For Doing Dewey’s Reluctant Romantic challenge, I decided it was a good time to read some graphic…something. I don’t actually have a good name for this genre, because “graphic novels” doesn’t quite cut it. Many of the books that often get lumped into this category are memoirs or nonfiction, and even the fiction books are not what I could call “novels.” In their length and substance, they’re more like short stories or novellas.
Leaving that question aside, let’s just say that I read a selection of books in which the pictures help to tell the story, generally drawing on the “comic strip” tradition, with multiple panels on a page and characters speaking in speech bubbles. I was reminded that one reason I don’t usually gravitate to this type of book is that they go by so quickly for me! Most can be read in an hour or two, and I miss the extended reading experience I usually am seeking. But I absolutely loved their creativity and visual energy, and will definitely seek out more in the future, probably more as a break between “regular” books than in a block on their own.
My favorite find was The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua. I want Padua to quit her day job (she’s an animator for the film industry) and write more books like this! For one thing, it had a bit more heft than some of the others, so it wasn’t over quite so quickly. But mainly I loved that it was funny and informative and silly and serious and played around with the people and ideas and literary traditions of the Victorian era in a totally original way, while shedding light on some of our modern technology. This may not be a book for absolutely everyone, but for me it was perfect.
Also high on my list was Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. This author was born in the same year as I was, yet because she grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution she had a dramatically different childhood. It was moving and thought-provoking to see events I only heard of in school, and mostly ignored, experienced as they were happening by a girl who was in many ways just like me, yet in other ways so different. Each panel was carefully constructed with deceptive simplicity, reflecting the “child’s-eye” perspective yet showing a very adult sensitivity to composition and line.
I also need to mention Stitches by David Small. A renowned illustrator of children’s picture books, he turns his artistic talents here to the harrowing story of his own horrifically mismanaged childhood — unwise medical treatments leave him terribly disfigured, while his strangely distant parents offer little in the way of support or understanding. Small’s fluid and expressive drawing style brings painful scenes before us with cinematic intensity, awakening our compassion for a boy who turned suffering into art.
I also enjoyed all of the other books that I “speed dated” for this challenge:
- Maus by Art Spiegelman
- Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
- Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
- Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
- The Arrival by Shaun Tan
…so I think our relationship will be continuing! Do you have any other suggestions for me?