This installment: a wild graphic novel (f); autism speaks, clear and wise (nf); and a classic from the 50s (f) [Note: these suggestions came from my wonderful blog editor, Ana Stanescu. When she noted that I wasn’t thrilled with my recent reads, she offered these and I followed up, to my great reading pleasure.]
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
This fat graphic novel is a vertiginous swirl of memoir, fantasy, celebration, and horror. Our protagonist, young Karen, is depicted with fangs and pointed ears. She knows and likes her monster persona. Her handsome brother Deeze looks after her more and more as their mother gets sicker. Their upstairs neighbor, beautiful Anya with a chilling backstory we learn by degrees, is murdered. Interspersed in Karen’s notebook are covers of lurid comics. Karen is sweet at the core, dogged, loyal, and very confused. No wonder– I got confused periodically, too, but rode it out because I found the world Ferris created so rich and strange.
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida
Subtitled A Young Man’s Voice From the Silence of Autism, and what a voice it is—eloquent, poignant, and wise. It boggles my mind that Naoki, who’s essentially nonverbal, expresses himself on the page with such grace and insight. These are very short essays that explain what his experience is like, what helps him, and what hinders him. His parents sound incredible— patient, encouraging, and unconditionally accepting. Here’s a valuable glimpse into a world that may seem alien to many of us (i.e. what are they thinking, if anything) with life lessons for all of us about compassion and gratitude. A surprising tour de force.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
I read this when it first came out in the ‘50s and found this revisiting intense and melancholy. David is a spoiled ex-pat, trying to “find himself” in Paris. His fiancee is doing the same in Spain (taking a break) and David finds Giovanni instead. An impecunious bartender from Italy, very attractive, and that’s where David’s affections really lie, kind of. We ultimately learn Giovanni’s tragic backstory and early on know his life won’t end well. So much homophobia in sophisticated France, self-shame, and nastiness in the gay community itself. Luminous writing sheds light on a sad subject.
Back next week.