Pablo (Art Masters Series) / Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann

Pablo by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie

pablo graphic novel (art masters series)Pablo is the latest in the Art Masters Series published by Self Made Hero (a British graphic novel publisher). The earlier two were Vincent and Rembrandt, the former telling the life of Vincent Van Gogh I have written about here before.

The review copy has come at the perfect time, as I just came back from my New York trip, in which I saw tons of Picasso’s works in the Met and MoMA. Prior to that I’ve seen a couple of his paintings and many sketches in London. I haven’t got a chance to go to Picasso museums in Barcelona and Paris. But really looking at his works in New York and knowing there are lots more around the US, I could sense how prolific Picasso was as an artist. The amount of works he produced are staggering.

So for such a prolific artist, who lived a long life (Picasso died at the age of 91 and he’s said to die painting at his death bed), it must be a challenge in itself to pick a period of the great painter’s life to tell. Interestingly, the graphic novel Pablo chooses to tell the story with the framing of a somewhat obscure woman: Fernande Olivier, a bohemian artist who became Pablo’s mistress for 7 years.

Picasso later on would have many other women in his life. Not uncommon among great artists, he would call them his muse, be attracted to a new muse when the current one has run out her course. The timings of the relationships were often overlapped, but they had to accept it nonetheless. Two of former mistresses would kill themselves not long after Picasso died. (These I learned more later after reading the book, from 2015 BBC documentary: Picasso: Love, Sex, and Art —  also coincidentally came out at the right time for me. Seems you can watch the full version on youtube.)

However the important point of his relationship with Fernande was that she was the only mistress who was with him before he reached fame and fortune. Knowing that, the framing of this tome of a graphic novel is perfect, because the story told from Fernande’s point of view starts when Pablo Picasso is a newbie painter arriving in Paris from Spain, and revolves around his struggles as a poor artist living in Le Bateau-Lavoir.

Poor Pablo and Fernande

This book is 342 pages, and quite heavy. It seems that it was originally published (in its original language French) as 4 smaller books, and they are subtitled: Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Matisse, Picasso. But it’s been published in English by Self Made Hero as one big book with no sections or chapters. The drawings are beautiful throughout and full color. Some of you might remember the style of illustration from Aya de Yopougon — the same artist: Clément Oubrerie.

The problem I had reading the book was finding who is who in this early 1900s Paris setting. In that period there were a mix pot of (now well-known) artists, poets, authors, and Fernande and Picasso met tons and tons people. Some of them I’ve mentioned above: Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Matisse. Gertrude Stein is also one who makes constant appearances. In most cases the book assumes that we should know these side characters / famous people, which is understandable because there can’t be enough time to explain everybody’s back story (there are dozens of them), but I found myself having to Wiki quite often. It’s quite a good crash course though if like me you want to know more about people you feel you have to know more about. Ha!

I do feel sad for Fernande at the end. She sticks with a man when he’s poor and nobody, but is dumped when he reaches success. A story that seems to keep repeating itself throughout history. And for Fernande this is not even her story, but that of the Great Pablo Picasso, she just happens to be there at the beginning. She draws a short straw.

Mee’s rating: 4/5 – a packed graphic novel of an interesting period of Pablo Picasso’s life, beautifully illustrated, but the appearances of many side characters means readers may need to do their own research on the side to know who is who, which can slow down the reading experience

Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann

I’m going to slip in a short review of Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann. It’s out of season I know, but this book came to me from its New York publisher by mail a few years ago, and I never managed to read it in December, as it is such a short month with the holidays at the end! So this time I just decided to finish it even after Christmas has passed.


Most of us know about Nutcracker from the famous ballet the story is adapted to (which I knew little about anyway, but after reading I went to see bits of it on youtube). The book was originally written in German in 1816. The version of the book I’m holding (pictured above) was illutrated by Maurice Sendak and first published in 1984, right after the 1983 production of Nutcracker by Pacific Northwest Ballet. Sendak has apparently designed the sets and costumes of the ballet production, which was new information to me, since I only knew Maurice Sendak as a children books illustrator!

The story itself is almost like 19th century version of Toy Story, in which toys come alive when nobody is looking. Except that in this tale the toys come from faraway kingdom, and there are kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights and monsters, and lots of rats.

In the preface, Maurice Sendak talks about how different he found the original story is with the ballet production (which itself had gone through many versions in Europe before it was brought to United States, in which again the ballet went through various versions). Since I have not yet seen the ballet production in person, I don’t know how it is in relation to the original story. It’d be interesting to go back to the book sometime when that happens.

Mee’s rating: 3.5/5 – a classic tale, illustrated by one of the most well loved illustrator, though I found the story to be rather simplistic compared to other children classics that I loved (e.g. Alice, Peter Pan)


Mee’s Summer Reading 2013

Since I am way way way behind in blogging about books read and all bookish things that happened in the past 3 month, I’m just going to write about them in one giant post. And I just realized those 3 months were summer (coincidence?), so I can call them summer reading!

Books Read

Frankenstein — Mary Shelley (England/Europe, 1818,  4/5)

I liked Frankenstein, a lot more than Dracula, which I did not like very much. It seems that most people either like one or the other. I’m definitely on Frankenstein side. Also if you read a little about Mary Shelley’s life, it is as shocking and as interesting as her story.


Metamorphosis — Franz Kafka (German, 1915, 4.5/5)

Metamorphosis is my first Kafka, finally. Well the first was actually his short story called A Country Doctor, which I read just before Metamorphosis, but it was a 5-page short story. Metamorphosis is rather short too, around 90 pages. I thought it was amazing story about a man waking up as a giant insect. I got the impression that it was going to be depressing, and it was at the end, but overall I thought it was hilarious. I will need to read more Kafka!

The Night Bookmobile — Audrey Niffenegger (US, 2010, 4/5)

An illustrated book by Audrey Niffenegger about a woman who stumbles upon a mobile library, in which there is everything she’s ever read in her life. Wow it’s so dark and depressing at the end, that I’m not sure what the whole point of the book is. The story is just a bit strange. But there’s a lot of work put into the book as she illustrates it herself using various art techniques.

don quixote comic

Don Quixote (graphic novel, vol 1) — Cervantes, illustrated by Rob Davis (Spain, 2011, 4/5)

As I imagine I won’t get into the real Don Quixote anytime soon, I jumped at the chance to read the graphic novel. The illustration is lovely and colorful – I really liked it. The story however seems a bit pointless, about a disillusioned old man and his servant-like mate. I’d probably need to read the real book to get the layers of the story. Don Quixote is still amazingly popular in Spain, as proven by my trips to Spain, so I’m curious.

Watchmen — Alan Moore (fantasy world, 1987, 3/5)

What a DENSE graphic novel! I’m not sure if I’ve read a graphic novel as dense as that. Apart from the comic style pages, there are also pages of writing, in newspaper clip style or letter. It took me forever to read Watchmen, and at the end I speed read it, because I could not stand it not-finished any longer. I know this is a very important graphic novel — it’s in one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels, but I got impatient. I watched the movie after that and I’d probably recommend most people to just watch the movie. The movie stays very true to the book, and nicely directed (Zack Snyder). Watch the Director’s Cut (around 3.5 hours, while the cinema version is far shorter than that) to get more details from the book, including the meta-comic.

To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (England, 1927, 3/5)

It is my first Woolf, so I’m happy that I finished it, and at least understood most of it. I probably wouldn’t ever be able to get through the book without Prof Weinstein’s lectures on Coursera though, so if you’re struggling, I’d recommend getting his lectures on Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship, and you can sort of read alongside the lectures (there are many of them). My advice is if there’s a paragraph that you don’t understand after reading a couple of times, KEEP GOING! Don’t obsessed and get stuck over one paragraph. In the bigger scheme of things, it really does not matter, and you’ll be glad once you get to the end and able to see the book as a whole.

The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells (England, 1897, 3/5)

Apart from Fiction of Relationship in Coursera, I am also following Fantasy and Science Fiction course, by Prof Rabkin. The reading list is interesting. There are many that I wouldn’t read by myself, so I’m glad to be able to broaden my reading horizon (the same as true for Fiction of Relationship). In one of the weeks the reading list includes all H. G. Wells: 2 novels and 2 short stories. I didn’t know how important Wells was in SF. He is often compared with Jules Verne, as they were from the same era, but as explained in the lectures, Verne is purely entertainment, while Wells questions social and political issues in his writing.

In Invisible Man, Wells created a man that because of a personal scientific experiment has turned invisible. And he can’t go back. Since I read this so close to Frankenstein, I saw some similarity, like how the two main characters are rejected by the society and turn bad as a result. I guess that’s the end of the similarity, because I didn’t enjoy Invisible Man as much. The description of actions tire me, and I kept waiting for deeper discussions of life like in Frankenstein, which does not happen in Invisible Man.

A Grief Observed — C. S. Lewis (1961, 3/5)

I feel the need to say that this book was given by a friend, who asked me to read this favorite book of his, so I felt compelled to read it. I might appreciate the book more if I were at different stage of life, but as it was, it didn’t speak to me in any profound way. I have long left any discussions of God and Christianity IRL, and therefore found the discussion here about God, his intentions and afterlife to be heavy handed.

C.S. Lewis wrote books journalling his thoughts after the death of his wife of 4 years, referred to here as H. I’m just glad that they edited much of it, and left a thin 60-page large-font book, as I wouldn’t have much patience for longer book about wallowing in grief. I feel a bit bad for not thinking higher of the book given the sad subject matter and the circumstances of my reading it, but as I said, in another time I could’ve taken it differently


The Island of Doctor Moreau — H. G. Wells (1896, 3.5/5)

In the Island of Dr Moreau, Wells plays with the idea of turning beasts into men. Our narrator is someone who got stranded in an island, where he meets two other men, one of them Moreau. Later finding shows how Dr Moreau has been experimenting with animals and turning them into imperfect human that is more half man half beast. Interesting premise, but after reading 2 books by Wells, I’m pretty clear that I don’t fall in love with his writing. His ideas are great, but his writing just doesn’t evoke much in me.

ps: Don’t even look for the movie. It seems to be really bad from what people say. I just some pictures, and the effects don’t impress me too.

Short Stories

Been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne (Before I started I didn’t know he is also well known for his short stories, some are mentioned as early conception of Science Fiction. I only knew he wrote Scarlet Letter prior to this.), Edgar Allan Poe (never quite like Poe. Maybe I’m just not into psychopathic behaviors?), Flannery O’Connor, John Updike,  more H. G. Wells (I kinda liked the two I read: The Country of the Blind and The Star), Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Hemingway.

I got little sparks from Borges so I’ll be reading more. Flaubert, possibly. I’m eyeing Madame Bovary.

Currently Reading

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember John Carter? Also, did you know that Burroughs wrote Tarzan? Yeah, I didn’t know too!)

Great Expectations by Dickens via Dailylit, sent daily to my mail, which I try to read first thing in the morning on the way to work for. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I’m over a third in. I’m happy that it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it reading it like normal book to be honest. It is very very long, and in spite of the interesting bits, there are more boring bits.

On the Pipe

I probably shouldn’t mention much in fear that I would jinx it, but if all goes according to plan I’ll be reading Herland — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway, and the Martian Chronicles — Ray Bradbury.

I can’t believe how much I’m reading considering how little I did for the last couple of years. I think I probably needed more structure and direction in my reading, and I’ve got them, thanks to the Profs and Coursera.


Topsy Turvy Tales by Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith and Laura Hyde

topsy turvy tales

Once upon a time, there was a publisher called Humpty Dumpty Publishing. They are releasing their very first title ever called Topsy Turvy Tales, and asking Bookie Mee if she would like to review the book.

True story! (I just thought the names are all so cute! :P)

Topsy Turvy Tales is a collection of poems and illustrations of surreal tales. Written by Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith, and illustrated by Laura Hyde.

When they mentioned that it is in the vein of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, I could not resist, as I am a huge fan of Tim Burton! I agree completely. There are 4 tales in Topsy Turvy Tales, all rather dark and twisty, with dark and surreal illustrations. In fact one of the tales reminded me too much of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy, titled Chester the Oyster! (what’s with oyster in dark tales?)

The publisher is aiming at gift-book market and I think Topsy Turvy Tales would be a perfect gift-book for casual and non-casual readers. I personally love quirky book with illustrations, so this is absolutely right up my alley. And I can imagine people that don’t read very much to be able to enjoy the book as well as it is pretty short.

They have also made one of the tales – The Girl with Liquid Eyes – into a short animated movie. I especially like the narrator!

You can also check out their tumblr page. It seems fun and full of attractive looking people holding the book! ;)

Topsy Turvy Tales

Wish the best of luck for Humpty Dumpty Publishing and I’ll keep an eye on their future books!

Clueless in Tokyo by Betty Reynolds

Clueless in Tokyo

Clueless in Tokyo: An Explorer’s Sketchbook of Weird and Wonderful Things in Japan is the second book in the series that I read after Squeamish about Sushi by the same author.

Once again, the illustration was always a joy to look at and the little things were fascinating to learn.

For example, the instruction on how to drink Japanese tea:

  1. admire bowl
  2. turn bowl clockwise 180 degree so the sacred spot faces away from you
  3. slurp your tea to show appreciation
  4. clean the rim with a cloth
  5. turn bowl back counterclockwise 180 deg
  6. admire bowl again

A few random facts that I took note of:

  • Sumo grand champion’s ceremonial rope weighs 15 kilos
  • You can rent a protest truck, get  behind a microphone and blast your views around Tokyo
  • Taxi’s doors open and close automatically
  • Whole squads of gas station attendants hoot and hollar to welcome you like in restaurants
  • When you order food for delivery, you leave the dirty dishes out of your front door after eating. It will be picked up by the restaurant in the morning.

And a few items of interest (or shock!) in Japan:

  • Batteries vending machine
  • Porn vending machine that’s hidden behind metallic curtain at daytime and exposed at night
  • Condom vending machine that categorizes the condoms by blood type
  • Schoolgirls’ used panties vending machine (eewww.. WHERE did they get those?!)

When I reviewed Squeamish About Sushi I didn’t get a chance to take pictures (or was just assuming that I could steal some pictures from the net, but apparently I couldn’t find any), but this time I did! So here I present you a few pages from the book: (taken in a train on the way to work with my iPhone, so pardon me for somewhat mediocre quality photos..)

Clueless in Tokyo
The famous complicated Japanese toilet buttons

Clueless in Tokyo
Japanese chick attire

Clueless in Tokyo
Japanese masks

Are pictures really worth a thousand words?

4.5 stars
1997, 48 pp

Sunday Salon: Mixed Bookish Things Feat. Two Children Books and Fight Club

TSSbadge3Not a good week. Caught cold. Home sick one day but had to work for the rest of the week. Didn’t manage to compile a proper review. But don’t despair, I can still talk about books!

I’m halfway through The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The Classics Circuit is going to enter the third week of Wilkie Collins tour. I’ve been enjoying the first and second week of the tour. Go check them out if you haven’t! My stop of the tour would be on the 9th of December. I have spared pretty much all November for this tome of a book, so I’m strolling along just nicely without any unnecessary added pressure.

The next tour in January/February would be Edith Wharton. I love the compilation of author information and their works by Rebecca and friends. They’re so thorough and informative! I voted for John Steinbeck at the poll (there were 4 authors, including Mark Twain and Willa Cather) and Wharton won. I’m interested to read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and The Age of Innocence by Wharton, but I think I’ll pass this time around just so I have more room to read for my other challenges and projects.

I haven’t read Children books since… forever, but I read TWO this week! I prepared them for Dewey’s read-a-thon but didn’t get around to read them then. Well I should’ve because they only took about 5-10 minutes each (mostly looking at pictures too).

Where the Wild Things AreThe Great Escape from City Zoo

They are Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Great Escape from City Zoo by Tohby Riddle.

Where the Wild Things Are was made into a movie and though it’s not out here in Australia yet, I’d like to be prepared since it looks great! Some people in my company worked on some of its special effects too, so the more reason for me to watch it. The book is super simple. Boy goes to some strange land with strange creatures (love the fuzzy creatures, they’re so cute!) then goes back home. That would give the movie so much freedom to write their own script!

The Great Escape from City Zoo is about 4 animals who escaped from the zoo. Sounds familiar? (I haven’t watched Madagascar but some birds said that Tohby talked to people from Hollywood about his book, the deal didn’t go, but Madagascar the movie soon came after that.) Looks like the four animals there are giraffe, zebra, lion, and hippo. In The Great Escape the animals are elephant, flamingo, turtle, and anteater. I met Tohby Riddle at Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier this year and have wanted to read one of his books since then. I love his illustration. In this book the illustration is all in sepia shade watercolour, which looks quite subtle for normally vibrant colored children books.

Fight Club

A sudden turn from children books, I watched Fight Club this week. I never read Chuck Palahniuk‘s books before and I don’t know if I want to after watching Fight Club. Do you have any to recommend?

For some weird reason, I mixed Palahniuk and Orhan Pamuk on Fight Club so I quietly wondered during the movie: why does a Turkish novelist write about a depressed white collar American who started underground fighting club? To my enlightenment, Palahniuk is indeed an American, and he’s no way related to Pamuk who is indeed a Turkish.

While we’re on the topic of Orhan Pamuk, would you highly recommend any of his books? He intimidates me a bit, but that’s probably because I thought he wrote Fight Club, or of the fact that he’s a Turkish professor and from what I read his books are quite difficult to read.

Fight Club (1999)

Going back to the movie. To summarize, it’s dark psychological thriller. I love the beginning: Edward Norton as a desperate everyday American who suffers insomnia and finds solace in visiting various support groups. (I have loved Edward Norton since the Illusionist and the Painted Veil. Hubby knew him from the Incredible Hulk. *roll eyes*) But then he meets Brad Pitt. While I love some Brad Pitt’s movies, I always see him acting his character, not becoming his character. So I always see Brad Pitt, not whichever character he’s supposed to be. If that makes any sense.

There’s definitely some graphic violence in the movie, sort of expected with a title like that. I was dissatisfied and confused with the ending so that didn’t make it a very good movie for me. But it’s not bad overall.

Rating: 7/10

Squeamish about Sushi by Betty Reynolds

Squeamish About SushiSqueamish About Sushi: And other Food Adventures in Japan is an illustrated “guide book” to eating in Japan. Delightfully drawn and colored in water color pencil, it shows various situations that you may find in Japan, from eating in a restaurant, Japanese style inn (ryokan), to Sumo stadium. From cherry-blossom (sakura) viewing, street food at festivals and traditional market.

Each item is named by its Japanese name in romanji (alphabet) and hiragana/katakana, which is great whether you’ve learned Japanese characters or not. So it acts like a visual dictionary, if you will. Most items are food, including various types of sushi, bento (rice box), yakitori (grilled food on a stick), shabu-shabu (cook your own soup), and more. I literally drooled inside my mouth when looking at the illustrations. I love Japanese food!

More interesting bits include guide to going to toilet in restaurant (change your restaurant slipper–which is given when you enter the restaurant– to toilet slipper before going into the bathroom), guide to using the complex buttons on the toilet bowl (recommended not to use if you’re not sure how), and guide to taking a bath at ofuro (the public bath).

I am quite familiar with Japanese food and culture, so most of the things weren’t really new to me, but I still learned a few things here and there (perhaps about 30% was new to me). I have also just visited South Korea in October last year, and found that it has many similarities with Japan. One in particular is the onsen which is very similar with the one in Japan. I absolutely loved it! Okay so some people found it uncomfortable to walk around in the locker room naked and to take shower/bath in communal place, but I somehow liked that they’re totally comfortable with it. After about 15 minutes it kinda felt natural to me too. The experience was one of the most memorable of any of my foreign trips. I even went to the onsen twice when I was there, because once was just not enough! (I plan to write about the whole onsen experience, but I’ll keep it for later so I don’t sidetrack too much.)

Too bad I’ve already returned the book to the library, so I can’t show you more pictures (couldn’t find more on the internet). But I’ve borrowed another book by Betty Reynolds titled Clueless in Tokyo, which has the same format. So I hope to show you more from that book soon.

4.5 stars
2000, 72 pp

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of short stories. Some very short (a page or two), some a bit longer. And how fantastic they are! I love love love these stories! Or should I say the illustrations. I’m not sure which I like more: the artwork or the stories. They’re both amazing. I often feel that the stories illustrate the pictures than the usual other way around. I can imagine Shaun Tan first drew the illustrations first, then wrote a short story about them. Just a thought :) (and actually, I just read on his website that it was indeed what he did for Tales from Outer Suburbia)

tanTaken from

Tales from Outer Suburbia is an anthology of fifteen very short illustrated stories. Each one is about a strange situation or event that occurs in an otherwise familiar suburban world; a visit from a nut-sized foreign exchange student, a sea creature on someone’s front lawn, a new room discovered in a family home, a sinister machine installed in a park, a wise buffalo that lives in a vacant lot. The real subject of each story is how ordinary people react to these incidents, and how their significance is discovered, ignored or simply misunderstood.

Read his very detail thoughts on each story. It’s amazing how some images are so distinct from each other, as if they were drawn by different artists.

I read this book very slowly, savoring just one story or two each night, and found that it’s probably the best way for me to read short stories, particularly this book. Just don’t rush through them. I don’t think my words can even begin to explain to you how amazing Tan’s work is, so please! Get the book from anywhere you possibly can and have a taste yourself!

One of my favorite is called Distant Rain. “Have you ever wondered what happens to all the poems people write?” is the first sentence. The story is brought in dozens of pieces of paper, scattered across a few pages as if they are carried by the wind and rain, forgotten, neglected, yet powerful.


Grandpa’s Story is another of my favorite. The story is told alternatively between words and illustrations, but not like one page at a time like normal people do. It starts with 2 pages of words, then 8 continuous pages of illustrations, then some pages alternate between words and pictures. I have never ever read anything like this before. As if at one point, he just thought that pictures could explain it better than words, so he just started to draw. Pages and pages, until he started going with words again. He doesn’t care about format. That’s my thought anyway.


There are many more amazing pieces. There are 15 in total. Too bad I was reading a library book. When I get a chance, I think I will buy it for my collection. It’s just that good. I want to show it to my kids and grand-kids and grand-grand-kids. You get the idea.

More pictures below to convince you to get it. See, even the table of content is so out of this world (that’s the picture below).


Another of my favorite is alert but not alarmed. About how everybody has missile on their backyards. First as mean of defense, they started to make use of the missiles in anything other than its initial intention.



eric is another one of my favorite. (How many favorites have I pointed out by now?) Everyone, meet Eric. Eric is a foreign student. (I think he looks like fire)


And gosh, the water buffalo! I love The Water Buffalo! There’s just something about that image of water buffalo pointing. My childhood home used to be located just next to two empty fields where some local water buffaloes bath and feed. Perhaps that’s why I got so attached to this particular piece.


I fall in love. I do.

I should also let you know that he’s an Australian :)

2008, 98 pp

2009 Australian Book Industry Awards Illustrated Book of the Year

Also reviewed by

Stainless Steel Droppings (more pictures here!) | A High and Hidden Place | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | She Reads Books | Bending Bookshelf | Reading Rants! | Peeking Between the Pages | Monniblog | Read Write Believe | The Funky Rooster

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