Literary

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The Bookworm, by Terri Schlichenmeyer

ONE MAN’S WAY
New Year’s resolutions in the can

Every year, it’s the same old thing: you make New Year’s resolutions at midnight on January 1, and they’re broken by noon the same day.
So what was it this year? Save money? Lose weight? Or here’s a good one: start eating healthier. Like that’s going to happen with leftover Christmas cookies around, huh?
This year, though, you’ve vowed to change. You’ve got more resolve now than ever, and you’re going to do what you’ve vowed to do.
First, though, read “The Urban Hermit” by Sam MacDonald. Are you desperate enough to put yourself on a starvation diet of many kinds?
It was early 2000, and Sam MacDonald was in trouble. He had borrowed money from his parents too many times, and while they were willing to hand over the cash, MacDonald wasn’t comfortable taking it any more. Credit card calls were stacking up on the answering machine, MacDonald’s car was choking out its last cough, and a bill from the IRS had just hit his mailbox.
As thin as his wallet was, MacDonald himself was just the opposite. Weighing in at a guesstimated 340 pounds, he was so large that he couldn’t zip a “mummy” sleeping bag around his middle.
MacDonald’s evenings were spent at a local watering hole, and beer wasn’t free. Neither was bar food. As his wallet got thinner, MacDonald got fatter. Something had to be done.
MacDonald put himself on a “strange and dangerous plan” which he called “The Urban Hermit.” He would stick with an austere 800-calorie-a-day diet consisting only of lentils, cheese, bread, eggs, cabbage and cheap tuna, spending as little money as possible (about $8 a week) while squirreling away the rest for paying bills.
The Urban Hermit was only supposed to last for a few weeks. But one thing led to another, including two choice journalistic assignments, one in Bosnia and one at a hippie festival, both for which MacDonald needed money, requiring more debt. Then the car died. The Urban Hermit stayed, and as MacDonald watched his debt shrink, he noticed that his waistline did, too. Precariously so.
I had mixed feelings about “The Urban Hermit.” While it very closely resembles a wild, one-man slacker movie with lots of laughs, and while it was a fun read, I asked myself too often if there was a point to some of the things MacDonald wrote into his story.
It seemed that his self-imposed abstinence (the subject of the book) was sometimes secondary to all the other events he was writing about. Once he got around to updating his weight loss, it was almost a toss-off, like it wasn’t important at all. While the body of this book runs like a kindergartner on a sugar-high, it ends with an empty tank.
If you’re in a spot where your New Year’s resolution is do-or-die, “The Urban Hermit” will make you laugh while you’re suffering. If you’re not a fresh-start kind of person, though, promise yourself a different book.

Panel to Panel, by Nathan Patton
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL OF YEAR
World War II as a lesson in war, women, wine and friendship

Discovering who you are and what you want out of life is never easy. As Emmanuel Guibert shows in the recently released English-language translation of his graphic novel “Alan’s War,” doing it while you’re fighting a war only serves to further complicate the journey.
When he was 18 years old, American Alan Cope went off to fight in World War II. While there, he learned just as much about women, wine, music, cuisine and friendships as he learned about army tanks and battle strategies. He became so attached to the experiences he had and connections he made in Europe that he never returned to America for any significant period of time.
As he was nearing the end of his life he had a random street encounter with French cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert. Shortly thereafter the two began a creative relationship that turned into a long-lasting friendship. Here Guibert translates the stories told to him by Cope with an eye towards recreating Cope’s personal emotions of the time rather than precise historical accuracy. The war is a heavy setting, but the friendships and emotional connections are what Alan remembers most about that time in is life.
Guibert’s art isn’t flawless but it fits this story perfectly. The images, like memories, are vibrant but faded. He uses mixed media to further connect Cope’s experiences to his own vision of something he can never actually see. Using tools like photocopies and watercolor, Guibert simulates what our memory does; putting images together from the things you remember and the things of which you’re unsure.
“Alan’s War” is a fascinating and unique look at a war most of us will never fully understand. It neither glamorizes nor vilifies it. And not only is it the best graphic novel of the year, it’s also one of the best war comics of all time.

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