neither a gay nor a straight companion.

Subject Headings: Homosexuality; Gay fiction; Love triangles; American expatriates—Paris

Appeal: bleak, character-centered, compelling, concise, emotional, first-person narrative, heartbreaking, introspective, melodramatic, psychological, reflective, somber, tragic

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: character-centered, introspective, heartbreaking

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present by Neil Miller [Comprehensive guide to the history of homosexuality, including information about the time and place of Giovanni’s Room]

Gay Fictions: Studies in a Male Homosexual Literary Tradition by Claude J. Summers [Lit-crit text featuring essays about male homosexual fiction, including one about Giovanni’s Room]

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway [About life as an American expatriate in Paris]

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The Married Man by Edmund White [Love story about gay men set in Paris; tragic, bleak, heartbreaking; protagonist is an American expatriate]

Maurice by E.M. Forster [Ahead-of-its-time depiction of gay romance; examination of inner conflict produced by having homosexual feelings in a time when being gay was socially unacceptable; European setting]

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal [First American novel to openly discuss homosexuality; more inner conflict about gay identity; tragic love story]

Name: Brian W.

Columbine

November 8, 2011

Author: Dave Cullen

Title: Columbine

Genre: Nonfiction / True Crime

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 432

Geographical Setting: Jefferson County, Colorado

Time Period: 1999

Plot Summary: On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out one of the most infamous mass murders in American history. This book, written by a journalist considered the leading authority on the Columbine killers, peels back the layers of myth and misinformation (fed by media blunders and police cover-ups) that surrounded the Columbine incident, delving into the factual details of what really happened and attempting to answer the elusive question of why the killers did it. Cullen examines the backgrounds of Eric and Dylan extensively, as well as the investigation that followed the shooting and the Columbine community’s long healing process. In addition to profiling the killers, Cullen etches character studies of victims and survivors, creating the definitive nonfiction account of a tragedy whose impact continues to reverberate in American society.

Subject Headings: School shootings; High school; True crime; Columbine murders

Appeal: character-centered, detailed, disturbing, engrossing, eye-opening, fast-paced, heartbreaking, informative, investigative, journalistic, multiple points of view, psychological, thought-provoking, well-researched

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: detailed, investigative, thought-provoking

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote [True crime; about a pair of young male murderers; detailed, journalistic, psychological]

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi & Curt Gentry [True crime; informative account of infamous murders (Manson family); fast-paced, detailed]

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer [True crime; assumes POV of killer and gets inside his head (Cullen also does this); covers killer’s background, crimes, and aftermath]

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Project X by Jim Shepard [School-shooting story from the POV of the killers; delves into psychology of killers; realistically depicts teenage alienation]

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver [School-shooting story from the POV of the killer’s mother; delves into psychology of killer; detailed, disturbing]

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland [About a Columbine-esque school shooting; deals with victims, survivors and parents; multiple points of view]

Name: Brian W.

A Choir of Ill Children

October 24, 2011

Author: Tom Piccirilli

Title: A Choir of Ill Children

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: 2003

Number of Pages: 238

Geographical Setting: Fictional Southern town of Kingdom Come

Time Period: Contemporary

Plot Summary: In the backwater Southern swamp town of Kingdom Come, Thomas lives in a run-down mansion with his three brothers — conjoined triplets joined at the forehead who share a single brain, feared as freaks by the rest of the town. Thomas cares for the triplets and runs his family’s mill; his father and grandfather were the town bigwigs, but the town is now so desolate that the family’s standing means little. Kingdom Come is populated by a bizarre cast of characters including “granny witches” who live by the swamp and ward against evil spirits, a preacher prone to speaking in tongues and sudden public nudity, a religious cult, and various other creeps and lowlifes; as the story opens, Thomas is also hosting two documentary filmmakers trying to make a movie about the freakish triplets. As a young girl mysteriously appears in the swamp, the town is besieged by storms, an unknown person begins abusing all the town’s dogs, and the preacher warns that “the carnival is coming,” Thomas must lead his people against the dark forces that seem to be attacking the town.

Subject Headings: Southern Gothic fiction; Horror fiction; Conjoined twins; Small towns; Superstition; Swamps

Appeal: atmospheric, bizarre, character centered, dark, disturbing, edgy, episodic, grotesque, lyrical, moody, mysterious, relaxed pace, sexually explicit, surreal, uneasy, violent

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: bizarre, disturbing, uneasyaQQ

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

• One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal by Alice Domurat Dreger [Examines case studies of conjoined twins; argues that they should not necessarily be separated, because their sense of identity is bound up in being conjoined; this is true of the conjoined twins in Piccirilli’s book]

• American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction by Allan Lloyd-Smith [Lit-crit text providing an introduction to the Gothic genre tradition that Piccirilli riffs on in Choir]

• Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture by Anthony Wilson [Overview of the importance of the swamp to Southern culture throughout history and in the present day; the swamp and its significance is a major component of Piccirilli’s novel]

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

• Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor [Southern Gothic; dark tone, character-centered, bizarre, disturbing; O’Connor influenced Choir]

• Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates [Literary horror; grotesque, atmospheric, dark]

• Softspoken by Lucius Shepard [Horror; contemporary take on Southern Gothic; bizarre family living in run-down mansion; dark, violent]

Name: Brian W.

Butcher’s Crossing

September 28, 2011

Author: John Edward Williams

Title: Butcher’s Crossing

Genre: Western / Literary Fiction

Publication Date: 1960

Number of Pages: 240

Geographical Setting: Kansas / Colorado

Time Period: 1870s

Plot Summary: Naïve college boy Will Andrews flees his Harvard education for the wide open spaces of the West, where he hopes to find himself. In the Kansas frontier town of Butcher’s Crossing, Andrews hooks up with a hunter named Miller and ends up bankrolling a buffalo hunting expedition to Colorado. Andrews, Miller and the two other men in their crew endure an arduous journey, from survival mode in the wilderness to the ugly process of killing and skinning buffalo. After a point it becomes clear that hunting buffalo is not just an occupation for Miller, but a dangerous obsession—and Andrews is thrown into personal turmoil as his romantic notions of the West and nature are shattered by the grim reality of their journey.

Subject Headings: Western stories; Revisionist westerns; Buffalo hunting; Frontier life; Coming-of-age stories; Man vs. nature

Appeal: austere, cinematic, coming-of-age, descriptive, detailed, evocative, gritty, intense, physical, realistic, relaxed pace, strong sense of place, vivid

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: descriptive, gritty, physical

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

1) The Border and the Buffalo by John R. Cook [Memoir by an actual buffalo hunter that gives a detailed, first-hand account of the buffalo slaughter that occurred in the western territories during this time, as well as other descriptions of frontier life]

2) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer [Idealistic young intellectual tries to brave the wilderness]

3) The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men by Mari Sandoz [Densely packed history of plains buffalo hunters]

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1) The Morning River by W. Michael Gear [Both a western and a coming-of-age story; about a naïve Harvard idealist who faces gritty hardship in the west; realistic, descriptive, detailed]

2) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy [Revisionist western, also about a massacre (of Indians rather than Buffalo) and the harshness of wilderness; gritty, intense, descriptive; Butcher’s Crossing often cited as precursor to this novel]

3) Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry [Western about an arduous journey; relaxed pace, gritty, descriptive]

Name: Brian W.