Le Carré, John. A Legacy of Spies.

NY: Viking, 2017.

Le Carré is still the best of the great Cold War spy novelists, though he had to change his game rather a lot after the Iron Curtain collapsed. Here, he returns to his roots with a story set mostly in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Many years ago, when he was young, Peter Guillam was the personal assistant, factotum, and gatekeeper to George Smiley, the dumpy, rather gray, middle-aged master spy of the Circus, and he was thereby privy to all the great (and usually secret) events of the long, strong struggle against the Soviet Union. Now Peter is becoming elderly himself, living in retirement on the farm in Brittany where he grew up.



Eisner, Will. Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories.

NY: Norton, 2007.

Eisner is very much the godfather of the modern graphic novel. There’s a reason the field’s most important award is named for him. This fat compilation volume brings together five previously published pieces, two of them quite long, which are drawn from his own life and ancestry — and if not entirely in a factual sense, then in tone and in general approach.


Backderf, John. My Friend Dahmer.

NY: Abrams, 2012.

Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t the only serial killer America produced in the late 20th century but he was one of the most disturbing ones, if only because, after he was caught in 1991, he was candid and forthright about what he had done. Unlike Gacy and others who come to mind, he didn’t make excuses or try to shift the blame. But he really didn’t know why he had killed sixteen men, either.


Scheer, Kodi. Midair.

NY: Little A, 2016.

The author teaches writing at the University of Michigan, and this may or may not be her first published novel, but it’s not a bad effort. It’s also quite short — barely 200 pages — but she packs a lot into it. It’s the summer of 1999 and Vanessa Baxter is eighteen, a recent high school graduate from a semi-rural Chicago suburb, and she has just arrived in Paris with three of her classmates. Her single-parent family, unlikely those of her friends, has no money to speak of, but the girls managed to find sponsors for the trip and now they’re settling into a tiny short-term apartment on the Île de la Cité. Nessie is the brainy one, and also one of the class rejects.


Telgemeier, Raina. Sisters.

NY: Scholastic Books, 2014.

I’ve really gotten into graphic novels the past decade or so, but I hardly ever do superheroes. I wasn’t really into Marvel comics even in the ’70s. I prefer “real” stories. This author does autobiography and the award-winning Smile was a terrific book, so I grabbed this one as soon as I saw it.


Kakazawa, Keiji. Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima.

Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.

There are a handful of key books that combined cartoon-style art and text narrative to create the modern graphic novel. This is one of them. The author was a seven-year-old resident of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped in August 1945


Knisley, Lucy. Radiator Days.

Rhinebeck, NY: Epigraph Publishing, 2008.

Since discovering French Milk, her first graphic work, several years ago, I’ve become a solid fan of Lucy Knisley (pronounced “Nighsley,” silent “K”). She doesn’t do superheroes or abstract philosophy but concentrates almost entirely on retelling the events of her own life and experiences and what she’s learned from them. She’s had the sort of adventures any of us might have had, but she thinks a lot harder about what they mean.


Knisley, Lucy. An Age of License: A Travelogue.

Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2014.

Lucy is one of my favorite cartoonists, and has been since I discovered French Milk a few years ago. She doesn’t do superheroes or any of that. She does real people, mostly herself, living real life, with an autobiographical concentration on food (her parents are a chef and a gourmet) and travel (which, even in her late 20s, she still gets nervous about).


Published in: on 12 February 2016 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Briggs, Raymond. Ethel & Ernest.

NY: Knopf, 1999.

I have a thing for graphic novels, or at least some of them. Not superhero BAM! POW! stuff usually, but a talented artist who is also a thoughtful author can, with a little luck and a lot of effort, come up with something memorable.


North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

NY: Redhook, 2014.

Wow. Just . . . wow.

Harry August, born New Year’s Day, 1919, is a bastard, the result of the young lord of the manor raping a kitchen maid. She dies in a railway station giving birth to him and he’s adopted by the gardener and his wife. His first life, before he knows there will be another, is entirely ordinary and he spends it assisting his father on the estate, with time out as an infantryman in World War II. And then he dies in his seventies — and is immediately reborn, back at the beginning of 1919.