by Sheryl Cotleur
While traipsing through the land of the marvelous and finding unusual books, I came across a wonderful book that refuses to be categorized. Tales From Outer Suburbia looks like a children's book, but it really isn't. It seems like it might be a graphic novel, but it is something else altogether. This book by the enormously talented Shaun Tan (creator of last year's exquisite The Arrival) is a whimsical collection of short stories illustrated with Tan's singular drawing style. These tales meander through seemingly ordinary yet slightly improbable situations with wit and curiosity. Tales From Outer Suburbia is enchanting and ageless and full of that "catch-you-from-behind" philosophical depth.
Sung to a different tune is the brilliant The Children of Children are Coming by Russell L. Goings, which is also illustrated, in this case, by the incomparable Romare Bearden. This full-length book in poetic form tells the tale of two anonymous slaves running to catch the Freedom Train they expect will lead them to their eventual independence. With a kind of gospel fervor these two set off on an epic journey that pulses off the page as they encounter real and mythic characters full of wisdom and sass. Begging to be read aloud (sung almost), this book is a marvelous addition to the literature of the African American experience in the United States.
Next, Robert Bringhurst's books are not illustrated like the previous two, nor are they poetry or literature. They are about poetry and literature--and mythic tales, epic stories, good design, and careful translations. Two of Bringhurst's essay collections previously published in Canada have thankfully surfaced here--last year's Tree of Meaning and this month's Everywhere Being is Dancing. While Bringhurst has wide reaching talents and interests too numerous to name here, one of his primary efforts in life is to bring attention to the rarely acknowledged wealth of literature from First Nation peoples, and the even rarer acknowledgement of its influence on present day language and poetry. Another thread he follows; "questions about the nature of being and meaning are always formulated as stories. We call such stories myths." If you are looking for some stimulating reading, you will love discovering the paths of thought Bringhurst weaves.
All three of these books in their own way owe allegiance to what author Sean Kane calls the life breathe of story; the wonder tale.