Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir Good Talk is based around conversations Mira has with those around her in New York, between 2014 and 2016 with flashes back to her family in New Mexico and India. She  has an extraordinary talent for dialogue that is at the centre here. Much of the story’s present is autobiography alongside her developing romance with Jed,a family story and most affectingly a story of how race in America impacts individuals and families. 

The first scene is 2014. Mira and her 6-year-old son, Z, are discussing his obsession with Michael Jackson.  Z and Mira are drawn, and then cut out leaving a white border around each figure and super-imposed on photos of Jackson album covers and cityscapes of New York. Z is asking questions: “Who taught him to dance?” and “What is a LaToya?” before he moves on to “Was Michael Jackson brown or white?” Later on, in reference to the murder of Michael Brown, Z asks, “Is it bad to be brown?” Mira replies, “No, it’s great being brown. We look good in colors! We have history! We don’t get skin cancer as easily!” These exchanges establish the narrative and the subject matter of the whole work, but Z wonders why his mother is “yelling at me.” The graphic style of the drawn figures on top of the photographs, sometimes augmented by photographic portraits of some of the characters, allows the story to happen in the actual settings. The photos often open the narrative up beyond the rooms where the conversations are taking place.

“ Now every question Z asked made me realize the growing gap between the America I’d been raised to believe in and the one rising fast all around us. I kept thinking if I could go back in time and make sense of the things I’d been told growing up, I would be able to give Z better answers. Maybe even find a way toward that better country. Soon though with news of the Black Lives Matter Movement flooding our televisions, and the rise of Donald Trump, I would have just as many questions as he did.”

The book progresses through her parents’ story of an arranged marriage and her family’s worries about her love marriage (defined by Mira’s mother as “a marriage that is not arranged.” to Jed, a Jewish man; an hyper-awareness of shades of skin color that comes from her family thinking that she is “not fair” and therefore “no beauty.” There are attempts to arrange a marriage for Mira that fail–all the time she is moving through relationships at school, college after college in Seattle and New York.

Around the middle of the book, 9/11 happens.  The book turns here. Indians are taken for terrorists. Mira is mistaken for a young Indian woman who was lost in the twin towers who appears on a poster.  The hope of America disintegrates from here on out as Trump’s rise after the hope of Obama, strains the relationships between Jed’s parents and their daughter-in-law and grandson.

This is a subtle examination of how race works for people of color set in a narrative where most of the time the stakes are emotional rather than life or death, and this allows those of us, who because we are white, don’t feel the slights and digs and mispeakings, another place to feel them as they happen.  I read the memoir while at the same time reading Jacob’s impressive novel The Sleepwaker’s Guide to Dancing they echo each other. Give them both a try.

Excerpt published in The Guardian

Interview with Jacob in The Atlantic

Review of Good Talk from the New York Times

Kirkus Review of Good Talk
Kirkus Review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Boston Globe review of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

Sarah Manguso

MangusoCheck out, Sarah Manguso.  Her website lists her books, and connects to lots of her articles.  Is what she does “prose poetry”? Probably.  But it doesn’t matter. It’s phenomenal. Tightly written short pieces.  Often autobiographical.  She has re-awoken my interest in prose poems.


300 Arguments (Graywolf, 2017)
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Graywolf, 2015)
The Guardians: An Elegy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)
The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape (McSweeney’s Books, 2007)


Siste Viator (Four Way Books, 2006)
The Captain Lands in Paradise (Alice James Books, 2002)

Last Things by Marissa Moss

Last Things Marissa Moss Cover (2)

An uncredited reviewer in Publishers Weekly writes: “Deeply affecting and harrowing… This is not a sentimental story of how suffering ennobles people.  Moss’s deliberately naive drawings effectively accompany her painfully direct text…The fact that the family does endure is impressive, and this book demonstrates how art can transmute suffering into literature.”

S/he is right on the mark.  Moss is a successful children’s author best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series has written and drawn the most grown-up of books.  When her husband, Harvey, is diagnosed with ALS, he becomes more and more distant from the family, and there is no easy resolution to their relationship or his illness.  This is not an illness story where everyone becomes a better person, but eventually, as Moss writes in her introduction  it is about the “strong bonds of family and how they can sustain us.”

Everything about the book brings home the situation they find themselves in. Like life, it has to be lived, and like life, there are ups and downs: many, many downs.  Moss is clear-eyed about what the disease is, what it does to Harvey, how she and the kids react.  In a way, this with the clear text and the expressive drawings and varied and inventive design of the pages to suit to the story would be enough.  But what makes this a great book is that alongside the story of the family and the illness,  There is more. Beyond the day to day, there is the life of the mind.  Of connecting to the thoughts and history of humanity. For Harvey, a professor of medieval art, this involves hanging on to his intellectual journey trying ever more desperately to finish his book Picturing Kingship on King Louis IX’s personal prayer book.  He cuts himself off to write his last work.  King Louis is christian, the family are Jews. And for the family it is Judaism and life-cycle events of a bar mitzvah and later on sitting shiva for Harvey when he dies that locate the mundane in a wider world. Human beings live, love, struggle and die, but our minds put this all in the context of humanity.

Book Trailer:

Review from The Forward
Washing Post article about the Jewish aspects of the book
Publishers Weekly review
Kirkus Review

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Just listened to HMMaMG on disc. Its a rock memoir, but Brownstein is not glamorizing Sleater-Kinney or her life.

People know Carrie from Portlandia .  From her previous career as a musician in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag. This story of her life up to the final S-K show in 2006.

She begins Chapter 1 by writing “I’ve always felt unclaimed. This is the story of the ways I created a territory…something that could steady me, somewhere I belonged.” Something many people feel on some level. The first quarter of the book is growing up in Bellevue, WA.

She formed a band in 11th grade called Born Naked: “We agonized over band names (though clearly not for long enough).

After high school, she dropped out of Western Washington U and  moved to Olympia, WA and was deeply immersed in the music and art scene.  Bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bikini Kill were inspring her.

The book moves through the different stages of Sleater-Kinney and Carrie’s relationship and friendship with Corin.  The details are a joy to read if the music means something to you, but if it doesn’t Brownstein draws the reader deep into the punk life and aesthetic–the make do, the camaraderie, and because of the relative success of the band, she is able to tell the story about how that very basic view of the world expands as success draws the outsiders back into itself.

The book doesn’t really get on to Portlandia, but as Brownstein says in the interview that is a bonus on the disc set, her description of life in Olympia is where ideas and material for the IFC show comes from in part.

Reading this along with Viv Albertine’s book brought back my sense of the late seventies early eighties, however much I was drawn to this music–especially female voices, X-Ray Spex, Penetration, Siouxie, the Slits–I only touched on the life as I moved through the world of fringe theatre rather than music.

The Arab of the Future 1 & 2



To be published in US/UK Sept. 12, 2017









TThese  are  the memoirs of Riad Sattouf’s childhood. He was born in France, but when his father graduates with his doctorate, they move first to Libya, and then to his father’s homeland, Syria.  The series was originally published in France to a mixed reception. The son of an Arab father and a French mother, Sattouf is often seen as anti-Arab. At the same time he s admired and seen as a master of graphica up there with Spiegelman, Satrapi and Sacco.  He has the hard satirical stance that worked for his regular column in Charlie Hebdo.    Sattouf has come to fame recently as the only Arab contributor to Charlie Hebdo, at the time of the massacre.  You can read more about him and the controversy around this book–some people find him racist and insensitive, others are great admirers.

These are full integrated graphic works.  The drawings are essential to the storytelling.  The people are cartoonish– each character’s nose is the most prominent feature. Despite the simplicity of the drawings the characters thoughts and feelings are clearly communicated.  A nice touch is that even though each the format is basically black and white, each country has it’s own colour wash: France is blue, Libya is yellow and Syria is pink, with the occasional object in full colour. Abdul-Razak (his father)’s radio is red. Gadafi, and portraits of him and his green book are green and the soldiers’ berets, when they get to Syria are deep red.

New Yorker
New York Times review of AotF
New York Times review of AotF 2
Guardian AotF
Guardian AotF 2
Arab of the Future website

Keiler Roberts: Sunburning

51775260I didn’t know anything about Keiler Roberts when I picked up, her graphic memoir, Sunburning, with its plain yellow cover, the book’s title a slightly lighter yellow, and a simple sketch of a woman with her midsection erased.

One one level, the book is nothing special.  A woman, going through her day, talking to her daughter and her husband.  But it’s much more than that. The drawings are simple and expressive.  And the stories too.  They are a string of moments, often funny, some awkward, some revealing.  Keiler is the centre of the stories with her daughter providing many of the funny lines. Keiler has bipolar disorder, and it is tough to handle some of the scenes where she is at her lowest, but on the other hand they are mundane in the right way.  She keeps going–doing what needs to be done.  Caring for her daughter. It is heroic in the proper sense of keep moving through the day.  If you deal with any mental condition, you know that if you get up and do what has to be done, it is not easy, but it passes.  Not every episode of mental illness needs to be on the police procedural show of the week.

It’s also about growing up, being a mother, a wife, a daughter.  It’s easy and it’s hard. You laugh and you care and you worry.  Somehow, Roberts’ wit and narrative ability keeps you wanting to take the next step with her, to see what tomorrow brings.

This is the true art that so many of us and so many artists and writers fail at.  So often we have to turn our life in choreographed stories and have to find the headline. But life is more open, less contrived and not so easy to encapsulate, and some art manages to allow us in, control our view just enough to keep us following along, without shaping it beyond truth to fiction.  Fiction has a different purpose, but in non-fiction, this is what we need.  Don’t expect to understand, share, ponder, and realize you have another experience to add to your own.

published by Koyama Press
available at your local bookstore or library – ask them to order it if needed!

There is more to know about Keiler, and here’s a full interview in The Toucan–the blog of Comic-Con.

RC: Why draw comics about yourself, as opposed to other subjects?
KR: Why draw comics about anything else? I’m really interested in what’s true – real life experiences. I only have full access to myself. It’s not because I think I’m especially interesting. I would do autobio from your point of view if I could.


American Widow by Alissa Torres

51jtw9rfnvl-_sy344_bo1204203200_What was it like for the widows of people who died in the World Trade Center in 2001. Alissa Torres writes about her experience in this graphic memoir  with art by Sungyoon Choi.

At the end of the book, on the first anniversary of 9/11, Allissa goes to Hawaii–away from it all. A relief from the shock and the struggle to rebuild her life and to get the relief from organizations like the Red Cross that had raised so much money to support the families of the victims.  All the lofty rhetoric was empty, as rhetoric so often is , and this book takes the reader to the ground and step step you enter the daily life of those truly affected by the tragedy.

Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey

Meet Özge with her messy orange hair and striped shirt. She has a sister, Pelin. Mum and Dad. They live in Izmir, Turkey. Özge often follows her impulses. She challenges life.  The book is laid out like an artist’s journal.  Drawings scattered across the page. Some sketches some coloured or washed as though Samanci is piecing together short scenes from her life while developing the narrative of her life.  Whole sections of the book are the history of Turkey and what it was like to grow up there in the 1980s.  One TV channel.  Only a few choices of items at the store. Ataturk talks to young Özge from his portrait.

This is an apparent memoir about heading off in the wrong direction.  Not the direction your father, your teachers, your college professors and even your friends see for you.  In fact,  Özge disappoints herself, until finally she comes to where she is able to tell the story.  Now she is the graphic novelist we are reading.  But she began as a maths major, to be at as good a university as she can be at.  But she struggles. Although her mother supports her she doesn’t help her find what she really wants to do in a world where everyone else providing at best resistance.

I don’t want to use that reviewer cliche that even if it dares to disappoint, it doesn’t.   This is full of energetic drawing, use of colour and photos to liven up the mainly line drawn characters and scenes that are never boxed in by frames.  A colour wash or less defines each cell of the story.

Learn about a culture where Christian and Moslem, devout and secular interact on a daily basis, not comfortably or easily, but nonetheless they coexist. You will learn something of Turkish history often through Özge’s admiration for Ataturk. Of how she and her family lived with one TV station–where Dallas was a viewing highlight.

Özge’s mother and sister, but a father who “liked hard work, order and discipline.  These were the tools that helped him survive go to college, and become a teacher.” Özge asks her mother, “Why does he yell so much, doesn’t he love me?” Her mother answers her, “Your dad loves you. He never had a family.  He is learning how to be a dad without having had one.”

The book ends, “I had to do what I loved to do even if it’s against the expectations of the people I love.” Özge says, “Come, let’s swim against the tide” and the multicoloured fish replies, “Do you dare to disappoint.”

ViV AlbertinE Writes a Book

M-20Mag-20140724144211763661-300x0Listen to  The Slits. From 76 – 82 they were at the center of the punk world, while being on the fringe.Listen. This is essential rock and not rock at all.

On the one hand they are an accidental band, on the other, Ari Up was full of ambition, and although she started out not knowing how to play the guitar, VIv Albertine is the muical centre to the group.

The book tells her story all the time referring to clothes, music and relationships.  The history of punk step by stpe.  Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Don Letts, Johnny Thunders, Keith Levene. Albertine writes in such a straightforward way


Playing with The Slits

that it brings that world back. And her focus brings a poetry constantly moving through time. I remember some of this, but I lived it vicariously, Viv was right there and finally her book took me there.