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A Cavalcade of Covers: A Wrinkle in Time

While working on my review, I couldn’t help but notice that A Wrinkle in Time has had a bajillion different covers, of varying degrees of quality. Unfortunately I have no information about the artists behind most of these covers, but let’s take a look anyway!

wrinkle_airbrush

Well isn’t this a delightful bit of van art! We’ve got Mrs. Whatsit as the centaur, the kids, an alien landscape, and some sort of misplaced line of emphasis under the word “in.” I give it a 6/10.

wrinkle_petersis

This was a very common edition when I was a kid. It was painted by Peter Sis, a peculiar Czech illustrator who produced some very strange children’s picture books. It’s an interesting image, although I’m not sure it really represents the book all that well. 5/10. Sorry Peter!

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BoMC: A Wrinkle in Time

There was a period in my childhood, around the age of twelve or so I think, when A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle was my favorite book. In fact, it was probably the last book upon which I ever bestowed such a title, since I stopped trying to quantify my preferences around then.

wrinkle_sm

As such, I had high expectations for it when I reread it, possibly too high. It’s not a bad book by any means, but it’s difficult to explain what it was that so captivated me about this novel. In many ways it’s a very skilful piece of writing, but the actual story is convoluted and vague, and the events so isolated from one another as to feel episodic. There were almost certainly books that I read simultaneously that were better constructed formally–why was this one the favorite?

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Chef John presents: Ratatouille “confit byaldi”

And now for something completely different: I’ve been cooking a lot more in recent months, and I thought maybe it was time to try writing a bit about it. My goals for these kinds of articles are twofold:

* It was an attempt to make Pad Thai without following any particular recipe. It came out looking like a pile of grayish sludge and tasted like vomit.

First, I want to present the process of exploring new recipes from the perspective of an enthusiast/amateur. I don’t intend to portray myself as an expert (because I am not one), but rather as a hobbyist cook learning on the go. Don’t take my methods as gospel. I tamper with recipes willfully (and I will say why where relevant), and you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment either. Only once have my experiments produced a result so dreadful that I couldn’t eat it.*

Second, I want to provide a window into what a vegetarian diet looks like. I’ve met a lot of people who express confusion over what vegetarian food entails, and it’s my hope that non-vegetarians who happen across these articles may get a better sense of the scope of my home cooking menu. It’s far from limited–I could make a new recipe every week and never run out of new dishes to try.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in to my most recent dish: confit byaldi!

Confit byaldi, served

I’ve made ratatouille (which is essentially a French vegetable stew) many times in the past from the recipe in Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook. Hers is a delicious recipe and I highly recommend it, but I was always puzzled by one thing: why did Pixar’s interpretation of the recipe appear to be a weird little stripy stack, rather than the coarsely-chopped stew I was familiar with?

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The World’s Greatest Graphic Novels: An Introduction

I recently discovered an amusing bit of advertising, a list of “The World’s Greatest Graphic Novels,” as compiled by DC Comics. “Start here with the essentials,” the subtitle suggests. What follows is a list of books, all published by (surprise, surprise) DC Comics.

No, DC. You're wrong.

Now I don’t begrudge DC for trying to position its products as the greatest graphic novels of all time. That said, I find this list to be a bit sad. Comics as a field has become incredibly vast and diverse, and there are numerous people pushing the boundaries of the art form in wonderful and exciting new directions.

So I’ve decided to put together my own little list. My selection criteria are as follows:

  1. The book must be a graphic novel. That means no memoirs or other non-fiction. It also means no anthologies from an ongoing series. For the purposes of this list, a novel must be a unified work with a limited scope. Anything with “Vol. 1″ after the title is automatically disqualified.
  2. The book must have high-quality artwork. That doesn’t mean it has to be realistic or even virtuosic, but it should have a distinct and consistent aesthetic that demonstrates that a good deal of thought has been put into the images on the page.
  3. The book must be well-written. Strong characters and good dialogue are a must. The plot must be coherent and develop naturally. This does not imply that every story must be about the banal and quotidian, only that they must follow the principles of good storytelling.
  4. Finally, the book should work with the strengths and limitations of the comics medium. The comics page itself should be treated as a work of art, and by extension the entire book as a sort of “art object.” Every book on this list needs to say, “this is what comics can do.”

I’ve gone through my personal favorites and put together a list of ten titles. We’ll go through them in descending order. Stay tuned for #10!

Color flatting for Linux!

Hello everyone! If you’re like me, you’ve spent plenty of time thinking, “I wish Linux had an automated color-flatting tool.” Well, your days of wishing and hoping are over, because I have produced exactly the tool you’ve been wishing for. Behold:
pyflatter

For more information, check out the PyFlatter page, or just go download it on GitHub. Enjoy!

Media Summation: 2017

Books, movies, games and more! If you were wondering how I spent my time in 2017 (when not going to work, drawing comics, or attending to the minutiae of life), you’ve come to the right place! Read on for recommendations, reviews, and the trophies of badness. See the bottom of the post for a complete listing (entries with stars are recommended, skull and crossbones to be avoided).

Best Fiction of 2017

It’s Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato! I enjoyed Lodato’s debut novel, Mathilda Savitch, a few years ago, and this second book was well worth the wait. The book weighs in at over 500 pages, but I breezed through it in a matter of days. The characters are profoundly developed, the plot perfectly timed, and the prose beautiful. It was everything I look for in a great novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Fiction runners-up!

  • A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Oates as usual has created a monumental novel that holds together from beginning to end. A fascinating story with many unpredictable turns, and possibly the most brilliant ending I’ve seen this year.
  • Blue Angel by Francine Prose. Prose is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, and this book in particular held me rapt for several days. Strong characters and a plot in which the pressure just keeps increasing.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This book is disqualified from any trophies because I’ve read it once before, but on this second reading I found it even more brilliant than it was the first time. Do give it a try if you’ve not read it before.
  • Honorable Mentions: The Dinner by Herman Koch. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall. The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.

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BoMC: Holes

I can’t recall why I first picked up Holes. I was mostly a reader of science fiction and fantasy, and didn’t typically read a book just because it had a medal on its cover. I was never quite sure whether I liked it, even, though I did read it several times. What really kept me engaged with it, I think, was a sense that it was deeper, more profound, than other books I’d read.

Holes

Holes, written by Louis Sachar, is the story of one Stanley Yelnats, a kid who is sent to a hellish camp for juvenile delinquents, Camp Green Lake. His crime: he unknowingly stole a pair of sneakers that were meant to raise money for a homeless shelter. This miscarriage of justice he ascribes to his family’s history of bad luck, brought on by his “no-good dirty-rotten pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.” While initially played for laughs, this detail, like most details in Holes, becomes highly significant to the plot. Stanley’s story, and the story of his ancestors, are joined tightly together in a multigenerational jigsaw puzzle.

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BoMC: The Andalite Chronicles

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I read a lot as a kid. I went through dozens of books and pillaged the library on a weekly basis. There were, however, a few books that attracted my attention more than others, books I read over and over again. This is series is about re-reading those books as an adult. Are they good? Are they bad? Are they weird? Let’s find out!

Most of my friends were readers to some degree or another, and we all read Animorphs. No wonder: it was so popular in the late nineties as to be practically inescapable. The series was written by Katherine “K.A.” Applegate, who in more recent years was honored with the Newbery Medal for her book The One and Only Ivan. As such, her credentials as a writer should be beyond question, yet still I expected to be less than enthralled by Animorphs when revisiting it as an adult. After all, even as a kid I read less than half of the fifty-plus volumes. But there was one book in the series that captivated me more than any other: the prequel, The Andalite Chronicles. If there was anything great about Animorphs, I’d find it there.

The Andalite Chronicles

The premise of the series: there are two warring alien species. There are the noble Andalites, centaur-like creatures who have perfected a shape-shifting technology; and the evil Yeerks, a race of space-slugs that have the ability to take over other creatures’ bodies. In the Animorphs series, the Yeerks have begun a covert invasion of Earth with the intention of enslaving the human race, and a mortally wounded Andalite gifts the “morphing” technology to a group of children. These kids, the titular Animorphs, thus become the last hope of humanity. But our story today isn’t about the Animorphs at all. It’s about the Andalites.

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What Happens In… The Dark Knight Rises

Batman vs. Bane

The Dark Knight Rises returns to the story of Bruce Wayne, already in progress after a minor interruption involving an evil clown who robs banks. The film opens with a scientist being kidnapped by… somebody. The somebody takes the scientist onto his plane along with a few hostages, but little does he know that one of the hostages is a mask-wearing man called Bane. Bane is to be the Mega Bad Guy of the film, and like most Mega Bad Guys he can do anything, regardless of how implausible it is, so he naturally has his own cargo plane and uses it to kidnap the scientist himself and destroy the somebody’s plane.

Meanwhile, Gotham has actually lived up to its status as the world’s best city by totally eradicating crime. Now if you do so much as run a red light you can be locked up for life, no questions asked. However, Commissioner Gordon is not so sure this is a good idea, but he’s not going to be a party pooper.

Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, is moping because without crime he doesn’t know what to do with himself. His mope is cut short when a Mysterious Woman steals a necklace that belonged to his mother. Uh-oh, crime! That gets Bruce’s attention real good.

In order to recover the necklace, Wayne traces her to a high-society bash, where he also meets a woman with a foreign accent. Nobody else in this film has an accent, so this is probably indicative of Deep Evil. Wayne doesn’t think of that, though, and for some reason he trusts her so much that he turns over control of Wayne Enterprises to her.

Bane, like most villains, has a deep grudge against The World’s Best City, and he strikes where it will hurt the most: the Department of Public Works! This is actually a surprisingly good plan. He also attacks the stock exchange, which is a less good plan, but leads to a motorcycle chase. Vroom!

Wayne Enterprises has, of course, continued its campaign of building dangerous weaponizable energy sources. This time around it’s constructed a fusion reactor that can be made into an atom bomb with minor modifications. (A job for the kidnapped scientist! Did you forget about him?)

When Bane finds out about this, he steals it and threatens to blow up Gotham! In the meantime his army of mercenaries (volunteer mercenaries, the worst kind!) sacks the city and force rich people to walk on thin ice.

Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, got in a fight with Bane that landed him in a prison somewhere in the Middle East. It is a literal hole in the ground which light cannot penetrate, and yet it is very well-lit. While Wayne is in the prison, he finds out that the Influential White Guy lives on in spirit… he had an offspring who is even now behind the plot to destroy Gotham! That guy just can’t give it a rest.

Soon, Wayne escapes from the foreign prison and gets back to Gotham by… by… I guess he learned to teleport himself while he was in there. Anyway, he gets back to Gotham in time to find out that Foreign Accent Woman is not only in league with Bane, but she is the offspring of the Influential White Guy! She tries to blow up the city, but it’s not going down without some vehicular action. Vroom!

So the whole crew pulls together: Wayne, Gordon, and Mysterious Woman manage to strap the bomb to Wayne’s Bat-Copter and Wayne flies it away just in time for it to blow him up… or does it?

Soon things are back to normal in Gotham despite having been the site of the most horrific terrorist coup in American history. Wayne’s mansion is turned into a Dickensian orphanage. And Bruce Wayne, who did not die, elopes with the Mysterious Woman. God bless us, every one!

BoMC: Homer Price

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I read a lot as a kid. I went through dozens of books and pillaged the library on a weekly basis. There were, however, a few books that attracted my attention more than others, books I read over and over again. This is series is about re-reading those books as an adult. Are they good? Are they bad? Are they weird? Let’s find out!

Robert McCloskey is best known as the Caldecott-winning author/illustrator of the classic picture books Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, but he also wrote a series of short stories for older readers featuring a character known as Homer Price.

Homer Price cover

Homer Price was a staple of my family’s read-aloud collection. My parents must have read it to us cover to cover at least three or four times. The book was originally published in 1943, and this copy, which came from my dad’s childhood collection, is from the fourth printing, in 1966. The book remains in print to this day. That the book has stuck around for so many decades is a testament to the universal appeal of the stories.

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