North Delta’s George Mackie Library. (James Smith photo)

Graphic memoirs capture more than words

Columnist Frances Thomson recommends readers pick up some illustrated book this month

By Frances Thomson, Fraser Valley Regional Library

Chances are that even if you are not in a book club, you know someone who is. Book clubs have been around for centuries, meeting in libraries, cafes and private homes for the purpose of reading and discussing books. More often than not, eating, drinking and gossiping are also part of any book club meeting.

I belong to a book club that is a little different from most. While most book clubs have all members reading and discussing one book, mine is a genre book club. It began over 20 years ago after some of my librarian colleagues went to a presentation about genre study book clubs at a library conference. Instead of reading one title then analyzing and discussing it to the nth degree, we select a genre of fiction and read a book of our choice. Since we are all librarians, it helps our readers’ advisory work as we come away from a meeting having heard about several books.

Over the years, we have read books in many different genres and sub-genres. Sometimes we stray from actual genres such as police, private or amateur detective mysteries, for themes of our own choosing, such as books by Asian (or other cultures) writers or our favorite summer reads.

The topic for our most recent meeting was “graphic memoirs.” Contrary to how it sounds, we were not reading steamy biographies. A graphic memoir, like a graphic novel, is a story told mostly in illustrations or comic strips. Along with some of my other group members, I read Stitches by David Small, as it appeared on several lists of “must-read” graphic memoirs.

Small is an award-winning illustrator of children’s picture books who was born in 1945 to a radiologist father and emotionally abusive mother. When he was 14 he underwent surgery his parents told him was to remove a cyst in his neck. Later, he discovered by chance that it had been throat cancer, but it was never discussed in the family. The operation left him without one of his vocal cords or his thyroid gland and, for nearly 10 years, without a voice.

I could not put this book down, finishing it in one sitting. It would not have had the same impact without the vividly descriptive black and white illustrations.

Another book presented by a member was Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast. With poignancy and humor, she celebrates the final years of her aging parents with cartoons and photographs, while reflecting on her challenges as caregiver.

American Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights is documented in a trilogy of books called March, illustrated by Nate Powell. It received five stars by a reader who noted it was very powerful, especially in light of events in Charlottesville, Va., which were happening when we met.

The George Mackie Library hosts two book clubs, which meet monthly to discuss one book. New members are always welcome.

Frances Thomson is the community librarian at the George Mackie Library. For more information about books and events at the library, visit fvrl.bc.ca.

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