Displaying articles for: October 2010

X'ed Out

When discussing the eerie, enigmatic, and creepy work of master cartoonist Charles Burns, the obvious comparison is to the cinema of David Lynch.  In fact, if you Google the names of the two creators together, you'll get nearly ten thousand shared hits.  And it's true that both artists employ transgressive characters and events, odd juxtapositions, surreal segues, meticulous contemporary naturalism, arcane symbolisms, dream logic, and primal tropes of violence and sex.   But in Burns's newest, X'ed Out—which is the first 56-page installment in a longer tale of indeterminate length—I found myself thinking of earlier models for the type of story Burns seems bent on telling.  Namely, two great fantasists at either end of the Victorian period:  George MacDonald and David Lindsay.

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Toasting the Babies

Mark Twain's half-century as a public speaker can be divided into two very different categories. His organized tours, undertaken to promote a recent book or reprise a trusted lecture, were business ventures, and he grew to hate them. His club and after-dinner talks, delivered for no or little fee, were a type of social theater, offering the sort of spotlight he found irresistible. His talent and stamina for such occasions created a steady flow of invitations, whether to toast dignitaries and tycoons, to enlighten the Little Mother's Aid Association, or the Organization for the Prevention of Unnecessary Noise, or to regale the Stomach Club of Paris or the Yorick Club of Melbourne.

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Fall of Giants

Despite frequent analogies between writers and other crafters—let's choose fine woodworkers as the second half of the equation—we immediately encounter one major difference that renders such comparisons ultimately inutile. 

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Aurorarama

 Aurorarama is a toothsomely sweet serving of Baked Alaska that conceals an anarchist's time bomb inside.  Melding the droll, rococo politesse of Jack Vance with the phantasmagorical realpolitik of China Miéville, Jean-Christophe Valtat conjures up an exotic, polychromatic world too real not to exist somewhere, if only in a luckier, more delirious and glorious universe adjacent to ours.  Exemplifying Italo Calvino's mandate for "lightness" in fiction—Valtat's bold and capricious direct-to-English prose, not translated from his native French, dances across the page like Saki's or Firbank's—while also embodying Mark Helprin's nostalgic moral seriousness—think Winter's Tale on ecstasy—this opening salvo in a snowball cannonade of fantasy promises to attract discerning and sophisticated readers galore, those fans of the fantastical who are tired of second-hand visions and stale conceits.

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Barbs in Boston

Mark Twain's "Old Times on the Mississippi," a series of sketches about his days as a cub river pilot, were published by the Atlantic in seven monthly installments beginning in January, 1875. Though not quite his debut there, the Atlantic sketches are regarded as Twain's entry to the East Coast literary establishment. Immediately pirated by the major newspapers, they also helped consolidate Twain's fame across the U.S., as they did across England when published there in 1877 as Mark Twain's Mississippi.

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April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.