Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nonfiction | Agonizing Over Adulthood

In case you haven't noticed, my year has been filled with a lot of middle grade reading—fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, anything. When the next on my reading challenge list was a graphic novel, any graphic novel, it would've been easy to just pick up one of the gazillion young titles on my library shelves, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to enjoy a graphic story from a more adult voice.

The book I chose is Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz. She's the creator of The Fart Party, which the back of the book tells me is a cult-hit comic. Drinking at the Movies is her first full-length memoir, which chronicles the year she left her home in San Francisco and moved to New York.

There are a lot of such stories out there. Twenty-somethings move to the big city for an experience, or some kind of personal test, and it's so unlike any other experience that they, of course, document it. So there's that kind of story—first adventures/disasters/disillusions with New York City. Then there's the stories of just 20-somethings themselves—lost in life, often trying to find themselves by losing a familiar geographic sense of comfort. I guess you could consider Drinking at the Movies both of these things, but Wertz doesn't strike me as a narrator that a) takes herself too seriously, b) takes what she says too seriously, and c) ponders these experiences as big, serious life-defining moments.

In a sense, her attitude was very refreshing. In another sense, her attitude reeked of a lackadaisical "I can screw up because I'm 24, so I won't worry about my choices." Like most folks of her age and situation, Wertz drinks too much; she doesn't feel like an adult and scoffs at the idea with humor, rather than trying to evolve into it; she doesn't think of her future in a serious sort of way—it's more an immediate future worrying, not long-term thinking. It's unclear whether New York was her long-term plan or just a whim, but it was her first important step towards a more grown-up future. There are so many similar stories of people around this age doing just this, because this step outside of one's comfort zone is so developmentally significant, and can be equally as life-affirming.

Regardless of whether it's a new story or one told a thousand times before, I thought Wertz was hilarious. The structure of this book is very much short, anecdotal comics thrown together to tell a complete story. In that sense, it's a great one to read in brief spurts, though I read it basically in one sitting. She's self-critical while avoiding the self-critique that requires loads of self-reflection. Whether she's telling stories of encounters with the homeless, the days she's lost jobs, the excessive amount of junk she eats, or her drug-addicted brother's bouts in and out of rehab, Wertz writes about her life with a "HERE IT IS" attitude—and she does it with such wit that you figure she must be that great kind of sardonic storyteller in real life. Or at least that friend you can count on for a great one-liner, said under her breath, at the best moment of any situation.

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