About Me

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A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!

Monday, December 31, 2012

“Ow? Todd? Ow?” THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness planned well. The first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy has a name that you can remember. (The title of the sequel, The Ask and the Answer, similarly balances mystery and familiarity.) In Knife, Ness introduces not only a protagonist but an entire world with a conundrum. In fact, this book is full of conundrums. Even the bad guys have them, as Ness patiently reveals. 

After hooking readers with the title, Ness shoves them into a world that’s immediately as familiar and strange as that title. The narrative is so homey and immediate, written in the first-person perspective of a boy who’s almost thirteen, that much of what’s strange fades until the strangeness builds up and bursts out.

The central premise, obvious in the first page of the book, is that the protagonist, Todd Hewitt, and his dog, Manchee, have a telepathic connection. In fact, Todd can hear the thoughts, referred to as “Noise” throughout the book, of other people and animals, and they can hear his. This was the result, we soon learn, of a germ that made something else happen, something that leaves Todd’s society looking very different from our own.

The first big concept is deceptively simple: on an alien world, people have telepathic connections with each other and animals. The soon-revealed other results of what caused those connections are not simple, but flow smoothly and naturally from the cause. The most remarkable part of Ness’ artistry, I think, is weaving these great concepts into a narrative that jolts the reader with surprising tension, and not a little violence, interspersed with very real human considerations (fairness and justice come up a lot without preachiness on the author’s part).

Ness mercilessly tests his protagnist, Todd Hewitt, with physical and emotional distress. Todd is joined in the book by a few strong and deep supporting characters, and an abundance of antagonists. All of the significant characters speak and act as genuine individuals. For example, Todd’s dog, Manchee, “speaks” (telepathically) and behaves in a way that suits what I know of dog behavior very well. The very beginning of the book reads,

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
Ness indulges in a little potty humor to get the point across, but when Todd gets fed up with Manchee and swats him, Manchee’s reaction (“Ow? Todd? Ow?”) neatly captures the strange and familiar all at once.

There’s plenty more “Ow” to come. The supporting characters are defined by loss, and Ness masterfully parcels out the pace at which these losses is revealed. One character in particular comes to life as fully as Todd, and the workings of narrative perspective mesh tightly with the world and the characters’ relationship. I’m treading carefully to avoid spoiling this, because it’s a clever and significant aspect of the book.

Antagonists, too, get their due – although not necessarily in any moral sense. There’s no hiding who Todd’s enemies are. They come across as enemies at the start, and not only because Todd can hear their thoughts. However, they have complex motivations, some of them almost superhuman abilities, and Ness reveals them as slowly and tantalizingly as he does the protagonist and his allies.

One of the further joys of reading The Knife of Never Letting Go is the language. Todd’s first-person narrative is laced with misspellings. This marks his speech as accented, and him as barely literate. However, the publisher (Candlewick) has indulged Ness with a special, loose font (and later, an explosion of fonts) to indicate the feeling of Noise Todd hears from other characters. It’s integrated into the paperback cover design as well, and generally used to good effect. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go is violent, morally rich, and a compelling read. I started to read it out loud to my kids (then 11 and seven years old), and soon realized it was inappropriate. The conflicts in the Harry Potter books are, initially, much tamer and more cartoonish, though they mature as Harry ages, and the fear is more sustained than in the rip-roaring plots Rick Riordan drags Percy Jackson through. Ness is relentless, and for this I agree with the publisher’s age minimum recommended age of 14 on the back cover. I’m way over the maximum of 18, but I think it’s safer to ignore that than the minimum.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Busy is good / summary

I have been busy with work, which is a good thing. And coaching soccer...also good! I have also been busy reading, and actually getting to more of my writing. This is great. However, I have been silent on the reviews and notes, which is less good, if not actually bad.

Here is a list of some of my recent reading, some of which I Intend To Blog About (fanfare):

Anathem, Neal Stephenson (audiobook) = my new favorite / the destroyer of many drafts of my own work

A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter Miller: at long last, not entirely without enjoyment, and an interesting contrast and overlap with Anathem

Deliver Us from Evie, M. E. Kerr: a read-in-one-sitting, something I picked up because of a brief mention in another review, and my new model for pithy dialogue

Night Watch, Terry Pratchet: every bit as good as what I had hoped in a book with Sam Vimes as the protagonist

Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson: a reread, aloud for the kids, and full of great voices

in process:

Islands of the Blessed, Nancy Farmer: the third Sea of Trolls book, reading aloud to the boys, the second I've read (we listened to #2, first, on audio)--I'm having too much fun with the voices

A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson (audiobook): my commute salve, which fortunately the boys only hear parts of - they're fascinated, but disc 12 has a lot of profanity, for some reason

Longitude : the true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time, Dava Sobel -- a denser, less sprightly, more focused version of a James Burke look at development of fascinating ideas and technologies by three-dimensional people in exciting times


I've also been reading online and in snippets about geophysics, astrophysics, and plot development. These are connected, for me.

More later.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

All-ahoo, Patrick O’Brian’s THE MAURITIUS COMMAND audiobook, and MASTER AND COMMANDER print book

Curiously, for a book full of action, the two most notable aspects of these, the third and first Aubrey and Maturin novels, are the author’s confidence in the reader’s appetite for period naval jargon, and the long, patient accumulation of personality in the two main characters. Why, then, do readers stick with this lengthy enterprise? How does Patrick O’Brian make it work?

Taken together, the Aubrey and Maturin books I have read and listened to are a scattershot of the first half-dozen in the 30- book series. I have read elsewhere, and come to agree, that readers (and listeners) can view this as less a sequence than a great tapestry of character. There is some term for this that escapes me, romans something-or-other, that means generally this.

One test of this idea is that I entered the Aubrey-and-Maturin universe through the now-decade-old movie said to be based on two of the novels together, Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World. Years after viewing the movie, when I first read one of O’Brian’s books, I heard the movie’s actors in my head, and saw them in my mind, especially Captain (or Master and Commander, or Lieutenant, or Post-Captain, as appropriate) Jack Aubrey, Doctor Steven Maturin, and (in the movie and after the second book) Lieutenant Thomas Pullings, a very sympathetic supporting character. However, with continued listening to two different voice actors’ renderings, and with my own readings – and these critically with the aid of O’Brian’s own vivid and idiosyncratic descriptions – I developed my own standards for the principal characters’ speech. Maybe it was just the divergence of readers, actors, and descriptions that freed my imagination to create or choose voices of my own for the characters.

The movie Master and Commander bears little resemblance to the book by the same name, with the exception of those three characters, the setting, and the jargon. It seems that translating the novels into a movie required rearrangement of the events, and some characters, to suit the audience and format. It’s similar to Captain Aubrey’s practice of re-stowing the holds of the various ships he captains, or “raking the masts” of the sloop Sophie, or installing bentinck-shrouds (extra stays on the masts that support again extra sails), against naval tradition and at some cost to his military advancement, in order to eke another half-knot out of whatever assemblage of timber and canvas he currently commands.

And when the ship confronts its target, he maneuvers it and presses his advantages to leave it in sad shape. When the masts are compromised, the yardarms and ropes snapped or cut, the sails shredded, the ship’s rigging is “all-ahoo,” one of my favorite naval terms from the series. I have a recollection of the term being applied to wigs and the like, but I won’t wait to confirm that before applying it as needed in my own circumstances.

For example, I have struggled to set aside enough time to write this, but my scheduling has been crowded and chaotic – in other words, all-ahoo. That’s why it took two weeks, allowing me to finish lsitening to Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls in the meantime. While I was listening, I found two of the 11 cds included repetitions of earlier segments of the book after the completion of the sequential segments. It was as if a printer inserted a second copy of pages 121-160 after page 244. This was, it turns out, my first application of the term “all-ahoo.” My second occurred with the realization that I was going to listen to a second book before reviewing the first (actually, first two).

One reason for my difficulty in getting organized enough to write this was coaching. I have struggled to educate myself about the many parts of soccer I never got good at. Sometimes, practices go well, and people have fun. At other times, my players and I wrestle each other for control of a small game at practice. The chaos is, well, evocative of the idea. It’s also pretty inescapable when layering five hours a week of planning and working with “U-9s” atop a lopsided routine of work, home life, and the commute between. Has anybody seen my son’s left cleat?

And a “cleat” is the key. The chaos and rush of life, or of naval warfare, or of constructing or inhabiting a fictional world, relies on a few stable points. Without them, and without them being strong enough to bear the load, the whole project flies apart. We rely on teachers, family, and neithbors to fill the gaps in our own ability as parents,  both to satisfy immediate wants and to provide more generally for the children we cross bridges to support, and again to see. A “cleat” in British seamen’s speech two centuries ago is a piece of metal, wedged into wood, on which a line can be fastened. This is only what I’ve gleaned, but this gleaning helps in reading the stories.

Fastening a few points to hang the rest of the rigging on is a bare essential for readers. Disbelief requires a capacious and sturdy framework (three masts, with stays and shrouds?) for the reader to suspend it. O’Brian’s characters do things we don’t recognize today, not entirely, and think things that are surprisingly alien. (The masts, stays and shrouds of rank in British society at the time are not very distinct to American readers of this time, generally.) Yet when one hauls on a rope (a character, say, Aubrey, encounters a barrier to his advancement based on class rather than accomplishment), the shape of the rigging is indicated by the movement of the sails. This is true for social aspects of the story, for technical aspects, and every other.

Long, slow, careful study—lightened by the fact of its pleasure—is required to generate an understanding of all of the terms in use, and all of their meanings and variations, and of the society and physical world the describe. Locally, O’Brian would have written these books for an audience a half century closer to the language, politics, society, and technology in the books than current readers. He and the initial readers and the current ones all make a substantial leap through time to inhabit that world, however briefly. The cleats, holding ropes fast to keep the masts and sails in place, bear a heavy load.

With so much difference between readers’ experiences inside and outside the novels, the author must have found more durable reference points, commonalities, than the apparent specifics. There’s a diagram of a frigate’s rigging at the front of many of the books, to help bridge the gap, but until I read the story, several of them, I found the diagram unhelpful. What allows readers to bridge that gap, to construct characters over meandering plots in thirty books, to cope with unfamiliar social customs, language, and technologies? How do we hold on and where do we step so as not to fall overboard?

“All-ahoo” is a wonderful term. I am adopting it because it makes sense, it stands out in my memory from reading, and I look forward to my next encounter with it. I have “all-ahoo” in my life because it’s universal, and I can connect with it. The real answer to the question about continuing to suspend disbelief is that there are many points of connection, many fasteners and useful concepts, flashes of recognition closing the gap between reader and characters. I care about Aubrey’s unwelcome innovations with rigging not because I am a sailor (I am not), but because I am hesitant to shake things up in my own career. Maturin’s extremes of social awkwardness are confusing at first, but each layer of details makes his behavior more intelligible. The avid loyalties of lower-ranked men seem strange until readers get a close look at Aubrey’s coxswain, Bonden, or see both sides of the relationship with Thomas Pullings. The ropes come into view a length at a time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

fun to say: "futtock shrouds"

I've been reading and listening to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin books, and the naval terms are beginning to stick. I liked Bentinck shrouds, but futtock shrouds are even more fun to talk about.

The explanation at wikipedia is barely adequate, but at least put an image in my mind to go along with one of my favorite new phrases.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

preview, VESSEL, by Sarah Beth Durst

I got sidetracked at work and followed a link to the sample chapters of a new fantasy novel, Vessel, by Sarah Beth Durst.

The book is due next month from Simon & Schuster, which continues to impress me with the quality and quantity of their YA offerings.

The premise is compelling: What if you prepared your whole life to become a sacrifice to a goddess that would save your people, and then the goddess did not accept your sacrifice?

The sample reads very well. The pace is great, and the descriptions draw a solid world, full of textures, smells, sounds, and characters. I have small quibbles with the dialogue and the use of alliteration. Small quibbles indeed.

The protagonist is a girl, about 16 years old, and I think the crossover appeal to boys would be less than for The Hunger Games, but it's still possible. Then again, I'm not a teenage boy, so I don't mind. 

The invitation that drew me in includes high praise from Tamora Pearce. If you're a fan of hers, as I am, this will certainly appeal.

Oh, and nice cover design.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Fans of the extreme physical action—violent, visceral, and wrenching—of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy now have something in common with fans of Philip K. Dick’s philosophical, alt-future ruminations about the nature of humanity. 

It’s a strange mix, but the way Paolo Bacigalupi does it, it feels natural. The child protagonists of Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities leave hooks deep in the willing reader. The world falls apart, and yet the kids are still kids underneath their adaptation to their environment.

The natural environment is only the first of the changes affecting the characters. In the wake of extreme climate change, the political unity and economic base of the United States have vanished. Scavengers and soldiers prey on the dead and the living, respectively. Bacigalupi writes child protagonists entirely native to this post-apocalyptic world. They adapt or die, and many die despite adapting. For the survivors, characteristics we think of as childlike are a luxury that could get them killed.

Bacigalupi also introduces adults also shaped in varied ways by the environment. Some are hard, cruel, and outwardly strong. Others are kind, generous, and outwardly weak. There is a fairly strong valuation of adult behaviors in Bacigalupi’s two books, but nothing so uninteresting as judgement. The cruel, hard adults are neither excused flatly for their circumstances, or blamed flatly for their actions. When doing right gets people killed, how are we to judge those who do wrong to survive? There are distinctions—cruelty for entertainment versus extreme violence for survival—that teenagers and adults will be better able to parse than kids. These books are definitely for those readers.

There’s an interesting structure to these books. Whereas Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has one protagonist and a fixed set of support characters, Bacigalupi’s Drowned Cities trilogy (only 2/3 published with the title book of the series coming second) has different protagonists in each of the first two books. 

At times, reading the second book, I felt that Nailer, the protagonist of Ship Breaker, would show up in a few pages. In a sense, he is the ideal companion of Malia, the second book’s protagonist. Bacigalupi kept me anticipating his reappearance for most of the book. However, Ship Breaker shares only one character with the sequel, and the discovery was so unexpected, I’ll leave it to readers to discover.

All of these characters—the culled and calloused children, the scarred and scary adults, and the human-animal hybrids Bacigalupi invents—explore some of the same ground where Philip K. Dick left tracks. What counts as human? It’s not easy to answer. Like Dick, Bacigalupi leaves the argument (for now) inconclusive. The answers aren’t simple, and having opened the can of worms, the humans of Philip Dick’s worlds with their un-welf-aware androids and diembodied intelligences, those of Bacigalupi’s with their hybrids and “nasty, brutish, and short” lives imposed by constant war argue it out inconclusively, through words and deeds.

One difference to note: as much as I like Philip K. Dick’s books, Bacigalupi is the more polished writer of dialogue and character. The standards of science fiction writing have changed. Challenged by Dick’s generation and their successors to come up with better ideas and smoother prose, Bacigalupi’s antecedents and peers created stronger and more literary works. For some reason or reasons, the science fiction I’m reading this decade or so features more young people, whereas the sci-fi  I grew up with featured mainly adults.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Happy Stumble: "No," by Brian Doyle

By unreproducible means, a work-related quest brought me almost all the way to this essay of remembrance and humor by a magazine editor. In "No," Brian Doyle offers a lovely, meandering, and brief apologia of editorial rejection. He packs it full of insight, weaves it close with experience, and draws it all through a gentle sense of humor. As an aspiring writer and sort of an editor, I caught a glimpse of the farther edges of these professions. Sir Isaac Newton's image of a boy playing with sea-shells comes to mind.

If you like to read words, these are worth reading.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Words about Mitt Romney

My mother posted a link to Thomas Friedman's editorial, "Why Not in Vegas" on Romney's trip to Israel. I was struck by the words and phrases Friedman associates with Romney and his trip. Here's the skip-through:

  • not about learning
  • satisfy the political whims
  • all about money anyway
  • abase himself
  • wrong with the U.S.-Israel relationship
  • add more pandering
  • canard
  • had time for a $50,000-a-plate breakfast
  • did not have two hours to go to Ramallah
  • didn’t know what he was talking about
  • feeding off this conflict for political gain
  • using this conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fund-raisers
  • making things even worse
  • grovel for Jewish votes and money
  • blatantly ignoring the other side
  • not going to do something constructive
As the great political philosopher Rush Limbaugh so adroitly observed, "words have meaning."

I think they may also have real-world effects. Among the effects Friedman is observing is the deterioration of peace, or of the potential for peace, in the Middle East when American politicians pander instead of speaking uncomfortable truths.

Another effect may be that Friedman finds himself severed from Movement conservatives. I may not have long to wait till he's branded a socialist.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Revision vs. Original Work

At what point does my chapter-book revision become original work?

Black would be the color of text unedited since the last save. Only since the last save. And there's precious little of it. This screenshot it pretty representative.

Just wondering.

Where, indeed: Barry Deutsch's HEREVILLE: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Years ago now, I read a hefty online sample of Barry Deutsch's more-than-charming graphic novel Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. I call it "more than charming" because it was both a fairy-tale-ish story told in drawings that, despite the muppetlike heads, seemed so obviously perfect for it, and at the same time a rich treatment of humanity.

Find out more from Deutch's website, Hereville. 

I don't put it that way to make it seem grandiose, but the universality of the story, told from the perspective of a little slip of a girl in a tiny town that was part of an often-overlooked corner of a small minority in a big, pushy world, is hard to deny. Deutsch has created such a perfect character in Mirka that, although she is culturally atypical, and kind of an odd kid within her culture, a reader as unlike her as myself has no trouble sympathizing.

Mirka has a strict stepmother, a distant father, a nosy little brother, bullies and monsters to avoid, and a few things that she loves without restraint, an immediate kind of nostalgia that I think only children can feel. Certain things, often small or outwardly insignificant, are indispensable to kids, around the time that they become aware of the potential for change. Having lost her mother, Mirka treasures the familiar, and even though her lodestones are different from mine, they feel as true and real in the story as my own did (at least in nostalgic perspective).

Recently, I stumbled across the full book at the library, and snapped it up. My kids (11 and just-turned-8) tore through it and declared it was good. I snuck in two reads, with mounting satisfaction.

And what do I learn today? Happily, that there will soon be a second Hereville. Perfect.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I became aware of the book through previews of the movie with the same name, about five years ago. It looked like a heart-warming tale, but I didn’t think very much about it. Then I read a story co-written by its author, Kate diCamillo, and Jon Scieszka, in Guys Read: Funny Business. Scieszka, who edits the Guys Read books in a sustained effort to promote…reading, by guys, before they get too old and fall behind in school and drag the girls down, I guess, apparently chose diCamillo as his co-author for a reason. She’s very funny.

The story, “Your Note to the Author Here” consists of letters between an elementary school boy grudingly fulfilling an English assignment and an author who has other plans, made me grin and chuckle for twice as long as it took to read (because I reread it the next day). Not high art, but sometimes we wish high art was this good.

Between that and my awareness of the Winn-Dixie story, I resolved to read Kate diCamillo’s best-known (OK, to me) book at my next opportunity, if not sooner.

The good news is that reading Because of Winn-Dixie costs a Master-of-Arts recipient little effort or time.The other good news is that it does just what a novel should do: it introduces a character (India Opal Buloni), gives her a conflict (she misses her mother), and shows how she grows in response to it. Along the way, diCamillo graces us with poignant details, characters with interesting names, and bits of magic so small and ordinary, we might confuse them with raindrops.

By the end, there’s a little bit of a storm—the kind that blows things over and gets the ground wet, and the kind of collection of magical raindrops that means some pretty big magic has been falling. Opal (everybody uses her middle name) and her dog make friends left and right, back and forth, and brighten their lives a little, or a lot.

The landscape of central Florida suffers from lack of description in this story, and characters are simply, though well, drawn. Most of the details are visual, but they are sparse. This is a book that cuts to the chase, gives readers access to the good story without costing the effort usually involved. It is a book for the struggling reader, the reluctant reader, the impatient reader, strung out on IMAX and in withdrawal from Twitter, the twelve-year-old texting master, the kid who knows all the tricks on all the latest games.

I think it would also be fine for the coping dyslexic reader (short pages, widely spaced lines in my edition, under 200 pages), or any tween or early teen who might respond well to a good story, if only they could get at the meanings of rhe words. This is a special concern of mine, and I think that Because of Winn-Dixie, more than other trade books, threads this particular needle.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

funny bad reviews, 50 SHADES OF... series

The first three "critical" reviews I found are worth reading. The exasperation of readers who just couldn't endure any more than the inaugural volume of the trilogy, and can't fathom the ecstatic fans (or main character). 

High points:

From "Did a teenager write this?" by meymoon,

About half way through the book, I looked up the author to see if she was a teenager. I really did because the characters are out of a 16 year old's fantasy. 
From "Bestseller? Really???" by DS from LA
And oh, the repetition...and the repetition...and the repetition. I'm convinced the author has a computer macro that she hits to insert one of her limited repertoire of facial expressions whenever she needs one. According to my Kindle search function, characters roll their eyes 41 times, Ana bites her lip 35 times, Christian's lips "quirk up" 16 times...
From "Not the worst I've ever read...No, wait. It IS." by Ebeth822
Once upon a time...
I'm Ana. I'm clumsy and naive. I like books. I dig this guy. He couldn't possibly like me. He's rich. I wonder if he's gay? His eyes are gray. Super gray. Intensely gray. Intense AND gray. Serious and gray. Super gray. Dark and gray. [insert 100+ other ways to say "gray eyes" here]
I blush. I gasp. He touches me "down there." I gasp again. He gasps. We both gasp. I blush some more. [this goes on hilariously]
 I think I appreciate this series now. It has given me joy. The reviews it inspired are works of art.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


warning: unavoidable spoilers

The joy of reading every sentence in this memoir, at least for this reader, lies in the feeling of connecting directly to a strange and familiar mind. The joy of reading the entire book lies in seeing the title fulfilled at the end. It starts with the sideways, blurred, and myopic views of the author as a child, and proceeds through vivid difficulties across several nations and through dozens of meetings and partings. 

I had difficulty at the beginning deciding if it was a novel or a memoir. The view from the author’s mind was hard to distinguish from surrealism. In retrospect, he seems to have been aware of his difficulty relating to people, even to reality, and aware that people viewed him differently as well.

It is worth quoting the beginning here:

It is afternoon. We are playing soccer near the clothesline behind the main house. Jimmy, my brother, is eleven, and my sister, Ciru, is five and a half. I am the goalie.

I am seven years old, and I still do not know why everybody seems to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

He runs into the distance when the family parks for a rest on the side of the road. He is looking for the place in the distance where the world becomes fuzzy and indistinct, and is disappointed that when he gets there, it’s all hard-edged, just like where he started.

While the interior life of such a child would be interesting enough in any situation, it reaches a higher level in newly-independent Kenya, where anti-colonialism gave way painfully to post-colonialism, and terrors and divisions lurked around every corner. The unity with which Kenyans achieved independence shattered under the force of the colonial divisions, layered on top of precolonial divisions. Further problems erupted among people when neighboring Uganda’s president, Idi Amin, led his country to slaughter. Among the refugees were the author’s mother, whose name flitted into and out of his life.

The author flits into and out of the life of Kenya as well, passing through the South African bantustan of Transkei, the United States, Nigeria, and Togo. His travels and his maturity correspond with his engagement with the world and people, though not always harmoniously. Still, he achieves a level of normalcy and even accomplishment alongside his increasingly confident interactions with people. The world is not less dangerous, but he has put down his books, stopped seeking the blurry distance.

A recurring theme is how to feel Kenyan. Binyavanga Wainaina is almost autistic in his capacity for focusing on details. This makes for a blizzard of novelistic data that may make a reader feel not up to the task of comprehension. My accustomed diet of manga and YA fantasy novels as a break from editing and writing chapter books for struggling readers may have degraded, or at least reshaped, my reading skills. The author wraps his character’s narrative in recurring and evolving observations on small cues to national identity, and large shifts in public sentiment.

This should not sound like something precious and coy. What emerges from the pages is a hard-won realization of what it means to be Kenyan, both in contrast to other nationalities and in contrast to internal loyalties of language, colonially-recognized tribe, and class.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Jump: Asada Hiroyuki’s TEGAMI BACHI, vols. 3-5

Tegami Bachi, aseries combining elements of off-kilter fantasy and science fiction inlushly-illustrated manga format, took awhile to get off the ground for me. I loved Asada’s heavily-lined, high-contrast, gloomy and angular art, and I was curious about the parceled-out world of Amberground and mystery of the disappearance of a character from the first volume.

The world-building, the suspense and mystery, the art—all of these grabbed me from the beginning, and I didn’t regret buying the volumes, except after the second volume, when I found the narrative wanting.

The focus of the series had apparently changed from one character to another, and the reasons why were not clear. However, after a few months, I missed the art, and picked up the third volume. I’m happy I’ve since bought through volume six (and just today ordered the next three).

The story is coming together better. More clues are revealed. The supporting characters are earning their spots in the narrative. We have liftoff.

For a while, the series felt weighed down also by the silly-sounding names. I realized a bit late that there is a pattern, of sorts, and though the names still sound ridiculous (I’ve written about Jiggy Pepper, a minor character, before, but one of the principal characters is named Gauche Suede, and there are more like that), the development of the protagonist and the hints about the disappeared character outweigh that for me now.

This is definite shonen manga material, with a child protagonist, missing parents, speed lines, obscure catch phrases, and very tame “fanservice” shots of a semi-human character who frequently disrobes. Tegami Bachi is published first in Shonen Jump magazine in Japan and the US, and brought out in volumes in Japanese, English, French, and Italian, at least.