Featured Book Reviews from Issue #83 : Cuss words are used!

Tomboy
By Liz Prince, 256 pgs.As many of you reading this may know, Liz Prince, the author of Tomboy, is also a contributor to Razorcake. I’ve also known her for a few years outside that and have enjoyed her comics. They’re witty and usually involve pop culture references I appreciate.

Her latest work, Tomboy, is a graphic memoir that recounts her experience growing up as a girl who loved baseball, skateboarding, worms, jeans, and baseball caps. She sure as hell didn’t like dresses.

From a graphics perspective, my knowledge of the field is limited. But Liz’s artwork is playful and free of clutter. Its simplicity matches the feelings many have of pre-adults: innocent (although there is a drawing of boobs during a sex-ed class—somewhere there’s probably going to be a teen boy masturbating to that) and endearing. And even though this is a graphic novel, the focus isn’t so much on the drawing as it is on the importance of the story. And it is important.
 
Liz Prince isn’t a lesbian. She’s not bi-sexual. She’s a female who likes to wear clothes and participate in activities often attributed to the male gender. Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1990s, that was a difficult concept for people to understand. (Unfortunately it’s still a hard concept for many people to grasp.) Liz endured the verbal slings and arrows of bullies, both male and female, as well as the occasional physical abuse from those Neanderthals. In addition to this, she physically developed a bit later than the rest of her peers, adding to her own confusion as well as that of others’.

Throughout the book, Liz introduces us to new characters who played an important role (for better and for worse) in her life. She shows the trouble trying to make friends when she was younger and the difficulty in dating in her teen years. Most importantly, Liz explains to the reader about gender norms, how they’re introduced to us in our culture and what that means. And she doesn’t do this in a preachy way, but in a manner that breaks it down into simple notions for the potentially untrained reader. And like many of us, she ultimately discovered a community in punk, DIY culture, and zines.

Although a press that specializes in books for older teens has published this graphic novel, the message is an important one for everyone to know. Nothing is blunted or sidestepped for the audience (cuss words are used!). Tomboy is funny and painful, but most of all it’s honest, and that’s seen by how the author puts herself out there, warts and all. There’s no better type of memoir than that. When the subject matter is compelling and can help others, it’s all the better. Kurt Morris (Zest, 35 Stillman St., Suite 121, SF, CA 94107)

 

Forest of Fortune
By Jim Ruland, 288 pgs.
Forest of Fortune
is a hard book to define. In my mind, there are two categories of books that are difficult to define: books that are so unorganized and meandering that it’s hard to say what the point of it all was; and books that elude easy definition because it’s impossible to point at one element of the book and say, “That’s what this is.” Forest of Fortune is of the latter category.

It’s a novel that’s dark and hilarious, illuminating and uncomfortable, rich and page-turning, sweet and tragic, ethereal, painfully real, and unfailingly tragic. It’s possible to be lost within your own zip code. Because wherever you go, there you are. Whatever drugs you take, whatever job you have, whatever love you feel or receive, you still operate within the best and worst aspects of yourself.Forest of Fortuneis a novel about choices, about survival, and about sacrifice.

The novel follows three characters; Pemberton, Lupita, and Alice. Pemberton isn’t morally bankrupt, but he sure ain’t morally wealthy. He’s in advertising, a copywriter from L.A. His flaws are the flaws of his industry: self-indulgent, short sided, predictably depraved. Pemberton’s story begins with him hitting rock bottom. His fiancée dumps him and he finds himself working at an Indian casino, Thunderclap, on the Yukemaya Reservation outside of San Diego. At first, the job is an attempt to get his shit together in order to get his fiancée back. However, his addictions and his past intervene almost the second he gets off the bus.

Alice is an epileptic slot machine maintenance worker at Thunderclap who has been disenrolled from the tribe she grew up in. Growing up with an alcoholic mother and without a father, Alice is forced to work for the tribe that disenrolled her without any of the benefits. Like Lewis Carroll’s fabled Alice, Ruland’s Alice is privy to a reality other than our own. She has visions of a mysterious woman who appears to know something about her and the story has a whole.

Lupita is a Thunderclap regular. She spends her days gambling with her best friend, Guadalupe, an older woman who is the embodiment of wing-nutedness. Lupita’s past and the reason why she practically lives at the casino get unraveled throughout the novel.

The book is punctuated by the seasons and four accompanying interludes that take place outside of the three characters’ time. In these brief moments you glimpse at the machinations of something numinous in the land of the Yukemaya. Strange things are indeed afoot at the Thunderclap Casino. Pemberton is subsisting on a steady diet of booze, drugs, and verbal abuse from his old guard Mad Men-style boss. Alice is having visions and dealing with her pot-selling roommate’s raprock boyfriend. Lupita is worried that her friend’s wing-nutedness has gone too far or in too deep. The three characters swirl around a mysterious slot machine that seems to affix itself in the mind of everyone who comes in contact with it.

Where Forest of Fortune shines for me is in Ruland’s lack of condemnation of both advertising and casino culture. It would be easy to rail against advertising or expound upon casino psychology (two worlds that Ruland is familiar with). But what makes this novel compelling and worthy of multiple readings is in the fact that a treatment of advertising and the intricacies of casino psychology are present in the novel, but they aren’t the driving force of the novel. They inform the novel and are a part of the nuanced landscape in which you get to know the characters and understand their flaws. When I finished the book I felt like I had witnessed an exorcism. Demons are real: cultural demons, historical demons, personal demons. And they seem to like neon lights.

Highly fucking recommended. –Matthew Hart (Tyrus Books, tyrusbooks.com)

Men Explain Things to Me
By Rebecca Solnit, 130 pgs.
Every generation of women needs its manifesto, the one that coalesces all the crap they’ve experienced and observed and heard about from older women, that crap that men never seem to have to deal with, into one book that gets recommended and word-of-mouthed enough for it to slowly seep into the culture, so that even people who never have read it have at least sort of heard about it. Men Explain Things to Me is likely going to be the next one.

It has the urgency of the best political pamphlets, can be read in one sitting, and I can see the students I commute with reading it by choice. And there’s that great title, which is what first attracted my attention (partly because I’m pretty sure I’ve been one of those men).

Solnit’s skill lies particularly in drawing compelling parallels between street-level and globe-level—with other writers, this can result in a thesis that’s far-fetched and/or trivializing, but in Men Explain Things to Me, Solnit compares the sexual assault of a woman by the head of the International Monetary Fund with the predations of the IMF itself, and she leaves you wondering truly how much of the world’s misery begins with how boys are raised to treat girls.

She also highlights, perhaps unintentionally, the intractability of male violence against women: regarding a particular 2013 attack, she writes of “a man [approaching] a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.” While it doesn’t usually result in violence—that yin-yanged desire and expectation, the human cock in conflict with itself—is an eternal verity, and how the hell you do you address it? How do you teach empathy? How do you teach impulse control (especially here in the 21st century)? Has anyone figured that out yet?

Get Men Explain Things to Me, spend two or three hours reading it, then pass it along. –Jim Woster (Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618, haymarketbooks.org)

They Could Have Been Bigger than EMI Part 1: Europe
By Joachim Gaertner, 693 pgs.
It’s easy to take for granted what the Internet has replaced until something like this plops itself into your lap. In a world where pretty much everything one wants to know about anything is a few clicks away, and with websites like discogs.com more or less covering the same ground as this tome, it’s only natural that one is gonna question why anyone would bother with writing, let alone reading something like this. What “this” is, is a mammoth listing of releases from independent European record labels specializing in punk and related genres, thousands of ‘em—from +1 Records to ZZO Recordings—hailing from Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Norway, the UK, and so on. I perused the book, more than a little overwhelmed at the sheer volume of information contained and kind of sat for a while, tying to figure out just how one “reviews” such a thing. I don’t think you can, outside of marveling at the amount of work that clearly went into putting it together. What one can do, however, is plumb through it, pick a random release by a random band and see if there is any trace of ‘em on YouTube or the elsewhere on the web. Repeat. I’d never heard of Mets, but their Klik EP on Finland’s S.A. Records is blasting away as I type this. Ditto for the Fender Benders’ 1979 “Big Green Thing” single on Sticky. Which dovetails back to where I started: It’s easy to take for granted what the Internet has replaced. On a platform where one can easily look up information about something they want to know about, it’s also become that much more difficult to find, let alone be exposed to, things one knows diddly squat about. Books like this are an easy remedy for that. –Jimmy Alvarado (Protagoras Academicus, Postfach 10 31 17, D60101 Frankfurt/Main, Germany)

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