Recommended Reading: Graphic Novel Edition

1. March (The Complete Edition), by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
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This is US Representative John Lewis’s deeply moving personal account of the Civil Rights Movement. I wept many times reading these volumes, and they feel very relevant today, providing an excellent history lesson of horror and hope, and tremendous courage and tenacity. John Lewis is a hero and a badass and an inspiration.

2. Persepolis (The Complete Edition), by Marjane Satrapi
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Persepolis is a political coming-of-age story that details Satrapi’s childhood and young adulthood in Iran and Vienna during and after the Islamic Revolution, and Iran’s war with Iraq. It’s really good. You can also see the film version of her story, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated feature.

3. Maus (The Complete Edition), by Art Spiegelman
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You’ve probably heard of Maus –the  genius comic series that uses mice (as Jews) and cats (as Nazis) to tell one Holocaust survivor’s story. It’s always been on my radar, but for some reason I only just read it for the first time this winter. The story alternates between past and present, documenting Spiegelman’s father’s life before, during, and after his imprisonment in Auschwitz, and also the young artist’s journey (and struggle) to understand his father, even as he pulls the story from him. In this way, Maus is a bit of memoir, history lesson, biography, and autobiography rolled into one. Read it.

4. Sheriff of Babylon, v. 1&2, by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
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Woof. This one is an incredibly complicated, brutal,  raw, and currently unfinished political story set in the streets of Baghdad. Or as Iraq War veteran Scott Beauchamp puts it in his review for Vulture, “It’s an unmasking of violence. It’s a noir mystery. . . a complex rendering of an entire ecosystem of squalor, hope, and delusion. It’s also accessible and, almost as a bonus, very cool.” The narrative shifts between linked characters, including an American ex-cop military contractor, a local Shi’ite former chief of police, and a Sunni expatriate returned to her city. I’m looking forward to continuing the story in future volumes.

5. Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle
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In the early 2000s, contract animator Delisle was one of a few Westerners granted (partial) access to enigmatic North Korea’s capital city. During his two-month stay, Delisle recorded is personal observations, bizarre encounters, and run-ins with state propaganda, documenting  what he was and was not allowed to see and do in this dangerous country. His account is smaller in scope than some of these other books, but no less interesting. I also recommend Adam Johnson’s excellent novel The Orphan Master’s Son, if you’re curious about North Korea.

BD

A few days ago Brian Doyle passed on to a new dimension. He was a friend to many, and a father, husband, son, and brother to a very lucky few. He was a storycatcher, a writer and editor who saw a good lesson or yarn in every direction he looked, and a guy who was constantly, delightedly, gobsmacked by wonder and grace. He was also a deeply spiritual, hawk-obsessed, hoops-loving, wine-sipping, run-on sentence-using, mustelid aficionado who laughed and wept in equal measure, and often punctuated his spoken sentences with this funny little mmm sound. It is the exact noise I would expect a small bespectacled mammal  in an Irish children’s book to make as he enjoyed a taste of honey on a breezy summer day, and I know the great BD would grin at that thought.

I cannot pretend to know Brian so well as many others, though we did enjoy the odd lunch together, and years of bright and brief email correspondences, but my heart has been with him every day these past few months as his light began to flicker and shift. In my thoughts I have spent many walks pointing out birds to him, and many nights in vigil at his bedside. I have read a dozen of his books and countless essays over the last two months, (this for a project about which I hope to have good news to share soon,) and the regular updates I’ve received from close mutual friends have left me by turns heartbroken, astounded, humbled, and incredibly moved and inspired by the love and grace of the Family Doyle. That is to say, he has occupied my thoughts, and facilitated some new friendships in a very real and meaningful way that has left me changed. And I know I’m not alone in this, because Brian, and his words, have moved so many people.

I have a long list of personal favorites when it comes to Brian’s essays, some of which you can read here, here, here, and here. But just last week I found this one at the end of the last book in my pile, and it made me shiver. He died on a Saturday morning, and I heard the news with a baby sleeping in my arms. I looked down and remembered that morning I had dressed him in an otter shirt, thinking it was a day for otters. And so it was.

Brian, you are missed, even as you live on.

Last Prayer
by Brian Doyle

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever.

Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let alone understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened!

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious!

And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them!

And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.

I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life–make him the biggest otter ever and I’ll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon.

Remember–otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.

In Which We Honor Our Namesake

A little levity from the folks over at The Dodo.

Recent Random Reading Recommendations

Image result1. Little Labors, by Rivka Galchen.
A friend recently sent along  this brilliant little collection, and it was the perfect thing to read through the haze of living with a newborn. Galchen’s musings on her newfound motherhood are whimsical (she refers to her daughter only as the puma), original, and brave, swinging from melancholic to joyful and back again. More than once she perfectly articulated a deep but hidden thought of mine, like when for example, she reflects on home movies here:  iPhone footage of the puma has the unfortunate quality of making it seem as if the puma has passed away and the watcher, me, is condemned to replaying the same scene again and again and again. The more banal the scene, the more intense this effect. The best essays in this slim volume shine like gems, and it makes an especially lovely gift for literary-minded new parents.

2. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
An intense and soaring account of an ambitious and gifted young neurosurgeon’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis, and how he essentially learns how to die with grace. Obviously the book is devastating — I outright sobbed through the latter half — but Kalanithi writes beautifully, and it was a sad pleasure to spend a little time with him and his family on their journey.

Image result3. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. 
Disclosure: I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and I’ve read most of his books. The guy knows how to tell a dark tale. No doubt there are purists who would likely sniff at any Norse collection that lacked an Edda in its title, but I found Gaiman’s retelling of old tales to be fun and accessible. I wouldn’t rank this near the best of his original work — it’s no Sandman or American Gods — but I really enjoyed reading about Odin and Thor and Loki before bed for a few weeks. If anything it encouraged me to pick up an Edda again. Side note: I’m super jacked to watch the Gods duke it out in the new American Gods series . . . Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday is brilliant.

Image result for 19844. 1984, by George Orwell. 
Yeah. There’s a good reason why this book is suddenly a best seller again. In a new age of double think and alternative facts, it’s a great time to read, or re-read this chilling cautionary tale. Orwell was a genius. More times than I can count his lines turned my stomach, but this book should be required reading for all. Pick up Animal Farm again while you’re at it, and remember how much you loathed Napoleon.


Image result for treasure island5. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I’d never read this classic, but a friend of mine keeps extolling it, so.  But I can tell you now, it’s a really enjoyable read and more than refreshing to spend a few days in a less-complicated world of pirates and sea adventures. When you’re done, do yourself a favor and read this fabulous essay about its author by the indelible, adoring Brian Doyle.

 

Image result6. Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.
Look, this riveting, breathless, brutal, and unflinching tale of escape and pursuit won a National Book Award AND a Pulitzer, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Just read it.

 

 

Image result for you'll grow out of it jessi klein7. You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein.
Ms. Klein is a stand-up comedian who writes for Inside Amy Schumer and other sketch comedy shows. If you liked Tina Fey’s Bossypants, or Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, or any other witty, honest, self-deprecating comedy memoir/personal essay collections, you’ll definitely enjoy this one. It provided me with a little respite during this darkest of winters.