50 Museums to Blow Your Mind

I like museums. I like having my mind blown. I am clearly part of the target audience for this book.

Other things I appreciate about this book: It’s a manageable size, slightly larger than a postcard. It features a diverse range of museums, both major institutions and lesser-known, more eccentric collections. Its tone and faux Q-and-A format are breezy; the authors are like interesting friends who always have the best vacation stories. And like so many Lonely Planet books, it’s eminently flip-through-able.

My favorite section is on quirky museums: those passion projects of eccentric individuals that produce, say, a Turkish collection of women’s hair, or the Japanese museum of instant ramen. I’d love to see this section expanded, at the expense of the more standard museum picks. Yes, the British Museum and the Acropolis are amazing destinations, but they’re also very widely known already. The Watermelon Museum? Less so.

Another suggestion for the next edition, due out in 2020, is greater geographical reach. For one thing, the book includes only one museum in Africa. By 2020, I hope, I’ll have made it to all of the museums in this edition that I’ve bookmarked (or, more accurately, sticky note-d).

50 Museums to Blow Your Mind by Ben Handicott and Kalya Ryan Lonely Planet 2016, 128 pages, 7.0 x 0.5 x 4.7 inches, Paperback $8 Buy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie — a graphic novel about the creativity struggle in the late 60s

It’s hard not to use a word like “groovy” when it comes to describing Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie. There’s the setting: a crumbling estate in swinging London, where David Bowie, his wife Angie, and assorted others are living and creating in the late ‘60s. There’s the loose, freewheeling quality to both the lettering and drawings, which use simple outlines and pops of color. And there’s the sly humor, which comes through in both the dialogue and breaks from the main story (which show us how to be a music snob, how to be a fashionista, etc.)

One of the joys of this book is seeing the time period come to life. People like producer Tony Visconti, T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, original Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett, and dissatisfied Beatle John Lennon pass through these pages. They worry about their music, experiment with sexual identities, and try to fend off feelings of creative envy. And, if they’re Bowie, they develop their most iconic persona (Ziggy Stardust) while dealing with poignant family issues (the hospitalization of his schizophrenic brother Terry).

This book is a delight. I learned plenty about Bowie despite having already read a biography, but Haddon Hall doesn’t feel educational. It shows in its not-too-serious way that creativity can be a grind, and that none of us — not even David Bowie — was born a fully formed artist.

Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie by Néjib SelfMadeHero 2017, 144 pages, 7.5 x 0.8 x 10 inches, Hardcover $16 Buy on Amazon Read the rest

Rules For Dating My Daughter: The Modern Father's Guide to Good Parenting

Rules For Dating My Daughter is a slice of life. It gives glimpses into the domestic and professional life of cartoonist and father Mike Dawson, as he navigates earning a living, finding creative inspiration, and raising children (together with his wife).

The book intersperses mundane everyday experiences, told in illustrated diary form, with comics where he tackles massive issues: climate change, the scale of history, the ethics of eating meat, gun violence, and modern feminism. The shifts aren’t jarring because ultimately this is a collection about parenthood. Global issues like environmental change are made to feel personal, now that Dawson is responsible for two young lives.

The central questions — how to be a good person, and how to raise good people — are universal. Dawson tackles these with disarming honesty and attention to detail, whether he’s teaching his daughter how to play Minecraft or wrestling with making his kids do something he’s not willing to do himself. In its quiet way, Rules For Dating My Daughter is a refreshing change from lots of pop culture depictions of fatherhood. It shows how hard parenting can be, and how easy it is to get lost in both abstract big-picture stuff and mundane trivialities.

Rules For Dating My Daughter: The Modern Father's Guide to Good Parenting by Mike Dawson Uncivilized Books 2016, 160 pages, 6.0 x 0.5 x 8.8 inches, Paperback $11 Buy on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

A revelatory book of photographs taken by visually impaired people

The Blind Photographer is surprising and fascinating. These photos taken by visually impaired photographers, accompanied by a bit of text explaining the photographers’ working processes and inspirations, forced me to rethink the nature of photography:

Is it a strictly visual medium, or should sound, feel, and taste also be represented somehow? (The book’s images of fruit, musicians, and skin show how photography can be more multi-sensory.) Why do photos conventionally have to be symmetrical and in focus? (Fuzzy and off-center photos can evoke a mood just as well as sharp ones.) Are shadows just as interesting as objects? (Photographer Alberto Loranca writes, “I can distinguish light and shadow and I pay a great deal of attention to light in order to take pictures; I calculate the amount of light needed using trigonometry.”)

These ideas might be obvious to art historians and photographers themselves, but to a lay person there’s a lot to gain from The Blind Photographer’s implication that everything is worthy of being photographed, no matter how mundane or odd. I may just be photographing a person’s feet, rather than gravitating toward their face, in the future.

The Blind Photographer by Julian Rothenstein (Editor), Candia McWilliam (Introduction) Princeton Architectural Press 2016, 213 pages, 9.0 x 1.0 x 12.0 inches, Hardcover $24 Buy on Amazon Read the rest

A beautifully illustrated story about a bookseller haunted by his past

Atmosphere just about drips off these pages. There’s a haunted quality to the images in The Return of the Honey Buzzard: lots of shadows, uncluttered panels, remote locations, and big eyes.

This mood is appropriate because the main character is haunted by an incident from his childhood, and the book builds toward this reveal. The dialogue and the drawings work seamlessly together to craft a sense of isolation and loss, crying out for a resolution.

Many of the pages don’t contain any text at all. Especially in these places, the simple but expressive drawings do a masterful job of communicating a mood, a sequence of events, or even the passage of time. It might be surprising for a graphic novel set partly in a bookshop and partly in a library, but The Return of the Honey Buzzard suggests that images can indeed say more than words.

The Return of the Honey Buzzard by Aimée de Jongh SelfMadeHero 2016, 160 pages, 7.0 x 0.8 x 9.8 inches, Hardcover $23 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Read the rest

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye – But just who is this great Singaporean comic artist?

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is one of the most intricate and impressive graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s a biography of the great Singaporean comic artist Charlie Chan Hock Chye, and traces the evolution of Chan’s career by showing the wide array of artistic styles he experimented with. These range from Marvel-style superhero comics to celebrity caricatures, cartoonish science fiction, manga, noir, and more. All this is complemented by explanations and annotations of Chan’s work, which are also presented in graphic form.

The work is complex not only in style, but also in content. A driving theme throughout Chan’s career has been uncompromising political satire. Thus the survey of Chan’s work is also a dense and dizzying tour of 20th-century Singaporean history. The comics depict the complex Singaporean identity following independence from Britain, as the tiny nation-state struggled to define itself ethnically, politically, and economically.

While this is a weighty topic, there’s an ever-present humor in Chan’s comics. For instance, his superhero parody is called Roachman. Roachman worked as a human waste collector in Singapore’s pre-plumbing period, and gained his powers from the bite of a cockroach. His transformation into a superhero allows for commentary on the social ills of the day, as well as providing a snapshot of a country just before rapid urbanization and development.

The big conceit in all this is that Chan isn’t real. He’s a fictional character invented by Sonny Liew to take readers through a simultaneous history of Singapore and of 20th-century comics. Read the rest

Everything Is Teeth – An unsettling, autobiographical peek at a childhood obsession

Everything Is Teeth is an unsettling, autobiographical peek at a childhood obsession: author Evie Wyld’s fixation with sharks, and with a particular shark survivor named Rodney Fox. This is a small girl with a big internal life; pop culture and her imaginings about sharks are more vivid than real life.

Joe Sumner’s art is well matched to the mood of the text. The illustrations are spare, and mostly black and white. The images of books and sharks are vivid by comparison, especially the bright red blood that pops up periodically. And the humans are drawn with big heads and childlike features, which is appropriate for text that reveals an introspective child’s thoughts about grownups. The best lines are about Wyld’s parents, such as: “He hangs on to his jetlag like it’s the last bit of civilization he’ll see in a long while.”

Why sharks? One hard-to-avoid theory is that Wyld’s focus on blood is one sign of her apprehension about menstruation, and womanhood in general. She tells two especially memorable stories of washed-up sharks found and cut open. One contained a litter of shark pups, the other some expensive stiletto heels. Stilettos and offspring are potent symbols of womanhood, of course. Thus, becoming a woman, like facing off with a shark, inspires both fear and fascination. I was also a morbid girl who wasn’t so sure about this femininity business, so this odd book strikes a chord.

NOTE: The link above sends you to the same book, different cover.

Everything Is Teeth

by Evie Wyld (author) and Joe Sumner (illustrator)

Pantheon

2016, 128 pages, 8.1 x 10.3 x 0.7 inches (hardcover)

$17 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest