VLS Beach Blanket Books

On Comics, Thrillers, and the Bodily Arts

EPILEPTIC, BOOK 1
By David B.
L'association/Fantagraphics Books, 160 pp., $24.95 paper
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In the '60s, French cartoonist David B. was a boy called Pierre-François, with an epileptic older brother, a family desperately exploring the dodgy world of alternative medicine for help, and a hyperactive fantasy life centered on the history of warfare. Epileptic is the extraordinary graphic memoir of his childhood, seen through mirrors and distortions: his own life through his brother Jean-Christophe's, his family's story through the lies of opportunistic "visionaries," his adult understanding through his young imagination.

The co-founder of the experimental cartooning group L'Association, B. narrates the story as he understands it now, but draws it (in an evocative, woodcut-inspired style) from the perspective of a boy who was shuttled through the offices of spiritualists and macrobiotic gurus. He saw the world as a parade of icons, where metaphor and fantasy were barely distinguishable from reality, and diseases could be battled like Mongol hordes. Epileptic rarely uses realistic images when a totemic semi-abstraction will say more. By the end of the book, as Jean-Christophe and his family become lost in his disease, B. traps the frail, simply drawn humans in a riot of mystical diagrams, primitivist animals, and stylized warriors. —Douglas Wolk

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from Summer Blonde by adrian tomine

THE SHAPE OF WATER: THE FIRST INSPECTOR MONTALBANO MYSTERY
By Andrea Camilleri
Viking, 224 pp., $19.95
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As Lawrence Block is to New York and Raymond Chandler is to Los Angeles, Andrea Camilleri is to Sicily. The Shape of Water was first published in Italy in 1994, and has been translated into eight languages. This summer marks its debut in America.

Inspector Salvo Montalbano is a winning combination of the laconic and the dogged, leisurely making the rounds and piecing together coincidences and inconsistencies. The mystery begins in the fictional town of Vigata, where a trash collection company called Splendor finds the body of a local politician at the Pasture, a garbage dump teeming with prostitutes and drugs. From this spare and playful opening the reader is suddenly swimming in corruption, cover-ups, and a baby-octopus dinner as delicious as any plot twist.

Camilleri takes the standard detective novel format—gruesome crimes, a personable detective, a cast of curious characters, tough humor—and makes the genre his own by placing it in his home country, where food, wine, and pleasure always come before work. —William Georgiades

JIVAMUKTI YOGA: PRACTICES FOR LIBERATING BODY AND SOUL
By Sharon Gannon and David Life, with a foreword by Sting
Ballantine Books, 300 pp., $16 paper
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Located on Lafayette Street, around the corner from the Voice offices, the Jivamukti studio has become the epicenter of celebrity yoga. The two artists who founded the studio and collaborated on the book are committed to a way of life of which the twisty postures are only one aspect. In their book they lay the whole process out, with photographs, drawings, marginalia drawn from sacred texts, footnotes, a bibliography, a glossary, and an index. They explore the devotional aspects of yoga, which tend to make casual practitioners nervous, and take a clear position: "To serve and get closer to God is the only reason to practice or to teach yoga."

It's a perfect beach book. For about the price of one yoga class (which Gannon and Life, being responsible teachers, urge you to take), you can stretch out on your towel, try the poses, experiment with mantras and breathing, contemplate ethical vegetarianism, confront speciesism, plumb the mysteries and wisdom of gurus from far and wide, and study some Sanskrit. And then let it all go. —Elizabeth Zimmer

TO AFGHANISTAN AND BACK
By Ted Rall
NBM Publishing, 112 pp., $15.95
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When American bombs started falling on Afghanistan, Voice contributor Ted Rall flew in and joined a press convoy. What he found was an intractable, lawless, squalid mess, locals who wanted to rip him off or kill him, and the blackly funny realization that the Taliban and the Northern Alliance rank and file are literally the same people. The core of To Afghanistan and Back is Rall's 50-page cartoon journal of his weeks in the war zone, augmented by a dozen short essays (three of which originally appeared in these pages) and a handful of his darkest, most cutting Search and Destroy comic strips ever.

Rall wanted to "cover the human angle . . . the effect of the war on ordinary lives," but ends up documenting his frustrations as an outsider. The acidic observations and snarky cynicism that drive his strip carry the book much more than his rudimentary, goofy artwork—he draws faces exclusively in three-quarter view, and there's an occasional clash between style and content, as with an image of a dismembered suicide bomber drawn with Rall's trademark carrot-shaped nose and X's for eyes. Rall's reflexive distrust of governments, media, and everybody he encounters can be wearying; sadly, it seems justified here. —D.W.

THE DREAM OF SCIPIO
By Iain Pears
Riverhead Books, 398 pp., $25.95
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Historical novels don't usually have surprise endings. The Roman Empire falls. The Avignon papacy returns to Rome. The Allies win World War II. So Iain Pears begins his literary thriller, The Dream of Scipio, by showing how it ends: Julien Barneuve dies. But, surprise, Barneuve need not have died.

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