Monthly Archives: January 2012

#2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The second book I chose for 2012 was Persepolis, a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about her life growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

I chose it for several reasons. I saw the movie with my revolutionarily-inclined friend V when we were in college. She recently tweeted about reading the book herself and I remembered that, yes, I owned this book, and yes, now is the time to read it!

(On a side note, 2007-2008, the time when all this took place, was a great time in my life. It is when we are the most confused about where we’re going and WHAT we are that I think we make the boldest decisions. I think it is definitely when we learn the most about ourselves, even in retrospect. “Why did we so fervently play tag in the dark? Oh yes, because none of us could bear to be apart.”)

I saw Ms. Satrapi speak at my school around the time her movie came out. She is a delightful speaker, so honest about her life and her work. I read this 300+ page history lesson in roughly three days. It is a personal story, recounting her childhood memories and young adult misadventures, as well as a national history of a place so few people outside of it understand. At times it feels like an educational program: page after page of intimate conversations about war or sex or unease, and suddenly a character is breaking the fourth wall to tell us what a word means in Persian or explain the moral motivation behind the burgeoning, repressive legal system…and then right back into the everyday life of a thoughtful Iranian woman. It is an excellent use of the comic form to convey important information without breaking the pace or mood of the story.

Whenever there is an international crisis, this book should be read. Crisis in the Middle East, crisis among our own people, crisis in Europe or South America or Asia or Africa or Australia. Although it is a book dedicated to recounting life through an Iranian perspective, it has the universal appeal of any government which goes through dynamic change. It has the universal appeal of confronting stereotypes, growing up and fitting in, finding your path in life, and reconciling the forever difficult line between tradition and modernity.

It is excellent. Go pick it up. She has written two other graphic novels since Persepolis, Embroideries and Chicken with Plums. I hope to add those to my 2012 list!

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#1. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

The first book of 2012 is Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. It is a series of short stories all taking place within the locked confines of a Writers’ Retreat concocted by the old and mysterious Mr. Whittier.

Would you abandon your life for three months to create your masterpiece? Just one suitcase, a pre-dawn bus to Somewhere Else full of strangers, and three months of isolation. The stories are told by the writers, prisoners to this unique promise; stories to pass the time, ignore their restraints, and to  declare themselves the true hero of the big, grand finale. “The Story of Us,” as they call it, the story of a group of people peppered with unusual personalities such as Lady Baglady, Mother Nature, and The Missing Link. The mythology that will make them famous and rip them to shreds.

I loved this book. I just really enjoy Chuck Palahniuk. (Rant, a story I voraciously audiobooked in the summer of 2010, is one of the most intricately told stories about childhood, home, time travel, and demolition derbies you will ever find. Do it ASAP.) He is quickly becoming my favorite author in the way he is able to sew stories without ever dropping a stitch. No name is a throwaway name, no questionable eccentricity is ever left unexplained by the last page.

There is tons of squicky business in all of his books, though this one probably takes the cake. Stories like “Guts” and “Hot Potting” make it hard to eat lunch afterward. All the poems that precede the short stories, they left me breathless. They are actually quite moving character studies amid a torrent of bloodshed and sexual depravity.

One of the most compelling elements of this book, besides the band of increasingly diabolical characters, is the atmosphere. Without going into much detail – discovering the beautifully molding, surreal setting of the book is a delightful revelation I would hate to deprive a would-be reader of – it is a place where it is easy to imagine everyone’s demons coming out to play. The oppression in the details of the mundane, of the abruptly bizarre, is like a character in and of itself.

I have only one issue with this book, though I suppose it is an aspect of the story which is somewhat open to interpretation. It is a narrative detail at the very end – if any of you have read Haunted, please let me know if you have had similar thoughts.

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