This week, Football Book Club is reading The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain — and getting caught up after the holidays with posts about everything from How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis to River House by Sally Keith.
The Dirty Dust — all the characters of which are dead in their graves — has finally been translated into English thanks to the efforts of Alan Titley, and was called one of “best books to come out of Ireland in the 20th century” by The Independent.
Adam nominated this title for Football Book Club because: “I read this piece at The Millions — which contains this amazing line: ‘What if what awaits us after death is a continuation of the same petty dramas and sordid resentments? What if, after we’re lowered into our graves, we discover that all the other corpses in the cemetery are still chattering away in some kind of eternal bitchfest?’ — and was so excited I immediately ordered a copy of the book.”
How to be Happy is Davis’s first collection of graphic/literary short stories, was named one of NPR’s and Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of 2014, and was shortlisted for Slate‘s 2014 Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Print Comic of the Year.
Rob nominated this title for Football Book Club because “As the darkest time of the year approaches, who wouldn’t want to read a book called How to Be Happy? And yet this collection of graphic short stories is no smile-fest. My wife recommended it to me on the basis of its range of styles and its playful power.
By Adam Boretz
I was hoping Ryan Joe would deliver the goods in his response to Richard McGuire’s Here — and his post did just that. For me, this was actually a second reading of Here. The first time around — months ago, when I got my hands on a galley — I really liked the book for all the reasons people should (and do) like the book: the spare art; the innovative storytelling; that sense of all we are missing in a single life, which Rob ably pointed out in his post.
My second reading was a very different one due to the death of grandmother. In the months since her passing — which came two years after the death of her husband — our family has done the things that I suppose all families must do. The most recent of which was preparing her home of 60 years for sale. My grandmother’s house was (due to a variety of reasons we won’t get into here) very much my childhood home — the place I grew up; the setting of almost all of my fond early memories; one of my very favorite places.
Thankfully, I have been entirely removed from the process of donating clothes and cookware, selling furniture and valuables, hauling out the detritus of a family’s life. But, I am told by my parents that — save a distant 20-something cousin who is now “tending to the house” by sleeping on a mattress on the floor and “not cleaning the bathroom very well” — my grandmother’s home is now empty: all the possessions and photos and furniture accumulated over six decades have been removed.
By Ryan Joe
Richard McGuire’s Here is an impressive feat of choreography, among other things.
One aspect of comic book storytelling I’ve recently become more aware of, in part because of a class I’m taking with the cartoonist Tom Motley, is the way panels and word balloons contribute to the overall design of a page.
That’s really important for Here, which essentially features the same static shot — a specific corner of a specific room — as it existed through centuries. This is one of my favorite layouts.
By Rob Casper
So we’ve reached week 13 in the NFL season — time enough to think of how FBC has changed my life. I’ve read a whole lot of books I never would’ve known of, or otherwise found the time to break open. Which has led me to more reading — right now I’m reading Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken and Kay Ryan’s brand new poetry collection, Erratic Facts (the title alone is a showcase of her genius lyricism). That said, I’m still paying a lot of attention to football. I’ve lamented the crazy downward turn of the Pack, celebrated the Pat’s sole loss of the season, wondered if the Hawkeyes would/could stay unbeaten, etc. It seems as if reading hasn’t replaced football — not like those rebellious college years when I didn’t own a TV, and the Internet didn’t make following football so damned easy.
River House is Keith’s fourth collection of poetry and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which called the book “heartbreaking and robust” and an exploration of “the complexity of the mind in the midst of grief.”
Rob nominated this title for Football Book Club because “I thought Sally Keith’s River House would make a terrific book for FBC — its linked prose poems re-make the elegy form.”
By Dan Bjork
Upon reading The Sixth Extinction and sitting down to write this, I had a very similar initial reaction as Adam: sheer amazement at human beings’ ability to compartmentalize.
We are so hyper-specific in our outrage. Never again will we allow Subway to put this specific yoga mat ingredient in their bread. Never again will we let that one venture capitalist jack up the price of that one life-saving drug by 4000 percent. And then back to caring about some issue that’s opposition does not have a lobby. The macro of it all gets washed away in all the noise.
For a book about the coming mass extinction of life on our planet, The Sixth Extinction is filled with people. And it’s not that we’re in danger; not yet, not imminently. Yet, for my count, it commits about as much page space to the people around this issue as it does to the animals. Right up front, we are given the history of our civilization’s coming to discover and then accept this as a process that happens. It’s a deft maneuver and a gentle way into such a (needlessly) controversial issue: look at how hard all of these brilliant men fought to discredit that extinction even existed; that a complete catalog of everything currently alive on this planet did not encompass a representative of everything that had ever lived on this planet. And from there we meet some specific animals on the brink, right along with the people fighting for them.
The Organizing Principle Is No Organizing Principle: On the Bears, the Patriots, ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead,’ and ‘Milk & Filth’
By Adam Boretz
It’s Year in Reading time over at The Millions, which, for the purposes of FBC, means one thing: I did not have time to write a proper post about Carmen Giménez Smith’s Milk & Filth. Which is why, Gentle Reader, you are reading this piece, which is pretty much entirely lacking in any organizing principle and, in point of fact, more closely resembles a diary entry or random collection thoughts than an actual blog post.
- The Bears — with Jay Cutler at the helm! — beat the Packers at Lambeau Field, something that has, to my knowledge, not happened in like five years. I’m loath the give to much credit Cutler or the Bears — I mean, let’s be honest, the win probably came down to the Ditka Curse. Also: I didn’t watch the game. Or even see the highlights. But nonetheless: Bears Win!
The Patriots lost to the Broncos, ending all that fucking annoying talk about the team having a perfect season. I didn’t watch this game either — but the last time I was this excited about a final scoreline was when West Ham got promoted back in 2012.
By Ryan Joe
Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan is a pure potboiler with grand aspirations.
Most exorcism stories are implicitly about a bunch of sexually excitable old men trying to deal with a teenage girl. Gabriel García Márquez’s Of Love and Other Demons springs most immediately to mind. But The Case Against Satan is about as implicit as a hammer to your nuts.
Despite the eerie cover (which I previously described as “AWESOME”), The Case Against Satan is less about supernatural possession and more about the fallout of a sexual assault (or an attempted sexual assault). At the end, while one of the priests who participated in the exorcism (described in the grisly detail now customary in cinematic depictions) continues to believe the devil was somehow involved, the stronger implication is that the girl acted out because her father murdered her mother, then either raped her or tried to rape her. I mean, shit, I’d act out too.
It’s not unusual either for exorcism stories to introduce some narrative skepticism about the nature of supernatural possession. It’s an effective device to ease in readers. It takes a while, for instance, before the concept of an exorcism is introduced in The Exorcist. And in The Taking of Deborah Logan, there’s a debate whether the titular character is possessed of demons or Alzheimer’s (it was, of course, demons). Both of those examples are from movies, by the way.
This week, Football Book Club is reading Richard McGuire’s Here and posting about Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan — and Carmen Giménez Smith’s Milk and Filth, and maybe even Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. We are all somewhat behind schedule, it would seem.
Here — a graphic novel about time, place, and events that occur over hundreds of years — received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, while Chris Ware, writing for The Guardian, said, “A book like this comes along once a decade, if not a century…I guarantee that you’ll remember exactly where you are, or were, when you first read it.”
Adam nominated this title for Football Book Club because “I really want to know what Ryan Joe will think about this book and this seemed like a good way to get him to read it — not that he was opposed to reading it. Well, maybe he was. I’m not really sure. I actually never talked to him about the book before. Mostly we talk about Resident Evil and Jay Cutler.”