Review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

Charles Burns' Black Hole is the kind of graphic novel that should bring more readers to a medium whose audience is already growing. It is a story of high school alienation and the lurking fear of 'others' that crosses the humor and realism of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused with the dread and gore of the early EC Horror Comics. Burns has an ear for the dialog of his characters and era, and his vivid black and white illustrations seamlessly blend the surreal with the mundane.

Zap! Pow! Rayguns on Mars!

In 1898, a novel was published that gave us the first example of the ray gun, of the flying car, and consisted of an adventure on Mars that would presage much of the pulp science fiction to come. The book was called Edison's Conquest of Mars, and starred none other than Thomas Edison, rocketing to the red planet with his buddy Lord Kelvin to kill the aliens from H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. It sounds like a joke, or something Philip José Farmer would come up with in his more delerious moments, but it was a real book "authorized" by Edison himself as a sort of promotional tool— Thomas Edison as product placement. The man was clearly ahead of his time.

For a run down of the book's contents, we turn to Zapato Producations Intradimensional's hilarious blow-by-blow. Apparently the book was not a great work of literature, nor was it ever particularly popular. But as a novelty, you can't beat Thomas Edison and Lord Kelvin rescuing Aryan ur-babes and committing genocide on evil Martians.

Full text online or buy the book.

Reading Versus Watching: Take Out

Why do I love Raina Telgemeier's Take Out mini-comics so much? Could it be that there's more to life than guns, explosions and/or androids?

Criticism on the Web

One conversation going on right now in the Blogosphere is the function of book reviews on the Internet, as per this round-up by Critical Mass. Lev Grossman, critic for Time Magazine, seems to dislike "amateur" book reviews, though he's not explicitly talking about the web, but rather, about non-book-critics writing book reviews in print. Anyway the thread was picked up by blogizens, like Chekov's Mistress, who defends a certain type of "non-critical" book review.

Frankly, I'm not well read enough to be a critic and am quite content not to be (and who, like Art Winslow, can fill reams of notebooks on a book for a review). What's more, I only write about books that I like because - here's a professional differentiation - I don't have time, short of getting paid for it, to finish a book I don't like - and a likeworthy book is not the same as a review-worthy book.

I, however, am more likely to agree with The Reading Experience, who writes:

if I am going to review the book myself (on this blog or elsewhere), I am also interested in fostering a critical discussion of sorts by putting my own analysis/interpretation in the context created by the already existing commentary on the book. ... it seems to me that book reviews, periodical essays, and weblog posts might aspire to more than just the conventional thumbs up/thumbs down, read it/don't read it sort of review and attempt to fill up the critical vacuum left by the withdrawal of academic criticism from the practice of what seems to most people to be actual literary criticism.

"Critical vacuum" being the operative word; Reading Experience is arguing that blogging can compensate for a perceived lack in academic criticism. I would argue that the lack is in the rigor of reviewing practiced by most of today's mainstream reviewers, and further the marginalizing of serious reviewing in organs like the New York Times Book Review. That's the great thing about the web: you can make it into whatever you want. And what I want is intelligent criticism and literary discussion. Anybody else?

Anonymous Comments

As an experiment, we are making it so that people can post comments without having an account. As we mentioned, we've had problems with vandals and spammers in past projects. So if we start to see any of that, anonymous posting goes away again. Otherwise, enjoy.

Note: Like Slashdot, if you do post without registering, your name will come up as Anonymous, so you can put whatever name you want at the bottom of your post. If we see a lot of people doing this, we can modify the code so that it lets you put your own name in there, even if you're posting anonymously. We'll see.


My walking tour of the southern states got messed up after Texas. I stayed too long in Amarillo with a trucker and got a ride to the border. I waited for an hour and another trucker came along. Next thing I knew I was sitting on a lawn in a hick town somewhere. Everyone who walked by was drunk, or off somehow. Even their shadows were off. One guy walked up to me and said, "You sleep with niggers, don't you?"

Fiction by Sharon Mesmer.

John Hodgmania

John Hodgman, in between being the "PC" in those Apple ads and his work on The Daily Show, is promoting the paperback of his book The Areas of My Expertise, which book I would probably praise, had I read it. To this end, Hodgman has put this video up on Amazon, which is damn funny, and created this magazine ad, which is a parody of this obscure George Plimpton ad for Itellivision from the 80's. The original ad, the fact of the parody and the parody itself are all three quite funny. A little less funny, but more poignant, is this address that Hodgman gave to a literary reading just after 9/11, published on McSweeney's in honor of the fifth anniversary last week.

Bonus: Also from McSweeney's, somewhat surreal new Mac ad ideas. (Remember, John Hodgman is the "PC Guy.")

Serialized Fiction

I really like the idea of serialized fiction. One of the appeals of TV and comics for me is coming back to the same characters and seeing what they're up to (and how they've changed). In other countries, such as China (and especially Hong Kong), serializing fiction in newspapers is still widespread, and created the cradle which gave birth to novelists such as Jin Yong. In Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith is getting credit for revitalizing serialization in newspapers here in the West. Personally, I'm looking forward to Michael Chabon's "Jews With Swords" serial upcoming in The New York Times Magazine. For now content yourselves with Jaime Hernandez' excellent La Maggie La Loca. (Jaime's Maggie and Hopey characters I've been following loyally for quite some time from their adventures in Love and Rockets. If you like La Maggie La Loca, go check those out.)

Ten Directives for Writers to Be Listened to or Ignored at a Reader's Peril

1.) Don't Collaborate on anything that you think you can maybe do on your own if you push yourself.

2.) There is a difference to be elucidated between the Ecclesiastic writer and the Ecstatic writer. This division has to do with the nature of fascination and Ecclesiastics and Ecstatics are cut from all cloths, exist in all classes, and perdure in all history. An Ecstatic is one who believes in the power of fascination to impart some sense of immediacy on the work. The Ecstatic believes that work must fascinate first. The Ecclesiastic is one who looks down his nose at immediacy and fascination. He is more concerned with doctrine and the nature of convention, and believes that the work of its own merit will draw the reader if the reader is worthy of the work. It is better to be an Ecstatic than an Ecclesiastic.

3.) There is a difference to be elucidated between Commerce and Art. This is a treacherous road to be negotiated by everyone; it is a slim bridge of rotten wood stretched over a chasm of peril at the bottom of which live the ghouls who write Kirk/Picard Slash Fiction. Particularly the ones where Kirk is the top. As if. Picard would totally make Kirk his bitch.

4.) Being in this for the money is gauche and gross. If you get lucky, realize how lucky you are. Don't act like a dick.

5.) Never describe yourself to someone you've just met as "a writer." You're only a writer when you're writing: you are the furthest from writing when you're standing in a bar trying to get people to think better of you than you deserve.

6.) Never write a list of directives for other writers when you're an unknown nobody still trying to get his first novel and first poetry collection published.

7.) Reports of the Death of the Author have been somewhat premature. It may seem sexy and French and cool enough to help you nail some nubile young grad students to be spending your time [writing doing] the kind of nonsense John Cage perfected in the early Sixties (PSSST! That's over FORTY years ago, hippy!) where "the reader has to be engaged in the creation of the meaning of the text because even the writer is always already the reader etc etc." But in 2006 Language poetry is what old people did before we were born, it's mostly boring, and you aren't cool enough anyway.

8.) When in doubt: What Would Uncle Ludwig Wittgenstein Do?

9.) The oft mentioned by me here Ron Silliman has a point when it comes to his School of Quietude vs. Post/Avant division. He's also spent the last twenty years writing a single, long, multi-volume poem. Which, while it's fine, is a little off kilter as far as projects go. So take stuff he says with a grain of salt. School of Quietude doesn't always mean bad just like Post/Avant doesn't always mean good. Sturgeon's law applies to both, it's just that in the School of Quietude's case, way more than the usual 90% of the stuff is crap.

10.) If you don't read anything other than Poets & Writers magazine, don't write. There are too many like that already. We don't need more in the club.