Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is Canadian animator Guy Delisle‘s cartoon diary of his stay in North Korea while working in an animation studio. While other books focus on North Korea’s history, leadership, or place in international politics, this one examines with dry humor and sharp wit the day to day experience of living as a foreign guest worker in Pyongyang, and the tension between what is there, what visitors are allowed to see, and what everyone is allowed to say. The huge fake smiles plastered on the faces of the accordion girls – the illustration chosen for the cover – mirrors the ongoing theme of this bizarre masquerade.

Delisle’s style is classic cartoon, with clean line art and caricature, and he uses it to best effect, telling his story – presented as a series of vignettes – directly, effectively, and with great clarity and force. While other presentations of the same material could come off as heavy-handed or unrelievedly grim, Delisle manages the mood with a keen eye for the absurd, and pitch-black humor.

This often-surreal travelogue benefits from the distance of the author’s outside perspective, a remove that allows for humor and wit. Despite this, Pyongyang remains good-natured and compassionate, as well as insightful and entertaining. If you’re looking for a short but incisive and genuinely funny perspective on life in North Korea (at least the parts foreigners are allowed to see) this is the book for you.

Formats Available:  Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Upcoming Author Talks at LFPL

Bestselling author and historian

H.W. Brands

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Main Library, Monday, June 15, 7 p.m.

Join bestselling author and historian H.W. Brands for a discussion of his latest book Reagan: The Life. Brands teaches history and writing at the University of Texas at Austin. #LFPLAuthors

This is a free event, but tickets are required – click here.


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

David Hoffman

hoffman

Main Library, Thursday, July 21, 7 p.m.

Join Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist David Hoffman for a discussion of his latest book The Billion Dollar Spy. Hoffman is a contributing editor at The Washington Post. #LFPLAuthors

Tickets available starting June 1, 2015.


Miss an author event, or just want to enjoy a presentation again?

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Authors at the Library
Welcome to LFPL’s “At the Library” series, an ongoing podcast featuring author talks, programs and events at the Louisville Free Public Library.

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In Defense of Comics, pt. 3

I had originally intended this segment to be a discussion of how comics can be differentiated from other visual arts but points in my original post have generated some very good questions from readers that should be addressed first.

The questions all refer back to the following statement:

“Comics are not just for kids and never really were except for those with some deep investment in an arbitrary highbrow/lowbrow distinction. This distinction is one based on historically constructed relations that give privilege to very debatable aesthetic principles.” (Buchanan, 2014)

You’ll notice that this paragraph is – primarily – composed of two assertions, one about the appropriateness of comics to any particular age group and another about the standards for judging a form of art.  The latter point also expressly questions such standards based on an – ancillary – investigation into how such standards are derived (or rather, constructed).  Implied in the standards are further questions regarding the nature of this “authority” (i.e., what fits a certain category of art, who can or should enforce standards for the categories, etc.).

Let’s look at the first assumption, often expressed by critics of comics as some variation of “comics are just for children,” and how it fails to hold up as something other there than a pat dismissal of the art form.

For the sake of discussion, let’s define comics quickly as publications that tell stories with pictures on paper using pencil and/or ink that may or may not incorporate words.  It’s not the only – or even best – definition but it conforms well to the general understanding of what makes a comic.  In the West, broadsides and their descendants, mass publication newspapers, have included such stories – either editorial or entertaining – in some form since the 18th Century.

These information outlets have hardly been within the purview of children in that time.  Other than following the comics page, children have used newspapers mostly for mandatory research into a current or historical event for class.  With the rise of the Internet, even the modern media-savvy child is less likely to read the printed newspaper than ever before.  Further, children’s input into mass publication newspapers has rarely extended beyond the comics page.  Only a few features such as comics page war-horse Slylock Fox have solicited input from and encouraged participation by kids.

Mass publication newspapers are owned by, created by, and published for adults.  As cartoons (and comic strips) have been a staple of newspapers for over 200 years, it would indicate that they are deemed appropriate for adults.  The function of the comic strip was to leaven serious publications with some light-hearted fun, helping to increase circulation.  It is this aspect of joviality that gave the comic its name, separating it from the more serious (in intent) “cartoon.”

The evolution of the comic strip to the comic book was tied to the fortunes of the newspaper in the era between the First and Second World Wars.  The earliest comic books were simply republications of strips in a different format.  The first monthly comic book, Comics Monthly, was published in 1922. It lasted for 12 issues and reprinted various comic strips from 1921. During the Great Depression, publishers even created comic books for give-away just to keep their very expensive printing presses running.

Traditional comic books have been consumed by adults continuously since 1920’s.  During World War II, about 44% of servicemen read comics regularly and another 13% read them occasionally. (Gordon, 1998, p. 139)  According to the U.S. War Department, comics accounted for approximately 25% of all printed materials sent overseas to soldiers in 1944. (Gordon, 1998, p. 140)  Figures for comic book readers over the years are notoriously hard to pin down but adults have become the dominant demographic as generations of comic fans have grown older and continue to read them.

So why were comics supposedly just for children?

Looking back to the period before World War II when this cultural attitude took root, the newspaper was often considered a lower form of information than literature or scholarly studies.  It was literally disposable.  Comic strips – one of the least important features – were especially ephemeral, viewed by many as nothing that an adult would think twice about.

Even the stand alone comic book was thought to be a cheap publication akin to pulp magazines rather than a proper book.  The lurid or gaudy figures that dominated comics in those days – private detectives, action adventurers, funny animals, and superheroes – were deemed inappropriate for “literature.”  The stories were seen as less coherent and less meaningful, as something that appealed to the under-developed tastes of children.

Further comics were under attack during the late 1940’s to early 1950’s.  The attacks were part of a general paranoia about the rising demographic of the “teen” and its potential delinquency.  It culminated in the Comics Code Authority, a self-regulating board for the comics industry, which enforced a series of rules which guaranteed that comics in the U.S. would be suitable for children.  Unfortunately, the industry was also stifled from developing for many years, so much so that mainstream comics ended up reinforcing the idea of the art form being “just for children.”

How this all changed is something for another article, though.

If you would like to talk about comics further, please join us for the Graphic Novel Discussion Group at the Main Library. The next meeting will take place tomorrow, May 11th, at 6:00 PM.

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Works Cited:

Buchanan, A. (2014, September 25). In Defense of Comics. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://blogs.lfpl.org/readers/734/

Gordon, I. (1998). Comic Strips and Consumer Culture, 1890-1945. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

 Article by Tony, Main Library

Redeployment by Phil Klay

redeploymentGerman philosophy Peter Sloterdijk talks about books as “thick letters to friends.”  Phil Klay mentions this in his acceptance speech for winner the recent National Book Award winning title for Redeployment.  Drawing from the front line of serving in the Marines during a 13 month deployment, Klay follows the life of one soldier on the front lines serving with his troop and the daily routine of survival in the Anbar Province where the Islamic State is attempting to takeover currently. Filled with grit, laughter, sadness, and contemplation, this work lured me in to keep on reading in attempting to understand how one individual attempts to resettle after being deployed in to another country.

Readers, who may suspect the story being filled with horrid violent scenes and moments of combat, will be disappointed as the real battle not only exists amongst the time away from the United States but in answering the question of “Who am I as a human being?”  While listening to book in my vehicle and having to keep it for a longer than the average 2-3 weeks, I contemplated on what personal challenges have I dealt with where the soldier survived to tell.

Formats Available:  Large Type, Audiobook, Regular Print, Book Discussion Kit, and Downloadable EBook.

Reviewed by Micah, Shively Branch

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If this title pleasures your literary mind, here are some titles similar in first person point of view and military orientation that you can check out from the Library.

the things they carriedYellow Birds

 

Facing Adversity: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

 

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“Let me embrace thee, sour Adversity
For wise men say it is the wisest course.”
– King Henry, Henry VI, Part Three, Act III, Scene I, William Shakespeare

Have you at any time considered your conduct should the thing you most value be taken from you, a loss that would throw in to doubt both present and future? Whether you have or not, please take a moment to carefully ponder this notion. What is it you imagine, I wonder? Bitterness, hope, resentment, or religiosity? No matter our station in life, one thing is certain: we will at some point encounter adversity, and it is at this moment that our true nature is revealed.

It is just such a scenario faced by the protagonist of Gabrielle Zevin’s latest work of fiction, A.J. Fikry, who is the young proprietor of a small business located in a charming purple Victorian cottage whose front porch sign invites:

ISLAND BOOKS
Alice Island’s Exclusive Provider of Fine Literary Content since 1999
No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World

From the start, it seems clear what A.J.’s choice is. However, fate has a way of thwarting the most carefully laid of plans, and A.J. finds himself with a unique challenge when returning from a run he discovers a baby girl alone among the few children’s picture books he stocks.

As the story progresses, the reader is drawn into the small community on Alice Island, a simple ferry ride from the coast of Massachusetts. Plagued in the past by slow traffic, business begins to increase due to the sudden youthful addition to Island Books, allowing A.J. the opportunity to share his literary expertise and to affect the lives of his fellow islanders through the power of literature.

A.J., a non-native of the island, was once considered an outsider and now finds himself creating connections and finding an acceptance that was previously neither sought nor bestowed. Book discussion groups multiply at the bookshop, with the local police chief’s, named the Chief’s Choice, becoming especially popular. A.J. navigates a variety of sticky situations, from a visit by an drunken author/Santa Claus impersonator to a sister-in-law married to a local celebrity infamous for his philandering, all the while admirably playing the hand that he was dealt.

Ms. Zevin has written an engaging book that presents the reader with an investigation of that very old concept of adversity and the role that fate can play, all through the framework of a very believable character, A.J., a person who, when first encountered, appears an unremarkable curmudgeon, but, in the end, is quite the opposite.

come on, sweetheart
let’s adore one another
before there is no more
of you and me”

– Rumi (Epigraph of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

Ghosts By Daylight: Love, War and Redemption

Until I read Janine Di Giovanni’Ghosts By Daylight: Love, War and Redemption, I never considered the emotional toll journalists endure to bring us stories from the world’s conflict zones.  It turns out that giving a voice to the voiceless, as Di Giovanni calls her work, carries a heavy price.

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A veteran journalist who currently serves as Middle East editor at Newsweek, Di Giovanni routinely shares first person accounts of wartime suffering and violence that are often difficult to read. After reading her memoir I believe she would say that if she didn’t include details of the abuse the powerful inflict on the powerless, she wouldn’t be doing her job. If you’re hesitant to read about how humans torment other humans in wartime, be assured that Ghosts by Daylight is less about the atrocities of war than it is about how journalists cope with having witnessed them.

In her memoir, Di Giovanni describes her decision in her early 40s to leave her life in war zones behind, at least for awhile, to start a family in Paris with a French war photographer and love of her life. While one would expect her to experience relief at finally getting out of the insecurity of war and into a comfortable Parisian life, the reality is that human beings, like the conflicts we create with each other, are much more complicated. From her apartment in one of Paris’s quietest districts, she describes hoarding food, water, antibiotics and drafting an evacuation plan in case the city was ever under siege. When recounting her actions, she recalls that she never worried about being able to take care of herself, but the idea of being responsible for her infant son in a situation like the ones she has seen in the field gave her overwhelming anxiety.  Di Giovanni never felt afraid when she was dodging snipers in Sarajevo or negotiating with drugged and armed child soldiers in Cote d’Ivoire. Instead the realities and responsibilities of parenthood triggered the debilitating terror for which she had never gotten treatment.

Di Giovanni cites the disproportionate number of war correspondents who experience depression, substance abuse and suicide, all suggestive of untreated PTSD.  Whether symptoms strike at the work site or after returning home, the consequences can be deadly. She describes PTSD manifesting itself in reckless behavior, like her colleague who had once driven around Sniper Alley in Sarajevo with his car spray painted: Don’t waste your bullets; I am immortal.  Attributing her actions to the overconfidence of the survivor, she once argued with a soldier who had a weapon pointed at her heart to let her companion, a rebel who was surely to be executed, go free. After years of running into dangerous situations and not knowing where she would sleep each night, she came home to find that the danger she had evaded in the field felt as close and menacing as ever.

War correspondents make a career of helping us understand what it’s like to live in the absence of safety. Janine Di Giovanni’s memoir of living with PTSD offers a glimpse of how journalists experience that insecurity long after their assignment is over.

I first encountered Janine Di Giovanni’s work in Best American Travel Writing 2014. Her essay on covering the Bosnian War was so engrossing that I pursued her other works, including a piece about Syria in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014. To find her thought-provoking and candid coverage of conflict zones all over the world, search for her name in the library’s EbscoHost Academic Search Complete  database.

Her new book, Seven Days in Syria, is due out this summer.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee (Builder) Williams

 

 

…I stumbled into a new sort of “happiness,” one that didn’t hinge on always getting what I want, but rather, on wanting what I have. It’s the kind of happiness that isn’t tied so tightly to being comfortable (or having money or property), but instead is linked to a deeper sense of satisfaction—to a sense of humility and gratitude, and a better understanding of who I am in my heart.”  – Dee Williams, The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir

We all have those days that are just overwhelming and make us want to escape for a little while. Whenever the struggle of the daily grind starts to stress me out, I begin to fantasize about selling all my worldly possessions and cramming my life into a tiny house by the sea, or in the mountains…or movable between the two. That’s why I was immediately drawn to The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir, by Dee Williams.

When faced with the reality of struggling to exuberantly live while suffering from congestive heart failure, Dee Williams philosophizes on how much lighter our metaphorical loads would be if only we could literally lighten our physical loads. She challenges herself to take control of her life by simplifying her living space through building a tiny house she then transports from her home in Seattle to Olympia, Washington. Williams takes the reader along on her personal journey through an honest portrayal of the challenges and successes she faces as she builds her new home and adjusts to a new life in her friends’ backyard. Through her conversational tone and humorous self reflections she details the realities of her drastic life change, resulting in a really heartfelt memoir. Although this book does not quite prepare the reader to follow her path to pair down your possessions to merely 305 items and commit to living in a structure you’ve created with your own hands, Williams’ story is inspiring and has drastically increased my perusal of tiny house materials available within LFPL.

For further proof that tiny houses can actually be built and inhabited by the average person check out the documentary Tiny: A Story About Living Small. This beautifully rendered independent film is an extremely honest portrayal of the struggles of the physical process of creating a tiny house as well as the interpersonal conflicts of convincing others in your life that this is a worthwhile pursuit.

 

If you’d like to lust after some well-appointed tiny houses in a beautiful, appropriately tiny, coffee table book check out Mimi Zeiger’s Tiny Houses.

 

To see some examples of small houses throughout history, including Henry Thoreau’s cabin, as well as some modern addaptations check out Lester Walker’s Tiny Houses: Designs for 43 Tiny Houses for Getting Away From it All. This book not only includes beautiful photos, but also some historical background and design sketches of each house featured.

If you’d like a bit more exploration of the philosophy behind the “tiny house movement” and logistical considerations for the planning phase of actually building your own tiny house Ryan Mitchell’s Tiny House Living: Ideas for Building & Living Well in Less the 400 Square Feet is a good place to start.

Those brave souls who may actually live the dream and build their own tiny house should consult Jay Schafer’s DIY Book of Backyard Sheds & Tiny Houses: Build Your Own Guest Cottage, Writing Studio, Home Office, Craft Workshop, or Personal Retreat for a glimpse at some practical and executable designs with tons of helpful tips on the actual building process.

 

Format: Book (Regular Type)

Reviewed by Magen, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch 

 

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

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It’s the year 2788.  Through space exploration and terraforming, other worlds now have become home for many humans.  Freedom to travel (“portal”) from one world to another within a cluster of settled planets, each with its own culture and distinctive life styles, have caused prejudices that are hard to overcome.  For those living on Earth, it has become a world that exists for only two reasons.  One is to study our past history in search of knowledge lost during wars, the Exodus, and solar storms that wiped out thousands of databases.  The second is as home to those who are handicapped.

Jarra’s eighteenth year is coming up, she has just completed school and is looking forward to entering college to become an archeologist studying pre-history.   Jarra, an Earthling, is one of the handicapped.  She is what off-worlders call an “ape,” a throw-back.  Because of her faulty immune system, leaving Earth would be a death sentence.  Over the years, vids have been a window into other worlds and their inhabitants.  She has learned the hard way that many “exos,” those who exited Earth for other worlds, see the handicapped as lesser beings.  In turn  Jarra has set up defensive walls and has difficulty overcoming her  hard feelings towards the off-worlders when she has to interact with them.

Since she was eleven Jarra has worked on excavation digs, crumbling ruins of cities left behind hundreds of years ago.  She has gained much knowledge and skills needed to excavate artifacts of old Earth, its history, environment , the ruins left behind.  It will be sorely needed in the months to come.  Jarra is tough, smart and wants to prove that she, an “ape”, is just as good as those who can move freely from one planet to another.  Living and working side by side with a group of “exos” shows Jarra that seeing only one side of a person doesn’t tell the whole story.  This dystopian world has friendship, romance, interplanetary exploration, action and adventure all wrapped up in a burlap sack of tolerance towards others.

Earth Girl gives us some background for this dystopian world and a smattering of what it might be like to search out and live on other worlds.  It’s a coming of age sci-fi tale with characters that can get under your skin and make you wonder what you would do in a particular situation.  It is an older teen book with some sexual content, not graphic, and verbal abuse, name calling mostly.  Conflicts don’t just completely go away but you can see how changes might take place. There is some repetitiveness in the story but it captures teen viewpoints well and points out adults can learn, too, if they take time to talk with teens.  All in all a good read for older teens and some adults.

This is the first in a trilogy, followed up by Earth Star and Earth Flight.

The author, Janet Edwards, has written several short stories about the characters in the books that you might also want to read. They are all free at her website.

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch

Alexander McCall Smith is coming to LFPL

AMS

New York Times bestselling author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

Alexander McCall Smith

Main Library, Thursday, April 9, 7 p.m.

Join author Alexander McCall Smith for a discussion of his latest book Emma—a retelling of Jane Austen’s classic story, with a modern-day twist. #LFPLAuthors

This is a free event, but tickets are required – click here.


Authors at the Library podcast

Miss an author event, or just want to enjoy a presentation again?

Author Events and Book Talks Around Louisville

The List is a service of the Louisville Free Public Library, spotlighting author events for our partner organizations. For more information please email us.

Events are free unless otherwise noted.


MARCH 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 8:30 a.m.: Tom Rath, bestselling author of Strengths Based Leadership and How Full is Your Bucket?  will give a keynote address at the Best of Leadership Summit at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts at 501 W. Main Street. Learn more online or by calling (502) 561-0458.

Thursday, March 19, 7:00 p.m.: Louisville’s own Tania James will read and sign her newest novel, The Tusk That Did the Damage, at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave.  Learn more online or by calling 502-896-6950.

Tuesday, March 24, 6:00 p.m.: The Kentucky Author Forum presents David Boies, author of Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality.  Boies will be interviewed by Jeffrey Toobin. Toobin is a prominent legal journalist, staff writer for The New Yorker, senior analyst for CNN, and author.  Purchase tickets at the Kentucky Center’s box office or drive-through on Main Street, by calling 502-584-7777 or 800-775-7777, or online.

Thursday, March 26, 7:30 p.m.: Novelist Michelle Latiolais will read from her work in the Bingham Poetry Room, Ekstrom Library as part of the William Axton Reading Series at U of L.  Learn more online or by calling 502-852-6801.

Tuesday, March 31, 7:00 p.m.: Sam Halpern will read and sign his debut novel, A Far Piece to Canaan, at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave.  Learn more online or by calling 502-896-6950.

APRIL 2015

Thursday, April 2, 7:30 p.m.: U of L professor and novelist Paul Griner will read from his work in the Bingham Poetry Room, Ekstrom Library as part of the William Axton Reading Series at U of L. Learn more online or by calling 502-852-6801.

For information about author appearances throughout Kentucky, visit the Kentucky Literary Newsletter.