Money for Nothing by P.G. Wodehouse

I regret to inform my readers that P.G. Wodehouse's novel Money for Nothing does not also provide, as all of my generation would expect, "chicks for free." This is largely due to its having been published in 1928.

It is also devoid entirely of color TVs, microwave ovens, and Hawaiian noises. It does feature some characters who "ain't dumb" and have various schemes to obtain what Wodehouse was often wont to call "great wodges of the green stuff" without needing to get more than maybe a blister on their little fingers.

I trust this disappointment will not be too much of a shock.

Money for Nothing is a standalone Wodehouse book, set mostly in and around stately Rudge Hall, jewel of Rudge-in-the-Vale, "in that pleasant section of rural England where the grey stone of Gloucestershire gives place to Worcestershire's old red brick." It features two men of the older generation who have fallen into a tiff due to a trifling disagreement about who pushed who in front of a minor explosion one day, two different strapping nephews of the local squire, the local girl one of them hopes to wed, a can't-miss investment opportunity in London in the form of a retail establishment, and, inevitably, assorted American confidence-artists who are seeking the title payoff. Several of the confidence-artists, devotees of Wodehouse will be happy to learn, are acting as impostors while visiting a country-house during the course of this novel.

As usual with Wodehouse, the plot leaps and canters and races about once he's established his characters and locations -- I should also mention the Healthward Ho facility nearby, run by one of those Americans, a man pretending to be a doctor and known to his confederates as Chimp Twist -- as Wodehouse throws in complications from his usual bag of tricks and stirs until it all fizzes up.

I'm not going to describe all of those complications: with Wodehouse, doing so is either superfluous or silly. Or perhaps both. The point is how he maneuvers his characters through his situations -- both sets from his robust stock company -- in this particular permutation, making the reader smile often, laugh occasionally, and enjoy throughout. Wodehouse's world is entirely artificial; that's the point. Money for Nothing is a sunny concoction, from his prime interwar period, and may be lesser-known to most of his readers, since it isn't part of a series. But it's as much fun as Summer Lighting, which he wrote next, and would be a treat for any Wodehouse-lover who hasn't gotten to it yet.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

What's the opposite of a romance? Is there a word to describe a story about realizing you're not in love, and that you need to get out of a relationship?

We could call it "anti-romance," but that misses the point. It would be a useful word. Maybe someone will comment to let me know it already exists.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is that kind of book: it's a graphic novel, in that nameless opposite-of-romance genre. Francesca "Freddy" Riley is in high school in Berkeley, and is in a relationship with her school's most magnetic and compelling figure, the titular Laura Dean.

Laura is a jerk, in the way that massively popular and attractive teenagers often are: no matter what she does or how she acts, everyone accepts it, even loves it. So, as we see her, she's practically amoral, a monster of need who does whatever she wants at any moment and everyone else swoons at how awesome she is.

Freddy is not happy with this. But she is Laura's girlfriend. That's good, because being Laura's girlfriend is exciting down to the ends of her nerves all the time, often even in good ways. They have some level of a physical relationship -- Laura is very physical, with Freddy and other girls, as you would expect -- but Breaking Up keeps it school-library friendly by showing the girls in bed or kissing without getting into details of how physical these seventeen-year-olds are getting. [1]

Being Laura's girlfriend is also good socially, to some degree: everyone in school knows who Freddy is, and she gets reflected glory. Of course, Laura is mercurial and capricious, so everyone in school also knows when Freddy is no longer Laura's girlfriend, which has happened at pretty much every holiday over the past year.

So being Laura's girlfriend is also bad. For that reason, and because Laura's massive neediness keeps Freddy focused on her all the time, rather than on her friends and own life and plans and goals. (Especially friends, in this graphic novel's case. Most seventeen-year-olds would be worrying about their futures and planning for college, but that's not happening here.) Those of us who are further along in adulthood will see it as all bad: even the supposedly good stuff is tending to erode Freddy's sense of self and empowerment. 

Breaking Up is more of a character study than a book of plot: things happen, and time passes, but they're mostly accumulating moments, each giving Freddy a little more perspective and distance, until she can finally stop being the person Laura Dean keeps breaking up with. She's got a circle of friends at the beginning, and a new friend she meets along the way - and a girl she kisses impulsively at a party - but this does not turn into a romance. This is not the story of how Freddy dumps Laura and finds Tru Wuv.

It's the story of how Freddy dumps Laura because it's what she needs, which is a more honest and true story. And it does take her a long time to do that, which may make some readers of my age start yelling at her through the pages of the book, but the book would be much shorter if Freddy were quicker to realize what she needed to realize.

I've gotten this far without stating the obvious: Freddy and Laura are both women. (Girls? Seventeen is so in-between. But let me give them the benefit of the doubt.) [2] That will be important to a lot of young readers looking for stories that represent their own lives -- Freddy's friend group also is a good diverse collection of people you can see someone like Freddy gravitating to in a place like Berkeley. But that they're both women is not important to the story being told, or the genre it's told in. And that's a good thing.

Romances, and whatever anti-romances should really be called, are about people. Two people, typically, though I don't know if I need to be dogmatic there. They need to have an attraction to each other. Their gender and sex and presentation, though: that can help shape a specific story, but it's not genre-defining. It's still romance. These two people are women. That's what this story is. But a thousand other variations are possible, and exist out there.

So this is a good anti-romance, that happens to be about two seventeen-year-old high school women in Berkeley. I'd expect that from Mariko Tamaki, writer of Skim and This One Summer. I probably should have expected it from Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, best known for Don't Do Without Me, but I'd never read her work before this.

If you're in the mood for anti-romance, or just a story about complicated teenage relationships, check it out. If you're in a complicated teenage relationship, I feel for you, and hope you know that life does go on and will settle down in time. Maybe Freddy can help show the way for you.

[1] Having been a seventeen-year-old, my bet is as physical as possible, as often as possible, all the time. Laura seems that type, for one thing.

[2] As I type this, I realize that I don't have a tag for LGBTQ+ books, and suddenly wonder if I should create one. But my tag style is so arch and sarcastic that anything that "fits" here would be a bad idea for multiple reasons. So, unless I just use "LGBTQ+," it will be without a tag. And, frankly, who cares what this old white guy thinks of LBGBTQ+ books, anyway?

Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

What does it mean to be aboriginal -- to be living in the place your ancestors have for so long it fades into legend and myth? And how does that intersect with living in the modern, global world -- should it? Can it?

Joe Sacco's recent big nonfictional graphic account, Paying the Land, is about that, if you want to say it's "about" something. Sacco is a journalist, though, so it's more accurate to say this is the story of how he went to this place, talked to these people, and learned about their lives and issues.

This time around, the place is Canada's Northwest Territories, specifically the Mackenzie River Valley. The people are the Dene, a group of First Nations people who are aboriginal to that area -- Sacco talked to dozens of them, from elders and chiefs to young activists, across many towns and areas and tribes over what seems to be a few years. Their lives and issues make up this book, but the core, if I had to boil it down, is that question of history and modernity, most immediately in the clash over resource extraction and engagement with the various (white-dominated and -controlled) governments that rule Canada and the Dene people.

Again, Sacco is our viewpoint. He keeps himself in the story; this story only exists because he is telling it. He's not trying to translate the Dene concerns, and pretend that he's some pure mirror of their world. He knows he has biases and preconceptions, and that he's also getting pieces of complex stories and histories from multiple sides, all with their own agendas and preferences. There is no "Dene viewpoint" on anything - there's what this one person thinks, and what this other person wants, and a rough consensus in some other village on a third topic.

So this is not the story of how heroic First Nations people are fighting the evil rapacious oil companies, who are trying to poison their sacred lands. It's also not the story of how smart First Nations people are using demand for natural resources to provide economic development and opportunity to their communities. There are people in the book who believe in both of those stories, and are trying to make those stories true - sometimes the same people in different circumstances and places. But the reality is more complex and mixed: there will be some development. Some of it will benefit the Dene. But how much, and where, and who, and when, and, most importantly, how the agreements are structured and who has a hand in them? Those are all in dispute, and things are always in dispute among humans when big changes and big money is at stake.

As always, Sacco combines all of a cartoonist's skills: close observation of faces and body language, careful notes on what people say and do, endless hours spent over a drawing board making the pictures and words line up as closely and as clearly as possible. Paying the Land is a big, messy, dense story about complicated people in a complicated world. I know of no one else in comics doing anything like this, certainly on this scale. This is big, serious, in-depth journalism - just in a format we rarely see.

It's an impressive book. If nothing else, it will push readers out of a complacent, simplistic view of "Indians" or "aboriginals" and easy Facebook sloganeering. Sacco engages as deeply as he can with these Dene leaders and their concerns, and I believe he's presenting it all as clearly and truly as he can, as best he understands it. And I'm sure that means that multiple Dene leaders, probably including more than one person depicted in this book, thinks he got some major things totally wrong: that's how journalism works.

Reading Into the Past: Week of April 3, 2006

There were no new books coming into the house last week, which means that I fill the Monday slot on this blog by digging into my old reading notebooks and seeing if I can remember the books I read at the same time in some random year from 1990 to 2010. The RNG this time gave me 2001, so here I go:

Matthew Hughes, Fool Me Twice (bound galleys, 3/28)

I read Fools Errant, the first book, the day before, and eventually turned the two into an omnibus for the SFBC (as Gullible's Travels). Hughes at the time looked a bit like the second coming of Jack Vance - which itself would be an amazing and wonderful thing, since he really did live up to that - and has since broadened his palette and written a lot of great books that not enough people have bought.

These two are Hughes in his most purely Vancean mode and his lightest, funniest style - I think they're wonderful and I really should re-read them one of these days. They're books set perhaps an era before the Dying Earth: the Earth is not yet on its deathbed, but is definitely getting up there in years, needing regular colonoscopies and winded by going up a short flight of stairs. The hero is a young man with a good heart, bad luck, and perhaps not quite as many brains as he needs, doing the will of his uncle, the utter master of this depleted, bizarre world.

You all need to read more Matt Hughes, and so do I: I have an electronic proof of his authorized sequel to "The Demon Princes" that I could be reading instead of typing this.

Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf & Cub, Vol. 7: Cloud Dragon, Wind Tiger (3/29)

Every so often I get pissed off all over again about my 2011 flood: when I realize I probably would have re-read all 28 volumes of Lone Wolf & Cub at some point in the past decade, straight through, is one of those times. I obviously have no idea what happened in this particular volume: I assume Ogami Itto slaughtered a whole lot of people in slow-motion beautifully, but the context is what matters. Someday I hope I will have an excuse and a chance to re-read the whole series, but I doubt it will be this decade.

Jim Mullen, It Takes a Village Idiot (bound galleys, 3/30)

Before I google for it, I'm going to guess it was a quickie humor book - maybe related to the 2000 election - and that I got it from the groaning giveaway shelves at what I think was called Bookspan at that moment in time.

Nope: I was wrong. (Well, it probably came from the giveaway shelves, but that's a gimme.) This was a "I moved to West Bumfuck, and was way out of place there" humor book, written by the guy who did "The Hot Sheet" for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade and other funny stuff (including a column named after this book) before and since. I started out in suburbia, never managed to live in any city, and have remained stuck in the same small starter tract house for twenty-seven years, so the "selling a Village apartment, too small but convenient to everything in the world, in order to move to a big interesting house in the land of Colorful Rustics" is appealing to me from both ends of the equation. This was a finalist for the Thurber Prize and I tend to remember books I hated, so my guess is that it's both good and pretty funny - humor often doesn't remain long in the memory.

Loren D. Estleman, Sugartown (4/2)

I miss reading mystery novels the way I used to. I miss reading as much as I used to, but working in a business does really help prioritize doing things related to that business. This one was the fifth in Estleman's series about Detroit PI Amos Walker, originally published in 1984 and reprinted in 2001 by ibooks. (Which had a great design sense and some real editorial flair, especially on the reprint side, though Byron Preiss, the founder and animating force, was, should I say divisive?)

There's no way I can tell you what the plot is after twenty years: Amos investigated some mystery, probably some people got killed and Amos was hit on the head at least once, femmes did some fatale-ing but Our Hero was stalwart, and all was made right in the end: that's my best guess. This is a solid series, and there's a lot of books in it, so I do recommend it for people like me who like that kind of meat-and-potatoes American PI style.

Eric Garcia, Casual Rex (bound galleys, 4/4)

Surely I didn't read this for work, did I? I guess it counts as speculative fiction, but I thought it was published way out of genre and the SFBC would have looked down-market and declassee to the publishers. (Although: money is never declassee.) This series - this is the second of three books - was published as mysteries-slash-mainstream, and were about the secret society of dinosaurs living in the modern day in complicated human-suits, focused on our PI hero. They were deeply goofy, in a way I appreciated, but were not books to be taken seriously in any way, shape or form. I vaguely remember that Garcia had Hollywood ties and...I just deleted two lines about how crazy the idea of filming these would be once I realized it happened in 2004, with a backdoor pilot for a Skiffy Channel series that never happened once the adults woke up and realized what they had done. My god: a movie of this book exists. I will never, ever watch it.

So what happens in this book? I dunno. It's the second published but chronologically first, and it has a bunch of secret dinosaurs living in modern LA in meat-suits: wacky stuff, I assume. Totally wacky.

Books Read: March 2021

Three months in, I think this is the model: I type this up the weekend after a month ends, and then mostly fill in the links the next month. As always, it's mostly for my own use, as an index of this blog. Here's what I read last month:

Allie Brosh, Solutions and Other Problems (3/2)

Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, and Albert Monteys, Slaughterhouse-Five: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (3/6)

Joe Sacco, Paying the Land (3/7)

Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me (3/13)

P.G. Wodehouse, Money for Nothing (3/13)

Eleanor Davis, The Hard Tomorrow (3/14)

Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 8: My Best Friend's Squirrel (3/19)

John Allison and Max Sarin, Giant Days, Vol. 11 (3/19)

John Allison and Max Sarin, Giant Days, Vol. 12 (3/20)

John Allison and Max Sarin, Giant Days, Vol. 13 (3/21)

John Allison and Max Sarin, Giant Days, Vol. 14 (3/21)

Noelle Stevenson, The Fire Never Goes Out (3/27)

Andi Watson, The Book Tour (3/28)

Quote of the Week: Bed, No Breakfast

Because the last thing we wanted, after a hundred miles of bad road (or a few hours on the back of a mule, or walking a trail, or in a museum), was to spend a night up to our ears in quaint. I didn't want to worry, before dropping into a chair, that I might turn a museum piece into kindling., I didn't want a bathroom down the hall, its plumbing fixtures as faithful to the period as the creaking canopy bed. I didn't want a talkative host and hostess and a slew of chattering guests, their company a civilized alternative to television.

On the contrary, I wanted television. I wanted a large-screen color set with cable reception, and, for preference, a Mets game on it. I wanted air-conditioning and hot water and a bare minimum of human contact., I wanted to be able to skip breakfast and get an early start, or sleep through breakfast and get a late start, without feeling that I was Missing Something Important. (The people who tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day are the very same people who try to make you feel guilty for watching television.)

- Lawrence Block, "Cheers for the Much-Maligned Motel," p.39 in Hunting Buffalo with Bent Nails

Slaughterhouse-Five: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Ryan North and Albert Monteys from Kurt Vonnegut

So this is how it goes: two years ago I had the urge to re-read Slaughterhouse-Five, possibly Kurt Vonnegut's best novel [1]. And I did. It was still a great novel; it was still deeply sad about humanity. 

About a year later, a graphic novel adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five came out. It was adapted by Ryan North, creator of Dinosaur Comics and longtime writer of the current, popular version of Squirrel Girl. It was illustrated by Albert Monteys, a Spanish cartoonist who has worked mostly in satire. And now I've read that version, too.

So, this time, I need to talk about the pictures, and the transformation of Vonnegut's words on a page into a visual format. I've already said what I had to say about the story itself, about poor Billy Pilgrim's fate - many of the things I wrote here two years ago I thought again while reading this version; I still agree with all of that. My favorite line is still "Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future."

I have the sense that North has fiddled a bit with the structure and timeline, but that's a dangerous assumption to make: Vonnegut told the story sideways to begin with. Remember: Billy is unstuck in time. Slaughterhouse-Five, in any version, follows him that way, skipping from moment to moment across decades. It may well be that this is exactly the same structure as Vonnegut's original. But I don't think so.

I think North has tweaked things a bit to make better visual transitions: to turn Slaughterhouse-Five into something more purely comics, and not just prose poured into a new form and illustrated. He has to do that just to make Kurt Vonnegut a character in this version. Well, Vonnegut was a character in the novel: his voice was omnipresent, his viewpoint was consistent, his actions were mentioned more than once. But he was the omniscient authorial voice, without a name, mostly not taking human form. North isn't pretending to be Vonnegut to tell this story - that's another choice he could have made, or Vonnegut might have made if he'd adapted it himself  - but he wants to tell the same story, and include the Vonnegut bits. So we see Kurt on a plane flying back to German years later with an old buddy. We see him in the distance at the POW camp, at least twice. We see the famous scene where he admits all of the soldiers were babies and agrees to the subtitle of "The Children's Crusade." He's there throughout.

He's just not our point of view, the way he is in the novel. The graphic novel is less personal to Vonnegut, and maybe more for us: we are the ones watching Bill Pilgrim, directly. We're not watching Vonnegut put him through his paces. He's front and center, blinking, confused, trapped in amber. Unstuck.

Monteys has a lightly caricatured style: Pilgrim is probably the least "realistic" looking character, with a very long face and a gigantic nose. It's an open face, one for showing details of emotion: it was a good choice. It works well. Monteys also varies his panel layouts a lot, dropping into a grid only rarely and breaking out splash pages and huge expanses of white multiple times. He and North have thoroughly turned Slaughterhouse-Five into a visual representation; this is not some Classic Comics template with all of the words shoehorned in.

Listen: I can't tell you this is just as good as the original. I don't know how to compare art works across formats like that. The original is a towering masterpiece of 20th century literature. It's one of the great anti-war novels of all time. That's a lot to live up to. But this version of Slaughterhouse-Five is beautiful and heartbreaking and sad and true and wonderful and magnificent and engrossing. There is no part of it that I can imagine changing to be better. It's worth reading if you know the original. It's maybe even more worth reading if you don't. That's what I can tell you.

[1] I haven't re-read them in decades; my opinion is outdated. I want to read him again; maybe I will.

And I say I had the urge. Maybe I didn't. Maybe I always was going to re-read it in 2019, and just got to that moment in my own personal mountain-range. Who can say?

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

You can know, intellectually, that other people think in ways different from you. You can have what you think are good models of other people in your head. You can even find you predict their actions and concerns and ideas a lot of the time.

But that doesn't mean that you understand how other people actually think.

Ever. Anyone. At all.

And sometimes you come across a big wodge of someone else's thought processes, and it stops you right in your tracks. "This doesn't make any sense," you may think. "How can you get to X from that G? Who would actually make those connections?" But you know someone did: you're reading the proof.

Allie Brosh is really good at clearly depicting the way she thinks. She did that brilliantly in her book of illustrated essays (semi-comics? what do we call what she does?) Hyperbole and a Half, nearly a decade ago. And she did it again, in the extended sequence of essays that form her new book Solutions and Other Problems.

The difference is that Hyperbole was a like a hot band's first record, collecting all of their hit singles - things you may have already heard, or heard parts of, in passing on the radio or in the background in some movie. It had a lot of great material, a lot of strong essays about how Brosh dealt with moments in her life, but they were generally separate pieces.

Solutions is a concept album, clearly designed as a single thing. It is a book telling a sequence of events, mostly true, selected and organized and contextualized and given weight by Brosh. It is a story organized inherently by the way she thinks about things, focused and precise in its Allie Brosh-ness.

And Allie Brosh thinks about a hell of a lot of things vastly differently than I do. I'm not trying to claim I'm the model of the world, or better at being neurotypical - but my mind is the only one I have, the only one I really understand, so it's the only measuring-stick I can use. [1]

Brosh doesn't diagnose or label herself in Solutions, so I won't try to do so here - there were pieces in Hyperbole about her clinical depression, but there's nothing that focused here, nothing specifically about mental states and diagnoses. Instead, it's a view of the world entirely from within Brosh's head - it felt to me a little like the essays in Hyperbole were Brosh trying to translate her worldview into, well, call it Average-ese, the broad consensus sense of reality, and Solutions is instead pure Brosh from the get-go.

And pure Brosh can be odd and disorienting. To me. I have no idea what you will think. Maybe everyone else in the world thinks more like Brosh than they do like me; that's entirely possible.

And I never would have thought that without Allie Brosh.

What is Solutions about? It's about being Allie Brosh, about her family and her childhood and the animals she knows and how she interacts with other people (or, a lot of the time, avoids doing so). I found myself being stopped short every few pages - sometimes multiple times a page - to say "What? Why? How does that even follow?!"

If everyone were capable of putting their thought processes down on paper like Brosh can, the world would be more comprehensible. Vastly weirder, too. But knowable in more basic way than it currently is.

I say that. But reading Solutions also teaches me that I really don't understand. Even after five hundred pages, if there was a quiz on the last page of "What Would Allie Do?" I bet I'd get most of the questions wrong. And that makes me think my models of everyone else are equally flawed.

But that realization is a good thing. We have to know what we can know first.

I often finish up, when I write about books here, by trying to describe who would or might want to read a particular book. The world is vast; we're all interested in different things. But Allie Brosh is something special. I'm sure there are other writers who can illuminate mental states as well as she can -- some academics, some science popularizers, some other memoirists in other formats. But Brosh combines that clarity with what feels to me like a unique viewpoint. I think we all need this. I think we all can benefit from this. And Solutions speeds by, for all its 500 pages.

So read it. Whoever you are, wherever you are, however you think. Maybe you will find yourself here. Maybe you will think she's weird in the same ways I do and maybe you will think she's weird in entirely different ways. Maybe we'll all think each other are weird in increasingly baroque ways.

We're all human: it's entirely possible.

[1] I'm not unacquainted with social anxiety, for example. I used to hide in hotel rooms at SF conferences, psyching myself up to go out and actually talk to people. It would even work, once in a while. Some of the worst moments of my life were trying to find someone, anyone to have dinner with at some random convention - and I was a guy with an expense account, which you'd think would make it easier for most people. For me, it did not.

I once physically refused to go into a restaurant at all, surprising my wife, sitting down on a curb outside once I realized it was family-style and I'd have to sit next to strangers and pass dishes around. And I made that reservation.

If anyone's mind is "typical" or "normal," it ain't mine. Even now, years after other things in my life burned out those fears and anxieties, I wouldn't claim to be anybody's icon of anything.

Cannabis by Box Brown

Nothing just is illegal. There's always a story, like the warning labels on small appliances - every single "thou shalt not" is because somebody thought "fuck yeah, I shall."

Some of those rules are so old - don't kill people, don't take their stuff - that they seem like they've always been around. But that's just because when you gather together a few humans in one place, at least one of them is going to try some of that shit. So everybody codifies the obvious stuff early, and then the ball of rules starts rolling downhill and gathering more and more to itself as it goes.

Eventually, a society starts outlawing things you put in your own body, for whatever reasons that makes sense to it at the time. And, since humans are never in agreement, there's usually nearly as many people violently opposed to outlawing that stuff as violently in favor of it. (See: Prohibition.)

Box Brown is telling a particular version of that story here in Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, his 2019 non-fiction graphic book. He starts off with some ancient dude on a beach grooving to the vibes of the universe, and continues with some historical scene-setting for the next fifty or sixty pages to show how various tight-assed Dean Wormer types in the Anglosphere kept harshing the buzz here and there. 

But the bulk of Cannabis is the story of Harry J. Anslinger, the man responsible, more than anyone, for cannabis being a Schedule I drug in the USA and all of the trouble and repression that flowed out of that. Well, he was against cannabis well before that point, and it was just one step on his lifelong crusade against the devil weed, but you get my point - that was the legal linchpin of the thing.

Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Treasury's Federal Bureau of Narcotics, holding the job for over thirty years. And he comes across, in Brown's telling, like a roadshow J. Edgar Hoover, a smaller, lesser version of the obsessed G-man who just wants everyone do do only the things he thinks is correct, because that will make the world right. Brown also makes it clear how racist Anslinger and the anti-cannabis movement was: it was largely a reaction to the fact that first Mexicans and then Black Americans were the ones using cannabis, and there was a lot of race-baiting to get the anti-cannabis laws passed. Brown also points out, repeatedly, how shoddy the supposed "science" was - Ainslinger and his minions started from a premise and declared it was true, even as actual researchers were unable to prove the things they confidently asserted. 

Anslinger was horribly wrong, Brown argues - and anyone reading this book will be inclined to agree with Brown - and the end of Cannabis shows the countermovement, which has only been picking up speed since Brown finished this book. (My home state, New Jersey, decriminalized cannabis via a ballot measure last fall, which apparently, as a large East Coast state, is a Big Deal.) But the bulk of the book is how this police state was assembled and what it did: that's the story.

Brown always strikes me as a meat-and-potatoes kind of comics-maker: he doesn't do flashy things with the narrative, sticking to declarative captions and a chronological presentation. His art is stripped-down as well: clean and crisp, full of chunky lines defining areas of black and tone. Cannabis is in that same mode, telling the story without having the creator get in the way. It's detailed, well-researched (there's a big list of sources at the end) and awfully serious for a book about Mary Jane.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/27/21

One book this week: I bought it online used, specifically choosing a copy that did not say "ex-library" from the seller, and picking one that was more expensive than many to try to assure that.

No guesses what arrived in the mail: of course it was covered in stamps and cellophane and stickers. When I am proclaimed Lord of the World, booksellers who neglect to correctly mark a copy as ex-lib will be swiftly executed, possibly after being drawn and quartered. I will be a stern but fair despot.

The book itself might be great - I certainly hope so! - but it looks like I'll have to buy another copy eventually, since ex-lib is fine for things to read and pass on but (for me) not good enough for anything you want to actually keep.

The book is Alternate Routes, Tim Powers's novel from 2018. I missed it at the time, and missed the sequel Forced Perspectives, and am just now coming to terms with the fact that Powers seems to be writing a contemporary supernatural detective series (?!) for Baen (?!). As happens so often, the world is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine.