Duck Duck Book

15 – radio
03.28.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: comix, social sciences

Radio : an illustrated guide [comic book] / Jessica Abel and Ira Glass.
[Chicago, Ill.] : [WBEZ], 1999, 2002.
[Multnomah County Library does not have this comic, but if it did, you’d find it under GN ABEL. If it were given a real call number, it would be something like 384.540657.]

Jessica Abel, fabulous cartoonist, was minding her own business and living her life when she got an unexpected telephone call from Ira Glass, who said, “Hi, would you like to make a comic book with me about how we make This American Life?” She said yes, and this book is the result. While the book does explain how This American Life is made each week (fascinating!), it also provides practical technical information and tips about how you can produce your own radio programs (useful!), all in lovely comic-book format.

You can buy Radio from the This American Life website if you want to (click on “General Store” and then scroll to the bottom of the page). Some excerpts are reproduced there, too.


15 – torso
03.28.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: comix, social sciences

Torso : a true crime graphic novel [comic book] / Brian Michael Bendis, Marc Andreyko.
Orange, CA : Image Comics, c2000.
[MCL call number: FICTION BENDIS, but shelved with the comix under the call number GN — if it had a real call number it would be at 364.1523 with the other true crime; one copy, two holds]

After sticking it to Al Capone, Elliot Ness moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he became the city’s safety director, charged with “cleaning up the city.” His battles against graft and for public safety were interrupted somewhat when a lot of bodies started showing up with their heads, hands, or feet, and sometimes their genitals neatly sliced off. The murders became known as the Torso Killings and wow did everyone freak out.

Bendis and Andreyko’s comic re-tells the story of the two police detectives assigned to the case, and their and Ness’ work to find the killer. Bendis’ sharp dialogue and structure fits elegantly into and around Andreyko’s illustrations, which are evocative. He creates challenging and detailed characterizations of the people in the story with very few lines and shadows each. Andreyko’s work exhibits a very strong visual style, and yet there is a good amount of variety in the way things are drawn. Torso is an excellent example of an engaging story told not in words or in pictures but in a sum of the two that is much greater than its parts.

15 – seeds
03.28.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: technology

Seeds : the definitive guide to growing, history, and lore / Peter Loewer.
Portland, OR : Timber Press, 2005.
[MCL call number: 631.521 L827s 2005; six copies, no holds]
also: New York : Macmillan, c1995.
[MCL call number: 631.521 L827s; one copy, no holds]

This book really is a definitive work on seeds. Chemistry, genetics, pollination, germination, seed longevity, the business of seed buying and selling, seed collectors, seed exchanges, how to successfully grow seeds at home, seeds and their role in continuing plant diversity, collecting seeds, and information on where to find more information about seeds, where to buy or trade seeds, and where to find other people who are fascinated by seeds. It is truly a sourcebook for anyone interested in seeds, and would be an especially good starting place for the gardener who wants to know more about botany or the history of seedsmanship, or for the botanist who wants to know more about the cultural history of gardening. For the most part, the text is clearly written, and the book is richly illustrated with line drawings and charts.

There is a modest index at the back of the book; also, an excellent list of seed nurseries and exchanges and a brief but intense bibliography of seed sourcebooks are included in chapter 13.

15 – the freedom
03.28.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

The freedom : shadows and hallucinations in occupied Iraq / Christian Parenti ; photographs by Teru Kuwayama.
New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, c2004.
[MCL call number: 956.70443 P228f 2004; seven copies, 31 holds]

In the library, we’re keeping The Freedom in the wrong place.  It’s with the books on modern Iraqi political history, for the period after 1991 — but I’d say it belongs at 915.670443, geography of Iraq for the same period, which is where travel narratives are kept.  Or maybe it should go in 070.5670443, with books on journalism about Iraq.  I begin my review with this cataloging quibble because I’m afraid that the book will be mis-classified in general, as a work chiefly of history or political analysis.  This is a book of stories, not a structured history.  Also, it does not, as all history books should, have an index. 

Parenti records observations from his journeys to Iraq, and puts them into a framework that includes political and social analysis and stories told to him by other people.  He discusses Baghdad, the Coalition Provisional Authority, US soldiers, resistance fighters, journalists, Falujah, Abu Ghraib prison, Iraqi survivors and bereaved people, US reconstruction contracts, graft and waste, and many other subjects.

The Freedom owes a debt to the works that came before it.  Reading the book I was reminded of other works of personalized reportage and storytelling, in particular, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Joe Sacco’s comics reporting (especially Palestine and Safe Area Goradze), and Ross McElwee’s great film Sherman’s MarchThe Freedom is very much Parenti’s own story, and it records what he saw and experienced in Iraq, what he thinks and feels about being there, and how he thinks his experiences fit into a larger political and social context.  This is not to say that only readers who are interested in Parenti himself will enjoy the book or find it useful, but it is true that his perspective is very much in evidence in his prose.

There are problems with Parenti’s familiar style.  Not once in the entire book does he use Saddam Hussein’s full name — he is always simply “Saddam.”  This particular choice grated on me so much that I really hated the first 20 or so pages of the book — or at least I spent those 20 pages on a roller coaster that involved gritting my teeth with each first-name-only “Saddam,” then relaxing as I read the rest of the language, settling into the story and forming a visual picture in my mind, and then snapping up out of my reverie with the next George W. Bush-like stand-alone “Saddam.”  My readers may feel that I am simply picking nits, but this is only intended as an example.  My estimation is that there are other examples of a slip into informality that will grate on some readers of The Freedom, and I mention it as a warning to those who are, like me, perhaps inclined to fussiness. 

But small irritations do not stop me from recommending The Freedom as an evocative, intense, and useful story.  On the whole, Parenti’s writing is effective and his storytelling is exceptional.  Some of what makes a great story is just that it is worth telling, and that is surely true here; but some is also the teller’s skill in relating just the right elements in just the right way, as Parenti does in this book.

14 – alias
03.8.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: comix, fiction

Alias [comic book series] / story, Brian Michael Bendis ; art, Michael Gaydos. New York, NY : Marvel Comics, 2002- .
[MCL call number: GN BENDIS; number of copies and holds vary for each volume]

Do you ever wonder what superheroes do after they get tired of the whole thing with the tights and cape? Jessica Jones was once the costumed hero Jewel, in her somewhat naive youth, but now she’s older, wiser, wears regular clothes and works as a solo private investigator. She drinks too much, she has something of a self-confidence problem, she is ridiculously strong, she can fly. She is friends with Daredevil. You’ll love her.

The Alias series was originally issued in 28 comic books, and has been collected in four “trade paperbacks” (this is a comic industry term meaning paperback volumes that are distributed to the book, rather than the comic trade). The Alias series ended with number 28, but the characters and story line have been continued in Bendis’ new series, The Pulse. The first five issues of The Pulse are also collected in a trade paperback (below). The Pulse has much less interesting artwork than Alias — the first series is illustrated in a painterly style that sets the tone of the story almost as much as the writing does.

The pulse. vol. 1. Thin air / writer, Brian Michael Bendis ; penciler, Mark Bagley ; inker, Scott Hanna.
New York, NY : Marvel Comics, c2002.
[MCL call number: GN BENDIS; eight copies, one hold]

14 – african voices
03.8.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: social sciences

African voices of the Atlantic slave trade : beyond the silence and the shame / Anne C. Bailey.
Boston : Beacon Press, c2005.
[MCL call number: 306.362 B154a 2005; three copies, no holds]

Bailey examines African memories and experience of the Atlantic slave trade through stories that are a part of the oral literature tradition of Ghana, which she cross-references to written accounts from African, European, and American sources. African Voices begins with an introduction to Bailey’s methodology and academic perspective, and then considers the five main oral history tales that she uses to structure her discussion. Bailey also examines African, European, and American agency in the slave trade, the social, economic, and religious impact of the slave trade on the people of the coast of Ghana (where millions of Africans were loaded onto ships to be taken to the Americas), and the movement for reparations and redress for the harms of the Atlantic slave trade.

Some mainstream reviews of this book have complained at the “unhistorical” qualities of Bailey’s approach, but I find her methods useful. Compared to many other academic works I’ve read, African Voices is fresh and vibrant — because the stories are part of an oral tradition and exist because people tell them, they seem to provide insight into the culture they are a part of in a way that traditional academic evaluation of written history cannot.

Complaints about Bailey’s “unhistorical” approach can be summed up like this — stories passed down through the generations can have no bearing on an academic history of real events, for their oral medium leads them to be unreliable as sources for facts. But my response to Bailey’s methodology is to recall how important my family stories are to my conception of my own and my family’s identity and U.S. culture. My family’s stories are true (perhaps more in theme than detail, but still true enough), and some relate directly to major historical events and trends — the Great Depression, the influenza pandemic of 1918, the early movie industry in Hollywood — who is to say that these stories could not aid a serious study of historical events? And how much more significant would such stories be in a culture that greatly values oral genealogies and family history?

The first orally reported story Bailey uses, The Incident at Atorkor, is a commonly told story among the Anlo Ewes of Ghana. The Incident at Atorkor reports the kidnapping of a group of well-respected community members (drummers and headmen’s relatives among them) in the coastal town of Atorkor who were lured on to a slave ship as it was about to leave the harbor. Generally slaves sold to white traders were from the interior regions, which likely explains why this story has been remembered by so many people and for so long. Bailey reports several different oral versions of the story, as well as a version written by a white traveler who visited the region shortly after. She then develops a set of conclusions about what happened and what it means for the people of the region around Atorkor. Other stories are treated similarly, and Bailey seems careful not to draw unsupported conclusions about historical fact or about the biases or cultural impact of particular incidents or tales.

African Voices is written for an academic audience, but it is very readable, and would provide a useful starting place for anyone interested in African perspectives on the Atlantic slave trade. Bailey draws upon a wide variety of sources, many of which she cites in her text, and the book has an extensive bibliography. The book also has an index.

14 – home work
03.8.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: technology

Home work : handbuilt shelter / Lloyd Kahn.
Bolinas, Calif. : [Berkeley, Calif.?] : Shelter Publications ; Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Publishers Group West, c2004.
[MCL call number: 690.837 K12h 2004; six copies, one hold]

Here is another in the list of books that facilitate my fascination with buildings. This is a way-hippified collection of illustrations of handmade houses, interviews with house-building people, and musings on the construction of one’s own shelter. There is lots of groovy in these pages, so those of you who, perhaps, spent a number of your formative years surrounded by a morass of chakra charts, casual nudity, solstice rituals, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, and Rainbow Gatherings should beware. However, I will tell you that the people profiled in this book do not believe that you should wash your hands with dirt. The hippie-est among them have built sturdy, beautiful, and, yes, sanitary domiciles for themselves. And many of the builders could not be called hippies at all. It’s true.

Leafing through the pages of Home Work, you’ll find mostly photographs, with little bits of explanatory text between. The book’s arrangement is a bit haphazard, but not in a way that interferes much with absorbing the information. There are a lot of profiles of home builders, a section that focuses on different natural materials, one of photographs taken by people (other than Kahn himself) who are interested in hand built houses, a section on houses that are in vehicles and another on temporary or traveling structures, one on barns, and one on old buildings from various parts of the world. There is a very nice illustrated bibliography in the back of the book, and, sadly, no index.

[thanks, Bob]