Saturday, May 26, 2012

Two New Books I Really Like (With Pictures)

It's been a bit of a whirlwind day/week/month here at Green Apple, and sort of in my life, too. So perhaps it's in search of some simplicity that now, sitting down to blog, all I want to do is tell you all about two of my favorite new books, and to show you what beautiful pictures they have. Don't be fooled, though -- though both of these books are heavily illustrated in some form, they are Very Serious (but oh so delightful) Books. 

The first is Antigonick, the hotly anticipated (er, hotly anticipated by me) new translation/interpretation of  Sophocles' tragedy by the incomparable Anne Carson (and published, beautifully, by New Directions). Re-working a classic tale is nothing new for Carson, a classical scholar whose work often either references, re-tells, or analyzes ancient Greek literature, but her particular style of translation is so unique, poetic and adaptive that it must be read as poetry all its own (creative liberties included -- as in her previous work, Carson often alters the spellings of characters' names and broadens the restrictions of space and time, allowing her, in this case, to reference to Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolf in the first five pages of a story from 440 BCE.) What really makes this book a lovely object to leaf through, though, is Bianca Stone's beautiful accompanying illustrations, done on translucent pages that overlap Carson's handwritten text. Turning each page feels something like dusting off a relic. 

Despite its modern voice, its wit and its aesthetic charm, Carson is not one to make the tragedy of Antigone easy on the casual reader. And in case you're not familiar, it's a doozy. If you are familiar with Greek tragedy at all (SPOILER ALERT for every Greek tragedy), it won't surprise you to know that pretty much everybody kills themselves by the end, while the Chorus doth protest and mourn and hem and haw. It's great, in a way best summed up by this page:

As Simon Critchley once wrote, "tragedy is like Guinness. It's not supposed to be good for you."

My other favorite book of late is my new kids' "staff favorite", and has been nearly impossible for me to talk about without forcing whatever patient listener I've tricked into listening into full-blown story time mode -- every picture must be shown, every detail of the adventure recounted. Its debatable classification as a kids book aside, this beautifully (and not particularly briefly) written book also has its roots in the oldest of stories, a journey fit for its own Joseph Campbell PBS special. The book is Taka-Chan and I, originally published in 1967 and now in a re-issued edition by the NYRB Children's Collection. It's narrated by Runcible, a Weimerarmer who, according to his author bio, is a firm believer in broadening international understanding ("The world would be a better place if more dogs would travel", Runcible says.) He knows, because, according to this story, he once dug a hole all the way from his home on the beaches of Cape Cod to Japan, where he met a little girl named Taka-Chan. This and all of the adventures that follow are documented in the stunning photography of Eiko Hosoe, and, well, c'mon. Look at this pair and just try not to be charmed to smithereens. 



Turns out, Taka-Chan is being held captive by a fearsome sea dragon. In order to free her, Runcible must find the most loyal creature in all of Japan and lay a flower at his feet. The challenge is accepted, the quest begins. 

I won't give away the ending, but let's just say this is a hero's journey, not a Sophoclean tragedy. No reader will close this book with a heart un-warmed. I can't recommend this highly enough for anyone, of any age, with two feet or four. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oh, Kathi. . . we're going to miss you

The Bay Area literary community lost one of its brightest lights this morning, when after a lengthy battle, Kathi Kamen Goldmark succumbed to cancer - she was 63.

Kathi was one of the very special ones, and I can't overstate how wonderful the moments we shared together were. She possessed a kindness and care that is rare these days, and her buoyant charm put smiles on faces whenever she came into a room.

Kathi was a tireless proponent of the written word. She was a novelist, a journalist, and the producer of West Coast Live. She and her husband, Sam Barry, worked closely with emerging authors, offering advice on how to succeed in the publishing world in both their column / blog Author Enablers, and in their book, Write That Book Already. We sat together on the Litquake board. In 2007 Kathi was named a San Francisco Literary Laureate, and in 2008 was the recipient of The Women's National Book Association Award. November 8th, 2008 was Kathi Kamen Goldmark Day in San Francisco by Mayoral Proclamation, and on that day, Kathi also received a Certificate of Recognition from the California Legislature for “...outstanding achievements in the arts and literary fields.”

Kathi's love of literature was matched by her passion for music. In 1992 alongside Amy Tan, Stephen King and the Barry Brothers, she was a founding member of The Rock-Bottom Remainders and since that time, the band has raised in the neighborhood of two million dollars for various charities.

Kathi was a dear friend, not only to myself, but to many of us here at Green Apple Books. We loved her, and will miss her.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lesbian Stripper

Since everyone from the New Yorker to Wall Street Journal has reviewed Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother, I’m instead going to discuss Dykes to Watch Out For,  my beloved and covert  thrill for most of its 25-year history.   

It’s hard to get the news from Bechdel. But, what delightful fun I had doing just that for many years. Bechdel’s comic strip soap opera of housemates, lovers, ex-lovers, and bookstore clerks-- ran from 1983 to 2008 in the LGBT and alternative press even as those mediums dwindled away. I caught up with the strip upon arriving in the city and to political consciousness, in 1986.

Bechdel seemed aware of every timely issue across our patchwork of gay ghettos-- outing, the March on Washington, gender politics-- from her Burlington, Vermont home, which she slyly displayed on the shelves of the strip's Madwimin Bookstore-- books like “My Lover Used to be a Woman," “Susie Bright Explains it all For You,” and "Heather's Mommy is Now Heather's Daddy." That is, until a Bounders and Buns and Noodle Books moves in and Jezanna, the manager is forced to close Madwimmin). Like a lesbian Gary Trudeau, Bechdel’s headlines in the town’s Daily Distress bleated news of invasions and zenophobia from the dark Bush years, and book industry consolidation-- “Despite Losses Stock Up 1000%” for example.

DTWOF’s cast of characters included Alison’s doppelganger-- library science student Mo; her first girlfriend, mechanic Harriet, second girlfriend Sydney, a Women’s Studies professor and breast cancer survivor; activist and drag king Lois, who dates Jasmine, her daughter, trans-teen Janis; English professor Ginger, her student (and CIA intern) Cynthia; bisexual Sparrow who heads the local NARAL office, her partner, Stuart, and their son Jiao; environmental lawyer Clarice, accountant Toni and her son Raffi; and Thea who has multiple sclerosis.

Here’s hoping that Bechdel reintroduces DTWOF and that the crossover success of her last two memoirs draws a whole new audience. Even better, how about an animated TV series? In the meantime, check out Dykes to Watch Out For at the Green Apple annex’s stupendously deep graphic novel selection, and adore Bechdel’s sapphic sisters as much as I do.