Posted by: Graeme McMillan on August 9, 2007
You know what’s been completely bastardized? The term “charming”. Used to be, if you called something charming, then people knew what you meant – that is was (to quote dictionary.com) something that was “pleasing” or “delightful.” It was a good thing to be charming, back then. And then, somehow, irony and sarcasm got in the way and calling something charming was suddenly a backhanded compliment, a snarky way of saying that it lacked excitement or didn’t wow you for some reason. Charming became this kind of cursed word.
Fitting, then, that GLISTER #1 is something that I found completely charming in the earlier sense of the word. Pleasing and delightful are two other good words to describe the book, mind you, but what’s interesting to me is that I love it in completely the wrong way (Well, maybe not completely the wrong way; I mean, I’m not wrapping it in saran wrap and taking it into the bathroom for extended periods of time or anything). I realized this after writing an earlier version of this review, and thinking about what I actually liked about the thing – I started thinking that, yeah, Andi Watson’s writing is gentle and familiar, like a bedtime story with its expositionary narration and safe sense of the absurd, normalizing ghost stories into friendly capers, but it wasn’t really the story that sold me on it, and as much as his art is attractive and simple and tells the reader what’s happening well, it was more the stylization that sold it for me, and the way that it went together with the cover colors and design and and and oh right, I love it because it reminds me of an idealized kids’ book of my youth that never really existed.
And I kind of feel guilty about that, to be honest. I mean, taken on its own terms, it’s still Good; the story may be slight, but it’s well-done and entirely enjoyable, and there’s something to be said for people who can do this kind of all ages book that’s actually made for all ages, and not just children. But for some reason, I can’t stop myself looking at the whole thing in some bizarre art object way, and considering how the paperback size and retro colors of the cover remind me of the books from the 1970s that were lying around the libraries of my youth, or the way that the artwork reminds me of Edward Gorey even though it doesn’t really look like Edward Gorey’s work at all (One of you, I’m sure, will be smarter than me and able to tell me who I’m really thinking of instead of Gorey). I bring all these other things to the book that it maybe doesn’t deserve, and end up fetishizing it (again, not in the saran wrap way) into something that I want to call Very Good, even if only for people who think too much and are design and packaging geeks like me.
So maybe the best way to think of this book is charming, as ruined as that word may be, and let you all make up your own minds beyond that.