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Weekly Reviews: Under the Radar
Last week, Angela talked about buzz books–those books that everyone seems to be talking about; this week, I want to talk about the other end of the spectrum–books that no one is talking about. None of the three books reviewed below has been reviewed (yet) by a library journal, nor have I been able to find a mainstream review of any of them (with one exception, which I’ll discuss). Why is no one talking about them, if (as I believe) all three are great books with potential teen appeal? I suspect the reasons are quite different for each.
Davis’s graphic novel of Cervantes’s classic is the exception I noted above. Just as Cervantes did, Davis published the first part of his Don Quixote as a separate work, and it did receive one review, from London’s Guardian–but that is the only review I could find. Still, the novel probably has the best chance of any of these books of gaining attention–SelfMadeHero is a well-respected publisher of graphic novels and comics, and the book came to my attention when it was mailed to me, unsolicited. That tells me that SelfMadeHero is putting some effort into publicizing the novel, so it may just be a matter of time before other reviewers get to it. In any case, it is a perfect choice for teens–a book that can be used effectively (maybe too effectively for teacher’s comfort) as a crib sheet instead of reading Cervantes, at the same time that it makes its own case as a work of art.
Found Photography, on the other hand, revels in obscurity. The book is a compilation of mostly unauthored works of art, and (fittingly) the book itself is unauthored, with no editor or compiler listed. I found it browsing through Norton’s catalog and just happened to be intrigued by the title–if I hadn’t sent off for a review copy, I would probably have never have heard of it again. But, I’m very glad I did. The photographs compiled are almost all fantastic, some of them still sticking in my mind months after I put my copy down. And I love this book for teen appeal (not as something teens will tear off the shelf, but as a great book to hand sell), first because I have yet to meet a teen who isn’t interested in taking and looking at photographs, and second because it shows the way in which even anonymous, everyday photography–say, random pictures taken on a phone–can become works of art.
Finally we have Daniel Kine’s Up Nights. Kine’s novel has probably the best excuse for flying under the radar–it was published by a small press without a lot of marketing might. Fortunately (for me) we live in the wondrous world of e-publishing, and I was able to snatch up an electronic review copy with ease. Let me tell you–this is a phenomenal book. I don’t toss around my Fitzgerald references lightly–there are some people who have soured on The Great Gatsby‘s claim as one of the great American novels, but I am not one of them, so when I compare Up Nights to Gatsby in my review below, it is with quite a bit of reverence. Do yourself a favor and read this one for yourself–and then hand it to the nearest teen.
CERVANTES, Miguel. The Complete Don Quixote. 288p. SelfMadeHero. 2013. Tr $27.50. ISBN 978-1-906838-65-2.
Adult/High School-Like Moby Dick or War and Peace, Cervantes’s The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of la Mancha is a novel known more by reputation than for its actual text. And while all three novels are still eminently readable for teens and adults alike, their length and high cultural status mark them as too intimidating for most. So Rob Davis’s graphic adaptation of Cervantes is welcome both as a possible entry for readers interested in the original and as an exciting graphic novel in its own right. Davis manages to maintain virtually all of the main plot, structure, and humorous underpinnings of Cervantes while using the graphic format to layer on even more jokes-for instance, adding yet another level of metafictional trappings to an already deeply self-referential work, and freely varying his illustration style to highlighting the comedy of the constant interruptions from characters telling chivalrous stories. And, indeed, the artwork throughout is magnificent, focusing primarily on detailed but caricatured faces and making great use of deep tinting to differentiate place, time, and tone. Teens who have only vaguely heard of Don Quixote will delight in what remains a paradoxically modern tale, and those who have ventured into Cervantes’s text may find a whole new appreciation for aspects of the original.-Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
FOUND PHOTOGRAPHY. 188p. notes. photos. Thames & Hudson, dist. by Norton. Apr. 2013. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780500411070.
Adult/High School–This volume is comprised entirely of anonymously taken black-and-white photographs. Most of them are identified by a place and a year, but many are simply referred to by the name of the private collector from whom they were taken. Stripped of a unifying artistic vision and any backstory, these photographs cry out for interpretation by viewers. Certainly, the bulk of them seems to derive from the early years of the 20th century, and therefore offer a glimpse into everyday life in this period, from stilted family portraits, to early industrial pictures, to shockingly candid shots of the trenches in World War I. But what of the more strange photos: a dog balanced across two chair backs; a young girl sitting in the bell of her father’s tuba; a boy and an elephant, backs to the camera, seated on a bench with the boy’s arm around the elephant? The beauty of this collection is that as found photography, these pictures will remain forever ambiguously evocative, with viewers welcome to supply story or interpretation endlessly. A powerful statement toward the power of photography, stripped bare of any authorial statement.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
KINE, Daniel. Up Nights. 200p. Ooligan. May 2013. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9781932010633. LC 2012049344.
Adult/High School–Kine’s searing new novel reads as if The Great Gatsby had been stripped of every trace of glamor, leaving behind only Fitzgerald’s underbelly of pessimism, substance use, and the rotted out American Dream. In Book One, narrator Arthur is reunited with his childhood friend Francis, an erstwhile poet who has given up on writing or reading. The two spend their time in a dilapidated hotel in Portland, making friends with their local heroin dealer and passes at Vita, the girlfriend of their third friend–the elusive, Gatsby-like Bill, whom Arthur has left behind in a hospital in Mexico City. In Book Two, Arthur, Francis, and Vita finally meet up with Bill, now living in New Orleans, and get involved with a small-time criminal and a scheme to bring undocumented immigrants to the States from Cuba. The unrelenting dreariness of drugs, petty crime, and unappealing sex may appeal to readers of Adam Rapp, but Kine has bigger things on his mind than Rapp’s nihilism. Though Arthur assures readers that Bill is the golden-boy hero of his story, the heart of the novel lies between Arthur’s blind gropings for meaning and Francis’s confused attempts to pull himself out of his depression. Meanwhile, Kine has some genuinely important thoughts on the drug trade and immigration hiding among the grime of his story. This is a hard-edged novel that can be difficult to read, but it is well worth the effort, especially for teens searching for their own way in life.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
About Mark Flowers
Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark
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