A Frankensteinian superhero for the fast food era where no radioactive spiders or chemical plant explosions are required – just a steady, tasty diet of.. the beef.
“Chuck Carter is a good man. Chuck has shot penetrating bolts into the skulls of approximately 23,000 cows in his lifetime. This hasn’t affected him at all.”
The combination of Richard Starkings & Tyler Shainline’s bleakley satirical writing with Shaky Kane’s gloriously garish artwork creates the perfect marriage of love/hate Americanna – both indulging in and vilifying it’s reference points. It’s hard not to love the nostalgic crassness of the signposts of American culture and this story allows the reader to revel in it’s plasticy glory whilst also, not so much peaking below the surface as ripping the skin off and making you stare at the pulsing viscera underneath.
As fun and entertaining as it is horrifying and grim, it’s a rare (pun intended) comic book than can successfully take down consumption culture in all its forms (food, labour, sex) and include a two-page spread on the ugliness of the dairy industry with an unflinching focus on the most grooey home truths without veering into over-worthy browbeating. You’ll finish The Beef with a gnawing feeling in your stomach – it’s probably guilt, but it might be hunger.
AUTHOR: Richard Starkings / Tyler Shainline / Shaky Kane
TITLE: The Beef
More consistent than The Casual Vacancy (although its highs were higher and lows lower) I found this to be an enjoyable, easy going whodunit that for the most part kept me engaged. Whilst the central characters felt quite cliched at the start they were fleshed out well throughout the story and by the end of the book were well poised for a sequel.
If I have any negative comments it’s that there is a strange combination of page-turner and long-windedness present in both this and The Casual Vacancy. Buried inside this book is a really gripping yarn half it’s length although unlike The Casual Vacancy it’s not as obvious to pinpoint where the extraneous information is. I never really felt bored while I was actually reading it, more that it just seemed to take far too long to get to the point. I’m a pretty gullible reader and never guess the endings to these things but in this case I did – I suspect mainly because I had so much prelude during which to wander through all the possibilities in my mind.
So to sum up..
A decent holiday read if not something that will blow your mind. Less divisive than The Casual Vacancy but ultimately less interesting too.
Hopefully there will be a slightly more brutally edited sequel to look forward to at some point soon.
Read it if you like: Colin Dexter, Jodi Picoult, Elizabeth George
(mildly spoilerish but no actual plot details)
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way before I start:
With that out of the way let’s get down to what I thought of the book itself.
It took me a little longer to get into in than I would normally have persisted with a novel and although I enjoyed the tone from the offset I found the lack of discernible plot in the first chunk slow going and would probably have given up on it had it not been the new JK novel etc. It’s worth pointing out that I’m a pretty impatient reader though and often give up on books after a half dozen pages, sometimes even less, if they haven’t grabbed me – however I still suspect it could have been edited a little more toughly in this opening section. Somewhere around the 200 page mark it suddenly clicked with me though and from that point on I found it pacey and highly enjoyable with the last quarter being un-put-downable.
Typically of Jo’s writing the highlights of the book for me are the plotting and the characterisation, particularly of the teenage characters and the odious Howard Mollison.
The writing style and characterisation was *exactly* what I expected it to be. Pagford is basically Little Whinging dragged into a more invasively adult scrutiny. Like her previous writing every character is flawed and many of them fairly unlikeable but in almost all cases we are encouraged to empathise with them too. We are given all sides of each nobly story to mull over in a way that real life rarely allows us to. A few reviews have criticised the writing for being stiff or two dimensional but I think that’s largely an illusion. Whilst she does occasionally have a tendency to slip into trite phrases or slightly overwrote metaphors there is this odd aspect to her writing, which I love and which is also present in the Potter series, where she gives you the feeling of something slightly pompous and old fashioned (Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie often come to mind) then punctures it repeatedly with moments of humour, horror or realism. I can understand how people could take it at face value but it has an unsettling push-me-pull-me quality that I adore – in much the same way (albeit not quite as twisted) as Twin Peaks where the cherry pie and strong jaws are just as integral as the madness and terror.
I’m not sure if this will make any sense but the plotting is the book’s key strength but not the plot itself. The way the various character’s lives weave together – finally crashing into each other in an operatic and somewhat melodramatically Hitchcock-esque final act (also reminiscent of the end of the third League of Gentlemen series) is fantastically enjoyable but the main story itself is not all that involving. I did enjoy the device of the pivotal character being dead (reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides or Twin Peaks again) and revealed to us only in drips and drops through the lives of the remaining characters and their own intricate stories, but the larger arc concerning Pagford and Yarvil and the council itself felt more like a vehicle for the message she wanted to deliver than a fleshed out story.
I was quite concerned in the opening chapters that the class war between Pagford and The Fields would become naive or cloyingly liberal and while at points in the early stages of the book it does feel a little like having a finger wagged at you I was relieved that as it progresses the moralising becomes much more evenly spread and complex. If there is an over-riding message to the book it is a borderline-nihilistic suggestion that we should all try to be more aware and kinder to each other but that life itself makes that almost impossible to achieve – that social conscience of any kind is an almost Herculean effort when combined with your own desires and needs. And that’s *very* Jo.
In summation – it’s not the best book I’ve ever read but it certainly wasn’t the worst either and although it’s not really like these author’s books I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys slightly gothic character based thrillers like Donna Tart, Patricia Highsmith and Louise Welsh . Or – and this really is the target demographic – Agatha Christie fans with a stomach for sex and swearing 😉
This series may start as a familiar, if well crafted, dystopia but it ends as one of the most brutal and bloody indictments of the politics of war I have read – be that for the teen demographic or otherwise.
Suzanne Collins’ writing uses fairly broad brush strokes and at times can verge on the more stylized futurism of something like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series* but ultimately remains grounded in a bone-crunching realness that gives weight to both the story arc and the characters.
Although all three books are consumate page turners (I downed the series in less than a month) it’s not always the adrenaline rush of the standard action page turner. There is an intrinsic, unspoken caveat to these books that anything – especially anything bad – could happen to any of the characters at any time and whilst this makes the action gripping it also creates an uncertainty and anxiousness I rarely feel with hero (or heroine) led stories. There is also a grinding, ‘last-gasp crawl towards the finish line’ quality to a lot of the action that at times has more in common with horror movies, in particular those that veer into torture porn, than anything else. None of these observations are criticisms by the way, they are exactly what makes the satire present in the story arc so powerful.
Only just raising it’s head above the parapet of nihilism it’s not a series for anyone looking for a new Alex Rider but if you like to have your buttons pushed along with your action then I would absolutely recommend it.
In terms of where it sits within the frame of teen writing, and for any parents considering whether it’s appropriate for their kids, I would say it’s definitely at the upper end of the YA spectrum. That’s not to say you have to be 17 to read this – I think I could have tackled it effectively by the age of 14 or so – but it will depend on the individual and their reading habits. It’s not a book that is controversial for the sake of it but it could certainly be a conversation starter for younger readers. I also suspect that under 12 or 13 it would be the emotional language of the personal relationships in the story that might be an issue in digesting the series rather than just the violence.
In short – highly recommended.
*RE: Uglies: I love those books too. Here is my very old review of them.
This might look like a small, fragile sliver of a story from the outside but it’s a wonderfully messy, urgent and visceral little beast on the inside. It’s sexy, honest, real and slightly perverse.
Titillating? Yes, but if The Book Lover were burlesque it would be the pulling glitter out of it’s arse kind not the awkward fan dance in perfect lipstick and lacy knickers kind. And all the better for it.
The simple page
Designing a book is largely an exercise in balance: Balance of letterforms and surrounding space in relation to the physicality of a book. In Hochui and Kinross’ Designing Books, they discuss the uniqueness of book symmetry:
The axis of symmetry of the spine is always there; one can certainly work over it, but not deny it. In this respect book typography is essentially different from the typography of single sheets, as in business printing, posters, and so on.
The spine gives book reading a kinetic motion not found in unbound sheets of paper. Forward and backward movement within a book happens because of the spine. And so designers erect scaffolding—text blocks and running heads and other literary accoutrements—around this keystone axis. It is the natural balance point of a spread. The implicitness of this means publishers have largely achieved functional book design right from the beginning: the forty-two line columns of thick type in the Gutenberg bible, even today, are quite a marvel of typographic balance.
If the axis of symmetry for a book is the spine, where is it on an iPad? On one hand, designers can approach tablets as if they were a single sheet of “paper,” letting the physicality of the object define the central axis of symmetry—straight down the middle.
On the other hand, the physicality of these devices doesn’t represent the full potential of content space. The screen becomes a small portal to an infinite content plane, or “infinite canvas,” as so well illustrated by Scott McCloud.
Fig 1. The infinite canvas
Regarding iPad book design, designers are left with a fundamental question they must answer before approaching this device: Do we embrace the physicality of the device—a spineless page with a central axis of symmetry? Or do we embrace the device’s virtual physicality—an invisible spine defined by every edge of the device, signaling the potential of additional content just a swipe away?
Fig 2. Every which way is up
Presently there’s a clear rift in iPad editorial design. There are those applications—iBooks, Kindle, New York Times, Wired, The New Yorker—that attempt to transpose a type of print design built around physical cues to a screen lacking those same cues. They treat the boundaries of the iPad screen like the edges of a printed sheet of paper—sometimes awkwardly forcing content into columns which aren’t optimized for the canvas.
These applications are often characterized by an imposition of arbitrary, non-semantic breaks in content in the name of pagination. Oliver Reichentsien, in his essay iPad: Scroll or Card breaks down use cases for the two models. He provides metrics for determining when to scroll or paginate, and also how the very experience of reading changes between them.
Fig 3. The New York Times app: swipe to the left to continue reading this article
Fig 4. The New Yorker app: swipe up to continue reading this article
The inconsistency in which the physical page is mimicked on a tablet leaves readers disoriented, unaware of their position in the context of the greater whole, and unable to easily scan back.
On the other side we have reading applications like Instapaper and Mobile Safari (Mobile Safari being the most fundamental of reading applications on our iDevices) that embrace the boundless nature of the iPad screen. The physical edges don’t bind the text blocks.
Very rarely does one find an application that masterfully merges these two schools. Inkling, however, is one such example of a reading application that straddles the new and old—chunking content in an intuitively predictable and consistent manner within and across chapters, thereby grounding the user via thoughtful navigation. And doing so beautifully, with a confident awareness of the container.
What’s so exciting about all of this is that even now—at the start of 2011!—we’re still refining and iterating on optimal reading solutions to these issues of digital editorial design.
As designers, we need to ask ourselves: Where does our axis of symmetry most rationally lie for the content at hand? From where is the kinetic element of this content born? What’s the rationale behind specific layout and navigation choices for this content and will they be thoughtlessly intuitive to the reader?
We can start with these questions. Then, we can take our content, and—piece by piece—place it back onto this new canvas with considered awareness. These are the first steps to treating the iPad as more than a simple page.
This is just a small excerpt from an absolutely FANTASTIC piece by Craig Mod. I am so excited to see how we can use these new platforms to expand and enhance our reading expierences rather than just stubbornly cramming print layouts into them.
JKR: So you can call it a fraternal bond, but I think it makes it more tragic for Dumbledore. I also think it makes Dumbledore a little less culpable. I see him as fundamentally a very intellectual, brilliant and precocious person whose emotional life was absolutely subjugated to the life of the mind – by his choice – and then his first foray into the world of emotion is catastrophic and I think that would forevermore stun that part of his life and leave it stultified and he would be, what he becomes. That’s what I saw as Dumbledore’s past. That’s always what I saw was in his past. And he keeps a distance between himself and others through humour, a certain detachment and a frivolity of manner.
But he’s also isolated by his brain. He’s isolated by the fact he knows so much, guesses so much, guesses correctly. He has to play his cards close to his chest because he doesn’t want Voldemort to know what he suspects. Terrible to be Dumbledore, really, by the end he must have thought it would be quite nice to check out and just hope that everything works out well. [Laughter.]
MA: Because he’s set up this massive chess game –
JKR: Mm, this massive chess game. But I said to Arthur, my American editor – we had an interesting conversation during the editing of seven – the moment when Harry takes Draco’s wand, Arthur said, God, that’s the moment when the ownership of the Elder wand is actually transferred? And I said, that’s right. He said, shouldn’t that be a bit more dramatic? And I said, no, not at all, the reverse. I said to Arthur, I think it really puts the elaborate, grandiose plans of Dumbledore and Voldemort in their place. That actually the history of the wizarding world hinged on two teenage boys wrestling with each other. They weren’t even using magic. It became an ugly little corner tussle for the possession of wands. And I really liked that – that very human moment, as opposed to these two wizards who were twitching strings and manipulating and implanting information and husbanding information and guarding information, you know?
Ultimately it just came down to that, a little scuffle and fistfight in the corner and pulling a wand away.
Since getting my first iPhone I find I am using it to take almost all my photographs (bar those that require particularly high-res or studio quality) partly because of convenience but largely because of the amazing options for in-phone photo editing and sharing. So it was with great excitement that I received my copy of of ‘Killer Photos with Your iPhone’ through the post..
“Killer Photos with Your iPhone shows students how to take fantastic pictures using the camera built right into their iPhone. Because of its portability and unique capabilities, the iPhone camera is now one of the most popular digital cameras on the market, and this book shows you how to do everything from taking simple pictures to using apps to snap and create innovative images. You’ll find information on the basics of shooting with an iPhone, including how to aim, compose, and focus your shots, as well as shooting within an app platform, and even post-processing. Many of the most popular photography apps are covered, and explained option-by-option with full-color images that allow students to see the progression of the app all at once instead of step-by-step. Covering both the 3G and 3GS iPhone models, this book will have students shooting, editing, and sharing killer photos in no time!”
The first section of the book is aimed at beginners learning the basics (both of the iPhone specifically and photography in general) however there are lots of handy tips and hints that seasoned users may find useful too.
However it’s the second half of the book that I personally got the most out of. It covers more detailed issues such as dealing with various kinds of lighting (often one of the few real problem areas of the iPhone camera) and, most interestingly for me, guides to post-processing apps such as Photoshop.com, CameraBag, PhotoForge, FX Photo Studio and Tiffen Photo. The book goes into each featured app in great detail and as well as discovering a few apps I hadn’t heard of I also learned quite a few new things about ones I already used.
I really enjoyed this book – I found it very easy to read and useful. The language is engaging and informal throughout (not too geeky for the casual gadget owner) but at the same time not as forcedly ‘humorous’ as the Dummies guides. I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an iPhone regardless of knowledge base.That said, I would particularly recommend it to any iPhone users who are new to photography as well as it really frames iPhone photography within improving your photography skills in general.
`A loving look at this DIY strand of publishing, from its earliest incarnations up to modern day online`E-Zines’
This is the ultimate book on Fanzines an amateur magazine produced by fans, for fans of a certain subculture. This highly visual illustrated book is full of reproductions of the best fanzines ever created, from the superhero tributes of the 1950s and 60s, to punk fanzines such as Sniffin Glue, right up the contemporary e-zine scene. Arranged in six chronological chapters, each with a thorough introduction, Fanzines spans eight decades of counterculture and features many extremely rare publications. Written by a fanzine collector and expert author, Fanzines has cult appeal for anyone interested in graphic design, magazine publishing or underground culture.
I would love to get hold of a copy of this 🙂