Thursday, March 1, 2007

Letter from the Editor


Hello all, and welcome to the new (and hopefully improved) Estella's Revenge! I am tickled to report that the response to our shift from a broad humanities publication to a book-centric 'zine has been overwhelmingly positive. The submissions are flying in, creativity is high, and the new format is MUCH easier to maintain thus allowing Heather and myself to stay on top of things. This first issue is an exciting one, and we have plenty of variety for you: snazzy stuffs, reviews, feature essays, and columns. In addition, the monthly "Letter from the Editor" will serve two major purposes: to inform you of the goings-on here and as a table of contents.

You may notice that we decided to maintain some of our old features: the links list from our previous site which includes a variety of links to online shopping, artists, and other tidbits of interest. We also have sidebar links to our discussion forum and the Estella's Revenge MySpace page (also featuring a clickable table of contents if you'd like to browse the 'zine from MySpace), and you will find current calls for submissions as well as our contact information on the sidebar in case you would like to ask us a question or submit your work.

We also have some new goodies for you including direct links to the individual writers' and editors' blogs. We are also very excited to give you the Estella's Revenge Store with direct links to books mentioned in the current issue. This store is part of the Amazon Associates program which--based on your clicks and purchases--will provide Estella's Revenge with some much needed cash to pay for web space, shipping of review materials, and hopefully pay our writers a little something in the future.

All of the writers involved with the 'zine deserve a rousing round of applause, and I have to give a huuuuge thank you to Assistant Editor/Technological Guru Heather. While she adamantly insists that I do the "Letter from the Editor" every month, she is perhaps more active behind the scenes than anyone. Without her, this place would fall apart.

Without further ado, I give you the March 2007 issue of Estella's Revenge!

Best,

Andi

Table of Contents

Features:


Columns:

Reviews:

Bookish Goodies and Goings-on:

Keep in mind that there are a couple of ways to view the site. Not all of the month's posts will fit on the front page, so click on "March 2007" in the archives section of the sidebar to view the entire month's issue, or you can jump straight to the pieces from this Table of Contents or by category on the sidebar.

Addendum: There are a few glitches we're finding today to be worked out (the weird symbols showing up in some of the pieces as a result of copying/pasting from a wordprocessing program that shall remain nameless). Please don't hesitate to let us know if you find something and we'll clear it up ASAP.

The Book Tour: Asheville

By Amanda Addison

When most people think of a literary American city they picture Boston or New York. I know I always pictured a metropolitan haven of cultural significance with tall buildings, smokey bars, and vast libraries. I never would have suspected that a relatively small city nestled in the mountains of North Carolina would be home to literary superstars and relish in a rather bookish community. Asheville, North Carolina is, indeed, the perfect bookish escape for its rich literary history and its unique and well-stocked bookstores.

Authors native to Asheville include Charles Frazier, Gail Godwin, and Thomas Wolfe. Charles Frazier is the author of the novel Cold Mountain and the actual mountain is a mere 35 miles south of Asheville and can be viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Asheville native Gail Godwin’s novel, Father Melancholy's Daughter, contains a small town very similar to Asheville. Thomas Wolfe wrote his novel Look Homeward, Angel about his life at his mother’s boardinghouse. Visitors can visit the boardinghouse Old Kentucky Home – it was called Dixieland in the novel – and they can visit Thomas Wolfe’s grave at Riverside Cemetery near downtown Asheville.

Many writers non-native to Asheville found themselves residing in this southern community. Poet Carl Sandburg retired to nearby Flat Rock, North Carolina, in 1945. O.Henry, the author of hundreds of short stories, married an Asheville native and spent his last years in Asheville. A plaque dedicated to the author is located downtown. Zelda Fitzgerald – author, painter, ballerina, and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald – spent her final years in the Asheville Highland Mental Hospital. She was one of nine patients who died when the hospital caught fire in 1948. Her husband would often stay at the Grove Park Inn when visiting Zelda during her hospitalization.

Obviously, a city with this much literary talent is bound to be peppered with great bookstores! Malaprops Bookstore and Café at 55 Haywood Street (http://www.malaprops.com/) has an eclectic mix of new books and particularly good sections on politics, women’s studies, and GLBT resources. In their café you can feast on author-themed coffee drinks such as the Robert Frost (mint mocha) or the White Rabbit (white chocolate latte). Malaprops’ sister store, Downtown Books and News at 67 North Lexington, boasts a huge inventory of over 35,000 used books, the largest selection of newspapers in Asheville, a store cat named Retail, and is open everyday of the year. For more used bookstore goodness visit Atlantic Books & Folk Art at 15 Broadway Street; this store has a good selection of rare and out-of-print titles and fascinating local folk art. I found the staff very knowledgeable about the titles and about local authors. For a bookstore where you can feel free to sit and read for awhile, hit Reader’s Corner at 31 Montford Avenue. In addition to their great selection of used books, Reader’s Corner also has rare books, music, and yes, another store cat. The most interesting aspect of Reader’s Corner is that they hang up all the weird and random items they find left in books: pictures, tickets, notes, etc… all cover the ends of the bookshelves and the walls.

Asheville definitely has the criteria to be hailed as a literary city, but unlike Boston and New York, Asheville is an inexpensive trip. Hostels, bicycle rentals, and campsite make Asheville a literary treat for those of us still paying back student loans.

Bane of My Existence: Author Quotes


By BadgerDaddy


I love books, I love reading, the whole experience, from finding a great second-hand bookshop to the kind of conversations those same bookshops encourage. The smell, the feel, everything about books and reading is, on the whole, positive.

Except one thing.

It might only be me that gets mad about it though. Bear with me here. This could be completely irrational but… I doubt I’m the only one.

Author quotes. They annoy me beyond belief. You know the ones I mean; on the front or back cover of a paperback, at the top or bottom of the page. A quote, bigging up the book in your hands, not from a professional critic/reviewer, but from… another author.
This annoys me on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve worked as a reviewer, as a paid critic, and I always tried to remember one thing, a rule I passed on to all my staff then and since: always review something as if you’ve paid for it. As if it’s your seven or 15 quid from your own pocket, as though that’s the only book or DVD you can afford that week or month. I know very few other reviewers use that as their base criteria, so I ignore reviewers when it comes to… Well, everything. But I can see how positive quotes can help in the perception of a buyer, when you see nine or ten people have really loved the book it might sway you.

But author quotes… Why? Why are they there, and how do they get there?
Honestly, I have no idea. In some cases, it’s because the authors are friends; take Zadie Smith, for example, part of London’s ‘Literati’ and friends with every highbrow author out there. Smith and Dave Eggers seem to swap quotes like they’re saliva between horny teenagers. Is it reliable? Is it fuck.

Richard Laymon was an author who had some success in England, and every one of his books has a quote from Stephen King on it. Every one. I know for sure that didn’t add to his success – he’s a prime example of the most powerful tool marketers can never abuse: word of mouth.

So why did King do that? I’m guessing he wanted his friend to succeed, as he had been largely ignored and had some talent. His books were fun, and King is no dummy; he doesn’t put his name on shit. Unless you count his books from about 1988 to 1998, that is.
Do marketers really believe that an author’s endorsement will make someone buy the book? Are they that stupid? In some cases, it has made me put the book down and not buy it. Dan Brown’s endorsement, for example, will always result in a big, fat NO SALE sign coming down in my eyes in the style of Looney Tunes.

What marketers and reviewers need to remember is that we, as readers, remember. We only need to get stiffed once and we won’t go back. The quote whore authors need to remember this as well; if they declare that this is ‘the page-turning, rip-roaring read of the year, it’ll make your eyes bleed with joy and then you’ll weep milk to heal them’, we read it and discover it’s shite, then that’s their credibility at stake. And it is exactly that serious; in the author-reader relationship, trust is everything.

I used to respect Dennis Lehane and admire his writing, but he’s become a quote whore too. Once he hit the big time and started shifting big numbers, his name started appearing on everything. “The greatest washing-up liquid of the summer!” “The greatest muffin of our times!” Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I’m talking about.
It’s incredibly common. Even some publications are quote whoring; in the UK, if you see a quote on the front of a book from the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star or The Sun, don’t touch it with a barge-pole. Why? Those newspapers don’t have book reviewers, the quote has been bought. Maybe not with cash, but bought nevertheless. Perhaps the author is a columnist for the newspaper, or worse, a friend of a columnist for the newspaper. These quotes are that cheap, but we’re not – right?

It’s degrading for all of us, from the author of the book, to the quote whore on the cover, to me, the buyer and reader. It always, always makes me feel like the publisher thinks I’m a fucking idiot, and there’s no way I’m giving money to someone who treats me like a fool.

Author Interview - Frank Portman

An Interview with Frank Portman, Author of King Dork
By Lisa G.

From School Library Journal
Grade 10 Up-Original, heartfelt, and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel tells the story of a 14-year-old outsider, Tom Henderson. For him, life is a series of humiliations, from the associate principal who mocks him to the popular girls who put him on their Dud list. The teen takes refuge in music, writing songs, and inventing band names with his only friend, Sam. He looks for a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in a box of books left by his father, a detective who died under strange circumstances. Tom sets out to read each volume, decode the secret messages that he finds, and figure out who his father really was. The daily torments of life at Hillmont High School play out brilliantly in ways that are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Sexual references and encounters abound, and the language is frank-oral sex is a frequent topic, as is drug use by teens and adults-but none of it is gratuitous. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, with digressions on music, popular culture, high school customs, literary criticism, and general philosophical observations, but Tom is so engaging that most readers won't mind. He's intellectually far above most of his peers but still recognizably a teen in his obsessions. The plot's mysteries come together for a conclusion that is satisfying but doesn't tie up all the loose ends. This dazzling novel will linger long in readers' memories.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. King Dork was obviously heavily influenced by Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. What was it about Salinger's classic that particularly inspired you, and in what ways is that book still relevant today?

Many books about teenagers invoke The Catcher in the Rye, and many authors and publishers try to spin their books as The Catcher in the Rye of the Future. Writing a book from the point of view of a disaffected, smart-ass high school student automatically put me in that category, I knew, so I decided to have fun with the situation. Catcher in the Rye is the book on rebellion that everyone is required to love (an ironic situation to be sure) so I had my narrator base a great deal of his analysis and description of the world on a deep-seated loathing for the book. At the same time, the book and the character mimic and parody aspects of Holden Caulfield, often in ways that the mock-sophisticated narrator doesn't even realize. Which I thought was kind of cool.

As for whether CitR is "relevant" today: it certainly is, as it is still in print and still celebrated unquestioningly by thousands of teachers and librarians, priests and rabbis, actors, actresses, and rock stars, along with perhaps millions of earnest non-celebrity readers. Putting it on your list of favorite books is guaranteed to make practically everyone you come in contact with say something like "what a wonderful, wonderful person! That's *my* favorite book, too!" Since my book was published, though, I've heard from an astonishing number of people, young and old, who share Tom Henderson's lack of enthusiasm for it, leading me to believe that there has to be a significant proportion of Catcher in the Rye fans who are, in fact, faking it.

2. What writing projects are you working on currently? Have you considered writing for the adult market, or do you plan to keep writing for young adults?

I'm working on my second novel now. Like a lot of writers, I cling to belief that my work is for everyone, regardless of marketing category. However, I have a long-standing relationship with YA as a reader and now as a writer and I love being a part of the tradition. Plus, it has worked out pretty well so far so I'm sticking with it.

3. What advice would you give to aspiring writers of fiction in general, or young adult fiction in particular?

You can have all sorts of grand schemes and hifalutin ideas about changing the face of fiction and so forth, but it's never going to happen till you actually start typing, something to which few writers are in the end willing to stoop.

4. What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you're reading now, or have read recently, that's impressed you?

I loved David Mitchell's Black Swan Green.

5. Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

Passionate" might be pushing it, but I do like to watch TV, or at least to have the TV on in the background. I am in love with background noise. I like rock and roll music, too. And cheeseburgers.

6. Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

"Love is like oxygenYou get too much, you get too high;not enough and you're gonna die.Love gets you high."

7. If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

Code of the Woosters.

8. What memories do you have from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

I spent a great deal of my childhood in the local public library and I worked there as a page in middle school and high school. As a kid, I loved how it was almost always practically deserted, except for the desultory staff and a senior citizen here or there. When I myself later became a member of the desultory staff, I appreciated this deserted quality even more. I passed the time by reading every book in the children's fiction section in alphabetical order; hence my deep knowledge of the YA tradition. And I imagine that when I am a senior citizen, I will return once again, to stand near the magazine rack with a confused and vaguely hostile air, totally unaware of my surroundings. So it goes.

Author Frank Portman

Frank Portman's website: www.frankportman.com


Kenya's Mobile Library: The Camel Bookmobile

Life in Kenya, along the unstable border with Somalia, is grueling. People there scrape out a living, moving from place to place in a semi-nomadic existence. Food, shelter and protection from violence are full-time worries. Providing children with books is a luxury the people there simply cannot afford.

Books, as we know, expand the mind. They provide light, hope, and an escape from the rigors of daily life. They also give children a reason to dream, opening them to new ideas while also helping them pass long, wearisome hours.

Here in the United States we are fortunately blessed with libraries, ensuring that even the poorest have access to books. In Kenya life isn't quite that simple.

A group of authors, lead by Masha Hamilton, have started an organization called Authors for African Literacy. Hamilton, along with nine other authors so far, are sending books to these children in Kenya. They're asking others to do the same, donating boxes of books to these impoverished, nutritionally and educationally malnourished children.

Masha Hamilton is the author of the novel The Camel Bookmobile, which will be published this year by HarperCollins. Her book is fiction, but the story behind it is real.
From Publishers Weekly:

"Hamilton's captivating third novel (after 2004's The Distance Between Us) follows Fiona Sweeney, a 36-year-old librarian, from New York to Garissa, Kenya, on her sincere but naive quest to make a difference in the world. Fi enlists to run the titular mobile library overseen by Mr. Abasi, and in her travels through the bush, the small village of Mididima becomes her favorite stop. There, Matani, the village teacher; Kanika, an independent, vivacious young woman; and Kanika's grandmother Neema are the most avid proponents of the library and the knowledge it brings to the community. Not everyone shares such esteem for the project, however. Taban, known as Scar Boy; Jwahir, Matani's wife; and most of the town elders think these books threaten the tradition and security of Mididima. When two books go missing, tensions arise between those who welcome all that the books represent and those who prefer the time-honored oral traditions of the tribe. Kanika, Taban and Matani become more vibrant than Fi, who never outgrows the cookie-cutter mold of a woman needing excitement and fulfillment, but Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed "education" versus a village's perceived perils of exposure to the developed world. (Apr.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

If you'd like to make a donation to Kenya's Mobile Library, see The Camel Bookmobile website for more details. A group of people could donate a box of books, to help minimize shipping costs. You may also donate money directly to the drive to help pay shipping, by following the link on their webpage. Amazon.com offers the opportunity to purchase books for the project, as well, via their website. You'll just need to pay a little extra to cover the international shipping.

Seeing children's faces light up at the sight of a book is priceless, especially when you know these are children for whom books are a huge luxury. Sending a book to an impoverished child gives the satisfaction of knowing we've turned on one little light, halfway around the globe. That's one little light with the potential to grow and light the whole world.

The Reading-Driven Life

by April D. Boland

It is hard for me pinpoint when exactly I became a reader. Books made staged appearances throughout my life, but as far as when the fact was truly nailed down, I cannot recall.

In my early childhood, I read picture books like most other kids. There was a fair share of both Sesame Street and Bible stories, and my mother loves to tell the story of how she prompted me to 'sound out' a difficult word - 'Egypt' - and I came up with "Egg-uh-put." Books were exciting even then, like a favorite T.V. program that you can watch over and over, as many times as you like.

When I began school, my teachers told my parents that I was a good reader. This remark fed my vanity and caused me to crack open that "Dick and Jane" reader often.

To give you an idea of how much of a nerd and reading fool I was, one Christmas my parents gave me a three volume set of encyclopedias for my age level. I nearly flipped. It had information about and pictures of everything from dogs and ducks to Disney, Walt, and it was all mine.

As a preteen, my mother gave me the ever popular rite-of-passage book: Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. After that, I got on a Judy Blume kick for a while. It was also a pretty profitable endeavour, considering my father gave my sister and I one dollar for each book we finished. It was like the tooth fairy, only we had control over the frequency and, consequently, our earnings. My sister read every Babysitter's Club book she could get her hands on, though she doesn't read for leisure.

I was a bit of a paradox in high school. I got very excited about summer reading lists and went to the bookstore to buy books for fun, but I was not always thrilled with having to read for English class. Very few books made an impression on me. Catcher in the Rye and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (which I hated at first) are a couple of the exceptions. Oddly enough, now that I am older, I go back and reread the others from that class with a heartfelt love that is nostalgic but not exactly honest.

I never thought that I would major in literature. I laughed at the notion in high school. Yet somewhere along the line, books stopped being a hobby and became an addiction. I began reading while I walked, dodging potholes and people while pitying poor Uncle Tom or admiring Thoreau's principles. Even now, I cannot bear to put books down. Trips to the library or bookstore are for me what toy store excursions are for children. I worry about and rejoice over characters as if they were friends. And in a sense, they are.

Print is Dead, or Is It?

By Hana K.

"Print is dead."

Those three words never fail to elicit a groan from my lips. The first time I saw that line, I had to shake my head and laugh. Print is dead? How ridiculous. Print will never die. As a book lover and writer, that line is nonsense to me.

Yet, I keep hearing about the death toll of the publishing industry. I keep hearing that no one reads anymore. People would rather spend their time reading Cosmo or Maxim than picking up the latest bestseller. Movies, television, internet, and the iPod. With all these new distractions, do books stand a chance?

I also hear a lot about the new trend of e-publishing. It's not really new since electronic publishing has been around for several years. A lot of literary journals are now online. You can buy electronic versions of your favorite novels and nonfiction titles. All you need is a computer or a hand-held reader to read your favorite "book."

Some e-publishers are flourishing, and many more are joining their ranks. Publishers specializing in romance and erotic romance are excited about the future. For years, e-publishers have been excited about the changing face of publishing. Recently UC Irvine held a seminar on the future of e-publishing.

Is e-publishing the new revolution? Is print really on its way out? As an e-published author (under a pen name), I should be thrilled by the new trend. I should root for the demise of print. I should convince all my friends to buy the latest reader and dump their personal libraries.

However, I love print. I always have, and I always will. I like e-books, but I prefer reading books in print. I love holding the book, studying its cover, and leafing through the pages. Ever since I was young, I loved the smell of a new book. I'm always excited when I receive a book as a gift. On a quiet evening, I lounge in my comfortable chair and have a book on my lap. I don't need a clunky piece of technology to read a print book.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the opportunities given by the internet. My first publication credits were with online magazines and e-publishing companies. I like being able to email my submissions to internet magazines and journals. I don't have to deal with snail mail anymore. As a writer, I will continue to submit to online publications.

My eventual goal is to land a publishing contract with one of those big publishing companies. Being an e-published author is nice, but I want my name to appear in print. I have had a few stories published in print anthologies. Whenever I receive my contributor copies, I take a moment to study the cover. Then I study the table of contents to find my name. Seeing my name in print reminds me why I became a writer. Print will never die as long as writers keep putting out quality work. I plan to become one of those writers.

Comic Books: The Four-Colored History

By Chris Buchner

With movies like Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3 and 300 coming out, there’s no doubt that the comic book has come a long way. Styles have changed, creators have come and gone with some leaving a permanent mark on the medium, movies are being optioned and produced at a rapid pace, and acceptance within respected communities is on the rise. It has been a long, hard road for the American comic book, and there’s still a ways to go. So, how did they get from being a disposable form of entertainment to sought after collector’s items to Hollywood’s latest bread and butter?

BEGINNINGS

Comic books are the descendants of the comic strip and pulp magazines. Hogan’s Alley, with it’s popular character The Yellow Kid, was the very first American comic strip as well as the first to be printed in color in mass production. Created by Richard F. Outcault, the strip appeared regularly in Truth magazine from 1894-95. It gained immense popularity when it went over to Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895 as both a black and white cartoon and in color several months later for the Sunday edition. It was immensely popular and well-received by the public, increasing circulation of the paper and a demand for Yellow Kid merchandise.

In 1897, Outcault was coerced to move the strip over to William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal American in 1897 as McFadden’s Flats. The strip ran in both publications, drawn for the World by George Luks, until they ended in 1898. The newspaper war between Pulitzer and Hearst was the direct cause of the creation of many strips to follow, and because of their predominantly humorous nature, earned them the “comic” label. Also, thanks to the sensationalist reporting their respective papers were guilty of as well as their personal war and publication of the Yellow Kid, the term “yellow press” (now yellow journalism) was founded.

Pulp magazines were so named because of the cheap wood pulp paper they were printed on. Frank Munsey’s revamped magazine, The Argosy, is attributed as the first pulp. Munsey also simultaneously switched from children’s stories to more action oriented tales. More pulps began to enter the market and soon began to have beautifully illustrated covers printed on higher quality paper. They became so important to the sale of a pulp that soon covers would be drawn first and authors asked to create stories to match. Eventually, they gained interior artwork as well to depict elements of the stories. After World War I, hundreds of pulps could be found at the nation’s newsstands.

In 1929, these two mediums were merged. Tarzan was transformed into a strip by artist Hal Foster and Dick Calkins took Philip Nowlan’s Buck Rogers from printed prose to full-drawn action. Comic strips were no longer merely funny. By the time the stock market crashed that October, readers were looking for something other than laughs; they welcomed the strong figures that seemed able to tame any situation in an unstable world. In the 1930s, crime comics began to join the shift with the strip forms of Dick Tracy, Secret Agent X-9, and The Phantom, who had a mask, secret identity and was the first character dressed in tights.

The comic book finally came to being in 1933. Comics were the most popular features in the papers, but the ideal packaging for the product had yet to be found. The Yellow Kid, like some others, was collected into a book as early as 1897, but were just collections of the strips rather than an actual comic book. Harry Wildbenberg and M.C. Gaines noticed how a comic page looked folded up a particular way. The comic book was officially born Wildbenberg bought the reprint rights to some strips, put them together as Funnies on Parade and sold the book to Procter & Gamble as a giveaway. Famous Funnies was the next giveaway later that year. Gaines took the next step and affixed a 10 cent price tag to some of the copies and tested them on newsstands. They sold, making it the first comic book to enjoy retail sales.

THE GOLDEN AGE

1938 saw the next evolution in comic books: the birth of the superhero. When Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 that June, a whole new genre of comics, and the era known as the Golden Age, began. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman was influenced by pulps and the legend of the Golem of Prague. He was an alien from the planet Krypton that landed on Earth as a baby and acquired superpowers through exposure to the yellow sun as he got older. With his human identity as mild-mannered Clark Kent, he secured a job at the Daily Planet, a major metropolitan newspaper for the fictional city of Metropolis, in order to be alerted of crimes in a timely fashion. This set the standard for the genre, and the mold by which every new hero would be created by.

After Superman’s popularity was evident, more heroes began to appear. DC, then known as National Allied Publications, also put out Batman, Wonder Woman, and created the first super team with the Justice Society of America. Marvel Comics, then known as Timely, came out with their own heroes in Captain America, the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Other companies produced their own heroes as well, the most popular being Fawcett Comic’s Captain Marvel (otherwise known as Shazam). Another milestone was introduced in the form of the teenaged side-kick, pairing up heroes with young charges to aid them in their battles. Although other genres of comics and reprinted collections of newspaper strips were still produced and sold the best, the superheroes began to dominate the market. Eventually, superheroes came to leap off the page and into serials, both live-action and animated.

When America entered the war in 1941, so too did comic books. More and more heroes were produced; some just appearing in only one issue of a given series and many just carbon copies of ones that came and went with the same designs but different coloring. Iconic images of the Justice Society and Captain America facing off against the Axis of evil began to grace the covers of books. Because they were a cheap form of entertainment, many people read and discarded their books. Many comics were also recycled during the scrap and paper drives for the war effort. Indeed, comics were heavily ingrained in the war effort. But, perhaps, a bit too heavily.

Once the war ended, superhero books began to lose all direction and luster with the reading public. Gritty crime and horror comics began to rise in popularity with EC Comics (publisher of MAD Magazine) at the forefront. Teen humor, funny animal and science fictions began to see an increase in popularity as well. The heroes with strong ties to the war succumbed first to the shift, with Captain America not even appearing in the last two issues of his series before it was cancelled. The Justice Society was removed from DC’s All-Star Comics and the title was changed to All-Star Western to coincide with the growing western and romance craze. Essentially, only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman endured in the superhero genre. However, moral crusaders began to target the gory and violent horror and crime comics, especially those put out by EC, citing the negative impact they have on children in society without any firm basis or proof.

In 1954, a major blow hit the comics industry. Dr. Frederic Wertham, in his book Seduction of the Innocent, cited comics as the leading cause of the corruption of American youth and leading to juvenile delinquency. He expressed concern with the sadistic and homosexual undertones he perceived in both horror and superhero comics. There were no facts to support his beliefs, but with the rumblings of the moral crusaders the public ate it up. The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency began to take an interest in comics based on these accusations. Parent groups held public comic book burnings, and some cities went so far as to ban them outright. Circulation was in a downward spiral.

With children being the main audience for their books, the industry was forced take steps and ensure it’s survival as well as prevent a growing concern in the possibility of government regulation. The result was the creation of the Comics Code Authority; an internal censorship body to make comics more acceptable for children to read.

The Code borrowed heavily from the code drafted by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers in 1948, which also borrowed from the Hollywood Product Code created in 1930. The only major difference was the Comics Code placed many more restrictions than it’s predecessor. Among the provisions was that no presentation of authority figures (judges, police, and government officials) that could create disrespect for authority, good shall always triumph over evil, no death of law enforcement through the acts of criminals, no instances of excessive violence, no excessively gruesome illustrations (which affected vampires, werewolves, ghouls and other supernatural entities) and no sexual perversions, abnormalities or illicit situations amongst many others.

Wertham dismissed the Code as being inadequate. EC Comics definitely felt the full force of the Code as the restrictions caused the cancellation of all its horror-related titles, which chiefly made up its lineup. Only MAD survived. Even though the CCA had no legal authority over other publishers, distributors often refused to carry comics without the seal of approval that adorned the covers once they were submitted to the Code. Some publishers managed to thrive under the code. Some publishers canceled titles and focused on Code-approved content. Others simply went out of business.

THE SILVER AGE

The success of the TV show The Adventures of Superman in the 1950s inspired publishers to give superheroes another shot. Showcase #4 from DC (still called National at this time) introduced a new version of the Flash. His popularity kicked off the era known as the Silver Age and new versions of other established heroes were created. However, the Silver Age didn’t reach full swing until 1961. Timely, renamed Atlas in the 50s and now called Marvel, introduced heroes the likes of which were never seen before.

With Fantastic Four #1, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced heroes with human failings. They had flaws, they had normal daily concerns, and they made mistakes. The naturalistic style and deeper themes enthralled audiences and became a hit. One of the more revolutionary moves was to create a teenaged hero in the form of Spider-Man with his throwaway debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, the series’ final issue in 1962. Until this time, teenaged heroes were relegated to the single role of sidekick. Spider-Man became the first hero since Captain Marvel to out-sell Superman, and was given his own series the following year. This period unofficially became known to many as the Marvel Age of comics.

At the time, DC (as it was officially known by this point), Marvel and Archie were the major publishers. Other major ones included American Comics Group, Charlton, Dell, Gold Key, Harvey and Tower. There was an emergence of what’s known as the underground commix movement between the late 60s and early 70s. These early independent publishers most reflected the youth counterculture and drug culture of the time, always without the approval of the Comics Code. By being distributed through unconventional channels, the underground books didn’t need the CCA for their success. Many consider the movement to have ended in the 1980s with the rise of independent non-Code compliant companies and the increasing acceptance of adult-oriented books.

THE BRONZE AGE

The Bronze Age of comics is the informal name given to the shift comics experienced during the Silver Age from the 70s through the mid 80s. Superheroes still ruled the industry, but darker plot elements and more mature tones began to work their way into the books.

In 1971, the Comics Code received its first overhaul. Stan Lee was approached by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare to do a story about drug abuse. Lee agreed and promptly used his most relatable creation, Spider-Man, to do it. The story portrayed drug use as dangerous and negative, but the CCA refused to approve the story because of the content, despite the message. With the approval of Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, Lee published the story sans the Code’s seal in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. The story was well-received, resulting in the revision of the Code to allow the depiction of drugs and addiction if presented in a bad light. This paved the way for a new trend of relevant comic books; stories that dealt with real life issues. Racial prejudice and social inequity began to be addressed within the books, and characters like the X-Men who were metaphors for the racism issue became popular.

At the same time, the Code allowed for vampires, ghouls and other assorted monsters when done in the tradition of Frankenstein, Dracula, or other creatures with a literary background that one would find on a school curriculum. Zombies, however, lacked such a background so to use them creative measures were often taken to disguise them just enough to be recognized but not banned.

Minority heroes were also on the rise. Black Panther and the Falcon from Marvel were the most notable exceptions to an otherwise white-dominated genre. The 70s saw the introduction of Luke Cage, a more diversified team of X-Men (who were only being published as reprints until this point) with the addition of Storm, Sunfire, and Thunderbird at Marvel, while over at DC they brought in characters like the Bronze Tiger, Black Lighting, John Stewart as Green Lantern and Cyborg. Unfortunately, many of these characters suffered from the prevalent stereotypes of the day, characters like Shang-Chi and Luke Cage designed to cash in on the Kung Fu and blaxpoitation movie craze that ruled the 70s. But, as time progressed so did their representation, importance and popularity.

There was also an increase in non-superhero comics, thanks to the revision of the Code. Books like Conan, Savage Sword of Conan, Tomb of Dracula, Master of Kung-Fu, Star Wars, Howard the Duck, Swamp Thing, Jonah Hex, Doctor Strange and Beast all encompassed elements not allowed before, and as a result gained heavy popularity.

The end of the Bronze age could be defined by several events. One is the 1985-86 DC crossover event known as Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was used to revitalize the company’s line by updating and making their characters’ histories more coherent. This coincided with the launch of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Fran Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns which ushered in the darker and more “realistic” years of superhero comics and led to the growing popularity of the anti-hero, such as Spawn and Wolverine. Another marker was the Marvel crossover Secret Wars II, as well as the launch of the New Universe line which started the trend of particular lines appearing as individual universes from the company’s main canon.

THE MODERN AGE

Between the 70s and 90s, comic book prices rose sharply due to a nationwide paper shortage, increasing production values, and the low incentive of profit for stores to stock them. It was around this time the direct market, in which retailers could buy from the publishers directly, and specialty stores began to rise. The specialty stores allowed the encouragement of new waves of independently produced comics, both in the vein of the underground comics movement and the mainstream publishers. Companies like Valiant and Malibu rose up to challenge the big two, Marvel and DC. The biggest upstart would be Image Comics, a company devoted to creator-owned projects formed by artists who had disputes with Marvel.

Comic stories also began to grow more complex. The X-Men, since their re-launch with their all-new diverse line-up in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975, had set the standards for team books that would follow. Other publishers would make their teams with obvious counterparts to the current X-Men line-up at the time in order to capture the chemistry that made them so popular. But, another element the X-Men brought to comics was the network of spin-off books that comprised the X-line. From Uncanny X-Men (Uncanny was added to the original series after the new team debuted) came X-Factor, X-Force, Excalibur, Wolverine and eventually an adjective-less X-Men title. Marvel and DC both took the cue and gave additional books to Spider-Man, Punisher, Superman and Batman respectively. This often led to frequent story crossovers between the titles, meaning a reader needed to buy an issue of each series in order to get the entire story. Superman, from 1991-2000, tried to help readers along by including an additional number on the covers of every series to correspond with which week of the year the issue was released.

From the late 80s through the early 90s, the darker stories such as The Dark Knight Returns, A Death in the Family (where Robin was brutally murdered by the Joker) and The Death of Superman, coupled with the success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, brought new attention to comics. Particularly, by people who noticed the market’s potential to make money. News of how much Golden Age and milestone issues (major storylines or changes in long-established characters) were sold for had them salivating to get in on such an easy investment, and publishers were all too happy to pander to these speculators.

This led to the creation of the variant cover gimmick, which were multiple covers for the same issue. Typically, these covers would include things like holograms of various styles, foil-stamping with embossed figures, glow-in-the-dark materials or, simply enough, just a different cover image (a good example for variant covers is Spider-Man #1, which came with 13 different covers; all of which were the same cover with different coloring and several came polybagged). Another trend was the polybagging, in which comics would come sealed in a clear plastic bag, sometimes with a bonus item like a trading card. Collectors had to choose between reading these comics and preserving their values by leaving them alone. Many collectors would solve this internal debate by buying multiple copies of issues; one to read, others to collect. The belief was these comics would earn them a profit when sold sometime in the future.

With the collector market in full-swing, there was an increasing demand for pricing guides which were provided by magazines like Wizard. Not only did they cover price of comics already out, they would have entire sections devoted to predicting the next hot title, the next backissue that will jump in value one day, and the trends in the overall market. The trend that was failed to take into account, however, was that the value of older comics was derived from their overall rarity. During the Golden Age before there was a collector mentality, comics were casually read and discarded or thrown out for some other reasons (parents who disapproved of their children reading comics would often throw them out, particularly in the Baby Boom generation), or recycled during the scrap drives of WWII. Modern comics, in contrast, were in constant supply and the reality was the only money made from the sale of these books was between speculators themselves.

The market reached its saturation point and between 1993 and 1997, it collapsed. More than two-thirds of all comic specialty stores closed; being stuck with many copies of comics to feed the speculator market that were no longer selling. Numerous publishers felt the sting in the drop of sales and were forced to close. Defiant, Triumphant and Malibu were amongst the companies that folded by 1997. Marvel had major failures with both their Marvel UK and 2099 comic lines, as well as over-extended themselves with hundreds of titles, and tried to cut costs by self-distributing their comics rather than going through a company. These, amongst many other factors, forced the company to file for bankruptcy in 1997 and resulted in the cancellation of numerous titles deemed “unprofitable” in order to continue publishing. Many place the blame for the bust on the shoulders of DC, who brought in the speculators with the supposed final fates of Superman and Batman, and Image, who pandered to the speculators more than any other publisher. This period was also marred by what many long-time fans consider to be the lowest point of quality for both writing and art. This contributed greatly to many established readers leaving the market and further added to the decline of sales.

But, the industry fought back. Many lines were retooled through the elimination of many of the inter-connected titles. In 1998, Marvel released (although without its name attached) it’s first movie since 1991’s direct-to-video flop Captain America, Blade. Blade featured a return to the grim and gritty styling that made Batman such a success, but that was lost when Batman & Robin became a parody of itself. As a result of it’s success, Blade restored Hollywood’s faith enough in comic movies to give X-Men received it’s first movie in 2000. With it’s success, the superhero film genre was fully revived. New attention was brought to comics, aiding in the recovery of the industry. With each successful film adaptation of a property, both superhero and non-superhero, comics were put back into the public’s consciousness. While comics are back on stable ground, the sales have never reclaimed the levels reached in the past.

New trends began to dominate the market. Coupled with the success of the movies was the added star power of the names of creators, granted to them over their years of work. They developed fan followings that led to all their work being followed closely, rather than fans following a specific character. Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Gant Morrison and Frank Miller are just a few of the names well-known throughout fandom.

Hollywood directors and producers started to become involved with comics. Filmmaker Kevin Smith re-launched Daredevil for Marvel and wrote Green Arrow for DC, making them both successes. J. Michael Straczynski, who worked on a variety of TV projects, jumped on to Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. President of BET Reginald Hudlin is the current (as of this writing) writer of Marvel’s Black Panther. Even director Richard Donner, who directed Superman: The Movie, had become a writer on DC’s Action Comics. Although the stories have yet to premier, X-Men director Bryan Singer was tapped to write an arc of Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men.

Authors also began finding their way into comics. Orson Scott Card wrote a mini-series for Marvel’s Ultimate Iron Man in 2005. New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer has written several books for DC. Even Stephen King had entered the world of comics with his Dark Tower series for Marvel.

Another growing trend is the trade paperback and their popularity. Comics have always been sporadically collected in trades, usually issues centered on a specific story. Marvel led the way with a new generation of trades by beginning to collect all of it’s comics in them. As a result, many writers now write their story arcs with the notion of their eventually collection in the format, limiting stories to 6 parts rather than the continued subplots of yesteryear. This movie has caused some debate between fans over the quality of stories now. DC joined in on the trade craze with their line of Showcase Presents collections.

Aside from more trades, Marvel has been leading the charge for new readers in other ways. Feeling high numbers of old series would intimidate them, they reset many series numbers back to 1 in a new volume. They’ve also introduced all-ages books that younger readers could pick up without sacrificing any of the quality that adults would enjoy. The move into the 21st Century was done by allowing downloadable versions of comics on their website, and by releasing collections of back issues on CD-Rom. Also, new lines and imprints have been introduced, expanding the content of the comics to something beyond the standard superhero fare. DC has begun taking some of the same steps, most particularly in the expansion of their imprint lines that have been currently running.

Aside from the mainstream, the independent market has also begun to flourish again. New publishers are popping up all the time and many creators try their hand at self-publishing. Collective groups and organizations not only put out their own publications but aid rookies in the field into getting their ventures off the ground. There’s something for everyone in the American comic market, from superheroes to horror to literature. All of this combined offers stuff competition for the growing Japanese Manga market. However, another saturation crisis is looming in the potential future with the explosive return of variant covers, which is where smaller publishers make up most of their money.

And what of the Comics Code that proved a boon to the industry and a bane to creativity? Since it’s initial revision the Code had undergone several more in order to maintain relevance within society’s ever-changing views. However, with the smaller publishers bypassing Code approval thanks to the specialty shops and the decrease in the newsstand market, the Code began to lose importance and as such its stamp of approval had less prominence on the covers of books. It wouldn’t be long until the bigger companies began to experiment with adult-themed books without the Code’s seal. Finally, in 2001, Marvel opted out of the CCA in favor of its own in-house ratings system. Currently, only DC and Archie Comics are the only major publishers that still submit to the CCA, but some DC Universe titles are sometimes published without approval.

Comics have come a long way from their humble origins, beginning as two individual mediums that came together as one. They went from highly restricted and simple story-telling to deep explorations in characterization and plot. They’ve had their highs and lows, and constantly evolve with the changing times to remain relevant with a new generation of readers. Comics are also finally beginning to find acceptance as a legitimate art form; the stories and art catching the right kind of notice, like their inclusion in school educational programs. With a wide array of subjects and genres, there’s something for everyone in comic books. The question is, where can they possibly go from here? That adventure has only just begun.

Gems


By Lisa G.

It probably won’t shock a lot of people if I say I was a loner as a child. A huge majority of writers and creative types spent a lot of time alone as children. Hell, a lot of us spend as much time as we can alone as adults. I don’t think that necessarily makes us weirdos or anything. At least I hope not. I can say this, at least I don’t go driving cross-country sporting a diaper and planning to murder anyone with a butcher knife. You can say what you want about us writer types, but I think THAT’S what’s wacko. A little alone time has nothing on that.

Looking back now, I realize I spent the majority of my childhood in or around my house. My mother didn’t drive until I was in junior high, and since she was the one home with me all day that meant I really didn’t go too many places. Luckily for her, that never really bothered me all that much. I was pretty much an aspiring couch potato from the get-go. TV and books were entertainment enough a lot of the time, and when the yen to play struck me I had two friends who lived across the street.

One of my friends was a boy named Scotty. Scotty’s big distinction was he owned a Hippity Hop. I didn’t own a Hippity Hop, but I knew where I could get my hands on one. I think I must have loved Scotty in that “you have really cool toys” kind of way, but at the time that I knew him, I was too young to even know what a crush was. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I had a sort of crush on David Cassidy. And Davy Jones. What the big attraction was to the name David I really don’t know. I think it may have been just coincidence. I have to wonder, if Scotty had been Davy, would I have wound up marrying him, living happily ever after bouncing away on his Hippity Hop? Scotty, if you’re out there, I’m so sorry your name wasn’t Davy. But I’m more sorry about losing that Hippity Hop.

Across the street and slightly kitty-corner from me lived my friend Lisa Mayor. Lisa was much cooler than I could ever hope to be. She had long, straight blonde hair and was, I know now, popular. Popularity at that stage of my life didn’t mean much to me. After all, Lisa was a decent enough friend, and she played with me on occasion. She had birthday parties and invited me. She came over to my house, and I went over to hers, with a fair degree of regularity. But what made Lisa really cool was that she once split her head open on her driveway, after falling off her bike. She split her head open and LIVED! That was pretty neat, to a six year old. I can remember my friend Scotty coming to my house soon after it happened. Scotty heard about it first, I guess because he lived on the same side of the street she did so the gossip traveled better. After he came to fetch me, we went over to see if we could find the blood on the driveway. To our dismay, we couldn’t. Lisa had split her head open, lived, and miraculously her blood had disappeared. Until a few years later when a tornado ripped through the block behind Scotty and Lisa’s houses, this was the highlight of our respective childhoods. Well, maybe not as much to Lisa, who had to do the actual suffering so that Scotty and I could reap the benefits.

On days when Scotty was busy showing someone else his toys, and Lisa was with her other friends (or taking aspirin for her throbbing head), I pretty much spent all my spare time reading. Even with friends right across the street (and friends with really neat toys at that), I really did manage to read a lot during those years. Don’t let all the excitement fool you.

Along with all the picture books I read really early on, I also inherited a set of Children’s Classics. These books came down to me through my two older brothers, one of whom was also a rabid reader. As for my other brother, well, he owned a mini-bike. He had a lot of serious exploring to do. He never was much for reading.

The books in this particular set consisted of ten or so abridged, illustrated classics, all in different colored cloth covers. It included books like Treasure Island, Tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. The only really girlie book in the set was Alice in Wonderland. I went through several of these books with help from my oldest brother, who had the patience to sit down and help me with the really tough words, but Alice in Wonderland was probably the first “chapter” book I sampled on my own. After I graduated from Richard Scarry and his wonderful world of animals who wore pants, it was Alice who transfixed me. She was English, she spoke very formally, and she was adventurous. She was also saucy. The girl didn’t take any crap from anyone, even when that someone was a queen with the power to cut off her head. Alice ruled! She was essentially everything I wanted to be but wasn’t.

The illustrations in Alice also mesmerized me. Most of them were half-page line drawings, but a very few of them were full-color, full-page illustrations. They depicted a skewed, surreal world in which menacing cats grinned down at you from branches, appearing and disappearing randomly. A group of manic animals and a Mad Hatter (obviously, I can see now, high as a kite) held ridiculous tea parties in which they hurled abuse at each other and then just fell asleep, and a grotesque Red Queen blubbered on threateningly. Alice, through it all, kept her head, stood her ground, and was the coolest girl on earth.

Fantastical worlds in which everything is possible and nothing happens as expected allow a child’s mind to soar. It’s hard to imagine any book besides Alice in Wonderland setting the tone for my personality, mostly because I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having met her. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that. Lewis Carroll taught me it was okay to be unusual. He taught me it’s okay if things don’t always make sense. Ultimately, he taught me fantasy is a whole hell of a lot more interesting than reality, and weird, twisted people have much more going for them than boring, predictable types. In a way, he taught me how to cope with what was a pretty crappy childhood. He didn’t solve my problems, but the ability to lean on the absurd and surreal went a long way toward making it all a little more bearable.

When I was reading and re-reading Alice in Wonderland I had no idea Lewis Carroll was a creepy weirdo interested in little girls in an inappropriate way. Learning that later made me less comfortable with the book, and that felt like a real loss to me. Knowing Carroll took and was in possession of photos of little girls in various states of undress is upsetting. It’s destabilizing when you find out a major childhood influence was, at best, one step removed from being a pedophile. Still, I believe Alice herself, and her adventurous spirit, are still good models for a life philosophy. I can still grant Carroll that, though I wish like anything the reality of his intentions could have been far different. Being unable to change that, the best I can do is separate Carroll the man from his work as a writer, granting him enough benefit of the doubt to still be able to appreciate the world he created.

Ironically enough, it turns out a pedophile helped ease some of my most difficult early years, and even with the tarnish that’s on it I still consider Alice in Wonderland to be a true gem of a book. Through all the decades I’ve weathered since I first discovered it, this novel continues to cast a heartening gleam for me, helping me remember it’s essential to be preposterous now and then. When I think back on that time, wondering whatever happened to Scotty and Lisa (and, more importantly, to Scotty’s Hippity Hop), I also think about all the hours I spent curled up with Alice, wrapped up in fantasy and oblivious to the world. That image is a rare, sweet memory in what was an overwhelmingly challenging time. For that I’ll always be grateful to the legacy of Lewis Carroll.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” indeed.

Literary Cinema

By Heather F.

Here are some of the books making their way to the cinema this month.

March 2nd

Zodiac - starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards and Robert Downey Jr. Directed by David Fincher. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith.

Based on the Robert Graysmith books about the real life notorious Zodiac, a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco with a string of seemingly random murders during the 1960s and 1970s


March 9th

300 - Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Hedley, and David Wenham. Directed by Zack Snyder. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller.

Based on comic genius Frank Miller's visually stunning graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.

The Namesake - Starring Kal Penn, Jacinda Barrett, and Glenne Headley. Directed by Mira Nair. Based on the book by Jhumpa Lahiri.


American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wants to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family's unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.

Mrs Potter - Starring Renee Zellwegger, Ewan McGreggor and Emily Watson. Directed by Chris Noonan.

The story of Beatrix Potter, the author of the beloved and best-selling children's book, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit", and her struggle for love, happiness and success.

The Ultimate Gift (limited release) - James Garner, Abigail Breslin, and Drew Fuller. Directed by Michael O. Sajbel. Based on the book by Jim Stovall.

Jason thought his inheritance was going to be the gift of money and lots of it. Was he ever in for a big surprise...

March 16th

Shooter - Starring Mark Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Michael Peña. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter.

A marksman (Wahlberg) living in exile is coaxed back into action after learning of a plot to kill the president. Ultimately double-crossed and framed for the attempt, he goes on the run to track the real killer and find out who exactly set him up, and why.

March 23rd

The Last Mimzy - Starring Joely Richardson, Rainn Wilson, and Timothy Hutton. Directed by Robert Shaye. Based on the short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" by Lewis Padgett.

Two siblings begin to develop special talents after they find a mysterious box of toys. Soon the kids, their parents, and even their teacher are drawn into a strange and sometimes terrifying world.


March 30th

Meet the Robinsons - Starring Daniel Hansen, Wesley Singerman, and Angela Bassett. Directed by Stephan J. Anderson. Based on the book by William Joyce.

Lewis is a brilliant inventor who meets mysterious stranger named Wilbur Robinson, whisking Lewis away in a time machine and together they team up to track down Bowler Hat Guy in a showdown that ends with an unexpected twist of fate.

*All summaries from IMDB.

Snazzy Stuffs

By Heather F.



"Uberlibrarian" Leila's Bookshelves of Doom blog is witty and informative. Lots of book reviews and opinions on the world of literature at large.


But, even better is her sense of humor. And her Etsy shop. She uses Hanes Ts. They are hand-dyed, hand-stenciled, and always literarily relevant. So check out her stock and "support her habit" why dontcha?


The best one yet?



If you've been following the controversy surrounding this year's Newberry Award winner (The Higher Power of Lucky), then no explanation is needed.

Bookish DIY

By Heather F.

Ever itch to do something creative? Something fun, with your hands, something that makes you feel brilliant?

Well look no further! The divas over at Crochet Me magazine have the perfect project! Book Thongs! Promising to make you feel like the "sophisticated intellectual you know you are" these simple, stylish bookmarks are just the thing to help get those creative juices going!

Bookish Believe It! Or Not?

By Heather F.

There is a lot of book news I could bring up for this, my first article for the newly revamped Estella. Yay Estella! Let's see here. There's Phillip Roth winning the PEN/Faulkner award. Yay Phillip Roth and books that are unreadable*! The use of the word scrotum in Newbery Award winning books for children. Yay for words that are not bad words but for some reason get adults everywhere up in arms over nothing for!

No, this month I'm going to bring up a news item that I have barely seen reported on, but which I find to be worse than the innocent use of the word scrotum in a book aimed at the audience who will most appreciate it. I mean come on, it is a funny word! Not in the least dirty. Not to mention ANATOMICALLY CORRECT. (Huff. Sorry.)

And I'm going to ignore the fact that a Paris university literature professor has actually written a book on how to discuss a book without actually having read it! College freshmen rejoice everywhere! No, I am going to report on one of the worst atrocities of literature EVER. Just what is this horrible thing? Only the rape and pillaging of one of the world's most... well... not exactly beloved perhaps... more like revered works of literature. It's one of those milestone books, the book everyone wants to attempt to read, to be able to say they made it all the way through, to even admit to enjoying (even though they probably don't really mean it). A rite of passage book. I'm talking about War and Peace by Mr. Leo Tolstoy, that most intimidating of books. I am one of those types of readers who is incensed when a book is abridged. I am horrified when I accidentally pick up such a book. It breaks my heart! But to take a book, trim it down from approximately 1,500 to about 1,000 AND change the ending? To give a HAPPY ending to one of the most morbid books in all of literature? It's sacrilegious!!

What do you think?

*Note* Which is not to say I think he is a bad author. I'm sure he's brilliant. I just find him unreadable. *End note*

Sure, I Know the Queen

By Jodie

How can the first article in a column about British literature not be about Charles Dickens? When the column features in ‘Estella’s Revenge’, a zine founded on a Dickens quote, it may seem especially odd. The answer is shocking, yet simple; at the age of twenty two I have read precisely two novels by this most revered master. So despite being able to comment on big or small screen adaptations of Dickens’ books I’ll leave attempts at literary criticism of his novels until I have at least completed ‘Great Expectation’.

Instead let me start by talking about someone whose work I have actually read. This statement might sound stupid but reading book jacket blurbs it is clear that this is not a philosophy everyone subscribes to. If I sound a little intolerant of this type of big mouthed stupidity (I mean Christ it’s only books isn’t it) I’m glad. I’m sure my subject, Philip Larkin, would have approved.

‘This Be The Verse’ is probably Larkin’s best known poem. It’s the one that ends up in the anthologies because people feel they can (shudder) ‘relate’ to it. It’s one of the few poems where Larkin’s attitude is no longer perceived as grumpy but becomes universally accepted as an expression of world weary wisdom. Some people may think that the majority of his poetry reflects this tired knowledge and inability to conceal what has been realised but they are usually shouted down by those who maintain that he is a crabby old git. Sometimes they get cheese balls thrown at them.

‘This Be The Verse’ is a perfect example of the way that Larkin expresses himself in many of his poems. The first line, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’ shows his unwillingness to conceal the truth about the family, the most taboo of subjects among the English. At the time Larkin was writing it was not acceptable to blame your parents for everything, nor was it encouraged to talk about your families faults. To blankly state that ‘elders and betters’ do not always know best, as Larkin does in this line, was quite innovative. However by choosing a straightforward style that utilises eight syllables in a line, regular rhyme, concise language and a casually thrown in swear word Larkin shows that he believes this idea to be a trueism, an undeniable fact. He feels that it would be impossible for anyone to have failed to notice the inherent destructive nature of parents. His words almost shrug, as if to show that this is an unpleasant aspect of life that everyone is aware of and that everyone finds a way to deal with.

In the second line of the poem ‘They may not mean to but they do’ Larkin shows his contempt for good intentions that are backed only by ineptitude. This is a typical attitude of Larkins found in poems such as ‘Mr Bleaney’. However this line also brings up another core concept of much of Larkin’s poetry, that in the end there is little use blaming ordinary people for their actions. In many of his poems Larkin slightly relives his harsh views on what people do with their lives by appearing to say that the way the world’s systems automatically function are the reason why people do what they do. Therefore there is little reason to assign blame to ordinary people, in the case of ‘This Be The Verse’ the parents.

This idea may seem to be at odds with Larkin’s extremely angry persona in poems such as ‘Faith Healing’ but it can actually be seen as an inevitable result of this anger. Larkin becomes resigned by the end of many poems to the fact that although he sees stupidity and waste all around him there is little he can do except report the facts. This idea is shown in many of his poems by the passivity of their structure. The regular layout of the lines, their length and rhyme scheme do not force the reader on towards a conclusion. They provide space to pause or even to stop. Larkin does not push the reader towards the truth. He says what he thinks and whether the reader progresses or agrees it ultimately doesn’t matter or make any difference to the way human beings work; ‘Man hands on misery to man’. Larkin’s poetry is not about global solutions but personal realisations, reason and in some ways growth.

This is where people start muttering about how Larkin is grumpy, fatalistic, a right sod. What sort of bloke has a problem with people buying pets for their children? (‘Take One Home For The Kiddies’) Who is he to judge anyone?

Well Larkin was an ordinary human being and as such he makes judgements about others of his species as every person has since we thought of a word for sentences. He just happens to write his judgements down. He is a realist who understands that small pets often die quickly, that people are easily fooled and that sometimes lives are wasted. Calling him a cynic is just another delusion that he would have been deeply scathing about.

Evidence for this argument is found throughout his poems. Looking again at the example of ‘This Be The Verse’ in the second stanza an explanation is provided for why parents messed up kids of his generation. It is not a happy explanation, ‘they were fucked up in their turn’, but by giving it he allows those particular parents some concession. By explaining the chain that led them to give their kids ‘the faults they had’, he also makes an allowance for all previous groups of parents who must surely also have been screwed up by their parents. This explanation displays his realism as it shows that he understands there are reasons why parents ‘fuck you up’ and that he is not attempting to heap unbalanced blame upon the older generation. However just because he understands doesn’t mean he has to approve of the results.

My favourite collection of Larkin’s poetry is ‘Weddings and Funerals’. In this collection Larkin displays a full range of emotions, showing what a varied poet and human being he really was. In ‘Faith Healing’ he is enraged by priests and religion, while contemptuous of how gullible ordinary people appear. In ‘Talking In Bed’ he is resigned to disappointment and yet still sorrowful when reality shows him to be right. In several poems, for example ‘Mr Bleaney’ he is depressed about the human condition and concerned about his own life. In poems such as ‘Love Songs In Age’ and ‘An Arundel Tomb’ he is softer, yet still sure of the falseness and futility that makes up much of the world. In possibly my favourite poem by Larkin ‘Water’ he is, dare I say, hopeful about what might be possible or at least sure of the potential of nature to improve things. But in all of these poems, except perhaps ‘Water’, he never allows himself to be seduced from realism.

I love Larkin’s poetry, I am utterly bowled over by his ideas, his straight forward way of expressing them and the way this is effectively coupled with the delectable force of his carefully chosen language. His linguistic devices form a solid marriage with the structure of each poem and yet there are always many nuances in each line. Larkin never strains to give information but allows the reader to use their own imagination, while still getting over his own tightly crafted vision. This passage from ‘Dockery and Son’, a poem about a young man visiting his old university, illustrates these points perfectly:

‘ ’Dockery was junior to you,
Wasn’t he?’ said the Dean. ‘His son’s here now.’
Death – suited, visitant, I nod. ‘And do
You keep in touch with –‘ Or remember how
Black-gowned, unbreakfasted, and still half tight
We used to stand before that desk, to give
‘Our version’ of ‘these incidents last night’?
I try the door of where I used to live:

Locked. The lawn spreads dazzlingly wide.’

The content and structure of them poem do not force but are casual and do not cling or implore the reader to go on. If you are curious read on, if not Larkin will continue anyway.

The way the word ‘Locked’ is not only separated on to a different line but placed after a stanza break and then hedged in by a full stop brings home the isolation of the speaker. These elements combine to make the word sound like a large lock being tightly shut. I encourage you to read this stanza aloud. Let ‘Death – suited, visitant, I nod’ weigh on your tongue as you pronounce each comma. As you feel them drop and disappear you will begin to understand the depth of one of Britains finest poets.

Judging A Book?

By Fence

We all know the saying "never judge a book by its cover," but we all do it, don't we? See a cover and instantly we form an impression, whether favourable or not. Of course once we start to read the book our impressions will be met, or dispersed, but there is another saying regarding the importance of first impressions. So what is that makes a good cover for a book? The answer is entirely subjective, but in this column I'm going to focus on one or two covers each issue and reveal why it appealed to me, or why I had to struggle to pick up the book despite that cover image.

I'm going to begin on a positive note; with two covers that I really like. Both are by a French author, Fred Vargas, and both books are thriller/mysteries. I'll quickly add here that both books are well worth a read.

The first is Seeking Whom He May Devour and the version I'm going to discuss is the Random House Vintage version. And the cover instantly grabbed my attention: One reason is entirely personal, I'm a huge fan of anything canine, so putting a big old wolf there was bound to attract my attention. But it isn't only the fact that there is wolf present that gained my interest, rather it is the manner of the beast that made me flick over and read the blurb. He is off centre, but still dominates the design, black and intimidating, his attention focused on something unseen. He brings a wonderful sense of threat and danger to the picture, despite the fact that he doesn't appear to be snarling or attacking. An understated danger perhaps? This is an image that fits the title perfectly as you wonder exactly who this wolf is seeking to devour.

As for the rest of the design, well it fits with the Random House series more than with the novel itself. These Vintage collection books all seem to have a slightly battered appearance, here it appears that there is a crease across the cover, and the colours used give it a slightly aged feel. This, while probably more related to the Vintage aspect, does however coincide with the "slick and creepy" comment printed on the top corner.

It isn't fussy or over designed, but it does grab your attention and conveys an atmosphere that is matched by the story within the pages; an imaginative thriller with plenty of danger and style.

The other cover I'm going to talk about is also in the Vintage series and, although in one way it is completely different from the design for Seeking Whom We May Devour, it does share some aspects as you can see.

The main thing that these two covers share is that sense of being slightly worn and aged. The Three Evangelists also uses the same font and style for the display of the author's name and the titles of the book. Fred Vargas stands out, seemingly of more importance than the title of the book, although here the colour scheme is almost a reverse of Seeking Whom He May Devour’s as it is in white on a dark background. The main image on the cover is that of a tree surrounded by darkness but picked out by a light from some unseen source.

Nothing as threatening as a big black wolf here; nor as instantly gripping. And yet there is something slightly off about this image. After all, why would a tree be highlighted in this fashion? It isn't even an awe-inspiring tree, merely a young tree, possibly a sapling. All about this one tree are other plants, bushes and other trees, but they are barely seen, more suggestions of plants that anything else. Why is this one tree so important?

And this is a question that fits in so well with the storyline, as it is the sudden appearance of a tree in a back garden that begins the story.

There is also the fact that this one shaft of light is illuminating something, bringing it out of the darkness, just as hope a good mystery will reveal an answer, out of the gloom of the unknown.

Both of these novels are examples of cover design doing its job; helping to create the atmosphere of the storyline within its covers, attracting attention to the book, and being generally pleasing to the eye. To my eye at any rate.

From the Bookshop....

By Quillhill

The other day a woman brought in an exquisite Bible that she had read from as a child with her grandfather. He had passed it on to her, and for a long time she had thought she would pass it on to her child or grandchild. Then she heard the buzz about a market for books and came to ask, "Would you tell me how much this book is worth?"

Like other precious stones, metals, antiques and collectibles, fine books almost always appreciate in value. They are a good investment, with less risk than the stock market. Even for the average reader, there is still a thrill to be had in finding that one title by a favorite author, or upgrading a book in one's collection from paperback to hardback.

Part of the joy of hunting books is the hope and possibility of stumbling upon a signed first edition, dusty in an attic, or a forbidden classic bound up within a mundane treatise on manure. Though such buried treasures do exist, waiting to be discovered, there are also gems lying everywhere, like diamonds on the beach. I recently picked up a 1960s edition of a companion book to a fictional series that so many others had passed, and sold it the next day for fifteen times what I had paid, which was most certainly still below its high-end value.

How does this happen? Well, to be sure much of it has to do with the competition. The internet has given rise to hordes of book scouts and dealers in search of an easy profit. Many of them join the hunt armed with bar code scanners, which, of course, don't work on pre-ISBN books, and so they ignore many opportunities. Many others specialize, and those who are looking for religion, or military history, or children's books will again pass right by historical fiction, or not know what they are seeing when they look.

How can you find those gems? First, by trusting intuition. Yes, you will often be wrong, yet you will often be right. Intuition, after all, is usually a manifestation of an accumulation of knowledge, just as luck is usually putting oneself in the right situation at the right time. I once acquired a book at nominal cost, though I knew nothing about it, merely because it was thick and in fine condition. Several months later I sold it for 125 times my cost. And a few months before that sale I found another copy of the same book, though at a higher price, and having learned its true value, bought and resold that one within days for twice what I paid. Second, overlook nothing. The dealer in religious books may not have any use for historical fiction, but she can trade for something she can use. Many times books will wander away from their categories and end up among others not like themselves. And the little unmarked items look inconspicuous, but are sometimes the easiest to find, precisely because they are so easily overlooked. I know of a dealer who regularly sells old paperback romance novels for prices that have three digits before the decimal.

In our shop, some of the books we offer are purposely underpriced, offering the diligent book hunter the discovery of unexpected treasure. Dollars, though, can never wholly measure a book's value. Browsing for something you didn't know you wanted is also a great way to turn up hidden gems of writing that don't adorn the bestseller lists, yet still sparkle in one's mind when read. And finding another copy of the rather common Christopher Morley books Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop still stirs excitement in this collector. Gems are everywhere.

When someone says, "Would you tell me how much this book is worth?" the correct answer can only ever be a measure of its value to the owner.