Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What It Is - Lynda Barry


*sigh* Sometimes you stumble onto a masterpiece, and it takes you completely by surprise. In this case, I had lunch with a friend I made over at the Adult Literacy League, who is also an aspiring author with a book in progress. Somewhere in the middle of our long meal where we realized we have about everything in common, she told me I had to read this book. Oh, Sandy, you like graphic novels and you think you might write a book someday before you die? Try this. You won't be sorry. OK, so I ordered it from the library. It arrived. It was big, like a coffee table book. It was over 200 pages long. And it was FULL of STUFF that made my brain buzz. I mean, look at that cover! What. the. hell. was. this?

Synopsis: OK, well, I'm going to try. Let's say this book is part biography. Lynda Barry recounts her life with a mother that is neglectful, violent, and negative. She has always longed to draw pictures and to be good at it. She fights off feelings of inadequacy, fears of embarrassing herself, and of failing. It is heart-breaking, but at the same time, what kid doesn't feel this way?



























The book is part shrink. It asks questions that make you think. Questions that are aimed at making you dig deep and find inspiration. When did you first notice you were bad at something? And then what happened? Kids like making marks that make shapes that make stories. Why? What is a monster? Why are monsters in so many old stories? To follow a wandering mind means having to get lost. Can you stand being lost? What are toys? Did you ever have a toy that knew you? Do memories have mass? Do they have motion? Do they have inertia?


























People, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The story is also a visual feast. Take a look at the pictures I have shared above. They look like a scrapbook of a deranged (but creative) mind. I just sat for hours, staring at what appeared to be illustrations of childhood monsters, pieces of material, pictures, clips of handwriting from old letters. Just a mass of stuff.

All of this slightly insane but thought-provoking material leads up to a sort of writing toolkit. She gives you advice...relax, get alot of lined paper and a good pen, a timer. She tells you that "thinking up stories is hard. Getting them to come to you is easier." She gives you exercises. Make a list of other people's mothers. Choose one and answer a list of questions. Maybe this is all elementary writing 101 material, but after having just rolled around in a land of Dali-esque collages, it seems like genius.

Of course, I didn't perform these exercises. I had a football game to attend and I needed to sleep. But I was moved. And I thought of all of my on-line friends out there that participated in NaNo last month. Of my friends that are working towards their first published novel. My friends that dig the visual delight of graphic novels.

My thoughts: Read it or miss out on something completely wonderful and unique and unexpected. If for no other reason that for the fun of it. That is all the thoughts I have.

5 out of 5 stars







16 comments:

JoAnn said...

What striking illustrations! I think 'visual feast' is a perfect description. Adding this to my graphic novel tbr list immediately.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

When I lived in Madison (Wisconsin) they actually ran a Lynda Barry comic strip in the papers, and I loved her! Can't believe I haven't sought out this book yet, but I definitely will!

bermudaonion said...

I don't aspire to write a book, but I do love those fabulous illustrations, and would read this book just for them.

Frances said...

This is the most appealing content and design I have seen in a graphic novel in a while. I might need to pick this one up.

Zibilee said...

This does indeed sound strange and wonderful! I am going to have to check this one out. Though I harbor no illusions that I will ever write a book, it will still be fun to read through!

Nymeth said...

I can't believe I've yet to read anything by Lynda Barry - I've been hearing wonders about her for years! Thank you for reminding me to change that ASAP.

Iliana said...

Yay, I'm so glad to hear you loved this! I think Lynda Barry is fantastic. Read One Hundred Demons - oh man, was just so good, bittersweet and moving. Very much like this one but that one even felt more personal. I can't wait to read her new one.

Anna said...

Okay this may be the book that gets me to jump on the graphic novel bandwagon.

Kathie Smith said...

We are big Lynda Barry fans in this house and we've seen her speak a couple times. You should check out her book Cruddy. Less illustrations, more words.

Jenners said...

This sounds like a book you could get lost in for hours. I'd heard of this but wasn't sure whether it was "my" thing. Now that I've read your review, I think it is.

Melody said...

Love the cover and the illustration!!! I've not read anything by this author so I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the shout out, Sandy!

Trisha said...

You just keep adding to my GN wish list!

xalwaysdreamx said...

Oh, Lynda Barry !! She came to our city once to do a talk for a festival but I didn't go. Sounds like it would have been very interesting!

--Sharry

Beth F said...

Adding this to my GN list for the challenge in 2011. Thanks!!!

Kathleen said...

All I can say is WOW!

Melissa M said...

I'm still not totally sold on graphic novels (they just don't seem like reading!), but this one is still going on my list!