Friday, June 12, 2009

Inkwell Michelle's 30 Second Book Review

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
by Xiaolu Guo
In search of something more than a monotonous existence, seventeen year old Fenfang leaves her family and their provincial way of life for the seething city of Beijing. There, she tries to satisfy her insatiable hunger with instant noodles, Western literature, hot coffee, and movies, but her resigned acceptance and blank face fail to cover her longing and vulnerability. Finally, after four lost years, Fenfeng begins to feel like her life has begun. She’s twenty-one, has found work as a movie extra, and believes this will be the catalyst for great changes in her life.

The story is told in twenty brief chapters brimming with deadpan humor and shining with Fenfeng’s resiliency amidst squalor and failed relationships. Xiaolu Guo writes short, sharp prose that captures the hard edge of youthful angst. Her infectious novel is written with an authentic and idiosyncratic voice that brings to mind the way Holden Caulfield spoke to disaffected youth. With a fierce honesty, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth will transfix and transport you as Fenfeng comes of age and finds her place.

An excerpt:
“My youth began when I was twenty-one. At least, that’s when I decided it began. That was when I started to think that all those shiny things in life—some of them might possibly be for me. If you think twenty-one sounds a bit late for youth to start, just think about the average Chinese peasant, who leaps straight from childhood to middle age with nothing in between. If I was going to miss out on anything, it was middle age. Be young or die. That was my plan.”

The Books Are In The Mail!

If you were one of the Inkwell Irregulars who wrote in for a free book last weekend, you're now waiting on the lackadaisical lounge-itude of the US Postal Service's media mail, and not my procrastinatin' ass. Keep an eye out for your package (wrapped in brown paper, but not tied up in strings), then zap me an email to let me know what you think.

Book News, In Brief

With indie bookstores going bust every day, it's nice to read about one re-opening. Martha's Vineyard's Bunch of Grapes is back, almost a year to day since they were forced to close due to a fire.

British bookstore chain WH Smith has signed an exclusive deal with Penguin -- to sell only Penguin travel books. Unsurprisingly, The British Guild of Travel Writers is all like, "Eh, wot?" and "Bloody hell, Harry!"

USA Today plans to charge for a daily, digital version of their motel freebie. The for-a-fee version will be delivered via email to suckers willing to pay for the same content they could get for free on the paper's website.

It's Marley & Me meets Pet Cemetery -- at least that's how I'd sum up yesterday's news that Marley & Me author John Grogan plans to resurrect his dead dog for 13 HarperCollins children's books. I mean, whatever happened to 'Rest In Peace'?

Cuz I'm in a one-blog competition to make the most Where The Wild Things Are related posts in a six month span, allow me to direct you to a new site called Terrible Yellow Eyes. It's an online tribute to Maurice Sendak's masterpiece, where fans of the book are encouraged to send in their own artistic interpretations of Max and the monsters.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shutter Island Has A Trailer

And here it is. Dennis Lehane fans looking to unload a little money before the Scorsese film's 10/9 release might want to head over to There, they can pick up a Shutter Island-inspired Ashcliffe Hospital Recreational Tag Team t-shirt. That's synergy!

Book News, In Brief

Once a Terminator, always a Terminator. According to PW and The Times Online, Arnold Schwartzenegger Plans to Replace California School Textbooks with E-Books.

Tired of the constant fawning, endless prequel pitches, and neverending emails from Ugandan Princes looking for a temporary loan, Stephenie Meyer has shut down her MySpace page. Does this mark the Twilight of the social network's social net worth?

The Times Online again. This time, they're saying that as Ulysses is about 'ordinary folk,' it oughta be approached in an 'ordinary manner' in the classroom. (Even if you don't care about the article, click over for the photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Joyce. Adorable!)

In the gimmicky tradition of the heavily-hyped, instantly forgotten First Book Written on a Cell Phone, comes The First Book Written on Facebook. What's more, it's about Facebook! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzzzzzzzzz. (Someone wake me when The First Book is Tweeted on Twitter.)

Kimbooktu recently did a blog post featuring homemade, book-themed crafts that people were selling on Etsy. I was totally gonna steal the concept for my next Monday Menagerie, but then I remembered that somewhere up in un-scientific heaven, Jehovah and Satan are locked in a brutal battle over my soul, and I didn't wanna seem like I was picking sides.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Millionth English Word Is Announced

And it's...Web 2.0? Seriously? Shouldn't that have been added to the dictionary years ago? Oh, well. This kind of 'news' is hella stupid, anyway.

The Best of BEA: Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk made millions selling wine, and he thinks that the booze biz has a lot in common with the world of indie bookstores. Watch and learn.

They Oughta Hand This Out At 2010's BEA

Indie comics publisher, Slave Labor, has posted a four page parody of the funnybook industry as told from all sides -- the indies, the majors, the readers and the retailers. The laughs and the logic will ring true to those of us in the book-book industry, too. Click here to read.

(All hail Journalista! for the tip and the pic.)

Book News, In Brief

1940's plagiarism of a 1920's book results in 1984 making headlines in 2009. Or: George Orwell pinched the plot of 1984 from an old novel no one's ever heard of. At this point in time, does it even matter?

For the sixth year in a row, Barnes & Noble has been chosen as the #1 bookselling brand in the USA. This is the first year, though, that we were unable to rationalize it by saying, 'Yeah, but these are the same schmucks that voted for Bush.'

Apple promises its new Scrollmotion feature will make buying and reading e-books easier than ever before. But according to the technological watchdogs at, this relative ease comes at a substantially higher price -- higher than even Amazon's controversial Kindle costs.

Every day there are new reports of neighborhood bookstores closing. So many, in fact, that I barely stop to read the articles anymore. But when you see a piece about a bookstore shutting its doors after it's been in business for 113 years, it sorta stops you dead. (Moment of silence.) Now back to our regularly scheduled bullsh*t.

Over 1,000 teachers have signed a petition asking Scholastic to tone down the number of toys offered in its Book Club catalogs in favor, well, books. The teachers say that one third of the items sold in Scholastic's 2008 elementary and middle-school catalogs were either "not books or books packaged with other non-book items." They also requested that Scholastic replace its bestselling '#1 Teacher' coffee mug with the more usable, more realistic, 'Underpaid, Under Funded, Under Appreciated' shot glass set.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cover Art Cavalcade: Charming Cheesecake

You want a guaranteed bump in hits for your bookstore's blog? Take a major comic book company to task for their artistic take on strong females. I suspected as much when I was assembling last week's Covert Art Cavalcade, but I've gotta admit, I was expecting a wholly different reaction. I'd assumed that our comments section was going to be inundated with irate fans of teen T&A, but with the exception of one comment on our LiveJournal page, literally every response* focused on a fact-checking error I'd made. (I'd mistakenly claimed Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures was being canceled, when, in fact, it was always intended to be a limited series.) Hell, even that one comment on our LiveJournal wasn't defending the content of the cover art. It was introducing the "cheesecake" concept to the conversation, and asking whether or not those covers fit into it. To quote:

I think you're overreacting to those covers a bit. Cheesecake is a comic art staple, always has been and always will be, more or less. This is true of beefcake, also, which can be seen as just as demeaning to males as cheese is to females.

The important questions about cake are, in no particular order:
1. How good is it, as art?
2. Does it cross the porn line, wherever that might lie for the audience you're aiming at?
3. Does it add or detract from the story?

I'm gonna answer these questions in reverse order, but first, let me say that the guy who made this comment -- A. Tannenbaum -- is right. There is good cheesecake. It's just that, with the exception of Gotham Sirens, the comics that those covers were being used to sell had nothing to do with the cheesecake concept. I mean, Batgirl and Supergirl are comics about, well, girls. Either DC is making a grievous error in their idea of what types of comics young girls want to read, or they're intentionally making comics which sexually fetishize underage women. Or both. In which case, they're schizophrenically attempting to sell sluts on the cover and strong girls in the inside, effectively killing sales to both the young females and the old pervs. (Then again, Supergirl is currently at issue #44, so maybe I'm underestimating the mainstream comics audience's ability to continually fall for the ol' bait and switch.)

Gosh, I can ramble. Let's save ourselves another poorly constructed paragraph and just consider that the answer to questions 2 & 3, okay? As for question 1, the quality of the art, that's entirely an aesthetic call. Still, if the Supergirl artist wanted to attend a couple of life drawing classes, it probably wouldn't hurt.

Just to re-iterate, I have nothing against cartoon titillation...except where it relates to teens, tweens, tots and zygotes. That's why, in an effort to shake our new found, schoolmarm, internet image, I'm dedicating this week's Cover Art Cavalcade to some of comics' best cheesecake. Unlock your office's NSFW filters and enjoy!

Luba's Comics & Stories #1 by Gilbert Hernandez
Penny Century #7 by Jaime Hernandez

The Hernandez brothers draw bigger, curvier, sexier women than almost everyone else in comics. Not only that, they draw explicit sex scenes! So why don't the feminists hate them? Because the characters that the Hernandez brothers create are not defined solely by their sexuality. They're well-rounded and fully-realized...and I'm not just talking about their bodies! Ba-dump-bump. Seriously, though, if you've never read any of the Hernandez' Love & Rockets books, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Start with Gilbert's Heartbreak Soup, a Gabriel García Márquez-ish exploration of the residents of the fictional Mexican town of Palomar (and a huge influence on Junot Díaz' The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). Then, when you think that there's no way that you could possibly love another comics character as much as you love Heartbreak Soup's Carmen, move on to Jaime's The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. collection. There you'll meet Maggie: master mechanic, punk rocker, comic book collector and emotional mess. (For reviews of some of Jaime's recent L& R books, see the aforementioned A. Tannenbaum's reviews here.)

#1 by Frank Frazetta
Empowered#1 by Adam Warren

These two books are unabashed cheesecake at their finest. Heck, they don't even attempt to transcend their T&A roots, choosing instead to embrace it, wringing it of all its possibilities. Vampirella is a horror comics staple that has been published -- on and off -- since 1969. Countless authors and artists have used her to varying degrees of success, yet one thing has always remained the same: The skimpy red outfit.

is a more recent inductee into the cheesecake pantheon. It's the brainchild of artist Adam Warren, who's manga-influenced takes on American superheroes once inexplicably bothered the hell out of me. Then, one sunny day, I happened across Pop Culture Shock and Kevin Church's reviews of Empowered #1, and my curiosity was piqued. Four books later, I'm still a frothing fan of Warren's sweet and silly parody of the quote/un-quote "Super-Babe."

The Classic Pin-Up Art of Jack Cole
The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo

Ah, the classics. Just look at that line work! And the layouts! And those hips! Jack Cole, for those who don't know, was the creator of Plastic Man, as well as one of Hugh Hefner's favorite Playboy cartoonists. Giving Cole's Plastic Man and pin-up work a lurid twist, rumor has it he was impotent.

Check out the face on the girl in the stockings. Look familiar? That's because Dan De Carlo was one of the premier artists on Archie, Betty & Veronica, and Josie & the Pussycats. DeCarlo's seemingly simplistic approach to drawing female faces is still echoed by many cartoonists working today, including Love & Rockets' Hernandez brothers.

*Update! Since this screed was scribbled, we've received two comments actually pertaining to the topic at hand -- the cover art -- and not my continued need for an editor other than me, a few hours later.

Related and recommended:
Noah Berlatsky's Adding Incompetence to Insult
Laura Hudson's Comic Book Cheesecake: When Does Sexy Get Sexist?

Tuesday's Tips for Flailing Writers

Let's start things off with a list. has 5 books to stimulate your creativity.

You know that novel you've almost completed? The one where you combined the best aspects of Austen, Melville and Shelley in an effort to create a timeless classic? It's old and outdated. See Wired's 18 Challenges In Contemporary Literature for the reasons why.

The Beat has 4 Dos & Don't For Authors Handling Their Own PR, but I'm gonna go ahead and add a fifth: Stay humble and do not make any diva-like demands. Whether it's a website, newspaper, bookstore or local womens' auxiliary, never forget that you need them more than they need you.

Web comics columnist Brigid Alverson has an 'Eight Page Rule' she uses when judging the work of new authors. "Eight pages should be enough space to establish the setting, introduce one or more characters that are worth caring about, give some sense of what the comic is about, and get the story rolling." Prose writers can stretch those eight pages to 15-20, but remember -- most folks will put your book down if they're not hooked after chapter one. (Link via: Journalista!)

Writer Robert McCrum wants to remind authors to remember their audience. Or, to put it wordier, "In our time, those who, like JK Rowling, pay attention to their audiences can reap great rewards. Rowling's success is grounded in a telling throwback to Victorian and Edwardian literary norms: What does the public want? A fathomlessly evil villain, some hocus pocus and a boy with a wand. Today, writers are acutely aware of the market, but in the abstract. They fret about sales and advances, but rarely translate their concerns into any consideration for readers. Practically speaking, they often disdain them." To read McCrum's entire entreaty, click here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

For Those Of You Who Just Like The Idea Of Books...

NYMagazine reports that Javier Bardem is considering the role of Felipe in the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love. The best-selling Elizabeth Gilbert memoir stars Julia Roberts as the author.

MTV has news about a big screen version of Alex Robinson's time-travel comic, Too Cool To Be Forgotten. Anthony Bregman, the producer of Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, has purchased the option.

According to, Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino are pondering a film version of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Lest you get too excited, you night wanna keep in mind that there's a looong list of films Tarantino has been rumored to be "pondering" that never come to fruition.

Cuz everybody loves lists: The Guardian UK has compiled a list of what they consider to be The Top 50 Adaptations, while offers their suggestions for 10 Books To Read Before They Hit The Big Screen.

The Monday Menagerie: Literary Papercraft

Today's menagerie is made up of the internet's answer to origami -- Papercraft.

Jules Verne Bust.
Lovecraft's Cthulhu. Via.

Edgar Allan Poe, Via.
Jules Verne's Nautilus. Via.

Three Members of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring. Via.
Note: These LOTR characters were made from one piece of paper each. That's insane!

Book News, In Brief

Wanna buy a bookstore? Borders UK is looking to unload its 51 stores.

While the Japanese are using cellphones to read and write original novels, Americans have taken Twitter to its newest nadir, using it write quickie encapsulations of pre-existing novels. And we wonder why the world thinks we're dumb.

Care to capitalize on a book buying audience currently being ignored by both Oprah and NPR? has found that fascists of all flavors are willing to pay top dollar for racist, sexist and xenophobic works of the 19th century.

Two unpublished Poirot short stories were recently found in Agatha Christie's summer home. Sure, this may not mean much to you or I, but to my great-grandmother, her pals at the old home, and the forever fund-raising filmmakers at PBS, this is BIG NEWS.

Cuz pirates are to the 00's what bi-sexual vegans were to the 90's: "The International Division of the UK Publishers Association has released a series of startling reports about worldwide book piracy--uncovering thousands of pirated print and digital books in China, India, Pakistan, and Turkey." To find out how the crimes break down country-by-country, click here.