Comics artist and teacher Lynda Barry states that “everything good in my life came because I drew a picture.” Barry has created many books (The Greatest of Marlys and One! Hundred! Demons!), and teaches creativity, writing, and comics classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and at workshops around the country. And she invites you to take a creative journey in her new book of writing and drawing exercises, Making Comics (Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95). Ms. Barry stresses simple tools: composition books (which is the format Making Comics is written in), index cards, and a few markers and pencils. She’s a believer in keeping hands moving to see “what shows up” by transforming scribbles into monsters, or creating superhero self-portraits. The timed exercises (“put on a 3-minute pop song”) can “open doors and windows.” Making Comics is inspiring for all ages, and Ms. Barry shows examples of youngsters who all “speak image…this language moves up through your hand into your head. Young children are native speakers.” Still feeling trepidatious? Buy the book, and look at her bountiful website (thenearsightedmonkey.tumblr.com) to see the fun prompts and inspired results by Lynda and the class participants. Then jump in! (Ms. Barry recently received one of the 2019 MacArthur Fellow “genius” grants.)
“I want to do that,” said choreographer Mark Morris at age 9, asking for dance lessons after seeing the flamenco star José Greco perform. Enrolling at Vera Flowers Dance Arts in Seattle, he was “full-on committed,” learning both folk dances and ballet—and soon teaching other youngsters and making up dances. Joining Koleda, a Balkan dance collective, brought “many life-changing ideas and experiences: queer power, independence, dancing and singing together, rhythm, and a never ending interest in the musics, dances, and cultures of the world.” Years later, when he formed the Mark Morris Dance Group and started his Dance Center, he recreated those two formative institutions his own way. Out Loud (Penguin Press, $30)—co-written with novelist/musician Wesley Stace—is a fantastic memoir. It captures Morris’s voice: enthusiastic, honest, always curious, sweet, and funny (there are laugh-out loud asides on every page). Topics abound: from the importance of music in his dances (L’Allegro, The Hard Nut, the new Pepperland); directing opera; his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Lou Harrison, Mikhail Barishnikov, and Howard Hodgkin; keeping a troupe together and starting a school; his travels and friendships. Mark Morris has led a wonderful and creative life: hard-working, inspired, and inspiring.
John le Carré has been our greatest chronicler of spycraft in the Cold War era—its intricate rituals, its bureaucratic infighting, and its life-and-death gamesmanship. Agent Running in the Field (Viking, $29) is an up-to-the-minute portrait of a spy in the age of Brexit and Putin. Our narrator is Nat, almost forty-seven, an experienced agent runner, who’s returned to London after many postings, ready to move on—or to reluctantly accept one more job. He agrees to “remodel” a substation, “a dumping ground for…fifth-rate informants.” The only promising asset is Florence, who’s building a case against a Ukrainian oligarch. He’s also adjusting to home life: reconnecting with his wife, Pru, a hardworking lawyer, and playing weekly badminton with Ed, a solitary and disaffected media drone, always ranting against Trump and Brexit. As with all le Carré, the set pieces and dialogues are masterful, mixing humor and menace: particularly memorable are a visit with an old triple agent; a long inter-office interrogation; and a ski-lift conversation where Nat reveals his job to his daughter. This is classic le Carré.