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.
It’s the last Sunday in 2010, so you know what that means—it’s time for my annual top ten list, taken from the books I’ve read this year, not books only published this year. (I don’t think I’ve even read ten books that were published in 2010.) Here’s last year’s, if you’re so inclined. I have to admit, having an entire year to pull from (as opposed to last year, when I had about four months’ worth of sparser reviews to pick through) made things a bit difficult; there some books I wanted to include, but ultimately ended up deciding against. If you’re interested in what I left off the list, feel free to rifle through the 5 and 4.5 Stars subcategories under Ratings. That said, let’s dig in.
Extra Lives by Tom Bissell
Being reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, both a wonderful game and a touching tragedy from the right angle, has meant that I’ve never doubted the idea of video games as an art form. I believe that any medium can be an art form, but I find that others don’t share my faith in video games; when I picked up this book from the library, I ran into an acquaintance who asked me if Extra Lives was similar to books trying to prove that fast food is good for you. Yes, we have a long, long way to go.
Being a geeky fan has enriched my life beyond measure, and I mean that sincerely. I never had the experience of reading a graphic novel or playing a video game that suddenly opened my eyes to the narrative possibilities of the medium, because I was never told and never thought that those mediums didn’t have narrative possibilities. (Yet another thing I attribute to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which I feel is the example of a marvelous story that can only be told as a video game.) It’s also taught me that everything, really, is worth literary analysis, and in order to truly love something, you must acknowledge its faults. Imagine my delight when I came across two books this week that exemplified these lessons- one about how a fan’s love grows, and one about the viability of video games as an art form.