Brevity is the Essence of Memorability : John W. Gardner, Francesca Gardner Reese : “Quotations of Wit and Wisdom”

The Gardners’ “Quotations of Wit and Wisdom” is one of those little books you pick up to be reminded that idiocy, unlike gravity, is not a universal constant. But then you chuckle your way into reading the whole thing in one sitting. Montaige, Mark Twain, Kierkegaard and Will Rogers make frequent appearances; so do, surprisingly, a lot of the Spanish proverbs I grew up with that were supposed to keep me from grievous errors in life. (They only half-succeeded.)

Here’s a couple of classic ones:

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.”

“Life must be understood backwards; unfortunately, it must be lived forwards.”

“Funny how up-and-coming people never go anywhere.”

“Everyone has the right to say what they think, and everyone else has the right to punch them for it.”

“Few of us can handle success. Someone else’s, I mean.”

“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”

“The wise man dies, just like the fool.” (The Bible is bleak, y’all.)


Does This Have Enough Ls? : Daniel Clowes – “Lloyd Llewellyn”

“Eightball” would be Daniel Clowes’ first real achievement, with cynical shorts like “Art School Confidential” and “Devil Doll” padding the serialization of “Ghostworld” and “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron.” “David Boring” would be the on-its-own breakthrough, and the first graphic novel I read that truly impacted me in subtler, novelistic ways. (“Maus,” after all, was non-fiction; subtlety is not among the many attributes of “Watchmen.”)

But before “Eightball” and “David Boring,” before becoming one of the most important graphic novelists of our time, Clowes had some doodling to do for Fantagraphics, and “Lloyd Llewellyn” was his first experimental comic, a Mad-Magazine-influenced send-up of everything 50s:

Greasers! Hepcats! Squares!  Flailing Robots! Barflies! B-Movie Space Punks! Everything to which exclamation points can be appended!

An average Lloyd Llewellyn detective tale starts much like a Lew Archer noir; but soon, Lloyd gives up all pretense at detection and devotes himself to keeping a straight face amid the increasingly surreal twists. Of course, straight faces are easy to keep when you’re this simply drawn. When Lloyd Llewellyn resurfaced in early issues of “20th Century Eightball,” the drawing technique was about 200 times better, and the lounge-noir gimmick was so gone that a “Lloyd Llewellyn Adventure” could simply involve vitriolic ranting. (I love when misanthropy is unleashed, as it is in Clowes’ classic “I Hate You Deeply” or in Ivan Brunetti’s ‘Schizo.’)

“If you aren’t either a) exactly like me only a little worse at everything, or b) a pathetic yes-man to my every changing values and shallow opinions, I HATE YOU DEEPLY!”

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH; the best was yet to come.

Fairy Tale Endings : Emily Carroll – “Through the Woods”

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Horror is learned early. I can’t think of many fairy tales that aren’t horrifying in premise, if not in effect. The world is presented to children as an open jaw. Emily Carroll’s “Through the Woods” collects five fairy tales of gothic peril that are beautifully painted and colored. Included are “His Face All Red,” “Our Neighbor’s House,” “A Lady’s Hands are Cold,” “My Friend Janna,” and “The Nesting Place.”


Timey Wimey : J. K. Rowling – “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (#3)

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ABOVE: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

(Re-read). They’d been good from the go, but it was with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” that J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter truly revealed itself as an expanding, multi-layered saga  about how the past dictates the future. “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets” were children’s lit at its best, but “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was the first of the novels to definitely prove that Rowling could conjure the kind of seriousness and complexity that allowed adults to embrace the series with little shame. “The Prisoner of Azkaban” is as much about grown-ups as it is about the children who are left in the shadows of grown-up drama. Missing parental authorities are standard in children’s fiction; it’s much less standard for those departed parents to become vivid characters in a book that takes place more than a decade after their death. The past is not dead, and it’s not even past, not in a place with as many ghosts as Hogwarts. It’s no coincidence that a time-traveling spell  turns out to be the solution to one of the novel’s many mysteries: this is a novel about time and the tricks it plays on us. “Doing time,” after all, it’s the prisoners’ euphemism for their plight.

Patricia Highsmith – “Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction”

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Patricia Highsmith’s “Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction” is not likely to help anyone to plot and/or write suspense fiction. One picks it up for shop-talk from a writer who, by most accounts, was not particularly fun to talk to in person. Book pages are a good buffer. Here the reader can find several detailed examples of things that worked for the author at given times in her career, but beyond the common-sense advice (“don’t go on for 100 pages after your novel’s climax”) what’s interesting is Highsmith’s personal untangling of  knotty plotline problems, which is not something many other writers could replicate profitably. Good tips on napping during writing blocks, though.