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Two Non-Reviews: French Milk and The Arcade of Cruelty

I get books in the mail from time to time and I always make an effort to review them.  Sometimes though I just can't find a hook to the review or something I really want to say about the book which makes it hard to write a proper review.  And then the books just sit there on my desk asking me "why!?" "why?!" until I either write the review or not.  Hence the "non-review" (or maybe I"ll call them "unreviews").

The first book is French Milk by Lucy Knisley which is basically a diary of her six week stay in Paris. Knisley is clearly pretty talented, but I just didn't connect with the book - I found it often disjointed and I didn't feel like I got a handle on Knisley (as a character in the book) or her mother (who was also there during the stay in Paris).  Maybe I was put off by the almost panel-less style of comic Knisley employs in the book.  That plus the inclusion of photos of the trip made me feel more like I was reading her actual journal rather than a book about the trip (slim difference in the journal comic tradition perhaps but a difference I think worth noting).

I'm probably wrong - others loved the book - Whitney Matheson (who has pretty good pop comic tastes) called it "Wonderful".  Other reviews include Andrew Wheeler at ComicMix; Laura Lutz at Pinot and Prose; and Marie at the Boston Biliophile.

The second book is The Arcade of Cruelty: A Tender Cry For Help In Words & Pictures, created by Joseph J.P. Larkin.  This one is not really a comic (there are some comics in it though) so much as a scrapbook of various materials compiled together in one volume.  It's hard to describe -- it's either a huge goof (something Andy Kaufman would approve of) on any of its readers or if not maybe someone should be taking that cry for help part of the title seriously.   Either way it's an unusual take on autobiography (so there's the parallel with journal comic French Milk -- see I didn't just match up these two books randomly!).

The book itself is extremely well put together in terms of production values but the contents inside feel like Larkin put in anything he could find in his files.  Of course maybe he just wants us to think that he put in anything he could find in his files... As far as the comics part of it goes there are some funny riffs, albeit mean-spirited, on Chris Ware and some other famous cartoonists.  Then there's lots of other stuff...

Want another opinion?  Some liked it, others didn't -- check out reviews by Rod Lott at Bookgasm, Kevin Bramer at Optical Sloth, and Paul Constant in The Stranger.