Monday, August 6, 2012

Reading Roundup: Revisiting Graphic Memoirs

I went through a graphic novel kick back in 2010 and found that I reaaaaally enjoy them, particularly graphic memoirs. Actually, I can't even say I've read any graphic fiction; my entire graphic oeuvre is memoirs, but I think the two genres really lend themselves to each other. There's something so much more personal about reading a story someone wrote and then seeing it through their eyes in the way they decide to show it to you.

This summer, I decided to revisit the graphic memoir genre because of two recent releases that caught my eye...

Way back when (only two years ago, so not incredibly long), I read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and absolutely loved it. Therefore I was beyond psyched to find out that she had a new book out, Are You My Mother? While Fun Home focuses much on Bechdel's father and her own adolescence, Are You My Mother? puts the spotlight on the author's mother and their own complicated relationship.

Here's the thing about Bechdel—her books sometimes sound like a psychology lesson. Her use of language is something I commented upon back when I read Fun Home, but then it just seemed almost like a quirk of the author; the heavy use of language is like a humorous contradiction to the story's comic panels. Are You My Mother?, though, reads like the notes from a deep psychological analysis--notes that no one but the patient and the psychologist should, or need to, read. And it was so meta. She's writing about writing the know, that sorta thing. Bechdel examines interactions with her mother, the development of her own love life, and her exploration into the literature of psychology. And frankly, it was mostly boring. It lacked the character intrigue and adolescent curiosity that came with Fun Home. And maybe that's not Bechdel's fault—I already knew most of her story from Fun Home, and I didn't feel the need to be clued ito this part of her life. I'm sure writing this book must have been very therapeutic for Bechdel, and if she felt an immense sense of relief after writing this, good for her. I just didn't need to read about it.

Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg's To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story popped out at me one day in one of my local bookstores. While I'm considering this a graphic novel, it's actually got a different format. It looks, upon first viewing, like a chunkster. And from the art on the cover, I expected a graphic memoir in the style of Blankets. But then you open it, and it's all words with some pictures scattered throughout. It's less graphic novel, more adult picturebook with illustrations coloring the pages.

Anyway, To Timbuktu is the story of two college kids from different schools who met while studying abroad in Morocco and then adventured through parts of the world together in the years immediately following graduation. This is my kind of story through which to live vicariously, bug. Casey and Steven were both charming characters to get to know. Their recollections of experiences were honest but you never felt bogged down by their troubles; and they shared the little things that made each place and experience so special to them. Successful in inspiring world travel? Yes, indeed.

When you think about it, Casey and Steven's story isn't really anything special. Tons of recent grads do what they did—pack up and ship out while you still have the chance. But each and every person's experience is special, because stories and experiences like these are so huge in shaping lifelong perspectives. And for someone like me, stuck at a desk everyday and dreaming of travel freedom, stories like these help tide you over until you do have the opportunity to pack up and ship out. If you liked Lucy Knisley's French Milk and Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage, this is in the same vein.

1 comment:

Aarti said...

I like that comics have redefined graphic novels so that now people are telling their stories in many different ways. I just read Shannon Hale's YA fantasy The Book of a Thousand Days which is also mostly writing, but had a few drawings scattered throughout. To Timbuktu sounds good!