The “graphic novel” is a contentious thing. Some people, perhaps even yourself, consider them to be nothing more than long comic books with little to contribute to literature or society, dimming the brains of our youth by not being “real” books. Others, conversely, find them rich and entertaining, a juxtaposition of artwork and prose that adds an artist’s layer of imagery onto a story apart from, or perhaps in addition to, the author’s. Some simply find them a great way to keep up with their favorite comics, as most comic publishers will bind 5 or 6 issues of their comic books into graphic novels for easy consumption.
Whatever your outlook on graphic novels is, it is undeniable that their existence has had a profound effect on media, both within and beyond literature. Did you know that many of the blockbuster movies of the past twenty years (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Dark Knight Rises; 300; A History of Violence; Sin City; The Adventures of Tintin; and so many more!) were at the very least influenced by graphic novels?
And graphic novels have also made lasting effects on characters we all know and love, too! After (and before) DC Comics’ Barbara Gordon was Batgirl she was the wheelchair-bound information broker Oracle, which came from the events in Alan Moore’s renowned graphic novel The Killing Joke. Looking for education in your graphic novels? Art Spiegelman’s masterpiece Maus is considered by many in academia to be an important opus of Holocaust literature, and there has been myriad research conducted around it.
Graphic novels can be so much more than entertaining, just like any other book. They can be thought-provoking and allegorical (like Moore’s V for Vendetta or Watchmen); they can be disturbing and frightening (such as Scott Snyder’s Wytches); they can be beautiful (Lee Bermejo’s artwork in Batman: Noel is breathtaking); and they can be for readers of all ages (Smile by Raina Telgemeier is a smash hit with kids, teens and adults alike at PPL). And they certainly don’t have to just be about superheroes!
In this monthly blog, I’m going to do my best to open your eyes to the world of graphic novels and comic books, sharing with you and the rest of the PPL community my thoughts and discussing books old and new that you can find on the shelves. With a year full of new superhero movies (Batman v Superman; Captain America: Civil War; X-Men: Apocalypse; Doctor Strange; et. al.), and with the resurgence of old “nerdy” franchises such as Star Wars and The X-Files in popularity, the prevalence of graphic novels in society is only going to grow.
We’ve got a whole lotta heart.
Children’s Fiction and Nonfiction
Love is My Favorite Thing, by Emma Chichester Clark
Plumdog, the internet sensation, joyfully and hilariously expresses the exuberance of loving love in Love Is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark. This British author’s style and voice are very easy to love. This lovely book has good repetition, great humor, a sweet and reassuring message and beautiful illustrations that often contrast nicely and hilariously with the text. Embrace love with Plumdog this February!
Should You Be A River: A Poem About Love, by Ed Young
A labor of love, an ode to unconditional love, a poem for his two daughters, Ed Young uses cut paper, photographs, and calligraphy to accompany his enchanting poem Should You Be A River: A Poem About Love.
Young’s poem speaks to the unpredictable and often heart wrenching nature of unconditional love, while immersing the reader in the power and splendor of nature. While adults will appreciate the craft and creativity of the illustrations, children will respond to the bold colors and simple text.
Looking for a nontraditional picture book to love this year? A poem with heart? A well-crafted work of art? Ed Young hits the mark here and gives us yet another reason to love picture books, no matter our age.
Books and Valentines on display in the Teen section of the Main Library.
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
“He tells me to pick the music. I’m not sure if he knows that handing me his iPod is like handing me the window to his soul…..He talked about the ocean between people. And how the whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to.”
Simon is in love with a boy named Blue, but since they’re both in the closet their relationship starts entirely over email – just real enough to be exciting. Full of complex characters all keeping their own secrets, coming out and growing up is challenging for everyone all around. Sweet, compassionate and thoughtful, this book paints an endearing love-story with soul and heart, following a strong and relatable cast of supporting characters. Sometimes the hardest thing is explaining to people you love that you’re picking up the drums, that you have a boyfriend – that you need to tell them something new about yourself. This book will have you cheering for the Simon and his three closest friends as they take on bullying, crushes, new love and navigate the emotional waters of growing up.
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
Call me bleak, but when I think “love”, the first book that comes to mind is full of pain, loss, and grief. Oh, and taboo relationships!
This slim volume from YA author Meg Rosoff packs an emotional wallop. Just shy of 200 pages, the story of two teens in wartime manages to be both literary and compelling; a survival book about a war that could very plausibly happen, and a love story as beautiful and evocative as it is troubling. I audibly sobbed through the last two chapters, feeling as if I had been through the wringer with these characters. The well-done film adaptation starring Soairse Ronan is also recommended. It also made me cry.
Start learning a Romance Language with Mango Languages!
If language learning is your love this winter, try PPL’s resources including Mango Languages, Mango Premiere, Ebooks and Eaudiobooks, Muzzy Languages online, and the Learning Express Library’s TOEIC practice tests. Click here for more information.
An Island Apart by Lillian Beckwith and A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons
Two books: one set in the American South, and one on a Scottish Island. I wonder if I’ve always been drawn to love stories where the candle is kindled slowly and the outcome is uncertain or unfulfilled. The struggle for romance is not recognized as the missing component but happens in spite of the characters certainty that it does not, can not exist. The adjective ‘bittersweet’ was invented for stories such as these.
Lamb in Love, by Carrie Brown
One of the sweetest love stories I’ve read is Carrie Brown’s novel “Lamb in Love” from 1999. It is a quiet story about two middle aged people who for the first time in their lives fall in love. This story is a true celebration of the power of love to transform the ordinary into the magical. The characters and the story develops and comes to life as you turn the pages, perfect for spreading warmth in the middle of winter.
The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra
“I gave him the mixtape the morning of his departure…For Kolya, in Case of Emergency!!! Vol. 1.”
I loved Anthony Marr’s first book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his newest novel, The Tsar of Love and Techno. He did not disappoint with this complicated and beautiful collection of stories. They span decades, starting in Leningrad in 1937 and soaring into outer space, year unknown. I was captivated by the people: Marra isn’t afraid to create complex, meaty characters, both villainous and wonderful. The book’s settings, Siberia and Chechnya, are so vivid that they are like other beloved characters. I feel as if I am always saying I am not a fan of short stories, but then I read something like this and am blown away. Love in Marra’s work can be a fragile thing, subject to betrayal and death, but also something lasting, raw, vibrating through lifetimes, showing up in the strangest places: a mixtape, a face painted into the background of hundreds of pictures, an act of violence that is also an act of mercy. Though each of these stories could stand on their own, they weave together beautifully to tell gorgeous, brutal, engrossing stories of life and loss, love and heartbreak (and humor, too!).
I am a huge fan of Marra’s writing and will read anything he writes. I hope he is working on something now.
Turning the Mind Into an Ally, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
My pick for a book about love is about finding the contentedness that can lead to a life of fulfillment and joy by sowing the seeds of love for the most important person in your life: yourself. Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is a Western look at Buddhist mindfulness practices, the Sakyong himself being the American son and successor of a Buddhist spiritual leader.
Mipham emphasizes the need to love oneself in order to find the mind-state needed to spread love to others, extolling the virtues of mindful living and meditation to help stop us from questioning our goodness and wisdom and recognize the most simple of loving facts: we are all good and wise, we just need to reign in our minds from the anxiety and confusion of our life in order to truly embrace it.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be inspired by Mipham’s writing! Everyone can benefit from his teachings about living in and embracing the moment, about recognizing the kindnesses in everything around you (“People work at night so that we can read the news at breakfast. A total stranger grew the potato we ate at lunch. Even someone who irritates us will give us the time of day if we ask”), and about taking a moment, maybe even two moments, every day to love yourself for who you are: a living, breathing person who has so much to teach and so much love to give if you cultivate the mind to do so.
Love your job!
Each year the average American spends roughly 1,800 hours a year at work. 1,800 hours!
If you are going to spend that much time somewhere wouldn’t it be great to LOVE what you are doing? Here are some titles to get you thinking along those lines:
What Color Is your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-hunters and Career-changers (2016) by Richard Nelson Bolles has been the go-to manual since 1970, and it’s been revised and updated each year since.
Roadmap: The Get-it-together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With your Life (2015) by Nathan Gebhard. This book offers a wealth of exercises, diagrams, quotes, charts, cartoons, and texts geared to help you let go of misaligned self-perceptions, define core personality traits and desires, and become the next new version of you!
Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent your Work, and Never Get Stuck (2015) by Jonathan M. Acuff. This book will give you the power to call a Do Over–whether you’re twenty-two, forty-two, or sixty-two. You’ll have the resources to reinvent your work and get unstuck. You’ll even rescue your Mondays as you discover how to work toward the job you’ve always wanted.
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt
Becoming Nicole is the story of a family’s journey and growth as they work towards supporting the needs of their transgender child. The transformation in this story is not only that of Nicole Maines and her transition from Wyatt to Nicole, but also that of her father Wayne. A man who deeply loved his wife and his children, Wayne struggled at first to understand his child’s true identity.
One of the most touching, pivotal scenes in the book occurs on Valentine’s Day in 2008, when Wayne and 10-year-old Nicole go to a father-daughter dance in Orono. “Wayne was nervous, of course, about whether he might trip over his own feet, but he also worried that others might mistake his nervousness for embarrassment about his being there with his transgender daughter.” His love of his daughter and his wish to be there for her helps him overcome his fear of dancing. It’s a sweet moment in the book when the reader gets to see Wayne as supporting father who is coming to learn more and more about himself, the categories he’s limited himself to in the past, and what he ultimately wants for his relationship with his family.
Nicole states in the book, “Stories move the walls that need to be moved.” This family’s love for each other and the transformation of each of them will move you as well.
In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri
“Sonno di continuo a caccia di parole,” Lahiri writes, emphatically, at the opening of a chapter in her new book. In English: “I’m constantly hunting for words.”
I confess that I haven’t read In Other Words, my book-love-pick for February, but stubbornly, I’m picking it anyhow. Lahiri’s book is hot off the presses, an ink-and-paper newborn this month. She wrote it in Italian (it is translated in Knopf’s publication by Ann Goldstein), and it is about her love of the Italian language, among other things, a love that actually transported her and her family to Italy, where she settled down to learn, immersed in the teaching that blossomed all around her. Flipping through the dual Italian-and-English text, I’m already noting passages that grip me, including her frank discussion of the frustrations of this love: her husband (who doesn’t speak as well as she) is mistaken for a native Italian and praised, while Lahiri—the one so enamored, the student, the language-lover—realizes that because of her appearance, she is never complimented this way or applauded for speaking so well. Nonetheless, she persists. In the chapter “Gathering Words,” she speaks of words that are obscure to her, satisfying, fascinating. “I would describe the process like this: every day I go into the woods carrying a basket…I gather beautiful words that have no exact equivalents in English (formicolare, chiarore: to move in a confused fashion, like ants, and also to have pins and needles; a shaft of light).”
What will happen to Lahiri’s love, I wonder? I’m glad for the chance to spill out her (and Goldstein’s!) basket of words this February, and to discover all the other wisdom this favorite writer’s been gathering.
Spoiler alert: light falls on the pages of “In Other Words.”
So by Peter Gabriel
Released in 1986, So was among the first compact discs my parents owned, and it got a lot of air time during my early years. Even with its hallmark ‘80s cheese, when I listen to it I hear the love of home and family in “Sledgehammer” (“all you do is call me / I’ll be anything you need”). I revisited it when I was in junior high and had just seen Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…, with its iconic boombox-in-the-rain scene featuring “In Your Eyes,” which naturally felt representative of my own awkward adolescent “love life.” Last fall I chanced upon a vinyl copy of So at WMPG’s annual record sale, and discovered the album anew, including some of the slower songs I had dismissed in my youth, and as for my parents before me, it has become a household favorite.
Land of the Bottom Line, by John Gorka
Ah, Love! It embraces pizza and Gene Kelly movies and jeans that fit. In its full glory you can count on it to unhinge you and make you whole. It bewilders and informs, sweeps the way clean, clutters the mind. It floats. It runs aground.
I remember my years-ago first hearing of John Gorka’s CD Land of the Bottom Line. I liked the album very much. It didn’t hurt that Gorka’s voice is what it is: smooth, strong, personal, direct.
More to February Picks’ thematic point, I was blown sideways when the penultimate track “Love Is Our Cross to Bear” tripped through the tympanic membrane straight to my heart.
I often do not understand things poetic. Music making is a mystery to me. But, make no mistake, I felt in Gorka’s delivery all the contradictions, elusive contentment, the crushing emptiness and aching fullness of love at all ages and stages. THAT, my friends, is not an intellectual exercise. It is connection of the finest kind. Like love.
Find these titles and more at PPL! And have a Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.
“Only the things I didn’t do/crackle…” -Naomi Shihab Nye. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
In the poem “Burning the Old Year,” poet Naomi Shihab Nye muses as she gets rid of some old letters: “Only the things I didn’t do/crackle after the blazing dies.” It’s that time again: at the beginning of the new year, we assess. We take stock. We remember old goals and renew them. We break trail, inspired to take on new tasks and ways of being in the world. Our staff picks in January offer a look at a few library resources and books that celebrate new beginnings and growth.
Staff Picks: Online Resources
Create the life you have always wanted and start your own business! You’ll need to write a business plan as your roadmap and to show to potential funders. A great way to get started in writing a business plan is to look at samples of business plans from existing successful organizations…and PPL has you covered. The Small Business Resource Center provides thousands of in-depth business plans for a variety of industries. See our Business page for other helpful resources, and let our Business Librarian know if you need assistance.
Staff Picks: Nonfiction
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
“When people shine a little light on their monster, we find out how similar most of our monsters are. The secrecy, the obfuscation, the fact that these monsters can only be hinted at, gives us the sense that they must be very bad indeed. But when people let their monsters out for a little onstage interview, it turns out that we’ve all done or thought the same things, that this is our lot, our condition. We don’t end up with a brand on our forehead. Instead, we compare notes.” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I don’t usually make resolutions in January (I’m still stuck in an academic calendar mindset where the new year begins in September), but this year felt different. I closed the door on 2015 with both heart and mind focused on the pursuit of writing to which, despite identifying as a writer for the better part of my life, I have devoted little energy in recent years. I spent New Year’s Day reading Anne Lamott’s celebrated manual/pep-talk hybrid and gearing up for a long overdue return to the writing life.
The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer
In late 1989, before the days of cell phones and GPS, never mind smart phones that do everything, we two country folk moved to the great State o’ Maine with no jobs and these pooled resources: one graduate degree (his), two cats (ours), and a dogged determination to be shed of Boston (mine). NH had been home before our stint in Boston, but employment would more likely be found around Portland. Enter The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, the Delorme bible that would ease me into our chosen Promised Land after having not driven EVER, ANYWHERE for three and a half years. From the big picture to city streets and gravel roads, it had it all and showed the way to job interviews and the laundromat. Even better, it brought me home again every time. I am happy to say that our New Beginning worked out just fine. I still consult my Maine Atlas, albeit a newer edition, in lieu of more modern contrivances. It always gets me home, where my heart is.
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynsey Addario
Lynsey Addario’s memoir is a straightforward, perceptive, and harrowing account of her work as a war photographer in the 21st century. It’s also a vivid portrait of the world in conflict and of the lives of others. In It’s What I Do, Addario is a thoughtful recorder of the harsh realities and complex experiences of journalists, the many different people they write about, photograph, film, and record, and all those who help the media along the way and who are put at risk. Recounting her experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Congo, and Libya, Addario writes about lives changed, damaged, and lost. She writes about compassion, fear, hospitality, censorship, courage, love, and “the privilege of witnessing things that others do not; an idealistic belief that a photograph might affect people’s souls.” How does her account of her life and the lives of others help me grow? It does make me want to pick up my camera (though here in Maine and elsewhere, I’ll only ever be taking pictures of friends and family). More complexly, her work urges me to continue to grow towards care, towards thoughtfulness, and towards always learning, questioning, and paying attention.
Here are some other ideas for nonfiction titles at PPL that explore different themes of growth and new beginnings:
- The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Job Lost and a Life Found, by Don J. Snyder
- Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt
- Ordinary Light: A Memoir, by Tracy K. Smith
- I Just Graduated…Now What? Honest Answers from Those Who Have Been There, by Katherine Schwarzenegger
- Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal, by Ava Chin
- When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers Talk About the Triumphs, Challenges, and Transformative Experience of Fatherhood
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, A Daughter, The Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything, by Amanda Gefter
- Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding, by Lynn Darling
- My Twice-Lived Life: A Memoir, by Donald M. Murray
And there’s always…Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” which is a marble-writ glow of a reminder: “You must change your life.”
Staff Picks: The First Folio
The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio, by Andrea E. Mays
This book is a perfect prelude to the First Folio event at PPL that will dominate conversation in the Portland cultural community for the month of March. The first chapters focus on the fascinating history behind the creation and publication of the First Folio. Later chapters flesh out the story of Henry Folger’s mania for finding and collecting these prized documents. Mays presents a compelling and accessible tale, and one that provides an excellent context for the First Folio’s anticipated visit to Portland and its only visit to Maine.
Staff Picks: Fiction
The 40 Rules of Love, by Elif Şafak
I recently listened to and was inspired by a Ted Talk with Ann Morgan. She considered herself well-read until she discovered the “massive blind spot” on her bookshelf. Like Ann, I thought I read diversely, but I wasn’t stepping outside of my comfort zone (for me that’s mostly English and Spanish speaking countries). Ann created a goal for herself: to read one book from every country in the world over the course of a year. I don’t have time for that, but I have decided to read 12 books from 12 countries that I don’t normally visit. I have asked friends to join in on the challenge: we’ll meet once a month to discuss the books we read. This month we’re reading The 40 Rules of Love by Elif Şafak, a French born Turkish writer. The novel consists of two parallel narratives. The contemporary one is about an unhappily married Jewish housewife in Massachusetts. The second narrative is “Sweet Blasphemy,” about a wandering dervish and Rumi, the poet. It’s interesting to see how these worlds intersect, and it makes me look forward to reading my way around the world this year. Our next book is set in Iceland: Stone Tree by Gyrðir Elíasson.
The Gathering Storm, by Brandon Sanderson (for Robert Jordan)
The Gathering Storm turned me into a writer. Back in 2009 when the book was published, I was living in Massachusetts and had the privilege to meet Sanderson at a book signing, where I asked him about the writing process and how he managed to write such rich and engrossing fantasy universes while still managing to have a life. His advice was simple: “If you have a story to tell, then tell it. If you have a universe to share, then share it. If you write just three pages a day — just three a day, even skipping some weekends — you’ll have a book in 6 months.” Well, it took me almost 4 years, but my first fantasy novel was done, and I’ve continued to grow as a writer since! All thanks to Sanderson and The Gathering Storm.
New Fiction in 2016
Last but not least…here’s a list of some of the library’s most anticipated new fiction titles for the beginning of 2016 (some not yet published): place your holds now!