book reports
August 2015


Shaun Tan

When I got to Springfield for the first time in over a year, many but not all of my favorite people met me and my mom at Gem of India for lunch. I had no plans for what to do for the rest of the day, or really the rest of the month, so after we ate Phil Dickey took me to his house and I hung out with him and Davey for a few hours. While I was there, Phil showed me this comic book, which a fourth grader had recommended to Grace. I read the first few pages and loved it, and a few days later I checked it out from the library using Nikki's library card.

There are no words in this comic, and that silence allows the book and your brain to form a world that's fun to fall into. The art is great. Grids of small panels that look like sepia photos, then you turn the page and there's a full page spread of a surreal cityscape. Strange animals and alphabets, horrible histories, unknown fruits. I can't think of any story that does a better job of portraying the bewilderment and helplessness of being in a new place where nothing is familiar, and also the comfort and friendship that can grow there.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

I was going to buy this at Bookmarx, but then my brother sent it to my kindle. Thanks, Joel; sorry, Josh. A confession: of the many close friends I have had in my life, none have been black. I have read Malcolm and Martin and Baldwin, bell hooks and Howard Thurman, I have made smalltalk with classmates and eaten meals with a neighbor, but in truth I have known very little. If I come from a broken country, I must myself in some ways be broken. Here are some sentences from the book:

A society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.


I had no sense that any just God was on my side. 'The meek shall inherit the earth' meant nothing to me. The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Walbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail. My understanding of the universe was physical, and its moral arc bent towards chaos then concluded in a box.


Why were only our heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in special need of this morality."


These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.


Rainer Maria Rilke trans. Babette Deutsch

Several years ago Philip Bowles either put Rilke's BOOK OF HOURS in my mailbox or put it in his own mailbox for me to pick up. I don't remember what precipitated this, but I remember that it happened. The book was unashamedly earnest, and I thought some of the poems were very dumb, but there were several lines that I loved more than I love most things. Those lines kept reappearing in my mind, and they - plus some lines by Wendell Berry and endless readings of the book of Psalms - are what made me need to start writing my own prayer book.

Last month I wanted to get my own copy of the book, but I ordered this version even though I knew it was very different than the translation I had borrowed from Philip. It's a tiny book, only 43 pages and 19 poems, and smaller than my hand. None of the poems that I remember are included here, but the translation seems better: less formal and maybe more intense, steady natural rhythm and unforced rhyme.


You are the deep epitome of things
that keeps its being's secret with locked lip,
and shows itself to others otherwise:
to the ship, a haven - to the land, a ship.


And if at night one holds you closely pressed,
locked in his prayer so you cannot stray,
    you are the guest
    who comes, but not to stay.



other books I read this month:
SEASONS - Blexoblex
THE ANIMAL FAMILY - Randall Jarrell
SAGA vol. 4 - Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
FAIR PLAY - Tove Jansson
THIS DARKSOME BURN - Nick Ripatrazone