So, one thing that those not in-the-know assume about librarians is that we spend a lot of time reading at work. I could find you a large number of listicles of “relaxing” or “low anxiety” jobs that include librarianship… these lists typically claim as the reason for inclusion the ability to read on the job. I do not know anyone who has spent any time working in libraries who doesn’t roll their eyes so hard at such articles that they risk getting their eyes stuck in the back of their heads (my mom told me this could happen, but I managed to make it out of my teens with my eyes still facing forwards, so I’m not worrying about it anymore). Many (not all) librarians come to the profession because they love reading (I fall into this category of librarian). These sorts of librarians tend to excel at a discipline known in the biz as “reader’s advisory.” Librarians of this kind tend to be good at this one aspect of our multifaceted jobs because we enjoy reading and choose to spend time outside of work doing so. We do not get paid to read. But when a bunch of folks who work in a library get to talking about books, it can be a really rich experience because it highlights the deep reading experiences of a bunch of heavy readers. This was illustrated for me recently when someone posted about a book they read and loved on an internal staff chat board. It started with a post about a book about a young girl with an eating disorder called “Lighter than my Shadow” and turned into a thread where everyone started talking about their favorite similar books. It was such a deep and broad list that I wanted to share it through the blog.
Lighter than My Shadow is a memoir in graphic novel format. (To the uninitiated, these look like comic books. They are not.) The graphic memoir uses pictures and words to share lived experience. Unlike comics, these are often written and illustrated by the same person, though not always. This allows hard, emotional situations to be communicated in ways that words can’t. The aphorism “a picture is worth a thousand words” is made for discussion of graphic memoirs. So graphic format books can be great for dealing with hard topics—hard topics like Spencer posted about recently, and many others. There are graphic memoirs about the significant historical moments like the Holocaust, about those sharing LGBTQIA+ coming out experiences, about those dealing with personal tragedy, and more. They are written for children, teens, and adults.
One subset of these books deals with history. A vivid look at the Holocaust can be found if you check out Spiegelman’s Maus. You can experience the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Representative John Lewis by reading March and, soon, Run. Meanwhile, Persepolis will take you to the Iranian Revolution. All of these titles are eye opening, and the visuals made me, as a reader, feel a more immediate connection to the content than I do when I read a “plain old book.”
If you are interested in funny books, try something by Allie Brosh or Roz Chast. LGBTIA+ titles? Go for Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer. For young readers, read Raina Telgemeier’s Smile trilogy or Cece Bell’s El Deafo, which are both solid choices.
As I read the chat thread, I was amazed at how universal the appeal of graphic memoirs was. It seemed that everyone could think of at least one title they really enjoyed… and this is a diverse group of readers who love everything from fantasy/sci-fi to contemporary realistic and everything in between. Given this, it seems like an ideal portion of our collection to highlight… especially since these can be challenging to find in the library. Sometimes they are cataloged by format (which puts them in nonfiction under 741.5) and sometimes they are cataloged as memoir (which puts them in nonfiction under 921), and sometimes, as with Maus and Persepolis, they are cataloged in history (which puts them in nonfiction in the 940s and 950s respectively). We are currently working to make these titles more browsable, but at this time they may not all be in one spot on the shelf. That’s why this handy list can help. Just place your holds for one of these amazing titles, and you can grab them when you come in for front door pickup!
What graphic memoirs will be published out of our shared COVID experience? I am looking forward to finding out. Or maybe we will decide to do everything we can to forget it and never speak of it again. I’m leaning toward the latter at this point!