D+Q Office Reads: Part 6!

Ever say to yourself "hey, what the heck is the D+Q office reading right now"? We got you covered. Here is #6 in the series...

Stoner by John Williams (NYRB)
The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey (Grand Central)
White Boy in Skull Valley by Garrett Price  (Sunday Press)

Those NYRB books sure are tantalizing, aren’t they? I’m not sure what about STONER caught my eye but the accolades didn’t hurt. This is a story told in chronological order about a young man who becomes a student and then a professor and is told straight and simple. And it’s because of this simplicity that the story carries so much power. At a glance it seems the story of a man who accomplishes nothing, who drifts through life, who lets life happen to him. He goes to college for agriculture, finds literature and a mentor and friends, starts to work at the university, marries, has a child. ETC. The writing is spare and forceful and sharp. I hadn’t read such unadorned prose in such a long time and it was thrilling. Is this a mediocre life? Is it transcendent? Are all lives both?

I read about THE STENCH OF HONOLULU by Jack Handey ages ago. Jack is one of the comedic geniuses behind the long-sought-after zine Army Man created by him snd a few other comedy writers like George Meyer. Many of these guys went on to become the initial writers on The Simpsons and Jack created the “Deep Thoughts” segment on SNL. I was intrigued by the idea of an actual novel by Jack and while this book is certainly that it’s also kind of not. It’s just short chapter after short chapter of joke bombs. A relentless barrage of goofball jokes delivered by an arrogant idiot who leaves a path of destruction in his wake. There is a story here but mostly you get those perfectly crafted jokes. Laugh out loud funny page after page.

WHITE BOY IN SKULL VALLEY is the jewel in the reprint crown of Sunday Press. Sure, all their books are great but I’ve been waiting for this ever since I saw a couple of pages years ago. This is a beautiful strip, and like the best of Sunday color comics, it’s best seen full size to appreciate how it was initially experienced. Comics like this have a tendency to film your full view, to envelop your senses. The colors are great of course but I really love how the figures stand in the panels—mid-thigh to just above their heads. It’s rare that there’s a full body shot or a close-up. Somehow that charms me. As with any older strip, there are some outmoded representations but Price is a very sympathetic artist and avoids many pitfalls of presenting Native Americans. This is a beautiful piece of history.

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Scribner)

I'm no liar so I'm gonna be straight with you (you deserve at least that much)—the thought of reading about any sort of scene, particularly a trendy art scene, kinda makes me just want to watch TV instead, you know? This is likely why I put off reading Rachel Kushner's THE FLAMETHROWERS for so long, despite much urging to read it by a bunch of people with great taste. In the end, I, as always, am the fool: the setting is the setting but this is a book about humans and their relationships, mostly one person's, the fully realized and beautifully imagined lead character, Reno, as she transitions from college to life in New York City, making rash, spirited, inspiring, sexy decisions. She's one of the strongest, most relatable characters I've encountered in a long time. And then you've got Kushner's prose: enchanting, perceptive, and, quite frankly, if I may, a real joy to read. If you've yet to pick this one up, I can't think of a better way to spend what will surely be a shitty month. JUST KIDDING. EVERYTHING'S FINE.

- Tracy Hurren, managing editor

Bright-Eyed At Midnight by Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics)

I love Leslie’s work, and when she came to the store for her event a few weeks ago, I was excited to pick up the book I am most definitely actually holding here, BRIGHT-EYED AT MIDNIGHT. Her latest work, it’s a book of beautiful watercolour diary comics, drawn daily for all of 2014. The idea of doing a comic a day is something that I have resolved to do myself an embarrassing number of times, with disastrous, if any, results. This book made me want to try again, while at the same time proving how much more this idea can be in the hands of a great artist - the comic a day format quickly fades completely into the background, allowing me to lose myself in Leslie’s sweet, trippy, heartfelt watercolours. Reading it, you can actually watch her style evolve, creating a sense of time passing despite the fact that I actually devoured most it in a single afternoon at a cafe. This book is filled with smart and funny glimpses of Leslie's daily life and her recalled childhood memories, but what I loved most was the palpable sense of comfort, love and joy for the actual process of art making. Good grief, when I write about it, it’s sappy - but when she draws it, it’s beautiful!

- Alison Naturale, print manager

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin)

 About six months ago a friend recommended this book during a book launch (hi Steph!). I can't remember the exact words she used (sorry, Steph!) but I do remember a feeling of urgency as I typed the name into my phone for safekeeping.

THE FARAWAY NEARBY is many different things. It's a contemplation of the power of stories to define us; a collection of creative nonfiction about loss and death and memory; an undeniably honest recounting of the anxiety of dealing with a bounty of ripe-to-the-point-of-almost-rotting fruit that becomes a beautifully crafted tribute to family and the complicated fraught relationships we weave over our lives.

In prose that is rich and clear and often aching (spoiler alert: I definitely cried when reading this), Solnit tackles each of these subjects equally, with grace, eloquence, and honesty.

I dog-eared a bunch of pages so I could go back and linger on her skillful phrasing but then I forgot to write this before leaving for the airport, so all I have to share of her gorgeous prose is this photo I took when reading the "Ice" chapter on one of the coldest days of the winter. Enjoy.

- Julia Pohl Miranda, marketing director

Love and Rockets: New Stories No.8  by The Hernandez Bros. (Fantagraphics)

Anyone who knows me in the slightest can tell you that I am a huge fan of the Hernandez Brothers. I'm not claiming to have read absolutely everything by them, but I gotta say, I'm getting pretty close! So you can imagine how excited I was to pick up the latest volume of Love and Rockets: New Stories, which as always, did not disappoint. In volume 8, Gilbert concludes "The Magic Voyage of Aladdin," where a rivalry between Fritz and Mila results in a strange world of multiplicity featuring an amusing lot of Fritz look-alikes who work in the adult film industry. There's more at play than the eye-catching scantily clad women or over-the-top muscular men in this story, as Beto goes in much deeper by addressing themes of beauty and the grotesque, the malleability of bodies and identities, and the destructive potential of fame. Oh, and there's also a strange character with two penises, just so you know…

For his portion, Jaime gives us a fun sci-fi story and one centered on Tonta, but what really hit it home for me is the final story, "I Guess I Forgot to Stand Pigeon-Toed," which features many of the Locas cast as they get together at a punk show reunion. Having followed the Locas storyline for so long, there's nothing in comics that ever gets me as excited as when I flip through a new L&R volume and get a glimpse at the aging Maggie and Hopey. As Maggie matures (or as she herself puts it, is no longer "a peeing between parked cars kinda gal"), I find myself getting more engrossed by her character, which is as emotionally complex as ever. There are also a bunch of fun appearances from other characters, such as Joey Glass (does he still have the hots for Maggie?!), Hopey, Marco (formerly Monica), and the ever so somber Izzy. The emotional weight of L&R 8 isn't as pronounced as some of the Bros past works (who could forget that third volume!), but I take this as a good thing, since it allows both Gilbert and Jaime's storylines to breathe a bit, while still being a compelling read filled with incredible art and an undeniable mastery of the comics form.

- Marie-Jade Menni, production assistant

My Hot Date by Noah Van Sciver (Kilgore Books)
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard (Liveright)
Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel & Ethan Coen (Faber & Faber)

Last month, Van Sciver and Leslie Stein visited the store. Both were terrific, so happy they made it here, and Noah's reading of his comic MY HOT DATE nearly brought the house down. The comic is about Noah's adolescence in Mesa, Arizona and in particular, his mall/movie date with a girl he'd been chatting with online but had not met. I won't spoil it because you should really read it but suffice to say, he captures the awkwardness of that age perfectly, right down to weirdness of your friends and the questionable music tastes we're all horrified to remember.

 Originally published in 1976,  J.G. Ballard's HIGH-RISE is a darkly-funny British dystopian novel, probably one of his best-known works. I'd been meaning to read this one for awhile and was hooked by the first line:
“Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous months.”
Dr. Laing is one of two thousand other tenants in a self-contained apartment building with all the amenities: gyms, a grocery store etc. and the higher the floor you live on, the higher your social status. If you live on the lower floors, your parking space is further away and tenants don't intermingle between levels. Ballard's ability to portray the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere as the building descends in to a chaotic war between floors is pretty impressive. As debris and garbage starts to fill the hallways and the tenants devolve into "cool, unemotional personalit[ies] impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life". Pretty obvious social commentary, I know, but man, sometimes you just gotta be reminded, what the hell are we doing? I don't wanna end up eating a dog, you know?

If you asked me a year ago if I liked the Coen's sixteenth movie, I would have said "sure" but after reading the screenplay and re-watching I think I might now consider it my favourite of theirs. As someone who hasn't read many screenplays I was happy to find how fun it was to read. Oscar Isaac was, of course, wonderful in the finished film but it was interesting to see how much of the character was already there, on the page before anything was filmed. The story, in case you are not familiar, is of Llewyn Davis, a second (or even third?) tier folk musician, haunting the Greenwich Village cafés just before the post-Dylan folk explosion. Broke but stubborn, Davis burns bridges and alienates peers on an almost daily basis, and the Coen's ability to -arguably- make this ultimately unlikable character someone we still give a shit about is admirable. The scene where Davis begrudgingly visits his well- intentioned benefactors and explodes after they goad him into performing for their dinner guests is a masterful microcosm of Davis's whole unfortunate story - and really, financially unsuccessful artists everywhere. Suck it up and sing for your supper, am I right?

- Jason Grimmer, marketing director Librairie D+Q

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf)
Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte (HarperCollins)

This month I caught up on some seriously critically acclaimed stuff. A little late on THE ARGONAUTS game, but I'm just a sucker for a classic paperback release. It's more purse adaptable, you know? And what did I see perched on a table at the ol' Librairie D+Q? The Argonauts! In paperback! I'd read Maggie Nelson's prior girl beloved release Bleuets, which is a beautiful and sad meditation on one of life's most beautiful and sad things: heartbreak. The Argonauts navigates this theme as well but through a much more socially critical eye. In it, Maggie Nelson explores her relationship with real life artist and fluidly gendered Harry Dodge, and so Nelson carries us through the act of falling in love, the eventual development of her pregnancy — all within the lens of her queer built family.

I also picked up Tony Tulathimutte's PRIVATE CITIZENS which traces the lives of a group of privileged San Francisco millenials. My favourite topic, basically. Tulathimutte captures both the humour and aches of this generation within the lives of digitally entrenched, sexually liberated, and politically woke 20-somethings. Kind of like spying on the inner lives of your friends.

- Sruti Islam, marketing assistant

Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)
Big Kids by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly)

In the summer I read Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, a book of prose poetry and essays that observes race in modern America, our attempts to pat ourselves on the back for our progress while stretching to cover up our continued, internalized, everyday racism. DON'T LET ME BE LONELY is Rankine's fourth book, published ten years before Citizen and subtitled to match. Rankine is reaching, in this book, for some semblance of understanding—an understanding of the violence contained both within the United States and perpetrated abroad; it is a book that looks at the intimate as well as the worldwide. I ain't no poetic academic so I have a hard time analyzing, but what immersed me the most about DLMBL was its blurriness, a blurriness of the struggle to comprehend what grief is, the ways it permeates our lives directly and indirectly, from a distance and up close. Rankine's opening line, "There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died," juxtaposed for me so beautifully with a line from the middle of the book, where Rudy Giuliani (of all people) answers as to how many were estimated to have died in the World Trade Centre, "More than we can bear." Don't Let Me Be Lonely is a gorgeous examination of death and the body in contemporary America.

I also re-read Michael DeForge's most recent masterpiece, BIG KIDS, a coming of age story that is both formalistically and narratively brilliant. What I have always admired about DeForge's conceptual and world building talents are the ways in which they engulf you; you can't see the seams of the world, and so occasionally there is a visual claustrophobia that sets in. It's the acceptance of this claustrophobia that (and this might sound weird!) reminds me of the moment when you realize that the discomfort you are feeling is anxiety, and you take a deep breath and just go with it. One of the things that I find most beautiful about Big Kids is its queerness, the spectrum of sexuality seen not only in our protagonist's life but in the trees themselves, their fluidity and sexual freedom (that pool scene!). How do you end these things again? Oh yeah: We are so lucky! Glory be to DeForge!

- Marcela Huerta, production assistant

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