Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Did You Read Yesterday?

I bought the first two volumes of "What Did You Eat Yesterday" by Fumi Yoshinaga at a con.

It's a manga about a gay Japanese couple in their early 40s, centered around the food they eat. I bought it,

1) because it got recommended with the highest praise, from a friend of mine who actually knows the genre (hi sunriseline!)
2) because it sounded interesting
3) because I knew it would mess with my friends expectations of what I'd buy.

In describing "What Did You Eat Yesterday" to people who actually read the genres in question, I say I like the manga (I keep typing comic) because of the strong character work. And while that's not wrong, those characters, a volume and a half in, are why I'm there, saying "strong character work" feels like a bit of an easy out. I feel like saying "strong character work" is not giving the manga its full due. The pencils are meticulous, the asides are well placed, and the sketches of supporting characters are precise and evocative. The two men in question each have flaws, but also personalities that would interact well. I confess to not being finished with the second volume yet, but what's there so far feels authentic. The descriptions of the food and preparation of dishes reveal character, but also make me want to try my hand at cooking. It's a great manga. If it is not too long, I will purchase it all, like I have with Pluto.

But the more I describe "What Did You Eat Yesterday", the more I feel I'm stepping around the fact that I don't have a vocabulary to talk intelligently about the genre. This is a problem, because in comics, black and white slice of life works are things I actively avoid, much the same with Young Adult material. I have no trouble, when I'm running my mouth of course, passing judgment on those things. And I've got a friend on Twitter (hi Katie Locke!) that loves YA material and will often make the very reasonable point that if I don't read the genre then it makes it hard to pass judgment on its effectiveness or legitimacy as such.

In talking about YA, or Yesterday, or b/w slice of life (hi Adam Witt!), when I am forced to praise them, I talk only about fundamentals. Do you have a plot that's interesting? What motivates the characters? Are the characters compelling? And so forth.  Which, again, feels passing over something politely, or not giving the idea its full respect. I feel my omission.

I can say oh man, China Mieville's a great writer, praise those same fundamentals, but with infinitely more enthusiasm. China Mieville does cool shit. There's monsters! And Serious Ideas! And nightmare fueled panic, white-knuckling an entire final quarter of a novel. I don't have those same things to talk about with ...Yesterday, YA or, b/w slice of life. It is hard to get away from the judgment in my head. To indulge my judgment: What overarching plot is there in "What Did You Eat Yesterday?" Someone, find me some. Really. Go for it. I'll wait. The plot appears to be "a Japanese couple who is gay navigate the labyrinthine code of Japanese formal niceties. Also: Every chapter, a new food dish." That's it.

That's what makes my pleasure in reading "What Did You Eat Yesterday" so striking. I believe I'm having a Nixon goes to China moment here. Enjoying "What Did You Eat Yesterday" and trying to talk about it reveals just how provincial I am. That's the opposite of the how I present myself. I'm looking at my bookshelf right now, it's Faulkner to Foucault to Fuentes. I'm very cosmopolitan. I promise.

(All three Serious, Important Male Authors. I'm aware.)

To say I like "What Did You Eat Yesterday" as a palate cleanser also feels like an omission, a sly insult, as if the stories are not a complete meal on their own. This is a long way of saying I took a chance on something new, and like all great media it rewarded and challenged me in equal measure. I don't know how to talk about this stuff and at bottom, I really ought to.

Been on a Danger Days kick, and while I'm pretty sure I've used Summertime before, I don't believe I've used Vampire Money. Allegedly, a song about turning down a spot on the New Moon soundtrack, and with an opening stolen from Ballroom Blitz. One of the best songs on that record.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote a huge comment and then two sentences from the end my browser fucking ate it. :/ I'll try again this evening, ugh. Tl;dr I like this post.


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