This is it! My last review of 2016. I wanted to at least get a triple Cannonball, if I couldn’t repeat my quadruple from 2015, and I wanted to end on a strong note. Thankfully, this review achieves both of these goals.
I don’t mind when graphic novels about superheroes are dark and serious. But sometimes, you just want to have a little fun. You want to smile and laugh and enjoy some goofy hijinks. When I had heard raves for Noelle Stevenson’s Lumberjanes, I was drawn by the quirky, colorful art and the premise, but was disappointed by the juxtaposition of the childish art and the Gen-X 90s jokes. So, when my husband recommended Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! I had no idea that this was the comic I had been looking for the whole time.
In Volume 1, Hooked on a Feline, we meet Patsy as she’s getting laid off by her best friend, Jen Walters, aka She-Hulk. She’s come back from Hell (hence, Hellcat), and she’s seeking out meaningful employment that allows her to use her super powers. She meets another special individual, Ian Soo, and they decide to become roommates. Interspersed is Patsy’s quest to find a job, find others like her, and stop the evil Casiolena from swaying other potential super heroes into using their powers for her evil purposes. The comic is lighthearted and funny, with plenty of action sequences sprinkled in.
I enjoyed the female-centered narrative that didn’t focus On A Man or Drama About A Man. The women supported each other and their capabilities without being Obvious and After-School Special about it (cough, cough Lumberjanes). Plus, there are so many fun Marvel crossovers or cameos that you keep a close watch just to make sure you don’t miss anything. I am really glad that comics are being written by and for women, and that the male-centered narratives are giving way to more inclusive branches of narrative. I have already placed a hold for Volume 2, which comes out in January of 2017. I look forward to reading more of this series as it is released.
All right, Cannonballers! I’ll see you all in 2017.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Besides reading and discussing books, one of the great pleasures in my life is food. I love to cook, and I love to eat. Particularly if surrounded by a bunch of people I love in a warm, cozy environment discussing a variety of interesting topics. So you might say that Lucy Knisley’s food-oriented memoir was bound to tickle my palate.
Knisley’s Relish is a memoir about food and the kitchen, life, and passion. Knisley grew up surrounded by foodies and refined tastes, so she came with prepossessed ideas about how food is grown, cooked, and eaten. The book is split up into several chapters that tend to be more thematic than chronological in focus, and each develops her relationship with food. There are several heartwarming and hilarious anecdotes that help shape Knisley’s identity and her professional career.
I enjoyed this immensely, as I too have had to evolve and adapt my relationship with food. I turned to cooking when I lived by myself in an apartment and decided to start slowly branching out from my mom’s list of favorite recipes. I married an adventurous, cosmopolitan man, and together, we’ve embarked on several cooking odysseys that have been both delicious (the crema de boniato soup we enjoyed at Café Iberico, a Spanish restaurant in Chicago, has turned into a homemade comfort staple during the long winter months) and disastrous (don’t ask either of us about the corn chowder that involved cooking THREE spicy peppers IN their sauce. I still can’t hear the phrase “corn chowder” without intestinal revulsion).
I suspect many of us who love cooking and eating do so for various reasons. Knisley’s gets at the heart of her identity and her relationship with her mom. Mine comes from a love of flavor and a love of hosting. I’ve done my best to move away from the shameful and guilty relationship that Americans so often have with food and tried to eat in ways that bring me health and pleasure simultaneously. Cheers!
[On a separate note, if any of you wants some inspiring vegetarian recipes, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve developed a trove of meals that don’t require weird or expensive ingredients. I especially pride myself on my homemade refried black beans, which comprised my quesadilla this evening]
Maus, Volume 2: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
You need to have read Volume 1 of Maus before you read Volume 2, so this is not something you can skip around on. You need the context and background of the first volume, because Spiegelman takes a leap in time, assuming you have already read the first volume. That said, let’s jump right into Volume 2.
Spiegelman takes a few steps forward in time, this time introducing his own wife into the story. His father’s health is failing, but there are so many unanswered questions that Spiegelman still holds. A summer visit to his father’s cottage begins to address some of these. At some point, both Vladek and Anja are captured and sent to concentration camps, worried they’ll never see each other again (as happened with almost all of their family and friends). Vladek survives with his tradesman skills and proficiency of languages, Anja by befriending a woman who is mistress to one of the officers. Together, they observe the horrific crimes taking place against their fellow people and work together to keep their faith and hope alive.
Because Spiegelman is telling the story, you know how that part ends. But what is also interesting are the moments of the crafting of Maus that Spiegelman interjects, whether through panels of him listening to the recordings or sitting at his desk to write. The writing of writing is interesting and should give the reader pause on how we narrate and construct history—especially if it is not ours.
If you’ve never read Maus, you should. The history of oppression of marginalized peoples by fascistic powers is not funny or cute. Serious suffering takes place, and we cannot—we must not—look away from it if we are to avoid repeating the same crimes that others committed. I don’t mean to get political for partisanship’s sake, but as a human committed to the well-being of my fellow humans, please, for the love of God, speak out against hate. Do not look away or normalize violence. Keep those in power accountable to all of us, not just you. I plan to speak out against the wave of fascism I see surging in the United States, and I hope you’ll join me.
Maus, Volume 1: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
I’d heard of the Maus graphic novels several years ago and read the first volume in a gallop. So I decided, after being gifted both volumes from my sister a few birthdays back, that it was time to read both volumes this year. I was not prepared for the sobering similarities between 1930s Nazi-occupied Poland and 2016 America, but that’s what makes art so crucial in general, and stories like Vladek Spiegelman’s in particular.
Maus, Volume 1: My Father Bleeds History begins with comics artist Art Spiegelman trying to figure out his father’s life. His mother had committed suicide several years back, and his father Vladek, unhappily remarried, was just not doing well. During one of their conversations, Art asks his father about life before the war, and the narration flips back and forth on these alternating timelines. We hear about Vladek’s courtship of his wife Anja (Art’s mother), their establishment of a textiles factory in Poland, their first son Richieu, and the growing unease with the occupation of Nazis in Poland. It’s a slow burn of a story with a conclusion that we already know, but it gains even more traction with the details that Spiegelman fills in. The story ends on a startling note, which makes you wonder how Spiegelman will pick up the threads of the first volume and bring us out of the war into the present moment.
I’ve not even talked about the conceit of the comic itself: Spiegelman artistically renders the Jews as mice, the Nazis as predatory cats, the French as frogs, and the Americans as dogs. By masking identities in creaturely disguise, Spiegelman deconstructs the dehumanizing effects of war and torture on all individuals involved, not just victims or their assailants.
TED Talks by Chris Anderson
This semester coming up, I’ll be teaching a Communications class for the first time ever. Also: I never took a Communications class, because I did the Honors track in college. I was and still am a little nervous about teaching the course, but I’ve got some ideas for the course, including a TED Talk each student must create. With this in mind, I was excited to see that Chris Anderson, head of TED, as he describes himself, had written a book on public speaking, as particularly related to TED Talks. As it turns out, this book can be more general for your public speaking life. Hooray!
Anderson talks about what “makes” a TED Talk, and then he pieces apart the components of a successful TED Talk to help improve your public speaking skills. He uses specific examples of various TED Talks in order to illustrate the points that he makes. He gives you potential ways to organize your speech/talk, and what pitfalls you must avoid for success. Finally, he has a section for reflecting on your specific goals for your speaking events/venues and how you can best achieve your larger goals through your small, attainable goals.
I found this book to be practical and helpful. It goes over big-picture things, like your setup, arc, and narration, to the small details, such as tone, dress, and even where/how to place notecards. This is a practical and doable guide, and very applicable to other areas beyond just TED Talks. I think I will refer to this if I ever have to give a job talk (please, Universe, I have faith! Make it happen!). You don’t have to be an amazing public speaker to give an amazing and inspirational public speech. You just need to be prepared and to organize appropriately. That’s what this book has taught me. I hope my students find it as beneficial as I did.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
I’ve heard of The Bloggess, and I’ve even read a smattering of posts over the years. I’d heard that she was publishing a memoir, and I heard it was funny. It’s been languishing on my to-read list for years, until Malin graciously gifted it to me last year. Thanks to that gentle push forward, I finally cracked it open this year, and oh, boy, was it ever a treat.
Jenny Lawson writes about the aspects of her childhood that are bizarre or strange and how they influenced her as an adult. And there are a lot of those stories—her parents were quirky and off-beat, and her dad collected a ton of animals, both for taming and taxidermy. She tells a lot of stories with immense details and brassy humor, how she met her husband, having her daughter, and moving from rural Texas to Houston, back to rural Texas, to give her daughter the country life that she’d had. In the mix is her battle with depression, social anxiety, and rheumatoid arthritis, her struggle to get pregnant (and the start of her chronic physical illnesses), and many taxidermied animals (no, really).
If you’re easily offended or don’t like your humor irreverent, this book is probably not for you, and you are absolutely missing out. Lawson manages to be both hilarious and sincere at once, and it’s a great combination. I did a lot of laughing and gaping, because seriously, folks, her childhood was strange (though not in a painful way, as in abuse and violence. There were just a lot of animals and weird adventures). Her telling of her social anxiety is both funny and raw. I think I understood anxiety a bit more even than I do now, thanks to her blunt descriptions. It’s a great book and well worth the read. I full intend to read the next one.
Beyond Tests and Quizzes: Creative Assessments in the College Classroom
This last semester, I started a new part-time teaching job at a community college near my house. It’s been a semester of discovery. I’ve taught at a small state school before, and for the last five and a half years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at a private denominational college. A community college is not the same thing at all. I won’t delve into all the reasons, but one of the biggest is the diverse set of needs and abilities that are present in my classroom. I asked my adjunct faculty dean for some advice, and he recommended this book. If you are an instructor or have one in your life, I’d also like to put this book in your hands.
Beyond Tests and Quizzes explores assessment, not merely as a theory, but as a practice across all disciplines and ability levels. There are many chapters that provide exemplary kinds of assessment that would work in several fields. There are charts and samples, so that you can model your assessment on the authors’. And they provide a bibliography that could help you with your own research if you’re looking to keep reading.
I liked this book, because it was practical and theoretical at the same time. Because I needed some refreshing on the theory of assessment–that is, what it is and what it does–it was good practice to have that background. And because I am looking to to change up my pedagogical practice, I was glad to have other professors walk me through their modes of testing/assessment/final exams. I implemented a final exam portfolio which was fairly successful, but I believe I can hone the proficiency even further throughout the semester.