Noteworthy Graphic Novels

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Kahlil

This graphic novel was first serialized in the form of a webcomic in 2010. The story is set in 2009 in Iran following the contentious national elections that took place there. Medhi, a student activist, goes missing after the demonstrations that followed the election. Medhi’s mother and brother, along with friends, initiate an epic mission to find him, knowing very well that he could be seriously injured or even dead. This graphic novel highlights the power of individual perseverance, especially in the character of the protestor’s mother, who will stop at nothing to find her son. This book is not for the faint of heart as there are some gruesome moments that call for reader caution. However, such moments highlight the unjust political atmosphere in which the characters live. Some reviewers have praised this work, comparing it to the illustrious Maus books by graphic novel genius, Art Spiegelman. 

Epileptic by David B.

This engrossing graphic novel caught my attention with its rigorous, stark, expressionistic illustrations, as well as its touching story that describes a family desperately searching for a cure for their epileptic child. The book is a complicated work that deals with themes as diverse as contemporary French history, to holistic medical remedies, to the psychological dynamics of sibling relationships. The artwork is rendered in a frantic, symbolic way that takes the reader to the haunting atmosphere of David B.’s emotions (which at first glance seem to mimic a type of madness) as he struggles to comprehend the pain that his brother endures daily. The story of the family caring for the epileptic, and the author’s hardships as both friend and caregiver, carry the reader through a dreamlike, hallucinatory visual world. If a reader chooses to explore the works of David B., they should think about starting with this autobiographical piece before checking-out any of his more abstract and fictional titles, such as Incidents in the Night and Black Paths.

-Peter A.

Women Journalists

by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

Two women determined to beat the record set in Jules Verne’s novel, going in opposite directions, recorded their quests for two rival New York publications in 1889.  Their journeys captivated the public and catapulted the two women – both who were already successful writers but came from very different backgrounds – into the spotlight.   

by Nancy Caldwell Sorel

The Women Who Wrote the War

Caldwell tells the story of a small, but determined, group of women journalists who risked their lives to report from the front lines of World War II.  Some names may be familiar (Margaret Bourke-White and Martha Gellhorn), but the stories from those who were unfamiliar are what really made this book one I could not put down. 

by Sheila Weller

The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News

A look at what are arguably three of the biggest female television journalists from the late 1990s and 2000s.   

-Megan C.

Impeachment: Some Guides

by Brenda Wineapple

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation – When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated Andrew Johnson became the president of the United States. Though picked by Lincoln as his running mate, Johnson did not agree with the goals of Reconstruction and attempted to thwart congress’ effort to resort the nation. This is a thorough and brilliant narrative history of the first impeachment of an American president. 

by Neal Katyal

Impeachment: The Case Against Donald Trump – Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argues the case for impeaching Donald Trump. He examines our Founding Fathers’ thoughts on impeachment, of which they were explicit, and the legal arguments underlying the current case. A slim volume, written in a short period of time (as to be very up to date), with a definite opinion. 

By Cass R. Sunstein

Impeachment: A Citizens Guide – Unlike Katyal’s book, constitutional-law scholar Cass Sunstein’s book does not have an opinion on the current state of impeachment affairs. It covers the history of impeachment and it’s drafting in the constitution, giving context to its origins in the late 1700s. He discusses the impeachments of both Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton, as well as the related concept of removing a president because of incapacitation via the 25th Amendment. A quick primer for those in need of some clarity.

-Mike M.

Winter Blues? Cuddle up with Color

Timeless Noro Knit Blankets: 25 Colorful & Cozy Throws

This collection outlines patterns which knitters of all skill levels can use to make projects from the yarn produced by the company Noro. This Japanese brand has won a following among crafters for producing yarns in a variety of textures and variegated color combinations in self-striping patterns.  Whether you knit or not, the vibrant colors associated with Noro make this an eye-popping book to leaf through.

Kaffe Fassett’s Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts: 23 Original Quilt Designs

In Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts, world-renowned quilter Kaffe Fassett demonstrates how basic geometric forms—squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, circles, and quarter-circles—found in natural and manmade environments inspire his quilt designs. Kaffe Fassett, an accomplished painter and designer of textiles, is widely acknowledged as a visionary in the use of color. This book will get your creative juices flowing!

Art in Felt & Stitch: Creating Beautiful Works of Art Using Fleece, Fibres and Threads

In this visually stunning book, Moy Mackay reveals how to create pictures using felt. Characterized by her wonderful use of color, Moy’s work is breathtaking and includes landscapes inspired by the dramatic scenery of the Scottish Borders where she lives and works. Moy takes you through every step of the process, including the materials and tools you need, the felt making process itself and how to put together felt paintings of your own.

-Mary L.

Divided America

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart – America is changing, but according to Bill Bishop where you’ve decided to live is probably becoming more culturally and politically homogeneous. We are increasingly sorting ourselves into cultural bubbles and are unable to understand those who live in other areas of the country. We now move to the place that agrees with us the most. The implications for our country are huge. If we don’t know each other, how can we expect to collaborate for the common good? 

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – We often have different ideas about how to do things, how to govern, etc. But why are we so divided? Why can’t we reach at least some common ground? Jonathan Haidt explores the different moral intuitions we have as humans, and as cultures, and explains how our differing world views can create such divisions. He then goes further to explain that the other root of our division is our instinct to group, to be a part of a tribe. He implores us to listen to each other, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. 

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – American Nations is a history of the different cultural foundings of the United States. Colin Woodard explores the positives and negatives that each cultural area brought to the United States and explains why this caused many of the divisions that persist to this day. Our divisions may have started long ago. 

Further reading:

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

CURL UP WITH A CLASSIC

Death on the Nile – Hercule Poirot has his work cut out for him when an heiress becomes the target of her fellow cruise passengers.  Linnet Ridgeway has money, looks and intelligence, but she also has enemies, most of whom seem to have joined her and her new husband on their honeymoon cruise up the Nile River.   The Times Literary Supplement’s short review in November 1937 concluded that, “Hercule Poirot, as usual, digs out a truth so unforeseen that it would be unfair for a reviewer to hint at it”.

A Morbid Taste For Bones – In this first book of the Brother Caedfel series, set in 12th century Britain, the monk is charged with collecting the holy remains of Saint Winifred and returning them to Shrewsbury Abbey, but when one of the villagers opposed to the removal of the saint’s remains is found dead in the woods with an arrow in his chest, Brother Caedfel must find the culprit.  The Wall Street Journal called A Morbid Taste For Bones one of their five best historical novels.

The Nine Tailors – Following a car wreck in the countryside, Lord Peter Wimsey and his trusty manservant, Bunter, find shelter in a church in an isolated town.  The town may be isolated, but it’s far from peaceful.  The church bells are ringing, long missing jewels are involved, and when gravediggers open a family grave, a mutilated corpse is found.  This is Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey at their best.

The Daughter of Time Confined to a hospital bed with a broken leg, Inspector Alan Grant is feeling bored and out of sorts.  A friend who knows that Grant is intrigued by faces, brings him several portraits to examine.  When he looks at the portrait of Richard III, Shakespeare’s hunched back monster and purported killer of the young princes in the Tower, Grant is surprised to see a face full of integrity.  As Grant pursues Richard’s history, he becomes convinced that the “monster” was framed.  This masterful historical mystery jump-started a wave of research that has since concluded that Inspector Grant (And Josephine Tey) were right.

The Human-Animal Connection

An Elephant in My Kitchen: What the Herd Taught Me About Love, Courage and Survival, by Francoise Malby-Anthony

In 2009, Lawrence Anthony, a South African conservationist, published the New York Times bestseller The Elephant Whisperer, in which he recounted his experiences with a herd of rogue elephants that otherwise would have been shot.  In 2012 Anthony died, and Francoise Malby-Anthony, a “chic Parisienne” who had fallen in love with him and joined him in caring for the herd, took over responsibility for it.  An Elephant in My Kitchen is her account of the years since Anthony’s death, and is officially book two in the Elephant Whisperer series.  In it she talks about the challenges of running the preserve as a woman, incursions by poachers, conflict with authorities, and stories of caring for lost and orphaned baby elephants, rhinos, and other animals.  It is described as a “captivating and gripping read,” and a strong addition to the annals of life lessons learned by humans from animals.

Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, by Julie Zickefoose

For an account of a human-animal relationship a bit closer to home, this book tells the story of the author’s adoption of a tiny, tailless fluffball of a baby blue jay that’s sick and starving.  Zickefoose saves Jemima, and after a summer of entertaining bird antics, dedicates herself to preparing the growing bird for release into the wild.  But after release Jemima turns up with a deadly disease, and Zickefoose turns her energies to healing the bird again–this time on camera for the PBS show Nature.  Zickefoose herself is enduring heartbreaking changes in her life, and this is the story of her relationship with a feisty blue jay who helps teach her to endure.  The book is illustrated with photographs, and also with the author’s beautiful drawn and painted illustrations.

Our Wild Calling: How Connecting with Animals Can Transform Our Lives–And Save Theirs, by Richard Louv

Richard Louv’s last book was Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Kids with Nature-Deficit Disorder.  Here he delves more deeply into specifically human-animal relationships of the kind that Francoise Malby-Anthony and Julie Zickfoose describe in their books.  Through both scientific studies and anecdote, Louv explores the nature of our connection with animals, our co-evolution, and the lessons we can learn from them.  Chapter headings include “Species Loneliness,” “The Mind-Altering Power of Deep Animal Connection,” “Becoming the Grasshopper,” “Do They Love us Back?” and “Welcome to Symbiocene City.”  Kirkus and Booklist give Our Wild Calling starred reviews, and Psychology Today calls it “a game-changer.”

-Jared J.