Everyone else seems to have a Top Ten this and that, so I thought I’d have one too. It’s not easy to stick to ten because I’m a fairly eclectic reader, so it’s more a Top Ten+ list. I love funny books and serious ones, this has been the case since I was a kid and I used to read anything I came across – C.S Lewis, P.G Woodhouse, Graham Green, Enid Blyton, The Beano, Evelyn Waugh, Mad Magazine… And as mentioned in Becoming/Unbecoming, I liked to organise my bookshelf like a library. I fantasised about working in a bookshop. I would have been a terrible librarian though, because I used to change the category by which the books were organised almost daily.
My own book, Becoming/Unbecoming will always be top of my list from now, but I think these are pretty special too. They are categorised, but in no particular order.
TOP 5 BOOKS WITH GIRL PROTAGONISTS
Beloved – Toni Morison, 1987. Won a Pulitzer prize in 1988. Set after the American civil war, it is the story of Sethe and her daughter Denver after their escape from slavery. It will break your heart but it is a breathtaking work.
The Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys, 1966. This is a clever prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The author is British, born in Dominica. If you’ve read Jane Eyre you will love it!
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee, 1960. I read this book when I was too young to really understand the story but it made a massive impression on me. I’ve re-read it many times since and it’s still brilliant. Race, gender, violence, prejudice, law, love – fantastic stuff!
Bad Blood – Lorna Sage, 2000. An autobiographical work set in a gloriously dysfunctional family in Wales. Won the Whitbread prize in 2001. Often cited as a rare literary highlight in the misery memoir genre. I had this book’s qualities in mind when I was writing mine.
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy, 1997. An epic and beautiful novel about fraternal twins. Won the Man Booker prize in 1997. Roy is a prolific political activist now.
TOP 5 AMBITIOUS/EXPERIMENTAL COMICS WORKS
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel, 2006. This is one of my all time favourite books. I love the restrained drawing style and the way Bechdel uses drawings of real life stuff, like diary pages and photographs, to draw the reader into the real lived world that the book is based on.
In Pieces – Marion Fayolle, 2013. I have absolutely no idea what is going on in this book and I don’t care. It’s funny, surreal, sad, pathetic and weird and the visual puns are ingenious. Each page contains a wordless sequence so beautifully executed and the figures so sympathetically drawn, reading it is more like an exercise in wonder.
Meta Maus – Art Spiegelman, 2011. Perhaps this is stretching the category, but this exploration of the making of the Pulitzer Prize winning Maus is a truly fascinating read, if you’ve read the original. Maus was originally serialised and then produced as two books. Maus 1 – A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus 2 – A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. The books were based on oral history recordings of Spiegelman’s father’s testimony as a survivor of Auschwitz. Meta Maus contains a hyperlinked DVD with archives, audio interviews and notebook images.
Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? – Ros Chast, 2014. You don’t get much more serious than a book about getting old and dying and Chast manages to make this book funny, moving and profound. It’s more a series of strips than a continuous narrative but it builds into the most wonderful story of her parents’ slow demise and her own role as their carer.
Ada – Gertrude Stein, illustrated by Atak, 2010. This is an illustrated version of Stein’s 1910 ‘word portrait’ – a work that is somewhere between prose and poem – that she created for her lover Alice B. Toklas. The colours are just magnificent and the book also includes a poster to hang on the wall.
I bought this zine in Gosh and I love it. Everyone Is Hungry – that’s it really, but lovely colour drawings of hands reaching out for apples and the like. It’s by Anna Sailamaa, 2016, Grafiskie Stasti, Latvia.
Polina -Bastien Vives, 2013. Lovely, lovely book about ballet. The drawing is so smooth (balletic?). It’s an odd story, and I’m still not sure if the characters the book is based on are real, but I genuinely enjoyed reading this, a real pleasure.
Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor – Lynda Barry, 2014. I famously don’t like Barry’s work!!!! Aargh, sacrilege! Or at least I don’t like the drawing style, I find the writing funny. I’m reading this for a book club I’m in so wish me luck.
I’ll add to this list from time to time. Hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. Feel free to add your own favourites in the comments btl.
TOP COMICS STUDIES BOOK
This is my favourite. Matt Madden, 2006, 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. Great for thinking about layout, format, narrative flow etc. Not really about style at all, an overrated concept anyway.