When I first became aware of manga (essentially, Japanese comics of all genres) and other books termed “graphics” that young people seemed to be reading, I thought “now they let school kids read comics instead of books?” I was Horrified, having conveniently forgotten how faithfully I had followed Dick Tracy, Dondi, and Archie every Sunday growing up. Graphic novels and nonfiction as a genre have exploded in the past few years; they are obviously not a passing fad. So I hopped on, tried out a few, and was instantly converted. Here are some of my favorites–mostly memoir.
Here is a vivid picture of Afghanistan you will see in no other way– it gave me a perspective that news analysis or reading books never did. The now-famous Doctors Without Borders was founded in France in 1971, and this book is an emotionally gripping mix of Lefèvre’s intimate, empathetic photographs and Guibert’s colorful graphic interpretations of a 1986 mission in Afghanistan, when the Soviets were still at war in that country. The story details a mission Lefèvre took with a group of daring French doctors (known as MSF teams) to illegally supply a hospital in eastern Afghanistan. Lefèvre was naive about the risks of this undertaking, and almost died after making a decision to leave the group on his own right before winter. His open-hearted innocence, belief in the mission, and passion give an eye-opening and mind-altering view of the country before the U.S. declared war. A fantastic, award winning book that sold over a quarter million copies in France, and deserves even more exposure in this country.
I have long followed Chast’s drawings in the New Yorker, bought her books, and always recommend them to others, as her very quirky sense of humor speaks to me profoundly. Jenny brought back a signed(!!) advanced copy for me from ABA’s Winter Institute in January, and I could not be more thrilled. This new memoir of her dealing with aging parents, not due out until May, and is a must-read by anyone who ever has, will, or might, deal with parents. I felt not quite so alone after helping care for my 95 year old mother, (who died last February), and you will laugh hysterically even as you cry. Chast was an only child, growing up in Brooklyn with parents who saved everything–need I say more? Her memoir is a unique blend of her hand printing, photographs, and of course, those delicate and twisted drawings I so love!
This amazing book just showed up on the IndieBound (independent bookseller’s) best seller list seemingly out of nowhere last fall. However, the author has been blogging since 2009, and has a huge following (think James Patterson of the internet). Wow! Not only do her graphics, done in vivid, childlike color (using Paintbrush software) capture me, but her stories–ranging from training unruly dogs, to growing up with her sister, to dealing with her own depression, are hilarious and poignant. I often see younger people in the store looking at the book and laughing while viewing it, but even those who religiously follow Brosh’s blog (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com) buy the book. A great gift for yourself, or others you may know with a slightly skewed view of the world. Not at all dystopian, absolutely delightful and just the thing for a grey, rainy almost-spring day.
You may be starting to think I read too much about depression, and I have good reason, with a family member who struggles with this tragic illness. So do 1 in 10 other Americans–an incomprehensible number. A therapist friend of mine told me her office waiting room will now be graced with copies this book. It is one of the best things I have ever read about bipolar disorder, and the complexities of diagnosing, treating and accepting this illness in a person’s life. Filled with more laughter, pathos, and information than traditional self-help or textbooks about the illness, I highly recommend it for those who have struggled with depression, know someone who has, or just want to know what it can be like to deal with. Not at all depressing (ironically) but wryly humorous and very unique.
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s books are few but powerful; The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (2008, and based on her long-runing syndicated comic strip), and Are You My Mother? (2012) are already classics in the genre. In 2006, Bechdel published this autobiographical “tragicomic” tale of her childhood and the years before and after her father’s death. It is essentially the story of growing up with a perfectionist father (can anyone relate?) who she finds out has more in common with her than she realized: they are both gay. This title catapulted her onto the bestseller lists, and received numerous awards: named one of the best books of 2006 by The New York Times, The Times of London, Time magazine and Publisher’s Weekly, to name a few. Her commentary is smart, cryptic and authentic, and her line drawings are an incredible, graceful counterpoint to her voice. I certainly hope to hear more from her–she is unique, even in the very unique world of graphics.
Persepolis, by Marjorie Strapi
This was my first graphic read, and now considered a “classic” in the genre (along with The Complete Maus, by Art Spiegelman, who is the “grandfather” of graphics here in the U.S.) Strapi grew up in Iran, before the overthrow of the Shah, and these two books (combined into one for this edition) follow her life from a young girl to a woman who marries, divorces, moves to Austria before finally returning home. Her memories of the pre and post-revolution chaos and challenges in a predominantly Muslim country left me frequently awed, and very, very grateful for the freedoms I have. Marji is rebellious, outspoken, torn between loyalties to family and her strong need for freedom. It is a universally human story, told by an engaging, bold and candid woman.