Testosterone Rex: Cordelia Fine

testoWith TCAF being this very weekend (come check it out! I will be at the Queer Mixer along with new footage from the Queer Japan film that we will show you! </shameless self promotion>), you’d think my brain would be one hundred percent comics all the time these days. And it mostly is! The other day, I devoured So Pretty/Very Rotten by Jane Mai and An Nguyen, a satisfyingly thick volume of comics and essays on Lolita fashion that I very much enjoyed. But An is a friend of mine, so I would feel weird about going on here about how great her book is. (But it is, though! You should read it. Also, if you’re in town for the big comics party, there’s a related art show at the Japan Foundation, and Jane and An will be talking about the book on Sunday moderated by yours truly. You should come! </shameless self + friend promotion>) I also read Canis the Speaker, and I have many thoughts, but my brain is still processing them. We work slowly.

But when I saw a new Cordelia Fine book on the shelf on my local bookseller, I couldn’t not pick it up. I loved her snarky takedown of gender constructions in Delusions of Gender, and Testosterone Rex with its subtitle of Myths of Sex, Science, and Society promised to deliver more of the same. And it does! This time, rather than straight up gender constructs, Fine tackles the myths surrounding testosterone and the idea that this hormone runs rampant in the male half of the species, creating this uncrossable divide between men and women. Unsurprisingly—and spoiler alert—she finds that all of this is pretty much garbage in a bunch of different ways. Continue reading

Shonen no Na wa Gilbert: Keiko Takemiya

GilbertI freely confess I had no idea what this book was until I peeled the plastic off and started reading. I simply saw Gilbert coolly gazing at me from the cover, the title, and the author’s name, and I could not pick it up off the shelf at the bookstore fast enough. I slapped some money down on the counter and raced out of the shop with my precious treasure, wondering if it was perhaps a new comic by Takemiya, a spin-off of the beloved Kaze to Ki no Uta. Whatever it was, I was going to read it. And I was pretty sure I was going to love it, because of all the Forty-Niners, Keiko Takemiya is the star in my sky.

And I did read it. And love it. So no surprises here. But rather than a spin-off or some other manga tangentially related to the beautiful and troubled Gilbert, Takemiya surprised me with a biography of Kaze. I’ve never read the biography of a work of art before. I’ve actually never heard of a biography of a work of art before. But this is a thing that should be done more often because it was absolutely fascinating. Takemiya guides us from her arrival in Tokyo at the age of twenty in 1970 through to the start of the serialization of Kaze in 1976, offering many a glimpse into not just herself and her own life and upbringing, but also into the manga industry at the time and the state of Japanese society in the 1970s.

I knew bits and pieces of this story: how Takemiya tried for years to get it published, how it was rejected over and over (as the cover notes in large font), how it was too racy for its time, how editors believed girls did not want to read about boys in love. But this is honestly not even half of the story. Takemiya’s journey to finally serializing what she calls her lifework is more than just a battle against the legions of male shojo manga editors who could never understand what girls actually wanted to read, it’s a battle against herself, her own insecurities and shortcomings as an artist. It’s a young woman finding herself and her voice that should really be read by all aspiring artists if only to reassure themselves that even the greats are plagued with the inner voice of “no”. It’s also a beautiful tale of friendship and women coming together against a male-dominated industry to assert their voices and lift each other up. So yes, Shonen basically has it all. Continue reading

Out of Sheer Rage: Geoff Dyer

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My love of D.H. Lawrence has been documented in these pages before. It is a weirdly powerful love similar to my love for filmmaker Hal Hartley, formed in my youth and thus completely impervious to all criticism or attempts at understanding. Just catching a glimpse of the weary spine of one of the copies of Women in Love on my shelf is enough to make me sigh dreamily. (The spine of the many versions of Trust I have had also make me swoon similarly.) 

And it is a love that grows and changes as I get older and see new things in the tattered pages of Lawrence’s many works, or when someone shows me new things to think about in relation to Lawrence. My aunt wrote her Master’s thesis on Lawrence, and sent me scrambling back to re-read everything he wrote in a new light. I have Anaïs Nin’s study of Lawrence waiting for the moment when I can devour it while, of course, re-reading everything Lawrence ever wrote. So it was a surprise to me to discover a book on Lawrence that I hadn’t read by an author whose work I really enjoy, Geoff Dyer. Once I learned of this slim volume, I naturally ordered it from my local independent bookseller (get out and support them, friends!) and eagerly awaited its arrival. And like nearly all books that I can hardly wait to get in my hot little hands, this one got set on the shelf since I was in the middle of reading something else. Oh, shelf of unread books! You defeat me! Continue reading

Granta Japan: Yuka Igarashi (ed.)

 

Granta Japan

Even if I wasn’t the target audience for this Japan-centered edition of the British lit magazine Granta, being a Japanese translator and a lover of Japanese literature, I would still have picked up this issue, if only because of the great cover. I am such a sucker for great covers. And Granta often has great covers, which often make me pick them up at the bookstore, so hat tip to their art department. Nice work, gang!

Although I had assumed, looking at the cover in the bookstore (high fives to local indie Book City for generally being awesome!), that it featured a hunk of some mineral photographed so as to be reminiscent of Fuji, the only thing you ever need to signal that we are talking about Japan now (a symbol used to hilarious effect in the new Godzilla, but that is not a discussion for right now. Corner me at a bar one of these days and I will tell you these thoughts I have), this fake Fuji is actually part of a series of photographs called Primal Mountain by Yuji Hamada featured in the magazine. Spurred by the deluge of unreliable information they were getting in Japan in the days after the earthquake disaster of 2011, Hamada began photographing these fake mountains of tin foil up against the very real Tokyo sky.  Continue reading

Through the Language Glass: Guy Deutscher

 

Through the Language Glass

Another non-fiction book with another annoying subtitle. I know, I know, I am basically shouting into the wind with this, but it still drives me nuts. In the same way that the subtitle “a novel” on a novel makes me crazy. If people are somehow incapable of discerning that a book is a work of fiction, a “novel” as it were, then maybe they should just live in that fantasy world where the author’s made-up action is real. I can’t imagine it would really cause any problems in their everyday lives, and the rest of us would be spared the annoyance of “a novel” on the covers of  half of the books we read.

I want to make the same impassioned rant against the non-fiction subtitle, but I know that the marketing people are convinced (perhaps rightly) that people will not turn the book over to check the back and see what it’s about. In this case, it’s “why the world looks different in other languages”, a subject that we all know is extremely relevant to my interests. My own personal experience tells me that the world does, in fact, look different in other languages, and although I’ve read a lot of things that try to convince me otherwise (see Steven Pinker et al.), the arguments presented about how language does not influence thought are never more persuasive than that experience.  Continue reading

Sex Is Not a Natural Act: Leonore Tiefer

Do you do this? Do you sometimes pick up a book, but you don’t really get it into it after the first chapter, so you leave it and then you come across it again months later and enthusiastically devour it? It’s not something that happens to be very often, but occasionally, the first time I pick up a book, I am just not in the mood to devote myself to that particular book, no matter how interested in it I might think I am beforehand.

And I usually read several books at a time (different books for different occasions!), so it’s pretty easy for me to disengage if I am not actually interested. I just push that lunchtime book to the side in favour of my afternoon reading book with the thought that I just want to read a few pages of this right now. And before I know it, the lunchtime book is buried under all the other books and may even make its way back to the shelf still unread. This appears to be happening with a book of short stories right now (although I am keeping an eye on that book, so it may make it back into reading rotation sooner rather than later), it’s what happened with Sex Is Not a Natural Act (high fives to publisher Westview Press for resisting the urge to add a subtitle below this very clear title).  Continue reading

The Value of Nothing: Raj Patel

I know we’ve been over this before, but seriously, can we stop with non-fiction having the two titles all the time? Why is one title not enough to stand on its own in the world of non-fiction? I mean, if your title won’t induce a reader to pick the book up, turn it over and read the back to find out what it’s about, then maybe you need to think a bit harder about that title, rather than toss an annoying sentence underneath it. Imagine if publishers did this with fiction: 1Q84, Two Moons in the Sky, This Is Not the 1984 You Thought It Was; Nikolski, A Compass That Doesn’t Point to True North Ties Three Lives Together; The Master And Margarita, The Devil Comes to Moscow and Messes With People. Nonfiction publishers, hear me! Just let a title be a title! We’ll look at the back of the book if we want to know more.

You probably guessed already that The Value of Nothing has a second title. Sigh. But like the majority of these subtitles, it’s pretty accurate: Why Everything Costs So Much More Than We Think. And this is one of those topics that’s pretty dear to my heart, which is why it was such a treat to get it for my birthday from my mom this year (along with the latest Chester Brown) (It was a good year for birthday books). Continue reading