Little Lessons in Safety

Judging a book by its cover, Little Lessons in Safety, is my book-of-the year thus far. Inspired by an 1875 wallpaper design, it simply is a gorgeous cover. There are insides too; this is what I think of them:

I miss Montreal. I wish I could draw. This is what makes me jealous of my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends. These pictures are pretty enough to photocopy and put on my wall. Maybe I will.

Reminiscent of Elisabeth Belliveau’s graphpaper sweet, Something to Pet the Cat About (also Conundrum, 2005) and Leanne Shapton’s Was She Pretty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)– though more short-fiction-structured than either — Little Lessons is stunning, saccharine and sharp. I’m struck by the thin clear lines in Pescos Bill, tiny lungs with sections like flowers, plain bold statements like ones from Osoyoos, “He was beautiful, I remember that.”

Osoyoos comes halfway through and reads as a sound bite-perfect zine. It could be anyone’s, and its familiarity is attractive. This same familiarity is the curse of Little Lessons, bordering it on indiegeneric, and not consistently proving its book status necessary. Is this more than a glorified zine? I love zines, and it’s a beautiful book, but I wonder if Holton’s craft as a writer stands up to her obvious talent as a visual artist.

When her words and drawings are heartbreakingly right, and I don’t care that seven out of 10 artists who work in this style have the same handwriting or that sometimes I think I’ve read this already. I have dozens of sort-of similar zines that I not only keep buying, but store sentimentally in milk crates and still take out to crush and sigh with. Problem is, it’s not always heartbreakingly right. And that breaks my heart too. (Tara-Michelle Ziniuk)

by Emily Holton, $17, 160 pgs, Conundrum Press, P.O. Box 55003, CSP Fairmount, Montreal, Quebec, H2T 3E2, conundrumpress.com

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