We all know that setting is important to every story but in some books it takes on a life of its own. There are books where the setting feels like an extra character, not just an extra character, a vital character. There are proper terms for these sort of settings, integral setting, symbolic setting, and antagonist setting to name some. If you are seeking authors who know how to create a scene, look no further. Check out these books below.
The Guest Listis set on the wild and isolated Cormorant Island off the coast of Ireland. Guests arrive for the wedding of glamour couple, Julia Keegan and Will Slater but things take a dark turn when a storm starts brewing and guests are left stranded. The setting is eerie with a Lord of the Flies vibe. You can almost feel the dread in the air. The guests and the islands secrets start to come to light and emotions run high in this dark and twisted tale.
Mexican Gothic is set in 1950’s Mexico. Strong-willed, Noemí Taboada travels to the countryside after her father receives a concerning letter from her newly married cousin. Married to a wealthy Englishman, her cousin, Catalina lives in High Place, an estate set high in the hills tucked away from the small village. Catalina’s husband and family are serious and menacing. Noemi works to uncover the cause of her cousin’s illness and strange behavior and in turn exposes deadly family secrets.
The Sun Down Motel takes place in upstate New York. The timeline shifts between 2017 and 1982. Carly Kirk arrives in Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv. Viv disappeared in 1982 while working at The Sun Down Motel and Carly is looking for answers. As part of her investigation, Carly begins working at the Sun Down Motel. She retraces her Aunt’s movements and begins to uncover some disturbing events. The hotel seems to be trying to tell her something important. Will she figure it out before it’s too late?
Ghost Wall takes place in the northern England countryside. Silvie and her family join some of her father’s fellow professors and their students in an anthropological reenactment. The group must live and work as if they are part of the Iron Age, gathering roots and hunting from the surrounding forest and bog. Things take a turn when the group decides to build a ghost wall like those of their ancient counterparts. The spiritual turn provides a perspective into the role of ritual and lore and it’s consuming power.
Tokyo Ueno Stationtakes place at a park in Tokyo, Japan near Ueno Station. It spans from 1964 to 2011 and is the story of Kazu and his life living homeless in the park. In the story Kazu is our ghost guide who leads us through his life, the history of the park and his friends that live in the park with him. Kazu’s story is one of thousands and yet unique to him. The park is both a refuge for those that call it home and a constant upheaval. A National Book Award winner, Miri takes us on a spectral look at the outcast of society.
If you watched the Grammy’s this year, you might recognize this name from the four nominations she brought in for Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song, all in response to her 2020 studio album Punisher. Many parts of Bridgers‘ discography have been put into my personal rotation as of recent and we carry some of them in our system, so I’d like to point out her relatively short career to supplement the buzz around these Grammy nominations. She has put out a lot of work in a short amount of time, but I have a feeling this is only the beginning.
Despite not having as much visibility as her 2020 album, this got plenty of play from the Indie music sphere with over six million views for Motion Sickness. This album lacks the complex production you’ll see on Punisher, but the simplicity is just as effective here and paints a clear image of Phoebe’s intentions that will grow over the years. While still appealing to a wide variety of Indie fans, the Alt-Country inspired rhythms on cuts like “Motion Sickness” will encourage square dancing as much as melancholy. Phoebe writes her songs in the Folk tradition and almost always has a hauntingly gloomy tone with shockingly direct lyrics and an affection for minor resolutions and quiet moments. This record fits snugly into Indie Folk standards like Sufjan Stevens or Elliott Smith and her character is strong enough to remind me of female titan energy found in Fleetwood Mac or Alison Krauss
After Phoebe’s debut album, she joined forces with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to form a supergroup named Boygenius to release a self-titled EP. This term “supergroup” can apply to any project comprised of members that are recognized in other musical outfits, but not every one of them is necessarily “super”. In this case, the term is applied appropriately, presenting a sweet bunch of songs that caters to each of their strengths. When you survey theirsolocareers, genres like “Indie”, “Folk”, and “Rock” will all come up – sometimes exhibiting hybrid combinations of those terms. On this release, they have the support to individually focus on each style and compliment each other to seamlessly weave an elaborate tapestry that takes on a life of its own. Even with such a star-studded cast, this release is humbly bold, patient, and strong.
The following year, Phoebe starts a second supergroup project, this time with the elusive and legendary Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame. Considering the professional gap between these two, I find this collaboration surprising. Conor Oberst is known as a godfather of Indie Folk, producing monumental releases in the genre over his nearly 30 year career. Though Conor is not new to collaborations, his presence is generally seen as a rare blessing, so the fact that Phoebe works alongside him suggests a promise in her style. The duo leans into their Rock tendencies here and produce jaw-droppingly magical moments, like on Sleepwalkin’ and Dylan Thomas. The aura from their chemistry creates a breathtaking environment inhabited by the rare forms of these musicians. If Boygenius distills the hallmarks of each members sound, BOCC illuminates their hidden potential.
The very next year, Phoebe releases an album that is as delicate as it is crushing. Everything is turned up to 11, even when most of it comes in at a whisper. This is still a singer-songwriter record, but the production choices make this a very unique addition to the likes of this style. There is a plethora of blissful soundscapes with loads of electronics and orchestration, but its subtlety still allows Phoebe’s quiet voice the leading role. Phoebe has a lot of personal things to say on this record, but in not too many words and with rich and devastating emotion. The first time I listened to the title track, I replayed it 28 more times to linger on the heart-string it just plucked. Much of this album is brooding but she offsets it with moments of triumph, like on the Grammy nominated single “Kyoto“, making this album more complex than just a sad anthem. This release is brilliant and I’m eager to see what she brings on the next one.
The first time I heard the name “Phoebe Bridgers,” I assumed the music to be another dime-a-dozen dreamy Indie outfit. Especially considering how late her career started, I was sure it was going to be an overplayed sound from the early 2010’s (ex: Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes). Well, I am pleasantly embarrassed to admit that my assumption was foolish and pedantic. Phoebe gives this sector of Indie a lot of life and it’s encouraging me to be more open about other music that falls under this same umbrella. Thanks, Phoebe.
An often overlooked time period, at least in my personal historical fiction reading habits, is the Reconstruction Era immediately following the end of the Civil War, especially as it was for formerly enslaved people living in the American North. Nicole Glover’s debut speculative mystery novel The Conductors is an interesting depiction of that time period, a slow-paced mystery set in a world where Black folks can work magic, and featuring chosen and found family.
Hetty and Benjy were Conductors on the Underground Railroad who are now trying to find their place in post-Civil War society in Philiadelphia’s Seventh Ward, along with some of the people they helped escape from slavery. They are married but it was a marriage of convenience, something they’ve fallen into to allow greater freedom of movement for each of them. Although the magic system isn’t as well explained as it could be at times, I was really enchanted with the use of constellations as the source of the magic’s power, both from a historical perspective as well as the striking imagery it brings to the world. Hetty and Benjy used their magic skills to help them guide other enslaved people to freedom, but magic can be used for evil here too.
When an acquaintance stumbles across the dead body of an old friend and comes to Hetty and Benjy for help, they know they can’t trust the police to pay attention to the murder, much less solve it or prevent others from happening. Hetty and Benjy quickly realize they’ve gotten into something more sinister than they had expected, and have to work together to learn things about their community that some would prefer remain hidden. For those interested in speculative historical mysteries with found family, I strongly recommend checking out The Conductors.
The Conductors includes mention, discussion, and/or portrayal of enslavement, physical restraint, scars, discrimination, bigotry, racism, colorism, murder, infertility, alcohol consumption, drug use as a coping mechanism, war, gun violence, injury, broken bones, drowning, explosions, torture, funerals, death, grave robbing, miscarriage, and crossdressing as a disguise.
The second book in the series, The Undertakers, is due out in November of 2021, but it can be read as a standalone if series aren’t your thing.
On February 22, one of the greatest living men of letters in America died 30 days short of his 102nd Birthday. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a poet, a painter, a publisher, and a bookseller. His City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco was founded in 1953 and is the best known bookstore in America.
In 1956, he publishedHowl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg in his Pocket Poet Series (#4). It resulted in a major obscenity trial that could have resulted with Ferlinghetti going to prison. But he won and censorship was defeated. This case was made into a very good movie, Howl, starring James Franco as Ginsberg.
In 1958, New Directions published Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. It became the all-time bestselling book of poetry in America with over a million copies sold. It is the first book of poetry that I read cover to cover. I highly recommend it. He paints pictures with words.
During the final years of my college experience, A Far Rockaway of the Heart was published. It is a sequel to Coney Island, set 40 years later. So I wrote my final college paper on it. Ferlinghetti was 80, and I thought how much longer can he go on?
He did go on and continued to write, of which I read bits and pieces. Occasionally, the entire book. But then on his 100th birthday, he published a novel, titled Little Boy. I couldn’t wait to get it and I devoured it. Maybe too quickly. So about a week before his death, I was listening to his good friend Bob Dylan’s latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, and one of the long songs reminded me of Little Boy, so I decided to reread it. But a bit slower this time. And then the sad news hit. And now this book took on special meaning to me. So I watched Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for about the 20th time and began reading slowly.
Little Boy is a small book, just 179 pages, and it is unlike any novel that I have read before. Perhaps similar to the few pages that I have read of Finnegan’s Wake. It is really, just one long run-on sentence like a saxophonist holding a long note. It moves and it moves fast. And it really isn’t a novel. It is autobiography mixed with a history of literature and the 20th Century. But it is pure poetry. Only a poet could write these sentences.
Ferlinghetti had a very interesting life. Born the fifth child to a mother who just whose husband had just died. He was taken in by his aunt, later abandoned. He was an orphan for a time but eventually was taken in by a rich family related to the founder of Sarah Lawrence College. They had previously lost their son named Lawrence. It was a family without hugs and kisses, but provided him a good education.
Being a bad boy at times, Lawrence was sent away to a sort of reform school. There he met a boy with two novels in his pockets: The Sun Also Risesand Look Homeward, Angel. He eventually followed the boy, Thomas Wolfe, to the University of North Carolina.
Then WWII came. He was skipper of a submarine chaser and was at Normandy beach. After the war, Lawrence attended Columbia University. He also earned a Doctorate at the University of Paris, where he met George Whitman (future owner of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank). He would remain a lifelong friend until his death in 2011 at age 98.
In 1951, Lawrence moved to San Francisco and opened City Lights in 1953. He took the torch from Kenneth Rexroth, who was the leading Anarchist, dissident poet in San Francisco. And then he changed the world. So this little boy lived to 101 but remained as open minded as a child. He had the bite of an old school Anarchist but always was a Romantic.
RIP Lawrence (3/24/1919-2/22/2021). A life well lived. I hope readers of this review will pursue what he had to say.
If you are familiar with the New York Times Book Review, you may have seen the section where authors and social figures are interviewed about current events or newly released books. Back in April 2021, I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Gibson, a Louisville author and resident. You may remember his contributions to the LEO Magazine years ago talking about food and beer culture in the community or may have checked out one of his published works at the library. Here is my inside chat with Mr. Gibson. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Could you tell everyone a little about yourself?
I am a nerd who loves things like Batman and Star Wars but who also loves sports (especially the Green Bay Packers) and history. I’m very social and tend to make friends easily, yet I am also introverted and enjoy “decompressing” by spending time alone and/or with my dog, Atticus. I also love tacos and sushi.
Growing up, did you know you were going to be an author? Who encouraged you to pursue this profession?
I first wanted to be a comic book artist. I also had a brief time when I thought I wanted to be a Hollywood stunt man. But when I was in the fifth grade, a local TV journalist came to my class to talk to us about journalism. We did a mock news broadcast and I was given the job of being the sports copywriter. I was hooked for good on the idea of being a writer.
How did you first get into writing and what inspired you to write about specific topics?
I took my first journalism class as a sophomore in high school and never looked back, becoming an active member of the school newspaper staff, then going to college for journalism and English. I have kind of gone through phases, and I think this goes back to my wide variety of interests and passions; my focus was to become a sports writer, which is where I started. After a few years of covering sports, I realized it was starting to burn me out on sports, which was something I didn’t want to ruin as a pastime, you know? I ended up writing film reviews, music reviews, restaurant reviews and more feature/people-oriented stuff from there. I also spent a few years trying my hand at horror fiction, which was a passion for me back in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. But I had very little success getting my creative writing into magazines, so that eventually fell by the wayside.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Did you have a favorite author or books that stuck with you the most?
I read a lot of comic books – sorry, graphic novels – but also read the usual stuff. My favorite book from childhood was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It really fed my imagination and showed me a story can really go anywhere you want it to. Later, I went through my sci-fi/fantasy phase (Piers Anthony, anyone?), and I remember reading several books about dogs during my tween years – I have always loved dogs, and love stories when they are cast as the hero. I’m sentimental that way.
What is one thing you enjoy the most about Louisville or the Kentuckiana area?
I love the feeling of intimacy juxtaposed with the many features of larger cities, like pro sports, the dining scene, the museums, the parks. Louisville certainly has its problems, but there’s always a lot to do. I also love the neighborhoods and their interesting and unique histories. And I love patronizing the local breweries. I guess that’s more than one thing, though, isn’t it?
What is your wheelhouse as a reader? Meaning what genres, tropes, themes and such grab your attention to read?
It again depends on mood or phase. I have been reading non-fiction almost exclusively in recent years, from biographies to history to books about actors or TV shows. But as noted, I went through a long stretch in which I was obsessed with horror fiction, especially short fiction. I would go to Hawley-Cooke Booksellers almost weekly to buy horror magazines likeCemetery Dance.
What are you currently reading?
Currently, I’m reading Jerry Seinfeld’s latest book, “Is This Anything?” It’s basically material he never took to stage or to the TV show, so you can just read it in his voice and it’s like you’re at a Seinfeld live show.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, has your writing been impacted in any way?
Yes, although I would never call it writer’s block – I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me, the loneliness and depression I went through when I basically had nothing left to write about – being a restaurant/night life writer in a pandemic is a non-starter, you know? – Just sapped me. Also, my mother was very ill as the pandemic began and she died last year on Mother’s Day. So much about 2020 just killed my energy, and I know I’m not alone. Thank goodness I had my current book project in front of me to look forward to. That one should come out this fall.
Do you have a favorite setting when it comes to writing and/or reading?
I can’t say that I do. I wrote most of my beer history book (“Lousville Beer: Derby City History on Draft”, 2014) at the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings in the Highlands. But my last couple of books I’ve written mostly at home on my couch. I can write anywhere, really, because once I get in “the zone,” I can block out pretty much anything. Well, except for my dog, who sometimes forces his way into my lap to get my attention. Hard to dissuade a 70-pound hound dog.
You are hosting a dinner party and can invite any 3 people regardless if they have passed away or are still living, who would you invite?
Wow. Well, Bart Starr would have to be one. He was an idol for me starting at age 9, and just seemed like such an honorable and decent man. After that, maybe John Lennon. I think it would be fascinating to hear his views on what the world has become today. And the third would be my grandfather, just because of how much I miss him every day and would love to just be with him again. I never knew I could miss someone so much until he died.
What are your top 3 restaurant in the Louisville area both past and present? If someone is going to buy you a meal what 3 restaurants would you pick and why?
These questions are really mean. Ha. I have to say one would have to be the late, great Maido on Frankfort Avenue. I love Dragon King’s Daughter, but Maido was special to me. I used to joke with Toki, the owner that I may as well just sign my paycheck over to her every week. There was also a little short-lived gem I loved called Taste of Jamaica. The owner, Ibuka (who I believe is still making food around town), was just great, and the jerk wings were the best I’ve ever had. Every meal I had there was wonderful. But currently? It goes back to mood. Some days I have to have El Mundo. The Irish Rover gets a lot of my money. Anyplace with a seafood boil, like Storming Crab (yes, I realize it’s a chain). Seviche is magnificent. I really like Jake & Elwood’s, too, and I recently tried I Love Tacos and was pretty blown away. Sorry I can’t pick three, it’s just impossible for me.
You released a book in 2014 called Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft and contributed to LEO Weekly a section about beer, how has the beer culture evolved to the present day? Do you see any new opportunities/businesses in a couple years?
I’m not a brewer or a business man, but breweries remained open during the pandemic, and that tells me there’s still room for growth in Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As long as the beer is good, I think a brewery has a shot to make it. And I love that each of Louisville’s breweries seem to have found its own identity – that tells me there is still opportunity. I still am a firm believer that the breweries that will have the most staying power are the ones that serve their neighborhoods and are able to adapt. And I think the bourbon boom actually does offer opportunities for breweries here in Kentucky that might not exist elsewhere.
What can you tell folks about your book being released in the fall titled, This Used to be Louisville?
It’s a look around the city at places that we generally know as one thing but once were something else. In some cases, it’s a historical place that deserves recognition; in other cases, it’s just some random place in a random neighborhood. For instance, there’s a little Italian restaurant on Frankfort Avenue that originally was a toll house that marked the outskirts of the city at the time. It’s one of the last such toll houses from the early 19th century that still exist in Kentucky. Big picture, I wanted to look at a wide variety of buildings and places to drive home the point that so much has happened in the spaces we regularly frequent or merely drive past on our way to living our day-to-day lives.
Kevin Gibson’s published works that are available at LFPL:
They call him Ruslan, the last human. Rescued from Seraboth by the Myssari, he does not remember his real name. Humanity all but destroyed itself due to violence. The once far-reaching human empire of many worlds eventually succumbed to the Aura Malignance, a contagious infection caused by a biological weapon that was developed by humans, which killed only humans and could not be stopped.
Ruslan has been kept alive by the Myssari for many years as a highly valued and well respected, last human specimen. The Myssari are more honest, kind, friendly, trustworthy and less violent than humans. Ruslan respects those qualities and appreciates their care. Still, he does not control his own destiny. The Myssari wish to preserve the record of human civilization and restore the species while he thinks it is a waste of time and resources. Ruslan believes that humans deserved their fate. He views humans as opportunistic exploiters of just about anything. The Myssari offer to search for any other living humans and to try to find the planet Earth. Together, they travel to several different worlds in search of humans and encounter many obstacles, competing species and a variety of unusual outcomes.
Any reader who lasts through Chapter 8 may wonder why the story is so long and drawn out and may be tempted to quit there. But it gets more interesting fairly quickly. The characters are well developed and this is a good story that has a surprise ending. Relic could be adapted as a very interesting movie.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
During quarantine I became immensely comfortable with my couch and by extension my television. Many hours were lost to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. One series that surprised and delighted me was Dickinson. It is a comedy which follows a young Emily Dickinson as she observes the constraints of gender, society and family in the 19th century. Hailee Steinfeld leads the cast as Emily and her portrayal brings to life the poet whose presumed life choices has overshadowed her poetry. Her poetry, or poetry itself, is the crux of my rambling – after watching an episode I went to my bookshelf to find The Poems of Emily Dickinson so I could read her words again.
I find reading poetry immensely energizing, it brings me great joy, so I leap at the opportunity to share it. Lucky for me a whole month is dedicated to celebrating it; April is National Poetry Month* and this year is the 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, this year’s celebration looks different from past years – there may not be as many public readings or SLAM performances, but you can have your very own poetry reading from the comfort of your couch. You can celebrate the occasion by reading a poem-a-day, picking up a book of poetry from the bookstore or library, or watching famous and local poets perform their work on YouTube.
There are also abundant resources to help you celebrate on Poets.org.
The Library has opened its doors just in time to celebrate, come browse our shelves and discover the world of poetry.
*National Poetry Month was created by the Academy of American Poets; a national, member-supported organization that promotes poets and the art of poetry. The nonprofit organization was incorporated in the state of New York in 1934.
Comics are a medium, one that comes in an many formats. Below is a short guide to the rich variety of these publications.
Album – European comics with larger page size and higher number of pages than comics in the U.S. See Pamphlet
Anime – Animation, for TV or the movies, made in Japan, and for the Japanese market. For more info, see our Manga and Anime FAQ
Animation– A form of film using drawings (and sometimes other techniques) to create the illusion of motion
Asian Comics– Comics are called manga in Japan, manhwa in Korea, or manhua in China. For more info, see our Manga and Anime FAQ
Audio Comics – A form of audio narrative that is structured like a comic when created. Important elements such as action and setting are explained in detail. Sound cues are used to indicate shifts from panel to panel. For people who are not blind, it sounds something like an old-time radio serial
Bande Dessinée (or BD) – French term for Comic Books. They are usually published in the Album format
Bluesies – See Tijuana Bible
Caricature – a drawing style that exaggerates features, particularly of the face, to portray individuals in an easily recognizable manner. Often used in editorial Cartoons
Cartoons (when not animated) – Typically, these are single panel comics of an editorial nature
Chick Tracts – Short Pamphlet with Evangelical Christian themes. This type of comic gained its name from the most prolific publisher of the form, Jack Chick
Comic Art– A form of Sequential Art
Comic Books (or Comics) – The most generally used name for individual issues of comic art; often they are Soft-bound(Comics). See Pamphlet
Comics Strips – Short pieces of comic art to be published in a periodical (such as a newspaper or magazine), most often to be read horizontally
Comics with hand-sewn spines – Comics assembled like a scrapbook
Comics with tête-bêche binding– A rare format for comics wherein two different comics are bound together back to back, each reversed from the other so they share the same spine. Tête-bêche is French for, roughly translated, “head to tail.” These works are sometimes called double books or reversible books
Crossover – The placement of two or more otherwise discrete fictional characters, settings, or universes into the context of a single story. They can arise from legal agreements between the relevant copyright holders, or because of unauthorized efforts by fans. Most of these comics are not part of the canon of any of the original works
Digest-sized (Comics) – Comics which are roughly the size of paperback books
Digital Comics– Comics that are released digitally. They may be Motion Comics or Webcomics
Film Comics – Sometimes known as Cine-Manga or Ani-Manga. Manga works which use illustrations directly found in an Anime rather than original art, and which utilize dialog from that anime
Flipbooks – Comics where each page’s art varies slightly and when flipped creates the illusion of motion
Floppies – See Soft-bound (Comics)
Foldable Comics– Comics that are shaped in some manner (like a work of origami) and are to be read as the shape is unfolded
Fumetti – Italian term for comic books as a whole. Some use this term to designate a specific format using photographs and word balloons (which was very popular in Italy during the 1940’s and 1950’s). In the English speaking world, this specific format is known as the Photonovel
Graphic Adaptations – These are works that use a story from another medium (poetry, movies, or novels are most common) but translate them into a comic format. They may also be called Tie-Ins with relation to a particular current popular work (where they act primarily as advertising for that work)
Graphic Novels – In the purest form, a stand-alone comic of book length with a clear beginning, middle, and end to its story. However, the term is often used interchangeably with Trade Paperback
Hard-bound (Comics) – Publications with a stiff cover (like a book or graphic novel)
Hybrid Comics– Printed comics that are read in tandem with digital content
Illustrated Book – A book with words and pictures but where the story is coherent without the pictures. Contrast with Wordless Comics
Infinite Canvas – A format for comics on a computer wherein the monitor does not replicate the printed page. The screen is seen as a window to a story told in any direction, theoretically ever-expanding. Hyperlinking and touch options may add interactive elements to works
Light Novel – A Japanese publishing format of short stories, liberally interspersed with manga illustrations. Typically, the story is about what would be classified as a novella in the U.S.
Magazines– Serial pamphlets of a larger size than the average comic book in the U.S., often printed on higher quality paper. See Pamphlet
Manga – Comics made in Japan for the Japanese market. In Japan, titles are published first in magazine format as part of a larger anthology. If successful, an individual manga will be reprinted in a collected edition. There are many genres of manga, catering to a wide variety of audiences. For more info, see our Manga and Anime FAQ
Metacomic – In brief, a metacomic is a comic about a comic. The characters are able to take advantage of the comic’s structure to progress in the storyline. Or – if the characters remain unaware of their fictional status, the story itself comments on those structures, conventions of genre, or fan expectations
Mini-comics– Comics which are not professionally published, often having an unusual size. See Zines
Motion Comics –Digital Comics that combine motion, sound, or interactive elements with pictures and words to tell a story. Some feel that Motion Comics are really just a kind of Animation
Pamphlet – A complete publication of generally less than 80 pages stitched or stapled together and usually having a paper cover. There is no particular size requirement, thus Albums or Comic Books or Magazines fit the category of pamphlet if they are not Hard-bound
Phonebook (Comics) – A term for a certain type of collection of previously published comics that is printed on pulp paper and is very thick (like old-fashioned phonebooks). The style was made popular in the 1980’s by Dave Sim when he collected story arcs of his comic, Cerebus
Photonovels – Comics which use photographs rather than drawings. See Fumetti
Picture Book – A book where words and pictures are used to tell a story but where the pictures are of equal value (or are more dominant) in doing so. Most often picture books are for children
Poetry Comics – Comics that use poetic structure rather than the more typical prose style. The term may also be used for Graphic Adaptations of poetic works
Sequential Art – A term defined by Will Eisner as, “an art form that uses images deployed in sequence for graphic storytelling or to convey information”
Soft-bound (Comics) – Single issues of comics with a floppy spine, often stapled in the middle. They are also sometimes called Floppies
Square-bound (Comics) – Publications printed on flexible cardstock that are bound on the side like a book. Known in the publishing industry as a Trade Paperback
Tankōbon– A Japanese term for a book length, stand-alone comic (similar to how Trade Paperback or Graphic Novel are used in English)
Tebeos– Spanish-language term for comic books. In Spain the term is more specific, used to denote a magazine that contains comics
Tie-Ins– See Graphic Adaptations
Tijuana Bible – Sometimes known as Bluesies. Small-sized pornographic comics, often parodies of mainstream comics, that were published from the 1930’s to the 1950’s
Topper – A smaller comic that runs across and/or around the borders of another comic. This was once a popular technique used in comic strips when the size of comic strips and the space allotted to them in the newspaper was much larger than today
Trade Paperback – A book of previously published issues that originally appeared as individual comics. In common parlance, this is often referred to as a Graphic Novel
Treasury-sized (Comics) – Oversized comic books, approximately the size of an unfolded newspaper page
Typography Comics – Comics which play on the graphic element of words to tell a story. They often have pictures to accompany the words
Webcomics– Comics created for and published on the Internet. They may be limited to what is immediately on the screen, hyperlinked to other information, or use the Infinite Canvas format
Webtoons – A style of Digital Comics that originated in South Korea which takes advantage of the Infinite Canvas and which may include animated or audio elements. They are designed to be best consumed on a phone or tablet
Wordless Comics – Stories told using only pictures. Contrast with Illustrated Book
Zines– D.I.Y. Magazines that combine any number of art styles, particularly self-created comics
Warning:This review contains allusions to disordered eating, parental emotional abuse, trauma and PTSD.
With the release in December 2020 of the recent documentary, Audrey, providing a personal glimpse into internationally beloved actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, fans of her activism, her iconic style and her legend will likely find themselves reaching for other works to provide insight and a feeling of closeness to her. I cannot more strongly recommend Robert Matzen’s Dutch Girl, an addicting biography of Hepburn’s adolescence in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands that reads like historic fiction written by your favorite World War II scholar. It is a marriage of emotion and adrenaline, crafted by a historian whose awe of his subject is apparent throughout the work, and in this intimate tribute to the origins of Hepburn’s legacy of empathy and philanthropy, it doesn’t take readers long to see his point.
Meticulously researched and assembled with the care and sentiment of a personal scrapbook, Dutch Girl is a window into Hepburn’s childhood, defined by parents whose Nazi sympathies nearly destroyed her family and contributed to the occupation and abuse of the Netherlands by Germany during World War II. We are treated to the story of a child of respectively absent and dominant personalities in a wealthy, titled family that had already begun to decline by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power, and how far that family had still to struggle. To say young, mild-mannered Audrey (so-called Adriaantje in Dutch) is the perfect perspective for readers to experience life in the Netherlands as it existed under German occupation is an understatement, and Matzen’s detailed yet fluid writing style adds to the sensation that you’re simply reading a novel about a young girl set during this time. As someone for whom ADHD makes focusing on sitting through an entire book difficult, it surprised me how quickly and easily I was sucked in to this wartime account. Even before Matzen compares the two, it’s easy to see through the story of another girl experiencing the same events from a different perspective why Otto Frank initially asked Hepburn to portray his daughter Anne when her famous diary was made into a film.
Dutch Girl sometimes veers away from a focus on Hepburn to describe significant military maneuvers by Allied or German troops and what their operations meant for Velp, the town in which Hepburn’s family relocated to try to survive the war and unwittingly placed her in both extreme danger and as privy to some of its major events in the Netherlands. But these digressions into what the S.S. was also up to at a certain time or Hepburn’s mother’s lineage and what it meant for her rarely feel distracting: Matzen is an experienced biographer who spins his historic narrative with its seemingly-unrelated factual events in an engaging way that you barely mind, and sometimes forget about Audrey Hepburn the fifteen-year-old a bit in the middle of all the excitement. When we steer back to her it is as a palate-cleanser from the adrenaline of an exciting wartime account and the emotional anchor of the book. As Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti notes in his foreword, after reading the biography, “Even I immediately forgot that there would be a happy ending for Audrey. As I read, I realized that bomb, that bullet, that German truck and its load of prisoners could simply be The End.”
We are led with Hepburn on a journey as she witnesses atrocities experienced by Jewish friends and neighbors; experiences her uncle being murdered by the SS in an assassination that would become infamous; volunteers as an errand-runner for members of the Dutch Resistance; and experiences the “Hunger Winter” of 1945 in brutal detail. But these are just the major placeholders between dozens of everyday accounts that fill the book, curated from the few occasions Hepburn ever spoke of the war and from others in her immediate community who gave accounts as well. Matzen’s thoroughness in bringing multiple facets of her experiences to life through others introduces us in depth to figures like Hepburn’s mother, the complicated and flawed Ella van Heemstra, who transitions from an outspoken supporter of Hitler’s genocidal plans to someone who finds her mind changed when it’s her own family impacted, bombed and starved, and her sons are in hiding from the threat of being drafted while she struggles to keep her daughter safe from German soldiers.
We also learn about everyday heroes of the Dutch Resistance active in Velp that Hepburn had links to: especially Dr. Hendrik Visser ‘t Hooft, an illegal-motorcycle-riding, Nazi-evading, charismatic figure in the Resistance for whom Hepburn volunteered at his hospital and who was likely the person through whom she worked with the Dutch Resistance. I have never heard his name in a history class or anywhere else, and I’m sure most people haven’t, but it was just plain fun reading about this everyday hero who used his privilege in his own community to work to safeguard his Jewish neighbors and facilitate efforts to resist fascism, even with Nazis actively marching down his streets. I now have about six books on the Dutch, German and French Resistances lined up to read, and it’s completely his fault.
A wide collection of works documenting the life of Audrey Hepburn as a starlet and later ambassador have been produced, but as the kids say, Dutch Girl just hits different. It tells the story of a complete human whose world was so much more than many know, and relatable at every turn despite taking place nearly a century ago in what likely felt like a completely different world. Artists and performers pushing themselves physically to the limit to pursue their dreams around multiple side-hustles can see themselves in Matzen’s account of Audrey’s post-war struggles, newly arrived in a different country and flinging herself from ballet to theater while still a teenager in order to earn enough money to support herself and her mother. Her complicated, lifelong relationship with food first as a child studying a physically intensive sport, nearly starving along with her entire family on “war rations”, and joyfully, chronically overeating when once again able and describing herself as a “…swollen, and unattractive, as a balloon…” when from a lifetime of photographs we know this to be an untrue perspective on her own body, will resonate with many. Children of domineering parents may recognize the origins of Hepburn’s self-criticism in her mother early on in this account of her childhood, only to be proven right towards the end of the book at Hepburn’s self-deprecating account of her mother’s casual, backhanded insults of her even at the height of her Hollywood career.
While it is impossible for those of us living in 2021 to comprehend the horrors of World War II, it feels almost familiar to read, over a year into pandemic quarantine, of a young girl forced to shelter in a basement with her family, sneaking out for a bit to get some sun in the backyard one day (and almost getting bombed by the war literally playing itself out in her backyard). It feels like a balm, or even a promise, to read about that time in her life when hope was in short supply and then celebrate with her as Matzen describes the final liberation of Velp by Canadian troops with accounts of joyful reunions with long-lost neighbors and families reuniting to rebuild. The war never ended for Audrey Hepburn in many ways that she barely let on in her lifetime, but her actions as a tireless advocate for those devastated by wars and disasters speak more loudly than the quiet interviews that earned her a reputation for mystery ever could.
When I first read a review of Fresh Water For Flowers, I found myself drawn to the protagonist, a woman named Violette Toussaint who tends to a cemetery in modern-day France. Despite the setting (or perhaps because of), I was intensely interested in how the author, Valerie Perrin, would develop this fictional character in such a setting. I was not disappointed.
Initially, the reader learns of Violette’s childhood as an orphan and how she met the love of her life, Phillipe, and while this was engaging, a broken plot was introduced that provided glimpses of the past and present, from varying viewpoints, in which several storylines and additional characters emerged. And it was clear that somehow they were all connected – but how? This drove me to almost frantically read this book, as I became almost desperate for answers to questions that seemed to multiply as the story progressed.
Employing lovely prose, Ms. Perrin examines the lives of characters propelled by pasts and emotions that are simply too powerful to suppress or ignore. What I find incredible is how the author introduced a seemingly simple story and then added layers, which created a wonderful sense of mystery that left the reader guessing until the very end. I suppose, it felt as though one were slowly ascending a plot with uncertainty at its summit that then leads to the other side and a slow descent to resolution – although, resolution in this case is not equivalent to a happy ending.
A best-selling author in her home country of France, Fresh Water for Flowers is the first novel by Ms. Perrin to be translated in to English. Hopefully, this will not be the last.