Book: Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Moon of the Crusted Snow
by Waubgeshig Rice
book and audiobook published by ECW Press
audiobook read by Billy Merasty
2018

This novel is a slow, intense burn – and the audiobook is narrated in an impressively CANADIAN manner!

Evan and his family have a comfortable, modest life on a small Anishinaabe (First Nations) reservation, where he works for the community government in a range of jobs that are enough to keep his spouse and two children warm and fed through brutal Canadian winters. He enjoys hunting to keep his extended family fed through the winter, and he and his wife both enjoy meeting with elders to learn more about the old ways, which their community has partly abandoned in favor of modern trappings that arrived with reliable electricity.

When the power goes out, it disrupts the community’s school and local businesses, but is sure to come back soon.

Then the landlines stop working. Which is exotic.

Then the satellite phones and radios go silent as well. For a community displaced to this isolated reservation a few generations ago, who are accustomed to keeping to themselves, there aren’t any obvious places to go for information that aren’t a great distance away.

And then, refugees begin to arrive from the nearest non-native town, where some sort of societal collapse is underway… It occurs to Evan that the power may not be coming back on again for a very long while, if ever. And, that some members of his community aren’t interested in doing the work required to survive without imported foods and fuels…

The story builds tension throughout, with soft moments of Evan’s children learning Anishinaabemowin words from the elders in between fights breaking out over emergency supplies, armed standoffs, premature deaths, and the realization that a community really shows its character during a crisis…

Actor Billy Merasty’s intense Canadian-ness adds something special to the narration. The sort of chill, slow-paced ‘how are your folks doing’ dialog while tensions mount contributes to the surreal nature of the crisis: these are ordinary people living ordinary lives until the crisis hits, and they maintain their normal pace in a realistic manner. (No one suddenly becomes a super-efficient action-movie-hero! ) His reading of the Anishinaabemowin dialog, and the way that local words mingle with Canadian English so naturally in inter-generational conversations, reminds me of inter-generational, multi-lingual conversations here – they are well written and well performed. (Merasty is a First Nations actor and author himself, though from a different group than the author.)

This is a well-written, compact, increasingly stressful book to read – stressful in a good way. I’m glad I read it!

Book: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less
by Andrew Sean Greer
published by Little, Brown, and Company
audiobook published by Hachette Audio
narrated by Robert Petkoff
2017

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize!

Arthur Less is a 49-year old man living in San Francisco, trying to get his new novel published, dreading age 50, and trying to accept that his young partner moved out and moved on. When an invitation arrives to that young ex-partner’s forthcoming wedding (!!), he decides to flee rather than face it.

Piles of previously ignored invitations to be a guest lecturer, a conference speaker, a writer’s retreat participant, and more suddenly find their purpose – helping him avoid humiliation!

His escape out of SF and around the world does more than just help him avoid his feelings about ‘the one that got away:’ it nearly gets him killed, sparks new feelings, introduces new friends, offers insights about his life that he’d rather not have, has him offering to kill students trying to sign up for his classes, and gets him to his 50th birthday in a series of both sweet and absurd misadventures.

The excellent reading by Petkoff had me laughing out loud. Especially the portions translated from German, which Less believes he speaks fluently, to hilarious effect. Also: the general observation from a character that perhaps books about middle-aged white guys feeling sorry for themselves aren’t appealing. HAHAHAHA!

This is a fun, charming, novel about trying with all ones might NOT to see one’s life imitating art.

Book: Blue Territory: a Meditation on the Life and art of Joan Mitchell by Robin Lippincott

Image from the SFMoMA shop

Blue Territory: a Meditation on the Life and art of Joan Mitchell
by Robin Lippincott
published by Tidal Press
2015

This is an artist’s biography, but not a traditional one. It does a great job of describing the life of Joan Mitchell, the abstract expressionist painter who spent many of her later years working in Paris while showing in the U.S.

Rather than a list of facts and documents, this biography reads like an oral history, told by a friend who was a big fan of Mitchell’s, who is sharing quotes and interpretations of pivotal phases of Mitchell’s life. It’s fluid, like fiction, as if Lippincott was walking down Paris streets with her and is remembering the mood and the color of the light in between snippets of paraphrased conversation and quotes from interviews.

It isn’t the biography I expected: it was more fun, like having a biography interpreted by a poetic friend.

Book: Nome by Jessi Zabarsky

It’s so small and CUTE

NOME
by Jessi Zabarsky
published by Perfectly Acceptable Press
undated (but recent)

This is a small (five inch square) and extremely adorable, wordless graphic novel about the life, death, and renewal of tiny nature spirits.

Photo from Silver Sprocket Books, where I purchased this

It manages to be cute and feel philosophical about life’s end and natural cycles at the same time.

I got it at Silver Sprocket, which I recommend highly as a place to find great graphic novels.

Book: Boy Meets Maria by Peyo

The inside illustrations are just as lovely as this cover!

Boy Meets Maria
by Peyo
published by Penguin Random House
2021

Ambitious and outgoing Taiga is eager to be a famous actor and play heroes. At his school drama club, he immediately develops a crush on one of the girls on stage… but while Maria was raised as a girl by her determined mother, off the stage, he is a brave and traumatized boy named Arima.

This is a beautiful story about love, bravery, and being true to yourself. I was deeply moved, and impressed by both the quality of the illustrations and the sensitivity and strength of this story.

(I was crushed to learn that the extraordinarily talented young author, Peyo, recently passed away.)

Book: Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Audiobook cover at libro.fm

Noor
by Nnedi Okorafor
published by Penguin Random House
audiobook read by Délé Ogundiran
audiobook published by Tantor Media, Inc.
2021

This amazing African Futurist novel engrossed me completely this weekend!

AO has a many cybernetic enhancements, having been born with life-threatening birth defects, and having further been maimed in an unexplained autonomous vehicle accident. She’s followed her fiancé to a new city, made a life for herself, improved her body, and found a meaningful profession. After a rough day coping with the abrupt end of her engagement, she just wants to have a nice dinner. At her local market, however, locals who have been radicalized by a passing imam against the evils of cybernetics have other plans for her…

In a time of environmental devastation, oppressive corporate monopolies, and wireless energy transmission, AO finds herself on the run with a nomadic herdsman, a bloody nose, and an increasing awareness of the surveillance technologies that have infused every element of Nigerian society.

The tech is great; the inserted documentary about how some of the tech was invented is engaging and wonderful; the the environments, both urban and desert, are well described; the cosmopolitan people, the languages, the different traditions, the meals – all are vividly and richly laid out in world building of great depth for such a brief and satisfying novel.

I recommend Noor highly to everyone who likes a great, earth-bound, science-fiction story in a vivid near-future that never lets up the pace.

Book: Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You, edited by Peter Eleey, et al.

Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You
edited / essays by Peter Eleey, Robyn Farrell, Michael Govan, James Rondeau, Zoé Whitley, and more
published by Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and DelMonico Books – DAP
2021

Barbara Kruger’s retrospective has been calling to me from afar, and I was able to buy the book to read up in advance of seeing it!

Kruger’s most famous past works are widely recognized for their iconic consistency: a bold, black and white image with direct, engaging, nearly accusing Future Bold Oblique text on a high-contrast (often red) background. (I can just say, “Your Body is a Battlefield,” and the image will pop into your head!) She’s done much more with words, and I’ve had the pleasure of exploring a room wrapped in her power-questioning, engaging, accusatory texts.

This book features a significant amount of engaging, unsurprisingly bold, unsurprisingly relevant new works by Kruger, plus excellent essays about her and the ongoing relevance of the questions her work asks. Her work quotes Orwell, mocks the powerful, and challenges our willingness to be reduced from active citizens to consumers. The essays approach her challenges to us from different angles, quote James Baldwin, ask about our tendencies to judge, discuss empathy and contempt, and are thoughtful throughout.

The collection of recent work includes long walls/rooms of text, and it’s great to have them in book form to be able to take the time to read them all the way through.

It also comes with homework! There’s a collection of essays at the end which are presented as a sort of “syllabus” to the lessons we could be learning from all of this.

It’s a great book – not just in content, but also in form! The covers are boldly printed book-board with a printed fabric spine, and all the fore-edges are painted the same green as her work (and the x’s on the cover). I appreciate the boldness of the design.

For sale at the LACMA store, and wherever fine art books are sold.

This book is HIGHLY recommended if you love: Barbara Kruger, well-produced art books, text art, and concise, incisive cultural commentary.

Manga: Spy X Family by Tatsuya Endo

Volume 1 Cover

Spy X Family
by Tatsuya Endo
published by Viz, San Francisco
2020 – (ongoing)

Westalis and Ostania are on the brink of war. Twilight, a handsome super-spy working for Westalis, must infiltrate elite society where politicians mingle: to do that, he’ll need a family – by the end of the week – to get into position to collect intelligence on a deadline.

He can’t be fussy.

He quickly adopts a child from a sketchy orphanage, and agrees to a faux marriage with a nice young woman who asks him for assistance, successfully assembling the Forger family. He doesn’t know the child, Anya, is hiding the fact that she is a telepath, or that his innocent-looking wife, Yor, is a professional assassin. Thanks to a series of misunderstandings and barely kept secrets, he won’t understand his (fake) wife or (fake) child any time soon!

This is a light-hearted comedy is attractively drawn. The faux-European setting provides a pretty-yet-tense backdrop, as government security services abduct and torture citizens who: show any hints of disloyalty, are turned in by envious acquaintances, or even are just a little different. The Forger family’s ability to fit in feels ‘high stakes,’ and while each of them has their own reasons they need to pass for normal, they all feel safer together.

Petty office rivalries, secret crushes, childhood bonds, misunderstandings, and sharp objects keep things moving along amusingly! EVEN THE DOG HAS A SECRET!

Viz’s Shonen Jump currently provides subscribers Chapters 1- 58; the compilation books are up through Volume 6 (Chapters 1 – 37).

Spy X Family is a nice way to take your mind off [gesturing]… the state of things.

This Viz preview below sets the scene in English; the Japanese preview below it has catchy music, and shows more images of the characters in action.

Manga: Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto

This is the cover for the compilation of the first 7 chapters. And it’s COOL.

Kaiju No. 8
by Naoya Matsumoto
published by Viz, San Francisco
2021 (ongoing)

Kafka Hibino has a dirty job: cleaning up the mess after giant monsters (kaiju) that attack his home city are violently “neutralized” by the nation’s Defense Force.

Kafka didn’t PLAN to be cutting up monster guts: he planned to fight against the kaiju directly at the side of childhood best friend, Mina Ashiro. But his plans went sideways, and decades later, he handles sanitation, while Mina leads the Defense Force’s third division as a national hero(ine), using weapons made from previously killed, powerful kaiju.

But… one day, things go very wrong, and Kafka becomes a part-time kaiju himself. Which is… SO AWKWARD. How will he ever get into the Defense Force and work with Mina if he is the enemy?

This is a charming adventure with dangerous monsters, dangerous humans, loyalty, teamwork, men gossiping in bathhouses, monster intestines, secret identities, partial kaiju transformations, very sharp blades, unexpected alliances, and fun illustrations between chapters.

I subscribe to Viz’s Shonen Jump, so I have access to all available chapters (1 through 54 as of mid-January 2022), and have been delighted by the story so far! Chapters 1-7 are available in book form, and I imagine the rest of the story will be bundled and released in the future.

I’m looking forward to future issues!