by Maggie Thrash
2015 • 272 pages • Candlewick Press
I’m always fascinated by stories about the messy process of becoming a person, whether that’s by developing one’s own identity outside of one’s parent, developing a sense of morality, or developing a sense of one’s desires. Chalk it up to a sheltered childhood or a belated coming out, but that process is fresh enough in my own narrative that I’m always hungry to see someone else’s just to compare notes.
Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl, a graphic memoir about Thrash’s experiences at Camp Bellflower and her first crush on a girl, falls perfectly into that category. Every summer, Maggie (as I’ll call the Thrash in the memoir to avoid confusion with the Maggie who wrote it) has attended the all girls camp as one of the few out-of-towners for years. She loves it, but, one summer, when she’s fifteen, she develops a crush on Erin, a nineteen year old counselor. Confused by both her first all encompassing crush and the fact that it’s on a girl, Maggie tries to make it through the summer like normal—but, of course, she can’t.
Maggie spends the bulk of Honor Girl puzzling out what’s happening to her, in a space that’s meant to be a safe haven for girls. But there are edges and limitations to even that, since it’s not a truly liberated context. Girls excitedly police each other’s gender presentation; Erin fights constantly with a girl named Libby over the ultimate safe space of the firing range; girls ritually tease and humiliate each other about crushes on the male members of staff. Once her crush on Erin becomes known to the main counselor, the counselor tells her that not only is being gay distasteful to talk about, but it’s an active threat to the innocence of the other girls around her. Because, I guess, queer kids aren’t entitled to innocence and safe spaces. Vomit.
by Lucy Knisley
2013 • 192 pages • First Second
Despite my love of cooking, I don’t review cookbooks for this blog. There are a lot of reasons for that. Firstly, I don’t actually read that many of them, because the Internet is my main resource for recipes. Secondly, I don’t actually read them the way I consume media. I rifle through them, searching for something I like, and when I finally do alight on a likely candidate, my improvisation is brutal because of my lactose intolerance, laziness, and cheapness. When I look for a recipe for myself, it’s with the specific intent of making it my own.
But when I read food histories or food-centered memoirs, it’s a different story. I’m seized by the urge to recreate a historical dish, to better access the past through my sense of taste, or by the need to go find the pizzeria this book recommends and see if it’s really worth all the praise. Relish’s recipes and recommendations proved all the more tempting for author Lucy Knisley’s clear, clean, and bright artwork. I have bookmarked places to go eat in Chicago because of this book, and I have never been to Chicago nor plan to visit Chicago. I have an ear of corn in my fridge from the farmer’s market, ready for me to eat raw, per Knisley’s fond memories of doing so. I even copied her recipe for sautéed mushrooms down to the letter, but my stomach was being peculiarly tender and refused to digest it.
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
For many artists, the sophomore effort can be more difficult than the first. After all, you’ve had years and years to put together your first piece, but now you’ve got to do it again, hopefully better, in a shorter span of time. Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? is not a traditional sophomore effort, considering the long-running Dykes to Watch Out For, but it is Bechdel’s second graphic memoir after Fun Home, whose deserved accolades put her on the mainstream map. The fact that it seems to be a matched set with the first memoir—one for her father, one for her mother—invites further comparison.
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
I feel like Pyongyang was floating around the book blogger community about a year ago, although it earned much of its acclaim upon its English release in 2006. (It was first released in French in 2003.) I was so sure when I sat down to write this post that Ana had reviewed it, but it turns out I totally hallucinated that. This leaves me with nothing but my tremulous fascination with North Korea as motivation, which is forever tinged by its birth upon reading World War Z. The ideas of a totally (or near totally) isolated country and such strict control over the media are almost concepts that I just can’t wrap my head around. So I picked up Guy Delisle’s travelogue to get a better handle on it.
What It Is by Lynda Barry
Part of my evolution as a writer over the last year has been realizing that I am much more of an editor or a literary critic than a creative writer. I mean, I’m still a creative writer to some degree. I’m not Paul Collins, who thinks the idea of characters escaping their writers is preposterous, because I’ve had characters decimate entire plot outlines by being smarter than I am. But there is a reason I’m an English Literature major, not a Creative Writing major. So why would I pick up a book pretty clearly aimed at a more traditional creative writer? Well, I’m trying to get my mother to write her memoirs and she does not subscribe to her daughter’s blunt way of leaping blind into new hobbies, so I’m vetting writing resources for her. Plus, I’ve heard a lot about Lynda Barry, so I thought it was time to get acquainted.
Alright, kids, something had to give; while I like this feature, since it gives me feedback on stuff I have yet to read from you lovely people, it’s hard to sit down and pair them off, because with a reading list five hundred plus books long, I tend to forget specifics. So, compromise! From now on, the Literary Horizon will feature only one book, but link to more reviews. We good? Everybody good? Good. On to today’s selection!
Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate it—but it’s also the last Sunday of the year, which means it’s time for my top ten list. As usual, these are my top reads of 2011, not the top published books of 2011. But I’ve also added my favorite film adaptation and my favorite audiobook of the year, since I’ve started really keeping those posts up. I was lucky enough to have a good handful of five star books, but that meant leaving off a lot of four and a half star books that I honestly loved off the list. I invite you to rifle through those categories to your right. And here’s 2010 in review and 2009 in review, if you’re so inclined. I think that’s all the housekeeping, so let’s get started.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
As a fairly recent comic book fan and general casual reader of comics, I’ve been struggling a bit with articulating my responses to them. It’s the same problem I was having with film at the beginning of the year; I simply don’t have the tools to properly critique and analyze the form, being a child of literature. But there’s a simple solution. For film, I was lucky enough to be able to take a class—for comics, the general consensus is to read Scott McCloud. After reading The Influencing Machine, I made a vow (…well, an off-hand comment) to read Understanding Comics before taking on any more of the medium, and so here we are.
The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone
While I listen to Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! in podcast form, I’m not what you would call an avid listener of National Public Radio; in my car, I’m usually switching between three radio stations and my own mixes. So I didn’t know who Brooke Gladstone was until I read Laura Miller’s review of her new book, The Influencing Machine. And of course it went right onto my reading list. Y’all know how I feel about Laura Miller; you can only imagine the conniption fit I had when she commented on my blog last September. But this is the second work of graphic nonfiction I’ve read in the past few months (the other being Fun Home), and I’m becoming very interested in understanding the medium better—my next graphic read will be Understanding Comics, I think.
I’ve been growing uneasy about the term “graphic novel”. Having read Fun Home and The Influencing Machine, both works of nonfiction, the fact that the phrase refers specifically to works of fiction rubbed me the wrong way. I began to consider adding “graphic nonfiction” as a category to cover all eventualities, but then I read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. In it, he briefly touches upon, in one particular vivid panel, he mentions how the term “graphic novel” privileges a few works while denigrating the entire medium it comes out of. Framing the argument this way reminded me of the term “genre fiction” (oh, it burns!) and has led me here—to a state of taxonomic crisis.