Two spectacularly haunting new works of fiction share a frightening and resonant premise: a world in which sleep is disappearing. Insomnia has a storied history, of course, but what seems strikingly timely about the sleeplessness imagined by Karen Russell’s novella Sleep Donation and Kenneth Calhoun’s novel Black Moon is its epidemic dimension. Possibly the dourest among the academic Cassandras warning of disaster is Jonathan Crary, whose 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep offers a scathing critique of the new temporal order represented by the ideal of continuous availability.More
In some respects, the current cinematic reboot of Annie is a hopeful sign that our culture is growing less wedded to whiteness as an aesthetic ideal. For many reasons, however, the fact that a black Annie has arrived on the scene at this particular cultural moment seems to me cruelly ironic.More
“Funny Animals” is a genre of comics that is, like most things in comics, inappropriately named. Just as “comics” are quite often not comic and “graphic novels” are rarely novels, “funny animals”—comics featuring anthropomorphic animals—are only occasionally funny. The genre played a significant role in early comics history in the US, and continues to thrive in other parts of the world. Now we are lucky to have a number of classic funny animals comics being reprinted even as contemporary riches in the genre make their way across the ocean to us.More
Why would a society presented with evidence that it is poisoning itself continue to do so? This is the question driving an ingenious new work of speculative fiction by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization, a surprising sequel to their scholarly best seller Merchants of Doubt (2010).More
Wondering how your life has changed over the past two decades? Just rummage through your email for old autoresponds. “Out of office” referred to unlucky politicians until the 1970s, when UNIX began to host vacation messages. Then, delays were counted in weeks; now, warnings that “Professor Price will be out of office from 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 3, to 8:15 a.m. Thursday, September 5” compete with confessions that “Over the vacation I will be checking email only once a day; apologies for delays.”More
In the years following the decline of the underground comix movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, comics has seen a hard shift towards realism. Even superhero comics have over the past two generations alternatively highlighted psychological realism and everyday life beyond the mask. The three books discussed here, on the contrary, enthusiastically take up the possibilities of the comics form to fully inhabit a world of dreams, magic, and transmogrification.
Comics and food have a longstanding relationship, most spectacularly in a unique genre known in Japan, its country of origin, as ryôri manga, or cooking comics. These are comics entirely devoted to food—its preparation, its appreciation. Today we can find food comics in France and the US, but this is a genre that traces its roots back some 30 years to the first installment of the Japanese series Oishinbo (The Gourmet), in which a young food critic is given the assignment of identifying the perfect menu.More
With the increasing visibility of diary comics and long-form autobiographical comics in the 21st century, we see a widespread critical assumption that young cartoonists are only capable of telling stories about themselves.More
I often joke that everything I know about Israel I learned from comic books. As a secular Jew with deep ambivalence about Israel, this quip has served as a shield against being engaged on the topic by friends and colleagues on either side of the Zionist divide.More
I spent a good portion of 2010 playing the Cassandra, mongering doom and gloom about the heat death of the alternative comics universe. What a difference a couple of years make.
Last year, a significantly revised fourth edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics appeared, covering 110 nations, regions, and languages, and with 250 new entries on subjects ranging from “boustrophedon” (bidirectional texts) to “hip-hop poetry” and “anthem, national.” Since the PEPP has long been a resource for poets and poet-critics as well as scholars, Public Books asked poets to respond to individual entries in this new edition in verse and prose.More
If there is a comics geek in your life (or if you happened recently to mention to family or friends a passing interest in “graphic novels”), this holiday season you are likely to find yourself the recipient of a beautiful but mystifying object: Building Stories. But don’t worry, we here at Public Books can help: just follow these simple steps!More
Two recent books serve as potent reminders of the ongoing historiographic obsessions of graphic narrative. Leela Corman’s Unterzakhn and Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain are both ambitious historical graphic novels that return to early periods of New York history. Using strikingly different visual styles and narrative techniques, both create deeply haunting fables that, like much of the best historical fiction, resonate with questions and challenges of our present moment.More
It has been a good fifteen years now since our cultural gatekeepers collectively patted themselves on the back for having discovered that comics were “not just for kids anymore,” and in that time several remarkable achievements in the form have found their way into the critical spotlight. But for every Persepolis and Fun Home that has become the focus of such attention, the last generation has also seen dozens of major works of graphic literature largely ignored by those who do not buy their books in stores with names like “The Laughing Ogre” or “Forbidden Planet.”More
House of Holes, Nicholson Baker’s celebrated return to dirty fiction, conjures an alternate sexual universe, where a broad range of heterosexual men and women (and one detached male body part) find deep, gushing satisfaction with one another, largely unconstrained by the anxieties, frustrations, and misunderstandings that bedevil modern sexuality. Slipping out of their unfulfilling lives through overlooked circular openings in their immediate surroundings, Baker’s characters find a world where good will abounds, no sexual predilection is disparaged, jealous resentments recede, and everyone goes home happy.More