Monday, 16 July 2012

Books: Make Me A Woman


Make Me A Woman
By Vanessa Davis

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

I mean - no duh - (I know this ain't exactly a new insight) but taste is a funny thing isn't it? 

There was this thing that I read about a few years ago called "The Napoleon Dynamite Problem." What it was was that Netflix wanted to improve their recommendation programme ("You liked ___ ? In that case maybe you will also like ____ !") and offered a prize of $1 million to the first people who could improve their algorithm by 10%. Most of the time it seemed it was pretty easy to work out what people liked - I mean - if you liked Aliens then you'd probably like Predator and that kinda stuff (because - well - no duh) but the problem was with films like Napoleon Dynamite. The thing with Napoleon Dynamite is that it was next to impossible to predict who was going to love it and who was going to hate it - so - to use myself as an example: the reason I decided to watch it was because everyone I knew said that it was the kind of film that I would adore and - god - Simon Pegg (who - in case you can't tell is kinda one of my personal heroes if nothing else than Tim Bisley) gave a quote somewhere and said it was his new favourite film or something - and wait a second - I think I may have actually brought it on DVD without having watched it beforehand because hey - everyone says it's great yeah? - and well - let's just say that was the last time I did that.

But watching Napoleon Dynamite gave me the same feeling as reading this book - just what the hell are people enjoying so much? What the hell am I missing?

I'd never heard of this book before I saw it sitting in one of our library crates (blah reservations other branches etc) but - oooh - a new comic in expensive looking hardback! And a front cover that looked like it could be an extract from a Beryl Cook painting [2] so - as usual I was game before I'd even started reading it. And (ok - that old adage about never judge a book by it's cover probably includes it's back cover too - but whatever) on the back it had three glowing little recommendations: “If you don’t like [Vanessa Davis], you don’t like anything good.” —Vice “What distinguishes Davis’s take is a reflective hunger formeaning and connection in the very mundane.” —Bust “Vanessa Davis’s autobiographical slice-of-life drawings are both totally relatable and sweetly surreal.” —Bitch. Now - I've never heard of Bust and Bitch (and I'm a little wary of googling them on a work computer) but I guess I should have heard alarm bells instead of going "ooh - this should be good" when I saw that the top quote was from Vice magazine [3]. Because Vice magazine sucks balls and well - so does this comic.

There's a Doug Stanhope line that goes: "Babies are like poems. They're beautiful to their creator, but to other people, they're silly and they're irritating." And I reckon that goes double for the stuff that people write in their diaries and double-triple for stuff in their diaries that they then decide to illustrate and then put into a comic book for me to read. I know I've said this before about other comic biographies that I've wrote about on here but - damn it - I say it again (and I'll say it in caps) : WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? For me - a grumpy late twenty-something but whatever - I need a reason to make my way through a bunch of drawing that look like they were drawn by - well - Napoleon Dynamite (or - wait - even better - Eagle vs Shark! [4]): and (come on) at least give me some small semblance of a story instead of just a random selection of two of three page vignettes - all of which seem to swirl around Jewishness rather than Womanhood (maybe the title should have been: Make Me a Jew? [5]) 

There's that HBO sit-com Girls that seems to be a bit love/hate in the responses it gets (no one on the internet it seems can just say it's ok). Me - I really like it and think it's almost genius. But this book - it's like - all the negative things people say about Girls - that it's self-obessed and boring and of no possible interest to anyone apart from the people that made it - etc - all those things are how I feel about this book.

But - hey - it's all a matter of taste. So - whatever.  

[1] You can read about it at this New York Times article "If You Liked This, You’re Sure to Love That" here.

[2] Beryl Cook: you know - the artist who draws the people with the sausage arms hanging out in pubs. I wouldn't classify myself as an actual fan - but she's kinda cool and the idea of a whole comic illustrated in that fashion seemed like it could be interesting... (altho it turns out that Vanessa Davis' art doesn't really look like Beryl Cook at all - oh well).

[3] If you haven't heard of Vice it's basically the magazine of choice for American Apparel wearing trendy hipster Shoreditch scum. And - trying to find out the review where that quote came from I found this review: "Vanessa Davis's drawings have a softness to them that feels like sympathetic memories. Maybe I'm off here, but it feels like she views the world in a forgiving way, whether she's showing us the time when everyone was having bat mitzvahs or some Israeli dude was treating her poorly. Everyone is a lovable goofball. There's a particularly good comic in here about going to the sex store with Karen of Meh fame [1. Who? 2. Oh my god - is there really a band out there called "Meh"? (I'm trying to google it but I'm getting nothing. 3. "Going to the sex store with Karen of Meh fame" sounds like a sentence from Sugar Ape - but then I guess every page in Vice sounds like a sentence from Sugar Ape] and being observed by a Hassidic man. It's odd when you run into Hassidic men in places like that. I remember seeing a few at that goth/fetish party they used to have at Siberia [well weapon]. I also remember seeing a couple at a Death in June show on a Sunday morning at the Pyramid Club a few years back. Maybe they were just Orthodox.   Anywayahs, as you may have cottoned, there's a whole load of stories in this book relating to Jewishness.  I especially like one strip where she describes how great Purim is to her boyfriend while he turns up his nose at the concept of "gross Jewish food."  Later he is giggling while reading  a biography of Hitler before bed." I mean ok: I know I'm not one to talk seeing how pretty much this entire blog is just me going on off-tangent digressions (for example: see [3]) - but really - what the hell? What the hell?

[4] A Napoleon Dynamite rip-off that looks better than Napoleon Dynamite. I haven't actually seen it - but I have watched the trailer quite a few times. And it's got Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords! So bonus points for that plus: the title always makes me think of this Thee More Shallows song (double bonus!).

[5] This should go without saying - but I'm not trying to be anti-semitic (like duh). But when oh so very many films, books, comics etc of the past 100 years have touched upon the Jewish experience in one form or another (I won't even bother to write a list of the awesome stuff that's out there because if I did it would probably take all day) - then you really need to bring something new to the table because otherwises - what's the point? And why should I bother to waste my time reading your book?

Links: Smith Mag Interview, Book Slut Review.

Further reading: American Splendor: The Best of American Splendor, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, Clumsy, I Never Liked You, Marzi, French Milk, Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Breakdowns.

All comments welcome.

No comments: