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Purchased originally due to Junko Mizuno front cover. It does, in fact, have a short Junko Mizuno excerpt, but it turns out to be from Pure Trance, which we already had. If you're not familiar with Junko Mizuno, she's an underground Japanese comics artist who originally became famous for the ongoing serials she drew in the CD booklets of a number of obscure indie bands. Her style is incredibly cute and super-deformed and gothy, and her work is a deliberate series of clashes between style and content. Pure Trance is absolutely the cutest most adorable dystopian matriarchal underground society controlled by thought-police beast-women dressed as nurses who pacify the population with designer drugs ever. In recent years Mizuno has traumatized me by drawing some things for the gone-but-not-forgotten American Shojo Beat, writing the most unnerving official version of Spider-Man ever created*, and designing a My Little Pony, which we own. Every time she does something vaguely family-friendly it becomes even more terrifying. Something of hers in a book called Best Erotic Comics 2009 had the chance of helping recalibrate the universe to more comprehensible proportions, so it was a disappointment when we took the book home, took off the shrinkwrap, and discovered we already had the thing. Therefore the book has sat around for a couple of years, and has now worked its way sufficiently up the backlog that I took a look at the bits of it that aren't Junko Mizuno.

And hey, this is not a terrible comics collection.

Well, with one caveat. It's trying very hard to be inclusive of all flavors of sexual orientation, degree of kink, and what have you, which means that some of the stuff in here is pretty cool and some of it makes me sit there facepalming and wondering why I ever, ever try to read professionally published porn that does not have the word FEMINIST in very large friendly letters somewhere on the dust jacket. (Oh wait. I usually don't.) Seriously there is and I am not making this up a comic in here that is trying to say that everything went to hell in the early 1970s because women started claiming sexual autonomy and so hippie types suddenly got laid less. Given the editorial discussion of which publication dates qualified material for inclusion, I... I think this must have come out in like 2007 at the earliest. GAH.

Fortunately, there are maybe two pieces in the book that give me this reaction, and their total page count compared to the rest of it is very low. But still. Skip the one with the guy who just wants to write summaries of the disgustingly shocking porn movies he watches for some reason-- not witty, not funny, will in fact mentally scar you.

The rest of it: there's some Alison Bechdel, which is excerpted from Dykes to Watch Out For, meaning I also owned it already. There's some adorable Erika Moen from her autobiographical webcomic, which is nice to have in print format, and a beautifully inked and conceptually odd lesbian piece from Colleen Coover (whose Banana Sunday is one of the standards for children's comics, making the revelation that she also draws porn pleasant but not expected). I would not precisely call the excerpt from Jim Goad and Jim Blanchard's Trucker Fags In Denial erotica, but I would call it hilarious. I mean, see title.

However, the best thing in the book is totally and unquestionably Toshio Saeki's incredible series of shunga prints, which I can best describe as what would happen if one of those seventeenth-century sex manuals collided head-on with a-- huh. Okay, for the first time in my life I don't know the English word for something which I can phrase perfectly well in a different language. One of that genre of ukiyo-e print which is a night procession of demons and goblin-types carrying lanterns, only the sort which is more whimsical than horrific, and which has multiple associated prints detailing the individual youkai and showing them doing characteristic things. I had not realized that this was a genre mashup that desperately needed to happen, but it was. I really hope he's done more that weren't in the book, because there wasn't a bake-neko or a kurakasa. Though there was a kappa. Well, several kappas. And the art style is perfect fake-Hokusai. The internet tells me he usually concentrates more on ero-guro, but the stuff here isn't that.

So, although this is even more of a mixed bag than many anthologies, it is as I said not terrible, and it's got a nice selection of comics artists from many different countries, racial groups, and ethnicities. It reads better as comics than as porn, but honestly I prefer that to the other way around. I wouldn't go out of your way to find this, necessarily, but I don't regret taking the time.

* When this image was first released to the public, along with the announcement that this comic was actually happening, Thrud stared at it, blinked, and said in tones of ultimate certainty 'Spider-Man should not eat the Jello'. This is such an inarguable statement that it has been used several times in our household to prevent people from doing extremely stupid things.
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Borrowed from [personal profile] dorothean.

This anthology from 1962 is a bit catch as catch can. Apparently Fadiman had done an anthology of Things Involving Math previously, which did surprisingly well, so he put together this second one, which consequently has a great many random components.

I mean, there's a section of sheet music.

It opens with a chunk of science fiction shorts which use math in some way in their plots, moves through comedic pieces, takes a brief detour into the aforementioned sheet music (the lyrics are about math), and has a sizable quantity of poetry, anecdotes, and aphorisms, all of this interspersed with occasional cartoons.

This means that you get Clarke's immortal 'The Nine Billion Names of God', along with a hunk of Lewis Carroll's not quite so immortal Sylvie and Bruno, along with Bertrand Russell giving a surprisingly numinous description of a mathematician's nightmare in which he is personally introduced to all the numbers, along with a murder mystery in which the solution is arrived at through a simplified version of Boolean algebra. Very much a curate's egg of a book-- the verse is almost uniformly terrible, and I think the cartoons may depend on concepts I do not understand (except a truly brilliant one about the meeting of parallel lines, which I will not attempt to describe). The SF stories depend a bit much on Golden Age conceptions of The Fourth Dimension (cue theremin, please).

But then you get things like the Bertrand Russell. I hadn't known he wrote an entire book of accounts of nightmares that various types of people might have. Based on this sample, it must be truly delightful. And there is, of course, an excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth, which makes me remember that I haven't reread that this year. (For those who may have missed it: the A.V. Club's recent interview with Norton Juster, still alive, still working, still made of total awesome.)

And I like the concept, the approach which says 'I will throw everything I can possibly think of that is Popular Art Associated With Mathematics into this book and we will see what happens'. People are not usually this gonzo about anthology-assembling; I wish they were. It would be interesting.

That said, I only wish the songs were, you know, any good. And apparently we did not have women in 1962, let alone people of color; this is the sort of book in which persons who are not WASP males have not been invented yet, except for occasional WASP females, who are condescended at; you know, that sort of book, the kind which will be vastly surprised in the mid-sixties when it is informed that persons demographically unlike its authors have been present all along and sometimes read things. Still, I liked rather more than half the book, which is a fair average for an anthology, and, as I said, conceptually pleasant.
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The title of this book comes from a character in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: the protagonist meets a woman called Kitty at a bar, asks what Kitty's short for, and it's Afrekete. Their love affair is short and indelible.

That particular episode, in excerpt, forms the first selection here, and the rest of the book is also run through with Lorde, bracketed at the other end by one of her late cancer poems, full of mentions, tributes, references back. In 1995 when this came out her death in 1992 was close, is a very fresh grief on these pages. I've read Zami, but not for a while, and the excerpt here is an amazing reminder of everything good about her work.

The rest of the anthology is also well worth reading. There are names I already knew-- Michelle Cliff, Sapphire, Jewelle Gomez, Jacqueline Woodson-- and names I didn't, Carolivia Herron, Jocelyn Taylor, Jackie Goldsby. There's fiction, both autobiographical and not, and poetry, and essays both memoir and otherwise; there's an interesting work of theory questioning why there weren't any theoretical responses at the time to the whole scandal surrounding Vanessa Williams when she was Miss America; there's a lot about relative skin tone here, what it means to be lighter, or darker, or to pass, and what that can do to a relationship between women. There's naturalistic work and not-quite-naturalistic work and one piece that is outright sfnal. There are looks at the interface between black gay culture and black lesbian culture, fraught or welcoming as the case may be.

My favorite piece is probably Carolivia Herron's 'The Old Lady', which anchors memory and place together in prose so perfectly wrought I want to frame it and hang it on a wall. The titular old lady walks around her town every day, and every step of it is a different recollection of a lover or a not-quite lover, and it shouldn't work and it works from start to finish.

My second favorite piece is Jocelyn Taylor's 'Testimony of a Naked Woman', a memoir about organizing a lesbian dance night with the money earned stripping at a Mafia-owned nightclub. Taylor is fascinated by the interface of politics and the body, power and empowerment, and uses theory in ways I haven't seen while never getting tangled up in jargon. (I am also made curious by one of her questions: why has the women's movement never seriously attempted political action towards the goal of allowing women to take their shirts off in public, as men can? Because it hasn't, and I would love to see some more untangling of the reasons, good and bad, why not.)

This is in some ways a very nineties anthology, a snapshot of that time: the theory is mostly second-wave, the theory of the seventies, and many of the writers here came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and are comparing political present experience with directly lived political memory in a way I don't think younger writers could. So this holds value for me in that way, too, that it's more than fifteen years old and some of the issues that get talked about a lot have changed and many haven't.

And it has also done pretty well in the recommending-writers-I-hope-to-find-more-of department, and for all these reasons I am glad of it. I should mention, mind you, that anyone who is triggered or bothered by mentions of fairly extreme violence or sexual violence should go into this braced, and tread lightly, especially with Cynthia Bond's 'Ruby', which is amazing but will jump up and down on any vulnerabilities a reader may have in that direction.
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Obligatory disclaimer: An advance review copy of this anthology was graciously provided by the editor. Also, I know several people who wrote stories for this. This does not affect the content of the review in any way, or, if it does, I'll try to point that out when I come to it.

So there's been a lot of internet conversation lately, which it is very much too three in the morning for me to link to comprehensively because I mean it, there has been a lot, about whether steampunk is innately a reactionary genre, or whether it's just that a lot of people write it that way. Because, you know, a lot of alt-historical Queen Victoria and the sun never setting on the British Empire and colonialism Now With Dirigibles. And the question arises, where is the Mughal steampunk, and the African steampunk, and the Caribbean steampunk, and the steampunk which deals with political issues, and the steampunk which thinks about issues of identity, and on and on and on and on and on?

Well, one of the major goals of this collection, and one of the goals it fulfills admirably, is to start being some of that where. Yes, this is all lesbian steampunk; there is some lesbian element in every one of the stories. It is also full of stories that are crammed with other directions I haven't seen steampunk go before. None of the stories here is set in England for more than about two pages. There's a magnificent Mughal story in here, there are multiple stories set in Africa, in the Caribbean, in places where people are Jewish and Muslim and disabled and political radicals and political conservatives and just in general this book does really, really well at not being The Usual By Now Nearly Archetypal Extremely White Rather Straight Steampunk Book, and without it ever feeling forced-- these are the stories these writers wanted to tell, and they are new stories, and I love that.

Of course, there is also going to be debate about whether some of these stories are actually steampunk. Is it a tech level we're talking about, or does it have to be an actual alternate history using that tech level? If so, how alternate? Clearly, the appropriate tech level does not, in our world, do the things it needs to do in fiction, so how much magic is allowable as a supplement to that tech, and should it be explicitly magic, or does it need to stay fairly implicit? This sort of argument can go on forever, and everyone will have six or seven opinions. I tend to come down on the side of 'yes, I would like it to be vaguely identifiable as alternate history' and 'would like the magic mitigated by at least some technical handwavium', so for me, in this anthology, Mike Allen's 'Sleepless, Burning Life' is actually 'metaphysical fantasy with clockwork in'. Your mileage may vary. It was for me the only one that came down on that side of that genre line, here, and it's not as though I actually mind.

The quality of the stories here is generally extremely high. )
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A recent collection (2009) including poems inspired by the women's movement and poems which helped inspire it; the material here was written between the late sixties and the early eighties. Moore's intent is to contextualize the position of poetry in the history of that specific time of political action and to discuss what the movement did to poetry. She discusses both the emergence of a radical new form of female poetic speech and the re-evaluation of women poets of the past in light of later political ideas-- the politics of what goes into a table of contents, what gets critically discussed, and so on.

Mostly, though, this is a poetry collection, containing work (usually one or two short poems) by Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Olga Broumas, Muriel Rukeyser, Judy Grahn, Carolyn Kizer, June Jordan, Michelle Cliff, Jorie Graham, and a long list of others. As a poetry collection, it's a good snapshot of the women now considered important poets from that period, but its focus means that I am not always certain the poems selected are the absolute best of each poet; they are, rather, the ones relevant to the politics, which is often some of the best work of the poet in question, but sometimes not. Marilyn Hacker, for instance, is represented here by her elegy for Janis Joplin, which is a poem I've always liked but would not place in her top tier-- for one thing, it's wildly unusual for Hacker, as it's one of the few poems I've seen from her that does not have a formalist structure in any way at all, so as a representation of what she's actually doing most of the time it's an odd pick. I think it's in here because of its nature as a rumination on mourning and the nature of female celebrity, at which it does a fine job, and that's certainly a facet of women's experience one would like to see here.

I don't think there's any substandard work in this, I don't think there's anything that's only there for content and not quality, but I also don't think this would be the book to use if you want to find out whether you like any of these poets or want to know what mode they work in generally. Which I think is a bit of a flaw, though a minor one, in a book that is trying to represent two generations of poets to its readership, with their context, all at once. Maybe if there were another couple hundred pages?

Possibly as a result of that, then, and possibly as a result of my own tastes, I find the politics here more interesting generally than the poetry. There are very definitely voices here coming into their own for the first time, women talking about work, desire for other women or for men or for nobody, about race and class and history and other topics not generally as explicit in women's poetry before this. There's a lot of pain and a lot of joy (and it's nice to see a political book including some of the joyous work, thank you). But with some exceptions I find myself reading for the content rather than the language. Honestly, it is probably because I am a formalist, and twentieth-century poetry disliked formalism; and because I continually strive for clarity of language in my poetry and twentieth-century poetry enjoyed the baroque. Every so often, too, there is something like, oh, anything at all by Adrienne Rich, or Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', or Joan Larkin's 'Rhyme of My Inheritance', which speaks the language I enjoy in poetry as well as respect. But generally I respect this book, and find it useful as a history, much more than I enjoyed it.

And here is Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', because it took the top of my head off. She is wonderful and more people should read her. )
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A rarity in English: a collection of business and salaryman manga. Or, well, excerpts from business and salaryman manga.

Business manga is one of the genres of manga for which there is no American comics equivalent, except maybe Dilbert, though comedy isn't business manga's only forte. It doesn't get translated much because the art is not usually pretty, the subject matter is quotidian, and the cultural references are very specific. Honestly, that's one reason I find it interesting. It's usually very interesting to see what people don't translate because they don't think it would travel.

Bringing Home the Sushi is, I think, a collection intended for American businessmen. It's meant to throw some light on Japanese business culture and practices. It came out in 1995, so I'm sure a lot has changed. The nine pieces here are excerpted from famous and long-running work, mostly; Tsuri-Baka Nisshi (Diary of a Fishing Freak), for example, has been serialized continuously since 1979 and has been made into twenty-two live-action movies. It's one of the two manga in here I'd heard of; it focuses on a man who is a total loser at his office, except that his obsession with fishing means a) that he doesn't care and b) that his company can use him to mollify clients who also fish. It's kind of a triumphalist ode to hobbyism, and I think is both escapist fantasy and expression of a real belief that there has to be something important in a person's life. The art fascinates me because it is as caricatured and anatomically squished as American newspaper comics, which is not an art style one sees much in translated manga.

The other work I'd heard of is OL Shinkaron (Evolution of the Office Lady), which is a four-panel gag manga about the lifestyle of the office lady, who is generally a young woman working until she gets married and whose job is to make tea and be secretarial. As an artifact of the eighties and nineties and the way women thought of themselves and work in Japan at that time this is priceless. We own a volume of it in a Kodansha bilingual edition, which I recommend to people who can find it (good luck). It exists here, anyway, and it miiiiiight be very slightly easier to find this book than the Kodansha. Maybe.

And the other highlight is Torishimariyaku Hira Namijirou (Director Hira Namijirou), in which a middle-level functionary at a Japanese auto company is paid a visit by the very thinly disguised head of Chrysler, who proceeds to behave exactly like every conceivable Japanese stereotype about Americans except that I don't think he actually fires any guns at anything. The art and writing are wildly surrealistic-- it's exactly like an action manga, people keep throwing furniture and crashing through walls; but there are special touches such as the American wearing a flag as a suit jacket-- but they are all talking very earnestly and sincerely and passionately about the trade deficit. Comics just don't do this sort of thing much and it is kind of profoundly entertaining.

Oh yeah and there are also some essays in English by various experts about various aspects of Japanese business culture, most of which focus on 'you know that thing that happened in panel x of this manga? here is the explanation'.

Anyway. I think this book is totally awesome, but I have spent the last six months plotting to obtain the manga biography of the inventor of cup ramen. (Which has a real English translation and everything!) So your mileage may, as they say, vary.
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The word new in the title of this anthology refers to 1991, and the seven short stories in it came out in the eighties. I had heard of two of the writers-- YĆ«ko Tsushima, whom I was aware of as the daughter of Osamu Dezai, and Eimi Yamada, whom I've run across anthologized somewhere or other; I had not heard of the other five, Kazuko Saegusa, Minako Ohba, Mizuko Masuda, Hikari Agata and Taeko Tomioka.

Yukiko Tanaka is the translator as well as editor. Possibly because of this, the stories are not similar in content, but they are quite similar in style. I don't think this drastically harms most of them content-wise, but Tanaka acknowledges in her preface that she is not attempting to convey things such as Yamada's habitual usage of non-grammatical English sentences interspersed with Japanese prose. The style of the book is a style I've seen before repeatedly in translated Japanese fiction, most recently with Banana Yoshimoto: short sentences, short paragraphs, smooth flow, and a lot of attempts to get around the fact that the ways Japanese thinks about time and the ways English thinks about time are really very different, leading to a sort of assuredly breathless non-linearity which may or may not be in the original. This is not a book I could forget that I was reading in translation, but I am not sure it should have been.

Tanaka's theme for the book is unmapped territories, and she also talks in the preface about the eighties as a decade of new experiences for women, the opening up of new roles and new desires and new attempts to communicate those. Given that commonality, the stories here are quite different from one another. )


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