Friday, January 30, 2009

Book News, In Brief

The results of's Best Manga of 2oo8 polls are in. Voting categories included shonen (boys'), seinen (men's), shojo (girls'), josei (women's), and yaoi (gay). Winners include High School Debut, Slam Dunk, and COWA!

Finally, an article about print-on-demand publishing that pulls no punches! From The Indiana Gazette's gleefully cruel Self-publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab: Robert Young, chief executive of Lulu Enterprises, [says that] a majority of the company's titles are of little interest to anybody other than the authors and their families. "We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind,'' Young said.

The Kindle can't seem to do anything right. Via The Consumerist: It's been a little over a year since Amazon released the Kindle, and now publishers are finally getting the chance to set their own pricing on ebook editions. The result has been a slow creep in pricing on some titles—in some cases to levels above the price of a paper edition of the same book—for a digital edition that you can't resell, give away to someone else, or read on any other device.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Comic Book Review:
Black Jack Volume 1 by Osamu Tezuka

I must admit, I didn't know what to expect when I first picked up Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack Volume 1. While Tezuka's Astro Boy is often hailed as the cornerstone of modern manga, reading it has always felt to me like more of a 'study of the grand masters' than an honest-to-goodness engaging read. (Sort of like reading the first few dozen issues of Superman or The Green Lantern -- the art's amazing and the characters are iconic, but goddamn if the stories aren't repetitive.) But Black Jack? Wow. The collection's first story, Is There A Doctor?, quickly establishes the series' playful perversity. The plot: When a famous tycoon's good-for-nothing son is disfigured in a car accident, genius surgeon/man of mystery, Black Jack, is called in to save the boy's life. But there's a catch. In order to obtain the body parts needed for the operation, someone else is going to have to be sacrificed. With no time to waste, the tycoon bribes the police and the courts into convicting an innocent pauper of causing the accident, thereby getting a suitable set of replacement parts. Although Black Jack appears disgusted, he agrees to perform the operation -- so long as he's paid his multi-million yen fee. I won't spoil the details of the ending, but suffice it to say, heads are swapped, paupers become wealthy, and the scarred surgeon known only as 'Black Jack' sees to it that justice is served.

In the stories that follow, things just get more and more bizarre. Take for instance, Pinoko, Black Jack's pint sized side-kick and comic relief. She's literally an old doll filled with the living remains of an unborn Siamese twin that was removed from the psychic tumor of a famous actress in chapter 3. (Go on, read that last sentence again. I'll wait.) Or how about the return of Black Jack's long-lost love? Pinoko is jealous until she finds out that years ago, Black Jack had to perform a sex change operation on his true love in order to save her (now: him) from uterine cancer. And then there's the close-up, gross-out panels included in nearly every story. Usually occurring during an operation scene, these are the one place in the comic where Tezuka switches from his normally cartoony style to something closer to life drawing. While it could be argued that these are there for educational purposes, truth be told, I think that Tezuka just likes giving his readers the willies at the sight of an abdomen being pried open by medical equipment.

All of this would just be mind-warping eye-candy, though, were it not for the fact that Tezuka makes each of these stories so emotionally affecting. There is a genuine undercurrent of sadness throughout, a haunting sense of heartbreak, and even, at times, moments of inspiration and elation. As strange as this is gonna sound (especially after the tumor-becomes-a-main-character reveal), while reading Black Jack, I kept being reminded of Carl Barks' classic Disney duck stories. Both series feature moody, misanthropic leads. Both use short, self-contained adventures as a means of slowly exploring the backgrounds and motivations of their lead characters. Both are drawn in an unabashedly 'cartoony' manner; their deceptively simple styles showcasing their creators' mastery of the artform. Oh, and both comics are hella fun to read. Yes, Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack might be the answer to that age old question: What would an EC Comic by Carl Barks look like?

Book News, In Brief

After underwhelming the world with the Kindle, Amazon prepares to launch version 2.0.

All my life, I've been using comics to better understand reality. It's about time The Scientific American came around to my way of thinking: Comic Books from the Atomic Age: Using comic books to explore the issues and history of nuclear power

From "A forthcoming journal article in Psychological Science reports on the research of scientists...into what brain activity takes place while we read narrative stories. The study concludes that our brains simulate the action in the story, echoing it as we read." To read this story (which includes computerized brain scans!), click here.

Stephenie Meyer is a f**king crybaby. Publishers Weekly & The NY Daily News report: Stephenie Meyer is still annoyed that the manuscript of the latest Twilight novel was leaked online and she hasn’t worked on it since. Seriously, though. Did any of you try to read that thing? She literally takes book one of the series and switches a few pronouns in order to change the POV from Bella's to Edward's. If she's going to be 'annoyed' at anything, she should be annoyed at her lack of inspired ideas.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Graphic Novels in Today's Libraries
(Originally posted on 1/27/9 by John Hogan)
How are graphic novels viewed in libraries across the country today? While attitudes toward graphic novels and manga are changing, and librarians were among the first to change them, we wanted to learn more about how the formats are received and perceived today. So we asked some librarians to share their experiences. Their responses were fascinating.

To read the complete article, click here.

Book News, In Brief

While hyping the 'digital age of literature,' TIME Magazine attempts to answer, What's the Matter with Publishing?

According to publicist Sloane Crosley, “People now latch on to a Web presence the way they once did with the book tour.” But do book sites really help sell books? investigates.

Brick & mortar bookstores in North Carolina: Have you heard the news? A legislative commission is studying whether the state should apply a sales tax to digital downloads. While this sucks for your iTunes purchases, there's still a snowball's chance that this might lure some of your prodigal customers back from

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike R.I.P.

Author and MA resident John Updike died today at age 76. He will be remembered every time someone picks up one of his many, many books.

Tuesday's Tips for Flailing Writers
(The Nuthin' but Links Edition)

Via Yodiwan: What not to have on your book's website

Via Every non-fiction book needs an index: Here’s why

Via Building a productive relationship with your editor: 9 tips for authors

Via LATimes: Playwrights on Writing: Tips, Anecdotes, and Random Thoughts From Your Favorite Theater Geeks

Via Joannaslan.blogspot: Am I on the Right (Write) Track? (Or: Words of Wisdom to Help You Overcome the 'Oh, Crap!' Moment)

Book News, In Brief

Is it possible to read -- to really read -- while listening to music? The Guardian UK's Sam Jordison puts on his ipod and investigates.

Stupid Kindle. You were ugly and expensive, and that's exactly why we bookstores thought we were safe. But now smartphones are offering E-books, and it's beginning to make us nervous.

Dan Brown's follow-up to The Da Vinci Code was supposed to have been released back in 2005. While I'm not personally looking forward to it, my cash register most definitely is. That's why I stand behind SeaCoastOnline when they ask, Where's the f**king book, Dan?!

Publishers Weekly, my daily stop for book-related bankruptcy and lay off news, has been forced to lay off Editor-in-Chief Sara Nelson. Inkwell Michelle's immediate reaction: "Oh no. I love her. She's so smart!" This is a sentiment shared by many.
(Inkwell Michelle's second reaction? "She'll be back soon. She's too good. Someone's gonna snatch her up to work for them." This is also a sentiment shared by many.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Inkwell Michelle's 30 Second Book Review:
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
by Paco Underhill

This isn't just a business book about marketing, it's an insightful essay about human behavior. Underhill stumbled upon a career in the "science of shopping" by applying ideas he learned from anthropology and environmental psychology to consumers. Small realizations about how people react to their environment (e.g. most people don't notice anything within the first few feet of a store's entrance, they're too busy getting their bearings) have big impact when used as a principle in store design. With humor and a brass tacks kind of writing, Underhill has condensed the massive amounts of data he accumulated through his company, Envirosell, into a pithy must-read for all people in the business of selling, and for anyone interested in human nature.

Go, Look!

Every reader has a series that they stumbled upon at just the right time. A series that immediately struck a chord, creating a connection that stayed with them, grew with them, and in some way helped to shape them. The Hernandez brothers' Love & Rockets is that series for me. It's 'that series' for Bob Temuka*, too, and he's written a brief, beautiful piece of prose chronicling his life with L&R. It's the sort of personal remembrance that becomes universal in spite of its specificity...or perhaps because of it. Whichever, I'd recommend it to anyone who has ever engaged in a long-term relationship with a piece of serial fiction.

*Nom de plume. Real name withheld for who-the-hell-knows-why.

Book News, In Brief

CBS News sends out more mixed signals than a bipolar bi-sexual. First they feature author Sheila Lukin talking about "the ultimate winter comfort foods," then they get Paul McKenna -- best-selling author of I Can Make You Thin -- to share his new, "just about guaranteed" approach to shedding pounds. Seriously, what's up with that?

Patrick Swayze and his wife are writing a book about the actor's battle with cancer. Puh-leez let it contain numerous zen bon mots on par with those featured in Swayze's tour de force, Road House.

The CBC convinced P.D. James to discuss the evolution of her star character, Adam Dalgliesh, and in doing so, tricked her into revealing her secrets for writing captivating crime novels.

Love is a many splendored thing, but sometimes it can be boiled down to just six simple words.