There’s that quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, that the best way to understand another person is to “climb into [their] skin and walk around in it.” This sounds a little Silence of the Lambs when taken out of context, so here is an alternate way of improving your capacity for empathy: Read more literary fiction.
Or so goes the argument recently put forth by a pair of researchers, who find that familiarity with literary fiction — in contrast to genre fiction (mystery, sci-fi, romance, and the like) — is associated with greater emotional intelligence.
Weegee obsessively photographs murders in the seamier streets of the city. He’s often there before the police and notoriously rearranges bodies to get a better shot. He knew the police. He knew the underworld and the prostitutes. Much of Weegee’s time is spent on the Lower East Side, where he has a marriage-like friendship with Rita a cafe owner, and has sex with Irma a local prostitute. But despite his notoriety, and the fact that the newspapers are buying his photos, he wants to be accepted in the art world and Hollywood, and he gets to try both. Just as in Bastard, the main character is unsympathetic , but Radiguès surprises and make him endearing. Check this book out. Check out the original photos. Weegee is also the inspiration for characters in films such as A Public Eye, Nightcrawler and Watchmen. And it’s Fellig photo which is the cover and inspiration for the name of Naked City’s (the John Zorn group) first album.
A young woman is buying tacos and Mark approaches her and says, “April, it’s me.” She replies, “You’re mistaken. Sorry…Have a good day.” Back at the motel her son, Eugene, is watching TV. “We’ve got to move,” she says. Eugene takes the bags to the car, and we realize that they are on the run. “April” (her real name is May) is a member of a gang who committed 52 simultaneous robberies in the same day in Prescott.
What’s so impressive about this book is that May is a murderer, who has double-crossed her gang and has implicated her son in her crimes, and she is loyal, an adoring mother, and someone who wants more for her son than she had. She gets more. He knows how to rescue her when some of the gang almost catch them. The two are rescued by a former banker who is now a truck driver, and they spend time with him in New Mexico, before May goes back to “sort out” the gang. There’s a twist near the end that makes the sympathetic drawings, and the loving relationship turn into a touching story.
There’s energy in the storytelling and the drawing. We are pulled along and cheer for May and Eugene to come through despite all they do. In the end we understand. Give it a go.
A Graphic Novel by Irene N. Watts and Kathryn E Shoemaker
Black and white images softly drawn. Shaded background. Any white is the word balloons, letters or aprons. Marianne arrives in London on the Kindertransport and is taken in by Mrs. and Mr. Abercrombie-Jones who were looking for an older child to be a second domestic in their home. They insist on calling her Mary Anne, and yet correct her when she mispronounces their names. They do send her to school where she makes friends. The painfulness of British anti-Semitism from schoolmates, caretakers, teachers and neighbours is scratched into the background of the narrative like the hatching in each frame. Marianne does make good friends in school who move on as she does when the London schools are evacuated–she goes to Wales where a couple hope that Mairi will replace their daughter who recently died. While the prejudices are not absent in Wales, the kindly Mr. Evans, guides Marianne through Llanelli. The end is too easy, but hopeful.
Daniel Raeburn: “I snicker at the neologism first for its insecure pretension—the literary equivalent of calling a garbage man a ‘sanitation engineer’—and second because a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact the very thing it is ashamed to admit: a comic book, rather than a comic pamphlet or comic magazine.”
I have discovered so many extraordinary novels, memoirs and non-fiction books that use cartooning to tell the story. My problem with the term “graphic novel” is not that it is pretentious–I suppose it is, but it describes what I am looking for–nor is it that it is a marketing term–all names for products that are sold are marketing terms: comics just as much as graphic novels. IT’s that not all graphic novels are novels. There is not a good term for the non-fiction, full length comics. Maybe it’s just “graphic non-fiction,” and in the end, graphic novels will be shelved with novels and non-ficiton shelved with its subjects. Graphic novels are another way of communicating, where a great deal of innovation is happening in how stories are told.
Two things keep Karel Capek’s “War With the Newts” from getting the recognition it deserves: its cover and its title. The best translation’s cover design, black text on teal, has all the panache of a dishwasher manual. And the title evokes spacesuit-clad heroes racing around cheap sets, firing laser guns at unscary animatronic lizards.
Forget all that.
Karel Capek: A Starter Kit
Here’s a brief guide to the newt-free portions of Capek’s oeuvre.
‘The Gardener’s Year’
When he wasn’t dreaming up sci-fi dystopias, Capek was in the garden. This cheerful, exasperated journal is fun even for readers who don’t know a daisy from a dahlia.
Capek’s most popular work while he was alive (it’s where the word “robot” first appears), today it reads mostly like a rough draft of “War With the Newts.”
‘Hordubal/Meteor/An Ordinary Life’
A trilogy of philosophical novels in which Capek dabbles in detective fiction and unreliable narration. Warning: It makes “War With the Newts” read like a conventional potboiler.
‘The Absolute at Large’
Capek, in 1922, foresees a device that can produce unlimited cheap energy, with the small catch that it might just lead to a world-destroying global war.
When he died in 1938, Capek was working on this bleak polyphonic novel about a half-crazed, compulsively plagiaristic composer.
Originally published in 1998, Sleepwalk and Other Stories collects the sixteen earliest stories from the Optic Nerve comic series. Tomine won a Harvey Award for Best New Talent for this book.
These are stories of people trying to move on in their lives, trying to connect with each other, and more often than not missing, and when they miss they end up somewhere they hadn’t intended, and the focus of their attention often is misplaced.
Sleepwalk is just one of several volumes that collect these short stories, first of all self-published and then continued by the always impressive Drawn and Quarterly.