Panel to Panel

By Nathan Patton

Borrow, don’t buy, this book

“Pocket Full of Rain”

Author: Jason

Publisher: Fantagraphics

Cost: $19.99

Short story collections are almost always uneven and this one from the brilliant Norwegian cartoonist known only as Jason (“I Killed Adolf Hitler,” “Why Are You Doing This?”) is certainly no exception.

This book collects Jason’s earliest published work, most of it from more than a decade ago. Many of the stories here are experimental and vaguely interesting but lack any real substance. The titular story is a confusing thriller that doesn’t do a lot of actual thrilling. It reads like a student film on paper. Too many flashy plot twists without a lot of pathos.

The Jason we’re used to, the cartoonist who’s able to take any cliché or genre and put his own heartbreaking and hilarious take on it, is traded in for a Jason that wears his influences on his sleeve and barely shows any effort to be original. 

The most effective stories are also the shortest. There are a few chilling stories using sleight of hand as a way to trick someone into placing themselves in danger and a funny one page tale wherein the author plays Trivial Pursuit with God. But nearly every other story seems rushed. You can almost see Jason yawning as he turns them in.

Also gone, for the most part, are Jason’s trademarked straight-faced, anthropomorphic characters. I missed them more than I thought I would. Jason’s human work looks less European and not as universal as his animals do. And when his human characters are emotionless, they stand out. No one questions why a dog isn’t smiling.

“Pocket Full of Rain” is good for a few laughs but I can’t imagine revisiting these stories in the way I revisit Jason’s graphic novellas time and time again. So unless you’re a Jason completist you should try to borrow, rather than buy, this book. 





The Bookworm

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Put on your thinking cap and read

Politics, high-level finance and Bernanke

“Bernanke’s Test: Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, and the Drama of the Central Banker” by Johan Van Overtveldt

c.2009, B2 Books     $26


You walked into the living room last night and instantly felt terror. You couldn’t bear to approach the television. You had remotophobia.

Remotophobia: that sick feeling you get when you use your TV’s remote control. One click, you turn on the national news and the ailing economy is all over the screen. You don’t need to be reminded. You’ve already watched your wallet take a walloping.

It’s easy to point fingers. There are scapegoats all over the place, but blaming isn’t fixing. So how did this happen and what can be done? Read the new book “Bernanke’s Test” by Johan Van Overtveldt, and things may be clearer.

Created in 1913, the Federal Reserve System was developed to reduce financial instability and perform as the “government’s banker.” Politically controversial, this was the third attempt to create a central American bank. 

During the Depression, Van Overtveldt says, the Fed stood “idly by while the American financial system collapsed … ” American trust in the Fed was eroded and, in the end, the Treasury set monetary policy for the years after the Depression and until 1951. Inflation was “relatively under control” from post-World War II until the mid-1960s.

By the time Alan Greenspan took over as Fed chairman in 1987, the inflation rate had risen to uncomfortable levels, the U.S. had seen exorbitant interest rates come and go, and budget deficits were skyrocketing. 

Greenspan has been lauded as “the greatest central banker who ever lived” and condemned as the reason we’re in a recession today. To be fair, says Van Overtveldt, “Greenspan’s tenure endured more than its share of serious crises” including a stock market crash, September 11 and the Enron scandal. Still, it’s been said that if Greenspan had been more on-point, the sub-prime mortgage crisis wouldn’t have happened.

Into the fray stepped Ben Bernanke in 2006. His going-on-three-year tenure has, like his predecessors, not been without controversy. He’s made some off-base predictions and will continue to be tested by the economy. Will Ben Bernanke pass or fail?

Reading, at times, like a stiff college thesis and suffering sorely from lack of glossary, “Bernanke’s Test” is not a book you can breeze through in a weekend. It’s steeped in politics and high-level finance and takes serious thought to understand.

But it is an important book. Van Overtveldt explains the Fed in a way that’s as lively and easy to understand as it can be, but I did get caught up in the drama.

All Americans, all homeowners, anyone with a 401k, anyone who’s employed — should at least attempt to struggle through this book. “Bernanke’s Test” is a book you can’t completely pass.

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