Sunday, April 30, 2017

Scream & be free

I found Amrit Brar's work on tumblr about a week ago. I saw exactly one post she had made involving a new tarot suite and its minor arcana and within an hour I'd bought one of her books and a patch.

Amrit Brar is SUCH A FUCKING GOOD ILLUSTRATOR, PLEASE GO FOLLOW HER ON A SHITLOAD OF PLATFORMS AND GIVE HER LOTS OF MONEY IF YOU CAN. (Instagram Tumblr Twitter StorEnvy, btw, in case searching was too much effort.)

Anyway, Shitty Horoscopes is an amazing anthology of bleak, funny, hope/ful/less messages about an uncertain future. It's all skulls and knives and roses, it's beautiful and sad, and I wish I could have a new page every day forever. Brar should do all of the horoscopes ever. Astrologers should all cede their jobs to her, she's the only one who gets how indifferent the universe is and communicates that to the reader while still evoking a "lol, same" reaction.

It's amazing?

For a book with so little writing it's incredibly sharply written, each horoscope lands almost like a poem. The illustrations are infuriatingly good, they make me sad that I'm not anywhere near as good as Brar is and make me want to work harder and better as an illustrator.

I'm obsessed. I ordered this book as soon as I found out it existed and immediately grabbed onto it like a hungry little goblin and never wanted it to leave. It's been more than a month since I've read it but it still lives on my desk so that I can occasionally flip through the pages and marvel at the art.


Anyway, I'm 100% serious please order all of this book that you can reasonably order, I recommend it as a birthday gift, especially for people who are skeptical about horoscopes.

     - Alli


(oh, this entry is called "Scream & be free" because my order from Brar's Storenvy page came with a couple of postcards, one of which was an adorable and tired bat flapping over the legend "scream & be free" and it really resonated with me.

Take the absurdity and run

So a while back I talked about how much I hated the Mifflin Lowe book I Hate Fun because it was the laziest, crappiest, shittiest, most banal book of humor I'd ever encountered. It always went with the most predictable and boring punchline and held itself in esteem over every stereotype it described.

Max Headroom's Guide To Life is a book written in a very similar style to I Hate Fun but it actually ends up being funny, largely through the virtue of choosing to double-down on the banality and in doing so do the unexpected. The speaker in this book isn't punching down at the people he sees in the clubs, he's giddily and hilariously punching himself in the face all while making subversive and snarky observations about the consumerist culture of the 80s.

I'm not terribly familiar with Max Headroom (I was born after his period of peak popularity and have only seen the Max Headroom movie, not the whole series) so I missed out on some of the in-jokes here: Max's obsession with golf came as a surprise, for instance, but overall I didn't need to be a huge fan to enjoy the fawning Max does on himself and the sneers, slights, and asides that spoke to a snarky 80s audience.

That being said I'm glad I got this book cheap and I probably wouldn't buy it again and I don't recommend that *you* buy it (unless you're a massive Max fan, in which case you can buy it from me for a lot more money than I paid for it).

Anyway, overall Hansen and Owen do a good job of making the vibrant character from the small screen into an interesting presence in a book where you only hear his narration but never see his face after the front cover.

     - Alli

(Buy the book for less than I would sell it to you for here)

The art of being terse

I don't really find Hemingway interesting to read but I understand why it's worthwhile to read Hemingway.

His books are largely written on subjects I either find dull or depressing, there's usually at least one woman being treated like utter shit by the protagonist AND the author in each one, and they seem to drag on forever.

But his short fiction avoids a lot of those issues by a) being fucking short, b) not including as many women to be shat on, c) having something small as the core of each story that gets explored briefly instead of having a huge concept that gets sliced into innumerable infuriating pieces as a novel.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories is mostly comprised of stories in the 15-25 page range that are basically okay. That's enough room to have some of the stuff that I hate about Hemingway (shitting on women, droning about the awful but gloriously masculine art of war) but not enough space to get totally wrapped up in those things. The collection has two stories that brood about African hunting excursions and two stories about the awful mess and horror of war. There's a pretty decent piece about a contract killer and a very confusing story about a gambler. There's somewhat disgusting piece about how one generation relates to the next.

And in the collection are two tiny gems, the shortest stories in the book, both of which are brilliant. One is "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," a short story that I think has probably ended up on hundreds if not thousands of "essential reading" lists - with good reason, it's a wonderful story. The other bit that stuck out to me, and the only reason I'm going to keep this book, is a story called "A Day's Wait," which is a minuscule story, a super-short, probably under a thousand words that immediately follows "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" in my edition. Somewhat frustrating, that. The best seven pages of a 154 page book are all clumped together and make everything else seem like a slog in comparison.

Hemingway really shone in tiny little pieces. His longer works drag and become wrapped up in self admiration and self loathing but he doesn't allow himself that luxury in the shorter pieces. There's no room for authorial drama or convoluted examinations of masculinity in two pages - you get a single image that you can tease out the meaning of and play with, you get one concept to work with, you explore it, then you're out. An old waiter and a young waiter discuss an old drunk and their attitudes reflect their status. A father cares for but does not understand the troubles of his sick young son. Wham, bam, thank you Ma'am.

And you get all that beautiful, short, clean prose with simple, lovely sentences without having to listen to Hemingway ponder what cruel bitches American women are or how bulls and ar are important to the Spanish psyche.

Best of both worlds.

Anyway, if you'd like to read this collection you can find it here.

    - Alli

Terrifying tension

Stephen King is kind of a jerk and that's why I like him.

Charlie the Choo-Choo is the story of a little train that wants to get ahead, but it's a children's book written by Stephen King (under the nom de plume Beryl Evans) so it's not exactly a soothing story for a scary night.

Also, everything after this point is a spoiler so if you haven't read the book and don't want the story ruined go ahead and stop reading now. If you DO want to read this blog just highlight the paragraphs below to see them.

 The story as it's written is a very straight little engine that could kind of story - Charlie just wants to do his best and chug along, and he is happy to help out his human engineer.

BUT. But. The book is terrifyingly illustrated, every single image is creepy as fuck and looks like a train that's getting ready to jump off the page and eat the reader. I kept waiting for the book to take a turn, for Charlie to jump the rails and kill every passenger, for his firebox to overheat and explode while his inhuman laughter rattled endlessly through his stack. And it just kept not happening.

Additionally I know that this story takes place in the universe of the Dark Tower and I know that trains in midworld have a somewhat fraught history.

When I finished reading the little book (it took maybe seven minutes the first time, it's a real, legit children's book) I felt a bit lost just because I'd been so nervous through the whole story and suddenly that tension evaporated. It felt ungrounded. I actually really enjoyed the surprise and I think knowing the end is happy will make it easier to appreciate Ned Dameron's wonderfully icky illustrations on future readings. 

This isn't the story I was expecting, but it managed to freak me out in just the way I anticipated.

     - Alli

If you'd like to buy Charlie the Choo-Choo you can find it here.

Monstrously Amusing

I had to wait months for My Monster Boyfriend to arrive, but when it finally came in it was worth it. The book is a collection of graphic short stories about monstrous lovers and it's fantastic. Every story is erotically delightful, the art is amazing, and it's just generally top-notch porn, usually paired with a great story to boot.

It grabs you immediately from the holo foil printed, steamy, bodice-ripper inspired cover. The art inside is even better.

Look, all of the monsters are terrifying, but that's what makes them so compelling as potential partners. There are some "monsters" in this collection who are protectors, there are some who are less monstrous than their human counterparts, there are some who aren't really monsters at all but who are powerful and intimidating and their eroticism is enhanced by that power.

"My Monster Boyfriend" is a compelling concept for a collection of erotic fiction and really I think the end result here is stunning. I honestly can't imagine anything that would make this collection better. The art is all wonderful, the stories are well written, the printed product is magnificent. I also am incredibly pleased with the length of the thing  - it's big, fat, hefty, and all that you need to fill you up. (Okay, sorry, I got started and couldn't stop) An anthology usually consists of lots of very short works with the occasional longer piece but My Monster Boyfriend gives each of its stories the space they need to develop. The pacing for each story is perfect to build character so that you end up interested in the sex and the relationships depicted instead of just reading through quickly. There are sometimes whole pages just building character, giving space to see the picture of the worlds these people occupy. The longer structure of each story is fairly unusual from the anthologies I've read but I found it tremendously enjoyable that these were closer to being graphic novellas than they were to being single-issue-floppy length - the shortest story is ten pages long (and is the most comedic story in the collection, Spoilsport, by the wonderful Trudy Cooper whose comic Oglaf is a great example of erotic comedy at its finest).

Also no question, the story "Nebula" by Savannah Horrocks is the straight-up best tentacle/goo-monster porn I've ever fucking read. It is *SO* sexy, high fives, good job.

And that's basically everything in this collection? Each story is fantastic on its own, a great example of its genre, and made me super horny. Also there was at least one story that made me cry.

This is perfect. My Monster Boyfriend is great. C. Spike Trotman continues to make wonderful choices as an editor and put out books that should make tons of money because they are excellent books.

     - Alli

Here's where you can get the ebook for $15 - do it!

Making Twin Peaks boring takes a special kind of skill

A new season of Twin Peaks is coming out after a 25-year delay and I'm FUCKING STOKED. So I've been trying to spend some time with TP-related media. I'm rewatching the original series with my parents, I'm seeing a lot of TP art, and I finally read the copy of Wrapped in Plastic that's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of months.

Unfortunately Wrapped in Plastic kind of sucked!

Here's the deal: I'm hind of damagingly obsessed with Twin Peaks. Like to the point that I have to carefully ration the time that I'm allowed to watch it because at one point I rewatched the series three times in a week and didn't sleep. I'm *INTO* Twin Peaks. I find it fascinating and I like reading about its history and production as well as getting excited about the show and the new series and cool criticism of the canon. As such I read the truly excellent Full of Secrets collection - it's a selection of critical essays exploring everything from the import of diegetic sound to the place of domestic violence in the filmmaking of Lynch. Because I'd purchased Full of Secrets from Amazon I started getting recommendations for Wrapped in Plastic and after a few months I decided, "yeah, I'm ready for some more critical insights into this great show I love!" and bought the book.

It was a pretty significant disappointment.

All I knew about this book is that it showed up as a recommendation because I'd read another book full of pretty heady criticism (I know when I initially read the other I got pissed at postmodernists for thinking the transcript of a four-hour masturbatory phone call counted as a paper) so I was expecting some insight or at least some history that I wasn't familiar with.

What I got instead was about 100 pages of very readable, fun, light-weight trivia and fluff. It isn't a bad book, Wrapped In Plastic is well written and easy to get through, but it's also basic as fuck. A lot of what the author Andy Burns discusses in the book is stuff that shows up in the DVD extras or in essays Lynch has written or in interviews with actors from years ago. It's all stuff that's already out there.

It does seem like Burns did get a little hustle going and reached out to some series regulars for quotes once the new season was announced, but that kind of makes this book worse. It makes it seem like a cash grab for an inexplicable group of people. This book has more info about what a cultural phenomenon the show was than you'd get out of just watching the show but less analysis of that cultural impact than you'd be looking for if you were a fan of either the show OR cultural criticism. It kind of feels like the book was written to explain to new viewers in 2017 why the show was such a big stinky deal in 1992 but of all the people I know who are into the series none of them - old or new - has any questions about that aspect of the culture.

We've seen it, we're into it enough to buy a book about it, we KNOW it was a big deal and it was unusual, now dig into the nitty-gritty because we all started on the same page.

The blurb on Amazon describes the book thusly: "in Wrapped in Plastic, pop culture writer Andy Burns uncovers and explores the groundbreaking stylistic and storytelling methods that have made the series one of the most influential and enduring shows of the past 25 years" and the back cover is dotted with recommendations from actors TP fans will recognize, which is what sold me on buying it - it was called a Must Read and Essential and a bunch of other things. And what it is is a very basic primer on a show that I know an awful lot about.

So if you're new to the series and want to know what's up without watching the original 30 episodes (why?) and want to read a little 100 page book instead, Wrapped in Plastic is for you. Otherwise, skip it.

Here's where you can get Wrapped in Plastic, though I don't recommend it.