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October 11, 2010

No Honey... Graphic, Not Graphic!

Posted by Dana

In today's post, regular contributor Heather Johnson (Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books) shares her book club's foray into graphic novels.  You know, the kind with pictures.  And I like their "novel" approach... each read a different graphic novel - then they got together, talked about the genre, shared reflections on each and then traded books at the end of the meeting.  Great introduction to the genre and fun way to mix it up.

American-Widow-9780345500694.jpgMy book club decided to try a new-to-us genre this month: graphic memoirs.  One of our club members was very excited about this.  When she told her husband about our new topic he asked, “Is a graphic memoir like a graphic novel?”

“Yes, why?” she replied.

“So your book club is reading comic books?” he said, sounding rather excited.

“Oh no,” she said adamantly, “we don’t read comic books.  These are graphic memoirs – books with graphic scenes in them.”

“Um, honey, I think you’re a little confused,” replied her comic-savvy spouse.

You can imagine her surprise – and his laughter – when her box of books arrived in the mail and each one looked like a comic book inside!

Needless to say, this month’s meeting was a huge departure from the norm for our club.  Not only did we choose a new genre but we also allowed each member to choose a different book within that genre.  Some of us chose to read one book while others read two or even three graphic memoirs.

How did it go?  Honestly … it was one of our best meetings ever.  The club as a whole read more than 10 different books with topics ranging from modern teen angst and growing up in a funeral home to World War II, the Iranian Revolution, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The topics of the books could not have been more diverse and yet we found a great deal to discuss.  We talked about the genre as a whole and what our expectations were.  We discussed the way the pictures and words did or did not work together to tell a story.  We debated whether this format was the best way to tell each story or if a particular memoir would have been better as a traditional book.

One club member, a slower reader who generally listens to audiobooks rather than reading print, said that this is the only kind of book she wants to read from now on; the format was quick and easy to read and kept her attention at all times.  The rest of us agreed that we are open to reading more in this genre, and that we were pleasantly surprised by our experience with it.

We closed the meeting by swapping books since so many of us wanted to read what another member had read.  And just in case you want to check out some graphic memoirs, here’s a list of the books we discussed:

American Widow by Alissa Torres
Maus I, and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
French Milk by Lucy Knisley
Fun Home
by Alison Bechdel
We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin
The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
American Splendor by Harvey Pekar
Smile by Raina Telgemeier

-- Heather Johnson, Regular Contributor