Y'all ready for this?
In the Sounds and Seas by Marnie Galloway (comics)
A beautiful, wordless journey about saying and doing, exploration and introspection, creation and destruction. gorgeous drawings highlight a unique tale that doesn't hide its influences. You can "read" it in half an hour or get lost in it for half a day. I recommend the latter.
Paper Girls Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson (comics)
Everything about this is very fun, but the best part is the colors.
Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee (non-fiction)
I got this book because many writers I admire suggested that it was both entertaining and useful to read. Entertaining certainly, even if much of the advice is on how to write, research, and stucture longform nonfiction and I lack any ambition in that direction at this point. There are numerous bits of solid writing advice scattered throughout, some that I'll use for myself and some that I'll adapt for teaching in the future. For this reader, however, the reason to read this short book comes from the feeling I got of spending time in the company of a person who has achieved much in his field and yet still has the inclination to chat with a person eager to learn. The best teachers all conjure this same sensation in their own way. Maybe I won't be a better writer for having read this. I think I'm a better person for it
Paper Girls Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson, and Jarek K. Fletcher (comics)
The "multiple versions of characters in a time travel story" thing has been done almost to death. Paper Girls shows that there's still a little life in the trope by giving each version some degree of pathos and making the relationship between them strong and unstable at the same time.
Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler (short stories)
The best stories in this collection are the longer ones ("Blood Child," "The Evening and the Morning and the Night," and "Amnesty") and detail how humans deal with new situations (symbiosis and disease, basically). Butler can craft one heck of a scary scene, and her characters always feel real enough to make those scenes all the more terrifying. But the last story, "The Book of Martha," is the one I'll probably come back to and hopefully teach sometime soon. In it, God gives a black woman writer complete power to change anything about the world that she can think of to get humans through our "adolescent phase" without destroying ourselves. Her solution is clever, but it's also just a pretty great prompt for students (or anybody, really) to write about. Fun!
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (fiction)
I read this one in a day, it's that good and compelling. Hamid's lengthy sentences pull you along with an ease and a grace that usually starts you in one place and leaves you with another. In that way, the students matches the substance as the second half of the book explores the implications of a multitude of doors that connect one place to another, seemingly at random. Hamid depicts how nations and cities, couples and individuals deal with this new paradigm positively and negatively, using Nadia and Saeed to ground a tale that skips across the globe. Perhaps most intriguing is how the national boundaries aren't the only ones being broken down. If globalization looks like this, difficult and unpredictable but rewarding, sign me up.
Paper Girls Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson, and Jarek K. Fletcher (comics)
I really enjoy the serialized nature of this series so far. with so much time jumping it could have been overly complicated, but each volume gets a good singular story in a few short pages while also giving some of that larger story its due. This prehistoric entry is good fun.
Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen (comics)
Another comic about art, this one is a little too slight for my taste. A Canadian art student studying in Paris as Hitler takes it over also has an affair with a German officer while trying to smuggle art before it can be destroyed. There's an interrogation that frames the whole thing that's kind of cool for its expressionist lighting but outside a few other scenes I wasn't feeling the look of this one so much. When the character details are this lightly sketched, the drawings better be stunning. But they aren't, so this ends up being whatever.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (comics)
A book that I should have loved more because it's about all the stuff that I like reading about: art, death, family history. But for me there was too much of the protagonist being a huge idiot and not enough acknowledgement of just how dumb he was. He becomes not-an-idiot, eventually, but it's too little too late. That's part of the point, I guess, but the rest wasn't good enough to make me forget that I kept wanting to shake this guy awake before the 400th page.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (non-fiction)
Solnit's sometimes beautiful, sometimes pointed, always insightful essays about feminism in the first half of this decade still reads somewhat like a book written yesterday. My favorite essay (on uncertainty and walking and Virginia Woolf) is perhaps the least like the others, but even there she manages to expose some alternate ways of thinking about the work of feminism. As I write this, our White House is finding out that their particularly toxic brand of masculinity isn't quite as strong as they hoped it was. As Solnit points out, the work isn't over yet, but there is reason to believe that certain ideas cannot be put back into their boxes.
Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun (comics)
Adorable and surprisingly affecting in the end, Sun uses a doofy alien and cute animals to stand in for a bunch of different anxieties. With all of the simplistic dialogue I was afraid this would be putting forward too easy a worldview, but Sun manages to bring some profundity in the end by not shying away from the bleaker aspects of life. That this could work for an 8 year old almost as well as it did for this 30 year old reader is both impressive and delightful. It's a fast read, too, so revisits will be easy and hopefully rewarding.
The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward (non-fiction/poetry)
This collection of essays, letters, and poems about race in the mid-20-teens is an excellent read for those interested in reading varied perspectives. Themed around James Baldwin's brilliant "The Fire Next Time," many of the pieces here incorporate his words and extend the ideas he brought up half a century ago for the modern problems that these writers of color seek to identify and write against. Split into three sections on the legacy of racism, the current(ish) condition of racism, and a look to the future that might not be as racist, each of the poems and essays left a mark on me. It's not an optimistic book, really, but it is a necessary one.
Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine (comics)
Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying is a collection of short stories in comics form and it's among the best comics I've ever read. The titular story is about comics, actually, but the stand-up kind. It's also about a marriage, a father-daughter relationship, a death, ambition, identity creation, and aging. It's a little masterpiece. Every story here is, really. Tomine creates these perfect characters, admirable but flawed, and then gets to the point without ever sacrificing emotional resonance or beautiful drawings in the name of efficiency. Though you can read this book in about an hour, it is dense enough to return to several times. This is definitely one of the best comics I've ever read, and it's up there with the best books, too.
And that's the year to date.