Part travel literature, part cultural criticism, part humor chronicle, part graphic art, the reputable Guy Delisle (Pyongyang (2007) and Shenzhen (2006) –- English language versions) has done it again: capturing the entire experience of expat life –- complete with family –- in a region far from home. While his wife works in Pyongyang (formerly Burma) for Doctors Without Borders (her work being the catalyst for his far flung travels), Delisle takes his artful view of everyday life (and the baby, too) for daily strolls into cultural and physical environs far different from his own. His natural curiosity, respect and ease with people transcends difference. Upon return to wherever he’s staying -– often without electricity and other luxuries –- he applies intellectual compassion to the stories conveyed in pictures with words, here and there, as needed. People who like travel writing and cultural reporting will find themselves surprisingly taken by this and all of Delisle’s graphic fiction books, wherein panel after panel conveys a wealth of meaning and provides valid documentation of a time and place.
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“Holiday spirits. High spirits. Alcoholic spirits. ‘Tis the season for much spiritedness! In the spirit of extending the rest-of-the-year happy hour into a happy, oh, week or two with the help of some delicious, chemical-aided happiness PopMatters highly recommends these two books for the holiday season and for many, many days beyond, as the spirit (tee hee) moves you. Start with a classy selection of cocktail classics with The Essential Cocktail. Here you’ll find none of that overly sweet, headache-inducing stuff found in every-bar, America, but rather time-tested cocktails replete with anecdotal history lessons right next to the recipes that are in themselves far more informative than just ““2 parts xx to 1 part xx”“. I eagerly await my first foray into mixing Angostura bitters ‘just right’ with this book to guide me.
‘Tis not good to drink on an empty stomach. Best to sop up the above cocktails with booze-infused foods from Peterson’s Holiday Helper. Pumpkin pie with Amaretto? Why not? Chicken broth with vodka? I’ll give it a shot. Funny little vignettes about scenarios at office parties and scenes of house-bound, wound-up hyper kids on school holiday blink like Christmas lights from page to page. Whomever hosts parties inspired by these books, be prepared to have guests stay the night on the couch, in the bathtub, on the kitchen floor…”
“There is poetry in the Rand McNally Atlas and wonder in the back rooms and basements of a thousand local archives and historical societies…”, writes Matt Weiland, co-editor of this anthology. So, too, lyrical prose of varying rhythm and timbre is composed in 50 entries from 50 writers here—each penning an entry about a different state in the Union. But unlike historical archives, these are not encyclopedic entries about, say, North Dakota (although there is a little bit of encyclopedic trivia provided at the beginning of each chapter). For example, who better to write about North Dakota than Louise Erdrich? The paucity of humans in this state, she writes, is “incredibly refreshing”. Erdrich’s name alone evokes a feeling about place, particularly this place, that one instantly understands from her literary point of view. Vermont’s entry is entirely penned in a cartoon strip by (quick—guess) Alison Bechdel. And she captures it perfectly. Weiland and Wilsey have done a masterful job of casting writer to State; each writer’s style evokes perfectly the state-of-mind, if you will, of the State they are assigned.
I know someone who collects wine as an ‘investment’. Saving a bottle for years seems like a waste of a perfectly good wine to me, and not nearly as fun as enjoying this afternoon’s purchase with this evening’s dinner. On the rare occasion when I pour wine-turned-vinegar down the drain, I know my retirement savings aren’t going down the drain with it. But some find the lure of an ideal irresistible, and thus allow themselves to be transported to a drunken realm well past the time when others had switched to coffee. Wallace’s erudite approach to otherwise intelligent minds that have fermented a little too long on an elusive bottle of Cháteau Lafite Bordeaux purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson (a man whom, it seems, wasn’t one to save a bottle for tomorrow that could be enjoyed today, either) is wickedly delightful cultural history best enjoyed with a spicy Shiraz.
Elvis becomes the other Elvis for the third episode of his weekly show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel), performing covers of “Mystery Train” and “Baby, Let’s Play House”. Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher are the rock-solid rhythm section, while nimble-fingered James Burton (formerly of Presley’s TCB band in the 1970s) handles lead guitar duties. The band shines, especially Burton, whose licks ripple up and down the guitar’s neck; Costello, on the other hand, takes too many liberties with the lyric’s phrasing, eventually throwing Faragher’s harmony vocal for a loop.
Despite its somewhat wobbly course, “Mystery Train” is an apt way to welcome native Arkansan and former President Bill Clinton, who speaks with Costello at length about music, politics, and the ways in which the two subjects often intersect.