Monday, August 31, 2009

Dangerous and Daring Burger King

Sunday afternoon, while the dogs barked 'hello' at every person who walked past the van and the Wifey and I stretched our road-weary legs, I stood in the entry of the Burger King just off the Highway 93 exit in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, studying their new Kid's Meal promotions. The current promotion is divided into "girl toys" and "boy toys", but rather than Hot Wheels and Barbie, these two are quite related. The boy toys are based on The Dangerous Book for Boys, and the girl toys are based on The Daring Book for Girls.

Fast food restaurants have often had book-related toys, but usually those are released in conjunction with a film or television show based on the book, one step removed from the original content. The Dangerous and The Daring books aren't being adapted and re-released, as far as I know at the moment, but Burger King says the promotion was chosen because those books are "a perfect example of the brand harnessing the popularity of the books and bringing that sense of adventure into Burger King restaurants." Books and adventure — and fast food! Sure, I play my hipster card and mock any attempt of mainstream culture to spread outside its banks, but I can't help but be pleased with the attempt.

The toys leave a bit to be desired, though. I know, what can I expect from a cheap meal? Well, I can expect more than this: they pretty much just took different toys, put "Dangerous" or "Daring" in the title, and tossed them into the kiddie bags. The Boy toys are "Dangerous Fossils", "Dangerous Space", and Dangerous Snake." The snake is a flashlight, the space 'danger' are space-themed stencils, and the dangerous fossils (?!) are a Play-Dough style mold. The girls toys are similarly un-Daring: "Daring Animals," "Daring Watercolor", and "Daring Creatures". The creatures are a dough-mold toy like the fossils; the animals are a stencil set like the space boy toy. The saddest toy is the Daring Watercolor: it contains neither a real brush, nor real watercolors. It has a fake brush which, when it absorbs water and transfers it to the "paper", a picture appears. What could be sadder than a painting whose content, color, and style has already been decided for you, masquerading as Daring Toy for Girls?

From a kid's standpoint, compared to a Devo toy, an educational toy might seem to suck, but other restaurants have done a better job of it in the past. Come on: last fall Arby's had a "metal detector" as a kid's toy reward. Sure, you can't expect to find lost gold with it, but even if it remotely detects the difference between a nickel and a finger, you've got something there. My daughter got a Spy Kids themed camera in a McDonald's Happy Meal a few years ago, and it actually took pretty good pictures for an all-plastic 110 (Lomo enthusiasts probably would pay $50 for one now). One big feature of the Dangerous and Daring books are how they encourage kids to interact with the outside world around them — a snake-shaped penlight is hardly doing the job. D also remarked that the timing was rather odd: a book of activities, fun, and games might have been better timed for the spring, before school was out. The toys may not spread the safe subterfuge of the two books, but the wall-sized posters and banners hung in fast food restaurants around the U.S. will hopefully make a difference. The toy might be discarded before the kid gets back to her carseat, but we can hope that the seed was planted, and a Daring Book for Girls will appear under her Christmas tree in a couple months.

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Found: Newspaper Teen, 1950s

This newspaper clipping was saved with no notes, no caption, no information at all. The age was based on where it was found, and her style of dress, which would appear late 1950s, early 1960s:
The back of the newspaper has a portion of a photo or an advertisement; it was purchased from a junk shop in Sheboygan,Wisconsin. The clipping had been stuck between the pages of a 1958 JC Whitney catalog, in the chapter on muffler sets.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paris: City of Night

A couple days ago I reviewed David Downie's new book, Paris City of Night, at Collector's Quest. I tried not to rave about it too much — it's a good book, but not an awesome book — but I was taken aback by the quality in a rather generic suspense novel, by an author better known for cooking and travel books, from an obscure small press, with a rather unimpressive, nondescriptive cover. There's an inherent bias against books that don't premiere in a bestseller list, but that's an learned trait and I should know better than to make that assumption on my own.

Underlying this revelation is a disappointment in the publishing industry; there is an attitude that, unless a novel comes with a huge budget, larger advance, and a marketable name above the title, it must be crap. The film industry got over that showy bias with events like Cannes and Sundance, and, heck, the Fargo Film Festival — every mid-sized city devotes a few days in its arts calendar to celebrating the underfunded, experimental, and unmarketable films made by up-and-comers. There's a definite difference, since reading is a far less communal experience than watching films is, but if the Oprah Book Club is any indicator of how lesser-known books can benefit from singular public events, I wonder why there isn't more to support books this way. If you watch the higher-brow talk shows, including The Daily Show, interviewees are as frequently promoting a new book as they are promoting a new film, even if they're just a talking head they're introduced as "author of the new book…" The basics are there, they just lack that extra step into the public eye.

Cannes and Sundance benefit from backing by artists themselves, but so much of their provenance is marketing. Knowing Sundance exists and has a relevance comes before considering Sundance winners as quality art. I don't think book fairs do this: Sundance may have a tradeshow feel, but the premieres and exposure shows less of a corporate influence. Books have awards, and being nominated for the Man Booker, the NBA, even the Lulu Blooker, all have similar gravitas of getting an award at Cannes, but there is less pomp and circumstance, and fewer 'minor' rewards to books that place or show. Books don't have the same sort of exposure other media get at Sundance or sxsw, and the publishing industry, especially books like Paris City of Night, suffer because of it.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tintin Behind Bars

Since 2007, it's been hard to track down Tintin in Brooklyn: a book of Tintin comics has been moved to a vault where contested books live. Quite literally, even: the Times' image shows a bank-like vault door to protect readers from the horrors found within, as though the Necronomicon is waiting inside to peel at the brain of anyone foolish enough to attempt it. Due to accusations of racist depictions of blacks in Africa, the book Tintin au Congo was deemed "not for the public," according to a children's room librarian, and it was removed from the public shelves. It is still available to the public, if requested, but by taking it off the public shelves this does constitute censorship by restricting access.

This isn't the first suggestion of racism in Tintin comics: others have criticized Hergé's creation of a banker named Blumenstein as an anti-Semitic caricature - in fact, there's a cornucopia of archaic, cruel stereotypes in Tintin comics, but are stories from a time of Belgian colonialism, pre-World War II stereotypes appropriate to the period inappropriate today? Not necessarily, if context is provided, which is the common argument for classic works of literary art which offend modern sensibilities. In cases like Huckleberry Finn, what people are often offended by is a framework for defining and reinforcing their reason for offense, but I'm not familiar with Tintin enough to know whether that is the case for Hergé. That uncertainty is the root for the fear of a contextless racism: people don't want the book to be seen by those who do not understand it. It is a tragedy that people must only pursue what they already understand, and must be protected from the unknown, for fear they will reach the wrong conclusions.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: Lover Boy

Check out the artists who created Lover Boy: Stanley and Janice Berenstain. We know them better as Stan and Jan, the creators of the Berenstain Bears. The couple turned to children's books after they had kids of their own, but leading up to it they were part of a group of popular illustrators for mainstream magazines like Collier's. Lover Boy is actually pretty funny, and rather on the fringe in its frank view on sex between couples. First written in 1958, it was a bit ahead of the sexual revolution, so the comic about a guy reading his Playboy, then grabbing his wife lustily, is quite removed from the Leave it to Beaver ideas of how spouses behaved with each other. Today, that Playboy-leads-to-sex comic has probably been used as a subplot in a King of Queens episode, but for the time it was awfully naughty.

Stanley and Janice's couple throughout the book — not necessarily the same couple throughout, but drawn similarly — are obviously a loving couple, but as you might guess from the title, the male psyche is more on trial here. The whole book isn't sex and naughtiness, though: the guy tries a mustache, he meets a talkative woman on the bus and appreciates his wife all the more, he tries home improvements and fails miserably, he tries to put the kids down for a nap. The naughty parts are probably the funniest in their honest humor. The guy isn't a rogue, he isn't cheating on his wife, but he's surrounded by sex all day, at the office, on the street, in movies and at the beach, that he simply can't help but enjoy taking a look whenever he can. The only times it seems the wife storms out or punishes him is when he drinks too much and makes a fool of himself. The wife is the sympathetic one throughout, but she's well aware of what kind of guy she's got, flaws and all. It's no wonder Stan and Jan stayed together for so many years: it's clear, in this early collaboration, that they understood what couples have to put up with.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jacket Blurbs 8-15-09

  • "I think it’s the way the words are printed on every page, the right way up and in just the right order." – Fake Gwyneth Palthrow blog, via.
  • "[I]ndeed, all we need to do is to question the value of literature itself and, abracadabra, we have eliminated the need to teach it." – Carol Jago, on literature in school (pdf in entirety).
  • "I don’t do Facebook, I don’t do Twitter. Maybe I should have." – Cindy Dike, closing NOLA children's book shop after 34 years.
  • "While these words certainly suggest ancient tomes, the term "antiquarian book" actually has a broader meaning, one that is at once simple and difficult to articulate." – Chris Lowenstein, what's an antiquiarian bookseller?
  • "They told us guys don't read, would never read any kind of anthology, and most certainly wouldn't read an anthology about men. Apparently we are all mindless fools." – Tom Matlack, Book Publishing: Death or Rebirth?
  • "This is the tradition we wanted to revive with our edition of The Valley of Fear — presenting something 'good for you' in 'bad for you' garb…" – Publisher Charles Ardai, Sherlock Holmes appears in pulp drag.
  • "I didn't know that a book could be that good. I became a book lover, and a thinker." – Hakim Hopkins, Tioga bookstore community.
  • "I have no idea where he finds the time to read a book blog. I'm just a blogger and I can barely find time to do laundry." – Carolyn Kellogg, on Bill Clinton reading her blog. Via.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Archie #1 and Broken Dreams

Some people really love their comics. They become obsessed with the stories, the characters, the writers, the art — I'm sure you've seen pictures of the costumed multitudes from the recent ComiCon. There then comes a time when the comic takes a wrong turn, something isn't quite right, and that obsession begins to crack.

Comic store owner and collector Dave Luebke knows how that feels. He's been an Archie fan for years, but lately he's been a bit dissilusioned about his favorite comic. Archie recently proposed marriage to Veronica, the icy and rude gal-pal, rather than Betty, the cheery blonde girl-next-door who most people thought was a better target for Archie's affections. Fans were shocked — shocked! — that a fictional character could make such a poor decision, and Luebke was in agreement. To show his disappointment, Luebke parted with one of his prized possessions: a rare copy of Archie Comics #1. That comic sold at auction yesterday, for a respectable $38,837, and Luebke made his point. Via.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'Liar' Cover Redesigned

Previously seen in the last "Jacket Blurbs," an author was rather disappointed in the book cover picked by her publisher. It wasn't an aesthetic choice: the book was about a black girl, but a white girl appeared on the cover. It's all business, she was told: "Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell." Regardless of the empirical evidence of 'he said that somebody told him', the low-key racism was still evident in the sentiment, especially since the book, specifically, identifies a character who looks nothing like the cover. Put a Native American, eyeglasses-less, burly kid on the cover of Harry Potter and claim it goes over better with the target audience, right? And, of course, forget that if you based the American population on toy commercials from the past twenty years, you'd know that we're ⅓ white, ⅓ black, and ⅓ "miscellaneous" (possibly including the opposite gender of the other two). But, who's to do anything different from what the book industry has already decided is the way things are done?

Well, the blogosphere spoke, and the Earth moved: Bloomsbury has revised the cover to properly depict a young black woman. Personally, I think it's a world of improvement from a design standpoint, too — the color really pops, and it looks far less like a re-cropped Getty boilerplate girl than the original. I did like the smaller "LIAR" in the original, less accusatory than the full-width text in the new one, but, hey, the cover change crossed a subtle racial barrier in publishing, I'm just splitting hairs. We can only hope that somebody learned a lesson here.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Jacket Blurbs 8-5-09

  • "Where were sharp black letters laid out like lacquered chopsticks on a clean tablecloth?" – Kindle and the Future of Reading, via.
  • "Tree loves boy. Boy loves tree. Boy grows up. Boy exploits tree. Tree takes it all silently, growing less happy with each lonely year." – The American Scene, via.
  • "Besides posting on my blog, I've begun also to distill some of my views into 140 characters or fewer. Welcome to my orgy, Twitter." – Soapbox: Critics Don't Need Free Books.
  • "I dumped you because I can't bear being called Josh. Every posh twat in a rom-com is called Josh." – Confessions of a Bridget-Jonesalike.
  • "How welcome is a black teen going to feel in the YA section when all the covers are white?" – Judging the book business by its covers, via.
  • "Optical-scan, Multi-use hardcopy files imprinted on dedicated, crashproof media…" – Jackson St. Books sign.
  • "I personally know half a dozen librarians, and not one of them is anything close to happy. One of them is named Darryl, and there’s no way someone with that name could be happy." – Why books are stupid, via.
  • "[The book is] a story of the human relationship with food, told through biographies of the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato."Kottke's favorite books.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Vampire Reflection

For the classic vampire, a mirror could be a source of its downfall: a vampire has no reflection, so a mirror could betray a bloodsucker's hidden nature. As a society goes, professor Peter Logan says that society has used the vampire in literature to mirror its own fears, desires, and social norms. Logan says, "a vampire is a tool with multiple uses, and clearly one that continues to be meaningful in different ways to a new generation," whether it's a fear of paupers, foreign aristocracy, unbridled sexuality, or embodying the conflicted antihero. Twilight is the newest of the societal reflections being consumed whole-heartedly by a new generation of vampire afficianados. Logan points out that the newest entries into the vampire continuum are more directly focused on sexuality — from the TV show True Blood, which includes a lot of vampire sex, to Twilight's boy-meets-girl courtship, they cross a line, where formerly vampires, being dead, weren't consummators of their sexuality, using other ways to express eroticism.

But, are vampires really that big of a genre now, besides the clumsy goths that shop at Hot Topic? If my recent trip of B. Dalton at West Acres is any clue, vampire and vampire-related books compose around half of all books published recently. OK, an exaggeration, but there's some evidence:

The B Dalton Top Twenty Paperbacks wall includes five (that's ¼) novels of the Charlaine Harris "Southern Vampire Mysteries" series.

This table has the sign "Beach Reading" prominently above it -- it includes three vampire books, and one zombie book. When I think girlie beach reads, blood and gore are right up there, you know.

The Young Adult fiction section has some — my daughter bought one of these cartoon-cutout-cover vampire books. Wait — then I turn around, and see this wall of vampire:

No, seriously, it required that many arrows, and I actually think I'm actually short a few. Young adult fiction is filthy with probably quickly- and poorly-written vampire erotica lite. But, hey, you follow where the money goes, and if teen girls aren't spending it on cellphone bling or shoes or whatever, they're going to buy it on mildly lusty vampirotica. Oh, and just to toss in some more undead:

Yup, that's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in the Young Adult Fiction aisle. I thought it odd, but Barnes & Noble (who run B Dalton now) lists it in Young Adult as well. The living dead have never been so popular among tweens as it is now; how does that reflect on our society today?


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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Found: Cat on Belly, 1970s

Found, probably used as a bookmark, in my rummage sale copy of The Orchid Thief: a photo of a cat lying on a woman's chest (note the toenail polish), while she lies on the floor. Appears 1970s, based on the console TV, and probably Christmas time, based on the gift in the upper left hand corner. Click for larger version:

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Postmodern Books: Categorized

The LA Times blog has provided a 61-item list of the most significant postmodern novels, but that's not the important part. Most lists are simply that — lists — and if you're lucky some short description of each entry, but not necessarily why the item's on the list.

This list, however, is awesome in its data-density. It starts out with an icon key: each book is identified by author, title, and then a series of appropriate icons representing such things as "self-contradictory plot," "includes historical falsehoods," "plays with language," &c. Those icons make this a far more useful list than the usual Cracked fare; it fills in not just the 'what', but the 'why' and 'how' of postmodern literature. And, if those book features aren't appealing (who doesn't a like book which include the author as a character?), it might help you avoid too-dense literature that won't appeal to you…like I said, not everyone likes dense postmodern literature. Also, check out the comments for some other suggestions that didn't appear on the list. Via.

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