The Arrival

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“The Arrival” is a graphic novel written by Shaun Tan. What makes this book even more interesting is that it’s devoid of words. Which is a refreshing change really, it forces you to look at the illustrations and read more into the subtle strokes of the writer’s deft pen.

The book isn’t just stripped off of words, you will find that colors are absent too. Each page is sepia toned, which makes you feel like you’re leafing through an old book handed down over the generations. Some pages look like they’re weathered by age. Have a look:

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“The Arrival” is a story of an immigrant. The places are entirely fictitious, so are the languages. So much so that everything looks other-worldly.

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You can read more about the work and the sensibility of the book here. Take a gander at his home page, it’s a fun page to poke around and discover more of his books!

 

Recommended for: fans of graphic novels and beautiful illustrations

Rating: 8.8/ 10

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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“We have always lived in the Castle” is a haunting novel written by Shirley Jackson. A sinister feeling follows you as you flip through the pages and consume the words, afraid of being poisoned by it yet strangely relishing it. Here’s the first paragraph that you encounter:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.

This is a story about the Blackwood family. Sisters Mary and Constance Blackwood live in a mansion with their Uncle Julian, isolated from society. Even if this isn’t a detective story, it felt like one where you’re trying to find out the reason for their isolation and the hostility of the villagers. It makes you question the characters, if they’re hallucinating and trying to trick you into believing their tales.

It’s hard to fit this work into any genre. There’s subtle horror, drama, suspense, philosophy, and snatches of unexpected laughs. Like real life.

The most interesting character was our little Mary, Constance’s little sister. Her mind can best be described as unapologetic and pure. Here, I interpret pure as primal, unadulterated and untouched. It’s pure like the blackness of coal, not like the whiteness of snow. A part of me rejoiced as she thought her black thoughts, as if they were voicing mine. Have you ever done that, and felt ashamed after?

I disliked having a fork pointed at me and I disliked the sound of the voice never stopping; I wished he would put food on the fork and put it into his mouth and strangle himself.

Contrast this with another thought of hers:

I was wondering about my eyes; one of my eyes–-the left–-saw everything golden and yellow and orange, and the other eye saw shades of blue and grey and green; perhaps one eye was for daylight and the other was for night. If everyone in the world saw different colors from different eyes there might be a great many new colors still to be invented.

Big sister Constance is “a charming little thing, had you not known that she was arrested for murdering her family” (but was eventually acquitted of the crime, as Uncle Julian would remind us).

Uncle Julian sprinkles unexpected humor when he “entertains guests”, irreverently addressing the family murder in polite company. Confined to the wheelchair after the incident, he obsessively makes notes of the fateful day, hoping that one day he would be able to publish it. He narrates details of that day to a very interested Mrs. Wright who comes for a tea time visit. He gleefully mentions how Constance (who loves to cook for the family) was arrested for allegedly poisoning the family by adding arsenic to the bowl of sugar.

We relied upon Constance for various small delicacies which only she could provide; I am of course not referring to arsenic

The style of writing is deceptively simple, perhaps because it is told from little sister Mary’s point of view. Surprisingly engrossing, as you find yourself trapped deeper and deeper into her tarry mind. Next on my list: The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House.

Recommended for: Gothic suspense aficionados, lovers of dark twisty stories.

Rating: 8.3/ 10

Through the Woods

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Through the Woods is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Emily Carroll. Is she related to Lewis Carroll? No, according to my extensive research (a “Is Emily Carroll related to Lewis Carroll?” Google search yielded no results)

Have a look at the awards/ nominations:

  • Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Graphic Novel (2014)
  • Milwaukee County Teen Book Award (2015)
  • Green Carnation Prize Nominee for Longlist (2014)
  • Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Graphic Album-Reprint (2015)

The eerie cover gives you an idea of what’s to come. A limited palette of black and white with a splotch of red reminiscent of what lies beneath our skins and what we’re afraid to expose. This book consists of five spooky short stories which come to life with Emily’s haunting artwork. If one were to simply narrate the stories, it would be quite a damp squib. Sample this marvelous art:

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One of my favourite stories was “My Friend Janna”, a story about two friends who would “speak to the dead”.

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What makes this collection of stories even more riveting is that they’re loose-ended. And I love stories like that, which leave room for imagination. I would suggest you to steer clear of it if you like your stories with a definite ending.

Before you buy it, have a look at her website and you’ll get a fair idea if you’ll like it or not.

And here’s one of the stories featured in her book.

 

Recommended for: Lovers of short stories, horror and beautiful art

Rating: 6.8/ 10

The Argonauts

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I dove into this book not knowing what an argonaut was. I couldn’t help imagining an astronaut in a black comedy set in deep space (Fargo + Astronaut). I must admit that I didn’t even look up the meaning because it’s more fun to not know the word and deduce the meaning from context, right? Right? Just me? Okay.

The Argonauts, written by Maggie Nelson, is a minuscule 143 pages; but this small book packs quite a punch. It documents the life of a queer family, something I haven’t experienced first hand. Reading it felt like exploring a new world. A world where you’re forced to think about things you’d taken for granted as a straight person: your gender, your identity, sex, love.

A day or two after my love pronouncement, now feral with vulnerability, I sent you the passage from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase “I love you” is like “the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.” Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase “I love you,” its meaning must be renewed by each use, as “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.

The book is filled with passages as this, which make you ponder. The following quote highlights the importance of a mother, which elicited a surprised laugh from me.

You, reader, are alive today, reading this, because someone once adequately policed your mouth exploring.

Have any of us thanked our mothers enough for their successful mouth policing? I know what I’m going to write on my Mother’s Day card.

If you are interested in a witty read about gender, love, family in a queer setting this book’s right up your alley.

Rating: 6.9/ 10

 

How to be a Person in the World

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I love reading advice columns. It reminds me that others have problems too and we all share a common problem-having trait. Also, I’m a bit of snoop and will spy on neighbours and pursue eavesdropping as a sport. But some things that irk me about advice columns is that they tend to be biased and the advice seems generic and well, useless.

“How to be a person in the world” is written by Heather Havrilesky. She is the author of the weekly advice column Ask Polly, featured on New York magazine’s The Cut. The book is full of profanity and sage advice, an interesting combination. The questions range from love to STDs to bad jobs to body positivity to relationships.

One of my favorite chapters was “What would Kanye do?” She even raps a little and it’s fun reading that bit aloud because it, well, rhymes. And there’s a lot of cussing going on and it’s funny imagining the writer going Kanye West and shit, y’know? I mean, look at that sweet face.

I must admit that I skipped some parts where the author talks about her life philosophy and jumped straight to her real life anecdotes. Who doesn’t?

Sometimes she lets the crazy lady shine through when she says stuff like:

IT’S 2016 AND THE WHOLE WORLD IS MADE OF CRACK.

I loved her for it. Here’s what she says about the absurd tightrope women have to walk:

You are a nice person, and you’re also full of anger. You’re a walking tangle of contradictions. That’s okay. Most of us are like that. Women, most of all. How could we not be? People want us to be sexy warriors who roll over and play dead on command. They want us to be flirty burlesque dancers in burkas, aggressive conquistadors with cookies in the oven, Dorothy Parker meets Dorothy Gale, Sandra Bernhard meets Sandra Dee, Kristen Stewart meets Martha Stewart.

Recommended for: People who want some direction and guidance peppered with a liberal amount of profanity.

Rating: 7.5/ 10

 

A Man Called Ove

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Ove. Who is this man? Why do I want to read about a man called Ove?

The author Fredrik Backman makes a good case for it. Read the book to find out. End of review! Boy that was fast and easy!

Of course not, sit on your couch and do not switch tabs. Wipe the crumbs off of your germ-infested keyboard and read on. Please?

Ove is a fifty-nine year old man. He dislikes technology, stupid people, children, his neighbours, cats, death. He encounters all of this, and then more. Is this another book with an obviously unlikable protagonist who you end up loving the most once you reach the end of the book? Yes. Will this book become a cringe inducing cheese fest? That was my concern too.

The first chapter is “A man called Ove buys a computer that is not a computer”. Ove goes to buy his very first iPad (which he calls O-Pad), convinced that it is not a very good computer because it has no physical keyboard. The back and forth is enjoyable, to say the least. You begin to enjoy Ove unwittingly torture everyone he comes in contact with.

Sample this quote about his contempt for tall people:

Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood can’t quite make it all the way up to the brain.

Ouch!

About a tattooed man:

The slightly porky man on the other side of the Plexiglas has back-combed hair and arms covered in tattoos. As if it isn’t enough to look like someone has slapped a pack of margarine over his head, he has to cover himself in doodles as well. There’s not even a proper motif, as far as Ove can see, just a lot of patterns. Is that something an adult person in a healthy state of mind would consent to? Going about with his arms looking like a pair of pajamas?

Ove is more of a human than all the other saccharine sweet characters you encounter. Ove is honest and does not mince words. He has the utmost respect for men who build things with their hands and is infinitely suspicious of the IT folk.

There’s something to be said of the writer Fredrik Backman who can make a 25 year old woman like me empathize with Ove. I became Ove. His trials became mine, so did his tribulations and constant annoyances. Even after having finished reading the book, my friends were surprised to see me talk trash about IT professionals and eye electronic items suspiciously. The effect lasted a mere 15 hours, fortunately.

You may now switch tabs and buy for yourself a shiny new copy of Ove. Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

In Bad Taste

Do we always have to be tasteful? Do we really need to be well turned out, in impeccable clothes?

This quote by Diana Vreeland got me thinking:

“A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”

Remember Björk’s swan dress?

Björk in her unforgettable swan gown at the 2001 Academy Awards. #VFOscars

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A HUGE dose of paprika, perhaps. But look where the dress landed, at MoMA, one of the most influential museums of modern art in the world. Does that elevate it to the status of good taste? Perhaps not.


But one should remember this, every Björk swan has it’s day.

Also, paprika. And stuff.