I just finished Lucy Knisley’s latest comics memoir/travelogue, Displacement [IndieBound]. I’ve been having a lot of trouble reading lately, both because of time (traveling from the Bay Area to Tucson and making stops to see people along the way) and just general inability to focus. So I went to my childhood neighborhood library yesterday and picked up her book and Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl [IB] and found that her colorful, quick illustrations that I think live somewhere in between illustration and comics, tbh, was the remedy I needed. I really hate people who view certain types of formats, audience designations, and genres (coughYAcough coughcomicscough) as “palate refreshers” or “light reads” because they’re pretending to respect them while really insulting them and reducing them to one thing. But it’s true that this book was refreshing; I’m just not sure if it was because I’m just not connecting with the other book I’m reading or a new place demands a fresh book or what.
I saw Knisley in person a few years ago when Relish [IB] came out and she did a presentation at Brookline Booksmith. She’s really awesome. But I also felt really jealous and inadequate, since she’s all of a year or two older than I am but has accomplished and produced so much more in her life than I have. Y’know, the usual for me, bemoaning my lack of success while being lazy about doing the things that could make me successful. Gifted child who became an underachieving adult, that’s me.
Displacement may be my favorite of her memoirs so far, which is probably because the shades of introspection and deepness that started happening in An Age of License [IB] (whereas I see French Milk [IB] and Relish as slices of life that are interesting but pretty light) come out even more, and it’s really a lot deeper and thoughtful than previous works.
Memoirs are really amazing. I think I can write a decent essay (at least I could at some point in my life, where it was expressed to me that creative nonfiction might be my best genre), but to pull out an extended event, even one as short as a week, and and manage to make it as truly accurate as possible but still make it follow a narrative arc, and extract deeper meaning from it, whileremembering interesting detail to bring it alive, is really something. I have a good memory for events and feelings and can extract meaning as far as my own life and anxieties and interests, but not how to make them a bit more universal. And even though I’m sure your average memoirist considers their life no more interesting than yours or mine, that ability to step back and judge from another vantage point whether someone else would be able to get something from your story, not a story you make up totally in your head, is a skill I don’t have. I have narcissism.
It’s a chicken and egg thing, but I was not much of a graphic novel reader until a few years ago, and I’ve mostly stuck to memoirs. And I’ve mostly found adult nonfiction to be far more readable and less obnoxious* than adult nonfiction. So this has been a good middle ground. I don’t know why I find comics memoirs so much easier and so much more interesting than comics fiction (the extended narrative kind, not the “comic book” kind), but I do, and I’m glad I’ve been able to use that to broaden my reading horizons (comics seem to be better at giving voice to the marginalized) and tune up my visual literacy.
In case you are interested, here are some other comics memoirs that I think are really good.
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel [IB]
- Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust [IB]
- The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz [IB]
I also have a desire for more food and medical memoirs to be done in comics form. If you know of any, please tell me.
*I give zero fucks about gen X hetero white men and their novels. I’ve tried. I’ve reached my limit.