Jerusalem Chronicles

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Guy Delisle’s wife’s job with Médecins san Frontières took the family to Jerusalem giving Delisle plenty of material for another graphic memoir, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City I enjoyed his account of his year in Israel, which allowed him a lot of time to travel to spots like Hebron, Gaza, the Tomb of the Macabees, Eilat and more. When he must travel to Rome, he runs into all sorts of trouble getting through immigration. They’re very suspicious of him because his lives in Jerusalem and when he tells the official that his wife works in Gaza, the wait gets prolonged.

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I like Delisle’s drawing, which shows everything in a very human scale. Delisle approaches his encounter with Jerusalem and the conflict in the region very authentically with what appears to be an open mind. I did come away with the impression that he tilts towards sympathy for the Palestinians, however he does try to show fully each side. It’s clear enough what he thinks, but he doesn’t knock you over the head with agitprop.

Jerusalem-interior-art-1Delisle’s an atheist, but more of a lost soul than a big time, passionate, atheist who has to proselytize every chance he can. He has a budding curiosity about religion mixed with a “can you believe what these religious folks do” sensibility.

Mainly, what I got from reading this book is what the daily routine and the opportunities to participate in the culture were for this one man. The book belongs with memoirs not with history or educational books. Delisle shows us his travails with picking up his kids in bad traffic, making friends with a priest who lets him use church space as a studio, the trouble his nanny experiences when her house is going to be demolished, his workshops for art students, his sightseeing journeys that never turned out as he expected (which is part of travel most anywhere). I appreciated Jerusalem Chronicles as one of many books on the region. This book was three times the length of Delisle’s other books that I’ve read, which goes to show there’s a lot to say about Jerusalem.

The Wings of the Dove

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It seems like I’ve been grudging through The Wings of the Dove by Henry James forever. Every summer and winter my friend Bill and I read a classic novel and discuss it online. Our last book was Zola’s Germinal, which was full of blood, sweat and tears. James’ writing is the opposite in every way imaginable. Zola was earthy and real. James is ethereal and intellectual. Zola crafted characters with whom I sympathized, even his villains had their reasons and adversity. I don’t like a single character in The Wings of the Dove.

I haven’t finished and though I’m just 30 pages from the finish line and have now given myself permission to skim, I dread my daily reading. The situation in Wings of the Dove is that Kate Croy can’t marry her love Merton Densher because he’s too poor. She lives with a rich aunt who’s going to marry her off well. When Milly, an orphaned American heiress with a terminal mystery disease arrives, Kate plots to get her lover to cozy up to Milly. She figures if Milly leaves Densher her fortune, then after Milly dies, which hopefully will be soon, Kate and Densher can marry. How charming.

It bugged me that we never know what Milly has. If it’s in the book it’s hidden amongst the long-winded writing that includes few concrete description. James wanted to convey the psychology of his vapid characters. I could not care less about what they thought. Also, I don’t think he succeeded in conveying true consciousness since most the time when I’m thinking, my mind is wandering. I may think about a work situation when I’m bored in a conversation or unable to listen at church. Whenever we’re privy to Kate or Milly or some other characters’ thoughts, they’re in the situation.

I thought Densher was weak, and hence unattractive, for buying into this insipid plot. I’d say the same for Kate, who didn’t realize her plan might not go as she figured. Had she never heard the cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Evidently not. Milly seemed like a will o’the wisp who floats through the story allowing herself to naively be taken advantage of.

I thought watching the movie would make reading easier or the characters more sympathetic, but it didn’t. I didn’t like the movie much either. While I read, I often just plowed through content to miss a lot. Sometimes I’d consult a reference on the story to see if I was missing something, but my take on the chapters captured all the key events.

I can’t wait to read something else. I know some people must love James or his work  wouldn’t be considered classic, but I don’t care for him at all.

Zzzzzzzz.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

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When’s the best time to have surgery? What can you do if you want to get back on track with the New Year’s Resolutions you’ve forgotten about? What is the importance of “middles”? Dan Pink answers all these questions and more in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.  Pink packs in a lot of research and shares in an entertaining way.

After reading When, I’ve learned that healthcare workers tend to get tired as the day wears on and are apt to make more mistakes in the afternoon, but if they stop before performing a task and go through a checklist for readiness, the number of errors decreases. The same is true of students. Often they’ll do worse on tests in the afternoon and if you give them breaks and a go through a checklist that more or less wakes them up and cues them into the need to be extra careful, then their performance will be on par to their morning results.

The chapter on syncing describes the benefits of working in unison. If you run with others the health benefits are greater than if you run alone. More surprising, if you join a choir and regularly sing with others the benefits equal those of exercising. Most likely you’ll have better blood pressure and other positives.

I learned that there breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day. Lunch is. There’s no research that proves that breakfast is more important than other meals. Your results may vary.

The book goes into detail on expected subjects like napping, beginnings, midpoints, and endings, but in all the sections, I learned something new. I read the audiobook narrated by Pink. His voice was friendly and energized. The book came with PDF files so you get all the files that are in the book and help you figure out whether you’re a lark or night owl, etc. I’ve come away with a greater understanding of managing my energy levels, but it’s still hard for me to manage a daily nappuccino.

Leaf

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A beautiful, wordless book, Leaf by Daishu Ma captivated me. In this environmental tale, a young man discovers a mysteriously glowing leaf which propels him on a journey in search of understanding. Along the way he explores a city that reminded me of a set from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, without the bleak vibe and a scientist who studies extinct plants.

Though Ma’s palette includes only yellow, gray, blue and a touch of white, the illustrations are mesmerizing. The book doesn’t preach, but does take readers on a magical journey that’s sure to bolster one’s appreciation and wonder at nature.

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The Radium Girls

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The Radium Girls by Kate Moore tells the story of the young women who worked in factories painting iridescent numbers on watch and clock dials. In New Jersey and Illinois after WWI, girls were hired to use paint made with radium to make the dials glow in the dark. The technique they were required to use was to lick the tip of the brush, dip it in the paint and paint the numbers. Then they were to repeat. No step to clean the brush.

At the time radium was believed to be an ultra-healthy substance. No safety precautions were taken.

These girls were proud to earn good wages and had a good lifestyle. Proud of their work, when they would go out dancing, they would take the radium dust rub it on their eyelids and skin, which made them glow.

As you can imagine, the women started to get ill. One woman had awful jaw pain, and when she went to the dentist her jaw fell out, which was the first of many ailments that inflicted her and her colleagues. One after another, the girls began to experience horrific health issues. The radium would attack their bones. Others, as you’d guess, got rare, devastating cancers.

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Statue of a Radium Girl, Ottawa, Illinois

The girls began to take legal action and the two radium companies fought them tooth and nail. The story soon turns to one of courage and tenacity as these women fight for their lives and fight for justice in the courts against two Goliath companies.

In many ways the story is hard to take, but because these women banded together and had great resilience and remained strong in spirit and clung to hope, The Radium Girls was not a depressing story. My only critique is that the author’s scope covering two factories which weren’t that connected, made the book confusing at times. Yet I understand her desire to tell the full story. I think it would have been better if Moore had focused on fewer girls and added an epilogue about the others. I highly recommend reading The Radium Girls.

(Janice, thanks for recommending this compelling, yet sad book.)

Wabi Sabi

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Written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young  Wabi Sabi is a poetic book about Japan. Here Wabi Sabi is a cat, who’s puzzled by her name. She sets off to find someone wise enough to explain her inexplicable Japanese name.

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Brown Wabi Sabi consults wise Snowball

The idea of a hero seeking answers to a perplexing question is nothing new in children’s literature. You see it in the The Wizard of Oz, Are You My Mother? and a slew of others. What I liked best in this journey was Reibstein’s inclusion of classic haiku like:

An old straw mat, rough
on cat’s paws, pricks and tickles . . .
hurts and feels good, too.

Young’s collages illustrate the book and do offer the messiness of wabi sabi, a cultural term that according to I wasn’t wild about the collages. Perhaps I’d have preferred water colors or another medium, which could include mistakes and thus illustrate the concept. Young does communicate wabi sabi, I just wasn’t a big fan of this style.

I’d definitely use this book in class and advise getting it from the library.

I’ve been told that wabi sabi refers to beauty that’s got imperfections such as age or wear.

Burma Chronicles

Burma-ChroniclesAnother graphic memoir by Guy Delisle, Burma Chronicles presents the stories of what Delisle experienced when living for a year in Myanmar a.k.a. Burma while his wife was stationed there for Médecines sans Frontier.  He melts in the humidity, tries to see Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s home, drinks too much at expat parties, visits historic temples, gets lost and confused, which is a normal part of living overseas.

Like his previous work Pyongyang, I got caught up in his stories and appreciated his self-deprecating, wry humor. His illustrations captured the place while expressing his style. When his air conditioning broke, I felt like sweating. When none of his animation students had done their homework, I nodded in complete understanding.19_burmacomic_1_lg