Summer Reading – Maus I & II

Last semester I was taking a Victorian British Lit class and a Young Adult Fiction writing class. Between those two classes I read 18 books. Most of  the YA books averaged around 200 pages and were fairly simple reads. The Victorian Lit books were quite a different story. Regardless, I was a little burned out from reading half way through the semester.

It was about that time we read Persepolis for my YA writing class. There were so many cool things about this book (and the timing of the reading) for me. See, I started reading it when all the riots in the middle east and Egypt were happening. Persepolis provided an interesting perspective for those events. And I’d never read a graphic novel before. Pam, my bestie, has often listed for me the merits of the art form, but I just hadn’t been interested. During that week I was discussing Persepolis with another friend of mine and told her about learning of Maus and some other graphic novels. She owned Maus and told me I could borrow the set to read it when I had time. I told her to hang on to them for me til the end of the semester so that I wouldn’t be distracted. So she did. A week after the semester was finally over Sarah handed me a stack of no less than 15 graphic novels (10 of which were the Y: The Last Man series). I’ve made my way through all of them and saved Maus I & II for last.

And boy am I glad I did.

Maus I & II are memoirs by Art Speigelman of conversations he had with his father near the end of his father’s life. Both Spiegelman’s parents were survivors of the Holocaust. So many things about these graphic memoirs are amazing. From the styling, to the pacing, to the brutal honesty.

As a writer your personal life often bleeds into what you create. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes unintentionally.  Sometimes you don’t even see it, but the people close to you read it and recognize something. Telling a story like this took vast amounts of courage. Spiegelman even wrote his disconcert into the memoir with this touching scene between he and his therapist. He depicted himself as a small child overwhelmed with all of the emotions dredged up from trying to tell the story. That part of the story telling process resonated with me.

My drawing skills are crap. And I don’t think at this juncture I’d be a successful storyteller in that medium. But I’ve learned a lot from this craft for sure. There are so many subtle elements added to the story through the drawings. (Or like in V for Vendetta the eery lines of song laid over the images and text). The stories are motivated by dialogue without any wasted words on action because you can see it all. I think reading a lot of graphic novels would give you a sparse storytelling style. There seems to be a lot of freedom within the context of writing a graphic novel. Basically, I’m saying a picture’s worth a thousand words. And with graphic novels you get pictures AND words. So, it’s awesome. Especially when you’re reading someone like Spiegelman, who, in my opinion, has mastered balancing the words and drawings very well.

All in all I give it a  out of 5. I almost cried. It was my favorite kind of story: a real one. Check ’em out.


Next on the List –

Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco


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