29 Books That Kept Me Going

Books I Read in 2018 on 29 Years of Living

More than any year past, I passed my time reading. When I felt helpless about the state of my life and the world, I read. When I needed to be reminded about why I write, I read. I read poetry just as soon as I wake up, I read non-fiction academic texts during the day, and I read prose in the evening. On Tuesdays I read for two hours at a local bar, reveling in the ambient sounds of people chatting. Sometimes I felt guilty for having dedicated so much of my time to reading and not to making more of my own work. Sometimes reading allowed me to avoid addressing problems directly, a distraction tactic with the distinction of being considered productive and intellectual although at this point I don’t believe that myself.

In commemoration of my 29th year alive (grateful to be alive!!!), I am sharing 29 books I read this year that resonated with me, books that gave me opportunities where I loved humanity, borscht, and hot hot heat simultaneously or honed in on how deeply flawed and compassionate humans can be in the same body. Reading these books reoriented me again and again away from despair, sometimes metabolizing the despair just enough to eke out another week and at other times transfiguring a feeling that unstops a lifelong blockage.

I am grateful to those who share their work through comics, poetry and prose, and equally grateful for the people that provide writers, poets, and comics makers the space and time to create these works.The affordance of being able to create art is something that many are deprived the opportunity of, and I hope that in the next year the people I get to read will be among those historically deprived of the time and space to imagine in text the future worlds necessary to save ourselves from impending doom.


I created a few rules for selecting pieces to make the list cover a wide spread of the types of pieces I’ve been reading as well as to prevent this list from privileging books I most recently read. In addition to these rules, I wanted to feature work from comics, poetry and what I’m throwing into the untidy category of prose.

At least 7 are not by authors based in the US

At least 7 came out in the past year

At least 15 have to be by contemporary authors

At least 7 have to be released prior to the 21st century

(In order of earliest to most recently read)

Moon Bath by Yanick Lahens, translated by Emily Gogolakcover to Moonbath by Yanick Lahens, two sea blue hands below a white circle with the title and author name. Red spikes from the bottom corners to center make up the bottom half. , January 7-January 10

“She could have listened for hours to this speech pulled from the thickness of the days. Because the time spent talking like this isn’t time, it’s light. The time spent talking like this, it’s water washing the soul, the ‘bon ange’.” (40, Lahens trans Gogolak).

My nephew and I waited for his mom in a low lit room. He looked for a good time then gave up and joined me. We read a few pages.

I’m Not Here by GG, March 11

cover of I'm not Here. portrait of someone with long black hair bisected with the left side hair up and the right side turned upside down hair down. light pink background and the title in darker pink over the hair.

in a Polish Hill bar right after acquiring at Copacetic comics. Had first pierogies of life, ate fancier perogies later. Life felt good reading next to someone I love.

comic page from I'm Not Here. Three panels cut horizontally. First panel a pair of hands cuts into an avocado. Second panel the pair of hands separates the avocado. Third panel zooms out to reveal a person in a white shirt, and black pants standing at a kitchen counter.

The Power by Naomi Alderman, March 11-March 15cover of the Power by Naomi Alderman. A black palm on an orange background. White veins courses through the palms.

Read throughout Pittsburgh. Once, for hours in a room half-occupied by a future bathroom. Last time I read that long hiding in a tent from a tornado in Virginia.






Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angelica Villareal

cover to Beast Meridiam. A portrait of someone in grey and black is on the right. the left third is made up of a night sky and trees.

From review “This is a fucking stunning collection that really broke open language to me in a new way. Seriously. Get your eyes and heart on thus asap”






from ‘Guadalupe, Star-Horned Taurus’

What you will say in my memory: that my serenity. That my

softness. That my skirt is the sky pattern. That the cedars kneel for

my passage. That my laugh was kind. That your feet carry my body.

That I am the helix the roses climb. That the illness spreads north

as we cross. That these are the end days. That heaven groans blood.

That I have scienced the stones into a circle. That they speak of

failure. My daughters.


Agony in the garden.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, April 17- June 11

None of my notebooks mention this book at all even though I loved almost every story, but my notes do show that I made a flan and ate curds.







What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg (Goodreads Author), Fiona Smyth (Illustrator), June 19a yellow cartoon sperm and a blue ovary streatch out their arms in each other's direction. 'What Makes A Baby' in several colors over a purple striped background.

Was deeply moved seeing someone approach discussing sex to children in a way that does not privilege any particular form of how a baby gets made. Cute drawings throughout




The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish, June 21 Tommi-Parrish-The-Lie-And-How-We-Told-It_n6ly-3n-650x899

From review “the bodies in this comic feel dense with history and their movements carry weight in every flourish..Parrish celebrates the body often found revolting to other contemporary comics creators.”





Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen, June 18-June 21Screen_Shot_2017-12-19_at_4.26.04_PM

Why Art? By Eleanor Davis, June 30


From “A Conversation with Eleanor Davis BY JILLIAN TAMAKI”

“Q. What does that “care” look like?
A. (Eleanor Davis) Caring for other artists is, for me, recommending new people to ADs, demanding less fucked-up lineups in panels and anthologies, asking for better pay & contracts, and signal-boosting work I like. And I try to write the folks I see at shows and events and things, check out their work & then say howdy. But political work is also lifting and care. People need health insurance. Every human being deserves a living wage, to be taken care of when we get old, to be supported when we have kids, to have equal access to education, to have clean water to drink and air to breath, to have safe homes to live in. We deserve to have autonomy over our lives and bodies and to not be terrorized by war or police or ICE. And on and on and on. None of those things will happen by donating to one another’s GoFundMes, or by being “nice.” If we want everyone to be cared for, if we want a just society, it’s too big of a job for us as individuals – we need political power. We need to build systems that take care of everybody. That larger goal would benefit everyone, including the comics and illustration community.

It makes me kind of bonkers when people say “Oh, it’s so tragic that this great artist died unsupported and in poverty” like that’s worse than when all the other unsupported impoverished people die. I don’t feel any more obligation to my community of artists than I do to anyone else. I just have more ability to directly advocate here.”

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey, June 27- June 30



From my review “Sealey deftly exposes unending selves without every feeling as if we’re staring at wounds in a voyeuristic way. read it if you think you might love things i love.”

Body Music by Julie Maroh, translated David Homel, July 2 978-1-55152-692-8_BodyMusic

People loving across vignettes. Read this on a university couch after a swim. Felt good for one of the characters who’d just asked to be a partner to a couple.






Green Lantern: Earth One, Volume 1 by Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Sara Bechko, July 4-5

From Goodreads review “… this is more sci-fi than superhero…Does an amazing job exploring the role of Green Lanterns, and the fascism underlying a group of technocrats ‘bringing order’ to the universe.”




Anybody by Ari Banias, July 1-July 13


from ‘Being With You Makes Me Think About’


“We is something like a cloud. How big, how thick,

its shape – ambiguous. We is moving across

a magnificent sky. We see the sky all around us but

also we can look down at our own hands.

A cloud is a changing thing. Sometimes we are an animal

smiling, clawing at something

not there. Other times we spread out so thin we almost

don’t exist. We are thickening just now. A sea of slow

knitting. And soon it will rain, and we

will be down in the grass again. A blade of grass gets thirsty;

it’s nice to think we could quench that…”

An early writing teacher Laura Eve Engel shared this one. Loved it, Laura Eve! Engel’s first book Things That Go just came in the mail and am reading now.

R E D by Chase Berggrun, July 23-July 25

a section From ‘Chapter VIII’

“I don’t want to talk of infinitesimal distinctions

between man and man see no difference between men and maidens

I am the modern Morpheus
I made the minutes disappear
I am thin
an errant swarm of bees
a naked lunatic
a tiger
immensely strong
a wild beast
a paroxysm of rage

The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle, July 26-27


My roommates let me read ‘Soup is One Form of Salt Water’ before we had a summer meal. These poems make me feel my most maniacal, grounded and lovely.





By This You Shall Know Him by Jesse Jacobs, August 7

From my review: My new favorite creation story. A comic that imagines the celestial beings that created all life in the known universe are petty af despite their longevity and cosmic abilities.



The Verging Cities by Natalie Scenters-Zapico, August 16-17

Halfway through the Sealey Challenge (an invitation by Nicole Sealey to read 31 poetry books in August) when I read this. I fluttered through these pages at a clip demanding revisitation.




Five hundred feet away in Juarez. the maquilas

run all night. In EI Paso, we share the same 110

degrees. Angel takes his clothes off and says:


The swamp cooler must be broken. Heat submerges

each building under an ocean thousands of years old.

Heat so thick I wonder what It is to be clean. I swat

but Angel’s lips arc two ghosts rising co the surface

of his skin. He says: I’m dying. He says: Mi amor,

you might be dead. We don’t touch; the heat


from each other’s body is unbearable. I say:

I can’t stop sweating. He says: Become

the body of water to swallow us both.

Bug Boys vol. 1 by Laura Knetzger, July 26- August 28

Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 11.39.09 AM

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar, August 31

If They Should Come for Us” plays at the end of the interview below (transcript here). Also found out one of my dear friends is gonna have a baby!


Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Translated by Christina MacSweeney, August 30-September 3

“The fact is that the things we can’t see don’t hide themselves in the shades of gray or in the white or black, but at the fine line separating those two totalities. A place we can’t even imagine, a horizon of no return.” (18, Empty Set)


I read this one while in Boston based on two poets digging it (thanks Dennis and Hannah). Love reading a short novel in its entirety when visiting another place.


Zanardi by Andrea Pazienza, translated by Alberto Becattini, September 29-30

From my review “Pazienza’s use of multiple art styles, especially absurdist imagery impressed me with their affective quality. You get the impression that these folks are on a different speed of life.”

John, Dear by Laura Lannes, October 3rd

I finished it and couldn’t believe it had fucked me up as much as it did given its brevity.

From my review “Laura Lannes creates narratives that get at the core of violence and desire without the compulsion to explain any of what’s occurring beyond conveying the overload of the experience.”



Pink by Kyōko Okazaki, translator(s) unknown, October 11-17

From my review “Though the ending felt predictable, I really enjoyed Okazaki’s sense of humor, and unwillingness to ascribe to a shame narrative regarding the two main character’s occupation as sex workers.”





Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay, September 19-October 21

Someone came in the urgent care waiting room and sat nearby, asked about the book. Wanted to get back into reading once they got their library card; left first.

From ‘I Am Not Ready to Die Yet’

I want to live longer.
I want to love you longer, say it again,
I want to love you longer
& sing that song
again. & get pummeled by the sea
& come up breathing & hot sun
& those walks & those kids
& hard laugh, clap your hands.
I am not ready to die yet.

The Ground I Stand on Is Not My Ground by Collier Nogues, November 2

Read this, along with two other erasure books, on a Friday, this one last. The companion website makes this one of my favorite multimedia projects I saw this year.


From ‘Editor’s Introduction’


“No evidence is now available as to



but I came to believe


that the logic of ideas strung together by

the syntactic structure of the sentence


depends on the reader’s context.”

Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, October 16- November 7

Was recommended this one by three comrades on a night we aired grievances. Read several of this aloud while crossing a football field on my way home from work.


Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda, translated by Martha Tennent, November 8-16


“Let suffering be removed but not desire because desire keeps you alive.” (82)

In New York City for the first time, I read chapters of this in Washington Square Park. The fountain was full of folks relaxing. I felt sleepy and cozy.



Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color by Christopher Soto, November 14- December 3qpoc_3-1

An incredible experience every time I went in. Would read four to five poems at a time, and everyone is loaded with history and alternately harsh and delicate.

From Torrin A. Greathouse’s piece “A kind of communal history: Nepantla edited by Christorpher Soto

“In the introduction, Soto describes nepantla as “a transient feeling” at the meeting place of Queer and PoC identity. Spanning one hundred years, from the Harlem Renaissance to now, Nepantla is an archive of QTPoC memory that resists both the whiteness of mainstream LGBTQ+ movements and the notion of cistheteronormativity in PoC communities. Fundamentally, it is an act of history-making in verse.”


They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib, August 3, December 10

I never knew how I’d come out of any essay from this collection, wrecked most often. Lucky to read a lot of these on Sunday afternoons with a friend.


“[Marvin Gaye] knew then what so many of us know now: we have to dance, and fight, and make love and fight aid live, and fight all with the same ferocity…There are no half measures to be had.” (101”)

Books I’m still reading that would likely make it on here had I finished them.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale by Matt Hern, and Am Johal featuring comics by Joe Sacco

Prince of Cats by Ronald Wimberly






Books I Loved in 2016

I wanted to write something to cap off the year and share with friends, so thought a list of favorite books would work. Not all these books were released in 2016— new comics releases were where my focus was at—but they’re all works that I not only enjoyed but influenced some new way of thinking or being in the world. . I think articulating that for myself was important, and I hope that if you check one out of these, they can move you to being more of yourself too.

The books are listed in no particular order, and the ones at the end that I didn’t write about are equally loved, but not elaborated on because I wanted to do something else with my day than indulge more feelings on books. (Bonus: a short playlist of sounds I find myself in)

Sphinx by Anné Garréta

I found this book on one of those Instagram accounts that posts awesome photos of books. The cover of the Deep Vellum edition drew me immediately and I marked it on my to-read list. A short novel, Sphinx had a profound impact on me for its unique exploration of intimacy as well as the self-imposed craft restraints under which the book was composed, which you should avoid learning about before reading for full effect. This book was also a favorite for its depiction of Parisian danceclub life from the perspective of someone who doesn’t dig the scene, but is in it day after day. I copied out several passages of this that articulated my own feelings on religion, community, love and kindness. In Garréta, I found a kindred spirit, which makes me excited to read Deep Vellum‘s release of her novel Not One Day also translated by Emma Ramadan whose ‘Translator’s Notes’ at the end of Sphinx provide some thoughtful insight to the work required to translate Garréta’s novel. Along with the Star By My Head, this work helped me better recognize the important work done by these translators and the difficult artistic and ethical choices they make to make these texts accessible to an English-reading audience.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty 

This year was really difficult to navigate for a lot of people, including me. However, like others who got to read Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, I got to laugh for good chunks of it. A story of a black man in an Los Angeles county city that no longer exists, Beatty’s novel is one of the most biting satires I’ve read in my short life. However, at no point does this book seem interested in demonizing any particular group and instead takes to tasks all of us for our varying complicities with racism in the United States. Every time I saw someone reading this book around Syracuse, I’d start smiling over a passage I loved like the bus party for a modern-day slave that ends at the beach. Gave a copy of this one to my Dad for Christmas. Here’s hoping he sees what’s so funny about it.

Big Kids by Michael De Forge big-kids

A friend told me earlier this year that she had been finding fewer favorite books recently. That’s when I told her about Big Kids, a book I had recently read and adored and another of Michael De Forge’s comic releases made in an ongoing effort to show the rest of the world how limitless his creativity is (at least in my opinion). I bought my copy in a comics store during my first visit to Boston, MA while checking out potential PhD programs, and had my cousin and his then girlfriend/now wife indulge me in the delightful photo here. Initially set in a reality seemingly like our own, the book soon morphs once its main character becomes a tree and realizes that everyone is actually either a tree or twig with only trees knowing about this dichotomy. I first encountered De Forge in The Believer Magazine’s comic section a few years ago, then read his bizzare work Ant Colony. Big Kids expands my love for De Forge with colors that simultaneously sicken and enrapture, and dialogue that captures much of the callousness of adolescence. A tiny book that taught me a lot about managing the scope of a story, blending form with content, and how trees have sex in a pool.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay unabashed

My amazing poet friend and former housemate Alana Folsom was one of my most valued poetry pushers this past year. Sharing bookshelves with her, I read works from Frank Bidart, Franny Choi, Ada Limon, Ocean Vuong, and Richard Silken, but none made me want to write more than Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. Although like many writers, I entered the medium through poems intended to woo or save me money at Mother’s Day, I left poetry aside for a couple years once I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t really know what I’m doing now, but reading Gay made me feel better able to be myself on the page. I love life. It’s been very good to me, and Gay showed me how this gratitude for everyday objects and occurrences can be just as vital and authentic a source of inspiration as the tragedy and misery that propels the writing of many others. I read this book on a hike through the Bald Hill area of Corvallis, Oregon on a clear spring afternoon. Alone, I read these poems aloud on trails and got dizzy from the lovesickness I felt for them.

Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt

Mind MGMT has gotten a lot of coverage within comics circles ever since its first issue was released 2012, and I wanted to check it out since then. However, with ongoing comics sometimes I feel incapable of taking the chance to jump on even if the story has only just left the dock. Now collected in 6 beautiful hardcover volumes, I checked them out from the Onondogaga county and Syracuse University library systems throughout the first term of my PhD.

Mind bender gets thrown around a lot to describe works of art that are difficult or complicated to parse through, but Mind MGMT is the first of those sorts for me that becomes increasingly complicated while maintaining total clarity. A tale with telepathy, government conspiracy, and global trotting, Mind MGMT is at its core a story of how individuals can change the world in collaboration with others. It sounds corny, I know, but at the end of this book I wept. Not for sadness, but for having felt empowered by a comic to be a better agent of localized change. A story that transfixed me composed in an art form I love inspired me to try harder to be human. Is there anything more you can want from art?

Unpleasant Design edited by Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić 

Unpleasant Design is a book I first heard about on the wonderful 99% Invisible podcast. A book of writings on urban design by a variety of writers of differing expertise (designers, activists, artists, scholars), Unpleasant Design showed me the ways that people shape their material reality (park benches, bus stops, intersections) to make them unpleasant for groups that the public wants to keep at the margins—the homeless, drug users, teenagers, and non-human animals. As a rhetorician interested in aesthetics and environmental sustainability, this book awakened me to the fact that urban design is never neutral, and made me better able to see human intent in the design of cities. I got a new lens to see how persuasion occurs in the world, and to better love a comfortable park bench whose design/designer invites me to sit or lie for hours overlooking a trail and a stream.

Let me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello 

I tell a story sometimes at parties about singing along to the Arctic Monkeys 505 once when driving home from a night out. Curious, I decided to record myself starting on the chorus and played it back once the song was through. What I heard was a nasal whine so unlike what I thought it would be that I decided there to stop singing out loud around others. Years after, I started singing to myself sans recorder—on walks, washing dishes, in the shower, knowing that I would never impress anyone with my voice. That unexplored curiosity about voice made me excited to read Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat after meeting her during my time at Oregon State University. Having listened to a recording of her essay ‘Teach Me Tonight’ on Frank Sinatra’s instructional singing book, I knew that Passarello would be able to articulate for me the pure joy of voice through her obsessions with vocal idols throughout the ages. A hilarious book, Passarello’s essays made me want to scream, warble, groan, and enjoy the sounds of others made in love, pain, and mania.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler
The Star By My Head: Poets from Sweden edited by Malena Mörling
Someone Please Have Sex With Me by Gina Wynbrandt
A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
The Vision  by  Tom King (Writer), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Illustrator), Jordie Bellaire (Colorist), Mike del Mundo (Cover Artist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives by Robert Petersen

Impressions of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed In Flames

(Spoiler Alert: Revelations are made, and things get mushy)

I spent some of today working on my reviews for Comic Bastards, and a lot of it sitting around my new apartment, working as a chair for my roommate’s cat, Bitty while thinking about all the thesis work I haven’t yet done and all the beer that I could be drinking. Having not written one of these in a while, I struggled to muster the energy to find something interesting to say about Sedaris’ work other than that he’s hilarious and makes wonderful stuff from the mundane, which is what 90% of the blurbs on the back of his book state.

David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Sedaris first came to my attention thanks to Facebook recommended pages some years back. An acquaintance had liked his page, and thanks to the magic of algorithms, Facebook figured I’d like him too. However, it wasn’t until I gave in to the ‘This American Life’ machine last year that I first heard Sedaris share one of his essays, one about the everyday issues he runs into due to his lack of fluency in French. Like most of those who hear Sedaris, I found him charming, relatable and more articulate than I could ever hope to be. I got pissed off while reading one of his essays where he describes a very specific color that I had no familiarity with, and just feeling like a complete dumbass, contemptuous of his vocabulary. Reading his essays in When You Are Engulfed In Flames, I was shaken by the ease with which he delivered stories of his family, youth and his often dull adult life. Continue reading “Impressions of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed In Flames”

Spring Break Reading Impressions

(Spoiler Alert: Procrastination Rhymes with Gestation)


I’ve been a bad, bad boy. In addition to spacing (HONESTLY) on brushing my teeth this morning, I haven’t updated the blog in quite a bit due to a multitude of excuses, primarily the ‘well nobody is reading this anyway’ one that comes up whenever it feels like lounging about doing anything but write seems like the best use of my time. However, in my absence I did get through some fantastic work, and I took a couple minutes to write about each. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be returning to my regular schedule (longer works on Monday, comics on Wednesday and the occasional existential crisis on Friday). Thanks for reading you have, and welcome to the spring session.


Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comic: The Invisible Art


After reading Scott McCloud’s seminal comic book about comic books, I feel like I’ve grown in my understanding of not only the power of comics, but art in general. One moment that particularly stood out to me was when McCloud defines art as anything that doesn’t concern reproduction or survival. Such a broad definition seems to allow much that does not get accredited as art by posh folks. McCloud makes a brilliant move in using the medium to make an argument for its viability as an art form, going through many different historical styles as well as manipulating his page layouts to achieve diverse effects. When he describes why Japanese manga and their comic art evolved so differently due to the country’s isolationist stance, comics as a field itself up to all new forms of study by historical, literary, and art scholars without not falling neatly into any of those fields. Originally published in the early 90’s, it seems that comics have exploded in the manner that McCloud predicts with the Internet having provided creators with new ways of pushing the form, and comics, or at least graphic fiction, gaining increasing legitimacy in the public eye. Here’s hoping McCloud works up another edition of this wonderful book.

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Love and Death


The Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing has been on my to-read list ever since I read Watchmen way back in 2007 when my parents got me the Absolute edition for Christmas. However, for a while there scoring a new copy of this book became pretty difficult, and it went to that place alongside Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was fortunate then to have a friend get them, and not only recommend it but lend me the volumes as he made his way through them. While I enjoyed the stories from the first volume of Swamp Thing, they felt lacking in the sort of narrative innovations I look to Alan Moore for. It was a relief then that this second volume of his run possessed a restlessness in the manner of stories it told issue by issue, an occurrence that Neil Gaiman in his introduction writes is owed not only to Moore, but to the grueling schedules artists are placed on in the medium that requires fill-in artist to step in for a ‘filler’ between major arc issues. In this volume, Swamp Thing first battles his nemesis Arcane then heads to hell for Arcane’s niece, the beautiful Abigail. In the next issue we’re treated to a visual treat wherein Abigail and Swamp Thing profess their love for each other, and through her consumption of a fruit grown from him they meet in the consciousness of the Green for what is sure to have been mind-blowing sex delivered via lush colors. Somewhere within all the madness, is a playful and dark homage to Pogo that feels jarring when placed alongside the rest of the material, but makes for a fun respite from the grueling trials in Louisiana.


Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography

The Muppets have long been one of those entities whose work I have always enjoyed even at its weakest, talking to you Muppets From Space. Amidst The Mario Bros. cartoon and not having network television for the first few years of my life it wasn’t until I was about seven or eight that I caught The Muppet Movie on television as a kid and saw Kermit sitting among a swamp singing “Rainbow Connection.” I was hooked. Years after I discovered that Jim Henson was the man behind all those fabulous characters, and I’d been curious since then to read more about him although I was reluctant as I couldn’t bare the thought of the man behind the epitome of whimsy being a douche in one form or another. However, a dear friend bought me a copy of Jones’ beautifully written biography. It’s a book that spans throughout Henson’s life, tracking his Southern origins all the way up to his mysterious and untimely death. What remained clear throughout reading of Jones’ well-researched book is that Jim was an amazing man, not only in his talent and creativity but in his generosity and concern for the well-being of the world. Although Jones does remark on the instances where Jim falls short of that image, a string of affairs during his marriage being the worst of it, those follies never threaten to outweigh all that he left the world with. He was a man that never thought of his work as work, but play and it’s made me feel more inspired than much of anything I’ve read recently to be a creator.


George Saunders’ Tenth of December


This is only the 2nd collection of Saunders’ book that I’ve read, the first being Civil War Land In Bad Decline (the first book I wrote about on here), and it’s marvelous how Saunders has continued to write stories that experiment with form while also being entirely comprehensible and not the least bit pretentious. Whether he’s writing the journal-form story “The Semplica Girl Diaries” that chronicles the lives of one near-future suburban family from the perspective of its patriarch, or the eponymous story, a 1st person narrative told by an imaginative, but bullied boy, Saunders manages to make each voice unique with all his characters evoking intense empathy even as they engage in activities that I couldn’t always agree with. Saunders, with just a simple change of our current world in several of these stories, is able to show the lunacy that pervades the world and how ordinary it all appears to those involved in it. If I were an artist, I’d get to working on illustrations on all the gizmos present in Saunders’ future worlds. Get to it, Believer illustrators!


Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol

Finishing Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was a landmark form me as it was the last of the pirated comics I downloaded before my conscience got the better of me. For a time there, I only read it on my laptop whenever I was on the bus going one place or the other, never quite sure what another person would think if they caught a view of my screen and saw the increasingly strange beings that Morrison and his artist’s team conjure up. Infusing a superhero comic with surrealism, pseudo-science, and Dada-like non rationalism, Morrison creates a comic unlike any other one. Rarely is a villain defeated by a punch from the straight man Cliff Steel aka Robotman (a man whose only remaining human organ is his brain). More often the villains of Doom Patrol get their due in the form of blown out candles, flexed muscles, Crazy Jane (a woman diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder-each personality exhibiting a different superpower) shouting key words from giant horses, and one villain throwing a face onto another. This comic could never be accused of predictability and nearly every character presented here, villains included, could easily serve as the basis for a book of their own. As a jump-off point for Morrison’s work with American comic publishers, it’s disorienting how much he was able to achieve early on. So enjoyable was this run that I don’t even cringe at the penance I’ll pay in buying the Omnibus when it drops later this year.

Impression of Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson’s The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

(Spoiler Alert: Not really about The Beatles, but sorta about them. No, not really.)

            Sometimes it can be a good idea to make an impulse purchase when you’re drunk. Thankfully the few times I have done this have led to reading some books I’d never consider purchasing like The Fifth Beatle. I was in Portland on MLK day with two friends from my program, and drifted off to a nearby comic book shop right before we were going to head back to Corvallis. I had already purchased Enrique Vila-Matas’ Dublinesque from Powell’s earlier that day, so I did not intend to get any other books. However, in my buzzed state I could not resist the call of Bridge City Comics, and entered uncertain about what I would get because God forbid I enter a store and leave empty-handed (What would the employees and other customers think?). I started mulling about the independent publisher sections, and when an employee offered to help me, and I blurted out The Fifth Beatle. It was unavailable among the stacks, but she made a search in the back and while I was on the phone with my mom, she returned and thrust the oversized graphic novel in my free arm.

Hint: Brian’s the one in the bitching matador costume.

Continue reading “Impression of Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson’s The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story”

Impressions of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

(Cancer sucks, but that’s not much of a spoiler)

For a long time I tried to think of humans as just another animal, albeit one with advanced alien technology that allows it to kill other animals en masse and domesticate the ones it thinks are yummy. This hopefully happens in my brain to cope the heinous acts humans often do since, after all, we’re just selfish animals trying to live. This is also why I sometimes make the claim to be happy for the existence of diseases- they keep our numbers in check and prevent us from overpopulating the world and annihilating it. This does not go over well at parties where most people have lost someone to disease and no one is interested in such morbid and callous ideas.

Unfortunately such callous detachment only works well if you’re capable of maintaining it. Until recently, no relatives or friends of mine had been the victims of a disease. That made it easy for me to make stupid dumb arguments that evoked horrible memories of loss and grief for many people I care about. Then my maternal grandfather was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and although he lived beyond his diagnosed life expectancy his slow death remained difficult for my mother and sisters, and to a lesser extent, myself. And even then a major part of why his death was difficult for me was because, through my limited knowledge of cancer, I was aware that genetics plays a large role in a person’s susceptibility. Therefore my grandfather’s cancer was just a signal of my potential future cancer.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This led to my reading of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Biography of Cancer, thinking that if my fear was based in what I didn’t know about cancer if I learned more about the disease I could quell my fear to a large extent. Thankfully, at the close of four hundred and seventy pages, that and more transpired in me. I developed, at least for the moment, what lots of books would like to provoke- compassion for others. In the case of this book, compassion for patients of cancer and the people who work to limit its detrimental effects (my own mother included) on others. From his astoundingly moving and well-cited text, Mukherjee uses his personal experiences as a clinical oncologist as a through-line in a centuries spanning story about the frustrations, chance revolutions and defeats in the lives of medical researchers, oncological clinicians, patients, pharmaceutical scientists and disease advocates. Continue reading “Impressions of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”

Impressions of Steve Almond’s Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America

[Disclaimer: I rather not write about music cause I don’t know how to, but I will be embedding links to songs to listen to while reading this post or doing other things in your life. Let me know if this is a crappy idea. I have a lot of crappy ideas].

When I was a kid living in Belize, I worshipped at the altar of the Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. I love the combination of chocolate and peanut and the way the heat forced me to eat it quickly before it melted in its wrapper or resting in my hand. The first would be gone in two bites and then I’d eat the second by nibbling on the ridges, encircling the center like a sadistic predator before gobbling it up. One day Reese’s disappeared from all the stores as a result of a nationwide halt of importation on certain “luxury” items.

Four years ago when I moved to Houston, Texas it took me the entirety of six months to be able to make it out of the store without a packet (often the king-sized version containing four, which my mind couldn’t compute).

Steve Almond’s ‘Candyfreak’

I say all that to let you know that I am somewhat familiar with the neurosis of the candyfreak Steve Almond describes in his non-fiction account of the American candy industry circa early 2000’s. Unlike Almond though, I had to put aside my candyfreak ways due a low metabolism and a fear of contracting hereditary diabetes. For the week I was reading Almond’s book though, I could think of little else but the chocolates of my youth and recent memory, but unlike him I abhor any other candy; most likely as a result of being the progeny of a dentist who’d sometimes describe the deplorably cavity-infected mouths of kids I knew from school that made frequent trips to him.

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