Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Johnny 23 by Charles Burns

I'm really excited to have finally tracked down a copy of this: Charles Burns's rare "bootleg" version of X'ed Out, Johnny 23, published by French publishers Le Dernier Cri.

Readers of the blog may already know that I'm a big fan of Charles Burns, so Johnny 23 is a really special find for me. Johnny 23 is actually a black and white paperback reprint of last fall's Tintin-themed nightmare X'ed Out, but get this: Johnny 23 is translated entirely into an alien cipher. Yeah. Seriously. Every letter has a corresponding symbol, and the book actually can be translated back into something very close to the text of X'ed Out.

What's especially exciting about this is that Johnny 23 is an entirely new reading experience. I know from a talk that Burns gave that he grew up reading Tintin comics in their original French without knowing the language--he explained how formative this strange experience of reading an unknown language was and how much it affected his imagination and his ability to conceive a story. Johnny 23 recreates those feelings pretty faithfully, and is a very different thing from X'ed Out despite being the "same" book.

Here's a look of two frames, one from each book. I love that despite the translations and ciphering, the hooded foreigner still maintains his mysterious language:

Currently reading:
Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

Currently listening to:
Grinderman, "Evil"

Friday, April 20, 2012

2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

As many of you may have heard last Monday, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced and there was no winner in the 2012 Fiction category. This is the eleventh time this has happened in the history of the prize, and it's been over thirty years since this sort of verdict had last been announced (in 1977, there was also no fiction winner, despite substantial books by Wallace Stegner and Raymond Carver coming out that year).

As a collector, book awards are always an interesting curveball. Some years, a book that's been on my shelf for a few months suddenly becomes much more rare and coveted, while other years I find myself shamelessly drawn to booksellers trying to hunt down first editions of books I'd never heard of (Olive Kitteredge, I'm looking at you).

That's fine for someone who likes to play this sort of game, but what about the casual reader? I've worked in bookstores and can tell you first hand that people go out of their way to read each year's winner. Many times it's a stretch for these people, but it's a really special reach: a person used to reading Janet Evanovich books each summer will suddenly find themselves with Gilead. Legal thrillers miraculously take the backseat to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

So, without a winner, what happens? People should consider these three finalists as a three-way-tie for first place, but I realize that's asking a lot. For most of us, the award is just a gold sticker on the jacket, but it's also a quiet invitation to challenge oneself with a book and I think it's presence alone consistently results in a spike in literary reading each year. Without it, we remain a step behind.

Currently reading:
Somehow, in between books at the moment?

Currently listening to:
Chromatics, "Kill for Love"