Out from under the bed, with a couple of books

So, Tuesday was Election Day and we all woke up the next morning here in the US either depressed beyond belief or jubilant. Neither one is a very healthy state to maintain over time.

Truth is, the world is kind of a scary place these days. What with beheadings making an unfortunate comeback, income inequality, climate change, the digital Third World (more on this sometime later) and other things, the underside of my bed is becoming a very attractive place to be. So what if you can build a Great Dane out of the dust that’s collected there? I just think of it as soft lining for my secret nest. But only one percenters can spend all their time hiding beneath their beds (and they’ve no reason, even though I’m sure even their underbed regions are plush and fabulous with real soft linings and not the imitation stuff made from excess pet hair). I do not have that luxury.

Which might explain why I was particularly drawn to two recently published books.

Adrian and the Tree of Secrets (Arsenal)” is a graphic young adult novel originally published in French with a story by Hubert (English translation by David Homel) and illustrations (no translation needed) by Marie Caillou.

I’d actually never read one of these before. It’s more a short story than novel, the tale of a teenage boy for whom school and home are both equally unpleasant. The smart-and-awkward combo plate is generally a one-way ticket to high school pariah-land. Toss coming to terms with being gay into the mix and you’ve got a whole new level of angst. Adrian is handling it pretty well until Jeremy, the most popular boy in school, turns out to have his own secret. Jeremy also has a girlfriend, who doesn’t take kindly to idea of losing – or sharing – him. Caillou’s drawings are a worthy match for Hubert’s spare prose, and the point at which they leave Adrian is both disturbing and authentic. I would go with 13 and up on this one, and it’s a great way to spark a discussion about difficult topics with people in that age group.

The other, “Graphic History of Anti-Semitism (Schiffer)” is a coffee-table book, a perfect gift for the history buff in your life, particularly if your history buff is a Jewish fatalist. Jerome Forman, a retired attorney, began collecting antique European and American anti-Semitic graphic art – postcards, posters, ads, sheet music, books and other material – after handling an employment discrimination case. His client, an African-American woman, had worked for years at the same company and was passed over for a promotion which was, instead, given to a white woman who was less qualified than she. As he prepared for and tried the case, Forman wrestled internally with his own issues and thoughts about the consequences of hatred borne of differences between people of different hues and beliefs.

Forman has divided the book into several chapters, among them, “The Mythical Jew,” “Organized Anti-Semitism” and “Jewish Power.” Many of the pieces in his collection are not in pristine shape, because he sought out material that had been used – postcards that were purchased, written on and mailed.

Forman provides information on the pieces in his collection (the places from where and to where a postcard was mailed, the history of terms such as “Sheeney,” thought to have originated in England in the 19th century). His descriptions are informative without being tedious, and devoid of outrage, a wise move. Letting the art speak for itself is a big part of what provides this worthwhile book with its power.

I’m sure they’re out there on the big web-based bookselling behemoth, but if you decide to buy one or both and there’s still an independent bookstore in your town, go there. You can also check out Worldcat, which will steer you to the nearest library where they’re available.

Or just skip it and go hang out under your bed.

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