I work a lot now, folks. Or rather, I serve a lot. As an AmeriCorps member I am serving at a charter high school in Munhall, PA, and I am there from 7:15 in the morning until anywhere from 4:30 to 6:30 at night. It is wonderful! I am helping develop a documentary film-making club and a reading program, and I spend parts of my day recording music, or watching my kids dance and sing and educate their creative souls. They also goof off constantly, can’t stop talking, and are beastly, obstinate teenagers half the time. But the other half of the time makes up for that!
It’s hard for me to get through a book these days. I listen to audio books during my epic bus rides (an hour to two and a half some days…) and in this way managed to knock Cloud Atlas off my list. I read Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book – Blue Lily, Lily Blue – on a lucky free weekend day (loved it!). But it took me about 3 weeks to get through Nnedi Okorafor’s short story collection Kabu Kabu (which I didn’t particularly enjoy).
I made a wonderful discovery a few weeks ago, however, which has kept my reading life from being entirely depressing. While lusting over graphic novels that I couldn’t afford one Sunday afternoon at Copacetic Comics, I remembered that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a huge graphic novel collection – and the main branch is open on Sundays! Amazing city, this. I promptly hopped onto a bus and went to satiate my hunger.
I read Craig Thompson’s (author of Blankets) first book – Good-Bye, Chunky Rice – while at the library that day, as well as the first volume of Aya, which was great. Writer/artist team Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie bring to life a lively heroine and a vibrant city in nineteen-year old Aya and the Yopougon of 1978 Ivory Coast days. She and her friends try to navigate young adulthood with humorous and heart-breaking success. The warm colors of the artwork are delicious, and the writing is decent. I’m eager to adventure further with Aya and her girlfriends.
I took home a huge pile of graphic novels that day, and I’ve been reading them in snatches over my own breakfast and while at school supervising the kids during their pre-class breakfast. I get through one every few days in this fashion, which helps me to maintain my readerly self-respect…!
David Prudhomme’s Rebetiko (trans. Nora Mahony) was another good one. It took me to 1936 Athens, where a rag tag group of Rebetiko musicians are being persecuted by the police. Dodging General Metaxas’ men at every turn, the men pursue their nightly parties full of hash, women, drink, and always the music that they truly live for. Prudhomme manages to convey through his artwork and words the sultry, mischievous, danger-edged feel of these nights, and the sound of Rebetiko – the blues of the Greeks.
Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan sent me spinning off to modern-day Tel Aviv, where a cab driver and a female soldier try to determine if Koby’s (the cab driver) father was one of the victims of a bombing in Hadera. Koby is reluctant at first, having been estranged from his father for years. As the pair unravel his father’s (possibly) last few months, Koby is forced to rediscover who his father is, and along the way examine who he himself has become. The story was interesting, but the artwork really won me over. It reminded me of Tintin a bit, with it’s clear lines and bright colors.
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (possibly the world’s first “scrapbook novel”?) brought me back to the US in the 1920s. Preston told her tale through vintage postcards, magazine ads, catalog pages, ticket stubs, letters, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, patterns, menus, and more – the tale of Frankie Pratt, who always wanted to be a writer. The book is fun because of it’s format – the story is a little humdrum, but it is a treat to look at.
Actually, I came back to the US and stayed there for a bit, although I didn’t realize it because it took me awhile to notice that Unterzakhn by Leela Corman was set in New York’s Lower East Side. (I thought it was Russia, maybe?) The black and white artwork for this story is striking, and I found the story of sisters Esther and Fanya to be compelling, but frustrating. Life for these children of immigrants in 1910 was hard, and Corman brings out the rough and tumble of it. The girls each make choices in the hope that they’ll lead to a better life, and I watched in dismay and wonder as their choices led them down tangled pathways to failure and success.
The last book I finished was Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk. I was enchanted by the pretty cover, but the insides of the book didn’t live up to it. I won’t spend too much energy talking about it, since it is getting late and I’ll never get used to getting up at 5:30 a.m…!
The Carnegie Library of Homestead is across the street from the school where I serve, and I’m excited to go there tomorrow, return this stack, and check out a whole new pile of graphic novels. Because we all know I’ll be reading Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon for all of the foreseeable future… (They might have set Wicked to music, but I’ve always found his books to be dense and interminable…somehow I enjoy them despite that!)
Just as much as I’ll need my coffee and muffin, I’ll be needing my breakfast reading!