We don’t sparkle…

…but we do hunger immortally. And if we could stalk books and watch them sleep, we probably would. Below, find some of our most yearned-after books, over which sighs have been heaved and wallets have been fingered.

Emera’s delicious unattainables

  • Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Signed, limited, $200 (HarperCollins, 2009) – The first Neil Gaiman novel I read, and still one of my most beloved. “Deluxe Limited Numbered Edition, signed by Neil Gaiman, with a full cloth jacket in a fabric-bound slipcase. Includes two-color text and endpapers, and two full-color illustrated spreads. Limited to one of 1000. ” According to the man himself, it is also “several thousand words longer than the current US edition” and “has a bunch of odd, previously stuff in the back — my original outline for the BBC series and such.” Aiiiieee.
  • Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles: The Complete Edition.  Signed, limited & lettered editions currently on preorder, $300/$900 (Subterranean Press, 2009). Over 50 stories, essays, introductions, two full-length screenplays, full-color plates, “deluxe binding” on the lettered edition… excuse me while I expire in this corner. Subterranean Press: elevating book-shopping to a whole new level of debauchery.
  • Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version. Signed, limited, out of print (Subterranean Press, 2007) – Beagle’s original, abandoned draft of his classic novel, featuring a modern setting and a completely different cast, apart from the unicorn herself. I always knew I would regret not buying this the instant it came out, which was at about the same time that I became aware of small press. This was also before I had multiple jobs and thus disposable income. Curses! It’s been unavailable on every book site that I watch, oh, pretty much ever since then, but I have put out watches for it on both Amazon and AbeBooks (which has a book-watching tool far superior to Amazon’s – Amazon’s commits you to buying the item if it ever becomes available, without your being able to review the condition and price first). It will be mine, someday.

On the other hand… stuff that’s significantly more attainable and will in fact be coming home at one point or another:

  • Kage Baker’s The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, a steampunk mystery novella about exclusive prostitutes who also happen to be the intelligencers of a secret organization. One reviewer described it as “James Bond in the 19th century.”  Could this sound any more AWESOME? Also, Kage Baker has a really cool name.
  • Caitlin Kiernan’s Alabaster, a dark fantasy short story & novella collection about an adolescent, albino, monster-killing girl named Dancy.  Again, sounds awesome, I love the cover art, and Caitlin Kiernan is one of those authors whom people keep telling me I’d like.
  • Peter S. Beagle’s Mirror Kingdoms. A “best of” short story collection. I preordered this in large part because I was smarting at not being able to find TLU: The Lost Version, and because I was resolved not to repeat the incident. Also, preordering of either the trade or limited editions is currently discounted – I got the normally $60 limited for $48, and Subterranean preorders give you free shipping. Win-win.
  • Finally, fellow bibliophile/blogger Vega, of The Athenaeum, was kind enough to obtain a signed copy of The Unicorn Sonata from Peter S. Beagle himself at San Diego Comic-Con for me. A thousand thanks!!

——–

Kakaner’s Objects of Desire

  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. First edition. $1000. ‘Nuff Said.
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffeneger. First edition, signed, $225. I’m a bit torn about this possible purchase… the only copy I can find is a bit worn and stained. However, to still my grabby hands, I have pre-ordered this. I can’t wait for October 1st!
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein.  First Edition ~$5000. These books are the reason why I feel it is important to make money… have an income in general. Of course, with a name like Heinlein, one should totally expect to spend at least this much money. At least there’s hope! There seem to be a couple copies floating around, although I would totally hold out for a signed edition.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. 1st edition, 8th printing, signed. This will probably be pretty high on my list, despite the fact that I already own four… other… editions…

What I Currently Have…

  • The Scar, by China Mieville. Limited 1st Edition, signed, #407/1000. Gold-edging, ribbon marker, overall droolness.
  • Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card. Signed 1st Edition. I’d always wanted to see Card’s signature in real life… it’s powerful! Huge round, loopy OSC. What a treasure =)
  • The City & The City, by China Mieville. 1st Edition (well, technically I think), signed, and personalized at a China Mieville author event I attended! Incredibly treasured, and sits proudly next to The Scar.

Moving onto less well-known authors, but equally treasured in my library:

  • Kings and Assassins, by Lane Robins. 1st Edition signed! Personally shipped by the author– everyone should read Maledicte. I own two copies of Kings and Assassins and one copy of Maledicte.
  • Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion.  1st Edition, self-published, one of 100+ copies, signed. I am of the strong opinion that Isaac Marion is going to experience great writing fame in the future. Although Warm Bodies isn’t necessarily my top choice when it comes to his works, his short stories (all available on his website) are delectable and must-reads.

——–

Anyone else out there hankering for oh-so-tantalizing books? Those teases.

“The most frightening American poet ever”

My knowledge of poets tends to be acquired in a desultory fashion, so I’d never heard of Frederick Seidel until I read “The Edge of Night,” an entertaining and well-written review of Seidel’s collected poems by  David Orr of the New York Times. Seidel is an anomaly as a professional poet, in that he’s rich and disconnected from the literary-academic world; apparently he’s also “one of poetry’s few truly scary characters.” This may seem nonsensical to you unless you’ve ever read a poem that made you wince, or cringe, or hunch your shoulders and shiver and try to forget you ever read it (and I don’t mean in a that-was-so-bad-I-wish-it-never-existed way, which of course happens too, and more frequently); then you should know how viscerally emotional and disturbing poems can be.

The excerpts of Seidel’s work featured in the review seem menacing, meaty (in both sense of the word), and evilly funny. I’ve read some pretty horrifying poems – I’m thinking of some of C. K. Williams’ early, angry poems here, one of which I would quote but am embarrassed to – and many cringe-inducing poems (mmm, Sharon Olds*), but I’m not sure I’d be consitutionally capable of reading a whole collection of Seidel’s work. The full poem featured in the review made me feel as though someone with too-cold hands had run their fingers through my hair the wrong way. Brrr. Orr also provides some useful, interesting commentary on Seidel’s place in modern American poetry, particularly his early relationship with Robert Lowell’s work and his later parallels with Sylvia Plath. Orr also comments on Seidel’s none-too-infrequent exclusion from anthologies – a fact that would also explain my lack of knowledge of him.

Also, I love articles that send me off on multiple fascinating tangents generally culminating in a trip to Wikipedia – in this case, Orr’s reference in the review to the perhaps apocryphal funeral tradition of sin-eating. Too cool.

*Sharon Olds is disarmingly adorable in person. If she ever reads near you, go. I didn’t like her poetry until I got to see her read it.

Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E

Date Read: 6.13.09

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

Oskar is an alienated twelve-year-old living in a decaying Swedish suburb in the 1980’s. He is brutally bullied at school, and fantasizes often about striking back at his tormentors, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles about murders as his inspiration. Two new neighbors move into Oskar’s apartment complex: one an older man, and one, apparently his daughter, an androgynous girl named Eli who smells terrible, walks barefoot in the snow, and only comes out at night, but is nonetheless befriended by Oskar.

If you know anything about vampires, you can imagine where this is going. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, translated by Ebba Segerberg) was a bestseller in Sweden when it was published in 2004, and gained further international attention when the 2008 Swedish-language film adaptation (IMDB) won a number of awards and became a surprise hit. I’m not sure now if I heard about the movie or the book first, but unusually for me, I ended up watching the movie first, and read the book shortly after. I enjoyed both immensely, but for slightly different reasons in each case. Given that, I thought I’d do a combined film and book review. Please note that mild spoilers follow.

Continue reading Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E

Vampire Deluxe!, by Lawrence Gullo & David Ryder Prangley (2009) E

Date Read: 6.19.09
Book From: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Vampire Deluxe!, by Lawrence Gullo and David Ryder Prangley,  is a profoundly silly vampire comic featuring two medieval lads who masquerade as princes of the night in order to sex (and rob) the ladies. Pretty good plan, huh?

The concept is good enough to deserve a longer treatment, at least in my opinion, but here it sets up a pleasurably nonsensical plot involving midnight mandrake-digging expeditions, voluptuous ladies in white gowns, and dialogue like “Take that, harlot.”

Gullo’s characters are distinctively gaunt and elegant, and while his stylized anatomy can make for stiff posing, his characters’ hilarious facial expressions often sell the punchlines of the sardonic jokes – something I also find to be the case with My Life in Blue, his first webcomic. (Vampire Deluxe! also happens to be set in Gullo’s mythical Eastern European homeland, Baritaria, the subject of his second webcomic, Baritarian Boy.)

Eeeeeeeeehhhhhh

All in all, I had me some good times with Vampire Deluxe! – it’s a quick and marvellously fun read for any fan of Gothic goofiness. (If you like Young Frankenstein, try…)

Go to:
Lawrence Gullo: bio and author page
My Life in Blue
Baritarian Boy

The Scandal of the Season, by Sophie Gee (2007) E

Date Read: 12.17.08

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

English poet Alexander Pope achieved his fame and success when in 1712 he published his mock-epic poem, “The Rape of the Lock,” satirizing the public disgrace of the renowned beauty Arabella Fermor. This novel follows Pope’s rise to fame, as he departs his country home to travel to the city for a season. As Pope struggles to find material for a new poem, and to cope with the hypocrisy and cruelty of London’s high society, the haughty but meagerly dowered Arabella encounters the equally attractive and clever Lord Petre. Amid the stirrings of a new Jacobite rebellion (the conspiracy to return the Catholic James VII to the throne), Arabella soon undertakes a clandestine affair with Lord Petre – an affair that will become the talk of London, and Pope’s making, by the end of the season.

I was actually able to see Sophie Gee speak about this book and the research that went into its making, and found her a very intelligent, engaging speaker, so I had this quite high on my reading priority list. Plus, 18th-century bedroom/social intrigues have been a pet subject of mine ever since I fell in love with Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Unfortunately, Gee appears to be a pretty terrible novelist. Most of her book is graceless and entirely deficit in subtlety and real character development – the only area in which she demonstrates any deftness is the sometimes witty, cutting dialogue. Erotic scenes occasionally offer a break from the plodding narration, but are executed with a mix of irritating coyness and heavy-handed, charmlessly vulgar metaphors. (Imagine the most obvious sexual innuendo possible involving swords, hilts, and sheaths. Got it? Good. You have now succeeded in equalling every sex scene in the book.)

The saving grace of The Scandal of the Season is that it’s based on real people and real events, and ones in which Gee is clearly an expert, such that the weight of their true personal histories and characters give substance to an otherwise poorly-constructed novel. As such, the only reasons I kept reading this were that 1. I bought it (damn), and 2. I really wanted to see what would happen to the characters. The end is very bittersweet and truly fascinating historically, but Gee effectively robs it of most of its emotional heft. Boo.

Go to:

Sophie Gee

The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman (1995) E

Date Read: 6.11.09 (reread)

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

I must have picked this up at a used book sale a little while ago and forgotten that I had done so, because I found it on my shelf with no distinct memory of having acquired it – something that has been occurring with increasing frequency lately. Whoops.

The Midwife’s Apprentice is a medieval coming-of-age story, the story of a nameless girl picked up out of a dungheap by a sharp-tempered, greedy midwife. Christened Beetle by the midwife, she begins by sweeping floors and running menial errands, but begins to realize that she has more wits than the rest of the world gives her credit for.

I first read this in about fifth grade, but never liked this as much as Catherine, Called Birdy, Karen Cushman‘s other medieval historical fiction, although Midwife won the Newbery Medal. (Catherine “only” won the Honor.) Even at that age, I found the Moral at the End of the Story a little offensively obvious; Cushman also fell prey to the lesson-in-your-face YA tactic in Catherine, but that book’s greater narrative heft makes it more forgiveable.

However, The Midwife’s Apprentice is still an extremely enjoyable read. It’s very effective in creating a sense of space and slowly passing time despite its slim size, and there are quite a lot of wryly funny parts that I forgot. And Cushman’s attention to the details of medieval life is always extremely rewarding and fun – she creates a uniquely lively, earthy, and warm atmosphere, painting colorful pictures of village life, market fairs, and the breathtakingly detailed esoterica of the midwife’s trade, which employs ingredients from crushed emeralds to murderer’s wash-water. Her characters similarly have great warmth, and she effectively plays a broad emotional range over the course of the story. Overall, a very fun and feel-good read.

Go to:

Karen Cushman

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Book Two, by Chris Hastings & Kent Archer (2008) E

Date Read: 6.12.09

Book From: Borrowed from Kakaner

Reviewer: Emera

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja is an ongoing webcomic about a doctor who is also a ninja; duh. Chris Hastings writes and draws, and Kent Archer inks. They used to be roommates, and you can kind of tell.

In the second volume of the Doctor’s adventures, Dutch action star and sworn ninja nemesis Frans Rayner has captured the Doctor’s loyal teen sidekick, Gordito, and will stop at nothing to destroy the Doctor and claim Gordito’s magnificent and authoritative mustache as his own. Meanwhile, a mysterious drug has hit the streets, endowing common hoodlums with ninja powers. Can Dr. McNinja D.A.R.E. to resist ninja drugs and violence? Will he be able to protect Ben Franklin’s clone from harm in a high-speed motorcycle chase? Will his gorilla assistant Betty ever be able to eat her hot dogs in peace?

It’s a tricky affair to read this on a train, or anywhere else public. First there’s the business of trying to hide the pages of neckbeards and ninja showdowns from seatmates and the people across the row from you; then you have to try not to keep hooting maniacally and out loud. Granted, you do have to have a pretty random and absurd sense of humor to enjoy Dr. McNinja, which relies on non sequiturs, preposterous plot twists, occasional nerd references, and a universe of characters who take themselves way too seriously – if you couldn’t tell from the summary.

Luckily, I am well-endowed in the random-sense-of-humor department, and get a huge kick out of every volume, although I also tend to feel slightly stupider afterwards. (By contrast, my brother read a few panels and preemptively declared, “This sounded awesome, but it’s stupid.” His loss.) The fact that Chris Hastings’ art tends to be kind of shaky – it reminds me of the illustrations that you’d see in a high school newspaper – actually adds to the comic’s humor. Disproportionate facial features, rather lumpen anatomy, and physically implausible poses just seem right.

I would recommend Dr. McNinja as being great for de-stressing. My own roommate and I read the first volume during some of our darkest academic hours this past school year, and still get way too much of a kick out of shouting, “FROZEN SHAMROCKS KEEP HITTING MY FACE.”

Dr. McNinja can be read for free online, or purchased in printed volumes – which replicate the original comics’ alt texts – via Raptor Bandit Industries.

Go to:
Chris Hastings

Harley and Ivy, by Paul Dini, Bruce Timms, et al. (2007) E

Date Read: 6.13.09

Book From: Borrowed from Kakaner

Reviewer: Emera

The DC collection Harley and Ivy (writing by Paul Dini & Judd Winick, art by Bruce Timms, Joe Chiodo, Shane Glines) collects three pretty mindlessly entertaining Batman story arcs starring villainesses Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, all based on episodes from Batman the animated series, though kicked up with darker touches and sexual innuendo. In “The Bet,” Harley makes a bet that Ivy can’t win a kiss from every man in Arkham Asylum, only to have the bet backfire on her when her main man, the Joker, joins the list of kiss-ees. In “Love on the Lam” (which was so unmemorable that I couldn’t even remember it without a little boost from Amazon), Harley once again attempts to get back into the Joker’s good graces by pulling off a heist of her own, enlisting Ivy’s help to do so. In “Harley and Ivy,” the gals pack off to South America in order to recover a specimen of a rare zombie root central to Ivy’s newest plan for world domination. From there, they make their way to Hollywood, where they begin filming a big-budget, diamond-studded movie glorifying their own escapades. Catfights, shower scenes, and gay lumberjack encounters ensue.

Overall, very silly and rife with absolutely shameless fanservice. The stories themselves are hardly memorable and simply retread Harley and Ivy’s well-established character dynamics (bubbly and annoying vs. sultry and sarcastic), but the fluid, expressive art, either by Timms himself or styled after his work on the series, and madcap humor make for a fun, quick read. If you’re a Harley/Ivy fan (as both Kakaner and I are), this is worth a look, so long as you’re not expecting masterful storytelling or anything. This is one of those books that makes you laugh so hard your brain hurts, with you feeling slightly the worse for it afterwards.

Go to:

Paul Dini
Bruce Timms

Paper as art

Matias Costa for The New York Times

“In Spain, Paper Too Beautiful to Use” (New York Times)

Lovely little article about the tradition of fine, handmade papers in Spain, particularly the work of the artisan/artist Montse Buxó i Marsá – since of course paperies, bookbinding, and printing all go hand-in-hand.

The article is fascinating to me for a number of reasons.  I love to see anyone who still takes the time and effort to make commonly utilitarian items beautiful (and it’s a shame that the article doesn’t have more photographs). The mass production of items like paper and books means, of course, that access to them has become universalized, but it also means that for the most part, we stop seeing them as individual, potentially artistic items. This is what I was trying to get at, in a highly vague way, in my review of Anna : the distinction between owning “a book” – a singular object – and “a copy of a book.”

In contemporary times, I think we tend to think of a text as an abstract thing that we access through the means of printed words on a page, or through a Word document, or an e-book, or a Kindle. That is, the potential conduits to the actual text are infinite and functionally interchangeable. Compare this with the Middle Ages, when the biggest commissioned “print run” of a major text at one time would be about four, and single, richly decorated volumes would be given as prestigious gifts and left behind as specific bequests in wills; privately owned books were often kept in chests along with the family silver and other valuables.

I love the Printing Revolution and just about everything about it, and I have plenty of tattered, hideous mass market paperbacks that I adore in spite of their mass-market-paperbackiness. In many ways, it’s awesome that books are so widely available that many people don’t think twice about throwing an old copy out, as cringeworthy as some of us may find it. Bottom line, though, I think that beautiful, carefully made books represent a rare unity of tactile, visual, and mental (and occasionally spiritual) pleasure*, and one that’s too rarely considered and appreciated.

*This could be interpreted to explain our “book porn” category, but really, we didn’t think about that one that hard… we’re just easily amused.

Anna, by Isaac Marion and Sarah Musi (2008) E

Date Read: 2.2.09
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

book anna

Anna is the wistful tale of a young ghost who falls in love with a human boy. When I first stumbled upon Isaac Marion‘s short fiction online, it was one of the stories that most enchanted both Kakaner and me. In 2008, Marion self-published a 50-edition print run of Anna, with illustrations by Sarah Musi.

I love the size and feel of the book, especially the old-fashioned font and heavily textured, off-white paper cover. There’s something very individual-feeling about self-published books, and with their slight imperfections, you somehow you get more of a sense of the author, and of the effort that went into making the book. Instead of it being A Copy of a Book, it’s A Book, if that makes any sense.

Musi’s ink illustrations are delicate, charming, and perfectly suit the feel of the story with their elegant, expressive minimalism. Her elongated forms, fine linework, and use of negative space struck me as being faintly Gorey-esque. The story unfolds simply and gracefully, with quiet gravity. The details of Anna’s existence as a ghost are particularly captivating: my favorite moment of the story might be when she sinks into a mountain, seeking the comfort of its solidity.

As of July 2009, about 25 copies of Anna are still available for sale on Marion’s site. You can also see previews of the text and art at the same link. I treasure my copy, so if you’re at all tempted, I would buy one while you still can.

Go to:

Isaac Marion
Isaac Marion’s fiction online
Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion [E]
Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion  [K]