Lisa Hanawalt’s new graphic novel Hot Dog Taste Test is a collection of pieces mostly written for the culinary magazine Lucky Peach, but as you probably guessed by the title, Hanawalt’s idea of foodie culture is more casually absurd than you’d expect.
Primarily known for co-creating and designing the characters on Bojack Horseman, Hanawalt has proven herself to be a singular cartoonist as well as a humorist. Simultaneously low-brow and fantastically clever, she comes across like a more wizened version of the kid at the back of the classroom. The one you shouldn’t call on if you don’t want her to derail the entire lecture.
Through her eyes (and her Dumb Dirty Eyes), the world is a vulgar, illogical place — and just a shade surreal. In lush watercolors, she illustrates a hot dog eating contest that also includes a “best in show” section where hot dogs are led around on leashes by their owners. She also explores millennial insecurities like aging and irresponsibility (“Wow, I’m four times as old as you!” she says to an 8-year-old.), while also totally owning the fact that if she had a time machine all of her historical research would be toilet related.
Fans of Bojack Horseman will enjoy her anthropomorphized animal characters like Tuca, Lisa’s socially anxious toucan persona who struggles to prepare dinners that are basically “bananas and ranch,” and others will enjoy her keen eye and wicked sense of humor. Just don’t take her cooking advice. You’ve been warned.
For suburbanite Ben, what starts out as a dull business trip to the Poconos rapidly becomes a horrifying ordeal of epic proportions when he decides to go for The Hike through the local woods. Pursued by a menagerie of monsters through locations found nowhere on Earth, Ben struggles to survive. As he stumbles from one nightmare into the next, he longs for a way to escape the path and return to his family. But to leave the path is to die, and Ben will have to find his way if he ever wants to make it home again.
The Hike is a bloody mash-up of genres, as if author Drew Magary threw The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland and the top 10 B horror movies of all time into a blender to see what would happen. The book is a wild ride from start to finish; once the action starts, it never really lets up. Some of the images are gory, yes, and some of the monsters are really grotesque, but Magary never lets Ben’s experiences on the path descend into the literary equivalent of torture porn. There is a purpose to what Ben is enduring and a destination he has to reach, and the quest-like feel of the narration keeps the plot from being bogged down by too much horror. The violence and heartbreak Ben endures is balanced by Ben’s deadpan humor and determination to see this journey through to the end. The inclusion of some seriously fun characters, including a talking crab, is an added bonus, and there are plenty of surprise twists awaiting Ben and the reader.
These twists make The Hike the engaging and fun read that it is, culminating in a shocking revelation right up to the last page. The Hike is a quick read, with enough bizarre world-building and action to make it perfect for any fan of shows like The Twilight Zone, video games like Limbo or podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale.
If you ever find yourself seeking words of wisdom to help motivate you, look no further than to Tavis Smiley, one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People, a PBS talk show host and The New York Times bestselling author. His latest, 50 for Your Future: Lessons from Down the Road, is an inspirational guidebook through the ups and downs, twists and turns of life.
50 for Your Future contains 208 vivid, eye-catching pages full of insight. Readers will learn 50 beneficial lessons that Tavis Smiley himself has learned over the years — the mistakes that he has made, the lessons he's learned (and is still learning) and the valuable advice he's gathered from family members, mentors and celebrities are found.
Other Tavis Smiley titles include Before You Judge: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson's Last Days and The Covenant with Black America: Ten Years Later. To find out more, visit Tavis Smiley's website.
Music and history entwine in Bernice McFadden’s newest novel, The Book of Harlan, a story of one African American family spanning generations. McFadden found her inspiration for the title character of Harlan from her paternal grandfather, about whom the author says:
I never personally knew the man and neither did my father. All I had to recreate his life were a birth certificate, census schedules, a few newspaper articles and my imagination.
Emma is the cherished and respectable daughter of a Baptist minister in Macon, Georgia, until carpenter Sam Elliot sweeps her off her feet and, in the oldest story ever, Emma is pregnant. Newly married, Sam and Emma join the Great Migration of African Americans escaping the south and Jim Crow to find a better life, but leave baby Harlan behind with Emma’s parents. Landing in New York City in 1922, America’s prosperity trickles down to the Elliotts, who can finally bring their young son north with them. Harlan develops into a gifted guitarist who thrives in the Harlem Renaissance music scene and his job in a jazz band finds him touring in Paris on the eve of World War II. Hitler’s visions of extermination aren’t limited to Jews, and Harlan and his bandmate Lizard are caught up in an unimaginable nightmare.
McFadden does not sugarcoat the lives of the Elliott family, and by extension, the broader African American experience. Poverty, single motherhood, addiction, injustice and race-based prejudice cycle around again and again, making the upward mobility to which the Elliotts aspire a two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey. From the turn-of-the-century segregated south to the Newark riots of 1967, The Book of Harlan offers a sweeping view of 20th century African American life in which the constant is the unbreakable bonds of family and friends. Readers who enjoy Bernice McFadden’s perspective should also try The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.
While biological research is continually making new discoveries into how much we know about animals, there is one aspect in which scientists scrupulously avoid speculation: animals’ minds. In Being a Beast, Charles Foster attempts to rectify this disparity by immersing himself in the “neuro-alchemy” of wild creatures. Not only does he study the latest veterinary neurological research, he tries to live like them too. In a tradition of ersatz, immersive experimentation also seen in the works of Bill Bryson and A.J. Jacobs, he models his behavior to live as a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer and a swift.
Foster’s experiences are variously uncomfortable, degrading, bizarre and sublime. While his scientific method would not hold up under much scrutiny, the objective of his writing is more ontological. Foster attempts to position himself counterpoint to humanity’s historical position as a “conqueror” of nature. He uses nature to escape — sloughing off modernity in an attempt to define and describe wildness and autonomy. His research is doomed to failure, and he begins the book by acknowledging that the challenges he sets for himself are impossible, but there is insight to be found in his quixotic experiment. Foster’s doctorate in medical law and ethics, plus his qualifications as a veterinarian, help to back his credibility even when his experiences and arguments verge on the esoteric.
Does sexism still exist? Sure, men and women are different. We always will be, biologically speaking. At first glance, women can surely do all of the things that men do in society. We can work, we can vote, we don’t “have to” be mothers and housewives. What more could we want? Where is the sexism? It’s there, and though it may have improved since the days of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, we still need feminism. Widely acclaimed feminist writer Jessica Valenti reintroduces sexism in a different light and gives feminism a fresh approach in her newest book, Sex Object.
Sex Object is a memoir written in an organic, rather than chronological, structure. Valenti recounts the moments where sexism has affected her at all different ages and areas of her life, from the time she was in high school and her teacher asked her out, to her 20s when countless men would expose themselves to her on the subway, to the emails and responses she has gotten on her website, Feministing.com.
Valenti’s writing is realistic, raw and emotionally empowering. All women have all been where she has been, sexualized and objectified by men, but we don’t often think to call it “wrong” so much as “annoying.” Valenti’s message is not just that sexism is bad or that we should use feminism to fight it. It’s that sexism is so prevalent, so normalized every day, that we need feminism in order to recognize it. Valenti’s book is a great read for a new generation of feminists who understand that our responsibility is not to be victims, but to be voices. We do not necessarily need to fight, but we need to be aware.
The year is 2089 and humanity’s vices have only grown more severe with time; the only escape from the bleak reality of a world wrecked by pollution is to sugarcoat the dreary with flashy new virtual distractions. The neon-splashed cyberpunk future of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost: Vol. 1 is equal parts entertaining and unsettling.
Constable Led Dent is a ruthless servant of the criminal overlords running Los Angeles, numbed to the horrendous acts of violence he commits by his seemingly unbreakable addiction to constant artificial audiovisual stimulation. Led’s only remaining link to the real world is his partner and lover, Debbie, whose unwavering dedication to finding a way to get Led clean lands them with a dangerous job in Tokyo, the last bastion of technology-free living in a world obsessed with staying connected.
Artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are a flawless art team. Murphy’s dynamic lines and Hollingsworth’s masterful use of texture and color make for page after page of truly jaw-dropping artwork. Frenetic action sequences are rendered in hyper-detailed gory glory, the futuristic media projections are colorful and full of playful nods to current pop culture trends, and the tranquil landscapes of Tokyo stand in stark contrast to the gaudy streets of Los Angeles.
Remender often uses his stories to explore topical ideas pushed to their extremes, and Tokyo Ghost is no exception; while the exaggerated technology and over-the-top characters exist firmly in the realm of science fiction, you’re sure to latch onto at least one idea in this book that will make you examine the way that you interact with the world.
If you’re as blown away by the art in this book as I was, try The Wake, an Eisner Award-winning series that pairs the same art team with writer Scott Snyder and somehow manages to make fish people scary. Seriously.