Bookmarks: Brief reviews of new and overlooked books

How to Leave Work, Raise Children, and Jumpstart Your Career Even if You Haven't Had a Job in Years by Monica Samuels and J.C. Conklin; The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World by Therese J. Borchard (editor).

Ghost of Hoppers
by Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics, April 2006, 128 pages, $18.95

Love takes a long time. Even when it finally shows up, after years of strife and heartache, there's still too much work to do. That's just one of the threads running through Jaime Hernandez's graphic novel Ghost of Hoppers, which is Volume 22 in the Love and Rockets series, if you're keeping track. The series' great love story, that of the punk Latina bisexuals Maggie and Hopey, was some 15 years in the making when Jaime finally stitched it all together for last year's gargantuan opus, Locas. This time out, Hopey is barely in the picture, still dancing around the subject and barely able to even say the words that Maggie desperately needs to hear. In the meantime, Maggie makes do as manager of a rundown apartment complex in the Valley and deals with her ghosts, real and imagined.

"Hoppers" of the title was the LA neighborhood that Maggie and Hopey grew up in, and it's their exploits there in the midst of all the mustachioed vatos, working families, gutter punks and slumming new wave kids that forms the wellspring the series has drawn from. In Vol. 22, however, Maggie's finally starting to feel her age, thinking that she's on the downhill slope of her angry youth, sliding into a complacent middle age and complaining to Hopey -- bartending at a local dive, eye-patched from an inadvertent fight -- that their life as firestarting hipsters was over. Getting no reassurance from Hopey (a pixie-ish smartass with an attitude like shards of glass), the lovelorn, heavyset tomboy Maggie drifts into the arms of Vivian, a curvaceous hellion with one foot in the grave. Meanwhile, the ghosts of Maggie's past drift up around her, manifested most sharply in the visage of Izzie, the cult author and reputed witch now crashing in Maggie's apartment, literally haunting it with her starved appearance and omnipresent black shadows.

It's a bit of a cliché to call Jaime's work magical realist, though he definitely has shown those tendencies. But there's relatively little of his occasional witchcraft and fantastic subplots here, instead the episodes of surreality which come to the fore later in the book are less flights of pure fancy than manifestations of Maggie's troubled relationship with her past, and her utter inability to let go of it, even when she wants to. This is a creepy but truly very affecting story of growing old and how to do so without losing touch with every aspect of yourself -- not to mention casting off the dangerous illusions of youth, the joys of cable access television, and a multitude of other, not necessarily related, topics.

It's hard to say how much readers who are unfamiliar with the work of Jaime (or his brother Gilbert) will get out of Ghost of Hoppers as a standalone -- for those, it's best recommended to go out and find a copy of Locas and get straight to reading -- but it's likely as good an entry point as any to the furiously romantic and melancholic world of Maggie and Hopey, whom one can only hope will never truly get old. Not really.

Chris Barsanti Amazon

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Comeback Moms: How to Leave Work, Raise Children, and Jumpstart Your Career Even if You Haven't Had a Job in Years
by Monica Samuels and J.C. Conklin
Morgan Road Books, May 2006, 272 pages, $23.95

Attempting to balance work and family issues is one of the newest hot topics in the mainstream media these days, and much of the attention focuses on the struggles of educated, middle-class professional women trying to adjust their expectations both at home and in the office. Too often, the only focus is on "the mommy wars," pitting stay-at-home mothers against those who work for pay, in arguments that end up benefiting no one.

Monica Samuels and J.C. Conklin refuse to play that game, and instead offer up practical advice for women trying to negotiate the terrain in their own way, without sacrificing work or home or blaming other women for the difficulties involved. It's a welcome approach to helping women think about their careers and what they might look like after having kids, without confining them to an either/or housewife/CEO choice. Samuels, an environmental attorney, and Conklin, a journalist, outline strategies on proposing part-time work, maintaining networks and contacts, and having realistic expectations for quitting, mothering at home, and returning to work. The audience for this information is clearly professional, educated, partnered women, with no mention of single mothers or less traditional careers, but for its target niche, the book is quite useful.

Surprisingly, Samuels is a former G.W. Bush campaign worker, and the examples the authors cite throughout the book are either nonpartisan or powerful Republican women like Karen Hughes, the Bush confidante famous for leaving the White House temporarily to return to her home and family in Texas. However, both authors are careful not to espouse any particular political theories in conjunction with work and family issues. By the book's prologue, the authors are acknowledging that no one wants to turn back the clock on gender equity in the workplace, but also that today's "women's movement" needs to also address those women who want to sequence in and out of the workplace. This careful omission carries even into the book's resource section, neglecting to mention the number of national women's groups already working on those issues, including Mothers and More. Still, its intended audience will certainly find it enlightening.

Jackie Regales Amazon

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The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World
by Therese J. Borchard (editor)
Broadway, April 2006, 214 pages, $12.95

Every mother has one: a story of a mishap or misadventure with your kids, the time you weren't looking or listening, of the broken dishes or VCRs or even limbs that followed. Borchard's brainstorm for the Imperfect Mom anthology came after a child she was watching ended up in the Chesapeake Bay, after her own kid pushed him. Luckily a stranger came to their aid and rescued the toddler, and all was well that ended well.

The anthology begins with Borchard's own story, told in her breezy, chatty style that sets the engaging mother-to-mother tone of the rest of book. "Candid confessions," the book's subtitle tells us, and the essays deliver on that promise. Each one is a light and funny antidote to the moments of shame and guilt that most mothers remember experiencing at some point during their motherhood journey. Happily, it is also free of those above-mentioned "mommy wars". Everyone is imperfect here, and everyone is on your team.

There are familiar names among the authors, many of whom have published their own books on motherhood. Muffy Mead-Ferro here recounts a tale of a "slacker summer," which dovetails nicely with her books, which thus far include Confessions of a Slacker Mom and of a Slacker Wife. Jacquelyn Mitchard's Deep End of the Ocean was the first Oprah book of them all, and her writing here gives the reader a peek into a window of time before Oprah came knocking and when Mitchard was expelled from her kids' car pool. Mothershock was Andrea Buchanan's first book, which she has since followed up with three anthologies, all for Seal Press, It's a Boy, It's a Girl and Literary Mama, from the website of the same name. Buchanan's essay is eye-catchingly titled, "Dirty Laundry Saved My Baby's Life," and well, you know, it did. These essays are just as polished and witty as you would expect, and if you're a mother like me, you've got some more funny anecdotes to cheer yourself with or to share with friends.

The only sour note comes with "Hole Blowing," by established memoir writer Ayun Halliday, the only writer in the anthology who chose to write an essay about imperfect moms, but not necessarily herself. Otherwise, the anthology is a well-packaged reminder that you're not the only one who ever played a silly game with your kids that landed one in the emergency room -- just ask Judith Newman, one of the many contributors and Imperfect Moms.

Jackie Regales Amazon

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'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

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Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

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Jedd Beaudoin

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By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

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Julia Lane

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