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When this post goes ‘on air’ I’ll be lounging in a velvet chair on the final day of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, enjoying 5 movies that were favourites of the festival audience. Oh goody ;)

Of course I’ll be tagging a book along for possible interludes: I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki. I’ve started reading the last part (3rd volume) for the Japanese Literature Read-along, which ends February 15th. But that’s not the only read-along I’m participating in at the moment — sort of. This week we’ve begun reading the classic The Pillowbook by Sei Shōnagon. It’s in a leisurely pace of only 10 diary items a week. I’ve received a Dutch translation of the Ivan Morris Penguin edition, Het Hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon, which seems to be a little abridged. So at times I’ll be reading even less entries… But for now I haven’t even managed my first 10 yet — oops! Well, it’s on my nighstand, together with the Kitagawa Utamaro bookmark I used with The Housekeeper and the Professor — doesn’t that count for something? ;)

Velvet of vvb32reads has started a while ago and decided on editing her post about The Pillowbook on a regular basis. Tanabata from In Spring it is the Dawn will write an update post each Friday. So, how am I going to tackle it? I think I’ll be using my weekly Sunday Salon as a dumping ground for my thoughts on the book! The read-along project will take us until somewhere in autumn, so don’t say I haven’t warned ya ;)

I missed out on last week’s Sunday Salon because I had the flu :( Good thing I had my Hello Japan! music sessions scheduled! Otherwise it would have been even quieter on Graasland.

These are the bookish things I didn’t tell you about yet:

  • I posted a review for The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, including a small giveaway that was won by Amanda from The Zen Leaf.
  • I finished reading The Rapture by Liz Jensen. W O W what a great read! I was wondering if it could be called a Dystopian novel, but NO. And now I’m not sure if I should disclose what genre it does belong to. I hope to write a post about it soon but to be honest: it is not on top of my list because I had promissed myself to limit myself to challenge book reviews…
  • Also finished reading the last ‘Lynley mystery’ (so far): Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George. I had it on my shelf for exactly a situation like this — being ill. I’ve read all the books in the series in succession. Remember I was disappointed last year when I thought I had another one in my hands but it wasn’t? And now there really is no comfort read standby anymore! :(
  • Of course there are enough other books at hand; and Mr Mailman even brought us some more: Waltz with Bashir graphic novel (the ‘animentary’ was one my two best movies of 2009), Silence by Shusaku Endo (May’s read for the Japanese Literature Book Group), and The Makioka Sisters by Junichirō Tanizaki (JapLit Read-along from July to September). In February-March the bookgroup is reading Dance Dance Dance by Murakami, preceded by A Wild Sheep Chase — which I both recently read so I’ll be buddyreading Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman with Elsjelas instead. His The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is the current read-along and since that was the book that triggered my interest in this author (and Japanese literature?), I can take a break from all the herding ;)
  • A comic book I read is In The Shadow of No Towers by ‘Mr Maus‘, Art Spiegelman. And I wrote a blogpost about my experience with a Dutch classic as a graphic novel: De Avonden. Oh, that was my Sunday Salon of two weeks back ;)

The Pillowbook

Now, about The Pillowbook. It’s a book of observations, musings, poetry etc. recorded by Sei Shōnagon, a Heian court lady to Empress Teishi, during the years 990 – early 1000’s. It is called a pillow book because precious personal possessions like this were stowed away in a cavity of the woodblock (?) that was traditionally used as a pillow. I have tried to find a picture of such a headrest but failed. I’ll keep looking! Or if anyone could oblige??

My experience with the I Am a Cat read-along has taught me to leave the introduction till last, so I don’t know much (more) about the book yet in advance. And I’m a bit reluctant to start because somehow (somewhere) I’ve gotten the idea that it might be dull. Something to find out eh? ;) I’m curious to know whether it will remind me of Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu, which is from approx. the same time — or if it’s completely different. I actually only read part of ‘Genji’ and have thought back to it when I read other Japanese books, like Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

Sorry, lots of text today for you, little images. For me it’ll be the other way ‘round!

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

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A novelty, for me at least: in 2010 I will be reading more than 3 comic books or graphic novels for certain! How do I know? Because I’ve joined the Graphic Novels Challenge as an Intermediate! 3-10 books must be doable, since I have just finished reading The Best of Mutts and Persepolis 1 & 2 are already waiting on the shelf; all three books I bought especially for the purpose of a varied diet in last October’s 24 hour read-a-thon. That’s when I read my first graphic novel btw: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. It felt really good to crawl out of my usual book nook.

It’s a good opportunity to check out Art Spiegelman’s In The Shadow of No Towers, which I’ve been meaning to do ever since it was published. You all know Spiegelman from his famous autobiographical comics Maus I & II, right? I’ve mentioned him before in my post about Coraline.

Now I know I said I wouldn’t join any more reading challenges… Well, bad habits are hard to break :\ And don’t you think this is a different story? Besides, I’ve just finished wrapping up my 2009 Classics Challenge, so there’s room for something new! ;)

Not to mention this month’s irresistable mini-mission: the classics in graphics, for which you need to read 1 classic of literature that has been made into a graphic novel. Interesting, right?! So you’ll be glad to hear that you don’t even have to join the actual GN Challenge to participate in this mini-challenge that Teresa is hosting! What’s keeping you?

During Dewey’s 24 hour Read-a-Thon I read Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline as a graphic novel (adapted by P. Craig Russell). Technically it might not have been the first graphic novel I’ve read, but it certainly was the first one I bought myself, knowing it to be one!

About 15 years ago, shortly after I had met Mr Gnoe, I read the Pulitzer Prize winning work by Art Spiegelman: Maus, a Survivor’s Tale — an autobiographical story about Jews (depicted as mouses) surviving the World War II Holocaust. At that time I also got acquainted with the (just as grim) comic books of Tardi. Both I did not consider to be graphic novels at the time, because the term seems to be in in vogue only since the last few years.

So what is a graphic novel exactly? Well, there’s no real consensus about that :) Some consider it to be a posh term for all kinds of comic books provided they’re bound in a durable format like printed books, others believe there’s a distinction in artistic quality (which of course is a subjective matter).

Neil Gaiman himself — yes, I will get back to Coraline in a short while — considers it to be nothing more than a marketing term, a sales category.

[..] there’s no meaningful difference. For some reason the term “big thick collected or original comic published in book form” has never really caught on, while “Graphic Novel” did.

Cover Best of MuttsMyself, I am still in doubt whether or not to distinguish graphic novels from ‘ordinary’ comics. It just doesn’t feel right to call the collected Best of Mutts (Patrick McDonnell), that I bought along with Coraline, a graphic novel as well — even though it is a beautiful hardcover ‘coffee table book‘. I think I would like to hold on to the idea that a graphic novel is a story or collection of short stories in comic format (a balanced combination of narrative art and dialog or explanatory text), that holds something more than plain, popular entertainment. Like: could it be a novel without the image art? Does the story have some sustenance? I know I’m walking on thin ice here ;)

Do you have an opinion about graphic novels?

Cover Coraline

Back to Coraline now. It’s the fantasy/horror story of a girl moving with her family to a huge house that’s divided into four apartments. Exploring the house, Coraline finds a door into an ‘other world’, where her ‘other mother and father’ live. These parents tempt her with things that are all better than at her real home, because they want her to stay.

Doesn’t that immediately make you think of Alice in Wonderland? It does even more when you read about the neighbours persisting in mispronouncing Coraline’s name as Caroline in the first pages (think Lewis Caroll). It’s been too long since I read about Alice’s adventures (I must have been a child of about 9), but it would be fun to compare the stories.

Another book Coraline reminded me of is the classic Japanese novel I was reading for the read-a-thon as well: I Am a Cat, by Natsume Sōseki (from 1905). It begins as follows:

“I am a cat. As yet I have no name.” (p.5)

And here’s when Coraline meets a cat at the new property (p.41):

Whats your name

And it explains to us on the same page:

“Now, you people have names because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

Or, when Coraline first sees the cat on ‘the other side’ (p.39):

I'm no other anything

Cats naturally being wise, it has a theory about it on the next page (p.40):

“You people are spread all over the place. Cats on the other hand, keep ourselves together. If you see what I mean.”

Back to I Am a Cat:

“Cats are truly simple. If we want to eat, we eat; if we want to sleep, we sleep;” (p.26)

Reading synchronisity!

I guess the fact that Coraline reminded me of these classics helps in making it more of a reading experience than simple entertainment. Although it was also just plain fun to read Coraline ;)

Like Maus, the graphic adaptation of Coraline by Russell has won an important prize: the 2009 Eisner Award (an ‘Oscar’ for comics) in the category of Best Publication for T(w)eens. Er.. that’s not my age group! And since I’ve grown up I don’t really like reading YA or children’s books. But it didn’t bother me now ;) At least it’s obvious that a targeted audience of adults is not a condition for being called a graphic novel (as some argue).

Russell, who’s some sort of god in the graphic novel world, says about his adaptations:

“The appeal of an adaptation is in starting a piece secure that there’s literary worth in the source material. If it fails, I can’t blame it on that. I’ve always been fascinated by the challenge , the puzzle-solving challenge of taking a piece apart line by line and reassembling it into an entirely different art form.

[..] It’s the beautiful writing. It also helps that Neil has a huge following so I know all the effort I put into the work will actually be seen. I’ve done plenty of work that left me feeling I’d thrown it down a well. Doesn’t happen with Neil’s stories.”

Covers Persepolis 1 & 2I bought my comics for the read-a-thon following advice from veteran participants. Next to Coraline and The Best of Mutts I ended up with Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi. But during my 24 hours of reading I only got to read Coraline! Which indeed made a nice change of palate. And as you notice I’ve come to learn some things about the graphic novel world at the same time ;)

Now that I’ve crawled out of my familiar reading nook I might also try one of Gaiman’s actual fantasy books — next year. For the rest of 2009 there’s something else to consider: with my other graphic books on Mt. TBR I might join the Graphic Novels Challenge I would only need to decide on two more before December 31st to make the minor level of six books. Why not reread Maus volumes I & II?

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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