The popularity of essay-length nonfiction books, what some are calling really short books, is a phenomenon important enough to be written about in chic publications such as T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Critic Christine Smallwood: True to its essence, the very short book does not pretend to have more to say than it does. This is as charming as encountering the rare person who knows when to speak and when to be silent.
Smallwood goes on to argue that very short books, like very short men, might take themselves seriously (which she thinks is dignified), but maybe they should try harder, be more like Oxford’s Very Short Introductions, primers on useful topics such as human anatomy, banking or Rastafari, or more like the Penguin Great Ideas series, abbreviated snippets from the canon—pieces of the infinite night sky chopped up and glimpsed through the bound aperture of a telescope.
Here, the critic seems to be expressing, albeit cheekily (admittedly, which opinion she is being cheeky about I’m not totally certain), a distaste for incompleteness, for books which are not useful. She needs the book to do something specific, such as show off a complete deck of knowledge or at least come to a conclusion.
Plus, she writes, photographs of short books, either on their own or in a stack, can be posted to one’s social media account to communicate taste and substance. She’s worried, I think, that these books get used as props, which merely point to authentic knowledge, allowing for skimmed, shallow, existence to replace a deeply thought one. Click here to continue reading.
The Graphic Memoir as a Transitional Object:
Narrativizing the Self in Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?
In the last two decades or so, the long-form comic medium has seen a rise in the genre of personal narratives, or what Lynda Barry more accurately terms “autofictionalbiographies”; these narratives, although heavily mediated by the authors’ own lives, defy straightforward classification as autobiographies because they generously use creative liberties to articulate their non-fictional stories. The indie-comic scene has enabled publication of a diverse range of work that uses the comic-space to produce creative non-fictions that articulate a crisis that the creator was witness to and/or participated in, such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, about life under a fundamentalist regime in eighties Iran; Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, about the liminal life of a diasporic immigrant; David Small’s Stitches, about living with a disability, and many other works about marginal identities, each brilliant in its own right. Alison Bechdel, in Are You My Mother?, takes this hybrid genre a step further as she uses the comic-space to not just narrate her story, or facilitate a dialogue between her queerness and mental disability, but to analyze and process her complex sense of Self and the traumas that mediate it. (Note: Satrapi too uses the comic form for analysis, but hers is an implicit form of autoethnographical cultural analysis that is mediated through the Self; this is very different from Bechdel’s genre of analysis, which is almost entirely directed inwards than outwards.) Click here to continue reading.
"We are the Poem":
Structural Fissures and Levels in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water
The Chronology of Water: A Memoir inhabits and pushes the boundaries of its genre by developing an ethos of resisting linearity—precisely because linearity, with its traditional narrative structure and discourse, is often more of an imposition on life and its griefs than a useful enactment of processing them. The tools of poetry, for Yuknavitch, are a truer and more bodily way to speak of trauma. Yuknavitch thematically and formally must question dominant narrative structures, as she says explicitly in teaching her reader how to read. In creating her “antimemoir,” Yuknavitch relies on a sequence of named chapters. Like ice crystals gathering around dust to form snowflakes, each one gathers around a topic or memory in one of Yuknavitch’s thematic threads. Together, these cohere into major book sections that are themselves almost essays. As a whole, they create a memoir with, as Yuknavitch notes, fissures and gaps (“An Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch”), proving that “a memoir is, as tale and as discovery, always consequential, even if one tries narratively to evade or delay the consequence” (Larson 45, emphasis original), Yuknavitch’s nonlinear, lyrical structure provides a model for resisting dominant linear discourse through a modular narrative that borrows from poetry even as it essays. Click here to continue reading.