Comics/Graphic Novels

Read Harder: Read a Graphic Memoir

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Alice Burton

Staff Writer

Chicagoan and aspiring cryptozoologist Alice Burton has a B.A. in Comparative Literature and is an Archives Assistant with the Frances Willard Historical Society. When not booking or historying, she is singing soprano wherever people will have her. She will watch any documentary on Neanderthals or giant extinct animals, and has a Stockholm Syndrome-like love for Chicago and its winters. Blog: Reading Rambo Twitter: @itsalicetime

This list of graphic memoirs for the 2020 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.

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Graphic memoirs! While a written memoir can get into the minutiae of a person’s life and experience, the graphic format allows for a different expression of feeling, tone, and memory. The genre spans a huge range and no matter your area of interest, there is more than likely a graphic memoir that will fit it. Below is a list of nine. You can check out something that immediately grabs your attention, or maybe push yourself and read about a life you might not otherwise have taken a look at. See these as a jumping-off point for an exciting and expanding genre of nonfiction.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

A true classic of the graphic memoir genre! Fun Home explores Bechdel’s coming out, her relationship with her closeted father, and her life growing up in rural Pennsylvania. TW for suicide.

Tomboy by Liz PrinceTomboy by Liz Prince

What defines being a girl? Liz Prince’s memoir looks at her youth and teen years as she struggles to figure out her identity. When you don’t fit into the culturally set markers for your gender, what do you do? Prince explores this while taking a long look at her thoughts (thinking she hated girls) and behaviors at the time.

Marbles by Ellen ForneyMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder directly before her 30th birthday. Her memoir chronicles her attempts to figure out what defines her creativity, if her medication is stunting it or helping it, and how she wants to move forward. Scattered throughout are looks at other artists diagnosed with mood disorders throughout history, and a deeper dive into the clinical background of bipolar disorder.

The Arab of the Future by Riad SattoufThe Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978–1984 by Riad Sattouf

Sattouf chronicles his life growing up under multiple dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. While dealing with the constant uprooting of his family, he also grapples with his relationship with his father, whose “grandiose dreams for the Arab nation” cause him to bring his family from France to Libya to Syria.

The Best We Could Do cover imageThe Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do is beautiful and evocative as Thi Bui recounts becoming a mother while looking back to her family’s immigration to America from South Vietnam in the 1970s. Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls it “a book to break your heart and heal it.”

Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada and Jamar NicholasFist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada

Michelle Obama calls Geoffrey Canada “one of my heroes.” Jamar Nicholas adapts his story of growing up in the South Bronx for the graphic memoir genre to stunning and poignant effect. There, you were ranked through the ritual of fist, stick, knife, and then a gun as the final step.

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

Glidden recounts her trip as a “progressive Jewish American” to Israel, where she arrives with some strong opinions and finds from her conversations that the situation is far more complicated than she could see from afar.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh’s deceptively simple drawings communicate a world of emotion, depth, and hilarity as she deals with her very challenging dogs, childhood love of sugar, and her at times incapacitating depression.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Much like Fun Home, you almost HAVE to include Persepolis in a list of graphic memoirs. Swiftly a modern classic, this narrative tells Satrapi’s story of her life in Tehran from ages 6 to 18, a time that encompassed the overthrow of the Shah and the “triumph of the Islamic Revolution.” Rendered in black and white, her images remain with you, as well as her retelling of the history of Iraq. This is a must-read.

Find all the Read Harder 2020 content here.