25 Books to Read Before You Die

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Original Essays | August 21, 2014

Richard Bausch: IMG Why Literature Can Save Us

Our title is, of course, a problem. "Why Literature Can Save Us." And of course the problem is one of definition: what those words mean. What is... Continue »
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    Before, During, After

    Richard Bausch 9780307266262

Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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Powell's Q&A

Lev Yilmaz

Describe your latest project.
Sunny Side Down is a collection of an underground comic I've been doing for a few years called Tales of Mere Existence.

It's much what the title suggests: the daily trials and exploits of a fella with a ridiculously negative worldview. My protagonist, Lev, is basically the cartoon version of me at my worst, my little Psychology 101 action figure.

Written much like an inner monologue, it focuses on the feelings of alienation, isolation, and self-doubt that you think will pass after adolescence but never really do.

I like to think that it's thought-provoking and easy to relate to, while still being wildly silly. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be "stuff you think about but don't talk about."

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    "Yilmaz shows off his excellent drawing skills and a quirky worldview....It's a brave thing for a young artist to do and bodes well for Yilmaz's future work..." Publishers Weekly

    "Sunny Side Down is either a really happy book about misery...or a miserable book about happiness. Either way, Lev Yilmaz is among my favorite depressed authors who is not dead." David Nadelberg, author of Mortified

    "Lev Yilmaz is a demented and troubled young man. But he's demented and troubled in the same ways as the rest of us, which is what makes this book so funny, captivating, and identifiable. I'm a fan." Davy Rothbart, creator of Found magazine, and author of The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
"Hey Lev, Shut Up": Tales of a Misanthropic Navel-Gazer Who Wrote about Tales of Mere Existence.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I worked the graveyard shift from midnight to 7 a.m. at a factory right after I graduated high school. It was very tedious, isolating, brain-free work, so you would listen to your radio and daydream all night long. Mix that with sleep deprivation and No Doz, and your thoughts wander to places they have never been before.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Chapter 26 of Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut explores the concept that people tend to see their lives as stories, but the story does not necessarily end at death: "There is every chance that his or her life as a shapely story has ended, and all that remains to be experienced is epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is." Later in the chapter, he writes: "I suppose that's really what so many American (people) are complaining about these days: They find their lives short on story, and overburdened with epilogue."

How do you relax?
I live only a few blocks away from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I walk in, find myself a patch of grass in the sun, and go to sleep.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I bought a set of encyclopedias at the thrift store a few weeks ago for $12. See, I went to a purely visual art school, and so there are a few gaps in my education. I pull a volume from the shelf, open to an entry at random, and read about something I know nothing about. I still don't have a very good understanding of the Ming dynasty, but I'm working on it.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, to what sign would you change and why?
Cancer, and the description fits me all the way down the line.

Why do you write?
I have a difficult time expressing myself verbally. If you know the experience of blathering on about something for a half hour or so, and then walking away from the conversation feeling like you never really said what you meant, I'm like that most of the time.

Name the best television series of all time.
The original black-and-white Twilight Zone series is my personal favorite. Regardless of the fact that is was sci-fi, they were incredible yet somehow simple scenarios that could display humanity at its best, and worst. My two personal favorite episodes are "Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room" and "A Passage for Trumpet."

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five Books That Defined Five Summers

When I get really into a book, I have a weird tendency to read it over and over again for a spell, sometimes to the point of having whole passages committed to memory. I had all of these books on my bedside table over one summer or another, and I would read parts when I went to bed at night and woke up in the morning. All of them changed my way of thinking.

The Big Book of Hell by Matt Groening

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Raw Deal: Horrible and Ironic Stories of Forgotten Americans by Ken Smith

The Stories of Raymond Carver

My New York Diary by Julie Doucet

÷ ÷ ÷

Lev Yilmaz is the writer/artist of Sunny Side Down.


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