Author Archive

Fun Home. A Family Tragicomic.

November 30, 2011

Author: Bechdel, Alison.

Title:  Fun Home. A Family Tragicomic. 

 Genre:  Autobiographical Graphic Novel; Nonfiction.

Publication Date: 2006

Number of pages: 232

Geographical Setting: Pennsylvania, United States.

Time period: Contemporary

Series:  N/A

Plot Summary: In this autobiographical graphic novel, Alison Bechdel, an author of a long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, draws a darkly funny and emotionally complex picture of her childhood and her coming-out experiences. The central part of this graphic novel focuses on the author’s loving yet ambivalent relationship with his father—a small-town closeted homosexual, a teacher, a funeral-home owner, and an obsessive interior decorator.  The tone of the story ranges from outrageously funny, especially when describing her father’s obsession with house decor, flowers and fashion, to darkly disturbing, when recalling his inappropriate relationships with male students and the effect of his behavior on the author’s mother. The prose is simple, expressive and often filled with references to literary classics, and the art, with its traditional blue, black and white panels, integrates beautifully into a graphically and textually powerful tale of a family marked by love, sadness, repression but also redemption.  For any skeptics of graphic novels, Fun Home should be an example of this format’s potential for expression, beauty and literary value.

Subject Headings: Graphic Novels; Memoir; Coming-Out-Story; Sexual Orientations; Family and Relationships; 1960’s Small Town–Pennsylvania.

Appeal: heartbreaking, darkly funny, thought-provoking, engaging, literary, disturbing, poignant, character-driven, reflective, psychologically complex, moving, witty, uneasy, well-drawn, candid, sympathetic, sexually explicit, family-centered, small-town setting.

3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book: heartbreaking, witty, and literary.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

1) Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi: A compelling and darkly funny tale of an Iranian girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution. Similarly to Fun Home, it is an autobiographical, character-driven, and textually and visually powerful graphic novel.

2) Epileptic by David B: In this moving graphic novel, the author describes his real-life experiences of growing up with an epileptic brother and how it affected his decision to become a cartoonist.

3) Blankets: an Illustrated Novel by Craig Thompson: An autobiographical graphic novel about brothers growing up in a strict, evangelical family and struggling with rivalry, love and doubt.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1) Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: the Beauty Supply District by Ben Katchor.  A collection of witty, nostalgic and character-driven graphic strips picturing the experience of Julius Knipl, a real estate photographer, and other mid-century Jewish characters.

2) The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger: A graphic story of a woman who enters a bookmobile that contains every book she has ever read. Like Bechdel’s story, it is character-driven, literary, reflective and stylistically complex

3) Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine:  This graphic novels tells a story of Ben Tanaka, a not entirely sympathetic, twenty-something American-Japanese, searching for his identity and a place in the world by testing sexual, cultural, philosophical and political waters of the contemporary America.

Megan Rosol

The Night Watch (Audio-Unabridged)

November 30, 2011

Author: Waters, Sarah (Narrated by Juanita McMahon)

Title: The Night Watch (Audio-Unabridged)

Genre:  Historical Fiction Publication Date: 2006

Number of pages: 13 CD Disks

Geographical Setting: London, England

Time period: World War II.

Plot Summary: In this lyrical and structurally complex story, the author describes the atmosphere of the World War II-era London through the experiences of four main characters-Viv, Kay, Helen, and Duncan-and a full set of secondary characters. As the narrative of the book moves backwards from 1947 to 1941, Waters very slowly reveals the details of her characters and their eventual connections through love, hardship and tragedy.  As most of Waters’ books, the story deals with homosexuality and love between women, but it also casts light on the issues of suicide, pacifism, and class and gender roles during that time period. The story does a fine job at showing the physical devastation of the war and the psychological scars caused by betrayal, longing, loss and regret, still the books feels underwhelming when compared to other novels by Sarah Waters.  The backward construction is clever but it also rids the plot of any mystery and greatly slows down the pacing, while the multiplicity of characters decreases their complexity and emotional resonance.  These construction flaws are only underscored by Juanita McMahon’s audio delivery. The narrator tries to differentiate between multiple characters by using different tones and accents but, with a mostly androgynous set of characters, it does not quite work. Also, poor editing and lack of significant pauses make it difficult to keep track of transitions between different people, places and times in the story. Although I am a great proponent of audio books, I feel that this book would be better experienced through reading.

Subject Headings: World War II, 1939-1945 England-London-Fiction; London Bombardment-World War II; Historical Fiction; Psychological Fiction; War Stories; Relationships; Gay and Lesbian Relationships.

Appeal: character-driven, intricately-plotted, relaxed-paced, atmospheric, moody, bleak, compelling, descriptive, lyrical, dark, psychological, uneasy, multiple points of view and plot lines, complex, episodic, layered, historical frame.

3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book: complex, atmospheric, character-driven.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

1) World War II London Blitz Diary (A Woman’s Revelations Enduring War and Marriage) by Ruby Alice Side-Thompson: An unfiltered account of the destruction and the quality of life during the London Blitz. Also, it is a compelling and dark story of an unhappy marriage, social conventions, and personal loss.

2) London at War, 1939-1945 by Phillip Ziegler: A story about a diverse group of Londoners–men, women, and children, rich and poor, heroes and cowards– living through the London Blitz. Through the use of a rich collection of interviews, diaries, books and newspapers, the author creates a complex and compelling portrait of Londoners during the World War II.

3) Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Man and Women In World War Two by Allan Berube: A comprehensive history of gays’ and lesbians’ involvement in the war, including information on the work opportunities, the relationships, the gender and race relations, and on the impact of the anti-gay laws.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1) The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman: A lyrical and complex story about a group of women trying to survive during the first century’s siege of Masada. Similarly to The Night Watch, this novel is rich in historical details, full of diverse characters, layered plot elements, and psychological drama.

2) Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian: A small group of people is fleeing westwards through Europe devastated by World War II. The story is historic in setting, lyrical in language, and addresses similar subject of love and physical and psychological destruction of war.

3) The End of the Affair by Graham Green: Tells a story of an affair during the London Blitz, and the mystery behind the woman’s decision to end the affair. Aside of the similarities in time and setting, the story is also character-driven and deals with relationships and the psychology of love and loss.

Megan Rosol

The Botany of Desire. A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

November 16, 2011

Author: Pollan, Michael

Title:  The Botany of Desire. A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.

Genre:  Nonfiction; Nature Writing; Science Writing; History Writing

Publication Date: 2001

Number of pages: 354 (Large Print)

Geographical Setting: United States; Holland; Ireland

Time period: Contemporary; Historic  Series:  N/A

Plot Summary: In this engaging and thought-provoking collection of essays, Michael Pollan follows the stories of four plans-apple, tulip, marijuana and potato-and discusses how these plants satisfy human desire for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control, and use humans for their survival. To explain this fluid relationship, the author combines his knowledge of science, history, culture, philosophy, psychology and gardening into an informative, highly readable and intimate micro-history of plants and humans.  Each chapter uses a unique character or an event to emphasize the nature of the relationship. For example, in the chapter on apples, Pollan explores the story of Dionysus-like Johnny Appleseed, who by planting apple seeds contributed to the apple’s diversity and the popularity of apple cider. In the following chapters, Pollan uses an example of the 17th century Holland’s obsession for “perfect” tulip, describes inadvertent results of “the war on drugs” on marijuana, and tells the story of a potato from the perspective of the Irish famine and the present-day drive for a genetically engineered “perfect” potato. The author’s view on the human desire to control and manipulate biodiversity is fairly clear-he is mostly against it-but Pollan avoids sounding preachy by using humorous anecdotes, multiple perspectives and an engaging prose.  The Desire of Botany is a great example of a witty, accessible, yet well-researched, micro-history of codependency between humans and plants.

Subject Headings: Human–Plans Relationships; Plants—Development, Co-Evolution, Men and Nature, Gardening, Micro-history, Apple, Tulip, Marijuana, Potatoes.

Appeal: engaging, accessible, engrossing, witty, reflective, conversational, historic details, descriptive, entertaining, thought-provoking, well-researched, candid, investigative, intriguing, quirky, persuasive.

3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book: engaging, accessible, thought-provoking.

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors: 

1) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver: This book chronicles the year that Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved to a farm in Virginia and tried to live on home or locally-grown food. Similarly to The Botany of Desire, the book is a light-hearted part-memoir about a relationship between humans and plants.

2) Weed: in Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants by Richard Mabey. The author combines history, science and descriptions of his travels into a story of unholy weeds and how they gained their unflattering position in the world of plants.

3) The Earth Knows my Name: Food, Culture and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst.  A collection of stories of urban, suburban and rural gardens created by Native American and immigrants who wanted to preserve the connection with the land. The collection is a part microhistory, part  meditation on the relationship between food, land and culture.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1) Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel:  A love story about Tita de la Garza, a heart broken Mexican girl, who finds escape and meaning in her love of cooking. Both, The Botany of Desire and this book, describe the link between certain foods, feelings and desires and use bittersweet wit and engrossing tales to share a story of food and human emotions.

2) The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood:   A lyrical and darkly witty story of a young Toronto woman who finds herself unable to eat, and instead starts to identify with the foods and feel as if she was being consumed, instead. It’s a provocative and entertaining commentary on the consumer culture, gender, identity, and the role of food.

3) Old Herbaceous: A Novel of the Garden by Reginald Arkell. This is a classic British novel that tells a comic life story of Bert Pinnegar, a gardener and a lover of plants. It’s filled with beautiful descriptions of flowers, shrubs and trees but also with thoughtful and philosophical musings on human existence and the social history of England at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Megan R.

Pet Sematary

October 26, 2011

Author: King, Stephen

Title:  Pet Sematary

Genre:  Horror

Publication Date: 2001

Number of pages: 562

Geographical Setting: Ludlow, Maine

Time period: Contemporary

Series:  N/A

Plot Summary: A young family moves from Chicago to a country house in Ludlow, a small college town in Maine. The doctor, Louis Creed, his pretty wife, his sweet little daughter, and a toddler boy settle in quickly and make friends with a local, elderly couple from across the street. It all starts well but the first signs of menace can be felt when the neighbor, Jud Crandall, warns the Creeds against the dangers of the busy road that separates their houses, and then shows them an old “Pet Sematary” located in the back of their property. When the family cat gets killed, Jud secretly takes Louis and the corpse into the woods, past the “sematary” and into the old, supernatural Indian burying ground known for sending dead animals back, and sure enough, the cat appears alive. But is it really? What is the price of the resurrection? What are the limits?  What does the neighbor’s statement “sometimes dead is better” mean? The rest of this bone-chilling story rapidly descends into a psychological horror tale of unimaginable loss, macabre death, undead evil, and supernatural powers of a place that “went sour.”

Subject Headings: Undead, Pets, Pet Cemeteries, Loss (Psychology), Supernatural, Small town life—Maine.

Appeal: creepy, menacing, horrifying, visceral, disturbing, nightmarish, chilling, dark, morbid, ghoulish, revolting, heart-wrenching, compelling, character-driven, suspenseful, fast-paced.

3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book: creepy, menacing, character-driven.

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

1) The Stephen King Illustrated Companion: Manuscripts, Correspondence, Drawings and Memorabilia from the Master of Modern Horror by Bev Vincent: the book discusses King’s most iconic works and monsters, and tries to connect them to King’s personal experiences, thoughts and memories. Parts of the plot of “Pet Sematary” are based on King’s real-life experience and the connections are discussed in this companion book.

2) Encyclopedia of the Undead by Bob Curran: this book collects a wide range of vampires, werewolves, ghouls and monsters from around the world, traces their origins, and connects them to our psychology and archetypical fears.

3) Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine by Marcus LiBrizzi: a collection of most chilling and menacing stories about Maine where deep, dark forests and harsh cliffs are reflected in the supernatural lore and stories of unimaginable horror and evil.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1) The Walking by Bentley Little: a story of a chilling quest to uncover the source of a strange epidemic that turn people into walking dead and propels them to an unknown destination. Similarly to “Pet Sematary,” the story has a disturbing and menacing mood. It’s also fast-paced, character-driven and suspenseful.

2) Second Child by John Saul: a tale of an idyllic town of Secret Cove disturbed by a hundred-years-old legacy of an unspeakable evil act and channeled through a young girl, Melissa Holloway. The story is disturbing, menacing, fast-paced and addresses similar subject of disturbed “old evil” leading toward horrifying consequence.

3) The Good House by Tananarive Due: Angela Toussaint, the protagonist of the story, travels back to her family house to put a closure to the memory of her son’s suicide, only to realize that the town is possessed by evil ancestral spirits driving seemingly balanced people to suicide. Both “Pet Sematary” and this book are fast-paced and creepy horror stories about small town life, menacing supernatural and the psychology of loss.

Megan R.

Neverwhere

September 28, 2011

Author: Gaiman, Neil

Title:  Neverwhere

Genre:  Fantasy Fiction

Publication Date: 2007 (recorded)

Number of pages: 10 sound discs (12.5 hours)

Geographical Setting: Present-Day London (England) and fantasy London Below

Time period: Contemporary

Series:  N/A

Plot Summary: The book tells a story of a young Englishman, Richard Mayhew, who enjoys routine and avoids conflict, that is until he impulsively helps a girl he finds bleeding on a sidewalk and is thrust into a fantastic world of London Below. There Richard and his companions, the girl named Door, a shadowy figure-Marquis de Carabas, and a she-warrior named Hunter, embark on a suspenseful quest of obsession, revenge against a powerful evil, and a desire to return home. This strangely believable parallel universe of London Below is inhabited by humans who “have fallen through the cracks” of the modern city, by revered rats, chilling vampires, brilliant angels, and many other colorful villains and heroes, amongst them a deliciously wicket couple of werewolf-like creatures, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, who add a brilliant touch of Victorian macabre to this story. In his imagining of London Below, Gaiman blends history, mythology and religion with the issues of good and evil, while on a deeper level the author sheds a satirical light on Londoners’ modern-day inability to “see” people who are homeless, addicted or just different.  Neverwhere is a fast-paced book with a dark and suspenseful story and a rich set of fantastic characters. The story is also sprinkled with witty word puns and literary allusions, making this book appealing not only to the fans of urban fantasy but to the readers of dark literary fiction. Finally, the unabridged, audio version of this book, as narrated by the author, only makes the story better. Neil Gaiman provides an intimate and pitch-perfect reading of the book. His accent emphasizes the setting of the story, his varied dialects provide unique personalities to the characters, and his even and calm tone adds to the suspense of the plot.

Subject Headings: English fiction—20th century, Parallel Universes, Quests, Underground Worlds, Villains, Heroes, Angels, Go0d and Evil.

Appeal: suspenseful, dark, menacing, character-driven, chilling, intricately-plotted, entertaining, witty, world-building, fast-paced, intimately-narrated, original, urban, imaginative.

3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book: dark, engrossing, intimately-narrated.

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

1) London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets by Peter Ackroyd: a witty and engaging story about everything that lies underneath London, from streams, animals, ghost stories, Roman buildings to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern train stations.

2) Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold: a macabre historical tour of London’s dead with an emphasis on London’s plagues, fires, and burial grounds hidden underneath the contemporary city.

3) A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirit by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack: a great reference guide to the world’s most famous folkloric and mythological spirits, their sources and their role in the society.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

1) A Madness of Angels: or the Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin: a dark and witty story of Matthew Swift who wakes up in his London bed two years after being murdered and starts his quest for revenge.

2) The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind: a story of a young woman, Jennsen, compelled by inhuman voices in her head on a vengeful quest against the demonic powers.

3) Kraken: an Anatomy by China Mieville: another urban fantasy vision of London (England), in which Billy, a young museum curator, is propelled into a supernatural underworld filled with magic squids, witches, golems and warriors.

Megan Rosol